Book Corner: Scars From the Past by Derek Birks

51o-ahuwnblMy latest book review, of Derek Birks‘ latest novel, Scars From the Past, the first novel of his stunning new series, set 10 years after the conclusion of his fantastic Rebels& Brothers series, has gone live over at The Review today!

Scars From the Past is the first novel from Derek Birks’ new series and, I have to say, it is the ultimate page-turner! It is a new direction for the author. While there is just as much action as in the first series, the story is less about national politics and more family orientated, as the Elders fight to survive, and to avoid the family imploding.Where the first series concentrated on duty and feudal loyalty, this new novel examines more personal relationships; love and friendship.
The original Rebels & Brothers series told the story of Ned Elder, a Sharpe-like hero who fought his way through the Wars of the Roses and Edward IV’s battle to win – and hold – the throne of England. The new series, set ten years after the end of the fourth book, The Last Shroud, follows the adventures of the next generation. Ned’s son, John, is a young man finding it difficult to live up to his father’s legend and the reader follows his journey as he realises his own identity and that duty and responsibility are not so easy to run from…..

To read the full review of this fantastic novel – and to enter the prize draw and be in with a chance of winning a hot-off-the-press signed paperback copy in the giveaway, simply visit The Review and leave a comment. Good luck!

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©Sharon Bennett Connolly 2016

Book Corner: Margaret Pole, the Countess in the Tower by Susan Higginbotham

indexOf the many executions ordered by Henry VIII, surely the most horrifying was that of sixty-seven-year-old Margaret Pole, Countess of Salisbury, hacked to pieces on the scaffold by a blundering headsman.

From the start, Margaret’s life had been marred by tragedy and violence: her father, George, Duke of Clarence, had been executed at the order of his own brother, Edward IV, and her naive young brother, Edward, Earl of Warwick, had spent most of his life in the Tower before being executed on the orders of Henry VII.

Yet Margaret, friend to Katherine of Aragon and the beloved governess of her daughter Mary, had seemed destined for a happier fate until religious upheaval and rebellion caused Margaret and her family to fall from grace. From Margaret’s birth as the daughter of a royal duke to her beatification centuries after her death, Margaret Pole: The Countess in the Tower tells the story of one of the fortress’s most unlikely prisoners.

Margaret Pole: the Countess in the Tower tells the story of an amazing woman who navigated two eras of history. Born into the Medieval world, during the reign of her uncle, Edward IV, she survived the change of dynasty and prospered during the reign of Henry VII; marrying and starting a dynasty of her own. During the reign of Henry VIII, she was accorded the title of Countess of Salisbury in her own right, and given the charge of her cousin’s most prized possession; his only daughter and heir, Mary Tudor.

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George, Duke of Clarence – Margaret’s father

Susan Higginbotham tells Margaret’s story in great detail. Starting with a childhood marred by  her father’s attainder and execution by his own brother – Edward IV – the reader is drawn into Margaret’s life and family. From the highs of being governess to the princess, through the lows of her years of imprisonment in the Tower, and eventual execution at an age – 67 – when she should have been allowed to spend her days in quiet retirement, surrounded by her grandchildren; Susan Higginbotham tells a fascinating story of family tragedy, national politics and religious upheaval.

What Margaret thought of the death of her uncle Richard III we cannot know, but as she rode south on the orders of the new King Henry, she must have done so with some trepidation. Orphaned, with her closest relative a boy younger than herself, she had no powerful male relations to speak up for her, nor could her female ones be of much help. Her paternal grandmother, Cecily Neville, Duchess of York, was the mother of a defeated king; her maternal grandmother, Anne Beauchamp, Countess of Warwick, had been stripped of her lands during Edward IV’s reign….Thus, young Margaret’s future rested largely in the hands of a man neither she nor most other people in England had even met.

Engaging and sympathetically told, Susan Higginbotham’s narrative is a joy to read. It draws you in to Margaret’s life, relating her fears and hopes – and a deep and enduring love for her family.

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Cardinal Reginald Pole – Margaret’s most famous son

Susan Higginbotham has undertaken an incredible amount of research for this book, an endeavour which shines through on every page. The author has reconstructed Margaret Pole’s life and death, using every primary source available. Highlighting contradictions and explaining omissions, she takes the countess’s story from her earliest days to her final, dreadful moments… and beyond. Included at the end of the book is an appendix of over 30 pages of written evidence taken in the Exeter Conspiracy; a conspiracy involving at least 2 of her sons, which would see her imprisoned in the Tower for years before she was sent to the executioner’s block. It made for some absorbing reading late into the night.

All the key players in Margaret’s story are discussed, their actions and influence on Margaret’s life analysed and assessed. From Henry VIII to Princess Mary and Margaret’s own children. Susan Higginbotham’s analysis is unrivalled, her words painting vivid portraits of all the main characters who had a part to play Margaret’s life and explaining her relationships in detail.

Moreover, Margaret’s story is firmly placed in the wider context of English and European politics of the time; and in the great upheaval of the Reformation. Where there is contention, the author presents all possible arguments, before giving her own opinion and explaining her reasoning. She makes clear where information is lacking and highlights where she is providing her own theory and opinions.

In my recent interview with her, I asked Susan Higginbotham if she saw Margaret as a victim or a heroine, and she replied:

I would say a heroine, because she had strong beliefs which she maintained in the face of pressure, and she conducted herself with courage and dignity throughout adversity. I don’t think she would like to be remembered as a victim.

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Margaret Pole, Countess of Salisbury

This biography of Margaret reinforces Susan Higginbotham’s statement. Margaret is portrayed as a strong, independent woman, who had raised a large family single-handed, following the death of her husband. Margaret had a strong faith and demonstrated great loyalty to the Tudor dynasty. Her courage and strength of purpose shines through on every page – as does her intelligence. Margaret Pole was no meek and feeble woman, she stood up for her beliefs, herself and her family, while always maintaining her loyalty to the crown.

Susan Higginbotham treats Margaret Pole with great compassion and dignity, telling her story – and that of her family – in such an engaging manner that the book is impossible to put down. Knowing how events will eventually play out makes it no less compelling.

It is a fascinating story and – ultimately – a sad one; however, it’s also a story of faith, courage and perseverance. Margaret Pole: the Countess in the Tower is a wonderful read – shining a light on the life of a woman whose story deserves to be told.

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Pictures courtesy of Wikipedia

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©Sharon Bennett Connolly 2016

Book Corner: Forgotten History by Jem Duducu

51qGNL5YngL._SX338_BO1,204,203,200_Not all history is recorded in school textbooks or cast into towering monuments that shape city skylines. Quite often the most intriguing (and most bizarre) bits are forgotten and fall away into obscurity. In this fascinating book, Jem Duducu shines light on the almost forgotten, wonderfully strange, and often hilarious moments of history that would otherwise be lost forever.

Covering a wide variety of topics, from the time a Pope put his dead predecessor on trial all the way up to the awkward moment when the US Air Force accidentally dropped nuclear bombs on Spain, take a journey through time and discover the weird and wonderful history that you didn’t learn about in school.

 Forgotten History: Unbelievable Moments From the Past by Jem Duducu is one of those wonderful books that you simply can’t put down. When it arrived through my door I decided ‘I’ll just have a peek’. Two hours later and I was still ‘peeking’. The book takes you on a fascinating journey from Ancient History through all the eras right up to the 20th century. It brings you those little pieces of history that you may have overlooked, or forgotten – or simply didn’t know. From the history of the Rottweiler, to the green children of Woolpit to Sergeant Stubby, the most decorated dog in the First World War….

This book has something for everyone, it tells you the story, giving you the facts and the history of the history, so to speak. It is a fun and entertaining, and one you can read from cover to cover, or pop in and out of.

Well written and incredibly well researched, Jem Duducu has found those stories from history that have fallen through the cracks of most history books. He gives us the facts, events and personalities that you may have thought were just stories, but are, in fact, a part of our history.

For instance, I have loved Alexandre Dumas’ Three Musketeers since I was a child, but did you know the heroic, dashing D’Artagnan was real?

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The real D’Artagnan

Someone Regarded as Legendary but Isn’t

D’Artagnan, or to give him his full name, Charlers Ogier de Batz de Castelmore, Comte d’Artagnan, was pretty much the man you’d hope for. He was the captain of Louis XIV’s elite Musketeer guard, and in this instance the legend isn’t far from the reality of the man’s true character. He lived during the time of Cardinal Richelieu, he was a brave and accomplished warrior, and he fought in many battles. However, the plots of the Musketeer books bear little resemblance to events in his life…

As well as covering the important, but often overlooked, characters from history – such as D’Artagnan and the Lady Aethelflaed of the Mercians – Jem Duducu has found some rather obscure, but fascinating, facts such as the origin of the croissant, the Nazi plot to kidnap the Pope and a statue put on trial for murder….

I could go on all day – which is probably why I spent hours reading the book after only intending to have a quick look!

Forgotten History: Unbelievable Moments From the Past by Jem Duducu has something for everyone, whatever period or genre of history you like, you will find something interesting and new. Packed full of facts and information, it can be used as a learning resource, or simply as a book to read, devour and enjoy. With some wonderful photographs and illustrations to support the text, the book tells the stories in a wonderful, engaging and unique way, which will leave you with a smile on your face – and looking for just one more story before closing the book.

©2016 Sharon Bennett Connolly.

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Picture of D’Artagnan courtesy of Wikipedia

The Queen’s Baby Sister

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Coat of arms of Katherine’s father, Sir Richard Wydeville, Earl Rivers, KG

Katherine Wydville (or Woodville) was born into relative obscurity. Her father was Sir Richard Wydville, a Lancastrian Knight who had made a shocking and advantageous marriage with Jacquetta of Luxembourg, widow of the king’s uncle John, Duke of Bedford. Born around 1458, Katherine was probably the youngest of the couple’s 14 or 15 children. Her eldest sister, Elizabeth, was already married to Sir John Grey and had 2 sons by him.

Little to nothing is known Katherine’s childhood. She did have at least one playmate; her sister, Mary, was just 2 years older than her and it is likely they were raised and educated together.

Katherine may have spent her whole life in obscurity were not for her sister Elizabeth and the fortunes of the Wars of the Roses. In 1461 Elizabeth’s husband was killed in the 2nd Battle of St Albans, fighting for the House of Lancaster. And in 1464 she made the match of the century – and a number of enemies – by her clandestine marriage to England’s handsome, young, Yorkist king, Edward IV.

Suddenly, little 6-year-old Katherine was the sister of the queen – and her marriage prospects had improved considerably. As the daughter of a baron she would have been looking to marry a local knight; as the sister of the queen, her family could now set their sights much higher.

There is considerable debate as to why Edward IV raised the Wydvilles so high. Some historians argue that the king was acting as a good husband and brother-in-law in advancing his wife’s family to the highest positions, arguing that convention required him to make provision for his wife’s siblings. An alternative theory is that Edward was creating a new nobility, binding the great aristocratic houses to his dynasty by marrying them into his extended family, thus creating an alternative power base to rival that of the Nevilles. According to David Baldwin, “Edward could not allow the lowly position of his wife’s relatives to diminish his own status, and, as a usurper, would have seized every opportunity to forge links with the great noble families.”¹

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Henry Stafford, 2nd Duke of Buckingham

Whatever the reason, the end result was a series of marriages of the Wydville siblings into the great noble houses of the realm. Of Elizabeth’s sisters Margaret became Countess of Arundel, Anne became Countess of Kent, Jacquetta married Lord Strange of Knokyn and Mary married the Earl of Huntingdon. The most shocking marriage arrangement was that of Elizabeth’s brother, 19-year-old John, to the Dowager Duchess of Norfolk, 65-year-old Katherine Neville.

Young Katherine Wydville’s marriage was to be one of the most exalted; even before Queen Elizabeth’s coronation in 1465, 6-year-old Katherine was married to Henry Stafford, the 11-year-old Duke of Buckingham. David Baldwin describes the scene at Elizabeth’s coronation:

The peers included young Henry Stafford, Duke of Buckingham ‘born a pon a squyer [squire] shouldr’, and among the ladies was his new wife, Catherine Woodville, likewise carried…¹

The event must have been awe-inspiring for the children; the sumptuous costumes, the roar of the crowds. The Queen was attended by 13 duchesses and countesses dressed in red velvet, 14 baronesses in scarlet and miniver, and the ladies of 12 knights bannerets wearing scarlet.¹ One can only imagine the effect such an auspicious day could have on 2 young children who were right in the middle of the celebrations.

Katherine’s new husband, Henry Stafford, had been Duke of Buckingham since the age of 4; his father, Humphrey Stafford, had been wounded at the 1st Battle of St Albans and died of natural causes in 1458 and his grandfather, Sir Humphrey Stafford, 1st Duke of Buckingham, was killed at the Battle of Northampton in 1460; both were loyal supporters Henry VI and the House of Lancaster. This left 5-year-old Henry as Duke and in the care of his grandmother Anne Neville (sister of Cecily, the new king’s mother).

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Garter Coat of arms of Sir Henry Stafford, 2nd Duke of Buckingham

Following Edward IV’s marriage to Elizabeth Wydville in 1464, Henry and his younger brother were given into the custody of the new queen, who was granted 500 marks out of the young duke’s Welsh lands – soon increased by a further £100 – for the maintenance of the 2 boys. John Giles, who later be employed as tutor to Edward IV’s sons, taught grammar to ‘the queen’s beloved brothers’ during 1465-7.²

The Stafford boys remained in the queen’s custody, along with the duke’s little wife, Katherine, until the Readeption of Henry VI in 1470-71 when the duke was again returned to the custody of his grandmother and her new husband, Walter Blount, Lord Mountjoy. His younger brother, Humphrey, had disappeared from the records by this point, probably having succumbed to a childhood illness.

By June 1473, still only 17, Buckingham was granted his livery as a duke and his grandfather’s estates. Although Edward IV had returned to the throne, he appears to have had no great love for Duke Henry and he was rarely at court; staying mainly on his estates with his wife and family.

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Edward Stafford, 3rd Duke of Buckingham

According to Domenico Mancini, writing in 1483, Buckingham resented his marriage due to his wife’s ‘humble origin’ and his wife certainly brought no marriage portion with her and has often been described as a ‘parvenu’ by historians.² However, the couple did have 5 children together, 4 of whom survived childhood.

Edward Stafford, the future 3rd Duke of Buckingham, was born in 1478. He would go on to marry Eleanor (d. 1530), the daughter of Henry Percy, 4th Earl of Northumberland, before his execution in 1521, during the reign of Henry VIII.

A 2nd son, Henry, Earl of Wiltshire, was born around 1479 and died in 1523. He married twice, firstly to Muriel or Margaret, daughter of Edward Grey, Viscount de Lisle and secondly to Cecilia, daughter of William Bonville, Baron Harrington.

A 3rd son, Humphrey, died young, but was followed by 2 daughters. Anne married Sir Walter Herbert who died in 1507. She then married George Hastings, Earl of Huntingdon. Katherine and Henry’s youngest daughter, Elizabeth, married Robert Radcliffe, Earl of Sussex, by whom she had 3 sons.

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Anne Stafford, Countess of Huntingdon

With Edward IV’s death in 1483, Buckingham played a leading role in the turmoil which saw Edward’s 2 sons by Elizabeth Wydville declared illegitimate, and saw the late king’s brother, Richard of Gloucester claim the throne as Richard III. For a time, Buckingham was Richard’s staunchest ally and played a major role in Richard’s coronation – an event his wife Katherine, as one of the now-despised Wydvilles, did not attend.

However, by October 1483, and for still-unknown reasons, Buckingham mounted a coup against Richard, entering an alliance with Henry Tudor – in exile in Brittany – he attempted to raise Lancastrian support in the Welsh Marches. Katherine accompanied her husband from Brecon to Weobley, leaving her daughters at Brecon. Thwarted by the weather, the coup failed and Buckingham attempted to flee.

The Duke was arrested and executed at Salisbury on 2nd November 1483. The duchess and her youngest son, Henry, were captured and taken to London. Her eldest son, Edward, was also in the king’s custody. In December 1483, Katherine was allowed to have her servants and daughters brought to London from Wales. However, having been deprived of her dower and jointure, her financial position was precarious, until Richard III granted her an annuity of 200 marks.

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Arms of Jasper Tudor, Duke of Bedford

Katherine’s situation was changed again following Henry VII’s defeat of Richard III at Bosworth. Katherine was married to Jasper Tudor, the new king’s uncle and newly created Duke of Bedford, before 7th November 1483. The new regime reversed Buckingham’s attainder, awarding Katherine not only her dower rights, but also a jointure of 1000 marks, as specified in Buckingham’s will.

This took her total revenue from the Buckingham estates to £2500 and therefore bolstered her new husband’s position as the representative of the king in Wales. Jasper had practically raised the new king single-handedly, sharing his exile in Brittany following the defeat of the Lancastrian cause at Tewkesbury in 1471. Katherine, a dukedom and becoming the king’s right-hand man in Wales; this was his reward.

As with most medieval marriages, we cannot know if there was any affection in Katherine’s relationships with either of her 1st 2 husbands; both marriages were made for political reasons. During her 2nd marriage, Katherine resided mainly at Thornbury in Gloucestershire, she and Jasper Tudor had no children together and her estates were kept under a separate administration to Tudor’s own lands.

Jasper Tudor died at Christmas, around the 21st December, 1491. Poor Katherine only gets a passing mention in his will; “I will that my Lady my [line 3] wife and all other persons have such dues as shall be thought to them appertaining by right law [line 4] and conscience.”³

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Thornbury Castle today

I can’t help hoping that Katherine found some affection and comfort in her 3rd and final marriage. By 24th February 1496 Katherine had married Richard Wingfield, a man 12 years her junior. They married without royal licence, the fine for which remained unpaid at Katherine’s death. Wingfield was probably in the duchess’s service before the marriage, as his 2 brothers, John and Edmund appear to have been. When he married Katherine he was a younger son in a rather large family, with few prospects as a consequence. However, he would go on to have a distinguished diplomatic career under Henry VIII, dying at Toledo in 1525.

Katherine herself died on 18th May 1497. The unpaid fine, imposed following her marriage to Wingfield, became a charge on her eldest son, Edward, the 3rd Duke of Buckingham. Her 3rd husband, however, did not forget her; despite remarrying, his will, drawn up in 1525, requested masses be said for the repose of Katherine’s soul.

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Footnotes: ¹David Baldwin in Elizabeth Woodville; ²C.S.L. Davies in Oxforddnb.com; ³The Woodvilles by Susan Higginbotham.

©2016 Sharon Bennett Connolly.

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Pictures taken from Wikipedia.

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Sources: The Woodvilles by Susan Higginbotham; Elizabeth Woodville by David Baldwin; Brewer’s British Royalty by David Williamson; History Today Companion to British History Edited by Juliet Gardiner and Neil Wenborn; Britain’s Royal Families, the Complete Genealogy by Alison Weir; Edward IV and Elizabeth Woodville, A True Romance by Amy Licence; The Wars of the Roses by John Gillingham; The Oxford Companion to British History Edited by John Cannon; The Mammoth Book of British kings & Queens  by Mike Ashley; Oxforddnb.com.

Book Corner: Edward IV Glorious Son of York by Jeffrey James

indexFew English monarchs had to fight harder for the right to rule than King Edward IV – Shakespeare’s glorious son of York. Cast in the true Plantagenet mould, over six feet tall, he was a naturally charismatic leader. Edward had the knack of seizing the initiative and winning battles and is free from the unflattering characterisations that plagued his brother, Richard III, having been portrayed as a good-looking and formidable military tactician. Described sometimes as reckless and profligate, all sources remark on his personal bravery. In the eleven years between 1460 and 1471 he fought five major battles in the Wars of the Roses. Three of them – Towton, Barnet and Tewkesbury – rank among the most decisive of the medieval period.

This is a history of Edward IV’s struggle to gain and retain the kingship of England during a period of sustained dynastic turmoil during the Wars of the Roses.

Jeffrey James’ biography of Edward IV is a wonderful introduction to the Wars of the Roses from the Yorkist point of view.  Told in a chronological narrative, it covers the events from the very outset of the Wars, telling the story from Edward’s birth, through the struggles of Richard, Duke of York, and the outbreak of war. It concentrates on Edward’s fight to win – and keep – the throne, covering the various battles, and Edward’s military tactics, in great detail.

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The Battle of Towton

With the author’s background in military history, it is no surprise that where this book shines is in the assessment of the military engagements, troop movements and battle plans. It places Edward’s story in the wider context of the Wars of the Roses, while highlighting the individuality and personality of Edward, which made him such a successful warrior and king.

Scattered among the narrative are insights into Edward’s personality:

Normally relaxed and easy-going – a man who disliked unpleasantness for its own sake – Edward nonetheless had a fiery temper, usually vented against those of noble rank who angered or disappointed him. Though more often stressing the king’s good nature contemporaries sometimes touch on this aspect of Edward’s character.

More marked was the king’s man-management skills.

Jeffrey James uses contemporary sources in abundance to back up his arguments and theories. Extensive footnotes and a comprehensive bibliography provide limitless opportunities for further reading. Maps and family trees at the beginning of the book help to provide a basic understanding of the scale of the Wars, and of the personalities involved. The narrative is also supplemented by 40 photographs, portraits and illustrations, providing a further visual aid to the people, locations and battlefields involved in the conflict.

Edward IV, Glorious Son of York is an engaging, accessible narrative which provides thorough analysis of the king’s actions – and the actions of the chief players in the Wars of the Roses. Edward’s relationships with his family, allies and, even, his enemies – foreign and domestic – are discussed and assessed, providing interesting insights into the great personalities of the 15th century.

It provides some fascinating little tidbits of history:

There may have been mercenary pikemen, as well as halberdiers, professional soldiers – forerunners of the famed continental landsknechts – whose habit of slashing their clothing seeded the fashions of Tudor times.

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Marriage of Edward IV and Elizabeth Woodville

Unfortunately it does get a little fanciful in places, claiming that “Leaden images, depicting a man and a woman, found discarded in an orchard nearby, suggest enchantment” when talking about the wedding of Elizabeth Woodville and Edward IV. He also suggests Richard of Gloucester (the future Richard III) hero-worshipped his brother, without any contemporary evidence to back this up.

However, such dubious claims are few and far between and, on the whole, the author’s research is impeccable and supported by contemporary sources and evidence from archaeology. Jeffrey James also acknowledges the work and theories of fellow historians, such as Amy Licence and Charles Ross, analysing their assessments in relation to his own.

In keeping with the author’s background in military history, his Jeffrey James’ analysis of military events and tactics is insightful:

If Warwick was stirring up trouble in the North he was – to use a modern phrase – ‘operating well under the radar’, using proxies in a manner designed to circumvent the activation of any immediate royal redress. Today we might use the term ‘hybrid warfare’ when describing acts like theses: acts designed to surprise, confuse and wear down an opponent.

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King Edward IV

Although the book concentrates on Edward’s fight to win and retain the throne, it also looks into Edward’s family life and the implications of his marriage to Elizabeth Woodville; on England, his allies and international politics. It provides and in-depth analysis of where Edward’s relationship with the Earl of Warwick broke down, and of Edward’s various successes and failures. He doesn’t shirk from discussing where Edward made mistakes, nor looking at where he could have done better, or been more – or less – ruthless.

Edward IV, Glorious Son of York is a well-written, entertaining biography of one of England’s most fascinating kings and his fight to win – and keep – the throne.

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Pictures taken from Wikipedia.

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