Friday, 28 February 2014

Sons of the Wolf reviewed by Linda Root

There is a signed copy of this book to be won, see the bottom of page for details. 

There is a village in pre-Norman Sussex called  Horstede which  has been invaded by a time traveler, or so it seems. I am tempted to speculate that not  even a member of Regia Anglorum like author Paula Lofting could create a story like Sons of the Wolf unless she had lived among them.  I suspect that in spirit, indeed she has.  Her novel  is the product of a writer who not only loves her subject and knows it well, but also knows her craft.  As I read the opening pages, I can smell the woodsmoke and feel the warmth of the greetings of the villagers as protagonist Wulfhere and his right hand man Esegar return from a bloodly battle as the opening curtain rises.  I remain a captive of the story until its final page, and best of all, beyond. Thankfully there is a sequel coming.

Any meticulously researched and authentically presented historical  novel set in a well known milieu faces the risk that devotion to historical truth  may become its own spoiler. Such is not the case with Sons of the Wolf. To avoid the common pitfall,  Lofting has masterfully selected two characters from the pages of Doomsday Book about whom little is known. The only references is to their names –Wulfhere and Helghi—and the amount of land they owned. Their respective societal ranks can be guessed from a notation as to the size of their respective estates. The balance is  Lofting’s creation.

Wulfhere is the thegn of Horstede and Helghi’s superior in rank. Helghi also  is a landowner but a tier below his rival. Their families have been fueding for years, and the conflict brings out the worst of each. Their  abiding hatred forges their destiny and contaminates others. Wulfhere is a  good man who seeks to do the right thing, but he does not always like it. Helghi is the consummate villain,  obsessed with bringing Wulfhere to his knees, and willingly sacrifices the future and the well-being of his family to do so.

When the historical character Harold Godwinson, Earl of Wessex and brother-in-law of King Edward seeks to reconcile Wulfhere and Helghi, he sets events in motion that make matters worse.
After I read the initial four chapters of the book I put it down, not because I did not like it, but because I was utterly unfamiliar with its historical context.  My intense study of British history is framed by the  Plantegenets on one end and the Marlboros on the other. What I knew of the Norman invasion could be  summarized in a  line  from the 1953 movie Young Bess.  Says adolescent  Elizabeth, "England has never been invaded, except by the Normans, who do not count because they were us."  What I knew of Anglo Saxon Britain would have scarcely filled a journal page. I  profited from  spending  a few minutes on Wikipedea,  and once I had a better understanding of what transpired in Britain in the years immediately prior to 1066, I was ready for a breathtaking, violent, fast and furious and often heart-rending ride through the years before the Normans came.

*Horstede (AKA Wychurst)

The protagonist of Lofting’s tale is Wulfhere, a great bear of a man, who is a creature of principal, although he often wishes he were  not. He is a loyal servant of the king and of Harold Godwinson, earl of Wessex,  but he is also the guardian of  Horstede and the protector of his family, and his loyalties and responsibilities often come in conflict. And that is a dilemma for a man who attempts to be all things to everyone.

As early as his homecoming in the first chapers  of the book, we  sense his guilt for having lived when others have not, and his stress  due to the horrors he has witnessed. He and  his wife had quarelled before he left and he worries that his homecoming will not be as joyous as he would like. Because of the carnage he has witnessed, he returns not as a victor but as a survivor.

When his wife  Ealdgytha greets him with open arms, we question whether  her joy in  his safe return  has more to do with matters of her personal security than any great affection she feels for Wulfhere. As the scene develops, we realize that she is sincere in her welcome.  She, too, has personal desires and physical  needs. Wulfhere is suspicious,  but takes what pleasure he is offered. Their shared joy is only on the surface and it is short lived.

Due to Wulfhere’s  past infidelity and the tensions of his fued with Helghi, soon his family is falling apart. His twin sons are undisciplined, his wife runs hot and cold, he is estranged from his lover Alfgyva and the restraint he exercises  in dealing with his traditional enemy Helghi in order to please Harold Godwinson is not working. In addition, his favorite daughter Freyda’s romance with Helghi’s  son only makes matters worse, and provides a weapon that Wulfhere’s enemy Helghi uses against him.  Nevertheless, true to his nature, Wulfhere tries  to hold it all together, and it is there that the intrigues begin.

Lofting takes those facts and builds her storyline from there.  Then she  adds her own considerable knowledge of the sociology and politics of eleventh century Saxon England. Next  she adds to the mix all of the ingredients that  make a novel of any genre readable--love, sex, hate, jealousy, remorse, guilt, infidelity, vengeance,  death and profound tragedy. And to all of that, she  adds her  incredible talent for bringing blood and gore into her action scenes without overpowering the essence of her story, and writes her action scenes as if she were riding in the van.

Readers  will almost  smell the copper of the blood and feel the weight of the dead.  One can actually sense the terror of erstwhile proud and mighty warhorses as they, too, face slaughter. Her knowledge of medieval warfare puts her at the head of the pack of those writing in the medieval military subgenre. It is as if Lofting siezes the reader, puts a weapon in her readers' hands and sends them into the fray. No writer I have  encountered  does battlefield action better, not even Oliver Stone, and like Stone in his masterpiece Platoon, Lofting captures the pathos.

War horses

Without spoiling the story, be assured that a reader will acquire enough insight into the politics of the day to understand a bit of what King Edward was facing, and to explore the character of the king’s brother-in-law Harold Godwinson, his lady and the plotters who threaten  them. The  reader –even one who knows nothing about 1066--will sense  that William of Normandy is coming, and that he is bringing change. But a  more immediate and equally formidable danger  is threatening Wulfhere—a menace that lurks no farther away than his bad neighbor Helghi’s nearby lodge. When Wulfhere’s concern for his family collides  with the fealty he owe to Harold and the king, he  does the best he can to balance one against the other and in doing so, he suffers an egregious loss. Although few of the issues facing him and his family  are resolved in the final pages of this first novel in the series, the reader is not left frustrated or  dissatisifed, but with a sense that while a stage of  Wulfhere’s life has come to an end, the most challenging and eventful chapters in his adventure are yet to come.

While this is primarily Wulfhere’s story, he does not stand alone. Much of the plot is driven by the teenage libido of our hero’s daughter and our villain’s son. The  place of the historical character Harold Godwinson and that of his wife and  his sister Edith are well portrayed, and Helghi is definitely an easy one to hate. The vowel-rich spelling of medieval names and  places makes the first chapters difficult for the unanointed, but worth the effort. Lofting cleverly prefaces her story in a brief recount of an actual  event involving two aristocratic boys whose abduction sets in motion the tensions that culminate in 1066. The Norman invasion had its own version of the  princes in the tower long before either Richard III or Alison Weir came along.  The fate of the boys is mentioned  periodically throughout the book, but not to the extent of making Wulfhere’s tale into Harold’s story. The storyline has just enough historical reference points to place it in the eve of the invasion without reducing Wulfhere and his family to minor characters in an overwhelming historical event. This is not a tale of William of Normandy, who does not appear. Nor is it a story of the very compelling historical person Harold Godwin. From beginning to end, it is Wulfhere’s story.

I love this book. It is Paula Lofting’s first  novel. And yes, there is a sequel, The Wolf Banner, coming soon to my bookshelf.

* Wychurst is owned by the members of the Re-enactment Society Regia Anglorum
Paula Lofting’s book Sons of the Wolf is available at Amazon, and as a paperback.  The sequel to Sons of the Wolf, The Wolf Banner, will be available soon.

Please leave a comment below or on our Facebook thread to be in with a chance of winning a signed copy anywhere you are in the world!

Paula, ready to rumble

Linda Root is the author of the four titles in the Queen of Scots Suite. A fifth book, 1603: The Queen’s Revenge,  is coming  in the spring.

Thursday, 27 February 2014

Twins reviewed by Carol McGrath

Twins by Katherine Pym
Reviewed by Carol McGrath

England in 1660 was on the cusp of change. There had been a vicious civil war and a period of repressive Commonwealth before, finally, the return of the English monarchy. With this event comes uncertainty, changes of allegiance, expanding commercialisation and the dawning of capitalism as we understand it now. Restoration London is the city of Samuel Pepys but it is also the predominant setting for Twins by Katherine Pym.

Whilst people in the seventeenth century were edging towards the era of enlightenment, individualism and new scientific understanding, many, especially in the countryside, clung to older superstitions. One such was that twins must be conceived of the seed of two fathers and as a consequence the assumption prevailed that the mother had been unfaithful to her husband. The consequences could be dire. Therefore, when Elizabeth Torbett gives birth to twins she leaves Worcester to seek refuge with her cruel brother in London. The story begins and what a terrific narrative this is.

The narrative follows the independent and distinctive fortunes of brother and sister, Emma and Edgar. It contains everything, every ingredient that is excellent in a riveting historical novel. It has pace, one that will leave the reader breathless as he or she hurtles from episode to episode hoping that these protagonists, down on their luck, seemingly witness things improve only for the wheel of fortune to turn against them over and over again. This is a clever narrative, a tour de force, suitably reminiscent of Pamela by Samuel Richardson or Moll Flanders by Daniel Defoe, novels written close enough to this period.

Emma is thrust into a horrific marriage to a country squire, a widower, only to find that she is to live in a hovel of a farmhouse and tend to his unfortunate children. There is yet another twist of fate here which is shocking, as well as characters driving the events, steeped in deception. Enough to say that this part of the book frightened me witless and all I wanted was for Emma to be safe. When she does eventually return to London she is destitute and faces many more interlinked misfortunes in this city familiar to us though the exploits of Nell Gwyn, a city of rogues, swindlers, newly-opened theatres, coffee houses, cutpurses and molls and a city bubbling with anticipation for the coronation of Charles II. It is also a city confused by religious alliance and one where men and women looking for the best advantage often swing their religious adherence to and fro like pendulums.

Edgar, married to a wife he cannot love, is trained by his uncle to participate in the family business and as a consequence is sent to sea to purchase silks and spices in a not-terrifically seaworthy ship partially owned by this uncle. As the vessel enters the Straits of Gibraltar, Edgar is involved in a fabulous sea fight in which he proves himself to be courageous and very astute. Enough said again, but though the fight itself is thrilling, importantly, it leads to other revelations. Everything is not as it seems. The reader is hurtled from event to event, scene to scene, revelation to revelation at a breathtaking pace.

I particularly liked Pym’s characterisation. Her protagonists are very sympathetic and her rogues a nightmare. I would not like to run into any of them on a foggy night in a 1660s London alleyway. Pym’s technique is to be commended as she moves Emma’s story forward only to stop with a cliff-hanger. She gives Edgar’s story the same page-turning treatment. Pym also, sensibly, adheres to the point of view of the pair so that, considering the many events and characters within the novel’s pages readers are never lost. Though there is a gallery of characters, they are all memorably and vividly portrayed, even the downtrodden mother who finds her voice as the story progresses.

Love is difficult in such harsh times but by the end of the novel it triumphs. The novel has a deeply satisfying ending. I must note that the background to this book is well-researched and the research translates well into the fiction. I learned many things about Restoration London I had not thought about before: funerals, weddings, suppers, life on a trading vessel and little details such as how the coffee was brewed in the coffee houses. I can still smell the extravagant dinners, spy on court life at Westminster which is depicted in a very authentic and gritty manner, and I can get a whiff of the steaming ale house pasties. I leave the novel with a sense of the docks, the warehouses and I know what it was like to sail into the unknown in a ship that is swarming with vermin and with ruthless seamen.

I am in two minds about Katherine Pym’s treatment of language. She uses the cadences of Restoration London, those familiar to readers of Restoration drama. On the one hand this can often be poetic in her work and deepen its sense of period. On the other it can make the novel feel a little alien and a little distancing. Yet, I, personally, liked the style for its originality. It certainly never took away from my enjoyment of this unusual and engaging tale. Twins is a great read and a masterful accomplishment.

Carol McGrath is the author of The Handfasted Wife, first in a trilogy, The Daughters of Hastings, published by Accent Press in 2013. She can be found her website.

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Wednesday, 26 February 2014


For the uninitiated, Steampunk is a subgenre of Sci Fi, and one that has many explanations. My take on this quirky and slightly wonderful “thing” is to imagine the console of the Tardis, add the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen and plonk it all into a late Industrial Revolution setting (London or the Wild West). I think the best summing up of it comes from The Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences, who state “if Jules Verne or H.G. Wells were writing their science fiction today, it would be considered “steampunk”.

When I first looked at this genre, I had trouble getting it – much like the first time I picked up a Terry Pratchett book, but I have since become a convert, and I am now considering an entire wardrobe change as a result. Reviewing Steampunk book covers has also proved more difficult than the other genres; mainly because there is no right or wrong. Steampunk continues to evolve, and so therefore does reader taste and the art associated with it. To that end, I have decided that there are no bad Steampunk covers – just lots of different ones. Here are some to whet your appetite.

The Affinity Bridge
George Mann
Tor Books

I absolutely love this cover, because it tells it all. The wonderful border leaves the reader in no doubt of the genre with its gear-wheel gadgetry, and the Airship tells us that this is classic Steampunk. The hues are just perfect, evocative of what we imagine to be the grittiness of Victorian London’s atmosphere, and the city view at the bottom of the cover confirms this. The flipside then whets the appetite further, and I for one am intrigued to know just how Queen Victoria is being kept alive by a primitive life support system. But wait; there’s more! Clockwork Automatons (robots) that carry out the tasks of the police, media and the law, and the all essential supernatural baddie strangling poor Victorian folk. This book epitomises Steampunk on both sides of its cover, and cannot fail to impress those enamoured of the genre. 

Scott Westerfield & Keith Thompson (Illustrator)
Simon Pulse

There are two covers for the first of this Steampunk trilogy, and I personally prefer the Kindle edition; mainly because it depicts people wearing all-important Steampunk aviator goggles. If there’s one accessory that epitomises the entire genre, it’s those goggles, which come in all manner of shape, size and gadgetry if you care to browse the net. The would-be reader is therefore off to a great start upon spotting the aviator, who is set against the most wonderful background of gadgets, gizmos, gear wheels and machines. Again, the hues are spot-on for the genre, and the bi-plane hints at a pre WW1 setting. The surprise pitch on the back of the cover seems a little far fetched at first glance, but who am I kidding – it’s Steampunk. Of course women can disguise themselves as boys in the British Air Service during the whole Austro-Hungarian business and travel the world. Above all else, what clinches it for me with this cover is the use of the word fantastical. Simply delightful!

Lady of Devices 
Shelley Adina
Createspace Independent

My final offering is a little different to what might be classic Steampunk, but on closer inspection, I was quite taken with this cover. What intrigued me most was the set of medical tweezers in the woman’s hands, and that, combined with the title itself, piques the interest. At the very least, it asks for a closer look at the back of the book, and ooh, what an interesting pitch it is. The daughter of a Viscount with an interest in the chemistry lab in Victorian London, a combustion engine, the Royal Society of Engineers and explosions and intrigue – definitely Steampunk! Naturally, such a pitch leads to another look at the cover, which confirms that there’s more than meets the eye to this Tretchikov-esque beauty. Any Steampunk fan with a sense for something a little left of centre will be intrigued.

Tuesday, 25 February 2014

A Wistful Eye reviewed by Michelle Gent

A Wistful Eye: The Tragedy of a Titanic Shipwright

A professionally produced book, A Wistful Eye is a fascinating and enjoyable story with a lot of research included, as it not only encompasses author Kelly’s family history but also the local, national, and international events of the early twentieth century.

The story follows Kelly’s ancestor through the trials and tribulations of Belfast’s poorer Protestant areas. William Henry Kelly, his wife Belle, and their small family are beset by tragedy and hardship—some of their own making—until one final tragedy changes William Henry’s life forever.

He is a skilled caulker, working on the White Star Line’s fleet at Harland and Wolff’s shipyards where the Titanic was built. Their surviving children have left home and begun their own lives as adults, making their way as best they can in the hard times of pre-war Ireland.

(National Museums Northern Ireland Collection)
More tragedy strikes and William Henry is imprisoned. The story then follows world events through snatches of newspaper clippings. I felt that the author didn’t seem to have much material with regards to William Henry’s imprisonment, because there’s little to write regarding the day-to-day boredom of incarceration, so weaving news reports of a rapidly approaching Great War was a clever way of embedding historical facts in the story.

Titanic clearing Southampton (Smithsonian National
Museum of American History)

I found a few errors—two of the main characters’ names were misspelled (Beasant/Besant; Belle/belle), and the word ‘now’ was overused in places—but if there were more than a few, I didn’t notice because the story was engaging. Another proofread to catch these small slip-ups would help, but this was a thoroughly enjoyable read with some facts about Irish history that I was not aware of.

Michelle Gent, author of the Dusty the Demon Hunter series, has recently released Dusty's latest, Dusty Meets the Seven Shudder Sisters; this and her other titles can be found at Amazon. A publisher at Gingernut Books, Michelle can be found at her blog and Twitter.

This review previously appeared at the Historical Novel Society

Monday, 24 February 2014

Red Shift by Alan Garner: Simon Stirling pays tribute to a long-time favorite

You'll often hear me say that I don't read very much fiction.  And, even when I do, I tend to avoid fantasy fiction.  To which I might add that I hardly ever read fiction aimed at a younger audience.

So here's where I demonstrate my inconsistency by recommending the works of an English author who rose to fame writing fantasy fiction for children and young adults.  But we're talking favourites, here, and Alan Garner is the author I've learnt more from - as a writer myself - than any other.

I came across his short novel, Red Shift, when I was about twelve and on holiday.  I was already familiar with his previous books - The Weirdstone of Brisingamen, The Moon of Gomrath, Elidor, The Owl Service - and so I thought I knew what I was letting myself in for.

I was only few pages into Red Shift when I gave up; I had no idea what was going on.  The book was like shifting sands and I couldn't make head or tail of it.

A few years later, in my mid-teens, I gave it another go.  And since then, it has unquestionably been my favourite book, my favourite piece of writing and - in many ways - the standard to which I aspire.  I even had an exchange of letters with Mr Garner, when I was something like seventeen, in which I begged the right to adapt his book into a screenplay.

Alan Garner tends to write about the landscape he knows best - his local part of the world in Cheshire, England.  His first two novels (Weirdstone and Gomrath) are set in those parts, and his genius is to turn familiar places into places of marvel and mystery and adventure.  So one of the first lessons I learnt from him is the importance of location: where something happens dictates, to a large extent, what happens.

Red Shift takes Garner's fascination with place to a new level.  The novel (and it's a very short one) follows three stories which all happen in the same places, but at different times.  So we start with Tom and Jan, teenage lovers in the second half of the 20th century; then we're suddenly plunged into 2nd-century Britain, with a detachment of soldiers on the run from the Roman army through tribal territory; and then we find ourselves in the 17th century, with a frightened village awaiting the arrival of hostile troops.  There are no chapters, just short breaks in the text which signal a shift from one time to another.  The stories play themselves out in counterpoint to each other, all occupying the same space but a different time.  The effect is like superimposition, or the strange feeling that a particular location would yield different accounts of its past if you could only 'tune in' to that period.

After the weird and wonderful creatures, the magic, witchcraft and high adventure of his earlier novels, Red Shift came as a profound shock to me; it was as if Garner had grown up with his audience and was now writing, not for kids, but for young adults.  Very intelligent young adults.  Young adults who were crashing into all the problems of their age-group.  In fairness, Garner had anticipated some of this in The Owl Service, a wonderfully spooky novel in which a Welsh myth plays on in a Welsh valley, affecting generation after generation and inducing sexual jealousies and class tensions.  It is a tribute to Garner's skill (I feel) that the older you are, the more aware you become of these undercurrents in novels which are, ostensibly, aimed at a younger readership.

With Red Shift, the undercurrents of The Owl Service burst out in an explosive mix of physical and emotional violence. Again, this is something I might not have been fully aware of when I first read through the book.  I've read it many times, and on each occasion some aspect of the novel stands out - the pain of teenage courtship, the true nature of violence, the way the past occupies the same spaces as we do, the lyricism of brilliant dialogue - but the simple fact is that Garner perfected his technique with his short, strange, disturbing novel.

It is almost entirely written in dialogue - snappy, crackly, dialogue from three different periods - with the barest minimum of description (Lesson Two: sketch, don't paint, the scenery).  There is violence a-plenty in the book - which I hadn't really expected when I first picked it up - but each act of violence just happens; there is no lingering over the deed, so that there is nothing pornographic about the brutality.  Indeed, I learnt from this book that a far more intriguing effect can be achieved if you establish an atmosphere of violence than if you obsessively describe each horrific act.  The same applies to sex.  Let the reader's imagination do the work for you.  Lesson Three: don't be indulgent.

Already, I feel as though I'm misrepresenting the book.  Yes, each of its three overlapping, interlocking stories is violent, with the sexual frustration and jealousy of the 'contemporary' story finding its echoes in the past, but Garner is far too clever to fob us off with anything so simple.  The book is also something of a puzzle, and at times the intelligence of the author challenges the reader to keep up.  Puzzles and mysteries form a major part of the narrative (there is even a word puzzle at the end which I have never yet managed to solve - but then, Garner enjoyed putting magical incantations into his earlier books, and the puzzles of Red Shift are a natural progression).  Even the title is a bit of a puzzle: it takes in the Doppler Effect in astronomy, the habit worn by a clergyman, a petticoat dyed with alder, the lights of the cars which whizz past on the M6 motorway ...

But what Red Shift taught me, more than anything, is the power of words.  Words used with laser precision, nothing spare or redundant or unnecessary.  Words mean a lot to Alan Garner.  They do to me, too.  And Red Shift indicates to me what can be achieved when an author masters those tricky little blighters, words.  The effect is magical, emotional, exciting, painful.  Pictures play in our heads, and we feel the pain and despair and confusion of the characters.  Life acquires a poetry, even in its darkest, basest moments, and that poetry sings out across time.  If we can learn how to listen to it, we can hear the voices of the past - the past which we ourselves are part of, for we tread the same turf and are made of the same atoms - and the place where we stand will come alive.

Simon Stirling is the author of Who Killed William Shakespeare? The Murder, the Motive, the Means and The King Arthur Conspiracy: How a Scottish Prince Became a Mythical Hero, both also available at Amazon UK. He can be found at his blog Art and Will.

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Sunday, 23 February 2014

Marsha's Favorite Books

My three favorite authors have written books that have impacted my life greatly. I found these three authors at about the same time that I moved to England. This move to England was a dream come true for me. I had always been interested in history, especially anything to do with castles and knights, but moving to a place so rich in history made me seek out books on the subject. I did read many non-fiction history books but this search led me to three historical fiction writers who wrote such brilliantly crafted stories, which in turn propelled my love of medieval history to even greater heights. Not only did these authors and their novels make me thirst for more knowledge of the medieval time period, but they also led me to visit places mentioned in these books.

The first author that I found was Sharon Kay Penman. Ms. Penman wrote a series of books on the Plantagenets or the Angevins starting with the aptly titled When Christ and his Saints Slept, which covers the anarchy of King Stephen's reign to the crowning of Henry Plantagenet. The second book in the series is Time and Chance recounts the tumultuous marriage of Henry and Eleanor of Aquitaine. This book covers Henry's early reign and his conflict with his Archbishop of Canterbury, Thomas Becket. This conflict led to Becket's murder in Canterbury Cathedral. Book three, Devil's Brood, covers the last years of Henry's reign and the family conflicts that affected that time. Book four is titled Lionheart, a novel highlighting Henry and Eleanor's son, Richard. Sharon Kay Penman will continue the Angevin saga with her March release of A King's Ransom, which continues Richard's story.

Penman is a master storyteller who is meticulous in her research and has a writing style that flows effortlessly. Through her writing I was determined to visit Canterbury Cathedral where Becket was murdered. I wanted to immerse myself in the history of the spot and imagine what happened when the four knights of King Henry confronted Becket. The beauty of the cathedral is awe inspiring and the spot of Thomas' martyrdom evokes sadness, bringing Penman's books to life. Here are a few photos of my visit to the cathedral.

 The next author I found was Elizabeth Chadwick. Chadwick writes a series of books about the Marshal family starting with a Place Beyond Courage which details John Marshal and the turbulent times of King Stephen's reign. The Greatest Knight and The Scarlet Lion cover the remarkable life of William Marshal, John's son. I have to say after reading about William's life he is a hero of mine now. Elizabeth Chadwick's writing is also meticulous in research and this meticulous accounting of the facts inter woven with a fabulous story enriches her novels. After reading these superb novels I had to visit one of William's castles. I traveled to Wales and visited Pembroke Castle. I loved to imagine myself walking in William's footsteps. It was a fantastic journey into Wales and William's world.

 The last author I found on my search for quality historical fiction is Helen Hollick. Hollick wrote a novel based on Harold Godwinson/ King Harold II called I am the Chosen King. This novel covers the life of Harold up to his death on the field of Hastings. This poignant and well researched telling of Harold's life prompted me to make the trek to Battle where the English forces met William the Conqueror and the Norman invaders on October 14th, 1066. Walking the battlefield and seeing the remains of the abbey that was built on orders of King William was so emotional for me. One cannot quite grasp the carnage that happened more than 900 years ago on this peaceful field we see today.

These three brilliant authors and their superbly written books made me fall more in love with medieval history, made me research the lives they wrote about, and made me want to travel to the places mentioned in the books, making history come alive for me. I am so appreciative to Sharon Kay Penman, Elizabeth Chadwick, and Helen Hollick for sharing their talent and enriching my life with their books. Without excellent books such as these my life would be the poorer for it.

Saturday, 22 February 2014

A Few of Louise's Favourite Books


My passion is history, and I enjoy nothing better than to immerse myself within the pages of history books. My introduction to the world of Roman historical fiction, however, came by way of Conn Iggulden's Emperor Series. I had belonged to a book club and had to buy an extra book to qualify for a free gift. Okay, so there's nothing free in this world! I chose as my extra book the Gates of Romemy accompanying free gift is not even worthy of a mention.

When my free book arrived it sat on the shelf for a little while before I decided to read it. From the first page I was entranced. The book begins with two young boys about eight years of age. The story follows them through adolescence and into adulthood; one child is Brutus, and the other is Caesar. Finding that it was part of a series I was grumpily protesting that I had to wait for a year for the next installment. Eventually I read all five books in the series. Between book four and five, however, Conn Iggulden started another five-book series, Conqueror about Genghis Khan, whom I had been interested in for quite some years, the first in the series being Wolf of the Plains. Again waiting for each book to come out was excruciating. When each book was released I would sit and read as if nothing else mattered. Conn Iggulden has a writing style that is unique. it fills your mind, makes you part of the story, a bystander hiding, unnoticed by the characters that are immersed in their parts.

Paula Lofting's book Sons of the Wolf which is set in 1052 is a very special book for me. Not just because I know the author, but because of its authenticity; there is no modernising of the Anglo-Saxon names, it has a richness of language: its history, its sense of place completely engulfs the reader. I have read it twice now, the second time much slower than the first. It's like getting a second helping of something you love, you take your time over it don't you? So you can savour it, breathe it in, experience it more fully in your mind's eye. It is completely enthralling. Paula's powerful language is woven silently into your psyche, and your experience is complete.


What poetry do I like best? Well my taste is eclectic. I like to read out loud The Rhyme of the Ancient Mariner by Samuel Taylor Coleridge. I also have it as a recording read by Richard Burton with Robert Hardy. I sometimes read it 'with' him... trying to get the nuances, the pauses, the rhythm that only Richard Burton could achieve. It opens with words that just draw you in:

'It is an ancient Mariner, And he stoppeth one of three.
"By thy long grey beard and glittering eye, Now wherefore stopp'st thou me?
May'st hear the merry din."
He holds him with his skinny hand,
"There was a ship." Quoth he.
"Hold off! Unhand me, grey-beard loon!"
Eftsoons his hand dropt he.'

The language is wonderfully evocative, and the rhythm and the tension builds and builds until you are almost breathless. It is magnificent and artful poetry.

I have indulged myself in the joys of reading Geoffrey Chaucer's Canterbury Tales with its witty language, its comedy and its forthrightness. The images that are conjured up in the mind are as detailed as they are most entertaining. Such clever use of language is to be admired. If you can, give yourself the pleasure of reading it in its original Old English: the rhythms that this induces are magical.

I am trying to learn Anglo-Saxon, so reading Beowulf: A New Translation by Seamus Heaney is helpful. I also have a recording of him reading it. it is an exhilarating experience to read along in one's head as Seamus Heaney delivers the fearsome lines. His intonations, his lilting voice, rising and falling; the drama, the tension, and the baleful moments are exquisite in their intensity. It is an experience never to be forgotten.

 Then there are the works of John Milton. I told you my taste was eclectic. I studied John Milton at university and became entranced by his works, for example, John Milton The Complete Poems. This book is a mixture of political poems, Psalters, and of course then there is Paradise Lost and Paradise Regained. Such forceful writing, thought provoking, and testing too. I did my dissertation on John Milton's Paradise Lost. I was immersed within his world with my research for many months, and enjoyed every moment of it to the point where I revisit his works at least once or twice a year.

 Most of all I am completely fascinated by William Shakespeare. I first 'met' him at school, but didn't appreciate his work then. it was like dry sawdust, something to be swept aside. I was reintroduced to him when I went back into full time education in my mid-forties. What had I missed! Such use of language, such binding together of words, it was mesmerising. I began reading anything and everything to do with Shakespeare, and still do. My latest acquisition is Who Killed William Shakespeare? the Murderer, The Motive, the Means by Simon Andrew Stirling. I have to admit to never having heard that Shakespeare had been murdered. Although I have read much to do with Shakespeare, I had not come across this information before. It is a truly absorbing book, one which I am still working my way through. Some of it I have had to reread to get it straight in my mind before moving on. This book is so meticulously researched and written and would be one of my Desert Island Books, without a doubt.

My reading goes well beyond this limited list. I would need a complete series of "My Favourite Books". It is difficult to choose which ones I like the best; they all have a special place because they have all given me something that I would not have experienced had I not read them at all.

Louise Rule is the author of Future Confronted.
Louise's Blog can be found here
Louise can be found on Facebook here

Friday, 21 February 2014

Guest Post: Turtle's Picks of Favorite Books

15.  The Magic Thief

Sarah Prineas


                         14. The Cricket in Time Square

George Seldon

                                                                                                13.  Ungifted

Gordan Korman


                                         12. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn

Mark Twain


11. Robinson Crusoe

Daniel Dafoe


   10. Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH

Robert O'Brien


                                                                                                9. FableHaven

Brandon Mull


                                           8. Percy Jackson series 

Rick Riordan


7. Spirit Animals

Brandon Mull

                                                 6. Treasure Hunters

James Patterson



5. The Neverending Story

Michael Ende


                                                   4. Planet Tad

Tim Carvell


3. The Chronicles of Narnia

C.S. Lewis


                                          2. Diary of a Wimpy Kid series

Jeff Kinney

1. Harry Potter series

J.K. Rowling


These books (listed above) are some of my all-time favorites but if I were to list all of them I would use a lot of paper. So I tried to let you in on my 15 favorites. If you have not read this selection of books you can and I hope you enjoy them as much as I did.


I simply had to include an "Honorable Mention" section as there are far 
too many books to choose from!

Jules Verne

Lewis Carroll

Rudyard Kipling
Lisa McMann