Book Review, Author Q&A and Book Giveaway ~ Mistress of the Sun by Sandra Gulland

Summary : Mistress of the Sun by Sandra Gulland ~ In spirit, there was nothing diminutive about Louise de la Valliere, known to her family as “Petite.” A rambunctious girl who could tame the wildest stallion, the impoverished and unmarriageable Petite was also able to tame the heart of the legendary Sun King, Louis XIV. Once she had captured his eye, Petite was quickly ensconced in his court, where, as his mistress, she was elevated to a titled position. Such a meteoric rise was bound to attract attention of the wrong sort, and Petite’s life was filled with the terrors and tragedies that accompany all internecine tales of palace intrigue. Amid rumors of black magic and sorcery, loved ones would die, and Petite herself would ultimately arrive at a crossroads where she would be forced to choose between her loyalty to the king and her own personal salvation. Teeming with the rich period details that make historical fiction so rewarding, Gulland’s dynamic and nuanced portrait of Louis’ notorious reign thrums with page-turning expediency and deliciously seductive machinations. –Carol Haggas  

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Mistress of the Sun is a lush, engulfing and entirely entertaining example of historical fiction in it’s finest form.  From the very first page I was drawn in and have enjoyed my visits (reading time) to seventeenth century France.  Sandra Gulland has done it again.   Having read her Josephine Bonaparte series years ago, I was extremely excited to receive a review request form Gulland’s “virtual assistant” for her newest novel, Mistress of the Sun.  I was not disappointed in the least. 

Gulland introduces us to “Mademoiselle Louise-Francoise La Baume Le Blanc de la Valliere” but known as Petite for short.  She is the daughter of a nurturing, book loving father and a realistic mother who worries about the future and looks down upon dreaming and stories.  When Petite is a young girl, she goes with her father on an errand trip when she stumbles across the a beautiful but wild and dangerous white stallion named “Diablo.”  When Petite’s father brings this horse home for the family, and especially Petite, life is never the same again.  After a few years of not speaking and studying at a convent, Petite recovers from her silence and is soon thrust into the world of the French royal family and discovers a love greater than any she has ever had and ever will as the mistress to King Louis XIV, the Sun King.  Petite’s friendships and experiences at Court ensure great reading.

I really enjoyed this book.  There is plenty of drama, character detail and wonderful descriptions in Mistress of the Sun.  Reading three pages felt like I had read twenty because there is just so much detail and story in every line.  If you are looking for a book to take you away this summer, Mistress of the Sun is the perfect book. 

{Rating ~ 4 out of 5 stars}

gulland021Q&A with Sandra Gulland

PB Being familiar with your Josephine Bonaparte series and now Mistress of the Sun, I am curious about what draws you to these historical French figures?

Sandra – I was drawn to Josephine because her extraordinary life had been foretold. This still astonishes me. As for Louise, of Mistress of the Sun, I was intrigued by her extraordinary horsemanship. She was described as timid, a wall-flower, and yet she became a devil on horseback. This fascinated me.

PB – When researching for your books do you start with a plot idea?

Sandra – I begin with an interest in the character, and then, in closely examining the facts of that person’s life, I begin to get an idea of a plot.

PB – Have you ever come across something you didn’t know about that caused your story to change completely?

Sandra – With every research trip I make, I have to revise completely!

When I started the Josephine B. Trilogy, I assumed that everything I read about her was true. (Novice that I was about historical research.) I struggled writing the second book (Tales of Passion, Tales of Woe). How could a good mother, a good person, do the things historians claimed? (And how, as a novelist, was I going to get the readers to believe it? A novel, unlike life, has to be credible.) Consulting with the French experts at Malmaison, I learned that “the facts” were incorrect. This caused me to change my story, but it also made the story begin to make more sense.

The most pleasant surprises are ones that make a story better. (Warning: spoiler!) Well into writing Mistress of the Sun, I read in a footnote in the Bastille Archives that Louise’s good friend Nicole ended up at the same convent as Louise. 

I’m now working on a detailed scene-by-scene plot (a blueprint, I like to think of it) of my next novel. It’s forcing me to do deep research at the start and I’ve already run into a number of surprises! Fortunately, a “blueprint” is easier to revise than a full draft.

gulland091PB–  In the beginning of Mistress of the Sun, Louise comes upon a dangerous and stunningly great horse named “Diablo.”  The relationship between girl and horse has a mystical sense about it.  Do you believe in magic and miracles yourself?

Sandra – I don’t, as a rule (but I don’t count them out, either). Louise would have believed in them, however.

PB–  Besides Louise de la Vallière, which character in Mistress of the Sun was the most fun and exciting to write?  What kind of connections do you feel when writing life into your characters?

Sandra– I really love Clorine, Louise’s maid. (Whose name, in real life, really was Clorine.) I love that she’s so tough, and no-nonsense, and yet often fainting.

PB – With The Tudors mini-series, and historical fiction genre films like The Duchess, Marie Antoinette and numerous others, do you wish to see either the Mistress of the Sun or the Bonaparte series go the same route?

Sandra– Yes! The Josephine B. Trilogy is now under option; the producers are looking into developing a mini-series like The Tudors. As for Mistress of the Sun, a producer is looking into making it into a movie. I’d love to see these come about. I think the Trilogy would make a wonderful mini-series, and Mistress a fantastic movie. I just hope it comes about in my lifetime. Movie-making is extremely complex: I think it’s a miracle (note: miracle) that any are ever made.

PB –  So far have you enjoyed your book blog tour for Mistress of the Sun?  Do you think that this way of reaching readers is beneficial for you as an author and for the publishing industry?

Sandra– A Blog Tour is excellent, given how difficult travel has become. I’ve been enjoying it. The response has been overwhelming. Thank you for having me on Planet Books!

To learn more about Sandra Gulland and her novels, be sure to check out her website HERE.  Sandra is in the middle of her blog tour for Mistress of the Sun.  To find out where she has been and will be in coming weeks and months, check out her schedule HERE.  Sandra and her publisher, Simon & Schuster, are generously providing a copy of Mistress of the Sun, which was recently released in paperback.  To enter to win Mistress of the Sun leave a comment including the title of your favorite historical novel on this post by Wednesday, May 6th at Midnight EST.  Good Luck!

Part 1 ~ Q&A and Giveaway with Kelly Garcia and Takako and the Great Typhoon

I am so excited and pleased to introduce my friend, Kelly Garcia, and her new, independently released children’s book, Takako and the Great Typhoon.  Kelly has lived in Okinawa, Japan with her husband for three and a half years.  One year ago they welcomed their adorable baby boy into the world and with motherhood, Kelly set out on a literary adventure.  The outcome is Takako and the Great Typhoon.

  Takako and the Great Typhoon

Kelly has joined us here at Planet Books for a Q&A session and has also donated a signed copy of Takako and the Great Typhoon for a giveaway.  Due to the length of our interview, I am breaking up the Q&A into two posts.  They will publish simultaneously. 

First of all, Karen, since I know your passion for music I should share w/ you my play list as I sit responding to your interview questions: 

Single Ladies, Freedom (George Michael), Smells Like Teen Spirit, Papa Loved Mama, Nuthin’ But a G Thang, Thank You (Dido), Praying for Time, Womanizer, Sabotage, What is Love? (Haddoway…remember that?!), Say It Loud, I Like (Montell Jordan), Say It Ain’t So (Weezer), Kenny Chesney.

Should give you an idea of what generation I’m coming from anyway.  Okay, and onto the interview!

PB ~ I am so excited for you and your independent release of Takako and the Great Typhoon!  Would you please tell us what the story is about? 

Kelly ~ It’s the story of these two shisas (shisas being the lion-dog statues you find absolutely everywhere in Okinawa) that are brother and sister.  Their names are Takako (Tah-kah-koe), the little girl shisa, and Nobu(No-boo) the little boy shisa.  They live on a rooftop and it is their job as shisas is to stand guard at all times protecting their house from danger.  But who the heck wants to sit on a boring ‘ole roof all the time?  Not Takako.  She sees all of these wonderful things going on in the village below and wants to jump in and join the fun.  Nobu warns her that she would be breaking the Shisa Rule of working together and guarding the home if she left. (Boo!  What a party pooper!)  But Takako can’t resist temptation, follows a butterfly into the village and has a fabulous day…until, of course, something bad happens.  The typhoon!  That’s when the adventure really begins!

PB ~ How did this idea first develop and what made you think you could really make this happen?

Kelly ~ To be honest, I can’t remember how the genesis for the storyline originated, of the brother-sister shisas and Takako’s day in the village and the great typhoon. (Although I should mention my friend Kay gave me the idea of how to have Takako save the day in the end. Thank you Kay!)  My real focus was to create a story showcasing the little moments that are representative of everyday life in Okinawa, Japan.  In a way, the book is really selfish ‘cause it captures a very personal experience of Okinawa.  For example, the tree on the back cover is a tree down the street from my house.  The barbershop is around the corner.  And the scene where Takako chases the pickup truck is the view from the back of my house. 

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It might sound silly, but I LOVE these little things.  After I had my son, making the book a reality became more important to me because I knew that he would have no memory of any of this.  We are living in Okinawa as a result of my husband’s work and our time here is limited to a few years.  In fact, we are leaving this summer.  I really wanted to be able to capture the feeling of love that this place has shown my son and my family, so that’s what this book is about.  But, it’s an exciting adventure story too, not all mushy-mushy sentimentality, so I hope that even folks who’ve never heard of Okinawa can enjoy it!
I’m digressing from the question! –
 
Okay, when I began sharing the book idea with people and was met with such a sincere, enthusiastic response, I felt this project could happen.  (Especially from my awesomely supportive husband!)  When Carmen, the illustrator, signed onto the project I KNEW it would happen.  

Karen @ Planet Books made this Shisa pair when she moved to Okinawa in '05 and took a pottery class.
Karen @ Planet Books made this Shisa pair when she moved to Okinawa in '05 and took a pottery class.

PB ~ For those readers out there who haven’t had the pleasure of visiting Okinawa and may not be familiar with its culture, what is a “Shisa Dog?”

Kelly ~ It’s a statue that you see pretty much everywhere here.  I can’t exaggerate the popularity of this figure to Okinawa.  More popular than Starbucks in an American suburb, if that’s possible!  In my neighborhood you can find them at every turn: on rooftops, on gateposts, by doorways, etc.  They look like a mixture of a lion and a dog and often they come in pairs.  When they are paired, one has a closed mouth (keeping in the good luck) and one has an open mouth (scaring off evil.)  One is a male and one is a female.  www.wonderokinawa.com has excellent information about shisa lore and history.  It’s actually pretty interesting stuff.  Also on my website, www.shisastory.com I’ll be posting a VERY amateur walking tour video of my neighborhood with tons of examples of shisas in it if you care to have a look.

(For the rest of our interview and the chance to win a signed copy of Takako and the Great Typhoon, check out the next post on Planet Books.)

 

Part 2 ~ Q&A and Giveaway with Kelly Garcia & Takako and the Great Typhoon

(Here is the second part of my Q&A with children’s book author and friend, Kelly Garcia.)

PB ~ Have you always wanted to write a children’s book or was this a surprise to you?

Well, I suppose it was a surprise; although, I never rule out anything!  I find that I enjoy writing about foreign countries, travel adventures and interesting intercultural experiences.  I write about my culinary adventures in Okinawa on a blog called www.okinawahai.com, but other than that have never really written seriously.  I guess though that this story is kind of a travel adventure in its own way…a “travel adventure fantasy folktale”!

PB ~ Takako does a lot of things while on her adventure. You use some terms that non-Japanese readers may have trouble understanding. Would you please explain some of the more foreign things that Takako does with her fellow islanders?

Kelly ~ Let’s see.  Takako plays gateball with the “obaasans (grandmas) and ojiisans (grandpas)”.  Gateball is kind of a croquette game that is very popular with the older folks here.  I can think of three gateball fields within about a five-minute walk of my house.  A “typhoon” is basically a hurricane that forms over the Pacific Ocean.  “Banyan trees” are these gorgeous twisty, gnarly trees that are found in Okinawa.  I’ve got some beautiful examples in my neighborhood.

In a few of the illustrations you’ll see these round things on sticks.  These are actually mirrors.  They are on almost every corner to help drivers navigate through the narrow streets without getting hit by an unseen car.  Very typical Okinawa.  Also, you’ll see a vending machine in one scene.  It may seem strange, but that too is something I would consider to be the quintessential Okinawa.

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PB ~ Living in Okinawa myself, I know that your descriptions of the typhoon are pretty dead on. Thank goodness my Shisa dogs do there job well. What are some of the things your family does during one of these powerful storms?

Kelly ~ Not much, to tell the truth.  We have a huge water cooler, so we are set there.  I try and get some DVDs and books from the library for entertainment in case the satellite goes out!  We bring everything in the house from outside, but that’s pretty much it.  I don’t do a ton of extra shopping.  I guess I’m pretty laid back.  When I see the local Okinawans taking a storm seriously, that’s when I know it’s time to be careful!  But usually for them it’s business as usual.

PB ~ What was your favorite part in the development of your book?

Kelly ~ This is really hard to say.  Practically the whole process, apart from dealing with the folks in the shipping department at the printer’s, was interesting for me.  Writing the story itself was enjoyable because it was a creative challenge that shook the cobwebs out of my brain.  Also, my meetings with Carmen the illustrator, were fantastic.  I especially loved our first meeting after she finished her initial sketches for the book scenes.  Seeing how she brought the story to life with her pictures was pretty darn thrilling.  We talked through each scene and discussed the things we liked about them and ideas for changes to make them better.  I loved that collaborative aspect of it.  Being able to bounce around ideas with another person who was also enthusiastic about the project has been invaluable.  It was fun working with Erin, the graphic designer, too.  She brought me different ideas about page layout, fonts, book cover options and things like that.  So many things to decide!  But totally fun.

If I hadn’t gone the self-publishing route, I doubt I’d have a hand in any of that kind of stuff.  I’m sure it would have been a slicker/cleaner book if I’d gone through a traditional publisher, but I am learning SO much doing it this way.  Heck, I just built a website for the first time and right now I’m learning all the multitudes of things that go into book promotion.  Figuring everything out is actually causing me to lose sleep.  I have a to-do list about a mile long.  But I just love it!

PB ~ Do you think you may write a book that represents all the places you will live in the future?

Kelly ~ I don’t know.  I foresee myself having lived in a lot of places, so that might be tough.  This book, though, was written for my son, Gabriel.  So, if I have any more kids, I guess I owe each of them a book too!  Hopefully it’ll get easier each time I do it.

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PB ~ How can people get their own copies of Takako and the Great Typhoon?

Kelly ~ They can click on www.shisastory.comand order a copy there via Paypal. If they live in Okinawa, they can stop by the AAFES Bazaar at the Foster Field House April 17th-19th.  Or they can email me at kelly@shisastory.com and we can work something out.

Also, you can get a sneak peak of the book on the website in a video my fabulous hubby put together (the image quality is MUCH better in person!  Carmen’s color is awesome!) Even if you don’t get the book, I’d be just as thrilled if you became a fan on Facebook (search Takako and the Great Typhoon) or mention it to some friends or rate the video preview!  Or e-mail me some nifty marketing ideas!  I’m really, really excited about the book and just trying to share any way I can.  Okay, enough shameless promotion from me.  If you’ve read down this far you deserve a medal!  Karen, thank you for your questions and your post!  xxoo — Kelly

You can learn more about Takako and the Great Typhoon, Kelly and life on Okinawa by checking out the website HERE.  To enter to win a signed copy of Takako and the Great Typhoon leave a comment and on this post and tell us your favorite children’s book when you were little.  The drawing will run until Sunday at Midnight, EST.  Good Luck!