blog tour

The Too-Beautiful Heroine: Blah, Blah, Snore

Guest blogging over at Enchanted by Josephine/HF Book Muse today! Topic? One of my pet peeve cliches in historical fiction:

“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?”

(Wish fulfillment, anyone?)

To read the rest, click here! And be sure to check back tomorrow, because Lucy’s doing a review and giveaway (thank you, Lucy!)

Guest Post: Writers Read

Busy week! I’ve got the Baltimore Book Festival this Friday – come see me at the Maryland Romance Writers tent for a panel on the ins and outs of writing historical fiction! (1pm sharp; see you there.)

And today, I’m over at Writers Read, talking for a nice of pace not about my own book, but about other people’s. What’s on my reading list? Tudor spies, Venetian glass, Elizabeth Bennet, and nanobots. Yep, that’s how I roll.

For titles (and these are some great titles), click here!

A Virtual Potluck!

I don’t know about you, but I adore food blogs. I’ve got an entire list that I drool over follow. And the fun part is how food and books are mixing these days: food bloggers are hitting the pages, cooking favorite recipes out of food-heavy books and blogging about it.

So when I wrote my own food-heavy book, I knew I had to at least try to set up a virtual pot-luck. I never dreamed the result would be so mouth-watering: six fabulous food-bloggers dove into “The Serpent and the Pearl” in search of recipes. Theresa from Outlander Kitchen and Island Vittles, who cooks from Diana Gabaldon’s fabulous Scottish saga; Chelsea from Inn At The Crossroads, who recently co-authored a fabulous cookbook based on “Game of Thrones” recipes; Christiane from Taking On Magazines, who cooks her way through the likes of “Better Homes and Gardens” and “Bon Appetit” utterly undaunted; Lori from Little White Apron who is a pro chef as well as a blogger extraordinaire; Deana from Lost Past Remembered who recreates food from myriad centuries gone by; and Heather Webb from Between The Sheets who took time off from her upcoming debut novel on Empress Josephine to indulge her foodie hobby.

And today, we’re all posting our results! Recipes included.

Inn At The Crossroads – The crostata of summer peaches that Carmelina is making when Juan Borgia decides to make a pass at her. (Big mistake: cooks always have cleavers on hand.)

Island Vittles – The tourte of sweet cheese and Genovese onions that Carmelina cooks for Giulia’s wedding feast.

Little White Apron – The baked apples that Carmelina serves Giulia the morning after her wedding, and the capon with garlic, coriander and white wine that is her favorite chicken recipe.

Long Past Remembered – The shoulder of wild boar that Carmelina ponders serving a visiting archbishop.

Taking On Magazines – The sugared biscotti that form a staple munchie throughout the book, and the elderflower fritters Giulia tries to make (and ends up nearly destroying Carmelina’s kitchen)

Between The Sheets – The asparagus zuppa and the zabaglione which Carmelina’s apprentice Bartolomeo whips up on a country trip to impress her.

As for me, I donned my sous chef apron and did a lot of “Oui, chef” fetching and carrying from the fridge as my husband (he’s the culinary genius of the family) tackled a recipe from Chapter 2 of The Serpent and the Pearl:

Hot Sops With Cherries

From the book:
It’s a bit tricky, knowing what to send up to the bride’s chamber the morning after her wedding . . . If you hear giggling and whispering through the door, you send up something light than can be eaten by two, preferably fed to each other with the fingers while making a great deal of mess that can be kissed away with more giggles. A hot sop with morello cherries works well–strips of butter-fried bread and a dipping sauce of cherries and sugared wine always goes down a treat with hungry young lovers.

This is a recipe I got direct from that classic Renaissance cookbook “L’Opera di Bartolomeo Scappi.” Hot sops are a dish that has gone out of fashion in the modern era: toasted bread with some kind of dipping sauce that could be meat-based or fruit-based; sweet or savory. It was a popular Renaissance snack, and a staple food for those who had trouble eating (the old, the ill, the very young). Happily, this dish is just as delicious in the 21st century for gourmets of any age. The cherries are both sweet and spicy, and the bread fries up crisp and mouth-watering. Carmelina is right: this is a dish to be shared between two, with kisses in between bites.

Serves 2 — Prep: 15 minutes

1 can cherries in water (NOT cherry pie filling)
4 slices good fresh-baked artisan bread
1 cup red wine
Butter
4 tsp sugar
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp nutmeg

1. Butter the bread slices on both sides, and fry in a skillet over medium heat, flipping once. Set aside.

2. Reduce heat to medium. Drain the cherries and add to a medium saucepan (we improvised with a wok) and add the wine plus 4 tsp sugar, and 1 tsp each cinnamon and nutmeg.

3. Cook over medium heat, stirring frequently until liquid reduces down to thick syrupy texture, adding more sugar or spices to taste.

4. Serve in a bowl with fried bread for dipping. Messy in the best possible way!

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Be sure to check in on the others for some more great recipes! And as for the food bloggers who kicked in on this project – Lori, Heather, Christiane, Chelsea, Deana, and especially Theresa who was chief in helping put the whole thing together – thank you all so much!

Cooking From The Book: Peaches In Grappa

For today’s guest blog, I’m over at Mystery Lovers Kitchen – and they challenged me to cook a dish out of my own book! Challenge accepted: the hubby and I donned aprons and whipped up the peaches in grappa dish that Giulia Farnese eats at her wedding. And let me say, it came out delicious. Peaches are in season, and this dish makes a fabulous finish to any summer dinner menu.

Want the recipe? Click here!

7 Authors To Wreck Your Diet

If there’s a constant I keep hearing in the reviews for “The Serpent and the Pearl,” it’s “This book made me so hungry!”

And I’m delighted. Because bibliophiles do things differently – it’s authors who ruin our diets, not fast food commercials. And over on Writerspace today, I’m guest blogging about a list of authors whose books can be counted on to ruin your diet, my diet, anybody’s diet. First on the list? George R.R. Martin:

“The guy known by embittered fans as `the fat bastard’ certainly knows his food. Maybe he’s preparing to slaughter a fictional bridegroom at his own wedding feast, but Martin is always happy to slow down first and tell you what’s on the table: roast herons, sweetcorn fritters, swan poached in saffron and peaches, soup with mushrooms and buttered snails, and pigeon pie with lemon cream. At least the poor bridegroom died well fed. (Want the cook book? There’s an official version featuring a forward from Martin himself: The Feast of Ice and Fire.)”

If that’s not enough to get you to click here to read the rest, how about this? Most of the authors listed come with companion cookbooks if you feel like tackling some fabulous fictional food in your own kitchen!

So Two Blondes Walk Into A Book . . . And Meet Two More Blondes

It was a case of the blonde leading the blonde when I sat down with my friend and fellow author Marci Jefferson for a Q&A: not only do the two of us belong to the fair-haired demographic, but so do our book heroines! My Giulia Farnese had gold hair down to the floor, and Marci’s Frances Stewart is the girl with the golden hair in the golden dress on the golden coin in Marci’s forthcoming debut novel. So in between all the other Q&A talk on self-editing and Borgia gossip, we traded a Renaissance recipe for lightening hair – straight from Caterina Sforza, yet another famous blonde!

Me: Some of the Renaissance cosmetics recipes I found are absolutely vile, like a face mask that calls for dove entrails. Others, like a rinse for blondifying hair which was made out of saffron, cinnabar, and sulphur, sound a bit nicer. Renaissance ladies were all mad for fair hair, so a favorite girls-day-out back then was to head up to the rooftop and put on big-brimmed crownless sun hats so you could spread your hair out under the sun to bleach it, but still keep your skin white!

To read the rest, click here!

Talking Bull with Sarah Bower

I had a bit of a fan-girl moment when I met Sarah Bower (well, virtually met through email). Her “Sins of the House of Borgia” was one of the first Borgia novels I read, a lush and gorgeous evocation of the Renaissance with a twist ending that sucker-punched me right in the gut. I was more than delighted to do a Q&A with Sarah for the Historical Novel Society website. I have to say, any resolve we may have had to keep this interview solemn and professional swiftly crumpled in the assault of our mutual enthusiasm!

Sarah: I never imagined the Borgia Pope as much of a reader. Too busy talking!

Me: Definitely. A blogger on my blog tour asked me a fun question: if the Borgias could have used social media, what would they use? And I immediately saw Rodrigo Borgia on Twitter, thumb-tapping away on his iPhone between papal meetings: College of Cardinals has no idea what just hit them! at his @IamPope handle!

Sarah: That’s fabulous! And I can imagine Lucrezia posting photos of her kids on Facebook, and really wishing those selfies she took at Borgia orgies weren’t still doing the rounds elsewhere on the net . . .

Me: What an image. “Me at the Banquet of Chestnuts–lolz!”

To read the rest, click here!

And remember – I’m down at The Ivy Bookshop in Baltimore tomorrow evening, talking Borgia rumors and more fun stuff. Come join me for champagne and chocolate!

The Serpent and the Pearl: The Cookbook

Pretty much all the reviews for “Serpent and Pearl” agree on one thing: this book will make you hungry. I aim to make you hungrier, and I’m enlisting a slew of food bloggers to help me. Sara over at Cupcake Muffin is first on board to make a recipe straight from the book: a spit-roasted capon with lime which my chef heroine recommends for the papal conclave. (“The cavities of birds are excellent for passing bribe offers back and forth.”)

I cooked this myself, adapting the recipe from a Renaissance-era cookbook before passing it on to Sara, and I assure you it’s delicious! Get the recipe here, and enter the giveaway too.

The Crimes and Redemption of the Borgia Pope

Romantic Times Book Reviews had a doozy of a question for me: name the worst AND the best things about the Borgia papacy. A question I found fascinating, because even after you discard the rumors that aren’t strictly provable (incest! poison!) you’re still left with a puzzling conundrum: one of the most worldly popes who ever sat the throne of St. Peter’s, who scandalized his flock yet still did some very good things for them.

Just imagine the media blowback if our new Pope Francis announced, “Hey, I’ve got a girlfriend. And she’s 18.” Well, Pope Alexander VI made no bones about it – here’s a (non-poisoned) taste from my guest post at RT Book Reviews:

“Sexually insatiable as a younger man (he hosted famous debauches known as `garden parties’), Rodrigo Borgia didn’t slow down once he became Pope. He openly kept a mistress 40 years his junior, who was nicknamed `The Bride of Christ.’

To read the rest, click here!

Inside The Writers’ Study . . .

A fun Q&A this time around, and with one of my dear friends Donna Russo Morin. Not only does Donna have more fabulous leopard-print stilettos than Angelina Jolie (she’s the one in our convention photo here with a classic Angelina “leg” pose), but she writes fun and fast-paced Renaissance romps – she was number 1 on the list as a reader when I went to the Renaissance to write, too!

And she’s got fun questions here, taken from the famous “Inside the Actors’ Studio” series. Purpose? “To expose aspects of a personality with short but intrinsically revealing questions.” (You can find all kinds of actors doing this on YouTube–Daniel Radcliffe’s answers are a hoot!) Not sure I’m as funny as Harry Potter, but here’s a taste with the first two questions . . .

“What is your favorite word?”
Can I have two? “Check enclosed,” to borrow a bon mot from Dorothy Parker.

“What is your least favorite word?”
`Mew.’ I read a book where a character mewed with passion, and it scarred me for life.

For more, click here!

Trailer for THE ALICE NETWORK!