Freebie Friday: Giveaway Bonanza!

Need help filling up your shelf? You’ve come to the right place! I think it was last month I started somewhat of a flurry of reviews that came one after the other, many of which have giveaways attached. Typically I hold drawings one to two weeks out, but this time Thanksgiving and upcoming Christmas kind of darted in and out of my schedule and plans, and dates became sort of wonky.

So, for your ease and mine, I decided to post a blog with links to all the drawings in one spot. Simply click on the link (book title) to the review for any book you like the look of and comment there – fancy schmancy not necessary – to get your name in the drawing. (And be sure to leave current contact info in the event you are our winner!) Since some peeps have difficulty commenting at WordPress, I’ve also linked to respective Facebook threads where you can comment instead. You do not need to comment at both; one works perfectly well. Unless otherwise indicated, blurbs are from Amazon and author names link to their websites and/or blog.

There is no limit of books you can enter the drawings for – enter them all if you like!

Drawing to be held December 16 

So without further ado, here are the prizes up for grabs:

Half Sick of Shadows: A Historical Fantasy by Richard Abbott (One paperback copy available, and this author also has December Deals from December 10 – 17)

Who is The Lady?

In ancient Britain, a Lady is living in a stone-walled house on an island in the middle of a river. So far as the people know, she has always been there. They sense her power, they hear her singing, but they never meet her.

At first her life is idyllic. She wakes, she watches, she wanders in her garden, she weaves a complex web of what she sees, and she sleeps again. But as she grows, this pattern becomes narrow and frustrating. She longs to meet those who cherish her, but she cannot. The scenes beyond the walls of her home are different every time she wakes, and everyone she encounters is lost, swallowed up by the past.

But when she finds the courage to break the cycle, there is no going back. Can she bear the cost of finding freedom? And what will her people do, when they finally come face to face with a lady of legend who is not at all what they have imagined?

A retelling – and metamorphosis – of Tennyson’s “Lady of Shalott.”


Lars D. H. Hedbor is offering our winner a choice of any one of his books in paperback. In this case, review links are below and blurbs at author website; click author name to access. (He also has a promotion for free e-copy of The Declaration; click book title to get yours straight away.)

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

The Smoke (Tales From a Revolution: New York)

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

Excerpt from The Break

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

The Darkness (Tales From a Revolution: Maine)

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

The Prize (Tales From a Revolution: Vermont)

 

 

 

 


Child of the Northern Spring by Persia Woolley (Blogger is gifting one paperback/hardback copy direct from online retailer)

Among the first to look at the story of Camelot through Guinevere’s eyes, Woolley sets the traditional tale in the time of its origin, after Britain has shattered into warring fiefdoms. Hampered by neither fantasy nor medieval romance, this young Guinevere is a feisty Celtic tomboy who sees no reason why she must learn to speak Latin, wear dresses, and go south to marry that king. But legends being what they are, the story of Arthur’s rise to power soon intrigues her, and when they finally meet, Guinevere and Arthur form a partnership that has lasted for 1500 years.

This is Arthurian epic at its best-filled with romance, adventure, authentic Dark Ages detail, and wonderfully human people.


Insurrectio and Retalio by Alison Morton (Two prizes: one e-copy of each book)

In Insurrectio

‘The second fall of Rome?’ Aurelia Mitela, ex-Praetorian and imperial councillor in Roma Nova, scoffs at her intelligence chief when he throws a red file on her desk. But 1980s Roma Nova, the last province of the Roman Empire that has survived into the twentieth century, has problems – a ruler frightened of governing, a centuries-old bureaucracy creaking for reform and, worst of all, a rising nationalist movement with a charismatic leader. Horrified when her daughter is brutally attacked in a demonstration turned riot, Aurelia tries to rally resistance to the growing fear and instability. But it may already be too late to save Roma Nova from meltdown and herself from entrapment and destruction by her lifelong enemy…

And Retalio

Early 1980s Vienna. Recovering from a near fatal shooting, Aurelia Mitela, ex-Praetorian and former foreign minister of Roma Nova, chafes at her enforced exile. She barely escaped from her nemesis, the charming and amoral Caius Tellus who grabbed power in Roma Nova, the only part of the Roman Empire to survive into the twentieth century. Aurelia’s duty and passion fire her determination to take back her homeland and liberate its people. But Caius’s manipulations have isolated her from her fellow exiles, leaving her ostracised, powerless and vulnerable. But without their trust and support Aurelia knows she will never see Roma Nova again.


There is Always A Tomorrow by Anna Belfrage (One e-book available)

It is 1692 and the Colony of Maryland is still adapting to the consequences of Coode’s Rebellion some years previously. Religious tolerance in the colony is now a thing of the past, but safe in their home, Alex and Matthew Graham have no reason to suspect they will become embroiled in the ongoing religious conflicts—until one of their sons betrays their friend Carlos Muñoz to the authorities.

Matthew Graham does not leave his friends to rot—not even if they’re papist priests—so soon enough most of the Graham family is involved in a rescue attempt, desperate to save Carlos from a sentence that may well kill him. Meanwhile, in London little Rachel is going through hell. In a matter of months she loses everything, even her surname, as apparently her father is not Master Cooke but one Jacob Graham. Not that her paternity matters when her entire life implodes.

Will Alex and Matthew be able to help their unknown grandchild? More importantly, will Rachel want their help?


Hearts Never Change by Joanne R. Larner (One paperback copy available)

Richard III as you have never seen him before! Richard has been King of England and France and Lord of Ireland for over twenty years and he is beginning to question his life. He misses his secret wife, Rose, who had to return to the twenty-first century when she found she was expecting twins, both for her own and the babies’ safety. Everyone around the king seems to be happily in a relationship. The realm is at peace and his son and heir, Richard junior, is of an age to take over the reins of government, so Richard makes a decision…


Good luck to all!!!

Update: Some of the older reviews for the Tales From a Revolution series are unlinked as they were done before the drawing was planned.

Feel free to comment there anyway OR at any other review from that series OR below on this post OR at this post’s Facebook thread, located here

Whichever is easiest for you; we’ll be checking them all. 🙂

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

Update: Drawing will be held December 16 (see link here)

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.

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

I am so pleased to present this joint interview blog, Readers Voice: The Importance of Covers, which appeared early this year on Discovering Diamonds, author Helen Hollick’s brilliant blog highlighting the best of historical fiction in the form of reviews and other features. I was so pleased to join with three other bloggers as we chatted with Anna Belfrage, author of the wonderful Graham Saga series, to talk about covers and why they matter to readers. I’ve included the responses from Jo, David and Jenny, and highly encourage you to check out their blogs as well as books they’ve dipped into or treasured.

In some instances my own answers vary slightly from what appears at the original blog (linked above); owing to considerations of space, some snipping had been required for Anna’s posting. Feel free to spin through other entries too, both here and at Discovering Diamonds, as well as by Jenny, David and Jo – and as always, have fun!

Author Anna Belfrage has brought together four book-bloggers for a discussion about covers. 

Are covers important? Yes or no? 

Anna: I’d say they are – but let us not get ahead of ourselves. Instead, I’d like my guests to introduce themselves. Jo, why don’t you go first?

It’s difficult to overstate my love for this novel and its cover

Jo: Hello everyone, I’m Jo, a prolific reader and also an active book blogger at Jaffareadstoo – a blog I share with my ginger tom, Jaffa. I live in Lancashire in northwest England, and I am happily retired after a thirty year nursing career. To fill the void after I finished work I started blogging and chatting about books to anyone who would listen. I’ve also reviewed books for magazines and online websites. My passion is historical fiction and whilst I prefer medieval history, I do also love a good time slip novel that keeps one foot firmly in the present whilst visiting the past.

The one book that has made the most impression was Outlander by Diana Gabaldon. It’s the only book EVER that, as I finished the last sentence in the book, I turned immediately to the beginning and read all 863 pages again.
 
David: Hi, I’m David from David’s Book Blurg. I live up north near Newcastle in the UK with my wife and twin girls. I’m a lover of history but favourite period so far would have to be 1066. I particularly enjoyed 1066: What Fates Impose by Glynn Holloway.
 

Jenny: I’m Jennifer Quinlan, but everybody calls me Jenny Q! I am a native of Virginia—a ninth-generation Virginian, actually. My family has lived in the same county since the 1680s! I studied history and English at Virginia Tech, and I am the owner of Historical Editorial. I provide copyediting and developmental editing services, and I design book covers. I also have a book review blog, my first love, Let Them Read Books.

I will read a novel from any historical period if the subject catches my fancy, though I am partial to British, French, and American history. I can’t possibly name a favorite read, but some of the timeless books on my historical fiction shelf of honor are Sharon Kay Penman’s Welsh Princes Trilogy and The Sunne in Splendour, Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander series, Gone with the Wind, Lonesome Dove, and Forever Amber. (AB: Ah, yes: Forever Amber – one of my first hist fit loves.) 

Lisl: Ehem. (clears throat) Well. I’m Lisl and come from the Great Land, known to most people Outside as Alaska. (“Outside” simply means any place not Alaska.) I keep a blog called Before the Second Sleep, in which I write book reviews and other tidbits that strike my fancy. Back in September I had a series called “Month of Mary Stewart” to celebrate 100 years since the birth of this wonderful author. My mother recommended Stewart’s The Crystal Cave to me and solidified the affection I already had for Merlin. Other than this author’s Merlin Trilogy, I love to read time travel, historical fiction—mostly in Arthurian, 1066, Wars of the Roses and American history—and a few other genres.

AB: Wow, what a lovely and varied group of people you are! And, dear readers, I recommend you pop over to the various sites – these are four very different reviewers with a common passion for good books!

Now, before we get started, what can I offer you to drink? Coffee? Tea? Hot chocolate with whipped cream?

Jo: Hot chocolate with whipped cream wins every time!

David: Earl Grey for me.  (A man of good taste.)

Jenny: Coffee please, and lots of it! Two creams, one sugar.

Lisl: Anna Belfrage, are you offering me chocolate? 😉 (AB: What can I say, Lisl? I live in hope ….) I would love a cup of tea, thank you!

AB: Right, with the practicalities sorted let me start by asking you how important you think the cover is. Will it sell the book to you? Or is it more a case of some covers putting you off even looking inside?

I can absolutely see why this image grabbed Jenny’s attention

Jo: A well-designed cover suggests that time and care has gone into the story. The cover sells the book to me and I have bought books just on the basis of the cover; equally I have been turned off by poorly designed covers, or covers which bear no resemblance to the story. I have given up on a book if I have found the cover unappealing.

David: When buying a book the cover is the most important thing to me. I need a cover that catches my eye otherwise I might not even look at the back of the book to see what the story is about. I wish I could take the time to browse more but there’s so much choice out there that an author needs to stand out and the cover is the first thing you see.
 
Jenny: It’s both for me. I am drawn to gorgeous book covers like a kid in a candy store, so it’s more likely that a cover is going to draw me to the book rather than put me off. I tend to just skip right by books with unattractive covers. I would like to say that the importance of your cover is second only to the quality of your content, but there are many books with subpar content and outstanding covers that are selling a lot of books, so if your goal is to be a bestseller, then your cover is probably the most important part of your package.
 

Lisl: Oh, in some instances a cover can indeed be the pull to the whole story. It has happened not a few times that I see a cover image or design from afar and from that alone must check to see what’s inside.

AB: Consensus seems to be covers DO matter. Do you have any favourite covers?   

Lisl: First I want to toss in here that I love old editions’ book covers, both size and pictures. Some are quite alluring and bring me in, while others are dated, though often still captivating! Two in particular that stand out for me are from Stewart’s above mentioned Merlin Trilogy. The first shows Merlin in his early years, which perhaps caught my attention at the time because he was a child, like me. I had been somewhat accustomed to hearing mostly about adults in my mother’s stories. On the second book in the series was a depiction of Arthur, whose attractiveness, strength and boldness—all seen in this image—appealed to me. The two covers possessed a sort of mystical feel with the night sky, troops on the move, discovery and magical growth, all set within an ancient time, one that I felt I was being beckoned to join. They both stand in stark contrast to that of The Crystal Cave’s first UK cover, which shows a bunch of crystal clumped together. A geologist might appreciate it, but I think even students of literature would find it a staid and simplistic choice, also lacking in the human touch.

David: Oh yes, Nursing Fox by Jim Ditchfield and Legionary by Gordon Doherty! Both very different but pleasing and eye catching.
 
Jenny: I couldn’t name a favorite cover, but here are four historical novels that had not been on my radar that I recently bought or checked out from the library for no other reason than that I found the cover irresistible.
 

Jo: My favourite cover is Company of Liars by Karen Maitland. I bought the book purely for the cover and had no clue what the book was about and hadn’t heard of the, then, debut author. I just knew that I had to have a hardback copy of it to keep. 

One of David’s favorites 
AB: What must a cover have for it to grab your attention?
 
Jenny: I’m very drawn to women (and men) in period clothing. A gorgeous dress with a dreamy background gets me every time. I’m also drawn to evocative setting images combined with an attention-grabbing title/font combination.

Jo: Good graphics, nothing too fuzzy. Easy to read font that stands out. A design that ‘grabs’ my attention. I like simple designs using negative space rather than filling the whole of the cover with too much information. For me less is more. I want to feel an emotional connection to the story and to pick up on the mood of the book from the picture on the cover.

Lisl: Well, it needn’t have people, as my last comment may have implied—but the design should inspire some sort of sensation, even if it is simple admiration for the colors, bends, direction, etc. Ideally it would give me some sort of hint regarding the where and what for, but apart from that should at least have some element that reaches out to make a connection, even if it is a time period, for example, I don’t often read, or design that implants some curiosity into the moment.

David: For me the cover has to set the tone of the book. With Legionary by Gordon Doherty you can tell straightaway the period and that you’ll see a lot of battles being fought. Nursing Fox, however, has a much more contemplative cover, again setting the period but also has a human touch to it which fits perfectly with the tale. It’s clear we might see some war but you know mainly it’s going to be through the eyes of the nurse.
 
AB: What will immediately put you off a cover?
 
David: I hate to say it but cover with pictures of real people on them. I’m all for portraits depicting individuals; I’m just not a big fan of photos of real people being used. I like an artist’s touch rather than the Photoshop look.
 
Jo: A title in a font that is difficult to read. Garish colours. If the cover is too vague and confusing so that I can’t decipher what the book is about. If the cover looks ‘cheap’ or poorly presented.
 

Jenny: Too many elements crammed in. Text that’s hard to read. Black-and-white or sepia photos with a simple title slapped on them.

Lisl: Generally speaking, solid colors and no drawing or design. There is a very popular series whose covers are a variety of different solids. If I ever saw these books in the shops before I heard of them, I never noticed and likely wouldn’t have investigated what they are about. It was only word of mouth that brought me to them. It isn’t that I loathe this sort of cover, just that there’s a nothingness to them that produces usually the very same in terms of response … nothing.


AB: Now, one perennial cover is the “headless woman in a period gown” cover. What are your thoughts about it? 

Jenny: Works for me! So often when a woman’s face is on the cover, it doesn’t match my vision of the character in my head. Her manner of dress and her body language is much more alluring for me.

I totally agree with Jo – a stunning draw into the story!

Lisl: To be honest, I really enjoy taking in the different gowns—colors, styles, era designs and so on. Bodies without heads, though, well, it’s a bit weird, to be honest. That said, they do create a bit of curiosity re: what the rest of the woman might have looked like: does she seem confident in her carriage? (This you can see in the eyes.) Does she give off a strong vibe or one that shows she can be bent to another’s will?—and all kinds of questions, really. The lack of answers to these in terms of an illustration or image to give some clues matches the historical reality that, with some exception, women’s lives simply were not recorded to the extent men’s were. The humanity we often want to see is missing in the records, but it also extends the mystery of distance in time, lending it to the story.

Audiences tend to want to see into characters’ souls, and you can’t do that with a headless body, but there are other ways to captures reader attention, and one great cover image I thought was Anne Easter Smith’s Queen by Right, which depicts Cecily Neville with gloved left hand holding a goshawk and in the other, a basket of white roses. While I don’t know all that much about falconry, the image piqued my attention and bestowed upon Cecily greater individuality, strength in particular. The roses go along with the theme, of course, all adding significantly more meaning to the cover than many others, whose great dresses, unfortunately, don’t take us beyond beautiful fashion.

Jo: I’ve grown to accept this as it seems that a lot of historical fiction features the “headless woman” or a woman in period costume gazing wistfully into the distance. It’s immediately recognisable as a historical ‘brand’ and as such, survives and to be honest, I’ve become accustomed to it now.
 
David: I like it I’m honest. It sets the tone and lets the reader know the type of book it will be before reading, a female lead, some romance, delicate period drama perhaps. I like to know what I’m getting and this type of cover wouldn’t put me off.
 
Another of these perennial favourites is the “bare-chested, wild-haired man in a kilt” covers. Thoughts? 
 

David: Not for me really… I’m not a fan of bare chested men 😊  I’m aware that books appeal to different readers so these covers do have their place but just not on my book shelf.

Jenny: I do love a man in a kilt, but I am not such a fan of the bare-chested cover. It really doesn’t do anything for me. I’m not reading the book for the man’s abs. But I’ll take a man in breeches, vest, and coat any day!

Jo: If the book is about a “bare-chested, wild-haired man in a kilt” … then yes, why not. I’m sure this type of cover sells this particular genre and if it’s what readers enjoy then that’s ok with me.

Lisl:
I tend not to take them seriously, really.

AB: Which historical fiction covers do you think work particularly well? Why?

Jo: All three covers are different and yet they all appeal to me both for their simplicity and attention to detail: The Phantom Tree by Nicola Cornick, The First of the Tudors by Joanna Hickson, The Edge of Dark by Pamela Hartshorne.

David: Oo, apart from the two previously mentioned I think others which get it spot on would have to be Wolf’s Head by Steven A. McKay, The Bowes Inheritance by Pam Lecky and I’m by no means biased when I say In the Shadow of the Storm by Anna Belfrage (AB: Thrilled! But I can’t very well include a pic of my own cover). I think each of these set the scene for the story nicely and speak to me as a reader before picking the book up.
 

Jenny: For me, historical fiction covers absolutely need to impart the essence of a time gone by, and the good news is there are many ways to do this using a combination of character representation, settings or objects, or even a historical-looking font. (AB: As Jenny designs covers, she preferred not to name specific covers.)

Lisl: Apart from the Stewart covers already mentioned, there are a few that come to mind straight away. I loved Annie Whitehead’s cover for To Be A Queen so much I wrote a cover crush entry about it.  A mood of longing and loss is woven into the image, and even the title speaks of the distance—in time or space—between ourselves (or the characters) and what has been lost, or can never be.

I always thought the first edition for Paula Lofting’s Sons of the Wolf was as beautiful as its successor turned out to be. A ghostly rider moves amongst swirling colors that race past him, obscuring a completely clear view, as if we are given glimpses through an indistinct tapestry, the hues of which bend and blur events. The wolf referenced in the title, and who represents the warrior’s forebears, is seen above. I especially loved a particular effect of the image: one may have to take it in more than once to fully realize what it depicts, as it is not portrayed starkly, but rather as if one is seeing it—and events—through time.

I’m also a total sucker for medieval art, and I love it on book covers. Martha Kennedy uses one to grace her novel Savior, and the effect is one of growing with the cover from the first phase, before reading the book, but still admiring the image. Taken from a medieval illuminated manuscript, this one depicts knights on their coursers in the heat of war. Brought to bear on the passages set at the Battle of La Forbie, a new understanding of how these men lived and died alters what one sees in the image, a lovely cooperation between storytelling and cover art.

AB: As a final question, is there any particular period you would want to see more books about? 

David: I’d like some more books set in the Wild West. It’s not a period I’m particularly familiar with but ever since I was a kid I’ve loved cowboys.

Jenny: No more Tudors please! I’d like to see more fiction set during the American and French revolutions and the War of 1812, maybe some more Irish medieval.

Jo: 11th, 12th or 13th centuries.

Lisl: I’d love to read more about the Barbary Wars.

(AB: And for those who, like me, don’t go “aha!” when hearing Barbary Wars, here’s a link.)

I am rather encouraged by Jo’s periods given my own writing preferences 🙂 And I agree: no more Tudors! How about some Stuarts instead? Thank you so much for joining me here today – and I must say that the covers you’ve mentioned are very varied – which just goes to show that what appeals to one reader may not appeal to another. Duh!

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Many thanks to Anna Belfrage and my wonderful co-bloggers for such a great time!

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Previous entries in the Reading 2017 series:

Readers’ Chat with Stephanie Hopkins

Origins of the Challenge

Reading Challenge 2017

New Genre Library (True Crime): Murder in Greenwich

Upcoming:

New Genre Library (Graphic Novel): Title TBA

New Genre Library (Science fiction): Title TBA

New Genre Library is a three-part spinoff series of Reading 2017

And a couple of other fun entries to round out the year!

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Book Review (Updated): A Rip in the Veil

A Rip in the Veil (Book I in The Graham Saga series) by Anna Belfrage

This novel’s review in its original form appears here.

A Rip in the Veil is an indieB.R.A.G. Medallion recipient.

Previously having read and enjoyed The Prodigal Son, third in The Graham Saga series, I approached this first book with assurance and excitement. It is, after all, where the adventures begin, where the rip in the veil dividing time(s) occurs, at least in the case of Alex Lind. From my reading of that third in the series I knew she’d gone tail spinning through time back to the 17th century following a freak thunderstorm, though further details, of course, remained unknown to me. Reading the opening sentences of the first in the series, I was very aware of my transition into the beginning, and that enticingly soon these details would be revealed. I am quite sure anyone who has ever read Belfrage’s Saga out of order—which can be done—will understand.

ripHaving now read A Rip in the Veil for a second time it should be noted I didn’t like the book as I did before. I have grown since that reading, come to new awareness and made changes in my own life. I am different to that person who read the book last time. Through all that, I came out at the end of my second go-round with this result: I love it at least ten times more. Some of this could be attributed to a greater understanding I have toward the foreshadowing I hadn’t noticed the first time. It could also be said that having gone on to read—since The Prodigal Son—the rest of the series save its final installation, my affection for the characters has grown. All this would be accurate and surely contributes to my ongoing admiration for Anna Belfrage’s first in her timeslip series.

However, her strength as a novelist carries through more than in the ability to create strong characters with enduring appeal—an accomplishment in of itself not to be to sniffed at. Her words flow off the pages with the sort of enchantment that allows readers to recognize their beauty and rhythm, but also veils the utilitarian duties they pull on the side.

Further, true to the nature of a splendidly written book, one finds something else to adore they might not have taken in at first. In this instance one example would be phrases that capture our attention from where we stand now, not unlike the sun hitting stained glass at just the right angle or time of day. “The bright turmoil of oils,” for example, engages the imagination as it interweaves contemplation of an artist and her emotions; they unify in the moment and stir the sensations. There also is the author’s subtle sense of invitation into the story. We may share an understanding with a select character, or the author might slightly pierce the boundary between events as they occur and the observer holding the book, by acknowledging the observation.

“Jeans; everyone wears them where I come from.”

“Djeens,” he repeated, “well, you must be from very far away.”

“You could say that again,” she mumbled, hunching together.

and

[F]or an instant Alex thought she could see shame in his eyes. For an instant, mind you, and then his face hardened.

As Belfrage gets her tale going, readers also recognize what Alex herself does not, and her responses artfully contribute to the flow and continuity of the story as the author inserts detail clues for readers’ benefit; we learn ancillary information without being instructed, and the technique is used throughout the book, sparingly and subtly, also economically lending insight into players’ personalities.

The most apparent location these hints appear would be in dialogue, which also informs readers of how much each character knows about various events. In this way and others, Belfrage weaves a complex story, pleasurable and fascinating to follow—and I do mean fascinating: there were a number of occasions that gave me pause as I stopped to consider implications, how something could work, what might it mean in reality, and so on. The author’s prose lends credence to such a possibility, too: described with verbiage so on target and believable, responses and consequences so plausible, not an extra or out-of-place word, it becomes real as readers as well are drawn into the vortex with Alex, mysteriously and frighteningly into another time and, really, another place.

“Are you alright?” Matthew asked Alex.

“Yes,” she said shakily.

“Do you know him?” He cocked his head at the groaning shape.

“No.”

“Yes you do!” Two penetrating eyes fixed on her.

Alex shook her head, taking in a battered face, a dirty flannel shirt and jeans that seemed to have burnt off at calf length. He looked awful. The skin on what she could see of his legs was blistered and raw, made even worse by a large flesh wound. But he was here, an undoubtedly modern man. . . One person dropping through a time hole she could, with a gigantic stretch of mind, contemplate. Two doing it at the same time was so improbable as to be risable[. . . .]

[The man’s] eyes stuck on Matthew. . . His eyes widened, his mouth fell open, he cleared his throat and gawked some more, his Adam’s apple bobbing like a cork.

“Where the hell am I?” he said. “Where have I ended up?”

Indeed, sense of place is a strong element in Alex’s story and we see some overlap in time, eliciting more questions that contribute to an urgent sense of need-to-know. I also longed to learn how those Alex leaves behind react; here, Belfrage does not disappoint. Initially alternating with some frequency between her new/old world and the time she has left behind, gradually the narrative settles into Alex’s story within her current surroundings, only periodically bringing readers back to those seeking answers as to her whereabouts. This reflects Alex’s perspective of the experience, as she begins to make a life, her life, in this strange place she has landed. Like Alex, we acclimate to life without frequent news and knowing of her family.

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The Prodigal Son is also a B.R.A.G. Medallion winner (click image for more details)

Perhaps the most significant element Belfrage employs throughout the book, this literary reflection of a character’s reality does extra duty as it is simultaneously employed with temporal distortion—texting her father from 1658, muttered comments Alex has to explain away—and a spot of pastiche, whereby her 21st century words, ways, songs, clothing names (e.g. djeens) are imported backward in time. Alex herself often brings this distortion to readers’ attention with her questioning of her new world (which is actually old) and how she could be there, given that at this time, she has not yet been born. Nor have any of her family, so how could they be searching for her? What may be the most satisfying yet, and perhaps a little surprising, is Belfrage’s manner of writing about timeslip—writing mostly in the destination era being the largest contributor to the sense of surprise—utilizing postmodern technique to do it. Moreover, her interweaving of the various strategies is absolutely seamless.

Through the book, we get hints of Alex’s history awareness as she periodically betrays, to readers only, her knowledge of what is to come in this historical era. The temptation for an author to lean on this type of understanding must be great; fortunately for readers and characters alike, Belfrage does not rely on it. In fact, she shies away from it in most instances, as Alex determinedly seeks to make her way in this era with more natural supports—and, of course, to avoid accusations of witchcraft. When readers may expect some historical event to be referenced, Alex moves on; she has learned quickly.

As Alex learns what she needs to in order to survive—including about Matthew’s vengeful younger brother Luke, and the wife once paired with Matthew himself—she also begins to see much in Matthew, joining forces with him to live a life of integrity in the face of religious persecution and inconceivable human cruelty. Alex sees this very quickly after they meet each other, during their journey back to his home, and through their time living there. She also captures the attention of someone who believes there is more to her than she tells, bonding with her and others as she makes her way through newcomer status and the daunting awareness of not knowing what she is doing, including in the presence of those who wish her ill.

Matthew has an ally in Simon, his brother-in-law and attorney, who protects his interests and indeed, his life, counseling the newlyweds in ways small and large. In a sense, as Matthew and Alex get to know each other, their story is timeless—two people with a bond who must learn to integrate their beings into a cohesive and workable whole. On top of their own challenges, ordinary and unique, the pair must also deal with the threats that remain, for despite Matthew having made it home, Luke’s anger has not subsided, and it menaces Matthew and those he loves at every turn. The Grahams do not claim victory over every challenge, and sometimes must learn to compensate, including with each other.

“I didn’t like the ‘obey’ part,” Alex grumbled as they walked back to Simon’s office [following their wedding]. “I mean the love and to hold and all that, fine. But to obey? It makes me feel like a dog. . . . Why should I obey you?”

“Because I’m your husband,” Matthew explained with exaggerated patience. “And you’re but a mindless wife.”

Will they always be so lucky? How do they keep Luke’s hatred at bay and can they continue? What of Alex’s strange circumstances? She was brought here against her will; what if the forces that carried her here reverse themselves? Can she ever go back? How can she stay under the conditions she will be required to live? These are just a few of the top questions that will arise from readers, who certainly will reach eagerly for the next book for answers as well as more of the Grahams, for while the book’s technical brilliance impresses the intellect, its soul captures the heart and imagination.

It is understood that certain factors affect any given reading, including order of books read. Did my awareness of Alex’s future, so to speak, with Matthew affect my perspective of the first in the series? Undoubtedly. Would I have enjoyed it as much had I not read the third book first? The only truthful answer I can give is that I do not know, though I am certain I still would be clamoring for the rest, as I had been. It has not escaped me, however, that like Alex, I myself have done a bit of time travelling by learning of a future portion of her life in the 17th century before being brought to the first part of her time there. While many of my questions arising from the third are answered in the first, the readings of both remain magnificent. When first I published this review in its original form, I had added, “and I will not be satisfied until I have read them all—and even then I may still want more.”

I assure you, even after having now read them all (except the most recent), I very much still want more. I will be reading this book again and again with the knowledge that Belfrage has created the Grahams and a tale vigorous enough to journey with us through time and all of our own changes.

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Update: I have read them all by now, and I want more. 

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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, her sew series, The King’s Greatest Enemy, other projects and her world.

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Links to previous Anna Belfrage-related reviews and interviews can be found here.

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Lisl is a contributor to Naming the Goddess and her poetry has appeared at Bewildering Stories and in Alaska Women Speak. She is currently editing her volume of poetry, Four Seasons, and scribbling away at a collection of novellas, tentatively titled Border Dwellers. She likes to color, cook, practices calligraphy and is learning to sew.

Book Review: To Catch a Falling Star

To Catch a Falling Star by Anna Belfrage
Lisl reviews and reminisces about The Graham Saga

Winner of the B.R.A.G. Medallion

To-Catch-a-Falling-Star_pb-SW-600px-widthAs the eighth and final installment in Anna Belfrage’s The Graham Saga series, To Catch a Falling Star found me reluctant to read as well as hungry to devour it. I’d accidentally fallen in with Alex Lind, who beckoned me into her world—both of them, time traveler that she is—when I reviewed number three, The Prodigal Son. It transported me and, knowing I simply had to read all from the start, I set out, smugly comfortable with my fat stack of books, assured of a brilliant journey that would last for some time to come. Reading Falling Star’s opening lines began the end of this long journey.

Isaac Lind should not have drunk quite as much as he did that evening, but flushed by the success of his latest exhibition, he allowed himself to be dragged along, to be toasted in pint after pint of lager.

He caressed the wooden frame of the picture, a depiction of a somnolent courtyard[…] In the middle a fountain, a constant welling of water[…] In olive greens and muted browns, with the odd dash of whites and startling blues, the water spilled over the fountain’s edge to fall in transparent drops towards the ground[…] He tried to break eye contact with the falling water, but now he heard it as well, the pitter-patter of drops on wet stone, the trickling sound of water running through a narrow channel, and there, just where he had painted it, a minute point of white beckoned and promised, entrapping his eyes in a shaft of dazzling light.

Isaac’s mother, Alex, had fallen through a rip in the veil of time when he was just a toddler, and apart from one short encounter, he has not seen her since. His grandmother’s paintings having played a role in these events, this opening then serves as foreboding. Now 32, a veteran time traveler at it again, certainly he may be able to see his mother once more. Apart from the vagaries of shifting through eras, the relationship is complicated by mother and son’s personal history, pertaining both to Isaac’s birth as well as his perception of Alex’s “abandonment” of him. Indeed, she chose to remain in the seventeenth century where she landed, and by the time Isaac falls through once more, she has raised a family, homesteaded in the colonies and seen too much in the passage of her “adopted” time.

A Rip in the Veil is a B.R.A.G. Medallion honoree and winner of The Review's Book of the Month Award
A Rip in the Veil is a B.R.A.G. Medallion honoree and winner of  The Review‘s Book of the Month Award (click image)

Initially, Isaac’s appearance is welcome to those familiar with the saga, for he has not played much of a role in the previous installments, apart from his one “visit,” although Alex does guiltily think of him from time to time. But even new readers fall in quickly, given Belfrage’s masterful shaping of dialogue and events that fill in pertinent bits of information. Isaac is a sympathetic character and from the get-go, readers follow him hopefully.

As these events play out, Alex is experiencing a separation of her own. After years of feuding between her husband, Matthew, and his younger brother, Luke—often with terrible consequences—a truce of sorts has been called and the couple prepare to leave their colonial home, taking only a portion of their family back to Scotland. Having been forced out of their country in the wake of religious persecution, she now had grown roots in her new land and leaving it, and her children, is devastating.

Meeting up with Isaac once more, as well as returning to Scotland, produces mixed feelings within Alex. She must face her guilt and work through the confrontations with her confused and unhappy son, as well as the long-ago losses and compounded homesickness when she sees how far they have grown from Hillview, Matthew’s ancestral home. Her husband begins to bond more closely with Luke, who appears to be trying to sort out their past, and Belfrage give us greater glimpses into Luke’s life as well as his changing perceptions of his world and the individuals who populate it. Her treatment of the younger Graham brother is especially skillfully woven because we are kept in a questioning state: “Exactly how hard do old habits die?” Just when we think things have changed, something else occurs, bringing our assumptions into question, though knowing answers could come from any direction.

The author deals with historical reality with the skillful dexterity she utilizes in the preceding seven books. Religious persecution—in the colonies as well as Scotland—battles and factual historical figures all play a role she does not whitewash, even to the detriment of Alex’s relationship with Matthew. Belfrage moves us between eras and places with a hand so adroit we not only fall into the story, but also follow along with baited breath, around every obstacle and with an eye out for anything that might come between our players and their goals.

The prodigal Son, too, is a B.R.A.G. Medallion winner
The Prodigal Son, too, is a B.R.A.G. Medallion winner (click image)

Life being what it is in seventeenth-century Scotland, adversity and heartbreak are constant companions. Even here, what characters see and how they see it, wraps us into their destinies, makes us care about them all the more. At times they make the best of it, while on other occasions, not so much: “The night was bitterly cold, the stars strewn like shards of crushed glass on a velvet background.” But so often even the bitter language of their love rises within a bouquet of poetry, reminding us, and perhaps them, that life is too precious not to move forward.

While the story opens with Isaac and moves at one point for a long spell back to Maryland, it really is Alex and Matthew’s tale, with the degrees of separation surrounding them: they are the nucleus, and they move forward with heartbreak and laughter, sharing the story of their loves and their losses, accepting some realities, while left wondering about others. At their now-advanced ages, Matthew and Alex begin to wonder about future Grahams. “Was there anything left of them in the twenty-first century? Would there be someone living here, in their place, and would that person’s name be Graham?” Given the strange way they came together, how exactly would this work? Even this element of the story unites characters with readers, as Belfrage weaves time together in such a fashion that we recognize ourselves in those who came before, and how their choices affect the lives we live today.

Having completed this last of the eight novels of The Graham Saga, it is perhaps easy to overlook—this is how seamlessly Belfrage writes us all together—that the re-reading of the series sets us all upon a circular sort of journey, much like the one Alex possibly faces, when her seventeenth-century self passes on and time marches forward until her original era dawns, and she is born again. Will she re-live it all in the same way we will when we go back to the beginning?

To Catch a Falling Star ties together some loose ends, answers some questions as its creator draws the Grahams’ story to a close. Alex recalls her first night with Matthew on a Scottish moor, and Jacob, her young son, gone too soon. She caresses a carved wooden infant, much as she did the one Matthew had made for her on that moor, as she agonized over her feelings for the baby Isaac. As we—reader and Alex alike—recall the start of her journey, she and Matthew are passing into a new phase of life. “Colour was returning to their world, greys morphing back to greens and browns, reds and blues.” One can’t help but recall the colors Isaac sees just before his second passage, as one world spills into another, both then and now.

It is a difficult moment, for all the remembering, and new questions, about future as well as past, and knowing this is the end of the long journey once embarked upon with such pleasure, aware there was so much more ahead. Alex herself used to say she would make the same choice—to stay—if she were to do it all over again. For all the heartbreak, grief and terror, there is also immense joy, love and bonding of souls in these tales, these “desert island books,” as another author refers to them, and like Alex, we would do it all over again as well. And we will. We will.

About the Author ….

Anna Belfrage can be found at her blog, which also maps out The Graham Saga series for readers. Find her as well at Twitter, Facebook and at her Amazon author page, where you can also learn about her newest series, The King’s Greatest Enemy.

anna

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See my review for In the Shadow of the Storm, book one in The King’s Greatest Enemy series, here.

This review previously appeared at the blog’s alternate location and a copy of To Catch a Falling Star provided in exchange for an honest review.

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Links to previous Anna Belfrage-related reviews and interviews can be found here.

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Lisl is a contributor to Naming the Goddess and her poetry has appeared at Bewildering Stories and in Alaska Women Speak. She is currently editing her volume of poetry, Four Seasons, and scribbling away at a collection of novellas, tentatively titled Border Dwellers. She likes to color, cook and is learning to sew.

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Book Review: Whither Thou Goest

Whither Thou Goest (Book VII in The Graham Saga)
by Anna Belfrage

Recipient of the B.R.A.G. Medallion

whitherPeople who populate today’s societies—ehem, us—have a tendency to believe our world is superior to that of the past: more conveniences, broader rights for women and minorities, better medicine. While these advantages have indeed developed, they come with trade offs and in the realization of these gains we’ve lost bits of our selves and relationships. In Whither Thou Goest, the seventh installment of Anna Belfrage’s Graham Saga, this theme comes closer to the fore as time-traveling Alex Lind and her 17th century husband, Matthew, make their way to the West Indies to rescue their unknown nephew from the horrors of indentured servitude—in reality, brutal slavery.

Matthew himself once suffered this fate and it is largely his history that decides for the Grahams they should heed the plea of Matthew’s brother Luke to rescue his son, a youngster persuaded into the Monmouth rebels now facing a terrible future as the consequence of his misguided involvement. There is no love lost between Mr. and Mrs. Graham and Luke, but they also conclude that young Charlie should not be left to such a terrible fate as a result of the animosity between his father and uncle and events not of his doing. Their decision reflects the book’s title as well as their own bond forged, a bond that, like that of Ruth and Naomi, was not “supposed” to be:

“What do we do?” she said, coming over to hug Matthew from behind. She rubbed her face up and down between his shoulder blades, feeling him relax.

“There isn’t much choice, is there?” he said. “I have to go down there and attempt to find him.”



“Wrong pronoun,” Alex told him. “It’s ‘we’, Matthew, not ‘I’.” No way did she intend to let him face the ghosts of his past alone.

“We,” he said, and twisted round in her arms to hold her close.

So they go, and readers follow along, though with the added advantage of seeing events occurring in other family members’ lives. There also are small delights throughout as readers recognize events from the Grahams’ past that led to these moments, links bringing on the awareness of Belfrage’s genius for tying it all together, and from and through such a distance as thirty years. The book’s pace is swift, but not quite as whirlwind as its predecessor, and the author engages in language realistic for the period yet also a comfortable fit for us. So comfortable it is, one never wants to take it off. The only disappointment in this series is that eventually each book comes to an end.

It is a testament to Belfrage’s prowess as a writer of historical fiction that she can manage to get so far into a complicated series of events and a seventh novel, and still maintain reader attention as raptly as in the first book. But more than that, just as history is never static, neither are people, and the author brings us along as Matthew and Alex progress through the years: readers never grow out of the series, but rather the characters grow with them.

Therein lies the ability for Alex to accept—even in many instances relish—the hand she has been dealt. A freak thunderstorm painfully threw her past where a veil customarily divides time and in meeting with Matthew Graham she recognized something so special she fought powerful forces attempting to yank her back. There definitely was a fair share of life in 1658 Scotland unfamiliar and not terribly attractive to Alex—by law and religious tradition loss of voice and stature, for one—so why did she opt to stay? While there were pros to life in 2002, her personal assessment of where she stood may have brought a realization that there, too, the voice she had was also suffocated by circumstance.

Now, in Whither Thou Goest, Matthew and Alex are engaged in welcoming 1686—they have been together for nearly thirty years. The opening passages introduce us to one of the contradictions Alex has grown with all this time:



The shrubs were beginning to show buds; here and there startling greens adorned the wintry ground[. . .].Winter was waning, and soon it would be brisk winds, leaves on the trees and weeks of toiling in the fields or the vegetable garden.



The beauty of the new life of coming spring is paired with the awareness of the backbreaking labor it brings, with only brief opportunities to savor it around an immediate need to work for survival. In Alex’s 21st century life she wouldn’t have had to do this; instead she would have faced other perils connected to food supply. The lifestyles are so different, but Alex recognizes the similarities as well, here and in many other elements, such as religion. She is content with her choice, a promise towards Matthew that “thy people shall be my people,” and Belfrage’s treatment of Alex’s attitudes towards various aspects of her life strikes a balance, much like the one Alex maintains as she adjusts and carries on.

A complex personality, Alex may differ with us on various perceptions of 2002 as well as 1658 and on, but the author gives Alex’s voice life in a way that even those most opposed could admit that she makes a good argument.

Like Alex, Matthew is a strong enough man not only to survive, but also thrive because he is willing to grow in a similar way. While Alex certainly caught him off guard that day when they both were on the run and she literally landed at his feet, the intervening years have led him down the road he shares with her. The pair do not always agree, but he has grown secure enough to speak of Alex’s mother—the woman whose hand initiated her daughter’s passage through time—as someone deserving of compassion, even if she was a witch as he always feared she may have been. In discussing her horrific death, Matthew speaks of her dying “well,” that she forgave her tormentors not only because they needed it, but also because she did.

There is a welcome peace about and within this installment—for reader as well as protagonists, especially given recent events in the Grahams’ lives. Not that Belfrage gives anybody too much of a break—the 1600s in Scotland as well as the Colonies, to where the Grahams have repaired, is a perilous time for all, and getting hold of Charlie is the easy part. Finding their way back to Maryland is the real challenge. Moreover, Alex comes face to face with an old nemesis only to learn painful truths about the world and her place in it.

Nevertheless a softening shift can be felt, and Belfrage winds the threads of this aura through her narrative like a subtle breeze come to cool a painfully hot day. Acceptance occurs a lot, between Matthew and Alex as well as each of them with others, and the bond they have, one that has been growing over the years to reach this point, is tangible to another. It is significant that Belfrage has this insight coming from a relative of the Burleys, dangerous and destructive men once driven to destroy the Grahams, as she shows us again through this contradiction how life often blooms from the seeds of destruction.



Tilting his head, he studied Matthew Graham and his wife, fascinated by how they automatically fell in step, a slight leaning towards each other. Her skirts brushed against his leg, her profile turned towards him, and she said something that made him laugh, bending his head close to hers. Her hand touched his, fingers widened and braided tight together as they continued down the dusty road.

He had never seen anything like it, never seen two bodies come together so effortlessly, so obviously halves of a perfect whole. Welded together, it seemed, and Michael stood where he was, his eyes glued thoughtfully to their backs until they dropped out of sight.



Here as in many passages, Belfrage utilizes ordinary yet such poetic language, painting a moving picture in which readers can easily see what she describes: the tender closeness of a man taking in the words of his wife, the curl of her swinging skirts’ material, the wide, deliberate yet instinctive opening and joining of fingers as they move in time to each other’s steps. What’s more, she does this undetected: the words and rhythm are so natural it is as if they are a part of ourselves; we only understand how much these characters have “over the years” come to mean to us. Like the paintings of Mercedes, Belfrage’s draw us in and bring us to another time.

There are, of course, no easy conclusions, and the novel ends with a few questions unanswered, a lead-in to the next—sadly the last—installment in the series. There are continued contradictions with which the Grahams find acceptance: an event Alex has painfully yearned for occurs, but at a price; Matthew helps his son build a bridge between his own two worlds; a cherished piece of his past is re-imbursed, though he may never be able to claim it; and, as in the opening passages, fragile life makes an appearance, life that will bloom, but only with perseverance.

Whither Thou Goest, to be sure, contains scenes of heartbreak and sadness, with painful reminders for some characters of a past and connections they will never completely be able to escape. But it also is a love story of sorts, in which promises and commitments are made, solace is taken from unexpected quarters, and individuals experience awakening, a blooming of new life amidst ruins to be cleared as futures are built. It is a story only Anna Belfrage could tell of a family readers will never forget and often wish to re-visit.

About the author …

Anna Belfrage can be found at her blog, which also maps out The Graham Saga series for readers. Find her as well at Twitter, Facebook and at her Amazon author page, where you can also learn about her newest series, The King’s Greatest Enemy.

Twitter_2

This review previously appeared at the blog’s alternate location and a copy of Whither Thou Goest provided in exchange for an honest review.

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Links to previous Anna Belfrage-related reviews and interviews can be found here

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Lisl is a contributor to Naming the Goddess and her poetry has appeared at Bewildering Stories and in Alaska Women Speak. She is currently editing her volume of poetry, Four Seasons, and scribbling away at a collection of novellas, tentatively titled Border Dwellers.

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

A few weeks ago (or is it months?) I had a chance to visit with Anna Belfrage, award-winning author of The Graham Saga series (links to reviews below) as well as her newest, The King’s Greatest Enemy, the first of which, In the Shadow of the Storm, I have reviewed and you can find here.)

I was delighted and flattered that the chocoholic Anna Belfrage baked a scrumptious apple pie in honor of our role reversal. Usually, you see, I’m the one asking her questions, but this time she’d decided she wanted to pick my brain a little bit. So pick she did ….

An author’s best friend…

…is a good reader. Today, I’ve invited Lisl to visit, precisely because she is just that – a good reader. She also happens to be a very good writer, which is apparent not only in her excellent reviews but also in her poetry and those snippets of prose she has chosen to share. If you want to experience Lisl’s writing (and fab reviews) at length, do stop by her blog, Before the Second Sleep. In honour of the occasion, I’ve baked us a nice apple-pie. Plus, I might add, my home-made custard is to die for.

It is so nice to see you here with me, Lisl, what with you being all the way over in Alaska!

Thanks so much for having me, Anna! I’m loving your weather—makes me feel so at home.

Moose's Tooth
Moose’s Tooth in the Central Alaska Range (Wikimedia Creative Commons)

Ha! I imagine it does…Speaking of Alaska, what is it like to live there? I suspect you too struggle with myths along the lines that polar bears wander down your streets in full daylight (at least it’s a myth here in Sweden).

Well, it can be somewhat isolating, especially if one doesn’t have many connections to Outside, as we call it. I don’t have television programming, for example, which is why I rely so much on the Internet, because I want to know what’s going on in the world. But that’s just me—we do have television here! It’s also really lovely in summer and winter with loads of stuff to do.

The myths I hear most are how many people don’t realize we don’t have penguins, they think we might not accept American money and are surprised to learn we have cars. At one time I worked in a small specialty shop frequented by tourists and loved hearing these silly things—typically they came from people who genuinely wanted to learn about Alaska, and interacting with their sincerity and friendliness made that one of my favorite jobs ever.

Like me, you live in a place where the seasonal differences are not only due to temperature but due to lack or excess of light. Do you think the dark of winter vs the endless light of summer has a permanent impact on the people living that far north?

Oh, definitely. People form habits and patterns based on these conditions and as part of our culture they are so ingrained we joke about them while simultaneously don’t even notice, if that makes sense. For example, the Summer Solstice is observed by just about everyone, even those with zero interest or real knowledge in the history behind it, because it marks a transition in our year when we psychologically start prepping ourselves for termination dust and the coming of winter. There’s an old joke (one of many) about how you know you’re an Alaskan, because you make your Halloween costume large enough to wear over a coat.

keplerPeople who run into you on FB and the like, will probably mostly know you as a book reviewer – one of those readers who highlights aspects of the book not even the author may be entirely aware of. I get the impression you read very carefully. Does this mean you also read very slowly?

I don’t suppose I read slowly, though certainly I’m no speed reader. Overall it probably depends on the book. I think I do read carefully, which is a natural habit but there are others to thank for helping me develop my skills, including a particular professor. She engaged our classes rather than lectured and with her we learned so much regarding reading and writing about literature. I’m sure I’m not the only one who remembers her fondly.

In my reading I use a great deal of what I learned to this day, even with casual, not-for-review reading, though it doesn’t necessarily slow me down. Having said that, there are some books I do read more slowly, especially if it’s new information or a lot of characters to familiarize myself with.

Do you read more than one book at the time? If yes, do you read similar genre or totally different genre?

For better or worse, I do this a lot. At one time I tried to give it up, but finally just accepted the habit. It can be overwhelming on occasion, but then comes the satisfaction of closing up that last page of one book, then another and then another all within a short period of time.

Whether the genres are similar or different just depends upon circumstance—if I happened to have seen a book that looks really great, for example, and can’t wait, like a book on Kepler I recently came across. Now you’ve got me thinking about it, I think most of the time they aren’t the same, but perhaps there is always some connection: something in, about or related to one book leads me to another. What I can say for certain is that except for review books, which I read in order of when I received them, books choose me, not the other way around.

I have recently noted a certain fascination from your part regarding graphic novels – the modern day version of what I used to call comic books.

I first read Spiegelman’s Maus I: A Survivor’s Tale in a lit class in which we discussed the controversy of placing Holocaust memoir in graphic novel form. I thought it a great way to engage readers on all levels. Later I came across Satrapi’s Persepolis and Persepolis 2, of growing up in an Iran adversely affected by the 1979 revolution. They could be painful to read but by the genre’s nature the pictures show more than just events: we as readers gain greater dimension to the author’s insight, including images of herself as she perceives herself. It is very, very powerful.

I can’t say I’ve read a ton of graphic novels, but you’re right; largely thanks to Turtle they are becoming more of a presence in my reading repertoire and it seems a shift is indeed occurring.

What brought you to your love of reading, and what books were fundamental to igniting this passion you have for the written word?

witchHonestly, I don’t really know how I came to love reading in the first place, though my parents modeling it as a worthy pursuit—they were both enormous readers—surely played a large role. I can remember, even picture in my mind, books I found on shelves and flipped through, books about a boy in a jungle and animals that talked. Like now, perhaps the books beckoned to me and I couldn’t resist. Various people habitually brought me books as well: The Witch of Blackbird Pond; The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe; Island of the Blue Dolphins; Strawberry Girl and The Cricket in Times Square were just some from my mother. My father also brought home books for me, most memorably Francis Marion: Swamp Fox of the Revolution. Even my older brother—horrible in my then opinion– picked up books he thought I might like. I still have from him Galahad: Enough of His Life to Explain His Reputation and The Favorite Poems and Ballads of Rudyard Kipling. The Crystal Cave and The Discoverers: A History of Man’s Search to Know His World and Himself both also surely went a long way toward my own writing, possibly because they both instigated a deeper delving into myself, owing to my fascination with and curiosity of their subject matter, but also they spoke of times I instinctively felt a close connection to, and it seemed almost as if I was trying to discover who I was, and why what mattered to me, did.

I know you have a son – and that he too is a voracious reader. How have you transferred over your love of reading to him?

I did the easiest thing any parent could do, but what is also the most powerful—I read near and to him. I never gave him any kind of spiel about how important books are, and didn’t have to act enthusiastic because I really was. Before he was born I read aloud—partly because I’d heard about how babies can hear their mother’s voices—but also I really enjoy feeling the words as I read. After he was born I continued to read to him, at that time whatever it was I was reading. As it turns out talking or reading to babies triggers an amazing series of events within the brain that in turn opens windows to further development. I remain in awe of how such a simple, pleasant act can benefit such complex systems.

Turtle has been a library enthusiast his entire life. Very early on he shared plots, illustrations, criticisms, favorites and so on with me, and we still read to each other. Over the years we have developed our own special little traditions or funny jokes, a development covered in Mem Fox’s wonderful Reading Magic: Why Reading Aloud to Our Children Will Change Their Lives Forever. Simple to read, colossal in guiding children toward reading and other success.

I also try to support the idea that what he chooses matters—ask questions, let him read funny or other parts of note to me, discuss ideas that arise from readings—and have always let him choose his own books from the time he could. Unless it’s for school I never make him finish a book he isn’t enjoying—how is that reading for pleasure?—and provide a nice place for his collection as well as comfortable spots to curl up and read.

What would you consider are the main benefits of instilling a love of reading in a child?

Apart from what I’ve mentioned above, there are some very practical benefits. While nothing is fool proof, I have nevertheless seen over the years that children who enjoy reading are less likely to be drawn into negative behavior. They also have a larger vocabulary, especially if they have been read to because they’ve made the connections between how a word looks as well as sounds, and are more confident about experimenting with new words. Children develop better communication skills and academic achievement tends to be higher. Perhaps best of all, it fosters loving relationships between people who truly share when they communicate.

Are there books you wouldn’t allow your son to read? And if so, why?

Well, I’ve found there are goalposts that have to be shifted a bit periodically, as well as maintained.

dh-us-jacket-artI don’t own a single book I wouldn’t let him read, primarily because we have always been able to discuss different topics, even if my side of the conversation was/is delivered with age appropriateness in mind. Having said that, I will say that when he was younger I might have had some difficulty with this “policy” of mine I have maintained because some books—specifically history—might have been really scary for him. Some of them are scary for me. As for books we don’t own—as far as I know, no, though that is said with some relief at him having reached this age, when I feel he is ready to read some of the more disturbing historical events.

Most parents worry about sexual content as well, and though that is a concern for me, I have to let him learn to be a responsible reader. Plus, I’ve tried to communicate that he’ll never get in trouble for asking me questions. In support of that I attempted to go beyond the standard “You can ask me anything” by communicating that while many kids ask and tell each other lots of details, much of this is incorrect and can lead to real trouble. He agreed the possible awkwardness of asking mom is way better than trouble encountered from following bad advice. I periodically re-inforce that with how I respond to books we read together, though we haven’t come across any real sexual situations in the books he chooses. Swear words, yes, and we’ve had decent conversations about appropriate—and not—places to say that sort of stuff. Hopefully this will keep working with continued maintenance, which is the real point.

I note that quite a few of my “new adult” acquaintances never read – they spend their time on social media and streaming movies instead – or channel-hopping between TV shows. Personally, I worry this leads to a general lack of reflection. Would you agree? And do you see a similar trend?

Sadly, yes on both counts. I suppose some people are more inclined to reflection than others, so even movies could trigger that for them. However, film can’t convey what words can, so a lot will get missed. And of course there’s the danger of shutting down imagination—if the film production company tells you what a dragon looks like, why should you try to imagine it? It creates lazy thinkers, in my opinion.

Nowadays I become really happy when I see people exchanging ideas or engaging in healthy debate, largely because it’s sorely lacking anymore. Even many families act, as someone wrote recently, like a group of people who happen to live in the same house rather than as a cohesive unit. We’ve got a rule we hope can create a positive difference: Read the book first.

You are not only a reader, you are also a writer. Tell us a bit about this!

Well, in school I loved to read and had a really great rapport with my English teacher. She encouraged my fledgling efforts, which at that time I think were small and not necessarily directed toward a bigger picture; they just sort of came and I didn’t have any real desire to complete them. This changed at one point, however, when I wrote a short story about two teenage girls during the Salem witch trials. I really liked the tale—secretly though, because I was unsure it was any good by actual standards. Unfortunately, I didn’t keep it, though it has been in my mind lately and I think at times of trying to re-write. At any rate, from there I did start to write more, but the results were most often poems. I later did write down some rough outlines for stories that lately have been repeatedly knocking, so I’ve been working on them.

What is it that attracts you to writing poetry? Which are the challenges vs writing prose?

10-3-14-4My mother was an enthusiastic reader of Edgar Allen Poe—she read and re-read his works a lot, and aloud, especially his poetry. She never came out and said poetry had to be read aloud, but I could hear in her voice what came to pass in the words, the narrator’s passion as he speaks of his Annabel Lee, or the isolated anguish of the man mourning the lost Lenore. Though at the time I wouldn’t have described it this way, I had an appreciation for how so much—events, emotions, information, even entire lifetimes—could transpire in so few words. That they were also lyrical and lovely captured my entire imagination and as I began trying my own hand at poetry, I experimented with different words, explored their meanings and histories, sometimes simply repeating the words to hear the way they sounded as compared to how they looked.

Unarticulated thoughts began to transform into phrases born within my soul, and it was slightly intoxicating. I had never before been able to speak with great confidence—I was a rather shy child—but poetry was akin to a new language possessing the words I needed that my native tongue didn’t have, and it opened the world to me. Though the contexts are not exactly the same, I felt a little like the astronomer depicted in L’Atmosphère: Météorologie Populaire as he crawls under the edge of the sky.

In some ways it seems like poetry comes easier to me, though I wouldn’t go so far as to say poetry is easy. In university, when my writing skills really improved a lot, I was a language tutor and somewhat of an MLA [Modern Language Association] geek. Between that and the papers I wrote, I developed into more of an analytical writer. When I first started trying to expand on my stories this presented a great challenge as creative writing skills were now what I needed, but didn’t really possess.

keatsWriting poetry requires saying a lot with few words, which is true of prose, of course, but the parameters tend to be narrower. Also, a word might not feel right, or could turn out to be much different to what you’d intended and you think, “What do I do with this now?” Although in poetry, this may be a pro because of the separations between poems, despite the relationship uniting them all in one volume. For example, I once tried to write a poem directed at a country—not my own, but one I really do like. I was trying to express anger, but the end result was something so radically different to what I’d aimed for I was astounded. When I thought about it more I wondered that what I had inside me was communicating a different anger that also needed to be directed elsewhere, not at this place I was so fond of. The result was a complete product—with its own challenges toward my intentions, but still a workable poem.

Like all writers, I suppose you also use your writing as a cathartic exercise, i.e. you write with no intention of ever letting those particular words see the light of the day. And yet – in my case, at least – sometimes that writing is so intense it is almost a pity to hide it away. Your thoughts?

Ohhhhhh, yes. The poem I just talked about falls into that category. It feels so very personal, and I have some reservations, but I still thought, “And now I just put it back in the drawer?” Some work is so emotive it just can’t be contained again.

As a final question, which books would you bring with you to a desert island? You are only allowed three and they must last you a life-time…

This is really difficult. I mean really difficult. Just three?

I thought about The Complete Works of Shakespeare. I have a Bevington edition from my university class that could keep me busy for many years. It’s not that I’m a huge fan of Will, but what he did with language was inspirational, and all those plays could really keep me thinking, and probably writing. And let’s not forget the poems!

Possibly Boorstin’s The Discoverers. He covers a variety of topics—astronomy, measurement of time, science, geography, history, key figures in exploration and expeditions for spices, discovery, the opening of China and so on. I’ve read it a few times and each reading grants me a new observation on something that didn’t quite settle in the last time.

Nikolai Tolstoy’s The Quest for Merlin. This may come as a surprise for you, given my oft-repeated love of Mary Stewart’s The Crystal Cave [“Yup,” Anna says]. I do love Stewart’s book and feel almost drained leaving it off, but would have to confess that Tolstoy’s, which I read just once, leaves more room for discovery. Plus it has pictures. OK, well in all seriousness I don’t feel quite so connected to Merlin [in Tolstoy’s book] as with Stewart’s work, but the less familiar material would lead me through terra incognita and perhaps a few wonderful surprises.

Wow, not exactly the easiest of reads…Thank you so much for dropping by, Lisl – it has been most inspirational!

Thanks so much, Anna, for having me and I hope we’ll do this again sometime.

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Links to my reviews for Anna Belfrage’s The Graham Saga series …

A Rip in the Veil 

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

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Cover Crush for A Rip in the Veil

Chocolate Brownies Author Interview

Stay tuned for updated review for A Rip in the Veil

(Winner of The Reviews Book of the Month Award)

and

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

flammarion
The Flammarion Engraving is given its name as its earliest appearance can be traced to its inclusion in Flammarion’s 1888 book L’atmosphère: météorologie populaire (The Atmosphere: Popular Meteorology) (Wikimedia Commons)

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Lisl is a contributor to Naming the Goddess and her poetry has appeared at Bewildering Stories and in Alaska Women Speak. She is currently editing her volume of poetry, Four Seasons, and scribbling away at a collection of novellas, tentatively titled Border Dwellers.

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Note: This post has been updated to include links to reviews for Whither Thou Goest and To Catch a Falling Star.

Author Interview: Anna Belfrage (B.R.A.G. Medallion Winner)

shadowLong-time readers of the blog are probably quite aware of my enthusiasm for the work of Anna Belfrage–namely her B.R.A.G. Medallion-winning Graham Saga and now the start of her newest series, The King’s Greatest Enemy. I was so privileged to have been able to read and review the kickoff to the series, In the Shadow of the Storm. Kit and Adam, the novel’s protagonists, are no Alex and Matthew, which is a good thing, for they bring a whole new dynamic, perspective and fantabulous story to historical fiction.

I’ve chatted with the author before and we got to know each other over virtual tea and cake–chocolate, of course. A second interview came with my re-visitation of A Rip in the Veil–along with a review, both of which shall be forthcoming on these pages quite soon. I was treated to lemon meringue pie for that one! Now for a third time, we get to chat and I’ve brought along a treat for the chocoholic Anna Belfrage. Hope she’ll like it!

Good day, Anna Belfrage, and I hope this finds you well! I am so excited to see you yet again to talk a little about your new book, In the Shadow of the Storm.

About as excited as I am to be back here, in virtual Alaska. And even better, I see you have provided tea and cake. Have I ever mentioned I love cake? And tea? And having said that, I must say my present sojourn in the Middle Ages is a bit of a challenge. What did my poor characters indulge in when they needed a food binge? Dried peas? I must say… no: sorry. You have questions, Ms Zlitni. I shall focus on replying to them.

brownies 3
Image courtesy Lisl Zlitni

Don’t forget the cake! Well, brownies today. [Lisl uncovers plate.] Made with Ghirardelli chocolate! So … you mention in your historical note that the book is partly inspired by Ian Mortimer’s The Greatest Traitor. Did the story come to you as you were reading the book; perhaps at the end it all started to come together? Or was there a pivotal moment within when something clicked?

I have always had a thing for Roger Mortimer – long before I ever read Mr Mortimer’s books (and just to clear things up, they are NOT related). In fact, I bought the book just because it was about Roger – and then I read it page to page.

Before this reading, had you been considering a novel set in fourteenth-century England? Which figure(s) first captured your imagination? Edward II? Mortimer? The evil Despenser?

My first love has always been the medieval period – until I discovered the 17th century and went all wild and crazy over this absolutely fascinating era. But yes, I knew that at some point I’d want to write something set in medieval times, and originally I was looking further back, seeing as I grew up with a major crush on Richard Lionheart – utterly pathetic, given that he was dead since ages.

As to what figure captured my imagination, it was Roger Mortimer – and his love affair with Isabella. That’s just me, I guess – I gravitate towards the love angle. And I’ve always wondered what Mortimer’s loyal and abandoned wife would have felt about all this – something I touch upon in my books.

However, once I started reading up, I was more than sucked in by the political turmoil of the time. Edward II may have been a good man, but he was a weak king, things further compounded by famine and scheming barons. Ultimately, things haven’t changed all that much: create a void at the top of the power hierarchy and people will climb all over each other in their efforts to become king of the hill – which is what happened during the turbulent years of Edward II’s reign.

Do you find a fair number of readers are expecting another Graham Saga, or are (pleasantly) surprised when the story turns out to be completely new and different? Was there any part of it you worried readers would habitually compare?

rip
A Rip in the Veil, first installment in The Graham Saga series

I think the fans of The Graham Saga are not necessarily quite as enamoured with Kit and Adam as I am – at least not initially. But once I have them hooked with the story, I’m hoping they will enjoy this gallop through medieval England. After all, both series have at their core a man and a woman who will do anything to keep each other safe – no matter the risks involved.

The main difference is that Alex, the female protagonist of The Graham Saga is a modern woman thrown three centuries backwards in time. While she adapts, she is fundamentally still modern, so readers find it easy to relate to her, while Kit is very much a product of her time (as she should be). Not that being medieval in any way impinges on Kit’s ability to defend those she loves …

If I may ask, you once had told me you didn’t think this new series, The King’s Greatest Enemy, would be my cup of tea. What made you consider this might be so?

Did I say that? I must have eaten too much ice cream that day, leaving me with a brain freeze! Somewhat more seriously, I think the fact that you so enjoyed The Graham Saga made me a bit nervous, so I was just trying to lower your expectations. Plus, I never got the impression you were all that much into medieval times – with the exception of the late 15th century. But I was wrong, wasn’t I? You did like it!

You mean I’ve never forced you listen to me carry on about Merlin? Well, yes, I do tend toward the latter Plantagenets, but have been enjoying discovery of other eras as well. Nosy sort of question: Are all the books already written, or are you still working on the end of the series? Do you ever find yourself considering reader sentiment when mapping out future events?

All the books are written – but not through the final edit. As to reader sentiment, in this specific case I am writing a series based on factual events – which at times is heart-wrenching. It also restricts my freedom as to what can happen or not in the books – which I must admit I occasionally find suffocating and challenging.

Yes, indeed, the historical events dictate rather a lot. Would you ever consider writing a series in serial form—evaluating reader sentiment as part of how events play out in newer installments? I myself only know of one author today who does this, and am unsure how prevalent it is. I think Charles Dickens got it all going and as audiences read each installment they would write letters about who they liked and didn’t, etc.

No. I have enough of a challenge handling my characters, who have this nasty tendency to take off in an entirely unwanted direction in the midst of an ongoing plotline. I have, however, taken to heart comments made by readers regarding the first few books in The Graham Saga and carried them with me into future books. As an example, people were very upset with Julian Allerton after book seven (as was I) so he was given an opportunity to make amends in book eight.

I do, however, find the idea of interactive writing intriguing. But I’m not sure I’d want to do it with a plotline/characters that are truly important to me – I somehow need to hold them close until I’ve seen them through to the end.

What do you suppose accounts for the immense popularity of series these days? It seems as if so many books—even young adult that I see in my son’s collections—are but one part of a lineup. The cynic, of course, could point toward profit, but readers don’t respond to poorly written stories, so I myself don’t buy that as an explanation (no pun intended!).

I actually think there are various reasons, but one is, in my opinion, closely linked to the speed with which things happen today. Our lives whizz by, change is ubiquitous, we rarely have the time or patience to see one TV show from end to beginning without zapping around midway through; as a species we are increasingly restless, increasingly moving onwards and upwards – or trying to. It fries our synapses to keep up with all that change, and so, when it comes to relaxation, I think we crave familiarity and a slowing down. I don’t know what things are like your end of the world, but here in Sweden I see more and more anglers, men who stand for hours and stare at the water while holding on to a fishing rod. They don’t speak. They don’t look at their smartphones. They just stand there, now and then pulling up a flash of silver as they land a herring.

I suspect reading a series delivers a similar feeling: you know the characters, you know the setting, all you need to do is sit back and allow yourself to be carried away.

As a writer, I’d say series spring from the fact that the characters grow on you, become voices that echo through your dreams, whispering seductively about new adventures just down the road. Plus it helps that you already know them.

Have you talked to Kit or Adam apart from the novel? If so, what are they like with you? Do they realize they are fictional characters? How you suppose Kit in particular feels about you being in control of their destiny, given her strong will to be her own woman?

“Have you talked to Kit or Adam …” Of course, I have! My characters have this nasty tendency to become fixtures in my brain, constant whispering presences. As Matthew and Alex (from The Graham Saga) also hang around in the more convoluted corners of my head, it is quite the noisy place at times.

I actually talk more to Adam than Kit. He is the one who has the roughest road to travel – “an honourable man burdened with too much integrity,” as Mortimer puts it – and there are times when all this political intrigue gets him down. Plus, he fears for his wife and their children – with valid reasons, one might add.

Fortunately for Adam, Kit is always there for him, a warm embrace to hold him close when the outside world is just too much. Likewise, anyone as much as looks askance at Kit, and Adam surges to his feet, all six feet and more of protective male.

What’s next for Anna Belfrage? Do you have any more stories up your sleeve?

Well, I do have a ninth book in The Graham Saga coming up … Matthew and Alex are in for something of a rough ride when one of their sons betrays their priest friend, and an unknown, very damaged, granddaughter shows up out of the blue.

Other than that, I am working on a trilogy called The Wanderer (the first book is called A Torch in His Heart) which is a combination of contemporary romance, paranormal stuff and time slip. I’m not sure it’s your cup of tea (wink, wink) …

In brief, it’s the story of Jason and Helle who originally met up at a time when the fall of Troy was still a memory, not the stuff of legends. Thanks to the ambitious, greedy and cruel Prince Samion of Colchis, things did not go so well back then, and what was supposed to be a Happily Ever After morphed into death and loss. Now, for the first time in 3,000 years, Jason and Helle are in the same time and place. Unfortunately, so is Samion, and it is time to finish what was started in the distant fogs of time …

Plus, I have a new series set in the 17th century, and possible a series of sequels to Kit and Adam, and … well: my poor brain is going to burst at the seams someday.

Do you ever think you spend too much time on any part of the writing process? What word do you find yourself using a lot, even too much, in your writing?

No. I spend the time required to write a book I am proud of. Sometimes, more time goes into the rewrites than the first draft, at others it’s the other way around.

As to words, I always end up stuck on one word/expression in each book I write. This is why one needs editors (well, not only…) so as to tell you that maybe you’re repeating “no more” ad nauseam as I did in the unedited version of the next book in the Kit and Adam series.

Which of any of your characters possesses a trait you would like to have?

 All of them. I’d like to be as honourable as Matthew and Adam are, I’d love to be as brave as Alex, as persevering as Kit. But I am very happy to have few things in common with Hugh Despenser.

Hmmm … intriguing. Any hints?

As to what I have in common with Hugh? Ambition, definitely – but mine is tempered (I hope) by a strong moral compass. And the Hugh I’ve created has his moments of wit – as do I. Other than that, nada.

I must point out, though, that I find Hugh Despenser an extremely capable person. His misfortune was living under a king who couldn’t control him.

Knowing what you do about the time of King Edward II, would you be afraid to live in this era? Or confident about doing?

I’d prefer not to. First of all, as a woman, chances are you’d spend a substantial amount of your life pregnant and even die as a consequence of all these childbirths. Secondly, I’d find it difficult to live in an age so influenced by the Church – I’d probably be far too outspoken for my own good. Thirdly, as a woman I’d be relegated to the periphery – albeit that exceptions such as Isabella of France existed. And then there’s the sad fact that there was no tea and little cake – sugar was a luxury item.

And no chocolate—I can see where that is a dreadful consideration.

 Tell me about it! Imagine an entire life without a Hershey gold nugget. Wasted, in my opinion.

 [chuckles] What was the last book you read? What books recently jumped up onto your To Be Read (TBR)?

I’ve just had one of my “I must devour romance” phases, culminating with the fifth book in Sylvia Day’s Crossfire series.

Right now, I am reading an advance review copy of a book set in the 12th century called For King and Country by Char Newcomb. I loved her first book, so I have very high expectations.

As I am one of the final judges for the 2016 Historical Novel Society Award, at present four new books landed on my TBR: Aurelia by Alison Morton, Bloodie Bones by Lucienne B., Fossil Island by Barbara Sjoholm and When Sorrows Come by Maria Dziedzan.

Thank you so much, Anna, for joining us today! It’s been a pleasure and a privilege, and I hope we can do it again.

Absolutely! But next time, how about you drop by my place instead? And seeing as I know you don’t like chocolate (however incomprehensible) I’ll bake you something with apples instead.

Thank you so much for having me, Lisl!

The pleasure is all mine. Oh and just for fun, here’re a couple of pies my son and I have been exploring for next March 14.

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From Anna Belfrage’s website

anna

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 …. 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.

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Follow and learn more about Anna Belfrage and her work at her website, Twitter and Facebook. See my review for A Rip in the Veil here, and stay tuned for my review of that book revisited! Also, don’t miss more book reviews of her fantabulous stories, including in her newest series, The King’s Greatest Enemy.

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Images courtesy Anna Belfrage except where otherwise noted

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Cover Crush: A Rip in the Veil

Cover Crush: A Rip in the Veil by Anna Belfrage

“Cover Crush” is an idea conceived by Erin at Flashlight Commentary and made into a fun series at indieBRAG featuring B.R.A.G. Medallion-winning books and their fabulous cover images. Of course, some of my fellow interviewers and I wanted in on the action, so you’ll see the series appear here periodically as well as over at indieBRAG and interviewers’ blogs too, such as A Bookaholic SwedeLayered Pages and 2 Kids and Tired Books.

Now I’m no professional artist, but as Erin says of herself, I am a consumer and like many people (whether they admit it or not!), my initial attraction to a book often begins with the cover image. I know what I like and if I see something that somehow links to a personal interest—a jacket design with lotus or peonies, for example, triggering an idea that the volume might have a Persian theme—I’m more likely to further investigate. Naturally not everyone will reach for the same titles, nor will we all agree upon what the images convey. Sometimes we don’t even come to our choices in the same manner.

Even a recommended work or one whose blurb initially caught my attention doesn’t escape scrutiny of its cover, for I occasionally gaze at it, seeing in its features the story, feeling its mood or interpreting meaningful details within the scene or design. At the very least a successful jacket will trigger the notion that this book is a good match for the person studying it. But a really fantastic image will go one step further and unite reader and story by eliciting some sensation or possibly emotion. Of course what the author has in mind is not necessarily apparent to the potential audience, but something beckoning will initiate that unification on some level.

ripIn the case of Anna Belfrage’s A Rip in the Veil, the illustration and title font simply invite exploration. As the blurb reveals, Alexandra Lind, on a muggy night in 2002, encounters a freak thunderstorm resulting in a rip in the veil dividing time. Alex is catapulted into 1658, where she meets up with escaped convict Matthew Graham as he makes his way back to his Scottish estate. Apart from this brutal shift and the need to come to terms with her fate, eventually arises the question not only of how Alex might return to her native time. Will she want to?

An excellent blurb that tickles the curiosity beyond the draw of time travel, and one hinted at on the cover image. Alex is seen walking away from our perspective, her back to us. Clearly she is moving toward another world; her back indicates this. However, implicit in our questioning also remains the timing. Does this scene represent the moment she first finds herself in 17th century Scotland? The measured pace she seems to be taking—the space between her feet as she walks is quite small—indicates hesitation, but is it her new surroundings she hangs back from? Or is return to her own time what lay ahead and she only reluctantly moves toward it? Her stiff posture contributes to the understanding of her feelings, but for which era, for a new audience, is as yet unknown.

Even when later into the reading and questions begin to be answered, there still remain possibilities, perhaps of Alex, in her self awareness, recalling the moment. This is hinted at as well on the cover as a whole, serving a dual purpose—is this indeed Alex in her own memory, or are we watching her through the gauzy veil draped in front of the image? The dreamy, filmy picture reaching us gives readers a sense of the divide between time, even triggers the consideration of another age really being quite close to us, just on the other side of that thin veil, and yet so far away.

Other elements, too, usher in a sense of place and time, such as the map very lightly embedded at the top, fading into the sky above Alex. The earthy colors are soft and subtle, reminiscent of old-world clothing. The title font is old fashioned, conjuring memories of parchment documents; a deliberate, practiced hand; sensation of another epoch. Not quite as subtle or soft are the images of a dead tree and branches upended in the mud, akin to the aftermath of a tsunami, as if that behind is dead to Alex. There are no flowers as there are ahead of her, no trees stretched out awaiting a new bloom, the promise of new life.

So we see all this, this imagery that creates a sensation of longing, and it beckons to Alex. But what exactly is it or, more precisely, when is it? Having read the novel (several times) I can tell you that even if you knew the answer, the greater satisfaction comes from reading about Alex’s journey. Not unlike that beckoning Alex in her own choices, we too elect to enter her world, experience the unification and see where—and when—it may take us.

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See my review for A Rip in the Veil here, and stay tuned for my review of that book re-visited!

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Follow and learn more about Anna Belfrage and her work at her website, Twitter and Facebook.

Also stay tuned for an upcoming interview with Belfrage and more book reviews of her fantabulous stories, including in her newest series, The King’s Greatest Enemy.

Book Review: In the Shadow of the Storm

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

by Anna Belfrage

Prior to reading In the Shadow of the Storm I had devoured Anna Belfrage’s Graham Saga series in its entirety—more than once. I think I may have read the first, A Rip in the Veil, perhaps four or five times. They just never grow old. Her writing is fluid, the characters likable and events dramatic and keep-you-on-the-edge-of-your seat thrilling.

shadowHowever, I wondered. Belfrage herself had said she didn’t think this new series would be my cup of tea and indeed I don’t know 1321 England, where the novel is set, all that well. It wasn’t difficult for me to take the plunge, however, because my previous experience with her work is of being immersed in reader-friendly writing. That is to say she doesn’t withhold information, expecting you to know every reference or nuance in order to enjoy the book. Nor does she spoon feed readers information as if we were not to be trusted handling history.

The story opens as Kit de Courcy is abducted with intent of dropping her in place of her half—and legitimate—sister, Katherine de Monmouth, who is scheduled to marry Adam de Guirande, vassal to Roger, Baron Mortimer. Forced into “replacing” her runaway sister, whose appearance she mirrors, Kit goes through with the wedding, followed by constant tension tempered by Mabel, Katherine’s servant, whose own history with the family is long.

In this time of Edward II, who allows his favorites to unduly and dangerously influence him, despite their own personal ambitions, awaiting fate has a chilling feel. Hugh Despenser the Younger scatters his own supporters amongst the king’s officers, is an unyielding gatekeeper and demands bribes before he will allow baronial access to Edward, a set of circumstances that lends him the opportunity to force relinquishment and confiscation of lands and lordships, rapidly accumulating his own real estate kingdom.

Baron Mortimer, whose family holds a long-standing feud with that of Despenser—owing to the battlefield death of the latter’s grandfather committed by the former’s—watches in horror as Despenser’s power grows and frightening fate comes closer to reality. The Marcher barons initially succeed in having Despenser exiled, though the king protects his favorite, even seizing Welsh lands with the intent to grant them to Despenser. His alliance with Despenser and refusal to stop the violation of his own barons’ privileges put all involved on a clear path to war.

Belfrage succinctly opens up and lays this all out with a narrative that is accessible, polished and enticing. History is never dull with this author, and even an era unknown opens wide, beckoning for readers to step within as she guides us, not only fearlessly on her part, but also while putting us at ease. Once you get rolling, you won’t want to put this book down.

Owing fealty to Mortimer, de Guirande is required to follow his lord, even while he fears he has overreached. After all, this is a time when some officials outright refuse to be in Edward’s presence if Despenser is with him, for fear of being murdered. These concerns overlap his domestic anxieties, what with the rumors concerning his new wife and the baron, his brother reminding him at every turn and Katherine’s bizarre behavior. Slowly, however, the pair begin truly to grow as a couple and their bond sets Katherine—Kit—on a path closer to war as well.

It occurred to me that some readers may balk at what they see as a stereotypical forced marriage of the demure woman to a boisterous and aggressive man, whom she later falls in love with, fights others for and so on. However, it also remains viable that we seem so familiar with these alliances because, unlike weddings followed by years of drudgery and dull existence, even if those were far more common, the former received much more press. To begin with, these pairs were historically more likely to be literate, therefore capable of expressing themselves and recording their experiences. Moreover, even amongst our ancestors, stories of women acting outside the standards of behavior, provided they advanced only to certain spots outside, were far more entertaining than long narratives about women who duly washed dishes for the lengths of their lives. And, of course, our female kin were more likely to enjoy stories in which their sisters, at least to some extent, won what so many wanted: the happiness of having secured a spot in which a woman mattered beyond her ability to reproduce.

So while Adam and Kit falling for one another might not come as a surprise, what happens within all that is to Belfrage’s credit. Her characters are multi dimensional and their lives do not play out according to script. They are complex people with a variety of perspectives on the complicated affairs in their country, which they are required to respond to not only to inform their lives but also to protect them.

Kit having to work through her abduction—it being perpetrated by a woman is the first step in Belfrage’s defiance of the bad caricature of Vedic-like wife stealing—and deal with how to move forward in light of her own experience, principles, fears and, let’s face it, reality of politics, affect her relationships with Adam and Mabel as they weave through each interaction. There are no easy outs, and the author remains true to historical reality by remaining within its confines.

Ever since Adam rode away, Kit seemed to spend her days in endless vigil. Not that she stood on the curtain wall all the time—Lady Joan would not have allowed it—but her mind was always with him, wondering if he was cold, if he was well and alive. Outwardly she maintained a rigid calm, submerging herself in her sewing to allow her thoughts to wander, unimpaired, to him.

 “In God’s hands,” Mabel sighed. “Best you pray, my lady.”

 So Kit did, becoming a recurring visitor to the little chapel.

 “I did not expect such a devout sister-in-law,” William said with a little smile, when yet again he came upon her on her knees at the alter.

 “I did not expect to live through the fear of losing my man in warfare,” she retorted.

 “You didn’t?” He sounded surprised. “Men of noble birth have always ridden to war with depressing regularity.”

The author moves forward, taking Kit and the others beyond this, geographically as well as within the plot line. We see Kit settle in to who she is, gaining self confidence and growing close to her husband. It is classic Belfrage in the sense that her writing is so wonderfully sinuous, graceful or gritty when called for and one with our reading selves. However, Adam and Kit are their own people within a whole new story, and the events of their lives and perilous, changing times are brought to life with a force that informs and entertains with a staying power as strong as their will to claim their lives for themselves.

Inspired in large part by Ian Mortimer’s The Greatest Traitor, Belfrage not only delves into a period in history unfamiliar to many (including myself), but also does so with aplomb and expertise. Having woven a fictional story within historical events, both containing links back and forth to other political allies and enemies, kin and neighbor, events and consequences, it is one clearly articulated and recounted by a professional. Belfrage’s storytelling, so assured and captivating, is one of the reasons why humans innately love to hear a tale told.

The King’s Greatest Enemy continues in Days of Sun and Glory , most definitely a continuation I shall not like to miss, nor should you.

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From Anna Belfrage’s website

annaI 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 …. 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.

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Follow and learn more about Anna Belfrage and her work at her websiteTwitter and Facebook. Also stay tuned for an upcoming interview wit Belfrage and more book reviews of her fantabulous stories!

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A copy of In the Shadow of the Storm was furnished to the blogger in exchange for an honest review.

Images courtesy Anna Belfrage.

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