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

BOOK GIVEAWAYS SOON TO COME, STAY TUNED!

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

But is it a lie?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

About the Author

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Chapter One

Isabella – August 1311

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Talk of Ghostly Tales on Halloween and Throughout the Year

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

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

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

Hauntings is on its way to my mail box!

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

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

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

Happy Halloween, and see you back here soon!

Where Were You When…? – Remembering 1066

Nearly 1,000 years have passed ….

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

#iHeartAngloSaxons

Another series that may be of interest,

The Age of Æthelflæd: Anglo-Saxon Warrior Queen

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

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

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

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

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

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

#iHeartAngloSaxons

Winter is Coming: Cleaning and Contemplating

Musings on winter prep, memories from smell

and Cecily Neville on a trip into the mountains

Though we’ve had a spot of termination dust recently, winter otherwise isn’t really making itself known to us yet, at least not in a big way. At the same time, it’s pretty safe to say summer is a thing of the past, and to that end I’ve been engaging in a few activities to psych myself up for the long months ahead.

CLEANING IS NOT REALLY ANYONE’S FAVORITE, but for me it does have a bit of a soothing calm, if I do it methodically and without rush. I always do this first because even a small corner of chores from this angle sort of revs me up for more, and I get into the groove of moving outward from there, making sure the pieces fit together nicely. Once I start baking and cooking for the freezer, for example, I want to be adding my prepped goods to a space clean and ready to receive it. The same goes for the rest of the kitchen and, indeed, my home, which I will aim to shed of clutter and excess. Sometimes it can be tricky to decide what is stuff as opposed to valued pieces –and by valued I mean that they “bring me joy,” as Marie Kondo might say. Not too long ago I whisked everything off the tops of furniture in my living room (bookshelves, armoire, son’s desk hutch), power dusted and replaced only some of it. I should add that I wipe with a wet cloth, then dry. A duster, in my opinion, just moves dust around, and we have a lot of it here.

With the exception of books and perhaps some records, not a lot to be added to the living room – instead I did some removal and switching around. To this area I moved two of the six lamps Turtle gifted to me last Christmas, where previously they had all been bunched together in one corner, hung at varying heights. Below, the stripping of library markings from my book sale acquisitions continues. You can see my growing collection of Karen Maitland, Michael Jecks and Alys Clare works. I love beautifully colored and shaped jars, and the card, from Hastings, still brings me joy.

I won’t really be adding things to the rest of the house the way I do the kitchen, but some items are sure to come in. Books, for example, are a given, perhaps also a few new records. I have my eyes on a pine cone project I might do, and new sheets and towels are likely this winter, perhaps even a new comforter. (This last one I keep trying to justify.) The storage area in my laundry room, though I dislike cleaning it out, at least does surprise me most of the time, in that even when I don’t get rid of much, when I put it all back, looks better than it did before. It’s not unknown for me to go in there a few times in the days after just to look at it.

I WON’T START COOKING AND FREEZING lots of food just yet, especially if I’m trying to use up what remains. Still, the fall is a wonderful time to re-visit some of the medieval recipes I’ve played with in the past, such as a Medieval Sallat. Our “monsoon” season is now upon us and I love the sensation of working the salad in the kitchen with the door or window open to hear the pitter patter of rain against the roof. I enjoy the little bit of chill, a nice contrast to the Lumbard mustard I prepare. My son loves my pumpkin bread, so I’ll make a few loaves of these as well, and the smell is simply heavenly. I’ve always heard smell is the sense most associated with memory, and indeed the wafting pumpkin sensation always brings me back to the day when he, just a tiny guy of nearly three, was nowhere to be found one Saturday morning when we’d first moved into our house. I could still smell the spices in the air from the previous night’s baking, which he’d helped me with, himself wrapping the loaves in foil and leaving them on the counter to cool off.


Turnips, quartered | Parsnips, sliced | Beets, quartered

St. John’s bread (carob) | Almonds | Filberts

Cabbage, shredded | Large prunes | Figs

Dates | Golden raisins | Dried apple rounds

Dried, honeyed pineapple, cut in small wedges

Lumbard or sharp mustard | Brown sugar

Ingredients for Medieval Salad, with simple instructions on p. 185 of

Fabulous Feasts by Madeleine Pelner Cosman


I didn’t get the panicky feel people talk about when discussing missing children; perhaps I could sense his presence, but just couldn’t place it. I looked in every single room of the house, but only came upon him when I started looking into crannies, so to speak. Eventually I located him beneath our large kitchen table, loaf of bread in hand and ripping off chunks of it to stuff into his little mouth. His tiny face turned up to me and I laughed at the scene, crying out, “Oh honey, I’m sorry, you must  be so hungry!” It was instinctive but it also served to show him he wasn’t in trouble. He crawled out and up into my lap, curled into me as I sat at the table, and continued to eat some more of his “breakfast.” We sat there a good long while after he finished, cuddled up and quietly enjoying each other’s company on that November morning.

WHEN MY HOME IS ORGANIZED AND ORDERLY, my stress level is reduced and, indeed, I can even concentrate more effectively. One result is that when I leave and come back, I can more fully enjoy the tail end of whatever activity I’ve just returned from, which to me signals the real closing portion of it, as opposed to just leaving the place I’d been to. In the case of a recent jaunt, this will actually carry on into another endeavor at home—not, strictly speaking, a winter preparation or chore, and in fact a new pursuit, the seeds of which began with repeated mention of Annie Garthwaite’s debut novel, Cecily. Still, is bears the marks of one, given the prep and indoor nature of the rest of it.

So what is it? Well, after having seen all these mentions of Garthwaite’s novel, and it being about the mother of Richard III, I simply had to look into it and ended up ordering the work for my own Richard collection. I loved the vibrant colors of the cover and began to watch my mail notifications with a bit more enthusiasm. It was perfect timing to learn more about Cecily Neville, a strong, capable woman, the mother of kings who navigated them and herself through years of war and peace, both of which required action plans in the fifteenth century. With winter coming on and more reading time ahead, I gave a peek at the author’s website, which included the recipe for a “classic cocktail that celebrates Cecily’s complexity and strength of character.” It was perhaps the color that drew me in most—the color! So vibrant, like the volume’s own cover and, indeed, Cecily’s character. Of course, a bit of vibrancy in winter is a great little tool to have in one’s arsenal, non?

SO I DECIDED TO DO IT, though the hibiscus the Negroni recipe mentions wasn’t available here, and a friend and I decided to substitute fireweed petals—a nice little Alaskan twist (and seen above, sprinkled across the table). Personally, I think Cecily would enthusiastically approve of making something your own, even toss a Good on you! at the notion of embracing one’s own environment and acknowledging its part in what makes you, you. As it happened, the plans my friend and I made seemed constantly thwarted, re-scheduling becoming an annoyingly constant recourse. Then, a Wednesday arrived in which we were finally able to go up in elevation (the fireweed was rather picked out down in the city and surrounding area), and we did. When I met up with her, I also had great news: my copy of Cecily had arrived that very day! Serendipitous, she called it.

More serendipity occurred: On our way, we missed the exit we needed off the highway, so we simply took the next one, near to which is a back road that links the two. Slow is required, not only as it is a smaller road, but also since troops frequently use it. We didn’t run into the Army that day, but were happily surprised to come upon a black bear crossing the road. We both grabbed our phones, but somehow it just didn’t work. As for me, I was a bit excited and flustered, so the presence of mind to zoom in wasn’t there, and we had to carry on. “Perhaps we’ll see him on our way out,” Vita remarked. Mmmmm. Perhaps, I remember thinking, though I doubt it.

As it happened, we did! I couldn’t believe our luck when, as we ambled past the last of the greenery marking the road toward and away from the mountain, I spotted he who by that time I had named Randy. He had a small brown marking on his snout and he just struck me as…Randy. Even Randall if one was to be on formal acquaintance. This time we were prepared and managed to get lots of video. Unfortunately I haven’t had time to edit it—it’s a bit long—but I do have a still from it and will add the actual video once I have it all prepped. I love how the still came out—Randy looks sort of like a model, posed in transition with his foot dangling gracefully as he peers back at us, sitting not far away. Eventually he came closer, and I was surprised at how much noise he made walking through the grass. Vita aimed both phones, something I learned a few minutes later was actually rather difficult to do, while I had my finger at the ready, prepared to close the window if Randy got too close. But all was peaceful and eventually Randy himself ambled across the road and into the forest on the other side.

What would Cecily make of this? Since time travel is almost always on my mind, I contemplate what it might be like to have hosted her on our little jaunt, show her a little piece of our homeland. By Cecily’s time, bears were extinct on the British Isles, but I like to think she would not cower at the unknown quantity. I think she would be curious and enthralled. Perhaps she would even take the view, as we often do, that if we respect their boundaries and take care around them, they are not really the ones to fear. The army she would encounter on these roads would be what we call friendly, though her own experiences with armies might give her pause. Still, I feel she wouldn’t back down from the opportunity we set out for that day, and would have been an enthusiastic participant, especially once she learned about our plans and winter prep. I don’t yet know much about Cecily, but one trait I have always believed she possessed is curiosity.  

A marvelous attribute, curious is a delightful manner in which to approach life, perhaps especially winter, really with so many things to discover, even if much of it comes by way of performing the ordinary tasks of the season that, to many, can often be written off as sheer drudgery or tedious in character. Though I typically enjoy winter, it can be this way for me too at times. I hope to make this year different by more often finding the Cecily in me—not because I will be doing anything of great consequence to or for the world, but perhaps at least for mine. Finding things meaningful to life is one manner in which to build up ways to make a difference to others. The pieces fit together nicely, you might say.

And so in this manner I make my way toward winter, cleaning and contemplating, peering backward and looking to the future. It’s a little surreal to be fussing over ordinary tasks while the world seems to be turning upside down, and perhaps Cecily would be able to relate to this as well. But time marches on, and winter is coming. Summer is a thing of the past and the time to adapt is at hand.

Slideshow images: Cecily, fireweed petals and Negroni ingredients; Anchorage in the distance; Randy peering at us during a break from bulking up; fireweed petals soaking in boiling water; a sprig of mint leaf for good measure, just because it made a nice image; roughly half the bottle of gin poured into a glass jar with boiled fireweed petals added. They now will infuse for a few days.

Above: Portion of the Chugach Range.

All images courtesy Lisl Madeleine. Permission required to reproduce; while permission typically will be given, it must be acquired in writing. See Book Review Policies for email address.

Book Release Update: Our Anthology Has Been Released!

The Road Not Travelled: Alternative Tales of the Wars of the Roses

for Richard Tearle

Silver groat of King Richard III (Image courtesy Wikimedia Commons)

Back in April, I dropped an update about an anthology I had written a short story for and preparing for a July release. There was a lot of back and forth re: corrections and I too received some returns from our editor, Joanne Larner, whose attention to detail truly saved me from making some very silly mistakes.

At the time I also didn’t know who would be writing our foreword. While this may be “old news” for some now, as my update comes a bit late, I’m still pleased as punched to report that we have had an early release with a foreword by Matthew Lewis, Chairman of the Richard III Society. He penned a really fantabulous bit, including some background for those unfamiliar with the whole Wars of the Roses shebang.

And now guess what!? I can’t believe I was able to contain it for this long, but a few days ago I received my box of author copies! The box was super heavy, though I didn’t notice it until I tried to shift it up the stairs. “How in the world did you carry this thing?” I queried my son, who just shrugged. Ah well, boys, you know, it’s just a box to them! He rolled his eyes when he looked into the box, supremely uninterested in the Wars of the Roses as he is. My eyebrow went up just a tad, though, because for someone who says he doesn’t really care all that much, he sure does know a lot about Richard III! And I still have a wonderful little drawing of Richard he made when he was younger.

So, I haven’t finished reading the entire book yet – it’s a little over 350 pages! Not just some flash-in-the-pan, thin volume you read in one day and forget about by the next. It’s got some heft to it, and that’s not only attributable to its physical weight. What I have read so far is very thoughtful and considered, and this just renews what I’d already felt about being in the company of this group of authors: extremely privileged and humbled. What great company to be in – thankfully they would have me! And that would include the late Richard Tearle, to whom the volume is dedicated. I did not know Richard very well myself, only becoming acquainted with him a few years back when he very kindly gave me permission to use some of his photos here at the blog. He was always very friendly with me and made transfer of info and photos back and forth practically effortless. Sadly, Richard was no longer with us to see publication, but I have hope that he can see us from his place now, as pleased as we are. I believe he can hear me when I say, “Well done, Richard! Your story shines.”

My own yarn, “Episodes in the Life of King Richard III,” is the penultimate tale, the final one being a wrap-up of a three-part story that serves as a foundation to the book. I think I may just skip mine when I get to it – I’m a little scared to look at it! That final one, though, I’ve ready it about thirty times already, and I adore it. This is really very thrilling and I hope you all will have a look at our volume, which I also am happy to add again benefits the Scoliosis Association UK (SAUK). King Richard himself, noted even by his enemies to be a skilled and courageous warrior, suffered from scoliosis, a sideways curvature of the spine that can reduce lung function owing to the extra space the curve takes up in the chest. According to the Mayo Clinic, while some cases of scoliosis might be caused by cerebral palsy or muscular dystrophy, the cause of most cases is unknown.

The Road Not Travelled: Alternative Tales of the Wars of the Roses is available in Kindle and paperback, at Amazon, Amazon UK, Amazon Australia and Amazon India. (There may be others I am unaware of.) Please consider leaving a review, which are akin to gold for indie authors! It need not be long, fancy, intellectual, academic or any of those other things lots of people think book reviews must be. It can be if you like, but really even just a few words saying what you liked about the book, what might make it better, etc. Even something as short as “It’s a fabulous book!” works! My fellow authors and I will be most grateful.

Speaking of authors, here is a list of those whose stories appear in The Road Not Travelled*, in chronological order of story:

Maria Grazia Leotta

Jennifer Bradley

Alex Marchant

C.J. Lock

Toni Mount

Brian Wainwright

J.P. Reedman

Roslyn Ramona Brown

Joanne R. Larner

Sandra Heath Wilson

Bernadette Lyons

Susan Lamb

Terri Beckett

Kit Mareska

Kathy Kingsbury

Joanna Kingswood Iddison

Michéle Schindler

Clare Anderson

Richard Tearle

Jennifer C. Wilson

Lisl Madeleine

*several authors have contributed more than one story

…with amazing cover art by the talented Riika Nikko

About the Blogger

Lisl Madeleine’s first career goal in life (at age six) was to become a spy. She fell in love with Merlin, however, and espionage took a back seat. For better or worse, she is intrigued by ghosts and loves rain. She is currently at work on an expanded version of her short story, “Episodes in the Life of King Richard III,” as well as historical fiction set in the final months of King Harold II’s reign and another a couple of generations following Hastings. She writes poetry and enjoys reading Rumi, Keats, Tagore and Rosetti, amongst others, and insists that poetry is meant to be read aloud.

Added Note: This post has been updated to include an

escapee paragraph with links and note about reviews. Thank you!

Stepping Back into Saxon England: Who Was the Lord of the Mercians?

I am so pleased to have been asked to host a stop within the Stepping Back into Saxon England tour from authors Annie Whitehead and Helen Hollick. Anglo-Saxon England is a fascinating place to explore, and there is never a shortage of amazing figures, events – even understandings –  to discover and wonder about.

Today Annie Whitehead focuses on Æthelred, Lord of the Mercians, a mysterious individual who seemingly comes from nowhere to occupy a powerful position and secure his place in history.

Who Was the Lord of the Mercians?
by Annie Whitehead

My first novel, To Be A Queen, tells the story of Æthelflæd, the Lady of the Mercians, whose life was extraordinary. Only one other woman in Anglo-Saxon times ruled a kingdom, and she was ousted after a year at best. So to have led a country in times of war for nearly twenty years, Æthelflæd must have been an incredible woman.

Statue of Æthelflæd, erected in 1913 to commemorate her fortification of Tamworth. She is shown with her nephew, Æthelstan.

Her husband, though, was equally interesting. And the fascinating thing is that although he was a crucial ally for Alfred the Great, no one knows for sure where he came from or how he came to be in a position of such great power. Between them this couple fired my imagination.

So who was Æthelred, Lord of the Mercians? Certainly he was someone very different from the man portrayed in The Last Kingdom. For a start, he wasn’t a king. So where did he come from, and how did he get to be ruler of a kingdom?

Tracking down pre-Conquest people isn’t easy, and we rely heavily on the charter witness lists. If an authentic record exists of a certain land grant, then we can look at the witness lists to see who was there at that particular meeting. And since the names go in strict pecking order, it’s possible to see folks – men, usually – rising up through the ranks over the years until they reach the top slot. So it should be easy enough to check Æthelred of Mercia’s progress up to the point where he became Lord of all Mercia, right? Actually, no. He simply cannot be identified on any charters.

It’s thought that he might have been associated with the Hwicce, a people whose territory sat mainly in modern-day Gloucestershire. We first hear about them from an entry in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, in the record for 628, when the king of Mercia fought the West Saxons and it’s assumed that at this point the area around Cirencester, that of the Hwicce, came under Mercian control. Whether it had hitherto been independent, or whether it just swapped one overlord for another, is hard to tell. But the Hwicce had their own kings and we know that the royal line continued into the 780s. 

It’s not certain where the name itself came from, although there might be links to the landscape around the valley between the Cotswold and Malvern Hills, and a ninth-century charter refers to woodland in the west of the region called Wychwood Forest (Huiccedwudu). They were described by one chronicler as ‘the people who live beyond the River Severn towards the west.’

So we know where they were, but can we ascertain who they were? Bede tells us that they had their own bishopric, so even if they were subordinate to, or dependent on the support of, the Mercians, they clearly had their own territory, their own diocese and their own royal house.  

We know the names of several of their kings and one, Osric, ruled in the 670s but, while in a charter relating to him he is called rex, he is acting with the consent of the king of Mercia, so already there is a sign of subjugation. Osric is associated with the founding of Gloucester Cathedral, although in those days the foundation would have been an abbey. In the eighth century, a leader of the Hwicce attested a charter of King Æthelbald of Mercia only as a subregulus. Although Æthelbald referred to the ‘not ignoble royal stock of the Hwiccian people’ it is clear that by his reign (716–757) the rulers of the Hwicce were no longer kings, but subkings of Mercia. 

Their status further diminished to that of nobleman, and in the very beginning of the ninth century we hear of an ealdorman of the Hwicce, Æthelmund, who was killed attacking the people of Wiltshire at Kempsford in 802. Æthelmund was described by King Ecgfrith of Mercia merely as a faithful princeps.

The name did not die out though. 

A charter of King Edgar’s dated 969 demonstrates an awareness of the distinction between Mercia proper and the territory of the Hwicce, and between 994 and 998 King Æthelred the ‘Unready’ had only five ealdormen witnessing his charters, and one was Leofwine of the Hwicce, although it’s likely that given the small number of ealdormen at this time, Leofwine was responsible for the whole of Mercia.

Let us go back, though, to the incident in 802 when Æthelmund ‘rode from the province of the Hwiccians across the border at Kempsford.’ He was met by an ealdorman of Wiltshire and a ‘great battle’ ensued. Why were two ealdormen fighting? Well, it coincided with the death of the king of Wessex, and may offer a glimpse of the kind of turmoil which could occur around a succession, with loyal armed men ready to defend the status quo, or perhaps even to take advantage of the uncertainty.

In Wessex, ealdormen were appointed by the king, and not necessarily given titles over their local area. In Mercia, which grew up out of a federation of various tribes such as the Hwicce, the political set up was different and it seems that the ealdormen were the chiefs, or members of the erstwhile royal families of these smaller subkingdoms. Looking over the Mercian regnal lists, we can see that sons hardly ever succeeded fathers, and if they did, they often didn’t survive for very long.

And by the height of the Viking raids, when Wessex badly needed allies, Mercia had pretty much run out of kings. Alfred’s sister was married to a Mercian king, but he had fled when the Vikings overran part of Mercia and his rival and successor had a short reign. So, seemingly out of nowhere, a man named Æthelred, with no previous record of government and no royal links, is suddenly the man to go to for an alliance and, oh, he’s deemed worthy of marrying Alfred’s firstborn daughter, too. 

Historian Barbara Yorke has suggested that he was, in fact, descended from that ealdorman who rode out at Kempsford in 802. If so, it’s likely that he was therefore one of those ‘tribal’ leaders who formed part of the witan as ealdormen. It doesn’t explain his absence from the records up to this point though, nor how he came to be leader of a kingdom. But he must have been a man of exceptional qualities to have been elected. He’s mentioned by name in the records as part of the campaign against the Vikings, fighting alongside Alfred and Alfred’s son Edward. 

Æthelred is a figure not soon forgotten.

For these reasons, I suspect that he was a lot older than his wife. He had proven himself militarily and must have had a track record for the Mercians to have elected him as leader. Some think he was Alfred’s puppet, but I think not.

In my novel, I gave him boundless energy, with a mantra of ‘I’ll sleep when I’m dead’, but also moments of self-doubt. He was a clever strategist, giving (if we believe the Irish annals) his wife clear and detailed instructions about how to oust the Vikings from Chester, and happy to work in concert with her at a time when women, though they perhaps had more freedoms than their later medieval counterparts, still were not considered strong enough to rule. 

Deerhurst is a tiny place in the heart of the Hwicce homelands, and there is a church, St Mary’s, which retains much of its Anglo-Saxon architecture. It’s still in use, so has seen well over a thousand years of continuous worship. I set a couple of scenes there, knowing that it would have been a spiritual centre for Æthelred and when I visited, I got a real sense of the past, sitting quietly on my own knowing that there was every likelihood that my characters had actually been in the same building. If Æthelred really was associated with the Hwicce then he’d have rightly been fond of this lovely church. Whoever he was, wherever he came from, I think he was a canny military leader, and a good husband. A perfect partner for the Lady of the Mercians.

About Annie Whitehead

Annie has written three novels set in Anglo-Saxon England. To Be A Queen tells the story of Æthelflæd, Lady of the Mercians. Alvar the Kingmaker is set in the turbulent tenth century where deaths of kings and civil war dictated politics, while Cometh the Hour tells the story of Penda, the pagan king of Mercia. All have received IndieBRAG Gold Medallions and Chill with a Book awards. To Be A Queen was longlisted for HNS Indie Book of the Year and was an IAN Finalist. Alvar the Kingmaker was Chill Books Book of the Month while Cometh the Hour was a Discovering Diamonds Book of the Month

As well as being involved in 1066 Turned Upside Down, Annie has also had two nonfiction books published. Mercia: The Rise and Fall of a Kingdom (Amberley Books) will be published in paperback edition on October 15th, 2020, while her most recent release, Women of Power in Anglo-Saxon England (Pen & Sword Books) is available in hardback and e-book.

Annie was the inaugural winner of the Dorothy Dunnett/HWA Short Story Competition 2017.

Connect with Annie at ~
Amazon
Casting Light Upon the Shadow
Twitter
Annie Whitehead 
Facebook 

Mercia: The Rise and Fall of a Kingdom

“Many people know about Wessex, the ‘Last Kingdom’ of the Anglo-Saxons to fall to the Northmen, but another kingdom, Mercia, once enjoyed supremacy over not only Wessex, but all of the Anglo-Saxon kingdoms. At its zenith Mercia controlled what is now Birmingham and London ‒ and the political, commercial paramountcy of the two today finds echoes in the past. Those interested in the period will surely have heard of Penda, Offa, and Æthelflæd, Lady of the Mercians ‒ but remarkably there is no single book that tells their story in its entirety, the story of the great kingdom of the midlands…”  …but there is now!
Available in paperback from 15th October or pre-order now!

Follow the tour:
joint venture with 
Annie Whitehead
and
Helen Hollick

1st October: Annie Whitehead – hosted by Helen Hollick
Lady Godiva – Who Was She, and Did She Really?
Let Us Talk Of Many Things

2nd October: Helen Hollick – hosted by Nicola Cornick
Why Do We Do It?
Word Wenches

3rd October: Annie Whitehead – hosted by Lisl Zlitni
Who Was the Lord of the Mercians?
Before the Second Sleep

4th October: Helen Hollick – hosted by Tony Riches
Undoing The Facts For The Benefit Of Fiction?
The Writing Desk

5th October: Annie Whitehead – hosted by Pam Lecky
Murder in Saxon England
Pam Lecky

6th October: Helen Hollick – hosted by Derek Birks
King Arthur? From Roman Britain To Saxon England
Dodging Arrows

7th October: Annie Whitehead – hosted by Samantha Wilcoxson
Æthelflæd’s Daughter 
Samantha Wilcoxson

8th October: Helen Hollick – hosted by Cryssa Bazos
An Anthology Of Authors
Cryssa Bazos

9th October: Annie Whitehead – hosted by Elizabeth St John 
Anglo-Saxon Family Connections
Elizabeth St. John

10th October: Helen Hollick – hosted by Judith Arnopp
Alditha: Wife. Widow. Mother.
Judith Arnopp

11th October: Annie Whitehead – hosted by Brook Allen
Roman Remains – Did the Saxons Use Them?
Brook’s Scroll

12th October: Helen Hollick – hosted by Amy Maroney
Emma Of Normandy, Queen Of Anglo-Saxon England – Twice
Amy Maroney

13th October: Annie Whitehead – hosted by Simon Turney
Penda: Fictional and Historical ‘Hero’ 
Books & More

14th October: Helen Hollick – hosted by Annie Whitehead
The Battle Begins…
Reads Writes Reviews

15th October: A joint post hosted by both of us
Annie – Casting Light Upon The Shadow
and 
Helen – Let Us Talk Of Many Things

We hope you will enjoy
Stepping Back Into Saxon England’ with us!

All images courtesy Annie Whitehead

Book Review Rollout (with Updates)

Additional note 2021-1-9: Circumstances have warranted a change to how authors set up book reviews. Please see Book Review Guidelines tab for additional information. 

Be sure to check out the companion post to this Book Review Rollout here.

And so here we are – 2020. It’s a long way off from 2012, when I first started this blog, and I’ve come into contact with some really fabulous people. Most of the time this site has been going I’ve done book reviews, and at one point I stopped, picking up again with other ideas and topics I wanted to talk about or delve into. To be honest, I still want to do this, but it’s kind of hard to stay away from the stories. This, of course, has happened before, and I periodically opened up to accept a few review requests. When I started contemplating things again this time, I decided to shake it up a bit. Some aspects will stay the same, though, because the goal is to make it easier for all involved.

One of my current reads

To start with: As a child and teen I was enamored of The Lion the Witch and the WardrobeThe Crystal Cave and anything by Lewis Carroll. These days I still read the aforementioned and am open to reviewing memoir, ghost stories, historical fiction, some/various non-fiction, young adult, time travel and lots of indie books within these genres. My favorite historical eras are pre- and post-1066, the Wars of the Roses (in particular, the second half of the fifteenth century), American Revolution and WWII. I have somewhat new sort-of interest in the American Civil War and possibly events related to Edward, the Black Prince (another subject I’m currently exploring).

So here’s how I’m opening up the works ~

Once you read through you should have a better idea if  pursuing a review from Before the Second Sleep it a suitable fit for you.  ~ While I used to ask that authors shoot me an email to see if I’ll do a review, I decided to just do away with that. Since I have a lot more on my plate than I used to (at least it feels that way—it could be that some things were just replaced with others), I’ve given myself permission to respond with very brief emails or not at all. If you receive a brief email from me, please do not take it personally; it is sheer necessity. The “not at all” category used to be something like authors sending me e-copies of their books without asking if I would review them. 

To be honest, these authors were on to something, even though I’d always said, “Don’t email me your books; I’ll delete them.” But they had a good idea because lots of stories looked quite intriguing and I thought, “Actually, this could be pretty efficient.” So I sort of took this idea like a piece of clay, rolled it around a bit and created my own shape to it. Out of this and past experiences, I developed these guidelines:

 

  • If you are interested in a review, just go ahead and send me your book. Please note the following caveats:

    • I only accept hard copies. Extended electronic reading gives me a headache and I’m done with it, so paperback or hardback are fine. I will provide my address below.

    • I do not guarantee I will review your book once I read it. Unless I become inundated, I will, however, start every book I receive. If I finish (which I will try to do within 90 days; be aware it may sometimes go over) and decide to write a review, I will let you know, so please be sure to provide your email address.  
  • I work really hard on my reviews and aim to make them quality pieces that provide honesty while honoring the work. Because these entries really are joint efforts—you write the book and I do a review—I don’t want either party to get any short stick. Please remember that reviewers spent their (unpaid) time to give authors free advertising, so a little promotion of those very reviews, a win-win situation, does not go unnoticed. No one is expected to wed themselves forever to the blog; I just hope to avoid one-sidedness. For my part, I’ll be posting my reviews to Amazon, Goodreads and linking on Twitter and Facebook (maybe one or two more), these last two possibly more than once. If you have book signings (once we live in normal again), launches, etc., feel free to let me know so I can contribute what I can to these types of events. 
  • Generally I don’t see the point in taking the time to write a bad review, one in which there is really nothing redeemable about the book. However, if I make note within the review of something I didn’t love, please remember this is just my opinion. Others may very well disagree with me, and that’s all right. Broadcasting why I’m wrong or that “the reviewer probably doesn’t know this but…” is in bad taste and makes an author look bad. Neither one of us wants that. 
  • Authors/publicists are responsible for providing any direct links, actual images, author bio, promotional dates, etc. they would like to include in the review blog entry. Images not your own are required to have permission to use; without this I will not include them. 
  • I work full time and am currently engaged with a few of my own projects. I am carving out very specific time to spend on reading books for the blog, but I’m just one person with a family who takes priority. Please see next two bullets for more on this and related.
  • I am very aware authors are proud of their work, sometimes anxious and are trying to promote and market their books. I truly admire people with stories who get them out there, and I’ll do what I can for some authors as well, including and especially indie. However, there are appropriate ways in which to conduct promotion, and haranguing book bloggers/reviewers is not part of that. Here is a great post about this topic. In my opinion it’s one of the better discussions out there because it also covers reviewer responsibility, which I do my level best to live up to. 
  • If you wish to send an email to let me know your book is on its way, that’s a great idea – this enables me to easily contact you for info when moving forward (plus I prefer to be able to let you know when the book arrives). Email is the method I use for communicating re: book reviews and provides greater assurance I will not miss any messaging; my email is provided below. Please do not contact me on social media re: doing book reviews (the exception is to ask for a link to this page). 
  • If you would like to do a giveaway, guest post, etc., by all means please let me know via email; I’d love to host it. Authors outside the United States can, at least in my experience, order from Amazon.com (as opposed to Amazon UK, etc.) to send books Stateside, rather than having them ship overseas. 
  • Please check back here periodically, as there may be updates or additions to the policies.  

Be sure to have a peek at my sidebar every so often as it changes to reflect my rotation of reads. I also keep a widget full of blogs I follow – which needs a thorough dusting, to be honest – so check it out when you swing by to see if I’ve cleaned up or added more. For new posts, go ahead and click that button! (Upper right on main page or tab at bottom right.) You’ll get a notification—just one, so you won’t be inundated—to let you know when there’s something new for you to check out.

You can contact me at scully_dc AT yahoo DOT com

Please be aware that sending me your book 
indicates acknowledgement of this policies page 

Be sure to check out the companion post to this Book Review Rollout here.

Glad to have you here and I hope each one of you is finding something marvelous in this crazy, mixed-up world.

Updated 2021-1-9

Click image to see 2016’s “Month of Mary Stewart”

Guest Post: “Playing God” – Taking Liberties with the Lives and Personalities of Historical Figures

 

Poster copy

BITTERSWEET TAPESTRY 

BY KEVIN O’CONNELL

Publication Date: November 1, 2019
Gortcullinane Press
eBook & Paperback

Series: The Derrynane Saga, Book Three
Genre: Historical Fiction

AVAILABLE ON AMAZON

A dramatic decade has passed since sixteen-year-old Eileen O’Connell first departed her family’s sanctuary at remote Derrynane on the Kerry coast to become the wife of one of the wealthiest men in Ireland and the mistress of John O’Connor’s Ballyhar – only to have her elderly husband die within months of the marriage.

Unhappily returned to Derrynane, within a year, under the auspices of their uncle, a general in the armies of Maria Theresa, Eileen and her sister, Abigail, departed for Vienna and a life neither could have ever imagined – one at the dizzying heights of the Hapsburg empire and court, where Abigail ultimately became principal lady-in-waiting to the Empress herself, whilst Eileen, for nine momentous years, served as governess to the Empress’s youngest daughter – during which time Maria Antonia, whom Eileen still calls “my wee little archduchess,” has become Marie Antoinette, dauphine of France, though she continues to refer to her beloved governess as “Mama.”

As Bittersweet Tapestry opens, it is the High Summer of 1770. Having escorted the future Queen of France from Vienna to her new life, Eileen and her husband, Captain Arthur O’Leary of the Hungarian Hussars, along with their little boy and Eileen’s treasured friend (and former servant) Anna Pfeffer are establishing themselves in Ireland.

Their ties to Catholic Europe remain close and strong; in addition to Abigail and her O’Sullivan family and General O’Connell, his wife and young daughter in Vienna, their brother Daniel is an officer in the Irish Brigade of the armies of Louis XV, whilst their youngest brother, Hugh, is studying at École Militaire in Paris, his path to a commission in the Dillons’ Regiment of the Brigade. His gentle Austrian friendship with Maria Antonia having inevitably waned, Hugh’s relationship with the strikingly-beautiful young widowed Princess Marie Thérèse Louise of Savoy is blossoming.

Though happily ensconced at Rathleigh House, the O’Leary family estate in County Cork, being prominent amongst those families which are the remnants of the old Gaelic order in the area, Eileen and Art find that the dark cloud of the Protestant Ascendancy hovers heavily, at times threateningly, over them.

Bittersweet Tapestry is a tale of stark contrasts – between Hugh’s life of increasing prominence amidst the glitter and intrigue of the French court and Art and Eileen’s in English-occupied Ireland – especially as the latter progresses into a dark, violent and bloody tale . . . ultimately involving an epic tragedy, which along with the events leading up to it and those occurring in its dramatic wake, will permanently impact the O’Learys, the O’Connells – and their far-flung circle of family and friends in Ireland and across Europe.

With his uniquely-descriptive prose, Kevin O’Connell again deftly weaves threads of historical fact and fancy to create a colourful fabric affording unique insights into the courts of eighteenth-century Catholic Europe as well as English-ruled Ireland. As the classic story unfolds amongst the O’Learys, the O’Connells, their friends and enemies, the tumultuously-dangerous worlds in which they dwell will continue to gradually – but inexorably – become even more so.

Bittersweet Tapestry joins O’Connell’s well-received Beyond Derrynane and Two Journeys Home as The Derrynane Saga continues – an enthralling epic, presenting a sweeping chronicle, set against the larger drama of Europe in the early stages of significant – and, in the case of France – violent change.

Today here at Before the Second Sleep, author Kevin O’Connell talks about the merging of imagination and history in the historical fiction genre and some of his personal experience – the ups as well as the downs – of doing. See below for more stops on Bittersweet Tapestry‘s blog tour!

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“Playing God” – Taking Liberties with the Lives and Personalities of Historical Figures

Few if any other literary genres give an author the latitude that historical fiction does in allowing her or him to stray beyond the boundaries of fact well into the realm of fancy.

What is fascinating – especially in this age of instant information which permits us to seek and obtain “facts” with a few keystrokes – is that it is rather easy to believe that we “know” history: Napoleon was defeated at Waterloo, Washington crossed the Delaware, Joan of Arc heard voices and, at least for a time, led the French armies, the Bastille fell on 14 July.

But what is perhaps equally fascinating is that in many, if not most, instances we actually know very little beyond major events, beyond those happenings that were recorded as they occurred – or at least shortly thereafter. The reality is that so much more happened – or, at least in the mind of the historical fiction writer – may have happened. It is in this mystical sphere, where fact and fiction might be said to somehow intersect, where a good historical fiction author has the freedom to visualise, to roam far afield from recorded history to the locale of “perhaps” or “maybe,” most definitely to the area of “but this certainly could have happened….” Therein lies the magic – and the fun!

The “rules” are few, but rather clear: When “creating history” what one writes of as occurring must be plausible – wholly-believable by even the most knowledgeable reader.

Thus, actual events must stay true to history – unless, of course, one is writing parallel or alternate versions of history.  And even there, one must be careful.  “What if” can be interesting – it can also be wearisome, if not done properly.  Philip K. Dick’s 1962 novel,  Man in the High Castle (currently a television series),  comes to mind as alternate history extraordinarily well done.

Staying “true to history” can be a challenge – especially when one is feeling, shall we say, clever or especially creative. An example from my own work: Those familiar with the earlier books of the Derrynane Saga will know that Eileen O’Connell and her young charge in Vienna had developed a close, virtually maternal, relationship such that the future Marie Antoinette would address her governess as “Mama.”

As the time of preparation for the young archduchess’s departure for Paris approaches, I had Eileen begin to discuss – in  rather significant, even graphic, detail –  the intimate particulars of married life with the barely fourteen-year-old, soon-to-be-wed Antoine, who reacted with wide eyes, much giggling and a not insignificant degree of interest. In my mind I had entitled the episode, “The Birds and the Bees – Done Well!”

Hubris – pure hubris – and awful . . . as I learnt when that part of the manuscript was quickly returned by my awesome editor, who reminded me of things I was well aware, but had dismissed in the name of “being creative”: that Antoinette and Louise Auguste’s marriage would remain unconsummated for some seven years for the very simple reason that both of them were basically ignorant of the mechanics of sex. Indeed, it was not until the young Queen’s older brother, the  Emperor Joseph, actually journeyed from Vienna to see what could possibly be wrong with the marriage that the situation finally began to normalise. Had my imaginative little scene made it into the book it would definitely not have been a positive addition. Thus, one must be very careful and mindful of the “realities” even whilst writing fiction!

Now, in terms of people, in writing of the Imperial Habsburgs thus far in Beyond Derrynane and Two Journeys Home,  I did not stray very far from reality in presenting the Emperor Francis Stephen, Maria Theresa’s beloved albeit charmingly lecherous consort, nor their haughty next-to-youngest daughter, the Archduchess Maria Carolina, who became Queen of Naples and as prodigious a baby-producer as her mother.

I have, however, taken certain freedoms with the Archduchess Maria Antonia – Eileen’s beloved “wee little archduchess,” who was becoming Marie Antoinette, dauphine of France as Two Journeys Home progressed towards its close. In Derrynane, she was the pretty, pliant little girl of the history books. As she grew into late childhood and adolescence, she developed a gentle, at times wispy, personality – with moments of spark, such as when she expressed in no uncertain terms to the Countess von Graffenreit that she was going to France only as a matter of duty.

I have spoken of writing the Empress Maria Theresa as a “kinder, gentler” version of her real self, noting that I believed it was her interaction with my characters which perhaps made her less daunting than history would have us believe she was. These private moments with Eileen – as governess to her youngest daughter, and perhaps even more so with Abigail, who as Beyond Derrynane was ending, had risen to the post of Maria Theresa’s principal lady-in-waiting, the closest servant to the then-most powerful woman in the world – were gentle and laced with humour. Abigail’s gentle humour, her subtle-comedic personality definitely softened her mistress and their interactions almost from Abby’s arrival. In their relationship, there was little evidence of the prudish monarch, who sponsored “morality squads” to ferret out those courtiers she viewed as being sensualists, libertines. And, indeed, as the years passed, Maria Theresa laughed more and judged much less harshly – I believe because of Abby, and, to a lesser extent, of Eileen.

From these experiences, I concluded that the genre of historical fiction  permits its practitioners to depict not only actual historical events in a fictional manner but also events – and people – which could have happened . . . and who could have lived. Taking dramatic advantage of this latitude, I believe and hope that I have stayed within these bounds – and will continue to do so.

It was not, however, until the Princess Marie Thérèse Louise of Savoy was introduced in the closing sections of Two Journeys Home that I took the liberty, for the first time, of straying rather deeply into historical fancy – well far-afield beyond the known or recorded facts.

So it has been in connection with the planned re-appearance and development (in Bittersweet Tapestry) of Hugh O’Connell’s “Louise” that I am experiencing the creation of a significantly different temperament, indeed, personality and, in most ways an entirely dissimilar life for a relatively well-known historical character, and feel that the same can be rather daunting.

I must admit that, as with many of the twists and turns throughout the writing of the Saga to date none of this was at all well-planned, but rather developed as the story progressed and began to take shape or, as has been said of my work, that my “characters have pulled me along”!

As it was since their meeting in the closing pages of Two Journeys Home, Marie Thérèse Louise and Hugh continued – some days rather annoyingly –  coyly circling each other in my imagination, I continued to research the princess, in effect getting to know her better. This was achieved not only by reading, as well as studying literally dozens of portraits of her, but also – as the result of a beautifully-scheduled trip – by visiting her homes in Paris, both the Hôtel de Toulouse (the headquarters of the Bank of France), as well as a “country residence” she acquired in then largely-rural Passy in the mid 1780’s (now the Embassy of Turkey). I developed a sense that she perhaps might have been a more complex, indeed certainly a more interesting person than history has shown her to be.

Several of her portraits depict (at least to me) a very pretty young woman with a gentle, perhaps even playful sense of humour, one who laughs and makes others do so as well. She is, at least at this stage of her life, to a degree both shy and guileless, most likely a result of her sheltered life in Savoy and despite her singular position in the French monarchy. As she appears in Bittersweet Tapestry her life is undergoing rapid, totally-unforeseen changes – it and she are clearly both works in progress.

Lamballe is my greatest challenge to date because – at least to those even casually knowledgeable about the Ancien Regime and the horrors of the French Revolution – she is a familiar character.

At court, history tells us, she had a prudish, pedantic reputation (though it was also rumoured that she was for a time the Duc of Orleans’ lover) – as an aside, Orleans was the regicide who cast his vote in favour of the execution of  his cousin Louis XIV. Later known by his self-bestowed sobriquet Philippe Égalité, neither his name change nor his opportunistic striving proved sufficient to prevent his own execution on the guillotine.

It appears she was viewed by most as – at best – odd, strange . . . perhaps in more modern-day parlance she was a weirdo, most definitely not in the mainstream of the French royal family and aristocracy.

As people most likely sensed from reading  Two Journeys and will definitely experience in Tapestry, Hugh O’Connell’s Louise is quirky – but not in these ways. She is an interesting mix of hauteur and wide-eyed guilelessness – a Princess of the Blood with a sense of wonder, of whimsy.

As she continues to develop, she will – at times – be gently comedic in the way of Abby O’Connell. I believe this is but one of many reasons for Hugh’s attraction to her – she is an obviously bright, perhaps in some ways brilliant, most definitely beautiful young woman who can be funny, sometimes when she doesn’t mean to be. She is loving, she is kind, but she can – as is apparent from several scenes in Tapestry – also be a wee bit of a bitch!

As it has been alluded to, Louise and Hugh O’Connell will play prominent roles in the fourth volume of the Derrynane Saga. I believe that the liberties I have taken thus far – and shall continue to take in the fourth volume – with regard to the personality and life of the Princess de Lamballe, will make for a more compelling story going forward and, as the French Revolution descends into violence and terror, a much more dramatic and significantly more emotional conclusion to the Saga itself.

About the AuthorKevin O'Connell copy

Kevin O’Connell is a native of New York City and a descendant of a young officer of what had—from 1690 to 1792—been the Irish Brigade of the French army, believed to have arrived in French Canada following the execution of Queen Marie Antoinette in October of 1793. At least one grandson subsequently returned to Ireland and Mr. O’Connell’s own grandparents came to New York in the early twentieth century. He holds both Irish and American citizenship.

He is a graduate of Providence College and Georgetown University Law Center.

For much of his four-decades-long legal career, O’Connell has practiced international business transactional law, primarily involving direct-investment matters, throughout Asia (principally China), Europe, and the Middle East.

The father of five children and grandfather of ten, he and his wife, Laurette, live with their golden retriever, Katie, near Annapolis, Maryland.

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Blog Tour Schedule

Friday, November 1
Review at Gwendalyn’s Books

Sunday, November 3
Review at Carole’s Ramblings

Monday, November 4
Review at Locks, Hooks and Books

Wednesday, November 6
Interview at The Writing Desk
Feature at Chicks, Rogues, and Scandals

Friday, November 8
Feature at Maiden of the Pages

Monday, November 11
Interview at Passages to the Past

Wednesday, November 13
Review & Guest Post at The Book Junkie Reads

Friday, November 15
Guest Post at Before the Second Sleep

Sunday, November 17
Review at A Darn Good Read

Monday, November 18
Review at Books and Zebras

Tuesday, November 19
Feature at What Is That Book About

Wednesday, November 20
Review at Al-Alhambra Book Reviews

Friday, November 22
Feature at Historical Fiction with Spirit

Monday, November 25
Review at Hooked on Books

Tuesday, November 26
Review at Red Headed Book Lady
Review & Guest Post at Nursebookie

Wednesday, November 27
Review at CelticLady’s Reviews

Friday, November 29
Review at Broken Teepee
Excerpt at Coffee and Ink

Book Review: The Retreat to Avalon (Book I in The Arthurian Age)

Having grown up with a large portion of my attention almost continuously tuned to the era within which The Retreat to Avalon is set, the title naturally piqued my interest. I adored all the same figures millions of others did and could never get enough. It also happens that I am a great lover of “regular people,” often craving glimpses into the lives of those who lived in an amazing time but who were, perhaps, not unlike many of us. Author Sean Poage opens his projected trilogy, The Arthurian Age, with a chronicle giving us the best of both, bestowing upon us, especially those of us with a thirst for the ordinary, a glimpse of the Gawain we’d always longed for but never quite attained.

avalonThis author guides us away from lofty tales of virtue and beheadings, steering readers toward the more gritty world of crumbling Roman holdings and those willing to fight for its survival. Rome sees Poage’s Arthur as their last, best hope, and as the High King makes his way to war in Gaul, so too does Gawain, who until then had been living in the shadow of warriors, seeking a path for himself in a time of peace. A fairly sizable chunk of the novel’s first portion sketches out Gawain and his existence at home, depicting his struggles, small victories, relationships and dreams as we learn the who’s who of Gawain’s world and how it operates. Readers really get to know the ways of this era, not because Poage tells us, but through a narrative that truly sets us within, amongst the characters.

The Retreat to Avalon’s prologue sets up the story—and brilliantly so. Rather than a small bit of informative detail, the author allows characters to draw the curtain, but not merely with expository dialogue, though this is not a bad technique when done well, which Poage does. We recognize decades of history in the exchange between a pair of officials, who do sneak some backstory into their conversation, though they also reveal fears, dreams, and that which devastates one but is a symbol of future prosperity to the other. I did wonder about the extensive knowledge and economic projections Sidonius passes to Anthemius, specifically why the latter lacks such understanding. As a poet and diplomat, the Gallic Sidonius may have been better placed to draw such conclusions, than the at-times mistrusted Greek, whose military career tended toward the administrative. This speaks well of Poage’s research and which historical figures he chooses to fill certain roles.

This dexterity is brought to bear on the novel as a whole, and as the story progresses, we see a Gawain influenced both by the pre-Galfridian and Vulgate cycle of Arthurian legends. While there could be said to flow an element of the spiritual through the novel, Poage does not use it to paint Gawain as unworthy of any given “quest” he undertakes. He is human; he experiences errors in judgement and could have done differently at times. Still, he is brave, courteous, loyal to his oaths—just as we remember him—and devoted to his wife, Rhian. His parentage gives a nod to the Welsh tradition, as does the name of his brother, though his sibling is reminiscent of the character from either telling.

So too do we find elements that match our memories of these characters as the author moves us away from the realm of the magical to tell a story as it might have historically occurred. Even Merlin—who appears rarely—hints at the ordinary nature of his gifts. Jokes play the role one might expect them to in wartime, and when coming across them, I found myself actually chuckling aloud in the appreciation of a break from the hostilities. Some comedy is more sophisticated than at other points, but they all fit right into their passages, contextually as well as materially. Plus, they do their job.

            “A letter!” Gareth, looking obnoxiously awestruck, took back the jug and had a long pull. “You need to stop spending so much time with your letters, and your books and your lords and your…” He trailed off for a moment, struggling to continue the thought. “And whatever, and spend time with the lads. The goodwill you earned for the wine back at Cadubrega won’t last forever. In fact,” Gareth’s voice lowered conspiratorially, “I’ve been hearing many people call you the southern end of a northbound horse.” He nodded seriously, wobbling slightly. 

            “Who said that?” Gawain was more puzzled than angry.

            “Well, just me,” Gareth shrugged. “But I say it a lot, so it seems like many people.”

It is in moments such as this that one feels closer to the characters, and in the laughter comes a feeling of pleasure that we got to know them. Gawain’s story has been laid out and now we follow its trail, with rich passages of detail unburdened by excessive description. It is more as if we are within the scene, taking it all in ourselves; it is not merely a case of the narrator feeding us individual or stilted descriptions of what surrounds us—and there is a lot. This may account for the rather lengthy chapters, which ordinarily can wear me down a bit, though in this case I felt almost buoyed as I experienced each chapter, the scenes of which transition from one to the next so smoothly it can be difficult to stop reading. This includes the battle scenes, which, like the others, are written in a reader-friendly style that treats its audience as intelligent participants without overburdening them with less-than-commonly-known period or linguistic detail. The battle scenes, it should be stated, are some of the best in the book.

The only quibble I have with this author’s writing style is his wont to use action beats and speech tags interchangeably (e.g. “No, stay mounted,” Gawain waved), which can be slightly jarring for the expectation of words that aren’t there. However, he just about makes up for that with his pleasantly even use of “said” and other tags, such as “quipped,” “interrupted” or “groaned.” I’ve seen a lot of advice in recent years about sticking to mostly “he said/she said,” therefore many authors do. Poage, however, takes the matter into his own hands and succeeds by sprinkling all types around.

I would definitely be remiss if I left out one of the best parts of reading anticipation, something many people frown upon, but almost all people do: judge the cover. At a little over 400 pages, the heft is just the right amount to cheer one at the thought of sitting down with it, and its attractive images, inside and out, lend themselves to a perusal, a flipping through and contemplation of what we are soon to encounter as we take up the book. Each chapter head is illustrated with a simple, though not simplistic, drawing, the style of which reaches out to the ends of the page in actual scale but also breadth of imagination. I found myself, with each, wanting to continue scanning with my eyes, for the image to continue along far after it actually does.

This is not so different to how I feel about the book as a whole—it ends when it should, but I’m very pleased to know The Retreat to Avalon is just the first in a trilogy, and there is more to come. Anyone who knows even the basic layout of the Arthurian legends will find this version gripping for a number of reasons, amongst them the ordinary and extraordinary people whose lives contributed to this age as they filled and fought within it on their terms. Sean Poage brings to life for us the stories of people we so often want to read about, but whose voices, for various reasons, are in the margins, like the rest of the pictures we so long to see.

About the Author

SeanPoageHistorical fiction author Sean Poage has had an exciting and varied life as a laborer, soldier, police officer, investigator, computer geek and author. Travelling the world to see history up close is his passion. These days he works in the tech world, writes when he can and spends the rest of the time with his family, which usually means chores and home improvement projects, with occasional time for a motorcycle ride, scuba dive, or a hike in the beautiful Maine outdoors.

About the illustrations, the author adds: “The chapter illustrations were done by Luka Cakic, a very talented artist in Montenegro. When most people imagine King Arthur, they picture the later medieval romance versions, with plate armor and stone castles. It can be difficult to visualize an era we know little about, so I wanted to provide some pictures that might help anchor the reader in the time, and give a mental image to moments from the chapters. Luka worked with me through the process and did a fantastic job merging his style with my goals.” Check out our author’s interview with his illustrator here.

Have a gander through the rest of Sean Poage’s website, seanpoage.com. This June will be the one-year anniversary of The Retreat to Avalon‘s release, so there will be a giveaway contest! Visitors who comment on any of his blog posts will be in on the chance to win a signed copy of the book.

Look for The Strife of Camlann, Book II in The Arthurian Age series – coming soon! The Retreat to Avalon is available at Amazon and Amazon UK. You can also find the author at Facebook, Twitter, Goodreads and BookBub.

About the Reviewer

Lisl has loved Mary Stewart’s Merlin Trilogy since childhood and has lost count of how many times she’s read the books. She also adores poetry and, once she overcomes the fear of baring her soul, will be ready to publish her own first collection. She is a contributor to Naming the Goddess and her poetry has appeared in Bewildering Stories and Alaska Women Speak. She is currently working on a book of short stories, a tale set in 1066 and several essays, and it is her dream to write a ghost story on par with the best of the spooky Victorian writers.