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

 

Book Review: A Foreign Country (With Giveaway)

Richard Liveth Yet (Book II): A Foreign Country
by Joanne R. Larner

See below for details on how you can win a free, signed copy of

A Foreign Country!

… as well as how to get your FREE Kindle edition of 
Dickon’s Diaries – A Yeare in the Lyff of King Richard the Third.

Not having recalled reading in the past any alternative history, I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect when I picked up Joanne R. Larner’s debut work, Richard Liveth Yet: A Historical Novel Set in the Present Day. To its credit, the book doesn’t take itself overly seriously, though it does present us with a marvelous package of imagination and poignant insight. Moving forward now to its sequel, A Foreign Country, we delve deeper into Rose’s brush with time travel and the last Plantagenet king.

Previously we witnessed King Richard’s appearance in our modern times; now, as the novel’s title implies, we—along with Rose, of course—journey to a land that has simultaneously fascinated and been ignored: the past. Following a year spent with the king in which he trains and they plan for his success at the “next” Battle of Bosworth, Rose marks the first anniversary of Richard’s departure by attempting renewed contact through a time fault. After some failure, she makes her way to Richard and his court, where by necessity he introduces the time traveler as “Princess Rose of Norway.”

I was pleased to see Larner repeat her pattern of using song names as chapter headings. As before, titles, not necessarily any song’s words, reflect each chapter’s events, and the author matches marvelously. An early section, titled “The Court of the Crimson King,” shows Richard as Rose first sees him on the night of a formal event:

His doublet was of a deep, dark blue, crossed with gold thread, with a thin, golden collar and edging, the fastenings down the front jeweled with pink rubies and sapphires. It enhanced the deep blue of his eyes.

 We catch further delightful glimpses in phrase, such as “sleeves slashed with lemon silk,” as Larner takes us through a wide array of songs and artists accompanying Rose and King Richard’s experiences, passages winding their way through the pair’s beings as well as the storyline, in much the same way we, too, recall movie or music lines within certain real-life contexts.

As the narrative moves forward, Richard and Rose have opportunity to get to know each other better, now in his own time, though still with the limitations he has placed on their relationship. By now he is married with children and loves his wife deeply, while maintaining a strong bond with Rose. However, suspicions arise and there is recognition that something is afoot, and while fears color ideas regarding what it all may be about, the details are clear to none, characters and readers alike. Mixed in with this are Rose’s own personal anxieties that grow stronger as time passes, until she can no longer dismiss them.

While not falling away from the plot, the author digs in a bit deeper as well, referencing mutual deals and the Hanseatic League’s stranglehold on European business interests, as well as Rose’s wry observation that bureaucracy in the fifteenth century is just as convoluted and outlandish as in her twenty-first. Even as citation, Larner’s mention of various historical trade and further political doings adds substance to her story as well as life in this era, a time many seem to perceive as made mostly of various narcissistic wars.

Brought into this mix is Leonardo da Vinci, who very much plays his own part while also mirroring the old and the new, and the mixing of the two, within the tale. We see both Richard and Rose’s roles reflected within his persona: an acceptance of other, and retention of attitudes prevalent in his own time, the contrasts creating new layers of each individual as they explore, directly or via proxy, someone else’s world. Rose and Leonardo, too, come to know one another better as Larner sketches in the artistic angle with proficiency and grace while the great polymath seeks out the new and different to examine. During one journey da Vinci

was often in a litter too, because he enjoyed looking out over the countryside and sketching in his notebook, occasionally making a caricature of one of the company. He particularly liked drawing subjects with interesting faces: those with exaggerated features, such as prominent noses, bushy eyebrows, large moles or deep wrinkles … She learned by watching him[.]

 While on one level a lighthearted and unpretentious tale, A Foreign Country works on and within others, too, that examine the world and its strange attractions, the division and meeting of these and the complicated manners in which humans respond to a variety of stimuli. Like the actors between the novel’s covers, events are typically more complicated than they appear. Still, Larner’s aim for an entertaining yarn more than succeeds as we read through the smoothly-written narrative, easily transported from one scene to the next and reluctant to put it down at any point. With a larger cast than the first book and multiple plotlines, one is eager to see where the author could possibly take this story next in the series’ final installment, Hearts Never Change. That readers mightn’t be able to conceive the path forward for Richard and Rose is not a worry, for Joanne Larner has established herself as a proficient storyteller. Given her passion for Richard III, there is also a great eagerness to travel to wherever she may wish to take us.

For your chance to win a free, signed copy of A Foreign Country, simply comment below OR at our Facebook page, located here. All names will be entered into a giveaway and a winner drawn in two weeks.

About the author …

Joanne Larner was born in London and moved to Rayleigh in Essex (UK) in 2001. She has wanted to write a novel since the age of thirteen and finally managed it in 2015. She was helped by two things: National Novel Writing Month and Richard III. Richard was her inspiration and she became fascinated by him when she saw the Channel 4 documentary The King in the Car Park in February 2013. She researched his life and times and read countless novels, but became fed up because they all ended the same way – with his death at the Battle of Bosworth.

So she decided to write a different type of Richard story and added a time travel element. The rest is (literally) history. She found his character seemed to write itself and with NaNoWriMo giving her the impetus to actually DO it, she succeeded. After she began writing the story that was in her head, she found that there was far too much material for one book and, in fact, it finally turned into a trilogy, of which A Foreign Country is the second part. This takes place mainly in Richard’s time and Joanne found that many actual historical elements seemed to match serendipitously with her requirements. For example, the characters who were contemporary to Richard, the date of Joana’s death, the fact that Lorenzo’s wife, Clarice, had twins that didn’t survive the birth, etc.

In the event you simply cannot wait for the drawing and possibly win a free signed copy, you may purchase Richard Liveth Yet (Book I) at Blurb, Amazon or Amazon UKRichard Liveth Yet (Book II): A Foreign Country at Blurb, Amazon and Amazon UK and Richard Liveth Yet (Book III): Hearts Never Change at Blurb, Amazon and Amazon UK.

Dickon’s Diaries

will be FREE on Kindle this Wednesday and Thursday, July 19 and 20. 

Click one of the Amazon links below to get yours!

Joanne has also collaborated with Susan Lamb to write a humorous book about Richard called Dickon’s Diaries – A Yeare in the Lyff of King Richard the Third, also available on Blurb, Amazon and Amazon UK. The pair will again team up for a second volume, and Joanne  is working on another Richard book, which will be called Distant Echoes and will involve a fictional technology, Richard’s DNA and his story in his own words.

To follow Joanne Larner and her writing, sign up or follow her at Facebook, Twitter and her blog.

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A copy of Richard Liveth Yet (Book II): A Foreign Country was provided by the author in exchange for an honest review. 

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Author photo courtesy Joanne R. Larner

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

Having previously looked backward into history as part of our examination of 1066, multiple award-winning author Annie Whitehead now brings us into even closer focus as we seek to make sense of this Conquest and all it has wrought. In so doing, we find we are not the only ones weighing the flood of events, actions, loyalties, what we say and what we do not. Could something have changed this deluge, could we have prevented it? Might we have escaped paying a price while remaining true? Or was it fated to happen, that we be swept up and carried along in meandering history, so like the wildest river Alvar speaks of with King Edgar?

The “thin place” author Annie Whitehead walks, where worlds old and new rub shoulders, and opportunities may arise to cross paths with those who came before …. (click image)

If we were to spy upon King Edgar, look at him from a (very) long-distance viewpoint, we would notice that, even compared to his contemporaries, he is short of stature. Perhaps his reputation is a little unremarkable, too. In a list of kings which featured Alfred the Great and Aethelred the Unready, Athelstan, he would barely stand out.

Yet in many ways, he was the most successful king of the tenth century. Respected, loved, he never had to fight, not on the battlefield, anyway. He and his brother were orphaned at a very young age, when their father the king died and was succeeded by his brother, who then died young, and childless. The teenage boys grew up separately. One of them, the eldest, was profligate, and louche, and was deeply unpopular. The other was Edgar, who grew up in the house of the powerful earl of East Anglia, where he developed ambition, and learned the art of politics. He saw how to harness the power and strength of other men, and he decided he wanted a kingdom for himself.

And since we’re having a peek, let me introduce Alvar (Old English name ‘Aelfhere’). He was Edgar’s right-hand man, helping him to secure a throne, and, much later, helping his son to secure one, too. He and his king are thinking about the years they spent together, when Alvar was earl of the powerful erstwhile kingdom of Mercia, dependent on Edgar for his position, while Edgar was dependent on the loyalty of Alvar, and the folk who lived on his lands.

Edgar: You broke an oath to serve me.

King Edgar the Peaceful, a contemporary portrayal in the New Minster Charter. via Wikimedia Commons

Alvar: I did. And it has been a cross to bear. But I saw a strength in you that I had not seen in your elder brother, whom I had sworn to serve. Some said his morals were lax, but my lord, I could say the same about yours. He was a weak man, and although it wasn’t fair what they did to him, it’s true that he was not fit to rule. He tried to buy the nobles, by giving them land. You seemed to understand what was required of a king. You respected the people you sought to rule. That was important to me.

Edgar: Ah yes, the Mercians. A proud people.

Alvar: Rightly so. Look what we achieved…

Edgar: Let me stop you before you give me a history lesson. You begin to sound like your faithful man, Helmstan. Always talking about Mercian independence…

Alvar: But you recognised it as fact.

Edgar: I did. I was nothing if not prudent. The Mercians and the Northumbrians were mainly of Danish stock by the time I came to the throne and I would have been mad not to acknowledge that. I knew I had to win their support against my brother, and I had to repay the debt. My policy was to keep everyone happy, with no reason to rebel. It worked. You all loved me.

Alvar: We did. We didn’t love each other though, that was the problem. We, the lords, and your bishops, well, let’s say we found ourselves with different ambitions.

Edgar: I held you all together, didn’t I?  Between us all, look how we even managed to arrange that all the kings of Scotland, Ireland and the Isle of Man bowed down to me. Now that was a team effort. I even ignored the rumours about you and my wife…

Alvar: There was only ever one person who believed those rumours, and she should have looked at the evidence.

Edgar: When you say ‘she’, do you mean my wife, or Helmstan’s wife?

Alvar: You knew? Please say you never told him. I was never disloyal. I kept it secret, or so I thought.

Upper Slaughter in Gloucestershire, where Alvar had his main residence. Courtesy Charlesdrakew via Wikimedia Commons

Edgar: You were never disloyal to anyone, and that was your failing, really. You served me and mine well and faithfully. I know how much you sacrificed to help me take the throne, to help me keep it, and I know how hard you fought for my son.

Alvar: There was nigh-on full scale civil war, you know? At first, I was merely fighting for your son, as rightful heir, and then the tide of Mercian resistance seemed to sweep me along. It carried me to some dark places. Things were done…

Edgar: But even if they were done in your name, they were not done by you. Some of your enemies could have said the same thing, could they not?

Alvar: Ah, now here is where I must beg to differ. I did all I could to prevent what happened. Had I arrived just a few minutes sooner, I could have averted a killing. Dunstan, on the other hand…

Edgar: Shall we speak of him with full honour, and accord him his title of Archbishop of Canterbury?

Alvar: If you insist. The archbishop knew of many things, some done in his name, some done for his cause, about which he should not have kept silent.

Edgar: Hmm. Perhaps you are right. So how would you sum up our story?

Alvar: It is a story of kings, murdered. It is a tale of Mercia – a once proud kingdom, with nationalist feeling still running high. It is a love story, and love, as we know, never takes the straight course but meanders like the wildest river. The key word of this tale is loyalty. We are all bound by it, we all makes mistakes because of it. Some of us die for it…

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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 (HNS) Indie Book of the Year 2016, and it has been awarded a B.R.A.G. Gold Medallion and Chill With a Book Award.

Her newest release, Alvar the Kingmaker, is a tale of intrigue, deceit, politics, love, and murder in tenth-century Mercia. 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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For links to previous entries in our “950: 1066 Remembered” series, including reviews for To Be A  Queen and Alvar the Kingmaker, click here.

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“Thin place” photo courtesy Annie Whitehead.

Book Review: Fortune’s Whelp

Fortune’s Whelp by Benerson Little

“The rencontre took place early in the evening under a storm-darkening sky, with just enough daylight remaining to preclude the accidents that plague swordplay at dusk and in darkness. The wind had risen, bringing with it the chill of river and sea; this, along with the approaching sunset, and the location on the outskirts of the city, kept witnesses where they belong, that is to say, away.”

 So starts Benerson Little’s debut work of fiction, Fortune’s Whelp, in smooth follow-up to the pirate historian’s previous works of non-fiction. Enclosed by approaching night in a violent scenario, Scotsman Edward MacNaughton plunges fast forward through land and sea adventure and into discovery of an attempt to assassinate King William III. As the Jacobite plot’s date draws nearer, MacNaughton must identify who around him conspires for their own ends or toward political gain, willing to take him down in the process—and this includes the women he finds himself involved with.

fortuneFrom the opening scene through to the conclusion of Fortune’s Whelp, Little’s narrative wraps itself around us as we are glued to the edges of our seats—miss our bus stops, lose track of bedtime, leave dinner to burn—with a tension so thick it preoccupies us even after the fearsome moments have passed.

Perhaps it is MacNaughton’s magnetic draw of intrigue, or the historical details, mundane and enthralling alike, that Little weaves through his tale—the elements of reality that haunt the reading and our tendency to read rapidly, as if fast-flipping pages might get our protagonist more swiftly away from those who track him—that amp up the tension and render this novel one not easily surrendered to the tasks of daily life. This anxiety-provoking is exacerbated by Edward himself, who frequently confirms reader suspicion with acknowledgements of perilous moments, such as when he “sensed dangerous eyes upon him.”

MacNaughton is written as a hybrid of questionable romantic hero and admirably devilish villain, and he does indeed doubt or reprimand himself as he moves about in his world as described by his creator in a fashion that brings us as close as we could get to it: this age is described so in detail, though without relying on detail description. Instead, elements stitch themselves in and around all aspects of MacNaughton’s movements, from an appearance of Spanish brandy to his mockery of a naval officer (“doubtless your mother paid for your commission”) and his progression-via-instinct through a series of streets and alleys when attempting to find while simultaneously avoid an enemy. We are given glimpses and understanding as to how the era operates, with a toss of humor here and there, for relief as well as to show another side of the time.

“I’ve seen that bugger around here before; he talks a lot but won’t pay for anything.”

 Edward gave the woman the coin. His reason suggested this was part of a trap; his instinct considered it unlikely. In either case, he was on his guard against two potential enemies.

 “Come with me.”

 “Why?”

 “You’ve just tipped me the wink, and I’ve paid, haven’t I? To Walter Lane, then to a place we’ll be safe from his eyes.”

 “If you want to dock, it’ll cost you more.”

 “Pardon me, mistress, but you’re pricing your wares a bit high, aren’t you?”

 “I’m worth every penny and shilling of a guinea,” she replied indignantly.

 “I believe you,” Edward said sincerely.

 Little’s narrative is written at such a pace that we seem at times to make haste along with MacNaughton, with a smoothness that carries us along, always wanting to keep going. Transitions are seamless and one scrape or another all are linked by events and associations, so we clearly see the story is much more than a series of adventures in the life of any man: MacNaughton has goals in mind, if only he can safely make his way to them before plots and pitfalls find him first.

MacNaughton is his own man though he is also, as the novel’s title indicates, fortune’s whelp. Bred on adventure and fed with swashbuckling plot twists, our protagonist frequently courts fate even as he faces down his enemies, be they actual persons or probing anxiety in a darkened alley. Daring, energetic and skilled, he is nevertheless written with flaws that could easily brand him as real as the historical figures who make appearances in Fortune’s Whelp.

Any reviewer would be remiss to ignore the fight scenes in this novel: thrilling and of the nail-biting variety because we know MacNaughton isn’t an always-victorious two-dimensional character, Little sets them up so expertly that upon commencement we hear the clash of weapons, smell the salt in the air, gain our footing as we establish purchase within the skirmish, right along with the characters.

Edward watched him warily; the man was surely full of tricks. He might pull a pistol, hurl dirt or snuff in his eyes, or dart his sword at him.

 “Behind you, sir! The watch!” the man shouted at Edward.

 Edward turned his head just enough to draw the man’s attack, then, as it was dark and difficult to follow a blade with the eyes, made a round parry, found the blade, and thrust swiftly. Sensing his adversary’s counter-parry, he turned his sword hand up, allow it angulate around his adversary’s parry, and, covering with his left hand as he thrust, hit his adversary just below the right collarbone.”

 The author not only provides explanations for those unfamiliar with sword fighting terminology, but also does it in a manner in which readers can choose for themselves how often to stem the flow of reading to refer to the notes, or not to at all. Following his conclusion, Little adds several sets of notes, including those on swordplay with an alphabetical listing of particular terms and their meanings (separate from the glossary, which cuts down on all-over-the-map searches). It is great fun to act out the fights, even at a slower pace, to have a greater appreciation of what MacNaughton is up against.

Many books, perhaps even most, reveal to readers more information upon subsequent reads and re-reads, and it is rewarding when we realize these small surprises. Fortune’s Whelp is one in which readers finish, close the book and know ahead of time this is in store for them. With so much history written within a novel of intrigue, and daring revealed within the history, there is an instinctive understanding that this is a book to re-read, and this reviewer answered that summons—interestingly enough even though Jacobite plotting and seventeenth-century history isn’t generally where my interests reside.

For those who love a great tale, written with engaging and realistic characters who call you to their side, for seafaring types and landlubbers alike, Fortune’s Whelp is a compelling and captivating novel whose fate it is to draw readers over and over again.

About the author …

Born in Key West, Florida, Benerson Little grew up variously on all three US coasts. Following his graduation from Tulane University, he entered the US Navy and served as an officer for eight years, most of them as a Navy SEAL. Upon completion of Basic Underwater Demolition/SEAL training in 1983 (BUD/S Class 121), he was assigned first to SEAL Team THREE, then to SEAL Delivery Vehicle Team ONE. After leaving the Navy in 1989, he worked as a special operations and intelligence analyst, including for the Naval Special Warfare Strategy and Tactics Group and for a private intelligence collection and analysis firm, among other professions.

He now works as a writer and consultant in several areas, with an emphasis on maritime and naval issues, including maritime threat and security, and especially maritime history. He is considered a leading expert on piracy past and present, and is a recognized expert on pirate tactics and anti-piracy operations throughout history. He has appeared in two television documentaries on piracy, has advised on others, and is the STARZ premium cable network’s historical consultant for its Black Sails series, currently filming its third season. He often advises film-makers, novelists, historians, biographers, genealogists, treasure hunters, journalists, and others.

You can learn more about author Benerson Little’s books, news, writing and more at his informative and fascinating website, Facebook, Twitter and his blog.

Author photo courtesy Benerson Little.

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A copy of Fortune’s Whelp was provided to the blogger in order to produce an honest review.

Reading 2017: Readers’ Chat

Back in June of 2016 I had a lovely conversation with Stephanie Hopkins, of indieB.R.A.G. and Layered Pages, one which contemplated different angles of the reading experience. I decided to re-blog it here for the benefit of my and other readers, and merge it into a series focused on my progression of reading between that year and this new one.

To get us started, Stephanie’s interview elicits a few responses that will be re-considered in future entries of the series, some answers or ideas of which I already have thought about, others that have yet to arise. Here’s how our summer chat went.

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Lisl, why do you blog?

I’d like to say it’s a way for me to journal without actually having to use pen and paper—I’m often so lazy about writing in an actual book, despite loving the idea of it. The flaw with that answer, however, is that I don’t blog much that people might perceive as journal-y.

When I first considered the idea of a blog, I knew I wanted whatever I blogged to help me think more deliberately, to articulate ideas rather than experience them instinctively and without further growth. And I wanted to write. I’d always loved reading and writing, and research and writing analytical papers in university to this day remains one of my happiest set of memories. I wanted to do something that picked back up on that.

vivaldi's muse
Vivaldi’s Muse by Sarah Bruce Kelly, subject of one of my first reviews, remains a favorite to this day. (Click image)

A few years ago I started to write book reviews and found the challenges of doing this led me from idea to idea and also kept my mind active, always contemplating something or other, always learning. It kept me looking for meaningful angles, and this is where my training with close readings came in, something we did in our literature classes with a particular professor. I also became a little more confident about stepping outside my comfort zones in terms of reading material, and I more easily began to see threads even in genres that before I might not have chosen quite so quickly.

I’m also happy to say that writing for my blog, even when 80% of what I end up with never gets published, has helped me toward my goal of writing creatively—this had been much more challenging to me than analytical writing—and has also led to many rewarding partnerships and alliances, including being a part of an indie writers’ community where we help each other.

How many books a year do you read?

Well, I never really thought about counting until the end of last year. I’ve had a Goodreads account for a while but wasn’t really recording anything on it apart from remembering to add a book here and there that I wanted to read. Then when 2016 began I saw the reading challenge and decided to pick a number and aim for it. To be perfectly honest, I have zero interest in competing with anyone for numbers—there will be loads of people who read many more books than I, and that’s absolutely OK with me.

What I saw in the challenge was a chance to add a little more discipline to my life, even in a smaller fashion. I also liked the idea of looking back at my reads last year, and thought it would be nice to have a set of steps leading me from one attraction to the next as 2016 progresses; at the end I might see a pattern of thought or recall events surrounding those choices—a bit of nostalgia.

What are your favorite genres?

Phew, that’s a bit rough! From childhood I would say anything to do with King Arthur and Merlin, but I also developed a serious interest in history and historical fiction, especially the Wars of the Roses era. But I also am a longtime fan of ghost stories and like to read accounts of travel around the world, especially humorous ones. I’m quite fond of other genres as well, but I think perhaps these are my favorites. You might get a slightly different answer next month!

Where are the different places you read?

I’m not sure if you’ll believe this, but I often read standing up. Because I never really paid attention until recent years, I’d assumed it resulted owing to discomfort following an injury in a car accident. I also have this crack about the designers of chairs hating humans—so many seats are so uncomfortable! My mother, however, says I was always a restless reader.

I do adore an overstuffed chair, though, and sometimes I’ll curl up in the corner of my sofa, and I especially love this if it’s snowing or raining like mad outside, which I can see from that spot.

What thrills you the most about reading?

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The Crystal Cave, a perennial favorite.

There are some characters who completely speak to me, and Merlin was one such. Though I had books from an early age (albeit not a lot at first), my mother told me tales of Merlin, so I didn’t actually read about him until later. Once I did start to, it was as if he had been waiting for me and I chased him everywhere. Becoming part of his world when I picked up a book made me feel thrilled and at home at the same time.

When a character gets that close to me, I feel a crucial part of my soul being filled and it is very rewarding. Naturally I want to write my experiences, and that leads to further discovery of that character as well as myself.

I want also to say that now is a really marvelous and remarkable time for storytellers and readers alike: the independent and small publishing community, as I have discovered, is simply chock full of tales so thrilling and magical and thought provoking it takes your breath away. Imagine reading book after book after book that wow you enough to either write about them or tell people, “You must read this!” Humans have an instinctive desire to be told stories, and this market, unfortunately ignored by traditional publishers (and their loss!), is filling that coded desire in a big way.

Name your favorite childhood book. 

Oh, wow, it would have to be The Crystal Cave. I’ve read that book so many times I’ve lost count. But I also was a fan of Nancy Drew Mysteries and Trixie Belden, another mystery series I first discovered on my auntie’s old shelves.

What is the first thing you consider when buying a book?

Ha! The one thing we are always told not to—the cover!!! Whether it’s a book I spot in passing or a title I deliberately seek out, I always examine the cover, perhaps as an attempt to get an advance glimpse inside that world.

In a story, what is the most important aspect of that story?

Well, is has to be believable, have a sympathetic character and a riveting plot. Even non-fiction should capture me, so to speak, as opposed to being just a lot of fact-filled pages. You might be interested to know I recently re-visited this very question, combined with a bit of walking down memory lane, and decided to write about it, which you can find here.

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Many thanks to Stephanie Hopkins and indieB.R.A.G. for being one of the rewarding partnerships in my reading and writing experience! 

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Next up: A look back at Reading 2016

Journey to Zürich: Excerpt: Martin of Gfenn

Today author Martha Kennedy joins us once more for our Zürich series in which we are introduced to the city and a bit of its history, seen through historical fiction and the author’s own experiences. We are given a glimpse of life as a leper in the Middle Ages via excerpt from Kennedy’s first novel, the indie B.R.A.G. Medallion-winning Martin of Gfenn.

mog-2nd-edition-frontThis is the story of a young Zürich artist, Martin, who in the mid-thirteenth century, contracts leprosy at age nineteen. He fights the disease’s physical effects and ensuing social stigma to paint fresco – what he believes is his destiny and in so doing, encounters the Knights of St. Lazarus and his own philosophical focus of Christ’s teachings. Here we join the narrative at Christmas as Martin struggles to reconcile the turn his life has taken.

Do see below for a fascinating video compiled by author Martha Kennedy, who provides background to the story and that of medieval lepers overall, including how the Knights of St. Lazarus would have come to be. The last link takes us on a tour of the city through the author’s eyes.

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Martin’s First Christmas at the Lazarite Community in the

Village of Gfenn

Introduction and background:

At this point in the novel, Martin of Gfenn, Martin has been part of the community for two months at the most. The chapel belonging to the community of the Knights of St. Lazarus is new, just finished, and Martin has no way of knowing at this moment how important it will be for him. He is mentally, emotionally and spiritually numb, trying to reconcile his circumstances — a shortened life of diminishing powers — with his artistic drive and vision. He doesn’t want to be in this place; he doesn’t want to have leprosy; however, he has leprosy and there is nowhere else to go. 

The new chapel is about to be sanctified by the Preceptor of the Knights of St. Lazarus. Some of the other residents — all lepers — have asked Martin to join them as they go to the forest to find the Christmas tree, though then it was not called a Christmas tree; it was called a Paradise Tree and hung with red apples, symbolizing humanity’s return to Eden with the birth of Jesus Christ.

Chapel at Gfenn, winter 2016

From Martin of Gfenn

by Martha Kennedy

Christmas Eve morning, Brother Hugo spoke to Martin, “Come with us. We are going to the forest to cut a tree and boughs to decorate the sanctuary. The Preceptor arrived last night.”

Martin had no interest in the chapel though all around him saw it as a great boon, a sanctuary for those banished from all others, but his habit had become simply to go along. He followed Brothers Hugo, Lothar and Heinrich outside the gate where a peasant waited with a sled. The sun had finally risen, though fog-bound and dim.

The four lopsided men in long black tunics followed the sled across the frozen fen and into the wood, the ice-covered pine needles clinking like crystal as they passed. Martin felt the forest’s magic pull and filled his lungs with the open air, cold though it was. “Take care, Brother; you are not used to this. You’ll catch your death,” warned Brother Hugo.

They stopped in a small clearing surrounded by pines. With a sharp saw, the peasant cut branches, while the four lepers looked for a fir the right size for the Paradise Tree.

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Chapel at Gfenn Christmas tree, 2016. Elegant and lovely in its simplicity.

“Will this one do?” called Brother Heinrich a few yards away.

“We may find nothing better.” Brother Lothar was anxious. He and Brother Heinrich were assisting at the mass, and he feared they would not return in time.

After a few strikes of the peasant’s axe, the tree fell in a cloud of fresh snow.

Martin and Brother Hugo lay the pine boughs around the base of the altar and set high candelabra and large candles throughout the chapel to light the dark corners. The peasant made a stand of two boards for the tree, and Sisters Regula and Ursula tied apples and candles to its branches. For this day, the sisters had sewn a new altar cloth of white linen embroidered in white silk thread, with symbols of worship and the Lazarite cross entwined with grapevines. Benches were set near the front for those who could not stand or kneel. Minutes before the midday mass in which the chapel would be consecrated, the dark room had been transformed.

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Some great links to peruse …

What is “Gfenn” and where is it?

Lazariterkirche Gfenn

Quartierverein Gfenn

Zürich Through Time and Space

 And a video with fantastic background, but also vibrant, beautiful images that shed some light on the dark …

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, and the Martin of Gfenn webpage.

martha-kennedy

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Images courtesy Martha Kennedy.

Stay tuned for more in our “Journey to Zürich” series.

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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

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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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Stay tuned 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.