Candace Robb: guest-post and giveaway

A Conspiracy of Wolves
by Candace Robb

Publication Date: August 1, 2019
Severn House/Crème de la Crime
Hardcover & eBook; 256 Pages

Series: Owen Archer, Book 11
Genre: Historical Mystery



When a prominent citizen is murdered, former Captain of the Guard Owen Archer is persuaded out of retirement to investigate in this gripping medieval mystery.

1374. When a member of one of York’s most prominent families is found dead in the woods, his throat torn out, rumours spread like wildfire that wolves are running loose throughout the city. Persuaded to investigate by the victim’s father, Owen Archer is convinced that a human killer is responsible. But before he can gather sufficient evidence to prove his case, a second body is discovered, stabbed to death. Is there a connection? What secrets are contained within the victim’s household? And what does apprentice healer Alisoun know that she’s not telling?

Teaming up with Geoffrey Chaucer, who is in York on a secret mission on behalf of Prince Edward, Owen’s enquiries will draw him headlong into a deadly conspiracy.

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About the Author

I’m Candace Robb, a writer/historian engaged in creating fiction about the late middle ages with a large cast of characters with whom I enjoy spending my days. Two series, the Owen Archer mysteries and the Kate Clifford mysteries, are set in late medieval York. The Margaret Kerr trilogy is set in early 14th century Scotland, at the beginning of the Wars of Independence. Two standalone novels (published under pseudonym Emma Campion) expand on the lives of two women in the court of King Edward III who have fascinated me ever since I first encountered them in history and fiction.

I am a dreamer. Writing, gardening, walking, dancing, reading, being with friends—there’s always a dreaming element.


The Cutting Room Floor

Write, read, rewrite, read, revise, read, edit, read aloud, polish. My process in a nutshell. But I’m oversimplifying. One scene can go through quite a few iterations of any one of those steps. Which means I leave a lot on the cutting room floor. Don’t know the term? It’s a reference to the act of cutting physical film strips in the process of editing films—before digital. All the material that didn’t make the final cut for myriad reasons—the film ran too long, the scene was judged repetitive, unnecessary, jarring, it was reshot. All this film jargon feels quite apropos because each scene is vividly running in my head as I write. On my computer, the folder for each book contains subfolders of old versions, and those subfolders include small files with titles like “begin old chap 3,” “Jasper’s rant,” “garden in snow,” bits and pieces that I took out but saved just in case.

What snippets of A Conspiracy of Wolves would you find on the cutting room floor? A Murdered PeaceThis would be a prize winner because I played with the idea for the book for several years while working on three books in my Kate Clifford series (The Service of the Dead, A Twisted Vengeance, A Murdered Peace). There are a number of scenes involving the discovery of decorative buttons from the jacket of a young woman gone missing long ago—after Hoban Swann’s death his friends find them around their homes and become increasingly paranoid, though they deny it to anyone who asks. I discarded that thread long ago, when the working title for the book was Death Has No Remedy (a title I am finally releasing to the universe after trying it out for over a half dozen books). The sequence was meant to propel the plot forward and add tension, but to me it read like a long stall. Snip! A few characters fell with that as well. Fortunately no actors were harmed in this process.

A Vigil of SpiesThe cutting room floor was also littered with versions of the first crime scene in A Conspiracy of Wolves. Owen rides out into Galtres to examine Hoban’s corpse in situ. In the earliest drafts both Jasper and Alisoun accompany Owen. But they kept arguing and taking the focus away from the tragedy. I absentmindedly rewrote the scene with Brother Michaelo attending Owen as his scribe, an amusing idea, the fastidious, sardonic monk taking notes on a bloody scene. I loved it. But I’d written Michaelo out of the series at the end of A Vigil of Spies—he  planned to return to Normandy. I cut that scene and tried again. Just Jasper this time. But it felt flat. What I liked about the Michaelo/Owen combo was similar to what I enjoy about Owen’s scenes with Geoffrey Chaucer—the amusing clash of personalities. A sleuth investigating the crime scene is nothing new—the interest is in the particulars. But that’s not enough, especially if there’s more than one such scene in the book. What really makes it fresh is the personalities involved. I needed that slight comic relief of the clashing personalities. Jasper and Owen rarely clash. I tried Alisoun. She can be as annoying as Brother Michaelo. But it didn’t work. In this situation, she would be serious, engaged, no better than Jasper for my purposes. Brother Michaelo worked. He was exactly what I wanted. But what was he doing there? Why hadn’t he returned to Normandy?  Dear reader, I backtracked. And the first chapter of the finished product turned out to be quite different from the original. You know the scene in the tavern, with Owen listening to Tucker’s fiddle music? Yes, it moved much farther into the book. More snips. Now Alisoun had center stage until I shift to Owen returning from Freythorpe Hadden and encountering Brother Michaelo and the bereaved Bartolf Swann. The game’s afoot.

The Nuns Tale Every book is like this. Several years ago I reread both the Owen Archer and the Margaret Kerr series to ensure that the files I delivered to Diversion Books for the new editions were intact. Much to my surprise, many scenes I vividly remember weren’t in the final cuts. I was particularly startled by the absence of a long sequence toward the end of The Nun’s Tale in which Owen maneuvers along narrow ledges on the cliffs near Scarborough, a harrowing scene in which his partial blindness hampers his depth perception. I checked the published books, looking for the scene—it wasn’t in any of them. That entire sequence is lost to me, the cutting room floor files for that particular book deleted long ago. Then I remembered that it had stalled the action, much as the acorn button. Snip!

The perils of write, read, rewrite, read, revise, read, edit, read aloud, polish. But it’s what I do. And one of these days I’ll find a use for the idea of Owen on the cliffs. Look for it.

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Thursday, August 1
Review at Book Frolic
Excerpt at Books In Their Natural Habitat

Friday, August 2
Review at A Book Geek

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Feature at The Writing Desk

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Tuesday, August 6
Excerpt at Broken Teepee
Review at Chicks, Rogues and Scandals

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Interview at Bookish Rantings

Thursday, August 8
Guest Post at Reading the Past
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Feature at I’m All About Books
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Saturday, August 10
Feature at Clarissa Reads it All

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Excerpt at A Darn Good Read

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Excerpt at Just One More Chapter
Review & Interview at Gwendalyn’s Books

Tuesday, August 13
Review at Passages to the Past

Wednesday, August 14
Guest Post at Words and Peace
Excerpt at Historical Fiction with Spirit

Thursday, August 15
Review at Coffee and Ink
Review at Book Reviews from Canada


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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
Carol M. CramPublication Date: Jan 23, 2014
New Arcadia Publishing
Paperback; Ebook

Pages: 380
ISBN-13: 978-0981024110

Historical fiction

Source: Received
Historical Fiction virtual book tour

This book counts for the following Reading Challenges:

    2014 historical fiction New author challenge


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.


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

Buy the Book

Amazon (Ebook)
Amazon (Paperback)


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.

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Book review and giveaway: Queen Elizabeth’s Daughter

Queen Elizabeth's Daughter Banner

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
Anne Clinard Barnhill

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

Pages: 320
ISBN-10: 0312662122

Historical fiction

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


Buy the Book

Amazon UK
Amazon US
Barnes & Noble
Book Depository

This book counts for the following Reading Challenges:

    2014 historical fiction New author challenge


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.

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.


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]


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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