Thursday, October 31, 2013

A Few Thoughts On Banquet of Lies by Michelle Diener PLUS a Giveaway


A young noblewoman flees to London and poses as a servant to evade a murderer in this richly detailed and “compelling” (Publishers Weekly) historical novel.

Frightened for her life after her father, a British spy, is murdered, Giselle Barrington flees with the secret document her father gave her for safekeeping. Needing to hide from those now chasing her, and knowing that no one would look for a wealthy young society lady in a kitchen, she takes a job as a cook for a nobleman, determined to use her anonymity to uncover the murderer. Life below stairs gives her a new perspective on the hard realities of servants’ lives, even though she’s a highly paid one. And when her employer is drawn not only into her investigations, but also to her, they find themselves faced with the power imbalance between servant and master.

Gallery Books | October 22, 2013 | 352 pages

My Thoughts
  • Michelle Diener's latest novel, Banquet of Lies, is set during the Regency period and features as its heroine a young woman - Giselle Barrington - who is forced to flee home to London from Sweden after the murder of her father.   In possession of secret documents her father entrusted to her before his death, Giselle is forced to hide her true identity in order to keep the documents (and herself) safe from her father's enemies.  Unable to assume her place in society, Giselle takes a position as a cook in the home of a nobleman, Lord Aldridge.   It's a position Giselle hopes will allow her to uncover the truth about her father's murder without revealing who she really is.  But Giselle's new employer and co-workers quickly realize there is much more to Giselle than meets the eye.  Can Giselle continue to keep her identity secret?  Can she discover the truth about her father's death? 
  • Banquet of Lies is a fun novel that readers will quickly devour.  Giselle is resourceful young woman, one who is determined to solve the mystery of her father's death even if means she places her own life in danger.   
  • In addition to the mystery aspect of the novel, Banquet of Lies also features some romance.  This romance, which builds slowly as the novel progresses, helps to give the book a lighter feel even though certain aspects of the plot deal with heavier themes. 
  • Giselle is a heroine readers will be able to easily empathize with, but one of my favourite elements of this novel is the cast of supporting characters.   Giselle's fellow servants, with the exception of the butler, are a delight, and I enjoyed Giselle's interactions with them.   Lord Aldridge's associates, Lord Dervish and the Durnhams, prove to be equally compelling characters even though they aren't featured prominently in the novel.   My favourite supporting character, however, is Georges, chef to a Duke and good friend of Giselle's.  George doesn't appear until closer to the end of the story but he injects some timely humour into the narrative.
  • Although Banquet of Lies is an enjoyable novel, I didn't find certain components of the narrative to be plausible -- Giselle's ability to successfully pass for a cook being one of the big ones.   While this won't necessarily be an issue for all readers, I generally prefer plausible storylines to those that leave me thinking "well, that never would have actually happened."  Despite this, Banquet of Lies has enough going for it that I'm now planning to read more of Michelle Diener's novels, especially those that feature some of the supporting characters found in this book.  
  • An engaging novel with a likeable heroine, a solid cast of characters, and a quick-paced narrative, Banquet of Lies is recommended to historical fiction fans looking for something fun, fast and thrilling. 
Rating: 3.5 out of 5 Stars
Source: I received a copy of this novel from the publisher via Edelweiss in exchange for a fair and honest review.

Banquet of Lies is currently on tour.  Click here to check out the tour schedule

About the Author

Michelle Diener writes historical fiction. Her Susanna Horenbout and John Parker series starts with IN A TREACHEROUS COURT.  Set in the court of Henry VIII, it features the real historical figures of artist Susanna Horenbout and Henry's Keeper of the Palace of Westminster and Yeoman of the King's Robes, John Parker.  It was followed by KEEPER OF THE KING'S SECRETS, also featuring Susanna Horenbout and John Parker, and DANGEROUS SANCTUARY, a short story with the same characters, set between the two books, is currently available as an ebook only.
A new historical novel, set during the Napoleonic Wars in London in 1811, THE EMPEROR'S CONSPIRACY, was released on November 27th, 2012.

Michelle also contributed a short paranormal story to the ENTANGLED Anthology entitled BREAKING OUT. All the proceeds of the sale of ENTANGLED go to the Breast Cancer Research Foundation.

Michelle grew up in South Africa, and now lives in Australia with her husband and two children.

For more information, please visit Michelle's website.  You can also find her on Facebook and Twitter.


I'm pleased to host a giveaway for one copy of Banquet of Lies.  Giveaway details are as follows:

- Giveaway open to US residents only;
- To enter simply leave a comment below with your email address;
- The giveaway will be open until midnight (EST) on November 10, 2013;
- The winner will be selected using

Good Luck! 

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Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Giveaway Winners and an Update

As you may have noticed, I've not been around the blogosphere all that much lately.   I was sick a couple of weeks back and it took awhile for my energy levels to return to normal.   I feel pretty much fully recovered now, however, so I expect I'll soon be posting here again on a more regular basis and stopping by other blogs :-)   In the meantime, I have a couple of giveaway winners to announce, both of whom were selected using

Confessions of Marie Antoinette by Juliet Grey: Traveler

Historical Fiction Giveaway Hop:  Elysium   

An email has been sent to both winners.  Congratulations!  

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Wednesday, October 23, 2013

A Few Thoughts On The Final Sacrament by James Forrester


One Secret Will Be His Undoing.

1566. William Harley, Clarenceux King of Arms, has risked his life to protect a secret document, which could endanger Queen Elizabeth’s place on the throne and plunge the country into civil war.  But when his family goes missing, Clarenceux is put to the final test.

Will he abandon queen and country to save the ones he loves, or sacrifice everything for the good of the nation?

Filled with Mortimer’s signature historical detail and vivid characters, The Final Sacrament delivers a dramatic close to the Clarenceux saga that highlights the adventure and spiritual struggles of Elizabethan England.

Sourcebooks Landmark | October 22, 2013 | 496 pages

My Thoughts
  • The Final Sacrament is the third and final installment in James Forrester's William Clarenceux trilogy, following Sacred Treason and The Roots of Betrayal (check out my review for the second novel here).  
  • Like the first two novels in the trilogy, The Final Sacrament centres around a secret marriage agreement that would render Elizabeth I illegitimate.  After agreeing to take possession of the document, Clarenceux spends much of the first two novels evading capture by enemies of the state who want to knock Queen Elizabeth off England's throne and replace her with a Catholic monarch.   In The Final Sacrament, however, Clarenceux's enemies strike at him right where it will hurt the most -- his family.   Does Clarenceux continue to keep the document from his enemies and help prevent a civil war?  Or does he sacrifice England's security to ensure the safety of the people he loves most? 
  • While The Final Sacrament isn't as action packed as Sacred Treason or The Roots of Betrayal, I think this novel is the strongest and best of the three.  Clarenceux is faced with some difficult, heart-wrenching decisions in this book, and Forrester does an excellent job of conveying and communicating Clarenceux's thought process as he seeks to determine an appropriate course of action.  Clarenceux's love for his family is clearly evident, but so too is his earnest desire to keep the secret document from getting into the wrong hands.  
  • Clarenceux's faith plays a large role in this novel.  Although Catholic, Clarenceux holds an important position within Elizabeth I's court, and is a close friend of Secretary Sir William Cecil.  Determined to maintain his faith even though England continues to become increasingly Protestant, Clarenceux is able to reconcile his faith with his support for the monarch, showing that being Catholic doesn't automatically make one an enemy to Elizabeth I.  Ultimately, it is his faith that helps Clarenceux determine a correct course of action in relation to the secret document.  
  • While they appear only as secondary characters in the novel, I enjoyed the interactions between Sir William Cecil and Francis Walsingham.  I especially liked Forrester's characterization of Walsingham, and would love to see him write a novel focusing on Elizabeth's spymaster.   
  • As a historian, Forrester (pen name for Ian Mortimer) is able to infuse his novel with a strong sense of time and place.  Through Clarenceux and his family, Forrester is able to provide readers with a glimpse into daily life in Elizabethan England.  Even though the narrative of this novel is fictitious, through Cecil, Walsingham, and their enemies, Forrester is able to showcase certain threats faced by Elizabeth during her reign. 
  • Even though Forrester provides enough background from previous novels to ensure The Final Sacrament can be read as a standalone, I recommend starting this series from the beginning. 

Rating: 4 out of 5 Stars
Source: I received a copy from the publisher via Netgalley in exchange for a fair and honest review.

About the Author

James Forrester is the pen name of acclaimed British historian Ian Mortimer, author of nonfiction works including The Time Traveler's Guide to Medieval England (a Sunday Times bestseller). He was elected a Fellow of the Royal Historical Society in 1998, and was awarded the Alexander Prize (2004) by the Royal Historical Society for his work on the social history of medicine.

The Final Sacrament is currently on a blog tour, check out the following blogs for other reviews:

10/11 - Lori's Reading Corner
10/16 - The Girdle of Melian
10/18 - Found Not Lost
10/21 - Radiant Light
10/22 - Turning the Pages
10/23 - Confessions of an Avid Reader
10/24 - Broken Teepee
10/25 - Laura's Reviews

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A Few Thoughts On Illuminations by Mary Sharratt PLUS a Giveaway


Skillfully weaving historical fact with psychological insight and vivid imagination, Illuminations brings to life one of the most extraordinary women of the Middle Ages: Hildegard von Bingen, Benedictine abbess, visionary, and polymath.

Offered to the Church at the age of eight, Hildegard was expected to live in silent submission as the handmaiden of a renowned, disturbed young nun, Jutta von Sponheim. But Hildegard rejected Jutta's masochistic piety, rejoicing in her own secret visions of the divine. When Jutta died, Hildegard broke out of her prison, answering the heavenly call to speak and write about her visions and to liberate her sisters. Riveting and utterly unforgettable, Illuminations is a deeply moving portrayal of a woman willing to risk everything for what she believed.

Click here to link to Book Trailer.

Mariner Books | October 15, 2013 (Paperback) | 288 pages

My Thoughts
  • Mary Sharratt's latest novel, Illuminations, tells of the life of Catholic Saint Hildegard von Bingen, who is best known for her visions, writings and music.  Hildegard lived in Germany during the 12th century, joining the church at a young age and serving as an anchorite and magistra.
  • One of the things I like most about historical fiction is that it can introduce readers to historical figures, time periods and events they would otherwise be unfamiliar with.  Prior to reading this novel I knew nothing of Hildegard von Bingen.  As Sharratt clearly illustrates in the book, Hildegard was a fascinating woman and I enjoyed learning about her life.  
  • The prose in Illuminations is lovely, and one of the greatest strengths of this novel is Sharratt's ability to make even the most mundane of things interesting to the reader.   Hildegard was an anchorite for several years, living in a small cell in the monastery of Disibodenberg with only one other nun -- Jutta of Sponheim -- for company.  While life as an anchorite wouldn't seem, on the surface at least, to serve as compelling narrative, Sharratt is able to keep the reader fully engaged with the story throughout this portion of the novel.  Ultimately, I thought the anchorite-era of Hildegard's life to be one of the most fascinating aspects of the book. 
  • While Hildegard is the star of Illuminations, Sharratt does a good job developing the novel's secondary characters, Jutta of Sponheim, Brother Volmar and Richardis von Stade.   I especially enjoyed Hildegard's relationship with Brother Volmar, who was a steadfast friend to Hildegard for most of her life. 
  • One of the other aspects of this novel I enjoyed was the references to the church customs and traditions of Hildegard's age, especially as they relate to the Benedictine order to which Hildegard belonged.  I think this helps readers gain a better appreciation for religious life during the 12th century. 
  • As one of the things Hildegard is best known for are her visions, I would have liked the narrative to have focused on them a little more.  Although Hildegard has visions at several times throughout Illuminations, I admit that I wasn't always sure what they meant and why she was revered for them.  Additional detail would have helped. 
  • Overall, Illuminations is a great book, and I heartily recommend it to all fans of medieval-era historical fiction.

Rating: 4 out of 5 Stars
Source: I received a copy from the publisher as a participant in the Illuminations Virtual Book Tour in exchange for a fair and honest review.

Illuminations is currently on tour with Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tours.  Click here to check out the full tour schedule. 

About the Author

The author of four critically acclaimed historical novels, Mary Sharratt is an American who lives in the Pendle region of Lancashire, England, the setting for her acclaimed Daughters of the Witching Hill, which recasts the Pendle Witches of 1612 in their historical context as cunning folk and healers. She also lived for twelve years in Germany, which, along with her interest in sacred music and herbal medicine, inspired her to write Illuminations: A Novel of Hildegard von Bingen. Illuminations won the Nautilus Gold Award for Better Books for a Better World and was selected as a Kirkus Book of the Year.

For more information please visit Mary's website and blog.  You can also find her on Facebook and Twitter.


I'm pleased to host a giveaway for one copy of Illuminations.  Giveaway details are as follows:

- This giveaway is open internationally;
- To enter, simply leave a comment below with your email address;
- The contest will run until midnight (EST) on November 3, 2013; and
- The winner will be selected using

Good Luck!

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Monday, October 21, 2013

A Few Thoughts On The Loyalist's Wife by Elaine Cougler PLUS a Giveaway


When American colonists resort to war against Britain and her colonial attitudes, a young couple caught in the crossfire must find a way to survive. Pioneers in the wilds of New York State, John and Lucy face a bitter separation and the fear of losing everything, even their lives, when he joins Butler’s Rangers to fight for the King and leaves her to care for their isolated farm. As the war in the Americas ramps up, ruffians roam the colonies looking to snap up Loyalist land. Alone, pregnant, and fearing John is dead, Lucy must fight with every weapon she has.

With vivid scenes of desperation, heroism, and personal angst, Elaine Cougler takes us back to the beginnings of one great country and the planting of Loyalist seeds for another. The Loyalist’s Wife transcends the fighting between nations to show us the individual cost of such battles.

The Loyalist’s Wife
is the first of three books in The Loyalist Trilogy.  The Loyalist’s Luck is scheduled for release in June, 2014 and The Loyalist Legacy in June, 2015.

Createspace | June 20, 2013 | 342 pages

My Thoughts
  • Set in frontier New York during the American Revolution, The Loyalist's Wife, Elaine Cougler's debut novel, features as its central characters a small group of colonists who remain loyal to the English crown.  While I've not read a great deal of novels set during the American Revolution, I have read enough to know that Loyalists are rare as principal characters. 
  • The principal protagonists of the novel are John Garner and his wife Lucy.  John and Lucy are the owners of a small, isolated farm in upstate New York.  Both characters are well-drawn and sympathetic.  I appreciated that John was willing to fight for what he believed in, even if it meant leaving Lucy to take care of their farm on her own in his absence.  Lucy comes across as a strong woman who doesn't let circumstances and events, including a pregnancy, stop her from doing what needs to be done.  
  • Cougler has done a good job of describing John's daily life as a member of Butler's Rangers, but where she really shines is in her descriptions of Lucy's life back on the farm.  Cougler shows just how difficult it must have been for a woman such as Lucy to take care of all the tasks associated with running a small farm on her own, especially at at time when the American patriots were seizing farms and driving Loyalists from their land. 
  • One of the things I enjoyed most about this novel was the fact that it focused on the Loyalist cause.  Although I was already familiar with the history of the Loyalists prior to reading this novel, and recognize their contribution to Canada's path towards nationhood, this knowledge came from textbooks rather than novels.  As a lover of historical fiction, I found it refreshing to read an American Revolution-era novel told from the Loyalist point of view. 
  • The Loyalist's Wife reads very quickly, and I remained engaged with the story for the duration of the novel.  Nevertheless, I did find the prose sometimes repetitive, and the number of life-threatening situations both John and Lucy found themselves in, but still managed to get successfully out of, a little too much.  While these situations served to showcase how dangerous life was for Loyalists (and colonists in general), I had a hard time believing that so many bad things could continue to happen. 
  • Overall, if you're interested in reading about the American Revolution from an uncommon point of view, The Loyalist's Wife is well-worth reading.   I'm looking forward to reading the next installment in the trilogy. 

Rating: 3.5 out of 5 Stars
Source: I received a copy of this novel as part of Elaine Cougler's virtual book tour in exchange for a fair and honest review.

The Loyalist's Wife is currently on tour with Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tours.   Click here to check out the full tour schedule. 

About the Author

A native of Southern Ontario, Elaine taught high school and with her husband raised two children until she finally had time to pursue her writing career. She loves to research both family history and history in general for the stories of real people that emanate from the dusty pages. These days writing is Elaine’s pleasure and her obsession. Telling the stories of Loyalists caught in the American Revolutionary War is very natural as her personal roots are thoroughly enmeshed in that struggle, out of which arose both Canada and the United States.

For more information please visit Elaine’s website. You can also find her on Facebook and Twitter.


I'm pleased to host a giveaway for one copy of The Loyalist's Wife.  Giveaway details are as follows:

- The giveaway is open to residents of Canada and the United States only;
- To enter, simply leave a comment with your email address below;
- The giveaway will run until midnight (EST) on October 31, 2013;
- The winner will be selected using

Good Luck!

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Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Review Delay: Illuminations by Mary Sharratt

If you are following the virtual book tour currently underway for Mary Sharratt's Illuminations, you might notice that today is the day I'm supposed to post my review and host a giveaway for the book.  Unfortunately, I'm sick and have been for a couple of days, so I haven't had the opportunity to prepare my review.   My apologies to Mary Sharratt and Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tours, but I will have my review and giveaway posted as soon as I'm up  to it. 

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Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Book Review: Longbourn by Jo Baker


A brilliantly imagined, irresistible below-stairs answer to Pride and Prejudice: a story of the romance, intrigue and drama among the servants of the Bennet household, a triumphant tale of defying society's expectations, and an illuminating glimpse of working-class lives in Regency England.

The servants at Longbourn estate—only glancingly mentioned in Jane Austen's classic—take centre stage in Jo Baker's lively, cunning new novel. Here are the Bennets as we have never known them: seen through the eyes of those scrubbing the floors, cooking the meals, emptying the chamber pots. Our heroine is Sarah, an orphaned housemaid beginning to chafe against the boundaries of her class. When the militia marches into town, a new footman arrives under mysterious circumstances, and Sarah finds herself the object of the attentions of an ambitious young former slave working at neighboring Netherfield Hall, the carefully choreographed world downstairs at Longbourn threatens to be completely, perhaps irrevocably, up-ended. From the stern but soft-hearted housekeeper to the starry-eyed kitchen maid, these new characters come vividly to life in this already beloved world. Jo Baker shows us what Jane Austen wouldn't in a captivating, wonderfully evocative, moving work of fiction. 
Synopsis from Random House Canada

Random House Canada | October 8, 2013 | 352 pages

My Review

Longbourn, the latest novel from Jo Baker, is set in a time and place that will be familiar to many readers -- the early 19th century at Longbourn estate, the home of Jane Austen's fictional Bennet family from her beloved novel Pride and Prejudice.  While Austen's novel focuses on the Bennets themselves, they are only in the background in this novel.  The focus instead is on the few servants who worked and lived with the Bennets, particularly Sarah, the Bennet's maid, and William, the footman.

I'm a huge fan of both Pride and Prejudice and the time period in which it is set.  Because of this I picked up Longbourn fully expecting to love it every bit as much other readers seem to.  Unfortunately, I realized fairly quickly that this novel wasn't going to become a favourite.  While Baker does a formidable job conveying the often tedious daily routine of servants employed on smaller English estates, and is able to evoke a very strong sense of time and place,  I found too many parts of the story were bogged down by excessively descriptive prose.  As a result, no matter how eloquently written the narrative, I was often bored by it.  Fortunately, I thought the novel's conclusion was well done, as it moved quickly without feeling rushed, and this saved the book for me.

Baker does a good job of developing both Sarah and William's characters, although I thought William the more engaging of the two.  While this novel is ostensibly about the servants at Longbourn, Baker does provide readers a brief glimpse into the lives of the Bennets.  For the most part, I liked how Baker chose to portray each member of the Bennet family, and at no time did I feel Baker's interpretation of the characters to be inconsistent with how they were presented by Austen.  There was one aspect of the storyline involving one of the Bennets that I wasn't overly keen on, but it did work in the context of this novel.   

Even though Longbourn didn't work as well for me as I hoped, I still think it is a worthwhile read for anyone interested in the time period as the novel's greatest strength is the strong sense of time and place it conveys. 

Rating: 3.5 out of 5 Stars
Source: I received a copy of this novel from the publisher via Netgalley in exchange for a fair and honest review. 

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Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Interview with Author David Blixt

I'm super pleased to welcome author David Blixt to Confessions of an Avid Reader.  David is currently touring the blogosphere for his novel Colossus: The Four Emperors and has stopped by today for an interview (click here to read my review of the novel).  David is quickly becoming one of my favourite historical fiction authors, and if you haven't yet had the opportunity to read one of his novels I highly recommend you do so. 

 Q.  Each of your series is set in very different time periods and places (Star Cross’d – 14th century Italy, Will & Kit – Elizabethan England, and Colossus – 1st century Judea and Rome).  What is it about each of these times and places that draws you to them?

A.   I don’t choose periods. They choose me. I haven’t written any books in my personal favorite periods. I love the 1940s – the music, the clothes, the films. And I think about late-Republic Rome a lot, because we’re reliving it now (I did write a play about the night before Caesar’s assassination). But until I started the Colossus books, I couldn’t have cared less about post-Caesar Rome.

So I don’t think about period when I start looking for a topic. I’m not even drawn to stories so much as gaps in stories. When I watch a movie or read a book, I see plot holes. It’s a dreadful affliction, but it’s served me well here. I hear some detail, or read a piece of history, and start wondering what’s been omitted. That’s how I start. For the Star-Cross’d novels, it was the origin of the Capulet-Montague feud. For Will & Kit, it’s Shakespeare’s ‘lost’ years.

For Colossus, it’s that strange moment when Christianity takes root in Rome. How did that happen? Why did it happen? I was thinking about that, and started reading. Then, as with each of the other series, the story started spiraling out on itself. So much happened in these years to lay the ground for Christianity to lay its seeds – the Roman/Jewish war, the destruction of Jerusalem, the Diaspora which brought a huge influx of disaffected and dispirited Hebrews into Rome as slaves – that the series really took on its own life.

I tend to see the thread of the story, and start tugging until I know where it ends. Once I know that, I’ll start writing to find my way to that end. So, while I fall in love with each period I write about, it’s not the period that draws me in, but the story I see germinating that I have to bring to life.

Q.  During the course of the research for your most recent release, Colossus: The Four Emperors, what was the most interesting or surprising piece of information you found?    

A.   Amid all the excesses and atrocities of Nero, I found one that broke my heart. It’s the story of his ‘wife’ Spiros. Months earlier, Nero had kicked his pregnant wife, causing her to miscarry and die. While in Greece, he spotted a young Greek lad who bore a strong resemblance to his late wife. He immediately had the teenaged boy castrated and wigged, turning Spiros into his ‘reborn’ wife. What happened to that boy is staggeringly awful, the stuff of grand tragedy. Even after finishing the book, I can’t get that story out of my head. Maybe it needs to be a play.

Q.   Have you always wanted to be a writer?  Was historical fiction always the genre you wanted to write it? 

While I’ve loved writing since 6th grade (and making up stories since long before that), there was a time when acting was all I wanted to do. Today my life is neatly split between theatre and writing. But when I’m doing a show, I want to be writing. When I’m writing, I don’t want to be doing anything else. So I think this is my calling.

As for Historical Fiction, fate kept conspiring to put the genre in my path. I didn’t even know it existed until a car-trip with my father when I was 18. He put on an audiobook of The First Man In Rome by Colleen McCullough. I was utterly hooked. Then a couple years later I was doing a play directed by David Doersch, and he told me his concept for the show came from reading Bernard Cornwell’s Sharpe books. I read them and loved them. Then I was doing a show and a reviewer wrote that I appeared ‘as if stepping out of a Raphael Sabatini novel.’ Finally my future wife gave me a copy of The Game Of Kings by Dorothy Dunnett, and I knew I was home.

Q.   In addition to writing, you also act and direct.  Do you think your experience as an actor and director helps you with your writing?

A.   Theatre will always be a part of my life, as I get a lot of my inspiration on the stage. That said, the answer is sadly equivocal: ‘yes, and no.’

Yes, in the sense that theatre makes me look at the interlocking parts of a whole story, and of all the characters that make a good story, that I have to have proper motivations for each one. Everyone’s the hero of their own story. It’s valuable to remember that, and to think of them all as flesh-and-blood people, not mere plot-points. Theatre teaches me a lot of lessons that I instinctively use when writing.

No, in the sense that theatre takes away my writing time. In recent years – 2012-2013 especially – theatre has conspired to keep me away from my desk. On the other hand, it recharges me in a way nothing else does, and it also puts bread on the table. I’m still trying to find the right balance, but I’m close – if I act in the summers, and write the rest of the year, that may be it. We’ll see.

Q.  As an author of historical fiction do you think certain historical figures and/or time periods have been overdone?   What historical figures or time periods do you wish were written about more often?

A.  Terribly, there are whole swathes of periods I simply avoid. Seeing a new Tudor novel makes me cringe, which is hilarious not only because I’ve written one, but also because my favorite books (The Lymond Chronicles) are technically Tudor books.

Who would I like to see more books on? That’s the thing, I don’t know until someone wows me with a person I’ve never heard of. I want to be surprised, and I want to learn something. I’m not much interested in court romances. I’m interested in the law, and philosophy, and war, and social mores. I’m interested in human flaws and foibles, and overcoming them. I’m fascinated by religion and power and the misuse of both. Most of all, I’m interested in a good story.

A lot of films today are two-thirds of a good story, with a rushed finish. I feel the same way about some novels. I don’t need a happy ending, but I do need an ending, something with emotional and intellectual heft. I want to regret closing that last page, and yet be satisfied that the author has brought everything together.

I’m resisting naming the people I want more books on, because I want to write them. But I don’t think I’ll ever get to writing about John Hawkwood, who I stumbled across while researching the Verona books. An exiled English knight in England, selling his sword to anyone with the coin – there’s a great series in that. So someone out there, have at!

There are also characters I’d also like to write about, but think I have too little to add to what’s out there. I love King Arthur. But while I have a few minor ideas of things that intrigue me, they’re not enough to make me dive in, because I don’t think I’ll ever have enough original material to top Cornwell, Hollick, Stuart, or Bradley. Maybe a short story would be enough. We’ll see.

Q.   Do you read historical fiction featuring the people and places you’ve written about? Why or why not?

A.   I do, because I’ll steal every historical detail I can find. Seriously, outright theft.

To be clear, I will not filch characters or interpretations or plots. I always know my plot and how I want to get there. And my characters always appear through the writing. But if someone’s done the research already, and their research can point me in new directions, I’m in. For Colossus, I read Lion Fuchtwagner’s Jospehus series. His Josephus is very, very different than mine, but I learned a lot, and had a ton of questions when I was finished. Of course, you have to be careful – check sources and facts. Never assume that what you’re reading is actual history. But there is so much knowledge out there in the HF community that it would be madness to start at zero for each book. Before I ever started writing HF, I learned so much about Rome from McCullough, about the Napoleonic Wars from Cornwell and O’Brian, about the whole 16th century from Dunnett, that I will always use my fellow authors as my guides. Because I travel in the company of giants, and can stand on their shoulders to see.

Q.   Who are your favorite historical fiction authors?  What is it about their writing that you most admire? 

A.  Sharon Kay Penman, Dorothy Dunnett, Bernard Cornwell, CW Gortner, Raphael Sabatini, Patrick O’Brian, Colleen McCullough. Not in that order. And I love them all because they get both my brain and heart engaged. I think, and I care. I learn, and I grieve. I wonder, and I exult.

Q.   Have you started work on your next novel?  If so, who or what is the subject?

A.  I am about five years behind my brain. I currently have four books in progress, and two more that I’m researching, with ten more in queue behind those, and a series I hope to get to before I die.

The next novel I’ll finish will be The Prince’s Doom, the fourth book in the Star-Cross’d series. After that will come the third Colossus book, Wail Of The Fallen. We’ll see where the muses take me from there.

I also have my first horror short story coming out soon from Grey Matter Press, part of a compilation. We’ll see how that one goes.

Q.   If you could invite three historical figures to a dinner party, who would you invite and why?

A.   I think Will Durant had it right – Caesar and Christ.  Shakespeare, too. Those are my three. But only if I had some veritaserum.

Thanks for having me!

Be sure to check out all the other stops on the Colossus: The Four Emperors virtual book tour.  Click here to see the schedule.

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Monday, October 7, 2013

Book Review: Colossus - The Four Emperors by David Blixt


Rome under Nero is a dangerous place. His cruel artistic whims border on madness, and any man who dares rise too high has his wings clipped, with fatal results.

For one family, Nero means either promotion or destruction. While his uncle Vespasian goes off to put down a rebellion in Judea, Titus Flavius Sabinus struggles to walk the perilous line between success and notoriety as he climbs Rome's ladder. When Nero is impaled on his own artistry, the whole world is thrown into chaos and Sabinus must navigate shifting allegiances and murderous alliances as his family tries to survive the year of the Four Emperors.

The second novel in the Colossus series.

Sordelet Ink | April 7, 2013 | 406 pages

My Review

Colossus: The Four Emperors is the second novel in David Blixt's Colossus series.   The series is set in ancient Rome and Judea during the mid-1st century AD, at a time of immense political and religious change.  Whereas the first novel in the series, Colossus: Stone and Steel, is principally set in Judea and features Hebrew protagonists, this novel takes place primarily in Rome and focuses on Romans characters.  While a war is being waged in Judea under the generalship of Vespasian, Rome itself is embroiled in political unrest first under emperor Nero and then, following his death, when various opposing factions fight for political supremacy in what becomes known as the Year of the Four Emperors. 

One of the things I enjoy most about David Blixt's novels is that they are chock full of rich historical detail.  Combined with his eloquent and engaging prose, this detail allows Blixt to bring his subjects vividly to life.  Colossus: The Four Emperors is no exception.  The customs, beliefs and politics of Rome in the 1st century are seamlessly integrated into the narrative, giving the reader a real feel for the time period.  The Year of the Four Emperors was a fascinating time in Roman history, and I enjoyed Blixt's interpretation of it, which showcases the political and military posturing that helped to define the period.  While I'm generally not a fan of extensive battle sequences in novels, Blixt's are engaging and, as a result, I was never tempted to skim them.  Another strength of this novel is its characters, who come right from the pages of history.  Sabinus, the central character in the novel, is well-drawn and I appreciated his sense of honour and duty, and his devotion to his family.  Sabinus' upstanding character and his approach to life contrasts greatly with those of the emperor Nero and the men of his inner circle.  While I was familiar with Nero's reputation prior to reading this novel, I wasn't aware of the lengths to which he would go to shame or rid himself of his rivals and enemies, or of the activities he would permit and encourage in the name of entertainment (some of Nero's 'entertainments' prove to be rather disturbing).  His immediate successors offered little improvement. 

Although this novel is the second in a series, some of the events of this story take place at the same time as those of the first book, the only difference being the perspective from which the story is told (Book One: the Judeans, Book Two: the Romans).  While Colossus: The Four Emperors can be read and enjoyed as a stand-alone novel, I recommend starting with the first book of the series as it gives important background to some of the sub-plots and secondary characters featured in this book.  The series' third novel, Colossus: Wail of the Fallen, which will be published later this year, returns the story to ancient Judea and focuses on the fall of Jerusalem -- I'm looking forward to reading it, and revisiting the central characters of the first novel. 

Highly recommended to readers who enjoy historical fiction set in ancient Rome. 

Rating: 4 out of 5 Stars
Source: I received a copy of this book as part of David Blixt's virtual book tour in exchange for a fair and honest review.

Colossus The Four Emperors is currently on tour!  Click here to check out the tour schedule...and be sure to check back here tomorrow for my interview with David Blixt. 

About the Author

Author and playwright David Blixt's work is consistently described as "intricate," "taut," and "breathtaking." A writer of Historical Fiction, his novels span the early Roman Empire (the COLOSSUS series, his play EVE OF IDES) to early Renaissance Italy (the STAR-CROSS'D series, including THE MASTER OF VERONA, VOICE OF THE FALCONER, and FORTUNE'S FOOL) up through the Elizabethan era (his delightful espionage comedy HER MAJESTY'S WILL, starring Will Shakespeare and Kit Marlowe as inept spies). His novels combine a love of the theatre with a deep respect for the quirks and passions of history. As the Historical Novel Society said, "Be prepared to burn the midnight oil. It's well worth it." Living in Chicago with his wife and two children, David describes himself as "actor, author, father, husband. In reverse order."

 For more about David and his novels, visit

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Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Book Review and Giveaway: Confessions of Marie Antoinette by Juliet Grey


Confessions of Marie Antoinette, the riveting and sweeping final novel in Juliet Grey’s trilogy on the life of the legendary French queen, blends rich historical detail with searing drama, bringing to life the early years of the French Revolution and the doomed royal family’s final days.

Versailles, 1789. As the burgeoning rebellion reaches the palace gates, Marie Antoinette finds her privileged and peaceful life swiftly upended by violence. Once her loyal subjects, the people of France now seek to overthrow the crown, placing the heirs of the Bourbon dynasty in mortal peril.

Displaced to the Tuileries Palace in Paris, the royal family is propelled into the heart of the Revolution. There, despite a few staunch allies, they are surrounded by cunning spies and vicious enemies. Yet despite the political and personal threats against her, Marie Antoinette remains above all a devoted wife and mother, standing steadfastly by her husband, Louis XVI, and protecting their young son and daughter. And though the queen and her family try to flee, and she secretly attempts to arrange their rescue from the clutches of the Revolution, they cannot outrun the dangers encircling them, or escape their shocking fate.

Ballantine Books | September 24, 2013 | 464 pages

My Review

Confessions of Marie Antoinette is the third and final installment in Juliet Grey's Marie Antoinette trilogy, following Becoming Marie Antoinette and Days of Splendor, Days of Sorrow (click on the titles to read my reviews).   The focus of this novel is on the final years of Marie Antoinette's life, which coincides with the downfall of France's Bourbon dynasty.  Told primarily from Marie Antoinette's perspective, Confessions takes place at the height of the French Revolution.

Much like the previous two novels in the Marie Antoinette trilogy, Confessions of Marie Antoinette is filled with rich period detail that brings revolutionary France and the tumultuous French court to life.   While I was already familiar with the basic events and key figures of the French Revolution prior to reading this trilogy, the plight of the French royal family during the final years of Louis XVI's reign was relatively new to me.   One of this novel's greatest strengths is Grey's ability to successfully capture the fear and despair of Marie Antoinette and Louis XVI as they unsuccessfully try to keep the French monarchy from falling.  

Although Marie Antoinette and Louis XVI are not historical figures I've previously been particularly curious to learn more about, this novel has changed that.  While I thought the book started out a little slowly, by the halfway point I was completely riveted by the story and eager to learn more about the events leading up to first Louis XVI's, and then Marie Antoinette's, deaths. Grey does such a good job of conveying the immense difficulties that they faced during their final years that I couldn't help but feel sympathy and sadness for their treatment at the hands of the revolutionaries, and I often found myself appalled at the level of hatred directed at Marie Antoinette in particular.  One of the things I liked best about this novel, and indeed of the trilogy in general, is Grey's characterization of Marie Antoinette.  In Grey's deft hands Marie comes across as a caring wife and mother, one who, although she has flaws, does not deserve the reputation given to her by history. 

Recommended to fans of historical fiction set in France, especially those interested in the Bourbon monarchy and the French Revolution. 

Rating: 4 out of 5 Stars
Source: I received a copy of this novel from the publisher via Netgalley in exchange for a fair and honest review.


Confessions of Marie Antoinette is currently on tour.  You can visit the tour schedule by clicking here.

About the Author

Juliet Grey is the author of Becoming Marie Antoinette and Days of Splendor, Days of Sorrow. She has extensively researched European royalty and is a particular devotee of Marie Antoinette, as well as a classically trained professional actress with numerous portrayals of virgins, vixens, and villainesses to her credit. She and her husband divide their time between New York City and southern Vermont. 

For more information please visit


I'm pleased to host a giveaway for one copy of Confessions of Marie Antoinette (US only).   Giveaway details are as follows:

- Giveaway is open to US residents only;
- To enter simply leave a comment below with your email address;
- The giveaway will run until midnight (EST) on October 13th, 2013.
- The winner will be selected using

Good Luck!

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