November is traditionally the season of THANKFULNESS. So just for fun I’ve done a little list of things you might be thankful for if you were trying to navigate (and SURVIVE) the 16th century French Royal Court.

No. 1: That you are NOT Marguerite de Valois, the youngest Valois Princess, because if you were your mother, Queen Catherine de Médicis, would be offering you a dismal string of prospective husbands including: a mad man, an old man who’d already been married to your own sister, a man who hated women, and a notorious heretic. What’s a girl to do?

No. 2: If you are Admiral Coligny you’d be VERY thankful that you bent down to tie your shoe at just the right moment to avoid having your head blown off by an assassin. Sure you lost part of a finger and you were pretty badly wounded, but you are alive! But so fast there Gaspard . . . you’re not out of danger yet!

No. 3: You’ve never slept with the Princesse de Porcien. If you had you might well end up crucified—at least artistically—because this lady (who eventually became the Duchesse de Guise) had the bizarre habit of having former lovers portrayed in her devotional book (her Book of Hours) crucified.

No 4: No one has poisoned you . . . YET.

No 5: You keep a careful hit-list of all your enemies (real and imagined). I mean you never know when a massacre is going to start and you want to be ready. You might not have thought to make a list of your grudges, not to mention the people you owe money too .if it hadn’t been for that secret census of Protestants the authorities complied from the tax roles in your district of Paris (and every other district as well). There is no denying neighborhood hit lists come in really handy once a massacre starts, and is anybody really going to care if some of the folks on yours are good Catholics rather than nasty heretics?

MÉDICIS DAUGHTER because the Valois are sexier than the Tudors (and more dangerous as well)!

five things to be thankful for

Do you know someone who is looking for a dark read this at this wicked-good time of year? Tell them that Médicis Daughter has cunning, cruelty, bloodshed, betrayal & plenty of things that go bump in the night. Better still, give Médicis Daughter as a trick-or-treat to a historical-fiction-loving friend or make it your own Halloween read.

 

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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.

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.

How long have I known Mindy McInnis, Edgar Award-winning author of YA fiction? Too long for me to fess up. But let’s just say we knew each other before we were agented let alone published!

Mindy runs an awesome  blog for aspiring writers called Writer, Writer Pants on Fire, and a pod-cast of the same name which features interviews established authors taking about the nitty-gritty of the road to publication. TODAY I AM HONORED TO BE HER FIRST “ADULT” AUTHOR ON THE PODCAST (though I am not sure the label adult is entirely apt for me 100% of the time).

Interested in how I landed my agent, what my submission process was really like, why I tend to hop around from era to era when writing? Have a listen!!!

Pants on Fire

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!

Here we are just a week away from Valentines Day. The perfect time for my 7 Reasons Books Make the Best Valentine’s Gifts:

1) a book is ALWAYS the right size

2) it’s non-caloric

3) books don’t wilt after a week

4) if your kids pop into the bedroom unexpectedly and catch one of you in bed with it nobody is scarred for life 😉

5) your sweetheart would honestly rather pick the jewelry our her/himself (trust me on this one)

6) this is your chance to show you’ve been paying attention and you KNOW what s/he like to read

7) smart is the new sexy and reading is all about smart

Want a great reason to give MÉDCIS DAUGHTER for Valentines day—“Perinot matches the rhythm of Margot’s life to the political storms: as the battles escalate, so do the perils of love and lust. A riveting page-turner skillfully blending illicit liaisons and political chicanery”

MÉDCIS DAUGHTER on Amazon or wherever books are sold

Here we are, four days until Christmas. Personally, I am about to make one last run to pick up some missing gift items. How about you? Done for the season? Are you going to be giving books this year? Getting them?

Books were a go-to gift for me long before I wrote them. What’s changed is the excitement I feel when someone writes to tell me that they received one of my novels as a gift and loved it.  So I guess I get a second Christmas out of my involvement with writing.

If you have a friend or family member who enjoys historical fiction, please consider sharing Médicis Daughter or The Sister Queens with them.  Or share the video trailer below with your fellow historical-fiction aficionados.  They may thank you and I CERTAINLY will.