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.

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

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

How to Survive in Medieval England
by Toni Mount

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

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

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

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

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

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

How to Survive in Medieval England

(More info at bottom!)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

About the Author

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

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

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

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

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

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

Happy Valentine Day, All!!!

My Tottering TBR: Reading Roundup (November 2021)

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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


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

Book Review: Distant Echoes: Richard III Speaks! by Joanne R. Larner

In the time following the discovery, beneath a Leicester parking lot, of the remains of Richard III, the last Plantagenet king, the medieval monarch has indeed gained a wider audience as we learn more details about the find. For example, it was announced that he was not, after all, the scary neighborhood hunchback; rather, he suffered from scoliosis, which actually makes him more of a boss, given his accomplishments, as reported even by his enemies.

Much material continues to be released, and many people, even those not previously inclined toward history, have started seeking out all things Richard. Publishers give it to them too, though the nature of these offerings is sober; they tend to be serious reads of medical and martial material with, really, no happy ending—at least not for the Richard of 1485. Alas, Bosworth still is soaked in blood, and Richard still falls. In fairness, it’s not really a walk in the park to spin that into something cheerful.

Author Joanne Larner has long lamented the same, so she set out to shake up the playing field a bit with her debut novel, Richard Liveth Yet. A more lighthearted look into the latter Wars of the Roses era by way of time travel, she also brings Richard Plantaganet to modern England and we get a glimpse into his perceptions of us, rather than only the standard fare of vice versa. With her latest, Distant Echoes: Richard III Speaks!, Larner takes time travel to a different level—dimension—by way of innovative software and science that teams up a subject’s DNA with technology to track voice vibrations, even those that occurred over 500 years ago.

Stepping back for a moment, it is worth giving attention to the book’s epigraph, song lines from “Sheriff Hutton” by the Legendary Ten Seconds: “Where distant echoes still resound/That which is lost may still be found.” Capturing the attention of readers of a genre whose very nature evokes images, events, perhaps even portions of collective memory, echoes from the past, it further stimulates the need to positively identify all this and wonder if we really could experience history and, amongst other events, hear the speaking voice of a medieval king.

Larner opens the novel with protagonist Eve experiencing the end of a romantic relationship and moves forward with her signature chapter titles named after songs. A medium that transcends time, music of some sort appeals to just about every human; it seems to be coded into our DNA to like it, nay, need it. For this I can’t help thinking Richard would have appreciated Larner’s creative idea; even if he didn’t always love some lyrics, he would recognize that most messages are those that touch someone, somewhere, and the relatable forms they take can promote unity.

It was with a similar unity that, even amongst differences and a mixture of complex personalities, Eve’s professional team moves forward with their project and echoes of the past filter into the modern lives of these Future Tech employees. Larner also puts a bit of a twist into the sessions in that not everyone experiences them the same way, which, in reality, makes great sense as individual perspective and changing variables play into it all.

Eve’s colleagues possess different levels of understanding when it comes to history, and Larner cleverly utilizes this to determine what and how much information is communicated between characters and, as a result, readers, many of whom might also maintain differing degrees of awareness. Of course, everyone, reader and fictional researcher alike, wants to know about the ultimate medieval mystery: What happened to the princes in the tower? It is with great dexterity that Larner manages the range of perspectives, historical knowledge and “eavesdropping” abilities of her cast as each individual keenly looks forward to the moment of truth. Amongst the chaos, intrigue and dangerous, unknown loyalties of 1485, and those that develop in Eve’s own time, will they find it?

One of the best elements of Larner’s novel relates to the manner in which the narrative moves forward. Alternately giving us glimpses into Eve’s private life, already wracked by the grief of losing an important relationship, we also witness her discovery into other areas, how she copes with learning and what she does with her new understanding. This parallel plot does make for a more meaty tale, but it doesn’t just simmer near the first. Instead, they both marinate, the two forming a deliciously satisfying whole impossible to forget.

Really quite innovative, Larner’s novel demonstrates her richly developed sense of Richard Plantagenet, and two thoughts come to mind: one, that hopefully this author’s amazing imagination continues to give us wonderful stories of the king and; two, that the science doesn’t actually exist shouldn’t preclude Distant Echoes! from gaining a wide (and wider) audience, as it doesn’t seem these days to surprise very many, though it does intrigue, when once wild ideas are developed. Larner not only has her finger on this pulse, but also presents it in an accessible, smoothly flowing work, reminiscent of Daughter of Time, that allows historical players to tell their own tale.

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Before a few tweaks, this review first appeared at Murray and Blue.

About the Author

Joanne Larner was born in London and moved to Rayleigh in Essex (UK) in 2001. She had 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 consisting of Richard Liveth Yet: A Historical Novel Set in the Present DayRichard Liveth Yet (Book II): A Foreign Country and Richard Liveth Yet (Book III): Hearts Never Change. Book II 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.

The idea for Distant Echoes began when Joanne listened to Sheriff Hutton by The Legendary Ten Seconds and it reminded her of a sci-fi novel she had read as a teenager, where friendly aliens could see the ‘echoes’ of events after they had occurred. She wanted to write about the real Richard III, telling of acts of his that, though documented fact, are not known by the average reader, his good laws and fair judgments being eclipsed by the presumed and unproven murder of his nephews. The idea lent itself to ‘eavesdropping’ on Richard, using his own words where possible, and Distant Echoes was born.

For more about the author and her books, sign up or follow her at FacebookTwitter and her blogDistant Echoes: Richard III Speaks!, the books mentioned above and more are available at Amazon and Amazon UK.

Updates: Growth Spurts, Graduation and Gloucester

The Lascaux Cave paintings came up for discussion & we talked deep into the night.

Not too long ago, my son asked as he surveyed his Blu Ray collection of over 500: “Remember when I opened my desk drawer and said, ‘This is where I’ll keep my DVDs’?” Indeed, at the time he had just a few DVDs, and I suppose we both didn’t think beyond the point when what he owned would no longer fit in that drawer. Since then, the collection grew, and one day he decided the DVD was a reviled thing of the past. “Dirty Vile Disks,” he called them. He set out to replace every single DVD he owned with the Blu Ray version, while simultaneously growing that collection. He now has difficulty fitting them in his room, though in my opinion this is because his shelving is inefficient.

But who am I to talk? I’ve shifted furniture every so often for his entire life and between my ideas and his, we’ve found some pretty clever ways to create more storage, especially for books. And yet I’m still running out of space. We both have a lot of books. His most recent purchase was John Green’s The Anthropocene Reviewed.* Mine was How to Be a Tudor by Ruth Goodman, and Digging for Richard and…well, never mind, we don’t have to get all into that. At least not now. The point is, I, uh, well, I’m in the market for an additional bookshelf, as of last Sunday at about noon when I left the library book sale a few dollars poorer and a lot of books heavier. I’ll just leave it at three boxes – some of them might have been super fat books, hey?

I’m not quite ready to divulge how much I spent, or exactly how many books I came home with. Let’s just say I had a bit of a growth spurt. Keep an eye out for more details.

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A couple of weeks ago my son graduated from high school. I’m not exactly sure how this happened, because twenty minutes ago I was standing in the kitchen holding his little face as it peered up at me, telling him I won’t be able to do that much longer. He refused to believe me, but here we are, him towering over me and laughing because I can’t get my Swiffer to reach the top of the wall. Hey, it’s a cathedral ceiling! No matter, he still demands hugs, and that works.

Here is what I wrote the night he walked:

I am severely overdue for this: gratitude of the day.

I am so grateful for my son: a fine young man at eighteen, he always tries to do the right thing. He is smart, sensitive, hard-working and likes to move in sport. He has always enjoyed reading, is very into film history and can solve a Rubik’s cube without blinking, the latter portion of it with his hands literally behind his back. He has chosen at various times to immerse himself in lots of different learning: languages (Spanish & German), music (baritone & tuba), oceanography, studies of Ancient Rome and history of the Americas, theater, trigonometry, African literature, was “Swedish for a day,” loves animals and children (and is compassionate, playful and wonderful with both), attempts to understand politics thoughtfully and honestly, loves to bicycle and play basketball. We often reminisce about a research project he did in first grade about otters – he is still quite proud of that experience. He earned over $5,000.00 one summer for a trip to Europe and continued to hold down that job – in which he got a promotion within the first month – through the rest of high school, which he just graduated from with honors and as part of two honor societies, one of which he volunteered for on numerous occasions. He has written two books (one for very small children, the other young adult) and self studies techniques and other about film making. His friends are terrific and I am so happy for him that they’ve all met and shared as much as they did.

I know I’ve left a lot out, but even just that small bit above is more than I accomplished at his age, and I am so blessed, truly blessed that he is in my life. I am so excited to see where he goes! ~

I know I used which a lot at one point in there, but bear with me. I’ve got something in my eye.

You know what else is about to graduate? One of my wips is soon to be published in an anthology. It’s a short story about Richard III and you probably remember me mentioning it here. I’ve contributed to another anthology in the past, so I guess I could already call myself an author, but it wasn’t original work in the sense this is. Of course this draws on established history, but what historical fiction doesn’t? Here I create a character – or she brought herself to my attention would likely be more accurate, informing me in a rather dignified manner that she would be telling the story from here on out, thank you very much. She discovers something she wants to talk about, and ohhh is she talking. I suppose I should be grateful because when I was first recruited for this project, I recall thinking, “Sh**! I don’t think I can do a battle scene justice!” I don’t know why my first anxiety went to the need to write a battle scene, but Persephone sort of rescued me because now she does the heavy lifting. I just have to type it all!

There have been a lot of great things about this project, and the tip top is the group of people I assembled with. Scholars and researchers of many levels, they share information as opposed to hoard it, and are encouraging; they celebrate each other’s successes. Our team leader, author Joanne Larner, also lucky for me, is inclined to appreciate even the very teensy details of things like punctuation and grammar, and she both accepts and dispenses constructive criticism with grace. The project definitely lives up to the stereotype (or should I call it the reality?) that every time you look at your manuscript, you’ll find something else wrong with it, so it’s good that in my experience with this fabulous group, everyone’s attitude seems to be “it is what it is” as we plod on. Now we’ve plodded a lot together and the book awaits the completed foreword by Matthew Lewis, Chairman of the Richard III Society. Our book too has experienced its own share of growth spurts, as it went from idea to reality to contents bulging and soon – July 6, to be precise, it will be released.

The updated cover for our anthology, as presented by Joanne Larner, with Riikka Nikko’s illustration. I love everything about this cover!!! Mwah!!!!!

It’s good that my first published work of historical fiction is a short story. I mean it makes the process a little less painful because it’s a smaller sum total to have to weave together, and I suppose it’s good practice for a longer tale, which I actually had been working on before I put it down for this. I don’t regret it, though, because it was sort of overwhelming before, and now I have a better idea of where to go with all the details and ideas swimming in my head. Swimming is said to exercise every muscle in the body, so hopefully that will help me pull it all together more effectively as my storytelling grows, in spots and spurts, and see where it takes me from there.

*You may recall Green from his video included in my blog post about

The Catcher in the Rye.

The Road Not Travelled may be pre-ordered from Amazon and Amazon UK. Paperback option to be added.

Book Release Announcement – The Road Not Travelled: Alternative Tales of the Wars of the Roses

It is a simply beautiful day outside and I’m even happier than that because I have a fabulous announcement to make.

I am so proud and humbled to be part of a fantastic group of writers recruited by author Joanne Larner to contribute to an alternative historical fiction short story anthology set in the Wars of the Roses era. Each author looks at a specific moment in this period of time and explores circumstances had they been altered a bit, or had some historical figure made a choice different to what they actually did in history. 

Joanne provides a great example: “[W]hat if Richard’s father, Richard Duke of York, had not been killed at Wakefield but had defeated Margaret of Anjou’s army and claimed the throne (HE would have then become Richard III).” 

She named the book The Road Not Travelled, a nod to the times in life when a fork in the road appears and remains unchosen. In our stories, that side of the various branches are traveled, and we see what might have happened had time marched forward on those bifurcations. One single decision, one momentary happenstance can transform someone’s entire life and that life, history. How might history had played out if we spoke of Richard III, formerly the Duke of York, and his Queen Cecily? We might never have heard much of the younger Richard Plantagenet, or he might have risen to great heights indeed. Would he have been influential in laws to benefit English society that later informed our own? Would the United States even have been founded? Would there be a Shakespeare? 

I feel so lucky to be part of such a fabulous writing group of individuals from so many walks of life and various parts of the world, all with this one passion in common, to put together such an anthology. I’m also absolutely chuffed—as the English like to say—to have had my story copyread by two skilled editors with fantastic observations and wonderful constructive criticism to help make it the best it can be. I’m really grateful to them both, as well as to Jo, under whose eagle eye it will pass for a final exam. 

To think I never would have begun this journey had I not chosen one particular pathway—out of sheer curiosity, mind you—by reading a book about Richard III, one I had no intention of following up on. I did, in fact, do just that, owing to my great surprise at the outright bias plaguing the entire piece of work, frequently finding myself re-surprised at why it even mattered to me – and yet it did. Once I knew more about Richard, I understood he cared about the people whom he served as king, and I believe, despite his tragic end all too soon, echoes of this consideration passed down through time, perhaps even touching our own age.

I recall feeling awe and admiration at his fighting abilities and the courage he displayed, even when he might have experienced intense pain from the scoliosis he’d suffered from since, probably, adolescence. While such a condition never affected me personally, I did know someone in elementary school who’d had to wear a back brace to correct her own curvature. Of course, this means nothing to my own situations in life, but it left some sort of imprint on me, I suppose, given that I remember my classmate’s struggle. Other contributing factors were the back issues I had following injuries sustained in a car accident, an experience of my own that later enabled me to thoughtfully consider Richard’s experience. On some days I struggled to stand up in the morning; Richard took it to a battlefield and fought for his country. 

So it is with great pleasure to also say here that the book will be sold in aid of the Scoliosis Association UK

The publishing aim is July 6, the 538th anniversary of Richard III’s coronation. Also hoped for is the ability to pre-order very soon – watch this space because I will most definitely be announcing news as I receive it!

Oh! My story is called “Episodes in the Life of King Richard III,” and I hope you will enjoy it – and the others – come July.

Click here for a sneak peak at the cover for

The Road Not Travelled,

drawn by talented artist Riikka Nikko.

Cover Crush: Company of Liars by Karen Maitland

Several years ago, a friend recommended Company of Liars to me and I loved it. I was quite taken with the cover as well, and in recent months it has been on my mind. It is tantalizingly adept at evoking images of the medieval; the author or publisher could probably have left off the subtitle and the cover would still retain its draw.* The red of the lettering and a lone cross provides a beautiful contrast to the background yellow, an easy yellow somewhat a mixture of the soft color people today refer to as “powdery” and the low light sometimes seen coming from windows at night. As the gaze moves over the page, it recognizes subtle spots of light brown, a shading that spreads as we come closer to the binding, and we half expect the aged page to crinkle were we to touch it.

Against this backdrop is illustrated the head of a wolf, a most fearsome creature to medieval people, this one in particular given its long, serpentine tongue, stretching from a mouth open wide enough to reveal fearsome sharp teeth on top and bottom. Here is where it gets slightly tricky as I have forgotten a few details about the book, though some generalities may be accurate when we look plainly. We cannot see his eye in this profile, yet there is almost a sense that he is laughing. At what? The people’s fear of him? Or how exaggerated it is because of their lack of real knowledge of him?

Continue reading “Cover Crush: Company of Liars by Karen Maitland”

Month of Mary Stewart: A Walk in Wolf Wood

A Walk in Wolf Wood: A Tale of Fantasy and Magic

by Mary Stewart

The cover for the copy of A Walk in Wolf Wood I read as a child
The cover for the copy of A Walk in Wolf Wood I read as a child

A Walk in Wolf Wood came my way owing to what my mother called “a great pairing”: medieval fantasy and child protagonists matched to my love for the era of Merlin and my then newly-minted Mary Stewart fangirl status. As young adult literature it also suited my age, and I was pleased to see magic wrapped up in the entire package as well. Even for children, Stewart knew how to present intrigue.

Our story opens to the setting of Schwartzwald, Germany’s Black Forest, just outside of which brother and sister John and Margaret are picnicking with their parents, who shortly afterward fall into a post-lunch slumber. As the heat settles around the party, lulling even the afternoon to sleep, the children see a man approach and then pass them, weeping, as his tears “poured down his face and dripped onto the faded red velvet of his coat.” The intuitive pair notice the unusual clothing, naturally, but in discussing it, reject the idea that he is a re-enactor or some other sort of role player. John has difficulty articulating his instinctive understanding that the dancers they’d seen at St. Johann’s were “just dressing up” and that the weeping man seemed to be accustomed to what he wore.

As readers of fantasy are aware, children are intrepid creatures and it doesn’t occur to them to simply watch events pass by—of course these two have to run after the weeping man and see what his story is! It’s practically a requirement—“It’s in the script,” my mother used to say—and the entire experience is better off for of it, especially today when children are much more regulated and corralled than they were in the not-so-distant past. Stewart couldn’t have foreseen the downside of mixing children with Internet, but she presents to them, and all of us for that matter, the magic of imagination and not just where it can take you, but also when.


“It’s not turkey. It’s swan. And that bit’s peacock. Meg, you should just see the way they do them up, all the feathers and tail, the lot! They’re fixing them up now in the kitchens, ready for supper. Just wait till I have time to tell you everything! But we’d better exchange news first. No, no one suspects me. I really came down to get out of joining the boys’ games in the courtyard!” He made a face. You should see them! Black eyes and broken noses are the least of it! It’s all war games, of course, mock fights and tilting at the quintain—that’a sort of tournament practice—and they really do hammer at it. The master-at-arms is in charge, and he’s really tough type. I don’t think I’d have lasted very long there!”


As it turns out, their imaginings and urge to follow the man lead John and Margaret to a house in the forest, where they eventually befriend the one they come to know as Mardian. Though he once had been servant and close friend of Duke Otho, an evil sorcerer called Almeric has placed a spell on him, and he is fated to a shapeshifting existence while the sorcerer has assumed Mardian’s identity at court. The real Mardian helplessly watches Almeric’s takeover plan successfully move from step to step toward its ultimate conclusion, a palace coup that would not only unseat the duke, but also eliminate him and his son, Prince Crispin, entirely. Only John and Margaret can change the course of this wicked plan, though to do so they must enter the castle and place themselves in Almeric’s very path.

While I have never been attracted to werewolf stories, for a reader with my preferences this one nevertheless works well because Stewart focuses on how the spell robs Mardian of his full life and forces him into a destructive existence that eats at his will to overcome it.

“[F]or a year and more I have been as I am now. By day I am still Mardian, but the night, as you have seen, forces the wolf-shape on me, and with it the wolf’s appetite and lust for blood. With sunrise the bloodlust goes, and my man’s shape and mind return, but the memories and the shame remain.”

 Throughout the novel Stewart also weaves an aura of enchantment that occasionally manifests itself in the children’s self-awareness and their conclusion that everything they are experiencing must certainly be a dream. How else could they have walked only a short distance into another time? Moreover, how is it they are able to communicate with Mardian, whose language is different to theirs? For this they conclude they in reality are asleep near to their parents, and they speak a “dream language” that enables communication.

Stewart provides answer for these questions, cleverly inverting the notion that we in the modern era are the sensible, cleverer people, and Mardian’s fourteenth century is populated by the backward and superstitious. Yearning for some explanation for their experiences, the children opt for the ages-old technique of finding an explanation, no matter how illogical, for their experiences and ascribing them to it, whereas Mardian directly faces the truth, counseling them that

“spell it is … and no dream, my dears, as you had hoped. This is real, as your own time is real, and there is suffering to be won or escaped from. It is for you to choose. Choice is man’s right, and for that I leave you free.”

 In this scenario, twentieth-century children seek to escape the possibility of sorcery and imagine an alternate reality to account for it, whereas Mardian explains it quite matter-of-factly, even hinting in rather modern fashion that the choice to remain in the state they have concocted or move away from is their own. It is he, not they, who is unafraid of the idea of mixing time, and he who references their native time without including their own travel within the realm of evil.

A magical cover image: flags flying at the castle, looking a bit Hansl and Gretl-like, getting friendly with the wolf. Stewart is a master at turning the familiar a bit inside out.

As a fantasy tale, A Walk in Wolf Wood more than stands on its own, for it also encompasses time travel and a sense of history, and speaks to the themes of royal life, treasonous activity and the bonds of true friendship. A young adult novel, it attracts grown-up readers as well with its rich descriptions and the storytelling magic fans of Stewart are accustomed to. Simple but not simplistic, it is an engaging read with just the right recipe to charm readers of various ages as they follow John and Margaret and where the enchantment will take all of them.

Click title to see the series intro, “The World of Mary Stewart.”

“Month of Mary Stewart” continues later today with “Image of the Week” and concludes next week with a review for The Prince and the Pilgrim.

A lovely blog in honor of the late Mary Stewart.

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This post has been updated to include links to related entries.