February 27, 2014

Nicole Helget's Stillwater -- Guest Post and {Giveaway}


 Hello from Wintry Minnesota!

I’m Nicole Helget, the author of Stillwater. I’m also a teacher and mother to six. Yep, six. My oldest is 17, and my youngest is nearly 4. Our favorite thing to do is get outside, close to places where we can imagine the beginnings of everything. That is, we like to get away from modern civilization for bits of time, go out into nature, and see for ourselves what the world must have looked like for early peoples. These forays into the natural world get our blood running and imaginations sparking. Sun, air, plants, water, and soil are naturally restorative and naturally stimulating. As a girl, I spent a lot of time outside or in the barn. The “outside” and the barn were extensions of the house. In the morning, my mom would get my sisters and I dressed and then shoo us out. And that’s where we stayed until it was time to eat or pick the straw out of our hair.

Aside from writing and mothering, I teach college full time in North Mankato. I really like it a lot, and I care a lot. I’ve noticed something possibly concerning, though, over the past years. While my students are really good at abstract thinking, in that I can provide them with some hypothetical situation and they can “see” it and empathize with the hypothetical characters involved (which is a really, really great skill!), they are stunned silent when I ask them to conjure a hypothetical situation on their own. Maybe it’s not a big deal, but here’s one way it plays out in a related way in the classroom: each week, my students get 10 new vocabulary words. For the test, I make a sentence with that word in it, and then they write a definition based on the context of how the word is used in the sentence. Most of them do very, very well on this. However, most of them struggle mightily when I ask them to create their own sentences with those same words. The difference in thinking is that in the first case, they understand how a word is used. In the second, they struggle to create a way to use the word.

I’m sure all kinds of cultural changes have contributed to this issue, if it is an issue. I love technology and use it to navigate my daily life, but I wonder about its ubiquitous presence in the lives of children. If your imaginary escapes have always been provided for you by television, internet, video games, etc., does it somehow hinder the expected development of creative thinking? Are we atrophying the inventive minds of our children? I don’t know, but I can’t help but wonder if the significant lack of unscripted outside time has somehow diminished our children’s ability to think up scenarios, people, problems, solutions, and ridiculous but necessary flights of fancy?

My thoughts flowed wild while sitting in the grove and staring up at the canopy. I imagined pioneers traversing the same farm roads I did. I conjured the lives of native people in the riverbed near where I grew up. I problem-solved right alongside their ghosts. Of course, all of that time outside has had a direct influence on the writing of my adult life. Even now, I observe the birds and clouds and currents and leaves and am endlessly interested in the natural world. Nothing tickles me more than when my kids look beneath rocks or under bark or ask me, “what if a fox was back there and what if a bear wanted that spot?,” “what if a bird fell down right here?,” “what if this rock was a house?” I heard all three of those thoughts only today on a wintry walk through the woods. And, seriously, can’t you see each one of those questions turning into a beautiful story?

Creative thinking begins with a glint of curiosity.

All right, I’m going on. Thank you for being interested in my book, Stillwater. You will find many of these themes in it; it is a story of earth, water, trees, twins, motherhood, tradition, progress, politics, freedom, and enslavement, a book that came to me in waves of seasonal changes and life changes. Enjoy the rest of winter, my reading friends!

You can keep up with my kids and me here: nicolehelget.blogspot.com

About the book
Publication Date: February 4, 2014
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Hardcover: 336p
ISBN-10: 0547898207

Clement and Angel are fraternal twins separated at birth; they grow up in the same small, frontier logging town of Stillwater, Minnesota. Clement was left at the orphanage. Angel was adopted by the town’s richest couple, but is marked and threatened by her mother’s mental illness. They rarely meet, but Clement knows if he is truly in need, Angel will come to save him.

Stillwater, near the Mississippi River and Canada, becomes an important stop on the Underground Railroad. As Clement and Angel grow up and the country marches to war, their lives are changed by many battles for freedom and by losses in the struggle for independence, large and small.

Stillwater reveals the hardscrabble lives of pioneers, nuns, squaws, fur trappers, loggers, runaway slaves and freedmen, outlaws and people of conscience, all seeking a better, freer, more prosperous future. It is a novel about mothers, about siblings, about the ways in which we must take care of one another and let go of one another. And it’s brought to us in Nicole Helget’s winning, gorgeous prose.

Buy the Book

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About the Author
Born in 1976, NICOLE LEA HELGET grew up on a farm in southern Minnesota, a childhood and place she drew on in the writing of her memoir, The Summer of Ordinary Ways. She received her BA and an MFA in creative writing from Minnesota State University, Mankato. Based on the novel’s first chapter, NPR’s Scott Simon awarded The Turtle Catcher the Tamarack Prize from Minnesota Monthly.

Nicole Helget shares her thoughts on writing and her influences, as well as beautiful photos of her family (including six children!) at her blog. You can also follow her on Twitter.

Visit the other tours for more guest posts, reviews and giveaways - HFVBT TOUR SCHEDULE
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February 24, 2014

Spotlight: Pilgrim Footprints on the Sands of Time by Sylvia Nilsen {Giveaway}

Publication Date: December 2, 2013
LightEye Editions
Paperback; 396p
ISBN-10: 2917183349

A few months after Richard FitzUrse and his fellow knights murder Thomas Becket in Canterbury Cathedral, Lord Robert and Lady FitzUrse are instructed by King Henry to make a penitential pilgrimage to the tomb of Saint James the Greater in Spain in order to earn redemption for his disgraced family.

William Beaumont has made a promise to his dead mother and younger sister to go on a pilgrimage to save their souls. William is secretly in love with Alicia Bearham, niece of Lord Robert. He is overjoyed when he is asked to accompany the family and their servants on their three-month pilgrimage.

They face many adversities, dangers, and an attempted murder on the long and hazardous journey across England, France and Spain. Who is trying to kill Sir Robert and Alicia? What does the gypsy woman they meet in Paris mean when she predicts that Alicia and William are destined to be soul mates, but only when the eleventh flaming star returns to the skies and the water carrier rises over the horizon? One fateful night, a shocking event changes their lives forever.

Buy the Book
Amazon UK
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Book Depository

About the Author
Sylvia Nilsen, well known in the Camino world for her ‘amaWalker blog’ is a South African freelance writer who has been published in numerous local and international publications.

She has worked as a research agent and editor for a UK-based travel guide publisher and produced several African city and country guides.

Sylvia has walked over 5,000 km of pilgrimage trails in Europe including Paris to Spain, the Camino Frances from St Jean Pied de Port and Roncesvalles to Santiago, from Lourdes to Pamplona, el Ferrol to Santiago, Santiago to Finisterre and from Switzerland to Rome on the Via Francigena. She also walked from Durban to Cape Town as part of the ‘Breaking Free’ team in aid of abused women and children. Sylvia has served as a volunteer hospitalero in Spain and is a Spanish accredited hospitalero trainer having trained over 40 people to serve as volunteers in Spain. She was the Regional Co-ordinator for the Confraternity of St James in South Africa from 2003 to 2010.

In 2009 she started amaWalkers Camino (Pty) Ltd and takes small groups of pilgrims on three weeks walks of the Camino Frances in Spain.

For more information on Sylvia Nilsen please visit her website. You can also find her on Facebook.

Visit the other tours for more guest posts, reviews and giveaways - HFVBT TOUR SCHEDULE
Follow the tour on Twitter - #PilgrimFootprintsVirtualTour

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February 20, 2014

Nancy Bilyeau's The Chalice - Book Blast

The Chalice UKThe Chalice
by Nancy Bilyeau

Paperback Publication Date: February 13, 2014
Orion Publishing
Paperback; 432p
ISBN-13: 978-1409135807

Series: Joanna Stafford, Book Two
Genre: Historical Mystery

A curse to kill a king, a fight to save a nation. Follow young Joanna Stafford right into the dark heart of King Henry VIII's court in this stunning Tudor thriller.

England, 1538. The nation is reeling after the ruthless dissolution of the monasteries by King Henry VIII.

Cast out of Dartford Priory, Joanna Stafford - feisty, courageous, but scarred by her recent encounter with rebellion at court - is trying to live a quiet life with her five-year-old charge, Arthur. But family connections draw her dangerously close to a treasonous plot and, repelled by violence and the whispered conspiracies around her, Joanna seeks a life with a man who loves her. But, no matter how hard she tries, she cannot escape the spreading darkness of her destiny. She must make a choice between those she cares for most, and taking her part in a mysterious prophecy foretold by three compelling seers.

Joanna embarks upon a testing journey, and, as she deciphers the meaning at the core of the prophecy, she learns that the fate of a king and the freedom of a nation rest in her hands.

Praise for The Chalice

"Expect treason, treachery, martyrs and more." — Choice magazine

"A time in which no one at all can be trusted and everyday life is laced with horror. Bilyeau paints this picture very, very well." — Reviewing the Evidence

"Bilyeau creates the atmosphere of 1530s London superbly." — Catholic Herald

"Bilyeau continues from her first novel the subtle, complex development of Joanna Stafford's character and combines that with a fast-paced, unexpected plot to hold the reader's interest on every page. — Historical Novel Society

"Joanna Stafford is a young novice caught up in power struggles familiar to readers of Hilary Mantel and C.J. Sansom, but with elements of magic that echo the historical thrillers of Kate Mosse." — S.J. PARRIS, author of HERESY, PROPHECY, AND SACRILEGE

"Second in this compelling and highly readable Tudor thriller series following the 16th century adventures of (now cast out) nun Joanna Stafford. Treason, conspiracies and a dangerous prophecy draw Joanna back from the quiet life she had made for herself after being cast out of Dartford Priory - but she isn’t prepared for the gravity of the situation she finds herself in or the responsibility she now holds. Nancy Bilyeau has followed up her impressive debut with an accomplished historical thriller perfect for fans of C. J. Sansom, Philippa Gregory and S. J. Parris." — Lovereading UK

“Sharply observed, cleverly paced and sympathetically written, this book more than fulfils the promise of THE CROWN, itself named as last year's most impressive debut novel by the CWA Ellis Peters judges. If Joanna Stafford is to return to see out the final years of Henry's tempestuous reign and the accession of his Catholic daughter Mary, I am sure I will not be alone in waiting eagerly for her.” — crimereview.co.uk

“A stunning debut. One of the best historical novels I have ever read — ALISON WEIR

THE CHALICE offers a fresh, dynamic look into Tudor England's most powerful, volatile personalities: Henry VIII, the Duke of Norfolk, Stephen Gardiner and Bloody Mary Tudor. Heroine and former nun Joanna Stafford is beautiful, bold and in lethal danger. Bilyeau writes compellingly of people and places that demand your attention and don't let you go even after the last exciting page” — KAREN HARPER, bestselling author of MISTRESS OF MOURNING

“Rarely have the terrors of Henry VIII's reformation been so exciting. Court intrigue, bloody executions, and haunting emotional entanglements create a heady brew of mystery and adventure that sweeps us from the devastation of the ransacked cloisters to the dangerous spy centers of London and the Low Countries, as ex-novice Joanna Stafford fights to save her way of life and fulfill an ancient prophecy, before everything she loves is destroyed.” — C.W. GORTNER, author of THE QUEEN'S VOW

“Bilyeau paints a moving portrait of Catholicism during the Reformation and of reclusive, spiritual people adjusting to the world outside the cloister. This intriguing and suspenseful historical novel pairs well with C. J. Sansom's Dissolution (2003) and has the insightful feminine perspective of Brenda Rickman Vantrease's The Heretic's Wife (2010).” — BOOKLIST

“As in The Crown, Bilyeau's writing style means that the story reads almost flawlessly. The narrative really makes the reader throw themselves into the story, and makes it so the book is really difficult to put down. I was really very impressed with Bilyeau's writing (As I was in The Crown), and honestly can't recommend this book highly enough.” — LOYALTY BINDS ME

“THE CHALICE is a compelling and pacey time machine to the 16th Century. And when you're returned to the present, you'll have enjoyed an adventure and gained a new perspective on a past you'd wrongly thought to be a done deal.” — Andrew Pyper, author of THE DEMONOLOGIST

“The Chalice is a gripping, tightly-plotted mystery, with a beguiling heroine at its heart, that vividly conjures up the complex dangers of Reformation England. Bilyeau's deftness of touch and complete control over her complex material make for a truly exciting and compelling read.”— ELIZABETH FREMANTLE author of QUEEN'S GAMBIT

“THE CHALICE is brimming with sinister portents, twisted allegiances, religious superstition and political intrigue. It's a darkly fascinating Tudor brew that leaves you thirsting for more.” — PATRICIA BRACEWELL, author of SHADOW ON THE CROWN

Watch the Book Trailer


Buy the Book

Amazon UK
Book Depository
Orion Publishing


About the Author

Nancy BilyeauNancy Bilyeau has worked on the staffs of InStyle, Rolling Stone, Entertainment Weekly, and Ladies Home Journal. She is currently the executive editor of DuJour magazine. Her screenplays have placed in several prominent industry competitions. Two scripts reached the semi-finalist round of the Nicholl Fellowships of the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences. Her screenplay "Zenobia" placed with the American Zoetrope competition, and "Loving Marys" reached the finalist stage of Scriptapalooza. A native of the Midwest, she earned a bachelor's degree from the University of Michigan. THE CROWN, her first novel, was published in 2012; the sequel, THE CHALICE, followed in 2013.

Some earlier milestones: In 1661, Nancy's ancestor, Pierre Billiou, emigrated from France to what was then New Amsterdam when he and his family sailed on the St. Jean de Baptiste to escape persecution for their Protestant beliefs. Pierre built the first stone house on Staten Island and is considered the borough's founder. His little white house is on the national register of historic homes and is still standing to this day.

Nancy lives in New York City with her husband and two children.


Author Links

Sign up for Nancy Bilyeau's Newsletter.

Nancy Bilyeau Gives an Inside Peek Behind THE CHALICE


Book Blast Schedule

Monday, February 17
Mari Reads
Book Drunkard
Closed the Cover
Historical Tapestry
Royalty Free Fiction
Passages to the Past
Just One More Chapter

Tuesday, February 18
Princess of Eboli
Words and Peace
Big Book, Little Book
Curling Up By the Fire
Peeking Between the Pages
Oh, For the Hook of a Book
Historical Fiction Obsession

Wednesday, February 19
Broken Teepee
Kincavel Korner
A Bookish Affair
CelticLady's Reviews
The True Book Addict
Teresa's Reading Corner

Thursday, February 20
Drey's Library
Booktalk & More
Must Read Faster
Reading the Ages
The Maiden's Court
Historical Fiction Connection
Sharon's Garden of Book Reviews

Friday, February 21
HF Book Muse-News
On the Tudor Trail
Flashlight Commentary
Ageless Pages Reviews
Muse in the Fog Book Reviews
Confessions of an Avid Reader

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February 17, 2014

Caddy Rowland - Making History, Bohemian Style

Please welcome back historical fiction author and artist, Caddy Rowland, our regular contributor here at Historical Fiction Connection.

Making History Bohemian Style (Part 2) 
By Caddy Rowland

 Hi! It’s me again, that crazy bohemian. Since I’m going to be posting monthly about the bohemian era artists, I thought maybe I should explain how this whole crazy era came about. It’s funny, really. Two very different things were invented. That’s it. Two small inventions changed art forever. Who would have guessed at the time?

The first invention I have to mention is the camera. Oh, cameras had been around a little while, but they really weren’t used much. Now, in the last half of the 19th century, that began to change. Cameras were no longer considered a passing fad, and people who owned them were being hired to take—you guessed it—photos.

This was an ominous warning bell for artists. You see, artists had always been hired by the wealthy to paint their family member’s portraits and life events. The whole history of a family was painted. Many artists were hired on for life. They were provided room and board, supplies, and sometimes spending money. Some were treated only as servants, while others were embraced as almost a family member. It just depended on the family.

Now, with the camera doing exactly what artists had been hired for, it was obvious that they needed to reinvent themselves—and fast. It would only be a matter of time before those blasted cameras could take photos in color. Some of the more forward thinking artists decided they would show things in ways a camera couldn’t—because all a camera could do was duplicate what it was aimed at. 

Bedroom Arles  

That’s what had been expected of artists up to this point, too. Duplicate. They dreamed of the freedom to paint what they wanted and how they wanted it. There was no time to do that, though. They were kept busy with the family history of their patrons. Now, they finally had freedom to paint as they pleased. Unfortunately, it came at a high cost. No more would they be guaranteed a place to live, food to eat, or even supplies. They were going to be on their own.

The second item that was invented was to their advantage. Finally, for the first time in history paints were available for purchase in tubes! Yes, in tubes of color already mixed! That meant artists no longer had to spend time making paint. It also meant they could paint outside very easily. What a joy to have the ability to paint wherever they wanted, carrying those little tubes in their paint box.

The time was ripe for change. Artists knew it—at least the artists who understood that to stay the same would be to die off. With all of the possibilities presented to them now that they were mobile, no subject was off limits. Landscapes, still life, commoners, street scenes…a whole new world beckoned, begging to be captured on canvas.

Those artists answered the call. They grabbed their brushes, canvas and paints and headed out to make history. Yes, it really was a new world—where anything was possible.

Impressionism was born.

Once that happened, nothing would ever be the same again.

Le Moulin de la Galette
Pierre-Auguste Renoir

I’ll say good-bye for now. Next month we’ll continue our leisurely exploration of these wonderful artists and their vision for the future. Until then, dream big and dream in color. 

Historical Fiction by Caddy Rowland:

Contact and Social Media Info. For Caddy Rowland: 
Author Blog 

Author Central Page

Goodreads Author Page

Author Email: caddyauthor@yahoo.com

Twitter: @caddyorpims