Wednesday, April 23, 2014

The Towers of Tuscany by Carol M. Cram

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆
Read: April 20, 2014

Set amid the twisting streets and sunlit piazzas of medieval Italy, the Towers of Tuscany tells the story of a woman who dares to follow her own path in the all-male domain of the painter’s workshop. Sofia Barducci is born into a world where a woman is only as good as the man who cares for her, but she still claims the right to make her own mistakes. Her first mistake is convincing her father to let her marry Giorgio Carelli, a wealthy saffron merchant in San Gimignano, the Tuscan city of towers. Trained in secret by her father to create the beautifully-crafted panels and altarpieces acclaimed today as masterpieces of late medieval art, Sofia’s desire for freedom from her father’s workshop leads her to betray her passion and sink into a life of loveless drudgery with a husband who comes to despise her when she does not produce a son. In an attack motivated by vendetta, Sofia’s father is crushed by his own fresco, compelling Sofia to act or risk the death of her soul. The choice she makes takes her on a journey from misery to the heights of passion—both as a painter and as a woman. Sofia escapes to Siena where, disguised as a boy, she paints again. When her work attracts the notice of a nobleman who discovers the woman under the dirty smock, Sofia is faced with a choice that nearly destroys her. The Towers of Tuscany unites a strong heroine with meticulously researched settings and compelling characters drawn from the rich tapestry of medieval Italy during one of Europe’s most turbulent centuries. The stylishly written plot is packed with enough twists and turns to keep readers up long past their bedtimes.

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Carol M. Cram's The Towers of Tuscany is a tough book for me to review. It's a nice story, with strong themes and I think it offers interesting insight to the painter's trade, but it is an emotion driven drama which was something of a challenge as I am naturally drawn to conflict based narratives or complex political intrigues. I say this so that readers might understand my point of view and take my rating with a grain of salt. 

My favorite aspect of the piece were the details regarding Sofia's trade. The creation of the panels and frescos, from their earliest design to the mixing of the colors, Cram's illustration of technique captured my imagination and more than once sent me in search of examples from the period. Art is about passion and the intricate details and descriptions found here forced Sofia's enthusiasm and zeal from the page in a display of spirit that even one such as myself couldn't help but appreciate. 

I also liked the depth Cram created within these pages. The flashbacks in particular allow the reader a deep understanding of Sofia's background and experience while adding significant perspective to the decisions she makes later in life. The larger picture develops slowly, but like a painting, the layers build on one another, each added texture and dimension to the finished product. 

The characters themselves didn't speak to me, but that probably has more to do with my background and interests than it does anything else. Again, I have trouble with deeply personal themes and ask that be taken into account when considering this particular review. 

Pleasantly enjoyable and well-researched, The Towers of Tuscany delves into the trials faced by centuries of women as they struggle to be heard in a male dominated society. 

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Her skill with a brush might not be enough. Doubt after doubt roiled through her, weakening her knees, making her want to fall again to the earth, bury her face in the leaves, and pray for death. To go back meant Giorgio and the end of all painting. To go forward might mean imprisonment, even death. 
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Check Out all the Stops on Carol M. Cram's The Towers of Tuscany Virtual Book Tour Schedule


Monday, April 14
Review at Historical Novel Reviews
Tuesday, April 15
Review & Giveaway at Kinx’s Book Nook
Thursday, April 17
Review at Book Lovers Paradise
Review & Giveaway at Peeking Between the Pages
Friday, April 18
Review at A Chick Who Reads
Guest Post & Giveaway at Just One More Chapter
Monday, April 21
Review at CelticLady’s Reviews
Excerpt & Giveaway at So Many Precious Books, So Little Time
Tuesday, April 22
Review at Oh, for the Hook of a Book
Guest Post at Kincavel Korner
Wednesday, April 23
Review at Flashlight Commentary
Interview at Oh, for the Hook of a Book
Thursday, April 24
Review at Svetlana’s Reads and Views
Interview at Flashlight Commentary
Friday, April 25
Review & Giveaway at Words and Peace

Grist by Linda Little

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆
Read: February 19, 2014

Penelope MacLaughlin marries a miller and gradually discovers he is not as she imagined. Nonetheless she remains determined to make the best of life at the lonely mill up the Gunn Brook as she struggles to build a home around her husband’s eccentricities. His increasing absence leaves Penelope to run the mill herself, providing her with a living but also destroying the people she loves most. Penelope struggles with loss and isolation, and suffers the gradual erosion of her sense of self. A series of betrayals leaves her with nothing but the mill and her determination to save her grandchildren from their disturbed father. While she can prepare her grandsons for independence, her granddaughter is too young and so receives the greater gift: the story that made them all.

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Much like Anna Hope's Wake, I found Linda Little's Grist difficult to get into. Harshly emotional and more than a little sobering, I felt like I'd run a marathon by the time I finished the book and was, quite frankly, happy to done with it. I drafted my review soon after, but it languished in my pending folder for weeks before I returned to polish it.

Usually, this is where I reword the entry, format the coding for my blog post, add an image if applicable and check my grammar, but that didn't happen with Grist. Somewhere along the line the themes had settled in and while I still feel it a challenging piece, I found I truly appreciated the ideas and motifs Little worked into the narrative. 

Penelope is dealt a rough hand, but manages it with an atypical sort of strength. She's different, but her subtleties are uniquely attractive. Her husband, when one really considers him, is equally complex despite his dark and ugly nature. Interesting if not admirable, he is as unconventional as his spouse. An antagonist one can despise, but almost understand in his insanity.

The shifting point of view, especially when focused on the supporting cast, was distracting and the pacing left much to be desired, but under that exists something truly special. An enduring message of perseverance, courage and hope in the face of overwhelming heartache and oppression that haunts the reader long after the final page. 

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This is the story of how you were loved. All that came before, all you saw and heard, all you lost and lived without, this will be the truth to carry you, Granddaughter. Your brothers can walk into a world built for men. They will become men with wives to make them kings of their homes and to carry their pain and produce their joys. Truth would only slow them down. But you, my granddaughter, this is yours—the story that made you.
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Check out all the stops on Linda little's Grist VIRTUAL BOOK TOUR 


Monday, April 14
Interview & Giveaway at Passages to the Past
Tuesday, April 15
Review at Reading the Past
Guest Post at Closed the Cover
Wednesday, April 16
Review at Confessions of an Avid Reader
Thursday, April 17
Guest Post & Giveaway at Confessions of an Avid Reader
Friday, April 18
Review & Giveaway at The True Book Addict
Monday, April 21
Review & Giveaway at Peeking Between the Pages
Guest Post & Giveaway at A Bookish Affair
Tuesday, April 22
Review at A Bookish Affair
Wednesday, April 23
Review at Flashlight Commentary
Thursday, April 24
Review at CelticLady’s Reviews
Spotlight & Giveaway at So Many Precious Books, So Little Time
Friday, April 25
Guest Post & Giveaway at Historical Fiction Connection

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Interview with G.K. Holloway, author of 1066: What Fates Impose

Author interviews are one of my favorite things to post which is why I am super excited to welcome author G.K. Holloway to Flashlight Commentary to discuss his latest release, 1066: What Fates Impose. 

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Welcome to Flashlight Commentary. Great to have you with us. To start things off, please tell us a bit about 1066: What Fate Impose.
1066: What Fates Impose is my attempt to explain the demise of Anglo- Saxon England. It’s a fascinating period in history full of court intrigues, papal plots, family feuds and a love triangle, which culminates on a battle field in 1066     

Historically speaking, what research went into 1066: What Fates Impose and did you discover anything particularly surprising while investigating material for the book?
I spent many hours on research for the book, which mainly comprised reading  secondary sources. I did enjoy visiting locations that feature in the book including battlefields, Bosham and also Bayeux, to see the famous tapestry. What I found particularly surprising was just how wealthy, powerful, cultured and democratic, if only in a fledgling kind of way, England was at that time.

You probably have many, but is there a scene that particularly stands out to you?
Oh, that’s a hard one to answer. I’m particularly proud of some of the battle scenes and also the court intrigues and methods of disposing of a rival but there are two scenes in particular I really enjoyed writing and they are; Godwin’s return from exile and his arrival in London. I would love to have been there. But the opening scene where the dying William is confronted by his past, overwhelmed with guilt and filled with fear about his future, which is likely to be in hell, stands out for me.  

What scene posed the greatest challenge for you as an author?
The scene in the mill! Anyone who’s read the book will know exactly what I mean. The Normans went to extremes in the south after they had landed. They were particularly brutal even in a brutal time and I attempted to distill their savagery and the consequences for the native population in to one scene. The idea was that the reader would be informed as to exactly what the English had to fear and why Harold felt he needed to act so urgently.

What would you say is the central theme of the novel?
How much are we in control of our own destinies? 

Sometimes fiction takes on a life of its own and forces the author to make sacrifices for the sake of the story. Is there a character or concept you wish you could have spent more time with or expanded on?
All of them really! There is a lot of historical fact to deal with so I felt inclined to deal with the major players but because of the constraints some characters, two of Harold’s brothers in particular, haven’t had the exposure they deserve.  

Historical novelists frequently have to adjustment facts to make their stories work. Did you have to invent or change anything while writing 1066: What Fates Impose and if so, what did you alter and why? 
There is surprisingly little invention in the novel. The era is an absolute gift to novelists. I am amazed there aren’t as many books about the period as there are about the Tudors for instance. In Queen Elizabeth’s time there was the fear of The Spanish Armada. In 1066 there were two armadas! Henry VIII made an enemy of the Pope, so did Harold, albeit for different reasons. In Tudor times political intrigue was rife, the same was true in Anglo Saxon England. There is just so much going on I didn’t need to make much up – there’s even a comet appearing in the sky at exactly the right moment. What more could anyone possibly want?

If you could sit down and talk with one of your characters, maybe meet and discuss things over drinks, who would you choose and why?
King Harold would be my first choice. There are millions of questions I’d love to ask him especially the decisions he made in those few weeks in the autumn of 1066. The decisions he made then were crucial to his and England’s survival. History could have been so different. You didn’t specify when I would meet one of my characters. I’ve taken the liberty of assuming you meant going back to their time era. In which case there might even be the opportunity to offer Harold some advice – who knows what the consequences of that might be?  

What do you hope readers take away from their experience with your novel?
At the risk of sounding pretentious, if they had a clearer idea about how much they control their destinies that would be great. But if at least they enjoy a stomping good read and feel more informed about a major historical event then I’d be very happy about that. Finally, if they just managed to escape the troubles and pressures of their own lives for a few hours, I’d be happy with that, too. 

Authors are famous, or infamous depending on your point of view, for writing their own experiences, friends and acquaintances into their narratives. Is there anything in 1066: What Fates Impose that sprung directly from your personal history? 
Some of the characters in the book are based on people I know or used to know, including a murderer. I won’t say which character is based on what friend for obvious reasons but as I was writing about a character an image would appear in my mind’s eye. On another level, every year in a place called Abbotts Bromley there is a horn Dance. It lasts all day and involves a group of about a dozen men parading about the village and surrounding area with deer antlers on their heads, a hobby horse rider and a man with a pig’s bladder on a stick hitting maidens on the head to make them pregnant. The antlers used are used once a year for this purpose only. They have been dated to pre-1066. This ritual was written into the novel. 

Okay, we've talked a lot about your book. Let's switch gears and talk a little bit about you. How would describe your writing process?
Chaotic; a kind of controlled anarchy. I had quite a good idea of what I wanted to do, where I wanted to start and end. I also had pretty firm ideas about which characters would appear in the novel. The thing is, as I learned more about the period ideas would come into my head, including in dreams, and so I would write them into the book. I honestly think, if it wasn’t for computers and the flexibility they give you, I’d never have finished.  

Two words: writer's block. How do you deal with it? 
Go for a walk. That sounds trite, I know, but I live in a particularly beautiful part of Bristol with easy access to Durdham Downs. It takes an hour at most to complete a circuit, so on those rare occasions when I get stuck, I take a walk I don’t know if it’s the rhythm of walking that frees the imagination or the fresh air that gets the creative juices flowing but it works for me.

Who are your favorite authors? 
Richard Ford, William Boyd, Ian McEwan, Pat Barker, Barbara Tuchman, Cormac McCarthy, Carlos Ruiz Zafon, George Orwell – to name but a few.

What are you currently reading?
All Hell Let Loose by Max Hastings. I’m finding it totally engrossing. It’s a comprehensive history of the Second World War. He manages to discuss the strategy of high command and the experiences of the common soldier or some innocent civilian with consummate ease.

What do you like to do when you're not writing? Any hobbies?
I love music, photography, reading, walking, travel and generally pottering about.

Where do you stand on the coffee or tea debate? 
I don’t stand anywhere; I sit on the fence. I drink coffee in the morning and tea in the afternoon.

And finally, what's next for you? Do you have a new project in the works? Planning a vacation? Anything exciting and/or noteworthy? 
I’m 56,000 words into the sequel to 1066 which I’m already looking forward to publishing. As for vacations, I’ve recently returned from a long weekend in Iceland which I think is one of the most amazing places I’ve ever seen. I’m also arranging a surprise holiday in November to celebrate my wife’s birthday. She knows we’re going away but doesn’t know where we’re going. I only hope it lives up to Iceland.

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I have been interested in history since I was a boy, which I suppose explains why, when I came across a degree course in History and Politics at Coventry University that looked tailor made for me, I applied right away.

In my first year at Coventry I lived in the halls of residence within a stone’s throw of the Leofric Hotel. In the opposite direction, just a short walk from my halls, is the bell tower that houses a clock, which when its bell chimes the hour, produces a half size model of naked Lady Godiva riding a horse for the titillation of tourists. Above her, Peeping Tom leans out of a window for a better view. In all of the three years I was there, it never once occurred to me that I would one day write a book featuring Earl Leofric and his famous wife, as key players.

After graduating I spent a year in Canada before I returned to England to train as a Careers Officer in Bristol. Later, I lived and worked in Gloucestershire as a Careers Officer and then in Adult Education as an Education Guidance worker.

After I met my wife, I moved back to Bristol to live and I worked at Bath Spa University as a Student Welfare Officer for a number of years. It was about this time I read a biography about King Harold II which fascinated me so much I read more and more about the man and the times. I found the whole pre-conquest period of England so interesting I couldn’t understand why no one had written a novel about it. So, I decided to write one myself. Now, after many years of study and time spent over a hot keyboard, I have finally produced thatnovel.

1066: What Fates Impose is the result of all that study and hard work and is the first book I’ve written. I am now working on a sequel.


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Format: Paperback & eBook
Publication Date: Date: March 4, 2013
Released by: Matador Publishing
Length: 288 pages
ISBN: 9781783062201
Genre: Historical Fiction

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CHECK OUT ALL THE STOPS ON G.K. Holloway's 1066: What fates impose virtual book tour


Tuesday, April 15
Let Them Read Books
Friday, April 18
Time 2 Read
Monday, April 21
Flashlight Commentary (Review)
Tuesday, April 22
Broken Teepee (Review & Giveaway)
Flashlight Commentary (Interview)
Wednesday, April 23
Oh, for the Hook of a Book (Review)
Thursday, April 24
Reading the Ages
Oh, for the Hook of a Book (Interview)
Friday, April 25
Impressions in Ink (Review)
Monday, April 28
Just One More Chapter
Kinx’s Book Nook (Review)
Wednesday, April 30
Historical Tapestry (Review)
Thursday, May 1
Caroline Wilson Writes

Monday, April 21, 2014

1066: What Fates Impose by G.K. Holloway

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
Read: March 19, 2014

King William then utters the following words to the room: ‘I appoint no one as my heir to the Crown of England, but leave it to the disposal of the Eternal Creator, whose I am and who orders all things. For I did not attain that high honour by hereditary right, but wrested it from the perjured King Harold in a desperate bloody battle.’ England is in crisis. King Edward has no heir and promises never to produce one. There are no obvious successors available to replace him, but quite a few claimants are eager to take the crown. While power struggles break out between the various factions at court, enemies abroad plot to make England their own. There are raids across the borders with Wales and Scotland. Harold Godwinson, Earl of Wessex, is seen by many as the one man who can bring stability to the kingdom. He has powerful friends and two women who love him, but he has enemies will stop at nothing to gain power. As 1066 begins, England heads for an uncertain future. It seems even the heavens are against Harold. Intelligent and courageous, can Harold forge his own destiny – or does he have to bow to what fates impose?

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G. K. Holloway's 1066: What Fates Impose was a difficult book for me to get into, but once I did, the volume was impossible to put down.

Holloway's interpretation of Harold Godwinson is truly magnificent. I've seen the last Anglo-Saxon King of England depicted in fiction before, but nothing I've encountered compares to the multifaceted figure seen here. Being a fictional account, one cannot take Holloway's characterization as fact, but there is something very sympathetic and profound in his portrait of this oft overlooked monarch. 

Politically, some readers might find Holloway's work heavy-handed, but being familiar with the period, I actually found the story well-rounded and satisfying. His description of the years just prior to the Battle of Hastings add depth to the conflict, giving the reader a genuine sense of the era and better understanding of the campaign.

A word of warning friends, 1066: What Fates Impose isn't for the faint of heart. This isn't a historical romance in which the nastier cast members earn their comeuppance. This is hard hitting historic fiction. Bloody and unapologetic, Holloway recreates the brutal realities of the eleventh century within these pages and though I personally value the authenticity this piece, I wouldn't want to mislead anyone with my praise.

An authoritative and original fiction, 1066: What Fates Impose is a gripping tale of rivalry, ambition and deceit. Highly recommended. 

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‘You can tell Duke William that whatever either of us thought at the time, no one has the right to promise a crown, not even the King.’
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CHECK OUT ALL THE STOPS ON G.K. Holloway's 1066: What fates impose virtual book tour


Tuesday, April 15
Let Them Read Books
Friday, April 18
Time 2 Read
Monday, April 21
Flashlight Commentary (Review)
Tuesday, April 22
Broken Teepee (Review & Giveaway)
Flashlight Commentary (Interview)
Wednesday, April 23
Oh, for the Hook of a Book (Review)
Thursday, April 24
Reading the Ages
Oh, for the Hook of a Book (Interview)
Friday, April 25
Impressions in Ink (Review)
Monday, April 28
Just One More Chapter
Kinx’s Book Nook (Review)
Wednesday, April 30
Historical Tapestry (Review)
Thursday, May 1
Caroline Wilson Writes

Spotlight & Giveaway: Blackwell's Paradise by V.E. Ulett

Flashlight Commentary and Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tours are pleased to celebrate the release of V.E. Ulett's Blackwell's Paradise!

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Relive the pleasure of falling into the past with the author of Captain Blackwell’s Prize, in Volume II of Blackwell’s Adventures.

The repercussions of a court martial and the ill-will of powerful men at the Admiralty pursue Royal Navy captain James Blackwell into the Pacific, where danger lurks around every coral reef. Even if Captain Blackwell and Mercedes survive the venture into the world of early nineteenth century exploration, can they emerge unchanged with their love intact. The mission to the Great South Sea will test their loyalties and strength, and define the characters of Captain Blackwell and his lady in Blackwell’s Paradise.


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PRAISE FOR BLACKWELL'S PARADISE

“Not for the faint hearted – Captain Blackwell pulls no punches! Prepare for a right roaring romp in the company of two of the most captivating characters in historical fiction.” – Alaric Bond, author of Turn A Blind Eye, and the Fighting Sail Series

"This is a fantastic series when you're looking to just get lost in an adventure!" - Meg, A Bookish Affair

"In parallel stories, Ulett captures the wild life among battling Hawaiian kingdoms, as well as the early settlement of Honolulu, where fur traders, whalers and the naval ships of several nations all compete for trade with the islands. Blackwell and Mercedes, individually and together, are well drawn and fascinating characters on both the familiar surroundings of a Royal Navy ship and the more exotic environs of the Sandwich Islands. Great fun. Highly recommended." - Rick Spillman, Goodreads Reviewer

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A long time resident of California, V.E. Ulett is an avid reader as well as writer of historical fiction.

Proud to be an Old Salt Press author, V.E. is also a member of the National Books Critics Circle and an active member and reviewer for the Historical Novel Society.

As the long war in Europe comes to its conclusion, so does Captain Blackwell’s career in the Royal Navy in BLACKWELLS’ HOMECOMING, a story of the dangers and rewards of desire.




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Format: Paperback & ebook
Publication Date: January 8, 2014
Released by: Old Salt Press LLC
Length: 300 pages
ASIN: B00H8FQQIK
Genre: Historical Adventure/Naval HF
Series: Blackwell’s Adventures, Volume II


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ENTER TO WIN A COPY OF V.E. ULETT'S BLACKWELL'S PARADISE

Giveaway is open to US and Canadian residents only.
Giveaway ends at 11:59pm on April 30th. You must be 18 or older to enter.
Winners will be chosen via Rafflecopter on May 1st and notified via email.
Winners have 48 hours to claim prize or new winner is chosen.


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