Book Corner: Mansfield Parsonage by Kyra C Kramer

Fans of Jane Austen will recognise the players and the setting – Mansfield Park has been telling the story of Fanny Price and her happily ever after for more than 200 years. But behind the scenes of Mansfield Park, there’s another story to be told.

Mary Crawford’s story.

When her widowed uncle made her home untenable, Mary made the best of things by going to live with her elder sister, Mrs Grant, in a parson’s house the country. Mansfield Parsonage was more than Mary had expected and better than she could have hoped. Gregarious and personable, Mary also embraced the inhabitants of the nearby Mansfield Park, watching the ladies set their caps for her dashing brother, Henry Crawford, and developing an attachment to Edmund Bertram and a profound affection for his cousin, Fanny Price.

Mansfield Parsonage retells the story of Mansfield Park from the perspective of Mary Crawford’s hopes and aspirations and shows how Fanny Price’s happily-ever-after came at Mary’s expense.

When I was told about the book Mansfield Parsonage: A Mansfield Park Regency Novel by Kyra C Kramer, I remember thinking ‘how brave’. Kyra Kramer has rewritten Jane Austen’s novel, Mansfield Park, but from the point of view of a different character; that of Mary Crawford as oppose to the original heroine, Fanny Price. The idea was an interesting one, but could it work?

Having opened the book with some trepidation – after all, Jane Austen is a difficult act to follow – I soon found myself drawn into this alternate view of Mansfield Park. I quickly discovered that Mansfield Parsonage: A Mansfield Park Regency Novel is an absolute delight to read. Written in the spirit of Jane Austen, Kyra Kramer; has managed to emulate the language, storyline and even the subtle nuances of the great novelist.

If you haven’t read Mansfield Park, do not worry; Kyra Kramer has cleverly blended the original novel into her new adaptation, including the politics of the time, such as war with Napoleon, the Whig and Tory parties of British politics and the slave trade. The father of Mary’s love interest, Edmund, is a slave owner in the West Indies and it is interesting to see how Mary Crawford, an opponent to slavery, reconciles her own interests in Edmund against her abhorrence of slavery.

Looking at the story from Mary Crawford’s point of view makes an interesting turnaround and provides a new and exciting story for avid Jane Austen fans. This is not a rewrite of Mansfield Park, but rather and alternative look at the same story. Mary Crawford is viewed much more sympathetically than in the original book. She comes across as  a generous, forthright girl, unaware of Fanny Price’s designs on her own love interest, Edmund, or her consequent animosity towards Miss Crawford. Indeed, Mary acts as Fanny’s champion on several occasions, much to Miss Price’s ingratitude and chagrin.

“Your cousin is very generous and tolerant of discourtesy; I am thoroughly ashamed of myself for monopolising her horse,” Mary said, as she and Edmund walked through the park toward the Grant’s home.

“If there is any creature alive who could be less offended than my cousin, I would be surprised; I am sure Miss Price does not begrudge you a loan of the mare,” Edmund assured her.

“Nevertheless, her difficulty to offend does not give me license for offence. I must be more careful to end my lesson with alacrity. It does not do to become habituated to getting one’s own way simply because someone else is too sweet natured to think ill of you for it. That is how one becomes Russian.”

Edmund laughed. “Is my cousin Poland, then?”

“I hope not. To be a battleground between Napoleon and Czar Alexander is no place for a nice young lady like Miss Price.”

“Miss Price is stronger than she appears, and more resolute than one would suspect with such a yielding temper. If she is to be Poland then she would be Poniatowski; earning admiration and respect regardless of her subjugation to France,” Edmund argues.

“That is easy for the french to say,” Miss Crawford gave Edmund a pointed look.

Mansfield Parsonage: A Mansfield Park Regency Novel is full of wonderful, vivid characters, their stories told in the best tradition of Jane Austen herself. The relationship between Mary Crawford, her brother Henry and sister Mrs Grant, is wonderfully told and their interactions are a delight to read. The central story, of Mary and Edmund’s relationship, is beautifully re-told; the little allusions to Fanny’s jealousy providing a new insight into the original heroine.

Mansfield Parsonage: A Mansfield Park Regency Novel provides us with an excellent opportunity to look at a beloved and familiar story from the viewpoint of an alternative protagonist, while not taking away from any of the major events and personalities of the original story and characters. You really feel that the author put herself into the head of Jane Austen when writing. On every page she has emulated the words and actions of the original characters with stunning accuracy.

Fans of Jane Austen can surely find nothing but pleasure in reading this wonderful novel.

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Kyra Kramer is a medical anthropologist. historian and devoted bibliophile who lives just outside Cardiff, Wales, with her husband and three young daughters. She has a deep – nearly obsessive – love for Regency Period romances in general and Jane Austen’s work in particular. Ms Kramer has authored several history books, including The Jezebel Effect and academic essays, but  Mansfield Parsonage: A Mansfield Park Regency Novel is her first foray into fiction.

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 My book, Heroines of the Medieval World, looking into the lives of some of the most fascinating women from medieval history, will be published by Amberley on 15th September, 2017. It is now available for pre-order in the UK from both Amberley Publishing and Amazon and worldwide from Book Depository.

You can be the first to read new articles by clicking the ‘Follow’ button, liking our Facebook page or joining me on Twitter.

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©2017 Sharon Bennett Connolly

 

Book Corner: Sharon talks to Matthew Harffy

AD 636. Anglo-Saxon Britain. A gripping, action-packed historical thriller and the fourth instalment in The Bernicia Chronicles. Perfect for fans of Bernard Cornwell.

Beobrand has land, men and riches. He should be content. And yet he cannot find peace until his enemies are food for the ravens. But before Beobrand can embark on his bloodfeud, King Oswald orders him southward, to escort holy men bearing sacred relics.

When Penda of Mercia marches a warhost into the southern kingdoms, Beobrand and his men are thrown into the midst of the conflict. Beobrand soon finds himself fighting for his life and his honour.

In the chaos that grips the south, dark secrets are exposed, bringing into question much that Beobrand had believed true. Can he unearth the answers and exact the vengeance he craves? Or will the blood-price prove too high, even for a warrior of his battle-fame and skill?

It is my pleasure, today, to welcome Matthew Harffy back to the blog, opening his Blog Tour for the release of the latest instalment in the Bernicia Chronicles series, Killer of Kings.

Hi Matthew, thank you so much for agreeing to another interview. The last time we chatted you had just released your second novel in the Bernicia Chronicles, The Cross and the Curse, and now you’re about to release the fourth in the series, Killer of Kings.  What an amazing achievement. Congratulations!

Thank you! And thank you for having me on your blog again, it’s great to be back!

It’s great  to have you back, Matthew. I love the Bernicia Chronicles, such wonderful stories. And so, I was wondering;

Are you still enjoying the writing process? Do you still get that buzz when you type ‘The End’?

I get a real buzz out of typing “the end”, but I think that’s more due to relief than enjoyment! I do still enjoy writing, but the more readers I have, the more I question whether what I’m writing is any good! That’s not a bad problem to have, but it does mean that the writing process is slightly more stressful than it was before anybody was reading my stuff.

How have you changed your writing routine since publishing your first novel?

When I wrote my first novel, THE SERPENT SWORD, I did most of it in small windows of opportunity whilst my daughters were in clubs, such as dancing or Tae Kwon Do. I still write in small windows of opportunity that come along, but I also have set aside one whole day for writing each week. That makes it easier to make progress more quickly than before.

How many more stories of Beobrand can we expect to enjoy?

Well, I am writing book 5 at the moment, entitled Warrior of Woden. After that, I have at least one more novel contracted with Aria. After book 6, who knows what I’ll write?

Do you have a story outline for the whole series of books, or do you just go where the story leads you?

I do have a general outline for the whole series, but it isn’t broken down to the level of each book. That means I have an idea of where Beobrand will end up at the end of his life, and I know some of the events that he will be involved in, but I don’t have all the details until I get to the next book in the series. It also means I don’t know exactly how many books there will be in the series, but there are definitely more than six, if people keep buying them.

How meticulously is each book planned before you start writing?

I think it would be stretching things to say that I plan each book meticulously! I read around the subjects and events that are going to be touched upon, and come up with a basic timeline and then break that down into a very rough chapter outline. At that point, I usually just start writing and things begin to fall into place. As the book goes on, I add more and more detail to the synopsis and the plan until, by the time I reached the last quarter, I actually know what it is I’m writing about!

As a Bernard Cornwell fan writing about Northumbria, are you not tempted to introduce a character named Uhtred?

I have thought about it! However, as my books are set hundreds of years before Bernard Cornwell’s, I think it is more likely that Beobrand is one of Uhtred’s ancestors!

I loved the short story, ‘Kin of Cain’, about Beobrand’s brother, Octa; how did you come up with the idea of using the Beowulf story?

Thank you, I really enjoyed writing it too. The seed of the idea actually came from a reader who asked me whether Hrunting in the Bernicia Chronicles was the famous sword from the Beowulf story. The question made me think, and in the end the story told itself.

Will we see more stories about Octa, maybe a prequel to the Bernicia Chronicles?

I haven’t got anything else planned with Octa, but you never know. If I can think of any other good ideas, I’m tempted to write some more novellas, as I really enjoyed being able to write a whole story in such a short space of time.

Who is the best character you have created, which are you most proud of?

I really don’t know. That’s like asking a parent who is your favourite child! I think the most memorable of the characters I have created is probably Hengist. He is truly evil and does horrible things, but I imagined him as someone who had suffered terribly and witnessed so many atrocities of war that he suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder. There is some debate as to whether soldiers suffered from PTSD in the time when warfare was waged with swords and shields, but I think it is likely that certain warriors would have been affected by particularly traumatic events.

How do you come up with the ideas for characters? Are they ever someone you know, or pure imagination?

They’re mostly purely imagination. But where does inspiration and imagination come from, if not from everything we have seen and done in our lives? Therefore I am sure that there are many traits exhibited by my characters which actually come from me or from people I know. I am also sure that some of my characters were inspired by fictional characters in other authors’ books.

What is the most significant thing you have learned that made you a better writer?

To trust myself and to write stories that I would enjoy reading. It is impossible to write novels that everybody will enjoy, but if you as the writer enjoy reading the finished product, you can be sure there will be a lot of people who will agree with you.

What advice would you give to someone wanting to write their first novel?

Don’t overthink it. The only way to write a novel is to actually write it. Behind every published author is an amateur writer who didn’t give up and who finished their novel. Nobody is going to publish an unwritten book.

After Beobrand, do you have other projects in the pipeline?

I have got a couple of ideas that I’ve been mulling over, but nothing that I can talk about yet. If I actually write them, it probably won’t be for a couple of years yet anyway.

Is there any historic era or topic that you would dearly love to write about?

I would love to write a western.

Have you ever thought of writing non-fiction, if so what would you write about?

I have written scientific papers and manuals for computer software, so I have written non-fiction. However, I haven’t considered writing any non-fiction for publication beyond that. Perhaps one day, but I’m not sure it would be about history, as I would be too scared of getting things wrong! It’s bad enough when you do it in a novel!

Thank you so much for answering my questions Matthew – it’s always great to welcome you to the blog. Good luck with Killer of Kings – I wish you every success.

Thank you very much, Sharon, and best of luck with your own book that I know is coming out at the end of the year. Thank you.

About the author: Matthew Harffy grew up in Northumberland where the rugged terrain, ruined castles and rocky coastline had a huge impact on him He now lives in Wiltshire, England, with his wife and their two daughters.

Killer of Kings, Book 4 in the Bernicia Chronicles, is now available from Amazon, Kobo, ibooks and Google Play.

Follow Matthew: Website: www.matthewharffy.com; Twitter: @MatthewHarffy; Facebook: MatthewHarffyAuthor

Follow Aria: Website: www.ariafiction.com; Facebook: @ariafiction; Twitter: @aria_fiction; Instagram: @ariafiction; NetGalley: http://bit.ly/2lkKB0e. Sign up to the Aria newsletter: http://bit.ly/2jQxVtV

Follow the rest of the Blog Tour: 6th June; 7th June; 8th June; 9th June; 10th June; 11th June; 12th June.

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My book, Heroines of the Medieval World, looking into the lives of some of the most fascinating women from medieval history, will be published by Amberley on 15th September, 2017. It is now available for pre-order in the UK from both Amberley Publishing and Amazon and worldwide from Book Depository.

You can be the first to read new articles by clicking the ‘Follow’ button, liking our Facebook page or joining me on Twitter.

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©2017 Sharon Bennett Connolly

Book Corner: Vikings to Virgin by Trisha Hughes

In Vikings to Virgin – The Hazards of Being King Trisha Hughes provides the reader with a pacey introduction to the many pitfalls faced by the ambitious as they climbed the dangerous ladders of royalty. It is easy to think that monarchs are all powerful, but throughout the Dark and Middle Ages it was surprisingly easy to unseat one and assume the crown yourself. But if it was easy to gain … it was just as easy to lose.
From the dawn of the Vikings through to Elizabeth I, Trisha Hughes follows the violent struggles for power and the many brutal methods employed to wrest it and keep hold of it. Murder, deceit, treachery, lust and betrayal were just a few of the methods used to try and win the crown. Vikings to Virgin – The Hazards of Being King spans fifteen hundred years and is a highly accessible and enjoyable ride through the dark side of early British monarchy.

Vikings to Virgin Book  1: The Hazards of Being King by Trisha Hughes is a thoroughly engaging and entertaining introduction to English history. Fast-paced and accessible it relates England’s history in a chronological narrative, from the time of the Viking invasions to Elizabeth I, arguably England’s greatest queen.

In England, the story of our kings tells the history of the country and its people. From the likes of  Alfred the Great and Edward the Martyr, through Henry II to Richard III and Queen Elizabeth I herself, the monarchs defined England’s history and the direction that was taken by its people. Trisha Hughes shows us that journey, pointing out where paths deviated, where events overtook the king and the people asserted themselves, such as Magna Carta and what could have been.

A great introduction to the length, depth and breadth of English history. Telling the story of each king in turn, it gives you their highs and lows, what they are famous for and the good, the bad and the despicable of each era. The author’s depth of knowledge of English history allows her to tell us the story of each king in turn, from the Saxons, the Danes, the Normans and Plantagenets, through to the Tudors, giving each monarch her personal attention and a fair appraisal of their achievements, failures and character, but giving no quarter to the ruthless and the weak alike.

By all accounts, Maud was remarkable. She was said to “have the nature of a man in the frame of a woman.” Fierce, proud, hard and cynical, her love of politics overshadowed all other passions. But Maud was with her husband in Anjou when Henry died and Stephen was first on the spot. Stephen also had an advantage – his brother was Bishop of Winchester with a great voice in council and with this backup, the barons stood by him.

The speed with which the aristocracy accepted Stephen was mindboggling and speaks volumes about the rules regarding female queens in the 12th century. The prospect was not a promising one for Maud. There was also the question of who had the most power, and in England at this time in history, succession was still not fully decided by blood alone. If that had been the case, Henry would never have been king in the first place. Henry had snatched the throne from William Rufus, and then stolen the throne from right under his elder brother’s nose while Robert was crusading in Sicily.

It seems that history was repeating itself because Stephen had no real claim since there was an elder brother, Theobald of Blois, whose blood claim was stronger. But Stephen was wealthy, powerful and charming and his wife’s country of Boulogne was important to England.

Trisha Hughes writes as if she is in the room talking to you. Her fun and easy manner makes the book a thoroughly enjoyable read. Her stories are engaging and her knowledge and love of English history shines through in every page. This book gives you the best and worst that English kings had to offer, giving an entertaining commentary and interesting insights into the characters and actions of the various kings and queens. The author’s assessments of the highs and lows of each reign are testament to her love of history and the depth of research she has invested in this marvellous book.

Vikings to Virgin Book  1: The Hazards of Being King can be read and enjoyed by all. It would be incredibly useful to anyone wanting an overview and understanding of the life and times of England’s medieval kings.  Whether reading for fun, or to expand your knowledge, from teenagers to octogenarians, from the amateur history fan to those new to the subject, there is something in this book for everyone.

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About the author: th2Trisha Hughes started her writing career with her autobiography ‘Daughters of Nazareth’ eighteen years ago. The debut novel was first published by Pan Macmillan Australia and became a bestseller in 1997 beating the current Stephen King book to the top 10 bestsellers at the time.  Since then she has discovered a thirst for writing.  She’s written crime novels but her latest book, the first in her ‘V 2 V’ trilogy, ‘Vikings to Virgin – The Hazards of being King’ is her passion and due for release on 28th February 2017. She is currently working on the second in the series ‘Virgin to Victoria – The Queen is dead. Long live the Queen.’

You can connect with Trisha through:  Trisha’s Website: www.trishahughesauthor.com Or: www.vikingstovirgin.com and you can find Trisha on Facebook at Trisha Hughes Author and Twitter at @trishahughes_

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My book, Heroines of the Medieval World, looking into the lives of some of the most fascinating women from medieval history, will be published by Amberley on 15th September, 2017. It is now available for pre-order from both Amberley Publishing and Amazon.

You can be the first to read new articles by clicking the ‘Follow’ button, liking our Facebook page or joining me on Twitter.

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©2017 Sharon Bennett Connolly

Book Corner: Queen of Martyrs, the Story of Mary I by Samantha Wilcoxson

‘God save the Queen! God save our good Queen Mary!’

When these words rang out over England, Mary Tudor thought her troubles were over. She could put her painful past – the loss of her mother and mistreatment at the hands of her father – behind her.

With her accession to the throne, Mary set out to restore Catholicism in England and find the love of a husband that she had long desired. But the tragedies in Mary’s life were far from over. How did a gentle, pious woman become known as ‘Bloody Mary’?

Queen of Martyrs, The Story of Mary I is the final book in Samantha Wilcoxson’s Plantagenet Embers series. It tells the story, in the third person, from the point of view of Mary I. Mary was the eldest daughter of King Henry I and England’s first ever queen regnant. Although part of a series, the book also works perfectly well as a standalone.

Samantha Wilcoxson has a unique writing style which makes her stand out from other Tudor storytellers. She gets into the mind of her main character and writes Mary’s story as if she’s seeing it through the queen’s own eyes. If Mary did not see something happen, then the reader does not know about it until the queen is informed. This distinctive writing style makes the book a personal journey, both for the subject and the reader.

Mary I

Queen of Martyrs, The Story of Mary I tells the story of Mary I, from the time  of Henry VIII’s marriage to Katherine Parr, to her own death.Telling the story through Mary’s own eyes, we follow her personal and  public relationships, through her brother’s reign and the usurpation of Lady Jane Grey until she is sitting on the throne herself.

The novel demonstrates the human side of Mary I, her fears, insecurities and compassion, and her innate need to be loved; by her sister, her husband and her people. It shows her as a child of the Reformation, just as much as Elizabeth I, but on the opposing side. She is a queen struggling to do the right thing by her conscience and her people.

This compassionate portrayal helps to explain how the descent into the burning of protestants was not a plan, but a consequence of cumulative events and Mary’s own fear of displeasing God. Mary cuts a sad and lonely figure, desperate for love and constantly disappointed; by her father, her sister and, ultimately her husband.

With no children of her own, Mary doted upon Edward and Elizabeth in a way their father never would. She made her way now through the small, crowded room to her father’s other bastardized princess.

Elizabeth performed a perfect curtsy for her sister before letting her guard drop and offering a smile.

“I pray you are well, sister.” Elizabeth said with a sincerity of one unaware of the former bad feelings one has had toward them.

“My thanks to you and to God for seeing that I am indeed restored to health and am able to see a good friend and my dear father united in marriage.” As she said it, Mary was surprised to find that she meant it.

“I wish them great happiness,” Elizabeth agreed without emotion.

“You will find Katryn to be a loving mother, and she may be a calming presence for our father,” Mary encouraged her.

“Undoubtedly, you shall be proven correct.”

Sometimes Elizabeth’s habit of saying only what was expected could annoy, but Mary knew that she was simply doing her best to play her part to perfection. It was an effect of the quick succession of stepmothers and the gruesome connection between marriage and death that the young girl had witnessed.

What I love about this book is that it is Mary’s story. Elizabeth is a peripheral figure, making few appearances and always in her sister’s shadow. Philip of Spain is an unsympathetic character, desperate to get away from a marriage that he doesn’t want. The only character who is symbiotic with Mary is her cousin, Cardinal Reginald Pole, she sees him as an equal, in faith and outlook and he’s the only one she seems comfortable with.

Brilliantly researched, this is a sympathetic portrayal of a queen, known in many history books as Bloody Mary, who is often vilified and criticised for the burning of Protestants. Samantha Wilcoxson doesn’t just go with the flow, but manages to examine the queen’s life, loves and personal tragedies. In doing so, she shows us why the name of Bloody Mary is too simplistic for this complex woman who went through so much adversity before she ascended the throne.

Queen of Martyrs, The Story of Mary I is a wonderful, compassionate story of a frequently misunderstood woman. Samantha Wilcoxson’s writing style makes this an intimate portrayal of the Tudor queen, giving the reader a deep, personal relationship with the book and its subject, the queen’s story staying with them long after the last page has been turned.

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Picture of Mary courtesy of Wikipedia.

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My book, Heroines of the Medieval World, looking into the lives of some of the most fascinating women from medieval history, will be published by Amberley in September and is now available for pre-order from both Amberley Publishing and Amazon.

You can be the first to read new articles by clicking the ‘Follow’ button, liking our Facebook page or joining me on Twitter.

©2017 Sharon Bennett Connolly

Book Corner: Wynfield’s Kingdom, by MJ Neary

51si0e8ddl-_sx331_bo1204203200_My latest book review, of MJ Neary’s latest novel, Wynfield’s Kingdom: A Tale of the London Slums, the first novel of his stunning new series, set in Victorian South London, has gone live over at The Review today!

Wynfield’s Kingdom: A Tale of the London Slums is one of those amazing books which makes you feel like you’ve discovered something really special. Set mainly in the slums of Bermondsey and Southwark in South London, it paints an image of Victorian London which will stay with you for days – and nights – afterwards. The novel is an amazing story of human existence and endurance, with so many twists and turns that it will not fail to surprise and mesmerise you. The fact you never quite know what the next chapter will bring keeps you hooked and curious to the very end.

Tom did not trust Diana. She might have been helpless but certainly not harmless. Feebleness and innocence are not synonyms. She was dangerous precisely because of her physical weakness. One could expect anything from her. Tom feared that she would torch the tavern out of sheer spite.

“She’s your burden now,” he told Wynfield. “I wash my hands. You brought her here, so you watch over her now. If she starts making trouble, I’ll kick both of you out on the streets. I won’t have any nonsense in my house. You both came here as patients. I allowed you to stay here and that alone was unwise on my part.”

To read the full review of this fantastic novel – and to enter the prize draw and be in with a chance of winning an e-book in the giveaway, simply visit The Review and leave a comment. Good luck!

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Be the first to read new articles by clicking the ‘Follow’ button, liking our Facebook page or joining me on Twitter.

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©Sharon Bennett Connolly 2016

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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Be the first to read new articles by clicking the ‘Follow’ button, liking our Facebook page or joining me on Twitter.

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©Sharon Bennett Connolly 2016

Book Corner: The Anglo-Saxons in 100 Facts

51+1qeawUSL._AC_US160_The Anglo-Saxon age was one of great change and unrest. Lasting from the departure of the Romans in approximately AD 400 until the Norman invasion in AD 1066, this era was defined by the continued spread of Christianity, the constant threat of Viking raids and the first stirrings of a nation that would become known as England.

With its strange customs and unfamiliar names, the Anglo-Saxon era became mysterious and misunderstood, ironically by the descendants of the Anglo-Saxons, the English people themselves. Archaeological discoveries have forced us to re-evaluate these ingenious and skilled people, and to acknowledge the debt we owe to them. Martin Wall seeks to ‘de-mystify’ the period, breaking it down into easy-to-read, bitesize chunks, and to show that the so-called ‘Dark Ages’ were by no means backward or inferior. It was a truly heroic age, whose exemplars, such as King Offa, Alfred the Great, Lady Aethelflaed or Athelstan, stand beside the giants of world history. In 100 excerpts from these turbulent, bloody and exciting centuries, a proud, complex, but ultimately doomed civilisation is revealed.

The Anglo-Saxons in 100 Facts by Martin Wall is one of those fascinating little books which are such fun to read. It’s 192 pages are packed full of stories from the Anglo-Saxon period which help to trace its history and define the era. Starting from the 5th century AD, the book traces the Anglo-Saxon story  all the way to the Norman Conquest… and beyond.

Æthelflæd_as_depicted_in_the_cartulary_of_Abingdon_Abbey
Aethelflaed, Lady of the Mercians

In short, bite-sized chapters, The Anglo-Saxons in 100 Facts, is full of those little bits of history you may have missed, or overlooked. Weaving the stories together to build a beautiful picture of the now-lost Anglo-Saxon world. Not only presenting the great personalities of the era, the book also investigates the influence of the church, literature, politics and the Vikings. It helps to explain the drive behind King Alfred and his desire to unite England as one nation.

The book is written in such an easy-going, conversational manner, you don’t even realise you’re reading – it is as if the author is right there, talking to you.

Welsh malcontents murdered a Mercian abbot, Egbert, who was travelling with his companions in Brycheiniog, a small mountain kingdom in South Wales. Egbert was under the protection of Aethelflaed who was justifiably furious. Within three days she concentrated her army on the Welsh border and invaded the little kingdom, burning and ravaging as she went. Tewdr, the King of Brycheiniog, had no choice but to retreat to his fortified Crannog, a fort on a man-made island in Lake Llasngorse. The indefatigable Mercian queen was not to be denied, however, and the place was stormed and burned and Tewdr’s relatives taken as hostages, including his wife.

330px-Offa_king_of_Mercia_757_796
Offa, King of Mercia

The Anglo-Saxons in 100 Facts is a very enjoyable read, full of facts and information, and a little bit of humour. All the main characters of the period are covered – from Offa to Harold II and beyond – and given their place in the larger history of the nation as a whole. Outside threats and influences – such as the church, the Normans and, of course, the dreaded Vikings – are discussed, analysed and assessed.

It’s amazing  how much information one writer can pack into less than 200 pages!

The author knows and loves his Anglo-Saxon history and it shines through on every page. Thoroughly and comprehensively researched, it is a fun read for anyone wanting to know ‘a little bit more’ about the time before the Normans, and the build-up to the Conquest from the Saxon point of view.

I just wanted to read the excerpts about Aethelflaed – for my research – and found myself devouring the entire book.

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Pictures courtesy of Wikipedia

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©Sharon Bennett Connolly 2016

Book Corner: The Serpent Sword by Matthew Harffy

TheSerpentSwordFrontCoverOver at the Review today!

I recently had the pleasure of reading and reviewing Matthew Harffy‘s debut novel, The Serpent Sword for The Review.

Here’s a taster:

The Serpent Sword is Matthew Harffy’s debut novel (not that you would know it), and the first installment of his Bernicia Chronicles. Set in the turbulence of 7th century Northumbria, The Serpent Sword is a wonderful story full of action, adventure, betrayal … and just a little romance. The novel leads you across the countryside of the ancient kingdom of Bernicia, taking you from battlefield, to ancient strongholds or small villages and religious settlements; meeting heroes and villains, friends and foes along the way. The fast-paced action leaves you eager to see how the story ends while experiencing a wealth of emotions along the way.

The two-fold story-line keeps you on your toes, seeing the young hero tackling the enemies of Bernicia – in the forces of Penda and Cadwallon – whilst searching for his brother’s killer….”

To read the full review, and to be in with the chance of winning a signed copy of the book, just visit The Review and leave a comment. The winner will be drawn on Monday 15th February. Good luck!

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Book Corner: South of Burnt Rocks

Over on The Review blog!

Read my review of G.J. Berger‘s wonderful South of Burnt Rocks West of the Moon.

 “After three great wars, Rome has crushed Carthage. Now the undefended riches of Iberia beckon–gold, tin, olives, wine, and healthy young bodies to enslave. Burnt Rocks tells the story of Lavena, last child of the strongest remaining Iberian tribal leader at a time when Rome plunders and loots her land. At times helped only by her father’s favorite dog, a special horse, or guided by spirits of the earth and sky, she strives to unite her people and oust the Roman menace. Based on real characters, places, and events, Burnt Rocks recreates that shadowy history–and eternal human nature rubbed raw.”

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South of Burnt Rocks West of the Moon was a wonderful surprise.  It is one of those thought-provoking books that you don’t come across very often; transporting you back in time to the Roman occupation of the Iberian Peninsular. The heroine is a young girl, Lavena, not yet out of her teens, who is trying to fulfill her promise to her parents and save her people, whilst at the same time coming to terms with her father’s past.

Having peacefully co-existed with the Iberian natives, the Roman army has a new leader, and new agenda. They are searching for their lost scouts, for native gold, and eager for slaves. The Romans are relentless but Lavena must find a way to fight them with her small band of devoted warriors.
Among the Roman legions is one man, Martius, who searches for the truth about his missing brother but is also drawn to the ‘barbari’ girl, who appears to him in only glimpses through the trees.
The wonderful prose of the book draws you in,  the language paints its own picture of Roman occupied Spain, respecting the spirits and ancestors of the native tribes and weaving a spell that keeps you enthralled in the book to the very end.
When Lavena has to face a council of elders to give them the news of Rome’s aggression and  to plea for help, the picture is vividly described, the words magically entrancing:
“We humbly come to you, to this village, without any men, because the Roman overseer, Piso, left this land, and Rome sent a monster army in his place.”
The nobles quieted and leaned in further.
“That new army has more fighters and weapons and its killing madness is greater than I know how to tell you – and it comes this way.”…
“They come for all the gold in this land, for the young ones to take back as slaves – and the young women and girls to ruin in a manner none should ever know.”
… She told them what she could of the battle for her village, but not about how her mother and those with her died, not about the real end of the she-warriors. She told them how she fled.
 

 

G.J. Berger recreates the land of the Iberian Peninsular wonderfully; describing the landscape and its people in such amazing language that you can’t help but feel transported there. The contrast with the vast fighting force of the Roman army, the inexorable, unbeatable military machine that moves over the land relentlessly.
The characters are vivid and have a realism to be marvelled at. They are human, suffering through their fears and doubts, making mistakes and sometimes surviving in spite of themselves. You find yourself urging Lavena on, while feeling suitably disgusted at the mean, lascivious, grasping Roman leaders.
Throughout the book, you can feel the author has a strong sense of direction; he knows where he wants to take you, but knows that the journey is what matters. We follow Lavena from her training as a warrior, through the loss of everything she holds dear, to her final confrontation with the Roman army, knowing everything she has been through, everything that has led her to that moment…
I can’t tell you how much I enjoyed reading this novel. It was a surprise from the first words, drawing you in, leading you on Lavena’s journey and seeing the country of Spain in its early days; the landscape itself becoming part of the story. The sights, sounds and smells of Roman Spain invade your mind as you read.
It is hard to believe this is a debut novel. The storyline is impressive, the language polished; everything about it comes from a storyteller of immense skill and vision.
It is a book not to be missed.
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Book Corner: Duval and the Empress’s Crown

Over on The Review blog!

Read my review of Duval and the Empress’s Crown by Michele McGrath.

632747“Police Agent Alain Duval is tasked with finding the crown but time is very short and his suspects many. Present when the crown disappeared are Napoleon’s sisters, Princess Elisa, Princess Pauline and Princess Caroline. Are they involved or merely witnesses? Aided by his wife Eugenie and his friends Lefebvre and Fournier, Duval sets out to unravel the mystery.” 

Ever since I was a teenager I’ve had a soft spot for the Napoleonic Period.  Napoleon’s story has always fascinated me; the rise of an obscure Corsican to become the most powerful man  in France (a novelist just couldn’t make it up!). So when the chance came to review a novel of the period I jumped at it.Duval and the Empress’s Crown is not the longest book you’ll ever read. At just shy of 100 pages, it’s short and sweet. But it is a little gem.

From the first words you are drawn into the world of Imperial Paris, still recovering from the petrifying post-Revolutionary Terror, but looking forward to the pomp and pageantry that accompanies an Empire.
And into this world are thrown 3 friends: Duval the former soldier, Fournier the career policeman and Lefebvre the reformed thief. They work for Napoleon’s feared Chief of Police, Fouquet. With just days until the coronation of Napoleon and Josephine, the Empress’s crown is stolen from the jeweler tasked with creating it. Duval and his friends are given the unenviable task of finding it – in time for the coronation.
It’s a race against time…
To make matters worse, it soon becomes evident that the prime suspects are the Emperor’s own sisters; the Princesses Elisa, Pauline and Caroline. Duval has to be both determined and diplomatic in order to recover the crown in time for the coronation, just days away. With the Terror still only a recent memory, Duval has to tread very carefully, or he could end up not only with a ruined career, but facing the guillotine!
Duval and the Empress’s Crown is a great detective novel, full of adventure, intrigue and royal scandal. The story takes you through the investigative process in great detail, while giving you the human side of the lead characters. The three policemen enjoy a wonderful relationship, and the book is at its best during the scenes when they are together. Their banter seems natural and easy and makes the reader smile:

 [Duval] “What about my lame leg?”
[Lefebvre] “What about it? You ran at such a high speed when Monsieur Duclos was firing his pistols at you, I couldn’t catch you up, lame leg and all”
[Duval] “Just as well he was such a bad shot….”

You are also treated to glimpses of the glamour and power of the French Empire by visiting the salons of the Emperor’s sisters, as Duval tries to unravel the mystery of the crown’s disappearance. He has to tread carefully with the wily Elisa and pregnant Caroline. And then there is the Emperor’s over-familiar sister, Pauline:

“Let us be comfortable while you tell me what my brother wants of me”

Although this is the fifth book in a series, it really doesn’t matter. It is eminently readable as a standalone, with only vague references to the previous novels in the series – ensuring you don’t feel like you are missing anything. The author has done a wonderful job of taking the reader on a journey through post-Revolutionary Paris. You can still feel the long shadow of the guillotine, while being treated to a glimpse of the splendour and elitism of the emerging Imperial court, where careers are made and ruined by the whim of one man…
Duval and the Empress’s Crown is a wonderful, easy, light read. The plot is not over-complicated but flows smoothly and swiftly to its conclusion. Whilst it could benefit from deeper descriptions of locations and events the characters are well-developed, amusing and capable of eliciting a range of emotions from the reader.
It’s a wonderful novel for a lazy day in the sun. A highly enjoyable read.

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