Saturday, April 30, 2011

Guest Post by Donna Russo Morin: The Remorse and Redemption of a King and his Court

I first want to start off my apologizing for my brief absence. I'm in the middle of studying for finals and have been very busy with school; therefore, I'm behind on my reviews and I want to explain and apologize. Finals will be over on Thursday and I hope to catch up soon after they are over and done with.

In light of my up coming review of To Serve A King by Donna Russo Morin, I have decided to re-post Donna's guest post on King Francois I. Enjoy!

I am so pleased to welcome Donna Russo Morin author of To Serve a King, to All Things Historical Fiction. She is here to discuss the remorse and redemption of King Francois I of France. Be on the look out for my review of To Serve A King in the next couple of weeks along with the chance to win a copy!

The Remorse and Redemption of a King and his Court

François I reigned in France during the same era in which Henry VIII ruled England. When I found him in my research for a previous novel, I was struck by what he and I had in common: in the realm of historical fiction, the Tudor stories tend to be a bit more popular than those set in other European countries, like mine. And while François was not only more powerful and contributed more to the world, he has always taken a back seat to Henry in terms of the history of the period. These two kings, along with Charles V of Spain, were constantly trying to outdo and overthrow the other. In that, I found the context for my story.

For a king who was rarely portrayed in historical fiction, and then only as a supporting character, I found great depth in this ruler often referred to as the Renaissance Warrior. His mother, Louise de Savoy, fought the courts to raise François, his sister, and the children of her recently deceased husband’s mistress. She emerged victorious, and with a loving and disciplined hand, raised them all as her own. François was surrounded by women for most of his childhood and adolescence, and his empathy for the feminine sensibility would color the rest of his life. These women, especially his mother and sister, were intelligent, educated, and sophisticated; they exposed him to the very best in art, literature and music that the late Renaissance had to offer and he would later dedicate his life to the artistic enrichment of his country. Few other rulers can compare in leaving a more notable and lasting cultural legacy than François I. By establishing the Lecteurs Royaux in 1530, François laid the foundation for the Collège de France. His compilation of books evolved into the Bibliotheque Nationale. And, most noteworthy of all, his trove of art became the nucleus of the world famous collection now held at the Louvre.
When writing François I, I was not unmindful or blind to his brutish youth, however I was deeply aware of the personal hardships he had encountered—the loss of spouse, the loss of beloved children, the slow torture of watching his own power diminish as he aged. In the major biographies read during my research, I found a great dichotomy between his early years and those in his latter days. I was struck by the notion, and the hope, that we have the ability to become truly conscious beings and in the clarity of vision such consciousness affords, we can look back and see the road behind us with all its potholes and wrong turns. It is distasteful to have regrets—the acidity sticks in the craw and repeats offensively—but if conscious of their power as tools, the enlightened can use them to find remorse, and it is in remorse that we are redeemed. Thus was how I found François; it is how I wrote him. I can say with certainty there was a wish in such a rendering.

In this book, as in my first two books (The Courtier’s Secret 2/2009 and The Secret of the Glass 3/2010), there is always a subliminal theme which mirrors events or emotions taking place in my own life. To Serve a King is no different. I was going through one of the most challenging phases of my life while I was writing this book, so challenging in fact, I wasn’t sure I would get it written. And as happens for many people in such circumstances, overcoming the emotions of such challenges—anger and hate—is the true test. And so it is for my main character, Geneviève Gravois. To Serve a King is a story of intrigue, murder, passion and betrayal. But at its heart, it is a story of redemption.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

2011 Movie: Black Death

I can't wait to watch this move! I posted it on here because I thought some may be interested in this as well since it deals with the greatly feared Black Death. This movie takes place in the 14th century and stars Sean Bean who also stars in the new HBO series A Game of Thrones.

Movie: Black Death (2011)
  • Director: Christopher Smith
  • Writer: Dario Poloni
  • Release Date: 11 March 2011
  • Country: UK/USA
  • Genre: Adventure, Drama, Horror, Mystery
  • Main cast: Eddie Redmayne, Sean Bean and Carice van Houten
Black Death’s action takes place in 1348, when the first outbreak of bubonic plague hit England – the name of the movie is the “nickname” received by the plague in those dark times. Even if the movie is based on a true event, the whole plot is fictional, but if you like medieval movies and zombies then this horror movie is right for you.

The plague hits hard and kills many, and people are starting to lose their faith. Since those were times when the church was eager to keep people under control, when rumors of a village where the plague didn’t reach and even more where people are being brought back to life spur, the church takes a stand. The main plot in Black Death surrounds Ulric (Sean Bean), a knight charged by the church to go and see if any of these rumors are true. In his journey he takes with him novice monk Osmund (Eddie Redmayne) to guide him and his mercenaries to this mysterious village. The events that occur when they reach the village and the dark secrets they discover will put Osmund’s faith to the test, and endanger their lives.
Movie trailer:

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Review: Exit the Actress by Priya Parmar


Source: I received a copy from the publisher for a fair & honest review.
Release Date: February 2011

Synopsis: While selling oranges in the Theatre Royal, Covent Garden, sweet and sprightly Ellen "Nell" Gwyn impresses the theater's proprietors with a wit and sparkle that belie her youth and poverty. She quickly earns a place in the company, narrowly avoiding the life of prostitution to which her sister has already succumbed. As her roles evolve from supporting to starring, the scope of her life broadens as well. Soon Ellen is dressed in the finest fashions, charming the theatrical, literary, and royal luminaries of Restoration England. Ellen grows up on the stage, experiencing first love and heartbreak and eventually becoming the mistress of Charles II. Despite his reputation as a libertine, Ellen wholly captures his heart - and he hers - but even the most powerful love isn't enough to stave off the gossip and bitter court politics that accompany a royal romance. Telling the story through a collection of vibrant seventeenth-century voices ranging from Ellen's diary to playbills, letters, gossip columns, and home remedies, Priya Parmar brings to life the story of an endearing and delightful heroine.

Review: I first read about little Nell Gwyn from Diane Haeger’s A Perfect Royal Mistress, and loved it! So when asked to read another novel about Nell Gwyn and her love affair with King Charles II I was so excited and couldn’t wait to get my hands on it. I was excited when I finally was able to squeeze it into my hectic reviewing schedule and the cover is just to die for! This book has been endorsed by many of my favorite HF authors such as Philippa Gregory, Sharon Kay Penman, and Sandra Gulland; which made me think this book was going to be spectacular!

Well my fellow bookaholics, I’m here to say although I did enjoy the book it did not fully live up to my expectations. I’ll start off with what I did like about the book. One thing I liked was how Parmar started the storyline before Nell was an orange girl and before both her sister and mother resorted to prostitution. I got a better understanding as to why her mother and sister chose to sell their bodies for money and how Nell became an orange girl. Also, Parmar focused more on Nell’s and Hart’s affair, which allowed the reader to see why Nell ran out on him and attached herself to Lord Buckhurst. She was looking for someone whom she could fall in love with instead of someone who spoiled her with lavish gifts in order to buy her affection. Sadly that didn’t work out so well in the end for little Nell. 

I really liked the character Teddy, who was Nell’s best friend and fellow actor. He was a flamboyant man who had a heart of gold. I think it would be safe to say he was gay and his wife, whom he never saw, was just a cover. On many occasions he would dress up in women’s clothing and was even Nell’s shopping buddy. I also loved Parmar’s take on Queen Catherine, the Portuguese Infanta. I couldn’t help but to sympathize with her disheartening situation. She was baron and King Charles’s long time, cruel mistress Lady Castlemaine was popping them out left and right, which was so unfair.

Now to what I didn’t like so much about the book. Every time I read or hear about Nell Gywn, it’s her brassy sense of humor that is most talked about besides her long time love affair with King Charles II. Unfortunately, I found it was lacking in this storyline and I missed it very much. Her harsh sense of humor is what makes her who she is and one of the reasons why she was so loved by the English people while on stage. Also, I felt Nell’s and King Charles’s first meeting was funny but totally not believable in my opinion. I won’t spoil it for everyone so just take my word for it.

Parmar definitely made this story unique by writing it in a diary format, and including home remedies, letters, and gossip columns into her book. I personally found it distracting and getting information through a letter or a gossip column is overall vague. That is just my personal opinion. I know some people really enjoy the diary format and would really like reading gossip columns, and letters because it would make you feel like your actually reading something during that century.

Overall, I thought Exit the Actress was an enjoyable read, but it was not spectacular. Priya Parmar is definitely an author to watch out for; however, I thought Haeger’s rendition on Nell Gwyn had a lot more depth and characterization than Parmar’s. I don’t usually compare books in my reviews, but since I went into this book thinking it was going to be as good if not better than Haeger’s A Perfect Royal Mistress, I had to do it. The whole time while reading Exit the Actress, I found myself comparing the two books.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

May 2011 Exciting Release!

I'm so excited to announce that All Things Historical Fiction will be participating in the Virtual Book Tour for Anne Easter Smith's newest novel Queen By Right. I will be interviewing Anne on May 23rd where she will also be giving away a copy of her new book to one lucky winner!

Synopsis: History remembers Cecily of York standing on the steps of Ludlow Castle, facing an attacking army while holding the hands of her two young sons. Queen by Right reveals how she came to step into her destiny, beginning with her marriage to Richard, Duke of York who she meets when she is nine and he is thirteen. Raised together in her father’s household, they become a true love match, and together they face personal tragedies, pivotal events of history, and deadly political intrigue. 

All of England knows that Richard has a clear claim to the throne, and when King Henry VI becomes unfit to rule, Cecily must put aside her own hopes and fears and help her husband decide what is right for their family and the kingdom. As civil war escalates between the cousins of Lancaster and York, Cecily will lose her love, her favorite brother and her dearest child. But in the end, she will watch proudly as her oldest son takes his father’s place at the head of a victorious army and is crowned at Westminster Abbey as King Edward IV.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Winners of Claude & Camille!

Hey everyone I have 3 giveaway winners to announce, so please help me congratulate the winner of Stephanie Cowell's newest paperback novel, Claude & Camille.

and the winners are...
Anonymous (Amy)

Congratulations! I will be emailing everyone shortly to get your mailing address. For those of you who entered this giveaway don't despair there will be plenty more giveaways to enter.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Review: The Killing Way by Tony Hays

Book Source: I received a copy in exchange for a fair and honest review.
Release Date: 2009

Book Synopsis: It is the time of Arthur, but this is not his storied epic. Arthur is a young and powerful warrior who some would say stands on the brink of legend. Britain’s leaders have come to elect a new supreme king, and Arthur is favored. But when a young woman is brutally murdered and the blame is placed at Merlin’s feet, Arthur’s reputation is at stake and his enemies are poised to strike. Arthur turns to Malgwyn ap Cuneglas, a man whose knowledge of battle and keen insight into how the human mind works has helped Arthur come to the brink of kingship.

Malgwyn is also the man who hates Arthur most in the world. After the death of Malgwyn's wife by Saxon hands, he became Mad Malgwyn, killer of Saxons and right-hand lieutenant to the warrior Arthur. Right hand, that is, until a Saxon cut his sword arm off and left him to die on the battlefield. Arthur rescued him. Now a one-armed scribe and a heavy drinker, Malgwyn rejects the half-life that his liege gave him. But loyalty is sometimes stronger than loathing and Malgwyn is pulled toward a puzzle that he can’t walk away from.

Review: The legend of King Arthur has always fascinated me so when I was asked to review an entire series based on a murder/mystery set during the time of King Arthur, I jumped at the opportunity!
This isn’t your typical King Arthur, knights at the round table sort of book. Instead, it’s a murder/mystery that takes place right in the middle of Arthur’s city just before the election for the new Rigotomas “High King” takes place. All the noble lords from surrounding lands have traveled to Arthur’s city for this important election where Arthur is the top candidate. Just before the election can get under way, a young serving girl by the name of Eleonore is brutally murdered and her body is left at Merlin’s door making him the prime suspect. 

As the investigation gets underway, Malgwyn, who is chosen by Arthur to solve this mystery, discovers there is more to Eleonore’s murder than meets the eye and when another woman turns up murdered he really knew something big was at stake. As some of the pieces began to fit together, he realizes both women were murdered because they overheard a plot being discussed that would somehow hurt Arthur’s reputation and chances to be elected as the new Rigotomas. Despite Malgwyn’s personal dislike for Arthur, he knew he was a good man and leader who did not deserve to be brought down like this. 

This is a gripping tale that grabs you by the arms and doesn’t let go until you reach the end. I loved all the characters, especially Malgwyn who comes off as a mean old drunk who doesn’t care whether he lives or dies, but you soon realize that he’s just big ole bear with a kind heart. He knows if he fails he won’t have a lot to lose but he knows if he does Arthur’s position and life could be at risk. 

I loved this book, probably more than what I thought I would! It moves at a very fast pace and it’s an easy read that keeps you guessing all the way through. Who doesn’t like a mysterious murder that takes place during the time of the legendary King Arthur? This is a highly recommended read and I can’t wait to read the next book in this series The Divine Sacrifice.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

The Legend of King Arthur Fact or Fiction?

While reading Tony Hays’ novel The Killing Way, which is based on a murder mystery set back in Arthurian times, I became curious as to how much of the legend of King Arthur is true or if it is just a mythical adventure that has inspired books, cinemas, and even plays.

Here in this post I’m going to explore who King Arthur really was, where Camelot would have resided and in the end I hope I will be able to shed some light on what is fact and what is fiction. 

The Legend Behind the King

If not all, most of us are pretty familiar with the legend of King Arthur, his code of chivalry, quest for the Holy Grail, betrayal by his wife (Guinevere) and best friend (Lancelot), etc… If you are not so familiar with the Arthurian legend here is a link that will briefly sum it up for you. 
Historians have dated the story of King Arthur back to the end of the 5th century to the beginning of the 6th century A.D., which is known as the Dark Ages. It was called the Dark Ages because so little is known during this time period and it was during a time of strife and chaos.
The Legendary Arthur
A 19th-century painting by Frank Dicksee
depicts a medieval monarch in golden armor. 
This is the traditional image we have come
to associate with King Arthur.

During this time, the Briton’s were enjoying peace and prosperity that came from their status with the Romans; however, the Roman Empire was on the verge of collapse causing the Roman armies to leave Britain to fend for themselves. This was not good for the Briton’s because the Roman army had been keeping the country in order since the 1st century, which provided them with efficient roads, trade, and most of all protection from foreign invaders. Once the Romans left, it paved the way for invaders such as the Irish who came by sea and took over the western coast of Britain and also the Scots and Picts (the painted people) to come by land from the north. 
The Historical Arthur
Illustration by military expert Dan Shadrake
showing Arthur in genuine Roman-style armor of the
fifth century.  If Arthur was an historical figure
then this is how he would have looked.

So the Briton’s decided to bring in Germanic mercenaries (Angles and Saxons), which turned out to be catastrophic because the Saxons grew greedy and decided to turn on the Briton’s causing a full fledged war. This is when the Briton’s needed a hero to rise up and save them. Soon the Saxon invasion ceased causing many people to believe there was some mysterious war leader responsible for saving them. So this is where the legend of King Arthur begins.    
Was King Arthur A Real Person or a Character Based on Folklore? 

This is a difficult question to answer because there is virtually no hard evidence that he ever existed. Some historians say yes that he could have been based on a certain historical figure during the Dark Ages or he could have been based on a composite of many heroic warriors during that time. Others say yes due to the gap in the records during that era, which could have been easily filled with Arthur there. Then other historians claim that since no reliable evidence has ever been found, then we should not assume he was truly a real person. The harshest view I found on Arthur’s existence was by David Dumville - "Histories and Pseudo-histories" (1990) he stated, "The fact is that there is no historical evidence about Arthur; we must reject him from our histories and, above all, from the titles of our books." So as you can see the facts and the fantasy repel one another. 

Who Was the Real King Arthur?

So if the legends are true and Arthur was real then the million dollar question we like to ask ourselves is who was he? There are many theories as to who King Arthur really was. As I mentioned before, he could have been some fearless war hero who has been fluffed up by folklore or he could have been multiple figures compiled into one legendary being. As I researched this topic I narrowed down the top three candidates that many historians believe could have been the man behind the myth.
Ambrosius Aurelianus

One of the candidates some historians believe to be the real Arthur is, Ambrosius Aurelianus, who was thought to have been a supreme Roman commander of Britain during the late 5th Century AD. He is a contender because he lived during the same time believed to have been the time of King Arthur’s reign. He also could have changed his name to Artorius and eventually become known as Arthur. Another key factor is that Ambrosius was thought have been a Roman commander and many believe King Arthur was part Briton and part Roman.

The fact that Ambrosius fought and won an important battle against the Saxons and was the nephew of Uther Pendragon according to Geoffrey of Monmouth’s Historia Regum Britanniae, makes him a top contender. However, some historians are refuting this possibility because he would have been at least seventy years old when the Battle of Badon Hill took place. The Battle of Badon Hill was King Arthur’s greatest triumph over the Saxons. During this era, the typical life span was around thirty-five making it difficult to believe Ambrosius lived to the age of seventy, let alone fought and won a prestigious battle.

Lucius Artorius Castus
This is the theory the film
King Arthur was based on
played by Clive Owen

A second possibility also coincides with the Ambrosius Aurelianus theory. Some historians like to believe that Ambrosius’ story was somehow intertwined with another Roman officer called Lucius Artorius Castus. Artorius is the Latin name for Arthur. Lucius Artorius Castus was a Roman officer alleged to be stationed in Britain during the 2nd century AD. However, if you have been paying close attention you would have immediately noticed a rather significant problem with this theory. According to Nennius, a Welsh monk who wrote History Brittonum, “A History of Britain,” somewhere between the 7th and 9th century, Arthur lived during the late 5th century making Artorius Castus a highly unlikely candidate for King Arthur. On the other hand, some historians are hesitant to contest Artorius as the legendary Arthur and here’s why.

Over the centuries, historians, scholars, and some archeologists have noticed that there are quite a few similarities that could connect Artorius to Arthur. For instance, Artorius Castus was associated with a cavalry unit of Sarmatian soldiers, who fought the Saxons and flew a pendragon banner at the head of their units as they rode into battle. It has been recorded that the Sarmation soldiers were known to have worn scale armor and to fight with long swords, which made them look like medieval knights even though that was way before their time. Another similarity between the Arthurian legend and Lucius Artorius was that the Sarmation people worshiped a sword in the ground during some religious rights and Sarmation legend talks of a Sarmation warrior who wielded an unstoppable sword, which sounds a lot like Excalibur. So despite the inconvenient four hundred year gap between Arthurian time and the time of Lucius Artorius Castus, Castus would have been a perfect fit for the man behind the legendary King Arthur.

Probably the most believable and more accepted of the candidates is the high king Riothamus, who reigned over the British and Breton people from what has been suggested to be between 454 and 470 AD. The man behind this theory is Geoffrey Ashe author of The Discovery of King Arthur

What we know about Riothamus is that he was real and was King of Britain sometime in the middle of the 5th century AD., which fits the same time frame depicted to be when King Arthur flourished. We also know that he was a true warrior who led his soldiers into battle against the Saxons. He was highly respected and viewed as a true leader among his people all of which fit the criteria of King Arthur. Probably the most esteemed similarities between the two is the fact that Riothamus was only his title, which translates into “Supreme Leader” in English. His Christian name was Artorius and after their battles, both Arthur and Riothamus travelled to Burgundy and then to Avalon. Even though the legend says that the Isle of Avalon was a magical land surrounded by water, the Avalon that Riothamus journeyed to was what is now known as modern day Glastonbury in the United Kingdom. Even though it may seem like a stretch to believe Riothamus was the man behind the legend he appears to be the closest thing to King Arthur and it is easier to accept the fact that there was only one Arthur and not two or more historical figures competing to form the basis behind the legend.

South Cadbury "Camelot"

The Real Camelot

How can I discuss King Arthur without even mentioning his enchanting castle in his city Camelot, or was it really a castle? 

Glastonbury "Isle of Avalon"
Many historians and archeologists alike, believe that the most probable location of the city of Camelot is South Cadbury in the United Kingdom. However, it most likely was not the enchanted city legend claims it to have once been. It was almost certainly an equipped town made of wood rather than a stone castle or fort. We did not see stone castles until the time of William the Conqueror during the Medieval era. Also, Arthur probably would not have called his city by Camelot because the name “Camelot” is most likely French and originates from the 12 century.

Historians and archeologists believe South Cadbury to once have been the Arthurian city of Camelot because it is so close to where the battle of Badon Hill was fought and it is literally only 11 miles away from Glastonbury, which is thought to be the modern day Isle of Avalon. Doubtless the biggest kicker is that a grave has been discovered there, which contained men and boys, unmistakably fallen in battle. So some believe it was a grave of those who fell during the battle of Camlann, Arthur’s last battle which may have been fought to defend the city from the Saxons.

 I had the pleasure of having Tony Hays, the author of an Arthurian mystery series; on my blog where he discussed in immense detail his journey to Camelot, “Cadbury Castle,” in order to further research King Arthur for the newest book in his series, The Beloved Dead. Here is the link to his post if you are interested in reading his rediscovery of Camelot.

What is Fact and what is Fiction?

Unfortunately, due to the lack of evidence we may never know what was fact and what was fiction concerning the legendary tale of King Arthur. There are so many legends and myths surrounding Arthur that has touched us all at some point in our lives. I know I fantasized about King Arthur, Guinevere, and Lancelot as a little girl ever since I watched A Kid in King Arthur’s Court and First Knight. He may just have been a hero created from folklore or he could have been a real. In my opinion he was real, whether he was just one person or a combination of many I don’t have the answer, but I sure hope someone will be able to unveil Arthur for what he truly was: a fierce warrior and a true leader.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Review: The Confession of Katherine Howard By Suzannah Dunn

★★★ 1/2 

Book Source: Received this ARC for a fair & honest review.
Release Date: April 5th 2011

Book Synopsis: When twelve-year-old Katherine Howard comes to live in the Duchess of Norfolk’s household she could not be more different than her poor relation, Cat Tilney. Yet, of all their companions, it is Cat, watchful and ambitious, to whom the seemingly frivolous young girl confides. When Katherine is summoned to the royal court at seventeen—to become, months later, the wife of Henry VIII after he casts off his previous queen—she leaves behind an ex-lover, Francis, with whom Cat is soon passionately involved.

But a future that seems assured for the pampered new queen and her maid-in-waiting lasts a brief year and a half, only to be imperiled by improper acts and scandalous allegations of girlhood love affairs. Imprisoned in the Tower and hoping to escape a most terrible fate, a frightened, desperate Katherine relates a version of events that only Cat recognizes as a lie—as more than one life is threatened by what she alone knows to be the truth about Katherine Howard’s past.

Review: The story of Katherine’s downfall is widely known; however, little is known about Katherine herself. This story is told in Cat Tilney’s point of view who was a distant relative of Katherine Howard. Suzannah Dunn made this story her own by incorporating Katherine and Cat’s interesting but close friendship. What also made this story unique was how Dunn created the fictitious relationship between Cat and Francis Derham, which evolved once Katherine casted Francis to the side for the snobbish Thomas Culpepper.   

Suzannah Dunn really redeemed herself with this tale because I felt The Sixth Wife was utterly dry and difficult to believe. This story tells the story of each of Katherine’s three sexual conquests: Henry Manox, Francis Derham, and Thomas Culpepper. Although Katherine has been described as being “afraid of nothing,” I really feel she must not have been the sharpest tool in the shed because she was playing Russian roulette with these boys. I would have thought she would have learned from her cousin, Anne Boleyn’s, demise. Once Henry VIII discovered Katherine was not the girl he thought she was his vanity was hurt to the point of no return; therefore, forgiveness was impossible for the aging and vane king.

Opinion: Although I would have preferred the story to have been told in Katherine’s point of view because it is called “The Confession of Katherine Howard” not “Cat Tilney,” I really did like the character of Cat. I felt very sympathetic towards her because she saw herself as Katherine’s friend even though Katherine rarely confided in Cat like a friend truly would. Katherine also left Cat behind when she went to court and once Katherine’s indiscretions were found out by the archbishop Cranmer, Cat found herself caught in the middle between her lover Francis and her friendship with her cousin Katherine, not to mention her Queen. This really left Cat in a scary predicament. 

One last thing that I didn’t really like was how the story jumped around a lot. I prefer a fluid story line where I feel like I’m there witnessing the events taking place. Therefore, I found it difficult to feel like I’m really there. Other than those two hiccups I really enjoyed this book and felt the author stuck to the historical facts while also creating her own spin on the story. I would recommend this book, but it’s not my favorite rendition of Katherine Howard’s story. So far my favorite story on Katherine Howard would have to be Jean Plaidy's Murder Most Royal.

Friday, April 8, 2011

To Be Queen Winner Announcement!

Hey everyone I have a giveaway winner to announce, so please help me congratulate the winner of Christy English's newest book To Be Queen!

and the lucky winner is ...

Soft Fuzzy Sweater!

Congratulations! I will be emailing you shortly to get your mailing address. For those of you who entered this giveaway don't despair there will be plenty more giveaways to enter. Thanks so much Christy for offering up a signed copy of To Be Queen!

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

The Worst Jobs in Tudor History

So while I was doing my occasional you tube scavenging I came across an interesting documentary called The Worst Jobs in Tudor History. If you are like me and have spent hours fascinating and picturing what it must have been like to live during the Tudor era and then wishing you lived during that might want to rethink it. This documentary describes the worst jobs that many of the commoners of London did every day. Let me just say I now have a greater appreciation for living during the 20th Century, however, I still would like to jump into some sort of time traveling devise and visit this era among many other fascinating historical era's such as Victorian England and the time during the reign of the Egyptians.

I have incorporated part 1 of this documentary from you tube and if you would like to watch the entire documentary just go to  and type in The Worst Jobs in Tudor History and parts 1-6 should pop up. If you are curious about the worst jobs during different historical eras, the same guy who hosted the Tudor documentary also did documentaries on Victorian England, Georgian England and a few others that I can't remember at the moment.

Enjoy the video! I'm curious whether or not you too have contemplated about living during the Tudor times and whether or not this documentary has wavered this idea. I know I'm thinking twice about it now!

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Review: Claude & Camille by Stephanie Cowell

Book source: Received a copy from the author in exchange for a fair & honest review.
Release date: Hardcover April 6th 2010
                        Paperback April 1, 2011

Book synopsis: Sometimes he dreamt he held her; that he would turn in bed and she would be there. But she was gone and he was old. Nearly seventy. Only cool paint met his fingers. “Ma très chère . . .” Darkness started to fall, dimming the paintings. He felt the crumpled letter in his pocket. “I loved you so,” he said. “I never would have had it turn out as it did. You were with all of us when we began, you gave us courage. These gardens at Giverny are for you but I’m old and you’re forever young and will never see them. . . .”

In the mid-nineteenth century, a young man named Claude Monet decided that he would rather endure a difficult life painting landscapes than take over his father’s nautical supplies business in a French seaside town. Against his father’s will, and with nothing but a dream and an insatiable urge to create a new style of art that repudiated the Classical Realism of the time, he set off for Paris.

But once there he is confronted with obstacles: an art world that refused to validate his style, extreme poverty, and a war that led him away from his home and friends. But there were bright spots as well: his deep, enduring friendships with men named Renoir, Cézanne, Pissarro, Manet – a group that together would come to be known as the Impressionists, and that supported each other through the difficult years. But even more illuminating was his lifelong love, Camille Doncieux, a beautiful, upper-class Parisian girl who threw away her privileged life to be by the side of the defiant painter and embrace the lively Bohemian life of their time.

His muse, his best friend, his passionate lover, and the mother to his two children, Camille stayed with Monet—and believed in his work—even as they lived in wretched rooms, were sometimes kicked out of those, and often suffered the indignities of destitution. She comforted him during his frequent emotional torments, even when he would leave her for long periods to go off on his own to paint in the countryside.

But Camille had her own demons – secrets that Monet could never penetrate, including one that when eventually revealed would pain him so deeply that he would never fully recover from its impact. For though Camille never once stopped loving the painter with her entire being, she was not immune to the loneliness that often came with being his partner.

A vividly-rendered portrait of both the rise of Impressionism and of the artist at the center of the movement, Claude and Camille is above all a love story of the highest romantic order. – Crown

Review: I started this book knowing very little about Claude Monet’s background and his love for the charming young Camille. All I knew about him was his painting of the Water Lilies and that’s it so I had no idea if I was going to just like this book or if I was going to fall in love with it. I chose the latter! I absolutely loved it! Like wow!

The author, Stephanie Cowell, did an amazing job telling Claude and Camille’s love story, but it wasn’t just a love story for me. Stephanie really portrayed what it was like to be a struggling artist in Paris. Like most artists, you start out having to prove yourself to the world, which is exactly what Claude Monet had to do and it was not an overnight thing. He really struggled to make it and he had a lot of ups and downs and many bumps in the road. What I really enjoyed about this book was learning how artists would stick together back then. They really had each other’s backs, which to me seems odd. Stephanie describes how Claude and his friends had to sleep in tiny rooms where one would sleep on the bed, one would have the couch and the others had to sleep on the hard floor. There was one scene where Stephanie describes Claude’s friends sleeping under their easels and then waking up in the morning to continue their paintings. To me that’s dedication!

Stephanie told a very honest story, which stayed true to the facts. Little is known about Camille, which really gave Stephanie room to explore and create the extremely complex and fascinating character of Camille. As I continued to read and learn more about Monet and his many struggles I really questioned how any woman could put up with him and live in such squalid living conditions for as long as she did. Claude could not have been an easy man to live with. He was constantly gone on a painting excursion, therefore, leaving Camille to fend for herself and the baby throughout the day. But then I realized why this is such a wonderful love story. Camille really supported and encouraged Claude’s work that was one of the things that she really loved about him. Yes, if you read this book you will see that no relationship is perfect and this one was far from it, but that is what makes this book so captivating! Every detail was aired out for the reader to witness. Stephanie didn’t sugar coat anything, therefore, making it one of the most honest and awe inspiring books I have ever read.

This book is highly recommended! It took Stephanie Cowell five years to write and research this novel and it is definitely apparent. This is probably one of the best books I have read this year!

If you would like a chance to read this book I have 3 books up for grabs! Giveaway ends April 15th and open to US residents only. Click here to sign up.

Friday, April 1, 2011

Author Interview + Giveaway: Stephanie Cowell

All Things Historical Fiction is very excited to bring you an interview with the fascinating Stephanie Cowell, author of the equally fascinating new book, Claude & Camille!
Claude & Camille Paperback: April 1st

Stephanie has also graciously offered up 3 copies of Claude & Camille to ATHF's readers, so be sure to enter the giveaway at the end of the interview.

1) What inspired you to tell the romantic story of Claude & Camille and how did Camille inspire Claude's paintings?

Actually it was in my early drafts of the novel that my agent looked up Camille on the web and said, “Do you realize he hardly ever painted people (especially not portraits of them) and he painted more pictures of her than anyone else?” I began to study the paintings of her but the love story came last. She is a terribly complicated young woman in the book, very loving, very loyal, but she has had a habit of making up stories about her life which never happened. And she idealizes Claude and thinks he is a genius which is flattering but hard to live up to for him when he cannot sell any paintings and they get thrown out of their rooms and have no food. It was one of those great loves between them, throwing all caution and good sense to the wind. Do you know Puccini’s La Boheme? How quickly and intensely the lovers fall in love with that soaring music? I did think of the opera when I wrote the love story, for both are set in 19th century bohemian Paris.

2) How did you research this novel and how long did it take you to write it?
I researched the novel through the purchase of about 60-70 books (gasp!), by going to Paris and Giverny, walking up and down the halls of The Art Students’ League in NYC and listening to the students and looking in the rooms, remembering my father painting and haunting many art exhibitions. My husband and I were going to London and I found out that the Royal Academy of Art had an exhibition on the unknown Monet (his youthful caricatures and pastels) and arrived there in time to see it on the very last afternoon before it closed! How lucky was that? And the book took longer than any book I have ever done: five years actual writing time.  I couldn’t figure out how to tell the story, from whose point of view. I wanted Camille’s point of view but Claude Monet won in the end. You can’t force that; it just happens.

3) How much of this story is based on fact and how much did you have to artistically create yourself?

Well the lives of the artists and their hardships and first successes are all real; the greatest need for invention was Camille’s character as so little is known about her. I wrote to the greatest Monet scholar in America and said, “What can you tell me about Camille?” and he wrote back, “Almost nothing.” I took every scrap of knowledge I could find. Her family, the child, the marriage, her illnesses and the very strange living situation with the other family at the book’s end is all real. But I go into what is real and what is not much more in the notes at the end of the novel.

4) What do you think makes Claude Monet's work so captivating to the world? Why do you think it took him so long to become successful as an artist?

Monet had a very original style; he did not paint every detail of things but rather an impressionism of them, often altered by light. He wrote once that he didn’t want to paint houses or fields but the light above them and that it was impossible and he could never be satisfied! The first people to see his work said, “But this is a sketch!” Now his work, particularly his water lily and other flower paintings, represent peace to many people. They find his work very spiritual but I think he did not find that peace until shortly before he died. He finished his last huge water lily/garden panels for the Orangerie when he was 86 and put down his brush and that was that.  He left to others the peace which he sought.

5) Most of your novels if not all are based on some form of artistic setting, what is it about historical artists and art in general that compels you to write about it?

My parents were artists and almost all my friends were in the arts and I was born in NYC in a highly artistic environment. We all wanted to be Shakespearean actors or opera singers or novelists or painters or violinists or ballet dancers.  Accomplishing one or more of these things was the center of our lives. This never struck me as unusual until far along in my life. My husband is a wonderful cook and I tease him and say, “If I think about cooking, I sit down and write a scene where someone cooks!” It was just the way my life was!

6) Do you plan your books out or do you let inspiration take you on a whim?

I plan my books sometimes and generally they change and I have to plan them again!

7) What does a typical writing day look like for you and do you have a special place or a certain atmosphere where you can do your best writing?

I only write at my computer which is in the little vestibule when you come into my NYC apartment. It is very small and my husband built shelves above it for me. On the walls I have paintings by my parents and pictures of my family. I almost always write from just after I get up and then go on for three to six hours. I used to have a day job and got up early to write and wrote on lunch hours. I would print out my work and read it on the subways going to and from work, sometimes standing up!

8) Have you always known you wanted to be a writer or is it something your sort of just fell into?

I started writing stories when I was about seven years old; I printed in a black and white notebook and then I taught myself to type and wrote my first short novels in my teens. I was an only child for a long time and alone a lot so I made up people. Writing competed with acting and singing in my adolescence and then for nearly twenty years I was a classical singer and sang a lot of opera and ballads. I was a high soprano. This is how I came to write my novel Marrying Mozart.

9) Who are your greatest writing inspirations and how do they aid you in your writing today?

I have so many inspirations! I read so much as a child. I think the first historical novels I read were A Little Princess and The Secret Garden and then when I was fifteen or so I read Norah Loft’s The Lute Player. I think I always wanted to go back in time and live there. When I walk through the Metropolitan Museum in NYC certain objects call out to me: medieval doors or pens or books for instance. My first love was historic England and when I first travelled there in my twenties I had some very intense experiences. When I first stood in front of one of Queen Victoria’s dresses she had worn when young I felt quite faint. It’s very strange; suddenly I am somewhere else. I have always had this; I can’t explain it.

10) What can we look forward to seeing from you next? 

I am well into the second draft of new novel set in Victorian London about the love story of the poets Elizabeth Barrett Browning and Robert Browning. She was an invalid of 40 and still very beautiful when he found her in her father’s house and snatched her away from her family to live in Florence with him. I am also working on a 16th century novel set in an English abbey, about the goddaughter of the abbot who grows up in the monastery working in the library with her father and falls in love in a dangerous way. 

Thank you so much Stephanie for taking the time out of your day to talk to us today. 

I have 3 copies of Claude & Camille available that's open to the US only. This giveaway ends April 15th. Here are the giveaway guidelines:

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