7 May 2021

Historical Fiction Spotlight: The Queen’s Rival, by Anne O’Brien

Available from Amazon UK and Amazon US

England, 1459:One family united by blood. Torn apart by war…

The Wars of the Roses storm through the country, and Cecily Neville, Duchess of York, plots to topple the weak-minded King Henry VI from the throne.

But when the Yorkists are defeated at the battle of Ludford Bridge, Cecily’s family flee and abandon her to face a marauding Lancastrian army on her own.

Stripped of her lands and imprisoned in Tonbridge Castle, the Duchess begins to spin a web of deceit. One that will eventually lead to treason, to the fall of King Henry VI, and to her eldest son being crowned King Edward IV.

O’Brien manages to reinvent historical fiction’ My Weekly

‘This thrilling historical novel has it all – high politics, drama, emotion, excellent writing … It's a rollercoaster of a read’ Carol McGrath

‘Dramatic and highly evocative’ Woman’s Weekly

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About the Author

Sunday Times Bestselling author Anne O’Brien was born in West Yorkshire. After gaining a BA Honours degree in History at Manchester University and a Master’s in Education at Hull, she lived in East Yorkshire for many years as a teacher of history.Today she has sold over 700,000 copies of her books medieval history novels in the UK and internationally. She lives with her husband in an eighteenth-century timber-framed cottage in the depths of the Welsh Marches in Herefordshire. The area provides endless inspiration for her novels which breathe life into the forgotten women of medieval history.
 Find out more at Anne's website  http://www.anneobrien.co.uk/ and find her on Facebook and Twitter @anne_obrien

6 May 2021

Special Guest Post: The Inspiration Behind Under the Light of the Italian Moon, by Jennifer Anton

Available from Amazon UK and Amazon US

A promise keeps them apart until WW2 threatens to destroy 
their love forever

Fonzaso Italy, between two wars

Nina Argenta doesn’t want the traditional life of a rural Italian woman. The daughter of a strong-willed midwife, she is determined to define her own destiny. But when her brother emigrates to America, she promises her mother to never leave.

What my Grandmother Left Me:

I started writing Under the Light of the Italian Moon in 2006, which became the year of coming to a new understanding of womanhood. I was pregnant with my daughter, and at my baby shower, aunts and cousins surrounded me in blessings. My Italian grandmother sat to the side, a quiet spectator. That night, she called an ambulance and never left the hospital. 

Two months later, I had my daughter via an emergency c-section, then went into heart failure, causing me to have to leave my baby at home with my mom. Doctors tried to save my malfunctioning heart. I recovered—but my grandmother did not. She died, never getting to meet my daughter. I wondered what of hers I could give to my child to make sure she was remembered. 

She had told me little about her life in Italy. I still remember the night I asked her about WWII in Italy, because we were studying WWII in highschool. She shared that Nazis had occupied her town, friends had been killed in their atrocities. For the first time, I heard the name of a town, Fonzaso – where she lived the beginning seventeen years of her life. She admitted that she hadn’t wanted to leave, but she needed to stay with her family. I tucked this information into my memory. 

As a teenager, I didn’t have the inclination to follow up on questions forming in my head when I heard those words: Nazis, Fonzaso, partisans, WWII. It was hard to associate all of that with my grandma, who loved to sit in her Daniel Green slippers and make polenta on Sundays. I was American, so was she, I thought. It was only her meals, her infrequent Italian demands (Basta!) and her phone calls abroad in Italian that told me she was different. But I never considered her what she was—an immigrant. 

In 2006, when she died, a notebook on my counter held questions I had intended to ask about her childhood in Italy and during WWII. Instead, I filled pages with her eulogy, written as a letter to my daughter to introduce her to her great grandmother. At the wake people spoke of her youth: gymnastics competitions we had never heard about, and made us wonder if we fully knew the woman who I had called Grandma Lasia. 

My mom, who never speaks in public, stood up with a stronger voice than I had ever heard her use, and spoke about her mother. It was an epiphany moment for me. Mothers, daughters, grandmothers—our connection flashed in front of me, as boldly as sunlight in my eyes.

Strong Italian Women - the authors ancestors. 

There began the fourteen-year journey of researching and writing my first novel. The questions had to be answered. The stories had to be told. I was the only one to do it. Like raising a second child, I gave writing and researching my early mornings, late nights, vacations and weekends. I visited my grandmother’s sister with my tape recorder and notepad, documenting stories. I called cousins in Canada who had grown up in Fonzaso with my grandmother, asked them questions and listened. I wrote, researched and wrote some more.

But you can’t write a novel about Italy without truly understanding the country. So, I applied for my Italian citizenship and travelled to meet family in Fonzaso and Serena del Grappa. I hired translators and consumed large amounts of coffee, polenta, eggplant parmigiana, prosecco, biscotti, wine and grappa while sitting across from elderly relatives. 

Their eyes glistened as they answered my questions—going back, remembering. Looking at them, I did not see age spots and grey hair; I saw them as they were in my book, when Mussolini implemented his egotistical plan and Nazis occupied their town. I shook my head time and again at their stories, the atrocities they witnessed but never mentioned, until you asked. 

Researching, author and her aunt

It struck me when I met with them that they had stayed while so many had left. In fact, I interviewed four Italians who emigrated to the U.S. and Canada, and four who remain in or near Fonzaso after the war. It was strange to think that my grandmother was the link. When I saw her, sitting in the chair with the phone to her ear, nylons rolled down around her ankles in her housecoat, she was speaking to these people. She was keeping her connection to Italy. But the rest of my family had only known Americanness. We didn’t feel the link. Had I not had the curiosity and gone back; had I not written the novel, it is possible these connections would have been broken forever.

My novel, Under the Light of the Italian Moon, is biographical fiction.  It takes the stories and history of my family and the times and weaves them together with a fictional thread to build a story I hope readers want to read. Like The Crown or books like The Tattooist of Auschwitz by Heather Morris and Beneath a Scarlet Sky by Mark Sullivan, real people’s lives mingle with fiction to tell stories that needed to be remembered. I worked with the best editors I could find, starting with Sally Orson-Jones and then Angela Myers, who had edited The Tattooist of Auschwitz and Cilka’s Journey. 

It took me fourteen years to write my novel. I know Under the Light of the Italian Moon would not be what it is if it had taken any less time. Over these years, I have watched my mother grow into her role as nonna. I have watched my baby girl grow into a teenager. I am more certain than ever that the strength of the world is in its women—that the path forward is through aspiring to love. 

The book is done, it published on March 8th, International Women’s Day. My grandmother helped make it happen. She is in heaven, smiling and knowing she never left me, knowing I brought her back to Italy.  

Jennifer Anton

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About the Author

Jennifer Anton is an American/Italian dual citizen born in Joliet, Illinois and now lives between London and Lake Como, Italy. A proud advocate for women's rights and equality, she hopes to rescue women's stories from history, starting with her Italian family. Find out more at her website: www.boldwomanwriting.com and find her on Facebook and  Twitter: @boldwomanwrites

5 May 2021

Book Review of Paris In Ruins by Mary K Tod

Available from Amazon UKAmazon US

I knew little about the outbreak of the Franco-Prussian War, and the emergence of the Third French Republic in September 1870, followed by the siege of Paris by the Prussian Army. Mary Tod’s new book was therefore an insight into an unfamiliar period of French history.

In turns gentle and harrowing, I particularly liked the deft touches of prose which ground the troubling story in the real world:
Her mother was right, the view was indeed beautiful and the colours particularly striking: soft blue skies; dusky yellow wheat fields; sturdy evergreens marking the distant hills; and leaves with the first hints of gold and red. As she watched a long line of birds fly overhead, she thought she heard the babble of a nearby stream. An explosion shattered the calm.
I really cared about her characters, women who found new strength and resolve in the midst of war. I was also intrigued by the appearance of actress Sarah Bernhardt. I looked up her history and found she led the conversion of the Paris Odeon into a hospital for wounded soldiers, and worked as a nurse, showing great leadership to the women of Paris.

Sarah Bernhardt

This thought-provoking novel is a worthy successor to Mary Tod’s three earlier books, Unravelled, Lies Told In Silence and Time and Regret - and one I’m happy to recommend.

Tony Riches

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About the Author

M.K. (Mary) Tod lives in Toronto, Canada, and writes and blogs about historical fiction. She had a successful business career working at an executive level in management consulting, sales and marketing, and is married with two adult children.  Find out more from Mary's website www.mktod.com and find her on Facebook and Twitter @MKTodAuthor

30 April 2021

Book Launch: The York Princesses: The daughters of Edward IV and Elizabeth Woodville, by Sarah J. Hodder

New on Amazon UK and Amazon US

As a collective, the lives of the Princesses of York span across seven decades and the rule of five different Kings. The daughters of Edward IV and Elizabeth Woodville, they were born into an England that had been ruled over by the great Plantagenet Kings for almost three hundred years. 

Their young years were blighted by tragedy: the death of their beloved father, followed by the disappearance and possible murder of their two brothers, Edward and Richard of York, forever now known to history as the infamous Princes in the Tower. 

With their own futures uncertain during the reign of their uncle, Richard III, and their mother held under house arrest, the Princesses had to navigate their way through the tumultuous years of the 1480s before having to adjust to a new King and a new dynasty in the shape of Henry VII, who would bring about the age of the Tudors. Through her marriage to Henry, Elizabeth of York rebuilt her life, establishing herself as a popular, if not hugely influential Queen. 

But she did not forget her younger siblings, and even before her own mothers death, she acted as a surrogate mother to the younger York princesses, supporting them both financially and emotionally. The stories of the York Princesses are entwined into the fabric of the history of England, as they grew up, survived and even thrived in the new Tudor age. 

Their lives are played out against a backdrop of coronations and jousts, births and deaths, marriages and divorces and loyalties and broken allegiances. From the usurpation of Richard III, to the Battle of Bosworth, the brilliance of the court of Catherine of Aragon and Henry VIII, to the rise of Anne Boleyn, the York Princesses were there to witness events unfold. 

They were the daughters, sisters and aunts of Kings, and this is their story. The York Princesses is a natural follow-up to Sarah J. Hodder's first book, The Queen's Sisters, which told the stories of the lives of the sisters of Elizabeth Woodville.

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About the Author

Sarah J. Hodder began her career as production manager for Shire Publications, a unique niche Publisher that introduced her to an eclectic mix of subjects and encouraged her already well-founded love of books. Since leaving Shire to focus on motherhood, she has developed a passion for history, particularly medieval and Tudor, and reads everything and anything she can get her hands on. Her focus is the role of women and she counts Elizabeth Woodville as one of her heroines. Seeing a gap in the market around the lives of the Woodville women, led her to write her first book on the subject. Find out more at Sarah's website https://underthemedievaloaktree.wordpress.com/  and follow her on Facebook and Twitter @srhjyn8

The Battle of Barnet in Fact and Fiction, by Hilary Harrison, Scott Harrison and Mike Noronha

At around 5 am on the 14th of April, 1471, battle was joined between the forces of York and Lancaster just north of the village of Barnet, in one of the most decisive battles of the 30-year conflict that later became known as the 'Wars of the Roses.'

To mark the 550th anniversary of the historic battle, Hilary Harrison, Scott Harrison and Mike Noronha of Barnet Museum have put together a small book which is an inspired blend of the known facts, brought to life with extracts from historical fiction authors including Matthew Lewis, Toby Clements, Philippa Gregory - and myself.

Conventional histories of the Battle of Barnet tend to focus on events and strategies. This history of the battle puts the emphasis on the people, their lives, actions and emotions. It does this through 'pen-portraits' of the main characters and the use of a wide range of illustrations.

Warwick's letter in late March 1471 to Henry Vernon, exhorting Vernon to support the Lancastrian cause.
(The postscript is in Warwick's own hand.)

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Available from Amazon UK and Amazon US

‘A story of adventure, power and influence at the heart of one of the most dangerous times in the history of England.’

Richard Neville, Earl of Warwick, the 'Kingmaker', is the wealthiest noble in England. He becomes a warrior knight, bravely protecting the north against invasion by the Scots. A key figure in what have become known as ‘the Wars of the Roses,’ he fought in most of the important battles. As Captain of Calais, he turns privateer, daring to take on the might of the Spanish fleet and becoming Admiral of England. The friend of kings, he is the sworn enemy of Queen Margaret of Anjou. Then, in an amazing change of heart, why does he risk everything to fight for her cause?

Tony Riches

28 April 2021

Historical Fiction Spotlight ~ Dawn Empress: A Novel of Imperial Rome, by Faith L. Justice

Available from Amazon US and Amazon UK

As Rome reels under barbarian assaults, a young girl must step up.

After the Emperor’s unexpected death, ambitious men eye the Eastern Roman throne occupied by seven-year-old Theodosius II. His older sister Pulcheria faces a stark choice: she must find allies and take control of the Eastern court or doom the imperial children to a life of obscurity—or worse. 

Beloved by the people and respected by the Church, Pulcheria forges her own path to power. Can her piety and steely will protect her brother from military assassins, heretic bishops, scheming eunuchs and—most insidious of all—a beautiful, intelligent bride? Or will she lose all in the trying?

Dawn Empress tells the little-known and remarkable story of Pulcheria Augusta, 5th century Empress of Eastern Rome. Her accomplishments rival those of Elizabeth I and Catherine the Great as she sets the stage for the dawn of the Byzantine Empire. 

Don’t miss this “gripping tale” (Kirkus Reviews)

A “deftly written and impressively entertaining historical novel” (Midwest Book Reviews)

Historical Novel Reviews calls Dawn Empress an “outstanding novel…highly recommended” and awarded it the coveted Editor’s Choice.

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About the Author

Faith L. Justice writes award-winning historical novels, short stories, and articles in Brooklyn, New York where she lives with her family and the requisite gaggle of cats. Her work has appeared in Salon.com, Writer’s Digest, The Copperfield Review, and many more publications. She is Chair of the New York City chapter of the Historical Novel Society, and Associate Editor for Space and Time Magazine. She co-founded a writer’s workshop many more years ago than she likes to admit. For fun, she digs in the dirt—her garden and various archaeological sites. Find out more at Dawn's w
ebsite: https://faithljustice.com and find her on Facebook and Twitter @faithljustice

27 April 2021

Spotlight: The Magician (The Donora Story Collection Book 3) by Kathleen Shoop

Available from Amazon UK and Amazon US

Donora 2019: Ninety-two year old Patryk Rusek is on the run, bath-towel flying off, with nothing but his new Nikes to carry him to freedom. His plan to escape from Blue Horizon Retirement Community is in motion. Except his great-grandson Owen isn’t at the pickup point. Resigned to his fate, Patryk returns to his room and reads from his incredible hand-drawn chronicle of Donora, luring half the nursing home’s employees and residents into the room, mesmerizing them with childhood tales of Stan F. Musial, beloved baseball hall of famer.

Donora 1920: Mary Musial is expecting again. After four daughters, her husband Lukasz is losing hope for a son. But Jupiter is rising when Stanisław Franciszek Musiał is born on November 21, 1920, and the midwife predicts he will live an extraordinary life. Young Stanley’s physical talents show themselves at the Polish Falcons and on the baseball field. But rather than pride, Lukasz’s spirits plummet after mill injuries turn his American dream into a living nightmare.

When the Depression hits and the mills close, tension grips every Donora household. Meanwhile as Stan matures, he draws attention from the press, college coaches, and professional baseball scouts. Suddenly his singular dream is set against options he’d never imagined. Every choice threatens to disappoint coaches, teachers, his girlfriend, and most of all his parents. Even with the talent to achieve his goals, doubt creeps in. Can he find the courage to leave everything he knows and all the people he loves to fulfil his destiny? Or will he wait too long and risk it all?

Beautifully written and the pages fly by. If you are a baseball nut, this is required reading, in my opinion, but, if like me, baseball is a foreign language, it is still an absorbing and telling tale of familial love, determination, courage, and the ability to see the best in even the worst situations. I loved this story and can highly recommend it.--Grant Leishman for Readers' Favorite
The prose is tender and insightful, and the true strength of the book lies in the characters, whose combined merits beautifully offset[human] weaknesses. --Heather Brooks for US Review of Books
Five stars over and over again! The word "Magician" in the title hints at the magical experience adroitly encased in this rich and exquisite book. Fully packed with brilliant metaphors, smooth storytelling, deeply portrayed and complex characters, and an elaborate, vividly described world. --Foluso Falaye for Readers' Favorite
Readers who believe that a prior interest in baseball or Donora history is a requirement for enjoying The Magician will be in for a surprise. All that's required is an open mind and heart. The magic embedded in the tale will do the rest.--Diane Donovan for California Bookwatch and Midwest Book Review
You fall deep into Stanley's beginning, thanks to the author's exquisite attention to detail and descriptions. The dialogue is fantastic. History, along with the Musials, comes to life, and you get more than a slice-of-life perspective--you get the whole Musial pie. The Magician(The Donora Story Collection Book 3) by Kathleen Shoop is a Musial fan's dream.--Tammy Ruggles for Readers' Favorite
Following Stan as he navigates the world will take you on an emotional journey that will have you laughing and crying... --K.C. Finn for Readers' Favorite
It grabs you from the first page at the unusual sight of Patryk trying to run away in his towel. It kept me reading as I wanted to learn more about him and when he starts telling the story of Donora, I was hooked. --Samantha Gregory for Readers' Favorite

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About the Author

Bestselling author Kathleen Shoop holds a PhD in reading education and has more than 20 years of experience in the classroom. Her third novel, Love and Other Subjects, earned a Silver medal in the Independent Publisher Book Awards and received an Honorable Mention from the San Francisco Book Festival. Her second novel, After the Fog (Silver IPPY), was a category finalist in the 2013 Eric Hoffer Book Awards. Her debut novel, The Last Letter, is a multiple award-winner, including a Gold Medal in the Independent Publisher Book Awards. Kathleen has been featured in USA Today and the Writer’s Guide to 2013. Her work has appeared in The Tribune-Review, four Chicken Soup for the Soul books, and Pittsburgh Parent magazine. She lives in Oakmont, Pennsylvania with her husband and two children. Find out more at Kathleen's website  and find her on Facebook and Twitter @kathieshoop