Pages

Wednesday, 12 September 2018

PAULA'S PEOPLE: MARY ANNE YARDE Shares an excerpt from her newest Du Lac novel



Today I am pleased to be hosting author of the brilliant Du Lac Prophecy Chronicles on her blog tour for the launch of the fourth book in her Arthurian series. Please enjoy excerpts from the latest book.

Two Prophesies. Two Noble Households. One Throne.

Distrust and greed threaten to destroy the House of du Lac. Mordred Pendragon strengthens his hold on Brittany and the surrounding kingdoms while Alan, Mordred’s cousin, embarks on a desperate quest to find Arthur’s lost knights. Without the knights and the relics they hold in trust, they cannot defeat Arthur’s only son – but finding the knights is only half of the battle. Convincing them to fight on the side of the Du Lac’s, their sworn enemy, will not be easy.

If Alden, King of Cerniw, cannot bring unity there will be no need for Arthur’s knights. With Budic threatening to invade Alden’s Kingdom, Merton putting love before duty, and Garren disappearing to goodness knows where, what hope does Alden have? If Alden cannot get his House in order, Mordred will destroy them all.


Excerpt 1:

    “I feared you were a dream,” Amandine whispered, her voice filled with wonder as she raised her hand to touch the soft bristles and the raised scars on his face. “I was afraid to open my eyes. But you really are real,” she laughed softly in disbelief. She touched a lock of his flaming red hair and pushed it back behind his ear. “Last night…” she studied his face intently for several seconds as if looking for something. “I am sorry if I hurt you. I didn’t know who you were, and I didn’t know where I was. I was scared.”
   “You certainly gave me a walloping,” he grinned gently down at her, his grey eyes alight with humour. “I think you have the makings of a great mercenary. I might have to recruit you to my cause.”
   She smiled at his teasing, but then she began to trace the scars on his face with the tips of her fingers, and her smile disappeared. “Do they still hurt?”
   “Yes,” Merton replied. “But the pain I felt when I thought you were dead was a hundred times worse. Philippe had broken my body, but that was nothing compared to the pain in my heart. Without you, I was lost.” 
   “That day… When they beat you. You were so brave,” Amandine replied.
Her fingers felt like butterflies on his skin, so soft and gentle. He closed his eyes to savour the sensation. 
   “I never knew anyone could be that brave,” Amandine continued. “You could have won your freedom and yet, you surrendered to their torture to save me. Why? I am but one person. Just one amongst so many.” 
   “Why do you think?” Merton asked shakily, opening his eyes to look at her again, hoping she could see the depth of his love in his scarred and deformed face.
   “I gave you these scars,” Amandine stated with a painful realisation, her hand dropping away from his face. “You are like this because of me,” her voice was thick with unshed tears. 
   “No, not because of you,” Merton immediately contradicted. “My reputation, Philippe’s greed, Mordred’s hate, and Bastian’s fear, gave me these scars—” 
   “I should not have gone back to your chamber. If they had not found me there, then they would never have known about us. If they had not known, then you would have had no cause to surrender. Bastian would not have taken your sword arm.” Amandine touched what was left of his arm.  “Philippe would not have lashed you.” She touched his face again and shook her head. “I am to blame.” She sat up and her eyes filled with tears, her hand fell away from his face. “I am to blame,” she said again as a tear slipped down her cheek. “How can you stand to be near me?”

Excerpt 2:

They won’t help you,” Bastian stated and Philippe turned to look at him. “The dead. They won’t help you.”
   “I thought I was alone,” Philippe said as he looked back at Tristan’s tombstone. 
   “In Benwick Castle?” Bastian scoffed. “There is always someone watching. You know that as well as I do. Why are you here?” 
   “I came looking for answers.” 
   “Did you find any?” Bastian asked with cynicism.   
   “No.”  
   “I didn’t think so.”  
   “Lancelot was a brave man, wasn’t he?” Philippe mumbled the question more to himself than anything else.  
   “As was Tristan,” Bastian agreed. 
   “Did you know him? Tristan, I mean.” 
   “A little. He kept himself to himself for the most part. He was wounded you see, during the battle of Benwick. He lost the use of his legs. He couldn’t walk. But he…” Bastian smiled as he remembered. “He was very wise. And he was happy to share that wisdom. I liked him. Although not everyone did. After Tristan died, there was talk. Some said he was a liar.” 
   “What did Lancelot say?” Philippe asked.  
   “I cannot imagine Lancelot being friends with someone who lied to him. But he neither condemned nor defended Tristan. He kept his own counsel. What are you going to do, Philippe?” 
   Philippe looked up at the sky. The lavender hue had changed to a blue one. He never appreciated how beautiful the sky was, until now. The day promised to be a warm one, but Philippe felt chilled. 
   “What would you do?” Philippe asked, as he rose to his feet and looked at his general. 
   “You have two choices. You can abdicate. Hand him the throne. Or...” 
   “Or...” Philippe encouraged. 
   “You could kill him,” Bastian said with a shrug.

Buy Links:

Amazon  US

Amazon UK

Amazon CA



Author Bio: 

Mary Anne Yarde is the multi award-winning author of the International Bestselling series — The Du Lac Chronicles.

Yarde grew up in the southwest of England, surrounded and influenced by centuries of history and mythology. Glastonbury — the fabled Isle of Avalon — was a mere fifteen-minute drive from her home, and tales of King Arthur and his knights were a part of her childhood.

Media Links:




Thursday, 15 February 2018

PAULA READS: THE COLD LIGHT OF DAWN by ANNA BELFRAGE

The King's Greatest Enemy #4 : 

 The Cold Light of Dawn

by 
Anna Belfrage



The author of this book is kindly giving away a copy of an ebook so to enter, please leave a comment on the blog below or on my Facebook Page

Will be drawn on Friday 23rd Feb 2018


This is the fourth book in The King's Greatest Enemy and the final instalment of the series in which Roger Mortimer, who has earned the moniker which entitles the series, continues to forge a deadly reputation, one that brings danger to those who love him and owe him allegiance. 
Adam and Kit de Guirande have been there throughout the troubles that started with King Edward, II of that name, and through their eyes we are plunged into a medieval world of intrigue, where danger lurks in every shadow, under every cloud and on every corner of this labyrinth of schemes, plots, and secret machinations.
When The Cold Light of Dawn opens, it is 1329, Edward II is now a mere sir Edward of Caernarvon, and his corpse has been buried, or so we think... A new king sits on the throne, and this new Edward is a youth of 17, a husband to a 15 year old tree-climbing queen and son to the 'she-wolf', Queen Isabella, whose illicit relationship with the Earl of March, Roger de Mortimer, is now brazenly and openly displayed.
In the midst of it all, are Kit and Adam, not just mere observers in this historical game of thrones, but players who  live on their wits to stay alive - for there are enemies everywhere; and jealousy, envy and hatred.


The story of Kit and Adam is so vividly told, that I was drawn into their minds, their very beings, every time I viewed a particular scene through their eyes. The story is written very closely in third person, and the author's ability to engage the reader within the context of her characters is a skill that few can master. She makes you think, feel, and act like her characters, and I found myself at once relating to them in the deepest of senses. 
There were times when I felt dread, in the same way that Kit might have, when her man was in danger. My veins flowed with emotion as Adam, comforting Mortimer in his time of need, realises there is nothing he can do for him, but just that, comfort him, nothing more. 




The most appealing thing about this installment and all the books is the manner in which the author applies the relationship between the main protagonists as a device in which to convey the story of Edward III, his mother, Queen Isabella, and her paramour, Roger Mortimer, Earl of March. We are in actuality, witnessing two distinctive threads, that are intertwined within themselves, and the dynamic of this quintet proves to be both mesmerising and enthralling. 
The pace of this fourth installment is much slower than its predecessors, however, that did not mean that I was not up late at night, my head sagging, desperately trying to keep awake so I could turn one more page - just one more - and just one more, so I could find out what happened next. Such is the nature of the author's style and talent as a writer, that she will keep the reader hooked at all times, no matter the pace of the narrative.
Historically, the facts are true to the time and events, except for one occasional liberty, which Belfrage writes in her Author's note. Of course we know that writers of historical fiction approach l research looking for reasons, not just facts, and somehow they try to justify actions with plausible accounts of what, why, when, and where. The author of this book, has filled in the grey areas with distinction, in my view, using well thought out plots to create the bits that Historians cannot, when dealing with facts only. 

Within the relationship with Kit and Adam, we are given insight into the machinations of a thirteenth century court. The reader gets a feel for the love that the couple have for one another, and how their love has formed their characters, their morals and their own inner workings and how they interact with their environment. Within this context we see how the stories of those around them play out; thus we view the actions of the young king, his mother the dowager queen, his own little Queen Phillipa, and the scheming Lord Roger, and are able to nod our heads when Kit, or Adam, express a viewpoint. Essentially, we are Kit and Adam, and we empathise with their emotions, their feelings toward one another, and their feelings toward their supporting players. When Adam is angry or disgusted with the king, we feel annoyance and are desperate to challenge.The prose compels us to remain firmly in the mind of our knightly Adam, who, in all the years he has had to wrestle with his own inner turmoil, still manages to assuage the degree of conflict that others cause within himself. If he didn't, he would surely go insane, so it is his strength of mind that we find so reassuring, that whatever happens, we know that Adam will always be the most knightly of knights, caring for those he loves, whatever they do, but at the same time rejecting their wrongs, even standing against them on the side of right. 

Even when the king threatens two very unlike-able suspects with torture and gives them a Hobson-style choice, do we, like Adam feel a sense of abhorrence:


They stood holding hands as the king informed them of their future destinations. Not a word, not as much as a sound of protest.
"I will give you one last night to spend as man and wife," the king finished. "Come the morrow, your ways will part, so make the most of it."
Adam was horrified by his callousness. From the look on Thomas' face, so was he, but at the king's orders they escorted their stunned prisoners to the little room the king had procured for them. No windows through which to escape, and the door could be barred from the outside, but at least there was a bed and a fire, a pitcher of wine, and some food. 
If Adam is, at times, like a soul, torn between his loyalty for one man, and his love for another, Kit is like sunshine after rain. She is the life that is breathed into Adam whenever he has need of it; when all has been sucked out of him by those who want a piece of him constantly, she is there to warm his spirit and restore him back to being. When we are Kit, we are Adam's love, his best friend, his spirit guide, his hope, and his life. Without her, Adam is only half, and vice versa. In the days when men dominated most dominions of life, Kit is a striving force to make sure that when other's refer to Adam, they are also referring to her, for they are as one. Over the years they have grown together, from a difficult start, through some rocky roads, they have come to trust and love one another with all their being. Tis a rare, but beautiful love, indeed, and we share with them this remarkable relationship which is played out tastefully and with skill, and see and feel the envy in the eyes of those around them. I still stand by my claim, that Ms Belfrage writes the best sex in a historical novel. They are breathtaking, emotional, and evocative. And I often found myself wiping away a tear from the corner of my eye. Oh, to be loved like that.
Edward III

Of course there are other aspects to the book; courtly intrigue, late night kidnapping, wonderful character interaction and dialogue. One of my favourite secondary characters is Thomas of Brotherton who had an interesting entry into the world after his mother went into labour after a hunt. Seeing as he was King Edward's second son, he was, for a while, heir presumptive until Edward the III came along. He was made Earl of Norfolk and Earl Marshall in 1316, and when his brother was away fighting in Scotland, he was named Keeper of England. He was a victim of his brother's favourite, Hugh Despenser's who'd stolen some of his lands. In this tale, we see him as an affable man and a bit of a rogue, but with goodness within him. I enjoyed Ms Belfrage's portrayal. Little was known of his personal life, and there doesn't seem to have been a lot written about him in contemporary terms which meant that the author was given pretty much a blank canvas on which to draw him. His interactions with the de Guirandes is believable and well written, and his desperate attempts to flirt with Kit had me smiling, reminding me of someone I know. When he is filled with remorse at his treatment of his wife, through the eyes of Kit, we feel sorry for him and we nod, knowing how it feels when we lose a loved one. When he begs for his brother's life, like Adam, we want to embrace him and let him know he is not alone in his grief. Such are these powerful scenes that our story-teller is able to create. It is clear, that the author gets right into the minds of her characters.

Ms Belfrage is an experienced author having published thirteen books of her own and has contributed to others. She knows her craft and knows how to use her skills as a writer and a researcher of history, to create believable situations for her fictional and non-fictional characters. She is also very adept at using as little as possible to say so much. She creates an environment that immediately takes us into the past without making us read reams of information and description. such as her portrayal of Woodstock.
A heavy gate set in an old wall allowed access to the palace itself, the original stone buildings expanded with upper storeys in wood. A hall, a chapel, the king's apartments on one side, tables and mews - the buildings followed the circumference of the walls, creating a large open courtyard bustling with people. Nowhere did Kit see the distinctive shape of her husband - or the King - and one of the old grooms who came to take their horses told her the men were out hunting and not back for hours yet.
Already, in my mind, I have a vision of this place, and it is not lost in what follows, but clearly embedded in my head. And one of the most moving scenes in the book arrives at the end, and I realise now, why the author has not laboured the deaths of the other characters in her books, because to have done so would have watered down the ending which is designed to make us wring our hands with despair, wipe the tears from our eyes, hope for a better ending that we know will not come, and when the end does come, we are, like Adam, bereft. 

But as always, with sadness, some happiness will follow and as we reach the final denouement of this tale, we can sigh with relief that the worst is over, but also, a sigh of sadness that we shall not see our Kit and Adam again... or will we?

 Ms Belfrage has managed to write a magnificent, epic novel - a Tour de Force of a story that most writers today can only dream of matching. Breathtaking in its richness, Kit and Adam's story will leave you exhausted by the emotion it will evoke in you; and wanting more, you will have to wait and see if Ms Belfrage will continue with their tale. I certainly hope she will. I don't think that Kit and Adam's story is finished yet... but perhaps that is my wishful thinking.




Anna's Website
Anna's Blog
Anna's Books


Wednesday, 24 January 2018

PAULA READS: ALBA IS MINE by JEN BLACK






The bloody struggle to be king has begun for Finlay of Moray. Cheated by his grandfather, the girl he expected to marry wed to another, he rebels and faces an ultimatum from the old king - face execution or persusade Thorfinn of Orkney to join them. 

His half-brother Thorfinn rules a sea-based empire from Orkney and he too wants something of Finlay - marriage to his sister and a war against kith and kin that will cost him dear. 

Two women vie for his love and in the turbulent world of 1034 AD the threat of death is as close as a cold shiver down the spine. Set in present day Scotland, then known as Alba, this is an absorbing, fast moving tale of power, greed, family rivalries and one man's vision of the future for his troubled kingdom. A hero worth fighting for and an exhilarating historical thriller that will keep you turning the pages into the wee small hours.


Being an author of 11thc stories myself, I offered to read and review for the author after a copy was received in return for an honest review. The story starts swiftly, beginning with the hero, Finlay, who I might add is fictional as are most of the characters in this book, incarcerated for daring to attempt an elopement with the girl he loves. She was married to someone else, at the bequest of his grandfather, the old King Malcolm and Finlay is unable to accept this. The king gives him the options of execution, or travelling to Thorfinn's stronghold, to get him onside and join the king in his fight against his enemies who want his crown. But whilst there, Finlay is convinced that he should have the throne for himself, and goes against his grandfather's plans and joins in with Thorfinn's plans. Add an undesirable marriage plan and having the indignity of being accompanied by the man who is now wed to his girl into the plot and this makes for a very interesting historical romp, not to mention fierce battles, unrequited and romantic love, and betrayal.

What I like best about this book were the characters and the fact that the focus wasn't always on the hero. When I read a book, I enjoy investing my time and emotion into more than one character. I like to know and feel the secondary players reasoning and angst, it gives me a deeper, meaningful reading experience. Jen Black's skills in character development are high up there with some of the best authors. She entranced me with Finlay's sometimes flawed characteristics, but honourable nature; irritate me with his intended's (Ratagan) superior attitude and annoying habit of not knowing when she's on to a good thing, and devastate me with the death of a character I had a soft spot for. 

The battle scenes were exciting, and there were some interesting, and bloody, fights. The plot itself was solid, though totally fictional, which sometimes makes for a better read, because the author can invent the scenes as she wishes.

One thing I would have liked, that was missing, an explanation in the historical note that the main characters were fictional. I found myself perplexed as I was trying to look them up on the net, and found they didn't exist. I admit to preferring my historical fiction to be backed by fact and set in an environment that is true to the period and events of the time, but I can accept, and enjoy, a fictionalised version, even mixed with historical accuracy as long as I am aware and that the author has made these points openly. A few things jarred, some phrases and expressions were not, imho necessarily right for the period, and although I could see that the author had made a great effort to create the historical milieu, it didn't always feel right. 

Events in Scotland, or Alba, as the author correctly refers to it in the book, is not always very well recorded in these early medieval periods, so there was a lot of leeway in regards to the story. Viking invasions started in the 8th century and like their English counterparts, the Scots and the Picts were forced to unite against them.The Kingdom of Scotland was eventually united under the descendants of Kenneth MacAlpin, who was the first king of a united Scotland. The descendants of his  House of Alpin, fought among each other during frequent disputed successions. The last Alpin king, Malcolm II, who has a part to play in the beginning of the book, died without issue in the early 11th century and the kingdom passed through his daughter's son, Duncan I, who started a new line of kings known to modern historians as the House of Dunkeld or Canmore. It is this Duncan whom Finlay challenges for the crown. This is where the story becomes wholly fiction, perhaps it could even be referred to as alternative history, however it makes for an interesting, exciting read, with larger than life characters and a plot that will keep you wondering what will happen next. 

Thorfinn is one of my favourite Characters and I would have loved to have seen him play a bigger part in the story than he did. He is Finlay's fictional half-brother, having had the same mother. Ms Black uses one of the quirks of the time: there were lots of half brothers, half sisters etc, as a device to create certain aspects of the plot. This probably also contributed to the eventual downfall of the House of Alpin in real life, because the many half brothers and sisters ended up having many cousins and half cousins, and many contenders for the throne. So when Finlay arrives at Thorfinn's stronghold, he has a plan to marry his half brother to his own half sister who is not related to Finlay, but in real life, this arrangement may have been frowned upon because of the blood relations between the two brothers and Thorfinn and his sister. Confused? I must admit, it took me a little while to get my head round it.

Thorfinn was also known as The Mighty, and was half Scottish and half Scandinavian. He once appeared as MacBeth in a book by Dorothy Dunnett, but there is no basis in him being MacBeth, at all. His father was the Viking Jarl, Sigurd Hlodvirsson and his mother, a daughter of the king, Malcolm the II, who would have been his grandfather. This means that he was also a contender for the throne, but he is not interested in taking the throne in the book, and is supportive of Finlay's claim. Thorfinn was the only child of the union between his father and the Scottish princess, so he had a lot of half brothers and sisters.

The Orkneyinga Saga says this of him:   
He was unusually tall and strong, an ugly-looking man with a black head of hair, sharp features, a big nose and bushy eyebrows, a forceful man, greedy for fame and fortune. He did well in battle, for he was both a good tactician and full of courage." 
Ms Black's description of his was very accurate. I enjoyed reading about him in the book, he was an interesting character I would love to have seen more of. 

The book is well written and wholly enjoyable. And Ms Black is very good at descriptive writing. Here is a small example of how well the author wrote her prose, describing the state of the armour in the aftermath of a battle:  
"The linden wooden shields had lost their bold, bright colours. They were sword weary, chipped and hacked, but the byrnies, hard and hand linked, shone in the sunlight. Ash and hazel spears came to the hand like long lost friends."
There would be much more I could add to this review but it would go on forever. All in all, the book is filled with enchanting characters who drive the plot which is well thought out and beautifully performed. I have asked the author, because I would love to know what happens further with the characters and I think that this is not all we have heard from Finlay, at least, which is a happy thought indeed!


179853
ABOUT JEN BLACK
179853
Jen's home town is Newcastle upon Tyne in the north east of England. She lived within sound of Durham Cathedral bells until she was seven, then moved to Stockton where she attended Grangefield Grammar School, and later went to Newcastle University as a mature student and gained an Honours degree in English Language & Literature. Work in various industrial, public and academic libraries in the north east followed, including a stint as library manager at Gateshead College for a number of years. 

She updates her blog three times a week: http://jenblackauthor.blogspot.com
and can also be found on Twitter and Facebook as well as Goodreads.


Sunday, 3 September 2017

PAULA READS - TO BE A QUEEN by ANNIE WHITEHEAD


Please note that the author is giving away an ebook copy of To Be A Queen
Just leave a message below or leave a comment on my Facebook Author Page

This is a fictionalised tale of a historical woman, Æthelflaed, Lady of the Mercians, based on true facts of what is known of her and the times in which she lived. Teasel, as the author has nick-named her, is the daughter of the great king, Alfred of Wessex. Her father wants her to marry a Lord of Mercia to form an alliance between the two English kingdoms so that they might be ever stronger to defeat the scourge of the Danes. For years, these 'Vikings' have been invading and settling, raping, pillaging and sending terror into the hearts of the English people. Teasel has grown up as a child living with the threat of the Danes always hanging over her, but it is not until she is old enough to understand the fear that her mother constantly displayed when she was a child, that she understands what it is she fears the most. Then the day comes when her heart, who she had given to another, is broken and she is set on a course of unhappiness and despair as she struggles to come to terms with her plight. Married to a man she does not love, who is indifferent to her, she must first gain the respect and understanding of the suspicious Mercians, before she can give herself wholly to him, mind body and soul. This is no easy task through the years, but eventually she wins out, through her indomitable, endless spirit, and then she must act to save her beloved adopted country from the Vikings.

This is one of the rare books that have managed to captivate my heart. I’m a fussy reader, that’s not to say that I can’t enjoy many books, but only on some occasions does a book take my breath away, completely. For a book to do this, there must be a plot that grabs me, make me either smile to myself, or sigh wistfully, wishing that it was I who had just written that passage. Strangely enough, the plot in To be a Queen, has no arc, there are 4 parts to this book; first being, Girl; the second, Woman; third, Wife and finally, Queen, which, in reality she never was. The narrative moves through each stage of her life and it is only towards the last half of the book that we see the characters of Teasel and Ethelred come into their own, both as a couple and as individuals as their story develops more deeply. To begin with, whenever there was a hint of conflict, it would always come to naught. (It would not be appropriate to give an example as it may be considered to be a spoiler.) I found this a little frustrating, because I was expecting something to ‘happen’ but it never does. There are no storming build-ups to tension, nothing really bad ever happens, (not that we see, anyway) and in most cases, this would annoy the hell out of me, but strangely enough, the slower pace and the lack of action are exactly right for this book, and although I might not have written it that way myself, Whitehead manages to captivate me with her beautiful prose and in-depth knowledge of the period and the language which shines throughout the whole of the book.

This is not a book that follows Æthelflaed into war, although we do see some of that later in the book. It is essentially a story of how things might have been, using the known facts and events that happened during her time to design a plausible story of her life. It is a love story, but not in the bodice ripper style (not usually my cup of tea), but written in beautiful, deep emotional scenes, that give us a vision of a woman’s love for a man she had never wanted to wed. What I loved most about this book is the way Whitehead uses a wide knowledge of vocabulary of the time and a skilful writing talent to describe characters thoughts, feelings and actions. The dialogue is well crafted, and made me imagine that I was hearing the language in the manner it would have been spoken, not of course in Old English, but using the modern equivalent of. All this, and what we are given, is a subtle story that filters its way into the reader’s mind in the same way a patient might be drip-fed blood. It flows, like a boat carried on a river's current, passing through time, stopping for a while before it continues on again to reach the end of Æthelflaed’s life.

It is a shame that we know so little about this amazing woman who, it was said, was so beloved of the Mercians, she was trusted to lead an army against the Vikings and other enemies.  We know she did this, but we don’t know whether or not she actually wielded a sword and fought in the battle itself, or just commanded. We don’t know to what extent her knowledge of warfare was, though there is evidence to say that Ethelred was advising her. In Whitehead’s version, she has ‘Teasel’ learn to fight and wield a sword so she can ride out with her army and at the very least attempt to protect herself. Personally, I think she was too important to actually fight in the shieldwall, for she would no doubt be injured at some point, not having the strength, as a woman, to fight hand to hand with experienced male opponents. But that’s just my opinion, perhaps she was skilful and strong, but given that even the dangerous, most doughty warriors could not always protect themselves from being mortally wounded in a melee, then I think it unlikely. She was needed as a figurehead more than a warrior, and although Whitehead puts her in the midst of a shieldwall in one scene, she doesn’t have her doing anything foolhardy or practically impossible. Æthelflaed is not a shieldmaiden, nor is she a walcyrie. and I was glad of that, as I do not like historical fiction where women are made to do the impossible. Shieldmaidens would not have lasted long in a battle, and although I can see no reason not to have women fight if the story asks for it, it must be plausible. If they are going to fight, then they should not be slaughtering multitudes of men in one strike, and anyone who wants to write a book called ‘Shieldmaiden’ needs to do so with caution.

We probably know more about Æthelflaed than Ethelred, her husband, but we know nothing of their relationship, whether it was a good one, or if it was troublesome. There is later evidence that cannot be fully believed, that she had only one child because of the pain she had endured in childbirth. I’m not entirely convinced that this is true, but if it is true, then perhaps we can imagine that her relationship with her husband might have been strained.

I cannot praise Annie Whitehead’s style of prose enough. She has a very fluid approach to her writing, which is deep, and thoughtful, and encompasses what is going on in the background around her characters. Each passage is generally shown in the point of view of either Æthelflaed, her brother Edward, or her husband Ethelred. There is no head hopping, which if overdone, usually drives me insane. The narrative is solid, and the story flows along.

If you cannot tell by now how enamoured I was with this book, I must impress upon you that this book is one of those that I have enjoyed reading most in my life. It is definitely going on my must read again shelf, though I rarely read books more than once. If you enjoy historical fiction, this should be on everyone’s must read shelf, especially if you like stories told through the eyes of women, and don’t mind that the battle scenes are scarce. The story of Lady Æthelflaed as told by Annie Whitehead will haunt you and stay with you for a long time, as I know it will with me.
A well done to Ms Whitehead.

Victorian statue of Aethleflaed and her nephew, Aethlestan.

About the Author

Annie Whitehead isn't 'from' anywhere. She was born in Germany on British soil and has two birth certificates. Her father was in the army and the family lived all over the world, but she has lived in the Cumbrian Lake District since 1986. She graduated in history having specialised in the 'Dark Ages' but after a career break to raise her three children she qualified as an Early Years practitioner before concentrating on teaching Music to children aged 1-11. She has written three books about early medieval Mercia, the ancient Anglo-Saxon kingdom of the Midlands. The first, To Be a Queen, tells the story of Alfred the Great's daughter, and was long-listed for the Historical Novelist Society's Indie Book of the Year 2016, while the second, Alvar the Kingmaker, is the story of Aelfhere, Earl of Mercia in the 10th century. She hopes the third will be published early in 2017. When she's not writing novels, she writes magazine articles and has had pieces printed in diverse publications, including Yoga Magazine and This England. She has twice been a prize winner in the Mail on Sunday Novel Writing Competition, and won First Prize in the 2012 New Writer Magazine's Prose and Poetry Competition. She was a finalist in the 2015 Tom Howard Prize for non-fiction, and is also a contributor and editor for the English Historical Fiction Authors blog, as well as blogging for her own site - Casting Light upon the Shadow. When she's not working or writing, she can generally be found living up to the title bestowed on her by her offspring and their friends - "Mother Hen", or doing a spot of kick-boxing and weight-lifting.

To learn more about Annie, visit her Facebook Author page
Follow her on Twitter
Visit her Website






Friday, 12 May 2017

PAULA'S PEOPLE: INTERVIEW WITH AUTHOR, ALISON MORTON



Today I am pleased to be part of a blog tour for Alison Morton's latest release in her Roma Nova series, RETALIO. Alison has stopped by to answer some questions about her latest novel and talk about her love of all things Roman and her writing career. 


RETALIO

Early 1980s Vienna. Recovering from a near fatal shooting, Aurelia Mitela, ex-Praetorian and former foreign minister of Roma Nova, chafes at her enforced exile. She barely escaped from her nemesis, the charming and amoral Caius Tellus who grabbed power in Roma Nova, the only part of the Roman Empire to survive into the twentieth century.
Aurelia’s duty and passion fire her determination to take back her homeland and liberate its people. But Caius’s manipulations have isolated her from her fellow exiles, leaving her ostracised, powerless and vulnerable. But without their trust and support Aurelia knows she will never see Roma Nova again.
A story of political and personal rivalry in an imaginary surviving state of the once mighty Roman Empire. But with a difference. Struggling to defend the tiny state and keep the families alive at the dissolution of the Roman Empire, Roma Novan women fought alongside their men. And they never forgot it as they rose to prominence through the ages. Now in the late 20th century the egalitarian state has been crushed into misery by a brutal dictator imposing male-only rule. Aurelia is their last best hope, but Caius who has longed to dominate and defeat her since childhood will do anything to stop her. Anything.



Paula - So, firstly, I'd like to welcome you to Paula's People, Alison. It’s been a while since I had you as a guest here, and it’s so nice to have you back, this time to ask some new questions because so much has moved on for you since then. I'm sure you'll have lots more to tell us!

Alison - Thank you for such a warm welcome, Paula. Yes, it seems like ages.

Paula - Tell us how the idea for your Roma Nova series came about and what inspired your vision of a new Roman state, and the whole idea of having women matriarchs as rulers instead of men.

Alison - I was fascinated at age eleven with a beautiful mosaic in Ampurias, north-east Spain. As my father explained about soldiers and sailors, slaves and senators, traders and farmers, I asked him what the mothers did. He said they stayed indoors and ran the house and looked after children. I thought that was a bit odd – my own mother worked as the head of a department at a local school. So I asked him what a Roman society would be like if women ran it. Clever man, he replied, “Well what do you think it would have been like?”


So the Roma Nova legend grew in my mind. Founded sixteen hundred years ago, when the Roman Empire was crumbling, it’s survived thanks to silver in the mountains, Roman engineering genius and a robust attitude. Given the unstable, dangerous times in Roma Nova’s early years, daughters as well as sons had to put on armour and carry weapons to defend their homeland and way of life.
Fighting danger side-by-side with brothers and fathers reinforced women’s status and roles. And they never allowed the incursion of monotheistic paternalistic religions; the traditional Roman gods were their inspiration. Women developed leadership roles in all parts of Roma Novan life over the next sixteen centuries.




Paula -You write alternative history, but your books are set in the alternative present, so to speak. I’d like to ask, what exactly does alternative history mean, and how does it correlate to the historical fiction genre?

Alison - In alternative history stories, the timeline has diverged at some point in the past from our timeline. It can be caused by a big event like the Norman invasion  (see 1066 Turned Upside Down) or a smaller event as in the Roma Nova stories (Emperor Theodosius banning all pagan worship on pain of death in AD 395) but there has to be a definite trigger. Events then travel a different path from that ‘point of divergence’ and it’s a permanent change with no going back, no time travel, magic or fantastical creatures. Some stories are fanciful, but others are serious counter factuals. As a historian, I’m up at the historical end of that scale. And whether it’s historical fiction? Well, all history is a patchy record of past events and a lot of it is made up, haphazard or from dodgy sources. I argue my case here!

Paula -When did you first start writing?

Alison - I’ve written all my life; translator, copywriter, editor and produced government position papers, corporate documentation and pitches, and a couple of academic papers – one thesis and one dissertation, but the first novel INCEPTIO, began its life in 2009. It was the usual terrible first draft, but polished up to appear as a published book in 2013.
Paula - I recall you and I chatting about it when you came to my book launch signing at John Pye's Bookshop in East Grinstead. I remember being in awe at the idea of a recreation of Rome, with women as the matriarchs.

Paula - I see you have studied history at university and obtained a Masters! Can you tell us what eras you read, and what eras you like best? I think I may know the answer to that already, hee-hee!:)

Alison - I’m going to surprise you, Paula!  Over the course, I studied medieval women, British Cinema and women in Third Reich Germany. The Romans made a brief appearance in one module. Why? I wanted to do something I didn’t really know much about. So my dissertation was about young German women who served in uniform with the German military equivalents of the ATS, WRNS and WRAF. They weren’t all fanatical Nazis; some were patriotic, some were just ‘doing their bit’, others weren’t that keen but got on with it, some hated it. I turned my dissertation (for which I gained a distinction!) into a little ebook – my first foray into self-publishing – called Military or Civilians?
Paula - Wow that was a surprise! I'd really be interested to read that. What a fantastic subject and to gain a distinction. I am in awe of you!

Paula - Can you give potential readers an overview of the Roma Nova series to give them an idea of what excitement awaits them?



Alison - I’d like to take you to Central Europe to an imaginary city state in the mountains. Its people are tough, its history long and its heroines valiant. Well, nearly always valiant; they do have their off days.
INCEPTIO focuses on New Yorker Karen Brown who is thrown into a new life in mysterious Roma Nova as Carina Mitela, and fights to stay alive with a killer hunting her. Helping her is a special forces officer; smiling, attractive, a tad condescending and hiding vulnerabilities of his own. In PERFIDITAS six years later, betrayal and rebellion are in the air, threatening to topple Roma Nova and ruin Carina’s life. When we get to SUCCESSIO nine years after that, she is well-established as a senior Praetorian officer with teenage children and young cousins. But a mistake from the past threatens to destroy that next generation including the young heir to Roma Nova itself.

With AURELIA we begin a second trilogy and go back to 1960s Roma Nova and a Europe very different from our own. Aurelia Mitela, Carina’s grandmother in the first trilogy, but here a 28-year-old Praetorian major, battles silver smuggling and illegal trading. In her pursuit of the amoral Caius Tellus, she must make the heart-breaking choice between her love, her child and her country. In INSURRECTIO, thirteen years later, we see Aurelia struggling against a manipulative tyrant grabbing power. This is the Great Rebellion that threatened to destroy Roma Nova in the 1980s. RETALIO (just out!) tells of resistance and retribution and the endgame between Aurelia and her nemesis, Caius.

PaulaSo far, I have read books 1&2 and am currently listening to the audio of SUCCESSIO which is the third in the order of books. Book 1 INCEPTIO was enjoyable, and PERFIDITAS, the second was wicked! Which book would you choose as your favourite of the series and why?

Alison - I really, really don’t have a favourite! INCEPTIO was my first book and I suspect all authors love the first baby, but honestly, they’ve all given me something different and I hope I’ve given readers a different aspect of the Roma Novans and their country in each one.



Paula - So, RETALIO is now available as an ebook and paperback. Tell us about this sixth instalment of your Roma Nova books and just where it all fits within the series.

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

Paula - Carina, the main character of the first trilogy, is a sassy woman with guts and the courage of a she-lion protecting her cubs. She can also be compassionate and tender, as both mother and wife to the gorgeous Conrad. Knowing that you come from an army background, is there anything of you in Carina that you recognise, or have deliberately put in there, or is she based on someone/s you know?

Alison - If that isn’t a leading question, I don’t know what is! Inevitably, I’ve used some of my military experience in the stories. Nobody is a direct reflection of anybody I knew or know, but I’ve pinched a few characteristics here and there…

Paula - Tell us about briefly about some of your favourite characters in the series, not Carina or Conrad, but some supporting actors so to speak.

Alison - Well, I was so fascinated by Aurelia and wanted to know her secrets that I ended up writing a whole second trilogy!
I do like Lurio in the first series; he was fun to write as a roughie-toughie cop with a soft heart. Carina’s comrade-in-arms, Flavius, is an interesting character as he’s always on Carina’s side, but gives her quite a hard time sometimes.
Paula - I quite liked Daniel, too.

Alison - In the second trilogy, apart from the vile Caius who was fun to write as a villain with an obsession, the stand out secondary characters are the tough soldier, Volusenia, and the young Silvia, the heir to Roma Nova.

Paula - Who are your current favourite authors and has there been a big influence on your writing, whether it be style, structure, or genre from them?

Alison - Currently, William Boyd who wrote Restless, a spy thriller with women protagonists, and Douglas Jackson whose Verrens series about a young Roman soldier who survived the Boudiccan rebellion and is going on to further things is very vividly and accurately written. Robert Harris remains the godfather of alternative history written cleverly and succinctly in Fatherland.
Paula - Some new authors there for me to get to know.

Paula - And now for the penultimate question, what are you reading now, or just recently?
I’ve just finished Anna Belfrage’s, Under the Approaching Dark (excellent!) and am currently enjoying Helen Hollick’s, Pirates: Truth and Tale, a non-fiction book about, er, pirates and our perception of them. Next up is Douglas Jackson’s Defender of Rome, the second Verrens  novel.

Paula - To wrap up the session, I’d like to say it’s been fabulous having you on the blog, and I wish you the best of luck with all your future endeavours but just to ask one more question, what next for Alison Morton?

Alison - Several things! I’m hoping to finish a novella about Carina this summer, then I might look at a book of short stories and there’s always the foundation story of Roma Nova waiting in the wings…

Thank you SO much for inviting me onto your blog, Paula and letting me run on about Roma Nova and its people.

Paula - It's been an absolute pleasure Alison. My very best wishes!

And you can read my recent review of Alison's second in the first Roma Nova series
PERFIDITAS here

About Alison

Alison Morton, writes the acclaimed Roma Nova thriller series featuring modern Praetorian heroines. She blends her deep love of Roman history with six years’ military service and a life of reading crime, adventure and thriller fiction. 
The first five books have been awarded the BRAG Medallion. SUCCESSIO, AURELIA and INSURRECTIO were selected as Historical Novel Society’s Indie Editor’s Choices.  AURELIA was a finalist in the 2016 HNS Indie Award. The sixth, RETALIO, is out on 27 April 2017. 
A ‘Roman nut’ since age 11, Alison has misspent decades clambering over Roman sites throughout Europe. She holds a MA History, blogs about Romans and writing. 
Now she continues to write, cultivates a Roman herb garden and drinks wine in France with her husband of 30 years.

Connect with Alison on her Roma Nova Website
Alison’s Amazon page: http://Author.to/AlisonMortonAmazon

Buying link for RETALIO (multiple retailers/formats):







Wednesday, 5 April 2017

PAULA READS PERFIDITAS BY ALISON MORTON





Present day, alternate reality. Captain Carina Mitela of the Praetorian Guard Special Forces is in trouble – one colleague has tried to kill her and another has set a trap to incriminate her in a conspiracy to topple the government of Roma Nova. Founded sixteen hundred years ago by Roman dissidents and ruled by women, Roma Nova barely survived a devastating coup d’état thirty years ago. Carina swears to prevent a repeat and not merely for love of country. 
Seeking help from a not quite legal old friend could wreck her marriage to the enigmatic Conrad. Once proscribed and operating illegally, she risks being terminated by both security services and conspirators. As she struggles to overcome the desperate odds and save her beloved Roma Nova and her own life, she faces the ultimate betrayal…

Well, if the above blurb doesn't hook you in, then nothing will. This is a thriller that at least matches, excels even, all expectations you might have of similar books. More realistic than the James Bond movies, PERFIDITAS goes way beyond anything that has been done before. Set in an alternative, but similar to the world of today, Roma Nova is a fascinating concept, created by the incredibly intelligent mind of the author, and drawn from her love of all things Roman. 

Before I began reading, I was under the impression that you didn't need to read the first in the series, (INCEPTIO), before you read PERFIDITAS, and although there is an intro describing the alternate historical background of the whole world, plus a list of characters placed in their contexts, I felt that due to the fast pace of the book, and the amount of characters Ms Morton juggles, a new reader would find it hard going to know what, who, when and why. So, I felt that I was at an advantage, having read INCEPTIO, and was glad that I had, for it enabled me to understand the wonderful intriguing world I was immersing myself in

I loved the idea of Rome continuing after its fall in the 5thc and beginning again in a new state, with the name of Roma Nova: New Rome. And the fact that it was ruled by women, because hey, the guys did a terrible job, didn't they; adds a whole new dynamic to the concept. Ms Morton has formulated this new Rome using the most prominent elements from their past, such as the language, Latin of course, the Praetorian Guard, which still exists, Domus, the name used for home, and amusingly, the old Roman gods as a way of swearing. "Juno!", is one example. All this serves to create a believable, fascinating world, that is not only modern, it is leading the world with its advanced technology and systems; one such example is the el-pad; got an idea what that is? What is even more extraordinary, is that Morton devises new customs for the Roma Novans, some of which have been part of this new world's traditions going back over 1500 years. I particularly liked the Twelve Family code which, under this, a noble family has the right to question a delinquent member of their family whom they believe has committed some criminal offence. You see, when Rome collapsed 1500 years (or there abouts) earlier, amongst those who made the exodus to what was to become Roma Nova, were 12 of the noblest families. These families were the most powerful ruling clans, and in the 21stc, their status as such is still preserved, with women always at the head of the clan. To balance this power, members of the twelve families have a greater responsibility of service to the state and are expected to behave better than the average citizen.

This book is definitely plot driven, and told through the eyes  of Countess Carina, therefore this, and the  fast pace, has to be taken into consideration when examining the characterisation of all the players. There were many characters of which I would have liked to know more about their emotions and their inner machinations. This is probably more difficult to do when writing in the first person, as Ms Morton does. That is one of my pet annoyances of books written in the first person, because I like to get right into the minds of the characters and feel that I am within them. All that aside, I can still read, and enjoy books written in this method, though they are few and far between, and this second book in the Roma Nova series I have selected as being one of them. as it is so unique in its presentation.




 I enjoyed Carina's character, she is not the shy, retiring type, she gets things done, and often her maverick -style way of doing things, gets her in all sorts of trouble. Her husband, the hunky Conrad, who has taken her family name as his own in the new Roman tradition, finds this aspect of her, less endearing than perhaps he should, but he is not only her husband but her work superior, and this can be conflicting for the couple. With such strong personalities, there are bound to be the usual disagreements and as well as the trouble on the home front, the couple are faced with difficulties aplenty as the plot unfolds. And it does so, very quickly, I might add, for soon it is obvious that someone is out to get both Carina and her husband. And when I say 'get' I mean, totally destroy in the most horrible, nasty way achievable. 

Roma Nova, as you may have probably guessed by now, had only survived because of their social structure. Women no longer were assigned to the confines of their homes, playing  good little wives, they had become the heads of their families, whilst the men were constantly at war in those early days of their colonies' survival. The women's take over of their governing systems, meant that both  men, and women, now, would have to perform 'service' to their country and that ethos seems to have continued right into the 21st century. A tiny country hidden away between New Austria and Italy, Roma Nova had become one of the most powerful, rich states in the world, surrounded by bigger boys who possibly want to take over. They had to be tough in order to survive, following a male dominated brutal consulship and civil war And there are strains of modern day Israel's kick ass attitude, in the way they run their regime:


...with characteristic resilience, the families' structures fought back and reconstructed their society, re-learning the basic principles of Republican virtue, while subtly changing it to a more representational model for modern times.
But what has this book got to offer? For one, Ms Morton has a snappy, concise style of writing that flows beautifully. The pace and atmosphere are just at the right speed and mood. The characters, are many, and sometimes when a new name popped up, I had trouble remembering who they were, despite having read the first book. Thank goodness there is a cast list in the form of a Dramatis Personae of all the characters and from which section of society they belong. Please readers remember to look in the back of the book for this. However, that aside, my enjoyment of reading this book was not hampered by this little niggle.

It is quite clear that Ms Morton is an excellent writer and story-teller. She has her own unique voice when conjuring up her plot lines. The world she has built is done so with integrity. It is formulated and constructed with faithful authenticity and is representational of a true society with its origins in Rome. I am sure that most readers will enjoy jumping into the arena of 21st century Rome, and will wholly accept the offer of a ride into the dark, almost invisible world of intelligence and criminality in this exciting, cleverly manufactured tale.

This is a book I would highly recommend to those who enjoy alternative fiction, where events from the past have different endings, pushing the future into different pathways to produce a new, fresh world with which to play in. Also, if you enjoy thrillers, with espionage and intelligence as its background, you will love this book. Highly recommended.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR




A ‘Roman nut’ since age 11, Alison Morton continues to be fascinated by that complex, power and value driven civilisation. Armed with a masters’ in history, six years’ military service and the love of a good thriller, she explores via her award winning Roma Nova adventure thrillers the ‘what if’ idea of a modern Roman society run by strong women.The sixth book, RETALIO, will be published on 27 April. In the meantime, Alison lives in France with her husband, tends her Roman herb garden and drinks wine.

Watch a trailer  

Links for Alison
Social media links
Connect with Alison on her Roma Nova site: http://alison-morton.com
Twitter: https://twitter.com/alison_morton @alison-morton

Buying link for PERFIDITAS (multiple retailers/formats):