30 May 2015

Saxons, Princesses and Castles: Hosting 'The Lost Princess of Meigen' by Rachel A. James

Book Spotlight

The Last Princess of Meigen

by Rachel A. James

Inspirational Medieval Romance

Release Date: May 22, 2015


A captivating tale of love and duty as the last princess of Meigen searches for her true purpose amidst conflict and betrayal. 

It is 626AD, and the ancient Kingdom of Meigen is left vulnerable to neighboring Saxons. To unite the kingdoms and bring peace, Princess Alena must enter into a royal marital
alliance. But when the handsome physician, Sherwin, befalls her, matters become
complicated. Torn between obligations to her young son and country, she faces a
difficult decision. Will Alena obey the king’s orders, or choose to follow her
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About the Author

Born and raised in England, Rachel writes inspirational historical romance, she is also married to a pastor, and has three beautiful little princesses. She minored in creative writing at university and strives to entertain, inspire and encourage others through her writing. Rachel absolutely loves romantic tales… combine it with a little history and a hot cup of tea, and she’s smitten!

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 Author Interview

Hello Rachel and let me take the opportunity to give a virtual handshake to a fellow Brit- we’re a rare breed in the Christian Fiction genre don’t you know….
So, first of all, can you tell me a little bit about your books? I have the first one The Forgotten Princess of Elmetia but I have not read it yet.
Rachel's First Book- Published last year
RJ: The Forgotten Princess of Elmetia, and The Last Princess of Meigen are novels that were loosely inspired by historical events, the fall of the Celtic Kingdoms in the 7th century due to Anglo-Saxon invasion. 
Elmetia (later known as Elmet) and Meigen (also possibly known as Meicen) were small kingdoms located in what we know of as parts of Yorkshire today.  The Forgotten Princess of Elmetia takes place around 624AD, and The Last Princess of Meigen follows on from that, around two years later. Both stories centre around a fictional princess of each kingdom, and how they overcome the tragedy of losing their homeland.
Now, I’m going to warn you in advance, that I am a real Medieval History buff, and I am fascinated with the Early Medieval period in Britain, especially the seventh and eighth centuries. It is the era that gave us Bede, the first English Historian, and King Oswald of Northumbria, the inspiration for Tolkien’s Aragorn. Enough from me though- what would you say drew you to this period, as I note your books are set in the early seventh century?
RJ: I’ve always loved medieval history stories, King Arthur, Tristan & Isolde, Robin Hood…  However, ever since I was a child, I was fascinated with our early medieval history, when Britain was divided into many kingdoms.  After all, isn’t this where most of our fairytales began, with faraway kingdoms, and forgotten royalty? Except, the history from the 5th-10th centuries, are not fairytales! I really wanted to write a book about something that ‘could’ have actually happened.
I have heard, that, until very recently, Christian novels set in the medieval period were not popular with publishers. Did you encounter any problems along the way with your books?
RJ: Yes, and the fact that my books are early medieval as well, some publishers didn’t even think it could be classified as ‘medieval’ at all. One well known publisher said they didn’t contract anything too ‘dark and edgy’. I tried to explain that although my books were set in the ‘dark ages’, they were anything but dark. Alas, they didn’t seem convinced. I was very fortunate that my editor from Prism Book Group is a massive Tolkien fan, and she signed me straight away after reading my first manuscript. The rest, they say, is history!
This year, I have the number of Christian Medievals is well into the teens. I’ve so far read Dauntless by Dina Slieman, and I’ve just finished The Huntress of Thornbeck Forest by Melanie Dickerson. Both are adventure type Romances, which feature strong young women in positions of leadership or care of others. On the other hand, I’m also reading Oswald: Return of the King by Edoardo Albert- which I would describe as a historical epic chronicling the rise and reign of the Saxon King who established the Great Monastery at Lindisfarne, and helped to bring Christianity to his Kingdom.
Yet every book is in some way unique, so what do you think makes your books or writing stand out from the crowd?
RJ: Ummm… I would describe my books as romantic adventures, in an historical setting. They are by no means history books, you won’t find pages and pages of historical detail and description in any of my novels. My emphasis, is transporting readers into another world, where they can escape for a time, and perhaps think of themselves as a Celtic princess or a Saxon warrior.  My writing is inspirational, and the characters certainly go on a spiritual journey.
In Forgotten Princess, the theme is about forgiveness, and the Last Princess focuses more on acceptance and value. Having said that, the historical element is important to me. The Forgotten Princess of Elmetia was inspired by an historical event, the collapse of the Kingdom of Elmet in 617AD. Some of the characters in the book are actual historical figures, like King Edwin and Queen Ethelburga, but the rest are purely fictional. My books are more accurately classed as historical fantasy, blending elements of fiction with history.
What kind of advice would you give to any wannabe historical fiction author- as I know I that I would agonise over research (far too much of a stickler for accuracy me)?
RJ: As I writer, I think you need to decide what kind of historical fiction you like, and what kind you want to write. In my experience, there are two different types of historical fiction fans. There are readers who love reading historical fiction, because they are passionate about history. They want minute historical details, and vast descriptions, and they are very adamant on historical accuracy. The history part is possibly more important than the storyline. 
And then you have the other types of readers, who read for escapism, and enjoy the historical setting, but don’t get too hung-up on the historical details. In fact, these types of readers, find too much detail laboured and boring. I guess the trick is finding the right kind of balance for yourself. Research though, is very important, something I have learned the hard way. I certainly conduct a lot more research now than I did in the beginning of my writing journey.
Now, just for fun can you tell us something surprising, unusual or unexpected about yourself? We Brits have something of a reputation for eccentricity to live up to after all…
RJ: Well now you’ve got me stumped. It’s hard to know what is surprising about yourself isn’t it? I mean, I am definitely an exceedingly ‘British’ person, and am reserved in nature.  I love my tea, but then that’s no secret.  Before I turned to writing, I once had a brief stint as a children’s entertainer. I organised ‘princess’ parties for little girls, and even dressed up as one on a few occasions. It didn’t last long though… I’m far to introverted to be able to pull something like that if off in real life! Hence, I turned my creativity into writing, and have not looked back since!
So for the final question,  I for one am of the opinion that the medieval period is much misunderstood and sometimes misrepresented. Can you…..come up with one fascinating fact or little known detail about the Middle Ages? Or something that might challenge traditional perceptions of this age?
RJ: In terms of my writing, I really had to challenge the whole misconceptions of castles, throughout the publishing process.  As you know, castles were not part of the British landscape until much later, and were certainly not around in the 7th century. I think people here the words ‘kingdom’ and ‘princess’, and suddenly picture a fairytale castle.
In fact, I had to specifically request not to have a fairytale castle on my cover pictures. Sure, it makes it more romantic and ‘princessy’, but it’s just not accurate. The reality is, royal palaces in those days were likely made of wood. I managed to get around this detail in my books, by creating a fictional island not far from Lindisfarne. On this island, were the remains of an old Roman fortress, which the people renovated and enhanced (therefore making it similar a stone castle) and used as a royal palace.
Thank-you Rachel for Dropping by, and I hope to read and review your books soon.
Here's to many more literary adventures!

28 May 2015

New for 2015- The Huntress of Thornbeck Forest- Melanie Dickerson

Thomas Nelson, 320 Pages
May 12th 2015  
Swan Lake meets Robin Hood when the beautiful daughter of a wealthy merchant by day becomes the region's most notorious poacher by night, and falls in love with the gamekeeper.
Jorgen is the gamekeeper for the wealthy margrave, and he is in pursuit of the poacher who has been killing and stealing the margrave's game. When he meets the lovely and refined Odette at the festival and shares a connection during a dance, he has no idea that at night she is the one who has been poaching the margrave's game.

Odette is caught up in a ring of black market sellers of poached animals. She thinks the game is going to feed the poor, who are all but starving, both in the city and just outside its walls. However, most of the animals are being sold by the greedy leader of the ring-her stepfather. When Odette discovers what he is doing, she threatens to expose him, putting herself in great danger.

The gamekeeper finds her poaching one night and shoots her, wounding her. When he realizes who she is, he hides her to keep her from being executed by the margrave and also to protect her from her stepfather. Jorgen and Odette will band together to stop the black market poaching ring . . . as they fall in love. But what will the margrave do when he discovers his gamekeeper is protecting a notorious poacher?
          _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _

The first in Melanie Dickerson's new series of Adult fairy-tale retellings did good homage to the Robin Hood stories. I for one think that a historical story which casts a woman in a traditionally male role can be problematic, and can end up being clich├ęd or contrived, or the character possessing various unpleasant characteristics, treating everyone else as stupid or inferior.

Such was not the case here. The story was perhaps a tad simplistic, and some other reviewers have called out the lack of action- but I do not think a good story needs to be action-packed, if it is well told and tightly plotted.I think I enjoyed this one for the story's sake, and that of some of characters- as as it the Romance element taking the back foot- at least in the first half, before some of the kissing at really inappropriate moments, and other Romance tropes.

The Internal monologues of some of the characters were- a little on the repetitive side and I would have liked to have seen a little more of Swan Lake, which this novel was meant to be based partly on- which is a great story. Yet the Romance was (mostly) not too mushy, and many of the characters dilemmas believeable enough - even if their responses to them seemed annoyingly double minded at times. Yet what 20 something isn't a little irresponsible at times?

My only other gripes were some language was too modern, and a few Americanisms, though the book seemed generally historically authentic and evoking the spirit of the time (aside from a couple of hiccups- a reference to Tarpaulin which I'm fairly sure they did not have in the Middle Ages for instance). That said, some of the details about the hunting didn't strike me as entirely realistic.
For instance an entire hunting party was not able to find a single deer in hours- yet Odette almost always finds one every night- and usually more than one. Also, at the very beginning it was mentioned that animals being hunted were European Red Deer. 
The stags of this species can grow to huge sizes and weigh up to 500 pounds- sometimes more- so killing one would yield enough meat to feed a lot of people for quite a while- certainly a few dozen people (mostly children) for more than a day- otherwise they’d have to be eating several pounds each at a single sitting.

Overall though- The Huntress of Thornbeck Forest is a good and enjoyable story that does not demand too much from the reader, and has a sound Christian theme without being too preachy. Worth reading more than one. I personally look forward to the next one, which is about the Margrave of Thornbeck Castle- a character I rather warmed to, even though he was the potential enemy of the heroine and may have a 'Dark Side'.

I received an Ebook version of this novel free from Thomas Nelson via Booklook Bloggers for review. I was not required to write a positive and all opinions expressed are my own.

17 May 2015

In Search of Adventure- Alicia Willis

Comrades of Honor Series, #2 
Kindle Edition, 359 pages, June 2013 
"Enter In Search of Adventure, the thrilling second installment of The Comrades of Honor Series! Packed with action at every bend, this tale takes up the story of Nathaniel de Lance, once the page of Sir Robert.

Now a young man and belted knight, Sir Nathaniel takes young Kenneth Dale for his squire, a boy left destitute by a stroke of ill-fortune. Quickly learning to trust and care for each other, Sir Nathaniel and Kenneth become fast friends, little knowing how much they will need their mutual comradeship.

Taking advantage of his liberty as a knight, Sir Nathaniel leaves his boyhood home to visit old friends. The small journey quickly takes an unexpected turn, however, and climaxes into a perilous adventure. Old enemies revisit the scene, creating hazards that require all of Sir Nathaniel’s strength and valor to overcome. Trapped in a hostile country, the question arises: Will he ever return?

Join Sir Nathaniel and Kenneth in their rousing adventure and witness the perils that strengthen their courage. Their friendship is extraordinary – but will the rewards of their devotion be greater still?

A novel of adventure, comradeship, and suspense, as a valiant knight seeks to overcome his merciless foes and retain honor in a hostile land."

Though the title may sound a little on the cheesy side to some, this book is anything but. Those looking for a good, old-fashioned adventure/coming of age story with knights and ladies will likely be well pleased with this one.
Written in the style of classical authors, such as Henty and Pyle, it could also appeal to thier readers, and is free of some of the issues that sometimes plague more modern works (political correctness, excessive sexual content etc.....). 

Miss Willis has really done well to write edifying, clean Medieval stories that counter so much of the slush that is served up as such today.

In a sense, its just smashing good fun- and family friendly fun at that. With the last book I found the archaic style langauge to be something of an issue- but this time around I actually found it rather endearing.
It was intersting to see some of the characters from the last book develop and come into thier own- especially those like Nathaniel whom I found a little flat last time around.
The theme of loyalty and courage was also well-delivered (as well as the messages about not judging by appearances, or failures which could be derived from the story).

Historically- it seemed fairly accurate in the broad sense- though having French characters referring to Shires in France seemed a little dubious. Also, I'm not sure if the idea of bands of knights being able to travel across countries to attack and kidnap one another, without intervention from any kind of centralized legal system seemed plausible.
The King was supposed to be able to control things like that, or local enforcement officers- but we don't really see anything like that here.

The above were really my only complaints though. Overall I enjoyed this, and would certainly like to read the next one.
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