March 29, 2013

{Giveaway} Like Chaff in the Wind by Anna Belfrage

Publication Date: March 1, 2013 | Matador (Self-Published) | 376p

Matthew Graham committed the mistake of his life when he cut off his brother’s nose. In revenge, Luke Graham has Matthew abducted and transported to the Colony of Virginia, there to be sold as indentured labour – a death sentence more or less.

Matthew arrives in Virginia in May of 1661, and any hope he had of finding someone willing to listen to his tale of unlawful abduction is quickly extinguished. If anything Matthew’s insistence that he is an innocent man leads to him being singled out for the heaviest tasks.

Insufficient food, grueling days and the humid heat combine to wear Matthew down. With a sinking feeling he realises no one has ever survived the seven years of service – not on the plantation Suffolk Rose, not under the tender care of the overseer Dominic Jones.

Fortunately for Matthew, he has a remarkable wife, a God’s gift who has no intention of letting her husband suffer and die, and so Alex Graham sets off on a perilous journey to bring her husband home.

Alex is plagued by nightmares in which her Matthew is reduced to a wheezing wreck by his tormentors. She sits in the prow of the ship and prays for a miracle to carry her swiftly to his side, to let her hold him and heal him before it’s too late. God, however, has other things to do and what should have been a two month crossing becomes a yearlong adventure from one side of the Atlantic to the other.

Will she find him in time? And if she does, will she be capable of paying the price required to buy him free?

First of all, thanks to Michelle and Marie for hosting my blog tour and allowing me to post on their blog. For my previous posts on this blog tour, please visit Bippity Boppity Book , Oh, for the Hook of a Book! and Flashlight Commentary.

Inspiration is a fickle thing. It’s not as if you can sit down at your computer, crack your knuckles and say, “right; it’s 19:00 p.m. Time for some serious inspiration.” Generally, my brain will blank out entirely when faced with an expectation to be creative. “Nope,” it will say, shrinking away to sulk in a corner, “I don’t feel like it.”

Instead, my brain tends to go into overdrive in the most unsuitable situations. Like at work; there I am in an intense discussion about Accounting Standards when the female auditor breaks off to fiddle with her hair bun, and just like that I know this is exactly the posture Alex would be sitting in when Matthew enters their little bedroom, and then … Phew! It’s an effort to revert to the intricacies of warranty accounting when your whole head is ablaze with images of Matthew and Alex, snatches of their dialogue flying through the air.

Like many writers, I’m also afflicted by “night inspiration”. I should be sleeping, but suddenly Alex is whispering things in my ear, her voice urgent, and I jerk awake, grope for the pad I always keep by my bed and write as she dictates. I’ve become very good at writing in the dark, as my husband protests loudly should I turn on my bedside lamp to see my scribbles.

Nowadays I trust myself to be able to carry on from where I left off the following evening, confident that at some point the creative juices will flow as needed. It didn’t use to be that way, with me so scared that the half-baked idea in my head would vanish if I didn’t commit it to paper immediately. This lead to a lot of disrupted nights, to marathon stints at my computer that had my family grumbling it was a very LONG time since I cooked them a meal.

When writing historical fiction, inspiration must be bolstered by researched facts. No matter how inspiring that scene with the fork is, you have to cut it if your book is set in any period prior to the late seventeenth century (except if you’re in Italy) as the fork was simply not invented then. And yes, Mr Gorgeous and Ms Feisty look absolutely wonderful together on the Chesterfield – but there were no such sofas in those times when men wore hose and codpieces, so either his costume or the interior will have to go. As an avid reader of historical fiction – as well as a writer – I know just how irritating I find those little anachronisms, and so I try really hard to ensure they don’t appear in my books. Having said that, I’m sure there will be a knowledgeable reader out there who will have the kindness to inform me that beeches didn’t exist in Scotland in the seventeenth century (HA! Caught that one myself) or that … whatever.

Writers that get the inspiration and the research to match can at times create awe-inspiring, magical novels that transport the reader to this other time, other place with the minimum of effort. That is what all writers want to achieve, we want to take our readers by the hand and submerge them in a bubble of imagined reality that will allow them to share in our characters’ adventures and woes. Some excel at it, like Sarah Dunant, Sharon Penman and Elizabeth Chadwick to name a few. (This is why their books are the most dog-eared, most worn, of all the books on my bookshelves.)

Inspiration for the Matthew and Alex books come from various sources. I’ve had a hang-up on the seventeenth century since years back (I know; somewhat strange, but there you are). I have always wanted to time travel, which is why Alex gets to do it on my behalf. Not that she is always adequately grateful at having had this opportunity – well, unless I threaten to whisk her back to the here and now, leaving Matthew behind. Most of all, inspiration comes from Matthew and Alex themselves.

Alex Lind is an insistent, vibrant character that sprung into my head one morning and simply wouldn't let go. Seductively she whispered about terrible thunderstorms, about a gorgeous man with magic, hazel eyes, about loss and sorrow, about love - always this love, for her man and her children, for the people she lives with. With a throaty chuckle she shared insights into a life very far removed from mine, now and then stopping to shake her head and tell me that it probably hadn't been easy for Matthew, to have such an outspoken, strange and independent woman at his side.

At this point Matthew groaned into life. Nay, he sighed, this woman of his was at times far too obstinate, with no notion of how a wife should be, meek and dutiful. But, he added with a laugh, he wouldn't want her any different, for all that she was half-heathen and a right handful. No, he said, stretching to his full length, if truth be told not a day went by without him offering fervent thanks for his marvelous wife, a gift from God no less, how else to explain the propitious circumstances that had her landing at his feet that long gone August day?

Still, dear reader, it isn't always easy. At times Alex thinks he's an overbearing bastard, at others he's sorely tempted to belt her. But the moment their fingertips graze against each other, the moment their eyes meet, the electrical current that always buzzes between them peaks and surges, it rushes through their veins, it makes their breathing hitch and ... She is his woman, he is her man. That's how it is, that's how it always will be.

About the Author
I was raised abroad, on a pungent mix of Latin American culture, English history and Swedish traditions. As a result I’m multilingual and most of my reading is historical - both non-fiction and fiction.

I was always going to be a writer - or a historian, preferably both. Instead I ended up with a degree in Business and Finance, with very little time to spare for my most favourite pursuit. Still, one does as one must, and in between juggling a challenging career I raised my four children on a potent combination of invented stories, historical debates and masses of good food and homemade cakes. They seem to thrive … Nowadays I spend most of my spare time at my writing desk. The children are half grown, the house is at times eerily silent and I slip away into my imaginary world, with my imaginary characters. Every now and then the one and only man in my life pops his head in to ensure I’m still there. I like that – just as I like how he makes me laugh so often I’ll probably live to well over a hundred. 

I was always going to be a writer. Now I am - I have achieved my dream.

Giveaway:  One paperback copy. Open internationally. To enter, leave a comment below with your contact info. Spread the word via Twitter or Facebook and you will get one extra entry. Just be sure to share the link to where you shared in your comment (or a separate comment is okay too). Last day to enter is Friday, April 12. Good luck!

March 26, 2013

(Giveaway) A War Within: The Gladiator by Nathan D. Maki

by Nathan D. Maki

  “All the saints salute you, including those of Caesar’s household.”

Those words of the Apostle Paul, written to the Philippians, made me think. What an amazing dynamic, that while the Caesars were trying to stomp out the Christians there were Christians right in the palace! That led me to ask myself, What would Christians in Caesar’s palace be doing during the vicious persecutions that punctuated the Empire’s relations with this new-fledged sect?

The protagonist of A War Within: The Gladiator is 17-year-old Antonius, whose father Titus is Emperor Commodus’ steward but also secretly leads a small church group. When the Emperor sends Antonius to carry a message to the Praetorians Titus learns that it is an arrest warrant for his church, including his wife and daughter. Antonius races to warn them, but arrives too late, and the resulting tragedy leaves him bitter and angry toward God and vowing vengeance on the Emperor. The brutal gladiator master Scipio plans to mold this angry young man into a gladiator, leaving Antonius warring within. Will he forsake his faith and fight or will he refuse? If God is truly faithful how could this happen? And how could God demand that he forgive?

One of the greatest joys of writing historical fiction is those moments during the research process when you stumble upon some detail, some event, some facet of the historical truth which is, in fact, stranger than fiction. These discoveries often fit perfectly, or with small changes allowed by artistic license, with the flow of your novel. Other times these nuggets will be so dramatic and gripping that they will demand a change in the flow of the book.

In A War Within: The Gladiator, Antonius Maximus and his friend, Theudas ben Yair, both have reason to hate Emperor Commodus. The Emperor made Antonius unwittingly carry his own mother’s death warrant to the Praetorian Guard, and he killed Theudas’ father in a gladiator bout. The two young gladiators escape from the Ludus Magnus – the gladiator school in Rome – and swear vengeance on the Emperor. As I was researching Commodus and the Coliseum I discovered an intriguing fact. There was a secret passage that led into the Coliseum for the Emperor to use to come and go. More than that, there was actually a failed assassination attempt that took place in that passage!

Edward Gibbon, in writing The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, records “One evening, as the emperor was returning to the palace, through a dark and narrow portico in the amphitheatre, an assassin, who waited his passage, rushed upon him with a drawn sword, loudly exclaiming, "The senate sends you this."

The assassin’s shout warns Commodus just in time and the Emperor escapes death. What potential for a gripping scene! I set Chapter 17, “To Kill an Emperor” here in this passage.

Fifteen feet below the very feet of the marching patrol Antonius and Theudas crept quietly around the bend to the right that would take them directly under the soaring walls of the Coliseum. Antonius held his torch high, surprise registering on his features. Here the plain rough-hewn tunnel turned into lavish luxury. Dark stone walls gave way to the translucent glow of white marble and alabaster. The vaulted ceiling was covered in lavishly-patterned stucco, the floors paved with intricate mosaics. The Emperor’s secret entrance!

Plug my characters into this historical event, change the assassin’s shout to Antonius’ cry “For my mother!” that foolishly warns Commodus of their ambush and allows him to escape, and you have the ingredients for a powerful chapter. Discovering hidden gems of history and rolling them together with fiction into one entertaining and informative whole that brings the past alive: what could be more fun than that?
~Nathan D. Maki

A War Within: The Gladiator is available in paperback at or as an e-book on
 Readers can connect with me on Twitter @NathanDMaki, on Facebook under A War Within,
or on my website at

The author is offering a giveaway of one paperback copy to anyone in the US or Canada. Simply ask him a question regarding his work and leave your email address so that you may be contacted! Extra entries for those that follow him on Twitter or Facebook, linked above.

March 07, 2013

Elizabeth Chadwick's Shadows and Strongholds (giveaway)

Please welcome author Elizabeth Chadwick! She is on book tour for the US reissue of Shadows and Strongholds

 Available March 5th 2013 by Sourcebooks Landmark

A medieval tale of pride and strife, of coming-of-age in a world where chivalry is a luxury seldom afforded, especially by men of power.

England, 1148---ten-year-old Brunin FitzWarin is an awkward misfit in his own family. A quiet child, he is tormented by his brothers and loathed by his powerful and autocratic grandmother. In an attempt to encourage Brunin’s development, his father sends him to be fostered in the household of Joscelin de Dinan, Lord of Ludlow. Here Brunin will learn knightly arts, but before he can succeed, he must overcome the deep-seated doubts that hold him back.

Hawise, the youngest daughter of Lord Joscelin, soon forms a strong friendship with Brunin. Family loyalties mean that her father, with the young Brunin as his squire, must aid Prince Henry of Anjou in his battle with King Stephen for the English crown. Meanwhile, Ludlow itself comes under threat from Joscelin’s rival, Gilbert de Lacy. As the war for the crown rages, and de Lacy becomes more assertive in his claims for Ludlow, Brunin and Hawise are drawn into each other’s arms.

Now Brunin must defeat the shadows of his childhood and put to use all that he has learned. As the pressure on Ludlow intensifies and a new Welsh threat emerges against his own family’s lands, Brunin must confront the future head on, or fail on all counts....

I’d like to thank you for inviting me onto your blog to talk about an aspect of my research for Shadows and Strongholds.

One of the joys of writing historical fiction is doing the research because it leads me to discover all manner of fun and fascinating facts about my characters and their life and times. I thought today I’d talk a bit about names and hair colour in the novel.

In Shadows and Strongholds, the hero’s official name is Fulke FitzWarin. It was a name that was passed down father to son from the early 12th century through to the early 15th when the line died out in male tail. Being as there were several Fulke FitzWarins in the story, I had to find a different tag for my hero, and luckily one was waiting in the wings. The Fulke of Shadows and Strongholds had the nick-name as an adult of Fulke le Brun or ‘The Brown.’ This is suggestive of him having dark hair and eyes and an olive complexion – which is how I have depicted him in the novel. He starts out as a boy who is having a difficult time at home and is sent away to become a squire in the household of his father’s friend Joscelin de Dinan, lord of Ludlow. Needing a childhood name for Fulke le Brun, I turned to a good friend, who, among other things happens to be a cultural historian of the 12th and 13th centuries and knows about such things. She told me that in childhood Le Brun might have been called Brunet, Bruno, or Brunin. (it’s where we get the word ‘brunette’ from for a dark haired person these days). I didn’t want to call him the first because it so closely reflected our modern word for the hair colour. With the second I kept thinking of a teddy bear which wasn’t quite what I had in my mind’s eye, so Brunin he became!

At the outset of becoming a squire to lord Joscelin, Brunin acquires a new mount - black pony called Morel. I didn’t just pluck the name out of thin air though. In the middle ages, horses were very frequently named according to their colour and a Morel horse or pony would have been either glossy black or a very, very dark brown or bay. We still have a survival in the name of the sweet dark red almost black morello cherries. A golden chestnut horse would have been called ‘Sorel’ and a bay horse ‘Bai.’ When I was writing another novel, The Greatest Knight about William Marshal, I came across the detail that one of the horses he had as a young knight was called Blancart, which meant that it was white, from the French word for white – ‘Blanc.’

Thank you to Elizabeth Chadwick for sharing snippets of her research process for Shadows!

Open to USA and Canada readers
One new paperback of Shadows and Strongholds by Elizabeth Chadwick
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