Book Review: There is Always a Tomorrow (Plus Giveaway)

There is Always a Tomorrow
by Anna Belfrage

The author so generously has donated a FREE e-copy of

There is Always a Tomorrow for one lucky winner!

Want your name in our contest drawing? Simply comment below OR at this review’s Facebook thread, located here

Drawing December 9

Following a flurry of historical fiction and other awards, novelist Anna Belfrage’s Graham Saga series drew to its conclusion in 2015—much to the dismay of her extensive fan base. The series has a significant readability factor and, being eight installments long, followers have been drawn time and again back to the books detailing the lives of seventeenth-century native Matthew Graham, his time-travelling wife, Alex, their large family and encounters with the era’s dangers and those who exacerbate them. Readers simply cannot get enough and, looking forward to the possibility of a spinoff story here or there, are periodically wooed back with bonus material.

(As if they need to be wooed.)

Belfrage has now done one better by releasing a delightful secret, her ninth entry, There is Always a Tomorrow. Set against the backdrop of mercurial 1600s Maryland in its anti-Catholic phase, the family encounters trouble when hysteria reaches a boiling point, thanks to one of their own sons, who has betrayed a Catholic priest, their close friend, to authorities. The Grahams are torn between loyalties—their child, a friend in deep trouble and their own Presbyterian background—and creating distance between themselves and danger entails a second thread involving another son, Samuel, adopted by Quachow into a local Native tribe, whose loss Alex continues to mourn.

The tale shifts back and forth between these events and those of two Graham boys in England with their Uncle Luke, and a final storyline with threads on both sides of the Atlantic, eventually making its chaotic and potentially destructive way to Graham’s Garden.

One of the first things we noticed about Tomorrow is that despite the challenges faced by the family, they aren’t uprooted in quite the manner they have been in past tales. This is to the story’s advantage because apart from avoiding risk of a type of overexposure, Belfrage also shows her consideration for the main characters who, ehem, aren’t getting any younger. They are all too aware of this as well, though this reality doesn’t haunt them in any overly dramatic manner, and the result is a very genuine approach to acknowledging the passage of time in the series.

Despite this transition, Alex never forgets where she comes from, even if she doesn’t talk about it all that often, though readers are aware she has on occasion, to a select few people, including her favorite son, Ian. Through their growing up years, Alex has also told fairy tales, old and new—although these terms can deliciously muddy the waters if one ponders on the time travel issue too deeply—to her children, and in this installment readers are treated to a delightful acknowledgement when she asks her grandson, “Did I ever tell you the story of the magic wardrobe?” It provides a link to her native era and by extension to readers, as if to whisper through the winds of time that her fight to remain where a freak thunderstorm brought her was not a rejection of us; she had simply found the place she belonged. This provides foundation for both the romanticism of the books as well as the series’ continuity, and Belfrage’s sprinkling of the novels with such memories, or considerations of the future solidifies the connection. With the dual perception, that of Alex’s remaining twenty-first century attitudes paired with those she has developed in her new/old life, more are crafted, and what exists between readers and the Grahams grows as well, a relationship.

As always, the author’s style is one of seamless flow, and she has a marvelous ability to build so much into circumstance. Rachel, for instance, who comes to Maryland from her dark and troubled life in England, by her very name takes us back to earlier in our journey with Alex, to another little girl who once lived, another Rachel who was loved and was lost, and who also is not forgotten. As Alex remembers her girl, we mourn with her, feeling the hurt she does in her ongoing failure to make a connection with this Rachel, who represents a link not only between lands, but as well within the family, as we learn she is the daughter of another lost child.

The Prodigal Son, a B.R.A.G. Medallion winner, was our first encounter with the Grahams, and remains a lasting attachment (click image).

Interestingly, her character isn’t as fleshed out as one might expect it to be, and the relaying of her young troubles seems to pass by very quickly, as if almost too easily told. Yet this has meaning as well, for her existence in historical seventeenth-century London would also have been underdeveloped as a marker of her place in society: invisible. The paradox of history being littered with the remains of figures we can’t even name is a tragedy compounded by such realities as illiteracy, a bitter reminder of what is built into human DNA to crave, and what Belfrage provides: relationships. She remains within reality, however, and though the series is a mixture of historical fiction, time slip and fantasy, she doesn’t resort to the unfeasible; relationships between all events indeed are solid and authentic, further explaining our connection and longing for more of these tales. Some of these associations are more developed than others, despite familial bonds, and not all are cherished, as is the case in real life.

“The astounding thing is that she dares voice such an opinion in my home.” Kate’s mouth shaped itself into a little spout. “An intolerable and quite useless little missy is what she is.” She sighed. “There are days when I really miss Lucy.”

 “Not me.” Alex shook her head slowly. Simon’s deaf daughter had been extraordinarily beautiful, just as extraordinarily gifted, and somewhat twisted inside. And far too curious for her own good, which was why she was now gone, permanently.

Is it? you might ask. Even those who have read the installment this passage refers to automatically will be pulled back, on the surface wanting to re-experience events of this time. Also, however, they will recognize the cryptic wording and begin to wonder. Did I miss something? Was Alex involved in something untoward? If not, how much does she really know? While this and other passages may or may not lead to something extra, there are many points along the way in which we yearn for the stories again. And, as with so much of the material within Tomorrow, Belfrage’s characters themselves engage in a story about memory and self-identification, what makes them who they are. Old wounds are addressed, sometimes successfully, other times less so, and new questions rise to the surface. It is a testament to Belfrage’s skill as an author that we find no firm conclusions when we ask the universe: Does this mean there is more to come? Or is there simply much we have forgotten, or perhaps not recognized? She also manages satisfactorily to fill in new readers while simultaneously lighting that spark of I have to go back and read the others. Series veterans, perhaps bemused, might say, simply, Don’t expect that to be the only time that happens.

Perhaps the best of The Graham Saga, There is Always a Tomorrow firmly included, is that uncertain familiarity. With biblical references, by way of names, fables and more, we tap into it as much seems almost a replay of the heritage of so many: prodigal sons, feuding brothers, thirty pieces of silver, sacrifice within various contexts. These and other ancient comedies re-enacted in real life and within literature are as familiar to us as our own names, yet often so unrecognized, woven so deeply into the fabric of our beings as they are. At times it seems this is destined to continue into countless tomorrows, with the hope we can be better, make something brighter, next time. And as is the brilliance of Belfrage, this wraps itself within the time warp question and how circular it all might really be. She creates in us a sensation that hopes there is always a sequel, though this has yet to be seen, for as contradictory as it may be, all good things must end.

Or do they? Whether or not Belfrage brings us any more in the series, we sense continuity: perhaps in spinoff stories, linkage in unrelated tales, maybe even fan fiction. There certainly are re-reads, and while the books all have many levels and can be approached from a number of angles, they also may be enjoyed as straightforward stories, not to mention be destined for greatness.

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To see other reviews and blogs with Anna Belfrage, click titles below:

A Rip in the Veil 

A Rip in the Veil (Updated)

Like Chaff in the Wind

The Prodigal Son (with Chocolate Cake Author Interview)

A Newfound Land

Serpents in the Garden

Revenge and Retribution 

Whither Thou Goest

To Catch a Falling Star

In the Shadow of the Storm (Book I in The King’s Greatest Enemy series)

Other:

Cover Crush for A Rip in the Veil

Chocolate Brownies Author Interview

On My Retrieval of Apple Pie from Sweden (A Chat with Author Anna Belfrage)

Reading 2017: The Importance of Covers (Book Blogger Group Chat)

Sunken Pie Author Interview (Of Pies, Books and Other Essentials) (Stay tuned)

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Author Anna Belfrage in her own words …

I was always going to be a writer – well in between being an Arctic explorer, a crusader or Richard Lionheart’s favourite page (no double entendre intended – I was far too innocent at the time). Anyway, not for me the world of nine to five, of mortgages and salary checks. Oh no; I was going to be a free spirit, an impoverished but happy writer, slaving away in a garret room.

Life happened. (It does, doesn’t it?) I found myself the bemused holder of a degree in Business Admin, and a couple of years later I was juggling a challenging career, four kids, a husband (or was he juggling me?), a jungle of a garden, a dog, a house …. Not much time for writing there, let me tell you. At most, I stole a moment here or there.

Fortunately, kids grow up. My stolen moments became hours, became days, weeks, months … (I still work. I no longer garden – one must prioritize). It is an obsession, this writing thing. It is a joy and a miracle, a constant itch and an inroad to new people, new places, new times.

Anna Belfrage can be found on Amazon, Twitter, on her website and at her fantabulous blog, where you can learn more about the author, the Grahams, other projects and her world.

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A courtesy copy of There is Always a Tomorrow was provided to the blogger to facilitate an honest review. Author image courtesy Anna Belfrage.

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Book Excerpt: The Break (Lars D.H. Hedbor) (Plus Giveaway)

Please see below for information about how you could win a FREE
paperback copy of a Lars Hedbor novel of your choice.

The Battle of Bunker Hill was a turning point in the American Revolution, but it’s all too easy to forget that it came at a steep cost—and not just to the Americans, who lost the incomparable Joseph Warren that day, but to the British and their Loyalist allies, who died in their hundreds. In The Break, a Loyalist evacuee learns of one such loss in a letter from a friend who remained in Massachusetts. —Lars D.H. Hedbor

 

Battle of Bunker Hill, by Howard Pyle, c. 1897. It was a Pyrrhic victory for the British, who suffered losses of over a third of their troops, many more in numbers than the Americans incurred, via Wikimedia Commons

 

Twenty-First June, ‘75

My dearest Susannah,

I write to you with a heart utterly Destroyed by the late Events in this Ruined Paradise. The worst News I shall dispense with first—our Friend Ezekiel has been Killed in the course of a brave Action, about which I shall say more when I have gathered my Ability to relate any words at all. You have, I am certain, long been acquainted with the Vicious Events that took place during the Summer past on the Heights overseeing that most admirable of Cities, our fair Boston-Town. The entirety of Charles-Town, which lay close by the hot Action of the summer, has been extinguished by fire promoted by the Evil actions of the rebels who infest the Countryside all about there. A pitched Battle was there fought, with the loss of some hundreds of gallant Souls, among the which was my dear Ezekiel. Oh!  I cannot write anything Sensible, so lost am I in my Grief, but I shall try. The wicked Enemy (for Enemies they now be, to all decent Men of loyal hearts) made bold to attempt a Bombardment of the city of Boston, which was held firm under the Protection of the King’s Men who have long been encamped in that Place. Our Men gave them firm opposition in this Cruel Design, and the battle that resulted was as Terrible as any I have read about in any History. While I was not present, that Place being, as you know, pretty distant from our little Town, I have spoken to those who went there and Assisted to bury those who fell to our enemies’ treacherous Designs. One of the fallen was found to have in his Pocket a letter signed as Ezekiel Mills, and when I described that Dear Man to he who carried the precious Letter, he agreed that the cold corpse answered to Ezekiel’s description. I am unable to imagine my Fate without my friend and Protector, dear Susannah! I am overcome with the loss we have thereby suffered. In the end, as I am sure you have read in your news-papers, the Loyal forces of the King repulsed the cowardly attack of the accursed rebels, but such Victories we cannot afford very often, it is said far and wide. I cannot breathe, I am so consumed with grief, even with Ezekiel these many weeks in his cold Grave. There is not much else to tell that you will not have heard of elsewhere. We labor in the Desolation that is our world after this terrible Battle, and hope only that our Enemies may come to swift and complete Defeat and Ruin, as they have brought so many good Men to ruin. I hope that you are well, and that the Evil of war may not come to visit you at your Wise Remove from this place of Woe. I am,

Your sad but constant Friend,

Emma

 

The Death of General Warren at the Battle of Bunker’s Hill, June 17, 1775, by John Trumbull (hover over image at link for individual tags of identification; names there are also hyperlinked for more information on each figure) via Wikimedia Commons

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Lars Hedbor is so graciously gifting a paperback copy to some lucky winner! And that person gets to choose which title! Simply comment below or at this link on our FB blog page—even a simple hello will get you into the drawing, which will take place December 12.

To see information on each book, click here.

You may also wish to have a peek at my previous reviews for Tales From a Revolution—

The Prize (Tales From a Revolution: Vermont)

The Light (Tales From a Revolution: New-Jersey)

The Smoke (Tales From a Revolution: New York)

The Break (Tales From a Revolution: Nova-Scotia) (Coming December 9)

The Wind (Tales From a Revolution: West-Florida)

The Darkness (Tales From a Revolution: Maine)

The Path (Tales From a Revolution: Rhode-Island)

Get your free e-copy of The Declaration!

About the author ….

What made the American Colonists turn their back on their King, and fight for independence? How were they different from us–and how were their hopes and fears familiar to our own hearts?

These are the sorts of questions that I think are important to ask in examining the American Revolution, and in the pages of my novels, I suggest some possible answers.

My first novel, The Prize, was published in 2011, followed by The Light in 2013, and The Smoke, The Declaration, and The Break in 2014; The Wind was published in 2015, and The Darkness in 2016.

I’ve also written extensively about this era for the Journal of the American Revolution, and have appeared as a featured guest on an Emmy-nominated Discovery Network program, The American Revolution, which premiered nationally on the American Heroes Channel in late 2014. I am also a series expert on America: Fact vs. Fiction for Discovery Networks, and will be a panelist at the Historical Novel Society’s 2017 North American Conference.

I am an amateur historian, linguist, brewer, fiddler, astronomer and baker. Professionally, I am a technologist, marketer, writer and father. My love of history drives me to share the excitement of understanding the events of long ago, and how those events touch us still today.

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You can follow and learn more about Lars D.H. Hedbor and his books at his website and blog, Twitter and Facebook. The Break may be purchased in paperback (signed copies available upon request), as Kindle, Nook, iBooks, Kobo or at Smashwords. (Paperbacks also available at Amazon and Barnes and Noble links.)

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Keep an eye out in these pages for more from Lars Hedbor, including an upcoming giveaway of a signed and personalized paperback copy of a Hedbor novel of the reader’s choice, and my review of The Break.

Photo courtesy Lars D.H. Hedbor

Book Review: Hidden Treasure

Hidden Treasure: How to Break Free of
Five Patterns That Hide Your True Self
by Alice McDowell, Ph.D.

Releases November 14, 2017 

I don’t read, let alone review, a great many self-help books, and wasn’t sure what to expect from Alice McDowell’s Hidden Treasure: How to Break Free of Five Patterns That Hide Your True Self, but upon seeing its blurb I was curious straight away. Who hasn’t heard that most of us have accumulated some (or at least one) bad habit that gets in the way of greater success, more rewarding relationships, or even of lasting contentment? “Sure,” I thought to myself, “I’m game.”

Click image to see the author’s extensive website

I found the book is broken down into rather straight forward segments consisting of an introductory chapter, five that each lay out one of the patterns referenced in the title and a final chapter, aptly titled, “Now What Do I Do?” Two appendices provide further information. A one-time questionnaire helps you gain better insight into which pattern you fit, thought and physical exercises are combined with each section on the five types and quirky drawings are sprinkled throughout the book. Brilliantly, the author also includes links to audio book companions.

So what exactly is a hidden treasure? Some readers might, by virtue of the book’s title and it being self help, be able to deduce a general idea of it referring to a type of worthiness we don’t really see within ourselves, or display; the author gets to that pretty quickly by defining it as the “true self,” the one that is too often blocked by childhood trauma or early environmental behaviors and the defenses we utilize to protect ourselves from them.

In the beginning I confess, I started to become a bit skeptical, concerned this would be too New Age-y and questioned the author’s frequent use of childhood, even birth, events as the culprit behind behavioral defense, and feared it all would descend into relativism when she spoke of a spiritual teacher giving a pass to pirates, who raped and pillaged Vietnamese escapees in the 1970s, based on the conditions under which they were raised. I also wasn’t completely sold on the re-birthing process discussed within true stories and other passages.

Having said all that, it is important to note that keeping an open mind, at least adopting a “Well, let’s just see where this goes” sort of mindset most definitely has its reward. As it turns out, the author’s approach is much more balanced, and this is more greatly reflected as the work moves forward, with acknowledgement that these behaviors exist on a continuum, some experiencing the negative impact to a greater or lesser degree than others.

She also wisely advises that none of these past experiences provide carte blanche to unload on others and stresses personal responsibility with a blame pledge that doesn’t prohibit a person from ever complaining, rather that one “honestly examine[s] what you claim to be the source of your feelings and [reject] the false belief that others or circumstances are causing them.” Especially in today’s environment in which people are routinely blamed for being offensive (a wrongly- and overused word I have grown to loathe) simply for expressing their opinions, I was relieved to see this important distinction made more than once.

McDowell introduces terms that correspond to childhood experiences and the techniques developed to protect ourselves from them, and the chapters succinctly explain examples of early trauma, behaviors standard for that character type, individual experiences and ways to heal. She also provides a table that summarizes the structures, which I found to be a useful visual to bring it all together.

The author early on acknowledges that traditional names of each of the five character structures aren’t as “palatable” as the terms used today. These are (with modern terms in parentheses):

Schizoid (Outsider)

Oral (Dependent-independent one)

Masochist (Endurer)

Psychopathy (Controller)

Rigid (Achiever)

While I’m not generally in favor of the term upheaval that continues to occur in our society, I appreciated these additions, given their association with psychology and mental health and how labeling ourselves and others with the older terms don’t necessarily go a long way toward the healing her book promotes. Being referred to as a controller, for example, isn’t exactly flattering, but it retains its negative connotation without wildly fantastic phrases that to the lay ear cast aspersions on a person’s ability to function in society.

Occasionally I came upon an exercise I wasn’t sure I could bring myself to do—not owing to physical inability, more along the lines of my own awkward feelings—though the vast majority are not only ones I felt I could participate in, but they also bore relation to the unique difficulties with added, associated benefits. For example, a person who presents within the oral structure and feels overwhelmed, never seeming to be able to have enough of anything, or anything done, might try the “I Am Enough” mantra.

[Elena recounts:]

 The simple act of repeating “I am enough” seemed ridiculous, but I was desperate because I felt insecure and existentially unworthy. I’m humbled by this exercise. Whenever there’s a crisis or I feel inadequate, I switch on my “I am enough” mantra. It helps me defuse the negative spiraling voices. By doing this on a daily basis, I’m actually starting to anticipate my triggers and not give them power. My life’s purpose and energy has been a Sisyphean striving for enoughness: to be intelligent enough, well-read enough, rich enough, compassionate enough, loveable enough, spiritual enough, limber enough. Lately I’m starting to entertain the radical concept that perhaps “I am enough” just the way I am.

 I especially chose this example because today it seems everyone relates to this on some level: perhaps they are fed up with the commercialization/“competition” of Christmas, or constantly compare themselves to other parents and people at work who seem to get more done. It also fits in very well with other works I have read that speak of continual growth paired with giving yourself permission to be who you are, such as a “good enough parent,” as one article spoke of. Another opened up the idea of rising from sleep an hour or so before one’s usual time, and some of the breathing exercises within Hidden Treasure would fit quite nicely in that period, to set the tone for the day, ground oneself, feel more connected to oneself in a world in which so many demands are made upon us.

Perhaps the element I most loved within Hidden Treasure is that within each chapter devoted to a particular character structure is a “gift” section: positive character traits that also tend to accompany each, transformed or of a higher version. For example, endurers might carry a great deal of anger, but that energy can also be utilized to achieve, especially as re-worked persistence (elevated above stubbornness) and their hardworking nature also contribute. Achieving all this becomes so much more a reality because, as McDowell stresses, you are not your structure and, importantly, gives readers choices. Having introduced Hidden Treasure groups and the idea of readers forming their own circles, she openly states there might come a time when a group is no longer needed, or participants have reached a point at which growth in a new direction is natural.

The stated parameters (e.g. accepting and identifying self behaviors) pair well with the flexibility within Hidden Treasure and I like that the physical and breathing exercises can fit into any lifestyle. Moreover, the book’s setup ensures that once someone identifies which character structure they fit into, they can easily focus on that particular chapter for easy return and reference. Accessible and written with a positive message, it works within a balance for all to experience ongoing, constructive change.

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More on Alice McDowell, Ph.D and Hidden Treasure

When I was 11 years old, my father suddenly died of a heart attack. I started questioning everything. Why did this happen to me? What is the purpose of life, anyway? Why am I here? This set me on a path of discovery.

My journey led me to the IM School of Healing Arts where I learned about the five patterns—called character structures. Impressed with the changes occurring both within my classmates and myself, and building on my prior studies, I developed a three-year program of five weekends a year called Finding the Hidden Treasure, which I have been teaching for the last 20 years.

My students—of all ages and walks of life—discovered that the most powerful, life-changing part of the course was their work with the five character structures. Some found life partners or improved their intimate relationships. Many found themselves to be happier at work, while others found the strength to leave unsuitable jobs and find ones more in alignment with their true self. Some began—or deepened—a spiritual practice.

With such success, I asked myself, “Why not offer this to more people?” This idea started me on a journey to write Hidden Treasure. I hope that reading the book and doing the exercises will also change your life for the better.

I’ve taken you to the present. I hope you’ll be part of my future.

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The five personality patterns in this book are well documented — it is the author’s approach to the patterns that differentiates this book.

With its light tone, the illustrations and cartoons help readers stay off their case and not take themselves too seriously, rare in this subgenre.

You can read Hidden Treasure‘s synopsis and a few brief reviews, as well as watch the book’s trailer. Also available is an excerpt from the first chapter (with a fun drawing included!) and some more on the five character structures. You can even take the character structure quiz to find out where you might fit in.

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If you are in the Ithaca, New York area, come check out Hidden Treasure‘s launch appearance!

Ithaca, NY: December 3, 2017 at 3:00 p.m.
Buffalo Street Books
215 N. Cayuga Street, Ithaca, NY 14850
Located in the Dewitt Mall

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An advance reader copy (ARC) of Hidden Treasure was provided for the blogger to write an honest review.

Book Review: Insurrectio (Plus Giveaway)

Insurrectio (Book V in the Roma Nova series) by Alison Morton

Historical Novel Society Indie Editor’s Choice Spring 2016

Chill with a Book Award Book of the Month February 2017

A B.R.A.G. Medallion Honoree, October 2016

For your chance to win a FREE e-copy of Insurrectio, simply comment below to get your name in the draw!

Imagine a remnant of the Roman Empire has survived, transformed into a society in which women have more public power, and continues to govern today in a modest portion of Europe. Author Alison Morton has done this and her alternate history series, featuring Aurelia Mitela, descended from the lead of the originally exiled Twelve Families, ex-Praetorian and current imperial counsellor in Roma Nova, is the fabulous result of her wanderings through the past.

Click image to peruse one of the nicest author sites: attractive, organized, user friendly–plus a free e-copy of Inceptio, first in the series

Roma Nova is divided into two parts of three books each: the second cycle, Aurelia, Insurrectio and Retalio, functions as the prequel story and occurs in the 1960s and 80s, ahead of Inceptio, Perfitidas and Successio, set in an alternate-reality present day. There is no disadvantage to opening with the Aurelia cycle, indeed at any within it, for Morton has written them as stand-alone novels, each a complete and satisfying story of a chain of events in the life of our protagonist, whose childhood nemesis, Caius Tellus, brings his antagonism to bear on the government he loathes. A misogynist with an axe to grind, he derives special pleasure from targeting Aurelia, whose strength and determination threatens not only his fragile ego, but also the plans he has in store for their small but silver-rich nation.

Most of us have heard it said repeatedly: power never exists in a vacuum. Aurelia understands this all too well, but has difficulty getting others to realize the danger of the void that exists, and which Tellus has already recognized. As circumstances go from bad to worse, Aurelia seeks to protect her teenage and lately contrary daughter, while simultaneously working to reconcile her relationship with Miklós, whose inability to remain in one spot unsettles her. At just about the time Aurelia begins to wish her strong ethics had not stayed her hand in a confrontation with Tellus some years earlier, others in her social and administrative circles see her as conspirator, and Aurelia is faced with a dilemma that umbrellas all her other troubles: is it too late to do anything?

Thinking I might like it enough, not being a big reader of Roman historical fiction, I had been pleasantly surprised with my reading of Aurelia a year or so ago. That sense of wonder increased exponentially with my inhalation of Insurrectio, the bulk of which was absorbed in one 24-hour period. The pages turned in swift succession with the thrill of events often occurring just as quickly, and I found myself responding to them, sometimes aloud, groaning in exasperation, lecturing people, smacking my forehead in disbelief, urging them to light a fire under it ….

Part of what makes Morton’s political thriller so exciting is the pace at which her story moves, influencing a habit I have recognized in myself and seen in others, of reading more rapidly, as if somehow that might prompt the positive outcome of characters in danger. Paired with a narrative of intrigue and deception, betrayal woven into even small corners of instances, we become more suspicious of everything and then cry out when someone falls into a trap.

One such potential snare is a Roma Novan law that functions for the society’s women to retain power, but its discriminatory nature provides a weak spot for exploitation. As plot device, however, it is strong, setting the stage for Caius to make his attempts at “reform,” and threatening to lead his nation to a Roman dystopia. Then there is the Roman feel of the setting, what with traditional names (including plural ending of surnames), titles (domina, Praetorian), reference to ancient worship (“What in Hades is that supposed to mean?” or “Jupiter! What’s this?”) and the perception that the Prussians are a soft society, amongst a people who use cell phones, drive cars and do business worldwide. This, to be honest, is a lot to mix together, but Morton does it with style and flair as she also subtly mirrors real-life current events and passionate but flawed expectations:

Terrifying as the attack … had been, it was minor compared with the trouble in the city. By the time he’d flown out to see me, Plico had compiled the full picture. A parade of thousands of men from the Roman National Movement marching in full toga order from the forum had ended a rally in front of the amphitheatre with twice the number they’d started with. There’d been declamatory speeches which some of Plico’s operatives had listened to while mingling with the toga toughs.

 ‘The speakers call themselves Gracchus, Sulla, Clodius and so on.’ He snorted. ‘Pseudonyms, obviously, but they’ve got the crowd fired up. My people said they pushed emotional words at the crowd, repeating over and over again stuff about land, virtue, tradition, strength, order, manliness, grabbing every popular reference they could from history. They called for stability, jobs, respect—all the usual stuff—without any explanation about how they were going to deliver them, of course.’

It would be a mistake to perceive this as mere gender reversal, not only because, as weak Roma Novan governance itself demonstrates, any group is subject to instability, but also as it removes personhood from the entire populace, not only its men. As a study in leadership, it works, because this angle, too, reveals the strengths and weaknesses of all people (not only women), and highlights a need for balance to overcome inequality, not legislatively favoring one or certain elements within any population.

As we are given greater view to genuine gripes exploited by an agenda, the rapid pace of the narrative reflects the manner in which individuals must act. Though Aurelia draws on her past experience to move forward, as a character she grows. Her humanity is more revealed, though so too is her vulnerability. Her very real anxieties threaten to trip her up as they carry readers along with events, breathlessly urging her to be as wary of her fears as the occasions that birth them. For readers familiar with the titular character of Aurelia, this is especially satisfying given her very practical and efficient portrayal in the cycle’s first installment.

Overall, it’s easy to say this was a fantastically paced tale with a plot that captures reader attention and doesn’t let go. Aurelia is a likeable character up against an enemy carefully developed into a realistic and formidable foe. With subtle teasers here and there as to the future of Roma Nova, it beckons us deeper into Alison Morton’s world. Read alone or along with the others, those within this world grow closer to us and we care about what happens to them, as does Aurelia, even though she doesn’t like some of them very much. It causes one to wonder what happens next, which can be seen in the first three books of the series, though we suspect they will remain with us long after even their conclusion.

To enter the contest for a FREE e-copy of Insurrectio, simply comment below – no need for anything fancy! – and you’re in! Alternately, you may also comment at this review Facebook thread, located here. 

Drawing to be held December 2

To read my review for Aurelia, click here.

 

About the Author…

Even before she pulled on her first set of combats, Alison Morton was fascinated by the idea of women soldiers. Brought up by a feminist mother and an ex-military father, it never occurred to her that women couldn’t serve their country in the armed forces. Everybody in her family had done time in uniform and in theatre all over the globe.

So busy in her day job, Alison joined the Territorial Army in a special communications regiment and left as a captain, having done all sorts of interesting and exciting things no civilian would ever know or see. Or that she can talk about, even now ….

But something else fuels her writing … fascinated by the mosaics at Ampurias (Spain), at their creation by the complex, power and value-driven Roman civilisation she started wondering what a modern Roman society would be like if run by strong women.morton

Alison lives in France and writes Roman-themed thrillers with tough heroines.

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You can connect with Alison Morton on her Roma Nova site, Facebook author page, at Twitter and on Goodreads.

 

Be sure to check out other great titles from Alison Morton~

Inceptio, the first in the Roma Nova series: shortlisted for the 2013 International Rubery Book Award; B.R.A.G. Medallion finalist in 2014; Writing Magazine Self-Published Book of the Year

Perfiditas, second in series: B.R.A.G. Medallion; finalist in 2014 Writing Magazine Self-Published Book of the Year

Successio, third in series: Historical Novel Society’s Indie Editor’s Choice for Autumn 2014; B.R.A.G. Medallion; Editor’s Choice, The Bookseller’s Inaugural Indie Preview, December 2014

And more on Insurrectio, fifth in series, second in a new cycle of three and multiple award winner. To purchase Insurrectio, click here for multiple retailers/formats.

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A copy of Insurrectio was furnished to the blogger in exchange for an honest review

Image courtesy Alison Morton

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Book Review: Child of the Northern Spring (Plus Giveaway)

I no longer recall how it was I came into contact with Persia Woolley, though I do remember it was on Facebook we first spoke. Perhaps I messaged her with the same words of adoration she’d heard a thousand times before, something like, “I read your books when I was in school and loved them ….”

No matter; she was always gracious and friendly. In our case she had a connection to the isolated place I live in and frequently asked about my child by name. It was as if he was her own relative, and her recall of his antics gifted me with fits of laughter all over again. Knowing of my love for Richard III, she sent me a booklet and we chatted online about word etymology, reading and writing, snow, teenagers and pizza–all sorts of fun stuff, and when looking back I was surprised at how extensive our little snippets of chatter were. 

One day I picked up the phone and dialed her number, expecting that she might be too busy or politely end the call after a decently lengthy enough courtesy exchange. Instead, when she heard my name she launched straight into conversation and we talked for at least two hours. It was like a birthday present, and I marveled later not at how much smaller the world has become (or so it is said; I’m not sure I believe it), but rather that some of the people within it are just as pleased to interact as we are. Persia, though, was more than just great at making people feel special; what you said mattered. I could always see that in her responses, and I valued it greatly. I still do.

On October 4 I was surprised and saddened to receive a message early in the morning, via comment subscription at her website, that Persia had passed away. I knew she was older and she had always spoken openly of aging, for the better and worse. I guess, though, when some people are so full of life, we forget that they are subject to the same rules of eternity as everyone else. It was a harsh lesson for the day, because I loved and cherished her presence in my life, online though it mostly was, and I already missed it sorely. 

I have long wanted to write a review of Persia’s words, and so today I present this one, hoping that on this day, this wonderful lady’s birthday, it can be like a gift for her, shared with many others who perhaps will see her works for the first time and join Guinevere’s world, or those who, like me, were earlier acquainted and fall in love all over again. I’ll be re-reading the next two in the series and hope you will as well. 

In memory of Persia Woolley and as a special thank you, I would like to gift a copy of Child of the Northern Spring

Please see below for more information 

Godspeed, Persia, and until we meet again!

Child of the Northern Spring
Book I of The Guinevere Trilogy

by Persia Woolley

I first read Persia Woolley’s Guinevere trilogy when I was in high school, loved it and was sure I would again. What I didn’t realize, when I recently began re-reading Child of the Northern Spring, was exactly how much I would enjoy this book, how much more, this time around. First in a series depicting the Arthurian age from the eyes of Guinevere, Child of the Northern Spring is packed with detail: expert observations of human behavior, particulars of the natural world and idiosyncrasies of various relationships—for starters. The narrative is written as if by the hand of someone who has actually experienced life in these times, ridden the trails and watched the world of the day, then with magnificent recall tells us of the era we long to know.

Updated cover for Child of the Northern Spring. I love the visual of Guinevere!

Readers join the story as Guinevere, Celtic princess and daughter of King Leodegrance, recalls the previous night when a bit of panic had set in and she scrambled to make a getaway from the next morning, now arrived, when she would begin her journey to become High Queen, wife of the legendary King Arthur. Reminded of the strength of Celtic womanhood, Guinevere determines to make the transition and her recall opens up as she remembers the road leading to this moment.

As the measured progress of her wedding journey slowly makes its way south, readers and protagonist are taken along the pathway of the princess’s childhood, and in alternating chapters, Guinevere tells her story as she describes the drive to her new home, the two roads ultimately meeting as her destination draws near. Woolley so expertly fuses the two times while simultaneously distinguishing which events are happening when, bringing to bear on a life story the understanding that in some manner everything is linked, as far apart or disparate as it all seems to be. Guinevere, too, her sense of history—personal as well as social—merging with contemplations of those yet to come, envisages a future in which “our lives shall run together. Like a tapestry of human endeavor, woven on a god-held warp, dyed with the glories of each individual’s action[.]”

One of the elements I liked best in this Arthurian novel is likely what many others have as well—the representation of a strong female character. It is important to remember, however, that such individuals, while they surely existed in real long-ago times, are not simply more ancient versions of today’s feminism. Respecting historical women as the individuals they are entails understanding what is important to them, in their context and from their perspectives, and Woolley portrays this magnificently as her Guinevere shares seeds of success, dreams, and toil that benefit all of her people without prejudice, aware that the true test of a leader’s success is how well all of her subjects fare, not only a focus group.

Two major conflicts disturb Guinevere’s progress: loyalty to her homeland, Rheged, where she was groomed to be queen, and the new Christian church, looming large before her, raised as she was in the old ways. As we learn more of her background, she too begins to see with new eyes the childhood that led to these moments. Woolley breathes new life into the tales of this character, often depicted elsewhere as passive and perhaps a bit spoiled, and succinctly portrays why—apart from leaving the only home she has every known—Guinevere is apprehensive about departing Rheged. The links of political allegiances, relationships and past events are expertly fused and the author avoids the common trap of getting lost in the wants of various warlords. The characters’ motives are believable, and how Guinevere embraces change well-balanced: she neither acquiesces easily nor exhibits stubborn refusals.

Cover for Child of the Northern Spring’s original 1987 edition

The book has a rather wide cast of characters, and Woolley manages their appearances proficiently, often naming chapters for the focus of that moment in Guinevere’s journey, with occasional re-appearances. Many, like Morgan le Fay, are familiar, and Woolley’s realistic treatment of them adds to the refreshing nature of this book, originally published in 1987, while remaining true to their mythologies.

Morgan was on her feet and pacing by then, moving with Arthur’s sure stride from one end of the room to the other. One hand nervously twisted the black curl that hung down by her ear, and she was such a contrast to her mother’s fair composure, it seemed likely the title “le Fay” hinted at her being a changeling child. I remembered our first meeting and half-expected her to vanish in a fit of rage, with or without the magic of a Druid’s Mist.

Observing these events and all the layers within them from this different perspective enables readers to contemplate characters in a new way as well, perhaps deconstruct a bit so we might question our understanding of who they are, see their humanity. As Guinevere herself seeks to answer questions pertaining to identity, she must utilize the diplomacy lessons she was reared on to see her through, and find her place as queen to a king attempting to unite a nation.

Looking at the story in acts, readers would see that there is no true arc within, as tension bubbles throughout the story while various events unfold. Moreover, knowing this to be the first part of a trilogy, I tend to see this installment as Act I in and of itself, as most who know the legends are aware of the troubles to come, and readers will be hungry for more of Guinevere as only Persia Woolley could present her.

 

To be in on your chance to win a free copy of Persia Woolley’s Child of the Northern Spring,

please comment below OR at this blog’s Facebook thread, which can be found here.

Drawing will be held in mid-December.

The Guinevere Trilogy:
(click links)

Child of the Northern Spring (Book I)

Queen of the Summer Stars (Book II)

Guinevere, The Legend in Autumn (Book III)

A Nod to Blōtmōnað

I’m a big fan of ancestors, language and author Annie Whitehead. Today, in my first ever re-blog, all three come together for a really fabulous piece in which this esteemed author talks about Blōtmōnað  – Blood Month, better known to us moderns as November – and a spot of how to read an Anglo-Saxon calendar.

(Click link at bottom for the rest of the article.)

It’s November, or Blōtmōnað as the Anglo-Saxons called it. (the Old English letters ð and þ are represented in modern English by the combination th)So, what’s Blood-Month all about? Unlike the days of the week, where the words are recognisable, the Anglo-Saxon calendar is not so obvious.Days of the WeekSunday: Sunnenday (Middle English translation of Greek Hemera heliou): the sun’s day,Monday: Monan…

via Blōtmōnað – Blood Month — Casting Light upon the Shadow

Book Review: The Popish Midwife (Plus Giveaway)

 

 

The Popish Midwife:
A Tale of High Treason, Prejudice and Betrayal
by Annelisa Christensen

 

Recipient of the Readers’ Favorite and Bronze Award in the

Christian Historical Fiction category of Readers’ Favorite

International Book Awards 2017

 

Please see below for information about how to win a FREE Kindle copy of 

The Popish Midwife 

There is a reality to my co-existence with seventeenth-century London: I’m not all that well versed in it. The little information stuffed into my head is probably what most people already know, affairs such as Charles I’s execution; rise of the Commonwealth and Protectorate; and return of Charles II, previously driven into exile following his father’s death in 1649.

Annelisa Christensen’s The Popish Midwife is set against the backdrop of this era’s heir: nearly twenty years into the Restoration and twelve following the Great Fire of 1666. Cromwell is long dead, but his vehement and divisive anti-Catholic bias endures, a lesson our popish protagonist learns after she is beaten in the streets by an entire thuggish family, solely for her religious beliefs.

Inspired by papers the author purchased merely for the thrill of holding 300-year-old documents, and which turned out to be from the historical trial of Elizabeth Cellier, Christensen pieces together true events of this era, when Catholicism was suspect and one Titus Oates speaks of a plot perpetrated by Catholics to remove the Protestant king and replace him with his younger—and Catholic—brother. Power had been shifting back and forth between the two religions since before Elizabeth I, though anti-Catholic sentiment prevailed with the Gunpowder Plot on this day in 1605. This must have weighed heavily on Cellier’s mind upon her arrest as party to the conspiracy.

Before her 1680 trial, Elizabeth Cellier, a midwife devoted to the health and safety of others, fervently follows news and the welfare of those unjustly incarcerated—often her co-religionionists. As a frequent visitor to Newgate Prison, Cellier dispenses assistance in the form of sustenance as well as emotional and monetary support. Here she comes into contact with Captain Willoughby, a debtor inmate who provides her information in aid of her petition to the king regarding abuse of prisoners. Her involvement in what we know today as the Popish Plot endangers her family as she battles injustice on top of religious bigotry.

The novel opens with a strong and succinct preface providing background on the preceding years, then moves into Cellier’s first-person account, where Christensen succeeds marvelously with Cellier’s sketch of her individual and family history, and where that places her in society. The author’s point of view choice allows readers to more intensely relate to the protagonist and her work, indeed why she does it. This increases the overall narrative’s strength, providing a foundation for the midwife’s reasoning as to why she ignores her beloved husband’s pleas about the peril she places them all in.

Christensen also has a way with dialogue as well as her prose, as her management of it surrounds readers with a real sense of the time. More modern than much of the historical fiction we tend to read, it nevertheless retains an aura of formality with its hierarchal speech patterns and conduct.

Lady Powys was undertaking to arrange a marital alliance between her nephew and the daughter of her close acquaintance, Lord Peterborough. She designed to appeal to him to agree a meeting with me that I could introduce him to the Captain, with the further hope that Lord Peterborough would then in turn introduce us to the Duke of York. The beauty of this meeting was that, not only had Lord Peterborough served beneath the Duke with the war in the Netherlands, but he had also set up, and defeated objections to, the marriage between the Duke and his chosen wife, Mary of Modena. The Duke was accordingly indebted to him and was, as hoped, prepared to make allowances for our using him to reach his brother.

In other instances, such as during and after the afore-mentioned assault, the author’s atmospheric language immerses us within the ways of the time, not unlike the manner in which a word such as cobblestone might, even when characters engage in similar acts we still ordinarily perform or encounter, albeit with modified character. Falling into the grimy water (reminiscent of waste disposal discussed in her preface), the “comforting crackle of the fire,” coins jangling into men’s palms as payment for a kind service provided, and the “clunking of the door latch” into place all reach into Elizabeth’s sensory experience of her time in a moment when she, like us, is removed from full participation of it.

Perhaps more than any other characteristic is Christensen’s ability to really touch an audience with this story of Elizabeth Cellier, fighting inequity as she endeavors to keep her family safe and intact. Her descriptions are vivid and jolting, and Cellier’s honest self-reflections are portrayed in such a way that we feel her keen embarrassment paired with upright defense of self against mob rule. The novel’s pacing—not quite as fast as some—not only places us in the moments, but also enables our ongoing feel of them as the characters might experience. Cellier isn’t a braggart, not by a long shot, yet we see her through her own eyes and recognize her courageous stand against brutality, as well as her reminder that freedom to opine never existed to protect popular positions. This is also acted out in dramatic scenes in which Cellier—Catholic, woman, married to a foreigner—speaks up, bold and daring. She is not what today’s feminists would envision, nor should she be, and Christensen stays true to the era.

It bears repeating that The Popish Midwife immerses us in the time, an especially impressive feat for those of us who tend to wander through other eras or, as in my own case, aren’t really as familiar with Charles II’s London as we might be. As I traversed the pages, I felt myself wandering the rainy streets, the shadows pulling around me as I avoid waste and mud in the streets, feel the still re-awakening of the people from a succession of horrific events, this newness tainted by fear and suspicion that the torture of Protestants in Mediterranean countries might reach their own shores.

The forbidding darkness of mood is periodically pierced by references to color, such as the bright red of Cellier’s distinctive and identifying midwife’s cape. Shown on the novel’s cover, it stands in stark contrast to the dark shade of the floor, kitchen implements, even Cellier’s clothes beneath it. There is a golden hue in the background, reminiscent of a light in darkness, though still in opposition to the vivid material of the cloak, which at one point Cellier loses, signaling both her fight against discrimination and the choices she must make as to how she will proceed: remain in the shadows or embrace her identity utilizing the internal as opposed to material?

From the lead up to “’Tis a plot, Madam, of the direst sort[,]” all the way through Cellier’s battles and acceptance of what she has done and plans for her future, Christensen’s lovely style of storytelling, as if Cellier is talking directly to us, captures the imagination and leads us through a tale of brutality and betrayal, individual and collective upheaval, treason and courage. To be able to reach deep into history and find one of the more obscure figures from it, as the author did on that auction day, and animate her in literary style, particularly for readers unfamiliar with the era, is no mean feat, and readers should hope Christensen never tires of the scrape, chaos and shuffle of the auction houses any time soon.

To get in on the contest and your chance to win a FREE Kindle copy of

The Popish Midwife

simply comment below OR at The Review’s Facebook page here. 

Drawing will be held November 13


About the author …

Annelisa Christensen is a debut novelist, bringing history to life.

One day, several years ago, Annelisa won some pages of a seventeenth-century trial in an auction, merely to hold a piece of a 300-year-old book. That purchase changed her life. The defendant in the trial captivated her. The defendant’s story demanded to be told. Annelisa’s debut novel, The Popish Midwife, is based closely on the true story of Elizabeth Cellier, an extraordinary seventeenth-century midwife.

Annelisa’s research revealed Cellier to be known in three areas of interest – for writing books, being caught in the Popish Plot and as a forward-thinking midwife – but her story was all in pieces and scattered. The author found the story inspirational and wanted to link it all together and share it with people of today. The result is a fantastic and exciting true story, which will keep you wanting to know how it ends.

Annelisa Christensen is also the author of A-Z Monsters (Not) for Bed, The Navigator, Pink River and Eve. You can follow her website, Script Alchemy, sign up for her newsletter, and keep up with news and views at Twitter and Facebook.

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Author image courtesy Annelisa Christensen

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This post originally appeared at The Review