Archives

Tags

Selected Works

Historical Fiction
Six authors bring to life overlapping stories of patricians and slaves, warriors and politicians, villains and heroes who cross each others' path during Pompeii's fiery end.
Caught in the deadly world of the Renaissance's most notorious family, three outsiders must decide if they will flee the dangerous dream of power.
The Borgia family begins its legendary rise, chronicled by an innocent girl who finds herself drawn into their dangerous web.
The lives of an ambitious soldier, a patrician heiress and a future emperor fatefully intersect.
The Year of Four Emperors - and four very different women struggling to survive
A brilliant and paranoid Emperor, a wary and passionate slave girl – who will survive?

Ave Historia: An irreverent look at historical fiction today: books trends, historical tidbits, and random tangents

The Inevitable Top Ten List

January 2, 2012

Tags: bernard cornwell, death of kings, second duchess, elizabeth loupas, dresden files, jim butcher, song of the nile, stephanie dray, the last queen, c.w. gortner, major pettigrew's last stand, helen simonson, dance with dragons, george r.r. martin, 11/22/63, stephen king, mr rosenblum dreams in english, natasha solomons, kitchen confidential, anthony bourdain, top ten list

Apparently a federal mandate was handed down from the White House, or possibly the Borg, to all book bloggers at the turn of the New Year: You must post a “Top Ten Books I Read in 2011” blog post, or you will be assimilated. Surrender immediately. Resistance is futile.

Who am I to resist Obama, or the Borg Queen? Here's my Top Ten List of books I've read this year (though some were published far previous to 2011). More original post coming next week, assuming I haven't been assimilated.

Best Books I Read In 2011, In No Particular Order

1.“Death of Kings” by Bernard Cornwell
Ah, the master himself with his latest installment in the Saxon Stories, a bloody and exuberant tale starring acerbic warrior hero Uhtred of Bebbanburg. Cornwell provides his usual stream of dry one-liners, battlefield heroics, and gorgeous writing – all wrapped up in one lovely package with a hero so hunky that I would time-travel back to the Dark Ages, risking an existence of dismemberment, violence, and no deodorant, for a single chance to meet him in person.

2.“The Second Duchess” by Elizabeth Loupas
The best debut I've read in a long time: a clever and level-headed Austrian princess newly married to the same Duke of Ferrara who stars in the famous Browning poem. Cautiously, the new duchess investigates the mysterious death of her predecessor while negotiating the snakepit of Renaissance politics and the attentions of her sometimes attractive, sometimes terrifying new husband. Deliciously twisty plotting, sensuous prose, and unforgettable characters.

3.“The Last Queen” by C.W. Gortner
A much sadder historical fiction read which I nevertheless devoured in a single hot summer day. The life of Juana of Castile makes for gut-wrenching reading as she travels from exuberant young princess to the woman who will be walled up and unfairly dismissed by history as a madwoman, but it's like watching a car wreck – you can't look away for a minute. Read with a large plate of Spanish tapas and a glass of sangria for consolation, preferably under the loggias of the Alhambra palace where Juana grew up.

4.“Ghost Story” by Jim Butcher
Just to prove that I don't only read historical fiction. Jim Butcher's urban fantasy series about a lanky wise-cracking wizard operating in modern-day Chicago is as addictive as crack. This one is no exception. Harry Dresden, wizard and wise-ass, is one of the best fictional heroes around – and this is one of the few books I can think of where the narrator spends pretty much the whole book dead.

5.“Song of the Nile” by Stephanie Dray
I love an unabashedly ambitious heroine, and Dray's Selene really fills the ticket – Cleopatra's intelligent daughter who does her best to claw, scheme, and manipulate the Emperor of Rome into giving back her birthright of the throne of Egypt. If only the Emperor of Rome weren't a first-class creep who wants waaaaaay more than a girl should reasonably have to give up in pursuit of power. Sequel to “Lily of the Nile,” and altogether a darker, harder, more grown-up read.

6.“Major Pettigrew's Last Stand” by Helen Simonson
A gem – if Masterpiece Theatre doesn't snap this book up for a movie remake starring Derek Jacobi, it would be a crime. A gentle but hysterically funny romance about a reticent English widower who finds himself, to his considerable inconvenience, falling in love with a charming Pakistani widow. Humorous, understanding, and sweet – and how lovely to see a passionate romance between a Romeo of sixty-eight and a Juliet of fifty-eight. As if only the young and beautiful are entitled to star in great love stories.

7.“Dance With Dragons” by George R.R. Martin
The long and not very patiently awaited installment in Martin's iconic and massive “Song of Ice and Fire” series. I won't bother recapping the plot of this thousand-page doorstopper, since your screen would explode, but it was worth every hour of sleep I lost over it.

8.“11/22/63” by Stephen King
Another doorstopper on the top of the New York Times Bestseller list, and worth every penny of the doctor's bills you will incur for the wrist strain that settled in after hours of holding this brick up close enough to read. A teacher in 2011 finds a mysterious portal that takes him back to 1958 – and he decides to stick around and see if he can't prevent the Kennedy assassination from happening. The answer may surprise you – Stephen King has not one whit lost his touch for horror, creativity, and poignancy, sometimes all in the same sentence.

9.“Mr. Rosenblum Dreams In English” by Natasha Solomons
Middle-aged Jack Rosenblum is a German Jew who escaped Nazi Germany by moving his family to England - and for twenty years, Jack has devoted himself to becoming the perfect English gentleman. He has the tweed suits from Harrods, the pipe and the Jaguar, but one thing eludes him: membership to a golf club. When every good golf club rejects Jack (no Jews allowed! Germany certainly didn't corner the market on anti-Semitism) Jack decides with grandeur that he will build his own golf course. What a bad idea – and what a funny, moving, satisfying book about the results.

10.“Kitchen Confidential” by Anthony Bourdain
How to classify this book: Memoir? Expose? Humor? Its author is easier to pin down: a hard-drinking, hard-swearing, hard-living executive chef (and now Travel Channel star) who can't write a sentence without being funny, poignant, or offensive, often simultaneously. Bourdain's macho testosteronal voice would be unbearable if he didn't make just as much fun of himself as he does of everyone else. I can't walk into a restaurant now without wondering if the crew making my food is the kind of swaggering foul-mouthed batch of borderline psychos who are depicted so vividly in the pages here.

So there it is – my top ten list, along with everyone else's. Now please, Mr. President or Ms. Borg Queen, can I pretty please go back to my book and not be assimilated?

Guest Post by Stephanie Dray: "My Sophomore Novel (Or, How Kate Quinn Nearly Got Me Arrested On Release Day By Drag Racing Through Baltimore)

October 20, 2011

Tags: stephanie dray, song of the nile

So last week I had a blog post on meeting the lovely Stephanie Dray for the first time after mutually reading and enjoying each other's books, and the fun that ensued. Stephanie has her own take on our afternoon out:

"Kate offered to drive, so I climbed into her little red sports car. It wasn’t until she revved the engine that I remembered her heroine, Diana the charioteer, who had a mad love of racing. Now, I realize that authors don’t always resemble their characters. But when Kate Quinn punched the gas pedal to the floor, I started to remember just how many of her characters were wild berserkers."

Ahem. I would like to state for the record that no laws were broken in the course of the afternoon in question - at least no important laws. And the nice policeman was really very understanding about the whole thing, and thank God his radar gun was off by 10 miles per hour.

For the rest of Stephanie's account, as well as some trenchant and very true observations about the crises of nerves that come with writing a second novel, read here.


Eating A Goat With A Colleague

October 12, 2011

Tags: stephanie dray, song of the nile

I met historical fiction novelist Stephanie Dray for the first time last week in celebration of her second book's release, and frankly I am getting nervous. She is kind and witty, self-deprecating and sassy, a sparkling conversationalist and an eager listener – just like a lot of the writers I've been lucky enough to meet. Are there no trolls in this business? Or am I just lucky enough only to meet the the nice ones? I've had the great privilege of meeting Michelle Moran, Margaret George, Diana Gabaldon, C.W. Gortner, Sophie Perinot, Anne Easter Smith, Christy English, Gillian Bagwell, Sandra Worth – and they were all delightful.

I think people have the wrong idea about how writers interact. For one thing, they assume we don't interact at all; that we spend all our time huddled in our solitary libraries over a computer, and for a large part we do. But there's Facebook, there's email, there are conferences where we can meet face to face – I met most of these people at the Historical Novel Society Conference this year. However we do it, lots of us get to know each other, and for the most part there's no backstabbing and jealousy (another popular assumption about writers). The people I've met were all sincerely rooting for each others' success – after all, the more of us who sell books and make historical fiction popular, the bigger the audience is and we all benefit.

The other popular assumption is that if we don't hate each other, we cheat. Write blurbs for each other just to get a blurb back, talk up each other's books when we haven't read them – a big incestuous group all scratching each other's backs just to get a scratch in return. I haven't seen much of that, either. If anything, there's a slightly nervous look on both faces when two writers meet for the first time. I like your books so much; what if I don't like you? I like you but I haven't read your books; what if I hate them? It's a great relief once you can relax, realizing that you like both an author and their work.

The other relief in meeting a fellow historical fiction author is that here at last is someone who understands. Here is someone who nods unfazed as you start reeling off the family tree of the Julio-Claudian emperors; who gets your toss-off reference to the Wars of the Roses; who shares your interest in Egyptian mummies. Those of us with a passion for history are resigned to blank stares or rolled eyes from those who think we're weirdos for knowing more about the wives of Henry VIII than the husbands of Elizabeth Taylor. Meet another HF writer and after a while there is a great internal shout of “Yes! She GETS me!”

Finally, there's a relief in knowing you aren't alone. Writers do spend a lot of time alone, and most of us like it that way – but at times one misses the cameraderie of an office or worksite, work friends to bitch and moan with about work problems. With only two books published, I'm a relative newbie in the author scene – I went at it alone for the first few years. Now my circle is expanding, and I've realized that I do have work friends. They may be scattered all over the country, but they're as supportive as the office friends I used to meet around the water cooler.

So what do two authors of historical fiction do when they meet up? Stephanie Dray and I hit an Indian restaurant for lunch where, yes, roast goat was on the menu. We agreed it was something both her Egyptian heroine Selene and my Roman heroine Thea would have eaten, and we'd be fools not to follow suit. So we ate goat and dished on Isis worship, Roman emperors, plotting problems, and snarky reviews. Lunch turned into coffee; Stephanie wheedled a couple of spoilers from Empress of the Seven Hills out of me, and I wheedled a few from her on the next Selene book (sorry, we're both sworn to secrecy). Stuffed with goat and coffee, we parted good friends.

Stephanie, congratulations again on the launch of "Song of the Nile." Next lunch is on me.