Books and Reviews!

3/6/2016

A Year of Ravens

The book is a unique collaborative project by seven authors with seven separate yet connected stories of the events leading up to the final battle and aftermath. It addresses the issues that I touched on in the pre-history discussion including reasons for a Client Ruler’s acceptance and alliance of Roman governance. It also gives us an understanding of various Roman perspectives. Not every Roman was stereotypical bad nor did they all agree with what was taking place. In that same line, not every Briton was good or a true believer in the rebellion. 

A year of Ravens

by Ruth Downie, Kate Quinn,Stephanie Dray, Vicky Alvear Shecter, S.J.A. Turney , Russell Whitfield, E. Knight

Britannia: land of mist and magic clinging to the western edge of the Roman Empire. A red-haired queen named Boudica led her people in a desperate rebellion against the might of Rome, an epic struggle destined to consume heroes and cowards, young and old, Roman and Celt . . . and these are their stories.

A calculating queen sees the sparks of revolt in a king’s death.

A neglected slave girl seizes her own courage as Boudica calls for war.

An idealistic tribune finds manhood in a brutal baptism of blood and slaughter.

A conflicted warrior hovers between loyalty to tribe and loyalty to Rome.

A death-haunted Druid challenges the gods themselves to ensure victory for his people.

An old champion struggles for everlasting glory in the final battle against the legions.

A fiery princess fights to salvage the pieces of her mother’s dream as the ravens circle.

 

A novel in seven parts, overlapping stories of warriors and peacemakers, queens and slaves, Romans and Celts who cross paths during Boudica’s epic rebellion. But who will survive to see the dawn of a new Britannia, and who will fall to feed the ravens?

These separate stories come together so well to tell a larger story of Briton and of Rome, of  mistakes on both sides that brought about the rebellion. In telling their separate stories of one particular point in time and one event that had such an impact on the history of Britain, these seven authors have created a vivid and realistic picture to show us all of the sides. It is grim, harsh and gritty, and fault is laid on all of those sides for the decisions and actions that led to the battles of Boudica. Yet, despite all of the fault and harsh reality, there is an underlying message of  understanding, forgiveness and hope amid such a dark future that lies ahead for so many. Boudicca’s rebellion has failed but her legend will live on to inspire others in the future. 

One of the most interesting and compelling stories for me was not that of Boudicca herself, but of another Queen for the most part forgotten in history. The story of Cartimandua, Queen of the Brigantes in northern Britain at the time. Cartimandua or Cartismandua (reigned c. ad 43 – c. 69) was a 1st-century queen of the Brigantes, a Celtic people living in what is now northern England. She came to power around the time of the Roman conquest of Britain, and formed a large tribal agglomeration that became loyal to Rome. Our only knowledge of her is through the Roman historian Tacitus, though she appears to have been widely influential in early Roman Britain.

Perhaps we know little about her because her story is one of loyalty to Rome. Author Stephanie Dray’s interpretation of this little known Queen provided such a detailed look at this woman who would have been considered a traitor to the Briton’s cause. It presented an understanding of some of those reasons why a ruler would choose alliance and loyalty to Rome to ensure the future of their people- even if the people did not appreciate it, resented the decision and would choose to spit on said ruler’s grave… As Cartimandua points out in this story, “At least my people will be left alive to spit upon my grave!”  She may have been hated by her people but she was able to look beyond that hatred and be at peace with the decisions she made in order to buy her people time and life in an uncertain future.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cartimandua

Another of the stories that caught me up was the story of Duro the Iceni warrior and Valeria the Roman wife turned slave. Both of these characters were fictional but came truly alive and believable through Kate Quinn’s story telling. This is the story of an aging battle hardened and weary warrior who is Boudicca’s most ardent supporter and leader of her army- second only to her and the council… Duro is the old warrior set in his ways and beliefs, struggling with changes that he can not accept. Valeria at first appears as the stereotypical Roman wife also set in her Roman ways and beliefs. On the surface their relationship is one of detest for each other and the other’s ways. They are on opposite sides in every way possible but underneath all of the opposition and hatred, there is a level of understanding between them. They both know that should the other side win, their own personal life and future will cease or change forever. Duro continues to look to the past he remembers before the Romans but Valeria reminds him that it is wishful thinking and that past will never be again. Valeria reaches within herself to find a person, a warrior that she never knew existed… she will fight for life and survival no matter what, and she can appreciate that Duro has taught her that. Valeria is young enough and strong enough to change her ways of thinking in some ways and to understand that her world has changed. She is on the verge of some new life while Duro is at the end of his and know it. He can not change as his world is changing but Valeria gives him the one thing that matters most to him in the end… a renewed relationship with a son that he spent years pushing away. This story leaves an open ending with Valeria embarking on a new journey, a renewed life forever changed by her experience and her relationship with Duro.  This is about as close to a romance as any of the stories get and it is one that left me wondering about the what ifs… and the future for Valeria on her return to husband. My personal what if was this… what if Boudicca’s army had listened to advice and won the battle? Where would that have left Duro and Valeria?  I could actually see some of that version that Duro dreamed of!

All of the stories were excellent. I have only chosen to highlight the two that touched me the most!

This overall story is balanced with more than enough historical research to enrich the fiction that is woven around the often limited facts. I found myself completely swept up in the individual stories and not wanting them to end. I was left with an overwhelming appreciation of the writing and the history, an almost obsessive need to know more about all of the people whether real or fictional and the events that were taking place during this time. While it began as an effort by the various authors to tell Boudicca’s story, what it did was tell the story of so many others involved in the history taking place during her life time. 

 

2/6/2015

I just recently discovered Bernard Cornwell and his series, The Warrior Chronicles/Saxon Stories. Do not ask me why it took so long, I have no answer or excuse! All I can say is that I have now found them and have been swept into this version of history from the very beginnings of the first book! If you are a fan of early Saxon history or Viking history, this series involves both. I am working my way through the first story in a series of eight books that chronicle the battles between early Saxon kingdoms and Danish Vikings for control of the future of England.

The Last Kingdom by Bernard Cornwell

The Last Kingdom by Bernard Cornwell

This first book begins the story and history as observed from a young boy, Uhtred’s perspective.  A young boy, he is captured by the Danish, befriended by them and treated as family.

‘I had been given a perfect childhood, perfect, at least, to the ideas of a boy. I was raised among men, I was free, I ran wild, was encumbered by no laws, was troubled by no priests and was encouraged to violence.’ Uhtred is an English boy, born into the aristocracy of 9th Century Northumbria, but orphaned at ten, adopted by a Dane and taught the Viking ways. Yet Uhtred’s fate is indissolubly bound up with Alfred, King of Wessex, who rules over the last English kingdom when the Danes have overrun Northumbria, Mercia and East Anglia.

That war, with its massacres, defeats and betrayals, is the background to Uhtred’s childhood, a childhood which leaves him uncertain of his loyalties, but a slaughter in a winter dawn propels him to the English side and he will become a man just as the Danes launch their fiercest attack yet on Alfred’s kingdom. Marriage ties him further to the West Saxon cause, but when his wife and child vanish in the chaos of a Danish invasion, Uhtred is driven to face the greatest of the Viking chieftains in a battle beside the sea, and there, in the horror of a shield-wall, he discovers his true allegiance.

As an avid fan of this early history, both sides of it- I am totally engrossed and involved in Uhtred’s story, his constant struggle with where his loyalties should be, and his inner battle with the beliefs of  the Christians as opposed to those of the Vikings. In the telling of the story, Uhtred is an old man sharing his memories of his youth and the events that surrounded his life. He looks back on those events and recalls how he felt back then compared to what he knows or understands as one who has survived the years of war. 

The book tells the story from both sides as Uhtred lived it as young Saxon heir betrayed by his family, then as youth taken in by a Dane who cares about him. What I find interesting, though a bit confusing right now- and the confusion is my own doing, nothing to do with the book! The slight confusion is caused only by my not always knowing all of the many added details, facts and legend behind the story- or by knowing some of them but not always being able to keep them straight in my over stuffed mind of late! The story includes many references to historical figures such as Ivor the boneless and his brothers, and on the Saxon side- Alfred who will become eventually, Alfred the Great. If you are a fan of the Vikings saga on the history channel, and yes I do know that many of you are despite your criticisms of it and all of it’s inaccuracies! Anyway, for those fans, of course the names of Ivar the Boneless and his brothers will be familiar as they are the sons of Ragnar Lodbrok. Alfred the Great is a descendant of another familiar character, Aethelwulf.  Now, in reading these books, please set aside history as the Vikings Saga presents it because yes, we are all aware that there are historical inaccuracies in the show- we need no further reminders of that fact! Just keep in mind that many of those characters such Ragnar’s sons are based on actual people and you will enjoy the references to the future generations of them. Bernard Cornwell’s version of the history is fiction as well and he does much the same things, weaving these actual people and events into the story! That is what I find interesting, is being able to take another look at these people and the history from a different perspective! Everyone’s perception and accounting of any event will vary according to how they were involved in it, which side they were on and their emotions at that particular time in history. 

The books were written long before the Vikings Saga arrived on our viewing screens and are probably a far better and more accurate portrayal of the historical events that took place during that time. For that alone you should consider reading them if you have watched the series and are basing your historical knowledge on what you see there? I do have to add that if you are basing your view of history strictly on the show, please, please do some further research on all of it! That said, the show is a decent enough starting point and has sparked people’s interest in history… I will not get into another long drawn out explanation or debate on the criticisms of historical fiction verses historical fact! I am just presenting my views on all of it and making the suggestion that you seek out more knowledge in any way that keeps your attention!

In all of my discussions of the show, I try hard to present real historical facts as added information and reference. This series of books, while they are historical fiction, are part of that added information and reference. I think they will hold your attention, present you with an entertaining and still educational experience!

For more information on the series and on Bernard Cornwell’s writing, you can and should visit his website!

http://www.bernardcornwell.net/

And, even better news about this series? It is being made into a television series!

http://www.carnivalfilms.co.uk/news/filming-begins-last-kingdom

http://www.bbc.co.uk/mediacentre/latestnews/2014/the-last-kingdom

 

1/13/2015

The FoxOk, a break from our Viking adventure to quickly post my most recent book review! This book is nothing to do with the Viking Era, it goes much further back in time than that! It covers the pre-history of Scotland, deals with the early Roman invasions and take overs of the land, and gives a very good representation of the Picts and the Druids during that time. It is also not time travel but does tell two stories, one of the present day and one of the ancient pre-history.  Arlene Radasky does an excellent job of weaving the two stories together and connecting them in a very personal way through archeology digs, research and a woman’s dreams/visions of the past. It is well documented, researched and put together, drawing you into the  history, the ancient culture and the mysteries of that long ago little known about time in history. She also provides some wonderful lyrics from music by Steve MacDonald to accompany and open the chapters! And, for me, the very best part and hardest part was the end… She leads us towards the Isle of Skye, and Skara Brae- two of my favorite places in historical Scotland. The bad part was that it ended, and as yet there is no second book! She is working on the next book though, so I will anxiously await the continuation of this series!

The Fox by Arlene Radasky

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Just finished this book and was left wishing for more! What a great story, both of them! It was two intertwined stories about the present and the ancient past. I was so fascinated with how she wove both stories together through the archeology digs and research. As some others have mentioned, I was more invested and attached to the ancient story than the present one. The present time portion seemed less thought out and somewhat forced but it was still a good story to use as a vehicle to tell the ancient story of Scottish pre-history. I loved her referrals and use of lyrics to music by Steve MacDonald to open the chapters. I gave it the 4 stars because of the lesser present time story and because, well… I want the next book now!

View all my reviews

1/06/2015

Lost Dreams: The Story of Eadburg, Queen of Wessex

Lost dreams by jayne stone Kwenthrith1

Eadburh Saxon serial killer?

Eadburh Saxon serial killer?

I am almost finished with the book. I have just a few pages left but I can’t quite bring myself to say farewell yet!

first of all, I need to point out that I am totally and completely obsessed with Saxon history and with those little known women who played such a part in the events of that time. For this reason, my review is probably a bit biased in favor of any work that sheds more light on these women. Eadburg is definitely one of those women.

I had read some brief history on Queen Eadburg before and then my interest in her came forward when I watched my favorite show, The Vikings on the history channel. Last season they introduced Princess Kwenthrith, and her back story sounded vaguely familiar? Of course, I had to dig deeper into who she might be based on in history and my search led me back to Queen Eadburg! 

I do have to say Thank You to Jayne Stone for this provocative and thoughtful rendition of the woman behind the rumors… Ohhh, and thank you too, Jayne for not leaving her die in the Church yard alone. I really thought that was going to be the sad and most pathetic end to her life right there! I do also have to amend my previous comment on this being a fun read? It was not a fun read as in light and amusing by any stretch of imagination. It was a fun read in the sense of how she approached Eadburh’s depressing, often tragic circumstances and balanced it with enough lighter moments of her life so that we still always hold out some hope for her even in the end. Jayne Stone took this much unknown woman with an at best sketchy reputation- at worst, an outright murderer- she made her come alive and made me care about her. Jeeeesh, she even made me care about the little dog, Poot! I think I felt as bad for him as I did for some others who met a horrible end!

For a comparison between the Vikings Saga Princess Kwenthrith, the real history of Eadburg, and Jayne Stone’s presentation of the woman you can view this blog post:

https://timeslipsblog.wordpress.com/2015/01/05/vikings-trivia-who-is-princess-kwenthrith/

 

 

 

12/26/2014

Contrary to recent posts and public opinion, I do read a great deal besides Outlander! In fact, I spend much of my free time reading… I have a long commute to and from work each day, which provides me with plenty of time to indulge in one of my favorite pass times- reading. While I do occasionally venture into the time travel realm for reading enjoyment… I know, I know, it would seem and appear that time travel would be my main priority/focus, but actually it is not. Most of my reading focus is on early medieval history from the early Viking Ages through William the Conqueror and on through to about the 1500s.

I have been quite lax and remiss about updating my book reviews page since Outlander appeared but, please rest assured that I have indeed kept up with my other reading! I am providing a quick guide here for those of you who are interested in reading material aside from Outlander! You can also always check out my reviews and books on my Goodreads page.  I have better luck keeping those reviews updated than the ones here!  https://www.goodreads.com/user/show/22404301-judywork

For now, I will just update you with a few that I’ve read lately and may have referenced in earlier posts!

 

 Veil of Time  by Claire R. McDougall.  This was a one of the time travel exceptions I’ve made and it well worth the read as it is so much more than just time travel or a romance novel!

Veil of Time

A compelling tale of two Scotlands-one modern, one ancient-and the woman who parts the veil between them.

The medication that treats Maggie’s seizures leaves her in a haze, but it can’t dull her grief at losing her daughter to the same condition. With her marriage dissolved and her son away at school, Maggie retreats to a cottage below the ruins of Dunadd, once the royal seat of Scotland. But is it fantasy or reality when she awakens in a bustling village within the massive walls of eighth-century Dunadd? In a time and place so strange yet somehow familiar, Maggie is drawn to the striking, somber Fergus, brother of the king and father of Illa, who bears a keen resemblance to Maggie’s late daughter. With each dreamlike journey to the past, Maggie grows closer to Fergus and embraces the possibility of staying in this Dunadd. But with present-day demands calling her back, can Maggie leave behind the Scottish prince who dubs her mo chridhe, my heart?

https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/18144050-veil-of-time

Now, while the area of Dunnad and Kilmartin are filled with ancient Stone circles and Standing Stones, Maggie did not make use of them for her trip through time. They were an integral part or mechanism for her travel though as she had not experienced the time travel previously to her visit to Dunadd as an adult.  Also, the Druidess priestess and others she met in the past seemed to feel that the Stones were responsible for her travel as well as for any number of other events. Maggie was suffering from a number of traumatic events in life and decided to spend some time by herself in an isolated cottage at the base of the Dunnad hill fort.  She is working on her doctoral thesis- on the history of Witchcraft in Scotland and trying to finish it before facing a life altering and possible mind altering major operation to cure her of her epileptic seizures. It seems that the combination of the seizures and what ever mystical properties might be at this area are initially the trigger to send her back through time to the year 735 when Dunnad was at the height of it’s importance in history.

The book gives a very good description and visualization of  Mid-winter solstice celebrations as they might have taken place during that time! It also references the Druidic influences and Pict representation in that area and time.

https://timeslipsblog.wordpress.com/?s=veil+of+time

 

 

Circle of Ceridwen Series by Octavia Randolph

If you are interested in early Saxon and Viking history in Britain, I highly recommend this series!

For a more detailed and in depth look at these early Saxons, their struggle to hold on to their old ways and their eventual demise under the Christian influence, I would highly suggest you read this series of books by Octavia Randolph. I suggest here mainly because she deals with the early Saxon beliefs and how closely they were connected to the Norse/Vikings beliefs of the time. She also has excellent descriptions of some of their traditions and celebrations! It is a series of four books that tell a young woman’s journey through the Viking conquests of early England and then her life in the northern lands of  Danemark, and Gotland.

circle of ceridwen1

https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/23123223-the-circle-of-ceridwen

In Circle of Ceridwen, Octavia Randolph discusses in great detail, the Saxon belief in Woden and  it’s close connection to the Viking belief in Odin.

Young women with courage. Swords with names. Vikings with tattoos. Danger. Passion. Survival. Warfare. Sheep. And Other Good Things…

The year 871, when England was Angle-Land. Of seven Anglo-Saxon kingdoms, five have fallen to the invading Vikings. Across this war-torn landscape travels fifteen year old Ceridwen, now thrust into the lives of the conquerors. But living with the enemy affords Ceridwen unusual freedoms – and unlooked-for conflicts. Amongst them she explores again her own heathen past, and learns to judge each man on his own merits. Her divided loyalties spur her to summon all her courage – a courage which will be sorely tested as she defies both Saxon and Dane and undertakes an extraordinary adventure to save a man she has never met.

The first book of The Circle of Ceridwen Trilogy, the historical adventure saga enjoyed by thousands of readers in over 125 nations.

 

There are four books in the series… and I am keeping my fingers crossed that there will eventually be more. The series covers the life and journey of Ceridwen from her early years as a somewhat naïve teen through her years living with the Viking conquerors of  Britain, to her journey to the Viking homelands of Gotland. It is an excellent well documented and detailed look at the changes in lives and cultures during that time period, with a focus on how one young woman deals with all of those sudden changes in her life.  I would definitely recommend you read all of them and check out Octavia Randolph!

https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/1365292.Octavia_Randolph

Ceridwen of Kilton the claiming Hall of Tyr

After reading the last one, Hall of Tyr, there was also a nice bonus of a medieval cookery booklet included. She includes early medieval Britain fare as well as medieval Scandinavian dishes!

For a sample of her cookery details, you should read this article!

http://englishhistoryauthors.blogspot.com/2014/08/venison-pie-and-honey-cakes.html

3harts

 

For slightly later medieval history, try The Handfasted wife  and the Swan daughter by Carol McGrath.

the handfasted wife by Carol McGrath The Swan daughter by Carol McGrath

These two books are about history during the time of William the Conqueror. They are well written historical biography types more than romances.

The first one, Handfasted wife tells the story  of the Norman Conquest from the perspective of Edith (Elditha) Swanneck, Harold’s common-law wife. She is set aside for a political marriage when Harold becomes king in 1066. Determined to protect her children’s destinies and control her economic future, she is taken to William’s camp when her estate is sacked on the eve of the Battle of Hastings. She later identifies Harold’s body on the battlefield and her youngest son becomes a Norman hostage. Elditha avoids an arranged marriage with a Breton knight by which her son might or might not be given into his care. She makes her own choice and sets out through strife-torn England to seek help from her sons in Dublin. However, events again overtake her. Harold’s mother, Gytha, holds up in her city of Exeter with other aristocratic women, including Elditha’s eldest daughter. The girl is at risk, drawing Elditha back to Exeter and resistance. Initially supported by Exeter’s burghers the women withstand William’s siege. However, after three horrific weeks they negotiate exile and the removal of their treasure. Elditha takes sanctuary in a convent where eventually she is reunited with her hostage son. This is an adventure story of love, loss, survival and reconciliation.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Harold_Godwinson

1024px-Bayeux_Tapestry_scene23_Harold_sacramentum_fecit_Willelmo_duci

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Edith_the_Fair

Edith_discovering_the_body_of_Harold

 

The second book is about Edith and Harold’s daughter, Gunnhild.  The Swan Daughter is a true 11th C tale of elopement and a love triangle by best-selling author of The Handfasted Wife, Carol McGrath. A marriage made in Heaven or Hell.  It is 1075 and Dowager Queen Edith has died. Gunnhild longs to leave Wilton Abbey but is her suitor Breton knight Count Alan of Richmond interested in her inheritance as the daughter of King Harold and Edith Swan-Neck or does he love her for herself? And is her own love for Count Alain an enduring love or has she made a mistake? 

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alan_Rufus

Alan_Rufus

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gunhild_of_Wessex

 

For a better and even more detailed perspective the events of this time period, I would suggest and encourage you to read  two other books about this era by Helen Hollick!

I have already previously mentioned her work, The Forever Queen (The Saxon Series #1)  on my book reviews page but am going repeat here for easier reference. This book is a great depiction and detail of  Emma of Normandy, whom little is known about but who is so important in history. It is the first of two books on Emma and her offspring, with the second book being, I am the Chosen King.

What kind of woman becomes the wife of two kings, and the mother of two more?

Saxon England, 1002. Not only is Æthelred a failure as King, but his young bride, Emma of Normandy, soon discovers he is even worse as a husband. When the Danish Vikings, led by Swein Forkbeard and his son, Cnut, cause a maelstrom of chaos, Emma, as Queen, must take control if the Kingdom-and her crown-are to be salvaged. Smarter than history remembers, and stronger than the foreign invaders who threaten England’s shores, Emma risks everything on a gamble that could either fulfill her ambitions and dreams or destroy her completely.

Emma, the Queen of Saxon England, comes to life through the exquisite writing of Helen Hollick, who shows in this epic tale how one of the most compelling and vivid heroines in English history stood tall through a turbulent fifty-year reign of proud determination, tragic despair, and triumph over treachery.

The Forever Queen (The Saxon Series, #1)The Forever Queen by Helen Hollick
My rating:
5 of 5 stars

Fantastic! I was quite impressed with all of this book. I appreciate that it was not so much a gushy over done, made up romance novel but more of a historical docu-drama of her life. Helen Hollick took the limited details surrounding this somewhat forgotten queen that we hear so little about and wove those details into an excellent story!

I wrote the above short review a while ago but wanted to add to it because I am still so impressed with the storytelling of Helen Hollick. I have not read the second book of the series yet, but will get to it soon! After spending an immense amount of time reading quite serious histories, I needed to take a break and read some less intense ones!

This was most definitely one of the more serious and intense ones! It is not a feel good, happily ever after love story by any means. If you are looking for that, you will be quite disappointed. What you will find is a story about the grim and gritty realities of a woman’s life in those early medieval times. Just because a woman was of noble blood and ended up with a crown- more than one, it did not mean her life was any easier. In fact, in so many ways it was even more difficult.

Emma was married first to Æthelred who failed as both a King and a husband, but Emma did do her duty in providing him with not one, but two legitimate heirs. That should have given her some security in those times but unfortunately luck was not with her… or maybe it was? The kingdom is overtaken by Cnut who claims her along with the kingdom. She finally finds love with him only to have him die leaving the kingdom in another battle of who should rule.

The story of her life was well documented in this book with more than enough factual information woven into the story to give what I felt it was an excellent representation of the constant hurdles she endured throughout her life that colored and shaped how she viewed her role and her destiny as well as that of her sons.

 

I am the Chosen King

In this beautifully crafted tale, Harold Godwinesson, the last Saxon King of England, is a respected, quick-witted man both vulnerable and strong, honorable and loving-and yet, in the end, only human. After the political turmoil and battles leading up to 1066, we all know William the Conquerer takes England. But Helen Hollick will have readers at the edge of their seats, hoping that just this once, for Harold, the story will have a different ending.

https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/9223563-i-am-the-chosen-king

I am in the process of reading I am the Chosen King right now and am just as impressed with it as I was with the first book! What is interesting for me now is the comparison between this work and the information I previously read in Carol McGrath’s books about the same people. Where as Carol’s books deal more with Edith’s and her daughter’s lives and their possible perspectives of the time and events, this work goes into more depth concerning all of the key figures of the time. By reading all of them, I think you could gain a better insight and picture of  what was happening and how those involved might have come to the choices they made.

 

6/21/2014

Outlander (Outlander, #1)Outlander by Diana Gabaldon
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Ok, before any review… I am asking myself, How on earth did I manage to miss this entire series in the first place!

I just came across this series recently when reading so many other people’s references and comments about it on other blogs and fb pages that I keep track of. Those comments sparked my curiosity and I naturally had to check it out. I am so happy I did! So far, I have only completed the first book, but was impressed enough to continue on with the rest of it.

Word of warning- the book is quite long and at times, a bit lagging to get through. It also does not fit into any one specific category as far as genres go. That is a plus for it! There was more than enough historical detail and fact to satisfy those interested in history. While it could probably be labeled under the category of historical romance, it involves so much more than just a romance that I feel the Romance label does not do it justice! The one thing that I felt could have been detailed a bit more was the premise and the basis for the actual story. Claire Randall, the main character, is visiting Scotland with her husband and ends up being swept through time in some sort of time displacement caused by ancient standing stones. There is some limited mention of them and of their history along with some references to Druids. Diana Gabaldon seemed to use these stones as a launching point for the story but did not delve into them much more other than Claire’s few attempts to get back to them. I can only assume that they will be explained more in future books. I certainly hope so because the stones, as I mentioned, set the whole story up and play such an important part in the time travel aspect. I would have liked a bit more detail on history or myths surrounding the Standing Stones.

The story also touches on some witchcraft and references to Fairy circles and such, but it is more about the actual history of Scotland and Claire’s adjustment to that time. There is some ongoing mystery which will most likely play out in the future books of the series.

Overall, it was an excellent read that covered a variety of interests so I was well satisfied with it. I’m looking forward to the many more books included in the series and the upcoming mini-series from Starz based on the books! It will play starting in August!
http://www.starz.com/originals/outlander

 

Ahhhh, I have just read all three books in the Blue Bells of Scotland Series by Laura Vosika!

Ahhh Yes, I have been absent this week, but for such an excellent reason! I have just spent all week on the most incredible journey through time and through Scotland! My own writing was on hold while I immersed myself in this voyage. My only disappointment is that it’s over for the time being… at least until the next book in the series comes out!

One rather strange coincidence worth mentioning… because I am always fascinated with those odd coincidences and moments of Déjà vu? Before reading the last book in the series, The Water is Wide, I experienced a couple of those odd little moments. I randomly heard the song played twice?! The first time was at a music presentation for our residents at work. At the time, I did not think anything of it but was entranced with the song, which I could not remember ever hearing before. The next time I heard it was when I put an old video one evening for the residents to enjoy… An Evening with The Irish Tenors. Fortunately, my residents didn’t even complain when I rewound it and played the song a couple of times!

I was moved by the song, then quite happily surprised when I picked up the book and made the connection!

So, before I head off into my own fantasy realm, I leave you with some versions I’ve found of the song, the lyrics, and then my book review!

The Water is Wide
The water is wide, I cannot get oer
Neither have I wings to fly
Give me a boat that can carry two
And both shall row, my love and I

A ship there is and she sails the sea
She’s loaded deep as deep can be
But not so deep as the love I’m in
I know not if I sink or swim

I leaned my back against an oak
Thinking it was a trusty tree
But first it bent and then it broke
So did my love prove false to me

I reached my finger into some soft bush
Thinking the fairest flower to find
I pricked my finger to the bone
And left the fairest flower behind

Oh love be handsome and love be kind
Gay as a jewel when first it is new
But love grows old and waxes cold
And fades away like the morning dew

Must I go bound while you go free
Must I love a man who doesn’t love me
Must I be born with so little art
As to love a man who’ll break my heart

When cockle shells turn silver bells
Then will my love come back to me
When roses bloom in winter’s gloom
Then will my love return to me

The Water is Wide (Blue Bells Trilogy, #3)The Water is Wide by Laura Vosika
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I have just finished traveling through time and Scotland with Shawn, Niall, Amy and Angus. It was an incredible journey and I have to say that I am a little sad that it’s over for now… at least until the next book in the series comes out. Yes, there were times when the trip was a little slow going. We got side tracked and delayed quite often having to stop and deal with Amy’s overwhelming and sometimes annoying bouts of guilt, betrayal and grief. I cut her some slack and decided that it was justified under her circumstances- having left Shawn in the tower after breaking up with him, being pregnant, realizing that he’s wandering around medieval Scotland totally unprepared.

I am including all three books together in this review because you really do need to read them all to get a clear picture and understanding of everything going on. When I read the first one, Blue Bells of Scotland, I interested and intrigued with the concept but not necessarily all that emotionally attached to some of the characters- such as Amy. With the second book, Minstrel Boy, I was able to understand and empathize with her more. Also, in the first book, Shawn was definitely struggling with some likeability issues for a lot of reader… yes, including me at times! By the third book, I am now so emotionally attached to all of them that I am somewhat disappointed in the ending and having to wait for the next book. I was really hoping for some little preview or hint of what comes next as there is another book coming.

There were a few parts that seemed confusing to me and I am hoping those niggling little questions left in my mind will get answered in future books. Knowing that there were books planned when I got to those somewhat confusing parts, I could only assume that they might be small clues or references to future story lines. Had I not been aware of the future installments coming, I would have been more frustrated and annoyed with these little bits that seemed to be left hanging in the air for us.

Over all, the three books are excellent and I can’t wait to continue this journey!

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I blogged this earlier as a individual post, but I have decided to give the Books and Reviews their own page!

Ok, I have to break from the current story line here just to put out my thoughts on my most recent reading! It has left me so puzzled and astounded that I must make some comment about here. I have read so much about strange, cruel and highly bizarre punishments throughout history that I normally am not overly disturbed about it any more. This most recent account, though has left me with a serious case of “What???” I think I am most bothered by the fact that it’s one of those events that has been much left out of most histories that you would read.

I am currently reading ‘Sisters of the Bruce’ by J.M. Harvey.
http://www.sistersofthebruce.com/books/4575481746

http://sistersofthebruce.wordpress.com/

Sisters of The Bruce

In the book she mentions the punishment that two of the women received for their roles in the Bruce battle for Scotland. I am not sure which astounds me more… the punishment of being locked in hanging outdoor cages open to all the elements of weather and abuses from the public viewing them, or the fact that they survived it for up to four years and at least one of them- Mary Bruce lived on for some years after the imprisonment.

That is our history lesson for the night. Much thanks to J.M. Harvey for her contribution to our history!

Ahhhh, I got so side tracked and involved in that story that our episode will be delayed a bit!

Sisters of the Bruce, 1292-1314Sisters of the Bruce, 1292-1314 by J.M. Harvey
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Ok, I have finished the book and revised my earlier in progress rating of it! I have given it 4 stars because I did find the first half of the book extremely difficult to get through. The book is presented in such a way that much of it is in the form of letters written back and forth between the family, especially true for the first half of the book. To me, those letters in the first half felt forced and did not flow so well as in the second half of the book. It’s my thought that too much factual information and details were forced into those first letters. I didn’t feel as connected or involved with the characters initially because of wading through those details. I know they were important to the overall story but I just didn’t feel like they fit into the letter writings between sisters so well.

I decided to stick with it and am so glad that I did! The second half of the book was so much better and I became thoroughly involved with the characters, the story and the actual history! By the end, it more than met my standard for rating. It made me want to know more, it made me cry, and it gave me pause to think about some things I didn’t know previous to the book!

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While you’re waiting for our update, you can also check out this excellent website for a trilogy of stories by Laura Vosika, Blue Bells of Scotland. I have not read the books yet, as I just happened to stumble across them in my search for more information on the Bruce family. After visiting the site, I have decided that they are high on my list of “To Reads!”
http://bluebellstrilogy.com/blog/
http://www.bluebellstrilogy.com/

Blue Bells of Scotland

I have now read Blue Bells of Scotland and am looking forward to reading the rest of the books in the series! I have just read on Laura Vosika’s FB page that what started out to be a trilogy is being expanded to include 5 books!

Here is my review of the first book: Blue Bells of Scotland by Laura Vosika

Blue Bells of Scotland (Blue Bells Trilogy, #1)Blue Bells of Scotland by Laura Vosika
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I initially went into this book with some hesitation, not really expecting too much. I read the various reviews on it which range from awful to excellent and everything in between so I wasn’t quite sure about taking a chance on it. Yes, the beginning was a little iffy and I was doubtful about whether it could redeem itself. For those who might be slogging through those first pages with the same thought, I can only say… Please do hang in there and give it a chance!

By the time I got towards the end, I could not put it down! I liked the way she took a different route on presenting the what if scenario and the historical facts. I also appreciated the way she gave us two initially opposing facets of what constitutes a “hero”. No, in the beginning, Shawn was not likeable in any way. As the story progressed, she showed his flaws, his demons and his inner struggles in a believable fashion. By the end of the book, I think I was more drawn to him than to the always noble Niall.

Her research on the history and the events was sound and I even enjoyed the battle portions. I admit that, normally I have a tendency to skim over those parts but she managed to keep me interested through all of it!

I will definitely be reading the other books in the series!

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Another book, not so much about time travel… You assume in the beginning that is what is but not really.
In the Time of KingsIn the Time of Kings by N. Gemini Sasson
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

It took me a while to get through this book. The first portion of it was rather slow going and didn’t quite grab my interest or attention. Professor Ross Sinclair is living a mostly happy life in the present day. He’s just married his childhood sweetheart and they’re on their honeymoon in Scotland where his wife becomes ill and he takes a fall that lands him in the past.

I think the first part could have used some additional details to spark a little more interest. I know it was Ross’ story but it did eventually involve his wife as well, and I would have liked a bit more information on her in the beginning.

As others have mentioned, once it got to the past, it got much more interesting. The research and description of the battle was excellent and held my attention.

I was a little disappointed by the ending as well. I just felt like there was so much more to the story. She seemed to rush through the ending and in a way it felt like she just tacked it on because she needed to wrap it up in some allotted amount of pages. Because of the weak beginning and end, I left it with the three stars. The middle was great! She brought out some interesting pieces of history with her mention of the Cathars but I would have liked to know more about that aspect in relation to her character, Roslin Sinclair. It leaves me with that question stuck in my head… Was he or wasn’t he?
May 23, 2014 01:12PM · delete

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The Stolen Crown: The Secret Marriage that Forever Changed the Fate of EnglandThe Stolen Crown: The Secret Marriage that Forever Changed the Fate of England by Susan Higginbotham
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

After reading a number of other books about the Woodville family, Richard III, and the events of this time period, I was quite pleasantly surprised by this book! Susan Higginbotham presented this story in a way that showed some other sides to the people and the events. She told the story from the views of younger sister Catherine Woodville and her eventual husband, Henry Stafford, Duke of Buckingham. I liked the fact that they were portrayed with such depth of personality, including both their good points as well as their human flaws that would have shaped how they dealt with the events taking place at that time. I especially appreciated her portrayal of Henry, his family’s past history and how all of that would have lead him to make the decisions he did.

The book does an excellent job of delving more into the depth and character of those surrounding Richard III at that time. It caused me to rethink some of my previous opinions and assumptions about many of those people. It also inspired me to do more research on some of them. I generally use that as my standard for rating and enjoying a book. If it gives me pause to think, and sends me off to search for more, then it’s definitely a keeper! This one did both!

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The Winter MantleThe Winter Mantle by Elizabeth Chadwick
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I am happy to say that the second half of the book was well worth the struggle I had in getting through the first half! The book is divided into two stories, the first one being of Waltheof of Huntington and his ill fated marriage to William the Conqueror’s niece, Judith. It was definitely not a romance/love story in any expected fashion? I struggled with it, but it did cause me to go do my own research on them!

The second half of the book was about their daughter Matilda and her marriage to Waltheof’s Norman acquaintance Simon de Senlis. This story kept my attention and did explain the underlying issues of Waltheof and Judith!

I gave it 4 stars…because of my difficulties with the first half. In the end, I was surprised and satisfied with the overall story! As usual, Elizabeth Chadwick did an excellent job of weaving history and fiction together even though I am sure that there was limited actual history for her to go on as she started this story! She inspires me to go on my own quests to find out more about the history that she presents in each book!

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The Scarlet Lion (William Marshal, #3)The Scarlet Lion by Elizabeth Chadwick
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I just finished The Scarlet Lion and am still shedding my share of tears for the ending of William Marshall’s life. Elizabeth Chadwick did such an excellent job of telling his story and that of his family that I am looking forward to learning so much more about their legacy!

I did not know too much about him prior to reading The Greatest Knight, but now am compelled to do my own research into this part of history. Thank You Elizabeth Chadwick!

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Harold! The Bloody Normans Have Landed.Harold! The Bloody Normans Have Landed. by B Redfern
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Haaaaa I read this a while ago and still laugh thinking about it! A unique and highly original look at the historical facts blended with current day social media. It was a quick easy read, provided some actual facts that I had to go Google, which made me laugh even more at the slight irony of having to Google information texted by Harold and other bumbling Royal historical figures!

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Cold Case Reopened: The Princes in the TowerCold Case Reopened: The Princes in the Tower by Mark Garber
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

An easy informative read from a non- historian’s perspective of the disappearance of the boys in the tower. He brought up some interesting alternative scenarios and provided some added details that I was not aware of. I appreciated the fact that he did not weigh us down with massive amounts of historical reference but gave us enough to continue to research it on our own.

 

The Red Queen (The Cousins' War, #2)The Red Queen by Philippa Gregory
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I read this book quite a while ago but am just starting to catch up on some reviews. When I first read it, I gave it three stars and now as I think back on the story, I am going to leave it at three. Yes, it did have some problems but I don’t see Margaret as not be such a likeable person as one of them. It was more the repetition of some things… a lot of things, that I found irritating.

I actually liked the way Margaret was portrayed. Her life was difficult from it’s beginnings and she was a survivor. She used her religious fervor and faith as her shield in a battle for some control of her life. I liked the fact that it was written in first person from her point of view and I can see her saying in this time something like, “I don’t care if you like me or not, I have a duty and a purpose here and I am going to keep fighting for it one way or another.”

The main character not being likeable is not a detriment to a story. what is a distraction is Margaret’s repeating her speeches and her vows over and over, and over. It does seem to serve a purpose though, had I been around her for any length of time, I may have been tempted to reach out, shake her and yell, “Enough Already!” I could definitely empathize and sympathize with her relatives and her husbands in their frustration with her. And, I am reasonably sure that this sort of behavior would have had an affect on her son, the future King even if she didn’t have much role in raising him.

I do agree with others on some of the improbable things such as the messages being passed back and forth, and never being discovered. Her obsession with Joan of Arc could have been limited, it was another thing that did not need continuous repeating.

Overall, it was good, not great but not awful either. It did give some interesting history about Margaret Beaufort, a woman not often mentioned or given credit for at least fighting a good fight and in her own way winning it by finally seeing her son on the throne!

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Shadow of Night (All Souls Trilogy, #2)Shadow of Night by Deborah Harkness
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is strange… I was sure I reviewed this book already! I can’t believe that I forgot to add my review here since I was so impressed with it. I did not read the first book in the series but found this story excellent even without the back information from the first one.

It weaves the witches and vampires into history along with time travel-all of my favorite things wrapped up in one book! I appreciate the fact that Deborah Harkness leaves some things to the imagination. I do not need to have every single detail of a love story spelled out for me, I have enough imagination and creativity to add my own details to those scenes!

I think what I liked most was how she weaves the witch and vampire history into real history and incorporates some of the Medieval scientific knowledge and their research. For some reason people seem to forget just how much was being discovered and explored in those past ages. She addressed it and brought it fully into the story.

I could go on and on in my praise of her work but I will stop now and just say, I am still waiting ohhh so impatiently for the next book!

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The King's Deception (Cotton Malone, #8)The King’s Deception by Steve Berry
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I picked up this book knowing nothing about Steve Berry’s work and being drawn in merely by the mention of Tudor history. It sucked me in from the very beginning! A fantastic suspense novel with layers of mysteries and details from history so well researched.

I am not normally a fan of the suspense and spy or military type books, but this book went so far beyond that level. I found myself not wanting it to end! It was full of conspiracies from the Tudor dynasty all the way up to the present time that were so well laid out they were believable and left me wondering… What if?

I would definitely recommend it to other history fans!

 

Queen Hereafter: A Novel of Margaret of ScotlandQueen Hereafter: A Novel of Margaret of Scotland by Susan Fraser King
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I knew nothing about Margaret of Scotland before reading this book. The historical facts surrounding her life were well told and woven into the story. It held my interest throughout all of it for all of those facts if nothing else!

My one issue with the story was the side story of Eva. Her story was excellent but I think at times it over stepped the main one of Margaret. I feel like Eva’s story could have been a separate one in itself. Because there was so much factual information throughout the book, I initially thought that Eva might actually have been a real person? I was so much more interested in her life and story that I went so far as to go off and do research on whether she might have existed! I was slightly disappointed when, of course, I found nothing related to her and realized that she was indeed a made up fictional addition to the story.

The author stated herself that there was such a vast amount of information on Margaret’s life that she had a hard time condensing it into the book. I think she could have used more of that information to build her story and merely used Eva as a more minor character. Perhaps she could have mentioned and introduced us to this character and then created a separate book devoted to the fictional Eva!

I enjoyed the book and both stories contained in it. That is how I felt when reading it, like they should have been two separate stories rather than being merged together into Margaret’s already full and interesting life. Because I felt like Eva’s story was a bit of distraction, even though I really did like her story, I am giving a final rating of three stars. If Susan Fraser King would ever decide to tell us more about Eva, I would certainly be happy to read it!

 

Lady of the EnglishLady of the English by Elizabeth Chadwick
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

first of all, I need to clarify that I am a great fan of Elizabeth Chadwick’s books on the medieval time period. I do not however, take her historical representations as gospel truth. She is after all a story teller and uses the historical facts that she finds as a basis for her fictional works. If you want a true and completely factual documentation of the history then you should probably be reading and researching the historical documents. What I do appreciate is that she introduces me to historical events and people with her stories. After reading one of her stories, I usually find myself interested enough to go out and do my own research regarding the story she presents.

She did not fail me in this regard with her story of Empress Matilda and Queen Adeliza! She presented me with an interesting story of both of these women. I did feel at times that she glossed over some portions of Matilda’s life, such as the later relationship of her and husband, Geoffrey. I can understand though how, in their years apart, it would have become less important to her.

I thought that she did an excellent job in capturing and representing the difficult choices, or lack of them that women were faced with during those times. Yes, Matilda had every right to the crown, but ultimately had to face the fact that the men in power were not going to allow it, whether they believed in her right or not. Once she realized that, her next option was to fight for the right of her son to wear the crown.

I found the story of Adeliza as interesting, possibly even more so than Matilda’s. She was a woman who could not give the King the one thing he needed, a male heir but he did not set her aside- which he could probably done easily enough back then. In reading her story and doing my own added research on her, I am left with a feeling that she would have been more happy with a life devoted to God but could not quite bring herself to commit completely to that route. First of all as Queen, she felt it her duty to produce an heir and be a faithful and honorable servant of God to her country. Without producing an heir, she tried to live up to the role of good wife and Queen. When Henry died, she did retire to the Benedictine convent of Wilton Abbey. She founded the leper hospital dedicated to Saint Giles at Fugglestone St Peter, Wiltshire.

At first I thought perhaps Elizabeth Chadwick added to her story with a fictional presentation of a second marriage. I, of course had to go look it up! She did marry and have a number of children but left them to return to life at a monastery. Whether she left because of illness as Elizabeth suggested, or because of a deeper and higher calling to her God is unknown as little else is documented or known about those later years of her life.

As I mentioned in the beginning, it’s a story, not complete and total accurate facts! I feel she wove them together well!

 

The Forever Queen (The Saxon Series, #1)The Forever Queen by Helen Hollick
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Fantastic! I was quite impressed with all of this book. I appreciate that it was not so much a gushy over done, made up romance novel but more of a historical docu-drama of her life. Helen Hollick took the limited details surrounding this somewhat forgotten queen that we hear so little about and wove those details into an excellent story!

I wrote the above short review a while ago but wanted to add to it because I am still so impressed with the storytelling of Helen Hollick. I have not read the second book of the series yet, but will get to it soon! After spending an immense amount of time reading quite serious histories, I needed to take a break and read some less intense ones!

This was most definitely one of the more serious and intense ones! It is not a feel good, happily ever after love story by any means. If you are looking for that, you will be quite disappointed. What you will find is a story about the grim and gritty realities of a woman’s life in those early medieval times. Just because a woman was of noble blood and ended up with a crown- more than one, it did not mean her life was any easier. In fact, in so many ways it was even more difficult.

Emma was married first to Æthelred who failed as both a King and a husband, but Emma did do her duty in providing him with not one, but two legitimate heirs. That should have given her some security in those times but unfortunately luck was not with her… or maybe it was? The kingdom is overtaken by Cnut who claims her along with the kingdom. She finally finds love with him only to have him die leaving the kingdom in another battle of who should rule.

The story of her life was well documented in this book with more than enough factual information woven into the story to give what I felt it was an excellent representation of the constant hurdles she endured throughout her life that colored and shaped how she viewed her role and her destiny as well as that of her sons.

 

4 Comments

4 thoughts on “Books and Reviews!

  1. Pingback: Books and Reviews! | Lady Eleanor DeGuille's Private Journal

  2. Pingback: Books and Reviews! | Lady Eleanor DeGuille's Private Journal

  3. Pingback: From the Creator | Lady Eleanor DeGuille's private journal

  4. Pingback: Book Reviews! | Time Slips

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