The Confessions of Catherine de Medici by C.W. Gortner

C.W. Gortner‘s third book, The Confessions of Catherine de Medici, has all the best elements of historical, royal fiction from political strife to women sold in marriage to keep the peace.  Like his previous book, The Last Queen which I reviewed, The Confessions of Catherine de Medici is chock full of drama as Catherine is taken from her home shortly after surviving an angry mob in Florence and betrothed to Henri, one of the sons in line for the throne of France.

“How little they know me.  How little anyone knows me.  Perhaps it was ever my fate to dwell alone in the myth of my own life, to bear witness to the legend that has sprung around me like some venomous bloom.  I have been called murderess and opportunist, savior and victim.  And along the way, become far more than was ever expected of me, even if loneliness was always present, like a faithful hound at my heels.

The truth is, not one of us is innocent.

We all have sins to confess.”  (Page 3)

Catherine learns of her gift at a very young age but is frightened by what her visions mean for her and her future.  Despite her misgivings about her gift, she relies on seers and fortunetellers to guide her path and that of her blossoming family.  Her marriage is in name only as her husband favors his mistress blatantly in court, and she is forced to endure the shame of it.  Catherine is a strong woman determined to maintain her pride and courtly manner even though it is constantly tested by Henri’s mistress Diane de Poitiers and the thorny politics of her new nation.

Enter, Nostradamus — yes, THE Nostradamus — to issue cryptic predictions and advice to Catherine as she and her adopted nation of France teeter on the brink of religious war.  His advice is invaluable to her as she navigates the political and religious turmoil of France, though his appearances are brief, almost as if he were an apparition.

“As I passed the alcove, I sensed a presence.  I whirled about.  I couldn’t contain my gasp when I saw Nostradamus materialize as if from nowhere.  ‘You scared me to death! How did you get in here?’

‘Through the door,’ he said, ‘No one noticed.'”  (Page 182)

The novel reads like a set of confessions from Catherine herself as she analyzes her past, her faults, and her passions.  Gortner crafts very strong, royal women that draw from historical fact and weaves in a captivating narrative that will leave readers struggling to adjust to their own lives once they’ve finished the last page.  The Confessions of Catherine de Medici will round out the character of the woman thought to be one of the most ruthless leaders of France as she acted as regent for her young sons, highlighting the motivations of her decisions at a time when there were no right answers.  One of the best books I’ve read this year.

Check out the Q&A about Confessions of Catherine de Medici.

About the Author:

C.W. Gortner‘s fascination with history is a lifetime pursuit. He holds a Masters in Fine Arts in Writing with an emphasis on Renaissance Studies from the New College of California and often travels to research his books. He has experienced life in a medieval Spanish castle and danced a galliard in a Tudor great hall; dug through library archives all over Europe; and tried to see and touch — or, at least, gaze at through impenetrable museum glass — as many artifacts of the era as he can find.

The Giveaway:

I have 1 reader’s copy up for grabs.  The giveaway is international.

***added bonus for the winner, a Catherine de Medici medallion***

1.  Leave a comment about what confession you hope to read about in Gortner’s book.

2.  Blog, Tweet, Facebook, or otherwise spread the word about the giveaway and leave a link in the comments.

Deadline is July 4, 2010 at 11:59PM EST

Night of Flames by Douglas Jacobson

Douglas Jacobson’s Night of Flames is a gritty “spy” novel set during World War II beginning in 1939 during the invasion of Poland by the Nazis.  The main protagonists Anna and Jan Kopernik are separated by war and face near misses with the wrath of the Germans.  Anna joins the resistance in Belgium reluctantly, while Jan jumps at the opportunity to help MI6 on a secret mission in Poland with the hope that he can find his wife.

“Anna’s eyes snapped open and she sat bolt upright.  The shrill sound blasted into her brain, penetrating through the fog of sleep like an icy wind.  She blinked and looked around the dark room, trying to focus on shadowy images as the sound wailed on and on.”  (Page 11)

Anna is in Poland with her friend, Irene, and her son when the bombings start in earnest, leaving them and their driver very few options on the way back to Krakow and her father, a professor at the local university.  Anna is hit by significant loss and constant worry about her husband, who’s career is with the Polish military.  Night of Flames is a fast-paced novel that pushed through the front lines and skulks in the shadows of the resistance.

“‘The best thing any of us can do is try and keep out of their way, and if you get stopped or challenged, be as cooperative as you can.’

‘So you’re telling us to act like house pets in our own city.'” (Page 65)

Jacobson’s no-nonsense writing style will place readers in the heart of the resistance, though some readers could get bogged down by the military strategy and direction, such as how the resistance used holes dug in the earth to hold lanterns that were lit to signal the Allies as to where to drop supplies.  Readers will either enjoy the detailed strategy or wish for a greater focus on the characters.  Anna is the most developed of the two protagonists, though Jacobson does give each nearly equal time through alternating chapters.  These chapters help build tension, leaving the reader in suspense as to whether they will ever be reunited.

Readers who enjoy learning about World War II and who enjoy spy novels will like this novel.  But Night of Flames is more than just a war novel; it is about how ordinary citizens can rise up to reclaim their homeland and their dignity in the face of adversity signifying an indelible human spirit.

Check out this video for Night of Flames:

I want to thank Douglas Jacobson, McBooks Press, and Pump Up Your Book Promotion for sending me a free copy of Night of Flames to review.  If you click on the title links, you’ll be taken to my Amazon Affiliate page, but there is no obligation to buy.

They’ve also kindly provided an additional copy for one reader of my blog from anywhere in the world.  To Enter:

1.  Leave a comment on this post.
2.  Check out the War Through the Generations blog and leave me a relevant comment here about something you read or learned.

3.  Blog, Tweet, and spread the word about the giveaway and leave a comment here.

Deadline is Nov. 4, 2009, at 11:59 PM EST

This marks the 7th book I’ve read for the WWII Reading Challenge.  Though I officially met my goal of reading 5 WWII-related books some time ago, I’ve continued to find them on my shelves and review them here.  I’m sure there will be more, stay tuned.

Guest Post: Hazel Statham, Author of Lizzie’s Rake

I would like to welcome Hazel Statham, author of Lizzie’s Rake, to Savvy Verse & Wit. She’s taken the time out of her busy schedule to share with us some tidbits about her mischievous dog, Mollie, and her writing space. . .

My Writing Space – Or Rather, Lack of

I wish, oh how I wish I had a workspace all of my own where I could spread my work out and no one would complain! It wouldn’t have to be a large room, I would be quite content with a very modest space – just large enough for a desk, a chair and a bookcase, but most importantly, with a door. Somewhere where I could just hide away from everyone and immerse myself in my own little historical world. There would be peace and quiet and when I was hidden away, everyone would know I wanted to be alone.

Of course, the dogs could come into my inner sanctum, they’re no trouble, except Mollie who, at just 12 months old, is still a little monkey – but we are imagining the ideal here. Sadly, the reality is not quite the same.

Due to the lack of an office, my computer is set up on a desk in a corner of the dining room – not very practical, I know, but as there’s no other space available, it has to be. I write when my husband is at work and the house is quiet. I can’t write when there’s noise around me as it disturbs my train of thought. Sometimes I can be at the computer from morning to night, sometimes for just a few short hours. Wherever I am, so are the dogs. Lucy is content to just lie by my chair but Mollie, more often than not, is always into some mischief or other. It’s not always easy typing with a Labrador trying to get on your knee.

There’s also a computer set up in the opposite corner and when my seven-year-old grandson comes to stay with me during the school holidays, he’s usually on it. He informs me that he’s writing a book about Mr. Bean and Star Wars. Rather a strange combination, I know, but one that seems to work for him.

Mollie getting into mischief!

About Lizzie’s Rake (From Hazel’s Website):

Can a rake reform his ways and truly love? Lizzie’s head tells her one thing, her heart another.

Infamous rake and Corinthian, Maxim Beaufort, Earl of St. Ive, finding himself in possession of a property in Yorkshire, is unprepared for the changes it will bring into his life. Irresistibly drawn to Elizabeth Granger, the former owner’s daughter, he attempts to help the family, finding himself filling the role of benefactor. When the house is razed to the ground, he arranges for

temporary accommodation for Elizabeth and her siblings on his estate.

When Elizabeth rejects his proposal of marriage, he is nonetheless determined to win her over. However, events and his reputation conspire to thwart his efforts and his course is one fraught with dangers.

Trust does not come easily and determined to protect her heart, Elizabeth struggles to resist her own longings. At times, their difficulties appear insurmountable but the earl is widely known as ‘The Indomitable’ and the name was not lightly earned.

Don’t forget my current giveaways:

2-year Blogiversary, here and here.

Guest Post: Renee Hand, Author of The Crypto Capers

I’d like to welcome Renee Hand, author of The Crypto-Capers, to Savvy Verse & Wit to talk about her writing process.

Her latest book The Case of the Missing Sock, for ages 9-12, is a story of two siblings, Max and Mia Holmes, and their good friend Morris and their flamboyant Granny Holmes as they unravel crimes by solving cryptograms left by criminals. Mia is the expert puzzle solver, and Max has great deduction and reasoning skills. Morris happens to be a computer genius, and granny is the “muscle” of the group. In this caper, the group heads to Florida and are hired by Mr. Delacomb, and readers have a chance to help these detectives solve the case through cryptograms and puzzles.

Here’s an excerpt from the book:

“FIVE MINUTES! JUST FIVE MORE MINUTES,” said Max Holmes quietly as he surveyed the dark room in front of him.

This should be the last place to reach, the highest test of his skills. He switched off his flashlight. He faced a rugged stone wall. From somewhere far above him, a crack let in a single, narrow beam of sunshine. It hit about the middle of the wall, barely lighting up a recess, an indention shaped into a rectangle, slightly taller than wide. A box could fit in there, Max thought, and he grew just a little nervous.

“Did I come here for nothing?” he asked in frustration as he glanced more intently at the wall. “Did I pick the wrong way?” For just a moment, he reviewed his route to this stone box of a room. No, he had made each choice carefully. “This has to be the right place. It has to be here!”

Without further ado, here is Renee and her writing process:

My writing process is interesting. I really just let my ideas come to me. I have a favorite tool that I use in my writing. I have what I call “an idea wall.” Whenever I get an idea I write it down and stick in on my wall for future consideration, as well as to remind me of things that I want to make sure I incorporate into my stories. In writing a series, there is so much that I have to remember, so I use my idea wall to help me remember these things. I also use it to help me when I get stuck on an idea. There are times when I am not sure where to go with an idea so I write it on my idea wall and refer back to it throughout the day as I am doing something else. This is a tremendous help to me and my idea wall has not failed me yet. I use it for many things in my writing.

My stories usually develop on the fly, which works great for me and my creativity. I write at my own pace the way that I want to write. If I felt that I was being pressured to write a certain way or at a specific time every day, I wouldn’t enjoy it as much. I make writing as fun and enjoyable as possible because I love to do it.

When developing my stories, I usually know what I want to have happen; all I have to do is find a great way to get there. I do a lot of revision and editing but when I begin a story I first just concentrate on getting my ideas down on paper. I don’t beat myself up if everything is not perfect. I just get my ideas down all the way to the end of the story. Once I have a base, which I must have, then I will go back and fine tune and develop the story better. I will do lots of research along the way to add more detail and description, or I will take a vacation somewhere to help aid in the experience and relate it in my story. What I start with usually always changes and becomes ten times better by the time I finish it. I will lay out certain ideas in a specific order at times, depending on the scene in my story and where I want it to go or what I need to have happen. So, certain ideas in my story are planned out to be in a certain way, but after that I let my creativity take me where I need to go.

By the time I am finished with my story it is in the best shape I can possibly make it. I am finding that with each story I write, I become a better writer. I am always improving and I can see it with each book that gets published. I have 4 to my credit, two of which have won awards.

Thanks, Renee for stopping by Savvy Verse & Wit and taking the time out of your busy schedule to share your writing process with us.

Check out Renee’s site, here. And if you’re interested in these capers for your kids, check out The Case of the Missing Sock, here, and The Case of Red Rock Canyon, here.

About the Author:

Since my first novel has been published I have done over 70 events. I have been on radio, TV, and have been in over 40 newspapers. I have experience talking in classrooms about writing. I have presented at various libraries, have
done several booksignings and many other venues with more going on in the future.

My family has encouraged my talents and creativity and I couldn’t have gotten this far without their support and love. Having Magic Hearts published really was a dream come true and I am thankful to God for all of the blessings in my life.

I have also received an award for Magic Hearts for Best 2006 Fantasy Romance. I am thrilled. My second novel Seduction of the Lonely Heart has won a National Literary Award for Best Romance of 2007. I am thankful for these two awards.

I have also ventured in writing other genres. I have a new children’s detective series that will be coming out. The first book of the series, The Crypto-Capers in the Case of the Missing Sock, is currently released. This story is filled with adventure and heart. With relateable characters and you, as the reader, are apart of the story, helping the detectives solve the case. Book 2 The Case of Red Rock Canyon, is also currently available. Book 3 will be out in the fall.

Don’t forget my current giveaways:

2-year Blogiversary, here and here.

Guest Post: Gail Graham, Author of Sea Changes

I’d like to welcome Gail Graham, author of Sea Changes, to Savvy Verse & Wit. Today, she’s going to provide us with some insight on her writing and the struggles she most recently faced. Please give Gail a warm welcome.

When my husband died, I was devastated. I couldn’t concentrate. I couldn’t work. I couldn’t even talk to anyone for more than a couple of minutes without bursting into tears. And of course, I couldn’t write.

Over time, things got better. I managed to go back to work. I could interact with my students and colleagues. I’d lost a lot of weight, and people kept telling me how good I looked. But I still couldn’t write.

It was as if part of me had died. And not just any old part of me, but the best and most important part of me. All my life, I’d thought of myself — and described myself — as a writer. But whoever heard of a writer who couldn’t write!

People said, Give yourself time. It’ll get better. But years passed, and it didn’t get better. I still couldn’t write.

But I dreamed, incredible, complicated, detailed dreams. Almost every night, my subconscious mind conjured up people I had never met and places I had never seen, all in vivid color and detail. Sometimes, the dreams would continue over several nights, picking up where they’d left off. My dream life was as colorful and exciting as my waking life was dull and drab. In my dreams, I felt alive.

So I started writing them down, every morning. They didn’t make much sense, written down. There was no story line, no plot. The characters continually changed, and so did the places. Still, it was writing. Maybe it would lead to something. Maybe it would lead me back to the person I used to be.

More years passed. My dream life was more real to me than my waking life. I often thought of Chuangzi, the Chinese philosopher who fell asleep beneath a tree and dreamed he was a butterfly. When he awoke he asked himself, Am I Chuangzi who dreamed I was a butterfly, or am I a butterfly dreaming that I’m Chuangzi?

I felt that I was living in two worlds, simultaneously. One of them was real and the other was imaginary. I knew that. I wasn’t crazy. But the world I preferred was the imaginary one. And that was how Sarah Andrews, the protagonist of Sea Changes was born.

Sarah seemed very real. And it was easy to write about her, and to describe her walk to the beach for that final swim. Hooray! I was writing again! But where was this going? What would happen to Sarah as she swam out towards the horizon? I had absolutely no idea. And suddenly, there was Bantryd.

The mind is a wonderful thing. The imagination is a wonderful thing. And all of this has taught me that the world is a wonderful place, a place where truly, anything is possible.

Thanks, Gail, for sharing your experiences with us and for taking the time out of your busy schedule to stop by Savvy Verse & Wit. Please check out the book synopsis and excerpt below for Sea Changes.

About the book:

When Sarah’s husband dies suddenly, she is left with no anchor and no focus.

Grief is an ever-present companion and counseling a weekly chore with minimal results, but when Sarah decides to end her life her suicide attempt takes her to an underwater world where she finds comfort and friendship. Afterwards, back on the beach she wonders – Was it a dream? Was I hallucinating? Or am I going mad?

Her efforts to make sense of the experience lead to Sarah’s becoming a suspect in the alleged kidnapping of a young heiress. Now her worlds are colliding – and the people she trusts are backing away, not believing a word she says. She must decide what is real and what is not. Her life depends on it.

Excerpt from Sea Changes:

She doesn’t have to get up if she doesn’t want to. She doesn’t have to do anything. Propped against the pillows, she watches the changing patterns of light filter through the branches of the tree outside her window. She could lie here until Friday and nobody would know or care. But that would be giving up. You’re not supposed to give up. You’re supposed to keep trying, whether you feel like it or not. If you keep going through the motions, sooner or later, something will kick in.

So she gets up and dresses, even though she’s not going anywhere. She puts on clean underwear and clean, pressed clothes. Her appointment with Kahn isn’t until Friday, but that’s not the point. You can’t spend the day in your nightgown.

There’s nothing much in the newspaper. There rarely is. It’s Australia, only eighteen million people in the whole country. Sitting at the kitchen table with a second mug of coffee, Sarah tackles the crossword puzzle. It was years before she mastered Australian crossword puzzles, which contain fewer words than their American counterparts and are shaped differently, more like skeletons than grids. The spellings are different too.

She hasn’t eaten since yesterday and she ought to be hungry, but isn’t. French women don’t get fat because they don’t eat unless they’re hungry. Sarah looks in the refrigerator, but nothing tempts her. She needs to go shopping. Later, perhaps, when it’s not so hot. She wishes she had a ceiling fan, or better still, central air conditioning. Nobody in Sydney has air conditioning. They don’t think it’s necessary, not with the beach so close. Nobody has central heating, either. They say it doesn’t get cold enough, but it does.

Sarah picks up a novel from the library and tries to concentrate. It’s not a very good novel, although it’s supposed to be a bestseller. That doesn’t mean anything, these days. Everything’s a bestseller. The protagonist has left his wife, is having an affair, has just learned he’s got cancer. He’ll probably die at the end. Sarah thinks he deserves to die and dozes off on the couch. When she opens her eyes, damp and sticky with the perspiration of an afternoon nap, it’s already getting dark.

The telephone rings. Nobody calls her, except telemarketers and sometimes Kahn, when he needs to cancel a session. If it rings five times, the machine will answer it. Five, six, seven. Maybe she’s forgotten to turn the machine on.

About the Author:

Gail Graham’s previous novel, CROSSFIRE, won the Buxtehude Bulle, a prestigious German literary award. CROSSFIRE has been translated into German, French, Danish, Finnish and Swedish. Three of Gail’s other books were NY Times Book of the Year recommendations. Gail lived in Australia for 32 years, where she owned and operated a community newspaper and published several other books, including A COOL WIND BLOWING (a biography of Mao Zedong) STAYING ALIVE and A LONG SEASON IN HELL. She returned to the United States in 2002, and now lives in Tucson, Arizona.

Check out this giveaway:

1 copy of Holly’s Inbox by Holly Denham, here; Deadline is June 10, 2009, 11:59 PM EST

Reunion by Therese Fowler

Therese Fowler’s Reunion examines the secrets many of us carry and how they can direct our lives and decisions. While some could consider this a light read, it deals with a number of deep issues, including teen pregnancy.

Harmony Blue Kucharski/Reynolds is a young girl with a deep crush on a junior professor and son to her boss, Mitch Forrester. After a whirlwind romance, Mitch breaks her young heart, and she embarks on a destructive path that ultimately leads her to a decision that must be kept secret after her career begins to take off. Two decades later, fate brings them back together in Key West, Florida, and Blue helps Mitch with his pet video project about writer’s like Hemingway.

“In Chicago, the snow was falling so hard that, although quite a few pedestrians saw the woman standing on the fire escape nine stories up, none were sure they recognized her. At first the woman leaned against the railing and looked down, as if calculating the odds of death from such a height. After a minute or two, though, when she hadn’t climbed the rail but had instead stepped back from it, most people who’d noticed her continued on their ways. She didn’t look ready to jump, so why keep watching? And how about this snow, they said. What the hell? It wasn’t supposed to snow like this in spring!” (Page 13)

Blue is a complex character floundering in her decisions and striving to find true happiness, and Mitch has tried all kinds of happiness, but has been unable to patch things up with his only son. Blue’s mother, Nancy, is an aging hippie still looking for love, and her sister has found a family life she can be proud of, though she still seems to have a hard time dealing with her sister’s success as TV personality–much like Oprah in Chicago.

“Without the interruption of commercials or the finite images of someone else’s interpretation of a story, she could more easily fit herself into the romance or drama unfolding inside a book’s cover.” (Page 54)

Fowler’s writing is down-to-Earth and captivating. The characters pop from the page. While there are multiple story lines in this novel, Fowler weaves them well and transitions seamlessly between them. Although this book could be considered chicklit or women’s fiction, there is much more beneath the surface; all readers have to do is scratch the surface.

Thanks to Pump up Your Book Promotion for providing Savvy Verse & Wit with an opportunity to review this book and be part of the virtual blog tour. Check below to find out about the International giveaway.

About the Author:

Therese Fowler has believed in the magic of a good story since she learned to read at the age of four. At age thirty, as a newly single parent, she put herself into college, earning a degree in sociology (and finding her real Mr. Right) before deciding to scratch her longtime fiction-writing itch. That led to an MFA in creative writing, and the composition of stories that explore the nature of our families, our culture, our mistakes, and our desires.

The author of two novels, with a third scheduled for 2010, Therese lives in Wake Forest, NC, with her supportive husband and sons, and two largely indifferent cats. You can visit her website or her blog.

To Enter:

1. Leave a comment on this post about why you’d like to read this book.
2. Leave a comment on the guest post, here, for a second entry.
3. Follow this blog, and let me know; if you follow, let me know that too.
4. Tweet, Facebook, or blog about the giveaway and leave a comment here.

Deadline is June 4, 2009, 11:59 PM EST.

Don’t Forget About These Great Giveaways!

1 Signed Copy of The Last Prince of the Mexican Empire by C.M. Mayo, here. Deadline is May 30, 2009, 11:59PM EST.

2 copies of The Wonder Singer by George Rabasa, here; Deadline is May 30, 2009, 11:59 PM EST

3 copies of Mating Rituals of the North American WASP by Lauren Lipton, here; Deadline is June 3, 2009, 11:59 PM EST.

Guest Post: Therese Fowler, Author of Reunion

Welcome to another Savvy Verse & Wit guest post; this time it’s Reunion author Therese Fowler discussing her reading habits as a reader and as a novelist. I want to thank Therese for taking time out of her busy schedule to talk with us about her reading. Without further ado, here she is.

Before I was a novelist, I was an avid reader of all kinds of fiction (and some nonfiction). I have a lot of interests and I love to be outdoors, but few things please me better than finding a good book and time to read it. I noticed, though, that once I began writing with the goal of becoming a novelist, I became a different sort of reader, a more critical, less satisfied one—call it an occupational hazard. It has taken some effort to learn how to access my earlier reader-self so that I never lose my love for books and reading.

I thought it might be interesting to list the ways I see books when I’m in reader mode versus writer mode, and came up with these two lists.

Reading as Therese the Avid Reader:

  1. I will read any sort of novel, from science fiction to literary fiction to mystery to romance to mainstream, if someone whose judgment I trust hands the book over and says “Read this!
  2. Critical opinion doesn’t sway me much, because I’ve found that few critics share reader’s sensibilities. Similarly, I’m reluctant to read a book just because “everyone” has read it—some of those books have been the biggest disappointments.
  3. My ideal novel is a well-paced, captivating story told artfully. Artful prose itself, though I can admire it, isn’t enough to keep me reading. I need to be curious and/or I need to care about what happens next.
  4. I don’t believe in making a value distinction between fiction that’s entertaining versus fiction that’s instructional or enlightening. A “good” novel is any story that captivates and transports me and suits my need or my mood at the time.
  5. No matter what book is in my hands, my ideal reading experience involves a quiet house, a bowl of popcorn, and a glass of wine.

Reading as Therese the Novelist:

  1. I am a much more critical reader than I ever was before I was a writer. Clunky or amateurish writing, implausible plot lines, inconsistent characterization and reader manipulation are things that will keep me from finishing a book I’ve started. On the other end of the spectrum, storytelling that is too “dear,” meaning too clever, or too self-referential, or too high-brow, or too self-serious is also a real turn-off. I elect not to finish most of the books I pick up.
  2. Popular authors’ books are rarely considered for literary awards, but I believe it takes a lot more effort and talent to become and remain a bestselling author—usually writing one or more books every year—than it does to produce one nicely done novel or story collection every few years (at most). True, some of those popular books aren’t especially artful, but some are, and deserve award consideration.
  3. My hero is Vladimir Nabokov, whose novel Lolita is a brilliant example of an author doing everything right.
  4. I fear for any author who, following an unexpectedly successful book, gets offered millions of dollars for the next one they’ll write. That sort of success is almost always an un-reproducible phenomenon, and that next book is almost certainly going to disappoint a lot of the readers who loved the previous one.
  5. My goal is to tell a different story with every book, and to always immerse my readers in what highly respected author and writing teacher John Gardiner called “the vivid and uninterrupted dream” of a good story, told well. That being the case, I’m perpetually looking for this kind of reading experience, both for pleasure and for instruction—so when I find it, it’s nirvana.

Thanks again Therese Fowler. If you liked this guest post, stay tuned for my review of Reunion and a giveaway on May 28.

About the Author:

Therese Fowler has believed in the magic of a good story since she learned to read at the age of four. At age thirty, as a newly single parent, she put herself into college, earning a degree in sociology (and finding her real Mr. Right) before deciding to scratch her longtime fiction-writing itch. That led to an MFA in creative writing, and the composition of stories that explore the nature of our families, our culture, our mistakes, and our desires.

The author of two novels, with a third scheduled for 2010, Therese lives in Wake Forest, NC, with her supportive husband and sons, and two largely indifferent cats. You can visit her website or her blog.

Don’t Forget About These Great Giveaways!

2 copies of The Last Queen by C.W. Gortner, here; Deadline is May 22 at 11:59 PM EST

1 Signed Copy of The Last Prince of the Mexican Empire by C.M. Mayo, here. Deadline is May 30, 2009, 11:59PM EST.

2 copies of The Wonder Singer by George Rabasa, here; Deadline is May 30, 2009, 11:59 PM EST

The Last Queen by C.W. Gortner

Welcome to the Savvy Verse & Wit tour stop for C.W. Gortner’s The Last Queen, which is new in paperback this month.

About the Book:

Daughter of Isabel of Castile and sister of Catherine of Aragon. Married at sixteen and a queen at twenty-five. Declared mad by history. Juana of Castile, the last true queen of Spain. Ruled by her passions, Juana’s arranged marriage to Philip the Fair of Flanders begins as a fairytale romance when despite never having met before their betrothal, they fall violently in love. Juana is never meant to be more than his consort and mother to his heirs until she finds herself heiress to the throne of Spain after tragedy decimates her family. Suddenly she is plunged into a ruthless battle of ambition and treachery, with the future of Spain and her own freedom at stake. Told in Juana’s voice, The Last Queen is a powerful and moving portrait of a woman ahead of her time, a queen fought fiercely for her birthright in the face of an unimaginable betrayal. Juana’s story is one of history’s darkest secrets, brought vividly to life in this exhilarating novel.

C.W. Gortner’s The Last Queen is a roller coaster ride of emotion dramatizing Juana of Castile’s adolescent years, her marriage to a man she doesn’t know, and her return to her homeland. Juana is an impetuous child, independent, passionate, and compassionate. Her passions often lead her astray, cause her to act outside the norms of royal protocol, and jump to conclusions. While history views Juana as loca or mad, Gortner’s dramatization examines possible explanations for her behavior. Juana witnesses the surrender of the Moors and Boabdil at the hands of her mother, Queen Isabel, as Spain reclaimed Granada.

“The lords closed in around him, leading him away. I averted my eyes. I knew that if he’d been victorious he would not have hesitated to order the deaths of my father and my brother, of every noble and soldier on this field. He’d have enslaved my sisters and me, defamed and executed my mother. He and his kind had defiled Spain for too long. At last, our country was united under one throne, one church, one God. I should rejoice in his subjugation.

Yet what I most wanted to do was console him.” (Page 11, in the hardcover)

Shortly after Spain regains its footing, Juana is informed that she must marry the Archduke of Flanders, Philip, a man she was betrothed to and does not know. Juana is adamant that she will not marry this man, until her father treats her as an adult at sixteen and explains the political situation Spain is in and how her marriage to Philip could improve it. While she is young and passionate, she is frightened of the man she will marry and what married life entails. She’s timid and accepting of her new life, which she discovers has more passion than she expected. However, even in this new, passionate existence, she is uneasy with her new role, the new customs she must learn, and the influence her husband’s advisor, Besancon, has over Philip.

“She lay against mounded pillows, her eyes closed. I gazed on her translucent pallor, under which bluish veins and the very structure of her bones could be traced. A linen cap covered her scalp; her features seemed oddly childlike. It took a moment to realize she had no eyebrows. I had never noticed before. She must have had them plucked in her youth; those thin lines I was accustomed to seeing arched in disapproval were, in fact, painted. Her hands rested on her chest. These too I stared at, the fingers long and thin now, without any rings save the ruby signet of Castile, which hung loosely on her right finger. I hadn’t realized how beautiful her hands were, how elegant and marble-smooth, as if made to hold a scepter.

The hands of a queen. My hands.” (Page 201, in the hardcover)

Gortner’s writing easily captures the fears of a young royal as she is shipped off to Flanders to be married. Readers will feel her apprehension and wish her well even as she boldly stares her fate in the eye. As the plot thickens against her and her homeland, Juana is fortified in her resolve and her passion girds her against the obstacles to come. Gortner’s characters are well developed, leaping off the page to battle interlopers, defend their family’s honor, and looking for justice when wrongs are committed by trusted advisors and family members. Readers will curl their toes in anxiety as Juana faces turncoats and ghosts and wish her triumph in the end. Overall, The Last Queen is an exceptionally well-crafted historical novel that will have readers dealing with a range of emotions from sorrow to anger. Gortner excels in building tension and leaving readers exhausted from the ride.

Also Reviewed By:
The Burton Review
Reading Adventures


C.W. Gortner’s fascination with history is a lifetime pursuit. He holds a Masters in Fine Arts in Writing with an emphasis on Renaissance Studies from the New College of California and often travels to research his books. He has experienced life in a medieval Spanish castle and danced a galliard in a Tudor great hall; dug through library archives all over Europe; and tried to see and touch — or, at least, gaze at through impenetrable museum glass — as many artifacts of the era as he can find.

Ballantine Books, an imprint of Random House, publishes The Last Queens in trade paperback on May 5, 2009. A Random House Readers Circle Selection, it features a reading group guide and Q&A with the author. C.W. Gortner is also available for reader group chats by speaker phone or Skype.

Visit the author’s Reading Group information.

He lives in Northern California. You can visit his Website.

***Giveaway Information***

1. 1 entry, comment on my review.

2. 1 entry, comment on this guest post, here.

3. Tell me if you are a follower or follow this blog and tell me for a 3rd entry.

4. Spread the word on your blog, etc., and get a 4th entry.

Deadline May 22, 2009, 11:59 PM EST


***Giveaway Reminders***

1 copy of Rubber Side Down Edited by Jose Gouveia, here; Deadline is May 15 at 11:59 PM EST

The Heart of Writing by Joanna Bloss, co-author of Grit for the Oyster

I would like to welcome Joanna Bloss, one of the authors of Grit for the Oyster, to Savvy Verse & Wit. Thanks to her for taking time out of her busy schedule to speak with us about the heart of writing and the considerations writers must make when seeking publication. Without further ado, here’s her guest post.

Grit for the Oyster is the book we wish we would have had when we launched our writing careers. It is a powerful motivator for aspiring and experienced writers, offering wit, wisdom and inspiration to take that first step and persevere through the writing journey. There are many books that address the mechanics of writing and getting published, but not about the heart of writing.

It would be tough to stick with writing over the long haul if a person didn’t address some of the heart issues…handling rejection, keeping success in perspective, learning how to cope with writerly jealousy. . . these are the things we don’t always talk about, but are as important as some of the technical nuts and blots.

One of the great things about writing this book was being able to take the best of our four brains and put them together to produce a high-quality product. Suzanne drives the train–she birthed the original idea and is the glue that keeps us all together. Suzanne is a go-getter who has had enormous success in her relatively young writing career. Debora is equally successful and is our Energizer bunny. She tirelessly pursues every speaking and writing opportunity she can get her hands on and tackles every project 150%. Faith is our solid, stable foundation. As a writing instructor at Penn State she reads a lot of stuff and her expert eye catches many typos and other technical problems before the rest of us have even had the opportunity to read it through. I am the emotional care-taker and computer savviest of the bunch. I design promotional materials and produce e-newsletters for authors, so these skills have come in enormously handy as we’ve marketed Grit for the Oyster and our personal projects. I might add that it’s also helpful to have someone skilled in word processing and formatting on the team–it really streamlined the production process in the end.

Obviously not every writer has these strengths, nor do we often get the opportunity to collaborate with three other authors on a project, but it’s helpful to be aware of the qualities that make good writing excellent. One thing beginning writers can do is make a list of their strengths and weaknesses.

What things are you excellent at?

Where could you use some help?

Invest your creative energies in the things you do well, and don’t hesitate to set aside some of your budget to hire someone to help you with the areas where you are lacking. Hire an editor to proofread and make suggestions–before you submit that proposal to a publisher. Find someone with technical savvy to help you with layout and design so that your work is properly formatted. If you’re not willing to tirelessly publicize your book after it comes out, be prepared to hire a good publicist. Whether you possess them or not, these qualities are essential to get published in today’s market.

Editors and publishers have had their fill of good writers and don’t hesitate to mail out rejection slips by the ream. What they are looking for is a consummate professional who produces quality material, is willing to learn and work hard to promote their work. The best way to do this is to capitalize on your strengths and collaborate with other professionals who can fill in the gap for your weaknesses.

Thanks once again to Dorothy Thompson at Pump Up Your Book Promotion and Joanna Bloss, co-author of Grit for the Oyster.

Interested in Grit for the Oyster? Want to win a copy?

Feel free to leave a comment on the book review about why you want to read this book or discuss your biggest fears as a blogger and/or writer.

For a second entry, please leave a comment here on this guest post with a working email or blog profile.

Deadline is November 30; Randomizer.org will choose a winner for December 1.

Grit for the Oyster: 250 Pearls of Wisdom for Aspiring Writers

Thanks to the authors–Suzanne Woods Fisher, Debora M. Coty, Faith Tibbetts McDonald, and Joanna Bloss–of Grit for the Oyster: 250 Pearls of Wisdom for Aspiring Writers and Dorothy Thompson at Pump Up Your Book Promotion for sending me this inspirational writing guide for amateur writers.

This book meshes scripture from the Bible with inspirational quotes from published authors and writers as well as questions writers should ask themselves about their own writing and writing careers. I would equate this book to a writer’s devotional. It is broken down into a sometimes personal or inspirational story from the author of each section, a prayer fashioned for writers, a reflection, and a set of quotes from authors, publishers, agents, and others.

There are several references to Anne Lamont, author of Bird by Bird, and other published authors.

A couple of prominent tips in the beginning pages of this book include

1. Outlining the three steps amateur writers can take to become more qualified at their own craft.

2. Seek inspiration in the ordinary world and among ordinary people.

In “No More Detours,” Joanna Bloss has some great tips for writers who have ADD, or the inability to focus on one project at a time. Rather than write like type-A personality writers who have set numbers of words to write per day, Bloss recommends ADD writers work on more than one piece of writing at a time and gradually finishing each one by the deadline. Learn to prepare the writing space first, ridding the atmosphere of noises and tasks that are unfinished. Writers also should remember to connect with other writers and hold one another comfortable. (pg. 29)

Here’s a sample quote from this section from author Kristin Billerbeck:

“Now get busy, go write and quit making excuses. A badly finished manuscript can be fixed. A blank sheet of paper? Not so much.” (pg. 31)

My caveat to this would be that a blank sheet of paper can be remedied as well, you simply have to write!

In “Will Work for Words” by Debora Coty, there is some great advice about writing on a freelance basis for money. I will share this quote with you: “Do not be squelched by low pay rates. View nothing as beneath you, and consider each publishing experience as a step up to the next level.” (pg. 35)

Section one of the book is a vast outline of how to start writing and remain motivated as a beginning writer. For me this section of the book was a bit long, but other writers may need this kind of motivational pep talk. The nuggets of information in this section are helpful for Christian writers as well as those of other faiths.

There are some sections of this book that preached to the reader about the righteous path of writing, which could limit the outreach potential for this book. Writing is a way to express oneself and to say that writing about sex in romance novels is not the right path is to limit that self expression. In this respect, this writer’s guide falls short for me.

However, some of the tips on how to remain motivated and inspired are eye-opening. For instance, Joanna Bloss indicates that some writers are more productive at certain times than others, but what they accomplish in their off-times is as equally important as what they accomplish when their writing productivity is high. Most importantly, Debora Coty suggests each writer take a Cyber Sabbath or time away from writing and the computer to provide balance to his/her life. I agree, without time away, how will you gain perspective on what you’ve already written? How will you have gained new experiences to supplement and breath life into your writing? You can’t. Take a break. Breathe in the fresh air, then get back to work.

Interested in Grit for the Oyster? Want to win a copy? Feel free to leave a comment about this review and why you want to read this book or discuss your biggest fears as a blogger and/or writer. Deadline is November 30; Randomizer.org will choose a winner for December 1.

Check out some announcements I made on Sunday!


Welcome to Savvy Verse & Wit‘s special guest post with J.L. Miles, who will share her writing career experiences. I want to thank J.L. Miles for taking time out of her busy schedule to contribute to my blog as part of her virtual tour with Pump Up Your Book Promotion. Another thank you to Dorothy Thompson for sending along Cold Rock River, J.L. Miles’ latest book, and placing me in contact with J.L. Miles. Okay, without further ado, here is J.L. Miles.

I started my writing career when our children left home and my husband insisted they weren’t coming back unless they needed money. Previously, I wanted to be a movie star, but when the mirror confirmed that my theatrical-clock had not only stopped ticking, it was at the cemetery, I thought writing might be a better choice. While at the dentist waiting on a root canal—never make career decisions while waiting on a man with a knitting needle who intends to stab you in the mouth with it—I picked up a tattered paperback entitled The Writer’s Little Instruction Book.

Spooky! I was merely contemplating the idea of becoming a N.Y. Times bestselling author and the perfect manual appeared. Surely God, his angels, and all the saints were trying to tell me something, right? I didn’t consider that maybe the devil and his deceivers were having a good laugh. The book listed 365 (give or take) secrets for writing and getting published. Perfect! It was an omen. In 365 days I’d be on the bestsellers list. I simply needed to master one little ol’ secret a day. The first one I came across was the key to a successful story.

It was threefold:

1. Get your protagonist up a tree.

2. Put a tiger under the tree.

3. Get your protagonist out of the tree.

Elementary! I was on my way and about to discover secret #2, when the receptionist called my name. It was time for my root canal. Piece of cake—I was on a mission to greatness. Not even that flashing knitting needle held high in Dr.I-Forget-his-name’s hand would stop me now. Four injections (the first three didn’t take), and two hours later I drove home not the least bit interested in the N. Y. Times, its bestsellers list, or who was on it.

Tomorrow, I’d begin the great American novel, the minute my feet hit the floor, the instant my brain met the coffee. However—don’t you hate that word?—I forgot about one character defect I’ve struggled with most of my life: I’m a world class procrastinator. If they ever give out Pulitzer’s on the subject, I’ll be a major contender. Not to say I don’t get things done. I do. But I tend to do them one minute before time’s up.

Procrastination is not a good attribute for an author. All the best books on writing (there are slews of good ones; here are my favorites: Anne Lamott, Elizabeth Berg, Julie Cameron, Stephen King—and Walter Mosely’s brand new contribution), state clearly that writers are to place themselves before the computer (or notepad, or typewriter) at precisely the same time each day for precisely the same amount of pre-determined hours each day (weekends and holiday included), in order to not only hone one’s craft, but to complete the manuscript at hand. Ahhh. . .that might be a problem.

The moment I get out of bed, I tend to explore the world around me and assess the damages, making a list as I go. Stupid little things like, I forgot to do the laundry, again and there’s no clean underwear, the milk’s sour, there’s nothing to eat but cat food, the garbage hasn’t been dragged to the curb in a month, and the refrigerator filter hasn’t been changed since we invaded Iraq. The list grows as I walk from room to room. Are those fur balls under the dining room table really having grandchildren? Can’t be, last week they were barely parents. I climb under to investigate. I meander from room to room, procrastination taking over the morning. I get out the phone book. Surely there’s an organization that can assist me. There has to be. I’m on the verge of being a bestselling author! I need recovery.

The yellow page lists Alcoholics Anonymous, Overeaters Anonymous, Cheaters Anonymous, Kleptomaniacs Anonymous and Sex Addicts Anonymous. There are groups for Obsessive Compulsion Disorder, Attention Deficit Disorder, and Bi-Polar Disorder, but absolutely no procrastinators support group. There must be an organization meeting somewhere. Actually a helpline would be my choice. A number I could call the moment I find no underwear I’m willing to wear or encounter a chore I’m tempted to do—featuring a commanding voice like my mothers that will instruct me to immediately march over to my computer and bolt myself to the chair for a minimum of three hours, and call her in the morning.

I look through the entire collection of yellow pages I’ve amassed, as well as the local newspaper’s classified ads and find nothing to assist me. Obviously, I’m one of a mere handful of major procrastinators in existence. There are simply not enough of us to require a network of supporters. Yikes! I’m on my own. I search the room for answers and spot my computer. It’s waiting, perfectly able to do my bidding. And I only have 364 more secrets to master. Glory be—I’m ready to discover them!

I dash to the computer, sit down triumphantly, and put my hands on the keys. At last! I’m ready to write the great American novel. However—the phone rings. It’s my mother. She’s waiting on me. “Did you forget you need to take me to the dentist?” Ahhh. . .yeh, I did, but I don’t tell her. “I’m on my way!” I say instead. I get up from my computer and grab my car keys.

Tomorrow, I’d begin the great American novel, the minute my feet hit the floor, the instant my brain met the coffee.

About the Author:

J. L. (Jackie Lee) Miles is the author of Cold Rock River, the critically acclaimed Roseflower Creek, and the soon to be released Dwayne Series. Divorcing Dwayne debuts April 2008. Dear Dwayne & Dating Dwayne to follow.

Write to Jackie at [email protected]

Visit the website at http://www.jlmiles.com

***Don’t Forget Today is the last day to enter to win a copy of Scattered Leaves by Richard Roach, leave a comment here and here and you’ll get 2 entries.

Cold Rock River by J.L. Miles

J.L. Miles’ Cold Rock River flows in and out of the past and present of Adie Thacker’s life and occasionally transports the reader into the thicket of plantations and slavery near the time of the Civil War. The reader travels along the current of Cold Rock River and hits some brisk rapids and undercurrents, following Adie on her journey.

When Adie is a child, her family is the picture of happiness, minus the normal angst among siblings and boy troubles. However, one day their family changes irrevocably. Her father drinks himself into a stupor, while her mother withdraws from her children and her husband. Rebecca, Adie’s older sister, falls in love, becomes a mother, and moves out on her own. Clarissa, Rebecca’s twin, is the sweetest of the sisters and wallows in food to shut out the pain. Although this story is about her family and how it evolves after a significant loss, the novel also is about family secrets and how those secrets eat up Adie and the family.

This beautiful image in Chapter Seventeen, page 162, holds a vast symbolic meaning in relation to this family’s struggles and its one of my favorites:

Hog Gap and Cold Rock still had the mountain between them with no road cutting through. The only way to get from one spot to the other was to take the two-lane highway that ran around it. In the distance, Cold Rock Mountain rested like a fat king on his throne. The sides sparkled like jewels as the sun bounced off chunks of granite embedded along the edges.

Another of my favorite passages in this book is in Chapter Three, on page 33-34, shortly after Adie’s mother becomes infatuated with Jackie Kennedy and her husband:

Mama was especially crazy about the pillbox hats Jackie wore. “Not every woman can wear them, you know,” she said. “Takes a certain bone structure.” Whatever type that was, Mama figured she had it. Every one of the dresses she made had its own matching pillbox hat, but they didn’t look much like Jackie’s. Mama used Pa’s baseball caps as a base. She cut the bills off and covered what was left in whatever fabric she was working on at the time.

Adie is a bit tough to take at first with her disjointed narrative, but eventually her ramblings endear her to the reader. She struggles as a new wife and mother, particularly when she realizes her husband, Buck, is not as in love with her as she is with him and that his mother, Verna, has secrets of her own and hopes Adie will fail.

Miles easily weaves in the slave narrative of Tempe Jordan into Adie’s story. Although these stories parallel one another in some ways, the stories shed light on the strength these women share. This is one of those novels that will stay with the reader once the last page is read, and it is now one of my top 5 books from this year.

About Author J.L. Miles:

J.L. Miles, (Jackie Lee) a resident of Georgia for thirty years, hails from Wisconsin via South Dakota. She considers herself “a northern girl with a southern heart”. Miles resides in Atlanta, Georgia, and Cape Canaveral, Florida, along with her husband Robert, where she is a featured speaker at book clubs, local schools, and writer’s workshops.

Check back tomorrow for J.L. Miles’ Guest Post about the Best-Seller Blues.

Thanks you to J.L. Miles for providing me with a copy of her book, and to Dorothy Thompson for allowing me to host this Pump Up Your Book Promotion Tour.

Also Reviewed by:

The Friendly Book Nook