Friday, October 25, 2013

Sixteenth Century Quote of the Week

"From the Cunstable as yet for my repair to the Court I have hard nothing, who dothe promise many things, and soon forget them. Such ys the nature of all Frenche men universally."

John Wallop (c. 1490-1551), English diplomat assigned to France
Letter to King Henry VIII, 27 October 1540

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Cover Reveal Contest: Susan Spann's BLADE OF THE SAMURAI

Once again, it's cover reveal time. Susan Spann, author of CLAWS OF THE CAT (Minotaur, July 2013), just received the cover art for her second novel, BLADE OF THE SAMURAI (Minotaur, July 2014), and it is breathtaking! But in true ninja fashion, Susan refuses to reveal it all at once. Instead, she's parceled it out in tantalizing chunks. You must travel--stealthily, of course--from blog to blog and piece it all together. Here is the portion she shared with me:

To whet your appetite even further, here's a description of the story (which I've read and enjoyed even more than I did CLAWS OF THE CAT!):

June, 1565: Master ninja Hiro Hattori receives a pre-dawn visit from Kazu, a fellow shinobi working undercover at the shogunate. Hours before, the Shogun's cousin, Saburo, was stabbed to death in the Shogun's palace. The murder weapon: Kazu's personal dagger. Kazu says he's innocent, and begs for Hiro's help, but his story gives Hiro reason to doubt the young shinobi's claims.

When the Shogun summons Hiro and Father Mateo, the Jesuit priest under Hiro's protection, to find the killer, Hiro finds himself forced to choose between friendship and personal honor.  

The investigation reveals a plot to assassinate the Shogun and overthrow the ruling Ashikaga clan. With Lord Oda's enemy forces approaching Kyoto, and the murderer poised to strike again, Hiro must use his assassin’s skills to reveal the killer’s identity and protect the Shogun at any cost. Kazu, now trapped in the city, still refuses to explain his whereabouts at the time of the murder. But a suspicious shogunate maid, Saburo's wife, and the Shogun's stable master also had reasons to want Saburo dead. With the Shogun demanding the murderer's head before Lord Oda reaches the city, Hiro and Father Mateo must produce the killer in time ... or die in his place.

Now, to reward her faithful and intrepid ninja readers, Susan has devised a contest. If you leave a comment on any of the five reveal tour posts this week, you'll be entered into a drawing to win one of three fun prizes--and yes, multiple comments means multiple entries, though there's a limit of one comment per person per blog post and a limit of one prize per person. The prizes include a $25 gift card to Barnes & Noble, a ninja mug, and a set of ninjabread men cookie cutters:

(Because, as Susan says, all cookies secretly want to be ninjas.)

So visit Kerry Shaefer's Swimming North to comment on yesterday's cover art snapshot and Heather Webb's Between the Sheets for tomorrow's. On Friday, you can view the entire cover reassembled on Susan's blog. All comments must be left on participating blogs before midnight Pacific Time on Sunday, October 27, 2013. Limit one prize per person. Limit one eligible comment per blog post, for a total maximum of five entries per person.

May the Force be with you. (Oh wait, wrong book.) Gabarimasu! Good luck and have fun!

BLADE OF THE SAMURAI: A Shinobi Mystery can be preordered here.

Friday, October 18, 2013

M.K. Tod's 2013 Reader Survey

Readers, want to influence the publishing industry? Please take the time to fill out Mary K. Tod's survey on your reading habits and preferences. Mary, an author of historical fiction herself, compiles the data from the voluntary survey in order to provide readers, authors, editors and agents a snapshot of historical fiction trends and audience interests. As she describes the project:

"Last year’s reader survey conducted by M.K. Tod uncovered insights about those who read historical fiction and those who do not - demographics, story preferences, favourite time periods, reasons for reading or not reading this genre, top authors, the different perspectives of men and women, sources of recommendations and so on.

The 2013 survey will augment these results with a broader focus on reading habits as well as social media’s role in enhancing the reading experience. Survey questions were developed in collaboration with Richard Lee, Founder of the Historical Novel Society.

Whether you read historical fiction or not, please take a few minutes to complete the survey. To add to the robustness of data collected, please pass the survey URL along to men and women of all ages and in any part of the world you can reach!"

Here's the link: 

The survey takes less than ten minutes to complete. Thank you in advance for your participation!

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Exhibition: Elizabeth I and Her People

Portrait of Kathryn Berain
An exciting new exhibition is opening at the National Portrait Gallery in London. "Elizabeth I and Her People" uses portraiture to explore the lives of Elizabeth's subjects. Portraits include those of nobility, craftsmen, merchants, soldiers and artists. The exhibition runs from October 10, 2013 through January 5, 2014. The website makes available a series of short films about the exhibition. Play the interactive game to discover your "inner Elizabethan"! If any readers are lucky enough to visit the exhibition, please come back and tell us about it.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Review: THE STUDY OF MURDER by Susan McDuffie

The pursuit of knowledge takes a vicious turn in Susan McDuffie's THE STUDY OF MURDER (Five Star, 2013), the third novel of her fourteenth century Muirteach MacPhee series. Scottish sleuth Muirteach and his wife Mariota accompany Donald, their lord's teenaged son, to Oxford University for his studies. Soon a tavern maid disappears and someone bludgeons an Oxford master to death. As Mariota sneaks into lecture halls and Donald carouses with fellow students, Muirteach investigates the crimes. Tensions between the academic community and the townsfolk rise to a fevered pitch when another senseless killing occurs and the undersheriff arrests suspects on the basis of Muirteach's findings. Yet Muirteach himself remains unconvinced of their guilt; certain the strange drawings Donald discovers on some used parchments will lead him to the killer, he continues his inquiries. Then Mariota disappears, and Muirteach must solve the riddle of the murderer's identity with all haste if he hopes to find his wife alive.

The strength of McDuffie's mystery lies in its evocation of medieval Oxford. With the help of the included map, the reader follows on Muirteach's heels as he traipses through town, visiting its stately college halls, shabby student tenements, raucous taverns and busy booksellers and stationers. She smells the offal in the gutter, the acrid odors of the tannery, the sweet flowers of the surrounding countryside. She hears the drone of Latin lectures, the off-key plucking of Donald's lute, the shouts of rioting mobs, the scrape of tools on parchment. She tastes the cheap wine, the hearty meat pies, the landlady's comforting stew. Not only does the author evoke the sensory details of fourteenth century life, she describes the structure of the medieval university, the conventions of instruction, the importance of disputation in earning a degree. McDuffie brings to vivid life a university experience quite different from today's.

The novel's characters are convincing and likable. Devoted to his wife and his charge, Muirteach is a reluctant sleuth, but a thorough one, determined to get to the bottom of things and bring the true criminal to justice. Headstrong Mariota might be a tad modern for the times, given her determination to further her medical education, but her family history and her father's reputation as a physician make her yearnings believable. The students who populate the university cross the spectrum from cerebral philosophers to partying louts; the masters themselves are distinctive and wedded with enthusiasm to their specialties. Palpable tension exists between the merchants, landlords, servants and watch and the often supercilious and dissolute students who take them for granted. Muirteach, in his role as Donald's chaperone, understands and mediates between the two factions.

The mystery itself is carefully developed so as to cast suspicion on multiple persons, each of whom has a valid motivation for involvement in the crimes. Early on I had a hunch as to the identity of the perpetrator, yet I found my confidence in this identification challenged again and again by the plausible motives of other suspects. Even though my guess proved ultimately correct, it was entertaining to watch Muirteach piece together the evidence and come to conclusions that defy the obvious.

Enriched by colorful characters, caustic conflict, and a finely researched setting, THE STUDY OF MURDER will please readers looking for a unique, historically based whodunit.

You can learn more about author Susan McDuffie at her website. Susan wrote an interesting article about the historical Voynich manuscript, the creative kernel of her mystery, here.