Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Review and Giveaway: Daughters of the Witching Hill by Mary Sharratt

Bess Southerns lived all of her eighty plus years in Pendle Forest, a wise woman and herbalist who used old Latin prayers to bless and heal the sick. The Catholic rites and feast days had melded with the ancient pagan traditions and the two were inextricably entwined in Bess. She could not tell for sure where her power came from, the Virgin Mary or the Queen of Elfhame. But she vowed early on to use her ability only for good and never to delve into the dark side of her gift.

Such a promise proved hard to adhere to. The lives of the poor were very hard in the Puritan England of Elizabeth I. With the dissolution of the monasteries and convents went the aid to the poor that those houses provided. When power mad landlords oppressed and even abused their tenants, Bess was unable to refuse to help her lifelong friends, even if it meant delving into the black magic that shook her very soul.

Still, she and her family and friends were left alone for many years. She wielded her own sort of power, so that most were afraid to cross her. As her granddaughter Alizon grew, Bess was thrilled to see the family power passed down. Alizon was not, she wanted nothing to do with the family "gift". She only wanted a normal life.

With Queen Elizabeth's death came King James...and he was far less tolerant of Catholics than Elizabeth had been. Catholics became nearly synonymous with witches, making it easy for those in control to rid themselves of those that were unwanted or troublesome. And so, finally, Bess and her family and friends found themselves accused and imprisoned.


Pendle Hill

What a fantastically woven tale this is, hung on the threads of reality and brought to life by the wonderful imagination of Mary Sharratt. While the facts of this particular case are well documented, it takes a historical novel like this to allow the casual reader to appreciate the atmosphere of time and place, to understand the political and social undercurrents that have long been lost. This is where a historical novelist truly shines, as the author certainly does with Daughters of the Witching Hill.

Daughters of the Witching Hill is published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, ISBN 978-0-547-06967-8

Visit Mary's website for more information about the author and all of her books!

I have an extra copy that will go to the randomly drawn winner! For one entry, just leave me a comment here. If you would like extra entries there are instructions below. Giveaway open through midnight eastern time on May 9th. The winner must have a US or Canada mailing address.

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Good luck everyone, thank you for visiting and entering!

Monday, April 26, 2010

Guest Post: In the Shadow of the Witching Hill by Mary Sharratt, author of Daughters of the Witching Hill

Today I have the pleasure of hosting Mary Sharratt, author of the excellent historical novel Daughters of the Witching Hill. I'm curious to know how being an American living abroad has shaped her writing and her choice of subject material. Welcome, Mary, and thank you so much for joining us!

People always tell aspiring writers to write what they know. What I know is travel: from landscape to landscape, country to county. The experience of otherness and strange homecomings in unfamiliar places. My writing has been shaped indelibly by my life as an eternal expat. Wanderlust infected me from an early age. I have been a traveler—and a foreigner—nearly my entire adult life.

Born and raised in Minnesota, I studied German in college. Later I married a Belgian. From the age of twenty-three onward I have lived in Belgium, Austria, and Germany. Then in 2002 we moved to the Pendle region in Lancashire, Northern England. It wasn’t long before the wild moorland cast its spell on me.

The back of our house looks out on Pendle Hill, famous throughout the world as the place where George Fox received his ecstatic vision that moved him to find the Quaker religion in 1652. Fewer people know that this region is also steeped in its lore of the Pendle Witches of 1612, the real people at the heart of my novel, Daughters of the Witching Hill.

When I moved to the region, I knew nothing of these Lancashire witches but was haunted by the images of witches I saw everywhere I went: on pub signs, private houses, sign posts, and even an entire fleet of commuter buses going into Manchester. At first I assumed that these witches were creatures of folklore and fairy tale. But then I became spellbound by their true and heartbreaking story.

In 1612, seven women and two men from Pendle Forest were hanged for witchcraft at Lancaster. But the most notorious of the accused, Elizabeth Southerns, aka Old Demdike, cheated the hangman by dying in prison before she came to trial.

This is what the court clerk, Thomas Potts, had to say about her in A Wonderfull Discoverie of Witches in the Countie of Lancaster:

She was a very old woman, about the age of Foure-score yeares, and had been a Witch for fiftie yeares. Shee dwelt in the Forrest of Pendle, a vast place, fitte for her profession: What shee committed in her time, no man knowes. . . . Shee was a generall agent for the Devill in all these partes: no man escaped her, or her Furies.


Mary Sharratt

Bess was a cunning woman and healer of longstanding repute and had practiced her craft for decades before anyone dared to interfere with her or stand in her way. I believe she was so frightening to her enemies because she was a woman who embraced her power wholeheartedly.

Once I learned her story, I had to write a novel about her. Other novels have been written about the Pendle Witches, but the ones I’ve read don’t portray the witches in a very good light. I wanted to give the story back to Bess, give this woman what her world denied her—her own voice.

It meant a great deal to me to inhabit the same landscape as my heroine—her saga unfolded almost literally in my backyard. Researching this book wasn’t a mere exercise of reading books, then typing sentences into my computer. To do justice to these real people, I had to go out into the land—literally walk in my characters’ footsteps. Using the Ordinance Survey Map, I located the site of Malkin Tower, once home to Bess and her family. Now only the foundations remain. I board my horse near Read Hall, once home to Roger Nowell, the witchfinder and prosecuting magistrate responsible for sending the Pendle Witches to their deaths. Every weekend, I walked or rode my chestnut mare down the tracks of Pendle Forest. Quietening myself, I learned to listen, to allow Bess’s voice to well up from the land. Her passion, her tale enveloped me.

As a writer, I am obsessed with history and place, how the true stories of our ancestors haunt the living landscape. No one in Pendle can remain untouched by the witches’ legacy. I hope you will be as moved by their story as I am.




Be sure to come back Tuesday for my review of Daughters of the Witching Hill and to enter the drawing to win your own copy! And visit Mary's website for more information about her and all of her books.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Giveaway: This Body of Death by Elizabeth George

I'm always very excited to get my hands on a new installment in one of my favorite mystery series, the Thomas Lynley series by Elizabeth George. This is a writer that looks into the minds and motivations of nearly all of her characters, not just the principal ones, and it gives the entire series a depth that you will be hard pressed to find elsewhere. Here's a synopsis of the latest, from the publisher:

On compassionate leave after the murder of his wife, Thomas Lynley is called back to Scotland Yard when the body of a woman is found stabbed and abandoned in an isolated London cemetery. His former team doesn't trust the leadership of their new department chief, Isabelle Ardery, whose management style seems to rub everyone the wrong way. In fact, Lynley may be the sole person who can see beneath his superior officer's hard-as-nails exterior to a hidden—and possibly attractive—vulnerability.

While Lynley works in London, his former colleagues Barbara Havers and Winston Nkata follow the murder trail south to the New Forest. There they discover a beautiful and strange place where animals roam free, the long-lost art of thatching is very much alive, and outsiders are not entirely welcome. What they don't know is that more than one dark secret lurks among the trees, and that their investigation will lead them to an outcome that is both tragic and shocking.

A multilayered jigsaw puzzle of a story skillfully structured to keep readers guessing until the very end,
This Body of Death is a magnificent achievement from a writer at the peak of her powers.

Thanks to Kyle at Harper Collins, I have one copy to give away. For one entry, just leave me a comment here. If you would like extra entries there are instructions below. Giveaway open through midnight eastern time on May 5th. The winner will be drawn at random and must have a US mailing address, no PO Boxes.

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Good luck everyone, thank you for visiting and entering!

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Giveaway: The Queen's Pawn by Christy English


This is turning out to be quite a year for new historical fiction authors! The Queen's Pawn is Christy English's first book (her second will be out in April of 2011...check out her website). Would you like to win a copy? I thought you might!

A historical novel of the legendary Eleanor of Aquitaine and the one person she loved more than power—her rival for the throne.

At only nine, Princess Alais of France is sent to live in England until she is of age to wed Prince Richard, son of King Henry II and Queen Eleanor of Aquitaine. Alais is an innocent pawn on the chessboard of dynastic marriage, her betrothal intended to broker an uneasy truce between the nations.

Estranged from her husband, Eleanor sees a kindred spirit in this determined young girl. She embraces Alais as a daughter, teaching the princess what it takes to be a woman of power in a world of men. But as Alais grows to maturity and develops ambitions of her own, Eleanor begins to see her as a threat—and their love for each other becomes overshadowed by their bitter rivalry, dark betrayals, conflicting passions, and a battle for revenge over the throne of England itself.

-Synopsis courtesy of the publisher

I have one copy of The Queen's Pawn to give away. For one entry, just leave me a comment here. If you would like extra entries there are instructions below. Giveaway open through midnight eastern time on April 22nd. The winner will be drawn at random and must have a US mailing address. Many thanks to Kaitlyn at Penguin for sponsoring this giveaway!

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Good luck everyone, thank you for visiting and entering!

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Giveaway: Mistress of Rome by Kate Quinn


I'm so excited to have a copy of Mistress of Rome, Kate Quinn's debut novel, to give away! Here is the synopsis from the publisher:

Thea is a slave girl from Judaea, passionate, musical, and guarded. Purchased as a toy for the spiteful heiress Lepida Pollia, Thea will become her mistress's rival for the love of Arius the Barbarian, Rome's newest and most savage gladiator. His love brings Thea the first happiness of her life-that is quickly ended when a jealous Lepida tears them apart.

As Lepida goes on to wreak havoc in the life of a new husband and his family, Thea remakes herself as a polished singer for Rome's aristocrats. Unwittingly, she attracts another admirer in the charismatic Emperor of Rome. But Domitian's games have a darker side, and Thea finds herself fighting for both soul and sanity. Many have tried to destroy the Emperor: a vengeful gladiator, an upright senator, a tormented soldier, a Vestal Virgin. But in the end, the life of the brilliant and paranoid Domitian lies in the hands of one woman: the Emperor's mistress.

Doesn't it sound fantastic? Can't wait to read it myself! For one entry, just leave me a comment here. If you would like extra entries there are instructions below. Giveaway open through midnight eastern time on April 21st. The winner will be drawn at random and must have a US mailing address. Many thanks to Kaitlyn at Penguin for sponsoring this giveaway!

+2 Follow this blog any way you choose (Google, Feedburner, etc) and leave a comment...if you already do, include that in your comment
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Good luck everyone, thank you for visiting and entering!

Review & Blog Tour: The Lost Summer of Louisa May Alcott by Kelly O'Connor McNees

"One cannot judge things by the way they end."


Louisa May Alcott

Louisa May Alcott was, in many ways, a woman way ahead of her time. Her formative years were spent in physical labor and poverty, yet her mind was nurtured by conversations between her philosophical father and some of America's most literate men...the likes of Henry David Thoreau and Ralph Waldo Emerson. Don't you wonder what she saw with those dark eyes and what she is thinking of behind them?

I do, too. And so did author Kelly O'Connor McNees. In fact, that is one of the things that drove her to create this debut novel. With imagination, insight and tons of research, she tells the story of twenty two year old Louisa, caught between duty to her family and her intense desire to support herself with what she felt was her God given talent...writing.

Love and marriage were not part of her plans. A woman's place in the home in 1855 was a harsh one, filled with the never ending tasks of cleaning, cooking and child rearing. Louisa realizes that marriage to anyone will inevitably drop these tasks onto her shoulders and, while she is no stranger to hard work, she knows such work will sap her ability to write. If she marries she will never live her dream of being a published author.

Her faith in herself and her strength of will is tested when she meets Joseph Singer, a young man who is able to touch her mind and tempt her away from her long awaited goal. Through the author's weaving of this fictional relationship, we come a little closer to understanding the Louisa of the photograph, a woman whose abilities cut through the gender and class restraints of her time and made her one of the most beloved authors in literature.

This is a lovely novel, well written, smart and most of all true to the spirit of Louisa May Alcott and her books. I devoured this one, loved every minute of it and will be eagerly anticipating the author's next book!!

Kelly O'Connor McNees

Kelly has a fantastic website with info about the book, Louisa May Alcott and more (click here). She is going to be at the River Run Bookstore in Portsmouth, NH on April 27th at 7 pm...I can't wait! I'll be there with my galley clutched in my hand. For a complete list of Kelly's appearances, click here.

The Lost Summer of Louisa May Alcott is published by Amy Einhorn Books, ISBN 978-0-399-15652-6. Click here for a complete list of blog tour stops, hosted by TLC Book Tours.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Review: Shadow of the King by Helen Hollick (Pendragon's Banner Trilogy, Book Three)

Though it has been a struggle, Arthur and Gwenhwyfar have somehow managed to put their lives back together after the deaths of all three of their sons. Their small daughter and sole surviving child, Archfedd, is their joy and the kingdom of Britain their solace and responsibility. But they never can seem to agree when it comes to Arthur's decisions about the ruling of it.

An urgent summons for assistance from across the sea in Gaul arrives and Arthur, against Gwenhwyfar's pleading, cannot resist the promise of action. Despite the fact that his absence will leave Britain without a leader, he is restless and drawn to the excitement that battle brings.

The summons is a trap. After prolonged delays the battle is finally fought and Arthur is killed, as was intended by the plotters all along. Chaos and despair reign across Britain, there will never be another King like Arthur. As the fate of an entire nation hangs in the balance, those who loved him must try to pull together to save the island nation from being torn to pieces by those hungry for wealth and power.

As I've said before, this series is one of my very favorites. I read it years ago, in the 1990s, it played a large part in the development of my love for historical fiction. It doesn't get done any better than this! If you like historical fiction that comes alive, is thoroughly researched, smart and intricate, this is the series for you. Helen Hollick is, in a word, excellent. I can't recommend her or her novels any higher, they are simply the best. If you haven't read them yet, you are MISSING OUT!!!

Check out my reviews for the first book, The Kingmaking and the second, Pendragon's Banner. And click here for a wonderful guest post that Helen wrote for me during the blog tour for The Kingmaking.

You can find Helen's website here. Many thanks to Sourcebooks for providing my review copy (and for re-releasing this fantastic series!).

Shadow of the King is published by Sourcebooks, ISBN 978-1-4022-1890-3.

Thank you!!

Thank you to Beth at Beth Fish Reads and to The Blogger Guide for helping me to customize my template and to Andrea at The Little Bookworm for improving my header!!

About Me

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New Hampshire, United States
Bibliophile, Anglophile, Traveller... I have been an avid reader all of my life, since I took the Dr. Seuss Dictionary away from my Mom when I was less than a year old because I wanted to read it myself. In college, where I earned my degree in English Literature, I was often asked "What are you going to do with it?" Now I finally have the answer to that question!!! Being employed as a Flight Attendant for twenty years has given me a lot of life experience and, better still, a lot of time to read. I love to travel for fun, too.