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Book review and giveaway: The Towers of Tuscany

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The Towers of Tuscany

Towers of Tuscany

In full compliance with FTC Guidelines,
I received this book for free in exchange
for a fair and honest review.
I was in no way compensated for this post
as a reviewer,
and the thoughts are my own.
The Towers of Tuscany
By
Carol M. CramPublication Date: Jan 23, 2014
New Arcadia Publishing
Paperback; Ebook

Pages: 380
ISBN-13: 978-0981024110


Genre:
Historical fiction

Source: Received
through
Historical Fiction virtual book tour

This book counts for the following Reading Challenges:

    2014 historical fiction New author challenge

MY THOUGHTS ABOUT THIS BOOK

new eiffel 4

As a painter, I enjoy very much novels where art has a central part. If it’s combined with historical fiction, it makes for a delight, and that was exactly my experience with The Towers of Tuscany.
Sofia inherited her father’s genes and benefits from his teaching, as painting is concerned, but she has the misfortune of being a female, that is, not being able to have her own art studio. She first paints in hiding in a concealed room where her husband cannot see what she does. Then, after some dramatic events leading to her father’s death, she flees her city in October 1338 disguised as a man to be able to keep painting and doing commissions for rich patrons. One of them discovers her real nature and falls in love with her, which can be a very dangerous thing for her…

The historical setting was wonderfully rendered, with the situation of females in that all masculine world, the rampant and condemned homosexuality, and the inevitable Plague that devastated Europe in the 14th century.

I enjoyed a lot all the characters, and especially the relationship between Sofia and the friends she makes on her escape route. Sofia has a very strong personality and can be stubborn. I enjoyed the way she integrated the wisdom received from her father to counterbalance her own foibles. All along, she reminisces past events and words of her dad; these are integrated in the storyline in italics.

I enjoyed also very much all the art descriptions, for instance on the panel preparations before painting. The description of the city of San Gimignano and Siena make you want to go there right away!

The only thing that didn’t really work for me is the Epilogue. In 2014, a woman buys at auction Sofia’s last painting found under the ruins of a villa she bought in Italy. If the book had been built along a back and forth between the 14th and the 21st century, that would have worked, but to have all the book set in the 14th century, and suddenly this Epilogue in 2014, I found it flat. For me, the book would have ended perfectly just before the Epilogue. But it’s only a few pages long, and doesn’t hid the fact that the whole book is a gem.

All chapters begin with a quotation from Il Libro dell’Arte by Cennini, “often translated as The Craftsman’s Handbook. The book is a “how to” on Renaissance art. It contains information on pigments, brushes, panel painting, the art of fresco, and techniques and tricks, including detailed instructions for underdrawing, underpainting and overpainting in egg tempera. ” [from wikipedia on Cennino Cennini]

VERDICT: This is a beautiful gem for lovers of Italian art and history. Through her stunning colors and her vibrant heart, Sofia invites you into her passionate life and encourages you to follow your own path, at whatever cost.

WHAT IS IT ABOUT

Set amid the twisting streets and sunlit piazzas of medieval Italy, the Towers of Tuscany tells the story of a woman who dares to follow her own path in the all-male domain of the painter’s workshop. Sofia Barducci is born into a world where a woman is only as good as the man who cares for her, but she still claims the right to make her own mistakes. Her first mistake is convincing her father to let her marry Giorgio Carelli, a wealthy saffron merchant in San Gimignano, the Tuscan city of towers. Trained in secret by her father to create the beautifully-crafted panels and altarpieces acclaimed today as masterpieces of late medieval art, Sofia’s desire for freedom from her father’s workshop leads her to betray her passion and sink into a life of loveless drudgery with a husband who comes to despise her when she does not produce a son.

In an attack motivated by vendetta, Sofia’s father is crushed by his own fresco, compelling Sofia to act or risk the death of her soul. The choice she makes takes her on a journey from misery to the heights of passion—both as a painter and as a woman. Sofia escapes to Siena where, disguised as a boy, she paints again. When her work attracts the notice of a nobleman who discovers the woman under the dirty smock, Sofia is faced with a choice that nearly destroys her.

The Towers of Tuscany unites a strong heroine with meticulously researched settings and compelling characters drawn from the rich tapestry of medieval Italy during one of Europe’s most turbulent centuries. The stylishly written plot is packed with enough twists and turns to keep readers up long past their bedtimes. [provided by HFVBT]

 

Praise for The Towers of Tuscany

“The Towers of Tuscany is a delightful escape to the Siena we all love. Carol Cram has crafted a delicious story about a strong woman torn between her secret past, her love of painting and the forbidden charms of her rich patron. Hard to resist and highly recommended!” – Anne Fortier, Author of The Lost Sisterhood and the New York Times bestseller, Juliet

“Carol Cram’s lush descriptions and intriguing characters bring this dramatic tale of medieval Tuscany to life. If you love Italian art, a feisty heroine, and a page-turning plot, you will adore this novel.” – Deborah Swift, Author of A Divided Inheritance

The Towers of Tuscany has all the elements of a wonderful historical novel―a talented, frustrated heroine, a treacherous, feckless husband, and a promise to a dying, much loved father who orders the heroine on a dangerous mission. Carol is a first rate storyteller. The research is well done. Every chapter displays a fine knowledge of painting technique of the 14th century, and customs and mores of the age. The details of dress, fabric, food, are flawless. The clever dialogue and fast pace make the novel zing along.” – Roberta Rich, Author of The Midwife of Venice and The Harem Midwife

“Sofia will set your heart racing as she attempts to find what we all, in our own ways, strive to seek: love, resolution, and artistic freedom. The legacy of this story will leave you yearning for more.” – Cathleen With, award-winning author of Having Faith in the Polar Girls’ Prison

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READ AN EXCERPT.

About the Author

Carol CramCarol M. Cram has enjoyed a great career as an educator, teaching at Capilano University in North Vancouver for over twenty years and authoring forty-plus bestselling textbooks on business communications and software applications. She holds an MA in Drama from the University of Toronto and an MBA from Heriot-Watt University in Edinburgh, Scotland. Carol is currently focusing as much of her attention as she can spare between walks in the woods on writing historical novels with an arts twist.

She and her husband, painter Gregg Simpson, share a life on beautiful Bowen Island near Vancouver, Canada.

Author Links

Website | Blog | Goodreads | Facebook | Twitter

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Book review and giveaway: Queen Elizabeth’s Daughter

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Queen Elizabeth’s Daughter

Queen Elizabeth's Daughter

In full compliance with FTC Guidelines,
I received this book for free in exchange
for a fair and honest review.
I was in no way compensated for this post
as a reviewer,
and the thoughts are my own.
Queen Elizabeth’s Daughter
By
Anne Clinard Barnhill

Publication Date: March 18, 2014
St. Martin’s Griffin
Paperback;

Pages: 320
ISBN-10: 0312662122


Genre:
Historical fiction

Source: Received
from the author through
Historical Fiction virtual book tour

Goodreads

Buy the Book

Amazon UK
Amazon US
Barnes & Noble
Book Depository
Books-a-million


This book counts for the following Reading Challenges:

    2014 historical fiction New author challenge

MY THOUGHTS ABOUT THIS BOOK

new eiffel 4

Again, I’m grateful to Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tours for introducing to something new to me: I had never heard about Anne Clinard Barnhill, and I’m not sure I had ever read a historical novel that much centered on Elizabeth I before. I had no idea about Mary Shelton and her connection to the Queen.
Actually the author is herself related to Mary Shelton, as her bloodline comes from from Mary’s older brother. How cool is that!

This is basically the story of Mary Shelton, the queen’s second cousin, whose parents died when she was very young, and so who was raised by the Queen herself. When Mary was of age, the Queen intended for her the best future possible, with some rich European noble possibly, but Mary had some other more humble and more romantic plans. Did she have to obey? Did she rebel? What happened to her and the one she truly loved?

I thoroughly enjoyed this book, where all the major English political figures of the time are present, including one that keeps intriguing me since I met him in the Giordano Bruno’s series: John Dee.
I discovered a lot here about Elizabeth’s horrible character, with insane fits of anger:

Mary mulled these thoughts over, wondering if she would ever understand the woman who sat next to her. The queen seemed the most loving, considerate, and wise ruler a people could ever hope to have. Yet, she could change into a selfish, cruel mistress if the mood took her.
p.231

And I didn’t know much either about Elizabeth’s relationship with Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester, and the whole question of her virginity or not.
All the characters were presented like real people with feelings and intricate traits.
Mary Shelton particular appeared so very real, and not fearing to be herself and blunt with the queen.The sense of dread was excellent as for Mary and Skydemore’s future. You know what’s coming, but the way it’s coming slowly but surely is really creepy and almost unbearable.
It was interesting to see how Mary’s inner growth and evolution was described. I was amazed how at the end, after everything, she was not bitter, but was still of awe and love for Elizabeth.

And all this of course on the background of the religion problems in England at the time, as Mary, Queen of Scots, seems to be plotting with Norfolk to reintroduce Catholicism and take Elizabeth’s place on the throne. The growing tension related to this was very well rendered.
The background includes as well England’s difficult relations with France and Spain.

I enjoyed also how life at court was described in many details, with for instance a lot of emphasis on all that could touch your sense of smell, in a disgusting or pleasant way! There were lots of information as well on the queen’s summer travels.

The Author’s Note after the novel was really excellent at showing what was real and what modifications she introduced.

One thing that was not perfectly clear to me at first, was the nature of the pages in italics, here and there between “regular chapters”. First, I was thinking maybe they were thoughts going through Elizabeth’s mind. I believe they are actually more things that Elizabeth shared with her confidante Blanche. They are important passages.

And I noticed one typo which I hope disappeared form the final copy: pubic instead of public  on page 113.

VERDITC: Historical fiction about England too often focuses on the Boleyns. Through this rather sad story, Barnhill offers here a refreshing view on a major page of the end of the Tudor dynasty. Getting to know Mary Shelton, you will experience all the major troubles of the times, including the fits of a fierce royal character and the omnipresent looming shadow of the Tower. For all historical novel lovers.

WHAT IS IT ABOUT

Mistress Mary Shelton is Queen Elizabeth’s favorite ward, enjoying every privilege the position affords. The queen loves Mary like a daughter, and, like any good mother, she wants her to make a powerful match. The most likely prospect: Edward de Vere, Earl of Oxford. But while Oxford seems to be everything the queen admires: clever, polished and wealthy, Mary knows him to be lecherous, cruel, and full of treachery. No matter how hard the queen tries to push her into his arms, Mary refuses.
Instead, Mary falls in love with a man who is completely unsuitable. Sir John Skydemore is a minor knight with little money, a widower with five children. Worst of all, he’s a Catholic at a time when Catholic plots against Elizabeth are rampant. The queen forbids Mary to wed the man she loves. When the young woman, who is the queen’s own flesh and blood, defies her, the couple finds their very lives in danger as Elizabeth’s wrath knows no bounds. [provided by HFVBT]

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Anne-Clinard-BarnhillAnne Clinard Barnhill has been writing or dreaming of writing for most of her life. For the past twenty years, she has published articles, book and theater reviews, poetry, and short stories. Her first book, AT HOME IN THE LAND OF OZ, recalls what it was like growing up with an autistic sister. Her work has won various awards and grants. Barnhill holds an M.F.A. in Creative Writing from the University of North Carolina at Wilmington. Besides writing, Barnhill also enjoys teaching, conducting writing workshops, and facilitating seminars to enhance creativity. She loves spending time with her three grown sons and their families. For fun, she and her husband of thirty years, Frank, take long walks and play bridge. In rare moments, they dance.

For more information, please visit Anne Clinard Barnhill’s website. You can also find her on Facebook and Twitter.

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TO WIN MY ADVANCE READING  COPY OF THIS BOOK?
[I take great care of my books,
this book is still in perfect condition,
as I received it form the publisher]
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when you enter a giveaway, I keep your email address only until a winner has been chosen and has confirmed. After that, I delete the form where your answers were stored during the duration of the giveaway. If you win and you email me your mailing address, I delete this email and its information as soon as I have mailed you the book.

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SHARE YOUR THOUGHTS  IN A COMMENT PLEASE

Book review and giveaway: The Ambitious Madame Bonaparte. I love France #85

I LOVE FRANCE!
I plan to publish this meme every Thursday more or less!.
You can share here about any book
or anything cultural you just discovered related to France, Paris, etc.
Please spread the news on Twitter, Facebook, etc !
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*******

The Ambitious Madame Bonaparte

Ambitious Madame Bonaparte

In full compliance with FTC Guidelines,
I received this book for free in exchange
for a fair and honest review.
I was in no way compensated for this post
as a reviewer,
and the thoughts are my own.
The Ambitious Madame Bonaparte
By
Ruth Hull Chatlien
Publisher: Amika Press, Chicago
Pub. Date: December 2, 2013
ISBN: 978-1937484163

Pages484
Genre:
Historical fiction

Source: Received
from the author through
Historical Fiction virtual book tour

Goodreads

Buy Links:

Available from
Amika Press, Amazon, Barnes and Noble,
and iTunes.


This book counts for the following Reading Challenges:

   books-on-france-14 2014 historical fiction New author challenge

MY THOUGHTS ABOUT THIS BOOK

new eiffel 42014 started very well on Words And Peace and France Book Tours with Josephine Bonaparte. I am delighted today to present another Bonaparte, a bit less known I believe, but thanks to Ruth Hull Chatlien, all historical novel lovers can now meet Betsy Bonaparte.

Elizabeth Patterson was born at the end of the 18th century. She grew up in Baltimore. She was very beautiful, was very smart, and had an amazing memory. And her heart was full of dreams, of living abroad in Europe and marrying some dashing rich noble. One day, she meets just the one: Jerome Bonaparte, none other than Napoleon’s brother. And they do marry, and I won’t tell you more about how her life turned out.

I will only say, probably not at all the way you might imagine . But keep in mind the spirit of the time, when women had to respect their father’s mind and will – and Betsy’s father has definitely a mind of his own.
And things get much more complicated as Napoleon‘s mind was quite formidable as well. The book will show you how he tried to dominate as a tyrant not only over France but also over every member of his own family.

The Ambitious Madame Bonaparte is very well done. It gives you an excellent background of the socio-economic and political context of the time, in France, Europe (with Napoleon’s doing and undoing), and in the United States.

The description of culture and literary life in Paris is excellent as well.

It certainly depicts very strong and determined characters, sometimes to the point of obsession, especially if you consider Betsy’s life long fight for herself and then for Bo, projecting on him all she could not attain for herself – I will let you meet Bo yourself. It seems her desires were so strong that they blinded her many a times to what was certainly going to happen.

Betsy was for me a very dreamy and tragic figure, never totally at ease in the world that was hers, never totally feeling at home for long in any country she tried to settle, always fighting for her place in a world of culture and respect of all.

Fittingly, the book ends with a vivid scene produced by Betsy’s powerful imagination.

VERDICT: I highly recommend this book to all who enjoy historical fiction, strong women, and/or reading about the Bonapartes. On a very detailed and informative background, Chatlien manages to draw the lively portrait of a strong woman, victim of history and of her milieu. You will want to accompany Betsy all along and discover what fate has in store for her and those she loves.

WHAT IS IT ABOUT

As a clever girl in stodgy, mercantile Baltimore, Betsy Patterson dreams of a marriage that will transport her to cultured Europe. When she falls in love with and marries Jerome Bonaparte, she believes her dream has come true—until Jerome’s older brother Napoleon becomes an implacable enemy. Based on a true story, The Ambitious Madame Bonaparte is a historical novel that portrays this woman’s tumultuous life. Elizabeth Patterson Bonaparte, known to history as Betsy Bonaparte, scandalized Washington with her daring French fashions; visited Niagara Falls when it was an unsettled wilderness; survived a shipwreck and run-ins with British and French warships; dined with presidents and danced with dukes; and lived through the 1814 Battle of Baltimore. Yet through it all, Betsy never lost sight of her primary goal—to win recognition of her marriage. [provided by the author]

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Ruth Hull ChatlienRuth Hull Chatlien has been a writer and editor of educational materials for twenty-five years. Her specialty is U.S. and world history. She is the author of Modern American Indian Leaders and has published several short stories and poems in literary magazines. The Ambitious Madame Bonaparte (2013) is her first published novel.

She lives in northeastern Illinois with her husband, Michael, and a very pampered dog named Smokey. When she’s not writing, she can usually be found gardening, knitting, drawing, painting, or watching football.

Website | Twitter | Facebook 

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SHARE YOUR THOUGHTS  IN A COMMENT PLEASE

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