Showing posts with label Donna Woolfolk Cross. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Donna Woolfolk Cross. Show all posts

My Top 5 Reads of 2009

Sunflowers: A Novel of Vincent Van Gogh by Sheramy Bundrick

My review for Sunflowers is still in progress, but let me summarize it for you real quick:  brilliant, simply BRILLIANT!  This is Miss Bundrick's first novel and I, for one, will be awaiting her future works with anticipation.  Sunflowers is one of those reads that will continue to haunt you long after completing and trust me when I say that you will need to have a HUGE box of Kleenex handy at the end. 

I, Elizabeth by Rosalind Miles

Regular readers of this blog will be familiar with my love of Elizabeth I.  Well, this year I read the BEST book of the Virgin Queen, thanks to the talent of Rosalind Miles.  Miles ingeniously portrays the imperial Elizabeth - from Princess to Good Queen Bess to Gloriana with skill and savvy.

Read my review HERE.

The Greatest Knight by Elizabeth Chadwick

The lovely and charming Elizabeth Chadwick is, IMO, the Queen of Medieval Historical Fiction.  No one does it quite like her!  The Greatest Knight tells the story of William Marshal, one of England's most powerful knight, who served four kings: King Henry II, Richard the Lionheart, King John and Henry III.  Action, love, betrayal and chivalry - The Greatest Knight has it all!

Read my review HERE.

Pope Joan by Donna Woolfolk Cross

In Pope Joan, Donna Woolfolk Cross brings to life an obscure figure in history, a woman whose very existense is still debated to this day.  Joan, disguised as a man, served as Pope John Anglicus during the years 833-835.  Cross' novel is beautifully written and captivating, just like her heroine.

Read my review HERE.

Signora da Vinci by Robin Maxwell

One of the most delicious reads of the year for me was Signora da Vinci, by the equally yummy Robin Maxwell.  Maxwell takes us back to 15th century Italy and depicts the story of Caterina, the mother of Leonardo da Vinci.  My favorite scenes are the ones with Lorenzo de Medici, a.k.a. Lorenzo the Magnificent, who associated with the great minds behind the Italian Renaissance.  Thought provoking and poignant, Signora da Vinci is a must read!

Read me review HERE.


Author Interview with Donna Woolfolk Cross of Pope Joan

I am truly delighted to bring you an interview with the author of the fabulous novel Pope Joan, Donna Woolfolk Cross!

Welcome to Passages to the Past and thank you so much for gracing our humble site!  It's been a pleasure getting to know you and Pope Joan!

Finding Inspiration: With some authors a character comes in a dream, some discover an interesting character while researching another…what was it that prompted you to write Joan’s story?

I had already decided to make the leap from the books I had been writing (non-fiction books about words and language) to historical fiction--my favorite form of leisure reading.

Then I happened to come across a passing reference that I originally thought was an amusing typo ("Joan" for "John"--an easy "slip of the pen"). But a few weeks later, I had to drive my daughter to the library for a school assignment. While waiting for her, I had time to kill. Idle curiosity led me over to the New Catholic Encyclopedia, just to check on that odd reference to a "Pope Joan". 

I didn't expect to find anything. So imagine my surprise when there WAS an entry for her! I stood in that library with my jaw dropped open. How was it possible that the story of such a remarkable woman had existed for centuries--and I hadn't even HEARD of her?

I knew immediately that this was what I wanted to write about. In the book business, they call this a “drop-dead” story. I couldn't believe I'd had the enormous good fortune to stumble across it!

Research: You referred to ancient texts for research – how do you find such information? How long was the research process for Pope Joan?

Forever. Or so it seemed. It took so long that I had started to refer to the work as “my posthumous work”--for I began to think that I might end before it did!

I spent over seven years researching and writing Pope Joan. Nothing mysterious about the process; I just slogged away, beginning with easy-to-access sources, readily available in U.S libraries--sometimes even from inter-library loan! From those I retrieved references and bibliography that led to harder-to-obtain sources available only in rare book rooms and special collections, often in other languages, sometimes in other countries. Fortunately, I can read French, Spanish, Italian, and some Latin, which was an enormous help.

The Movie: Congratulations on Pope Joan becoming a big Hollywood movie! What has been the most exciting aspect of this project for you? Did you have much say in the screenplay? Was it hard to share “your baby” with the screenwriters?

It took ten years to get “Pope Joan” to the silver screen. There were four different production companies, six different directors, and eight separate screenplays. The word “vicissitude” doesn’t begin to describe all that I went through. Best way to describe it is to say that I finally understand, for the first time in my life, why everyone in Hollywood is on crack cocaine!

Constantin Film, the same production company that made “Name of the Rose” finished filming Pope Joan in January. Though I had no contractual rights with regard to the screenplay, they were generous enough to take many suggestions from me about the script-in-progress. I’ll be listed as “Creative Consultant” in the film credits.

The most exciting part of the project was being on-set in Germany and Morocco. Fascinating! They had to drag me off the set at the end of each day’s shooting,. It was extraordinary to observe so many people--actors, cameramen, makeup people, extras, even animals--enacting scenes and pieces of dialogue that I remember writing in the solitude of my little study.

I can’t wait until the premiere! If any of your readers would like to join me, they should check out my “walk the red carpet” offer at

Historical Accuracy: Given that there wasn’t a lot of information available, what historical liberties did you take with Pope Joan?

You are certainly right about about there not being a lot of information available about Joan. But that’s not surprising. The lives of ALL of the 8th and 9th century Popes are told in exactly the same way-- -in very abbreviated form. Chronicle records in the "Darkest of the Dark Ages" were written with uncertain ink on nubbly animal skin (for that's what parchment is). They were short and woefully lacking in detail. If you took one of these papal records off the hand-written page, it wouldn't take up more than about 15 pages of modern print.

So all I had was a skeleton of a story. That’s the beauty of writing historical fiction--it allowed me to put flesh on those dry old bones, to give this inspirational story laughter, smiles, tears--all the things that make a story human. I tried, however, always to base my "imaginative leaps" on what might reasonably be deduced from the evidence at hand. And the details of the ninth-century setting, strange and savage as they now seem, are all factual.

Future Novels: Are you working on a new novel at the present time? What can readers look for in the future from Donna Woolfolk Cross?

I'm writing about another strong woman from history, this time from 17th century France. I admire her very much, as I do Joan. What draws me to both women is best expressed with a quote from George Bernard Shaw: "Reasonable people adapt themselves to the world. Unreasonable people persist in trying to adapt the world to themselves. Therefore, all progress depends on unreasonable people." (n.b. Shaw actually spoke of "reasonable and unreasonable men"; I've altered this to make it inclusive of women).

In this complimentary sense of the word, Joan was certainly an "unreasonable" woman. So is my next heroine--whose name, I'm sure you've noticed, I have artfully not mentioned (largely because my agent has told me she'll cut out my tongue if I do!).

I hope my readers will enjoy my next heroine’s delicious "unreasonableness" as much as I do.

What are you reading at the moment? 

“La Vie Quotidienne au Marais au XVIIe Siecle”--in other words, “Daily Life in the Marais in the 17th Century.” Research for my next novel--but actually more interesting than one might think! 

Who are your top five authors? 

What an excruciating question! I have so many more than five--all writers of historical fiction, the best of all reading adventures, for it combines pleasure with learning--an unbeatable combination! 

Forced to the task, however, I’ll provide the names that pop into my mind first: Mary Renault, Cecelia Holland, Gore Vidal, Zoe Oldenbourg, Judith Merkle Riley. Also a wonderful up-and-comer: C.W. Gortner.

Book that changed your life?

You’re killing me here, Amy, for this is another excruciating question. (You’re very good at this. Perhaps I should call you “Torquemada”? )

 So many books changed my life--made me literate; introduced me to other cultures and different ways of “conjuring the world”; helped me become more tolerant and broad-minded; taught me history I had never learned in school. At every stage of my life, there was a book that changed me and influenced my life choices. 

But as you’ve put my foot to the fire, I guess I’d have to say “A Room of One’s Own” by Virginia Woolf--a book that made me realize how important it is to for a woman to secure an education--and with it, economic independence, upon which all true choices depend.

Favorite line from a book? 

“Isn’t it pretty to think so?” from “The Sun Also Rises” by Ernest Hemingway. A line filled with romantic yearning but also skepticism born of experience--a combination that I understand and am moved by.

Book that you most want to read again for the first time?

“Memoirs of a Geisha”. I would linger over it, soaking in the wonderful evocation of an alien culture, if I had another “first time”. But though I would enjoy it, I would be mindful that another “first time” is impossible to come by, for as the old saying goes, “You can only be a virgin once!”

My Review of Pope Joan | Pope Joan Website


announcing the winner of Pope Joan!

For this giveaway winner announcement, I've handed the honor to Mr. Eddie Vedder, lead singer of the best band in the entire universe, Pearl Jam! Mr. Passages and I will be attending his solo concert in Atlanta at the end of this month and I am completely geeked out!!! I've seen Pearl Jam about 12 times, but never Ed by himself and we should have kick ass seats because we have fan club tickets. Our last PJ show was in South Carolina last year and we had 8th row center....Eddie even flashed a sign to my husband because of the shirt he was wearing - heehee, he looked at us!

Wow, got completely off-topic here, see what happens when I get on the subject of Pearl Jam!

And now, the moment you've been waiting for. Eddie...take it away!

Shoot me an email Carlene with your address! Thanks to all 112 of you that entered - a great turnout for a great read!!


Review: Pope Joan by Donna Woolfolk Cross

Pope Joan
by Donna Woolfolk Cross


In the ninth century a woman rose to the highest seat in Rome, that of Pope.  The Church has since tried to erase her from history.  They should know, women don't go away quietly.  Donna Woolfolk Cross has given voice to this extraordinary woman, Joan of Ingelheim, later known as Pope John VIII.

Joan and two older brothers were raised by her father, a Canon of the local country church and her mother, a Saxon woman, brought back from one of her father's missionary trips. Joan's father was quite strict and especially hard with her.  He found her intelligence and thirst for knowledge unnatural, sinful and blasphemous.  Girls did not read and write.  However, Joan was not one to back down and still found ways to learn despite her father's wrath. 

When her brother is killed by Vikings, Joan assumes his identity and enters the monastery at Fulda as brother John Anglicus.  Disguised as a man, Joan is able to penetrate the world of men.  A bit like Caterina from Signora da Vinci (Robin Maxwell), but without the funnel!  Joan's travels carry her finally to Rome, where her healing skills and bright mind give her access into the Pope's inner circle.  As the frienship between Joan and the Pope grows, she soon finds that betrayal, deception and greed are to be found in even the holiest of places.

At heart, Pope Joan is a story of a woman.  A woman who fights for what she believes in, no matter the consequences.  A woman who loves God, yet questions her faith (something we can all relate to).  A woman torn between a physical love and a spiritual one.  Joan charms you from the start and throughout the novel, her ups and downs are your own.

I now have a definite answer to that age old question - who would you dine with, living or dead?  Joan would be seated to my left.  To finish the my right would be Elizabeth I and sitting across is Elvis.

Pope Joan Website


Pope Joan giveaway!


 In honor of the re-release of Pope Joan by Donna Woolfolk Cross I would like to welcome you to the Pope Joan giveaway!  Please note that the giveaway copy has this cover and is NOT the edition shown above.

Pope Joan is being re-released by Three Rivers Press and will be available on June 9, 2009.

Please stay tuned in the next few weeks for my review AND an interview with Donna!
Synopsis: For a thousand years her existence has been denied. She is the legend that will not die–Pope Joan, the ninth-century woman who disguised herself as a man and rose to become the only female ever to sit on the throne of St. Peter. Now in this riveting novel, Donna Woolfolk Cross paints a sweeping portrait of an unforgettable heroine who struggles against restrictions her soul cannot accept.

Brilliant and talented, young Joan rebels against medieval social strictures forbidding women to learn. When her brother is brutally killed during a Viking attack, Joan takes up his cloak–and his identity–and enters the monastery of Fulda. As Brother John Anglicus, Joan distinguishes herself as a great scholar and healer. Eventually, she is drawn to Rome, where she becomes enmeshed in a dangerous web of love, passion, and politics. Triumphing over appalling odds, she finally attains the highest office in Christendom–wielding a power greater than any woman before or since. But such power always comes at a price . . .

In this international bestseller, Cross brings the Dark Ages to life in all their brutal splendor and shares the dramatic story of a woman whose strength of vision led her to defy the social restrictions of her day.

Giveaway 411:
  • Giveaway ends on June 8th. Winner will be announced on June 9th.
  • Open to all domestic and international entries. Passages loves our neighbors across the water =)
  • For 5 additional entries sign up as a follower; if you already are a follower you will automatically get this.
  • For another additional one entry, post about this giveaway. 

Good luck!


three rivers press re-releasing Pope Joan

US Release Date:  June 9, 2009

Donna Woolfolk Cross will be interviewed at PTTP around the first week of June!

Brilliant and talented, young Joan rebels against the medieval social strictures forbidding women to learn to read and write. When her brother is killed during a Viking attack, Joan takes up his cloak and identity and goes to the monastery of Fulda to be initiated into the brotherhood. As Brother John Anglicus, Joan distinguishes herself as a great Christian scholar. Eventually she is drawn to Rome, where she becomes enmeshed in a dangerous web of love, passion, and politics. Triumphing over appalling odds, she finally attains the highest office in Christendom, wielding a power greater than any woman before or since. But such power comes with a price.

Related Posts with Thumbnails

Passages to the Past
All rights reserved © 2013

Custom Blog Design by Blogger Boutique

Blogger Boutique