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Recommended Historical Reads for wet Tuesdays #TuesdayBookBlog

The Silken Rose Final VisualThe Silken Rose by Carol McGrath
Married at only thirteen years old to a King she has never met, Ailenor of Provence has to learn quickly what it is to be a Queen, and how to manage her relationship with her husband Henry III during the turbulent world of the thirteenth century – a world of rival barons and religious Crusades. Carol McGrath’s new novel explores how a woman might cope in this situation – how she manages to gain her husband’s respect despite her very different upbringing, and how motherhood is balanced with the needs of public life.
McGrath takes Ailenor’s courtly pursuits, such as embroidery and literature, and contrasts that with the world of the political machinations of the Barons who are vying for power. In this book there are in fact three women with contrasting personalities – Ailenor the strong-minded she-wolf, Nell her sister-in-law who has taken a vow of chastity, and Rosalind the embroiderer to whom Ailenor gives patronage. When Henry and Ailenor become embroiled in an unpopular war to protect Gascony, it brings them into conflict with  Simon de Montfort, who is both the King’s steward, and the love interest of Nell.
Between the three women there is plenty going on in the plot, and we get a well-rounded look at women in this society. The novel is a feast for the senses, with the intricate domestic details of life at court particularly well evoked, and sumptuous descriptions of embroidery and textiles. If you know nothing about this period, this is a great place to start, and this novel will immerse you in the medieval court and keep you enthralled. Highly Recommended.
Du LacThe Du Lac Chronicles  by Mary Anne Yarde
I have a bit of a thing for the Arthurian Legends, so this series has been on my list for a long time. Set in the Dark Ages of 5th century Britain, The Du Lac Chronicles, the first of a long series, centres on the sons of Lancelot and in particular, Alden du Lac. When the novel opens, Alden is tied to a stake and has been brutally whipped. His unlikely rescuer is Annis, the daughter of Cerdic of Wessex, who has taken Alden’s kingdom of Cerniw (Cornwall). We find out more about the couple as the story progresses, and how they met at a wedding. Annis is a strong active protagonist from the start, who drives the narrative forward in the sort of rescue scenario usually reserved for men.
The romance between Annis and Alden, on opposing sides of a power struggle,  is interesting from the outset, and I was keen to follow them as they flee the court.  Naturally, Alden is determined to regain his land, and seeks the help of his estranged brother Budic, now the King of Brittany. But Budic is a nasty piece of work, and… well, I won’t spoil it! When Annis and Alden get to France, one of the most endearing characters for me was Merton, Alden’s younger brother, and I loved his contribution to the humour of the book. This is a very well-researched novel with a wealth of detail that never overwhelms the pace of the action. It has won a number of awards, and deservedly so. It would be equally suitable for adults or young adults, and keep you turning the pages to find out what will happen.
Both these books will take you to another time and place. Happy reading!
My latest release Entertaining Mr Pepys
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Blog Reviews

Carol McGrath’s ‘The Woman in the Shadows’ – Review

34379160Carol McGrath’s new novel is a wonderful insight into the world of the Tudor merchant class.

Elizabeth Williams, a widow who has inherited her husband’s cloth business, meets Thomas Cromwell, at her late husband’s funeral. She remembers him as a childhood friend, and from there a sturdy marriage alliance is begun. Like most marriages of the time, it is based on sound business sense as well as affection.

‘Lizzy, Master Cromwell is my new cloth middle-man. He would like you to show him your bombazine cloth. He has admired your mourning gown.’

We get a picture of an ambitious and somewhat closed man, one with latent power, who will later rise in society to be a great player at the court of Henry VIII. But all this is to come, and The Woman in the Shadows is a book that shows us another side of Thomas Cromwell, that of husband and provider. Through Elizabeth Cromwell’s eyes the author provides us with fly-on-the-wall detail of Tudor living, and the minutiae of the common rituals associated with birth, marriage and death, all within a living context. We are privy to everything about Elizabeth’s cloth business from monastic sheep breeding  to garment, including the sumptuary laws against certain classes wearing certain colours, and the difficulties that a woman at this time faces in trade.

‘Mother and I decorously arranged our skirts over the wherry bench. Mother’s green and gold gown complimented my pink kirtle with its new embroidered sleeves.’

The book is laced with subtle tension. Elizabeth fights off dangers from rivals in the business, unfaithful servants, an unwanted suitor and an arson attack, and she almost buckles under the discovery of her husband’s affair. However, the portrait we are left with, is one of a strong and capable woman, able to deal maturely with life’s trials. At no time does Elizabeth Cromwell seem like a modern woman in Tudor clothing – she retains her religion, and her position is always subordinate to her husband. Her life is one where she does not question her husband’s authority.

McGrath shows us the world of women and their servants. After one disaster, her mother urges Elizabeth to come home, but Elizabeth is quite clear that to do that would be to abandon her duty. As well as tender observations of female domestic life, there are also wonderful descriptions of gardens, churches, and the Augustinian Friary of Austin Friars where the Cromwells lived.

Some afternoons, as I listen to them play, I wish that time would stand still for us all. I wish we were a moment captured in a painting and that the moment will last forever.’

Carol McGrath has succeeded in doing exactly that. Through her words, the life of Elizabeth Cromwell has truly been brought out of the shadows.

Carol McGrath is a reviewer for HNS, 2016 HNS conference organiser and the best-selling author of The Daughters of Hastings Trilogy published by Accent Press. Find her on her website here.

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