Blog Reviews

A Place in the World by Amy Maroney – review

Amy dfw-am-tgfo-cover-large-e1518548826385 Amy dfw-am-mw-cover-large-e1518565812648This is the last in the series and I’m sad to see it end. I thoroughly enjoyed this dual time-line narrative that takes us back to the sixteenth century, and Mira, a female artist trying to find her place in the world. On the trail of this artist is Zari, an art historian who is confounded at every turn by other less well-informed (and male) historians of the establishment. Dottie Butterfield-Swinton was a partucularly cringe-making character!

Both women are looking to make their mark, and both have long journeys to find their niche. For Zari it is a fight to prove that Mira’s paintings were not painted by a better known male artist. For Mira there is a more life-threatening adventure as one of her old enemies seeks to wreak revenge. The plot of both time-lines keeps the reader turning the pages anxious to find out what will happen next. We find out in this story that Mira is pregnant, but having lost one adopted child, she is understandably protective when the new baby comes, and the fact she must protect this vulnerable child adds to her difficulties. I enjoyed the different characters – the kind and practical Nekane, and the manipulative Amadina who was intent on destroying the lives of Mira and her husband Arnaud.

Amy GUEST_5a901e23-39c0-4de1-9d59-f91e827d1618The settings in this book are beautifully drawn, the convents, the rich merchants’ houses, and the landscape around Bayonne. I also enjoyed reading about Zari’s journey to Basque country, and her encounter with her distant relatives in her search for her own identity.

There is much more in these books than a brief review will allow. If you haven’t read the others, do start from the beginning. All three are excellent reads and I highly recommend all three for art and history lovers and anyone who wants a well-written, thoughtfully crafted book.

You can BUY THE BOOK here UK or here US

Discover the series on Amy’s Website and get a free book!



Blog Writing Craft

Historical Fiction – deadly sin no 7 – mistaking it for a genre

The gothic splendour of Kenilworth Castle

Like most readers of historical fiction, I have my favourite eras. I love the seventeenth century, the Tudors and the medieval period, with the occasional foray into Victoriana, WWII and Greek myth. So I am unlikely to purchase anything set in the Napoleonic era,  Roman times, or the Dark Ages – that is, unless you work extra-hard to persuade me!

Also, I have a penchant for dark gothic stories set in castles or old houses (you can blame an early passion for ‘Jane Eyre’ and ‘Rebecca’ for that!) so a historical romance would have to be quite gritty for me to want to read it.

So – I’m a fussy reader – like nearly everyone else. This is a problem for historical fiction writers who want readers to find their books. We have to not only find those readers interested in history, but also those limited few with an enthusiasm for our particular era and tastes.

But more importantly than this, there are different types of stories even within this narrow readership. Some readers are looking for concept-driven stories – books for the book club market often naturally fall into this category. Some literary historical novels are driven by the psychology of the characters, and some, such as historical mysteries are all about the intricacies of the plot. Some readers enjoy epic novels with a wide sweep, some enjoy books focused on one historical personage, such as Anne Boleyn. ‘Wolf Hall’ is not the same as ‘The Other Boleyn Girl’, is not the same as Sansom’s ‘Dissolution’.

So, deadly sin no 7 is thinking that all readers of historical fiction are the same. They are not, and paying attention to what the reader expects is courteous. It is a question of tone, and working out where your novel falls on the spectrum. A historical thriller might contain explicit sex and gore which would be inappropriate for a novel of manners set in the time of Jane Austen. Your novel may be concept-driven, plot-driven or character-driven, in differing combinations. Each historical novel is individual, and creates its own atmosphere and reality.

Picture from Gina’s Library – click to check out her blog which features historical fiction

The thing that all historical fiction readers require though is genuine immersion in the past, and a momentum that will carry them through the story. So the key to understanding your reader and your tone is to look at other popular writers who have written the kind of book you are writing. Analyse the other author’s successful book in detail. What creates the tension and momentum? How much description? How much inner dialogue? How fast does the book move?

Check out another author’s amazon reviews for what makes that book a success. Here’s an example of an ordinary reader’s amazon review from Tracy Chevalier’s Girl with A Pearl Earring:

Girl with a Pearl Earring‘This book appears so simple on the outside, it’s only after you finish it that you realise how complex and rewarding it is. On reflection, a plot that centres around the creation of one painting could easily be very weak, but told through the eyes of a 16 year old maid – wise beyond her years as it turns out – it’s a charming slice of 17th century life in Holland. It plods along a bit in the middle and loses its grip on the reader somewhat, and don’t expect fireworks, shocks, plot twists, etc because there are none; just a slow, tantalising build up of sexual tension between the artist and his subject, and nervous tension between every other member of the household – servants and masters alike. All I want to do now is see the painting for real so that I can look into the girl’s eyes …’

This tells you a lot about the appeal of this particular book – complexity of the relationships, the tension between the characters. No fireworks.  If you were writing literary historical fiction, this gives you a fair idea of your reader and what they might enjoy. The key to reader satisfaction is to both think of your book as unique, and yet also to be scrupulous in assessing how your novel fits in its tiny niche within the broad scope of historical fiction.

You might also like:

Deadly Sin 1 – Melodrama

Deadly Sin 2  – Purple Prose

Deadly Sin 3 – Stuck in the Past

Deadly Sin 4 – Lost or Glossary?

Deadly Sin 5 – The Length of Time

Deadly Sin 6 – The Aura of an Era


The Chalice by Nancy Bilyeau – historical fiction highlight

Occasionally I will highlight books that I think readers of Royalty Free Fiction might enjoy. Nancy Bilyeau’s tudor series with the nun, Joanna Stafford fits my criteria well.

The Chalice by Nancy Bilyeau

Paperback Publication Date: February 13, 2014
Orion Publishing
Paperback; 432p
ISBN-13: 978-1409135807

Series: Joanna Stafford, Book Two

Genre: Historical Mystery

A curse to kill a king, a fight to save a nation. Follow young Joanna Stafford right into the dark heart of King Henry VIII’s court in this stunning Tudor thriller.

England, 1538. The nation is reeling after the ruthless dissolution of the monasteries by King Henry VIII.

Cast out of Dartford Priory, Joanna Stafford – feisty, courageous, but scarred by her recent encounter with rebellion at court – is trying to live a quiet life with her five-year-old charge, Arthur. But family connections draw her dangerously close to a treasonous plot and, repelled by violence and the whispered conspiracies around her, Joanna seeks a life with a man who loves her. But, no matter how hard she tries, she cannot escape the spreading darkness of her destiny. She must make a choice between those she cares for most, and taking her part in a mysterious prophecy foretold by three compelling seers.

Joanna embarks upon a testing journey, and, as she deciphers the meaning at the core of the prophecy, she learns that the fate of a king and the freedom of a nation rest in her hands.

Praise for The Chalice

“Expect treason, treachery, martyrs and more.” — Choice magazine

“A time in which no one at all can be trusted and everyday life is laced with horror. Bilyeau paints this picture very, very well.” — Reviewing the Evidence

“Bilyeau creates the atmosphere of 1530s London superbly.” — Catholic Herald

“Bilyeau continues from her first novel the subtle, complex development of Joanna Stafford’s character and combines that with a fast-paced, unexpected plot to hold the reader’s interest on every page. — Historical Novel Society

“Joanna Stafford is a young novice caught up in power struggles familiar to readers of Hilary Mantel and C.J. Sansom, but with elements of magic that echo the historical thrillers of Kate Mosse.” — S.J. Parris, author of ‘Heresy,’ ‘Prophecy’ and ‘Sacrilege’

“Second in this compelling and highly readable Tudor thriller series following the 16th century adventures of (now cast out) nun Joanna Stafford. Treason, conspiracies and a dangerous prophecy draw Joanna back from the quiet life she had made for herself after being cast out of Dartford Priory – but she isn’t prepared for the gravity of the situation she finds herself in or the responsibility she now holds. Nancy Bilyeau has followed up her impressive debut with an accomplished historical thriller perfect for fans of C. J. Sansom, Philippa Gregory and S. J. Parris.” — Lovereading UK

“Sharply observed, cleverly paced and sympathetically written, this book more than fulfils the promise of THE CROWN, itself named as last year’s most impressive debut novel by the CWA Ellis Peters judges. If Joanna Stafford is to return to see out the final years of Henry’s tempestuous reign and the accession of his Catholic daughter Mary, I am sure I will not be alone in waiting eagerly for her.” —

“A stunning debut. One of the best historical novels I have ever read — ALISON WEIR

THE CHALICE offers a fresh, dynamic look into Tudor England’s most powerful, volatile personalities: Henry VIII, the Duke of Norfolk, Stephen Gardiner and Bloody Mary Tudor. Heroine and former nun Joanna Stafford is beautiful, bold and in lethal danger. Bilyeau writes compellingly of people and places that demand your attention and don’t let you go even after the last exciting page” — KAREN HARPER, bestselling author of MISTRESS OF MOURNING

“Rarely have the terrors of Henry VIII’s reformation been so exciting. Court intrigue, bloody executions, and haunting emotional entanglements create a heady brew of mystery and adventure that sweeps us from the devastation of the ransacked cloisters to the dangerous spy centers of London and the Low Countries, as ex-novice Joanna Stafford fights to save her way of life and fulfill an ancient prophecy, before everything she loves is destroyed.” — C.W. GORTNER, author of THE QUEEN’S VOW

“Bilyeau paints a moving portrait of Catholicism during the Reformation and of reclusive, spiritual people adjusting to the world outside the cloister. This intriguing and suspenseful historical novel pairs well with C. J. Sansom’s Dissolution (2003) and has the insightful feminine perspective of Brenda Rickman Vantrease’s The Heretic’s Wife (2010).” — BOOKLIST

“As in The Crown, Bilyeau’s writing style means that the story reads almost flawlessly. The narrative really makes the reader throw themselves into the story, and makes it so the book is really difficult to put down. I was really very impressed with Bilyeau’s writing (As I was in The Crown), and honestly can’t recommend this book highly enough.” — LOYALTY BINDS ME

“THE CHALICE is a compelling and pacey time machine to the 16th Century. And when you’re returned to the present, you’ll have enjoyed an adventure and gained a new perspective on a past you’d wrongly thought to be a done deal.” — Andrew Pyper, author of THE DEMONOLOGIST

“The Chalice is a gripping, tightly-plotted mystery, with a beguiling heroine at its heart, that vividly conjures up the complex dangers of Reformation England. Bilyeau’s deftness of touch and complete control over her complex material make for a truly exciting and compelling read.”— ELIZABETH FREMANTLE author of QUEEN’S GAMBIT

“THE CHALICE is brimming with sinister portents, twisted allegiances, religious superstition and political intrigue. It’s a darkly fascinating Tudor brew that leaves you thirsting for more.” — PATRICIA BRACEWELL, author of SHADOW ON THE CROWN

Watch the Book Trailer:

Buy the Book Amazon UK  Book Depository Orion Publishing Waterstones

About the Author

Nancy Bilyeau has worked on the staffs of InStyle, Rolling Stone, Entertainment Weekly, and Ladies Home Journal. She is currently the executive editor of DuJour magazine. Her screenplays have placed in several prominent industry competitions. Two scripts reached the semi-finalist round of the Nicholl Fellowships of the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences. Her screenplay “Zenobia” placed with the American Zoetrope competition, and “Loving Marys” reached the finalist stage of Scriptapalooza. A native of the Midwest, she earned a bachelor’s degree from the University of Michigan. THE CROWN, her first novel, was published in 2012; the sequel, THE CHALICE, followed in 2013.

Some earlier milestones: In 1661, Nancy’s ancestor, Pierre Billiou, emigrated from France to what was then New Amsterdam when he and his family sailed on the St. Jean de Baptiste to escape persecution for their Protestant beliefs. Pierre built the first stone house on Staten Island and is considered the borough’s founder. His little white house is on the national register of historic homes and is still standing to this day.

Nancy lives in New York City with her husband and two children.

Author Links Website Blog Facebook Twitter Pinterest Goodreads

Sign up for Nancy Bilyeau’s Newsletter.

Book Blast Schedule

Monday, February 17
Mari Reads
The Lit Bitch
Book Drunkard
Closed the Cover
Historical Tapestry
Royalty Free Fiction
Passages to the Past
Just One More Chapter

Tuesday, February 18
Princess of Eboli
Words and Peace
Big Book, Little Book
Curling Up By the Fire
Peeking Between the Pages
Oh, For the Hook of a Book
Historical Fiction Obsession

Wednesday, February 19
Broken Teepee
Kincavel Korner
A Bookish Affair
CelticLady’s Reviews
The True Book Addict
Teresa’s Reading Corner
So Many Books, So Little Time

Thursday, February 20
Drey’s Library
Booktalk & More
Must Read Faster
Reading the Ages
The Maiden’s Court
Historical Fiction Connection
Sharon’s Garden of Book Reviews

Friday, February 21
HF Book Muse-News
On the Tudor Trail
Flashlight Commentary
Ageless Pages Reviews
Muse in the Fog Book Reviews
Confessions of an Avid Reader


 photo 8d69ec32-0ed9-4d41-a9de-0454da321c2c.png


Archaeology, Tombs and Prophecies – The Tenth Saint by D.J.Niko

Welcome to readers on DJ Niko’s blog tour for The Tenth Saint. I was lucky enough to have this book on holiday with me, and it was the ideal poolside companion. Desperate to escape the seventeenth century for a few weeks, I plunged into this adventure and was rewarded with a complex, fast-moving thriller with a mystery at its heart, one that took me effortlessly  from Cambridge to Addis Abbiba.


‘Cambridge archaeologist Sarah Weston makes an unusual discovery in the ancient Ethiopian mountain kingdom of Aksum: a sealed tomb with inscriptions in an obscure dialect. Seeking to ascertain the translation and the identity of the entombed man, she and her colleague, American anthropologist Daniel Madigan, stumble upon a lethal conflict. Tracking down clues in Addis Ababa and the monasteries of Lalibela, Sarah and Daniel uncover a codex in a subterranean library revealing a set of prophecies about Earth’s final hours written by a man hailed by Coptic mystics as Ethiopia’s tenth saint. Violently opposed by the corrupt director of antiquities at the Ethiopian Ministry of Culture and Tourism, they’re left for dead in the heart of the Simien Mountains. Surviving to journey to Paris, Sarah is given another piece of the ancient puzzle: a fourteenth-century letter describing catastrophic events leading to the planet’s demise. Connecting the two discoveries, Sarah faces a deadly intercontinental conspiracy to keep the secret of the tenth saint buried. Risking her reputation and her life, Sarah embarks on a quest to stall the technological advances that will surely destroy the world.’

The description of the novel is reminiscent of something that might have been written by Dan Brown, but this novel is better researched –  the excellent writing makes the suspension of disbelief easy, so that the disparate aspects of the plot hang together in a wholly credible way. The main protagonist, Sarah, is a likeable mix of  feisty adventurer and romantic dreamer. The character of Daniel Maligan (her UNESCO ally) makes a fine foil for her, a sort of modern-day Indiana Jones, but the character that really stood out for me was the 4th century Gabriel. In his scenes the novel slowed and Niko was able to showcase her writing craft to build atmosphere – ‘the tribe stayed in the basalt lands to wait out the winter…’

The novel has a very enjoyable sense of the desert, its heat, parched terrain – deadly scorpions included. The Earth’s ecology versus technology is also an underlying theme in the book. The other aspect of the novel I found fascinating was the interweaving of Coptic mysticism and philosophy as Sarah tries to uncover for herself whether the Tenth Saint of the Ethiopians was real or just a myth. The ending has several twists, but is also left open for the next instalment which I hope is as enjoyable as the first.

The paperback copy of this book is beautifully produced with lovely typography, reproduction of hand-written notes, and the coptic cross under-printed on every page.

Summary: Excellent escapism, beautifully written and produced book. My copy is now going on loan to my daughter who I am sure will love it.

Please do join me tomorrow when D J Niko will join me to talk about why the ancient world matters today.