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Sunday, November 30, 2014

Christmas Spirit Read-a-Thon Wrap-Up

christmas spirit read-a-thon 2014

Well, the read-a-thon ends today - and since I'm watching The Walking Dead as I write this, I don't see myself getting any more reading done tonight, so I'm wrapping up now.  I did pretty well for the first one that I participated in.  I actually read several Christmas related novellas/short stories (3) and finished another book that I had been reading.  Here is a summary of what I completed this week:

  • Finished reading The Tiger Queens by Stephanie Thornton
  • Read in their entirety: The Advent Bride by Mary Connealy; The Nutcracker Bride by Margaret Brownley; and The Evergreen Bride by Pam Hillman (all Christmas themed)
  • Started, but haven't finished: The Gift-Wrapped Bride by Maureen Lang

Pretty impressive.  I also working on my new goal of trying to tweet and post to Facebook more often. Great success.  You can read my daily updates on my sign-up post.

Thanks Michelle for hosting the Christmas Spirit Read-a-Thon and I will continue to participate in the Christmas Spirit Reading Challenge.



Copyright © 2014 by The Maiden’s Court

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

In-Progress Book Review: The Tiger Queens by Stephanie Thornton & Giveaway

Tiger Queens Cover

The Tiger Queens by Stephanie Thornton
Paperback, 496 pages
November 4, 2014

Genre: Historical fiction

Source: Received from the publisher for review as part of HFVBT

“In the late twelfth century on the sweeping Mongolian grasslands, following a violent feud between blood brothers, the victor Temujin ascends to power, declaring himself Genghis Khan. But behind one powerful man stand many strong women…

After her mother foretells an ominous future for her, darkness looms over Borte’s life. She becomes an outcast among her clan and after seeking comfort in the arms of an aristocratic traveler, she discovers he is the blood brother of Temujin, the man she was betrothed to years ago but who abandoned her long before they could marry. And he will only leave her behind again.

Temujin will make Borte his khatun, his queen, yet it will take many women to safeguard his fragile new empire. Their daughter, a fierce girl named Alaqai, will ride and shoot an arrow as well as any man. Fatima, an elegant Persian captive, seeks revenge against the Mongol barbarians who destroyed her city and murdered her family, but in the end will sacrifice everything to protect the Golden Family. Demure widow to Genghis’ son, Sorkhokhtani positions her sons to inherit the Empire when it begins to fracture from within.

As Genghis Khan sets out to expand his conquests and the steppes run red with blood, Borte and the women of the clan will fight, love, scheme, and sacrifice, all for the good of their family and the greatness of the People of the Felt Walls…”

I tried so hard to free up the time to get this book finished before today. I have not had as much time to read as I would have wished the last two weeks because of finishing up my research paper and then my final exams for the semester – so alas, I’m only about 50% of the way through The Tiger Queens. I should be able to finish up in the next day or so. I thought about trying to write up a full review without having finished the book – but that felt disingenuous to me, so I’m going to give my thoughts thus far and then follow up later this week with my full thoughts following completing the book. It’s only the fair thing to do.

The Tiger Queens is broken up into four parts with each part being narrated by a different women from Genghis Khan’s tribe. So far I have read through two of these women’s stories. This divide into parts is designed to move the reader through over 80 years of time and I think this works well stylistically as each story (so far) has seemed to pick up about where the prior one left off. While the women I have read about thus far, Borte and Alaqai, couldn’t be more different, I like them for different reasons. Both are strong, but in their own ways. Borte has seen and been subjected to a lot in her life and that is where she draws her strength from. Alaqai has been pretty much a tom-boy and the Khan’s favorite child, so she got away with a lot growing up but not must use her skills in a new land amongst people who basically hate her. There is a wide cast of characters here, but the author has done a great job of giving you enough information about each one to make them whole – even the more periphery characters.

There is a great scene that stands out for more so far while reading this novel. All of the daughters (by blood, marriage, and adoption) of Genghis Khan spend time really getting to know each other while discussing what to expect upon two of the girls marrying in the very near future. It was funny, sweet, and solidified the sisterly bonds. It actually broke my heart to see these women have to break up and go the separate ways of their new families after this heart-to-heart moment. I think that was when I really started to enjoy the book – not that it wasn’t an enjoyable read up until that point.

It is obvious that the author has done a great deal of research on the topic of Genghis Khan and the Mongols and the groups that they interacted with along the way. This is an area of the world where I have virtually little knowledge going into this novel. She does an excellent job of weaving even the smallest details into the novel so that the world they live in feels palpable to the reader without it ever feeling overburdened with detail. A great balance of show and tell.

I look forward to being able to see how the stories of the other two women fit into the overarching storyline.

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You can follow along with the rest of the tour by visiting the HFVBT site or on Twitter with the following hashtag: #TheTigerQueensBlogTour.

I also have a giveaway opportunity for you all.  I have 2 paperback copies of The Tiger Queens to giveaway - one copy will be sent out by me (extra copy I received) and the other will be sent by the publisher. 

  • Giveaway is open to USA residents only and will be open from November 25, 2014 until December 6, 2014
  • Entries are made via the Rafflecopter below - please follow directions provided in the Rafflecopter entries
  • I have updated by giveaway policies and made them always available on my "policies" tab at the top of the page.  When you get to that page scroll about 3/4 down the page and there are my giveaway policies.  Please review these and abide by them.  Thanks.

a Rafflecopter giveaway



Copyright © 2014 by The Maiden’s Court

Monday, November 24, 2014

Book Review: A Home for Christmas by M.K. McClintock

a home for christmas

A Home for Christmas by M.K. McClintock
Kindle, 74 pages
Trappers Peak Publishing
November 5, 2014

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Genre: Christmas Short Story Collection, Historical Fiction, Western

Source: Received for review for Book Junkie Promotions book tour

Includes three historical fiction short stories to delight and entertain this holiday season.

In search of family she barely knows and adventure she’s always wanted, Katherine Donahue is saved from freezing on a winter night in the mountains of Montana by August Hollister. Neither of them expected that what one woman had in mind was a new beginning for them both.

Heartache and a thirst for adventure lead McKensie Stewart and her sister to Wyoming after the death of their parents. With the help of a widowed aunt and a charming horse breeder, McKensie discovers that hope is a cherished promise, and there is no greater gift than love.

Lily Malone has never had a real family or a real Christmas. This holiday season, she might get both. From an orphanage in New York City to the rugged mountains of Colorado, Lily sends out only one wish. But when the time comes, can she give it up so someone else’s wish can come true?

This was my first Christmas historical fiction read and it was such a wonderful experience that I can’t wait to dig into some more Christmas novellas and short stories (of which I have been collecting many recently).

Each of the stories in this collection had a sweet story to tell – full of hope when none seemed to be available. All three stories brought the prospect of family at the time when it was needed most – whether through blood relation or by construction. Although these stories were short on pages they were big on heart – a lot of story can be told in a short amount of time! I have read a few westerns before, but never one set in the winter – and quite frankly, I had never thought about winter in the new west or how one might experience Christmas differently out west than in the “civilized” east.

I fell in love with all of the characters. Despite the short time on the page, I felt that I had a solid understanding of who they were, their motivations, and how they ended up in the position they were in. They were people that I would love to read more about in full length stories – just enough here to whet your appetite for more. Each of the stories had an element of at least one of the characters coming out west for the first time – it was interesting to see the varied reactions to the sparse nature.

While I enjoyed all three stories, I think my favorite was Teton Christmas. I enjoyed the sweet little love story that was just blossoming and I found the Stewart sisters enchanting.

Author M.K. McClintock also has written the Montana Gallagher series, the Aliana Claiborn series, and Emma of Crooked Creek. You can visit the author’s website or blog for additional information about the book.

You can also watch the book trailer below.

Here are some choices for purchasing the book: Amazon and B&N.

ahomeforchristmas tour banner

You can follow along with the rest of the tour by visiting the Book Junkie Promotions website or on Twitter with the following hashtag: #AHomeForChristmasBlogTour


Copyright © 2014 by The Maiden’s Court

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Weekend Cooking: Wycliffe Hotel Coffee Cake

Weekend Cooking

I love when you can make recipes that are featured in novels! Last Saturday I sat down and devoured the three short story collection, A Home for Christmas by M.K. McClintock. Set in the American West in the days leading up to Christmas, this collection is full of heartwarming moments, and food. In the story Teton Christmas, the hotelier makes a well-loved coffee cake. When I got to the end of the book and found the recipe for this cake, I had to make it for Weekend Cooking and coordinate it with my review of the collection (which posts Monday 11/24).

a home for christmas

Wycliffe Hotel Coffee Cake
Serves approx. 15-20 people (depending on slice size)

2 ⅓ cups flour
¾ cups unsalted butter, softened
1 cup coconut flakes
½ cup brown sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon
2 ½ teaspoons baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
1 cup white sugar
2 eggs
2 cups non-fat milk
2 ½ cups fresh blackberries, raspberries, or huckleberries


1) Preheat oven to 375°. Spray a 13” baking pan and flour it.

2) Combine ⅓ cup flour, ¼ cup butter, coconut, brown sugar, and cinnamon – set aside. This is your coffee cake topping.

3) Sift flour with baking powder and salt into a small bowl – set aside.

4) Beat ½ cup butter until fluffy. Gradually add 1 cup sugar until well blended. Add eggs one at a time, beating after each.

5) Mix dry mixture into the wet, alternating with adding milk in three steps.

6) Fold in the berries.

7) Pour into pan, sprinkle with topping mixture. Bake for 45 minutes.


I had no idea what exactly this cake was supposed to look like. I envisioned something tall and crumbly – sort of like an Entenmann’s, but with berries (I used raspberries and blackberries in mine). My pan might have been larger than 13” (the above photo is only half of the cake) – so maybe that is why mine came out more like bars rather than cake. Flavor is still really good and the cake is moist and tender. I’m not a huge coconut fan, but it tasted good in this cake.  I think I don't typically like how dry coconut flakes can be, but with the brown sugar it baked in nicely.  The topping sort of melted down into the top of the cake, maybe next time I would add it after it has started to cook some? Any suggestions? I took it to work last week and they devoured it – so it must be good, regardless of how it was supposed to come out.

Side note: I don’t know if you have ever used Pam for Baking – but I love it and use it all the time in place of the grease and flour method.  Just quicker and it smells SO amazing.

All attributions for this recipe are owed to M.K. McClintock and A Home for Christmas.


Weekend Cooking is hosted by Beth Fish Reads. Any post remotely related to cooking can participate.


Copyright © 2014 by The Maiden’s Court

Thursday, November 20, 2014

2014 Christmas Spirit Read-a-Thon & Christmas Spirit Reading Challenge

christmas spirit reading challenge 2014

I haven't participated in any reading challenges this year - which was one of my resolutions that I managed to stick to.  Now you might question why in the final weeks of the year I am seemingly going back on that resolution.  Well, November and December have always been months where I try to not participate in too many blog tours (for review purposes) or other review commitments so that I can use that time to focus on backlogged reviews and books purchased throughout the year.  It is sort of my freebie month(s).  If you have been following my Mailbox Monday posts you will have noticed that I have been buying Christmas historical novels, short-stories, and collections.  I am really excited to get into these books and was planning on trying to read several of them this year before I even knew of this challenge.  I have already read one collection which offered a nice change of pace from my regular readings that have made me even more excited about participating.

The 5th Annual Christmas Spirit Reading Challenge is being hosted at The Christmas Spirit and will run from November 24th to January 6th (which gives me ample time to read and fits in with my "freebie" time). 

  • The books read must be Christmas novels, books about Christmas lore, a book of Christmas short stories or poems, books about Christmas crafts, or a children's Christmas book and there is a level for films too.

I am going to participate with the Christmas Tree level - which is 5-6 books read.  Like I said, I have several short stories, so this should be possible.

I will update here as I go with what entries I count toward this challenge, and reviews will be forthcoming"

  1.  The Advent Bride by Mary Connealy 
  2.  The Nutcracker Bride by Margaret Brownley
  3.  The Evergreen Bride by Pam Hillman 

christmas spirit read-a-thon 2014

Additionally, Seasons of Reading is hosting the Christmas Spirit Read-a-Thon which runs from November 24th through November 30th.  I happen to be done with my class this week and on vacation from the afternoon on November 26th through the 30th - so it will give me ample reading time (plus my husband is working on Black Friday so I will have the day to myself to read).  I figured with this much time, and the fact I haven't participated in a read-a-thon in FOREVER, this would be a great time to participate in one. 

  • You do not have to read only Christmas themed books during this read-a-thon but are encouraged to read at least one. 
  • The Twitter hashtag will be #CSreadathon

I will likely do a new post at the start of my participation in the read-a-thon and update that post with my progress and thoughts throughout the event.  I think I might even include some screenshots from various social media I use to sprinkle my thoughts in throughout the day.


**Day 1 Update 11/24/14**

As you can see I decided to just do my posting here for the read-a-thon.  Still working on finishing up a review book before I can jump into my Christmas books, probably will finish tomorrow after work.  I read for about 3.5 hours and read 152 pages of The Tiger Queens by Stephanie Thornton.  Really good book.  If I didn't have to work in the morning I could probably finish it tonight, but alas, that's not the case.

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**Day 2 Update 11/25/14**

Not such a great reading day - a handful of pages read.  I wasn't really in the mood and I was tired.  Enough said.



**Day 3 Update 11/26/14**

Well I was able to leave work early today because of the snow that we had so I put in a solid 4 hours of reading today.  I managed to finish The Tiger Queens by Stephanie Thornton AND read my first Christmas short story - The Advent Bride by Mary Connealy.  Cute little story.  It is part of the 12 Brides of Christmas series and I own all that have been released so far, so I'm hoping to get through the rest that I have this week!





**Day 4 Update 11/27/14**

Happy Thanksgiving everyone!!  Hope you all ate well and enjoyed time with your families today!  Most of my time was spent with my in-laws today.  I did do a little bit of reading in the morning - I read one of the Christmas short stories, The Nutcracker Bride by Margaret Brownley.  Very cute story - I loved the German traditions that pervaded here because my heritage is German as well. 

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**Day 5 Update 11/28/14**

I spent much of my day running errands and making my pumpkin cheesecake as I'm having second Thanksgiving tomorrow with my side of the family.  I did manage to get another Christmas short story finished and began reading a little bit of another one.  I finished The Evergreen Bride by Pam Hillman, another of the 12 Brides of Christmas.  This is my favorite thus far - the best characters, emotions, and story.  I began reading The Gift-Wrapped Bride by Maureen Lang.  I have read a full length novel by Lang, so I will be interested to read a short story by her.  I also found myself purchasing a few additional Christmas stories and also marking many historical romance collections on my TBR - I have been bit by the historical romance bug!


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Great way to kick off the season's energy!



Copyright © 2014 by The Maiden’s Court

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Book Review: The Forgotten Presidents by Michael J Gerhardt

the forgotten presidents

The Forgotten Presidents: Their Untold Constitutional Legacy by Michael J. Gerhardt
ARC, e-Book, 336 pages
Oxford University Press
March 1, 2013

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Genre: Non-Fiction

Source: Received for review from the publisher via Netgalley request

“Their names linger in memory mainly as punch lines, synonyms for obscurity: Millard Fillmore, Chester Arthur, Calvin Coolidge. They conjure up not the White House so much as a decaying middle school somewhere in New Jersey. But many forgotten presidents, writes Michael J. Gerhardt, were not weak or ineffective. They boldly fought battles over constitutional principles that resonate today.

Gerhardt, one of our leading legal experts, tells the story of The Forgotten Presidents. He surveys thirteen administrations in chronological order, from Martin Van Buren to Franklin Pierce to Jimmy Carter, distinguishing political failures from their constitutional impact.

Incisive, myth-shattering, and compellingly written, this book shows how even obscure presidents championed the White House's prerogatives and altered the way we interpret the Constitution.”

Well, I would not exactly describe this as “compelling”, but it was certainly different than I expected. Probably if I had read the subtitle, “Their Untold Constitutional Legacy”, I might have been a little more prepared for the book I was beginning to read. Reading through my first forgotten president, Martin Van Buren, I was able to realign my expectations and fall into the concept of this book. The presidents featured in this book (Martin Van Buren, William Henry Harrison, John Tyler, Zachary Taylor, Millard Fillmore, Franklin Pierce, Chester Arthur, Grover Cleveland, Benjamin Harrison, Grover Cleveland [again], William Howard Taft, Calvin Coolidge, and Jimmy Carter) are primarily those who are overlooked during American History lessons, or receive very little coverage. Gerhardt does not focus so much on the events of their presidencies, but features the Constitutional legacies left by the decisions these Presidents made in office.

The Constitutional dialogue was VERY dry and so very academic. The author picks apart these Presidents and discusses how their decisions changed American policies, their legal legacy, and shaped history. While not necessary, it is a good idea to have some Constitutional legal knowledge prior to reading this book.

When I picked up this book I thought I would get a general glimpse into the lives of those presidents who do not have as much written about them – and that isn’t exactly what I got. I would recommend this book to those who have an interest in law or the Constitution, but not for the casual presidential observer. That being said, I did learn quite a bit about the legal side of the Presidency – it just took a little while to get through it. This book does show just how much of an impact a perceived “ineffectual” president can have through his Constitutional legacy.

Author Michael J. Gerhardt also has written legal non-fiction works: The Power of Precedent and The Federal Impeachment Process.

Reviews of this book by other bloggers:

If you have no intention of reading this book, but are curious about the content, below is a video of a discussion with the author about the Presidents featured in this book:

Here are some choices for purchasing the book: Amazon, B&N, RJ Julia (my fav indie bookstore).



Copyright © 2014 by The Maiden’s Court

Monday, November 17, 2014

Mailbox Monday #182


Mailbox Monday!!  Just a few little books made their way into my home this week - truthfully, half of them are short stories or collections - not that bad right?!

a home for christmasdeath of a dishonorable gentlemanjourney to the wellthe accidental empressthe gingerbread bridethe yuletide bride

All the books this week were received on e-book, half of them are for review, and half are purchased for pleasure.

  • A Home for Christmas by MK McClintock (received for review from HFVBT) - This is a short story collection featuring 3 western historicals set during the Christmas season.  This year I decided to get into the spirit by reading a few Christmas historicals, and most of these happen to be short stories!  I actually read this one already - in one sitting - a LOVED them!  Can't wait to check out this author's other books and other Christmas books. 
  • Death of a Dishonorable Gentleman by Tessa Arlen (received for review from HFVBT via Netgalley) - Awesome cover!  While I am not the biggest historical mystery fan, the cover drew me in and I'm willing to give this one a shot.
  • Journey to the Well by Diana Wallis Taylor (purchased from Amazon) - The Biblical story of the Samaritan woman at the well.  I have always had an interest in Biblical fiction because it makes me take out the Bible and investigate the story myself further.  This is one of those I know nothing about at all.
  • The Accidental Empress by Allison Pataki (received for review via Netgalley request) - another gorgeous cover!  I have only just opened the first few pages of her prior novel, The Traitor's Wife, so I'm not choosing this book because I'm committed to the author, but the subject matter sounds fascinating - Empress Sisi.
  • The Yuletide Bride by Michelle Ule and The Gingerbread Bride by Amy Lillard (both purchased from Amazon) - books 5 and 6 in the Twelve Brides of Christmas series. 


I'm excited to dive into all of these.  What did you get this week?




Copyright © 2014 by The Maiden’s Court

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Weekend Cooking: Review of The Culinary Lives of John and Abigail Adams


the culinary lives of john and abigail adams


      The Culinary Lives of John and Abigail Adams
       Rosana Y. Wan
       Schiffer Publishing, Ltd
       October 28, 2014
       152 pages
       56 recipes

      **Received for review from the publisher, via Netgalley**



This is the first cookbook that I received with the express purpose of reviewing it. Being that I love all things President and First Lady, and I already have a few cookbooks along this theme, this was a no brainer for me to accept.

Layout: Every recipe in this cookbook are recipes from cookbooks that existed during the lifetimes of John and Abigail Adams and the recipe selections are based on foods that they describe in their letters. There are excerpts from letters where they described different dishes that they had eaten or types of game that were caught. As the Adams’ were prolific letter writers there is a lot to work with. There is also a great introduction where colonial cooking styles are explained, with particular focus on New England. For the historically inclined there is also a timeline of John and Abigail Adams life. The selections in this book include everything from breakfast, to vegetables, to drinks and desserts. There are very few photos included in this cookbook – they are used more for section dividers rather than for showing the recipes.

Recipes: I would have to say that the recipes presented in this cookbook are fairly easy – I would feel safe saying that almost everyone could cook the recipes here. New England style foods are very sparse with ingredients and have simple preparation methods. Some of the recipes are as simple as: peel carrots, slice carrots, boil in salted water, drain and eat. I’m not even kidding – but this is how a lot of the foods would have been prepared at that time. The proteins probably have the highest levels of difficulty, but they are not too bad. I made the roasted chicken a couple weeks ago and it came out very good.

I would have to say that this is a well-researched historical cookbook. The recipes come from cookbooks that existed at the time and are based on things that the President and First Lady are known to have, at the very least, discussed. Short of a recipe book in their own handwriting, I think this is the next best thing.

A couple of recipes that I found interesting and might make: Roast Leg of Lamb with Mint Sauce, Cod Stew, Cherry Pie, and Abigail’s Punch.

Here are some choices for purchasing the book: Amazon, B&N, Schiffer Publishing, Ltd.


Weekend Cooking

Weekend Cooking is hosted by Beth Fish Reads. Any post remotely related to cooking can participate.


Copyright © 2014 by The Maiden’s Court

Friday, November 14, 2014

Interview with Mary F. Burns

Today I have the opportunity to share an interview with author Mary F. Burns, who is touring the blogosphere with her new novel, The Spoils of Avalon.  It is described as a historical mystery bringing together two of the most unlikely sleuths.  Check out the interview below to learn more!

02_The Spoils of Avalon

Have you always wanted to be a writer?  What has the process been like for you?

For a while, when I was growing up, I was torn between being an artist and a writer, until I realized I could be both. However, writing has pretty much taken over my artistic side, and my ‘art’ has mainly manifested itself in making stained glass windows and in creating book trailers for my books! I love to work with images and music, sound and color, and I think that my love of visual and aural beauty stands me in good stead for my writing as well. However, after a bit of college creative writing and poetry back in the 60’s, I was stuck writing what I now call “corporate fiction” while I earned a living in PR and Communication departments, and on my own as a consultant. I started writing real fiction seriously when I turned 50 and found myself free of the corporate shackles (i.e., laid off) but with plenty of consulting work. I wrote my first full-length novel after attending the Mendocino Coast Writers Conference (Northern California coast) in 2000—and although I’ve published several books since then, I’m still working on that first one! I think I’ve re-written it at least five times, but it’s almost there. It’s called “Ember Days”.

stained glass

How did you decide to use John Singer Sargent and Violet Paget as sleuths in your mystery?  I admit that I know of Sargent’s paintings but nothing about Paget, but that is about all I know.

I had written about the two of them in a previous novel, Portraits of an Artist, about the time in Sargent’s life when he was on the ascendancy in Paris, and about the spectacular disaster that unseated him—in the form of the scandalous Madame X. Violet was one of the primary narrators in the book, which presents the story as coming from several people whose portraits Sargent painted during that time.  I came to know and love John and Violet, and when the book was done and published, I really missed them! I didn’t think I wanted to write another “serious” novel about them, so I decided to star them in their own mystery series. Violet wrote under the nom de plume of Vernon Lee (she thought, and probably rightly, that a man’s name would ensure that her books on culture, art, music and literature would be taken seriously. She wrote tons of essays and books, both fiction and non-fiction, and she became a kind of cult-figure for her ghost/spiritualist stories, which she wrote around the turn of the 19th century. Both Sargent and Paget were truly interesting people, given their Bohemian upbringings, exceptional talents, and energetic ambition to make a mark on the world.


What is one thing you would like readers to know about this novel that isn’t conveyed by the book blurb?

That this is a book about friendship and faith, seen from two world-views that are very, very different. Arthur the young monk, who is the lead character in the 1539 sections about Glastonbury, lives in a medieval world where every thought and action is inseparable from the belief that God loves and watches over you, and if you are called to be a soldier in His army, or sacrifice yourself for the Church, you do it without question—and it’s a beautiful, sacred way to live. By stark contrast, John and Violet live in a time when religion is only a set of moral precepts that are (often) given only lip-service, or is becoming irrelevant in a world that is besieged with the astounding discoveries of natural science and philosophic inquiry that is questioning everything. As I wrote this story, I became more and more intrigued by this contrast, and I can only hope that my readers will be able to discern the differences I tried to present through my characters.

Why write mysteries?  Why a historical mystery over a contemporary mystery novel?

I love a good mystery, and I really love historical mysteries because in addition to solving a crime, you get to go to a different time and place. But more than that, placing a story in the past is intriguing because of the need for the characters to really rely on their own intelligence, perceptions and intuition without the use of cell phones, a CSI team, modern information systems, and the like. All my novels, the mysteries included, focus more on the “Character” of the characters than the actual plot. I mean, the plot is important, and it has to hold up and be a true mystery, but it’s how the people respond, how they think, what the circumstances do to them and how it makes them behave – you know, grace under pressure, honor under fire, that sort of thing – that really interests me. Of course contemporary mysteries can do that, too, but I’m much more intrigued by way people behaved in previous eras when there was a more widespread belief in and acceptance of certain kinds of standards: holding to one’s word, what it meant to be a “gentleman” or a “lady”, taking philosophical ideas seriously. Our modern world is far too cynical and existentialist for my liking, so I am happy to retreat to the past!

Do you intend for Sargent/Paget to be in more mystery novels?

Oh my, yes! The series begins when they are both only twenty-one years old, and I want to write about them as they grow and change, fall in and out of love, cause trouble (which they both did, at various times), have successes and failures—in short, be human in the best sense of the word: alive, curious, thoughtful, and self-aware. They travelled all the time and were always meeting up in one city or another—London, Paris, Rome, Venice—so there will be lots of great places to visit and have adventures.

What have you found to be the most challenging aspect of novel writing?

Getting started. Finding that nugget of an idea that turns into something big that just carries you through right to the end. I’ve had so many false starts with novels, sometimes writing up to sixty pages or so, and then the whole thing just peters out. But once that good idea shows up, as it did for The Spoils of Avalon, it’s often the case that I simply cannot stop writing until I’m all the way the first draft. I don’t mind editing and re-reading and re-writing—you learn so much that way!

isaac and ishmael

Are you working on anything new right now?  Anything you can share?

I have two tracks that I’m writing – one is Old Testament biblical historical. It started with my first book, J-The Woman Who Wrote the Bible, and is continuing now with what I’m calling a series, The Genesis Novels. The first one is Isaac and Ishmael, and is currently being published at the same time as The Spoils of Avalon. I hope to get started on the next one, Joseph in Egypt, very soon. The second track is, of course, my historical mystery series, and I’m already doing research and working on the plot of the next Sargent/Paget mystery, which is probably going to be set in Venice in about 1879, and involve a very interesting painting that Sargent was working on while he was there, as well as a book Violet was just finishing up at the same time—and of course, there will be links to a long-ago past to help solve the mystery.

03_Mary Burns

Mary F. Burns is the author of PORTRAITS OF AN ARTIST (Sand Hill Review Press, February 2013), a member of and book reviewer for the Historical Novel Society and a former member of the HNS Conference board of directors. A novella-length book, ISAAC AND ISHMAEL, is also being published by Sand Hill Review Press in 2014. Ms. Burns’ debut historical novel J-THE WOMAN WHO WROTE THE BIBLE was published in July 2010 by O-Books (John Hunt Publishers, UK). She has also written two cozy-village mysteries in a series titled The West Portal Mysteries (The Lucky Dog Lottery and The Tarot Card Murders).

Ms. Burns was born in Chicago, Illinois and attended Northern Illinois University in DeKalb, where she earned both Bachelors and Masters degrees in English, along with a high school teaching certificate. She relocated to San Francisco in 1976 where she now lives with her husband Stuart in the West Portal neighborhood. Ms. Burns has a law degree from Golden Gate University, has been president of her neighborhood association and is active in citywide issues. During most of her working career she was employed as a director of employee communications, public relations and issues management at various San Francisco Bay Area corporations, was an editor and manager of the Books on Tape department for Ignatius Press, and has managed her own communications/PR consulting business, producing written communications, websites and video productions for numerous corporate and non-profit clients.

Ms. Burns may be contacted by email at maryfburns@att.net. For more information please visit Mary Burns’s website. You can also connect with Mary on Facebook, Twitter, and Goodreads, or read her blog posts at:


Book Blurb:

"The death of a humble clergyman in 1877 leads amateur sleuths Violet Paget and John Singer Sargent into a medieval world of saints and kings—including the legendary Arthur—as they follow a trail of relics and antiquities lost since the destruction of Glastonbury Abbey in 1539. Written in alternating chapters between the two time periods, The Spoils of Avalon creates a sparkling, magical mystery that bridges the gap between two worlds that could hardly be more different—the industrialized, Darwinian, materialistic Victorian Age and the agricultural, faith-infused life of a medieval abbey on the brink of violent change at the hands of Henry VIII and Thomas Cromwell.

First in a new series of historical mysteries, The Spoils of Avalon introduces two unlikely detectives and life-long friends—beginning as young people on the verge of making their names famous for the next several decades throughout Europe and America: the brilliant and brittle Violet Paget, known as the writer Vernon Lee, and the talented, genial portrait painter John Singer Sargent.

Friends from the age of ten, Paget and Sargent frequently met in the popular European watering places and capitals, frequenting the same salons and drawing rooms in London, Rome, Paris, Florence, Venice, Vienna and Madrid. Both were possessed of keen minds and bohemian tendencies, unorthodox educations and outsized egos (especially Paget). Their instant, natural bonding led them to address each other as “Twin”, and they corresponded frequently when they were apart.

Henry James once described Violet Paget as having “the most formidable mind” of their times, and he was an active fan and patron of John Sargent, introducing him to London society and his own inner circles of literary and artistic genius."

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Here are some choices for purchasing the book: Amazon, B&N, RJ Julia (my fav indie bookstore).


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