Thursday, September 26, 2013

THE SERPENT AND THE PEARL - Review + Giveaway!!


The 1490’s- Giulia Farnese, with her trademark long blonde locks that flows seductively to the ground- but her mane is not the only thing overflowing in gold…so is her heart.  Giulia is not only kind and loveable, she is young, exquisitely beautiful, exuberant and very clever.  That’s why at first it’s quite incomprehensible that this madonna would fit the role of Pope’s Mistress…and a Borgia pope at that!

Even if not by choice initially (she slaps the pope- yikes!); the fact remains that Giulia does fall madly in love with His Excellency.  And honestly, no matter how detestably history has depicted Rodrigo Borgia, somehow Quinn manages to portray him as likable (even romantic!). Giulia has eyes only for him.  Distorted relationship maybe, but I soon became fascinated with this fresh approach to the Borgias (had to keep reminding myself that these people were warped!) Either way, thanks to the adorable Giulia, I indulged in the romance and became a partisan for their cause (at least throughout this book!).  

Finally, whether people shunned or loved her- Giulia’s heart never swayed when it came to helping (even saving) others.  Indeed, being the pope’s favourite did give her immense clout.  She was also a doting mother to her daughter (Wait! Who’s the father?)…Oh yes, you should know that Giulia was married to another in order to become the Pope’s mistress…Very complicated, but everyone is ok with this, especially the groom’s mother- huh?? Did I mention distorted?? Oh but somehow this incredible story is so addicting!

In The THE SERPENT AND THE PEARL, we take a tour through the Borgia’s lives- meeting and adoring the young Lucrezia.  And besides meeting Cesare and Juan (ok, these I still detest), Quinn introduces new characters such as Leonello (the dwarf/ bouncer), and Carmelina (a run-away- chef with a story; whose recipes make your mouth water!). 

The story has several moments of turn-blue suspense mixed with rawness and visceral intensity; digging into the ensnaring character’s brutal essence- this, my friends, is classic Quinn at her best. I literally still am hanging from the ending and cannot wait to read the sequel:  THE LION AND THE ROSE, which comes out this January.

Fall in love with Madonna Giulia and read about the Borgias like you’ve never read before.  THE SERPENT AND THE PEARL is Exquisite and I promise that you won’t be able to put this down! 



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Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Revving Up for the Kate Quinn Giveaway!

Have you read this?

My Review and Giveaway for Kate Quinn's new book, THE SERPENT AND THE PEARL  is Tomorrow!  
But First...

To kick off this event, the very talented, Best Selling Author, Kate Quinn has written this post for us:)

Too Many Beautiful Heroines!

So here's a pet peeve of mine when it comes to books: I'm tired of drop-dead gorgeous heroines.

I have nothing against attractive characters in books, mind you. We watch movies in part to enjoy the sight of pretty people, after all, and books have a similar escapism. But too often in bad books, we have to wade through a lot of repetitive rhapsodizing about the heroine's flawless profile and perfect skin, and she can never enter a room without every man in it falling with a thud at her feet. In real life, beauty that spectacular is rare—so why does it have to be so common in books? (I suspect it's something to do with wish fulfillment.)

For my own novels, I prefer a heroine who is more realistically good-looking. My leading ladies are attractive girls, but like most of us, it takes a little time and effort before they're stopping men dead in their tracks. Nobody stops to rhapsodize over my slave-girl heroine in “Mistress of Rome” when she's scrubbing out the tiles, but when she moves up in the world and gets a decent hair-dresser and some good clothes, suddenly people notice she looks lovely. I have some drop-dead beautiful characters, but rarely the heroines: in “Mistress” it was the villainness, who needed to be that beautiful because it was one more weapon in her arsenal. If she hadn't been that good-looking, she wouldn't have gotten away with half the stuff she did!

That's been my MO with three books, as far as fictional beauty is concerned, but in “The Serpent and the Pearl” I struck a snag. Because my heroine really was that spectacularly beautiful, and since she was a historical figure, there was no getting around it. Her name was Giulia Farnese, and her jaw-dropping good looks were well documented by history: a surviving letter from her brother-in-law gushes about her floor-length hair (“The most beautiful hair imaginable!”) and an envoy of Cesare Borgia's described her as having “black eyes, round face, and a particular ardor.” The Borgia Pope himself fell madly in love with her, and she was known all over Italy as Giulia La Bella, or “Giulia the Beautiful.” Can't get much more unequivocal than that; the girl was her century's Angelina Jolie. And that left me scratching my head for a while, because how do you make a heroine like that more accessible to us more average readers? I don't need to feel prettier than the people I read about, but it's a bit hard to empathize with a girl so stunning she can get up in the morning with bed-head and a runny nose, and still make Uma Thurman look like a troll in comparison.

Then I realized I was doing it all backward. Maybe not many of us ladies know what it's like to have hair the stretches all the way to the floor, but I could give Giulia a problem that many of us ladies do have. The girl known as La Bella might be a stunner who can stop (Renaissance-era) traffic—but she also, in my version of her life, gains weight easily. And she might live in an era where voluptuous = beautiful, unlike today's Size 2 ideals, but she still has to watch what she eats. “My dresses get tight if I even look at a plate of biscotti,” she says gloomily at one point. “So very unfair!”

And that ended up being the perfect running joke for her, because not only is Giulia a girl who loves delicious food, but delicious food is a constant in her world. My co-heroine in “The Serpent and the Pearl” is Giulia's cook, a working woman with a genius for gourmet dishes who is constantly sending up treats for Giulia's sweet tooth. Tourtes of caravella pears and summer strawberries; grilled baby peaches with rose-water whipped-cream, candied apple blossoms, and marzipan cakes—just to name a few. But Giulia is constantly having to sit back and watch the plate go by with a sigh, because she's once again watching her figure. And that's something most women can sympathize with. Maybe most of us become nationally renowned as “____ the Beautiful” by age eighteen, but we do know what it's like to be on a diet!

So, the too-gorgeous heroine—that's my pet peeve in historical fiction. What's yours?

Kate Quinn
Author of historical fiction
"The Serpent and the Pearl"
"Empress of the Seven Hills"
"Daughters of Rome"
"Mistress of Rome"

Thanks Kate!  My pet peeve is not so much the beauties...I just can't stand the swooning that some authors insist on having their heroines succumb to!

BE SURE TO COME BACK TOMORROW for the GIVEAWAY!  AND, in your COMMENTS, please let us know :

Friday, September 20, 2013


Here are my WINNERS of the following:

Marjorie/cenya2, you are the WINNER of:  THE MANY LIVES OF MISS K!!!!

Tiffany, you are the WINNER of:  THE OUTLAW KNIGHT!!!

KatM21, you are the WINNER of: QUEEN'S GAMBIT


Please email me your contact information at:



Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Mirella Patzer's Guestpost: ITALIAN SUPERSTITIONS + My Review and a GIVEAWAY!

I'm thrilled to have Mirella here today! This fellow- Canadian AND fellow Italian (our roots are from the same place!), is the author of THE CONTESSA'S VENDETTA.

 Mirella's post today is based on Italian superstitions-it's a delightful post- you'll love it!

Italian Superstitions

Did you know that the Italian culture is rife with superstitious beliefs? Some superstitions are so prevalent, so ingrained in the culture, that they dictate even the smallest details of everyday life. I can vouch for this because I’m first generation Italian Canadian and my mother and my aunts were constantly warning me of things I must do or not do as I was growing up. Here’s a few of the most common superstitions I encountered:

Pregnancy is something that must be taken very seriously. All cravings must be immediately fulfilled because if the mother-to-be touches herself accidentally while craving something, the baby will be marked for life in that very spot. But what if the pregnant mother doesn’t have any cravings? Simple – they must take a bite from every bit of food they see. That is the only way to ensure all cravings are fulfilled.     

The curse of the evil eye is a main theme in my novel, Orphan of the Olive Tree. Anyone can cast the evil eye - intentionally or accidentally. All it takes is to pay someone a compliment while feeling jealous or envious. Babies are the most vulnerable to the curse. After all, who receives more compliments than a cute child? For this reason, Italian mothers are always vigilant when someone pays their baby a compliment. They will make the fig sign to ward off the evil eye. If you want to compliment a baby, add the words “sensa malocchio” or “without the evil eye”.  

The fig sign

You can also carry chunks of amethyst or three pieces of rock salt wrapped in aluminum foil in your pocket to ward off the evil eye. Another gesture to remedy the evil eye is to make the sign of the horns. This gesture transfers the bad luck to someone else.

The sign of the horns

Oh, and did I mention that you’ll never find peacock feathers in Italian home? That’s because a peacock feather has the evil eye built right into it.

Another remedy for the evil eye involves a special ceremony performed by a mother or aunt or grandmother who has learned the ancient ritual to dispel the evil eye. In the presence of the cursed person, she drips olive oil into a bowl of water. If the oil beads in a circle around the perimeter of a bowl, she must pray to a female saint for the cure. If the oil beads in a row through the centre, they must pray to a male saint.

Men must never give their wives or girlfriends a gift of perfume. If they do, they risk attracting a more handsome rival who will steal their beloved away forever.

To avoid bad luck, Italian gypsies never steal pearls, coral, or silver. Everything else, though, is up for grabs!

Italians fear breezes and cold weather. Never go outdoors with wet hair or without a coat or sweater, for if you do, you are sure to catch pneumonia and become deathly ill.

Never drink ice-cold water because it will harm your throat.

Never open a window! Good heavens! Draughts can be fatal and can occur even on the hottest days. Yup, it’s better to live in stifling heat than allow a cooling breeze into your home on a hot summer day.

In Italy, never pour wine with your left hand. However, should you spill some wine on the table, this will bring you very good luck because it symbolizes sharing and good friends.

When toasting, always look the person who you clink glasses with in the eye, and always take a sip before placing your glass back on the table.

Italians believe the number 13 is unlucky. They never seat 13 people at one table because there were 13 people at the table during the Last Supper, and Jesus was crucified on Friday the 13th. Therefore, you must set two separate tables or someone has to eat by themselves in another room.

Italians also fear the number 17 because when the Roman numeral for 17 XVII is rearranged, it spells the word VIXI, a phrase found on tombstones. It means “he lived” and will tempt death. Furthermore, the number one represents a hanged man and the seven looks like the gallows. The Italian airline, Alitalia, on some aircraft, avoids numbering the 17th row and some hotels do not have a 17th floor. Oh, and did I mention that it is rare for Italian soccer teams to play on that day because they are sure to lose.

When it comes to colors, never wear purple or black unless you are in mourning. These are the colors of death and misfortune is sure to befall you.  

When ringing in the New Year, Italians always wear red underwear for good luck and place shiny new coins heads up on the window sill.

Traditionally, because of the Vatican in Rome, many religious orders claim Italy as their home. To see a nun is bad luck and one must immediately touch iron. For this very purpose, many people carry a nail in their pocket or purse. If you are unfortunate enough to find yourself not in the vicinity of something iron, you must say “Your nun” to the first person you encounter to remove the bad luck from yourself and pass it on to them instead. Why, you ask? Well, nuns are associated with hospitals and cemeteries – all places where death is found!

Never, ever place a pair of shoes or a hat on a bed for it is an omen of death. This is because priests never take off their hat or shoes unless it is to change into their vestments, and they often laid them on the bed when doing so.

If a bird should fly into your home, be very afraid, for this is a sure sign of death.

Place small treasured items in your loved one’s coffin (i.e. photos, eyeglasses, etc.) to prevent them from returning to retrieve them. And don’t forget to toss in some coins to ensure they have the money to pay the necessary tolls to cross over to the other side.

Bread is most revered in Italy. When baking bread, always make the sign of the cross over the dough before baking. And when taking the bread out of the oven, never let the bread slide upside down when removing it from the baking pans. This is considered disrespectful to the body of Christ. Also, bread, no matter how stale, must never be thrown away without kissing it first.

In Italy, theaters are never decorated with purple for it spells theatrical disaster. Actors will avoid wearing purple on opening night.

When Italians want to sell their home, for good luck, they bury a small statue of Saint Joseph upside down facing towards the home.

Diligently sweep out the corners of a new house to get rid of the evil spirits that had taken up residence with the previous owner lest they linger to plague you too.

In Naples, to dream of the number 29 is considered lucky. If you should be so lucky, hurry out and buy a lottery ticket immediately.

Both mothers of a newlywed couple should prepare the bed together for the wedding night. They sprinkle coins between the sheets for good luck.

Three people must never work together to make a double bed otherwise the youngest will suffer harm or death.

When I was writing my novel, Orphan of the Olive Tree, I wrote many superstitions into the story. Superstitions about twins and weddings can be found throughout. It was great fun researching all these beliefs and giving them a voice. As I grew up, I often laughed away these superstitions, not believing in them. Yet on rare occasions, I still find myself setting up two tables for my thirteen guests and blessing stale bread before throwing it in the garbage. I guess I did heed some of those childhood warnings

FANTASTIC POST!!  So funny too! But, yes...I was brought up on most of this stuff as well! Thank you, Mirella:))

 And now, here is my REVIEW of THE CONTESSA'S VENDETTA by Mirella Sichirollo Patzer

Let me just start off by saying that I couldn't wait to read and review this book! The place in which it is set (Monte Berico, Vicenza, Italy), holds a special place in my heart:)

18th c. Vicenza- on the beautiful Berico hills stands the Basilica of Our Lady of Monte Berico.  Built after a devastating plague with faith in the Virgin’s promise that Vicenza would never again be destroyed by pestilence…

This was a time when nobles reigned and women fortunate enough to be born into this class could serenely count on marriage and a life blessed with endless abundance.  The young, beautiful and very innocent Carlotta Mancini, sole heir of a vast inheritance left to her by her deceased parents, had the good fortune – or so she thought- to marry Dario Gismondi.  

Unfortunately, not all ends quite happily ever after…Dario reveals himself to be a cunning liar, manipulator and adulterer (along with Carlotta’s best friend, Beatrice).  This may sound like a common plot with several possible and predictable outcomes.  Not so!

THE CONTESSA'S VENDETTA steers you in a very different and rather chilling plot to avenge Carlotta.  You see, Carlotta is actually buried alive-believed to have died from the plague.  Of course Dario doesn’t realize this (or anyone else for that matter).  The story evolves with Carlotta claiming the ultimate revenge on Dario and Beatrice- even though she is believed to be dead…

Intriguing from beginning to end, Mirella Sichirollo Patzer, has crafted a novel filled with suspense that keeps you on the edge.  Carlotta’s plan is magnificently macabre and different from anything I’ve ever read before.  I was incredibly surprised by this twist of fate that had Carlotta’s life completely destroyed.  Her revenge though was the ultimate- allowing everything to fall back into place…But still no ‘happily ever after’. 

I was surprised by my own reactions to this plot; On the side of revenge, I found myself backing Carlotta all the way (gasp! Who would have thought?) Besides the revenge, there are extremely sad moments- especially those surrounding Carlotta’s precious daughter Chiara.  As for Carlotta, although bitterness feeds her goal, she can still discern to be kind and generous to those in need.  Everyone around her loves her and were it not for the vendetta she wished to claim, Carlotta was still the genuinely kind Contessa of earlier times (except with a different name…aha! You gotta read the book:)

The detailed description of settings, the dialog (including Carlotta’s personal reflections) and historical tid-bits of a place that I know extremely well, made the reading of this novel not only more plausible- but also a sheer delight.  When I visit Monte Berico again, Carlotta and her story will surely come to mind.  

 THE CONTESSA'S VENDETTA;  love’s fatal wrath is this woman’s revenge.
Unforgettable- I Loved it!

This novel is set in our beloved Vicenza, Italy- right next to the Basilica and Sanctuary of Monte Berico.
Here are a few photos I wanted to share with you..

The Sanctuary of La Madonna di Monte Berico

 The Cuppola inside the Basilica

A collage of Vicenza, where THE CONTESSA'S VENDETTA is set in. 


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Friday, September 13, 2013

Elizabeth Fremantle's Guestpost on Tudor Fashion! Giveaway too!

Check out the video clip:

Please join us today for this exquisite piece on Tudor fashion by




An object that lies at the heart of QUEEN’S GAMBIT is a diamond cross with pendant pearls that Katherine Parr owned. The object itself has been lost to time but we know it was in Katherine’s possession as it is listed amongst the jewels bequeathed to her in her mother’s will. This cross was sent the Tower of London for safe keeping in the wake of Henry’s death and we know from her letters that though she tried to recuperate it, she never managed to. In the novel I use the cross to symbolise Katherine’s feelings for her lover Thomas Seymour. It is a lost pearl from this cross that he returns to her on the day they first meet in a scene that is fraught with confused erotic emotions. Once she is married to the king she never wears it but carries it with her in a purse as a kind of relic of her lost love, but there is an irony here as this love turns out to be the thing that destroys her – hence the broken pearl. The cross works on a further level too, becoming Katherine’s secret emblem for the New Faith, about which she is passionate, shown in the way she runs it through her fingers like a rosary. Her promotion of the New Faith too is something that endangers her greatly, so this seemingly benign and sentimental object, left to her by her mother, comes to symbolise death and danger. What is particularly satisfying is that we know such a cross actually existed and a little of its true story.

Knowing what people wore also helps in the process of imagining the past. Much can be gleaned from portraiture and deciphering the codes of status that clothing carried: colours denoted allegiance – Katherine Parr’s livery colour was red – and fabrics, class – only royalty had the right to wear purple and the wearing of fur was strictly regulated with the most luxurious reserved for the nobility. There is much that cannot be understood from portraits though and for this knowledge I found the work of tailors who reconstruct period clothing most helpful.

Clothes were layered for warmth in the bitterly cold palaces and fur-lined if you were rich; heads were always covered even indoors and when the women’s cumbersome hoods were set aside they wore just a linen coif, or under-cap. The undergarment worn by everyone was a linen shift, sometimes embroidered on the parts that would show – the neck and cuffs, and nothing was worn beneath that as underpants had not been invented. The cleanliness of linens was of the utmost importance to the Tudors who believed that immersion in water endangered the health. The theory was that the clean linens would absorb all the dirt and odours. Wearing clean linens daily was a sign of status, so if your cuffs and collar were snowy white you were clearly someone of consequence. Over their shifts women wore a petticoat and over that a kirtle, with a stiff stomacher, full skirt and sometimes a train. Sleeves were detachable, and richly embroidered pairs were often given as gifts. Over all this might go a gown – a garment like a long, shaped coat with wide sleeves to allow the under-sleeves to show. The aforementioned coif would be worn under the hood. Katherine Parr preferred the French hood, which showed the front of the hair and was like a wide jewelled hairband that curved over the ears with a veil hanging behind. Clothes were exceedingly expensive and were often handed down and adapted, so the Queen’s ladies might, if they were lucky, be given her cast-offs to alter for themselves. 

Like the diamond cross, I have used clothing on a symbolic level in QUEEN’S GAMBIT. The detailed descriptions of fabrics and colours and the scenes in which Katherine is being dressed allow us to see in detail the mechanics of the clothing she wore for state occasions. For example it takes two women to heave her wedding dress, embellished with ‘as many brilliants as there are stars in the sky,’ from the wardrobe, but once it is on her maid remarks that Katherine seems to not even notice its weight.  She wears pieces of jewelry that blister her skin and her hood is so heavily bejewelled that it is a wonders she can hold her head upright once it is on. The effect I have hoped to create is one in which the apparel is like a prison, limiting her movement and blemishing the surface of her as if the clothes themselves are a punishment. But these are the trappings of a queen and she more than anyone understands that in order to hold onto her position she must appear as a queen, despite the extreme discomfort.

The Tudor Tailor by Ninya Mikhaila and Jane Malcolm-Davies & Katherine the Queen: the Remarkable Life of Katherine Parr by Linda Porter

Thank you Elizabeth for this FANTASTIC post:)

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