Wednesday, October 31, 2012

My Guest Today: Sandra Worth, Award-Winning Author of Wonderful Romantic Historicals!

Welcome, Sandra, to my blog! Thanks for taking the time to be interviewed. I know your readers will love hearing more about your amazing writing.

Sandra has graciously agreed to give to one lucky winner a signed, collector's copy of the first in the trilogy, ROSE OF YORK: LOVE AND WAR, so comment for a chance to win!

Q: Why did you choose the War of the Roses to write about?
I became intrigued by Richard III when I saw his portrait in the National Portrait Gallery in London. He had a gentle face and looked nothing like a villain. As I learned more about him, I came to see uncanny similarities between his life and that of King Arthur – another king who lived in tumultuous times and strove for justice in a land torn by civil strife.

Q: Do you consider your novels historical romance, historical fiction or both? (It occurred to me that ROSE OF YORK: LOVE AND WAR could be both.)
I’d call it is a romantic historical, which is essentially another way of saying it’s both. The story is driven as much by true historical events as it is by Richard and Anne’s Romeo-and-Juliet love story.

Q: What is your favorite of your own works? Do you consider it your best or is there another?
Of my six published books, I have a soft spot for The Rose of York: Fall from Grace. It’s won me four wonderful prizes, each worth a thousand dollars or more, but perhaps more importantly, I feel it drew on some deep and special place. Once a book is published, there are usually things I wish I’d said or done differently, but not with this book. My agent, however, thinks my newly-finished manuscript set in the Eastern Roman Empire is my best work.

Q: Some of the history you write about in the ROSE OF YORK trilogy is very sad…do you ever get depressed writing a story that includes so much tragedy?
If only we could change the ending to history’s great tragedies, Regan! Richard’s story is powerful because, like King Arthur, the more we come to know him, the more we care and the deeper our admiration. Had he lived, the Renaissance would have come to England a hundred years sooner, and many thousands of good people would have been spared the horrors of the Tower that they endured during the Tudor Reign of Terror. That is something to mourn. As Hilary Mantel said, it is necessary to understand that the dead are real and have power over the living (see my Facebook page for more,!/sandraworthauthor?fref=ts).

When a hero touches your heart and loses his life, it’s a real loss, whether it happened today or hundreds of years ago. It takes time to come to terms with tragedy.

Q: You took a different position on Richard III than others down through the ages, yet you backed it up with years of research. Have you faced criticism and what are your thoughts on that if you have?
What a wonderful question, and how astute of you to pose it. Yes, I’ve been attacked for my views and my work in a certain quarter. It baffled me at first. Now I realize that if my books didn’t change hearts and minds, they would go unnoticed and unchallenged. As someone pointed out, you can’t please everyone and even Shakespeare had his detractors. It’s taught me to see the attacks as a barometer of how well I’m doing.

Q: Were you amazed at how adult the children and young teens were in that time? Even the beautiful way they wrote?
Children grew up quickly in the middle ages because life was so short. The poor had no childhood and went to work as soon as they could walk, while noble children - in many cases - saw adults die young, taken by disease, or war, or sent to the Tower at the whim of a king. They quickly learned that life was an uncertain business at best. I think the writing of these children in the middle ages is touching because their world view was so different from modern children who enjoy a measure of well-being and security.

Q: What are the challenges of weaving factual history into a fictional story?
It’s like putting a puzzle together. You have some pieces, and some holes. You fill the holes with fiction to get the whole picture. The more holes, the more fiction. The more pieces, the less fiction. In the end the picture you draw has to be believable and interesting. Sometimes it comes down to interpretation. Anne had only one child. Does it mean she had an unhappy marriage and avoided sleeping with Richard (as one historian suggests) or that the marriage was happy, but her health was fragile and she couldn’t have more children? That was an easy one for me.

Some things are harder. Richard is known to have ordered the execution of his brother-in-law, St. Leger, and the Yorkist, Lord Hastings. I had to figure out why he would have done it. Was it because he enjoyed killing people, as the Tudors would have us believe? Or is there another reason, one that we, across the divide of time, can understand and forgive? It would be easier to ignore these pieces that seem to prove Richard a villain and I had to go deep to find an explanation that meshes with his character as a hero. Known facts like these can be a constraint, and not all authors handle history the same way. Some take more license than others. That’s not wrong. It offers readers an array of treatments.

Q: How much of your day do you spend writing?
Depends. Beginnings are always hard, as the old adage goes, and when I first start writing, I’m staring at white paper. I find it daunting, and it takes more effort to get that initial draft out, so I don’t write as long as I do at the end when I’m revising the completed manuscript. Once I have the clay to work with (so to speak) I start the molding process, and since I find that much more enjoyable, I spend more of my time doing it. At that point it gets intense and I’m writing about 8 to 9 hours a day.

Q: Do you travel in connection with your research and, if so, what have been your favorite places and where do you want to go next?
I always begin my research by going where my book will set, and usually it takes several trips before I’m ready to sit down and write the story. I went to Bruges and England multiple times in search of Richard III, and to Wales and Scotland in search of Perkin Warbeck. As I stand where they once stood, and look out at what they once saw, or hold a book in my hands that bears their autograph on the flyleaf and their notes in the margins, I feel a closeness to them that is magical. Scenes will come to me and sometimes I’ll even hear dialogue. Without these visits, I couldn’t write with any depth.

All the places I’ve been privileged to visit are amazing and fascinating, but probably Bamburgh in England [pictured], and Bruges in Belgium, and the Peloponnese in Greece are my favorites. Istanbul is a close runner-up. Istanbul, the city known for most of history as Constantinople, the Christian capital of the Eastern Roman Empire, is mysterious and evocative, and the ruins of the Roman palaces, cisterns, churches and city walls stand in mute tribute to a lost civilization that now lives only in the imagination.

Q: What do you do to relax from your writing, or for fun?
Nature always revitalizes me. I unwind by sending as much time as I can in my garden, listening to the birds sing and watching the skies change. My husband and I also travel for fun (not research), and we enjoy good movies and good television (like Masterpiece Theater, MI5, Homeland and the old “24”). We subscribe to the symphony and the opera, and when we have a chance, we love to go dancing. Of course, there’s also the family. I have three girls, and we’re always visiting them, or they’re coming to visit us. Life is busy, and wonderfully full.

Q: What are you working on now?
I’m between books, but getting ready to begin my next one that will also be set in the Eastern Roman Empire. Right now I’m doing my preliminary reading. There’s not as much to tackle because I spent two years studying the standard historical textbooks and sources for my first book set in Constantinople. The next one will require visiting another area of the Mediterranean, and hopefully I’ll come back with a scene or two for the new book ☺.

Thank you, Regan, for these great questions and the interview. I’ve enjoyed it!

My thanks to you, Sandra, for your wonderful, insightful answers! I would love to make one of those research trips with you should you ever need a companion.

Sandra’s website:

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Best Medieval Romances!

Who among us ladies hasn’t dreamed of a knight in shinning armour? Or, of living in a time when valor prevailed and honorable men did great deeds and women of character loved them? (I did say we were dreaming, right?) Well, these historical romances will take you back to those medieval times.

Since the medieval period in European history spanned from the 5th century to the 15th century, all the stories on my list take place during that period; however, some Scottish/Highlander, Irish, Viking and Pirate/Privateer historicals from that time period not listed here can be found on those specific “Best Lists” (found on my blog under “Categories”).

All of these, listed below in alphabetical order, have garnered 4, 4 and ½ or 5 stars from me and many have been or will be reviewed on my blog:

A Kingdom of Dreams by Judith McNaught
Blackheart by Tamara Leigh
Blue Heaven, Black Night by Shannon Drake (aka Heather Graham)
Bond of Blood by Roberta Gellis
Bride of the Lion by Elizabeth Stuart
By Possession, By Design, Stealing Heaven, By Arrangement, The Protector and Lord of a Thousand Nights, 14th century London series by Madeline Hunter
Come the Morning, Conquer the Night, Seize the Dawn, Knight Triumphant, The Lion in Glory, and When We Touch from the Graham series by Shannon Drake
Damsel in Distress by Shannon Drake
Enchantress, Kiss of the Moon and Outlaw, Welsh trilogy by Lisa Jackson
Everlasting by Kathleen Woodiwiss
Impostress, Temptress and Sorceress, Welsh trilogy with fantasy elements by Lisa Jackson
Keeper of the Dream by Penelope Williamson
Lady of Valor, White Lion’s Lady, and Black Lion’s Bride, Warrior trilogy by Tina St. John
Laird of the Wind, The Swan Maiden and The Stone Maiden, trilogy by Susan King
Lie Down in Roses by Shannon Drake (aka Heather Graham)
Lord of Desire, Lord of Temptation and Lord of Seduction, Risande Family trilogy by Paula Quinn
Lord of Vengeance by Tina St. John
On a Highland Shore and Rivals for the Crown by Kathleen Givens
Princess of Fire and the sequel Knight of Fire by Shannon Drake (aka Heather Graham)
Rose of Rapture by Rebecca Brandewyne
Shadowheart by Laura Kinsale
Sword of the Heart by Maureen Kurr
The Bedeviled Heart by Carmen Caine
The Christmas Knight by Michele Sinclair
The Conqueror by Brenda Joyce
The Dragon Tree by Marsha Canham
The Falcon and the Flower, The Dragon and the Jewel and The Marriage Prize, the Plantagenet trilogy by Virginia Henley
The Game by Brenda Joyce
The King’s Pleasure by Shannon Drake (aka Heather Graham)
The King’s Rebel by Michelle Morrison
The Last Knight by Candice Proctor
The Lily and the Falcon by Jannine Corti-Petska
The Lion’s Bride by Connie Mason
The Raven and the Rose by Virginia Henley
The Rose of York: Love and War, The Crown of Destiny and Fall From Grace, trilogy by Sandra Worth
The Wolf and the Dove by Kathleen Woodiwiss
Through a Dark Mist, In the Shadow of Midnight and The Last Arrow, Robin Hood trilogy by Marsha Canham
Untamed, Forbidden and Enchanted, trilogy by Elizabeth Lowell
Warrior’s Song, Fire Song, Earth Song and Secret Song by Catherine Coulter
Where Love Dwells by Elizabeth Stuart
Winter’s Heat, Summer’s Storm, Spring’s Fury, Autumn’s Flame and A Love for All Seasons by Denise Domning
Wonderful, Wild and Wicked, trilogy by Jill Barnett

Monday, October 22, 2012

New Review: Susan King’s LAIRD OF THE WIND – Great Hawk-Themed Medieval Romance

This was my first by Susan King and I really enjoyed it. She paints rich visual images of the times and the places and the characters are well described and memorable.

Set in Scotland in the early 14th century, this is the story of Isobel of Aberlady who has a gift of visions that describe events to come. Her father and the family priest guard her gift and take notes when she has the visions as she remembers nothing afterwards. Believing he will protect her, her father betroths her to a strong knight, Ralph Leslie, but Ralph is not a man she would choose. One of her visions is of a man she calls the Laird of the Wind...a hawk of the forest...who will betray William Wallace.

James (Jamie) Lindsay, who was once a Scottish knight and laird, is now living as an outlaw and has lost his lands because he was accused of betraying Wallace. It seems Isobel's vision, which has become widely known, had something to do with that. He has become known as "the Border Hawk" who with a few of his men lives in the forest and raids the English. When Isobel's castle is besieged by the English because the King wants Isobel for her visions, the Border Hawk comes to her rescue, but he does so only because he wants to exchange her for his cousin Margaret who is being held captive.

It is in the forest where Isobel and Jamie recognize each other as soulmates. Ah love....

The story is "hawk themed" in many ways, not only the hero and villain both being described as hawks, but there are two hawks prominently featured, a red tailed hawk kept by Jamie's aunt and the goshawk that Jamie trains with Isobel while they are living in the forest.

The story held my interest and the characters were both likeable and believable (some quite delightful). The love between Jamie and Isobel develops naturally, though I was a bit disappointed in the love scene.

The others in the trilogy are THE SWAN MAIDEN, followed by THE STONE MAIDEN. I have read and enjoyed them all.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

New Review: Kathleen Givens’ ON A HIGHLAND SHORE – Simply Superb! One of My Favorites From a Favorite Author!

Kathleen Givens was an award-winning author of Scottish historicals, each rich in historical detail and each a story I consider to be a "keeper."

Set in 13th century Scotland, this tells the story of Margaret MacDonald and Gannon MacMagnus, who find love out of misfortune and the changes that take their lives from the paths they were to take. In both this book and its sequel, RIVALS FOR THE CROWN, Kathleen Givens does a superb job of weaving English and Scottish history into an epic romance and a tale of Scottish Highlander families swept up in the great themes of Scotland's history.

I grew to love these men and women and felt like they could have easily been real people--people who experienced deep, lasting love, demanding challenges and heartrending losses. Her writing is so believable, you feel the emotions of the characters. I often found myself reading these tales late into the night.

These are sweeping historical novels well worth the read. You won't be disappointed. There are fewer love scenes than in some romances but the ones included are tender and well worth the wait. The sexual tension she creates fits the story well and is consistent with the characters.

When I finished the two books I mourned the ending of the stories and craved more from her. She has two other 2-book series out--all Scottish historicals (THE LEGEND and THE DESTINY and KILGANNON and THE ROSE OF KILGANNON). They are all we will have of her work as she passed away in early 2010. It's a loss for all her readers. I think she was a great talent.

If you like sweeping sagas rich in historical detail, you will love this one.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

New Review: Jill Barnett’s WONDERFUL – Delightful First in the Medieval Trilogy

This is the first in Barnett’s medieval trilogy (WILD AND WICKED follow)—and I loved it! Barnett injects humor effortlessly into a very convincing medieval tale of a stubborn, rigid knight and his innovative unorthodox lady. It wasn’t forced humor either, but naturally came out of the heroine’s personality and often the hero’s reaction. The second half of the book is more serious and looks like a more classic medieval romance. There are also some wonderful side characters, including a falcon that does not fly, a one-eyed cat and an old crone who may be wiser than she appears. Very well done!

Set in the Welsh Marches in the late 13th century, it tells the story of Merrick de Beaucourt, famed warrior known as the Red Lion, and friend of King Edward, who returns from fighting in the Crusade to finally claim his reward, Camrose Castle and the woman he was betrothed to 6 years earlier. Lady Clio is an impudent young woman who Merrick left twiddling her thumbs in an abbey. She thinks it is fair turnaround that now he wait on her. Her one passion is brewing her ale, looking for that lost legendary “Heather Ale” formula said to have magical properties. Meanwhile, Merrick refortifies the castle and tries to come to terms with a woman who is constantly shaking up his well-ordered world.

I particularly enjoyed Merrick’s reaction to the antics of Clio and her sidekicks when their ale making destroyed the keep’s well: “Merrick did not say a word. He just looked from one pale face to another and another, then turned and stared out the window, searching for something. Patience. Wisdom. Divine intervention.”

It’s a good story and I think you will like it, too. The first half is on the lighter side, but you can tell the book is based on considerable research, as castle life is well described with all the proper terminology. The second half is somewhat different with attacks by the Welsh and some difficult challenges. I recommend it!

WILD tells the story of Marrick’s friend, Roger FitzAlan
WICKED tells the story of Marrick’s squire, Tobin de Clare

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

New Review: Michelle Sinclair’s THE CHRISTMAS KNIGHT - Wonderful Medieval Christmas Romance with Traditions of the Faith

This is a great Medieval Christmas romance. Sinclair begins each chapter with a tradition of Christmastide or Twelfthtide (the 12 days of Christmas), as celebrated then, for a wonderful holiday touch.

Set in the 12th century, it's the story of Ranulf, a knight of King Henry II, who is scarred (literally and figuratively) as a result of his heroism of the past and shunned by most women. He is a warrior known for his feats of valor, but with the death of his father and cousin, he reluctantly is persuaded by an older knight, Leon le Breton, at Henry's insistence, to return to England and accept the responsibility of Lord of Hunswick and the castle in Cambria. In an accident aboard ship that claims the life of le Breton, Ranulf grants the dying man's wish and agrees to marry the youngest of his three daughters, Lily. But when he arrives at Huswick, it is the oldest daughter Bronwyn who captures his heart. Bronwyn is posing as her younger sister to try and save her from an unwanted marriage, but Ranulf is not fooled. It is Bronwyn he wants.

Sinclair does a great job of weaving in the Christmas season's traditions that were being celebrated in the 12th century (and many today as well) while drawing us into a true love between two people who have much to give. I really enjoyed this one!

Two minor nits: Bronwyn's hair color is described alternately as gold, light brown, dark tawny and chestnut which are not the same color. Also, the "loose thread" of the romance between Ranulf's best friend and Scot, Tyr, and Bronwyn's sister Edythe is never resolved (not even in the epilog) and that left me hungry for more!

Save this one for the holidays and read it with a cup of hot wassail!

Sunday, October 14, 2012

New Review: Michelle Morrison’s THE KING’S REBEL – Excellent First Novel, A Tale of Medieval Scotland

Though the note on the author at the end says Morrison has written several novels, this is the only one I could find, so perhaps it’s her first, self-published novel. It’s a good story. It’s clear she is a storyteller who can weave a tale from old Scotland in a way that will hold your interest. She incorporates historical events and real life people that make the story more real. Early in the book, she brings the hero and heroine together as young lovers, and I thought she did it very sweetly, very convincingly.

Set in early 14th century Scotland, it tells of red-haired Meghan Innes and handsome Black William Bruce, who meet at a Mayday celebration. They quickly fall in love and he proposes marriage. However, Will fails to tell her he is a Bruce, the enemy of her clan that is aligned with the Comyns. When Meghan’s father learns that Black William is pursuing his daughter, Meghan spurns Will’s offer of marriage and her father quickly takes her home. Later, Meghan’s father is captured by the English while stealing sheep, and Meghan must seek help from the only one powerful enough to convince the English to let her father go—Robert the Bruce, King of the Scots, and his cousin, Black William.

I did think Will was a bit too quick to accept that Meghan herself (as opposed to her uncle) was a traitor when she’d been honorable. And I wondered if the Scots would really let a female lead a clan into battle against the English, but perhaps they did. Anyway, these were minor “improbable” moments.

All in all, the story was a good read and I can recommend it.

Friday, October 12, 2012

New Review: Laura Kinsale’s SHADOWHEART – Unusual Medieval Both Fascinating and Disturbing

To say this book was difficult to review is an understatement. Let me say at the outset that Kinsale writes brilliantly and has obviously done an amazing job of presenting the historical setting of 14th century Northern Italy. The story also held my interest; HOWEVER, it is also problematic and sometimes disturbing and, in places, had me figuratively tearing out my hair. As historical romance, some readers of the genre will have difficulty with parts of it, though they may love her other books (SEIZE THE FIRE is one of my favorites).

This is the sequel to FOR MY LADY'S HEART and much of our introduction to the character of the hero, Allegreto can be found there, should you want to read it. SHADOWHEART won the RITA in 2005 for Best Historical Romance, which is interesting in itself, as you’ll see from my comments below. Unlike the prequel, this one is only sprinkled with Middle English, and much better for the change—we can actually understand what Kinsale is saying. (The prequel was so heavy with the old language at times it was difficult to know what was going on.)

Set in the late 14th-century, Allegreto, the 16-year-old assassin we met in book one, and bastard son of the Italian Navona family, now in his late 20’s, has one goal—to reclaim his birthright in Monteverde (Northern Italy). He is strong, mysterious and ruthless. To secure his claim, he uses treachery to capture the last heir and princess of Monteverde, 17-year-old Elena (who was 6 when we met her at the end of book 1). Much happened after her capture that bothered me. I apologize for some spoilers, but I can’t review this book without them.

Allegreto (called “Il Corvo” after his island and “pirate” to Elena), rapes her and then calls her “wife,” though there is no marriage nor vows of any kind. How he intended to claim her lands with no lawful marriage mystified me, but that’s how the story begins. That Elena, who seemed a bright, independent young woman, could be so witless as to walk into his trap and believe (prior to the rape) that he had married her and consummated the marriage while she was drugged (when she had no memory nor any physical indications of that happening) was just bizarre. She never challenges it, though with her personality, one would have expected her to show a bit more fire.

As to Elena and Allegreto’s sexual relationship, I just have to say it was strange for a 17-year-old innocent. While I don’t typically quote other reviewers, the following assessment from one Amazon reviewer so closely paralleled my own views I thought to use it: “Had she written a bigger buildup of Elena's obsession with her "angel" of the past so there was a foundation for the present relationship, then made Elena a reluctant apprentice in the S&M and bondage in an effort to "save" Allegreto's black heart and soul, the scenes could have been made darkly beautiful and believable. As it was, we had to make some lightning-fast adjustments to keep up with the young girl we were first introduced to who was alarmed by the aggressive kisses of a romantic knight, and within a matter of weeks morphed into a disturbing and disturbed seductress. We were given no reference point from which to understand the flowering of the relationship between Elena and Allegreto, other than the point at which they came together to draw blood. As a result, we have a very hard time envisioning a happily-ever-anything for these two.” I, too, found it unbelievable. One could expect Allegreto to engage in such behavior given his background, but Elena? Raised as an educated young woman in a happy home in England, it was hard to believe. It just didn’t fit.

Almost all the story is in Elena’s point of view so we know little about Allegreto’s thoughts. We do know (early on) that on his island kingdom he pursued the occult and was creating a generation of young assassins in his own image. Elena, finding that disturbing as well she should, is naïve enough to believe if he promises not to train her own children (when they come) in his murderous ways, those children will somehow be different from their father or the assassin culture all around them. That made her look witless.

The change in the hero and heroine over the course of the book was interesting: she started out weak and became a dominating princess and he started out strong and ended up her love slave.

I wouldn’t recommend this book without the disclaimers in this review. But for those who don’t mind all that, I could say it deserves 4 stars simply for the achievement it represents--and it will hold your interest!

The cover on the right is the original cover.

And the winner is...

Jannine Corti-Petska has just let me know that Ella Quinn has won the eBook of THE LILY AND THE FALCON, the first in Jannine's Italian medieval series. Congratulations Ella!

Thanks to all those who commented!

Thursday, October 11, 2012

My Guest Today: Jannine Corti-Petska, Author of Italian Medievals!

My guest today is Jannine Corti-Petska, author of a medieval series based in Italy in the 15th century. Jannine is also giving away to one commenter the eBook of the first in the series, THE LILY AND THE FALCON.

Welcome, Jannine! And thanks for being with us and answering some of the questions I had about your wonderful novels!

Q: How long have you been writing historical romance?

It's been a little over 30 years.

Q: Your latest books, THE LILY AND THE FALCON, SURRENDER TO HONOR and DANTE’S FLAME are set in Renaissance Italy and Sicily. Why did you choose that period in time?

First of all, I received a lecture from a dear Italian friend who insisted the period I chose is medieval, not Renaissance. I think he’s right, but that also depends on who makes that claim. Historians cannot agree on the precise years. Actually, an agent in a rejection letter, I think it was, called my books Renaissance and it stuck. I've always believed the Renaissance period began in the late 15th century with Lorenzo de' Medici.

When I researched medieval Italy, the 15th century hooked my interest. Cosimo de’ Medici to be precise. I was fascinated by his power over the city, and even though he wasn’t a noble, he was referred to as royalty. Through all the research I’ve done, I’ve become very comfortable with the time period. I'm not sure I'd set a story later than the 1440s, although I'd like to do one involving Lorenzo de' Medici.

This period in Italian history has so much to offer, so much change in attitudes. Interest in the arts soared thanks to Cosimo de' Medici's support. Women, although still no where near the importance of men, were able to attend medical school.

Q: How long did it take you to do the research for those books?

When I'd written them in the mid- to late 90s, I spent a good two months on research. I over-researched. However, I found many interesting tidbits that I used not only in that particular story I planned to write but also in the others. Back then, I didn't have the internet. I'd spend hours in the local libraries, schlep books home (15-20 at a time.), or peruse book sales and used book stores for anything I could use on more than one story.

Q: Were there any obstacles or blind alleys in your research? Unanswered questions?

Yes to both. The hardest thing to find was a street map showing the names of the streets and buildings and business of the time period. In other words, the layout of the town. That was one reason I over-researched. I'd piece together my findings until I was satisfied I knew the town well enough to set my story in it. Even though I couldn’t find specific answers to some questions, the extensive research really helped to spark my creativity.

Q: Is combining the facts of history and your fictional characters difficult?

Not really. In THE LILY AND THE FALCON, the hero is the (fictional) cousin of Cosimo de' Medici, and the heroine is the (fictional) cousin of Ronaldo degli Albizzi, the Medici's strongest opposition for the power of Florence.

Generally, I'll choose several facts if I think it will blend well with the story. For example, in LILY, Cristiano de' Medici (hero) has been appointed to a short-term (a few months) government position. In one scene, he's looking out the window of the Palazzo del Signoria at the piazza where a young man was hanged the day before. That and the weather are factual, as well as Ronaldo attempting to take over the city and run out the Medici. I also included many other incidents.

Q: What do you think is your best work?

I feel my best work is the first two books in my Italian medieval series, THE LILY AND THE FALCON and SURRENDER TO HONOR.

Q: What inspired your strong Italian heroes? Which is your favorite?

From the beginning of my career, my strength was in writing very strong heroes I suppose my concept of a hero, especially in historicals, is a man who is larger than life, respected, feared, dark, mysterious, and strong, yet he has an underlying sensitivity that develops as the story progresses and as he realizes he's fallen in love with the heroine.

As for my favorite, that's hard to say. Cristiano from THE LILY AND THE FALCON was my first. Antonio FROM SURRENDER TO HONOR was my second. But Antonio is the darker of the two, so I'd have to say he's my favorite but only by a narrow margin.

Q: What inspired your stories? Was it an idea? A scene? A character? Something from history?

I had wanted to write a medieval for years prior to writing LILY in 1994. I couldn’t get enough of reading medieval romances. But I was intimidated by the syntax and European history. (I started out writing stories set in the 19th century American West.) Of course, probably 99% of the medievals were set in England or Ireland at the time. Deciding to set my stories in Italy had to do with my heritage and the comfort of knowing the Italian culture and mind. I think a number of factors were responsible for inspiring my stories. If I had to pick one, it would have to be an idea. Or a character. Or something from history. Well, so much for picking one.

For SURRENDER TO HONOR, the story idea came from wanting to do something on the mafia. (And my mother was Sicilian.) Sicily being the birthplace for the mafia, I thought Palermo would be a good choice. Also, there was more information available on medieval Palermo.

My series had to be within a few years because of the age aspect of the heroes and heroines. For DANTE'S FLAME, I found the unrest in Naples between the French and Spanish. My heroine was the heroine's cousin in book one. Making sure she was old enough when that political conflict occurred , everything else fell into place.

Q: How long does it take you to write a book once the research is done? Or, do you continue to research as you write it?

When I began writing 30 years ago, it took about two months to write a 110,000 word book. Actually, many were closer to 120,000 words. I've always continued minor research while writing. Today, I seem to research heavily while I'm writing because I can't remember details anymore (LOL). In my 20s and 30s, my mind held and sorted out thousands of "things." If I can run 5 through my head at one time now, I'm having a good day.

Q: Any advice for authors who want to tackle an unusual setting?

Believe in your setting. Don't give up if you're rejected many times due to your unusual setting. Sell that setting, tell why readers would love it, how important it is to the romance. I used the “splendor of medieval Italy” when I pitched to editors or agents. That conjures up grandeur and a certain time and place in history.

Q: Your Italian medieval series reflects great detail of the life in Italy at the time: food, household roles of servants, various jobs of artisans, and of course, clothing. What kind of research did you have to do to gain that information? Are there any sources you can share with us?

This is where detective work and persistence come in. Once I decide on the location and time period for my story, I begin with looking up general information online and at the same time I pull relevant books from my home library. Then I go to either Barnes & Noble, Amazon or Abebooks to find anything available that will help me. However, these books need to have a lot of useful information in them before I buy. When all the basics are down, I begin to research each detail separately.

The following books are in my home library where (I've accumulated over 2000 research books

Food in History, Reay Tannahill
History of Food, Maguelonne Taussaint-Samat
The Medieval Kitchen: Recipes from France and Italy, Redon, Sabban & Serventi
Fabulous Feasts: Medieval Cookery & Ceremony, Madeleine Cosman
Seven Centuries of English Cooking, Maxime de la Falaise
Fast and Feast: Food in Medieval Society, Bridget Ann Henisch

For costume, I generally go to my home library and look up the time period I'm researching. I have abundant books on clothing, accessories, hair, shoes, general costume, and much more. But I also go online to find very specific clothing geared to my time and setting. Even though I have many books on medieval Italian costumes, I wasn't satisfied with my findings, so I began the hunt in the search engine. Depending on what you're looking for, it could take a chunk of your time--not just in hours, but in days spent searching the details.

Often I stumble upon the information in the most unlikely searches. While researching the town layout for DANTE'S FLAME, I came across a little-known fact about a spirit. There was only one or two sentences talking about it, but it was the first time I saw it mentioned. I almost returned the book to the bookcase because I couldn't find what I was looking for. I'm glad I didn't give up on that particular book. I think half the fun of writing is getting lost in history and finding so many possibilities for your story or for future stories. Often fact is much stranger than fiction.

To help research my Italian medievals, I found blogs from people who live in the city I'm interested in. Of course, they're in Italian. I muddle my way through. Over the years, I've found a few members who spoke some English. Several were excited to help me with my research, even doing the translation.

If you're lucky enough to travel to a city for first-hand research, that's invaluable. But don't be afraid to find those blogs (foreign and U.S.) The people on them are more than happy to share their knowledge with you. They're even excited that you're setting their city in a book.

There is no secret formula in finding just what you're looking for. You have to be willing to spend the time online or even public libraries. Don't forget used bookstores. And don't limit yourself in your search. If you find something you don't need, that could lead to a piece of information you do. Sometimes, luck gives a helping hand.

Q: What are you working on now? Another book in this medieval series?

I'm working on TEMPT NOT MY HEART, the 4th book in the series. I had hoped to finish it and turn it in to my editor by May or June. Unfortunately, life had something different in mind, so I'm only at 66,000 words in of a 95,000 to 100,000 word book.

Thanks, Jannine, for being with us! And for those reading this post, Jannine is available for your questions and comments!

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

New Review: Sandra Worth’s THE ROSE OF YORK: LOVE AND WAR – A Great Love Story Wrapped in Excellent Historical Fiction

In this award-winning story set against the time of the Wars of the Roses, when the houses of York and Lancaster battled for the throne of England, Worth brings to life the story of two real life lovers Lady Anne Neville and Richard of Gloucester (the last Plantagenet king). It’s the first in a trilogy based on ten years of thorough research of the life of Richard III of England (1452-1485).

LOVE AND WAR tells of Richard and Anne’s early life, before he became king, when they were first childhood friends and then bonded sweethearts, though still in their teens.

As a young boy, Richard of Gloucester (“Dickon”) is forced to flee England with his cousin, the Earl of Warwick (“the Kingmaker”), to save his life and that of his brother, George, while his older brother Edward stays to fight the Lancasters. When Richard returns at the age of 9, he meets 7-year-old Anne Neville, Warwick’s daughter, and the two children instantly recognize each other as kindred spirits.

Though Anne eventually is forced to marry the Lancaster heir, Edouard, son of Marguerite d’Anjou, he is slain in battle, and she and Richard finally hope to marry. Instead, because of treachery by Richard’s brother George, the couple encounters another devastating obstacle that threatens to part them forever.

You will be amazed at how these young people, as young teens, accomplished so much and carried such a great weight of responsibility. If it weren’t history you would criticize the author for making the young characters seem too adult. But it really happened the way she presents it.

Worth writes well, captures the feel of the late medieval period, and weaves history into an absorbing tale like a rich tapestry. But in telling that history, there is much sadness, too, so be prepared. While the trilogy tells of the love between Richard and Anne (and that of other couples as well), it is not romance in the classic sense. Yes there is a happy ending (at least for this first book), but it is more historical biography or historical fiction that features as a central theme the love story of the main character.

Parts of it are truly depressing, not because of Worth’s storytelling, but because of the tumultuous time in England’s history and an English court the author describes as “rotten with intrigue,” where treachery abounded, good men were betrayed for a king’s whim and slain for the threat they presented, the dreadful Elizabeth Woodville (commoner Queen of England) plotted to end her rivals, and honorable mean were slain.

If you like a lot of history with your love stories and find the wars between the Houses of York and Lancaster fascinating, this is the series for you. All three of the books are related since they are the continuing saga of Richard’s life.

NOTE: Sandra Worth will be a guest on this blog on October 31, 2012, so take a look at her interview and meet the author!

The Rose of York trilogy:


NOTE: The cover features the painting Godspeed by Blair Leighton. (See my article on that wonderful artist of medieval romantic paintings here:

Sunday, October 7, 2012

New Review: Denise Domning’s WINTER’S HEAT – Classic Medieval Romance

Doming said she got the idea for this novel in a dream and then spent 12 years researching the medieval time period in which to set it and the novels that followed. It is the first in the Graistan Chronicles (see list below). I really enjoyed it and think she captured the time, though there is a bit less history than in some romance novels of the period.

It takes place in 1194, during the latter part of the reign of King Richard I. It tells the story of Rowena of Benfield, who at 21, was taken by her father from the abbey where she’d planned to spend her life to be wed to Rannulf FitzHenry, the powerful Lord of Graistan. Rannulf is a man with emotional baggage from a past betrayal and Rowena wants but does not expect his love. She is a masterful chatelaine and does his estate proud. While all come to love her, Rannulf treats her with disdain, holding himself back, presumably for fear of being betrayed once again.

I loved Rowena’s strength and feisty attitude; but Rannulf was at times too mean. Yes, it was an arranged marriage and Rowena was determined to make it work, but how many times can you be publically cut by your husband and not want to leave him? When he finally came around, it was a dramatic change and I was still harboring bitter thoughts about him from his earlier actions toward his wife. (How we do get into these stories!) But this is romance so it all comes right in the end.

The story is interesting, the plot held my interest, and I can recommend it. I intend to read the others in the series. But for those of you history lovers, you may want to consider others I’ve recommended on my Best Medieval Romances list if you like deep history with your love stories.

The Graistan Chronicles, the stories of the FitzHenry's:

WINTER’S HEAT (Rannulf and Rowena)
SUMMER’S STORM (Temric and Philippa)
SPRING’S FURY (Gilliam and Nicola)
AUTUMN’S FLAME (Geoffrey and Elyssa)
A LOVE FOR ALL SEASONS (Robert and Johanna)

Friday, October 5, 2012

New Review: Maureen Kurr’s SWORD OF THE HEART – A Medieval to Curl Up With on a Rainy Day

Maureen Kurr won the Romance Writers of America's Golden Heart Award in 1985 for her first novel, NORTHWARD THE HEART. After that she wrote three more historical romances (see list below). Each is a rich historical romance that, while moving at a bit slower pace than you might be used to, with perhaps more introspection than you’d see in a modern novel, they are still ones you may want to read though you’ll have to find them used.

SWORD OF THE HEART is set in 14th century France, and tells the story of beautiful Alix Beaucamp and Philip de Saines, both from noble families in Brittany. Philip is a knight, who after witnessing one horrible night of death at the hands of his fellow knights, laid down his sword and turned away from fighting forever. Now, after a scandal in the French court that says he cuckolded his good friend, he returns home to find his estate falling down from neglect after the Plague (the “Great Pestilence”). All think him a coward and a subject of scorn, including his own family. But Alix knows better and loves him. When her father betroths her to Philip’s brother Justin, a man she cannot stand, she and Philip desperately seek as way to make Philip a man both families will accept.

One of the things I liked about this story was the hero’s constancy. Philip never stopped loving Alix, nor she him. Her trust in him as a swordless knight never faltered and though he had to overcome many obstacles to gain their families’ approval of their marriage, he did so with unwavering diligence. It’s a good one for a rainy weekend.

Maureen Kurr’s novels:

NORTHWARD THE HEART (1985) – Golden Heart Winner

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

New Review: Laura Navarre’s BY ROYAL COMMAND - Well Told Medieval Tale with Unique Perspective and Interesting Love Triangle

This historic romance from Navarre is both well written and unique. For one thing, it’s entirely in the heroine’s perspective so the heroine is in every scene and it’s only her head we’re in (which means the men did more talking!). Despite the tag line on the book’s cover, I did not think this a story of two brothers and one woman. Well, yes, there were two brothers, but one was the villain so he didn’t count as a rival. The heroine didn’t want him. No, this was the story of the heroine’s two loves, one a Viking-bred hero and one a dark, warrior priest from France. Hence, the rub. It’s not every historical romance that finds the heroine giving her body and her heart to a worthy and noble hero and shortly thereafter marrying another to whom she is instantly attracted. (She “scarcely thinks” of the man she loved but days before.) The heroine called herself fickle; I guess so.

Set in England in 1005, it tells the story of Katrin of Courtenay, whose uncle, Ethelred the King, has summoned her to London to marry again now that her husband is dead. If you’ve encountered Ethelred in other romance novels (and I have), this is a very different man. By the author’s own “note,” she paints him as an evil lecher. Meanwhile, Katrin’s husband had been cruel and controlling, and she doesn't want another one. She believes she can hold her northern keep on the Scottish border well enough alone (though the opening scene would suggest that isn’t the case). To transport her to London, the king has dispatched his Viking-bred warrior, Eomond, to return her to court. On the journey, she and Eomond find they can’t resist the passion between them and Katrin falls in love with her protector. Though Katrin and Eomond love each other, when they arrive at the king’s court, her uncle tells her she’ll wed Rafael le Senay, the Baron of Belmaine. Rafael was training to be a bishop when his younger brother died and he had to take his place. Neither he nor Katrin want the marriage, at least not until they meet.

Navarre’s strength is clearly in storytelling and she captures well the medieval voice. It’s a powerful tale that will hold your interest. And her work reflects serious research for which I give her full marks. But you have to be prepared for a different heroine. Her lies and shifting affections left me a bit cold. (“Merciful God, she’d lied to him already. Now she must weave layer upon layer of deception, vary her pattern like the warp and woof of her loom until he couldn’t see which thread to pull to unravel her falsehoods.”) It was hard to believe her feelings for Rafael, though a worthy hero, were real given the short time between her relationship with him and her last tryst with Eomond. Meanwhile, Eomond is still in the picture.

Even with all that, It was a good read and I recommend it.

Monday, October 1, 2012

New Review: Shannon Drake’s COME THE MORNING – 1st in the Medieval Scottish Series A Worthy Read!

This is the first in a series of Drake's (aka Heather Graham) historical novels of the Graham clan (the next: CONQUER THE NIGHT, SEIZE THE DAWN, KNIGHT TRIUMPHANT, THE LION IN GLORY, WHEN WE TOUCH and THE QUEEN'S LADY), based on her own family history of the Graham's. I’ve read them all and recommend them.

Set in 12th century Scotland when King David I reigned, it begins as our hero, Waryk de Graham is 14 and on the battlefield with his father and uncle, both of whom are slain. In a heroic feat, he manages to rise from the assumed dead and save the remaining Scottish warriors and kill the leader of the Norse opposing forces, Renfrew. For this he is knighted by the king, and named "Lord Lion," and promised future prizes.

Ten years later after he has faithfully served the king and won many battles and his reputation has spread far and wide, the King is of a mind to finally give him the promised reward. Prompted to move by the death of Adin, once a Viking conqueror who then became truly Scottish and loyal to King David, the king gives Waryk the Blue Isle—a wondrous holding—and his daughter Mellyora MacAdin, who is known as beautiful and a brilliant swordswoman. Unaware of this, when her father dies, Mellyora asks the king to allow her to rule in her father's sted and to marry the McKinney who is a laird in his own right and lives on Blue Isle. But the king wants a powerful warrior defending Blue Isle and he wants to reward Waryk.

Waryk has had a mistress he has loved for years and wants to marry her. But he will bend to the King's will if only to gain the lands. Mellyora, headstrong and courageous, after many attempts to escape, is finally resigned to marry Waryk, or suffer the loss of her lands. Neither likes the other and so begins the story of their tumultuous love.

It's not a unique formula and Graham (aka Drake) has done it many times over, very successfully, I might add. Still, her writing is wonderful, the action does not stop, and the romance is compelling.

My only negatives with this one were these: At times, Mellyora, who was supposed to be a brilliant strategist, could appear quite stupid in falling into Waryk's traps, and he was at times less than honorable, even mean. When he finally consummates the marriage, it seemed more like a rape than a seduction. It all comes together in the end as Graham brings the story to a brilliant conclusion as she always does, but those were issues for me.

The historical elements are well done and Graham even includes a timeline in the back for those of us truly interested in the history.