Friday, December 1, 2017

Travel Back in Time with Mark Noce's New Novel

I love historical fiction, and I've always been fascinated by the Arthurian legends, but there hasn't been much historical fiction set in post-Arthurian Wales. Medieval Wales. Well Mark Noce has addressed that empty niche, first with a book I reviewed a little over a year ago, Between Two Fires, and now with the eagerly awaited sequel, Dark Winds Rising, published by St. Martins Press.

A year ago I posted an interview with Mark Noce, following the publication of Between Two Fires. (You can read that interview HERE ) I also had reviewed the book the week before, and there's another "HERE" in that post that will take you back to the earlier interview.) However, I will be interviewing him once again on my Victorian Scribbles blog "next door". Come back for the new interview in a couple day to learn a bit more about Mark.
I've already pre-ordered my copy of  Dark Winds Rising. It's going to be released December 5th. Next Tuesday! Here's the publisher's link that can give you several different places to order it by one click: Go HERE
Meanwhile, here is the publisher's description of what to expect:
"Mark Noce returns to Medieval Wales with Dark Winds Rising, his second book about the Braveheart-like Queen Branwen in this epic historical series.
"Three years after uniting the Welsh to defeat the Saxons and settling down with her true love, Artagan, Queen Branwen finds her world once again turned upside down as Pictish raiders harry the shores of her kingdom. Rallying her people once more, she must face her most dangerous foe yet, the Queen of the Picts. Ruthless and cunning, the Pictish Queen turns the Welsh against each other in a bloody civil war.

"All the while Branwen is heavy with child, and finds her young son’s footsteps dogged by a mysterious assassin who eerily resembles her dead first husband, the Hammer King. In the murky world of courtly intrigue, Queen Branwen must continually discern friend from foe at her own peril in the ever-shifting alliances of the independent Welsh kingdoms.

"Branwen must somehow defeat the Picts and save her people before the Pictish Queen and the assassin destroy their lives from the inside out. Just as the Saxons threatened Branwen’s kingdom from the landward side of her realm in Between Two Fires, now the Picts threaten her domain from sea in this thrilling sequel. But she soon finds that the enigmatic Picts are unlike any foe she has faced before.
Mark Noce bases his novel on primary sources, as well as myths and legends that help bring the Dark Ages to life. Set in a time and era in which very little reliable written records or archeological remains have survived, the characters and some of the place names are fictional, but the physical environment, the historical details, and the saga of the Welsh people is very real.

"This continuation of Branwen's story combines elements of mystery and romance with Noce's gift for storytelling."

And here is the author's info: 

"MARK NOCE writes historical fiction with a passion. Born and raised in the San Francisco Bay Area, he has been an avid traveler and backpacker. He earned his BA and MA from Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo, where he also met his beautiful wife. By day, he works as a Technical Writer, having spent much of his career at places like Google and Facebook. He also writes short fiction online. When not reading or writing, he's probably listening to U2, sailing his dad's boat, or gardening with his family." 

 BTW: In case you want to start at the beginning, you can also order Between Two Fires at all those sites HERE.    

Those of you who want to know more about the author can visit his website HERE and learn more about his books, his blog, and his appearances and events. (Pssst, for those of you in the Sacramento area, he'll be at the Avid Reader Saturday, January 13th and 5:00 p.m.) He'll be doing reading and signings in other places too, listed on his website, but that especially piqued my interest, since I live in Sacramento.

You can also visit him on Facebook and Twitter. Just click either of these two to go visit his pages.

Do you like historical novels? Do you like the medieval period in what is now the UK and especially in Wales? What is your favorite historical period and location? 

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

The Long and Winding Road

Ever since we returned from Galicia, I've been immersed in immediate activities like:
1) a visit from a special nephew; 2) spreading the word about my new book, Dragonella; 3) getting a TB test and getting fingerprinted in order to teach my volunteer art class at the community center—a new requirement this year, and 4) renewing my driver's license. We've only been home three weeks and two days, and it feels like we've crammed 6 months into that time. 

 1. the visit with our nephew was great, although much too short, and we do hope he'll bring his wife next time. 2. You've probably all heard enough about Dragonella now.  3. Good news:  I don't have TB, and I do have good fingerprints. (The fingerprints were a lot of work, though, because really, I have terrible fingerprints from years of gardening and cleaning house without gloves. I failed my first test two weeks ago. But drinking lots of water daily and rubbing Neutrogena into my finger and thumb tips several times a day did wonders. Fingerprints passed yesterday! Yay.) And 4. I passed my written test yesterday for the driver exam, which was super important: My current license expires in 8 days. (Yes, it's true: Sagittarius is a sign that procrastinates.)

Which brings me, finally, back to our trip to Galicia and the topic of today's post: "The Long and Winding Road." Actually, there are a lot of long and winding roads in Galicia. The picture above is just one of them. Here are a couple more:

But the particular long and winding road of the title goes up, up, up into the mountains to a casa rural and an ancient,  famous monastery—Mosteiro de Santo Estevo. We don't have a picture of that road, because we were too busy having adventures on it.                                              
Even though this monastery has beckoned to us for years and appears on a poster at our favorite coffee shop in Escairon, Circulo O Saviñao, we've never dared venture up the mountain to see it. Rajan loves to photograph ancient churches, but we both hate narrow roads that drop off on the sides here and there. Then we met Irene and Ian, who have a casa rural—Casa Santo Estevo—right behind the monastery. Since we had lunch with them on an earlier visit in Monforte (our choice), we decided that on our next visit we should go to them.
Casa Santo Estevo: Very old, and very

Most of the drive wasn't all that bad, although there are no pictures of it because Rajan was focusing on driving and I was gritting my teeth and gripping the door. (Even "not all that bad" feels kinda bad to me.) But we got to a crucial point that can only be described as a hairpin turn — one going up an incline. Not fun. 

Once arrived, however, we had a lovely visit. The casa rural is beautifully furnished with cosy touches, the rooms all overlooking beautiful vistas. Behind Irene and Ian, you can see vineyards on the far slopes, and Rajan took a couple pictures of the area, vowing to come back and take more. Here's one of us, too, trying to look nonchalant about the hairpin curve waiting for us on the trip back. (These are from my camera, since Rajan hasn't given me the CD of his shots yet.) 

And so we headed back — and missed the turn. Which brings me once again to the title of this post. On the way out, we saw a turn that we were sure could not be IT. We were wrong. So we toodled merrily along for a stretch and then realized the road was 1. getting narrower, 2. getting muddier, 3. winding more and more around shrinking and muddier bends that went who knew where?

Luckily I had put Irene's phone number in my mobile, so we stopped and I called. She said they had seen us go the wrong direction, and Ian was already walking in our direction. When he arrived, she arrived soon after (both by foot). She knew the turn-around spots and directed us — Ian drove, thank goodness! On the way back, he picked her up, and took us past the curve we had dreaded, to a spot in front of the monastery itself, which also was a nice level area from which to drive back home.

And then they gave us a tour of the grounds! We'd been dying to see that building up close, and now there we were, walking around the grounds with friends for tour guides.

This is a very famous monastery. You can see an overall picture of it HERE: The huge rose window is considered the largest rose window in Europe (yes, larger than the ones in Notre Dame in Paris!)

My shots don't give you a view of that window or the entire building — you'll have to go to the site above for that. I did take these to show other aspects of the church/monastery, some parts of which go back to the twelfth century.
(The S in the picture at the left is for "siglo", which is Spanish for century).

Even then, these pics don't begin to convey the size of this building. It's enormous.

Rajan is into black and white photography and wants to go back again with his film camera and take some more pictures of both the building and the spectacular views all around. We have a plan for that, though: Park on a lower level in a good turn-around spot, turn around ahead of time, and walk up the rest of the way.

How about you: Do high, narrow, winding roads make you nervous? Do you like historic buildings? Old churches? Has November been a "crunch" month for you?

Since the big day is tomorrow, have a Happy Thanksgiving. I hope it's filled with love and laughter and good eating. 

Sunday, November 5, 2017

A Great Start to November

We are home, now, and two things have started November off on a lovely note: One is my new picture book, Dragonella, that was waiting for me when we got home. The other is the after school Art Club that kicked off Thursday on the Day of the Dead.

Dragonella was released in October, by Belanger Books, but we were in Spain. The fabulous art work is by Brian Belanger. Wonderful pictures on every page.

We got home last Monday evening, late, and have been catching up on sleep and getting back into our routines since our return. What a wonderful trip it was! And how wonderful it is to be home again. I'll still be posting with pictures about our Spain trip, but right now I'm focusing on getting the word out about Dragonella, and there are some samples of the Art Club sugar skulls below, as well.

Here is a LINK to Amazon for those of you who are doing your Xmas shopping for little ones. It's for ages 5-8, but good for younger kids who enjoy being read to.

Here is a blurb about the book from the back cover:

For those of you who like to give books for Christmas (and there is no greater gift for a child — it opens the whole world to them) — SCBWI has a marvelous online Bookstop site you can browse to consider books for children of all ages. Here is the link for SCBWI BOOK STOP

You can find great selections in both Traditionally publishes and Independently published books.

And here is the link to my page at the Bookstop:  If you have time, please stop by and like my page and sign the guestbook.

NOW TO ART CLUB: Each year I volunteer teach fine arts once a week at the South Natomas Community Center. Last year I didn't, because I didn't know whether my glaucoma was going to call for surgery in my left eye, and I didn't want to start a class and then discontinue it. Happily, the prognosis is good and I'm back in the art room. I teach on Thursdays between trips to Spain, and happily this Thursday was smack dab on El Dia de los Muertos. How cool is that? We did sugar skulls, using sample pictures as inspiration, but I always encourage the kids to take off in their own direction. We used oil pastels on pastel paper, and this is what they came up with:

Add caption
Add caption

Add caption
Add caption

Add caption

How about you? Do you like art? Do you do any form of art? Do you like books about dragons? Have you started your Xmas shopping yet? (Don't depress me by saying you are all finished — I haven't even begun!)

Hope you all had a Happy Halloween and that you have a Happy Thanksgiving coming up.

Saturday, October 7, 2017

An Evening of Fado, and More

Ever since I first heard Maria do Ceo sing Fado on a summer night four years ago, at Rectoral de Castillon, a "casa rural" in Galicia, I've been a fan, both of Maria do Ceo and of Fado. (You can read my post about it HERE )  

The following spring, 2014, when my husband and I went to Braga, Portugal for the first time, a friend at the hotel suggested other famous Fado singers we should hear — Mariza, Amalia, Anna Moura — and we've both been hooked on Fado ever since.

So it was our special good fortune that fall to meet a Fadista in Braga, Mariza da Luz, and   
become friends with her. Since then we try to see her perform every time we go to Braga. (We had started going to Braga for research on a mystery I've written that is set in Braga.)



Last week was no exception. Originally we had heard her sing at a restaurant, but Saturday we heard her and several others sing at a dinner put on by a Fado Association. As you can see, Fado is emotional and expressive, pulling a listener into a different world — and the singer, as well. Traditionally a fadista is accompanies by two guitars: an acoustical guitar and a twelve-string  Portuguese guitar (which somewhat resembles a bouzouki with its bowl-shape, although they are not identical by any means.)

Add caption

Not every member of the association is interested in Fado as a career; some are simply aficionados who took turns singing during the dinner. All of the voices were good, though, and the ambience of the evening was full of hearty good will and a deep love of Fado. (Nearly everyone in the room could sing the chorus of every single song.)  

I'm always comparing Fado to opera, especially the serious/somber Fado, the Fado that dwells on fate and thwarted destiny. If you were to take one of the serious operas  and cram the essence of it into one aria, you'd have the depth of emotion and the lyricism of Fado.
But, like opera, Fado has a comic counterpart as well, and the gentleman at the far right in the top row sings these humorous Fados (although, as our friend, Marisa, pointed out, they often have a subtle serious overtone as well, inspiring the sort of chuckle that can fade with too much thought.)
                  Too soon, it was over. At the end of the evening, all the singers gathered for final applause and photos.

Meanwhile, earlier in the day, a young man at Centésima Página, the bookstore/eatery we love to visit, told us a great deal about well-known fado singers and the history of Fado. He introduced us to a CD of Fadistas from Coimbra, a city famous for its male fadistas. The recordings are old and "tinny", in that they were recorded back in 1928, 1929, 1930. But all of the voices shine, their  power and expressiveness evident.  I've mentioned that Fado reminds me of opera, and this CD showed the operatic power of their voices. We left the store with a bag of CDs to enrich our musical library. As I have said before, I can never leave a bookstore empty-handed (even if it's CDs).

                                         Centésima Página - "The 100th Page"
                                  You can see the "100" in the window)

How about you? Do you like Fado? Opera? What is your favorite music? Do you love book stores and music stores?

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

An Interesting Series About Galicia

Craig and Melanie and their sweet
dog, Slawit. 
While we are here in Galicia, my postings would be incomplete without reference to friends of ours, one of whom has written a series about living here in Galicia.  Craig and Melanie Briggs actually sold us our house in Trasulfe twelve years ago. (How time flies!) Since then, we've added touches to make our second home more commodious, but we have always enjoyed the house from the get go. And they have always been special friends.

Meanwhile, Craig has written a series of books describing their adventures when they first came to Galicia 14 years ago and, step by step, became more and more immersed in the life of the area, until they decided to live permanently in Galicia. Originally they hail from Huddersfield, England, but 14 years of living here have turned them into Spaniards. They live in a village called Canabal where they have fitted right into village life. (Expats seem to average about one family per village here, and the villages are scattered around larger towns that are hubs of grocery and clothes shopping, etc., not to mention the abundance of fiestas. Canabal is close to Sober, which has a wonderful wine festival each year and often offers classical musical concerts.)

The Books: These are the books in the series:

The very last one, Opportunities Ahead, has just been released.
As you can see from the titles, this is a joyful series, recording how they met challenge after challenge and found that they were not simply "expats" but actually, finally, "home".  This series will give you a good feel for the challenges and adjustments, but also the joys of life in Galicia and what it is like to find a new life in a new setting, speaking a new language.

All of these books are on Amazon, in print and in ebook form. You can go to and (an maybe other sites as well).  A good way to know your options is to go to the Briggs' travel blog HERE, which makes for delightful reading about certain villages and towns in Galicia and historical signposts that make the area unique.

In addition, a new, humorous posting once a week — The Someday Supplement — includes tidbits of local news and some pretty good local recipes.

You can also reach Craig on Facebook HERE to catch up on latest posts of interesting events and sights.  Happy reading.

How about you? Do you have an author friend who has released a new book lately? Does the author have a site you find particularly interesting? (If yes to either or both, by all means share with us.)

Monday, September 18, 2017

Back in Beautiful Galicia Again

We are back in the place we love in Spain — for 7 weeks this time. Alas, the first week has passed in not very good health: I came down with a case of shingles a few days before we left. Layered, so that I couldn't spread the virus, and armed with medication, I was fairly comfortable on the long, long flight, and rested up the first few days after arrival.  Luckily, as you can see, this is a peaceful place to rest up and muse upon things.

Shingles is active for a couple of weeks: Small welts blister, then crust over, and once they do, you aren't contagious to others (which is why you cover yourself thoroughly during the time that you are.) They are very painful, and in a peculiar way. The wounds are abrasively painful, but your muscles ache, and you feel a general mess. Think of it as grown up chicken pox, because it's the same virus. If you had chicken pox as a kid, you have the virus in you for life and can get shingles as an adult.

I had expected to feel much better this week-end, so off we set with friends for a day trip to Castromayor, a Celtic settlement dating back to 400 b.c. to 100 a.d.

A "castro" is a Celtic hill-fort typical of Galician culture before the Roman conquest. In this case, Castromayor appear to have been concurrent with a Roman settlement nearby, which we did not see for reasons I'll mention later.

Castromayor is a point just off the main pilgrimage road to Santiago de Compostela. In this picture, you can see some pilgrims ahead of us, walking along the main entrance into these ruins. The stone ruins are basically the foundations of the old settlement, built the way "dry walls" are built — i.e. no stucco or cement to hold the stone in place. And while some areas have fallen to rubble, it's amazing to think of these foundations still existing for 2400-plus years. Have a look:

Add caption

Add caption
More pilgrims here and there.
"The Camino" is something I have wanted to walk for some time.  To get a certificate, you have to walk 100 km minimum. Being realistic, though, I don't think I'm going to be able to do anything more than walk parts of it. Actually, that's fine with me. I was excited to be walking on a small stretch of it Saturday—less than a kilometer. But it was the Camino!

Meanwhile, here is a good layout of the entire settlement. Rajan and I were simply amazed.

After that, we went to an interesting town called Portomarin, with full intention to sight-see some more after lunch  But then the aftermath of my shingles was catching up with me. I was suddenly very tired and hurting all over again the way I hurt when I first broke out in shingles.

I made it through lunch — and a delicious lunch it was, at an Italian lunch that really knows how to make penne pasta and pesto sauce, not to mention dough pizza with herbs. But I digress. We came home early, deciding to keep further sightseeing for another day.

At home, Googling it, I learned there really is something referred to as "shingles aftermath". You feel the pain, though not as keenly, but there are no new sores or blisters. You lack energy and may have sore muscles (like flu symptoms) Apparently you can feel this way for months afterwards. I don't think that's going to be my fate--again because I had the shingles shot, which has made everything less severe than it might have been, from everything I've read.

But I am so glad we went! I felt so good until I felt so bad, and I would have felt horrible to postpone and perhaps miss this trip, as our time here is more limited than last time.

Meanwhile, Trasulfe is a great place to recuperate. It never looks the same way twice: This is what it looked last night before the rain and then this morning after the rain.

Add caption
How about you? Have you ever gotten a sudden illness you didn't expect to have? Do you make a good patient? (I try to, and I'm usually a "good sport" for about two days, then I get cranky.) Do you like ancient cities? Does ancient history fascinate you?