I was so excited to get my hands on Joyce DiPastena's second novel, Illuminations of the Heart. I throughly enjoyed reading her first, Loyalty's Web, and had high expectations that not only did she match, but exceeded. The first line "Donna Siri, cover your head" drew me in and I found myself just devouring the pages. What originally started out as an hour before bedtime read turned into a "I have to finish this before I can sleep read." Somewhere in the early morning I did, only to begin it the next day. I will only read books I love a second time. In fact I would put this book in the top ten of books I've read this year, and as I read 3-5 books a week that is saying a lot.
Illuminations of the Heart focuses around the story of Siriol "Siri" de Calendri and Triston de Brielle.
After the death of her brother, Siri, is sent from Venice to Poitou to be placed in the guardianship of her brother's closest friend, Triston, who has been given the charge of arranging a marriage for Siri. Siri believes that she will be welcomed at Vere Castle, but when she is meet with whispered stares and a hostile guardian, she is confused until she finds out that she bears a striking resemblance to Triston's beautiful, late wife Clothilde.
When Triston kisses her the first time, Siri's heart is lost. Known for her extreme beauty, Siri wants to be loved for herself and not for her resemblance to Clothilde. Trained in the art of illuminations, Siri sets about trying to establish herself as an illuminator, while Triston tries to marry her off to one of the local Lords because guilt over the death of his late wife keeps him from be willing to open his heart to Siri.
As circumstance from Triston past threaten to destroy them, Triston must decided if he can let her go, or if he has learned to look past her resemblance to Clothilde and see Siri for herself and the vibrant soul she is.
By the end of the book, I found myself falling for Triston as all of his good qualities become more apparent and cheered Siri on as she fights to remain true to herself.
While this book is billed as a romance it is so much more. It has intrigue, mystery, revenge, political rivalry, as well as the moment of laughter and tenderness that will appeal to any reader looking for a well written story. Joyce effortlessly weaves in historical detail that adds another level of depth and richness to the plot. If readers are anything like me, they will come to the end of the book with mixed emotions. On one hand they will be happy to see the story of Siri and Triton end so well, but it will be bitter sweet as they will want to read another story by Joyce. Until her next novel, I will have to be content with rereading Illuminations of the Heart.
The following is an interview I did with Joyce about Illuminations of the Heart.
1. How did you start writing?
It was a very evolutionary process. I never thought of myself as a "writer". I admired "writers" too much to think I could ever aspire to be one myself. I always seemed to have these stories bouncing around in my head, though, and round about junior high school, I started jotting some of them down. I viewed it more as "dabbling" than "writing. I continued to "dabble" through high school on various projects I never finished, then when I started college, I began a new "dabbling" project set in the Middle Ages. That one seemed to catch my fancy more than any other of my stories had ever done, and I dabbled away on it through four years of undergraduate and two years of graduate school, until at the end of the process, I realized I had a full-fledged novel on my hands. At that point I guess I kind of realized I was a "writer" after all. (And in case you're wondering, no, that first novel has never been published, so don't waste your time going to look for it. ;-) )
2. What is your typical writing process when writing your book? Do you know how the book will end before you write?
Unfortunately, I'm a very "messy" writer, as my latest work-in-progress is reminding me. I have a general idea of the direction I want to go with a story, but I never know how I'm going to get there when I start a new book. I've tried outlining and it just doesn't work for me. I never end up sticking anywhere near my outline. I stumbled across my original outline for ILLUMINATIONS OF THE HEART recently, and laughed my head off at how wildly different the story had actually turned out. The only purpose that outline served in the end was helping me to name the characters in my book. Once I put them on the page, they all ran off willy-nilly and did their own thing. When I wrote the outline, I thought ILLUMINATIONS OF THE HEART was going to be a murder mystery. Anyone who reads it will discover that it's anything but! So while I do have an idea of some of the ending scenes I'm shooting for when I start a book, I've finally learned to just sit back and let my characters figure out their own way to get there.
3. Are your characters drawn from people you know?
Not unless it's subconsciously. I don't have any "real" people in mind when I'm writing my books.
4. I know that you fell in love with the Middle Ages while in college from reading THE CONQUERING FAMILY, by Thomas B. Costain, and it was in high school, what other books would you recommend to people interested in learning more about the Middle Ages?
You mean for researching the Middle Ages? Some of the best starting titles for that time period are written by the husband-wife team, Joseph and Frances Gies. Three of their titles that I've used the most are LIFE IN A MEDIEVAL CASTLE, LIFE IN A MEDIEVAL CITY, and WOMEN IN THE MIDDLE AGES. They're all great starting points for people who are interested in writing, or simply reading, about life in the Middle Ages. You can find other, more specialized research books that I've used to help write my novels by visiting my Medieval Research with Joyce blog at http://medievalresearch.blogspot.com.
5. Who has been your greatest writing influcence?
I'd have to say in all honesty that it was Regency romance author, Georgette Heyer. I loved her writing and books so much that apparently I subconsciously absorbed a bit of her style early on, even though I wanted to write about the Middle Ages, not the Regency period. When my sister read that first book I wrote back in college, she (also a Georgette Heyer fan) accused me of having written a Regency-Medieval romance. LOL! Thankfully, I've developed my own writing style since those early days. But I've always wished I could write humor as well as Georgette Heyer did.
6. What is your favorite book or author?
I suppose after what I just said above, I'd have to say "Georgette Heyer" here. One of my favorite titles of hers is called THESE OLD SHADES. (Hmm, as far as favorites go, I also have to put a plug in here for THE THREE MUSKETEERS and TWENTY YEARS AFTER, by Alexandre Dumas.)
7. If you could go back to live in the Middle Ages, would you do so?
And give up my indoor plumbing, air conditioning, sanitized water...not to mention my car? No way! I find it extremely romantic to read and write about the Middle Ages, but I'm very happy living in the 21st Century, thank you!
8. Which person from the Middle Ages most fascinates you?
King Henry II of England, without a doubt. There's just something about his personality, as described by his contemporaries, that makes me absolutely love the man. Not in a "romantic" way, for he wasn't a "romantic" figure, the way his son and successor, Richard the Lionheart was. But I admire him so greatly, the good that he did for his country, the fact that he wanted to be a good king and would rather have been trying to solve problems and improve England than fighting all the wars he found himself caught up in during his life. But he was also so delightfully flawed, so wonderfully human. If there's one person I'd like to meet in the next life (I'm counting on a "next life", you know), it would have to be Henry II. (Okay, so there are some other people I'd like to meet as well, but from the Middle Ages, Henry II is definitely at the top!)
9. If you could travel to one place where would it be?
England, to visit all the medieval castles for myself. And maybe France, since Henry II spent a lot of his time there, too. I'd like to see the places he lived and that influenced his life.
10. I know you are working on your third novel. Will we see any characters from Illuminations of the Heart or Loyalty's Web in it?
You can pretty much bet that some characters from both books will be popping up in my new WIP [work in progress]. (And those that don't are already slated for my fourth. ;-) )
PS if you leave a comment on this post you will be entered in the contest to win either an autographed copy of Illuminations of one of three $10 online certificates to Barnes and Noble, Amazon, or Deseret Book. I would HIGHLY recommend you do so. :)