Monday, October 29, 2012

Interview (and Giveaway!) with James Forrester, author of Sacred Treason

I love historical fiction and am vastly enjoying James Forrester's new novel set during Elizabethan times.  It is a world of religious strife and Forrester has crafted a riveting mystery set in the middle of it.  Thank-you to James Forrester for being interviewed on Laura's Reviews today!

LAG: I am intrigued that you are a British historian. Can you tell us a bit about your background? What was your primary research focus? What intrigued you about the Tudor Dynasty?

JF: How far back do you want me to go? I grew up with history, surrounded by antiques that gave me a direct connection with the last two hundred years and a surname that gave me a direct connection with the last 900 years. As you probably know, ‘Mortimer’ is one of the most important names of medieval English history. So there was never any doubt in my mind I would write things that connect with the past. But for me traditional history is not enough. I do have the full set of academic qualifications, including two doctorates; but it is understanding humanity over periods of time that really excites me. Being able to look back across the centuries and see all Mankind marching on, struggling, joyous, clever, cruel, intriguing, defiant…

The idea behind Sacred Treason was inspired by a document in the British Library. It is the charred remains of the chronicle of Henry Machyn, who was born about 1497 and taught himself to read and write, and wrote a London-based chronicle that covered the last thirteen years of his life (he died in 1563, the year in which Sacred Treason is set). In the course of researching Henry Machyn for the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography I came across a reference to an Elizabethan secret society – and that was where I started to invent the story. The main character, William Harley, Clarenceux King of Arms, is loosely based on the herald William Hervey, to whom the real Henry Machyn gave his chronicle when he died.

LAG: I have always wanted to time travel to Medieval England and love the title of your non-fiction handbook The Time Traveler's Guide to Medieval England. Can you give us a brief synopsis of the book?

JF: The idea is simple. If you really could travel to the past, where will you stay? What will you wear? What will you eat? It goes further, however, touching on such subjects as the different standards of cleanliness and the high degrees of cruelty in society. You could call it a biography of the whole of a society. Or you could just call it a guidebook to another time. I sometimes describe it as a plotless novel in which nothing is made up - everything is based on evidence.

LAG: Why did you decide to turn to writing historical fiction?

JF: Because there are things I wanted to say about life – and especially about loyalty and about betrayal – that one cannot say in non-fiction. If I were to write a history book about the 16th century I could only really describe what really happened. To my mind, the Elizabethan period is far too interesting just to tell stories that happened. Think of yourself there, and the betrayals you might commit – against your spouse, your religion and the kingdom. You could be flogged publicly for adultery, hanged for treason and burnt for heresy. That makes the whole social landscape far more dangerous, far more interesting.

LAG:  Catholic versus Protestant - how do you think people survived in the Tudor times when religion seemed to change day by day?

JF: Very cautiously, by keeping their heads down. Many Catholics survived by using their wealth and connections. Lesser men just accepted things. Of course many people did NOT survive…

LAG:  What do you like most about your character, William Harley? What do you like least?

JF:  I call him ‘Clarenceux’ (his heraldic title) throughout the novel. I like the name. I also like his loyalty and his sincerity. I like his compassion and his courage. Downsides – I wish he had a sense of humour and was not so religious. But in the 16th century religious zeal was the norm, not the exception.
LAG:  What do you think made Queen Elizabeth an effective ruler?

JF:  A sense of being apart from normal people. It empowered her to make decisions that normal women could not have made. But also she was just so clever and self-controlled. She was able to play people off against each other very effectively. And of all the Tudors, she was the greatest exponent of their greatest art: visual self-promotion. The image we have of her today is almost entirely one of her own careful construction. No subsequent female ruler does not owe her something.

LAG:  What is next for you? Any teasers about book two of this trilogy?

JF:  Both the subsequent books are now out in the UK. Book Two, The Roots of Betrayal, involves a charismatic pirate called Raw Carew – think along Captain Jack Sparrow lines and you'll get the picture – who is an atheistic foil to Clarenceux and inadvertently gets caught up in a quest with him. Book Three, The Final Sacrament, begins with Elizabeth I being told by Walsingham that Clarenceux is dead, consumed in a great fire. But that of course is just the start of things...

Thanks for your questions
LAG:  Thank-you for the excellent answers.

Sacred Treason Description (From Sourcebooks):
London, December 1563. England is a troubled nation. Catholic plots against the young Queen Elizabeth spring up all over the country. At his house in the parish of St Bride, the herald William Harvey – known to everyone as Clarenceux - receives a book from his friend and fellow Catholic, Henry Machyn. But Machyn is in fear of his life, claiming that the book is deadly... What secret can it hold? And then Clarenceux is visited by the State in the form of Francis Walsingham and his ruthless enforcers, who will stop at nothing to gain possession of it. If Clarenceux and his family are to survive the terror of Walsingham, and to plead with the queen’s Secretary of State Sir William Cecil for their lives, Clarenceux must solve the clues contained in the book to unlock its dangerous secrets before it’s too late. And when he does, he realises that it's not only his life and the lives of those most dear to him that are at stake...

Author Description (From Goodreads):
James Forrester was born in Petts Wood (Kent) in 1967. He was educated at Eastbourne College, the University of Exeter and University College London. He is a historian by profession, publishing medieval and early modern non-fiction under his first and last names Ian Mortimer (his full name being Ian James Forrester Mortimer). He lives in Devon with his wife and three children, on the northeast edge of Dartmoor.
Sacred Treason is his first novel, inspired by contemporary documents in the National Archives and the British Library discovered in the course of his scholarly research.

Giveaway Details

Sourcebooks has graciously offered a giveaway of one copy of Sacred Treason by James Forrester.
If you would like to win a copy of this book please leave a comment about what intrigues you about the this book or this interview.
As part of your comment, you must include an email address. If I can't find a way to contact you I will draw another winner.

For an additional entry, blog about this giveaway or post it on your sidebar. Provide a link to this post in your comment.

I will be using (or a monte carlo simulation in excel) to pick the winners from the comments.

This contest is only open to US and Canadian residents (Sorry!).

No P.O. Boxes.

The deadline for entry is midnight on Friday November 9, 2012.

Please make sure to check the third week of November to see if you are a winner. I send emails to the winner but lately I have been put in their "junk mail" folder instead of their inbox.

Good luck!

Friday, October 26, 2012

A Place Beyond Courage by Elizabeth Chadwick Review and Giveaway!

One of my favorite times of year is whenever there happens to be a new Elizabeth Chadwick novel. After reading her wonderful, engrossing novel, The Greatest Knight, she now ranks as one of my favorite authors. Her historical fiction has no equal. It doesn’t just state the dry history, but becomes living history. Chadwick uses creative techniques to tell the story including reenactment and akashic records.

A Place Beyond Courage is the story of the Greatest Knight’s (William Marshal’s) father, John Fitzgilbert. The thing I most remembered about John from The Greatest Knight was that he once ransomed his young son William to King Stephen and then broke his word. When Stephen threatened to kill his son, John said that he had the “anvils and hammers to make more and better sons.” That is a statement that is heard to forget!

In A Place Beyond Courage, John Fitzgilbert starts off as the marshal of King Henry I. Although his father was also marshal, John won his position through a trial by hand combat. Realizing he is ready for a family, he marries Aline, a shy young neighbor girl. Aline is not well suited to John. Although they have two sons, Aline is always too shy to be out in company, to keep John company, and to take command of her home.

During this time, John has many difficult decisions to make. King Henry has died unexpectedly, with only a female heir, Matilda. Henry’s nephew, Stephen, is crowned the next king of England and John serves him as marshal. John is soon disillusioned by Stephen’s inability to be a firm leader and his followers that do not like John. He leaves Stephen’s household and throws his lot in with Matilda and her young son Henry. Part of this decision is that John must also cast aside Aline and marry feisty Sybilla. Sybilla and John become soul mates and their story is very romantic.

While reading A Place Beyond Courage, I was struck by the difficulty of the decisions that John had to make to survive and prosper during such a tumultuous time in history. He was a strong man and his toughness shown in several key scenes. There is a horrific battle scene where John was very badly hurt, but yet managed to walk miles back home. He survived sieges, battles, and more. Yet, there was a softer side of John that played out in his relationship with Sybilla and all of his children from both wives. In particular, I will admit to crying during the entire William hostage crisis. That part of the book was masterfully written. I wasn’t sure how I would feel about John and his infamous statement, but the book put it wonderfully into context of John having to stand firm, although he loved and favored his young son.

Overall, A Place Beyond Courage is another absolutely wonderful historical fiction novel from Elizabeth Chadwick. It made me cry and really feel for the characters involved in the story, as well as appreciate the history of living during that difficult time in England’s history. I highly recommend this book and Elizabeth Chadwick in general. She is a master of historical fiction.

Book Source: Review copy from Sourcebooks. Thank-you!

Giveaway Details

Sourcebooks has graciously offered a giveaway of one copy of A Place Beyond Courage by Elizabeth Chadwick.

If you would like to win a copy of this book please leave a comment about what intrigues you about the this book.

As part of your comment, you must include an email address. If I can't find a way to contact you I will draw another winner.

For an additional entry, blog about this giveaway or post it on your sidebar. Provide a link to this post in your comment.

I will be using (or a monte carlo simulation in excel) to pick the winners from the comments.

This contest is only open to US and Canadian residents (Sorry!).

No P.O. Boxes.

The deadline for entry is midnight on Friday November 2, 2012.

Please make sure to check the second week of November to see if you are a winner. I send emails to the winner but lately I have been put in their "junk mail" folder instead of their inbox.

Good luck!

Searching for Captain Wentworth by Jane Odiwe

Is there a literary hero that shines brighter than Mr. Darcy of Pride and Prejudice? To me, the answer is yes – Captain Wentworth is to me the sexiest Austen hero and among my favorite literary romantic leads. Besides the fact that Captain Wentworth is a navy man that has made his fame and fortune at sea, he is also a man with strong feelings and passion. Who can forget his letter to Anne Elliot at the end of Persuasion where he admits to never forgetting her and harboring a love for her for eight years after her rejection of him? That letter is the most romantic letter in the history of literature!

In Searching for Captain Wentworth, one of my favorite Austen Authors, Jane Odiwe combines many of my favorite elements; romance, Jane Austen, Bath, time travel, and Persuasion to create a very romantic tale of love across the spans of time. Sophie Elliot is taking time in Bath to get over her cheating boyfriend and to see if she can finally write the novel she has always dreamed of writing. Her Great-aunt has given her the keys to the family’s old home in Bath to use during her stay. Part of the home has been split up for others to live in including her attractive new neighbor, Josh Strafford.

Sophie soon discovers that through the use of a mysterious glove, she is able to travel back through time to Regency Bath and live the life of her ancestor and namesake Sophia Elliot. Sophia is friends with her neighbors, Cassandra and Jane Austen. The Austen’s brother, Charles, is on leave from the navy and Sophia soon finds herself falling in love with Charles. Will their love last and how will they make it work through space and time? You will need to read this novel to find out for yourself!

I love Odiwe’s characterizations in this novel. Jane was a lively young woman in the spirit of Elizabeth Bennet and I could easily see her writing her witty novels. Jane had a secret passion of her own, which was intriguing to read about. I loved how Sophia’s Elliot family strongly mirrored the Elliots from Persuasion with herself as Anne and Charles as Captain Wentworth. It was a great story and oh so romantic. I liked the surprise ending. I didn’t see it coming and it was the perfect ending.

I follow author Jane Odiwe online and am a virtual friend. I was very pleasantly surprised to discover that I was acknowledged at the beginning of Searching for Captain Wentworth as well as many of my other favorite Austen bloggers. The quote reads, “ Laurel Ann Nattress, Vic Sanborn, Julie Wakefield, Meredith Esparza, Maria Grazia, Lori Hedgpeth, Alexa Adams, Nancy Kelley, Laura Hartness, Deb Barnum, Laura Gerold, Margaret Sullivan, Austen Authors, Historical Romance UK Authors, and the Romantic Novelist’s Association, for your friendship, kindness, and entertaining blogs.” This was a very awesome surprise and I was very humbled as well as excited.

Does anyone else harbor a passion for Captain Wentworth over Mr. Darcy?

Book Source: Author Jane Odiwe – Thank-you very much!!

Before I Go to Sleep by S.J. Watson

Before I Go to Sleep was the October pick of the FLICKS Book and Movie Club. It was a perfect suspenseful pick for the month of Halloween. Christine was involved in an accident and now cannot retain any memories. She falls asleep at night and wakes up the next day not remembering anything. She either thinks she is still a child, or a twenty-something when she is in fact in her late forties. It is a shock every day to wake up in a strange bed and to see her older face staring back at her in the mirror. Luckily her patient husband Ben helps to remind her each day that he loves her and guides her through the memories of her life that she has forgotten.

After Ben leaves for work, Christine gets a call from her doctor that is working with her without Ben’s knowledge. He tells Christine that she has been writing a journal and where she hid it the night before. Christine can then catch up on what she has discovered about herself and how she has been living her life. She soon discovers that there are many layers and secrets to her life to uncover and that it is hard to find someone that she can trust.

I loved the unique style of this book. Told from Christine’s prospective, we get what she is doing day by day and then her journal makes up a large part of the novel. Finding out the mystery of Christine was very intriguing. I literally couldn’t put the book down by the end and I was shocked by the ending. The premise of the book did remind me a lot of one of my favorite movies, Memento, but the storyline was completely different. Watson did a fantastic job of creating the world through Christine’s eyes where you had to question every move and every person in her life. Every day was a new day with new things to learn.

Sadly I missed book club meeting, which I hate to do. I had been out of town for work and was missing the kids. Although I missed the discussion, the kids were glad to have Mommy at home so it was worth it.

Overall, Before I Go to Sleep is a gripping suspense novel with an unforgettable plot and heroine. I would love to read more novels by S.J. Watson. This is her first novel and I can’t wait to see what she writes next!

Book Source: The Kewaunee Public Library – Thanks!

Monday, October 8, 2012

A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness

Title: A Discovery of Witches

Author: Deborah Harkness
Read by: Jennifer Ikeda
Publisher: Penguin Audio
Length: Approximately 24 hours (20 CDs)
Source: Kewaunee Public Library

I have wanted to read A Discovery of Witches since I first saw it light up the blogosphere last year. Billed as an “adult version” of Twilight, I was instantly intrigued. I received the second book, Shadow of Night to review from Penguin Books, so I knew it was finally time to read (or listen to in this case) the first book.

Diana is an avid historian of alchemy and also a witch. After her parents were tragically killed when she was a child, Diana has decided to live her life as “normal” as possible to blend in with the humans. In this world, there are four types of “creatures” – Vampires, Witches, Demons, and Humans. I think it is very interesting that Demons are people that are usually frenzied and more artistically persuaded.

While at the library in Oxford, Diana comes upon a magical manuscript, Ashmole 782, and her life is forever changed. Feeling that the manuscript is magical, she quickly sends it back. It is too late however, as no one has accessed that particular manuscript in over 150 years. All creatures have sensed that she has the ability to do it and they start to watch her. One such creature is Matthew Clairmont, a handsome vampire.

Matthew is threatening to Diana at first as witches and vampires do not in general get along. Soon Diana realizes that Matthew is trying to protect her from a variety of creatures that wish to do her harm. As they grow closer, a forbidden love springs up. Will Diana and Matthew find Ashmole 782? Will they stay save from the variety of creatures that are against a mixed creature relationship? You will have to read it to find out.

I LOVED this book. It took me a bit of listening to get into it, but afterwards I was hooked and looked forward to my drive to and from work. The romance was chaste, but intense. Diana was a strong woman coming into her own and I liked it. I enjoyed the mystery and the use of history in the book. Although this wasn’t historical fiction by definition (although book 2 is), it had many references to historical events that a history buff like myself could enjoy. Diana and Matthew have a wonderful chemistry. I have to say although this book deals with very different subject matter, it reminded me a lot of one of my favorite books, Outlander by Diana Gabaldon. They both are weighty books with fascinating detail, a strong heroine, and sparks between the two main characters that you can almost see.

Overall, if you are looking for an “adult Twilight,” skip the terrible Fifty Shades of Grey and come right to this very adult book that really has nothing to do with Twilight except for staring a very sexy vampire and his love for a woman not of his species.

I listened to the audiobook version and my way to and from work and loved it. Jennifer Ikeda is a word class narrator. She has excellent voices for all of the characters and really brings them to life. I really enjoyed all of the secondary characters and she was a large part of the reason why!

It’s the Middle Class Stupid! By James Carville and Stan Greenberg

Title: It’s the Middle Class Stupid!

Author: James Carville and Stan Greenberg
Read by: James Carville and Stan Greenberg
Publisher: Penguin Audio
Length: Approximately 7 hours (6 CDs)
Source: Review Copy from Penguin Audio – Thank-you!

I like politics, but I was a little scared to listen to this audiobook. I wasn’t sure who James Carville and Stan Greenberg actually were to begin with and I was afraid the book would be a screaming partisan rant. Instead I found a very thoughtful debate about the current status of the middle class and what can be done to improve its lot. As I am firmly in the middle class, I was very intrigued with this premise and found myself frequently agreeing with Carville and Greenberg.

While both Carville and Greenberg were advisors to Bill Clinton and are on the liberal side of the tracks, they both found fault with both Mitt Romney and Barack Obama’s platforms. I was only annoyed a few times by a few “facts” that weren’t quite right. One quip about the state of politics in Wisconsin was wrong in which they stated that firefighters and policemen had their union rights and pensions cut. In fact, they were not cut, which is part of the debate. Only the teachers and other public workers unions were busted in Wisconsin (Democratic) while the Republican leaning Firemen and Police Unions were left intact. That is why the law was actually just struck down by a judge because it was so partisan based.

Otherwise, I enjoyed the way Carville added Southern sass to the audiobook while Greenberg had the more level headed reading. It was very interesting learning their backgrounds and entry into politics and I enjoyed their views on the middle class and how both parties need to bring the focus back on the middle class. This is a great book to listen to during a heated campaign season.

Tough Shit by Kevin Smith

Title: Tough Shit

Author: Kevin Smith
Read by: Kevin Smith
Publisher: Penguin Audio
Length: Approximately 6 hours (5 CDs)
Source: Review Copy from Penguin Audio – Thank-you!

I could listen to Kevin Smith talk all day. I loved this CD and listening to his story about having a dream and achieving it by making great movies in Hollywood. I was saddened that he seems ready to hang up his director’s hat, but the audiobook has inspired me to start listening to his SModcasts.

As you can probably tell from the title, this is rather a profane book. Smith has no problems talking using colorful language, and talking about things such as his conception and awkward sex with his wife. I am normally not fond of profane language myself, but Smith is just so entertaining and has such a great voice that I really enjoyed listening to the book.

I’ll admit that while I’ve watched all of Smith’s earlier fare, since having kids, Ben and I hardly watch any movies that are not children’s movies. I think Clerks II is the last Smith film we have seen. Although I hadn’t seen his latest movies, I had read about them in Entertainment Weekly and it was entertaining to hear his stories about making them. I especially loved his Bruce Willis stories.

Overall, Tough Shit was a very entertaining audiobook. The only negative was that it had to end, but luckily Smith left me with a way to keep listening to him (SModcasts). I loved that he read the book himself and had several asides about the process. I also loved his geeky references to geeky things I enjoy myself like Star Wars.

Winner of Charming Blue by Kristine Grayson

Petite is the lucky winner of Charming Blue by Kristine Grayson.  Congrats to Petite!  Petite was chosen using and has been notified via email.  Petite has one week to send me her mailing address, otherwise a new winner will be chose.

Thank-you to all who entered this wonderful giveaway.  As I noted below, stay tuned as two new giveaways will be posted this week!

Winner of Searching for Captain Wentworth by Jane Odiwe

Searching for Captain Wentworth by Jane Odiwe is a wonderful, romantic novel that I thoroughly enjoyed reading.  I will hopefully get my review up of the novel this week, but before that, I have one lucky winner of a copy of this great book to notify.  Using, Michelle F. is the lucky winner of one copy of Searching for Captain Wentworth by Jane Odiwe.  I have notified Michelle via email and she has one week to send me her mailing address, otherwise a new winner will be chosen.

Thank-you to all who entered this wonderful giveaway.  If you didn't win a copy of this book, I suggest you pick one up - it was a great novel!

Stay tuned this week as I will have two new giveways posted throughout the week.