Review & Giveaway: The Queen of Warriors by Zenobia Neil


The Queen of Warriors by Zenobia Neil

Publication Date: September 19, 2019
Hypatia Books
eBook & Paperback; 363 Pages

Series: Alexandra of Sparta, Book One
Genre: Historical Fantasy


Alexandra of Sparta vowed her sword and her heart to the goddess Artemis. And the goddess blessed her. But no warrior lives at peace, and soon, Alexandra loses her title, her troops, and all she holds dear, including the man who holds her heart.

Cursed by a Babylonian witch, she is forced to return to a city she once conquered to make amends, but is captured by the powerful Persian rebel, Artaxerxes. As his prisoner, she awaits judgment for her crimes. But Artaxerxes is not what he seems. With death approaching, Alexandra must face her violent past and discover the truth of her captor’s identity before it’s too late.

Review

⭐⭐⭐⭐

"I am of Sparta"

As she did in The Jinni's Last Wish, Zenobia Neil masterfully transports you back in time with The Queen of Warriors. Zenobia's books are such a treat for the senses and the kind of books that completely immerse you into another world.

Alexandra of Sparta is better known as The Queen of Warriors. Fierce and powerful, she was a leader of men, invader of lands, and feared by her enemies. Now her reign as Queen as ended she consults an oracle who tells her to go back to where she began to reach the answers she seeks. I don't want to give away much more as I was shocked at what she found - you will just have read it for yourself :)

Sensual, exciting, titillating, and erotic, The Queen of Warriors is a fabulous historical that will keep you turning the pages. Alexandra was a complex and intriguing character and a complete badass! I loved her strength and perseverance.

Highly recommended!

Available on Amazon


About the Author

Zenobia Neil was named after an ancient warrior queen who fought against the Romans. She writes about the mythic past and Greek and Roman gods having too much fun. She lives with her husband, two children, and dog in Los Angeles. The Queen of Warriors is her third book.

Visit her at ZenobiaNeil.com. You can also follow her on Facebook, Twitter, and Goodreads.

Blog Tour Schedule

Monday, September 16
Review at Broken Teepee

Tuesday, September 17
Guest Post by Reading the Past

Wednesday, September 18
Excerpt at Bookish Rantings

Thursday, September 19
Review at Gwendalyn's Books

Friday, September 20
Review at Passages to the Past

Monday, September 23
Review at Historical Fiction with Spirit

Tuesday, September 24
Excerpt at What Is That Book About

Wednesday, September 25
Review at History from a Woman’s Perspective

Thursday, September 26
Review & Guest Post at A Bookish Affair

Monday, September 30
Review & Excerpt at Clarissa Reads it All

Tuesday, October 1
Feature at I'm All About Books
Excerpt at Myths, Legends, Books & Coffee Pots

Wednesday, October 2
Review at book frolic
Review at Al-Alhambra
Feature at CelticLady's Reviews

Thursday, October 3
Excerpt at Coffee and Ink

Friday, October 4
Review at WTF Are You Reading?
Guest Post at Let Them Read Books

Giveaway

During the Blog Tour, we are giving away 2 eBooks and 2 paperbacks of Psyche Unbound and The Jinni's Last Wish! To enter, please use the Gleam form below.

Giveaway Rules

– Giveaway ends at 11:59 pm EST on October 4th. You must be 18 or older to enter.
– Giveaway is open to the US only.
– Only one entry per household.
– All giveaway entrants agree to be honest and not cheat the systems; any suspicion of fraud will be decided upon by blog/site owner and the sponsor, and entrants may be disqualified at our discretion.
– The winner has 48 hours to claim prize or a new winner is chosen.

The Queen of Warriors


Review: In the Absence of Miracles by Michael J. Malone


In the Absence of Miracles by Michael J. Malone

Publication Date: September 19, 2019
Orenda Books

Genre: Mystery/Thriller

John Docherty’s mother has just been taken into a nursing home following a massive stroke and she’s unlikely to be able to live independently again. With no other option than to sell the family home, John sets about packing up everything in the house. In sifting through the detritus of his family’s past he’s forced to revisit, and revise his childhood. For in a box, in the attic, he finds undeniable truth that he had a brother who disappeared when he himself was only a toddler. A brother no one ever mentioned. A brother he knew absolutely nothing about. A discovery that sets John on a journey from which he may never recover. For sometimes in that space where memory should reside there is nothing but silence, smoke and ash. And in the absence of truth, in the absence of a miracle, we turn to prayer. And to violence. Shocking, chilling and heartbreakingly emotive, In the Absence of Miracles is domestic noir at its most powerful, and a sensitively wrought portrait of a family whose shameful lies hide the very darkest of secrets.

Review

⭐⭐⭐⭐

Well, this is going to be one tough review to write. Author Michael Malone has had me on an emotional roller coaster for the past few days with this incredible book and I'm still thinking about it.

The book starts off with John's mother having had a stroke and living in a care center to receive help. When John realizes that he won't be able to support her and that she probably won't be coming home he decides to clean out the house to sell it. When he comes across a family photograph he hadn't seen before with a brother he never knew about, it starts off a series of events that will ultimately shock John (and you, the reader!).

Working with his other brother Chris they investigate who is in the photograph and what happened to him, and why his parents kept it a secret from them. The answer was no where near what I expected it to be! I was absolutely floored!

Heart-wrenching and brutal, this story will grab you by the heart. I felt so much for these boys and my heart broke for them. The author's writing was beautiful, even with the tough subject matter. I was a mess at the end and know I will be thinking of this book for a long time.

Thanks to Anne Cater and Orenda Books for the chance to read In The Absence of Miracles! I highly recommend it.

About the Author

Michael Malone is a prize-winning poet and author who was born and brought up in the heart of Burns’ country. He has published over 200 poems in literary magazines throughout the UK, including New Writing Scotland, Poetry Scotland and Markings. Blood Tears, his bestselling debut novel won the Pitlochry Prize from the Scottish Association of Writers. Other published work includes Carnegie’s Call; A Taste for Malice; The Guillotine Choice; Beyond the Rage; The Bad Samaritan and Dog Fight. His psychological thriller, A Suitable Lie, was a number-one bestseller, and the critically acclaimed House of Spines and After He Died soon followed suit. A former Regional Sales Manager (Faber & Faber) he has also worked as an IFA and a bookseller. Michael lives in Ayr.


Interview & Giveaway: Farewell My Life by Cynthia Sally Haggard

Happy Monday everyone! Today on the blog I am super excited to share my interview with Cynthia Sally Haggard. Her blog tour for Farewell My Life kicks off today and she stopped by to answer a few questions! We also have a giveaway so be sure to enter!


Hello Cynthia and welcome to Passages to the Past! Thanks so much for stopping by today to talk about Farewell My Life!

To begin, can you please tell us a little about yourself and your writing?

I was born & raised in England, and came to the US at the age of 21. I’ve lived my entire adult life in the Mid-Atlantic region. (It was tough getting used to those steamy summers.)

What inspired you to write Farewell My Life?

I had a picture in my mind of the practical sister (Violet) bringing a violin for the dreamy sister (Grace) who had had to leave home under a cloud. That was all I knew when I started writing.

What research did you undertake when writing Farewell My Life?

I read LOTS of books, about fashion, manners, history…anything that gave me a vivid picture of life in the 1920s and 1930s. Of course, I also went online too, but that was just to fill out the research I’d gleaned from books.

What would you like readers to take away from reading Farewell My Life?

Life is fragile. Things can unravel much more quickly than any of us like to admit.

What was your favorite scene to write? 

The last scene of Part 1, when Russell is unmasked.

What was the most difficult scene to write?

The very last scene of the novel, because it is so harrowing.

When did you know you wanted to be a writer?

Not until fairly late in life (at the age of 43). Prior to that, I’d been a violinist and then a cognitive scientist.

What does your writing routine look like?

The truth is that I don’t have a writing routine. When I write, I work every day in the morning because that is my best time of day. But as I have to promote my books myself there are times when I can’t write. For example, right now I’m editing audio files so that I have Audible versions of both of my novels.

What has been your greatest challenge as a writer?

Writing dazzling prose.

Have you been able to overcome it?

Based on the early reviews of Farewell My Life, it seems as it I have!

Who are your writing inspirations?

I was the typical bookworm from the age of 10 on, when I started reading for three hours every day. I read all the classics, so of course I was inspired by Jane Austen, Charles Dickens and Fanny Burney. The actual inspirations for my novels come from disparate sources. My first novel “Thwarted Queen,” was inspired by a Time Team program on Richard III. “Farewell My Life” is loosely based on the story of my college violin teacher, who went to Berlin to study violin circa 1925.

What was the first historical novel you read?

I’m not sure, but I remember enjoying Jean Plaidy’s Isabella & Ferdinand trilogy (“Castile for Isabella,” “Spain for the Sovereigns,” and “Daughters of Spain.”)

What is the last historical novel you read? 

“I, Eliza Hamilton” by Susan Holloway Scott. I loved the voice, the blend of love & exasperation in Eliza’s voice as she talked about her husband.

What are three things people may not know about you?

I learned to play violin when I was 3 years old. I have a PhD in Experimental Psychology. I wanted to study ballet.

What appeals to you most about your chosen genre?

Well, I love living in the past, so historical novels are the perfect venue for my imagination.

What historical time period do you gravitate towards the most with your personal reading?

That depends on what I’m working on. When I was writing “Thwarted Queen” I read historical fiction about the middle ages. When I created “Farewell My Life” I read historical fiction about the 19th and 20th centuries.

What do you like to do when you aren't writing?

Play piano, walk, hike, exercise at the gym, play landlady, organize my husband.

Lastly, what are you working on next?

My next novel is set in Sicily circa 831, when Palermo was attacked by Muslims from North Africa…

Sounds fascinating! Thank you so much for stopping by today!


Farewell My Life by Cynthia Haggard

Publication Date: April 7, 2019
eBook & Paperback; 586 pages

Genre: Historical Fiction


Angelina led a life which required her to fib. When Angelina, the black sheep of the Pagano family, meets the mysterious Mr. Russell, she has no idea that she has seen him before…in another country. And so begins Farewell My Life, a novel in three parts, which spins an operatic tale of dangerous love and loss.

The Lost Mother, the first part of this novel, slices back and forth between time and space, opening in the charming village of Georgetown, Washington D.C. while reflecting a family’s troubled past in the lovely village of Marostica in the Italian Veneto.

An Unsuitable Suitor, the second part of the novel, is a Cinderella-ish tale with not-so-charming princes who inhabit the edgy setting of 1920s Berlin.

Farewell My Life, the last part of the novel, set again in Berlin, Germany, during the dark 1930s as the Nazis gain power, takes comfortable lives, assumptions and civilizations and crumbles them into ash.

Amazon | IndieBound

Praise for Farewell My Life

"A unique, deftly scripted, and extraordinary novel by an author with a distinctive narrative storytelling style that will hold the readers dedicated attention from beginning to end, "Farewell My Life: Buona Notte Vita Mia" is an impressive and unreservedly recommended addition to both community and academic library Contemporary Literary Fiction collections. One of those rare novels that will linger in the mind and memory long after the book itself has been finished."--Mid-West Book Review

"The author knows her characters very, very well; this shows in the consistent and very individual way they act. This is not a plot-driven story; it's character-driven. In this book, the characters are the jam which holds everything together. The best example of this is Grace, the talented violinist, who, simply, jumps off the page. I loved her."--Wishing Shelf

"This is not your typical mystery; it's for fans of thrilling action and historically­-inspired events...Contra to the status quo of the genre, the men are the romantics - though in a deranged manner - and the women showcased are the core strength of the novel."--BookLife Prize.

"The author...adeptly summons the era in all its manners and details with her descriptive prose...Her omniscient, third-person narrator effectively flits through the heads of various characters, offering momentary glimpses of their inner lives."--Kirkus Reviews

"I loved the elaborate descriptions of all the places in this book. This is the kind of book that shows instead of just telling. The characters are very well-developed and interesting to read about. Angelina is a fascinating character, as is Grace. Along the duration of the book, Grace learns a lot about herself. I was amazed by her quiet yet vibrant personality, and her brilliant talent."--Pavani Mathur (The Voracious Bibliophile)

About the Author

Cynthia graduated with an MFA in Creative Writing from Lesley University, Cambridge MA, in June 2015.

Her first novel, Thwarted Queen, a frustrating tale (hence the title) of Lady Cecylee Neville (1415-1495) who was nearly crowned Queen of England, was shortlisted for many awards, including the 2012 Eric Hoffer New Horizon Award for debut authors. To date, sales have surpassed 38,000 copies.

Her forthcoming novel, Farewell My Life, is a Cinderella-ish tale with not-so-charming princes who inhabit the edgy setting of 1920s Berlin.

When she’s not annoying everyone by insisting her fictional characters are more real than they are, Cynthia likes to go for long walks, knit something glamorous, cook in her wonderful kitchen, and play the piano. You can visit her at www.spunstories.com. You can also find Cynthia on Facebook, Twitter, and Goodreads.

Blog Tour Schedule

Monday, September 9
Interview at Passages to the Past

Tuesday, September 10
Feature at Books In Their Natural Habitat

Thursday, September 12
Excerpt at A Darn Good Read

Friday, September 13
Excerpt at Maiden of the Pages

Monday, September 16
Review at girl-who-reads

Tuesday, September 17
Feature at Beth's Book Nook Blog

Wednesday, September 18
Review at Locks, Hooks and Books

Thursday, September 19
Review at Gwendalyn's Books

Saturday, September 21
Excerpt at Broken Teepee

Monday, September 23
Feature at The Book Junkie Reads

Tuesday, September 24
Review at Unabridged Chick

Friday, September 27
Excerpt at Coffee and Ink

Sunday, September 29
Review at Reading is My Remedy

Monday, September 30
Interview at Unabridged Chick

Saturday, October 5
Review at Passages to the Past

Tuesday, October 8
Feature at I'm All About Books

Wednesday, October 9
Excerpt at Chicks, Rogues and Scandals
Excerpt at Myths, Legends, Books & Coffee Pots

Giveaway

During the Blog Tour, we are giving away two eBooks of FAREWELL MY LIFE! To enter, please use the Gleam form below.

Giveaway Rules

– Giveaway ends at 11:59 pm EST on October 9th. You must be 18 or older to enter.
– Giveaway is open to the US only.
– Only one entry per household.
– All giveaway entrants agree to be honest and not cheat the systems; any suspicion of fraud will be decided upon by blog/site owner and the sponsor, and entrants may be disqualified at our discretion.
– The winner has 48 hours to claim prize or a new winner is chosen.

Farewell My Life


Review: Blood Song by Johana Gustawsson


Blood Song by Johana Gustawsson
Translated by David Warriner


Publication Date: September 19, 2019
ORenda Books

Genre: Mystery/Thriller

The third book in the award-winning, critically acclaimed Roy & Castells series, featuring true-crime writer Alexis Castells and profiler Emily Roy. Previous titles in the series, Block 46 and Keeper, have won the Plume d’Argent, Balai de la découverte, Balai d’Or and Prix Marseillais du Polar awards and sold in 19 countries. A French, Swedish and English TV series is in production, adapted by and starring award-winning French actress Alexandra Lamy.

Spain, 1938 The country is wracked by civil war, and as Valencia falls to Franco’s brutal dictatorship, Republican Teresa witnesses the murders of her family. Captured and sent to the notorious Las Ventas women’s prison, Teresa gives birth to a daughter who is forcibly taken from her.

Falkenberg, Sweden, 2016 A wealthy family is found savagely murdered in their luxurious home. Discovering that her parents have been slaughtered, Aliénor Lindbergh, a new recruit to the UK’s Scotland Yard, rushes back to Sweden and finds her hometown rocked by the massacre.

‘Gustawsson’s writing is so vivid, it’s electrifying. Utterly compelling’ Peter James

Review

⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

Blood Song by Johana Gustawsson is a brilliant, unrelenting thriller that will sink its hooks into you and not let go! I have no idea how I can possibly do justice in my review to how amazing this read was.

This is the third book in Gustawsson's Roy and Castells series, and while I haven't read the first two books I didn't feel lost at all. I will be purchasing the first two books in the series soon because I am so in love with the way this author writes.

There are two timelines in the story and I was unsure of how they would connect, but it was masterfully done. One was definitely more emotional than the other. There are some pretty heartwrenching scenes when the story flips back to the time during Franco's regime in Spain, with Gordi's story, that are hard to read so be sure to have tissues handy. I haven't read much about this time in history so it was all new to me and absolutely horrifying.

The current timeline was equally fascinating with Alexis, Emily, and Aliénor trying to solve a series of vicious murders. The author knows just how to keep the suspense going and the reader intrigued!

I can't even begin to express how much I loved this book. I was furiously turning the pages to see how it would play out and glared at anyone that dared attempt to speak with me while reading. It's the kind of book that you think about all day until it's reading time, and when it's finally time to sit down and get back into it, your heart beats a little faster. I love that feeling!

Blood Song is perfect for fans of fast-paced thrillers and historicals. I highly recommend it and can't wait to pick up the other books in the series.

Thanks to Anne Cater and Orenda Books for the opportunity to read this book!

About the Author


Born in Marseille, France, and with a degree in Political Science, Johana Gustawsson has worked as a journalist for the French and Spanish press and television. Her critically acclaimed Roy & Castells series has won the Plume d’Argent, Balai de la découverte, Balai d’Or and Prix Marseillais du Polar awards, and is now published in nineteen countries. A TV adaptation is currently underway in a French, Swedish and UK co-production. Johana lives in London with her Swedish husband and their three sons. She drew on her own experience of fertility clinics and IVF to write Blood Song and is happy to speak and write pieces about this.


Review & Giveaway: With Kisses from Cécile by Jan Agnello & Anne Armistead


With Kisses from Cécile by Jan Agnello & Anne Armistead

Publication Date: September 12, 2019
eBook & Paperback

Genre: Historical Fiction


A heartbroken Maggie travels to Paris to visit the grave of her great-grandmother’s French pen pal Cécile and uncovers 100-year-old secrets that give her courage to rebuild her own life.

NOW

Maggie Ruth Mitchell’s failed attempt at reconciliation with her unfaithful husband has left her more confused than ever—and with a consequence that will change her life forever. Heartbroken, Maggie travels to Paris to visit the grave of Cécile, the French pen pal of her great-grandmother Ruth. Reading Cécile's letters and learning about Ruth’s past gives Maggie not only an understanding of the strength and courage of the women in her family—all sharing the name Ruth—but also allows Maggie to find her way forward.

THEN

In the year 1919 following World War 1, two young girls, Ruth and Cécile, find each other through a Pen Pal program between American and French students. In their letters they share their dreams and bare their heartaches. A tragic death of a loved one has torn Ruth’s family apart, leaving her with a dark secret to hide. Cécile, having survived the bombs that devastated Paris, is battling against consumption. Ruth draws courage from her pen pal’s inspiring letters, each signed With Kisses from Cécile, to face what fate brings.

Review

⭐⭐⭐⭐

With Kisses From Cécile is based on a true story of Jan Agnello's great-grandmother, Ruth, and her Fench pen pal, Cécile. It is a poignant and lovely historical that tells the story of two young women, one American and one French, whose friendship defied geographic restrictions. Through their letters, readers are given a glimpse into what their lives were like and the history they witnessed.

There are two timelines in this book. In the present timeline, Maggie is at a pivotal time in her life and marriage. Estranged from her husband, and now pregnant, she is gifted a trip to Paris with her grandmother. On the plane ride to Paris, her grandmother shows her the letters between Ruth and Cécile, and tells her of their friendship.

In the past timeline, Ruth and her family just moved in with her grandfather (and one feisty rooster!), after the tragic death of her brother. She joins a Pen Pal program at school and receives her first letter from Cécile in June of 1919, the day of the signing of the Treaty of Versailles, when the Great War ended. Cécile lives in Paris and writes to Ruth of the events she witnesses and tells her of her life and family. It was fascinating!

You can't help but be drawn to the strong women in this book, and it was co-written seamlessly. I absolutely loved every minute I spent reading it!

It also brought back some memories as I had a pen pal as a teenager as well. They captured the allure of writing letters - the excitement you feel when a new letter would arrive, and the disappointment when it didn't. I kind of feel bad for kids these days that won't know the bittersweetness of it all.

In addition to including the letters from Cécile, we are also gifted with photos of the real Ruth, Cecile, and drawings from the letters. That was really amazing to see! They were both so lovely! I am sad that they never got to meet, and I am grateful to know their story and be a witness to such a lovely friendship.

I highly recommend With Kisses From Cécile and can't wait to see what Jan & Anne write next!

Available on Amazon


About the Authors


Photo Credit: Sitting Pretty Photos

JAN AGNELLO comes from several generations of hobbiest antiquers. Her love of stories behind the antiques inspired her in 2013 to form Storyology Design, now Storyology Design and Publication. The necklaces Jan crafts from antique coin purses have generated a loyal customer following and garnered attention from the Atlanta Journal Constitution, jewelry network executives, and TV and film costume designers. Her love of books, romance, history, and unique jewelry design led her to collaborate with author Anne Armistead to offer a series of historical novels, each paired with heirloom quality jewelry named for the female protagonist. The first in the series, WITH KISSES FROM CÉCILE, is a story of love and redemption drawn from Jan’s family history. It is paired with THE CÉCILE JEWELRY COLLECTION. Visit storyologydesign.com to learn more about Jan and Storyology.

ANNE ARMISTEAD is a writer of historical romance. She earned her English literature degree from the University of Georgia and her MFA in creative writing from Spalding University. Her background includes project management with AT&T and teaching English at the middle, high, and college levels. She is a member of the Romance Writers of America and the Georgia Writers of Romance. WITH KISSES FROM CÉCILE is her second romance, following the publication of DANGEROUS CONJURINGS (Soul Mate Publishing, April 2018). Anne writes for and serves as an editor for Storyology Design and Publication. Visit annearmisteadauthor.com to learn more about Anne and her novels.

Blog Tour Schedule

Saturday, September 7
Feature at I'm All About Books
Review & Interview at Passages to the Past

Monday, September 9
Review at my.boys.mom
Excerpt at A Darn Good Read

Tuesday, September 10
Review at Gwendalyn's Books

Wednesday, September 11
Excerpt at Historical Fiction with Spirit

Thursday, September 12
Review at Maiden of the Pages
Excerpt at Short Book and Scribes
Excerpt at Books In Their Natural Habitat

Friday, September 13
Review at Amy's Booket List
Excerpt at Chicks, Rogues and Scandals

Monday, September 16
Review at Jessica Belmont
Excerpt at What Is That Book About

Tuesday, September 17
Review at Melissa Reads

Giveaway

During the Blog Tour, we are giving away a paperback copy of With Kisses From Cecile! To enter, please use the Gleam form below.

Giveaway Rules

– Giveaway ends at 11:59 pm EST on September 17th. You must be 18 or older to enter.
– Giveaway is open to the US only.
– Only one entry per household.
– All giveaway entrants agree to be honest and not cheat the systems; any suspicion of fraud will be decided upon by blog/site owner and the sponsor, and entrants may be disqualified at our discretion.
– The winner has 48 hours to claim prize or a new winner is chosen.

With Kisses From Cecile


Interview & Giveaway: With Kisses from Cécile by Jan Agnello & Anne Armistead

Hello, dear readers! Today on the blog I am super excited to be hosting the co-authors of With Kisses From Cecile, Jan Agnello & Anne Armistead! Today kicks off their blog tour so be sure to check out the blogs that will be hosting them. My review will be up later today. It was a wonderful read! And don't forget to enter to win a copy at the end of this post.

I hope you enjoy getting to know these two fascinating women writers! Have you ever had a pen pal? Let us know in the comments!


Hello Jan & Anne and welcome to Passages to the Past! Thanks so much for stopping by today to talk about With Kisses from Cécile!

To begin, can you please tell us a little about yourself and your writing?

Jan: My first job after graduating college from Washington State University was in advertising sales for KIRO Newsradio followed by KMPS radio. After that I brokered Cable television advertising. Then two babies came along with a corporate move for my husband to Bucks County Pennsylvania, an area that has been home to some of our great writers, Pearl Buck, James Michener, and musical lyricist Oscar Hammerstein to name a few. Many snowy evenings gave me the opportunity to read a lot of great books. When I wasn't working for the local newspaper, I loved antiquing and learning about the areas rich history. Then, you guessed it, another corporate move to Atlanta. For many years I substitute taught Language Arts and Social Studies to Middle School students. I started my antique and designer heirloom jewelry business, Storyology Design, and have a devoted following in the antique community, especially for my antique coin purses. With Kisses from Cécile marks the first of a series of novels planned for publishing by Storyology Design and Publication, merging my love of historical fiction with my love of designing jewelry!

Sandra: I am a native Georgian who attended the University of Georgia and married a “Jersey” boy who attended the rival Georgia Tech. Somehow, our “house divided” has worked out! We have two grown daughters and one rescue dog, Jackpot (so named because we hit the jackpot when he rescued us!). My career after college was with AT&T as a project manager, trainer, and writer of documentation. After having my two daughters, I resuscitated my dormant teaching certificate and taught English at the middle, high, and college levels, until my retirement this past spring. I completed my MFA in Creative Writing at Spalding University’s program under the administration of the wonderful award-winning author Sena Naslund (Ahab’s Wife). Now, I am thrilled to fill my days with my creative writing instead of lesson planning and grading essays! I have been published in Highlights Magazine and have won or placed in several writing contests sponsored by the Romance Writers of American chapters, The Atlanta Writers Club, the Alabama Writers Conclave, Society of Children Writers and Illustrators, and WOW! Women on Writing. My debut historical novel is Dangerous Conjurings (Soul Mate Publishing, April 2018), followed by With Kisses from Cécile as my second.

How did the idea to co-write With Kisses from Cécile come to be?

Jan & Sandra: We met over a decade ago at an Atlanta Writers Club meeting where we read from our works in progress at the time, which for Jan was a draft of With Kisses from Cécile. Sandra was so intrigued with the background of Jan’s story, and we decided to meet for lunch so Jan could share more about the pen pal letters her grandmother Ruth received from Cécile, and from that moment forward, we decided we had to collaborate to introduce others to Cécile.

What research did you undertake when writing With Kisses from Cécile?

Jan & Sandra: The “then” part of the story is framed by Cécile’s letters which created the timeline for Ruth’s story, meaning we had to research the 1919-1922 timeframe. Cécile’s letters guided our research of World War I historical events and locations in France. Jan’s family mementoes of that era’s rail schedule, brochures, and maps helped us dramatize Ruth’s travel from Oakland, California, to Colorado Springs, Colorado. We learned more about Cragmor Sanatorium in Colorado Springs, Colorado, which plays a significant role in the story, by reading the book The Asylum of the Gilded Pill: The Story of Cragmor Sanatorium by Douglas R. McKay. We learned more about tea rooms of the era by reading Jan Whitaker’s Tea at the Blue Lantern Inn, A Social History of the Tea, Room Craze in America, which helped us with the scenes of the runaway Ruth at the Busy Bees Tea House in Salt Lake City, Utah. Jan traveled to Paris and visited where Cécile lived and traveled and her grave in the Gentilly Cemetery, which deepened the emotional resonance of the story. We added in our Author Notes details of our research which we felt would help the reader.

What would you like readers to take away from reading With Kisses from Cécile?

Jan & Sandra: One of the main themes of our story is the strength we gain from those who came before us in our families. The lineage chart we included in the book was not only provided to help understand the women’s relationships to each other but to also highlight how we inherit resilience from stories of those in our family who triumphed over sadness and sorrow. Maggie is a composite of both Jan and Sandra, in that she represents a woman facing an event in her life that has derailed her, yet learning what her mother, grandmother, and great-grandmother, as well as Cécile, had to overcome inspires her to move forward in her life with grace, courage, and forgiveness. We hope the readers will be encouraged to uncover similar stories in their own families from which they may gain inspiration and courage.

You co-wrote With Kisses from Cécile together, what did that process look like?

Jan & Sandra: The history of this story goes back actually to a non-fiction article Jan’s daughter Marie wrote and submitted to Stone Soup, and it was published in the May/June 2002 edition of the magazine. A NYC agent saw the article and contacted Jan asking if she and her daughter had considered writing the story as a middle grade novel. That was when Jan began drafting the first manuscript, and when she met Sandra in 2010, together they worked on completing and polishing that draft for submission. Unfortunately, the agent who requested it had moved on from representing middle grade. Life events intervened and the project was dropped. Sandra moved into writing historical romance, and her debut novel Dangerous Conjurings was published in April 2018 from Soul Mate Publishing. By that time, Jan had created Storyology Design, her antique and heirloom quality jewelry business, and had built a clientele who enjoyed not only Jan’s antiques and jewelry but also her stories she relayed behind each item. Jan contacted Sandra with the idea of taking their beloved With Kisses from Cécile in the direction of the historical romance genre and jewelry collection, targeting adult readers this time. She expanded Storyology Design into Storyology Design and Publication with the plan to publish a series of historical romances, each with a jewelry collection names after the protagonists. With Kisses from Cécile became reframed as a historic romance with the dual narrative timeline embedding Cécile’s letters. So, over a decade after Jan and Sandra’s initial meeting, the world can now meet and fall in love with Cécile!

What was your favorite scene to write?

Jan & Sandra: In Ruth’s narrative, I loved writing the scenes with the rooster Herkimer, as well as the poignant scene with Ruth and Clinton with his homing pigeons at Lake Merritt. In Maggie’s narrative, I enjoyed writing Chapter Nineteen. Grams reads to Maggie Cécile’s letter in which Cécile writes of sitting in Park Montsouris and worries that the boy sitting in the park thinks of her as a “fast girl.” This chapter includes humor and pathos and deepens the reader’s appreciation of the sweet relationship between Maggie and Grams.

What was the most difficult scene to write?

Jan & Sandra: In Ruth’s narrative, the most difficult scene by far was when Ruth confides her “secret” and comes to an understanding and forgiveness of herself. In Maggie’s narrative, the most difficult to write was Chapter Thirty-Seven, after Maggie has learned of Ruth’s secret and of Cécile’s illness and begins to experience a turning point in how she views her own hurt and betrayal.

When did you know you wanted to be a writer?

Sandra: I cannot remember a moment in my life when stories have not been a part of my life and my desire to write and share stories with others has not been a dream! My dad was the consummate storyteller, and I loved hearing him share his stories from growing up during the Depression. I turned one of his stories about hobos visiting his home for food into my first published piece in Highlights Magazine (“The Sign of the Cat”). I ran my mother ragged when I was a child, carting me back and forth from the library multiple times a week for me to keep a stack of books at the ready. My most favorites including Anne of Green Gables, Nancy Drew Mysteries, and Little Women, Victoria Holt Gothic romances, and of course, Gone with the Wind.

What does your daily writing routine look like?

Sandra: I spend my morning working on my work-in-progress, researching, outlining, writing scenes, as well as revising after the first draft of a manuscript is completed I spend the afternoons outlining my next WIP, checking in on blogs I follow, posting across my social media accounts, and volunteering time with the writing community (judging entries for contests, developing and delivering workshops, and mentoring other writers). One morning every two weeks is spent with my writing group. We have been together for almost a decade and provide each other not only support in our writing but emotional support in life! I devote time each evening and on weekends to reading books in the historical romance genre as well as contemporary romance and romantic suspense. I believe a writer must be a voracious reader!

What has been your greatest challenge as a writer? Have you been able to overcome it?

Sandra: My greatest challenge is to harness all the stories I want to write and actually write one of them to arrive at that ever-elusive THE END! My writing group helps keep me moving forward, as does keeping setting self-imposed deadlines and celebrating each I meet a deadline by munching on my favorite snack of popcorn with M&M’s while watching an episode of my latest British show I am binging. Right now I’m re-watching all of Downton Abbey to prepare for the movie!

Who are your writing inspirations?

Jan: I read antique books for fun. I love the voices in the old novels and regularly compare them to how books are different today. Books I loved as a child are Charlotte's Web, The Secret Garden, and Anne of Green Gables. As a teenager I loved all the Bronte novels, all of Jane Austin's novels, The Great Gatsby, To Kill A Mockingbird, and The Prime of Miss Jean Brody. This year I have enjoyed The Lost Girls of Paris and The Only Woman In The Room.

Sandra: As an undergraduate, I chose American Literature as my major because of my American Literature high school teacher, who introduced me to Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald, William Faulkner, John Steinbeck, Eugene O’Neill, Tennessee Williams, Flannery O’Connor, among other genius writers. I have always said that if I could author any sentences as gorgeous and perfect as those that make up Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby or Steinbeck’s Grapes of Wrath, I would die happy. Other than these famous “classic” writers of the American canon, I probably have been most inspired by Margaret Mitchell’ Gone with the Wind. Scarlet. Rhett. Melanie. Ashley. “Tomorrow is another day.” These are the story elements that ”dreams are made of” (to paraphrase the end line of The Maltese Falcon movie—I am an incurable Turner Classic Movies devotee). I also am inspired by Nina George’s exquisite The Little Paris Bookshop. My family and friends are getting tired of me talking about and quoting from that book incessantly!

What was the first historical novel you read?

Sandra: I was eleven when I read Gone with the Wind, so I would have to say that was my first “adult” historical novel that I voraciously consumed. I also remember being introduced to Philippa Carr’s historical novels around that age. (It totally blew my mind when I realized Victoria Holt and Philippa Carr were the same writer!) I also was captivated by Leon Uris (favorite: Exodus) and James Michener (favorite: Shogun).

What is the last historical novel you read?

Jan: It All Comes Back To You by Beth Duke. I didn't want it to end. Duke is the best wordsmith of classic Southern Fiction!

Sandra: The Gown by Jennifer Robson—how could I pass up a glorious story about Queen Elizabeth’s wedding gown? And that sumptuous cover drew me in.

What are three things people may not know about you?

Jan: 1) I grew up in Okinawa, Taiwan, and Washington State. 2) I adore my fur baby Westie, Beaux. 3) I am a Francophile! My Zen place is to imagine walking the streets in the 5th and 6th arrondissements in Paris.

Sandra: 1) While growing up, I played songs on the piano for my brother to sing along while we pretended to be a famous sister-brother act. 2) As a devotee of old movies and the TCM channel, I can quote Casablanca line by line and tear up every time I see the “La Marseillaise” scene. 3) Sometime before his death in 1818, my ancestor Lieutenant Colonel George Armistead acquired the flag that was immortalized in Key’s poem as the “Star-Spangled Banner” from the War of 1812, and the family eventually in 1912 offered the flag as a permanent gift to the country. It is on display in the Smithsonian Museum in DC. My other ancestor is the Civil War Confederate General Lewis Armistead, who was killed while leading Pickett’s Charge in the Battle of Gettysburg. His friendship with the Union General Winfield Scott Hancock was immortalized in Michael Shaara’s Pulitzer Prize winning novel The Killer Angels and was a significant storyline in the movie made from that book, Gettysburg.

What historical time period do you gravitate towards the most with your personal reading?

Jan: The historic time period I love is the Belle Epoch. I am a huge fan of French antiques from that Era. And I love the Victorian Era. I made a point of visiting the Victoria and Albert Museum in London. The collection of Queen Victoria's jewelry is exquisite. Also, I love novels set in WWI.

Sandra: My background in studying American Literature and teaching it honed my keen interest in the American Civil War period, and I am intensely drawn to the time period of World War I and World War II.

What do you like to do when you aren't writing?

Jan: I watch PBS, BBC, Fox News, and HGTV. I love on my sweet Westie, Beaux, refurbish antiques, design jewelry, and fly to LA and Ft. Lauderdale to visit by three granddaughters.
Sandra: When not writing, I’m reading tales conjured by others, torturing myself at my Pilates classes, and watching BBC shows, to which I am hopelessly addicted.

Lastly, what are you working on next?

Jan & Sandra: We are researching the era of the turn of the last Century and the “Grand Tour” that American teen girls would take as part of their rite of passage into “adult” society as a basis for the next Storyology Design and Publication historical romance, which will be released with another jewelry collection!

Sandra: I am working on a contemporary heartwarming series, marking a departure from historical fiction for me. However, it is set in a small Southern town, so I am sticking to my Southern roots!

I am so excited for both of these upcoming books! Thank you for taking the time to let us know more about you! Good luck with your new book!


With Kisses from Cécile by Jan Agnello & Anne Armistead

Publication Date: September 12, 2019
eBook & Paperback

Genre: Historical Fiction


A heartbroken Maggie travels to Paris to visit the grave of her great-grandmother’s French pen pal Cécile and uncovers 100-year-old secrets that give her courage to rebuild her own life.

NOW

Maggie Ruth Mitchell’s failed attempt at reconciliation with her unfaithful husband has left her more confused than ever—and with a consequence that will change her life forever. Heartbroken, Maggie travels to Paris to visit the grave of Cécile, the French pen pal of her great-grandmother Ruth. Reading Cécile's letters and learning about Ruth’s past gives Maggie not only an understanding of the strength and courage of the women in her family—all sharing the name Ruth—but also allows Maggie to find her way forward.

THEN

In the year 1919 following World War 1, two young girls, Ruth and Cécile, find each other through a Pen Pal program between American and French students. In their letters they share their dreams and bare their heartaches. A tragic death of a loved one has torn Ruth’s family apart, leaving her with a dark secret to hide. Cécile, having survived the bombs that devastated Paris, is battling against consumption. Ruth draws courage from her pen pal’s inspiring letters, each signed With Kisses from Cécile, to face what fate brings.

Available on Amazon


About the Authors


Photo Credit: Sitting Pretty Photos

JAN AGNELLO comes from several generations of hobbiest antiquers. Her love of stories behind the antiques inspired her in 2013 to form Storyology Design, now Storyology Design and Publication. The necklaces Jan crafts from antique coin purses have generated a loyal customer following and garnered attention from the Atlanta Journal Constitution, jewelry network executives, and TV and film costume designers. Her love of books, romance, history, and unique jewelry design led her to collaborate with author Anne Armistead to offer a series of historical novels, each paired with heirloom quality jewelry named for the female protagonist. The first in the series, WITH KISSES FROM CÉCILE, is a story of love and redemption drawn from Jan’s family history. It is paired with THE CÉCILE JEWELRY COLLECTION. Visit storyologydesign.com to learn more about Jan and Storyology.

ANNE ARMISTEAD is a writer of historical romance. She earned her English literature degree from the University of Georgia and her MFA in creative writing from Spalding University. Her background includes project management with AT&T and teaching English at the middle, high, and college levels. She is a member of the Romance Writers of America and the Georgia Writers of Romance. WITH KISSES FROM CÉCILE is her second romance, following the publication of DANGEROUS CONJURINGS (Soul Mate Publishing, April 2018). Anne writes for and serves as an editor for Storyology Design and Publication. Visit annearmisteadauthor.com to learn more about Anne and her novels.

Blog Tour Schedule

Saturday, September 7
Feature at I'm All About Books
Review & Interview at Passages to the Past

Monday, September 9
Review at my.boys.mom
Excerpt at A Darn Good Read

Tuesday, September 10
Review at Gwendalyn's Books

Wednesday, September 11
Excerpt at Historical Fiction with Spirit

Thursday, September 12
Review at Maiden of the Pages
Excerpt at Short Book and Scribes
Excerpt at Books In Their Natural Habitat

Friday, September 13
Review at Amy's Booket List
Excerpt at Chicks, Rogues and Scandals

Monday, September 16
Review at Jessica Belmont
Excerpt at What Is That Book About

Tuesday, September 17
Review at Melissa Reads

Giveaway

During the Blog Tour, we are giving away a paperback copy of With Kisses From Cecile! To enter, please use the Gleam form below.

Giveaway Rules

– Giveaway ends at 11:59 pm EST on September 17th. You must be 18 or older to enter.
– Giveaway is open to the US only.
– Only one entry per household.
– All giveaway entrants agree to be honest and not cheat the systems; any suspicion of fraud will be decided upon by blog/site owner and the sponsor, and entrants may be disqualified at our discretion.
– The winner has 48 hours to claim prize or a new winner is chosen.

With Kisses From Cecile


2019 Historical Fiction Reading Challenge: September Reviews


Holy cow, how is it September already?!

Welcome to the September link page for the 2019 Historical Fiction Reading Challenge. This is the page where you will enter the links to your reviews during the month of September 2019.

Reading Challenge Instructions...

  • Add the link(s) of your review(s) including your name and book title to the Mister Linky we’ll be adding to our monthly post (please, do not add your blog link, but the correct address that will guide us directly to your review). A direct link to your Goodreads review is also acceptable
  • Any sub-genre of historical fiction is accepted (Historical Romance, Historical Mystery, Historical Fantasy, Young Adult, etc.)
  • Don't forget to look at some of the other links that are present. You never know when you will discover new blogs or books!

There's still time to sign up for the 2019 Historical Fiction Reading Challenge! Sign Up Here.


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