Tuesday, March 29, 2011

TLC Blog Tour-A Fierce Radiance Q & A with Lauren Belfer

I want to first welcome Lauren Belfer as my guest today.  I am really thrilled to be a part of the TLC Blog Tour promoting the paperback release of "A Fierce Radiance."

I read "A Fierce Radiance" (see my review)when it was first published last year.  I also named it one of my top pics for 2010 with high praise.  I was fascinated by the story then and I feel honored to have Lauren Belfer, a talented writer,  as a guest on Bookworm's Dinner today.  There is no doubt in my mind if you are a fan of historical fiction, and history, this book is one for your TBR pile!

As an added bonus, I have one copy of A Fierce Radiance to giveaway to residents in US or Canada. See rules below.  I hope you enjoy this book and enjoy the Ms. Belfer's guest post below. 

The Inspiration for “A Fierce Radiance

Lauren Belfer

The Inspiration for “A Fierce Radiance”

"“A Fierce Radiance,” just out in paperback, centers on the secret development of penicillin during the Second World War. I realize that this description makes the book sound like an espionage techno-thriller, but in fact it’s a family story, and it was inspired by a heartbreaking incident within my own family.
For all the years that I knew her, my elderly aunt kept on her bureau a photograph of her brother taken during the 1920s, when he was ten or eleven years old. In the picture, he’s a tow-headed boy sitting with his dad in a rowboat on a creek, both of them laughing.
This was the last photo my aunt had of her brother, because he died from a fast-moving infection on July 4th of his eleventh year. His doctors could do nothing to save his life. Antibiotics didn’t exist.
Decades later, my aunt still talked about her brother. She still mourned him. She told me that the light seemed to go out of her mother’s eyes after he died, and she grew up in a home filled with sadness.
When I shared this tragic story with friends, they often told me that they’d had similar experiences in their own families--grandparents, aunts, uncles, parents, siblings, who died far too young because antibiotics didn’t exist. I was struck by the change that antibiotics had brought to all our lives. A few generations ago, antibiotics didn’t exist, but nowadays, we take these medications for granted, so much so that scientists worry that overuse has led to widespread resistance. Within a few decades, scientists fear, antibiotics will no longer work.
Caught between these two eras – before antibiotics, and possibly after – I felt compelled to write a novel about the moment in time when these life-saving medications were first developed. I wanted to explore how these medications changed our expectations about our children and our families, about life itself.
And so I created a fictional family through which to tell this deeply personal story: Claire Shipley, a single mother as well as a photographer for Life Magazine; her daughter, Emily, who died at age three from a blood infection contracted from a scratch on the knee; Claire’s son, Charlie, age eight, vulnerable to the everyday, sometimes fatal illnesses of childhood; her father, long estranged from her, an astute businessman who quickly foresees the profits to be made from penicillin and similar drugs and James Stanton, a physician-researcher, who falls in love with Claire.
Around this nucleus, I conjured up a wide cast of characters to help me portray America at war, as well as the science and business of antibiotics. But I never let myself lose track of the personal story – the heartbreaking family story – which was my inspiration from the beginning."~Lauren Belfer

Book Giveaway Rules:

Contest ends April 23, 2011 and is open to US and Canadian residents.

To be entered in this giveaway you must:
1. Leave a comment about today's guest post, or comments about the book if you have read it. 
2. Be a follower of Bookworm's Dinner
3. Leave your encrypted email address with your comment.

Additional chances if you.....
4. Tweet about this giveaway....add another chance.
5. Facebook post or Blog post...add another chance.

Thank you to TLC Tours and the publisher for offering this book giveaway!

© [Wisteria Leigh] and [Bookworm's Dinner], [2008-2011]. 

Monday, March 28, 2011

Review-The Dressmaker of Khair Khana


Five Sisters, One Remarkable Family, and the Woman Who Risked Everything to Keep Them Safe
Gayle Tzemach Lemmon

Harper Collins
March, 15,  2011,
$24.98, 288pp

Synopsis from Harper Collins

"The life Kamila Sidiqi had known changed overnight when the Taliban seized control of the city of Kabul. After receiving a teaching degree during the civil war—a rare achievement for any Afghan woman—Kamila was subsequently banned from school and confined to her home. When her father and brother were forced to flee the city, Kamila became the sole breadwinner for her five siblings. Armed only with grit and determination, she picked up a needle and thread and created a thriving business of her own.
The Dressmaker of Khair Khana tells the incredible true story of this unlikely entrepreneur who mobilized her community under the Taliban. Former ABC News reporter Gayle Tzemach Lemmon spent years on the ground reporting Kamila's story, and the result is an unusually intimate and unsanitized look at the daily lives of women in Afghanistan. These women are not victims; they are the glue that holds families together; they are the backbone and the heart of their nation.
Afghanistan's future remains uncertain as debates over withdrawal timelines dominate the news. The Dressmaker of Khair Khana moves beyond the headlines to transport you to an Afghanistan you have never seen before. This is a story of war, but it is also a story of sisterhood and resilience in the face of despair. Kamila Sidiqi's journey will inspire you, but it will also change the way you think about one of the most important political and humanitarian issues of our time."

Article first published as Book Review: The Dressmaker of Khair Khana by Gayle Tzemach Lemmon on Blogcritics.
My Review

THE DRESSMAKER OF KHAIR KHANA is one of those books you pick up to read and never forget. An emotional event, and a reading experience about a dynamic woman of courage who without which there would be no story. In 1996, Kamila Sidiqi received her certificate of studies from Sayed Jamaluddin Teaching Institute in Kabul, Afganistan. Her immediate plans to become a teacher abruptly terminated when the Taliban infiltrated her city, Khair Khana shortly thereafter.

Suddenly, her world would operate within the confines of three life changing edicts announced by the Taliban.

“Women will stay at home. Women are not permitted to work. Women must wear the chadri in public.” (Lemmon, p16)

Gayle Tzemach Lemmon went to Afghanistan to find a story, a story of hope not destruction and evil. Without a doubt, there are countless stories about destruction and evil, the devastation from years of war that the Afghans have endured, the heinous punishment inflicted under Taliban rule.  Lemmon has dug deeper to find the stories of women, women with strength and courage to continue life with determination and unstoppable drive despite the blanket of terror that covers their daily life. The Dressmaker of Khair Khana is the story of one amazing woman, Kamila Sidiqi.

When Kamila’s parents are forced to evacuate to northern Afghanistan, she is left to take care of her brothers and sisters. She has no source of income and no ability to work outside her home. Walking outside presents a constant state of peril at the risk of encountering the lurking Taliban.  A male escort must accompany her at all times. The fear from tortuous reprisals and possible imprisonment are real.

Kamila is confined inside her home with her siblings and they pass the time reading, often the same book again and again. When anxiety and boredom arise along with worries for the future,  Kamila brainstorms ways to make money. She has an innate sense for business and she develops a plan to sew dresses.  She thinks like an entrepreneur, a businesswoman who only sees possibilities, the glass always half full.  She would obliterate her competition were she to compete on the television show “The Apprentice.” She has an unselfish and generous spirit, a tireless leader who wants to engage other women in her adventure. What is most uncanny is that Kamila had no clue how to sew, but had confidence in her own ability to learn.  She accepted her first order having never sewed a dress before. Some would say that her move was foolish, others might say she has the actions of an optimist.  Her methods and business acumen make reading this astonishing story remarkable. Lemmon captivates readers with wonder as she relates how one woman refuses to be a victim and in doing so becomes the teacher she wanted to be by influencing women everywhere. Lemmon’s book is unforgettable. Readers will be grateful that she has introduced us to Kamila Sidiqi, a fascinating woman who is making a difference.

© [Wisteria Leigh] and [Bookworm's Dinner], [2008-2011].

Friday, March 18, 2011

My Guest Today is Elizabeth Chadwick-To Defy a King Blog Tour

I always look forward to guest author posts who agree to visit my blog.  However, today, I can't wait to share a conversation with one of my favorite  writers, a diva in the historical fiction realm, Elizabeth Chadwick.  A while ago I read and reviewed For the King's Favor.  Ms. Chadwick continues her rousting story in her new release, To Defy a King.(review)

Elizabeth Chadwick Guest Post

Many thanks for inviting me to guest on your blog.  I thought I would talk a bit about the locations mentioned in To Defy A King that Mahelt Marshal would have known as a child.  Many of these have disappeared, or are ruins but they places where they stood are still there, even sometimes as only echoes.

Places mentioned in To Defy A King

The Manor of Caversham, Berkshire
The novel opens here.  Mahelt’s father, William Marshal had a fine manor and chapel dedicated to the Virgin Mary at Caversham, close to the Thames and just across the river from Reading Abbey and within easy striking distance of London. In the 13th century, the manor was in Oxfordshire.  Mahelt would have spent time here on and off throughout her childhood as it was a place of which her father was very fond.   The manor is no longer there but there is a Victorian stately home and grounds, now called Caversham Park.

Hamstead Marshall, Berkshire.
This was a Marshal manor where Mahelt’s father would have spent many years of his boyhood and was still an important place to William the grown man.  It stood close to river Kennet but was not particularly strategic. Again, Mahelt would have visited this place with her family as a child.  There are some obscure mounds at Hamstead that may be the remains of motte and bailey fortifications, but are more likely to be much earlier than this, possibly Neolithic.

Chepstow Castle.
Also known as Striguil which derives from a Welsh word meaning ‘River Bend’ this is a castle on the Welsh Marches set on high cliffs above the River Wye.  It was originally built by the Norman warlord William FitzOsbern as part of a chain of castle to protect Gloucester from the Welsh and also to dominate the Welsh.  The castle doors still exist from William Marshal’s time and Mahelt would have looked upon them every day when she was staying there.  The castle was actually part of her mother’s inheritance from the de Clare family.

Framlingham Castle
Framlingham Castle in Suffolk was the caput or main castle of the Bigod family into which Mahelt married. It had been built by her husband Hugh’s great grandfather, then razed to the ground when the grandfather rebelled.  Hugh’s father, Roger, had worked all of his life to have the family restored to favour and had gained permission to rebuild the castle on a grand scale with thirteen great towers and fine new livng quarters for the family.  The old hall, which was one of the few parts of the castle to be left standing, was retained as further living quarters, and had a chapel attached.  Mahelt was to live at Framlingham for a great deal of her marriage to Hugh.
http://www.castlewales.com/chepstow.html" http://www.castlewales.com/chepstow.html

Thetford Priory
Thetford Priory was the burial place of the Bigod Earls of Norfolk.  They had a house here too and were occasionally in residence.  The priory consists of just a few ruins now, and the site of the Bigod house has made way for other housing, but in its heyday, the Priory of Our Lady of Thetford was a great Cluniac monastery.

Settrington, a beautiful village in  East Yorkshire was the main Manor of the Bigod family’s secondary holdings in the North of England.  Later in her life, a widowed Mahelt would give Settrington to her younger son Ralph.  At one time the family had a manor house here, but it has gone.  However, Settrington House stands beside the site of the old manor.  In the novel, Mahelt and Hugh spend their honeymoon here.  I don’t know if they did in real life, but it is thoroughly feasible that they did.  Hugh had been given Settrington by his father when he was 17 years old and it had that feeling of personal possession to him.

The Bigods had a strong, vested interest in the grain port of Ipswich.  They had their own quay in the town and it was with their help that Ipswich was granted a charter by King John in 1200.  http://users.trytel.com/~tristan/towns/ipswich1.html

Friday Street, London.
The Bigod family had a house and a jetty on Friday Street in the city of London.  This has long, long gone,  but Mahelt would probably have known the property and stayed there – as she does for several scenes in the novel.

The Salisbury that Mahelt would have known is now called Old Sarum and stands two miles north of the new town of Salisbury which was founded in 1219 by the then bishop, Richard Poore after several disputes with the secular rulers of  the existing town.
However, in Mahelt Marshal’s day, the original Salisbury was still a busy place with a cathedral and a royal palace.  It was the home of her brother in law William Longespée, earl of Salisbury, and his wife Ela who was related to her. It had also been the childhood home of her grandmother, Sybilla FitzWalter.  In addition, Old Sarum had also housed Eleanor of Aquitaine during her long years of imprisonment.  It’s a ruin now, but open to visitors, courtesy of English Heritage.  The cathedral at the new Salisbury to the south, holds the tomb of William Longespée.

Bradenstoke Priory
Bradenstoke Priory housed the tombs of Mahelt’s paternal grandparents, John FitzGilbert Marshal and Sybilla, daughter of Walter of Salisbury.  Mahelt would probably have visited the priory to pay her respects to the tombs of her ancestors.  Today there are a few scant remains lying on private property close to an RAF base.  Parts of Bradenstoke were boxed up and shipped to the United States by William Randolph Hearst and have since been lost, although it is rumoured that Bradenstoke’s great tithe barn is still around somewhere in the USA, all crated up.    http://www.burtonbradstock.org.uk/History/Bradenstoke%20Priory_files/Bradenstoke%20Priory.htm

Other places Mahelt Marshal would have known that do not feature in To Defy A King.

In Normandy the castles of Longueville and Orbec.

In Wales  the castles of Goodrich, Usk, and Pembroke.

Tintern Abbey, Mahelt’s eventual resting place.

In Ireland, the fortress of Kilkenny, home of her grandmother, the Princess Aoife of Leinster.

In her second marriage, the main castles she would have known were:
Castle Acre

Conisborough Castle

Thank you again Elizabeth for this fabulous post with the history of the castles and the website links. I'm sure the readers will be delighted.

© [Wisteria Leigh] and [Bookworm's Dinner], [2010].

© [Wisteria Leigh] and [Bookworm's Dinner], [2008-2011].

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Review: To Defy a King, by Elizabeth Chadwick

by Elizabeth Chadwick
Sourcebooks Landmark
March 2011
$14.99, 544 pages

Synopsis from Sourcebooks

The adored and spirited daughter of England’s greatest knight, Mahelt Marshal lives a privileged life. But when her beloved father falls foul of the volatile and dangerous King John, her world is shattered. The king takes her brothers hostage and Mahelt’s planned marriage to Hugh Bigod, son of the Earl of Norfolk, takes place sooner than she expected. Mahelt and Hugh come to care for each other deeply, but Hugh’s strict father clashes with the rebellious Mahelt. When more harsh demands from King John threaten to tear the couple’s lives apart, Mahelt finds herself facing her worst fears alone, not knowing if she—or her marriage—will survive.
A brilliant story of a vibrant woman in a tyrant’s world, To Defy a King is another impeccably researched masterpiece from a beloved author. ~Sourcebooks

My Review

Elizabeth Chadwick continues to astound me with her imaginative, insightful writing, with scrupulous detail.  To Defy the King is a continuation of the story and the characters who were introduced in For the King’s Favor,  one of my favorite book choices for 2010. 

To Defy a King was equally affecting.  Favorite characters of mine reappear in this new novel, albeit with less spunk and energy.  Roger Bigod and Ida become background and less foreground, as each exhibits an aging temperament appearing now decidedly different. Roger Bigod is now somewhere in his 60’s and as his character has become set in his ways, he appears as an opinionated curmudgeon. Now a new generation of sons and daughters emerges in a fresh plot and large cast of diverse characters.

Mahelt arrives with tumultuous energy.  Roger Bigod's quickly discovers that his soon to be daughter in law this is a recalcitrant and feisty female who is not afraid to stand up to him. She could care less what others think or what gossip surrounds her deeds.  Bigod believes she needs to be watched, yet his plan to engage her with his wife’s sewing activities are short lived.  Mahelt abhors sewing, a favorite pastime of his wife Ida.  With an urgent need to harness or at least keep Melhelt stay out of trouble,  Bigod outlines alternative household duties that seem to satisfy Mahelt, for the short term.  The marriage of Mahelt Marshall to  Hugh Bigod will serve as an alliance between their two families. With Roger Marshall in the King’s favor, it is the perfect match.  However, Hugh and Mahelt come to adore one another and the small spark that begins as an ember of spousal duty turns to wanton passion. As King John continues to reign with eccentricity and brutality,  Hugh, is honor bound to serve his King.  Conflict develops when his fealty to the King and fealty to Mahelt and his children collide.

This book will bring page turning anxiety and lost sleep as you want to get to the finish, only to discover you didn’t want it to end. You just might miss the people who for a while became your world and the emotional emptiness is disconsolate.   I adored Mahelt, she is enchanting, alluring, intelligent and impressive, a rare personality of extreme power who will endure in print because her image was shaped by an exceptional storyteller.  When you read one of Elizabeth Chadwick’s books, you are cocooned in a wondrous historical fiction assignation.

See the exciting trailer and tune in to my blog tomorrow for Elizabeth Chadwick's guest appearance.  Elizabeth Chadwick Website.

Thanks to Sourcebooks for providing a review copy of this book. As always, reviews on my blog represent my honest unbiased opinion.

© [Wisteria Leigh] and [Bookworm's Dinner], [2008-2011].

Monday, March 14, 2011

Q & A - Caleb's Crossing, by Geraldine Brooks, with book giveaway

✎✎✎Book Giveaway✎✎✎
 Pulitzer Prize winning author Geraldine Brooks will be releasing her new book in early May of this year. Here's your chance to win a copy of Caleb's Crossing.
Synopsis from the Publisher-Viking/Penguin

CALEB’S CROSSING is inspired by the life of Caleb Cheeshahteaumauk, the first Native American to graduate from Harvard College in 1665. Brooks first learned about him during her time as a Radcliffe fellow at Harvard in 2006. Caleb was from the Wampanoag tribe of Native Americans who lived on Martha’s Vineyard and this year Tiffany Smalley will become the second Vineyard Wampanoag to graduate from Harvard. There is little official information on Caleb’s life and Brooks’s novel is an informed imagining of what he might have gone through.

What makes this novel truly special is its narrator, Bethia Mayfield. Bethia is the strong-willed daughter of a preacher who lives in the settlement of Great Harbor on Martha’s Vineyard . She struggles with the restrictions placed on her—namely, that she is denied the education freely given to her brother. Bethia finds respite in the wild landscape of her home and it is while clamming one day that she meets Caleb, the son of a local chieftain. They form a secret friendship that, in time, leads to Caleb coming to live with the Mayfields. Bethia’s father eagerly takes Caleb under his wing, determined not only to convert him to Christianity, but also to groom him for matriculation to Cambridge and eventually, Harvard.

The harsh realities of life for both women and Native Americans are fully confronted in CALEB’S CROSSING. It is a story of difficult friendships, cultural transitions, and facing injustices.

Q&A with Geraldine Brooks, author of

Caleb Cheeshahteamauk is an extraordinary figure in Native American history. How did you first discover him? What was involved in learning more about his life?

The Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head/Aquinnah are proud custodians of their history, and it was in materials prepared by the Tribe that I first learned of its illustrious young scholar.   To find out more about him I talked with tribal members, read translations of early documents in the Wopanaak language, then delved into the archives of Harvard and the Massachusetts Bay Colony, especially the correspondence between colonial leaders and benefactors in England who donated substantial funds for the education and conversion to Christianity of Indians in the 17th century.   There are also writings by members of the Mayhew family, who were prominent missionaries and magistrates on the island, and John Cotton, Jr., who came here as a missionary and kept a detailed journal.

There is little documentation on Caleb’s actual life. What parts of his life did you imagine? Do you feel you know him better after writing this book, or is he still a mystery?

The facts about Caleb are sadly scant.  We know he was the son of a minor sachem from the part of the Vineyard now known as West Chop, and that he left the island to attend prep school, successfully completed the rigorous course of study at Harvard and was living with Thomas Danforth, a noted jurist and colonial leader, when disease claimed his life.  Everything else about him in my novel is imagined.  The real young man—what he thought and felt—remains an enigma.

Bethia Mayfield is truly a woman ahead of her time. If she were alive today, what would she be doing? What would her life be like with no restrictions?

There were more than a few 17th century women like Bethia, who thirsted for education and for a voice in a society that demanded their silence.  You can find some of them being dragged to the meeting house to confess their “sins” or defending their unconventional views in court.   If Bethia was alive today she would probably be president of Harvard or Brown, Princeton or UPenn.

The novel is told through Bethia’s point of view. What is the advantage to telling this story through her eyes? How would the book be different if Caleb were the narrator?

I wanted the novel to be about crossings between cultures.  So as Caleb is drawn into the English world, I wanted to create an English character who would be equally drawn to and compelled by his world.   I prefer to write with a female narrator when I can, and I wanted to explore issues of marginalization in gender as well as race.

Much of the book is set on Martha’s Vineyard , which is also your home. Did you already know about the island’s early history, or did you do additional research?

I was always intrigued by what brought English settlers to the island so early in the colonial period...they settled here in the 1640s.   Living on an island is inconvenient enough even today; what prompted the Mayhews and their followers to put seven miles of treacherous ocean currents between them and the other English—to choose to live in a tiny settlement surrounded by some three thousand Wampanoags?  The answer was unexpected and led me into a deeper exploration of island history

You bring Harvard College to life in vivid, often unpleasant detail. What surprised you most about this prestigious university’s beginnings?

For one thing, I hadn't been aware Harvard was founded so early.  The English had barely landed before they started building a college. And the Indian College —a substantial building—went up not long after, signifying an attitude of mind that alas did not prevail for very long.  It was fun to learn how very different early Harvard was from the well endowed institution of today.  Life was hand to mouth, all conversation was in Latin, the boys (only boys) were often quite young when they matriculated.   But the course of study was surprisingly broad and rigorous—a true exploration of liberal arts, languages, and literature that went far beyond my stereotype of what Puritans might have considered fit subjects for scholarship.

As with your previous books, you’ve managed to capture the voice of the period. You get the idiom, dialect, and cadence of the language of the day on paper. How did you do your research?

I find the best way to get a feel for language and period is to read first person accounts—journals, letters, court transcripts.  Eventually you start to hear voices in your head: patterns of speech, a different manner of thinking.  My son once said, Mom talks to ghosts.  And in a way I do.

May 2011, Tiffany Smalley will follow in Caleb’s footsteps and become only the second Vineyard Wampanoag to graduate from Harvard. Do you know if this will be celebrated?

In May Tiffany Smalley will become the first Vineyard Wampanoag since Caleb to receive an undergrad degree from Harvard College .  (Others have received advanced degrees from the university’s Kennedy school etc.)  I’m not sure what Harvard has decided to do at this year's commencement, but I am hoping they will use the occasion to honor Caleb’s fellow Wampanoag classmate, Joel Iacoomis, who completed the work for his degree but was murdered before he could attended the 1665 commencement ceremony.

Contest Rules:
There will be two winners chosen to receive a galley of Caleb's Crossing provided by Viking/Penguin!
Contest ends on April 23, 2011 Midnight

1)Please leave your comments about the Q & A posted above or something else that you are thinking about.   I'd like to hear from you and read about your thoughts. What makes you want to read Caleb's Crossing. Have you read about this book before?  What books have you read by Geraldine Brooks? (1 chance)  ~~ Make sure you leave your coded email address.

2)Be a follower on my blog to be included....simply add your name to my sidebar.

3)You will get an extra chance if you tweet, or post something about this contest on your own blog. 

© [Wisteria Leigh] and [Bookworm's Dinner], [2008-2011].

Helen Hollick Guest Post-I Am the Chosen King

This is really a part two post to a review I recently posted on Helen Hollick's spectacular historical fiction novel I Am the Chosen King.  (review post) I was so absorbed in the lives of many characters who are brought to life in this book, I had a few questions to ask Helen. Here is my rather random question and her fascinating response. 

Wisteria asks:
I read in your author notes that there was little factual information to go on when writing this trilogy. How do you develop the characters of Harold and Edith and Edith? I loved Harold, yet he had to balance the love of two women. How did you present Harold so that the reader has empathy and love for this character?  On the flip side, William adored one wife, Matilda, yet he was despicable and I loathed him.
All these characters can be identified by their personalities through your written word. Can you discuss this?

Helen Hollick

Phew, this is a one to think about!
I suppose there was more factual information for I Am The Chosen King (called Harold the King in the UK) then any of my other books, as the Battle of Hastings which occurred in 1066 – and the events that led to it – was fairly well recorded because it was such an important occurrence; one that changed history for good.
Having said that, most of what was recorded was written by the Victors, the Normans, so much of it was biased (at best) and plain untruthful (at worst)

For instance, Duke William of Normandy had no right to the English throne whatsoever – but you won’t find that written in any Norman account!
I stripped the “facts” of Norman propaganda, which meant doing a lot of reading between the lines, guessing, and using logic and common sense.
I will take one example: we know Harold went to Normandy around 1064/5. It’s depicted in the famous Bayeux Tapestry. We see him going to pray in the Church first, then going aboard a ship, then landing in Normandy and being wrongfully arrested. Why he went, why he was arrested, and why Duke William secured his release and was angry about the arrest, we don’t know. It is more than likely that Harold was intending to visit William, got blown of course and landed in the wrong place. Harold went on to be an honoured and welcomed guest at Duke William’s court – until everything went wrong. (I won’t say what!)

So I had to interpret those scenes, make sense of the bare facts and weave them into a believable, convincing story.

The framework of my characters’ characters was fairly easy to unravel. Harold I have always liked, he gave the impression of being a fair-minded, just man who saw honour and loyalty as his prime importance– be it to King, Country or family. Edith, his sister, I saw as a bit of a spoilt madam. She wanted things her own way, but I also felt very sorry for her. She got her wish and became Queen, but the wish turned out to be a disappointing one. Like her predecessor, though, (Queen Emma – from Forever Queen) Edith was determined to keep her crown, so would do anything, anything at all, to keep it.

Edyth Swanneck, Harold’s common law handfast wife I saw as a gentle, patient, motherly type of woman – who would give her life for Harold and her children if she had to. So their characters seemed natural and obvious to me, and the more I wrote the more “real” these people were to me.

I had a hard time writing about Duke William – I loathe the man, but I wanted to make him a realistic character, not an utter monster (even if he was *laugh*) so giving him an alternative background to his battle-hardened warrior image seemed logical. We know, as fact, that he was loyal to his wife and did not have mistresses or lovers because it was remarked upon and recorded (sorry I can’t remember exactly where) as unusual in a man of his status. I am not convinced he “loved” Matilda, but he was a man of principle, and I think possessive, maybe controlling. Sex, beyond producing children was not a major need for him. His “interest” was in the battle campaign, the manly world of the battlefield.
Just a pity he couldn’t keep his interests firmly in Normandy!

I want to thank Sourcebooks for the opportunity to be a part of this Blog Tour along with the review copy of her book that I received.  It is always fun to get a chance to talk to an author after you have read her/his book. I fell in love with Helen Hollick's writing when I read The Forever Queen, so I was eager to read I Am the Chosen King.  If you have not read any of her books, I highly recommend you take a peek. You might not even need a bookmark.

© [Wisteria Leigh] and [Bookworm's Dinner], [2008-2011].

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Contest Winner-Committed by Elizabeth Gilbert


Carol N Wong is the winner of the copy of Committed by Elizabeth Gilbert. Enjoy your reading Carol.  I have sent you an email for your address. 

Contest Winner-Madame Tussaud

Congratulations .....

 Ladytink 534 you are the winner of Madam Tussaud by Michelle Moran, along with a pair of sweet and delicate cupcake earrings.

Ladytink 534, I have sent you an email. 

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Blog Tour-I Am the Chosen King, by Helen Hollick

The Lost Kingdom 1066
by Helen Hollick
Sourcebooks Landmark
March 2011
$16.99, 592 pages

Synopsis from Sourcebooks

England, 1044. Harold Godwineson, a young, respected Earl, falls in love with an ordinary but beautiful woman. He marries Edyth despite her lack of pedigree, pitting him against his turbulent family and his selfish King, Edward. In France, William, the bastard son of a duke, falls in love with power. Brutal and dangerously smart, William sets his sights on England, finding ambition a difficult lust to conquer.
In 1066, with the old King Edward dying, England falls vulnerable to the winds of fate—and the stubborn will of these two powerful men. In this beautifully crafted tale, Helen Hollick sets aside the propaganda of the Norman Conquest and brings to life the English version of the story of the last Saxon King, revealing his tender love, determination, and proud loyalty, all shattered by the unforgiving needs of a Kingdom. Forced to give up his wife and risk his life for England, the chosen King led his army into the great Battle of Hastings in October 1066 with all the honor and dignity that history remembers of its fallen heroes. ~Sourcebooks

My Review

I am honored to be a part of Helen Hollick’s 2011 Blog Tour. Last year I was introduced to this author’s writing when I read The Forever Queen. I was so impressed with the quality and enchantment of her writing. When I was given the opportunity to preview I Am the Chosen King, and participate in this promotion of her second book in her trilogy about the Battle of Hastings, I couldn’t resist. Helen Hollick has captured my attention with much enthusiasm once again.

Harold Godwinesson, the chosen king, is a romantically compelling character, in fact, a woman’s dream: charming, loving, handsome, supportive and brave. At times his character is almost too good to be real. Where is this man, the loving father who is deeply in love with his first love, Edith, a woman who can never be queen, nor accepted as anything but his concubine, yet they will have many children?  It has the elements of a star-crossed relationship, with a prescient and foreboding future. However, he deeply loves and adores her. They share this unique and rare heart match. He is determined to have a life with her.

When King Edward dies without an heir, Harold is selected by the council to become England’s King. At this time he is compelled to chose a woman to be his Queen, solidifying an alliance for the future of England, his kingdom. However, this also means he must face severing his relationship with Edith.

Ms. Hollick presents her version of this famous day in history and the events that lead up to October 14, 1066. With precise clarity she gives the reader what is necessary to imagine the setting and characters who lived during this time. Her keen eye has puzzled the threads from 11th century tapestries she uncovered in her research to evoke the ambiance that is presented in I Am the Chosen King. The battles are vividly brutal, the gore inescapable. The serious scenes of this nobel fight for power turn quickly from the bright glitter of sharpened metal and anticipation, to the dull red bloodbath of defeat known as The Battle of Hastings.

Helen Hollick has unwoven the dusty threads of the past to assemble a unique visionary interpretation of the history that surrounded two men Harold, King of England and William, “The Bastard” Duke of Normandy and their lust for one crown in this powerful historical fiction novel.

Disclosure: I received a free copy of this book from the publisher. This review is my honest unbiased opinion. 

© [Wisteria Leigh] and [Bookworm's Dinner], [2008-2011]. 

Friday, March 4, 2011

Corning Looks at the Future-Simply Incredibly Amazing

I have always embraced technology and consider myself a visionary. I am a media specialist and wonder daily what kind of environment will surround us in the near future. Experts agree that our students will need skills that we can't even imagine, because the world will be so different. Take a look at a glimpse of our future in this video produced by Corning, called A Day Made of Glass...Made Possible by Corning.

A special note for my reading friends! Keep an eye out for the last scene, as the man in the video is reading before bed. Imagine this book of the future. Could this really be the e-book of our future? Incredible don't you think? When I look at the Kindle I just purchased, this video clip, makes it look like an antique already.

I haven't stopped thinking about this video since I first saw it. Upon reflecting, my left and right brain try to process this video differently. I sense an anxious and fearful sense of trepidation, yet I marvel with a childlike enthusiasm and anticipation anxious for all the new technological possibilities ahead.

What do you think?

© [Wisteria Leigh] and [Bookworm's Dinner], [2008-2011].

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Blog Tour-Review-The Raven Queen, by Jules Watson

Jules Watson
Spectra Trade Paperback(Random House)
February 22, 2011
$15.00, 544pp.

Synopsis from Random House

ABOUT THIS BOOK (From Random House)

In this dazzling retelling of one of Ireland’s most stirring legends, acclaimed author Jules Watson brings to life the story of Maeve, the raven queen, who is as fierce as she is captivating.
She was born to be a pawn, used to secure her father’s royal hold on his land. She was forced to advance his will through marriage—her own desires always thwarted. But free-spirited Maeve will no longer endure the schemes of her latest husband, Conor, the cunning ruler of Ulster. And when her father’s death puts her homeland at the mercy of its greedy lords and Conor’s forces, Maeve knows she must at last come into her own power to save it. 

With secret skill and daring, Maeve proves herself the equal of any warrior on the battlefield. With intelligence and stealth, she learns the strategies—and sacrifices—of ruling a kingdom through treacherous alliances. And to draw on the dangerous magic of her country’s oldest gods, Maeve seeks out the wandering druid Ruan, whose unexpected passion and strange connection to the worlds of spirit imperil everything Maeve thought true about herself—and put her at war with both her duty and her fate.

 My Review

Jules Watson offers an energetic epic centered around Irish mythology and the legend of Maeve, the raven queen.  I must confess, this is the first I have heard of this story but druids and Celtic lore will seize me every time.  Watson is a skillful storyteller and I was lured into the land of Erin right away.  There is a huge cast of characters and fortunately the author includes a pronunciation guide and key to who’s who.  I always find it difficult to move through a story when their are names I can’t pronounce or need a reminder of their relationships and associations. This did cause a labored beginning to the story, somewhat like I feel when reading books by Terri Brooks.  Without faulting the author, this just is what it is and makes for difficult reading at first.
Once you get over the initial stumbling over ancient unfamiliar names, this story takes off.
Maeve is fearless and fiery, bold and beautiful all at the same time. A woman all men love, yet fear at the same time. The power and strength of Maeve as she tries prove her worth in a world surrounded by men is universally recognizable and all women can relate to this character at some point. Watson forms her image of Maeve from legends of record, that describe her as a callous, sexually intoxicating warrior and queen with a bit of goddess too.  In The Raven Queen, Maeve has obvious flaws and makes mistakes that keep her real and identifiable but understandable as she is so often objectified. Ruan, the blind druid is the only male with the sensitivity and sight to reach her true soul.  It is this part of the story I find so mystically appealing.  I felt the middle of the story was somewhat tiresome heavy with battle images especially the one on one battle challenges with Cuchulainn, the King of the Ulaid’s protector.  Although  the ultimate challenge between best friends Ferdia and Cuchulainn was woeful and provided a pitifully sobbing repose, an outstanding scene.  I had a hard time identifying with the sacrifice in the name of honor that this fight profiled, even though it is a common theme in Celtic myth and history in general.
If you are a fan of Celtic Mythology you will want to read The Raven Queen.

About the author: Jules Watson

Author website

Disclosure: The copy of this book was sent to me from the publisher. This review is my honest opinion given without bias.

© [Wisteria Leigh] and [Bookworm's Dinner], [2008-2011].