April 26, 2013

The Fifth Knight by E.M. Powell

Please welcome E.M. Powell as part of her virtual tour while promoting her novel, The Fifth Knight.

My medieval novel, The Fifth Knight, was first published by Thomas & Mercer as a Kindle Serial in November 2012. For the first three episodes, I had posted a related blog post on the date of each episode’s release. Episode four was released on 25 December. I should have posted on that date but I held back until 29 December for a very special reason. The novel is based on the infamous murder of Thomas Becket, Archbishop of Canterbury, in his own cathedral in 1170. On the 29 December, 1170, to be precise. It felt only right and proper that I dedicated that post to Becket- and here it is:

It’s rare to know what was happening on this day 842 years ago. It’s even rarer to know what was happening at a specific time of day. But we do. For on 29 December 1170, as Vespers were being sung in Canterbury Cathedral, a group of knights forced their way in and brutally murdered the Archbishop of Canterbury, Thomas Becket. My novel, The Fifth Knight, is based on this infamous historical event.

In the course of writing my novel, I researched Becket’s life and found an intriguing individual. Born around 1118 to Norman French parents, he rose to archdeacon in the church. He was known for his brilliant mind, described as ‘winning…in his conversation and frank of speech in his discourses.’ He had a slight stutter, particularly when his emotions were aroused. He had a gift for managing delicate negotiations. When King Henry II was seeking a new chancellor, the then Archbishop of Canterbury, Theobald, recommended Becket.

Thomas Becket

Theobald had hoped that Becket would be a strong ally for the church, but Becket took to court life with great flair, keeping apartments that were finer than Henry’s. He demonstrated skill in hunting and loved to wear the finest of clothes. More importantly, he became the closest of friends and allies with the younger (by twelve years) Henry. It is recorded that people spoke of them having ‘one heart and one mind.’

When Theobald died in 1161, Henry appointed Becket to be his new Archbishop of Canterbury. In doing so, he passed over far more experienced clerics and it is believed he appointed Becket to increase his own influence and hold over the church. But Henry, like Theobald before him, was to be disappointed. Becket was nobody’s pawn. Instead, he threw himself into his new role in the church. Within weeks, he had resigned as chancellor. He began to work as hard in his role in the church as he had at court. He wore a hair shirt under his robes (discovered after his death), took cold baths as penance and washed the feet of 30 paupers every day.

It wasn’t long before Becket came into conflict with Henry. The justice system of the time meant there were two courts of law: one for the church, one for the state. Clerics were tried in church courts, which did not have the death penalty, even for murder. And the church, through its independence, could criticise the monarch. Becket resisted royal demands for change, a decision that cost him his life.

In my novel, I follow many of the records of Becket’s death. These scenes were very difficult to write, for by then, I had come to know and admire so much about Becket. His death was particularly savage, with his skull carved in two, shattered from a knight’s sword blow. But if I, over 800 years later found it hard to re-tell, it is even harder to fully grasp the shock and outrage of society at the time. People’s belief in the church was absolute. The idea of the archbishop being murdered was difficult enough, but for it to happen in his own cathedral was unthinkable.

Becket's brutal murder

Becket’s murder was viewed as martyrdom, that he died defending his faith. Miracles were attributed to him immediately. The cloths stained with his blood brought cures to local women. The monks brought Becket’s body to the crypt and kept guard over it, fearful that the king would try and have it removed. As people came to see the body, the monks recorded any miracles attributed to Becket. The archbishop’s broken skull was put on view. An astonishing 100,000 people came to pray and visit Canterbury Cathedral in 1171 alone. The attributed miracles mounted up and in ten years, there were a total of 703 recorded. Becket’s intercession was in healing, casting out demons. He was prayed to by women in childbirth. When Queen Eleanor, the wife of King Henry III was expecting her fourth child, 1,000 candles were lit around Becket’s shrine.

Becket was canonized in 1173 and his popularity as a saint grew. Canterbury became hugely popular for pilgrims. Geoffrey Chaucer wrote his famous ‘Canterbury Tales’ about pilgrims, and he calls Becket the ‘holy, blessed martyr’. Myths grew up around Becket. One woman claimed she had taught a bird to pray to the saint. When the bird was hunted by a hawk, it sang out Becket’s name and was released. A story circulated that while Becket was alive, he needed a woman to mend his clothes while on his travels. The woman that did so in a convent mysteriously disappeared after completing her task. The woman was deemed to be Our Lady.

Canterbury Cathedral today

And what of Henry, the king whose supposed utterance of ‘who will rid me of this meddlesome priest?’ set the murder in motion? Henry had to give in on the matter of church courts. He also performed a number of acts of penance for the man who had been his dear friend. The most extreme was on the streets of Canterbury on 12 July 1174, where he was scourged by eighty monks before spending the night praying at Becket’s tomb. In death, Becket had been victorious.

Saint Thomas Becket was a venerated saint for the next four hundred years. Until the arrival of another King Henry, Henry VIII. This Henry was going to take on the church. When he achieved his aim of total control of the church, Henry VIII denounced Becket as a traitor. Becket’s shrine was destroyed, his bones were burned and the mention of his name was outlawed.

But Henry didn’t manage to erase Becket. People continued in their devotion to him as a saint. Today, Canterbury Cathedral still marks the place of Becket’s martyrdom and thousands continue to visit every year. Think of him today, at day’s close.

About the book:
Publication Date: January 22, 2013
Thomas & Mercer Publishing
Paperback; 390p
ISBN-10: 1611099331

To escape a lifetime of poverty, mercenary Sir Benedict Palmer agrees to one final, lucrative job: help King Henry II’s knights seize the traitor Archbishop Thomas Becket at Canterbury Cathedral. But what begins as a clandestine arrest ends in cold-blooded murder. And when Fitzurse, the knights’ ringleader, kidnaps Theodosia, a beautiful young nun who witnessed the crime, Palmer can sit silently by no longer. For not only is Theodosia’s virtue at stake, so too is the secret she unknowingly carries—a secret he knows Fitzurse will torture out of her. Now Palmer and Theodosia are on the run, strangers from different worlds forced to rely only on each other as they race to uncover the hidden motive behind Becket’s grisly murder—and the shocking truth that could destroy a kingdom.

About the author:
E. M. Powell was born and raised in Ireland, a descendant of Irish revolutionary Michael Collins. At University College, Cork, she discovered a love of Anglo-Saxon and medieval English during her study of literature and geography. She is a member of Romance Writers of America, the Manchester Irish Writers, the Historical Novel Society, and International Thriller Writers. A reviewer for the Historical Novel Society, she lives today in Manchester, England, with her husband and daughter.

For more information, please visit E.M. Powell's website and blog. You can also connect with her on Facebook, Twitter and Goodreads.

Visit other blogs on the tour:  TOUR SCHEDULE
Twitter Hashtag: #FifthKnightVirtualTour

April 13, 2013

(Giveaway) Was Elizabeth I a Woman Hater? by Sandra Byrd

We welcome Sandra Byrd to HF-Connection with covetous delight as we swoon over the bling being given away! Thank you to Sandra for offering the prizes to go with the following article on our beloved Queen Elizabeth:

Was Elizabeth I a Woman Hater? 
Sandra Byrd

There has long been an “urban rumor” that Elizabeth Tudor hated other women. It’s true that she was a female monarch in a time which greatly preferred sovereign men. {Note the extent to which her father, Henry VIII, extended himself to get a male heir, as well as the contents of John Knox’s much-circulated pamphlet, “The First Blast of the Trumpet Against the Monstrous Regiment of Women,” which railed against sitting queens and regents of the era.} Elizabeth didn't forestall imprisoning women for long periods of time, such as her Grey cousins and Mary Queen of Scots, when she felt they threatened her throne, which admittedly may have seemed unfeminine and harsh.

Because of her ruling position, Queen Elizabeth was never really able to be an equal companion with anyone. William Cecil, 1st Baron Burghley, who dedicated his life to her service, once said the queen was “more than a man and, in truth, something less than a woman.” And yet, perhaps that was a man's perspective, or one man's perspective of a woman with power. Elizabeth knew how to dress like a woman, flirt like a woman, fall in love like a woman, and there were certainly women who were in every sense her lifelong friends.

Take for example, Katherine Carey Knollys, daughter of Mary Boleyn. Shortly after Elizabeth became queen, she installed this cousin as Chief Lady of the Bedchamber and kept her close at hand, perhaps to the detriment of Knollys family, till the day Lady Knollys died.

Katherine “Kat” Ashley and Blanche Parry stayed with Elizabeth from her childhood until each woman died. Because Elizabeth was deprived of her own mother as a young girl, Ashley and Parry became surrogate mothers to her. Ashley spoke bluntly to Elizabeth when no one else dared, and Parry continued on in Elizabeth’s household in positions of honor and affection long past her abilities warranted them.

Anne Russell Dudley married Lord Ambrose Dudley, the brother of Elizabeth’s longtime love, Robert, and became the Countess of Warwick. But even before then, Anne served Elizabeth as a maid of honor. They became great friends, and Anne stayed by her mistress’ side until Elizabeth died in 1603.

Catherine Carey, the Countess of Nottingham, was the eldest daughter of Henry Carey, 1st Baron Hunsdon, Mary Boleyn’s son and therefore a cousin to Elizabeth; she died shortly before Elizabeth did, and it was said that her death was the loss Elizabeth was unable to bear, eventually leading to the queen's lack of will to live.

And then in 1566, Elin von Snakenborg came from Sweden to England. The queen intervened, unusually, with another monarch in order to allow Elin to remain in England. Elizabeth, as famous for counting her pennies as her grandfather Henry VII, atypically awarded rooms, a servant, and a horse to Elin (later Helena) within months of her arrival. Throughout her service, Helena was known as someone who couldn’t be bribed. She became a great friend of the queen and the highest ranking woman in England after Elizabeth, though that friendship was tested perhaps more than many of the queen's confidantes.

But what about all those women Elizabeth is supposed to have precluded from getting married, insisting that they remain virgins like herself? There is no doubt that from time to time Elizabeth expressed, sometimes forcefully, her preference that her ladies not marry. Anne Somerset, in her biography, Elizabeth I, states, “The Queen's opposition to her ladies marrying stemmed from more than mere jealousy that they should attain contentment of a sort that she would never know. Although she occasionally lamented her spinsterhood, simultaneously she entertained an altogether contradictory conviction that matrimony was an undesirable condition for women, a view not altogether surprising when one recalls that her father had executed her mother and stepmother, and the marriage of her sister had been a fiasco. It may well have been her early experience that instilled in her that instinctive aversion to the married state.”

While the Queen clearly enjoyed her power, she perhaps also keenly felt the loss of the kind of social and emotional intimacy that all people, and especially women, desire in a family. And yet she had no mother or father, no siblings, no husband, no children and her (Tudor) cousins all had claim to her throne. Historian and author Antonia Fraser said, “Her [Elizabeth’s] household resembled a large family, often on the move between residences, and as a family it had its feuds when factions formed around strong personalities. It was not out of malice that Elizabeth opposed her maids of honors’ plans to marry, but because marriages broke up her own family circle.”

The queen did, sometimes, help them to marry and marry well. Somerset says, “She (Elizabeth) could point out in the course of her reign no less than 13 of her maids of honor contracted prestigious marriages within the peerage, and this might seem to justify her claim that it was only unsuitable matches of which she disapproved.” The trick, of course, is that one never knew if the queen would approve or not. The consequences of the latter could be severe and long lasting.

On the whole, though, it certainly cannot be proved that Elizabeth Tudor hated women; in fact, the handful of long term, devoted friendships we know about prove otherwise. She gifted those women with rents, properties, perquisites, trust, affection, gowns and jewels, and emotional intimacy. Oxford University historian Susan Doran states in her book, Queen Elizabeth I, “It should also not be forgotten how loyal and gracious she could be to her intimates and that the turnover of her household was very low. The majority of women served until death or severe illness intervened.”

April 9, 2013
Elizabeth Tudor bling!

Giveaway of beautiful Elizabeth I necklace!

Roses Have Thorns by Sandra Byrd (book 3 in Ladies In Waiting)
In 1565, seventeen-year-old Elin von Snakenborg leaves Sweden on a treacherous journey to England. Her fiance has fallen in love with her sister and her dowry money has been gambled away, but ahead of her lies an adventure that will take her to the dizzying heights of Tudor power. Transformed through marriage into Helena, the Marchioness of Northampton, she becomes the highest-ranking woman in Elizabeth’s circle. But in a court that is surrounded by Catholic enemies who plot the queen’s downfall, Helena is forced to choose between an unyielding monarch and the husband she’s not sure she can trust—a choice that will provoke catastrophic consequences.

Vividly conjuring the years leading up to the beheading of Mary Queen of Scots, Roses Have Thorns is a brilliant exploration of treason, both to the realm and to the heart.

One lucky follower of HF-Connection will receive a copy of Sandra Byrd's Roses Have Thorns AND the necklace shown above featured a favorite Tudor icon of Elizabeth I. Please enter via the Rafflecopter form and follow the prompts. Offer valid to USA only.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

April 09, 2013

{Giveaway} Interview with Rosalie Turner, author of March With Me

Interview with Rosalie Turner, Author of
March With Me

HFC: Tell us about MARCH WITH ME. What is the story about?

RT: MARCH WITH ME is the story of two girls, one white and one black who are teenagers during the time of the Civil Rights Movement in Birmingham, Alabama in the 1960’s. The book shows what life was like for both races during that turbulent time. Ultimately, the lives of these two girls, Letitia and Martha Ann, impact each other.

HFC: Why did you write this book?

RT: I had several motivations for writing MARCH WITH ME. The first began years ago when I realized the importance of the Children’s March and I wanted to tell that story. The second was when dialogue at meetings of both blacks and whites indicated the older generation’s frustration that the younger generation didn’t realize what life was really like for them. I wanted to make that time come alive for all generations. The third motivation was to introduce the idea of the importance of reconciliation.

HFC: Tell us about the Children’s March.

RT: When Martin Luther King Jr. came down to B’ham in 1963 he hoped to get a lot of marchers & demonstrators against the Jim Crow laws. He wanted to fill the jails and get national attention. That didn’t happen because the adults were too afraid to march. He called in a young leader of SCLC who got the kids all fired up to march, although King didn’t want them to. There were all kinds of code words and secret messages sent through the black DJ’s and so on May 2nd, thousands of black kids left schools in and around B’ham, converged on 16th St. Baptist Church & went out in groups of fifty. The first day hundreds of kids, some as young as 8, were arrested. The 2nd day was when Bull Connor turned the fire hoses & dogs on them. Those are the pictures you always see of Birmingham.

HFC: What effect do you think the Children’s March had on the civil rights movement?

RT: I think it was absolutely pivotal, along with the March on Washington in Aug of ’63 and the bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church in Sept. Those three event captured the attention of the media and thus of government. The result was the Civil Rights Act that Johnson signed in 1964.

HFC: Did the Civil Rights Act change things, especially in the south?

RT: I would have to say yes and no. If you were an individual living in the south you probably wouldn’t have noticed too many differences. Of course, there were positive changes – the “white only” & “colored” signs went away, blacks could be served in restaurants, go to the public library, etc. but in day to day living, life didn’t change much. However, that legislation was needed before changes could really begin to happen. There had to be laws to back up the changes.

HFC: Were you personally involved in any demonstrations?

RT: No, I was a young wife of a Marine stationed in California. We were just starting our family, and although I certainly heard about events, I was not involved with them. When I had been in college in Virginia and sit ins and such were starting, I had thought that if there was a sit in at the Woolworth’s counter in the college town I would go down and support it, but there never was one while I was there.

HFC: Don’t you think that if there hadn’t been Rosa Parks, Dr. King, the Children’s March, the freedom riders, all of that – that eventually we would have had desegregation and equal rights?

RT: No, I really don’t think so. If there hadn’t been those things, the status quo would have simply continued. We had to have the civil rights movement.

HFC: Why do you think Birmingham, Alabama became such a focal point for the movement?

RT: When you look at the history of Birmingham, it’s easy to see that it became the perfect set up for such a movement. It was a city founded on steel mills and coal mining. The geography itself with the valley and mountains (they’re called mountains, but they’re really hills) formed natural barriers to separate ethnic groups. The Depression hit B’ham very hard. When the mining and mills started to go away, that left a large number of unemployed in Birmingham proper. White flight began to take root out to the suburbs around. So, in B’ham, we had a long history of separation between the races and added to that became economic and job insecurities and fears. 

HFC: Your black protagonist, Letitia, is in first person, yet you are white. Why did you do that?

RT: I believe that writers can use any POV because they get into the heads of their characters, and the characters do the speaking. I needed to have Letitia have the strongest voice to help us all understand what it felt like to live through that time.

HFC: MARCH WITH ME deals with the concept of reconciliation. Do you believe that reconciliation can ever really take place between the races?

RT: I definitely do. In the face of news about hate crimes, etc. I still see reconciliation take place on many fronts. Former MS Gov. William Winter and his Institute for Racial Reconciliation make constant strides in places you would least expect it – Philadelphia, MS for example. The Southern Poverty Law Center’s Teaching Tolerance program works with schools on all levels of eliminating hatred and mistrust of each other. So many YMCAs & YWCAs across the country have wonderful programs to eliminate racism. The important thing, I believe, is that when peoples of different backgrounds – any difference such as white, Hispanic, Muslim, black, whatever – whenever we get together we must share our stories. We must recognize each other as simply people.

HFC: You use a tornado in your story both literally and figuratively. Tell us about that.

RT: Tornadoes are a very real part of life in the south. You may remember the horrific one in 2010 that took over 200 lives. When I considered the definition of a tornado – a tempest distinguished by a rapid swirling and a slow progressive movement – I couldn’t help but think how that could be a definition of the civil rights movement, so I thought using a tornado in the book was a natural.

About March With Me:
Like a tornado, the civil rights movement struck Birmingham in the spring of ’63. In this coming of age novel we are swept into the separate cultures of the south.

Two girls, one black and one white, endure the pain and prejudice of segregation. The girls mature and pursue the same profession until one fateful day when a force of nature sweeps in and rearranges their lives.

About the author:
Rosalie Turner is the author of five books. Her novel, Sisters of Valor, recently received the Military Writers Society of America Bronze Award for Fiction.

While living in Jacksonville, FL, she was awarded the JC Penney Award for establishing an inner city reading program.

Rosalie divides her time between New Mexico and Alabama.


Giveaway is for one copy of March With Me. Open internationally. Winner's choice of print copy or eBook. However, if international winner is chosen, they will receive the eBook. To enter, leave a comment about Rosalie's interview or tell us who you admire most in the Civil Rights Movement. Last day to enter is Tuesday, April 23 at 11:59pm CST. Good luck!

April 04, 2013

(Giveaway) Beverly Swerling, author of Bristol House | Armageddon, Facts Behind the Fiction

Please welcome the author of Bristol House to HF-Connection!
See the end of the post for Giveaway information!

April 4th 2013 by Viking Adult
In the tradition of Kate Mosse, a swiftly-paced mystery that stretches from modern London to Tudor England

In modern-day London, architectural historian and recovering alcoholic Annie Kendall hopes to turn her life around and restart her career by locating several long-missing pieces of ancient Judaica. Geoff Harris, an investigative reporter, is soon drawn into her quest, both by romantic interest and suspicions about the head of the Shalom Foundation, the organization sponsoring her work. He’s also a dead ringer for the ghost of a monk Annie believes she has seen at the flat she is subletting in Bristol House.

In 1535, Tudor London is a very different city, one in which monks are being executed by Henry VIII and Jews are banished. In this treacherous environment of religious persecution, Dom Justin, a Carthusian monk, and a goldsmith known as the Jew of Holborn must navigate a shadowy world of intrigue involving Thomas Cromwell, Jewish treasure, and sexual secrets. Their struggles shed light on the mysteries Annie and Geoff aim to puzzle out—at their own peril.

This riveting dual-period narrative seamlessly blends a haunting supernatural thriller with vivid historical fiction. Beverly Swerling, widely acclaimed for her City of Dreams series, delivers a bewitching and epic story of a historian and a monk, half a millennium apart, whose destinies are on a collision course.

BRISTOL HOUSE.10 Armageddon

The thing about writing a thriller – whether historical or contemporary – is that there is never any shortage of material. There are, unfortunately, endless numbers of people willing to slaughter any number of other people to bring about their particular version of the future.

BRISTOL HOUSE riffs on two such power plays. One occurs when Henry VIII wanted to divorce his wife and marry Anne Boleyn. For that to happen the Pope had to annul Henry's first marriage. Because the pope of the time was a political disaster (and there is no record of any papal discussion of the religious merits of Henry's claim) things went from bad to worse. Eventually Henry not only married Anne, he broke with Rome and established himself as head of the Christian church in England.

That drastic alteration to the English way of life was not achieved without a struggle, but the king held all the cards. The Smithfield fires filled London with the smell of bubbling human fat and slowly roasting flesh. While at Tyburn (today the busy junction of Oxford Street and Bayswater Road), those who objected to Henry's claim were first hung, then cut down while still alive. Next the victim's stomach was slit open and the guts extracted. Finally the heart was cut out, the head hacked off, and the body cut into four parts and briefly boiled so it wouldn't rot too quickly. The head was displayed on the city walls, while the quarters of the body were tacked up in places chosen to deliver a message: No one defies Henry and lives.

If you were very lucky, and Henry wanted you dead but not necessarily to suffer, you were beheaded. Usually on the grounds of the Tower of London. Frequently, however, the job was botched and the executioner just kept hacking away and the victim died slowly and torturously. So sometimes, as a real act of mercy, the king went out of his way to be sure the executioner was able to do the job in one stroke. In the case of wife number two, Anne Boleyn, Henry just wanted to be rid of her – no male heir, and besides someone else had taken his fancy. They sent to France for a particularly adept executioner. (Incidentally the daughter Anne produced for him would go on to be Queen Elizabeth I, one of the strongest monarchs England has ever had, but hey, Henry couldn't know that. And what do you think he'd have thought if someone had been able to tell him what science now knows, that it's the father who determines gender… )

Fast forward to the 21st century, to the Middle East, where death and destruction have been the norm since long before Henry VIII. In Jerusalem there are thirty-five acres on the top of a man-made hill for which men have been willing to die for over three thousand years. Jews and Christians call that precious real estate the Temple Mount, the place where ancient Jews offered sacrifice to the one God, and where later Jesus Christ went to worship. Half a millennium after that it was claimed by Muslims, for whom it's also a supremely holy site known as the Haram al-Sharif.

There's nothing ecumenical about this three-way patrimony. It's been a recipe for disaster for centuries.

In the novel, which takes place in both contemporary and Tudor London, Si Cohen, an English rabbi, tells Annie Kendall, an American historian, that there are crazy people on either side of the argument. There's the likes of Ahmadinejad, president of Iran, who claims there never was any Jewish temple, first or second, built on the site. (There may never have been any kingdom of Israel or Jews in Jerusalem in Ahmadinejad's version of history.) Then there are the Jewish rebuild-the-temple-at-any-cost-in-blood-or-treasure fanatics. Busy breeding the proper kinds of cattle for sacrifice (it must be a pure red heifer), and growing special kinds of flax from heirloom seed so they can weave the correct linen for the priests of their Third Temple.

In the 90's, in his efforts to broker a peace both sides could live with, Bill Clinton came up with an idea for an elevated walkway of some sort (God knows what it would have cost us to build it) that would give people in the newly created Palestinian state access to their holy places, while allowing the Israelis to claim the undivided city of Jerusalem as their capital. Even that enormous stretch didn't work, but simply talking about a two-state solution was apparently enough to tip some Israeli radicals over the edge.

In 1995 Yitzhak Rabin, the Israeli prime minister who said he had to talk peace with his enemies because there was no need to discuss it with his friends, was shot to death by an Orthodox Jew, a young man who despised the notion of a Palestinian state. Which event occurred during a rally to support the peace process.

It later came out that one high profile right winger whom everyone thought they knew all about was in reality a Shin Bet undercover operative. The agent was tried for having failed to prevent Rabin's assassination, but the court decided he'd known nothing about it.

Bring it on, says the thriller writer.

Personally, I think we write about such things as a kind of charm against them happening.

Beverly will also be guest blogging for:
Cheryl’s Book Nook, Cheryl Koch
Booksie’s Blog, Sandie Kirkland
The Novel Life, Stacey Millican
2 Read or Not 2 Read, Marcie Turner
Maurice On Books, Jean Lewis
Book Matters, Teri Harman
Giraffe Days, Shannon Badcock 
Devourer of Books, Jen Karsbaek
Thoughts in Progress, Pamela Purcell

To enter for your chance to win a copy of Bristol House, please leave a comment for the author with your email address so that we may contact the winner.

Plus 1 entry for each daily Facebook or Twitter share, please leave the link to it!

Open to USA followers of HF-Connection, no P.O. Boxes.