Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Interview: Lucy Pick, Author of PILGRIMAGE

In Lucy Pick's fascinating new novel, PILGRIMAGE (Cuidono Press, July 2014), a blind noblewoman navigates the shoals of international politics and the difficult terrain of Northern Spain as she follows the Way of St. James to Compostela. Today Lucy answers some questions for us about the writing of her debut novel.

1. Was Gebirga of Gistel, the novel’s protagonist, a historical person? What do we know about her?

Gebirga of Gistel came about when I combined two historical clues. The first was a passage in the medieval manuscript containing the Pilgrim’s Guide to Compostela that describes the manuscript as being written by, among others, someone named Gebirga of Flanders.

The second was part of the story of Saint Godeleva of Gistel, an eleventh-century noblewoman who was killed by her husband. The husband was reputed to have a blind daughter, and to himself have gone on crusade. What would it be like, I wondered, to have a mother who was a saint and cured everyone but you?

I combined the unknown Gebirga of Flanders with the blind daughter of Godeleva, and there was my heroine.

2. In the novel, Gebirga falls blind around the age of three. What challenges did writing a blind protagonist pose? How did it affect your handling of point of view?

As you can see from my account of her origins, Gebirga’s blindness was the first thing I knew about her, and it provided challenges and opportunities. For a beginning novelist, it was a wonderful discipline to be forbidden from describing what my protagonist sees and having to rely on all her other senses to create the mood and set the scene.

Taste is an important part of the book, and we learn a lot about Gebirga’s journey from cool, damp Flanders to sunny Spain by the way the food she eats changes. So is touch, as the feel of the clothes she wears shifts from wool to cotton and silk.

I had to stop myself from using metaphors of sight in relationship to Gebirga. “Gebirga saw what he meant” was a sentence I could not write, for instance. But the hardest part was having her travel through Europe at the height of the Romanesque building boom without seeing any of the spectacular churches going up all around her. Her companion, Katerinen becomes our eyes on what that might have looked like.

photo by Yearofthedragon
3. Much of the novel’s action takes place on the pilgrimage road to the cathedral of Saint James in Compostela. How did this location become such an important destination for pilgrims? Have you made the trek yourself?

Santiago de Compostela became, with Rome and Jerusalem, one of the three most important pilgrimage sites in Medieval Europe because of its reputation as the burial place and location of the preaching of one of the apostles, James the Greater.

It really took off in the eleventh century, in the decades just before my novel starts, and a lot of historians credit the involvement of the monastery of Cluny in the development and popularization of the road to Compostela. The abbots of Cluny worked hard to create both political and spiritual ties to the different Christian kingdoms of Spain and used the pilgrimage to do it. That is one reason Gebirga starts her journey to Spain at Cluny, even though it isn’t one of the “traditional” origins of the road.

It has revived as a pilgrimage destination in recent decades for people whose motives are as mixed as they were in the Middle Ages. Your readers may know Paulo Coelho’s novel The Pilgrimage, which brought a kind of New Age element to the pilgrimage, and Martin Sheen’s movie, The Way.

I have not done the pilgrimage myself, though I have travelled to many of the places along the road that I describe, and I drew on stories of both medieval and modern pilgrims in constructing my narrative. For example, my sister walked the last part of the route with a group of breast cancer survivors and their families, and that is how Gebirga finishes her journey too.

 4. What is your favorite scene from the novel? Which scene was the most difficult to write? 

My favourite scene from the novel was one of the first scenes I ever wrote, and at the time I wrote it, I did not yet know exactly how it worked into the story. It is a scene in which Gebirga is attacked and left alone on a mountainside. No one knows where she is, and she has been injured. This moment of crisis gave me a chance to get to know who she really was, and also to explore some of the spiritual aspects of her medieval world, both Christian and pagan.

The hardest scene to write was a moment of tragedy, and I won’t say more lest I give the plot away. Like my favourite scene, I knew it was going to be in the book right from the beginning.

5. PILGRIMAGE is one of the first novels published by Cuidono Press. What advantages have you found working with a small press offers? 

There are distinct advantages to working with a small press and with a new small press at that. The main one is that I don’t feel the pressure to come right out of the gate with huge sale figures to justify my existence. My novel is one of those that will help define what Cuidono Press stands for as it grows, and I expect it will stay in print a good long time and have a chance to find its audience. That is invaluable for a first time novelist.

Another was the chance to be involved with the creation of the book cover, which uses a detail from a fifteenth-century panel painting that shows scenes from the Life of St. Godeleva.

6. What piece of writing advice helped you most during the crafting of PILGRIMAGE and your search for publication? Do you have other advice to pass on to writers of historical fiction? 

Write what you love; write what you want to read. Keep trying to improve. Don’t give up.

Shell marker
7. Do you have another novel in the works? Will we see Gebirga and Yusuf again? 

There is an old piece of writing wisdom that says there are only two plots in the world, someone leaves town, or someone comes to town. PILGRIMAGE is the story of someone who leaves town. But Gebirga leaves her home when her father returns after decades away with a young, spoiled bride. This character, Aude, is pretty unsympathetic in the novel. I began wondering what it would be like to be Aude, and wrote a novel about her, which begins as a “someone comes to town” story, and involves Eleanor of Aquitaine and the Second Crusade. But whether Gebirga and Yusuf ever reappear in a story of their own is up to the readers of PILGRIMAGE!

Thanks so much, Julianne, for inviting me to be part of your blog, and for all the work you do supporting historical fiction and introducing us to so many wonderful books.

Learn more about Lucy Pick and her books at her website. PILGRIMAGE is available at Amazon.com or directly from the publisher, Cuidono Press.

My review of PILGRIMAGE may be found here.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Review: PILGRIMAGE by Lucy Pick

For centuries, Christian pilgrims have plied the roads of Europe towards the magnificent cathedral of Saint James the Greater in Compostela, Spain. Streams of nameless pilgrims walked the Way of St. James to plead their intentions, exonerate their guilt, and render homage to the saint at his Spanish resting place. Lucy Pick, a professor of medieval religious thought and practice, has imagined the plight of one such pilgrim, Gebirga of Flanders, in her historical novel PILGRIMAGE (Cuidono Press, July 2014). A fresh and thoughtful read, PILGRIMAGE explores betrayal, friendship, healing, and redemption in a setting hitherto ignored yet vastly important to the fabric of medieval life.

Blindness descends on young Gebirga, the only child of Bertulf and Godeleva of Gistel, after she witnesses an altercation between her parents which results in her mother’s death. Her father establishes a convent in memory of his saintly wife and departs on crusade, leaving Gebirga in the care of his brother at the castle. Raised by her nurse to be independent despite her infirmity, Gebirga learns to navigate her environs with help of her dog and becomes a competent châtelaine. When her father unexpectedly returns to Gistel with a new bride, Gebirga expects to be relegated to the convent. However, a trip to Bruges occasions an unforeseen encounter with Katerinen, sister of the Count of Flanders, and the beginning of a new life for Gebirga as the headstrong girl’s attendant. The political schemes of the great require Katerinen and Gebirga to travel to Spain in the guise of simple pilgrims. The final two thirds of the book trace the details of the women’s journey to Compostela as members of a motley group searching for healing and forgiveness and finding friendship, love, and purpose along the way.

A professor of history and religion, Pick understands both the complicated politics of the time and the texture of medieval piety and immerses the reader in this rich and unfamiliar world with confidence and aplomb. She guides the reader through the tangled the web of European alliances and Spanish monarchies with patience and grace, careful not to overwhelm the reader with detail but always providing just enough framework to support the dramatic action. More importantly, Pick treats medieval religious practices and popular sentiment with respect, presenting them to the modern reader without apology or condescension, opening the door to a forgotten way of seeing the world and inviting the reader in. This attention to the religious character of everyday medieval life gives her novel a credibility that many popular works of medieval fiction lack.

As in any good novel, it is the characters and their relationships that capture the reader’s heart, and here, too, Pick does not disappoint. PILGRIMAGE’s cast of characters ranges the entire scale of medieval society, from popes and queens to shepherds and tavern louts. Of particular interest are Yusef, the mysterious messenger who straddles two cultures and faiths; Aiméry, the Augustian canon traveling the pilgrimage routes in order to write a book about them; and Katerinen, the unstable yet endearing teen bride who becomes Gebirga’s charge and friend. Gebirga herself offers an interesting take on the typical historical fiction heroine: she must overcome not only the social limitations of medieval womanhood, but the physical blindness that could have easily rendered her a useless burden on her family and society. The guilt Gebirga bears over her inability to clearly recall the circumstances of her mother’s death and the challenge of living as the daughter of an official saint add to her difficulties. It is only fitting that Gebirga’s journey rocky journey toward happiness and self-acceptance culminates at Compostela, a place of spiritual and emotional, as well as physical, healing.

The novelty of PILGRIMAGE’s setting and the uniqueness of its plot earn it the honor of being a must-read for lovers of historical fiction. The author’s fine understanding of human relationships, her thoughtful investigation of miracles and their meaning, and her respectful yet exacting exploration of faith in all its expressions ensure that PILGRIMAGE will find a place on lists of favorite historical novels for years to come.


Lucy Pick, Ph.D, is the Director of Undergraduate Studies and Senior Lecturer in the History of Christianity at the University of Chicago Divinity School and an associate professor in the Department of History. She specializes in the connections between historical writing and theology and the ways in which religion shapes lives through ritual. She has written a monograph on Jewish, Christian and Muslim relations in thirteenth-century Toledo and is currently examining the careers of royal women in early medieval Spain. PILGRIMAGE is her first novel. You can learn more about Lucy Pick and her fiction at her blog, Lucy Pick Books.

Lucy will be back tomorrow to answer questions about her novel.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Interview with Susan Spann, Author of BLADE OF THE SAMURAI

Congratulations to author Susan Spann, whose second Shinobi Mystery, BLADE OF THE SAMURAI (Minotaur) releases today. Even though Susan is a member of my writing group, I had plenty of questions to ask her about the novel and her writing process. Read on for a taste of the fascinating world Susan has created.

1) BLADE OF THE SAMURAI is the second Shinobi mystery, and I know that the third is already written and in production. I’m curious about your process for crafting each mystery. Does a crime present itself to you and you fit the characters and their relationships around it, or do choose a character you wish to develop (in this case Kazu) and fashion a crime that involves him? Or do other factors, such as Hiro’s own character development or the larger, overarching mystery into which the individual volumes fit, determine the particular murder Hiro and Father Mateo must solve in a given book?

Great question – and the short answer is, “It varies.” Although each novel is stand-alone, I also have a master arc which follows Hiro and Father Mateo, and their friendship, through the series.

Some of the crimes relate to aspects of Hiro and Father Mateo’s lives that I want to highlight at a certain point in the series. For example: Blade of the Samurai shows the start of a conflict between Father Mateo and other Jesuits in Kyoto.

Some of the books also give me the chance to highlight secondary characters, bringing them “to the front” to share more about their stories. Blade of the Samurai does this, too. It’s Kazu’s chance to shine.

In other cases, I wanted to explore a specific part of medieval Japanese culture, and the crime arises from a murder that might have actually occurred in that setting. For example, the fourth Shinobi Mystery, Blood of the Outcast, deals with the murder of an actor’s daughter and the ripples that killing sends through the theater company.

2) What did you learn about Hiro in BLADE that you didn’t know at the end of CLAWS? About Father Mateo?

Ironically, I didn’t learn the “big, surprising secret” Hiro reveals to the reader near the end of the book. That particular piece of information was one I intended to disclose in this book all along.

However, I always learn at least one new thing about each character as I write, and Blade was no exception. I learned that Father Mateo is stronger, physically, than I thought he was – and that Hiro has more compassion than I originally believed.

But the biggest surprise in this novel, for me, was the fact that the victim had a teenage son. The boy did not appear in my outline. He rode “onstage” and revealed himself while I was writing the book’s first draft, leaving me with the unique decision whether or not to let him “live” – first, by letting him stay in the book, and second, by deciding whether or not he’d survive to the end. I’ll let you read the book to find out what ultimately happened.

3) What aspect of the samurai code that governs Hiro’s behavior conflicts most strongly with Father Mateo’s religion? What aspect of Hiro’s own character does the shinobi find hardest to control?

On the page, Hiro and Father Mateo argue most about telling the truth, and whether or not a person of honor lies. Shinobi (ninjas) were trained to lie, and considered it part of the job assignment. In Father Mateo’s world, a lie is a sin that a man should avoid at almost any cost. These differing world views lead to conflict, but also to some of the most interesting conversations between them.

For Hiro, the hardest part of his current assignment is the limitation on violence as a form of conflict resolution. Medieval samurai, and shinobi, often resorted to violence (fights or assassination) to eliminate problems. Since Hiro is working undercover, and can’t afford to raise suspicions about his true identity by killing the people who cause him problems, he’s forced to work out issues a different way. Hiro isn’t bloodthirsty by nature, so he doesn’t necessarily mind the change, but it’s definitely forcing him to stretch in new directions.

4) The Jesuits in Kyoto operate two missions—the superior, Father Vilela, works with the nobles, while Father Mateo spreads the Gospel among the commoners. Was this a typical strategy of Jesuit missionaries in Japan? What made such a strategy effective? What difficulties does it pose for Father Mateo?

Actually, this was a fairly common strategy for the Jesuits in various parts of the world, including Japan. The Japanese culture was highly regimented, and people from different social classes did not interact. The samurai would have been appalled by the equal treatment of commoners—by clerics or by anyone else—so separating the missions kept the Jesuits’ work with the commoners “out of sight and out of mind.”

Father Mateo’s difficulties arise primarily when his work as a sleuth takes him out of the commoners’ realm and into that of the samurai. As we see in Blade, samurai didn’t appreciate a Jesuit treating their servants as equals, or as people deserving of respect. Father Mateo’s refusal to act like a samurai in that regard triggers trouble with the shogun’s men, and also with his superior, Father Vilela.

5) Ichiro, the teenaged son of the murdered Saburo, makes his debut in BLADE. You seem to have a particular affection for this character. How is he typical of Japanese youth of the time and how does he defy expectations?

Ichiro defied expectations by his existence—he wasn’t in the outline at all. As far as his actions, however, he’s a fairly accurate portrait of a samurai youth on the cusp of adulthood. In many ways, society expected a samurai’s son to behave with adult manners from the time he could walk and talk. Medieval Japanese children were raised with a sense of honor and a mandate to follow the stringent rules of etiquette from a very early age.

At the same time, I wanted Ichiro to reflect the fact that children—even samurai children—are more than miniature adults. He ended up becoming one of my favorite characters in the entire series.

6) Your vivid descriptions pay close attention to the details of Japanese architecture. Is architecture a particular interest of yours? How do the architectural particularities of sixteenth century Japan lend themselves to or complicate the unfolding of your mysteries? With interior walls being constructed of heavy paper, it seems as though it would be quite difficult to communicate with any degree of privacy inside a home or office.

I adore Japanese architecture, particularly the architecture of the medieval period. For the Japanese, construction has always encompassed more than merely “four walls and a roof,” and the creativity and versatility of Japanese homes, businesses, and palaces, has fascinated me for many years.

My love for Japanese architecture started at Tufts University, where I attended college. The Asian Studies department offered several courses in Japanese architecture (and Japanese architectural art), and I love being able to share the details in my novels.

Since the interiors of medieval Japanese houses were largely constructed of lightweight wood and paper, often with open ceilings and rafters, privacy was in short supply. However, some buildings did have ceilings, and solid doors, and the versatility of the available “sets” gives me lots of range and flexibility when it comes to deciding which characters overhear things, and how much they hear.

7) I love that each discrete mystery in your series fits into the larger, overarching mystery of who hired Hiro to protect Father Mateo and why. Hiro himself does not seem to know the answer to these questions. How do you balance the demands of the micro- and macro-mysteries? When will readers learn the answers to these broader questions?

That balancing act is one of my favorite parts of writing the series. My goal is to bring the readers a little more into Hiro’s world (and reveal more of his history) in every novel. At the same time, I’m committed to keeping the novels stand-alone, and minimizing spoilers, so readers who come into the series later on won’t feel like “outsiders” to the characters or the narrative. It definitely takes some planning – much of which took place before I started writing Claws of the Cat, the first book in the series.

As far as the broader questions, like “Who hired Hiro to protect Father Mateo?” and “How did Hiro get those scars on his shoulder and inner thigh?” – the only answer I can give for now is keep reading … the answers are coming, in time.

8) What have you found to be the greatest challenge of writing a series set in a culture so unfamiliar to American readers? What do you hope readers take away from reading the Shinobi books?

The biggest initial challenge for me was finding a way to “translate” the culture without talking down to the reader or spending too much time in backstory and “info-dump.” I originally created Father Mateo to solve that problem. Initially, I intended him to provide a set of Western eyes through which I could explain things to the reader. I quickly learned he was much, much more than that.

Mostly, I hope the novels give readers an enjoyable escape to an exotic time and place. At the end of the day, they’re stories—and I hope readers like them as much as I like writing them (which is to say, a LOT). If they also take away a little knowledge of Japanese history and culture, so much the better! But I’d be thrilled just to hear that readers like spending time with Hiro and Father Mateo.

Thank you so much for having me on your blog and doing this interview! These were great questions and really fun to answer!!


You can find out more about Susan Spann and her Shinobi Mysteries at her website.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Review: BLADE OF THE SAMURAI: A Shinobi Mystery by Susan Spann

Last summer, Susan Spann took the historical mystery world by storm with the publication of her first Shinobi Mystery, CLAWS OF THE CAT. Tomorrow she celebrates the release of the series's second installment, BLADE OF THE SAMURAI, a worthy and in many ways superior successor to her first novel.

BLADE opens in sixteenth-century Kyoto a year after undercover ninja Matsui Hiro and Jesuit priest Father Mateo successfully solved a first murder case. The action moves from the local entertainment district to the shogunate, where Ashikaga Saburo, the shogun's cousin, has been found stabbed to death in his office a few days before the expected visit of an enemy warlord. The shogun, loath to exhibit any weakness before his visiting adversary and impressed by Hiro and Fr. Mateo's demonstrated investigative skills, demands the pair apprehend the murderer before the embassy arrives. Hiro finds himself in an unenviable position--the murder weapon belongs to his ninja friend Kazu, Saburo's assistant, who, like Hiro, is on a secret assignment for the Iga school. Kazu swears to Hiro that he did not commit the murder, yet he won't give Hiro a clear answer about where he was the night of the crime. Though Hiro harbors doubts about his friend's innocence, plenty of other people--Saburo's wife, a stable boy, a maid, a master carpenter, and various government officials--nurse grievances against Saburo that could easily explain the murder. Moreover, the murder appears connected to a plot that endangers the shogun himself. With the fate of the city and the lives of Kazu and Fr. Mateo, a well as his own, at stake, Hiro must weigh the evidence and unveil the murderer with utmost speed and certainty.

Meticulously plotted, BLADE moves at an exciting, engaging clip. Hiro pursues suspects and unearths evidence with a ninja's stealth and finesse. His habits of observing before judging and of trying to provoke suspects into revealing themselves before he accuses them allows the reader time to piece the clues together for herself. The plot has just enough twists and turns to sustain interest without becoming confusing, and the reveal at the end has been so well-prepared as to be welcomed with pleasure.

As Father Mateo finds himself sidelined with unforeseen injuries for much of the novel, BLADE becomes Hiro's story, and the reader catches intriguing glimpses of the man behind the ninja. Spann portions out Hiro's personal history in tantalizing dribs and drabs, still revealing in this second book only the most basic facts about his personal background. Yet she begins to define Hiro's emotional landscape, a challenging task for a character whose livelihood and survival depend on the complete mastery of emotion. Not only does Japanese culture make a virtue of emotional control, but Hiro's ninja training has ingrained on him the grave danger of emotions: "A shinobi," he reminds himself, "must always remain detached from his mission. Real emotion was dangerous and forbidden." Yet as much as he fights them, emotions keep creeping in, complicating his task and threatening to cloud his judgment. Is his friendship with Father Mateo and the consequent exposure to Western affability and Christian ideals "softening" him, or has the wall behind which Hiro has dammed his feelings (one senses there is a deep emotional hurt, possibly involving a woman, in his past) springing hairline cracks on its own? It will be interesting to see how this struggle against emotion plays out in later books and where it ultimately leads the increasingly conflicted protagonist. For now, it is more than sufficient for forging bonds of sympathy between the reader and a man trained to kill with great efficiency and no remorse.

These intimations of Hiro's past and portents of his future contribute to Spann's greatest achievement so far: the successful integration of the story particular to each volume into the larger mystery that encompasses the entire series. Readers engage not only with the story questions of the murder under investigation, but with the broader questions of who has hired the assassin to protect Father Mateo and why. Hiro himself does not know the answers, and Spann keeps that grander mystery bubbling merrily on the burner as she concocts a heady brew of Japanese culture, early modern history, and basic human nature. BLADE OF THE SAMURAI will quench the thirst inspired by CLAWS, yet leave the reader panting eagerly for another gulp.


Tomorrow: Susan answers specific questions about BLADE OF THE SAMURAI and her writing process. In the meantime, you can learn more about her books and sixteenth-century Japan at her blog.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

A Church, Two Palaces, and a Generous Heart

Question: What do excavations at Luxor, Egypt and Athens, Greece; the cathedral of Reims in France; the library of the Imperial University in Tokyo; Grand Teton National Park in Wyoming; the Cloisters museum in New York City; and the historical restoration of colonial Williamsburg have in common with the château de Fontainebleau?

Answer: Like Fontainebleau, they all received crucial funding from American philanthropist John D. Rockefeller, Jr. (1874-1960).

During his lifetime, Rockefeller, wielder of the Standard Oil Company family fortune, donated approximately $537 million to social, religious and cultural causes. He was particularly struck by the devastation German bombing and wartime neglect had wrought on France's historic sites. In 1924 he offered the French government several million dollars to restore three of them: the cathedral of Notre-Dame at Reims, the palace of Versailles, and the palace of Fontainebleau.

Fire and shelling had damaged and destroyed large portions of the cathedral at Reims, the traditional site of a French king's coronation. According to the cathedral's website, architect Henri Deneux had begun restoration work in 1919, but had difficulty finding the funds, materials, and manpower to support the effort. Rockefeller's generous grants in 1924 and 1927 allowed Deneux to reconstruct the church's nave, roof, and angel bell tower. The cathedral fully reopened to the public in 1938.

The château de Versailles had not been damaged by fighting during the first World War, but by neglect and the redirection of funds. According to a thesis on the uses of Versailles in the twentieth century, the condition of the site was alarming and conservation measures at the palace had come to a standstill, despite the Hall of Mirrors having witnessed the signing of the treaty that ended the war. Rockefeller earmarked seventy-six percent of his donation for Versailles. The money was used to restore the main palace buildings, the grounds, and the two Trianons. Without Rockeller's gift,  the palace as we know it today might not have survived.

The palace of Fontainebleau foundered in similar decrepitude. As at the two other sites, Rockefeller's grant repaired Fontainebleau's roofs, walls, woodwork, ironwork, and masonry--projects which ensured the safety and solidity of the structure itself, as this article in the 1925 Revue des deux mondes emphasizes. All of the windows and doors were replaced and railings reinforced. On the grounds, leaky basins and fountains were repaired, staircases restored, the canal and carp pond renewed. The theater's roof and attics, damaged by a fire in 1887, were rebuilt. Rockefeller's timely gift saved Fontainebleau from a disintegration that worsened daily.

photo by Trizek
In thanks for his dedication to the preservation of her treasured historic sites, France awarded John D. Rockefeller, Jr. its highest prize, the Grande Croix of the Légion d'honneur, in 1936. A celebration was held at the newly renovated palace of Versailles to honor its benefactor. (Watch a short newsreel of the event here.) Francophiles the world over are forever grateful that national boundaries could not  constrain the American philanthropist's foresight and generosity.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Book-a-Day Challenge: Week 4 Recap

Here is the final installment of my June Book-a-Day responses. The challenge was a lot of work, but a lot of fun, too. I hope some of the books I've mentioned over the last month have found their way into your To-Be-Read pile.

June 22. Out of print: FRANCIS THE FIRST, FIRST GENTLEMAN OF FRANCE by Francis Hackett. Published in 1934 by Irish journalist and novelist Hackett, this witty biography presents a colorful and fairly accurate account of the French king's exploits. It was the first biography of Francis I ever read. I own a copy of a later edition, but I'd buy a copy of this first edition for the dust jacket alone!

June 23. Made to read at school: As a literature Ph.D, I couldn't possibly count all the books I've been made to read at school! Here's one, though, dating back to college, that I probably never would have picked up on my own: HEART OF DARKNESS by Joseph Conrad. For whatever reason, I expected to hate it, but it's turned out to be one of my favorite books. I've read it several times, once aloud to my husband as we drove from New Jersey to North Carolina. Sure made the miles pass quickly!

June 24. Hooked me into reading: BARNEY BEAGLE by Jean Bethell. I remember my mom buying me this book at the grocery store when I was five or six years old. I loved this story of the beagle in the pet shop window and the boy brought him home. I kept the book for years, and although I eventually lost it in a move, I've never lost the love of reading it inspired. I still remember how much I treasured that pink and brown Easy Reader...it was the very first book I got to choose for myself.

June 25. Never finished it: PORTRAIT OF AN UNKNOWN WOMAN by Vanora Bennett. I made it more than halfway through this novel set in Tudor England and then had to keep bumping it to read books scheduled for review. Eventually too much time passed and I realized I'd have to start over to rescue the plot and characters from the mists of memory. I was enjoying the novel and fully intend to finish...will make it one of my TBR goals for the summer.

June 26. Should have sold more copies: I'm changing this one to Should SELL more copies and listing all my writer friends' current books. All these authors have written excellent novels and I want to see their books continue to fly off the shelves! The list includes Heather Webb's BECOMING JOSEPHINE; Susan Spann's CLAWS OF THE CAT and soon-to-be-released BLADE OF THE SAMURAI; Marci McGuire Jefferson's GIRL ON THE GOLDEN COIN; Lisa Janice Cohen's DERELICT; Patricia Bracewell's SHADOW ON THE CROWN; Lucy Pick's PILGRIMAGE; Helene Wecker's THE GOLEM AND THE JINNI; Sophie Perinot's THE SISTER QUEENS; Ann Weisgarber's THE PROMISE; Maryanne O'Hara's CASCADE, and all the wonderful books by Michelle Moran, Christopher W. Gortner, and Catherine Delors. Reader friends can't go wrong by picking up any of these books! How high can we push their numbers?

June 27. Want to be one of the characters: THE HEPTAMERON by Marguerite de Navarre. If I got to be one of the characters in the Queen of Navarre's story collection, I would experience life in Renaissance France and see for myself the places, people and things I love reading and learning about. I would choose to become one of the characters in a tale set at court, or even Parlamente, the figure who, in the collection's frame story, represents the author herself.

June 28. Bought in my favorite independent bookstore: THE AUTOBIOGRAPHY OF MARK TWAIN. Twain is my husband's favorite author, and I bought this at our local independent bookstore, Towne Center Books, a couple of years ago when it first appeared and kept selling out. The owner of TCB miraculously obtained a copy for me, making my husband one happy camper on his birthday. TCB is a great shop and hosts marvelous events--my friend Susan Spann will be appearing there again in a few weeks' time to celebrate the release of her second Shinobi mystery.

June 29. The one I have reread most often: I really don't like to reread books...there are so many books I haven't read, I hesitate to spend time rereading a story I already know. The two books I've reread most often are GONE WITH THE WIND and KRISTIN LAVRANSDATTER, but since I've already used those as answers for other questions, I'll mention GREEN DARKNESS by Anya Seton. I loved this book in high school. When I came across a used copy at a book sale a few years ago, I decided to reread it, hoping to recapture the magic. Unfortunately, the story didn't appeal to me at all thirty years later. Guess I'm not as romantic as I once was!

June 30. Would save if my house burned down: GIRART DE ROUSSILLON ou L'EPOPEE DE BOURGOGNE. I would save this book because it is the most beautiful I own: a full-color facsimile reproduction of the illustrated manuscript of the twelfth century chanson de geste recorded by Jean de Wauquelin in 1453 for the Duke of Burgundy, Philippe Le Bon, who wanted to claim Girart as an illustrious ancestor. An absolute delight to view, it was an extravagant gift from my husband back when we had little money.