Sunday, January 19, 2020

Book Review: Empire's Legacy

A while back, I asked if you'd all be interested in the occasional book review on the site, and happily, some of you said yes.

My first review is actually for a trilogy, though I read Empire's Legacy as individual books before the author put them out in a single volume. I also swallowed them in a three-day weekend, so that tells you something about them before I even get into the story.

The books are a re-imagining of early European history - the author calls them historical fantasy. I prefer alternate history, because "fantasy" to me means that there might be elements of magic in the store. The only element of magic here is just how good a storyteller Marian Thorpe is.

The first volume is Empire's Daughter. Here's the blurb:
For twenty generations, the men and women of The Empire have lived separately, the women farming and fishing, the men fighting wars. But in the spring of Lena’s seventeenth year, an officer rides into her village with an unprecedented request. The Empire is threatened by invasion, and to defend it successfully, women will need to fight. When the village votes in favor, Lena and her partner Maya are torn apart. Maya chooses exile rather than battle, Lena chooses to fight. As Lena learns the skills of warfare and leadership, she discovers that choices have consequences that cannot be foreseen, and that her role in her country’s future is greater than she could have dreamed.

This gives you the bare bones of the story, but Lena's journey is totally engrossing, from her start as a village fisherwoman to her role as a trained soldier of the Empire. I enjoyed the well-developed, credible division of worlds - boys are taken away for military training at the age of seven, while women stay in their villages and do everything else. Men visit twice a year for arranged festivals, sometimes to rekindle established relationships, and sometimes to just keep the population going. It's a system that works for everyone, until the Empire comes under a threat too large to be handled by the men alone.

Book two, Empire's HostageThe Empire and the northern people have been at war for over a year, but a truce is finally at hand. As part of this treaty, Lena, now a Guardswoman on the Wall, is asked to stand as hostage, to go north to live and learn among the people of Linrathe. But not everyone there will welcome her.

One thing I particularly like about this author is how deftly she handles military and political intrigue. In some books it can get heavy, but here, the plot moves as quickly as an action film, even while you're delving into the necessary histories of the different nations involved in the war and the treaty. Lena continues to be a fascinating protagonist, with identifiable emotions and thoughts not ancient or modern, but wholly appropriate to her created world.

Finally, book three, Empire's ExileExiled from the Empire as a traitor, Lena travels into long-unknown lands, determined to find Casil, the legendary city of beauty and learning in the East. Her experiences in the first winter leave her scarred and afraid, but, resolving to heal, and supported by an unexpected love, she continues her search. A chance meeting with envoys from the Empire and Linrathe, desperately seeking help from Casil, forces her to a difficult decision. Struggling to keep faith with her choices, facing the almost-certain destruction of her land and her people, Lena’s journey takes her to a deeper understanding of loyalty, sacrifice, and the dimensions of love.

Best book book of the series - until the next one comes along. Lena's relationship (not going to spoiler, but it's GOOD!) and her interaction with the other characters gives you a broad picture of the world the author has developed over three books, the cost of war, the choices people make when given no choice, and the resilience of the human heart. Bonus points for making me cry.

All three books (or the trilogy) are available on Kindle Unlimited. You can find out more about the author on her website.

Thursday, January 16, 2020

Exposing Myself

I had to take a few days to recover and regroup, but I wanted to tell you all about my first-ever reading-and-discussion on Monday evening.

First of all, the photo here was on the door of the bookstore (Shakespeare & Co.) when I arrived with a few friends. My name. On a bookstore.


We were early, so I went upstairs to the mezzanine to look around. They had moved most of the tables, setting up 20 chairs and one table and chair at the railing for me. 20 chairs looked like a lot of chairs.

They had listed it as "Karen Heenan discusses and signs her book," and I wasn't sure at first what to discuss. I've never liked public speaking - in grade school and junior high I disliked it to the point where I had to hide in the bathroom so I wouldn't lose lunch in front of an audience - but a lot of that has, thankfully, faded.

It's good when you realize that you are no longer a terrified adolescent. Especially when you're 55.

One thing I've learned is that I also do better without a lot of prep. I made a few notes of things I wanted to cover, loaded the first chapter of Songbird onto my tablet in a font size that I could read without squinting, and just winged it.

The turnout ended up being 23 people - Mario and two late arrivals stood in the back - and I got through it without losing my voice, losing the thread, or losing my mind. Yay me! 

He's so cute. Also - I made his shirt and my
jacket, so Sewing Karen still exists!
I started by talking about my lifelong interest in the Tudor era, and a bit about the inspiration for the book. Then I read the first half of the first chapter - up to a good stopping point - and then took questions from the audience. Two friends had been primed to ask questions if there was silence, but there wasn't, and they didn't get to ask their questions until the end.

Someone brought a bottle of champagne, but she almost dropped it coming upstairs, so it went home with us to rest before opening. We drank it last night, which was our ninth anniversary, something else to celebrate.

I have another event scheduled at the end of the month - a reading and music combination at a friend's house - but my next bookstore event isn't until May. Hoping to schedule a couple of others before and after that, which means I need to stop typing and start emailing and calling around to see what can be set up.

Also, moving along quite well with the not-sequel to Songbird. Hoping to be able to talk more about that soon, but I don't want to jinx it until the first draft is done and it feels like a book.

Thursday, January 9, 2020


It's January, do I'm on clean-up mode. Around the house, on my desk, and especially in my workroom. As I reach the bottom of the slippery slope to Christmas, tidying goes by the wayside, and eventually the floor is covered in an ankle-deep layer of scrap fabric.

The bigger pieces are out aside for folks, but the smaller bits always end up as pot holders. They're not much of a moneymaker at shows - $6 each or 3/$15 - but they alleviate the guilt I would feel at throwing all that viable fabric away.

Plus, I was given a dozen pair of mens jeans to cut up, and I always use denim for the backs.

What about you? What's happening in your creative spaces in the new year?

Monday, January 6, 2020

The One That Got Away

On this day, January 6, 1540, Henry VIII married his fourth sife, Anne of Cleves. Despite the beauty of Holbein's portrait, Henry (a real picture himself) did not like his new wife.

Anne agreed to an annullment and assumed the title of the "King's Dear Sister," which got her property, a pension, and most importantly, continued possession of her head.

She is one of my favorites of Henry's queens, simply because of her common sense. She looked at his track record, she looked at her own position, and she very intelligently decided that her life would be best served - and best continued - by giving him what he wanted.

The marriage to Anne of Cleves also ended the life of the King's Lord Chancellor, Thomas Cromwell, a man who had survived all the ups and downs of the reign thus far. Henry used the marriage as an excuse, but I'm sure there was more to it. He also regretted the execution almost immediately, and it serves him right. Cromwell was no saint, but for the most part, he was just doing his master's bidding.

Tuesday, December 31, 2019

At the turn of the year

Even if you don't do resolutions - and I try not to, because they just ask to be broken - it's hard to see the turning of the year as anything but a time to look back and assess, and to look forward and make a few plans for the future.

2019 was a big year. An exhausting year. An exhilarating year. A year when I tried to stop watching as much news so I could listen to the people in my head (the people on the news aren't going anywhere, there's plenty of time for them). A year of realizing that getting out of my own way is the best thing I can do for myself.

I signed a publishing contract in 2019, after years of wanting to be published. I turned 55. Mario and I celebrated our 8th wedding anniversary. We went to Venice. We worked on our house. I did edits to my first novel, and started a second (and a third). I still did craft shows, though my heart wasn't in it as much this year. My book came out, and I did a Facebook live reading, what feels like far too much promo for my extroverted-introvert self, and I'm making plans for next year.

In 2020, I'm going to continue promoting Songbird, because publishing has changed and authors have to be a lot more involved. I'm going to keep working on my second Tudor novel, tentatively titled A Wider World. I would like to finish the first draft by the end of January, and at this point, it's looking entirely possible. (A first draft is far from a finished novel, but I'll have told myself the story at that point, so turning it into a story for someone else to read is a whole different animal). Once that draft is finished and resting for a bit, I'll go back to working on the Great Depression book that I had started before the characters from A Wider World started talking to me. That one's on draft 2, so closer to completion.

If AWW is as good as I hope, and my publisher likes the idea, I'll sign another contract and maybe have another book out in 2020.

Also, I've got a birthday soon, an anniversary sooner, and my first bookstore event even before that (January 13th!). Mario and I have just made plans to go to Edinburgh in the early spring, which was totally unexpected, but we found an airfare we couldn't pass up, and that's always the biggest expense in travel. I'll have to look around Edinburgh with a writer's eye, not just a tourist's, because it was a happening place in the 16th century, and I'd like to find a way to use it in the future.

At some point I would like to address the fact that I've become a slightly larger person than I was this time last year, but I'm hoping that once the weather warms up and I can work in the garden and get out and walk more, that problem will solve itself.

I also want to do more in my town - there are a lot of volunteer opportunities, and I've gotten involved with some, but our village takes a village, and I'd like to devote more time to it.

What about you? Any resolutions? Plans for the new year? What are you excited for in 2020?

Sunday, December 29, 2019


I was just on Amazon, looking at books - as one does - and their algorithm recommended my own book.

Which, as it turns out, is on sale. I'm not sure if it's Amazon or the publisher's doing, but you can get the paperback version for $8.65 RIGHT NOW. Not sure how long the sale will last. If you've been on the fence, this is apparently the time.

Also, for anyone who doesn't know, you can preview the first chapter by going to the listing and downloading the preview. This is one of my favorite Amazon features - I love auditioning books before I commit to buying.

Happy New Year, everyone, and happy reading!

Friday, December 27, 2019

Santa Claus came to town

In addition to my previous holiday round-up, I wanted to mention Santa.

Lansdowne has a lot of old time holiday habits - fireworks, parades, etc. - but my favorite is Santa on the fire engine.

Growing up as the daughter of a firefighter, Santa always arrived on a fire engine. Or a ladder truck.

Here, he comes in the back of the fire company's pickup, preceded by the ladder and the engine, both with sirens wailing. East side of town in the morning, west side of town in the afternoon. As of today, all sides of town are still covered in the candy canes Santa threw to everyone who came out of their house to wavebat him.

Now Christmas is over.