25 January 2015

Author Interview & Book Giveaway: Sandra Jones on HER WICKED CAPTAIN

This week, we're welcoming author Sandra Jones, whose latest title is HER WICKED CAPTAIN, book #1 of the River Rogues series. One lucky visitor will get a free copy of Her Wicked CaptainBe sure to leave your email address in the comments of today's author interview for a chance to win. Winner(s) are contacted privately by email. Here's the blurb. 

She played right into his hands.

Possessing uncanny people-reading skills like her mama, Philadelphia “Dell” Samuels has spent thirteen years in her aunt’s rustic Ozarks home, telling fortunes over playing cards and trying to pass as white. But the treacherous Mississippi River childhood her mama dragged her away from finally catches up to her on a steamboat captained by her old friend Rory Campbell.

Known to his crew as the Devil’s Henchman, Rory is a gambler in need of a miracle. Following the cold trail of his boss’s wife and bastard daughter, Dell, Rory has only one goal in mind: saving his crew from the boss’s cruelty by ruining him. The only one who can defeat the Monster of the Mississippi is the man trained to take his place. Rory’s convinced he can lure his boss into a high-stakes game against a rival, and with Dell’s people-reading skills, the monster will lose everything.

Under Rory’s tutelage and protection, Dell agrees to the tortured captain’s plan. Passion and peril quickly bring them together as lovers. But when Rory’s plan goes awry, the lives of the innocent depend on Dell’s ability to read the situation correctly—and hopefully save them all.

** Q&A with Sandra Jones**
 
I’m so thrilled to visit with you today. My latest release, Her Wicked Captain, is the first book in a new series, The River Rogues. Pack your bags and get ready for a voyage with dangerous cardsharps and gunslingers! It’s a historical romance with an unusual setting—the smoky gaming parlors of steamboats on the Mississippi River of the 1850s—a place where river pirates indulge their vices and a lady’s greatest enemy may be the rogue in her bed!
 
What’s your favorite setting to write?


Whatever I haven’t yet written about! No seriously, I love to write about rugged places in the past, especially ones I have a personal connection to. Frontier stories, sweeping Medieval adventures, ocean voyages—these are my favorites. I like to think of the setting as a character so vital to the story that it can’t be set anywhere else. That said, I truly enjoy writing scenes that take place in castle chambers, caves and the woods. Anywhere that will cause the hero and heroine to get close and cozy!
 
Describe the “perfect” hero. What about the “perfect” hero for you?

Chivalrous. He can be wicked and a true scoundrel, but at the core, he must be good-hearted. I like a man who treats his lady love like a queen! My husband is like that—a little roguish, but with such a big heart.

 
What are some of your favorite pastimes? Do you have any hobbies or collections?

I collect old books. I love to discover antique ones at auctions or flea markets. I have WAY too many. Also, I collect Toby mugs. They’re whimsical little jugs that look like literary characters. The Dickens ones are my favorites.

 
What’s on your bucket list?

I’d love to travel to Wales since that’s my motherland! I’ve never been to Europe, but I’m determined to tour a castle someday. I’d also like to sail around the world in a yacht—but with a good captain, please!

How do you describe yourself? How would your family and friends describe you?

I’m an introvert. We own a cabin on a river. It’s very remote. There’s no other place I’d rather be. I love talking to my readers and chatting with my writing friends, but I’m more comfortable doing so on my computer.

What’s an interesting fact about Sandra?

During the Prohibition, my grandfather used to smuggle whiskey across the state line on the back of his Harley Davidson. He may have been an outlaw, but he did what it took to take care of my mother and the rest of the family. He helped inspire my gambling hero, Rory.

What’s the theme of Her Wicked Captain?
Revenge. Retribution. Both the hero and heroine have a score to settle. The hero, Capt. Rory Campbell, has been working toward the perfect con—a high stakes game of cards—for several years. He won’t let anything get in his way, including the woman he desires, because too much is at stake. But don’t get him wrong—greed isn’t his prime motivation.
The heroine, Philadelphia Samuels, longs to reclaim her dignity and freedom denied from her at birth. She was born from adultery and spent her youth living in poverty. Then Rory pulls her away from that life into the opulence of riverboat living--like Cinderella. But Philadelphia will soon discover that the life of a glamorous gambler is more dangerous than she’d expected.
Thanks for letting me share today, and I’d love to connect!
About the Author 
Historical romance author Sandra Jones was born and raised in Arkansas. She loves living in a cabin overlooking White River where she enjoys watching eagles and dreaming about the adventurous frontiersmen who once traveled past in steamboats. When she’s not reading, writing or researching, she’s the cook for her cranky old tom cat, her husband of more than 25 years, and her two grown sons. She also loves to chat with her fans.

Buy Links
iTunes:  https://itunes.apple.com/us/book/her-wicked-captain/id903379545?mt=11

22 January 2015

Excerpt Thursday: HER WICKED CAPTAIN by Sandra Jones

This week, we're welcoming author Sandra Jones, whose latest title is HER WICKED CAPTAIN, book #1 of the River Rogues series. Join us again on Sunday for an author interview, with more details about the story behind the story. One lucky visitor will get a free copy of Her Wicked CaptainBe sure to leave your email address in the comments of today's post or Sunday's author interview for a chance to win. Winner(s) are contacted privately by email. Here's the blurb. 

She played right into his hands.

Possessing uncanny people-reading skills like her mama, Philadelphia “Dell” Samuels has spent thirteen years in her aunt’s rustic Ozarks home, telling fortunes over playing cards and trying to pass as white. But the treacherous Mississippi River childhood her mama dragged her away from finally catches up to her on a steamboat captained by her old friend Rory Campbell.

Known to his crew as the Devil’s Henchman, Rory is a gambler in need of a miracle. Following the cold trail of his boss’s wife and bastard daughter, Dell, Rory has only one goal in mind: saving his crew from the boss’s cruelty by ruining him. The only one who can defeat the Monster of the Mississippi is the man trained to take his place. Rory’s convinced he can lure his boss into a high-stakes game against a rival, and with Dell’s people-reading skills, the monster will lose everything.

Under Rory’s tutelage and protection, Dell agrees to the tortured captain’s plan. Passion and peril quickly bring them together as lovers. But when Rory’s plan goes awry, the lives of the innocent depend on Dell’s ability to read the situation correctly—and hopefully save them all.

** An Excerpt from Her Wicked Captain**

If he hadn’t introduced himself, Dell wouldn’t have recognized him. Her childhood memories came in spurts and flickers like sparks drifting up from a burning log, to vanish into the void of a black sky. She recalled how big everything had seemed—her mama’s dressing room, the nice bed where she slept the day away, and the giant paddle wheels as the steamboats came into port. How the kids would come running from the city streets to gather around each arriving ship like a swarm of giddy flies, and the older girls would wave at her friend—her playmate, Rory.
“Gory Rory. You ate a pollywog catfish? Ew!” She’d once teased. Gory Rory? Had she really called him that?
Presently, the captain’s strong arms went around her as he lifted her over the rail. His hands lingered on her sides a moment past propriety.
Flushing, she stepped aside. “Thank you.”
He winked at her and helped hoist the rest of the party up from the keelboat onto the packet’s leaning deck. Standing behind her cousins, Dell could still feel the branding on her ribs where his hands had touched her. She willed herself not to panic, but her pulse fluttered wildly at the base of her throat. She couldn’t hide, nor could she return to the riverbank, though every second she stood under his nose was another second he might recognize her.
She couldn’t allow that to happen.
The steamboat’s whistle rattled to life, and she jerked as if she’d been shot, grabbing the rail. The deafening roars and metallic tones sounded overhead as she gritted her teeth. She vaguely recalled standing too near as a babe, and now fought the instinct to cover her ears like the wailing brat she’d been back then.
For whatever reason, her mama had moved her hundreds of miles away, leaving their home and her husband, Quintus Moreaux. Now here was his former ward, Rory Campbell, standing more than six foot tall with wide shoulders and a rogue’s grin, less than eight feet away.
He and the freedman gave the final visitor, Mr. Gaskin, a boost onto the boat. The lumber mill owner joked that he’d gladly salvage the boards of the vessel, to which Rory declined with rich laughter and clapped a hand on his back.
The shy Rory that Dell remembered had soft, boyish round cheeks, and wasn’t able to put together more than two words around her pretty mother. The confident man standing before them now wore a shadow of golden whiskers on a rigid jaw, but he had the same eyes, the color of green bottle glass lit by sunlight. While the others headed for the bow, her former friend singled her out, sharing his infectious smile.
He bowed slightly, gesturing with his hat. “Ladies first.”
Dell ran unsteady hands down the pleats of her dusty clothes to chase away the twinges of her stomach. She mustn’t call attention to herself. If she lost her composure, he would surely figure out she was Eleanor’s bastard daughter, fathered by one of Moreaux’s black workers. One word from him about her mixed blood, and the town would turn on her.
“Thank you,” she murmured again and glided past, keeping her head down. She felt his measuring gaze, and her chest heated in response.
Sarah and Nathaniel were just steps ahead with the preacher, weaving from the rail, straining to see as much of the vessel as possible. Dell hurried to catch up. Rory’s tread creaked ominously on the deck behind her.

About the Author 
Historical romance author Sandra Jones was born and raised in Arkansas. She loves living in a cabin overlooking White River where she enjoys watching eagles and dreaming about the adventurous frontiersmen who once traveled past in steamboats. When she’s not reading, writing or researching, she’s the cook for her cranky old tom cat, her husband of more than 25 years, and her two grown sons. She also loves to chat with her fans.

Buy Links
iTunes:  https://itunes.apple.com/us/book/her-wicked-captain/id903379545?mt=11

21 January 2015

The Moorish Loss of Muslim Granada in 1492

By Lisa J. Yarde


1492. A year most often remembered for significant change inspired by the Spaniards. Christopher Columbus’ initial voyage to the West under the auspices of King Ferdinand of Arag√≥n and Queen Isabella of Castile occurred in the summer, as did the ascendancy of the new pope in Rome, Alexander VI, who was born Rodrigo de Borja in the Spanish province of Valencia. 

Granada's Alhambra
There’s another event in 1492 that forever altered Spain, the recapture of Muslim Granada by Ferdinand and Isabella, who according to the chroniclers of the period, ... Always had in mind the great thought of conquering the kingdom of Granada and of casting out from all the Spains the rule of the Moor and the name of Muhammad. Religious fervor and propaganda may have inspired Spanish Catholics to reclaim their land, once governed throughout seven centuries by Islamic rulers. In truth, the Moors of Granada needed little help to tip the scales of history against them. For the last 200 years of their rule, they had been destroying themselves from within their hilltop palace, the beautiful Alhambra.

Seville's Giralda
By the 13th century, the territories of Moorish sovereigns had shrunk to major cities like Granada near the Sierra Nevada mountain range and Malaga on the coast. Catholic monarchs governed three-quarters of the country, occupied the gorgeous estates and palace of Seville, abandoned the observatory at Giralda, and turned the former mosque of Cordoba into a Christian cathedral. Even the bastion at Tarifa more often belonged to the Sultans of Morocco than anyone in Spain. 

The last Muslim dynasty of the country, the Nasrids, rose to power in 1232 through marital and political alliance with another powerful family, only to terminate the foundations of friendship through a brutal civil war that lasted 10 years. The most brilliant rulers of Granada, Muhammad II, his great-grandson Yusuf I, and Yusuf’s son and heir, Muhammad V, staved off the inevitable through treaties. Even they lost the throne or their lives because of jealousies within their own households. A plague of greed and self-annihilation haunted the Nasrid family through each generation. Sons murdered fathers and brothers vied in bloody struggles. Exactly fifty years before their defeat at Granada, the Moorish people had seen no less than five members of the Nasrid clan claim power over the capital, all cousins and direct descendants of Muhammad V.

Out of such dizzying chaos, the last rulers emerged with a fragile grip on the Moorish frontier.  In 1482, Ferdinand and Isabella descended like vultures on the carcass of a civilization that had been in its death throes for several decades. No wonder the Catholic Monarchs assumed God was on their side alone, especially when the king and queen discovered bitter conflict dividing their adversaries.

As had occurred in centuries past under Yusuf I, the politics inside the harem influenced events outside its gilded walls. The penultimate sultan, Abu’l-Hasan Ali, better known as Muley Hacen to the Christians, had two wives, his cousin Aisha and a former Christian slave girl converted to Islam, named Isabel de Solis. Moorish propaganda from the supporters of Aisha claimed Abu’l-Hasan Ali intended to put aside his eldest son by her in favor of Isabel’s boy, who was still a child. 

Sword of Muhammad XII,
displayed in Museum of Cluny
Such fears and bigotry fractured the dynasty, ensured the removal of Abu’l-Hasan Ali from power, and consigned Granada to the ineffectual rule of Aisha’s son Muhammad XII (Boabdil in Spanish sources). A young man when he claimed the throne, he had the misfortune to fall into Christian hands for four years after his first foray. He lost his eldest son Ahmad as a hostage to Ferdinand and Isabella for so long that when Ahmad reunited with his parents, he could not speak Arabic and knew nothing of Islam.

Losses of cities like Archidona and Algeciras reduced the Moorish power bases. Desperate pleas for aid went unanswered by Morocco, Egypt, and the emergent Ottoman Empire. The cities of Alhama and Loja, where the Nasrids had relied upon governors to defend Moorish lands, fell. By 1489, Muhammad XII could count only Almeria, Baza, nearby Guadix and his home at Granada as part of his domain, but soon all but the last would be in Christian hands after brutal sieges at their walls. In 1491, Muhammad XII had no choice except to surrender. According to the Capitulations of November 1491, Ferdinand and Isabella offered him the option to leave his capital with his family for an estate in the hills of Alpujarras.

For Muhammad’s people, the king and queen pledged, “Any Muslim wishing to remain in Granada was granted secure status…” and “No Moor will be forced to become Christian against his or her will…” – first among many broken promises from Ferdinand and Isabella. While he sought a guarantee of his life and freedom, the last sovereign of Granada must have known the precariousness of his situation. His final request to the Catholic Monarchs received the following reply, “The obligation and the grant of lands will last, for so long as he (Muhammad) remains in the service of their highnesses.”  

Pradilla's The Capitulation of Granada
Christopher Columbus was in Granada during this tumultuous time, likely to beg the favor of Ferdinand and Isabella for his voyages that year. Columbus might have witnessed the departure of Muhammad XII for he wrote, “On January 2 in the year 1492, when your Highnesses has concluded their war with the Moors who reigned in Europe, I saw your Highnesses’ banners victoriously raised on the towers of the Alhambra, the citadel of that city….” 

The day must have been a terrifying nightmare for Muhammad XII, his young wife Moraima, his mother Aisha and Muhammad’s children. They departed for Alpujarras, but tragedy followed with the death of Moraima at Andarax. The last young queen of Granada was buried near Mondujar in the modern-day Spanish province of Almeria. By the fall of 1492, Muhammad and his remaining family immigrated to Morocco, never to see their beloved birthplace again. As Muhammad wrote to the ruler of his new home, “... We hope we would not be returned and that our eyes will be satisfied and our hurt and grievous souls will be healed from this great pain....

Seville's Alcazar
Throughout years of researching and writing about the Nasrids of Granada, a consistent theme of my Sultana series has been how internal squabbles among its members did more to weaken the dynasty than warfare with their Christian neighbors ever could. My study also revealed unexpected and pleasant surprises, such as the Christian heritage of some of the Moorish sultans like Muhammad II’s son Nasr I, the loyal Christian personal guards of Muhammad V, who followed him into his exile for a time in Morocco, and the lifetime of friendship between Muhammad V and his contemporary Pedro of Castile, who modeled the reconstruction of Seville's Alcazar on the architecture of Moorish Spain.

The struggle between the Catholics and Muslims of Spain was not just a religious war. Instead, for me, it was a civil war between peoples of a common Spanish heritage.   

---          
Images are mine, or from the public domain, or licensed from Fotalia.com

Sources include L.P. Harvey's Islamic Spain: 1250 to 1500, Barbara Boloix Gallardo's Las sultanas de la Alhambra, and Peggy K. Liss' Isabel the Queen: Life and Times 


Lisa J. Yarde writes fiction inspired by the Middle Ages in Europe. She is the author of two historical novels set in medieval England and Normandy, The Burning Candle, based on the life of one of the first countesses of Leicester and Surrey, Isabel de Vermandois, and On Falcon's Wings, chronicling the star-crossed romance between Norman and Saxon lovers before the Battle of Hastings. Lisa has also written four novels in a six-part series set in Moorish Spain, Sultana, Sultana’s Legacy, Sultana: Two Sisters, and Sultana: The Bride Price where rivalries and ambitions threaten the fragile bonds between members of a powerful family. Her short story, The Legend Rises, which chronicles the Welsh princess Gwenllian of Gwynedd’s valiant fight against English invaders, is also available.

18 January 2015

Author Interview & Book Giveaway: Laura Rahme on THE MASCHERARI: A NOVEL OF VENICE

This week, we're welcoming author Laura Rahme again, whose latest title is THE MASCHERARI: A NOVEL OF VENICE. One lucky visitor will get a free copy of The MascherariBe sure to leave your email address in the comments of today's author interview for a chance to win. Winner(s) are contacted privately by email. Here's the blurb. 

VENEZIA, 1422.
   Doge Tommaso Mocenigo lies on his death bed. 
An evil has come to Venice. An evil that will set the course for the future of La Serenissima.
   On the eve of Carnivale, five wealthy Venetian merchants set upon a mask maker in the ancient district of Santa Croce. They are led by Giacomo Contarini, a ruthless patrician.
   The following day, the Venice Republic's security council, the most feared Council of Ten, summons Florentine inquisitor, Antonio da Parma, to hold an inquest on a most baffling case.  During a sumptuous banquet, Giacomo Contarini and his partners have met a chilling death.
   In the throes of this macabre investigation Antonio da Parma is lured by his dreams and visions and by the mysterious silver pendant that he discovers on one of the dead merchants.
   Noble Catarina Contarini has a sad tale to tell. Her husband's death weighs upon her and so too, do the scandalous accusations that have been raised against him. In her grief, she confides in Antonio and reveals her shocking secrets.
But Catarina's darkest secret concerns a witch; a Napoletana named Magdalena.
   Antonio is drawn ever closer to the magnetic Magdalena. He unveils the truth behind the merchants' murders and comes face to face with a machination of monstrous evil.
   Through this fascinating Magdalena, an enchanter of admirals and merchants alike, Antonio begins to realize that his true quest is one he could never have imagined.
    Weaving historical mystery and the supernatural, The Mascherari evokes a Venice that will leave your breathless.


**Q&A with Laura Rahme**

Why did you set your novel in Venice?


Venice holds a special fascination for both writers and readers because it is such an unusual place both architecturally and culturally. Thanks partly to existing literature and films, it evokes mystery and romance like no other city. I believe its slightly claustrophobic, labyrinthine architecture lends itself well to secrets and to concealment while the ever present water, be it turquoise or dark and murky, contributes to emotional themes or to horror.

After writing The Ming Storytellers which is set in 15th century China, I originally wanted to create a detective series set in the Ming Dynasty. But for some reason I was lured by the Venice Republic and that project never came to light. Venice became my obsession until I could no longer resist.

How does The Mascherari differ from other historical novels set in Venice?

Author Jan Moran has compiled a fantastic list of 27 great novels set in Venice which includes authors Daphne du Maurier, Wilkie Collins, Shakespeare, Ernest Hemingway and Thomas Mann. The list is by far not exhaustive, nor is it the only one. I personally would add Mirella Patzer’s The Contessa’s Vendetta which I loved – think, Return to Eden set in 17th century Venice, and you are in for a delicious treat.

My current impression is that existing literature focuses on the periods starting from the 16th to the 19th century, the majority of stories being set in the post-Napoleonic era which gave birth to our modern conception of Venice.

Beyond historical fiction, if we look at historical crime and mystery, we see many novels set in a more contemporary Venice, like Dona Leon’s exceptional crime series featuring Commissario Guido Brunetti and which is set in 20th century Venice. Then there is this great favorite of film fans and book lovers alike: Patricia Highsmith’s The Talented Mr. Ripley, which is partly set in Venice.

The first aspect of The Mascherari that differentiates it from existing books is that it is set much earlier. Its story unravels in the late medieval period, in 1422, just prior to the birth of the Renaissance. I was greatly influenced by the atmosphere in Umberto Eco’s The Name of the Rose and enjoyed setting my novel in less enlightened times. The Mascherari also merges three of my favorite genres – historical fiction, mystery and the supernatural.

And finally, it features The Council of Ten. Secretive organizations fascinate me and that is probably something readers of The Ming Storytellers would have already gathered. I chose to portray The Council of Ten in a mostly negative light, a position that I borrowed from Byron’s The Two Foscari, and which was partly born of the French propaganda that followed Napoleon’s conquest of Venice.

What is it about late medieval Venice that appealed to you?

As soon as we delve earlier than the 18th century, we discover a Venice that is less a fabrication of its conquerors (that is, France, Austria, and later tourism) and more true to itself. What arises is an interesting culture that invites speculations about the psychology of Venice’s inhabitants at the time. From the 14th century, and right up until Napoleon marched into Venice in 1798, Venice’s security and morality was once governed by an extremely secretive council called The Council of Ten. Within the community, social order and righteousness was kept in check by hundreds of local parishes, by various professional guilds and yes, even by gossip, and over the years, the Council of Ten encouraged public denunciations of improper conduct.  

The period of Carnivale, during which this novel is set, actually belies the rampant repression and moral enforcements of the times. From a socio-political point of view, social order – or ‘serenity’ – was important in Venice because it allowed a wealthy oligarchy to thrive and to maintain control over a large majority worker population. That, in itself, is not only captivating, but it is extremely significant because some people would say it mirrors our modern reality.

Beyond this, it is the medieval Venetian psyche itself that is unusual and provides the perfect backdrop for a supernatural mystery. The ever present fear of being denounced, of being the subject of gossip, of being watched by a secretive police, while living in cramped dwellings where little sunlight permeates, encourages certain individual behaviors. Setting the novel in late medieval Venice also allowed me to highlight the superstitions and repressed mentalities of the time, and to weave these through the story in a manner that could not function if the novel were set in later centuries.

What did you enjoy while writing this novel?

I am very passionate about research. It is true pleasure.

When I want to study a place, it is important for me to understand that place’s relationship with the world at the time. What stands out in the 15th century, is that Venice was a world power as the Western world was known. It would remain so until 1509 and some would say for a century more. Venice had the most powerful navy in the Western world and was made wealthy through trade with Byzantine Constantinople, Egypt and Syria, and through its many colonies including Crete, Mykonos and Santorini. The Venetian ducat was overtaking the Florentine currency as the leading currency in Europe. To put it bluntly, the rest of the world feared Venice. To conceive Venice, not as a tourist theme park but as a world power, was a shift in paradigm that actually became quite fun.

But let’s not forget the supernatural color of The Mascherari. I loved researching Italian charms, Roman mythologies, stregheria (Italian witchcraft) and the vecchia religione.
It was also through research that I met intriguing historical figures like Doge Tommaso Mocenigo who seems to have predicted his successor’s mistakes and the downfall of Venice, and about the extremely talented Alberti Leone Battista who was a genius long before Leonardo da Vinci. I just had to feature these men in my story!

Do you think it necessary to travel to a place in order to write about it?

Some people say you do. For me, that depends. I think Venice is very different from what it was in 1422. The nature of historical fiction demands that we filter out the modern from what actually existed at the time, so modern travel can sometimes make it harder to write authentically if one is not careful. Still I couldn’t resist flying to Venice a couple of years ago. 
While there, I explored the Council of Ten registers at the Archivio di Stato and I completed the obligatory Secret Itinerary tour of the Ducal Palace which was fantastic. But as I mentioned, the palace is much changed from what it was in 1422. So I supplemented my visit to the palace with research.

One thing I could not do at all is learn martial arts. I am a little disappointed about that because I strive to enrich my combat scenes – these passages take me the longest to write! I would have loved to learn from the great 14th century sword master, Fiore dei Liberi.

Tell us a little bit about the main characters from The Mascherari.

My protagonist, Antonio da Parma, is one who keeps much to himself. He is a man of great intuition and a meticulous scriber of all events. Yet, while it is he who pens most of the diary entries in the novel and who steers the reader through the story, revealing each character’s secrets along the way, he is perhaps the most enigmatic of them all. He has a vague past. What we do know of him is that he was never baptized and it soon becomes clear that he can communicate with the other world, or at least, glimpse beyond the living. I like to inject mysteries within mysteries and creating Antonio da Parma was a thrill.

Catarina Contarini is a wealthy patrician woman who has just lost her husband and daughter in a series of senseless murders. She is in mourning when Antonio da Parma begins his investigation. We know from her diary that she is distraught. Something is tormenting her, something beyond her recent loss. Drawing out Catarina’s secrets and imagining the life of a dissatisfied patrician woman was great fun but what was most satisfactory was unveiling her psychology, layer by layer.

Esteban del Valle is by far my favorite character. I will not say more but he is truly special. I hope readers will also like him.

Laura Rahme was born in Dakar, Senegal where she spent her early childhood. Dakar's poverty and raw beauty left a strong impression on Laura. Deeply inspired by her Lebanese, French and Vietnamese heritage, she has a passion for covering historical and cultural ground in her writing. Laura holds degrees in Engineering and Psychology. Her non-writing career has seen her in the role of web developer, analyst programmer and business analyst. She lives in Australia but calls the world her home. She is the author of The Ming Storytellers and The Mascherari.
Book Links:

16 January 2015

New & Noteworthy (part deux)

(Many apologies to Blythe for posting this news late! Mea culpa. --Heather)

Blythe Gifford has started off 2015 with great news: Wendy the Super Librarian has listed SECRETS AT COURT as one of her Honorable Mention, best of the year books.  She called it “one of the best done medievals I've read in a long while.”  You can read the post here. 

Congratulations Blythe!

New & Noteworthy: January 16

Happy New Year to all our readers!

Ian Lipke announces four novels now available through amazon.com. NARGUN and NATHAN tell the story of two Australian aborigines (father and son) in nineteenth century Australia; LEST EVIL PREVAIL and A KILLER CALLS are crime novels set in twentieth century Australia. To learn more about Ian and his writing, visit astutewriting-today.com.

• Jennifer Mueller has reprinted several more titles, including stories set in the Byzantine age and Medici Italy. Visit jennifermuellerbooks.com to see the full list of titles.

• Kim Rendfeld's latest release THE ASHES OF HEAVEN'S PILLAR was recently given a glowing review at BookStopCorner. You can read the full review here.

• Unusual Historicals contributors Lisa J. Yarde, Judith Starkston, and Kim Rendfeld, along with author Sam Thomas, will present the panel "Midwifery: Magic or Medicine?" during the Historical Novel Society North American Conference, June 26-28 in Denver. The panelists will discuss the practice of midwifery as a reflection of individual societies during the ancient world, the early and late medieval periods, and the mid-seventeenth century. For more information about the 2015 HNS Conference, see hns-conference.org.


15 January 2015

Excerpt Thursday: THE MASCHERARI: A NOVEL OF VENICE by Laura Rahme

This week, we're welcoming author Laura Rahme again, whose latest title is THE MASCHERARI: A NOVEL OF VENICE. Join us again on Sunday for an author interview, with more details about the story behind the story. One lucky visitor will get a free copy of The MascherariBe sure to leave your email address in the comments of today's post or Sunday's author interview for a chance to win. Winner(s) are contacted privately by email. Here's the blurb. 

VENEZIA, 1422.
   Doge Tommaso Mocenigo lies on his death bed. 
An evil has come to Venice. An evil that will set the course for the future of La Serenissima.
   On the eve of Carnivale, five wealthy Venetian merchants set upon a mask maker in the ancient district of Santa Croce. They are led by Giacomo Contarini, a ruthless patrician.
   The following day, the Venice Republic's security council, the most feared Council of Ten, summons Florentine inquisitor, Antonio da Parma, to hold an inquest on a most baffling case.  During a sumptuous banquet, Giacomo Contarini and his partners have met a chilling death.
   In the throes of this macabre investigation Antonio da Parma is lured by his dreams and visions and by the mysterious silver pendant that he discovers on one of the dead merchants.
   Noble Catarina Contarini has a sad tale to tell. Her husband's death weighs upon her and so too, do the scandalous accusations that have been raised against him. In her grief, she confides in Antonio and reveals her shocking secrets.
But Catarina's darkest secret concerns a witch; a Napoletana named Magdalena.
   Antonio is drawn ever closer to the magnetic Magdalena. He unveils the truth behind the merchants' murders and comes face to face with a machination of monstrous evil.
   Through this fascinating Magdalena, an enchanter of admirals and merchants alike, Antonio begins to realize that his true quest is one he could never have imagined.
   Weaving historical mystery and the supernatural, The Mascherari evokes a Venice that will leave your breathless.
** An Excerpt from The Mascherari**

Letter from Catarina Contarini to Antonio da Parma
25 December 1422

[..]
What is jealousy in a woman, inquisitor? You who have delved into the hearts of men and purged them from their errors. You would understand the dark matters that move us humans, perhaps better than priests. Do you know what jealousy can do to a woman, Signor da Parma? Men who laugh at our weakness would soon scorn and punish us if they knew to what ends we were driven by it.
The first time I saw them, it was at Mass.  Francesco Visconti and his wife, his cloak of scarlet velvet merely hiding the dire misery that had brought him to Venice, and the trail of her gown, black on the campo’s snow, like the stains she would soon wreak into my life.  In the early days, they’d not yet settled in the parish of San Giacomo dell’Orio. They lived in a rented house in north Castello and visited the Church of San Lorenzo every Sunday.  In manner of servants, they could afford little, save for one Armenian slave.
I remember that Giacomo’s wife never took part in the service, and remained outside, by the well.  She said that the incense made her ill. She also did not engage the women of the parish and I understood it to be because she would soon join another.  I did not begrudge her. It is difficult enough to make new friends in Venezia let alone to have to belong to two parishes.
I can still see her tall silhouette standing on the white pavement, peering into the well of the campo. She had the sort of grace that gives one chills. She was a woman of maybe thirty years. Her name was Magdalena. I do not relish describing to you what she looked like because it wrongs me to think again, of her charms. But did she have charms, you ask? 
Magdalena, she had charms in abundance. Here, the women who light a flame in men’s hearts are the fairest of skin, they are those with noble high brows, long gold locks, a carmine mouth–neither too small nor too large–with a hint of crimson on their pale cheekbones.  And still, even though she looked nothing like the ideal I have described, the Magdalena had charms. Not just the sort you were sure to find in her languorous dark eyes and carnal lips, or in the haunting perfume she left behind and which drove men to despair. There were charms of another sort, too, in the gold and silver of her bracelets and chains.
As for me, I likened the din of these metallic charms to a serenade from hell.  When the parish members congregated in the campo, gossiping of this and that, the noise grew thick around me. Still, I could hear her.  It was the metal round her wrists that rose me most. The incessant din of those chains drove me insane. I was tense through the parish meetings.
And long before Giacomo placed his hand on his heart when he saluted her after the service, I saw the knowing glint in his eyes when they first rested upon her.  I knew its meaning just as I knew him on my wedding night.
I was not yet jealous. Not yet. I was foolish enough, then, to still believe in my own charms as his lawful wife. I would have permitted him daily visits to the brothels of Castello, if he so wished, in the belief that he loved me and that the dreams he built were for our happiness.
“Magdalena Visconti has very little of a Milanese woman,” I told my husband.
Even then, I spoke with gaiety. You may not know the Venetian well.  Still you would have heard what they say about our manners. How we can affect this gaiety even as we seethe and scheme and what not.  It is not for naught that even French diplomats think of us as duplicitous. A Venetian, Antonio, is not easily read. But I assure you that even then, I spoke without spite, and nothing my husband would say could shake my belief that I was the pride of his hearth, and that this newcomer, with all her gold and jewelry, was mere distraction for his curiosity.
“Magdalena is not a Milanese,” came his curt reply. “She is the Napoli woman I once told you about, Cara Catarina. The woman I met in Verona…”
The long forgotten Napoletana. And she had returned in his life. Why did my husband’s gaze falter under mine? And why do we women persist with questions that will not be answered. His response had lessened my confidence for a short instant. But only for a short moment.


Laura Rahme was born in Dakar, Senegal where she spent her early childhood. Dakar's poverty and raw beauty left a strong impression on Laura. Deeply inspired by her Lebanese, French and Vietnamese heritage, she has a passion for covering historical and cultural ground in her writing. Laura holds degrees in Engineering and Psychology. Her non-writing career has seen her in the role of web developer, analyst programmer and business analyst. She lives in Australia but calls the world her home. She is the author of The Ming Storytellers and The Mascherari.
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