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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
Categories
Blog Reviews Seventeenth Century Life

The appeal of the 17th Century to a novelist by Jemahl Evans

this_Deceitful_Light (2)

Today I’m pleased to welcome Jemahl Evans  to my blog to tell us why he’s chosen to write three novels set in the 17th Century. Over to Jemahl.

I’ve always been fascinated by the Seventeenth Century; it is the great turning point in British history. The divisions of the civil war got fixed into our politics: royalist or roundhead; Tory or Whig; Conservative and Liberal (later labour). Our political parties and system is the product of the period. When I looked at a map of the areas that voted leave and remain in the brexit referendum, there is a remarkable correlation between the areas that declared for the king or parliament. Correlation is not causation, of course, but it does make you think about history’s long claws.

The initial spark for writing about the Civil War and its impact was a very bored Year 8 class on a wet Friday afternoon. I ended up telling them the story of William Hiseland (the last cavalier) who fought at Edgehill and then served the colours for the next sixty or so years, even serving under Marlborough at Malplaquet in 1709. Hiseland lived to the grand old age of 113, dying in 1733 as one of the first Chelsea pensioners. His life was feted and he had been granted pensions and awards for his service to the crown.

JemahlThe last roundheads were not so fortunate: pensions promised by the commonwealth were rarely honoured, estates were confiscated (or returned to their rightful owners depending on your point of view), and whilst the restored royal regime was not overly vindictive in 1660, political careers were finished and fortunes lost, at least in the short term. When I remembered that Hudibras, a satirical poem by Samuel Butler, was about Parliament’s Scoutmaster General the story all sort of fell into place – a bitter old man, mocked by the poets of the age, decides to get his version of events down.

By 1719-20, when Blandford is writing his fictional memoir, there was a massive trend for looking back to the civil war. It was just falling out of living memory (much like world war two is for us today) but the impact was still close enough to touch. There was a plethora of memoirs and recollections in the first couple of decades of the eighteenth century (and books like Defoe’s Memoirs of a Cavalier or De Sandras’s D’Artagnan). I really wanted to capture that longer view of the events and the passing of an age. It was trying to find that genuine Seventeenth Century voice and make it accessible and appealing to readers. Although saying all that, there is a lot of my grandfather’s humour in the irascible old man. One of my cousins pointed that out to me the other day.

Thanks for this insight Jemahl.

Of_Blood_Exhausted (3)Of Blood Exhausted

Having read the other two books I knew I was in for a treat, and a total immersion in another age, but you don’t need to have read the other books to enjoy this. One of the things I loved about this book is its sheer complexity; it has been lovingly and exhaustively researched. Now don’t let that put you off, because the plot is easy to follow, and it’s a cracking good read. The main protagonist, the rogue Sir Blandford ‘Sugar’ Candy has an impressive network of contacts; he is well-travelled, well-connected, and has his finger in any number of pies. A somewhat unlikely spy, he is after an assassin called the Black Bear, and this leads to all sorts of shenanigans – rooftop chases, toll-gate fights and desperate duels on the stairs. Although I still have a soft spot for the Parliamentarian Candy, it is the minor characters that I loved;  The redoubtable Sarah Churchill, Candy’s Wapping-born black servant, John, the strangely likeable Thurloe the spymaster, Candy’s love-interest Meg (not above a fight with a whip herself) – and there are warm portraits of Prince Karl Ludwig and Princess Sophia and even the sword-wielding d’Artagnan (of Three Musketeers fame).

‘The rage of a victorious army is a terrifying sight to behold’  the novel says, and the scenes at the Battle of Naseby are gut-wrenching and real. This is the climax of the book and is well-handled giving weight to both sides. The fate of the Royalist baggage train is covered in this book, but I won’t reveal more because of spoilers.

There are footnotes in the text leading to copious amounts of information at the end of the novel for those wishing more detail. There are also appendixes on things like money, and the religious factions of the English Civil War.

A novel that both informs and keeps you on the edge of your seat. If you love this period of history, I can’t recommend it highly enough.

You can buy Of Blood Exhausted in the UK here or in the US here.

Jemahl Evans’s website

Read more about Jemahl in this interview in Historia.

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Blog

Love and Resistance in WW2 Germany

 

German August-Landmesser-Almanya-1936
A lone man with his arms folded as hundreds around him perform the Nazi salute at the launch of the Horst Wessel, 1936. Picture from Wikipedia

I’m delighted to welcome Marion Kummerow to my blog to tell us about her series of books based on the true story of her grandparents.

Deborah: I’m interested to know more about your grandparents, who belonged to the German resistance and fought against the Nazi regime. They died before you were born, so how did you uncover their story? Was it through letters or stories?

Marion: The “Love and Resistance in WW2 Germany” – series is as true to reality as possible.

What happened to my grandparents Hansheinrich and Ingeborg Kummerow was a big, fascinating mystery when I was a child. Their names were rarely, if ever, mentioned in my family and my sister and I only knew they were dead and had been “spies” for the Russians.

During the Cold War they were still considered traitors, because of their communist/social ideals. But after the German reunification in 1989, the political climate changed enough to acknowledge also the German resistance, people that had worked with the Soviets, for the heroes they had been.

Several years later, a student of political sciences visited my parents’ house to write a bachelor thesis about my grandfather. Her work unearthed a lot of documentation that had been collected in the Gedenkstätte Deutscher Widerstand in Berlin.

And, because my family is one of collectors and keepers (you’ll know this from Q in the book Unrelenting), all their letters, and the many letters between Q’s mother and Hilde’s step-mother were still in our possession. Most of my knowledge about Q’s and Hilde’s lives is based on those letters.

In ‘Unrelenting’, the character of Q is a scientist. How did you go about researching the sort of work he did, and why did this work make him a target for the Nazi regime? Were other scientists targeted in this way?

I don’t think his work made him an explicit target for the Nazi regime. Every scientist who could make a useful contribution to the war effort was confronted with tough decisions at some point in his career.

Albert Einstein had to emigrate (he was a Jew), but many Aryan scientists i.e. Thomas Mann decided to emigrate, too. Not out of need, but out of conscience. During the Nazi times it was “Who’s not for me is against me”, there was no other way.

The character of Hilde resists being drawn in to the Nazi propaganda which is popular with her peers. What made the propaganda so powerful for young Germans, and what gave Hilde the inner strength to resist it?

Hitler unfortunately was clever. He grabbed the people at their vulnerabilities. He promised to make Germany great again, to give the people jobs, food, and money. It was the time after the Great Depression (which also swept over Germany), so there was a need for promises of a better future.

Later the propaganda gave the young people a feeling of belonging. Group activities, sports competitions, all this leads to powerful communities. People don’t think straight when they’re in a mass of like-minded people. You can observe this in any kind of sports event nowadays.

Tell me a little about your writing life, and what you plan next.

I usually write in the morning and do all other publishing related work in the afternoon, before I have to drop everything at 3.30 p.m. to fetch my daughter from daycare.

Now, that I’ve finished the third book, Unwavering, in the Love and Resistance in WW2 Germany series, I have planned another series in the same time period. The War Girl series will have at least four books and features three sisters in Berlin of 1943 and onwards.  If you read Unwavering you’ll already meet two of the sisters. Prison guard Ursula Herrmann and nurse Anna Klausen.

The “Blonde Angel” Ursula was mentioned in one of my grandmothers letters, but the new series is entirely fiction, as the only reference to a real person is her nickname. I was thoroughly intrigued by the idea of a friendly prison guard and that led me to decide to write a book about her. War Girl Ursula will be published in May or June 2017.

KummerowUnrelenting by Marion Kummerow

I admired the way that the novel shows us the drama of living in pre-War Germany, a side of the war not often seen by English readers. The couple, Marion’s grandparents, Q and Hilde, meet in this part of the trilogy. Q is a scientist and a communist with ideals about serving humanity, and Hilde, unlike her peers, does not agree with the bullying tactics of the Nazi propaganda machine. As a couple, their falling in love is portrayed with touching sentiment. The book brings home the reality of the persecution of scientists and intellectuals in this era, and the fear that gripped Germany as the true nature of Hitler’s regime began to bite. Parallels to politics today are unavoidable, but do make the book more interesting! I knew very little about the collaboration of Germans with the Soviet Union, so this has been an eye-opening read. I would class it more as a memoir than a novel, as much of the narrative is told rather than fully envisaged, but the truth of this story is its strength, and I would  recommend it to anyone wanting to know more about Germany at this time.

 

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The Betrothed Sister – 11th century epic

I have read all of Carol McGrath’s Hastings Trilogy, and have been entranced by this little-known period of English history. Her most recent features a woman about whom little is known, but McGrath’s research into the politics, events and atmosphere of the time have filled in the gaps .

Betrothed Sister

Carol McGrath’s beautifully detailed novel of the exiled Princess Thea is a treat for the senses. For much of the novel Thea is on a journey to find her Russian Prince Vladimir, and we are in her company as she braves the icy Northern waters in a Dragon boat, crosses the vast steppes and fights off pirates and brigands. We are taken with her to chilly monasteries, fortress castles, and the ‘terem’ the womens’ quarters at the Rus Court.We watch her embroidering her ‘rushnyk’ – her ritual wedding cloth, and visiting the local cunning woman.

The characters in this novel provide the reader with plenty of tension – the jealous Olga, the faithful Gudrun, and the men battling for land, and lusting for power. The finale is a gripping and spectacular battle for a city besieged, and it makes a wonderful climax to what has been a great series.

If you like well-researched historical biography with a wealth of period detail, you will love this. Highly recommended.

Find out more about Carol and the other books in the trilogy on her website

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Blog

Powerful drama of a King’s Execution – The Crimson Ribbon

 

Blurb:

Based on the real figure of the fascinating Elizabeth Poole, The Crimson Ribbon is the mesmerising story of two women’s obsession, superstition and hope.

 May Day 1646. The Civil War is raging and what should be a rare moment of blessing for the town of Ely takes a brutal turn. Ruth Flowers is left with little choice but to flee the household of Oliver Cromwell, the only home she has ever known. On the road to London, Ruth sparks an uneasy alliance with a soldier, the battle-scarred and troubled Joseph. But when she reaches the city, it’s in the Poole household that she finds refuge.

 Lizzie Poole, beautiful and charismatic, enthrals the vulnerable Ruth, who binds herself inextricably to Lizzie’s world. But in these troubled times, Ruth is haunted by fears of her past catching up with her. And as Lizzie’s radical ideas escalate, Ruth finds herself carried to the heart of the country’s conflict, to the trial of a king.

I received this book for review from the Amazon Vine programme because I love the seventeenth century and it looked like my sort of book. I was not disappointed.

The story of Elizabeth Poole and her role as witness to the beheading of a King is brought masterfully to life in this gripping drama. Told through the eyes of Ruth Flowers who is on the run to escape a witch hunt, the book draws the reader gradually into the uneasy, fragile world of desperate people looking for an answer to the bloodshed of the English Civil Wars. Elizabeth Poole herself remains an enigma, shedding layers of shifting truths that make the reader unsure who or what she is. Is Elizabeth a sinner or a saint? Ruth’s devotion to her, though not fully explained, is both her salvation and her downfall.

Although it only uses historical events as a kind of backdrop to the story I found the historical background to be well-researched and atmospheric.  But the strength of this novel is in the portayal of the ever-changing relationship between Ruth and Lizzie, and the writer’s ability to take you fully into the mindset of a nation which can try a King for treason against his own country.

I look forward to more books from this debut novelist, Katherine Clements. For comparison you might like to try ‘As Meat Loves Salt’ by Maria McCann which tells of a similar obsessive relationship between two men, and is one of my favourite reads about this period.