November 29, 2014

RV Doon's The War Nurse - Guest Post and {Giveaway}

World War II is a gold mine for great stories because it caused the greatest global upheaval of humans in current history. First, the combat stories haven’t all been tapped. Second, the stories of internment haven’t all been heard. Third, the stories of women survivors in the combat zones have yet to be discovered in full.

War brings out the best and worst in people. The greatest leaps in health care, surgical techniques, and new medicines have followed wars. Sadly, we still don’t have the cure for soldier’s heart now called PTSD. I can’t help wondering why.

Why set a woman’s story in a soul-sucking war zone?

Because war stuns people of conscience and they can’t be neutral. The devastation and loss of life moves many to alleviate suffering any way they can. Their humanity shines. The borderline humans let go of all restraints and unleash their obsessions. The latter is where the war horror stories come from. People without a conscience are drawn to the ones that shine.

The War Nurse is a woman’s journey into the ‘heart of darkness.’ Katarina Stahl is an American Red Cross nurse in Manila, a lush, tropical paradise when the war explodes. With bombs falling, she makes a bad decision. She doesn’t realize her decision will slam her New York family into their own dark voyage. She didn’t know the German doctor she saved had made previous inquiries about her family from the German Consulate in Manila. She doesn’t know the FBI dragnet has already scooped them up and detained them behind barbed wire.

In the war zone, the doctor pretends he’s at the camp to return her survival favor. He begs her to save herself and her unborn child by nursing his wife in their home. This is when Katarina makes a life-altering pact with a he-devil. Read the excerpt:


“You were a war nurse on Bataan, and for you, there is only imprisonment. Nursing is an honorable job. After Minka’s delivery, I’ll turn you over if you wish to starve and sing patriotic songs behind bars.”

Katarina licked her lips. “I’m sorry. People will—no, it’s impossible.”

“Did you swear an oath to your husband or to the military?”

Jack told her to live at all costs.

A Japanese soldier came to the door and beckoned von Wettin.

He helped her stand. “Choose to go with me or stay behind as the only female.”

His words chilled. She wouldn’t survive one night alone. “I have to get my things.”


Panicking, she dashed to the hut for wet laundry, and then back to the sleep room. Wet clothes went first into a hemp bag, followed by dry. Last, she removed Jack’s picture from under the pillow and stared at it. Jack would tell her to do whatever it took to survive the war, short of murder. She tucked him into her pocket and put on the anting-anting necklace. She stared at the austere sleep space. What had Hub said? Luck favors risk takers.

Going to von Wettin’s home could mean the difference between survival or losing Jack’s baby. But she knew he’d extract a heavy price for accepting his offer. Even so, it was time to put the needs of her baby first. How many times had she cried herself to sleep worrying? In nightmares, she’d eaten her baby.

“I’ll be Minka’s nurse,” she said, joining von Wettin. Her morning mush threatened to come back up, and her skin turned frosty. He’d cornered her, preyed on her fears, and pretended she had choices. He lied as easily as breathing, but so could she.

About the book
Publication Date: January 14, 2014
BRY Publishing
Formats: eBook, Paperback
Pages: 382
Genre: Historical Fiction

This historical thriller begins on the eve of WWII in the Philippines. Katarina Stahl an American Red Cross nurse, is the happiest she’s ever been in her life. She’s making love and playing music with Jack Gallagher in an idyllic paradise. Their medical mission is over, the boat tickets to home are purchased, and all that remains is to fly a sick child to the hospital at Clark Air Field.

She never expected to witness bombs falling out of planes. In those terrifying first minutes, she frees a German doctor accused of spying and saves his life. She turns to nursing the injured, unaware she’s unleashed an obsession more dangerous to her and those she loves, than the war she’s trapped in.
Doctor von Wettin, the man she freed, finds Katarina pregnant and starving in a POW camp after the surrender. He begs her to nurse his bed-ridden wife. She knows other Americans will despise her, but wants her baby to live after surviving Bataan. Their uneasy alliance is destroyed when she discovers he exploited Red Cross diplomatic channels and contacts at the German embassy to wire money to her parents. His benevolent mask slips when he informs her that her brothers and parents are interned on Ellis Island.

When the Stahl family is swept up in the FBI’s dragnet, Josep Stahl believes it’s all a misunderstanding. He’s interrogated like a criminal at the city jail, a military camp, Ellis Island, and then the civilian internment camps in Texas. His anger and pride blind him. One by one in this painful family drama, his wife and sons join him behind barbed wire in. There they face ostracism, segregation, and, most frightening, repatriation.

Katarina begins an even more terrifying journey into depraved darkness as Manila descends into occupation and chaos. The doctor threatens everyone she loves: infant son, POW husband, and Filipino friends. She’ll do anything to protect them; she lies, steals, and smuggles. As the war turns against the Japanese, they withhold the doctor’s wife’s life-saving medications until he finds a hidden radio inside the civilian internment camp. If Katarina refuses to help him, her son pays the price.

Survival has corrupted Katarina; but she’s not about to become his camp rat. After years of hell, she’s earned her nickname, war nurse. Doctor von Wettin is about to find out what that means.

About the Author
R.V. Doon is a bookie! Seriously, she’s an avid reader who also loves to write. She writes across genres, but confesses she’s partial to historical fiction and medical thrillers. She’s addicted to black coffee, milk chocolate, and raspberries. When she’s not reading or writing, she’s learning to sail. Doon reports after a career of implementing doctor’s orders, she’s having trouble being a deck hand and following the captain’s orders. Doon lives in Mobile, Alabama, a haunted and historical city, with her husband and two dogs.
For more information please visit R.V. Doon’s website. You can also find her on Facebook, Twitter,Google+, Goodreads, and Amazon.
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November 26, 2014

Sherry Jones' The Sharp Hook of Love - Guest Post

Heloise and Abelard and the Happily-Ever-After Ending

Woe to those critics of my new book THE SHARP HOOK OF LOVE who, hooked by the cover, hoped for a sweetness-and-light romance with an HEA (Happily-Ever-After) ending. But then, it’s unkind of me to send them woe, since that’s what these readers are trying to escape from.

No one understands misery better than I. I grew up in an abusive household with two dysfunctional parents and no other family nearby — hence, no support system. It’s no wonder I fell, for a time, for the ultimate HEA ending: the promise of an eternally sweet hereafter in a heavenly city with gold-paved streets and unremitting bliss.

The longing for a life without suffering is as old as we are. Anthropologists think organized religion began around the same time humans began growing our food instead of hunting and gathering. Hoping not to starve, we began praying to the sun for shine and to the clouds for rain — fruitless efforts, no doubt, except that they helped us feel better, as though we had some control over our lives.

Is Paradise overrated?

 And yet, I wonder about the HEA mindset. What would it be like, a life without struggles, challenges, obstacles, frustrations, conflicts, heartaches, setbacks, sorrows, or discomfort of any kind? Odysseus had it with Calypso on her idyllic island, Ogygia, but seven years of pleasure took its toll and boredom set in. He couldn’t wait to get away from all that great food and sex, perfect weather, and instant gratification.

One wonders, too, about Abelard and Heloise, the famous 12th-century Parisian intellectuals whose passionate, erotic, scandal-ridden tale has survived these 900 years precisely because of the tragic way their love affair ended — with a brutal stroke of revenge that tore them apart for the rest of their lives. Would they have been happier with an HEA ending, riding off into the sunset hand and hand, you and me and baby makes three?

Heloise suspected not, and it’s one reason she initially said “no” to Abelard’s proposal of marriage, as Abelard wrote in his autobiography:

Consider, she said, the true conditions for a dignified way of life. What harmony can there be between pupils and nursemaids, desks and cradles, books or tablets and distaffs, pen or stylus and spindles? Who can concentrate on thoughts of Scripture or philosophy and be able to endure babies crying, nurses soothing them with lullabyes, and all the comings and goings of men and women about the house?

These were prescient questions, especially for their time, when marriage and children were not only de rigueur for women, but absolutely required for those of Heloise’s exalted socio-economic class. But then, theirs would have been a marriage made for love, not to create heirs. Perhaps Heloise could see the fallacy inherent in that arrangement.

Nipped in the bud — a good thing?

The love affair of Heloise and Abelard, by scholars’ accounts, lasted no more than a couple of years. Take into account the weeks, if not months, they spent resisting their sinful desires before finally succumbing to temptation, and it seems they barely had time for the pheromones to subside before the Church and Heloise’s uncle ripped them apart. What if they’d openly married, instead, forsaking their scholarly — Church-controlled — careers and devoting themselves to domestic life?

Would they have lived Happily Ever After?

By the time their love affair ended, Abelard was starting to feel a bit bored with the relationship, it seems. His visits with Heloise became “few and furtive,” necessary to avoid being discovered, he wrote — this from the man who had loved with such reckless abandon that he’d sung Heloise’s praises to his students in class when he was supposed to be teaching philosophy.

Had they remained together, what would their lives had been like?

Without the prebends and benefices of a canon, Abelard would have been forced to reclaim his inheritance, and become lord of the family castle in Le Pallet, a tiny rural outpost in the hinterland of Brittany — the very life he’d rejected, withdrawing, he wrote, “from the court of Mars in order to be educated in the lap of Minerva.”

There they would have lived, secluded from the stimulating life of the mind both enjoyed so much in Paris. Would discontent have ensued, and bickering? Would Abelard had turned to drink, or the servant girls? Would Heloise have become another Xanthippe, the supposedly quarrelsome wife of Socrates whom she’d held up as an example of why she and Abelard should not marry?

Fantasy vs. reality

Parted from each other at the height of their passion — or just when it was beginning to wane — the lovers were free, then, to remember the good times and even to invent their own fairy-tale endings by drawing from the realm of the might-have-been.

And when Abelard became deathly ill, 25 years after saying good-bye to Heloise, he asked the Church to let him live his final months in the convent where she was abbess. Denied the request, he asked that his body be entombed at her Oratory of the Paraclete so she might pray over him daily. He did not want to be forgotten by her — and he was not. She did as he asked, for 20 years. Before she died, she asked to be buried in the same coffin with him.

“When her dead body was carried to the opened tomb,” an anonymous witness wrote, “her husband, who had died long before her, raised his arms to receive her, and so clasped her closely in his embrace.”

Now, that’s my kind of HEA.

To read the first two chapters of “The Sharp Hook of Love” and to see a video about the lovers, sign up for Sherry’s newsletter at   

Publication Date: October 7, 2014
Gallery Books
Formats: eBook, Paperback
Pages: 352
Genre: Historical Fiction/Romance

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The first retelling of the passionate, twelfth-century love story since the discovery of 113 lost love letters between Heloise d’Argenteuil and Pierre Abelard—the original Romeo and Juliet.

“While I sleep you never leave me, and after I wake I see you, as soon as I open my eyes, even before the light of day itself.” —Abelard to Heloise

Among the young women of twelfth-century Paris, Heloise d’Argenteuil stands apart. Extraordinarily educated and quick-witted, she is being groomed by her uncle to become an abbess in the service of God.

But with one encounter, her destiny changes forever. Pierre Abelard, headmaster at the Notre-Dame Cloister School, is acclaimed as one of the greatest philosophers in France. His controversial reputation only adds to his allure, yet despite the legions of women swooning over his poetry and dashing looks, he is captivated by the brilliant Heloise alone. As their relationship blossoms from a meeting of the minds to a forbidden love affair, both Heloise and Abelard must choose between love, duty, and ambition.

Sherry Jones weaves the lovers’ own words into an evocative account of desire and sacrifice. As intimate as it is erotic, as devastating as it is beautiful, The Sharp Hook of Love is a poignant, tender tribute to one of history’s greatest romances, and to love’s power to transform and endure.

Praise for The Sharp Hook of Love
“Heloise is the sort of heroine you cannot help rooting for: brilliant and naïve, vulnerable and tough. The Sharp Hook of Love will have you up all night holding your breath as you turn each page.” (Rebecca Kanner author of Sinners and the Sea)

“Jones weaves history and passion in a tale full of emotional heft that questions what it means to truly love someone…” (Kirkus Reviews)

“A sensual journey into twelfth century Paris. With a sharp eye for historical detail, Jones weaves an unforgettable, compelling tale about enduring love.” (Lynn Cullen nationally bestselling author of Mrs. Poe)
“Passion and treachery mingle in Sherry Jones’s explosive novel The Sharp Hook of Love. Wrenching and erotic, this is a grand romance in every sense of the word.” (Mary Sharratt author of Illuminations: A Novel of Hildegard von Bingen)

Buy the Book

About the Author
Sherry Jones is the author of five biographical fiction books: The Sharp Hook of Love, about the famed 12th-century lovers Abelard and Heloise; The Jewel of Medina and The Sword of Medina, international — and controversial — best sellers about the life of A’isha, who married the Muslim prophet Muhammad at age nine and went on to become the most famous and influential woman in Islam; Four Sisters, All Queens, a tale of four sisters in 13th century Provence who became queens of France, England, Germany, and Italy, and White Heart, an e-novella about the famous French “White Queen” Blanche de Castille.

For more information please visit Sherry Jones’s website. You can also find her on Facebook, Twitter,YouTube, and Goodreads.

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November 24, 2014

C.W. Gortner's The Tudor Vendetta - Guest Post and {Giveaway}

Elizabeth I: An Uncertain Beginning

In THE TUDOR VENDETTA, the third and final book in my Elizabeth I Spymaster Trilogy (Elizabeth’s Spymaster in the UK), I decided to focus on the first uncertain, tumultuous months leading up to Elizabeth I’s coronation. Although this novel is perhaps the most fictionalized of the three in the series, in that the mystery which Elizabeth’s private spy must uncover remains unsubstantiated by historical evidence, the setting I depict is not.

It’s almost impossible for us to believe now that Elizabeth Tudor faced an uncertain future upon her accession. Her forty-five year reign has been so cemented in our imagination as one of unmitigated triumph that we take it as a given. Her ability to steer past the shoals of religious discord and enmity of Catholic powers both abroad and in her realm, as well as her astonishing lack of compromise when it came to marriage, have made her an icon: the Virgin Queen, Gloriana, who once said she already had a husband, for she was “married to England.”

Nevertheless, the twenty-five year old princess who claimed the throne in November 1558 was, while superbly educated and politically savvy, still untried as a ruler. Indeed, she faced a myriad of issues that might have overwhelmed anyone but her. After her sister Mary I’s disastrous five-year reign—a portion of which is depicted in the second novel of the series, The Tudor Conspiracy— England teetered on the brink of ruin. Mary’s fervent persecution of Protestants had turned the country upside down, exiling or destroying many of the affluent merchants who upheld the Reformed Faith and formed the backbone of economic stability. Her ill-fated marriage to Philip of Spain had turned popular opinion against her, a tragic side-effect of her determination to see England restored to Rome, which annihilated the initial wave of support from her subjects that saw her to the throne. In addition, her economic policies had debased the coinage even further—an ongoing issue that had bedeviled her predecessors, and now fomented severe discontent, with the strife over the enclosure or sale of monastic lands begun under Henry VIII, a long-gnawed bone of contention between nobility and commoners.

Elizabeth thus inherited a legacy of intolerance, brutal reprisal, and financial chaos; she also was considered nearing her middle years, as surprising as this might seem to us, because of overall life expectancy in her era, and of her family, in particular. The need to marry and produce an heir was therefore paramount to her advisors, most particularly William Cecil, who had safeguarded her during the years before her accession. Marriage was deemed not only vital to shoring up her reign, but also to protecting her from foreign aggression, now personified by her cousin, Mary of Scots, the dauphine of France by virtue of her marriage to the French king’s heir. Catholics by and large believed Mary of Scots held the superior right to the English throne, based on the contention that Henry VIII’s marriage to Elizabeth’s mother, Anne Boleyn, had been illegal. Many Catholics deemed Elizabeth a bastard usurper, including the pope himself.

Elizabeth’s famous motto of video et taceo ("I see, and say nothing") may have arisen as she began to realize just how tenuous her reign could be. She is renowned for not wanting to “make mirrors into men’s souls”. Perhaps this, above all else, was her most defining characteristic. She did not believe that prying into private matters, religious or otherwise, would serve her in the long run—a rare stance for any ruler, much less an untried one, yet one which, as history would show, served her well.

In THE TUDOR VENDETTA, we meet Elizabeth in the first weeks of her much-vaunted reign—here, she is a woman who has survived more in her youth than many experience in a lifetime, having navigated the seesaw of favor and disfavor, the stigma of illegitimacy, the scandals that marred her adolescence, and even a terrifying imprisonment in the Tower. But she is not yet the Elizabeth who will eventually emerge from the forge of trial-and-error; she is not the white-faced, oversize-gowned sovereign of legend.

She is still a new queen, determined but unproven, treading on thin ice. She dreams of being the savior of her nation, but her path to glory will be arduous—and she may lose everything if she fails to protect one potentially fatal secret.

I hope you enjoy exploring this exciting time in one of history’s most dramatic eras. To learn more about THE TUDOR VENDETTA and my other books, please visit me at

About the book
Publication Date: October 21, 2014
St. Martin’s Press
Formats: eBook, Paperback
Series: Spymaster Chronicles
Genre: Historical Mystery

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Winter, 1558: Elizabeth I has ascended the throne but the first days of her reign are already fraught with turmoil, the kingdom weakened by strife and her ability to rule uncertain.

Summoned from exile abroad at the new queen’s behest, Brendan Prescott arrives in London to face his shattered past. He soon finds himself pitted in deadly rivalry with his life-long foe, Robert Dudley, but when a poison attempt overshadows the queen’s coronation, Elizabeth privately dispatches Brendan on a far more dangerous assignation: to find her favored lady-in-waiting, Lady Parry, who has vanished in Yorkshire.

Upon his arrival at the crumbling sea-side manor that may hold the key to Lady Parry’s disappearance, he encounters a strange, impoverished family beset by grief, as well as mounting evidence that they hide a secret from him. The mystery surrounding Lady Parry deepens as Brendan begins to realize there is far more going on at the manor than meets the eye, but the closer he gets to the heart of the mystery, the more he becomes the quarry of an elusive stranger with a vendetta— one that could expose both his own buried identity and a long-hidden revelation that will bring about Elizabeth’s doom.

From the intrigue-laden passages of Whitehall to a foreboding Catholic manor and the prisons of the Tower, Brendan must risk everything to unravel a vendetta that strikes at the very core of his world, including his loyalty to his queen.

The Tudor Vendetta is the third book in Gortner’s Elizabeth I Spymaster Trilogy.

Praise for The Tudor Vendetta
“Fast paced and exciting, with a most engaging hero . . . So vivid, you feel are there!” – Diana Gabaldon, bestselling author of the Outlander series

“C.W. Gortner has done it again! Full of breathtaking action, dark twists and unexpected revelations, this is an unputdownable read.” – Michelle Moran, bestselling author of Madame Tussaud

“Suspense, intrigue, betrayal and deadly rivalry: What more can you ask for? A swashbuckling, perilous adventure.” – M.J. Rose, bestselling author of The Reincarnationist

About the Author
C.W. GORTNER holds an MFA in Writing with an emphasis in Renaissance Studies from the New College of California, as well as an AA from the Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising in San Francisco.

After an eleven year-long career in fashion, during which he worked as a vintage retail buyer, freelance publicist, and fashion show coordinator, C.W. devoted the next twelve years to the public health sector. In 2012, he became a full-time writer following the international success of his novels.

In his extensive travels to research his books, he has danced a galliard at Hampton Court, learned about organic gardening at Chenoceaux, and spent a chilly night in a ruined Spanish castle. His books have garnered widespread acclaim and been translated into twenty-one languages to date, with over 400,000 copies sold. A sought-after public speaker. C.W. has given keynote addresses at writer conferences in the US and abroad. He is also a dedicated advocate for animal rights, in particular companion animal rescue to reduce shelter overcrowding.

C.W. recently completed his fourth novel for Ballantine Books, about Lucrezia Borgia; the third novel in his Tudor Spymaster series for St Martin’s Press; and a new novel about the dramatic, glamorous life of Coco Chanel, scheduled for lead title publication by William Morrow, Harper Collins, in the spring of 2015.

Half-Spanish by birth and raised in southern Spain, C.W. now lives in Northern California with his partner and two very spoiled rescue cats.

For more information please visit C.W. Gortner’s website and blog. You can also connect with him on Facebook, Twitter,Goodreads, Pinterest, and YouTube.

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To win a complete set of CW Gortner’s Spymaster Chronicles Trilogy please complete the Rafflecopter giveaway form below. Giveaway is open to US residents only.

Giveaway ends at 11:59pm on November 28th. You must be 18 or older to enter.
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Winner have 48 hours to claim prize or new winner is chosen.

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November 21, 2014

Caddy Rowland - Making History, Bohemian Style (Part 11)

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

Le Bateau-Lavoir

For the last several months I’ve (hopefully) entertained and educated you about the art scene in Paris during the late nineteenth and early twentieth century. We’ve talked about what Impressionism is, how it happened, where the artist’s hung out, where they bought supplies, and where they painted. I’m a painter myself, and many times I find myself fantasizing about how cool it would have been to have lived and painted during those crazy times. I’m sure they did have a lot of fun. But, as I’ve mentioned, most of the time they struggled. I’d like to say things have changed for artists today, but they still struggle to put food on the table and a roof over their head. It seems everyone would love to own original oil—for twenty-five dollars! :)

Back then so many artists went without food and decent places to live that I believe perhaps this is where the term “starving artist” came from. As you now know, Au Lapin Agile fed artists soup at the end of the night. Other times, when an artist sold a painting or was lucky enough to receive money from a concerned relative, they often used their newly acquired “money” to buy enough food for all of their friends to join them in a meal. Commune living at its finest!

Finding a place to live wasn’t easy, either. Only a few decades earlier they had been at least guaranteed a warm room and food from the wealthy families who hired them to paint family history. Now, part of the price for artistic freedom was finding a place to live they could actually afford. Trust me; most of these artists didn't have fancy studios or apartments. Some eventually ended up wealthy and successful, but not without first living hand to mouth. Renoir, Degas, and Picasso all ended up famous and wealthy, along with a few others. These men had lovely homes and gardens in their later years. One of these, Picasso, was a rare exception. Although Picasso did live in the tenements that were called artist's quarters when he first arrived in Paris, but he became famous before he was an old man. Renoir and Degas sometimes peddled paintings door to door, trying to gather enough money so as not to get evicted.

Max Jacob, a journalist and poet, became friends with Picasso when he first arrived in Paris. He taught Picasso French and the two men shared an apartment. The apartment consisted of one small room. Besides being small, it was extremely cold. Sometimes, to stay warm, they burned Picasso’s paintings. I’m not sure if this room was in the Le Bateau-Lavoir, but since both men did live in this building I’m betting it was.

A young Picasso in front of Le Bateau-Lavoir and one of his works in progress.

Le Bateau-Lavoir was a run-down dump of a building that served as an artist’s commune. Because of the hills in Montmartre, part of the compound was one story, and another more than three stories. People often commented it looked more like a heap of garbage than a building. Whenever it was windy the building swayed. There was no heat or plumbing. Because of the swaying and creaking it reminded people of the washing boats on the river. That’s how it got its name, which means the laundry boat, along with the fact that the way it was set up inside made it look like an ocean liner. The building was poorly heated, making it miserable during the winter months. One of Picasso’s mistresses during the time would stay in bed all day just to keep warm. One night she left a cup of water on the stand by the bed. In the morning the water was frozen solid. Additionally, there was one water tap in the whole building.

This dump of a building housed a ridiculously high number of creative geniuses—geniuses who would make art history. Click here to read the names of many of those great artists, under "history". Renoir was another who lived here for awhile, and Suzanne Valadon (who would herself become a painter) was his model. All but the façade was destroyed by fire in 1970. It was rebuilt in 1978.

Just like now, artists searched out the cheapest housing they could find, hoping against hope that somehow, someday they would become popular enough to have money to live on. Many of the artists from this time period did become famous. Unfortunately, most of them were old or dead by the time it happened.

Regardless, these artists went into painting knowing it wasn’t easy. They would probably never get rich, never see fame. Why did they paint? They painted because they had to. They had no choice. It’s why they were born.

Another view of Le Bateau-Lovoir

Historical Fiction by Caddy Rowland: 

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Twitter: @caddyorpims

November 19, 2014

Mary F. Burns' The Spoils of Avalon - Guest Post and {Giveaway}

Doing Research OnSite – Wondrous Things Happen 

I spent three weeks in September visiting the main locations that are featured in my first Sargent-Paget mystery, The Spoils of Avalon: Lanercost Priory and Brampton Town in the north of England (Cumbria), and the village of Glastonbury with the ruins of the Abbey in Somerset in the south. I had anticipated having a good time, and learning some interesting facts, but I soon found myself overwhelmed by the deep sensory and spiritual experience of being alive in the places I had just spent a year writing about. I carried around with me an advance copy of my book and wrote in it constantly, making changes and adding scenes as the spirit moved me—and it often did!

In my book, I alternate between two time periods: 1877, with John Singer Sargent and Violet Paget, best friends from the age of 10, embarking on an adventure that takes them north to Cumbria, and which starts with murder and ends with magic; and 1539, in Glastonbury, with a young novice monk named Arthur Joseph, who witnesses the tragedy of the Dissolution of the Monasteries under King Henry VIII and Thomas Cromwell.


Built in 1169 by the Dacre family, the Priory was the home of Augustinian canons who, unlike monks in a monastery, did not live a cloistered life, but rather went out to the people in the surrounding areas, preaching and teaching and serving the poor.

When I first arrived at the site, which is now managed by the English Heritage Society, I was struck with the beauty and color of the old stonework. The ruins are unbelievably magnificent, and many of the stones used to built are said to be taken from the relatively nearby (1/4 mile up the hill) remains of Hadrian’s Wall, which was plundered of its dressed stone for many a century after the Roman soldiers left in the 300’s.

The Priory is set in the midst of rolling hills alive with numerous flocks of sheep and small herds of cattle that move from meadow to meadow throughout the day. Surrounded with the chirping of birds, roosters crowing, and jackdaws swooping and calling, the Priory begins to feel rather homey and domestic. After a very little while, however, I began to feel it was just exactly the right size, and felt very good just walking around the building and grounds. The baa-ing of the sheep, lowing of cattle, and the roosters and chickens clucking and carrying on made it feel timeless, as if these were the sounds that the people in the Middle Ages heard all day long, too. There were no airplanes overhead, and the car noises were relatively infrequent, especially after dusk.

Although the ruins are extensive, there is a considerable part of the original church that is still in use as an Anglican church today, St. Mary Magdalene--it had been repaired and maintained since the late 1500's, and still is home to parishioners and worshippers who are baptized, married and buried within its ancient walls.

Both sets of my characters, from both timelines, are visitors to Lanercost Priory after it has been laid waste, and I was deeply moved by standing in the forlorn and sacred space of a once-magnificent and holy place, and that experience allowed me to re-write some passages in my novel more authentically.


The small town of Brampton is where John and Violet stay during their week-long visit to the North, and I was delighted to visit the village and see that it wasn’t very much different from how I had pictured it. It’s barely two miles from the ruins of Lanercost Priory, and as we drove back and forth on the (very) narrow road between the two places, I often pictured what it would be like to ride along in an open carriage, hearing the horse’s steps and the rattle of the carriage. I discovered that one such trip I had written about needed revising, as a castle that I had described as being “espied from the road” was in fact deep beyond some hills and woods, and could never be seen from that particular road!

Brampton itself is a nice little town with winding streets, and the tallest building is the church, St. Martin’s. It was designed and built by Philip Webb, an architect who worked for the Arts & Crafts firm of Morris & Co—and a very special element of the church is the presence of stunning stained glass windows designed by Edward Burne-Jones.


After a week at Lanercost and Brampton, we took a train down to Bristol, rented a car and drove the thirty miles or so to Glastonbury through a flat, watery country—Somerset, often called The Summer Land, and the ancient places where the legends of King Arthur, the Round Table, and the Holy Grail sprung forth from the Isle of Avalon, or the Isle of Glass.

Glastonbury has become rather commercialized, especially with the popularity of the summer outdoor concert, but also because of the thousands of people who flock there to find spiritual succor at its various holy and sacred sites: the Chapel of St. Michael on the Tor (meaning ‘hill’), the Chalice Well, the Thorn Tree of St. Joseph, and the ruins of the great Abbey itself.

September, which threatens rain every day, turned out to be a good time of year to visit, and none of the sites we visited were in the least bit overrun with people.

I was exceedingly lucky to be able to sign up for a day-long workshop on Gregorian Chant, which was held in the only building that was not destroyed during the Dissolution, the Abbot’s Kitchen. The professor of music who led the class taught us how to read the music, and we sang the Office of St. Dunstan (appointed as Abbot of Glastonbury in 943 by King Edmund) all during the day, learning the pieces bit by bit. I felt as if I had been transported to the 16th century, or earlier, and was experiencing a little of what the monks and other folk who lived at the Abbey did and felt in those times. This event also helped me fine-tune some scenes in my book, based on the sense of place and time I had experienced.

I have to say, though, that I don’t think I would have wanted to visit any of these site before I wrote my novel. I think it might have gotten in the way of actually writing the story, as if the scope and grandeur and beauty of these places would have overwhelmed and intimidated me. There’s no real way of knowing if that’s true or not, but I can say that I am very glad to have visited these places with my book in hand, and that making changes to the descriptions or scenes afterwards worked very well for me.

You can see a lot more photos and read about my research trip at my blog for this mystery series: Thanks for reading, and I would be delighted to answer questions or read your comments!

About the book 
Publication Date: November 1, 2014
Sand Hill Review Press
Paperback; 300p
ISBN: 978-1937818289
Series: A John Singer Sargent/Violet Paget Mystery (Book One)
Genre: Historical Fiction/Historical Mystery

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The death of a humble clergyman in 1877 leads amateur sleuths Violet Paget and John Singer Sargent into a medieval world of saints and kings—including the legendary Arthur—as they follow a trail of relics and antiquities lost since the destruction of Glastonbury Abbey in 1539. Written in alternating chapters between the two time periods, The Spoils of Avalon creates a sparkling, magical mystery that bridges the gap between two worlds that could hardly be more different—the industrialized, Darwinian, materialistic Victorian Age and the agricultural, faith-infused life of a medieval abbey on the brink of violent change at the hands of Henry VIII and Thomas Cromwell.

First in a new series of historical mysteries, The Spoils of Avalon introduces two unlikely detectives and life-long friends—beginning as young people on the verge of making their names famous for the next several decades throughout Europe and America: the brilliant and brittle Violet Paget, known as the writer Vernon Lee, and the talented, genial portrait painter John Singer Sargent.

Friends from the age of ten, Paget and Sargent frequently met in the popular European watering places and capitals, frequenting the same salons and drawing rooms in London, Rome, Paris, Florence, Venice, Vienna and Madrid. Both were possessed of keen minds and bohemian tendencies, unorthodox educations and outsized egos (especially Paget). Their instant, natural bonding led them to address each other as “Twin”, and they corresponded frequently when they were apart.

Henry James once described Violet Paget as having “the most formidable mind” of their times, and he was an active fan and patron of John Sargent, introducing him to London society and his own inner circles of literary and artistic genius.

Praise for The Spoils of Avalon
“An artist, a writer, a murder, a mysterious tome, a dissolving time, a crime, Arthurian legends, ancient saints books and bones. Burns’ prose drives and is sublime, with characters and settings that live on in your mind. This is an original historical mystery connecting the Age of Industry with the Age of Miracles.” – Stephanie Renée dos Santos, forthcoming novel: Cut From The Earth

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About the Author
Mary F. Burns is the author of PORTRAITS OF AN ARTIST (Sand Hill Review Press, February 2013), a member of and book reviewer for the Historical Novel Society and a former member of the HNS Conference board of directors. A novella-length book, ISAAC AND ISHMAEL, is also being published by Sand Hill Review Press in 2014. Ms. Burns’ debut historical novel J-THE WOMAN WHO WROTE THE BIBLE was published in July 2010 by O-Books (John Hunt Publishers, UK). She has also written two cozy-village mysteries in a series titled The West Portal Mysteries (The Lucky Dog Lottery and The Tarot Card Murders).

Ms. Burns was born in Chicago, Illinois and attended Northern Illinois University in DeKalb, where she earned both Bachelors and Masters degrees in English, along with a high school teaching certificate. She relocated to San Francisco in 1976 where she now lives with her husband Stuart in the West Portal neighborhood. Ms. Burns has a law degree from Golden Gate University, has been president of her neighborhood association and is active in citywide issues. During most of her working career she was employed as a director of employee communications, public relations and issues management at various San Francisco Bay Area corporations, was an editor and manager of the Books on Tape department for Ignatius Press, and has managed her own communications/PR consulting business, producing written communications, websites and video productions for numerous corporate and non-profit clients.

Ms. Burns may be contacted by email at For more information please visit Mary Burns’s website. You can also connect with Mary on FacebookTwitter, and Goodreads, or read her blog posts at:

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Twitter Hashtag: #SpoilsofAvalonBlogTour #HistoricalFiction
Twitter Tags: @hfvbt @jwriter9

Follow the instructions on the Rafflecopter form below to enter for a chance to win one copy of The Spoils of Avalon (eBook or Print, Winner's choice), open to US, UK, Canada, and Australia residents.

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November 18, 2014

Spotlight on A Day of Fire: A Novel of Pompeii

Please join historical novelists Vicky Alvear Shecter, Sophie Perinot, Ben Kane, Kate Quinn, E. Knight, and Stephanie Dray as they tour the blogosphere for A Day of Fire: A Novel of Pompeii, from October 27-December 5 with HF Virtual Book Tours!

Publication Date: November 4, 2014
Knight Media, LLC
eBook; 315p
Genre: Historical Fiction

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Pompeii was a lively resort flourishing in the shadow of Mount Vesuvius at the height of the Roman Empire. When Vesuvius erupted in an explosion of flame and ash, the entire town would be destroyed. Some of its citizens died in the chaos, some escaped the mountain’s wrath . . . and these are their stories:

A boy loses his innocence in Pompeii’s flourishing streets.
An heiress dreads her wedding day, not knowing it will be swallowed by fire.
An ex-legionary stakes his entire future on a gladiator bout destined never to be finished.
A crippled senator welcomes death, until a tomboy on horseback comes to his rescue.
A young mother faces an impossible choice for her unborn child as the ash falls.
A priestess and a whore seek resurrection and redemption as the town is buried.

Six authors bring to life overlapping stories of patricians and slaves, warriors and politicians, villains and heroes who cross each others’ path during Pompeii’s fiery end. But who will escape, and who will be buried for eternity?

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Amazon US
Amazon UK

About the Authors

STEPHANIE DRAY is a multi-published, award-winning author of historical women’s fiction and fantasy set in the ancient world. Her critically acclaimed historical Nile series about Cleopatra’s daughter has been translated into more than six different languages, was nominated for a RITA Award and won the Golden Leaf. Her focus on Ptolemaic Egypt and Augustan Age Rome has given her a unique perspective on the consequences of Egypt’s ancient clash with Rome, both in terms of the still-extant tensions between East and West as well as the worldwide decline of female-oriented religion. Before she wrote novels, Stephanie was a lawyer, a game designer, and a teacher. Learn more at

BEN KANE worked as a veterinarian for sixteen years, but his love of ancient history and historical fiction drew him to write fast-paced novels about Roman soldiers, generals and gladiators. Irish by nationality but UK-based, he is the author of seven books, the last five of which have been Sunday Times top ten bestsellers.Ben’s books have been translated into ten languages. In 2013, Ben walked the length of Hadrian’s Wall with two other authors, for charity; he did so in full Roman military kit, including hobnailed boots. He repeated the madness in 2014, over 130 miles in Italy. Over $50,000 has been raised with these two efforts. Learn more at

E. KNIGHT is an award-winning, indie national best-selling author historical fiction. Under the name, Eliza Knight she writes historical romance and time-travel. Her debut historical fiction novel, MY LADY VIPER, has received critical acclaim and was nominated for the Historical Novel Society 2015 Annual Indie Award. She regularly presents on writing panels and was named Romance Writer’s of America’s 2013 PRO Mentor of the Year. Eliza lives in Maryland atop a small mountain with a knight, three princesses and a very naughty puppy. For more information, visit Eliza at

SOPHIE PERINOT is the author of the acclaimed debut, The Sister Queens, which weaves the story of medieval sisters Marguerite and Eleanor of Provence who became queens of France and England respectively. Perinot has both a BA in History and a law degree. A long-time member of the Historical Novel Society, she has attended all of the group’s North American Conferences, serving as a panelist at the most recent. When she is not visiting corners of the past, Sophie lives in Great Falls, VA. Learn more at

KATE QUINN is the national bestselling author of the Empress of Rome novels, which have been variously translated into thirteen different languages. She first got hooked on Roman history while watching “I, Claudius” at the age of seven, and wrote her first book during her freshman year in college, retreating from a Boston winter into ancient Rome. She and her husband now live in Maryland with an imperious black dog named Caesar. Learn more at

VICKY ALVEAR SHECTER is the award-winning author of the young adult novel, Cleopatra’s Moon (Arthur A. Levine Books/Scholastic, 2011), based on the life of Cleopatra’s only daughter. She is also the author of two biographies for kids on Alexander the Great and Cleopatra. The LA Times called Cleopatra’s Moon–set in Rome and Egypt–“magical” and “impressive.” Publisher’s Weekly said it was “fascinating” and “highly memorable.” Her young adult novel of Pompeii, Curses and Smoke (Arthur A. Levine/Scholastic), released in June 2014. She has two other upcoming books for younger readers, Anubis Speaks! and Hades Speaks! Vicky is a docent at the Michael C. Carlos Museum of Antiquities at Emory University in Atlanta. Learn more at

Visit other blogs on the tour--Tour Schedule
Twitter Hashtag: #ADayofFireBlogTour #HistoricalFiction #Pompeii
Twitter Tags: @hfvbt @KateQuinnAuthor @ElizaKnight @StephanieHDray @BenKaneAuthor @Lit_Gal @VAlvearShecter

November 15, 2014

S.K. Rizzolo's John Chase Regency Mystery Series - Book Blast and {Giveaway}

Please join S.K. Rizzolo as she tours the blogosphere for the John Chase Regency Mystery Series Book Blast, from November 3-16, and be entered to win all three books in the trilogy!

The Rose in the Wheel (Book One)
Publication Date: January 1, 2002
Poisoned Pen Press
Formats: Hardcover, Paperback, eBook
Series: John Chase Mystery Series (Book One)
Genre: Historical Mystery/Regency

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This well imagined, carefully detailed, and cleverly plotted debut draws on actual historical events of 1811 London.

Regency London knows Constance Tyrone as the conspicuously celibate founder of the St. Catherine Society, dedicated to helping poor women. One wet November evening a carriage mows down Constance outside her office. Curiously, while her corpse’s one foot is bare, the other is shod in a clean satin slipper despite the muddy road. Why was a gentlewoman abroad in the night? And if she died under the wheel, whose hands bruised her neck and stole her monogrammed crucifix?

Dismissing the idea of an accident, Bow Street Runner John Chase forms an unlikely alliance with Penelope Wolfe, wife of the chief suspect. A young mother paying the price for an imprudent marriage, Penelope is eager to clear her husband Jeremy, a feckless portrait painter whose salacious drawings of the victim suggest an erotic interest. Chase’s first task is to learn the identity of the mysterious benefactor who goes bail for Wolfe while Penelope traces the victim’s last movements. Barrister Edward Buckler, intrigued, shakes off his habitual lethargy and joins their investigation.

As horrifying murders on the Ratcliffe Highway claim all London’s attention, the trio discovers that it won’t be easy to unravel the enigma of Constance Tyrone, a woman who revives the legend of martyred St. Catherine.

Blood for Blood (Book Two)
Publication Date: April 15, 2003
Poisoned Pen Press
Formats: Hardcover, Paperback, eBook
Series: John Chase Mystery Series (Book Two)
Genre: Historical Mystery/Regency

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In the spring of 1812, the Luddites are on the march, Lord Byron is taking London drawing rooms by storm, and Penelope Wolfe has become a lady’s companion. When one of the footmen turns up dead with a knife to the heart, Penelope and Bow Street Runner John Chase are entangled in a web of family secrets and political conspiracy that stretches far beyond luxurious St. James’s Square.

With the help of barrister Edward Buckler, Chase follows the trail of a mysterious mad woman caught peeping in the window at the corpse. Penelope struggles to fit into the fashionable world, encountering people who hide resentment and deceit under smooth smiles.

Set against a backdrop of millennial fervor with thousands awaiting the end of the world, BLOOD FOR BLOOD explores the simple truth that every drop of blood spilled will be avenged.

Die I Will Not (Book Three)
Publication Date: November 4, 2014
Poisoned Pen Press
Formats: Hardcover, Paperback
Series: John Chase Mystery Series (Book Three)
Genre: Historical Mystery/Regency

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Unhappy wife and young mother Penelope Wolfe fears scandal for her family and worse. A Tory newspaper editor has been stabbed while writing a reply to the latest round of letters penned by a firebrand calling himself Collatinus. Twenty years before, her father, the radical Eustace Sandford, wrote as Collatinus before he fled London just ahead of accusations of treason and murder. A mysterious beauty closely connected to Sandford and known only as N.D. had been brutally slain, her killer never punished. The seditious new Collatinus letters that attack the Prince Regent in the press also seek to avenge N.D.’s death and unmask her murderer. What did the journalist know that provoked his death?

Her artist husband Jeremy is no reliable ally, so Penelope turns anew to lawyer Edward Buckler and Bow Street Runner John Chase. As she battles public notoriety, Buckler and Chase put their careers at risk to stand behind her while pursuing various lines of inquiry aimed at N.D.’s murderer, a missing memoir, Royal scandal, and the dead editor’s missing wife. As they navigate the dark underbelly of Regency London among a cast driven by dirty politics and dark passions, as well as by decency and a desire for justice, past secrets and present criminals are exposed, upending Penelope’s life and the lives of others.

About the Author
S.K. Rizzolo is a longtime Anglophile and history enthusiast. Set in Regency England, The Rose in the Wheel and Blood for Blood are the first two novels in her series about a Bow Street Runner, an unconventional lady, and a melancholic barrister. An English teacher, Rizzolo has earned an M.A. in literature and lives in Los Angeles with her husband and daughter.

For more information please visit S.K. Rizzolo’s website. You can also find her on Facebook and Goodreads.
John Chase Mystery Series Book Blast Schedule

Monday, November 3
Back Porchervations

Tuesday, November 4
Reading Lark
Rainy Day Reviews

Wednesday, November 5
CelticLady’s Reviews
A Bibliotaph’s Reviews

Thursday, November 6
The Lit Bitch
Historical Tapestry

Friday, November 7
Passages to the Past
Caroline Wilson Writes

Saturday, November 8
The Maiden’s Court
The True Book Addict

Sunday, November 9
Brooke Blogs
Let Them Read Books

Monday, November 10
Layered Pages
With Her Nose Stuck in a Book

Tuesday, November 11
To Read or Not to Read

Wednesday, November 12
Just One More Chapter

Thursday, November 13
A Book Geek
100 Pages a Day

Friday, November 14
Peeking Between the Pages

Saturday, November 15
Mel’s Shelves
Historical Fiction Connection

Sunday, November 16
Book Nerd

To win all three books in S.K. Rizzolo’s John Chase Regency Mystery Series please complete the Rafflecopter giveaway form below. Giveaway is open internationally.

Giveaway ends at 11:59pm on November 16th. You must be 18 or older to enter.
Winner will be chosen via Rafflecopter on November 17th and notified via email.
Winner have 48 hours to claim prize or new winner is chosen.