Book Review: The Strife of Camlann: The Arthurian Age (Book II) by Sean Poage

BOOK GIVEAWAYS SOON TO COME, STAY TUNED!

Arthur’s Men have returned to Britain to keep the peace between fractious allies. Gawain wants only to raise his family and forget the war, yet he carries a heavy burden: an oath to maintain a lie.

But is it a lie?

Looming conflicts threaten more than any border or throne. The course of history, the future of the Britons, will be decided at Camlann.

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Many readers are familiar with and enjoy Arthurian legend, and there indeed are many versions, and perspectives within such, to choose from. One that came to my attention in recent years was Sean Poage’s series, The Arthurian Age, the first of which, The Retreat to Avalon, I read and reviewed. Told from Gawain’s point of view, it is gritty and gripping and brings us into an individual world we don’t usually get to see. The Strife of Camlann carries on with this angle while moving more deeply into events that frame Gawain’s world and understanding of it. As Gawain remembers and moves forward, layers are peeled away; we begin to better comprehend his burden as Poage’s narrator leads us further in, toward social encounters and violent skirmishes that test the warrior, to conversations, such as one with Myrddin (Merlin), that both confuse and enlighten him. There are small teasers along the way, but so authentically stated and placed that none elicit a mere “I just want to find out what happens in the end.” Each one, for better or worse, is a crucial ingredient to the outcome that we both see coming and don’t.

As with his debut novel, the author’s research is in great evidence in this installment, all of it also contributing to our thirst, not just for the “what happens,” but also for the people who lived it all. His characters come to life in a manner that penetrates us; whether this is because so many of them are like us may be a factor. Also contributing is Poage’s attention to detail and the dimension within which he provides it. Rather than just doling out specifics, he leads us into their labyrinthian world and we have to make our way just as many of the book’s people do. We see the material manner in which they lived, the connections that bound them together but were also cause for concern owing to various individual and group agendas. Jealousy, indifference, attachment, fear—these and other motivations inform their actions and within all this we become witness to the shaping of a nation.

We do have two glossaries to aid us in keeping in order the myriad names of people and places involved, which I highly encourage readers to utilize. They are a bit on the extensive side but let not disquiet enter our reading realm, for there is a singular joy in discovery that links events and our understanding. Sometimes, admittedly, there isn’t, owing to the tragedies that touch our people’s lives, but that we—our people and us—share our grief helps us to move forward to the rebuilding of lives and goals, and Poage’s narrative helps us to believe that these characters somehow know that they matter to us.

I expected the flow of writing here to be fluid, as in The Retreat to Avalon, and was not disappointed. We are rewarded with even better this time: the author’s ability to smooth his writing, to create a narrative flow that billows like silk in a gentle wind, has noticeably increased. Knowing when to sweep over minor events is also a valuable skill, and this author does it with grace. There are numerous passages that display this nimble quality, though one in particular stood out for the manner in which Poage retains the undercurrent of trauma even while displaying Merlin’s signature mordant sense of humor and breezing through time.

“Myrddin, I. . .” Gawain felt his sense of hope drain away. “I know it’s pointless to ask you to stay. But thank you.”

“You may thank me by not squandering what I have saved.” He opened the door and wrapped his cloak against the chill.

Before he could close the door, Gawain called out, “Myrddin! How did you know to be here at all? You, I mean . . .Did you know?”

Myrddin paused, looked back. From the shadow within his cloak, his eyes twinkled, and his lips curled into a lopsided smile. “We talked of this before. Do they not say I’m a seer?” And he was gone.

Gawain smiled a moment. It faded with the crunch of Myrddin’s footsteps on the frosted earth. He has never felt so alone in all his life. When Neas came, offering pleasant small talk as she tended his injuries, he barely responded. After she left, he dozed uneasily.

The creak of the door woke him. The room had dimmed to late afternoon’s light. “Neas, I need nothing but peace.” There was no reply, but a presence drew his eyes to the door. His breath caught. I’m dreaming again. Oh, dear God, let me be dreaming. Don’t let it be her shade now, too!

There do remain some of the action beats and speech tags used interchangeably that I complained of last time, but their instances are far fewer and go further in providing a narrative diversity. That the author has grown as a writer is without doubt, as is the care he takes in the consideration of his characters. Also grown is my anticipation for the next installment, which he addresses in his author’s note. It was exciting to read his words that reflected many of the thoughts I had had, including the idea as to where the next and final chapter will take us.

I can’t help but look back at The Retreat to Avalon, which I’d skimmed through, re-reading certain passages, before beginning the second book. The Strife of Camlann retains its predecessor’s true-to-the-period detail and strong character development. As the passage above hints at, Arthurian mysticism does not go unacknowledged, but reality has a firm grip, much as in Mary Stewart’s Merlin Trilogy. Poage’s Arthurian era dispenses with magic and dragons, while we still see the glory, which strengthens the epigraph he chose that in part states, “There is more here than nostalgia for a glory that no longer exists.” Stripped of the décor, Gawain’s world within Arthurian legend, as told by Sean Poage, remains solid and real as history, revealed to us not via legend borne of a vacuum, but rather merging facts with fiction to capture the reader’s imagination and help set the stage for the next 1,500 years.

About the Author

Historical fiction author Sean Poage has had an exciting and varied
life as a laborer, salesman, soldier, police officer, investigator,
computer geek and author. A history buff his entire life, he is most
drawn to the eras of the ancient Greeks and Dark Ages Britain. Traveling
the world to see history up close is his passion.

These days he works in the tech world, writes when he can, and spends
the rest of the time with his family, which usually means chores and
home improvement projects, with occasional time for a motorcycle ride,
scuba dive, or a hike in the beautiful Maine outdoors.

The Retreat to Avalon and The Strife of Camlann may both be purchased at Amazon, here and here, respectively.

Sean Poage may be found at his website here. I strongly encourage you to check out the Free Stuff tab, which includes info on how to obtain an autographed book plate from the chapter of your choice. There are other goodies as well, so have a gander!

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The blogger received a free copy of The Strife of Camlann
in order to provide an honest review.

Blog Tour: The Stone Rose by Carol McGrath – An Excerpt That Will Make You Want the Entire Trilogy

The Stone Rose: The sweeping third installment of Carol McGrath’s acclaimed She-Wolves Trilogy, the gripping series exploring the tumultuous lives and loves of three queens of England – and of three women who lived in their shadow, in an era shaped by powerful women.

Based on the extraordinary true story of the female stonemason who carved a queen’s tomb, The Stone Rose traces the life of fierce, self-destructive Isabella of France. Wife to a weak king, Isabella finds herself facing enemies from the wild north, in a war with Scotland, and from within her own family: her uncle Lancaster, whose attempts to rein in royal power cause a rift between them.

But Isabella soon comes to realise that this is a love story. And the threat to the kingdom is a threat to her marriage – and to her own life . . .

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Chapter One

Isabella – August 1311

 A fox darted from the woodland verge across the path with a flash of russet. Isabella’s palfrey shied. She tugged hard on her reins. The horse pawed the ground, trying to rise up. It would have thrown her, if her companion had not speedily edged closer to her side and seized the palfrey’s head straps. Her saviour bent his dark head and spoke in a soft tone to the creature, gentling it. Within moments, Juno was calm and stilled. Sitting firm in her saddle, Isabella leaned down to thank him.

The Stone Rose is available for pre-order (click image), and while you await release, you can read the first two Roses in the series. All three books are stand-alone works.

‘If you had not been so quick, Piers, the mare would have thrown me.’

‘Near shave,’ Piers Gaveston gasped, his beautiful dark eyes filled with concern.

King Edward came trotting forward, followed by his pretty green-eyed niece, Margaret de Clare, Piers’ sixteen-year-old wife.

‘Isabella, praise Saint Thomas, you are safe, my sweeting,’ Edward said. He turned to Piers, leaned over and patted his arm. ‘Thank you, my friend. Praise God’s grace, you were right by her side.’

‘Gabriel held fast,’ Piers said, patting his horse’s neck. ‘It was a fox that flashed by in front of the Queen’s horse. I saw its bushy tail.’

Edward began to laugh. ‘You saved my Queen from a nasty fall. You protected her like a devoted knight.’

Piers grinned at Edward, then at Isabella. ‘A pleasure for this knight to protect his Queen.’

Isabella glanced over her shoulder to where the others crowded onto the narrow woodland path; they were led by the extremely well-connected Earl of Warwick, a frowning, dark, sardonic, proud and powerful noble, one of the King’s awkward council, who had been privy to Piers’ previous exile to Ireland. Hunting dogs with their keepers were snapping, barking and straining on leads. Following her nervous glance towards Warwick, Piers muttered, ‘Pity it wasn’t the Black Dog taking a tumble. That fox had unfortunate mistiming.’

Little Meg frowned at her husband, but Isabella’s lips twitched. Piers had amusing names for all the earls he considered enemies. She knew the powerful older men – Warwick and her wealthy uncle Thomas – were both jealous of the young King’s love for Piers, whom Edward called ‘brother’. Her father, King Philip the Fair of France, she mused, would never stand for his barons ordering his friends into exile, as the English barons had poor Piers. Edward had, only a month earlier, called Piers back from exile in Ireland, where, to satisfy the nobles, he had sent Piers as Lord Lieutenant. Now, Warwick, Lancaster and their allies were determined to exile Piers again, just as viciously as they had done a year previously. She liked Piers. He was kind, fun and witty. She had first met him after she arrived in England following her marriage ceremony. Piers had led her to the Privy Council to sit beside her new husband, who blushed and stared straight past her. With a smile, Piers had taken her damp hand and placed it in Edward’s clenched one. ‘I hope we can be friends, my pretty Queen,’ he had whispered in her ear.

The earls had no right to complain that Piers encouraged Edward to be extravagant and inattentive to great matters of state.

Isabella shook her head. These were silly thoughts. The earls had no power to do anything other than what Edward said. Edward was King, she was Queen, and they ruled England by God’s holy grace, not by the permission of people like Warwick, whose role was to help and serve. Warwick and his allies were always complaining about Piers – and now they were threatening another banishment and the withdrawal of Edward’s income. In Parliament, they loudly insisted that Piers was a bad influence and too close to King Edward – far too close. At this thought, Isabella felt her stomach grow so tight, it felt fastened to her ribs. What did they mean by these words, ‘too close’?

‘Your Grace, are you affrighted?’ Meg’s gentle voice broke into her thoughts. She had ridden to Isabella’s side and was offering a vial of infused mint, rosemary and lavender for her to smell. To please Meg, Isabella inhaled and passed it back. She felt better afterwards.

‘Thank you, dear Meg, the Queen seems quite recovered,’ Edward said smoothly, speaking for Isabella, as he liked to do. It had been different, some years earlier, when she was a child bride and unsure. Now, she could speak for herself, so she said, without hesitation, ‘I am well. Do not fuss so, Edward.’

‘Then, my love, it’s time to break our fast. We’ll eat in that meadow.’ Edward waved his jewelled hand towards a sunlit clearing ringed with beeches. He turned and shouted along the path towards the wiry figure of Warwick. ‘Dog—I mean, Warwick! Tell them to set up the pavilion in that glade, over there. We’ll resume the hunt after we break meats.’

Riding up to them, Warwick nodded. ‘Sire, as you wish.’ He threw a malevolent look at Piers, who sat on his horse watching him with an insolent grin on his face.

Piers does invite enmity, Isabella thought. Such impertinence is not doing his cause any favours. It does Edward no favours either.

‘As well you requested a competent organiser today, sire,’ Warwick said, turning his dark expression into a pleasant smile for Edward. ‘Ride on, sire, and it will be done.’ He kicked his heels against his horse’s flanks and the brown hunter trotted back along the track.

Almost at once, their crowd of followers had a silken pavilion erected in the meadow, with a linen-covered low table, cushions and carpets spread out under the shade of a stand of beech trees. Bowing low, servants placed baskets filled with pears and apples on the table and set out dishes of breads, cheeses and meats. Isabella paused and looked about her, feeling how lucky she was. Their court was all young men and women; they loved each other like brothers and sisters. As well as herself and Edward, there was Piers, of course, who was not from a great noble family, but had served Edward since they were two boys learning to be squires in Wales and Gascony. And her dear friend Isa Beaumont, and her French nurse Thea, and Edward’s red-haired niece, Meg, one of the younger daughters of Edward’s most powerful Welsh lord, Gilbert deClare. Meg’s sisters, Eleanor and Elizabeth, were often at court, too, though Isabella was less fond of beautiful, cold Eleanor, and knew fiery little Elizabeth not at all. Delicate Meg, however, was her dearest friend. And Edward had married Meg to his dearest friend, Piers. Isabella smiled to see Meg, at this moment, pulling her skirts around herself to sit down on cushions close to the king.

‘Has this forest a name?’ Meg said, turning to Edward.  ‘Boarstall Wood. Do you like staying here, at the old palace at Brill, Meg? My ancestor, the first King Henry, built the hunting palace. My mother loved it. She made improvements – a bathing room and new tiles on the floors, with lions and crowns.’

‘I do, very much so, Uncle. Much better than London. The views over the fields, the air, the country lanes . . . I can see how Grandmother Eleanor liked it so well.’

‘And lush hedgerows.’ Edward turned to Piers. ‘Do you know, here, they weave young hawthorn and beech together to make a strong barrier that their sheep cannot penetrate?’ He twisted imaginary boughs in his hands. ‘We’ll get the villagers to show us how, Piers. A new skill to learn.’

Isabella felt herself frowning. Edward was always happier away from the castle and his royal duties. Why must he insist on mixing with peasants the very moment he found an opportunity? It was beneath him. Their job was to rule over the poor, not to associate with them. She popped a grape into her mouth. No, she must not criticise. It was not for her to gainsay her husband. Her duty was to provide him with an heir. And that, she smiled to herself, was sure to happen soon. She had just passed her fifteenth birthday. Edward had only this month bedded her for the first time since their wedding, three years earlier, and now this was happening more often.

It had not been the unpleasant experience she had feared. In fact, it had been delightful. She had enjoyed their lovemaking after the first time – though, even then, he had been gentle and considerate, caressing her in places she would never touch herself. She glanced with admiration at his great height, her eyes appreciating his lean figure and strong muscular arms, glinting with blond hairs. As they had lain naked, thigh to naked thigh, he had told her she was one of the loveliest creatures he had ever beheld.

‘Who are the others?’ she’d dared ask. He’d snorted, and not answered.

He clearly admired Piers’ handsome looks. She shivered slightly. And there was, too, the unknown woman whom Edward confessed had given him an illegitimate son named Adam, only two years ago. But that woman was no threat, having died giving birth to Adam. The child was growing up on a manor set deep in the Kent countryside. Edward had won Isabella’s approval when he admitted that he would always care for Adam, since it spoke well of his kindness and reassured her that he would always feel responsibility towards his own. He had looked at her with adoring eyes when he said he hoped she would accept the boy when, one day, he joined their court.

‘Edward,’ she had said dutifully, ‘I shall always be kind to the boy.’ Even so, the sooner she had her own son in her arms, the better.

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The Silken RoseThe Damask Rose and The Stone Rose may be ordered from Amazon or Amazon UK. See below for additional dates and blog addresses in Carol McGrath’s fabulous blog tour. Keep up with the author and her other works at her website, where you can sign up for her wonderful newsletter, check out her previous books and more. And don’t miss “The Sexy Weasel in Renaissance Art,” an entry for her Sex and Sexuality in Tudor England blog tour. It’s pretty fantastic!

 

The 2022 Winter Reading Challenge for Grownups

Good morning and a happy Sunday to you all! I know, I know, Sundays aren’t known for people being bright eyed and bushy tailed, as we all like a late lie, but if we talk about books, maybe we can shake this up a bit! If nothing else, we can get a little excited about some weekend reading, no? The books I have in mind at the moment are those I read for a recent library book challenge called the Winter Reading Challenge for Grownups – and it was intense! I am also participating in another, year-long challenge that entails one book per month, so this one won’t be complete for quite a while, but I will write about it before too long, especially given the perspective angle involved.

But for now, challenge for grownups.

As some of you know, my son, now 19, has been going to the library since he was two weeks old – it’s practically been his second home. He doesn’t go now as often as he used to, trying as he is to figure out how to juggle his more adult responsibilities (university, work, friends and associated activities, etc.). But I was a little excited to see him get into the choices I’d been working through for this library reading challenge, which is set up in the form of a bingo card.

With five rows of five columns per, each box has a category, and participants choose a book that fits. For example, the first row and my choices:

Poetry or Book in Verse

The Spiritual Poems of Rumi

Book to Movie

 Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets

Alaskana

 

The Year of Miss Agnes

Set/About Somewhere You Want to Visit

The Printer’s Apprentice

Book You Were Assigned for School

The Cricket in Times Square

Each time you finish a row, you mark it complete, write down your titles and submit to the librarian, who gives you a small prize, which for me was a bookmark each time. Naturally, your bingo can be horizontal, vertical or diagonal. Additionally, each completed bingo row acts as an entry to a prize drawing. If you complete all twenty-five squares, you are also entered into the Blackout Drawing.

Oh, did I mention that this was for books read in between January 24 and March 7? Ha ha! Yeah, I had most of my choices picked out, but this changed a few times as I went along, planning what to read according to day of the week (e.g. evenings only), what was left, how overwhelmed I felt at any given moment, even with some of my selections being young adult (YA) books. For example, I wanted to re-read Emil and the Detectives, a book recommended to me years ago and that I had read a few times before. But I also had a work of Arthurian fiction on deck, and that was nearly 400 pages. Being somewhat organizationally obsessive as I am, I had a tendency to go over my choices nearly every day, which may or may not have been helpful.

I only learned about the contest, by the way, about a week into it, so I had that slight disadvantage, but also had something going for me because, having then recently been sick, I was spending a lot of time at home resting after work, so the reading gave me something to do. “Maybe I can pull this off after all,” I often thought. I did manage to get two books to do double duty, one also read for my year-long challenge and another as part of re-reading the Harry Potter series with my son. We also re-read it in 2020, which was something we turned to when the world was pretty much shut down.

Speaking of the world being shut down: I think most of us would agree it was not fun at all. With rare exception, people really need people, if on varying levels, and the shutdowns have really cast a pall over societies across the globe. They did a lot of damage short- and long-term. Our own library was closed for I think over a year. (I forget exactly how long, but it was a very long time.) So, I was really glad for this particular contest because, as I reasoned, it’s a fun way to get re-involved in a community activity at a pace – reading and meeting up – that works for each person.

To be honest, I really had no business attempting to read 25 books in about 35 days. That’s roughly a book a day and, like my son, I already have too much other stuff to juggle. Why voluntarily add this to my already-full plate? I’m not sure what I was thinking, though it may be that at first I thought I might do only one or two bingo rows. Then it started to seem possible to do it all, which may actually have been me taking leave of my senses!

Looking back, I ponder the idea that I really did need to work my mind a bit, having recently spent so much time sleeping and not much else. I don’t think otherwise I would have been able to participate in such an activity unless I stuck to YA for all 25, which I don’t necessarily wish to do – there are too many other books on my TBR that I want to get to. In the last couple of weeks, it wasn’t so much fun sitting to read for such long periods of time as I did but, having started and made my commitment, I absurdly forced myself to keep to it. So, I guess I’m glad I did it, because I did reach a number – 32 – by March 7 that in other years took me much longer to achieve. For example, in 2019, I read 37 books but only finished my first, with less than 100 pages, on March 6. In all of 2020 I ready only 18 books. That was a new low for me, especially given the expectations everyone seemed to be placing on themselves related to having so much extra time. (I still went to work every day, so never gained any of this spare and wonderful time.)

But these are just numbers, and I’d scolded myself before about this. What do numbers really mean, anyway? Are they meaningful in and of themselves? For me, they aren’t enough, which is why I’d been excited to discover, some years ago, challenges that led to trying out new genres or entire series, tackle some of your TBR, maybe re-read some old favorites. You know, quality over quantity. It’s a cliché, I suppose, but at least some clichés become so because they have value and meaning and are worth repeating. It isn’t accurate to say there was no quality in this reading, but the final determination would be in weighing what I got out of it all and whether it was worth the time spent focused on these particular books and what else was involved in getting them all read.

Box cover showing the 1,000-piece puzzle’s colorful picture. See below for how far I have progressed.
This boy reminds me of my son, with his thick, curly, wild hair – and a book in his hand!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In coming weeks, I will be having a look at these titles and engaging in some brief discussion about them or the time surrounding when I read them, one row at a time, where they are in my history and where they might lead me moving forward. For now, a quick mention about the prizes I referenced above. I did end up winning one, a 1,000-piece puzzle that has already been showing me who’s boss. But it’s fun to look at, with its crowd of people (and one cat) reading books such as The Great Catsby, The Cranberry Tales and Moby Richard. Whether it was a prize from a single-row drawing or the Blackout (a term I’d never heard until this), I have absolutely no idea!

Stay tuned for my first row discussion ~

  This puzzle is boss.

Book Review: Hauntings (Anthology)

“Fear is as old as life itself.”

I’ve said it dozens of times: I believe it is coded into our very DNA to want to be told stories. For very many of us, this craving additionally comes wrapped with a bit of thrill seeking—not necessarily a desire to be wholly terrified, but perhaps to experience a bit of a spine-tingling sensation, that love of the tingle on various levels, which would explain why ghost stories, when they began to be told for entertainment’s sake, were such a great hit with a diverse public.

Though there were particular masters—M.R. James, for example—the genre contains perhaps as many styles as there are readers, from the Senecan tragedies mirrored in Shakespeare and Pliny the Younger’s description of a ghost bound in chains that birthed an archetype, used to humorous effect in Oscar Wilde’s “The Canterville Ghost,” to the modern-day possessions of people and places, event imprints and ghostly re-enactments of horrific bloodbaths, to name just a very few.

Historical tales of ghostly events have been and remain quite popular, an intriguing angle being that this sub-genre seems to be as in-demand amongst those not considering themselves history buffs as those who do. Perhaps this is because mixed within are both recognizable historical figures (of numerous eras) and those who, in life, were more of the ordinary set, such as ourselves, with relatability as an added factor. This is no small achievement, given the sheer variability of perspectives amongst readerships.

Illustration by James McBryde for M. R. James’s story “Oh, Whistle, And I’ll Come To You, My Lad.” (Image courtesy Wikimedia. Click for further details.)

Yet this is precisely what Stephanie Churchill and nine other authors from the Historical Writers Forum have achieved here with their compilation of Hauntings: A Collection of Ghostly Encounters. Opening with Simon Turney’s tale of a tormented Roman general and proceeding through time, these stories “that take you through a labyrinth of historical horror” indeed weave through the years, echoing events and imprinting in our minds the concerns of the living and the dead. Some of the backgrounds are recognizable, others not; all are followed with historical notes for additional background. One of the best finds I encountered in my own reading is that even eras and cultures I was unfamiliar with or didn’t generally care for before nevertheless drew me in. These are powerful yarns that weave a pathway through the imagination, creating a fascination for the traditions or superstitions behind the events for greater appreciation of what those in the stories endure.

Anthologies can be a tricky chemistry to master: a variety of authors, with different styles; eras and settings that often are poles apart; ghosts that may or may not show up fairly soon into the tale, or perhaps not at all—these run the risk of becoming the anthologies many readers love only a few of the stories from and indeed read them repeatedly, but the rest gather literary dust. In this case, Hauntings rises above that fate not only with its sheer readability, but also marvelously written accounts that at times cause an appreciative intake of breath ~

The clouds above raced past as if they had somewhere to be[.]

~ or occasional self-awareness and/or conversational style:

I thought they were merely a part of the castle’s memories, you see.

What I love about these and other examples is that the entertainment value is kept company by lovely phrases or a reaching out to readers without stepping out of the roles to which characters are assigned. The gripping narratives engender emotions arisen as well for the sake of others, those whose stories we are in the midst of, forgetting that we came to the story for our own ends, in the process gathering a great deal about our own sensibilities as well as those of past societies and individuals within them. Moreover, there is not a filler tale in the lot. One could read the anthology cover to cover or skip around, but I guarantee you will read them all, likely repeatedly. Dust is not in the future of these tales.

Hauntings is a set of stories that will appeal to lovers of ghosts, but also those enamored of history (and even not a few not so enamored!), so I am quite sure it will bring in many who have never picked up a ghost story in their lives. We are, after all, bred to it. We want to know what came before us. We wish to be thrilled. We are looking for a little fear factor, even the exhilaration, the electrified feeling that passes through us when the unexpected comical comes our way. Truly a collection of craft, this anthology delivers what we have been seeking for millennia, and then some.

Hauntings author contributors (click each name to learn more):

Simon Turney

K.S. Barton

Paula Lofting

Stephanie Churchill

Judith Arnopp

Jennifer C. Wilson

Lynn Bryant

Kate Jewell

Samantha Wilcoxson

D. Apple

The blogger was provided with a courtesy copy of Hauntings in order to provide an honest review. 

Hauntings is available for purchase at Amazon and Amazon UK.

Lisl is currently working on a novel set in Anglo-Saxon England, and can be found at Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. She loves rain, the sea, ghost stories, poetry and Casablanca

The Sexy Weasel in Renaissance Art by Carol McGrath

As part of her blog tour for the forthcoming Sex and Sexuality in Tudor England, author Carol McGrath joins us today to write about a sexy little creature whose symbolism remained a secret many of us really didn’t know much about! Read on to be entertained and enlightened. 

Symbolism abounded in sixteenth-century paintings. One amusing and fascinating symbolic feature was that of the weasel. Weasels covered the whole of the mustelid family. They included ermine, sables, martens, ferrets and mink. Of interest specifically to Renaissance art, a widely-held belief was that weasels conceived though their ears and gave birth through their mouths. This gave rise to a language of hidden sexual symbolism in art with weasels symbolising everything from fertility talismans to phallic symbols. A sixteenth-century portrait by Leonardo da Vinci, The Lady and the Ermine, shows a young bride wearing an ermine, which was thought to bring good luck and help her get pregnant.

Dama con l’ermellino – Oil on walnut panel, da Vinci

In the painting the bride’s hand rests over her lower abdomen and she holds the white ermine close to her womb. White weasels were symbols of sexual purity. The story goes that the ermine would rather give themselves up to a hunter than risk soiling their pristine fur in the chase. Da Vinci’s white ermine attests to the purity of his subject, the pregnant sixteen-year-old mistress of the Duke of Milan. The duke belonged to a knighthood called the Order of the Ermine and a muscular weasel would indicate his virility. Since weasels suggested fertility, weasel paintings became an ideal wedding gift. In a marriage painting by Lavinia Fortana, a young Bolognese noble woman wears a red wedding gown. She pats a little dog which is white, the symbol of marital fidelity. Over her right arm she holds a weasel pelt with a jewelled head. This pelt was known as flea fur since it might distract fleas from the wearer’s pristine skin. However, its inclusion importantly represents the possibility and the hope that the bride will be fertile. Brides touching their wombs in paintings hope that God will bless them with a child. The idea connects with Christ’s miraculous conception which happened when God’s angel whispered into the ear of the Virgin. In the two partnered portraits of Pier Maria Rossi di San Secundo and that of his wife, Camilla Conzago, who is with their three sons, Camilla strokes a weasel. Pier has a codpiece that is prominent, just like Henry VIII in Holbein’s portraits.

Portrait of Pier Maria Rossi di San Secondo – Oil on canvas, Parmigianino
Portrait of Camilla Gonzaga and Her Three Sons – Oil on panel, Parmigianino

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In the painting of Camilla’s husband, Camilla is gazing at her husband with extreme pride. She is surrounded by their sons and one son is staring at his father’s codpiece. The symbolism only really works if the portraits are hung side by side. The father’s large codpiece attests to the ideals of masculinity which the child aspires towards in adulthood. A white ermine also appears in a portrait of Elizabeth I who was often referred to as the Virgin Queen. In this later painting a white weasel attests to the Queen’s purity and unmarried status. It becomes a political statement suggesting Elizabeth is married only to her kingdom.

Zibellino, from the Italian word for “sable,” also known as a “flea fur.” Associated with childbirth, increase in fertility and protection during pregnancy.

One folk belief was for a woman to wear a weasel’s testicles around her neck or tie them to her thigh. In this way, a weasel as a symbol of sexual rampancy having been emasculated, might provide a potent counterspell. The weasel represented purity in people’s minds. Readers, choose your weasel. Will it be a fertility weasel, phallic weasel, a purity weasel or a success weasel? Whichever, they all made an appearance on wedding gifts and in paintings during the Tudor period. Including a weasel in a painting on tapestry or on an object would also be a way to indicate your high social status, and as a dual purpose the furry creature might just draw fleas away from your skin as well.

About the Author – Carol McGrath 

Following a first degree in English and History, Carol McGrath completed an MA in Creative Writing from The Seamus Heaney Centre, Queens University Belfast, followed by an MPhil in English from University of London. The Handfasted Wife, first in a trilogy about the royal women of 1066 was shortlisted for the RoNAS in 2014. The Swan-Daughter and The Betrothed Sister complete this highly acclaimed trilogy. Mistress Cromwell, a best-selling historical novel about Elizabeth Cromwell, wife of Henry VIII’s statesman, Thomas Cromwell, was republished by Headline in 2020. The Silken Rose, first in a Medieval She-Wolf Queens Trilogy, featuring Ailenor of Provence, saw publication in April 2020. This was followed by The Damask Rose. The Stone Rose will be published April 2022. Carol is writing Historical non-fiction as well as fiction. Sex and Sexuality in Tudor England will be published in February 2022. Carol McGrath lives in Oxfordshire with her husband. Find Carol on her website: www.carolcmcgrath.co.uk

Follow her on amazon @CarolMcGrath

Subscribe to her newsletter via her website (drop down on the Home Page).

Sex and Sexuality in Tudor England may be purchased here.

Paintings and zibellino images courtesy Wikimedia Commons; click individual images for more details. Author image courtesy Carol McGrath.

Winter Reading Challenge 2022

Good morning and a happy Monday to you all! I know, I know, Mondays aren’t really known for great cheer, but we can find something pleasant to talk about, right? In my case (and many of yours) this very often involves books! Today is no exception, and as I type this, I’m still a little giddy about our local library’s Winter Reading Challenge for Grownups that I am participating in. I’ve also joined another challenge earlier in the year and will for sure be writing about this—it’s pretty fantastic for its own reasons.

Today, though, the library. As some of you also know, my son, now 18, has been going to the library since he was two weeks old – it’s practically been his second home. He doesn’t go now as often as he used to, trying as he is to figure out how to juggle his more adult responsibilities (university, work, friends and associated activities, etc.). But I was a little excited to see him get into the choices I’ve been working through for this library reading challenge, which is set up in the form of a bingo card. 

With five rows of five columns per, each box has a category and participants choose a book that fits,as you can see in the image above. My choices for the first row are:

The Spiritual Poems of Rumi

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (J.K. Rowling)

The Year of Miss Agnes (Kirkpatrick Hill)

The Printer’s Apprentice (Stephen Krensky)

The Cricket in Times Square (George Seldon)

Each time you finish a row, you color it in, write down your titles and submit to the librarian, who gives you a small prize. (I believe they have bookmarks and a mug.) Naturally, your bingo can be horizontal, vertical or diagonal. Additionally, each completed bingo row also acts as an entry to a prize drawing. If you complete all twenty-five squares, you are also entered into the Blackout Drawing. (I have no idea what the prizes are for these two contests!)

Oh, did I mention that this is for books read in between January 24 and March 7? Ha ha! Yeah, I have most of my choices picked out, but this has already changed a few times and may change again. I really want to try to fill in all twenty-five squares but am not entirely sure this will happen. But I’m plugging away! I’m a bit bummed that my January book for my other reading challenge can’t count, as I finished it on January 23!!! Well, that’s part of what makes it a reading challenge, hey? I also had a slight delay as I didn’t learn about this until about a week or so in.

But! I have an advantage re: timing because, having recently been sick, I’m spending a lot of time at home resting after work, so the reading gives me something to do and the time is a bonus! So, maybe I can pull this off after all? Well, we have yet to see, but it will be fun anyway, especially as the Harry Potter book above is also part of a reading challenge between my son and me as we aim to read the whole series this winter. We also re-read it in 2020, which was something we turned to when the world was pretty much shut down.

Speaking of the world being shut down: I think most of us would agree it was not fun at all. With rare exception, people really need people, if on varying levels, and the shutdowns have really cast a pall over societies across the globe. They did a lot of damage short- and long-term. Our own library was closed for I think over a year. (I forget exactly how long, but it was a very long time.) So I am really grateful for this particular contest because it’s a fun way to get re-involved in a community activity at a pace – reading and meeting up – that works for each person. 

I’ll be writing more about the books I choose, where they are in my history and where they might lead me to moving forward. You can see the actual challenge here to see the actual details they lay out, as well as the three different bingo cards participants could choose. (I chose number one.) You may even be inspired to organize your own reading challenge!

Book Review: How to Survive in Medieval England by Toni Mount

2022-2-13: Added note: One of our two winners has not responded and it has now been a week since the drawing. Unless I hear from the second winner this evening, I will be doing another drawing in the morning. Comment for your chance to win in the event of a new draw. Congratulations to Roslyn, our first winner, who has responded! Per the publisher, Roslyn’s copy should be en route!

How to Survive in Medieval England
by Toni Mount

This useful guide is a vital accessory when you next visit the Middle Ages. How will you manage without your mobile phone, internet or social media? When transport means walking or, for the better off, horse-back, how will you know where you are or where to go? Where will you live and what should you eat?

 What if you fall ill or are mugged in the street?

 All these questions and many more are answered in this new self-help guide: How to Survive in Medieval England comes with top-tips to make your visit to the Middle Ages much more fun; have a go at preparing medieval dishes and learn some new words to set the mood for your adventure.

 PLUS unique interviews with the celebrities of the day, from a successful business woman and a condemned felon, to a royal cook and a very controversial King Richard III.

 Have an exciting visit to medieval England but be sure to keep this book to hand.

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Comment below for the chance to win a free copy of Toni Mount’s

How to Survive in Medieval England

(More info at bottom!)

At last! Not only someone who takes my ideas about time travel seriously, but also an author who creates an entire book about the experience! OK, well, the writing of How to Survive in Medieval England had nothing to do with me, but I was pretty excited to learn about it nonetheless. From author, history speaker and teacher Toni Mount, this handbook is a fantastic resource not only for those interested in the journey and requiring sound advice, but also re-enactors, history buffs and those who want to know more about ordinary people of the Middle Ages. The volume being a great candidate for dividing up by categories, this is exactly what Mount does: there are ten illustrated chapters with the ins and outs, dos and don’ts of medieval life, from warnings regarding the utmost necessity of work, to health and medicine, awareness of religious beliefs, food, clothing and more. The author also considers the perspectives of her readers: some will want to assimilate, and so need to know what is and isn’t done, while others are strictly observers and just don’t want to be set ablaze for sorcery. Whatever your reason for passage through time, this is a book to keep close by even after your return, given its sheer repeat readability and delightfully laid out subject matter.

Mount’s presentation is smooth and alluring, in large part thanks to her often wry and humorous approach. This is the sort of topic that not only can get away with, but almost seems to need, the author’s presence. Many other books that set out to talk about ordinary life in the Middle Ages maintain a disassociation from their authors, and that hurts the experience because the topic becomes dry, even boring. In this case, however, the author provides a conversational quality that includes readers, and her style is casual and accessible.

Having said that, there is much more that keeps us attached to the book, including the sidebars with informational bits and bobs and interviews with natives to the age, some “superstar” famous and some less so. No matter which class of people, Mount has to ensure a respectful distance—not just physical—from this era’s inhabitants for, as you will see for yourself once you obtain a copy of How to Survive in Medieval England, their personalities are not only significantly more formal, but also a bit standoffish; some of today might even say rude. These portions are perhaps the most magical because, as observers to her conversations with those in the know, we get to watch what is almost two simultaneous discussions: one in which she plays her role expertly, and another in which you recognize the wink wink sort of nuance, as if the author is saying, “Yes, we don’t talk this way amongst ourselves but, you know, this is how they do it, so just listen and learn.” We can almost see her suppressed smile as she converses with those we meet and gain insight into how they operate.

It is clever on the author’s part that the sidebars mentioned above—which appear as Did You Know? and Top Tips—also often maintain the style of interpersonal communication we sense in the interviews. Consider this Top Tip:

Each Did You Know? not only provides the edification we all seem to crave about medieval times, but also with fascinating angles not often covered in other texts. These truly are the everyday, whether ordinary or weird. The author also dispels some myths we have been taught, all while making this such an accessible and smooth read for us that it is easy to forget the massive amount of research that went into preparing this volume.

As the book progresses, Mount’s instructions and information also bring us to awareness of the changes taking place within medieval England, that even amongst themselves there were differences between peoples and the eras in which they lived. After all, 1154-1485, the time range covered and a period of over three hundred years, leaves quite a bit of room to move about! She also shows us that in many ways we aren’t as different as we often seem to believe. The Middle Ages had thieves and con men; people kept records of what decedents left and to whom; and, as referenced above, knowledgeable medicine. Like us, they did not know all there is to know about the human body, but they worked diligently to understand and make discoveries, and without their trail breaking, we might not know what we do nowadays. We often tend to think we are better and smarter than those of the Middle Ages, and it can cut when we find out we aren’t. There are parallels, even up to this very day, of Roger Bacon’s advice about gathering information:

I have always said that learning about our ancestors (whether they come from this particular region or elsewhere) enables us to learn about ourselves, and Mount brings us through a fascinating array of medieval circumstances that, perhaps oddly, perhaps not, resonate with us as people. We see a picture of fifteenth-century bra and briefs, for example, found in Austria’s Lengberg Castle, and can’t help but wonder about the woman who once wore them. Would she be embarrassed that we have her undergarments on display? Or would she be, if even only a little, pleased they were discovered so us people of the future could know her times were “civilized”? That in their day they had items and ideas as modern as could be achieved at the time? That they had nice things too.

Also through word etymology, poetry and ways people found to have fun, Mount guides us through medieval England in a manner unlike any book on the topic I have ever read before. Packed to bursting with fascinating facts and stories of the lives of those who paved the way for ours, we see strangers, certainly, and also ourselves, but above all we recognize the humanity in those we don’t know but want to. Because people of all ages have been curious, I daresay there would be some, I hope, who wish to meet us as well.

In this way, Mount brings people together, dispelling myths and providing background for some of the “absurd” beliefs or actions of the Middle Ages. People generally had reasons for what they did and, once we understand what they were, a lot of the weeds are whacked away, even if we also are aware that beliefs evolved over time, paving the way for our own. I admire that the author achieves this without making fun of medieval people, but also without sacrificing who we are to better appreciate the lives they lived.

About the Author

Toni Mount is a history teacher and a best-selling author of historical non-fiction and fiction. She’s a member of the Richard III Society’s Research Committee, a regular speaker to groups and societies and belongs to the Crime Writers’ Association. She writes regularly for Tudor Life magazine, has written several online courses for www.MedievalCourses.com and created the Sebastian Foxley series of medieval murder mysteries. Toni has a First class honours degree in history, a Masters Degree in Medieval History, a Diploma in English Literature with Creative Writing, a Diploma in European Humanities and a PGCE. She lives in Kent, England with her husband and has two grown-up sons.

How to Survive in Medieval England, along with her many other books, is available at Amazon and Amazon UK. You can also find Toni Mount at Facebook, Twitter and Goodreads.

Two readers will win a FREE COPY of Toni Mount’s How to Survive in Medieval England ~ to join the fun, simply comment below and you’re automatically in the drawing! No purchase necessary and please remember to leave contact information in the event you are the winner! Paperback copies for US and UK based winners, e-copies elsewhere. Drawing will be held Friday, February 4, 2022.

 
A courtesy copy of How to Survive in Medieval England was provided
for the blogger in order to provide an honest review.
 
Congratulations to Roslyn, who has responded to my message; your copy of How to Survive in Medieval England is en route! I hope you enjoy the book and find it helpful if you re-consider your stance on making the trip to the Middle Ages! 
 

(2022-2-13 @ 16:06 AST) I have not heard from our second winner, so if I receive no word in the next 12-15 hours, I’ll be doing a new drawing. In the event of no word, contest will be considered open and I will choose another winner. Comment for your chance to win! If you have already commented, you need not do so again to be in the drawing, though you are free to!

(2022-2-14 @ 10:30) I am so happy to announce that our second winner has contacted me and her book shall be on its way shortly. This concludes our business and the contest is now closed. Congratulations to our winners, and many big thanks for everyone’s participation, including and especially that of Toni Mount, who wrote this fabulous book, and Pen and Sword History, for your sponsorship. 

Happy Valentine Day, All!!!

My Tottering TBR: Reading Roundup (November 2021)

It’s been a strange year for reading. At the start of 2021, I’d wanted to focus on my neglected bookshelves to accomplish finally reading a batch of books I owned but hadn’t completed. (One would actually be a re-re-re-re-re-read, but I’d been keen to pick it up again so many times.) I tried to balance this with a boatload of other books—either purchased, already owned or borrowed from the library—that I was consulting for multiple projects I have in my head and outlined on paper. Now, as the year begins to draw to a close, I started to assess what I’ve read through the last ten months, though, truthfully, recognition was dawning back in about September, and I found I was rather disappointed. I had chosen twenty-one works and thus far had finished only one.

There is a part of me that laments the numbers: at one time I read an average of about sixty books a year, and last year I read eighteen. While this isn’t a thrilling development, it isn’t really the prime focus of my dissatisfaction. What is also shows up in the results of what I have been doing this year with books: the sense of having learned something valuable about or within life; possessing new takeaways that enrich time here on the planet, for myself and others; that I grew in appreciation for what and who came before, the events that shaped them and how they shaped events. Well, the one book off my 2021 list that I managed to read, Michael Jones’s The Black Prince, did move me, and I will be taking the experience along moving forward. So perhaps I should be focusing on this and not whinging so much about what I didn’t achieve.

I suppose it also isn’t true that I didn’t make any gains within the disorder of this bloc of time, and through the last week or so especially, did advance in a manner that isn’t dependent upon actual reading, though there was lots of that involved. The gist: for over a year I’ve been stymied by trying to move back and forth amongst the aforementioned multiple projects – not because that was my goal, but rather I simply couldn’t focus. Lockdown, etc. has not made me more productive, just life more chaotic, and while I read  a fair amount, I finished few of the works I picked up. At some point, something snapped, or it may be more accurate to frame it as a few pieces finally fitting together better and the dawning realization of how absurd this pathway was coming into sharper relief.

The upshot: I have put away all research type books for any projects except the one I had to consciously decide to focus upon. It’s my first step in getting a handle on this mess, and the next is to try to ignore all the other beckoning works until I’ve finished reading the one I have out. I know I cannot read all my research books cover to cover, but I will do for some, and two of these are included on my current list of reading. It’s an exception to my newly-imposed one-at-a-time rule, but this particular author is a favorite, and these two items also are two I’ve been wanting to read for a very long time. It’s a work in progress, but I did tell myself to look through both briefly and make a decision about which to aim for first, then stick with it.

My 2021 list was not organically developed, and I suspect that was part of the problem, though it’s also true that such compilations don’t always necessarily need to be, nor can they. With this in mind, the list that follows is a genuine mixture of what developed on its own and at least two I picked out with deliberation. The rest may be found here.


The Weaver’s Tale (Kate Sedley) – The first book in this series, Death and the Chapman, came by way of recommendation and I loved it. Roger the Chapman, former monk and itinerant peddler who occasionally speaks of, and meets, Richard, Duke of Gloucester, looks into a disappearance that leads him down a dangerous road amidst the hustle and bustle of medieval London. His self-effacing personality, intelligence, fallibility and humanity combine to create a character I want to follow, especially given his perceptions of the duke and place within history to provide such firsthand accounts, up close as well as at a distance. I am looking forward to continuing Roger’s journey of solving mysteries as we both witness how he grows into the role (there are a number of more installments yet to come) and the world in which he operates.

The Beloved Disciple: Following John to the Heart of Jesus (Beth Moore) – Another book I’ve wanted to read since some time and picked up because of my desire to know more about John the Disciple. Unfortunately, I wasn’t in love with Moore’s writing style and approach to readers, and other books beckoned me away. However, I felt a bit pulled toward it recently because I really do want to read about John, so decided to give it another go. Because I’m not planning to review it, I peeked at a few mentions online and saw that a few others felt the same way, but at least a few powered through and said they were glad they did. One reader spoke of a portion at the end with deep insight. The jury is still out, and we’ll see what a more patient reading might bring.

Women of Power in Anglo-Saxon England (Annie Whitehead) – This author first came to my attention when I read her debut work, the historical fiction To Be a Queen. The novel tells the story of Æthelflæd, Lady of the Mercians, daughter of King Alfred the Great and one who was to prove a talented strategist in her own right. She appears in Women of Power as well, along with a number of others I look forward to being educated about. A glance at the table of contents alone informs readers that this is not a garden-variety book about forgotten women, not with chapter titles such as “Pioneers: Abbesses and Peace-weavers in Northumbria”; “Murder in Mercia and Powerful Royal Daughters” and “Serial Monogamy: Wessex Wives and Whores.” Having skimmed the book some I can see it is a bit on the academic side, which isn’t a deal breaker, though it does inform me on how to approach it and the breadth of information it surely must contain. For example, the chapters are arranged in categories rather than chronologically, which for me can be a bit challenging, especially if there are a lot of (unfamiliar) names, interactions and connections to solidify. But I’m game.

Love and Math: The Heart of Hidden Reality (Edward Frenkel) – I picked this book up a few years ago and never got the chance to read it, but because it was a loaner from the library, it fell off my radar. That is, until I found one of many pieces of paper I know are strewn about my home, paper with titles and authors listed on them, written in a moment of haste as I aimed not to forget about the blurb I’d (then) just read. Upon seeing the title scribbled there I could instantaneously see in my mind the Starry Night cover and felt the love of math course through my veins, a love that grew during a required class about teaching mathematics. It hasn’t really developed a great deal – which may have something to do with a silly insistence of mine to read at least portions of physics books I don’t entirely understand – though the author may perhaps aid in this as he pairs math with his memoir of growing up Jewish in the Soviet Union, a nation that discriminated against him but failed to churn out in Frenkel the negative results of oppression. I’ve watched a couple of his videos; his demeanor is cheerful and love of what he does contagious. I have actually begun reading it—I’m up to “The Essence of Symmetry”—and for me it is at least partially an interactive read, as I physically move items while he talks about them. Not unlike reading battle scenes, aloud and effecting the described movements, it nevertheless conveys (so far) affection and joyfulness for the subject so many learn to fear. We’ll see!

The Discoverers: A History of Man’s Search to Know His World and Himself (Daniel J. Boorstin) – I first read this book at around age sixteen and it has never left my shelf. Opening with a history of how man came to measure time, it moves forward through centuries of investigation and discovery of the earth and the seas, natural science and society. Presented in chronological order, it is written with a deep appreciation for its subject matter, including the individuals who people it, as well as the readers who hold the book copies in their hands. Aptly named, I found through the years that I learn something new each time I read it, having absorbed other knowledge that links back to Boorstin’s work, gifting me the pleasure of recognition as I pour through the pages. As a sixteen year old, I naturally didn’t remember everything Boorstin talks about in The Discoverers, but it did open a new world for me, one every bit as fascinating and frightening as that the investigators found as they pushed boundaries in their quest to know more.


Lisl is currently working on a novel set in Anglo-Saxon England, and can be found at Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. She loves rain, the sea, ghost stories, poetry and Casablanca

Talk of Ghostly Tales on Halloween and Throughout the Year

Anticipating an anthology of ghostly tales currently on its way to my neck of the woods, I’ve been thumbing through other collections and excitedly thinking about what the new set will bring

It’s been a crazy last few weeks and Halloween, sorry to say, fell off my radar. Well, to be completely honest, I don’t really whoop it up as a general rule, but it can be fun to engage in some of the playful traditions, such as making scary (fun scary) treats or reading ghost stories.

Wait, who am I kidding? I read ghost stories at all parts of the year! While I don’t really care for some tales that people qualify as ghost stories – yarns that tend to fall, for me, more into the camp of horror, such as werewolves and zombies – I do love a haunting. However, I’m pretty much a coward when it comes to such things, and I don’t think I’d ever go into a dwelling with a scary reputation, for example, in real life. So to follow Algernon Blackwood’s Jim Shorthouse and Aunt Julia into number thirteen, an abandoned house that has experienced a series of hastily departing tenants, provides a thrill not unlike the one Jim himself feels, even after my having read the story dozens of times. There is also a fabulously funny haunting within Oscar Wilde’s “The Canterville Ghost,” one whose poignant ending provides something of a map toward the reason why we are so drawn to them, even with their unknown qualities. They scare us at times, yes, but we also feel a sympathetic curiosity, not just to their current predicaments, but also the lives they once lived, and how they came to be within the same flux as ourselves.

Hauntings is on its way to my mail box!

There are, of course, so many varieties of ghost stories as well as how they are told, it would be impossible to pin down an exhaustive catalogue in a mere blog entry—surely a reflection of all the unique characters that live and have lived in our world. I’m very fortunate in that my exploration of this genre is enabled by my son, who likes to buy me books, recently having gifted me Chilling Ghost Stories, companion to another I own (and that he also brought home for me), Great Ghost Stories. They are indeed both chilling and great, some by masters such as M.R. James and Ambrose Bierce, as well as other, lesser-known authors. Also included and to be marvelously re-discovered are novelists and short story writers whose influence has waned in this century: Charlotte Riddell, Amelia Edwards, W.W. Jacobs.

It is a truism, within the discussion of ghost stories and tales of hauntings, that as long as humans carry on, the tales will be told. Modern stories may or may not reference or allude to histories that have settled within the collective or individual consciousness, but they do continue to link us to the world alongside ours, introducing thrilling perspectives and raising hairs. One such I had the opportunity to preview, within a setting I don’t often enter in the reading world—that of a mental institution—was Samantha Wilcoxson’s “Among the Lost,” from the newly published Hauntings. Wilcoxson and nine other authors “take you through a labyrinth of historical horror,” encountering such characters as a young psych nurse who encounters a mystery at her new place of employment; a tormented Roman general; and a Norse woman confronting a terrifying destiny. I am delighted to add that I will be reviewing this collection in the next few weeks (it is currently en route), so do stay tuned!

For those ghost story aficionados and others who simply cannot wait to get their ghastly tales on, Hauntings is available at Amazon and Amazon UK. I should add that Paula Lofting, the collection’s editor and the only contributor whose work I am familiar with, is on familiar ground, historically speaking. She writes about pre-1066 in Sons of the Wolf and The Wolf Banner, both of which I have read and reviewed. So it will be intriguing to see where she takes her storytelling skills within the ghostly plane, and what her co-authors also bring to the genre.

Happy Halloween, and see you back here soon!

Where Were You When…? – Remembering 1066

Nearly 1,000 years have passed ….

In October 2016 I began a series of posts in memory of 1066, arguably the most important year in the history of England. Interestingly enough, while I enjoyed history, this era was not always my favored, as it once seemed so complicated and intimidating; my memories of studying it in school were filled with details I didn’t really understand, or there were so many layered on top of each other they seemed to crush me.

Paula Lofting’s Sons of the Wolf persuaded me out of my comfort zone, the Wars of the Roses period, and when I began to see the era as populated by people rather than a series of dates (as I was able for the fifteenth century), plus the greater significance of exactly what had happened–what I only partially appreciated during my school years–I was hooked.

A couple of years after, I read Annie Whitehead’s To Be A Queen, which was poetry in prose and simply unforgettable. Whitehead’s examination of Æthelflæd, Lady of the Mercians, indeed the Lady herself, impressed upon me our great heritage of language, literature, spirituality and yearning for freedom–plus the willingness to fight for it. While I certainly admire other historical figures and groups, the Anglo-Saxons have to greater effect shown me the importance of remembering, thus this series for them and the freedom they fought to keep for us. Unfortunately, they did lose the most important battle and the end of their era arrived, but their legacy lives on.

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Today, five years since this series, we once again mark another anniversary of Hastings, so soon after Stamford and the great hope that Harold Godwinson would drive the invading Normans from English shores. Alas, it was not to be, and the years that followed birthed more stories and writings than most modern people have ever heard of, though it’s always a good time to look into our past: where we came from, who influenced us and, indeed, the invaders. Below are just a few pieces/works for or about this dramatic period that changed the course of history, and you can also find articles about Harold Godwinson and other 1066-related topics at Murray and Blue.

hastings
By image on web site of Ulrich Harsh via Wikimedia Commons (Click image)

950: 1066 Remembered, Book Review: Sons of the Wolf (Updated) (October 14, 2016)  Marks the Battle of Hastings, October 14, 1066

950: 1066 Remembered, Book Review: 1066: What Fates Impose (October 14, 2016) Marks the Battle of Hastings, October 14, 1066

950: 1066 Remembered, Excerpt: 1066: What Fates Impose (October 25, 2016)

950: 1066 Remembered, Excerpt: Sons of the Wolf (November 5, 2016)

950: 1066 Remembered, Guest Blog: “Senlac Ridge” (Ian David Churchward) (November 12, 2016)

950: 1066 Remembered, Book Review: The Wolf Banner (November 20, 2016)

950: 1066 Remembered, Guest Blog: “One Crown, Four Claimants” (G.K. Holloway) (November 25, 2016)

950: 1066 Remembered, Guest Poet Post: “Prayer to Woden” (Rob Bayliss) (November 26, 2016)

950: 1066 Remembered, Excerpt: The Wolf Banner (December 11, 2016)

950: 1066 Remembered, Guest Post: Marching Toward 1066 (Annie Whitehead) (December 19, 2016)

950: 1066 Remembered, Excerpt: 1066: What Fates Impose (December 25, 2016)

950 Intermission: Recording History in Film (December 31, 2016)

950: 1066 Remembered, Guest Post: The Bastard of Normandy v. the Golden Warrior (Paula Lofting) (January 16, 2017)

950: 1066 Remembered, Book Review: Alvar the Kingmaker (January 23, 2017)

950: 1066 Remembered, Guest Post: Between Two Worlds (Annie Whitehead) (January 28, 2017)

950: 1066 Remembered, Guest Post: A Dynasty Denied (Rob Bayliss) (February 9, 2017)

950: 1066 Remembered, Interview: Paula Lofting (B.R.A.G. Medallion Winner) (April 1, 2017)

950: 1066 Remembered, Guest Post: The Price of Love and Loyalty (Annie Whitehead) (May 13, 2017)

950: 1066 Remembered, Interview (Glynn Holloway) (September 25, 2017) Anniversary of the Battle of Stamford Bridge, September 25, 1066

950: 1066 Remembered, Secrets Through a Tapestry of Time (October 14, 2017) Final installment, marking the Battle of Hastings, October 14, 1066

#iHeartAngloSaxons

Another series that may be of interest,

The Age of Æthelflæd: Anglo-Saxon Warrior Queen

Image of the Week: Æthelflæd, Lady of the Mercians (Blog that led to the series) (July 22, 2016)

The Age of Æthelflæd: Anglo-Saxon Warrior Queen, Book Review: To Be A Queen (September 13, 2016)

The Age of Æthelflæd: Anglo-Saxon Warrior Queen, Interview with Author Annie Whitehead and Æthelred, Lord of the Mercians (September 20, 2016)

The Age of Æthelflæd: Anglo-Saxon Warrior Queen, Guest Post: Invitation to the Past (September 27, 2016)

The Age of Æthelflæd: Anglo-Saxon Warrior Queen, Excerpt: To Be A Queen (October 4, 2016)

The Age of Æthelflæd: Anglo-Saxon Warrior Queen, Cover Crush: To Be A Queen (October 11, 2016)

#iHeartAngloSaxons