Book Review: Claire

Claire (Book II in The Merencourt Saga) by Carol Edgerley

A B.R.A.G. Medallion Honoree

The 19th and early 20th centuries contain not a few accounts of resolute women, females who pushed back or laid claim to their slice of the world, many meeting success and motivating others to aspire to greater goals. Marguerite de Merencourt was one such woman, and although the legacy she passed to her children and grandchildren contained mixed blessings—for Marguerite’s obstinate streak, so admirable in her younger years, often worked against her favor as she grew older—she remains a draw for readers precisely because some of her efforts yielded less than absolute success.

The lovely second-edition cover for Claire, winner of the B.R.A.G. Medallion (click image)

Marguerite’s eldest daughter Claire, introduced to readers in the final pages of her mother’s story, possesses Minette’s striking beauty as well as indomitable spirit, and from an early age mesmerizes those around her, though not always for the better. Her father’s bullying nature softens to smiles, but upon a long-time-coming visit to her maternal grandparents’ home in France, the teen is viciously rejected by the same woman who pushed away her own infant—Marguerite as a baby. As Claire is coming into her own, she often clashes with her mother and the failure of both to choose their battles widens the already substantial chasm between them.

Claire opens to a scene of the girl celebrating—or trying to—her first grown-up birthday at the end of the twentieth century’s debut decade. While the mores of the time have not drastically altered since her mother was 17, Claire recognizes the changes dawning in the world—cars and telephones make their appearances in the novel—as well as within herself, and like most teenaged girls, resents her mother’s strictures as much as she is mortified by her working status as a Calcutta business owner.

Unfortunately for Claire, she doesn’t seem to learn from her mother’s mistakes, nor does Minette—to the detriment of both. Eager to escape the house as well as the hanging cloud of a family secret, Claire enters into a marriage arranged by her mother, only to find that her once-charming fiancé has little feeling for her other than as sexual release in the absence of the married woman he had conducted an affair with during their engagement. Betrayed by her partner in life and humiliated in the public forum, Claire directs her energies and considerable organizational skills on lavish entertaining and a posh lifestyle.

Before readers get very far into the story, Minette and Claire have already bickered over so many and such petty grievances, one wonders if they spend copious amounts of time nursing exhaustion, for indeed it takes a great deal of energy to be angry. Edgerley’s dialogue, however, always fresh and sharp, combines with the narrative and clearly shows characters’ perspectives as well as the larger picture. Family members frequently engage in heated rows and these strong and well-spoken women are rarely short of intelligently articulated deliveries.

Having said that, there is indeed more to the characters than smartly-chosen words delivered for maximum effect. Readers are permitted to witness the ambitious Claire as she at times struggles to maintain her footing or determine the next step. Troublemaker Sonia is not always able clearly to see her sister’s secrets in order to exploit them, and Christina, with a tendency towards submission and desire just to keep the peace, develops a strength enabling her to speak out against Claire’s less desirable behaviors and actions.

Though Minette has kept most details of her unhappy childhood from her children, some eventually learn the most significant details, such as when Claire’s grandmother verbally assaults her—for being Minette’s daughter, of course, but also because she is so startlingly like her. “That unnatural mother,” as Minette considers the Marquise, nevertheless has exerted some sort of influence as we later see Claire repeat some of her grandmother’s acts and treat her own children with a contempt shocking to modern readers.

Claire’s life does, however, have its happy moments, and Edgerley’s descriptive prowess of them and other scenes is as powerfully true to reality as it is scrumptiously absorbing. Scenes of both ordinary and grand wrap around readers as if they are part of them, and as they move though seamless transitions, investment in those they read about deepens. Appreciation for Claire and others develops despite—or perhaps because of—her flaws and obstinate inability to move past some of them.

The young woman had never looked more beautiful, her dark hair drawn up into a loose knot encircled by strands of jasmine. In her hands, she held a bouquet of the same delicate white blooms encircled by green foliage. The elegant bodice of her soft taffeta gown was scattered with seed pearls that proceeded in swathes over the flowing skirts. Only her hands were seen to tremble…wedding nerves, it was said.

When still becoming acquainted with Claire and how she endures living in a pressurized society under the seal of a loveless marriage, this reviewer had at first mused she might be a character readers “love to hate.” It soon becomes clear that such stylization shortchanges Claire, her story and readers themselves. Multi-faceted, Claire’s dreams, disappointments, loves, losses, sins and attempts at atonement could be any of ours, and reflect the reality she once lived.

How Claire goes on to make a satisfying life for herself and her family is nothing short of astounding; with her perseverance in the face of unforgiving setbacks as well as unmitigated joy, she carries on amidst global as well as local changes, community and personal. Like India herself as midnight, a new day, approaches, Claire must acknowledge the past as she aims to settle into her future, one that will certainly contain agonizing choices alongside the promise beckoned by the birth of a new era. Having grown attached to her, both despite and because of her lapses, readers will long with and for her, and wish for more.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

To see my review for
Marguerite (Book I in The Merencourt Saga),
winner of the B.R.A.G. Medallion, click here.

and

to see my review for
Susanna – Volume 1 – The Early Years (Book III in The Merencourt Saga) click here.

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Carol Edgerley tells us in her own words a bit about her amazing life…

Born in Calcutta, Carol spent most of her early childhood in France and then Jersey in the Channel Islands. Educated first at a French convent, she then attended Jersey College for Girls and later went to Heathfield, a girls’ boarding school in Ascot.

Throughout her long life (and three marriages) Carol has travelled extensively, visiting the Middle East, Australia, New Zealand and Canada, living several years in France, India and Hong Kong.

A qualified teacher, Carol ran a successful tutorial in Hong Kong for many years, teaching children French and English towards eventual O-Level examinations. She is delighted to still keep in touch with a number of ex-pupils.

Upon retirement to France, Carol was able to carry out a burning desire to write the story of her French great grandmother’s astonishing life, told to her by a great aunt when she was twelve years of age. In the delightful surroundings of her home in the Dordogne at that time, she wrote the story of Marguerite in long hand, initially for the benefit of her three children.

Years went by, and sweating blood and tears, Carol battled the mysteries of a computer, Mac, Word and email … finally Facebook and Twitter. Encouraged by friends and her three children, she re-invented herself as a writer and typed out the manuscript of Marguerite on her new Mac computer, editing furiously as she went. The exercise, however, took decidedly longer than she had imagined!

Unwilling to pursue a (generally) disappointing path to literary agents and publishers, being dismally aware her work might end up unread, and thrown on a “slush pile,” Carol ventured into the world of self publishing. It was one of her life’s greatest emotional moments to hold a print copy of Marguerite in her hands for the first time!

Delighted by readers’ response to the book, Carol went on to write Claire, the story of Marguerite’s wilful elder daughter, who led an amazing if somewhat tragic life. Now there is Susanna: The Early Years (Volume 1), this being the story of one of Claire’s granddaughters. This particular book shines a light on bullying in its worst form, an unpleasantness that unfortunately persists to this day.

Susanna: A Tale of Passion and Betrayal (Volume 2) will follow in due course.

Carol still lives in France, now in a comfortable old farmhouse set in the centre of its own twenty-eight acres of pastureland in the Vendée. Sitting at her desk in the veranda, she is invariably surrounded by six much-loved adopted dogs of all shapes and sizes.

Find and follow the wonderful Carol Edgerley at her website, Twitter and Facebook.

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A copy of Claire was provided to the blogger in order to facilitate an honest review

Author photo courtesy Carol Edgerley

 

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Author Interview: Valerie Biel (B.R.A.G. Medallion Winner)

Circle of Nine: Sacred Treasures – A B.R.A.G. Medallion Honoree

Hello, Valerie Biel, and welcome! Thank you so much for taking a few moments to chat with us. And congratulations, not just for your initial B.R.A.G. Medallion for Beltany, but now also Sacred Treasures. Sa-weet!!

So, Sacred Treasures is third in the young adult Circle of Nine series in which Brigit Quinn, still somewhat working through having her newfound knowledge and magical abilities, faces additional challenges. Her gifts being hereditary, they also spur Brigit to turn an eye to those who came before, and the possibilities and realities she finds are, to say the least, confounding.

Is there anything else you would like to add about Circle of Nine in terms of its description?

Thanks for that great summary, Lisl. Yes, Brigit is gradually becoming more used to the idea of being part of the Circle of Nine (the nine women who have the job of guarding the ancient ways and stone circles of Ireland.) She never wanted these “magical gifts” she’s been given and is still working through how she feels about them when she is catapulted into a mission to protect the circle. And what’s worse is that she doesn’t know who she can trust to help her fight those who wish to destroy the circle.

Did you read fantasy as a child? Or did you “discover” it later on?

I read a ton of mystery novels—series mostly as a preteen and teen. I definitely discovered fantasy as an adult reader! That may seem strange when I have such a love now for both reading and writing in this genre.

How did Brigit’s story come to you?

I was inspired by my travels to Ireland and became fascinated with the stone circles that dot the countryside. Beltany, the subtitle of the first novel in the series is an actual stone circle in County Donegal, Ireland. There’s something eerie and beautiful about these circles which rise up out of the greenest grass you’ve ever seen. Who built them? Why did they build them? If that’s not enough to start a story, nothing is. That led me to write the historical chapters of Brigit’s ancestors first. These chapters are included in the first and second book in the series. Brigit discovers these stories through a book of family history she is given on her 15th birthday.

Who were your favorite authors? Who or what inspired you to record your stories?

I have so many favorite authors in so many genres . . . I love a good creepy story like Stephen King writes, but I also adore Jane Austen’s novels. I am a little bit all over the place. Epic long journeys through another time are some of my favorites. Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander series is one I will read and re-read.

I read a ton of young adult and middle grade novels too. There’s so much smart writing out there to choose from!

I have always been a storyteller. I don’t know if this comes out of my birth order as the youngest in a family of six or what – but I’ve always liked telling a good story and being the center of attention that way. My first attempts (3rd grade or so) were decidedly not good, but I’ve improved since then! I am so much happier when I’m creating new stories and plot lines and playing around with characters. It’s my creative outlet.

Would you want to have any of Brigit’s powers?

Yes, please, all of them! But I won’t spoil anything for the reader by listing them out here.

How did you select the names for your characters?

Oh, my gosh! You would laugh if you saw my gigantic spreadsheet of names. I spent a lot of time on the internet gathering cool Irish-sounding names. I’m very careful to keep track so I don’t re-use a name.

How long, on average, does it take for you to write a book—at least the ones you’ve penned so far?

It has totally varied – my first book took a year when I was writing part time. When I switched to writing full time, I could complete a novel in four months—about 80,000 words.  I don’t write every single day, but when I’m in writing mode I can write up to 4,000 words in one day. Not all of those sections make it to the final novel, of course.

Is Circle of Nine the (or one of) young adult book(s) you wanted to read when growing up?

I think so. Don’t we always write what we want to read? I know I do.

What is your writing Kryptonite?

Oh, I am so distractible. I write from home and when I used to perch at the breakfast bar, all the comings and goings in the house interrupted me constantly. I finally have snagged one of my kids’ bedrooms for an office. (She is 22 and assures me she is not moving home—so it’s okay!)

Now, I’d say that social media is my Kryptonite. I have to turn everything off – no pings, no pop ups – to immerse myself in my work in progress.

Do you ever read reviews for your books?

Ha, I do. Every-Single-One! Mostly, that’s okay because my reviews have mostly been good, but there’s always a stinker in there somewhere. I get a little upset, but I find there’s always something to learn from a less than stellar review.

As a fantasy author, what would you choose as your mascot or animal spirit?

A bird or a butterfly.

Have you ever been on a literary pilgrimage?

Whenever we travel, I weave in stops at important literary locations or authors’ homes/museums. For instance, on a trip to England with my family we stayed in a number of Jane Austen-ish locales like Bath and Lyme Regis.

I’ve been on personal literary pilgrimages—or maybe that is better defined as a research trip. Luckily, we don’t always have to visit far-off places to write about them with the ability to immerse ourselves in a place via the internet, but truly there’s nothing like being somewhere to convey the sights, sounds, and smells of a place in our literary descriptions.

Do any other mythologies interest you? Would you consider writing a story within that setting/location?

Yes, I am completely fascinated by other mythologies and folk lore of other countries, especially those beyond the traditional Greek and Roman studies we encountered in school. Norse and Viking themes are big right now, but lately I’ve been intrigued by Egyptian mythology.

What are your favorite literary journals? Genres? Books?

I’m a big fan of Stephen King’s book On Writing. (There are so many other books about writing and how to write that I’ve read, but this is one I will re-read.)

I love The Sun – it’s a beautiful literary journal.

Are there any question not asked here today that you would like to address?

No, this has been a lovely and interesting set of questions to answer!

And now for some fun queries…

Do you ever (or often) have conversations in your head?

Yes, doesn’t everyone. Sometimes out loud, too. I think people assume that I’m talking on a hands-free cell phone in my car when they see me at a traffic light. (I live in a small town, so everyone knows everyone.) In truth, I am likely working out some dialog between two of my characters.

What is your favorite mode of transport?

Trains – I really adore trains.

What track have you played to death lately?

The music from the Young Pope miniseries on HBO is fantastic and yes, I’ve played it to death.

What accent(s) do you find charming?

Irish & Scottish

What does your ideal day look like?

It would begin with waking up to breakfast in bed on a tropical island.

But, a  good day in my regular life includes an hour or so of social media work before writing for a solid four or five hours and then a break for a workout/run before cooking dinner and relaxing with an excellent book (or possibly some reality TV like the Great British Baking Show or The Amazing Race.)

Thanks again, Valerie Biel, for joining us and congratulations!

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About the author …

Valerie Biel’s debut novel Circle of Nine: Beltany has been honored as a 2015 Kindle Book Award Finalist, a finalist in the Gotham Writers’ Young Adult Novel Discovery Contest and the Readers’ Favorite Book Award Contest as well as being a B.R.A.G. Medallion Honoree. The final installment in this series – Circle of Nine: Sacred Treasures – has also received a B.R.A.G. Medallion and was short listed for the Eric Hoffer Book Award grand prize, earning the First Runner-Up distinction in the YA category. In addition to the young adult stories in the Circle of Nine world, she has also authored two middle-grade novels and is represented by Kim McCollum of the Purcell Agency.

When she’s not writing, she’s working on freelance publicity projects and assisting other authors through her business Lost Lake Press or teaching about writing topics at conferences, libraries, and schools. She’s a member of a fantastically fastidious critique group through her membership in the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI).

When Valerie’s away from the computer, you might find her working on community theater projects, local history preservation, wrangling her overgrown garden, traveling the world, and reading everything she can get her hands on. Once upon a time, she graduated from the University of Wisconsin with degrees in journalism and political science. Now, she lives in rural Wisconsin with her husband and children and dreams regularly of a beautiful cottage on the Irish coast where she can write and write and write.

Follow and learn more about author Valerie Biel and her world at her website, blog, at her Amazon author page or Facebook, TwitterInstagramTumblr, or Pinterest.

Author image courtesy Valerie Biel.

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

Today author Annie Whitehead joins us with some fascinating background into the kingdom of Mercia, following the eras in which she writes, those of King Alfred the Great and its succeeding generations with Æthelred and Æthelflæd (Lord Ethelred and Lady Aethelfaed), and Edgar, all of whom appear in her award-winning novels, To Be A Queen and Alvar the Kingmaker. Earls Edwin and Morcar, too, spoken of below, are the focus in “A Matter of Trust,” the author’s contribution to 1066: Turned Upside Down. Though even the latest of her characters lived a century before the Conquest, Whitehead succinctly illustrates the interconnectedness of their lives to the drama and horror of the invasion and its aftermath.

In so doing they connect to us, we who look back upon those who conquered and those subject to the calamity and tragedy of these events that had their roots in episodes long before the arrival of the year 1066. As we  peer back into history, we wonder what they saw when they did the same, these individuals and groups simultaneously forced to stare into the future within events of their present. We know a bit of what they did, though of course they knew much more, most of which has been lost to us, or buried as it awaits re-discovery and the brushing off of earth, of questions triggered by connections here too, between what is known and that newly found. Today Annie Whitehead connects for us many of these puzzle pieces into a broader image that brings greater understanding of how the inhabitants of 1066, how their history mattered to them, and their personal experiences matter to us.

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Marching Toward 1066 by Annie Whitehead

Æthelflæd_as_depicted_in_the_cartulary_of_Abingdon_Abbey
Æthelflæd, Lady of the Mercians, as depicted in the chartulary of Abingdon Abbey (British Library, Online Gallery) (click image)

Mercia. Once a kingdom, now a distant memory, preserved only in certain names: The West Mercia Police, the West Mercia Primary Healthcare Trust, and although it is now slowly dying out, the dialect of the ‘Black Country’, which is based on the old Mercian language, and is widely regarded to be as close to Old English as it is now possible to get.

At its peak, it was ruled by such famous people as Offa, who was considered an equal to the Emperor Charlemagne. As readers of To Be A Queen will know, it was indispensable during Alfred the Great’s battles against the Viking invaders, when first the Lord Ethelred and then his wife, Aetheflaed, daughter of Alfred, fought the invaders, and built strategically important ‘burhs (fortified towns).

But yes, sadly they were Lord and Lady of the Mercians. Mercia had run out of kings.

It emerged, briefly, as a significant force during the middle part of the tenth century. A succession of West Saxon (Wessex) kings had died young and/or childless. In 955, when King Eadred died, the throne passed to the eldest of his two young nephews, sons of the previous king.

The first of these boys was Eadwig (Edwy) who started off his reign by rocking the nation with a scandal, having been allegedly caught in flagrante delicto on his coronation night with his wife. And her mother! For many reasons he was not a popular king, and his younger brother, who had grown up in the house of the powerful earl of East Anglia, hankered for a kingdom.

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Detail of miniature from the New Minster Charter, 966, showing King Edgar (Wikimedia) (click image to see the king flanked by the Virgin Mary and St. Peter)

This younger brother was Edgar, and at around the age of 14, he rose up in rebellion against his brother. He had the backing of the East Anglians, and now he needed the help of the Mercians and the Northumbrians. Much as the Lord and Lady of the Mercians had fought them off, inevitably some of those invading Vikings had stayed, and settled in these midland and northern kingdoms. Edgar was canny, enlisting their support and allowing them to live according to their own laws. For two years there were two separate kingdoms, until Eadwig died suddenly, aged 19, and Edgar became king of all England. Mercia was once more relegated to being simply an earldom, albeit a powerful one. At one point Edgar made direct reference in a law code to his three leading earls, and Alvar was one of those men. Mercia and the north maintained a sense of separateness from the south, a partisan sentiment that was to mar relations even as far as 1066.

Mercians made their mark on history after the period which I wrote about in Alvar the Kingmaker. Most people have probably heard about Lady Godiva, for example. Perhaps less so the rest of her family, who found themselves, 100 years after the time of Edgar and Alvar, in direct conflict with the powerful Godwin family. Godiva’s son, Aelfgar, was twice driven into exile because of them, and Aelfgar’s daughter was widowed when Harold Godwinson caused the death of her Welsh husband. When Aelfgar’s sons, Edwin and Morcar, became earls respectively of Mercia and Northumbria, the family was in the ascendant.

“Here sits Harold King of the English” Scene 37 from the Bayeux Tapestry (Wikimedia) (click image)

In 1066 Harold Godwinson felt it necessary to ride north and ask for their support for his kingship, even taking their sister, the woman he had widowed, as his wife. Edwin and Morcar were, seemingly, unassailable.

But they lost the battle at Fulford, just outside York, when they were overpowered by the forces of Harald Hardrada and Tostig Godwinson, and got to the south too late to enjoin with Harold at Hastings. And so they needed to make their peace with a certain William of Normandy.

Was it so easy? Were they really willing to capitulate to the Conqueror?

Apparently not.

In 1068 a series of rebellions began, of which Edwin and Morcar were leading members. William had not managed to assert his royal authority in Mercia and Northumbria and it took a royal campaign into Mercia to secure a surrender. The brothers were restored to favour. But the events of 1068 were merely a ‘prologue’.

In January 1069, a Flemish appointee of William’s, Robert of Comines, was murdered in Durham, along with perhaps as many as 900 of his men. English exiles at the Scottish court came south and attacked York. William also had to deal with rebellions breaking out in other parts of the country – in Staffordshire and Shropshire in Mercia, the outlaw Eadric the Wild, along with Welsh allies and men from Chester, attacked Shrewsbury. Similar attacks in the north, and in the southwest, meant that the Norman hold on England was being severely tested. Severely, but not successfully. York was recovered, and it seems that Edwin came to an ignominious end; having played no active part in the great uprising, Edwin nevertheless fled from the court and was betrayed by his own retainers whilst trying to make his way to Scotland. (An interesting side note for me is that Edwin’s lands in his brother’s Northumbrian earldom were given to Alain Le Roux in 1071, and the district was renamed Richmondshire. Alain is said to be my family’s ancestor.)

Panel from the Bayeux Tapestry depicting Bishop Odo of Bayeux, Duke William, and Count Robert of Mortain (Wikimedia) (click image)

Eadric the Wild was pardoned, and Morcar retreated, along with that famous man from folklore, Hereward the Wake. But Morcar fared less well than Hereward. William launched a campaign into the Fens and Morcar surrendered. He was incarcerated in Normandy, and it’s likely that he died in prison.

The brutal putting down of the English rebels came to be known as the Harrying (or Harrowing) of the North. And that was the end of Mercia.

Of course, the place itself still exists – and is rich in historical sites. Little survives of the Anglo-Saxon era, but in this it is no different from anywhere else. The Saxons favoured wooden buildings, which don’t survive. These days the medieval ruins are of the stone buildings of the conquest, built to intimidate.

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Click here for my review of Alvar the Kingmaker.

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About the author …

Annie Whitehead is a history graduate and prize-winning author. Her first novel, To Be A Queen, is the story of Æthelflæd, daughter of Alfred the Great, who came to be known as the Lady of the Mercians. It was long-listed for the Historical Novel Society’s Indie Book of the Year 2016, and it has been awarded a B.R.A.G. Gold Medallion and Chill With a Book Award.

whitehead-author-picHer new release, Alvar the Kingmaker, is a tale of intrigue, deceit, politics, love, and murder in tenth-century Mercia, and is available now. It charts the career of the earl who sacrificed personal happiness to secure the throne of England for King Edgar, and, later, Æthelred the Unready. Alvar the Kingmaker is also a recipient of the B.R.A.G. Medallion.

She has completed a third novel, also set in Mercia, and scheduled for publication in 2017. She has twice been a prizewinner in the Mail on Sunday Novel Writing competition, she won first prize for nonfiction in the new Writing Magazine Poetry and Prose competition, and she has had articles published in various magazines, on a wide range of topics. She is also an editor for the EHFA (English Historical Fiction Authors) blog.

Most recently, she has contributed to the anthology of short stories, 1066 Turned Upside Down, in which nine authors re-imagine the events of 1066, and which has just been awarded HNS Editors’ choice and long-listed for Book of the Year 2017. She lives in the English Lake District with her husband and has three grown-up ‘children’.

You can learn more about and follow author Annie Whitehead and her work at her website, blog, Twitter, Facebook and her Amazon author page. Click titles to purchase To Be A Queen, Alvar the Kingmaker and 1066: Turned Upside Down.

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To Be A Queen and Alvar the Kingmaker are both B.R.A.G. Medallion recipients, with Queen claiming the additional prize of Chill With a Book Award, and appearing on the long list for Historical Novel Society Indie Book of the Year, 2016.

Book Review: Susanna: The Early Years

Susanna: Volume 1 – The Early Years

(Book III in The Merencourt Saga)

by Carol Edgerley

B.R.A.G. Medallion-winning author

Download a FREE copy of Susanna: Volume 1 – The Early Years between November 10-14!

Available at Amazon and Amazon UK.

susannaWe were first introduced to author Carol Edgerley’s French side of the family via her great aunt, Marguerite de Merencourt, who lends her given name to the series’ first installment. Edgerley herself comes to this family history via clandestine story hours meant for her to improve her math grades, but thankfully her tutor aunt—a different one—gave in to her niece’s begging for family history and the result is the mesmerizing Merencourt Saga, of which Susanna is the third.

Despite being this far into the series Susanna could easily be read as a stand-alone, and if that were all any given reader wanted to dip their toes in, I would say don’t miss it. However, there is a richness in Susanna’s background, amazing tales of strong women, perseverance and a will to succeed that informs each generation. Marguerite and Claire bring us through these eras and we can see where Susanna gets the stoicism that carries her though the worst of times. Never to worry, however, dear readers, for anyone who starts first with number three will simply want to reach back and devour all the stories, much like Edgerley herself did as a child.

Marguerite de Merencourt was unwanted and disliked by her aristocratic mother, who with her favored son carried on a lifelong campaign against the girl, ultimately resulting in her banishment to an Irish convent school, followed by elopement and hasty relocation to British India. In an era when women existed in the shadows of the men they were connected to (fathers, husbnds), Marguerite’s life seems like payback for having made her own decisions. Ultimately she plans a way for herself, but the price she pays is steep.

Claire takes us to the next generation of Merencourt women, a journey through which we discover that dysfunction prefers to travel in packs, and no one seems spared from the misery of ambition, pride, righteousness and bigotry (in a variety of forms). The teenage Claire grows into a rather bitter woman whose lot in life is to deal with the overturn of almost every fortune she might ever receive. She throws it right back at the universe, not taking the time to think about those who stand in the way, and her behavior is at times very difficult to read.

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Claire is a B.R.A.G. Medallion Honoree

So it may come as a surprise when this very same Claire opens Susanna’s story as the doting and affectionate grandmother, now living in France, who takes the sickly toddler into her home while the girl’s mother runs a school in the Himalayas. Diana’s occasional visits seem designed to disrupt any balance or security in Susanna’s life, for she comes with an irrational anger, blaming her daughter for the distance between them, lobbing accusations and subjecting her to violent abuse. Claire is mortified by this and pleads with Diana, who only reminds her of past transgressions and denies her any redemption, thereby absolving herself of the wrongs she too perpetuates.

Not long into Susanna the girl’s delight of her mother’s new baby is severely punished when she peers into the pram and the nanny reports to Diana that Susanna has attacked the infant.

I’m catching this wicked, BAD girl attacking Baby in her pram, Madam!” declared the nanny in outraged tones. So jealous she is, wanting to hurt our little baby. See how poor Samantha is crying!”

N … no! I didn’t hurt —”

 “Why, you vicious little brat!” Diana surged to her feet, scarlet in the face with fury. “I’ll teach you to attack a defenceless baby!”

 Seizing Susanna by the arm, she hoisted the shrieking child into the air and began to violently beat her. “See how you like that, you vile child!” Diana panted between wallops. “If I catch you anywhere near my baby again, you’ll get another thrashing.”

While Edgerley writes in the same style as in her previous novels, with a flair and grace that embodies a bygone time and its mannerisms, mores and standards, she also captures events in an economic style that tells all we need to know, reaching out to our hearts for this little girl while avoiding a literary sort of voyeurism that would threaten to lessen the story’s value.

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Opening novel in The Merencourt Saga series, Marguerite is also a winner of the indie B.R.A.G. Medallion

One of the novel’s greatest strengths is that as Susanna grows older, the narrative takes on deeper layers as we witness the ins and outs of Diana’s horrific projection and psychological abuse. Astounded at such cruelty, I found myself frequently asking, “But why? Why and how is this mother so cruel to her child in such a way that most of us would not inflict on a dog?”

A great part of the answer goes back to Marguerite; in the review for this book I mused on the perils of wasted talent and forced idleness in a society and era in which women’s mobility barely existed. While we in our age do not often dwell on it, movement in reality equals freedom, both of which Marguerite claims for herself in opposition to her parents’ plans for her. The hand of authority—again, back to the standards of the time—nevertheless reaches to her in India all the way from France, inflicting in other ways its harsh grip and affecting her relationships.

However, the die was cast. As I read Susanna I mused more on a conversation within the events of a popular reality/time experiment television series in which a family lives for three months, in every way possible, as would a typical household in Victorian England. One participant reflects the manner in which people of the era—particularly women—threw themselves into their projects and with sustained interest because the day’s enforced limitations resulted in boredom so severe it could drive individuals to madness. While Susanna is unfortunate in being confined within such parameters, she has inherited Marguerite’s imagination and drive, never willing to settle for dutifully giving in to the tasks and activities assigned to her.

The historical Claire, aged about 48, in France
The historical Claire, aged about 48, in France

Within this Edgerley reminds us that this is not mere knitting and fainting couch dwelling—not that this isn’t bad enough, though usually the sort of image we conjure when thinking of women’s lives in this time. As Susanna’s cognitive abilities sharpen with age, so too do Diana’s strategies for emotional manipulation and mental exploitation. Inserting herself into every corner of the girl’s life, Diana even makes use of casual conversation, constantly reconnoitering, the intelligence drawn from it utilized for offensive attacks. She forcefully employs Susanna in occupations that some then and now might find interesting, but are not where the girl’s heart resides. Humiliating Susanna with accusations terribly exaggerated or blatantly untrue, each turn of the screw brings her closer to the edge.

Acting in part almost as a psychological case study—sans the paucity of soul within institutional jargon—the author skillfully shows us the delicate balance her heroine is faced with: bestowed with the benefit of strength of character, the teenage Susanna must also confront the demon that plagues each generation as a cycle of abuse is passed from one to the next. Will her strong personality become a detriment as her ambitions are thwarted? Even if she does manage to break the horrific progression, will she be able to differentiate her actual desires from choices effected by spite?

But it isn’t all doom and gloom. Susanna does have an ally in her grandmother Claire, and she engages in happy times in France and India, the author vividly portraying people, places and events in a manner so marvelously descriptive the passages come alive, though not only in image form: we feel the aura, hear the roar of the ocean’s waves, mingling of the people, mouths water at the platters of food as we stride through scenes.

Flora led the way through the house to a colonnaded terrace adjacent to the swimming pool area, where elegantly dressed people chatted together in groups. A band played popular music, and white-coated bearers, wearing the traditional muslin pugri, slowly circulated bearing canapés on silver trays. Garlands of fairy lights twinkling around the pool area added to the festive atmosphere.

 Words are subtly employed as actors to facilitate our engagement with the prose: hair tumbles defiantly about Susanna’s shoulders, Diana surges to her feet in anger and the heat seeps through the ground to our feet or the salt water sprinkles noses as we travel by sea. Hints of culture sprinkle themselves through the novel as Edgerley moves us between continents and years.

Readers ought not be tempted to see Susanna, smaller in appearance than its predecessors, as a book of lesser consequence. It is so readable one might find they have read quite a chunk as the time slipped by, though despite this ease of immersion the content’s dual layers of story and study captures our attention in totality. As The Early Years in the life of Susanna Lalinski, we can expect a part two, and I shall be anticipating it as much as I did each subsequent novel after I first read Marguerite. Readers should keep alert for it as well, and in the meantime, if they haven’t done already, reach back into a room where a young girl was meant to be practicing numbers, but instead begged a tale be told ….

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Carol Edgerley tells us in her own words a bit about her amazing life…

Born in Calcutta, Carol spent most of her early childhood in France and then Jersey in the Channel Islands. Educated first at a French convent, she then attended Jersey College for Girls and later went to Heathfield, a girls’ boarding school in Ascot.

carol-edgerleyThroughout her long life (and three marriages) Carol has travelled extensively, visiting the Middle East, Australia, New Zealand and Canada, living several years in France, India and Hong Kong.

A qualified teacher, Carol ran a successful tutorial in Hong Kong for many years, teaching children French and English towards eventual O-Level examinations. She is delighted to still keep in touch with a number of ex-pupils.

Upon retirement to France, Carol was able to carry out a burning desire to write the story of her French great grandmother’s astonishing life, told to her by a great aunt when she was twelve years of age. In the delightful surroundings of her home in the Dordogne at that time, she wrote the story of Marguerite in long hand, initially for the benefit of her three children.

Years went by, and sweating blood and tears, Carol battled the mysteries of a computer, Mac, Word and email … finally Facebook and Twitter. Encouraged by friends and her three children, she re-invented herself as a writer and typed out the manuscript of Marguerite on her new Mac computer, editing furiously as she went. The exercise, however, took decidedly longer than she had imagined!

Unwilling to pursue a (generally) disappointing path to literary agents and publishers, being dismally aware her work might end up unread, and thrown on a “slush pile,” Carol ventured into the world of self publishing. It was one of her life’s greatest emotional moments to hold a print copy of Marguerite in her hands for the first time!

Delighted by readers’ response to the book, Carol went on to write Claire, the story of Marguerite’s wilful elder daughter, who led an amazing if somewhat tragic life. Now there is Susanna: The Early Years (Volume 1), this being the story of one of Claire’s granddaughters. This particular book shines a light on bullying in its worst form, an unpleasantness that unfortunately persists to this day.

Susanna: A Tale of Passion and Betrayal (Volume 2) will follow in due course.

Carol still lives in France, now in a comfortable old farmhouse set in the centre of its own twenty-eight acres of pastureland in the Vendée. Sitting at her desk in the veranda, she is invariably surrounded by six much-loved adopted dogs of all shapes and sizes.

Find and follow the wonderful Carol Edgerley at her blog, Twitter and Facebook.

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A gratis copy of Susanna: Volume 1 – The Early Years was provided to the blogger in order to facilitate an honest review.

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Images courtesy Carol Edgerley

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This post was updated to include links to free downloads (between November 10-14, 2016).

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Journey to Zürich: The Brothers Path (Book Review)

Today we set off on a new series and bit of a journey to sixteenth-century Zürich, by way of author Martha Kennedy and her magnificently-told tales. Her second novel, Savior, previously reviewed in these pages, brings us next to The Brothers Path and the six Schneebeli brothers, descendants of characters in its predecessor. Stay tuned for more from this wonderful author and what she has to say about it all.

The Brothers Path by Martha Kennedy

the-bros-path-cover-fb-headerIn The Brothers Path, set in 1520s Reformation Switzerland, author Martha Kennedy brings us to an era that often seems to get the short end of the stick in history classes. These are the days of Zwingli and Manz, when infant baptism was rejected, then, by Zwingli, supported. Barely concealing the selling out of his beliefs in exchange for the influential support of the Zürich council, Zwingli rose in prominence and power. Using corruption of the Catholic Church’s hierarchy as an overture, his teachings turned to condemnation of Lenten fasting and the use of images in worship, and promoted clerical marriage. He also re-organized the structure of the Mass.

Manz, for his part, continued his activism against infant baptism believing, as Zwingli had originally declared and Andreas, one of six Schneebeli brothers in The Brothers Path frantically ruminates in the novel’s opening pages,

that children should be baptized only “… after a firm faith had been implanted in their hearts and they had confessed the same with their mouth ….”

Manz’s support of adult baptism led to the refusal of parents to baptize their infants as well as the rise of the Anabaptists—“re-baptizers”—who believed their adult baptismal was the only true one, having come after their own freely chosen confession of faith in Christ. The Anabaptists were ordered by the council to cease their activities; they refused and Manz was executed by drowning under the authority of a newly minted edict outlawing the group’s religious practices.

As the novel opens and Andreas is left alone with his prematurely newborn brother Rudolf, his monk brother Hannes is summoned and Andreas directed to baptize the dying infant. He silently declines, later rebuked by Hannes, who insists the child unable to be buried with its mother in consecrated ground.

In this manner the Reformation propels its way into the Schneebeli household, one of some standing in the village outside Zürich, though past its prime. Hannes, who has been questioning particular angles of his faith, though not his devotion, is the first to realize the forceful manner in which the new ways will overtake the old. He sees some validity in their messages, but sympathizes with Catholics who wish to remain such. It is here that Kennedy’s neutrality really shines in its honor, for she not only gives the old prior at Hannes’s monastery voice, but also a compelling, humane position.

“Look at the women who go to that battered little Virgin.” The prior crossed himself. “They believe she will help them conceive a child. Some leave her money, which we collect and use for the poor. Do these women believe they can ‘buy’ help from that statue? I don’t know. Perhaps. Still, when they return home, their heart is lightened. They have told their troubles and they feel less alone.”

He goes on to assert the power of art distinct from any idolatry and the manner in which each new generation utilizes scripture for their own ends. Hannes expresses his mixed feelings as the two prepare for their church’s denudation—objects newly prohibited for worship will be seized and sold or melted down for money for the poor—and feels gladness upon noticing that the linden-wood Virgin has disappeared, surely taken by the prior to the safety of Einsiedeln or Luzern.

Brother by brother, the author journeys us through the march forward of the new religion, allowing us to bear witness not merely to events that affect them, but also the manner in which the new ways touch all lives. Zwingli’s declarations do not allow for people to “live and let live” or simply keep their heads down, and there is no room in this new order for respecting the beliefs of others as the theocracy some scholars believe he created begins to take shape. Kennedy’s personal religious beliefs do not make themselves apparent because, while those on all sides of the dispute state their criticisms and she gives them free reign to do—it is Zwingli and his forces who oblige their whispers—we recognize the coercive nature of beliefs and the ramifications of such coercion as the destructive agent. When Hannes travels to Zürich for information we are given an early glimpse into the manipulative manner in which the demolition persuades its way into the tolerance of good people.

Jud paused. “Join us. As I said, all of the canton will have to join us sooner or later.”

 “Have to, Brother Jud?”

 “Well, yes. It would be most unkind of us to allow our neighbors, our brothers and sisters to continue on the road of sin, not knowing our Lord and Savior, in thrall to superstitious idolatry, believing they can buy their way into Heaven.”

 Hannes began to fear for the abbey.

It should be noted also, that this is more than a tale of people working or riding their way through a religious crisis. In itself that would be a compelling story, but under Kennedy’s guidance we are gifted scenes in the lives of love, dreams, disappointment, regret, honor, compassion, loyalty and more. With dexterity she lays out, for example, the inner running of Old Johann’s flour mill, written succinctly, but with the detail we need in order to understand the passion he has, a fervency that led to him acquiring it, building it from near nothing and passing it on.

Also striking is the manner in which the family —including extended members, spouses, children and so on—and villagers care for each other and attempt to provide physical, spiritual and emotional shelter for others even when they wrangle. It’s not that Kennedy’s characters are always agreeable; they’re not. They clash with each other, sometimes bitterly, and terrible heartbreak ensues resulting from poor choices paired with selfishness. But they can also pull it all together to act on behalf of those in danger, or simply to live up to the respect they know others deserve, even when the other party had not done the same, especially in the matter of religious belief. This gives reflection to an underlying tenet of what religious perspectives they all do share, of forgiveness and doing unto others, perhaps the most difficult of all.

Throughout the novel, with shifting perspectives and labeled as such at the start of each chapter, the author magnificently transports us from village to city and various scenarios, often via a trail referred to as The Brothers. Named for three brothers, children of two characters in Kennedy’s previous novel, Savior, the pathway provides a link not only to other locations, but also to ancestors and their experiences, and a guide to how they got to be who they are and, ultimately, who they want to be. In better times and in crises, including escape from authorities who have by now begun to bear down on even the lying-low Schneebelis, the trail provides connection, later revealing a discovery that harkens back to a time before the rise of what simply is a new master and a destructive campaign to be free of it.

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Savior is a B.R.A.G. Medallion honoree (click image)

Having previously reviewed Savior and come to care about Rudolf, the Schneebelis’ ancestor, it was a small delight to encounter reference to him here. The Brothers Path also continues to confirm Kennedy’s strong sense of a people as she realistically and compellingly paints a portrait of a time with her dialogue, historical events and individuals—including Heinrich Schneebeli, her own ancestor—mingled with those of her imagination, producing a greater understanding of what it was to experience life in a dangerously divided society.

There is great loss in this novel, though as mentioned earlier, it is not merely a catalogue of oppression and war. A glimpse into the Schneebelis’ lives, even during disputes, carries us through the steps of how creeping conversion takes hold and people seek to stand by their values while by necessity quietly resisting. The language is lovely and we can understand, through the awareness of how much family means to these people, how even a character not really all that likeable can come across as sympathetic.

Also as mentioned before, the novel does not take sides—except perhaps with freedom—and the author beautifully presents elements of worship without proselytizing. This, of course, broadens the potential readership, which naturally is a wise strategy, but it isn’t strategy that keeps readers with a book after the first few pages if it isn’t well written. From start to finish the Schneebelis’ story draws reads in, perhaps at first for the expression, later for the family themselves and ultimately what it all means for every one of us. The Brothers Path is another work of art from an award-winning author who generously shares her gift of story with us, and hopefully will again.

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Stay tuned for more from the “Journey to Zürich” series and author Martha Kennedy!

About the author…

Martha Kennedy has published three works of historical fiction. Her first novel, Martin of Gfenn, which tells the story of a young fresco painter living in 13th-century Zürich, was awarded the Editor’s Choice by the Historical Novel Society Indie Review and the BRAG Medallion from IndieBRAG in 2015.

Martha KennedyHer second novel, Savior, also an BRAG Medallion Honoree (2016), tells the story of a young man in the 13th century who fights depression — and discovers himself — by going on Crusade.

Her third novel, published in July 2016, The Brothers Path, a loose sequel to Savior, looks at the same families met in Savior three hundred years later as they find their way through the Protestant Reformation.

Kennedy has traveled intensively in Switzerland, journeys that have at once inspired and informed her writing. She has also published many short-stories and articles in a variety of publications from the Denver Post to the Business Communications Quarterly.

Kennedy was born in Denver, Colorado and earned her undergraduate degree in American Literature from University of Colorado, Boulder, and her graduate degree in American Literature from the University of Denver. She has taught college and university writing at all levels, business communication, literature and English as a Second Language. For many years she lived in the San Diego area, but has recently returned to Colorado to live in Monte Vista in the San Luis Valley.

All of Martha Kennedy’s novels are available in both paperback and ebook formats from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, iTunes and other online booksellers. You can also contact the author!

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Follow Martha Kennedy to learn more about the author and her books at her website, Facebook, Amazon, Goodreads, Twitter, Indie B.R.A.G. author page, or her Savior blog and Facebook pages.

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The blogger was furnished with a free copy of The Brothers Path to facilitate an honest review.

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

I am so very excited to announce: Since last week’s installment of “The Age of Æthelflæd: Anglo-Saxon Warrior Queen,” it has been announced that Annie Whitehead’s second novel, Alvar the Kingmaker, has been awarded the B.R.A.G. Medallion. Another well-deserved honor for this fantastic author! (And I get to add it to her bio below!)

Congratulations, Annie Whitehead!!!

Interview between author Annie Whitehead and

Ethelred, Lord of the Mercians

The author (Annie) and her character (Ethelred, Lord of the ancient kingdom of Mercia) are seated in the great hall at Worcester. He is nursing a gold cup which we assume is filled with wine, while she, having a 21st century palate, has declined to drink, finding Anglo-Saxon wine too sweet for her taste. They are discussing someone whom they both know very well – Aethelflaed, Lady of the Mercians.

Annie: I suppose the thing that binds us is that we both love and admire her?

Ethelred: I didn’t know her like you knew her, not in the early days. Where did you find out about her character, where did that come from?

Annie: It wasn’t easy. A great deal has been written about her famous father…

Ethelred: My ally, Alfred the Great.

Alfred the Great took back the city with the aid of Æthelred, Lord of the Mercians (Image courtesy Annie Whitehead)

Annie: Yes, except the historians didn’t see you so much as allies, more that you were subservient to him.

Ethelred: I wasn’t a king.

Annie: Exactly. And Alfred was a king who valued literacy. He commissioned the Anglo-Saxon Chronicles, and much was written in them about him and his reign. Less so about his daughter, and even less about her early life. But I pieced it together – In Asser’s Life of Alfred, it is implied that she grew up away from the Wessex court.

Ethelred: In Mercia. At least until the Vikings came banging on our door.

Annie: I never did find out much about your early life, but I guess that you, being older, had your part to play in fighting off those attackers.

Ethelred: I didn’t make that part easy for you, did I? And you know that I don’t like to talk about those years.

Annie: Aethelflaed’s attitude to you changed when she found out, though, didn’t it?

Ethelred: It brought us closer, yes.

Ethelred pauses. He takes a sip of his drink, and twirls the goblet in his fingers before he continues. The author knows that he is a man of few words, and that this episode is painful to recall. He changes the subject, but not to a happier story.

Ethelred: She loved another. When she wed me, her heart was with him still.

Annie: Yes.

Ethelred: You knew? Why didn’t you tell me?

Annie: I couldn’t. I wouldn’t have been doing my job as a storyteller if I had revealed everything.

Ethelred: You told the readers.

Annie: Yes, but I couldn’t tell you. Would it have made any difference? Would you still have married her?

Ethelred: Yes, I would have married her, I had to. It was a seal on the alliance. In any case, it didn’t take me long to guess. She did not have the maturity to hide her true feelings, not then. But I felt for her – it was difficult for her, I know, to love one and be wed to another. And to be sent away from her home. I admired her courage.

Annie: You were patient, and you taught her well. Surely you will take some credit for that?

Ethelred: I think that she had an enquiring mind. And she lived with a fear, that drove her actions, always. She knew that she had a duty, to her people, and to do whatever it took to keep the invaders away. How was it for you – writing her from a child to a woman? She changed a lot.

Æthelred is mentioned in the will of Alfred the Great
Æthelred is mentioned in the will of Alfred the Great (Wikimedia Commons) (click image)

Annie: You’re avoiding the question. Yes, she grew up. I dug deep, researched thoroughly, and put as many obstacles in her way as I could. I like to think I encouraged her to learn from her mistakes. I had a sense that I knew what sort of person she would be, based on her life experiences and her actions as an adult.

Have you heard that advice about how the time comes to put away childish things? No, of course you haven’t, that was written much after your lifetime. But that’s what she did, you know, she put away her childish notions. And she watched you, very intently. Did you ever feel her scrutiny?

Ethelred: Sometimes I caught her looking at me. I thought it would be wise to stand back, to wait for her to settle down to her new life. At times I despaired, but I had a job to do, and that distracted me. Then, when I was ready to give up hope that she could ever care for me, she came to me, offered me her support. And her love. Although, sometimes, there was doubt…

Annie: How was it for you, having to hand over the reins? You had to give a warrior’s worries to a woman.

Ethelred: Strange question. Ah well, I suppose that to you it was unlikely – yes, she was a woman, but it was the obvious choice to us in Mercia. You see, she had already done her share of fighting; she had fought to win over the people, to make them accept her, and they loved her for never giving up on them. We were a team by that point. She was the right person to lead in my stead. And she still came to me for advice, you know. Even after…

It seems like neither the author nor the character wish to think about the end of that sentence. So the author sits forward and smiles.

Annie: It was nice for me to travel with her from her childhood all the way to when she became, frankly, a tired and grumpy woman who began to lose her patience!

Ethelred: You see? You wouldn’t have got that from a man – she had such inventive ways of dealing with the enemy! I bet you had fun researching those stories?

Annie: I did, as a matter of fact. Those who did write about her furnished me with a lot of anecdotes.

Ethelred: I watched her grow, too. From quite a petulant girl, albeit with justification, to a loving and courageous woman. I can’t believe though that at first you had intended to write my story, rather than hers.

Annie: It’s true though. You were a hard one to track down. Where did you even come from? I think I should leave you to your wine – you probably have an evening of feasting and riddle-solving to look forward to – and I’ll tell the tale of how I met you and your wife in the next part of this series.

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Stay tuned as “The Age of Æthelflæd: Anglo-Saxon Warrior Queen” continues next week with author Annie Whitehead’s discussion on how she became acquainted with the Mercians and their world. 

Upcoming: My review of Alvar the Kingmaker

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About the author …

Annie Whitehead is a history graduate and prize-winning author. Her first novel, To Be A Queen, is the story of Æthelflæd, daughter of Alfred the Great, who came to be known as the Lady of the Mercians. It was long-listed for the Historical Novel Society’s Indie Book of the Year 2016, and it has just been awarded a B.R.A.G. Gold Medallion.

Her new release, Alvar the Kingmaker, is a tale of intrigue, deceit, politics, love, and murder in tenth-century Mercia, and is available now. It charts the career of the earl who sacrificed personal happiness to secure the throne of England for King Edgar, and, later, Æthelred the Unready. Alvar the Kingmaker is also a B.R.A.G. Medallion honoree.

She has completed a third novel, also set in Mercia, and scheduled for publication in 2017. She has twice been a prizewinner in the Mail on Sunday Novel Writing competition, she won first prize for nonfiction in the new Writing Magazine Poetry and Prose competition, and she has had articles published in various magazines, on a wide range of topics. She is also an editor for the EHFA (English Historical Fiction Authors) blog.

Most recently, she has contributed to the anthology of short stories, 1066 Turned Upside Down, in which nine authors re-imagine the events of 1066, and which has just been awarded HNS Editors’ choice and long-listed for Book of the Year 2017. She lives in the English Lake District with her husband and has three grown-up ‘children’.

You can learn more about and follow author Annie Whitehead and her work at her website, blog, Twitter, Facebook and her Amazon author page. Click titles to purchase To Be A Queen, Alvar the Kingmaker and 1066: Turned Upside Down.

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