Sunday, March 30, 2014

Interview with Rachel L. Demeter, author of The Frost of Springtime

Author interviews are one of my favorite things to post which is why I am super excited to welcome author Rachel L. Demeter to Flashlight Commentary to discuss her debut release, The Frost of Springtime.

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Welcome to Flashlight Commentary, Rachel. To start things off, please tell us a bit about The Frost of Springtime.
Hi, Erin! Thank you so much for having me. I’m thrilled to be here! Well, The Frost of Springtime was borne from my love of French history and unconventional romances. Writing this story was an intensely emotional experience. I hold a special affinity for edgy romances and tortured protagonists … and Aleksender de Lefèvre is very much a wounded soul. Severely scarred inside and out, his twisted past and the horrors of the battlefield have hardened his heart–and Sofia’s love and compassion presents the ideal counterpoint to his darkness. Like Aleksender, she suffers from a tragic, ill-fated past. I have always been fascinated by the darker facets of love, and this served as a central inspiration. I had yearned to create a pair of star-crossed lovers whose deep affection for each other could triumph over seemingly impossible odds. Aleksender and Sofia are two flawed characters who are made perfect only through their love.

Nineteenth century France has always been a dear passion of mine, and, after some research, I quickly knew it would be the ideal setting for Aleksender and Sofia. It was a time of conflict, political intrigue, art, and romance. I grew up on Paris-set musicals, such as Les Misérables and The Phantom of the Opera—and they continue to inspire my imagination and characters. After researching the Paris Commune of 1871, I molded the era into a dynamic backdrop for Aleksender and Sofia’s love story to take place. In the process, I learned more than I could’ve ever imagined about the period. Quite simply, I fell head over heels in love with France.

The book was inspired by the Commune of Paris. What drew you to this particular event and why did you feel it an opportune backdrop for your first fiction novel?
While I was researching French history, I stumbled upon The Paris Commune and was utterly shocked by how the “Bloody Week” has almost been swept under the rug, so to speak. I was fascinated by the moral ambiguity in regards to both parties (the Communards, who really did execute hostages), and then of course, the army of Versailles (who executed thousands of citizens in hopes to retain peace). I also was fascinated by the ways in which the Reign of Terror impacted the Commune/army's decisions, mindsets and actions. In addition, little details called out to my muse—the underground Commuanrd's road inside the catacombs (couldn't resist the Gothic touch), the destruction of the column and everything such a thing represented ... and the abruptness through which everything went down.

Aleksender and Sofia live in the nineteenth century which presents a challenge in and of itself, but they also inhabit a city that is more than five and a half thousand miles from your home in Southern California. I'm curious, how did you approach bridging the gap in time and geography while crafting their story? 
I managed to get my hands on some AMAZING primary sources, including a couple diary entries from actual participants in the Commune and a stash of newspaper articles . Hopefully these accounts added a layer of authenticity to the story. But years of research and dedication to my characters more or less bridged the time and geography difference. People are people no matter what time they live in. Sure, they may dress differently, or speak in a different manner… but basic, human emotion never really changes. 

You probably have many, but is there a scene you particularly enjoyed writing?
The scenes I usually enjoy writing most are the ones with the highest emotional stakes. Without giving away spoilers, I’d say that some of Aleksender’s “healing” moments as well as the love scene were amongst my favorites to write.

What scene posed the greatest challenge for you as an author?
Again, I’d have to go with the love scene; indeed, Aleksender and Sofia’s consummation proved to be both the most enjoyable and most challenging. For one, when it comes to THE love scene, there are a lot of expectations to live up to—readers often wait for that moment for countless chapters. Talk about needing to pay something off! Sexual scenes also contain a great deal of emotional significance as well as sufficient choreography. 

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 in The Frost of Springtime you wish you could have spent more time with or expanded on? 
I would have liked to include a couple scenes between Elizabeth and Sofia. However, since the “married hero” is a bit of a convention bender in itself, for a debut novel, it’s probably better I didn’t overdo the interactions between Elizabeth and Sofia overly much. 

Historical novelists frequently have to adjustment facts to make their stories work. Did you have to invent or change anything while writing The Frost of Springtime and if so, what did you alter and why? 
Yes, a couple facts were altered to better suit the characters and story—though I tried to stay as accurate as possible. One of the most significant (and probably obvious) additions is Christophe’s involvement in the Commune. He’s a purely fictional character. A few of the settings were fictional as well, such as Café Roux and the convent house. Another change that comes to mind: the hostages of the Commune were executed by a firing squad against a wall, rather than decapitated underground in the catacombs. I made this alteration for the sake of increased drama, as well as the effect it had on the plot points/characterizations. 

If you could sit down with one of your characters, maybe meet for a few hours and discuss things over drinks, who would you choose?
This may be surprising, but I’d choose Christophe. He’s got a wicked sense of humor… plus, I’d like the opportunity to talk some sense into him… 

Where did the title of your book come from and how does it relate to the story? 
“The Frost of Springtime” is supposed to symbolize polar opposites. This is a reoccurring theme throughout the book and characterizations, as well as a constant obstacle between Alek and Sofia. Light often exists within the dark, good within the bad, pain within pleasure, and happiness within sorrow. This concept further extends to the story and setting, which occurs during the springtime. The “frost” represents the war and Paris’s destruction. 

What do you hope readers come away with after reading your work?
My dream is to move readers with my words—so I hope they are emotionally affected in some way.  Also, it’d be awesome if the book generates interest in the Paris Commune of 1871—a vastly overlooked, yet historically devastating event. 

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? 
I’m a HUGE planner/plotter—almost compulsively so. I use Evernote for all of my research, and set a writing/word count goal for each day. I also try to read as much as I can—especially during the rewrite process. I’ve uploaded many of my personal diagrams, character/story sheets, and plot guides on my website. Feel free to use them as you see fit. 

Two words: writer's block. How do you deal with it? 
Heh, it’s funny—I actually have a post-it hanging off my monitor which reads: 

- Read
- Write scene by hand
- Listen to music
- Watch something inspiring 
- Draft out character’s emotions/needs” 

But at the end of the day, writer’s block happens to the best of us. My best advice? Keep writing! Remember: the enemy is not the badly written page… it’s the empty page!

Who are your favorite authors? 
Let’s see! Gaelen Foley, Judith McNaught, Lisa Kleypas, Kathleen E. Woodwiss, George R. R. Martin, Stephen King, Julie Garwood ... and the list goes on and on! 

What are you currently reading? 
I’m actually about to start Archer’s Voice, as recommended by my dear friend Julia over at Diva’s Book Blog.

What do you like to do when you're not writing? Any hobbies?
Certainly! I love to spend time with my high school sweetheart of eleven years and my silly Polish lowland sheepdog. Aside from writing novels, my other interests and hobbies include: studying history (especially 19th century France and the Middle Ages), reading (any and all genres), singing, cooking, health and fitness, playing the violin, videogames (yep, I’m a bit of a nerd at heart), filmmaking, loyally following television shows (Game of Thrones, woot!), philosophy, animals, and softball. 

Where do you stand on the coffee or tea debate? 
I prefer the taste of coffee—though I do try to keep my distance, just in case that old stunting myth rings true! I’m only 5’1!

And finally, what's next for you? Do you have a new project in the works? Planning a vacation? Anything exciting and/or noteworthy? 
Yes—I’m thrilled to say that I have several novels lined up, including an edgy historical romance set during the Napoleonic Wars, a historical romance/horror hybrid set in an Victorian asylum, a medieval historical romance, and as well as a few contemporary romances and a horror. I’m also very excited to be starting graduate school soon, where I’ll be pursuing my Masters in Teaching!

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Rachel L. Demeter lives in the beautiful hills of Anaheim, California with Teddy, her goofy lowland sheepdog, and high school sweetheart of ten years. She enjoys writing dark, edgy romances that challenge the reader’s emotions and examine the redeeming power of love.

Imagining stories and characters has been Rachel’s passion for longer than she can remember. Before learning how to read or write, she would dictate stories while her mom would jot them down for her. She has a special affinity for the tortured hero and unconventional romances. Whether sculpting the protagonist or antagonist, she always ensures that every character is given a soul.

Rachel strives to intricately blend elements of romance, suspense, and horror. Some common themes her stories never stray too far from: forbidden romance, soul mates, the power of love to redeem, mend all wounds, and triumph over darkness.

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Format: Paperback & Kindle eBook
Publication Date: February 14, 2014
Released by: Black Lyon Publishing
Length: 286 pages
ISBN-13: 978-1934912614
Genre: Historical Romance/Historical Fiction

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Saturday, March 29, 2014

The Red Lily Crown: A Novel of Medici Florence by Elizabeth Loupas

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★
Obtained from: Netgalley
Read: March 25, 2014

April, 1574, Florence, Italy. Grand Duke Cosimo de’ Medici lies dying. The city is paralyzed with dread, for the next man to wear the red lily crown will be Prince Francesco: despotic, dangerous, and obsessed with alchemy. Chiara Nerini, the troubled daughter of an anti-Medici bookseller, sets out to save her starving family by selling her dead father’s rare alchemical equipment to the prince. Instead she is trapped in his household—imprisoned and forcibly initiated as a virgin acolyte in Francesco’s quest for power and immortality. Undaunted, she seizes her chance to pursue undreamed-of power of her own. Witness to sensuous intrigues and brutal murder plots, Chiara seeks a safe path through the labyrinth of Medici tyranny and deception. Beside her walks the prince’s mysterious English alchemist Ruanno, her friend and teacher, driven by his own dark goals. Can Chiara trust him to keep her secrets…even to love her…or will he prove to be her most treacherous enemy of all?

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Francesco de' Medici
Note to self: When Kate Quinn recommends a book, don't wait to read it. 

It sounds like a sales pitch, but I'm not exaggerating. Kate told me I'd love The Red Lily Crown when I first received it, but I took time to finish six other titles before really delving into Elizabeth Loupas' third release. Looking back I could kick myself for the delay because Kate was right. I absolutely loved this book. 

Loupas' depiction of sixteenth century Tuscany is radiantly atmospheric. Jumping from the page, the city comes to life with as much character and personality as the people who walk her streets.  

Loupas' portrait of the Medici court is another noteworthy aspect of her work. Not to gush, but Loupas' depiction is treacherous, duplicitous, and refreshingly original. Intrigue among the ruling class is a popular backdrop for historic fiction, but few authors put this much effort into recreating the rhythms and idiosyncrasies of the political climate under any particular ruler. 

Chiara's relationship with Ruan added nice contrast to the story. Developing over several years, the reader is able to see it mature in unique ways despite the differences in their age, motivations and perception of alchemical arts. 

I was also struck by Loupas' characterization of the Medici family. Joanna's genuine earnestness and gentle grace make the Grand Duchess of Tuscany a welcome source of compassion in her husband's notoriously lethal household and a poignant foil for Francesco's disturbingly malevolent mistress. Ambitious, jealous and self-serving, Bianca Capello's evil nature is matched only by her blind devotion to her brutally apathetic, manipulative, and ruthless lover.

My only quibble with the piece is Loupas' tendency to repeat phrasing. In context, the decision makes perfect sense, but as a reader I found the reiteration of remembered conversations slightly irritating. 

That said, I can't recommend the book highly enough.  Loupas' labyrinthine plot twists kept me guessing, creating a deliciously addicting sense of uncertainty and a desperate desire to see how Chiara's story would unfold. Chock full of political power struggles, violence and romance, The Red Lily Crown was thoroughly enjoyable cover to cover.

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Nothing will ever go back the way it was, Babbo’s voice whispered gleefully. Remember the labyrinth on that silver descensory? You’re trapped in the labyrinth of the Medici, and you’ll never escape. Never in this life, or in any other.
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Louisa Catherine: The Other Mrs. Adams by Margery M. Heffron

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆
Obtained from: Netgalley
Read: March 28, 2014

Louisa Catherine Johnson Adams, wife and political partner of John Quincy Adams, became one of the most widely known women in America when her husband assumed office as sixth president in 1825. Shrewd, intellectual, and articulate, she was close to the center of American power over many decades, and extensive archives reveal her as an unparalleled observer of the politics, personalities, and issues of her day. Louisa left behind a trove of journals, essays, letters, and other writings, yet no biographer has mined these riches until now. Margery Heffron brings Louisa out of the shadows at last to offer the first full and nuanced portrait of an extraordinary first lady. The book begins with Louisa’s early life in London and Nantes, France, then details her excruciatingly awkward courtship and engagement to John Quincy, her famous diplomatic success in tsarist Russia, her life as a mother, years abroad as the wife of a distinguished diplomat, and finally the Washington, D.C., era when, as a legendary hostess, she made no small contribution to her husband’s successful bid for the White House. Louisa’s sharp insights as a tireless recorder provide a fresh view of early American democratic society, presidential politics and elections, and indeed every important political and social issue of her time.

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Portrait of Louisa Catherine Adams
by Charles Bird King
There are exceptions, but generally speaking America's first families don't hold much appeal for me. I know about them, but I don't study them the way I do the ruling houses of Europe so even I was a bit surprised at my opting to read Margery Heffron's Louisa Catherine. 

Being new to the material I had little idea what I'd find within these pages, but looking back I can't say I'm disappointed with the time I spent reading about America's only foreign-born first lady. 

I didn't much care for Heffron's depiction of Louisa's childhood, but round about chapter four, when Louisa is being courted by John, the book developed a much more interesting tone. 

In particular, I liked Heffron's examination of the marriage between Louisa Catherine and John Quincy. The dynamics of their relationship are intricate and at time baffling, but the portrait she creates put some very interesting perspective on Louisa's role in his political career. 

The text itself can be a bit dry, but the material in and of itself makes Heffron's biography worth looking into. 

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Theirs was not a match made in heaven. Highly sensitive, quick- tempered, and prone to self- doubt and depression, Louisa and John Quincy mirrored and reinforced the other’s least attractive and most vulnerable characteristics. The exceptional strengths they shared—intelligence, ambition, courage in adversity—would be critical to a marital bond lasting more than fifty years but did little to ease their path through an excruciatingly painful courtship and engagement period.
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Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Interview with J.R. Tomlin, author of A King Ensnared

Author interviews are one of my favorite things to post which is why I am super excited to welcome author J.R. Tomlin to Flashlight Commentary to discuss her newest release, A King Ensnared.

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Welcome to Flashlight Commentary. It's great to have you with us. To start things off, please tell us a bit about A King Ensnared.
On the dangerous stage of medieval Scotland, one man–in an English dungeon–stands between the Scots and anarchy. Robert III, King of the Scots, is dead, and Scotland in 1406 is balanced on a knife’s edge. As he eyes the throne, King Robert’s ruthless half-brother, the Duke of Albany, has already murdered one prince and readies to kill young James Stewart, prince and heir to the crown. James flees Scotland and his murderous uncle. Captured and imprisoned by the English, he grows to be a man of contradictions, a poet yet a knight, a dreamer yet fiercely driven. Hardened by his years in the Tower of London and haunted by his brother’s brutal murder, James is determined to find some way to recover his crown and end his uncle’s misrule. But the only way may be to betray Scotland and everything he believes in.

Where did the idea for this story originate?
No modern novel had really tackled King James I of Scotland Scotland (not to be confused with King James I of England), and it was a story I wanted to read. So I wrote it. I think he is a fascinating character. The period was full of conflict, war, and intrigue which makes it a great setting.

Do you have a favorite scene in the novel? What scene posed the greatest challenge for you as an author? 
My favorite may well be a scene that was the most challenging to write. It was based on a scene described in his own great poem, The Kingis Quair . The scene involved several interesting tasks such as trying to translate a passage of his verse into English modern enough to be understandable to my reader without losing the feel of the medieval Scots it was written in and at the same time depicting the events he described in my own narrative. And since it was an immensely emotional scene, I also had to invest the emotion in it.

It was the first time he saw the woman who became his wife and queen and his immediately becoming deeply infatuated with her.

James Stewart is a well-known historic figure. How did you approach characterizing him within your novel and how do you hope he comes across to your readers?
That's an interesting observation because I don't consider King James to be particularly well known outside of Scotland. He was a complex man, military leader and poet, deeply romantic but he could also be stubborn and ruthless. I hope that his complexity comes across.   

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? 
Oh, definitely. There are intriguing characters who are given barely a mention because they don't fit into the thrust of the plot. I would have loved to have spent more time on Bishop Wardlaw or the Earl of Orkney. It just wasn't possible.

Historical novelists frequently have to adjustment facts to make their stories work. Did you have to invent or change anything while writing A King Ensnared and if so, what did you alter and why? 
I try to avoid that as much as possible. The closest I came was combining a couple of separate events which occurred in a fairly short time period into one scene. My own theory of writing historical fiction is that the fiction has to be wrapped around the events of history, not the other way around.

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 A King Ensnared that sprung directly from your personal history?
Only in that the people of history are just people, so I bring my knowledge of how people relate to my historical characters, but I never base a character on one particular person. They are always a mix of various people I've known or some part of my own personality.

You live in Oregon. How did you an as author bridge the gap in time and geography while writing A King Ensnared? 
I spent a good part of my childhood in Scotland. I consider it my first home, so there really for me isn't a gap of geography. England is harder for me, and a lot of A King Ensnared is set in England. I haven't spent much time there so that was challenging. I had to do a lot of research on locations.

As far as the gap in time, my daughter once complained that I forgot the date of her birthday but not the date of the Battle of Bannockburn. I have immersed myself so much in medieval life that I think could go there and pass for a native.  Writing historical fiction is my time machine.

What do you hope reader's come away with after reading your work? 
If they feel as though they shared the events of the story with the characters and come away caring about them, then I've done my job.

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? 
There is a rather famous quote about writing: “You simply sit down at the typewriter, open your veins, and bleed.”

For me, it's bleeding drop by drop because I am a rather slow and meticulous writer, or I try for meticulous at any rate. I write in the afternoons and at night because mornings are for staring into space over a cup of coffee, and I try for at least 1000 words a day, although I don't always succeed.

Two words: writer's block. How do you deal with it? 
I believe in forcing the words even if you think they are bad. Writing is a job, like any other. Bankers show up whether they have 'banker's block' or not, and I don't think writers should get a pass.

Who are your favorite authors?
I have pretty eclectic tastes in reading. I love Alexandre Dumas, le pere, and Victor Hugo and Shakespeare and Robert Burns and Bernard Cornwell and G.R.R. Martin. I also read huge amounts of non-fiction.

What are you currently reading?
I'm in the middle of reading journalist Lesley Riddoch's hard-hitting Blossom: What Scotland Needs to Flourish, a fascinating contribution to the present constitutional debate in that country.

What do you do when you aren't writing? Any hobbies? 
When it isn't raining, a rare event in Portland, I like hiking. Obviously, I do a lot of reading and I'm very much a computer gamer with a semi-addiction to games like Dragon Age and The Elder Scrolls.

Assuming you weren't an author, what careers might you have found appealing? 
I can't imagine not writing for a living at least non-fiction or journalism which I have also done. Maybe I could take up panhandling as an alternative.

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 working on the sequel to A King Ensnared and hope to have it out in about two months. Then I am thinking of trying a new historical fiction sub-genre and writing a historical mystery which will be quite a change for me.

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J. R. Tomlin is the author of five historical novels: A King Ensnared, Freedom’s Sword, A Kingdom’s Cost, Countenance of War, and Not for Glory. She has also co-authored several fantasies with C. R. Daems: Blood Duty, Talon of the Unnamed Goddess, The Shadow Ryana, The Shadow Gypsy, and Women of Power.

She has close ties with Scotland since her father was a native Scot, and she spent substantial time in Edinburgh whilst growing up. Her historical novels are set in Scotland. You can trace her love of that nation to the stories of the Bruce and the Good Sir James her grandmother read her when she was small and to her hillwalking through the Cairngorms where the granite hills have a gorgeous red glow under the setting sun. Later, her writing was influenced by the work of authors such as Alexander Dumas, Victor Hugo and of G.R.R. Tolkien.

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Format: Paperback
Publication Date: November 22, 2013
Released by: CreateSpace
Length: 244 pages
ISBN-10: 1493786598
Genre: Historical Fiction

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Check out all the stops on J.R. Tomlin's A King Ensnared VIRTUAL BOOK TOUR

Monday, March 24
Review at Flashlight Commentary
Spotlight & Giveaway at HF Book Muse-News
Tuesday, March 25
Interview at Flashlight Commentary
Wednesday, March 26
Review at Historical Tapestry
Review at Historical Fiction Obsession
Spotlight & Giveaway at Passages to the Past
Thursday, March 27
Review at Confessions of an Avid Reader
Guest Post & Giveaway at Historical Tapestry
Guest Post & Giveaway at Let Them Read Books
Friday, March 28
Interview at Confessions of an Avid Reader
Guest Post & Giveaway at Historical Fiction Connection

Chateau of Secrets by Melanie Dobson

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★
Obtained from: Netgalley
Read: March 17, 2014

A courageous young noblewoman risks her life to hide French resistance fighters; seventy years later, her granddaughter visits the family’s abandoned chateau and uncovers shocking secrets from the past.Gisèle Duchant guards a secret that could cost her life. Tunnels snake through the hill under her family’s medieval chateau in Normandy. Now, with Hitler’s army bearing down, her brother and several friends are hiding in the tunnels, resisting the German occupation of France. But when German soldiers take over the family’s château, Gisèle is forced to host them as well—while harboring the resistance fighters right below their feet. Taking in a Jewish friend’s baby, she convinces the Nazis that it is her child, ultimately risking everything for the future of the child. When the German officers begin to suspect her deception, an unlikely hero rescues both her and the child. A present day story weaves through the past one as Chloe Salvare, Gisèle’s granddaughter, arrives in Normandy. After calling off her engagement with a political candidate, Chloe pays a visit to the chateau to escape publicity and work with a documentary filmmaker, Riley, who has uncovered a fascinating story about Jews serving in Hitler’s army. Riley wants to research Chloe’s family history and the lives that were saved in the tunnels under their house in Normandy. Chloe is floored—her family isn’t Jewish, for one thing, and she doesn’t know anything about tunnels or the history of the house. But as she begins to explore the dark and winding passageways beneath the chateau, nothing can prepare her for the shock of what she and Riley discover... With emotion and intrigue, Melanie Dobson brings World War II France to life in this beautiful novel about war, family, sacrifice, and the secrets of the past.

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Want to know something funny? I don't really want to write this review. I don't want to write it because once I put down my thoughts, I'll have to say goodbye and Melanie Dobson's Chateau of Secrets is the kind of story I hate to let go of.

I suppose the most amazing thing about the novel is that both story lines - Chloe's in the present and Gisèle's during WWII - are equally compelling. Maybe I've been unlucky, but this is practically unheard of in my experience. More often than not one period will read much stronger than the other and I end up skimming whole chapters to pick up the more interesting half of the narrative, but that didn't happen here. The stories complement one another, but are unique enough to be appreciated in their own right. 

Religion plays a noticeable role in the story, but it flows naturally and is applied to the characters in very realistic ways. I abhor preachy fiction with a passion and was stunned at how effectively Dobson was able to utilize faith as a primary theme without pontificating. 

Riley's story was a little much and I wasn't convinced Austin would have exited as quickly as he did, but these are minor quibbles at best. Thoroughly engaging and entirely unpredictable, Chateau of Secrets isn't to be missed. 

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“But Hitler was trying to kill the Jews—”
He glanced down at the Vire as we crossed the bridge over it. “It’s ironic, isn’t it? On one hand, he was exterminating the Jewish people, and on the other, he was using them in his army. Sometimes he even ‘Aryanized’ them.”
“How exactly does one Aryanize someone?”
“Hitler declared his Jewish soldiers had German blood, and magically, by the power of Hitler, they had new genes.”
“He thought he was God.”
Riley nodded. “And the Nazi leaders encouraged his delusion. He was power hungry but he was also pragmatic. The army needed more soldiers, and if the Jewish men were willing to fight for him, Hitler and his top men were often willing to look the other way. The families of these soldiers were a different story . . .”
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Interview with Anna Belfrage, author of Serpents in the Garden

Author interviews are one of my favorite things to post which is why I am super excited to welcome author Anna Belfrage to Flashlight Commentary to discuss her newest release, Serpents in the Garden.

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Welcome back to Flashlight Commentary Anna! Great to have you with us again.
Hi Erin – it is very nice to be back visiting you, it’s sort of becoming a recurring little treat in my life. (And isn’t it lucky we both like tea?)

To start things off, please tell a bit about Serpents in the Garden.
Serpents in the Garden is the fifth book in The Graham Saga, detailing the lives of Matthew Graham, his time traveller wife Alex and their numerous family. Yet again, I have indulged myself by putting Matthew and Alex through their paces, yet again Alex is threatening to go on strike if I don’t cut back on the adventures. Ha! This is when being the writer has definite advantages; poor Alex can’t go on strike, as it is my brain and my typing fingers that control her fate. (Ouch! Alex just sank her nails into one of the more sensitive spots in my brain…)

You probably have many, but is there a scene in this novel that really stands out to you in some way?
You’re right; I have several scenes that stand out, but if I’m forced to pick one (without giving away too much of the story) my heart beat always picks up in the scene where Matthew is being chased through the woods by the Burleys. I like it that he is scared – and admits to being scared, running for his life with the Burley brothers snapping at his heels.

What scene posed the greatest challenge for you as an author and why?
I’m not going to answer that explicitly, as it would qualify as a spoiler, but let’s just say that there’s a scene where one of the Grahams is badly hurt that has been through like a hundred re-writes as I attempted to balance what is actually happening with the description of Alex’s reactions to these events. I also found it quite gruelling to describe Ian’s reaction to finding out his wife was betraying him.

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?
Well, seeing as I’ve pruned like 60 000 words… I always do that; I write far more than will ever make it through the final cut, as this allows me to further develop my relationship with my characters. I know as I write that I will have to slash substantial parts, but initially I don’t know which scenes will fall for the editing shears. I did write a chapter or two from Angus’ perspective, tormented young man that he is, but I felt adding yet another POV character didn’t quite make sense, given how briefly Angus figures in the book. However, the anguish of being a homosexual man in a society as morally rigid and unforgiving as that of a Puritan community in the 17th century creates room for plenty of tension.

Historical novelists frequently have to adjustment facts to make their stories work. Did you have to invent or change anything while writing Serpents in the Garden and if so, what did you alter and why?
I try not to do that. Of course, being as fallible as everyone else, chances are there will be an historical error or two in the text, but if so, most unintentionally. I did make one very conscious “error” and that relates to Jacob Graham and his fast-track lane to becoming an apothecary. I sort of circumvented the years and years of apprenticeships he’d have to go through, and even if I do include an explanation as to why, any person familiar with the guild system will grin somewhat crookedly. Thing is, I couldn’t have Jacob stuck in London for like five years more…I need him back in Maryland for the next book, where he plays a very crucial role.

What would you say is the primary theme of this particular chapter in Matthew and Alex's life?
Love. Unrequited love – and its painful consequences. Betrayed love – and its heart rendering aftermath. Everlasting love – and how it helps us face whatever life puts in our way (yes, yes; corny, I know. But I happen to believe in it).

This is the fifth book in the Graham Saga. How has your relationship with your characters changed since writing A Rip in the Veil?
I love them more – after all, I’ve invested very much of myself in them. I know them much, much better. I relate to them, I worry for them, I cry with them, I dream with them. I know exactly what Alex’s voice sounds like, in unguarded moments I will catch a glimpse of a man out of the corner of my eye and know it is Matthew, his tall body reclining against a nearby wall, arms crossed over his chest. Except when I turn, he’s never there…

You live in Sweden but the Grahams are living in colonial America. How do you work around the gaps in both time and geography?
Well, first of all, I’ve actually been to Maryland to get a feel for the place, just as I’ve been to Cumnock and Edinburgh. Secondly, I’m a big Google Earth user – especially of all those little pictures people so generously upload from one place or the other. Thirdly, I read – a lot. About birds and flowers, about weather conditions and snakes – and about history. Ultimately, though, I think it comes down to a very vivid imagination that somehow takes all those facts that are cluttering up my brain, places them in a cocktail shaker and shakes vigorously, before producing a blended version of it all. I hope it works, that my readers feel as transported as I do.

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 Serpents in the Garden that sprung directly from your personal history?
Of course there is. At one point, Matthew and Alex are having a rather poignant discussion about death. Matthew says something along the lines that it is worse to contemplate the death of your partner than to face up to the reality of your own death. Those words are my husband’s. Some of the children now and then display behaviour that I have stolen from my own children, and as to the scene with the red bodice, it has as its inspiration a rather heated debate over a rather revealing garment that I overheard between my parents when I was a child. In general, though, I try very hard not to write complete real-life people into my narrative – I just steal the odd quirk here or there.

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?
My writing process is a combination of historical facts that make me curious to learn more (like when I stumbled upon a vivid depiction of how Covenanters were persecuted in late 17th century Scotland) and the characters that suddenly pop up in my head. Generally, the character’s preferences and background will combine with the historical facts into some sort of base plot line. (I have a Catholic friar in my head and I’m not going to place him in Scotland with the pursued Covenanters. But I do have a slot open for him over at Queen Christina’s 17th century court. I hope Father Díaz doesn’t mind being transplanted from Valencia to frigid Stockholm. On the other hand, he will be instrumental in convincing Queen Christina to convert to Catholicism, and just by saying that I have lit a fire in Father Díaz’s eyes…)

I don’t have a full plot outline done prior to starting writing. But as my story evolves, I will write a rough draft of what I want to happen along the way, with some sort of defined end in sight.

I write, I write some more, I set the MS aside, and then I rewrite. I’d say I write a 120 000 word book in two months, but then I spend around 6 – 8 months re-writing. That’s when I really start to write, the initial burst is more about locking down the plotline and the characters involved. At some point, I’ll double-check the historical facts, but generally I am so submerged in the period prior to writing that I have most of my facts more or less in order.

While in this rather creative process, I become something of a hermit. I burst out of my bubble to eat, to kiss my family, and then I’m back in it again, oblivious to most things going on around me. Well; within limits. One can’t be oblivious to certain things, such as the present Ukraine situation.

Two words: writer’s block. How do you deal with it?
Umm. Am I calling down the wrath of heaven if I admit to not having suffered this particular agony? Generally, I get stuck on one story, and I can switch to another, or write a non-fiction post. But I guess I’d approach writer’s block the same way I approach most challenges in life; by taking a very long walk on my own.

Who are your favourite authors?
How much time do you have? I am very eclectic, as big a fan of Isaac Asimov as I am of Gogol and Vargas Llosa. My mother raised me to be voracious and broad in my literary interests, for which I am eternally grateful. Within historical fiction, I have three favourites: Sharon K Penman, Edith Pargeter and Sigrid Undset. I think Kate Quinn is moving towards a favourite position, and I greatly enjoy Deborah Swift as well – especially as she has the excellent taste of writing about the 17th century (with panache, I might add).

What are you currently reading?
A lot… I just finished The Absent Woman by M Lee which I found very thought-provoking, and I have a couple of crime novels I intend to enjoy on my Kindle – plus a HUGE Hist Fic TBR list.

Let’s say your readers finish Serpents in the Garden. What book might you recommend me... I mean them, while waiting for Revenge and Retribution?
The first four in the series? (Wink wink) On a more serious note, why not try something from Lori Crane Hess or the two ladies mentioned above, Deborah Swift and Kate Quinn? Or the impressive The Empress Emerald by Jean Harlond?

What do you do when you aren’t writing? Any hobbies?
I read. I read some more. I read. Plus I have a thing about roses. I enjoy cooking – well, baking really. I’m a determined Scrabble player, I like walking in the woods and I can never get enough of spending time with my husband – but that doesn’t qualify as a hobby, does it?

Assuming you weren't an author, what careers might you have found appealing?
I already have a career – I’m a financial person who happily spends her days with excel sheets and tax issues. It takes all kinds, right? Had I been allowed to start anew, I think I’d have gone for history full time.

And finally, what's next for you? Do you have a new project in the works? Planning a vacation? Anything exciting and/or noteworthy?
Obviously, the next instalment of The Graham Saga is my short term priority – Revenge and Retribution will meet the world on July 1 this year. I am also more or less done with the first draft of a new book set in 14th century England, and spend whatever time I have left on my book set in 17th century Sweden and England. A vacation would be nice – but for now it will have to wait. Instead, I am treating myself to the HNS Conference in London later this year plus some other outings in England, all of them book related.

But before all that I am off to Stockholm to shed some tears as my daughter receives her graduation diploma. Sheesh; it feels like only yesterday when she was a small little thing telling me she was never, ever going to work in Finance. Guess what she’s done her Master in…

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I was raised abroad, on a pungent mix of Latin American culture, English history and Swedish traditions. As a result I’m multilingual and most of my reading is historical – both non-fiction and fiction.

I was always going to be a writer – or a historian, preferably both. Instead I ended up with a degree in Business and Finance, with very little time to spare for my most favourite pursuit. Still, one does as one must, and in between juggling a challenging career I raised my four children on a potent combination of invented stories, historical debates and masses of good food and homemade cakes. They seem to thrive … Nowadays I spend most of my spare time at my writing desk. The children are half grown, the house is at times eerily silent and I slip away into my imaginary world, with my imaginary characters. Every now and then the one and only man in my life pops his head in to ensure I’m still there. I like that – just as I like how he makes me laugh so often I’ll probably live to well over a hundred.

I was always going to be a writer. Now I am – I have achieved my dream.

Website ❧  Facebook ❧  Twitter

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Format: Paperback & eBook
Publication Date: March 1, 2014
Released by: SilverWood Books
Length: 396 pages
ISBN-10: 1781321736
Genre: Historical Fiction

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Check out all the stops on Anna Belfrage's Serpents in the Garden Virtual Book Tour

Monday, March 24
Review at Flashlight Commentary
Tuesday, March 25
Interview at Flashlight Commentary
Wednesday, March 26
Review at Just One More Chapter
Thursday, March 27
Excerpt & Giveaway at Just One More Chapter
Friday, March 28
Interview at Mina’s Bookshelf
Spotlight & Giveaway at Passages to the Past
Monday, March 31
Review at Oh, for the Hook of a Book
Spotlight & Excerpt at bookworm2bookworm’s Blog
Tuesday, April 1
Guest Post at Oh, for the Hook of a Book
Wednesday, April 2
Interview & Giveaway at Let Them Read Books
Thursday, April 3
Review at CelticLady’s Reviews
Review at So Many Books, So Little Time
Friday, April 4
Review at Dianne Ascroft
Guest Post at So Many Books, So Little Time
Monday, April 7
Review at Svetlana’s Reads and Views
Review & Giveaway at Broken Teepee
Tuesday, April 8
Review & Giveaway at The Most Happy Reader
Interview at Historical Fiction Connection
Wednesday, April 9
Review & Giveaway at A Chick Who Reads
Guest Post & Giveaway at MK McClintock Blog
Thursday, April 10
Review & Guest Post at Kincavel Korner
Friday, April 11
Review at Griperang’s Bookmarks