It is a truth universally acknowledged that a vast majority of writers are rabid readers. We were the kids who used to sneak in from recess and curl up somewhere with a book hoping nobody would catch us. We were constantly being admonished to “turn out that bedroom light and get to sleep,” and now relish the fact that in our own homes we can stay up reading as long as we like. We are devotees of words—the way they can be strung together, their rhythm, their power to conjure places we have never been while at the same time touching on experiences and emotions so intimate that it feels like they can see inside us.

I am no exception. And like most avid readers I’ve spent a lifetime seeking out and cultivating places to disappear into books. I consider these very special, almost sacred spaces: places where the light is right, there is quiet, and there is an atmosphere that encourages deep reading and reflection.

As a girl I spent hours in a hammock in my back yard—generally emerging with legs imprinted by the pattern of the woven rope. These days—perhaps because I live in the metro DC area where heat and humidity are a given for so much of the year—most of my reading gets done indoors. In my current home I have two favorite reading retreats that I’d like to share with you.

First there is our family library. I own more than 300 volumes (not counting my research books, or the books selected by my husband or children). These are books that I felt needed to be present in my home as touchstones for myself and as an easy temptations for my children. Favorites in my collection include: a complete leather-bound set of Dumas (grandfather of historical fiction) from 1893, my first edition of To Kill a Mockingbird, an early version of Victor Hugo, and, of course, the tattered volume of the complete works of Jane Austen that I re-read during every single exam period of my educational career.

Some favorite books from my extensive collection

Some favorite books from my extensive collection

Below are some pictures of the library. One of the best places to get lost in a book is up the ladder in the loft. There is a wonderfully comfortable swivel chair with a commanding view and plenty of light (both natural and artificial) up there. It is quite possible to escape the notice of others in this sky-high reading spot. In fact, I’ve watched my husband come in and out of the room quite unaware of my presence.

library with modern print

The library with its modern, airy feel, isn’t my only sacred reading space. When I am interested in disappearing into the past with a good historical novel (often by one of my author friends), I prefer a more period setting.

Fortunately I’ve created a living room (sans television, obviously) with just the right feel. What I’ve tried to do with this space is conjure the feeling you get when your tour an ancestral home in France or England and rather than the “décor of the moment” you are treated to a layered atmosphere, developed over generations of a family’s presence and many lifetimes of collecting furniture and objects. The room features oil portraits of my children in period costumes spanning 1530 to 1582, old wood made into a bench, oriental rugs, and my favorite reading chair in the house—deep burgundy and covered in Latin. Voila!

living room with modern print

This is the place I go to read books set in eras that I write about. And it was in this room that I opened up the boxes containing those always-exciting first copies of my novels including, most recently, Médicis Daughter—a 16th century coming-of-age story of the youngest Valois princess, weaving forbidden love with some of the most dramatic and violent events in French history—a book that Kirkus called, “A riveting page-turner skillfully blending illicit liaisons and political chicanery.” [You will notice the book in the collage above, perched on my delicious velvet pillow-smothered couch].

So those are my existing favorite reading spots, but I have one more dedicated reading space left to create.  Soon I will be renovating an under-the-stairs space into a reading nook. The stairs in this part of my house are dark wood and floating (open tread). The space will absolutely be intimate. If I had the room I’d go big—look at this beauty, though I’d have to have it in dark wood!

if i had the room

But my bench or seat must run perpendicular to my stairs to fit the space (long story involving plumbing) so I only have about 43 inches. I am considering two options. The first is going modern as I did in my library. I love the chair idea below—bookshelves as both the base and the arms of the seat to maximize the ability to always have a good book handy!

shelves everywhere

Alternately I might keep shelving and reading separate. Arhaus has a great chair called the Nara that would be just the right size and I ADORE its velvety look and the warm paprika color! I would get the legs in chrome not brass (and the good thing is the chair is customizable so I don’t have to settle). Or maybe the yummy Clancy, which would feel like a sofa for one.

two modern chairs

I could finish my modern look with some built-in under-stair shelves. I like all three of these, but the one with the branches—while perhaps less practical—is so unique as to be nearly irresistible.

modern shelving

My second option is to go with a more traditional/historical feel. What do you think of this Portsmouth chair in pewter? I am getting a very Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell vibe! The upholstery really appeals to me, and that comfy loose cushion could be adjusted just right for back or arm support).traditional 2

Either of these console tables in rustic black (both from Arhaus) could totally flesh out the early 18th century feel don’t you think?

consoles

So which look would you pursue for the under-stair nook if you were me dear fellow readers—the modern or the historical? Which of my existing sacred reading spaces do you like the best? What does your own special favorite reading space look like—either in your home or in your imagination?

Oh and if you are interested in the Arhaus pieces I featured in my idea boards, or just looking for inspiration for your own readings spot, you can find both right here in the living room section of their website.

favorite Loire Chateaux

Did you know there are OVER THREE-HUNDRED Loire Valley Chateaux? Well it’s true. I am betting nobody has seen them all. I’ve been visiting the Loire since I was 20 (and we will not discuss how long ago that was). Here’s my personal TOP 10 FAVORITES list. Which ones have you been to? How would your list differ from mine?

1) CHENONCEAU: Call it a girlhood crush but Chenonceau—Chateaux of Diane de Poitier and Catherine de Médicis—will always top my list. Chenonceau is the most visited and photographed chateau in the Loire Valley. It is often described as ‘the ladies chateau’ as throughout its history a series of women had the most influence its design and its destiny. Besides the gracefully river-spanning gallery, the stunning gardens, Catherine’s bedchamber, and the fact that Valois history is everywhere, I particularly love that they preserved a portion of the severe black and white (colors of royal mourning) décor that King Henri III’s widow brought to the palace. Not going to lie though—her deep mourning always puzzled me because Henri (Catherine’s favorite son) is not one of my favorite people (or Kings). He was, however, good friends with his wife (who worshipped him), so I guess she had reason to be attached to him.

Given my long attachment to the chateau, I was BEYOND THRILLED when my publisher put Chenonceau on the cover of my book Médicis Daughter: A Novel of Marguerite de Valois !!!

Want a quick tour and history of this royal gem? I’ll hand the mic over to Rick Steves.

A personal photo of Chenonceau juxtaposed with the image of it from my novel.

A personal photo of Chenonceau juxtaposed with the image of it from my novel.

2) TIED—BLOIS and AMBOISE:

a) BLOIS: I love the split character of Blois. Built in stages around the main courtyard, this fabulous palace has a whopping 564 rooms (including 100 bedrooms) and 75 staircases. Francis I undertook a major renovation of Blois (do we see a pattern here? The man pretty much renovated all my favorites) at the behest of his wife who wanted them to spend more time at Blois and less at Amboise. When Queen Claude died Francis spent little time at Blois but his renovation gave the Chateau my favorite feature—the gorgeous Francis I spiral staircase. The Valois spent considerable time at Blois. Princess Marguerite’s wedding contract was signed here (as readers of Médicis Daughter will remember). When Margot’s brother, King Henri III, was eventually drive from Paris during the later period of the French Wars of Religion he and Catherine lived at Blois. The “Estates-General” were held there in 1576 and 1588. For those readers of Médicis Daughter who are firmly “Team Henri, Duc de Guise” this is the Chateau where he was assassinated by the royal bodyguard of Henri III (during the 1588 meeting of the “Estates”). Here is a link for the English version of the Chateau’s official website.

b) AMBOISE: When I found out that Princess Marguerite was sent to Amboise with her youngest brother during the first War of Religion I was thrilled! History was giving me the chance to set a scene—the opening scene as it turned out—of my Valois novel, Médicis Daughter, at one of my favorite Chateaux. Amboise is an absolute stunner as it towers, tall and white, above the charming city of Amboise. And once you wend your way up to it, the Chateau’s graceful interior and breathtaking views of the city, river and countryside beyond are unforgettable.

This is a palace chockfull of Valois history! King Charles VIII was the Valois monarch who spent the most time at Amboise living there daily with his wife, Anne of Brittany, until his untimely death (he left a tennis match and managed to hit his head on a door lintel, fell unconscious and died—talk about bad luck). King Francis I grew up here and later refurbished a wing in glorious renaissance style (look for his Salamander symbol). Henri II actually constructed a wing parallel to the one his father renovated—though sadly it does not exist today. He and his Queen, Catherine de Médicis, spent considerable time at Amboise.

Finally if you are fan of the short-lived King Francis II (possibly thanks to the TV series Reign) Amboise has a place in his history as well. In 1560 the 16 year old Francis was the target of an attempted kidnapping. French Protestants (allied with the Prince of Condé) felt the young King was being unduly influenced by his wife—Mary Stuart, Queen of Scotland’s—uncles, the powerful Guises. This influence was leading to the repression and persecution of France’s growing number of Protestants. In March a band of Protestants tried to remove François II from the influence of the Guises by whisking him away from the Château d’Amboise. The conspirators were caught, and quickly executed—their bodies hanged from the balcony of Chateaux Amboise as a warning to others. Perhaps not surprisingly, Chateau Amboise fell out of royal favor after this incident.

This is the link for the Chateau’s English website.

4) CHAMBORD: Big, bold and beautiful! If you like more of everything than you are going to love Chambord with its 365 fireplaces (one for every day of the year) and its Leonardo da Vinci designed double spiral staircase (the two spirals climb the three floors without ever meeting, preserving the privacy of those using one from those using the other). This big-boy was begun—but never finished despite 28 years of construction—by King Francis I as a hunting lodge. His salamander emblem and the motto: ” Nutrisco et Extinguo” (until it fills the whole world) are seen many times in the Chateau. You can also find his son King Henri II’s mark—just look for the motto “Nec pluribus impar” (alone against all). The massive château is composed of a central keep with four immense towers at the corners, all very prettily reflected in a decorative moat (defensive moats being “so very medieval” aka yesterday). And because the motto of this place is clearly “big is better” it sits on over 12,000 acres.

The Chateau has a gorgeous website. Check it out!

5) VILLANDRY: Go for the beautiful formal gardens, they are magical. The current Chateau was built in the 16th century by Jean Le Breton, France’s Controller-General for War under King Francis I. It remained in the Breton family for more than 200 years. Villandry is not a royal Chateau but certainly worthy of royalty.

6) CHINON: This tribute to the middle-ages, built from the 12th century on a rocky outcrop above the Vienne River, is closely associated with French history from the 12th to the 15th centuries. This is where Joan of Arc claimed to have heard heavenly voices when she met the French King. Really more of a Hundred Years War era Chateau (not that there is anything wrong with that!) there is no Valois connection to Chinon except for the fact that at the very start of the French Wars of Religion (1562) Chinon was briefly in the hands of Protestant forces.

7) AZAY-LE-RIDEAU: Considered one of the foremost examples of early French renaissance architecture and set on a picturesque island in the middle of the Indre river, is it any wonder Azey-le-Rideau is one of the most visited of the Loire Chateaux? Although you will find the salamander and ermine of Francis I and his wife, Claude of France, carved into the architecture here, this was never a royal chateau (the nobleman who built it merely included the royal devices to honor his monarch—clever man).

8) SULLY-SUR-LOIRE: Clearly I have a thing going for some of the Protestant gentlemen who served King Henri IV of France (the first Bourbon King). This equally powerful and beautiful collection of white towers ringed and reflected in water is one of two Chateaux that make my favorites list as a result of their owners (see also Saumur). Sully-sur-Loire was constructed in the 15th century and was intended as both a fortification to defend a nearby bridge over the Loire River and a luxury residence. I visited the castle primarily because it was purchased in 1602 by Maximilien de Béthune, Duc de Sully. Maximilien was extraordinary. As a young man he escaped the St. Bartholomew’s Day Massacre by his wits and subsequently presented himself to fellow survivor King Henri of Navarre. From that time on he and the King of Navarre were close. When Henri ascended to the French throne as Henri IV of France Maximilien was the King’s Superintendent of Finance helping to bring order and stability to a French economy blighted by years of religious war. The Duc made substantial changes to Sully-sur-Loire and it remained in his family until 1962. Maximilien’s tenure is still evident in the structure and, as my children can attest and much to their eternal embarrassment, I broke down in tears when I found his decorative initials incorporated in the dining room décor.

Here is a lovely—if silent—video aerial look at Sully-sur-Loire.

9) SAUMUR: overlooking the confluence of the Loire and the Thouet Rivers this striking Chateau was built in the 10th century making it one of France’s oldest castles. Saumur (as it looked in 1410 when it was home to the Duc d’Anjou) was depicted in the Très Riches Heures du Duc de Berry. I have a massive crush on the nobleman that King Henri IV (“the Great”) of France gave Saumur to in 1589— Philippe de Mornay, the seigneur du Plessis Marly, often called “The Protestant Pope”—but more about that another time 😉

As depicted in the "Très Riches Heures du Duc de Berry"

Saumur as depicted in the Très Riches Heures du Duc de Berry

10) CHEVERNY: because everything can be about the medieval and renaissance ( I KNOW, I know, it is surprising to hear me say so). Variety is the spice of life! Cheverny is pure 17th century—very Louis XIII style with its emphasis on symmetry. The fact that is remained largely as it was built may have a lot to do with the fact that the Hurault family has owned Cheverny for 6 centuries—clearly they are a family that values tradition.

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After the finale of CW’s Reign—which featured a cameo by the youngest Valois Princess, Marguerite—a number of the shows fans have reached out to me about who Margot was.  Of course I’ve written a whole novel on that 😉 but I thought I might do a few posts showing how Margot’s life overlapped with that of Mary Queen of Scots while that lady was in France.

Margot and Mary #1:  As a little girl Princess Margot passed significant time with Mary Queen of Scots.  In fact, the French Princess and youngest daughter of Catherine de Médicis passed her earliest years at Saint-Germain in the company of her elder sisters Elisabeth (destined to be Queen of Spain) and Claude (future Duchess of Lorraine), and her future sister-in-law Mary Stuart.

Mary Marguerite Connection 2

After Margot’s sisters married (the last married in 1559 when Margot was 6) she spent most of her time at the Château de Vincennes with her younger brothers Henri (Duc d’Anjou) and François (at that time—before the death of Francis II and before his confirmation—called Hercule. Then the Massacre of Vassy occurred (March 1562) and Catherine de Médicis kept only her son Henri with her while sending her two youngest—Margot and François—to Amboise. The Château of Amboise was chosen because it was peaceful and sufficiently removed from the theater of war to prove a safe retreat.  It is at this Château, with Margot anticipating a visit from her powerful mother, that my novel MÉDICIS DAUGHTER begins.

Mary connection July 6

The royal chateaux of France glitter in the summer sun. Glamorous courtiers stroll in the gardens. But at any court ruled by Catherine de Médicis and riven by on-going religious war there will always be shadows . . . and death.

For your viewing pleasure here is the latest trailer for Médicis Daughter: A Novel of Marguerite de Valois. Let me know what you think, and if you enjoy it, please share it with a fellow historical fiction fan (or ten).

 

Think your Mom is hard to select a Mothers’ Day gift for? Here is my humorous take on poor Marguerite de Valois—youngest daughter of Catherine de Médicis and central character in my most recent novel, Médicis Daughter—trying to pick out the perfect gift for her mother.

Oh and Mothers’ Day is just a week away readers, so mail those cards and pick up those last minute presents. And remember, books make GREAT gifts.

This is the four-hundred-and-second anniversary of the death of Marguerite de Valois, Princess and then Queen of France, and central character in my novel, MÉDICIS DAUGHTER. Marguerite was the 8th child of Henri II of France and his queen Catherine de Médicis. Healthy, intelligent and beautiful—Margot was, sadly, never anyone’s favorite child, and may well have been Catherine’s least favorite. As I say in the authors to my novel:

Fate was not so kind to Marguerite de Valois. Nor was history.

Margots Death DateSalic law kept her from ruling in France after the death of her last brother, with the crown passing to her cousin/husband the King of Navarre. And a single anonymous political pamphlet during her lifetime was later taken for history not slander, leaving people with the impression Margot was nothing more than a wanton sex-addict. Yet the historical record shows that Marguerite was highly intelligent, politically astute, and (in her later years) a serious force in the literary life of France. She also had a fierce conscience.

I hope that in my novel I did this Princess justice.  For those who enjoyed my book, I recommend reading Margot’s own Memoirs—which provide a vivid exposition of France during her lifetime.

MÉDICIS DAUGHTER on Amazon http://amzn.to/2nBP3bU

At Book Depository [FREE worldwide shipping] http://bit.ly/2o4yNwJ

At Barnes & Noble http://bit.ly/1qk7Ztw

Ah, what a wonderful thing it is to be young and in love–unless you are a 16th century Valois Princess and your mother, Catherine de Médicis, disapproves of your entanglement.  That is precisely the situation of my heroine, Princess Marguerite, in Médicis Daughter.  Of course she should have known that marriage is not a matter of love when you are a royal. After all didn’t her dear friend and mentor, Henriette Duchess de Nevers, warn her long ago:

Fair of face’ is a fine consideration for flirting but of little import in marrying . . . .“Remember girls, marriage is a matter of politics, finance and family.  Looks are for lovers.

What to do, what to do?

Enjoy the Official Spring Trailer for Médicis Daughter!

I am downsizing our gift-giving around here this year but that does NOT mean I am not buying books! SEVEN arrived this weekend alone. Some for stocking-stuffers, some to give friends who I think will enjoy them as much as I did.

In honor of CYBER MONDAY Barnes & Noble is running a 15% off your entire order promo (today only). The code is BNCYBER16 winter-ad-3

If you’d like to give a little Perinot this season, here are the brief descriptions and links for my titles at both B&N (use that coupon code!) and Amazon. Of course the novels are also available at your neighborhood bookstore!

MÉDICIS DAUGHTER (B&N) (AMAZON)

Winter, 1564. Beautiful young Princess Margot is summoned to the court of France, where nothing is what it seems and a wrong word can lead to ruin. Known across Europe as Madame la Serpente, Margot’s intimidating mother, Queen Catherine de Médicis, is a powerful force in a country devastated by religious war. Among the crafty nobility of the royal court, Margot learns the intriguing and unspoken rules she must live by to please her poisonous family.

Eager to be an obedient daughter, Margot accepts her role as a marriage pawn, even as she is charmed by the powerful, charismatic Duc de Guise. Though Margot’s heart belongs to Guise, her hand will be offered to Henri of Navarre, a Huguenot leader and a notorious heretic looking to seal a tenuous truce. But the promised peace is a mirage: her mother’s schemes are endless, and her brothers plot vengeance in the streets of Paris. When Margot’s wedding devolves into the bloodshed of the St. Bartholomew’s Day Massacre, she will be forced to choose between her family and her soul.

THE SISTER QUEENS (B&N) (AMAZON)

Like most sisters, Marguerite and Eleanor were rivals. They were also queens.

Raised together at the 13th Century court of their father, Raymond Berenger, Count of Provence, Marguerite and Eleanor are separated by royal marriages—but never truly parted.

Patient, perfect, reticent, and used to being first, Marguerite becomes Queen of France. Her husband, Louis IX, is considered the greatest monarch of his age. But he is also a religious zealot who denies himself all pleasure—including the love and companionship his wife so desperately craves. Can Marguerite find enough of her sister’s boldness to grasp her chance for happiness in the guise of forbidden love?

Passionate, strong-willed, and stubborn, Eleanor becomes Queen of England. Her husband, Henry III, is neither as young nor as dashing as Marguerite’s. But she quickly discovers he is a very good man…and a very bad king. His failures are bitter disappointments for Eleanor, who has worked to best her elder sister since childhood. Can Eleanor stop competing with her sister and value what she has, or will she let it slip away?

A DAY OF FIRE (AMAZON)

Pompeii was a lively resort flourishing in the shadow of Mount Vesuvius at the height of the Roman Empire. When Vesuvius erupted in an explosion of flame and ash, the entire town would be destroyed. Some of its citizens died in the chaos, some escaped the mountain’s wrath . . . and these are their stories:

  • A boy loses his innocence in Pompeii’s flourishing streets.
  • An heiress dreads her wedding day, not knowing it will be swallowed by fire.
  • An ex-legionary stakes his entire future on a gladiator bout destined never to be finished.
  • A crippled senator welcomes death, until a tomboy on horseback comes to his rescue.
  • A young mother faces an impossible choice for her unborn child as the ash falls.
  • A priestess and a whore seek redemption and resurrection as the town is buried.

Six authors bring to life overlapping stories of patricians and slaves, warriors and politicians, villains and heroes who cross each others’ path during Pompeii’s fiery end. But who will escape, and who will be buried for eternity?

Hard!

Yes, it is true, I am dipping my toe into the wonderful world of video production and Youtube channels! Some of you have already visited my channel to watch my book trailer and other items. But today I bring you the first installment of a series–Tales from the Valois Court.

Enjoy! And do take a minute to let me know what you think!