30 Aug 2019

First Line Friday: Without A Trace by Mel Starr

I was at camp last week: well, actually traveling for a large part of the day so there was not post from me. 
Today I am posting the 13th title in a Medieval Mystery series which my followers might know I am madly keen on. 

The Chronicles of Hugh de Singleton follows a surgeon and bailiff living in the late 14th century. In the 1370s, so be precise. Hugh uses his skills as a surgeon, his office as Bailiff to the nobleman Sir Gilbert Talbot and his keen wit to solve various murders and other crimes. 

As the series has progresses, the novels have come to be set outside Oxfordshire, and Hugh has come to move in the circles of some very prominent people, including Edward, The Black Prince, who was the eldest son and heir of the Plantagenet King Edward III and the theologian John Wycliffe. 

Without A Trace is the 13th novel in this series, of which one novel comes out per year. I would really recommend it if you want a historical mystery series that doesn't contain graphic sex scenes or lots of blood and gore. 

The wife of a knight disappears while traveling from her husband's manor to Bampton, on the way to another of the knight's properties. She and her maid are travelling in an enclosed wagon, whilst her husband and his grooms and a squire are mounted. When the party arrives at Bampton Castle neither the lady nor her maid are within the enclosed wagon: they have simply vanished.

As the disappearance may have happened while the travellers were on Lord Gilbert's lands, his surgeon and bailiff, Hugh de Singleton, is assigned to discover what has happened to the lady.
Has she been taken? Her has she fled her husband? A few days later her husband receives a ransom demand, and Hugh is named to deliver the money. Why him? The ransom is paid, but the lady is not returned. Can Hugh help find her, or is it already too late?

Today I am posting the first two lines, since the First Line is really short. 

"June and July are hungry months. Hogs slaughtered and smoked and salted at Martinmas have been consumed, and unless a man is adept at setting snares to poach his lord's coneys and hares, he and his family will go without flesh on their trenchers" 

 Martinmas, in case you're wondering, was a festival in Mid November.

 Now its your turn. Click the Meme and Comment with Your Own First Line. 


20 Aug 2019

Top Ten Tuesday : Favourite Book Tropes

Welcome to my Blog, new readers! I've decided to create my first post for Top Ten Tuesdays, hosted by That Artsy Reader Girl

Each week has a separate theme, but you don't have to follow it exactly. This weeks theme is Favourite Book Tropes. 

This is kind of a difficult theme for me, because there are some tropes that really annoy me: forced marriage being the main one.  I really dislike forced marriage stories: its not a moral objection but a historical one: I think they're inaccurate and unrealistic. But enough of that. I had to think of some tropes I do like. So without further ado, here are my top ten.

Unlikely Sleuths 


 I am madly in love with Historical Mysteries. Especially Medieval Mysteries, but I love the Classical authors as well, and unlikely Sleuths are the best.

Image result for father brown stories bookImage result for complete miss marple

 Of course Agatha Christie was the Grandmama of Mystery and gave us  Miss Marple, the seemingly harmless old Lady whose sharp mind and keen wit allowed her to solve many a crime, but before here there was:

G.K. Chesterton's Father Brown:   
The original Father Brown, as Chesterton wrote him was totally different to the current BBC character. He was described as very small, with a round, pig like face. The unassuming Catholic priest was often found sitting silently in a corner when the mystery began.


Warrior Women 


 I have a love/hate relationship with this trope, since few storytellers do it well. Many fictional Warrior women are annoyingly arrogant or conceited feminists with a chip on their shoulder. Or they're impossibly perfect and good at everything. Like Ninja Commando Barbie, who has to show off her perfect figure in a leather Bikini and emerges from Battle unscathed. Or takes down a whole army singlehandedly using her magical Girl Power. Yeah, Right. 

So, here are some good stories I've read which carry off this trope well without being unrealistic or annoying.

Image result for duty by rachel rossanoImage result for the edge on the sword

A Few Others:

 Courageous by Dina Slieman
God's Daughter and Forest Child by Heather Gilbert 
Warrior Princess by K.M. Ashman


Robin Hood Retellings 


Image result for robin hood's dawnImage result for Hood by Stephen Lawhead


 The famous Outlaw of Sherwood Forest has had many incarnations over the years, and his story proves as popular as ever. Some break the rules, and place Robin in different times and places, but keep most of the fundamental elements the same.

Girl Robin Hood 

Gender-Bending retellings of the Robin Hood story are popular, but many just involve women who are good at archery helping the poor, and might be set anywhere at any time. Again, there aren't many of these which I like, as some are so corny or unoriginal. Just sort of written to prove 'Look, Girls can be good at shooting arrows too'! Yeah. We know.

Image result for dauntless dina sleimanImage result for the huntress of thornbeck forest

Biblical Retellings  


Image result for the edict keyworthImage result for the widow's redeemer


 Stories from the Good Book are also popular, and some have been retold in various settings. From the Wild West to Regency Britain or even Fantasy worlds. There are plenty of these, because to be honest, some Bible stories are timeless.

Other Suggestions:
Redeeming Love by Francine Rivers 
Here Burns my Candle & Mine is the Night by Liz Curtis Higgs 

  Fairytale Retellings 


Image result for the golden braid melanie dickersonImage result for suzannah rowntree pendragon's heirImage result for the beautiful pretender melanie dickerson

Fairytales are of course another source of inspiration for many an author. Some are ever popular, others you might never have heard of: some might not even be 'Fairytales' as we know them, but Myths and Legends from various Cultures including the Arthurian Legends. 

History With a Twist

This does not just mean Historical Fiction, but books that involve major events or figures from History,  retold in a different way or style. Be this gender bending, or placing the characters and events centuries in the future. Or maybe just retelling from the perspective of a different person.

Image result for to die for sandra byrdImage result for fawkes nadine brandes
Others I enjoyed: 


 Epic Journeys 

 Image result for dawn treader drawing

 From before Tolkien to today, many great stories involve a literal or metaphorical journey to fulfill a mission, perilous quest, or just learn some important lessons. Or it could be the journey of life and growing up.

The Hobbit and the Lord of the Rings by J.R.R Tolkien 


 Heroes in Hiding 

Image result for dread pirate roberts cartoon

Heroes or heroines who don a disguise because the circumstances demand it, before they are finally unmasked. They can be girls who disguise themselves as boys,  people pretending to be someone else, or people hidden away

Transatlantic Romance

This is another trope I have a love/hate relationship with. There are sooo many stories set during the Revolutionary War or the War of 1812 which involve the American Guy falling for a British Woman or vice versa, and they always end in the same way. The Brit comes over the the Patriot cause or they move to America, cos' its just the best place in the world, and Britain is so terrible.

I prefer stories that work without that kind of presumption, but deliver a good cross-cultural Romance anyway.

Image result for a perfect weakness jennifer DavidsImage result for just the way you are pepper basham

Others I Enjoyed:

 I know, I know this is not ten, but this was all I could think of for now, and I've put so many books for each category.
If you know any any great books I  haven't included, or any books in a series that aren't mentioned its purely because I haven't read them. 

What are your Top Ten? Have You Read any of These 

14 Aug 2019

Far Side of the Sea by Kate Breslin Review

384 Pages, March 5th 2019, Bethany House
Print Ebook and Audio 

In spring 1918, Lieutenant Colin Mabry, a British soldier working with MI8 after suffering injuries on the front, receives a message by carrier pigeon. It is from Jewel Reyer, the woman he once loved and who saved his life—a woman he believed to be dead. Traveling to France to answer her urgent summons, he desperately hopes this mission will ease his guilt and restore the courage he lost on the battlefield.

Colin is stunned, however, to discover the message came from Jewel's half sister, Johanna. Johanna, who works at a dovecote for French Army Intelligence, found Jewel's diary and believes her sister is alive in the custody of a German agent. With spies everywhere, Colin is skeptical of Johanna, but as they travel across France and Spain, a tentative trust begins to grow between them.

When their pursuit leads them straight into the midst of a treacherous plot, danger and deception turn their search for answers into a battle for their lives

My Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐

This was a great book overall. It had spying, Intrigue, War, plots and secret codes. Even a very smart messenger pigeon.
The characters were complex and well developed, and all were embroiled in a complex web of familial or country loyalties so at times you could not tell who could be trusted or not. All in the style of a good thriller.

The faith elements were well handled and the romance was sweet, without being overly simplistic or instantaneous. In fact, for much of the book the hero is meant to be in love with another character. So its an unlikely romance.

There were a few things I counted against it though. I think Colin was a little too gullible in certain areas, to fall for the same trick twice. I mean c'mon. He was meant to be an experienced soldier with connections in military intelligence. I expected better of him.

Secondly were the inevitable Americanisms. British people using only a fork to eat in the American manner, and various Americanisms which crept into the narrative. I also feel there were a few things that weren't adequately resolved or developed. I can't quite put my finger on it, it might just be that the ending felt really rushed but I think I preferred the last novel in the series.

It was a good read altogether though, and a good follow up to the author's previous novel Not By Sight which was about Colin's sister. A solid 4 stars.

9 Aug 2019

First Line Friday : Mercy's Gift by Katy Huth Jones

Today I am including yet another book from my Kindle backlog, which I have had for about 3 years. Katy Huth Jones' Medieval Fantasy series He Who Finds Mercy combines action, adventure and romance with dragons. Talking dragons. 
C'mon what's not to love about a talking dragon, especially when its a good one that helps the heroes, not an evil one like Smaug. 

Plus, many of the names in this series are fantastic. The Prince is called Valerian, such suits him perfectly, and the leading dragon is called Albionix. Don't worry about the references to witches and dragons though: this series is very solidly Christian, and the attitude to magic is Biblical. The Dragons also work in the context of the fantasy world. 

While Prince Valerian adjusts to marriage as well as his new title, conspiracy brews in the south among disgruntled lords who wish to separate from the north. The situation is made even more volatile by a charismatic rebel leader whose guerilla tactics are swift and brutal.

The clandestine efforts of a witch hired by one of the lords render Valerian's gift of Sight ineffective, and Merry's Healing gift is sorely tested.

It has become dangerous for a northerner living in the south, and if the gifted young royals fail to stop the growing rebellion, evil will reign in Levathia.

Click the Meme to See what Others are reading 
or comment with your own First Line


6 Aug 2019

A Little While Longer by Venessa Knizley

Walk With Me Series #2
219 Pages, June 30th 2017, Print and Ebook

 The worst of the Plague has ended, but who among the living can claim to have escaped the effects of its devastation?

Certainly not Lady Velena Abrose, who not only bears the scar of her mother’s death, but also lives with the uncertainty of her brother’s life.

Having remained sheltered for the last three years, Velena now finds herself thrust into a harsh season of change as her self-seeking uncle arrives at the castle with news that his eldest son has died—and with him, her arranged marriage.

Tristan wants to believe that the death of Velena’s betrothed means new-found freedom for their ever-deepening friendship, but in his heart, he knows differently. Plans are already being laid for Velena’s future, and chances are, they won’t include him.

A little while longer, and their friendship may be lost.

My Rating:⭐⭐⭐⭐


To briefly summarise, this series is about a teenage girl, Lady Velena Ambrose, the daughter of a nobleman, whose family and household are caught up in the Black Death which came to England in 1348.

After losing her mother, Velena's father decides to move to one of their remote estates in the country for safety and refuge. Velena mourns for her mother, and suffers terrible trauma and depression. The author captured the existential fear of Medieval people very well: they literally believed the Black Death might be the end of the world and nobody would survive.

Then she befriends Tristan Chaneller, the son of a famous knight, who helps her work through grief and uncertainty, and leads her to faith.
The second story picks up in 1351, after Velena discovered the young man to whom she was betrothed had died, but his brother (who also happens to be her first cousin), is still alive, and a new betrothal might be imminent.

I loved meeting the main characters again. It was great to see the characters grow and develop, in their friendships and relationships with one another: and to see Velena and Tristan deepen their faith in God as well as reaching out to their peers.
There were also the less serious characters, such as Squire Rowan. The banter and hilarious capers of Rowan, Tristan and their company provided some excellent comic relief.

Mostly, I think this novel is about the characters struggle to find their place and purpose. It revolves around Velena's upcoming betrothal to her Cousin, Stuart. She struggles with her feelings for a man she has known all her life but seems much changed, and her friend Tristan who has been at her side for the last 3 years.
She struggles with returning to the home she left before the plague. Most of all she is torn between her duty and sense of what is right, or being swayed by the advice and council given to her by others. Is is just rumour, lies and jealousy, or are they speaking the truth in love?

Whilst the research has been done and historical details in this story are mostly very authentic, I did have a few minor niggles.
I can't want for the 3rd book in the series to continue Velena and Tristan's journeys, and see how things will work out for them and other characters.

It bears mention here that this story does a address what would now be considered adult themes, such as personal relationships, sex within and outside marriage and sexual assault.
It doesn't glorify these things, per se, just mentions them. So, although the protagonists are teenagers, its not really Young Adult Fiction. Older teens could probably read it though.

4 Stars and recommended for all lovers of Historical and Medieval Fiction aged 15 or 16 and upwards.

3 Aug 2019

Historical Saturday: Medieval Wall Paintings

A lot of the Medieval novels I've read recently talk about the interior walls of Castles and even monasteries being decorated with tapestries and pictures hanging on the walls. Being the historically minded and naturally curious person I am, I've wondered how Historically Accurate this is. 

Not to say there weren't tapestries and such. Of course there were: but we tend to think of the interiors of Medieval buildings consisting of bare, grey stone. Tapestries would seem to be the only form of decoration suited to a bare stone wall: but some recent discoveries are shedding a new light on this subject. 

It would seem that the inner walls of many Medieval buildings were in fact not just left bare: they
 Wall Painting in a Medieval Church in Wales
were covered in plaster and sometimes had a layer of whitewash applied in top of that.
Evidence now suggests Medieval people used these plastered and whitewashed walls of their homes, castles, manors and churches as a blank canvas to create beautiful murals and wall paintings.   

I think this makes a lot of sense, because the thing about tapestries is that they're really expensive. They had to be sewn or woven by hand, and it could take months or even  years to create a large one. Even if a noblewoman decided to make her own, rather than paying someone else to do it, it would take a long time and a lot of careful attention. 

Its the same with pictures: there weren't a lot of full time professional artists or portrait painters in Medieval Europe, and where they did exist they didn't tend to make lots of copies of their paintings. Medieval portraits tend to be one of a kind. Literally.
So again, most people, even many knights or nobles wouldn't have the money to bring some artist over from Italy to paint a picture for them. 

Painting in a Church, Berkeley, England
If they wanted their walls decorated, murals would have been a quick and relatively inexpensive solution. 
In the last few decades, renovators and builders have uncovered some beautiful examples of wall painting in Medieval churches. Many of these were covered up or painted over during the Reformation because they were held to be extravagant or 'idolatrous'. Or in secular buildings, the plaster simply deteriorated and crumbled away with time, or was replaced with new styles of decoration that came into fashion.

This is why there are so few examples of wall paintings in buildings that survive from the Medieval period, and many such building are ruined so little survives of the internal structure. However, there ARE some precious and rare examples, and as previously mentioned sometimes by an amazing stroke of luck, new ones are discovered. 
Painting from Pickering Church, Yorkshire

Designs for wall paintings varied according to personal creativity and taste. They could be anything from simple patterns, to scenes from mythology, Literature, the Bible, or even just drawn from life. Hunting and jousting scenes seem to have been quite popular. 

I've attached a short clip from a BBC Documentary made a few years ago entitled Secrets of the Castle. It involves 3 British Historians who went to work on the Guedelon Project in France, which is a project to build a Medieval castle from scratch using only methods and materials available at the time. 

This 10 minute segment shows the plastering and whitewashing of one of the Castle's rooms, followed by the painting of a mural using natural dyes and home made paint. Enjoy. 

So Medieval people liked colours and decoration as much as us, and for those who could not afford to fill their homes with tapestries, wall paintings were a great alternative. Perhaps its time that we started incorporating these into Historical novels.

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