Friday, April 03, 2015

Blog Tour, Review & Guest Post: The Tapestry by Nancy Bilyeau (audio/print)

Title: The Tapestry    
Author: Nancy Bilyeau    
Series: Joanna Stafford, #3   
Narrator: Nicola Barber   
Published: March 2015, Highbridge Company (audio)/ Touchstone (print)  
Length: 13 hours 19 minutes / ARC E-book 400 pages  
Source: Personal copy via Audible / Netgalley via HF Virtual Book Tours 

The next page-turner in the award-winning Joanna Stafford series takes place in the heart of the Tudor court, as the gutsy former novice risks everything to defy the most powerful men of her era.

After her Dominican priory in Dartford closed forever—collateral damage in tyrannical King Henry VIII’s quest to overthrow the Catholic Church—Joanna resolves to live a quiet and honorable life weaving tapestries, shunning dangerous quests and conspiracies. Until she is summoned to Whitehall Palace, where her tapestry weaving has drawn the King’s attention.

Joanna is uncomfortable serving the King, and fears for her life in a court bursting with hidden agendas and a casual disregard for the virtues she holds dear. Her suspicions are confirmed when an assassin attempts to kill her moments after arriving at Whitehall.

Struggling to stay ahead of her most formidable enemy yet, an unknown one, she becomes entangled in dangerous court politics. Her dear friend Catherine Howard is rumored to be the King’s mistress. Joanna is determined to protect young, beautiful, naïve Catherine from becoming the King’s next wife and, possibly, victim.

Set in a world of royal banquets and feasts, tournament jousts, ship voyages, and Tower Hill executions, this thrilling tale finds Joanna in her most dangerous situation yet, as she attempts to decide the life she wants to live: nun or wife, spy or subject, rebel or courtier. Joanna Stafford must finally choose.

My thoughts: This is the third and final book in Nancy Bilyeau's Joanna Stafford trilogy. While I've only read the second book so far, I have enjoyed the two I did read and will definitely be going back to read the first book as soon as I can find the time. I already have it sitting on my shelf.

As I mentioned in a recent review, I am a huge Tudor fan, and love reading anything and everything to do with the Tudors. I have found that each author sheds light on different aspects of this time period and Nancy Bilyeau is no different. She has created a series that is like no other set during this time period - and allowing us to see the world through the eyes of a unique character - that of a former novice forced out of the only life she ever wanted all because of a greedy king. 

In this latest installment, we once again see how that king is still making his demands on Joanna, summoning her to court because he wants her to create a tapestry for him. Once at court, Joanna finds herself in danger - attempts are made on her life and she must figure out who is trying to kill her. She also finds out that the king is in the process of trying to get rid of his current wife and move on to wife #5, her friend, Catherine Howard. Is there anything she can do to prevent this?

I enjoyed seeing all this play out through the eyes of Joanna. Having read so many books set during this time period, I am familiar with many of the historical figures and events that occur, but it's always nice to see it from a fresh pair of eyes and that's exactly what I felt I got with this series. The research and detail that Nancy Bilyeau put into this book is meticulous and I am looking forward to seeing what comes next from her! 

Audio Thoughts: I recently listened to Nicola Barber narrate another book and fell in love with her voice, so when I saw that she was narrating this book, I just had to listen to it and am so glad I did! I loved the production of it!!! Now I want to go back and see if she narrates the whole series, especially since I have not read the first book. She did a great job with the voices and I had no problems following along with who was who. She is quickly becoming one of my favorite narrators!!!

Books in this series:
  1. The Crown
  2. The Chalice
  3. The Tapestry 

About the author: Nancy Bilyeau has worked on the staffs of InStyle, Rolling Stone, Entertainment Weekly, and Ladies Home Journal. She is currently the executive editor of DuJour magazine. Her screenplays have placed in several prominent industry competitions. Two scripts reached the semi-finalist round of the Nicholl Fellowships of the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences. Her screenplay “Zenobia” placed with the American Zoetrope competition, and “Loving Marys” reached the finalist stage of Scriptapalooza. A native of the Midwest, she earned a bachelor’s degree from the University of Michigan. THE CROWN, her first novel, was published in 2012; the sequel, THE CHALICE, followed in 2013. THE TAPESTRY will be released in March 2015.

Nancy lives in New York City with her husband and two children.

Authors Links:      Website |  Twitter

Be sure to check out all the other stops on the blog tour and follow the tour on Twitter (hashtags:  #TheTapestryBlogTour #HistoricalMystery #NancyBilyeau).

Guest Post by Nancy Bilyeau

In my first online class with Gotham Writers Workshop, I submitted chapters from the historical mystery I’d begun writing. My fellow students critiqued my work; I critiqued theirs. The instructor, “T,” weighed in as well.

At the very end of the workshop, “T” sent me this email: “I’d love to see you produce more material that seems a little ‘closer’ to you personally, closer to the bone. I mean, you’re writing crime thrillers and historical novels, but how about trying to write a story that was closer in spirit to your own time, your own place, your own experience? I’m just saying, Please don’t be afraid to write your fiction out of your own sense of character and personal concerns: these genres feel a little uncomfortable to me, and perhaps you haven’t really discovered what your subject matter as a fiction writer is. All Best, T.”

This is not the sort of email an aspiring novelist wants to get.

I kept working on my historical thriller. This was what I wanted to do. I took more classes, determined to improve my craft. “T” made “genre” sound like a dirty word, but if I belonged in the genre sandbox, so be it. I enrolled in the Mystery workshop run by Gotham and taught by a terrific guy named Gregory Fallis. Greg had been a medic in the military, a counselor in a women’s prison, and a private detective. Yes, the man had lived. To my tremendous relief, he didn’t look down on my Tudor England mystery book, set primarily in a Dominican novice outside London. In fact, he liked it. I worked on my chapters and read Greg’s assignments, the work of novelists ranging from Dorothy Sayers to Walter Mosley. I slowly did the work of building characters, crafting a main character, Sister Joanna Stafford, who I hoped readers would be intrigued by.

During this period, I was working fulltime in the magazine business and raising two children, and when things got crazy the novel went into the proverbial drawer. Home sick with a fever in the summer of 2009, I was seized by a sudden desire to return to my thriller, only half written. I had a 102 degree fever, but I staggered to my computer and enrolled in the next Gotham Writer’s Workshop. It was “Advanced Fiction,” taught by Russell Rowland. After I’d put through my payment, I looked him up: Russell had a MA in creative writing and had written two highly respected literary novels, In Open Spaces and The Watershed Years.

But Russell was a supportive teacher from the start: astute and no-nonsense and never, ever patronizing. In his class and subsequent workshops, I found a group of valuable writers who gave me feedback. This was when my book came together. I finished the novel on my birthday, June 16, 2012, and signed with a literary agent on Fourth of July weekend. The Last Nun—which was renamed The Crown—was sold in an auction at the end of the month to Touchstone and through the next year to publishers in seven foreign countries.

And yet I thought of “T” from time to time.

Once it was during a lunch with a friend still working in the magazine business (I was taking some time off to write The Chalice). Part of my “platform” is my media background and I soon learned that I would be expected to wrangle some coverage and reviews for myself. My friend worked at a large newsstand women’s magazine that ran recipes, child rearing and relationship stories, and columns on how to remove stains. I’d worked there for six years. When I timidly suggested that the magazine could mention The Crown in its arts & culture news page, I was shut down immediately. “The editor in chief likes sophisticated novels,” she said firmly.

Once again, I felt like I was doing something wrong.

My debut novel came out, sans a review from that particular women’s magazine but with positive reviews in Oprah, Parade and Entertainment Weekly. The Crown went on to find a place on the short list of the Crime Writers’ Association’s Ellis Peters Historical Dagger Award. The second book in my series, The Chalice, actually won an award, one for Best Historical Mystery from RT Reviewers.

Now here I am, bringing out the third book in the trilogy—and still grappling with the question of genre. That’s when I came across a story in Esquire magazine headlined “How Genre Fiction Became More Important Than Literary Fiction,” by Stephen Marche.

He wrote: “What writer today would feel any need whatsoever to separate him or herself from fantasy or indeed any other genre? If anything, the forms of genre—science fiction, fantasy, the hardboiled detective story, the murder mystery, horror and vampire stories—have become the natural homes for the most serious literary questions. Only idiots or snobs ever really thought less of ‘genre’ books, of course. There are stupid books and there are smart books. There are well-written books and badly written books. There are fun books and boring books. All of these distinctions are vastly more important than the distinction between the literary and the non-literary.”

This gave me food thought.

There’s more to my trilogy than murder and adventure. The Crown, The Chalice and The Tapestry are historical novels, set in a tumultuous time of religious and political strife. My main character, Sister Joanna Stafford, is grappling with questions of independence, of relevance, of spirituality, of trust. The books are not set in my own time, nor do they directly mine my own “personal concerns”—but I passionately feel that my writing explores significant questions nonetheless.

And it is now, finally, that I feel I have put “T” behind me. 


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