Book Review: “The Tale of the Tailor and the Three Dead Kings” by Dan Jones

57841287As the weather gets colder, the leaves turn brilliant colors and fall from their trees, marking the perfect time of the year to snuggle with a blanket, a cup of tea, and a good spooky tale. Many would reach for a modern supernatural story, but ghost tales have been hiding in archives for centuries. One such story comes from the time of King Richard II. It was first found and transcribed from Latin in 1922 by medievalist M.R. James. Dan Jones has taken on the challenge to retell this story for a modern audience. Initially written by an unknown monk of Byland Abbey, this medieval ghost story is called “The Tale of the Tailor and the Three Dead Kings.”

I want to thank Head of Zeus Books and NetGalley for sending me a copy of this book. I am a big fan of Dan Jones and his historical nonfiction books, so I was thrilled when I heard about this title.

Our tale begins with the tailor named Snowball and his horse Borin traveling home from Gilling to Ampleforth one November night. All of a sudden, Snowball is attacked by a raven that transforms into a grotesque dog. The dog gives Snowball a mission that only he can complete, to find a specific priest to ask for absolution for a criminal with no name and whose crime we do not know. If he does not return to the same spot where he has met the dog, there will be consequences.

To give readers even more information, Jones includes the story of how M.R.James came to find the tale and why he chose to bring this story into the 21st century. He also tells the story of Byland Abbey and includes the original Latin text for those who feel ambitious to translate it themselves.

I am not usually a fan of creepy ghost stories, but I found this tale entirely enthralling, and it sent chills down my back in a matter of pages. Even though Jones does not include that many physical descriptions for characters like Snowball and Borin, I can picture this tale playing out. For his first venture into the world of fiction, I think Jones does a brilliant job, and I hope one day he will make an anthology of medieval ghost stories. If you want a delightfully ghoulish ghost story that is perfect for fall, I highly recommend you read “The Tale of the Tailor and the Three Dead Kings” by Dan Jones.

Book Review: “Women in Medieval England” by Lynda Telford

36762203As students of history, we understand that aspects of society change all of the time, and sometimes the change is rapid, and other times it is positively glacial. One of those aspects of culture that we have seen slow and gradual change pertains to women’s rights. Today, women have more rights than they did in the past, and they can have careers, but is this a novel concept? What were the lives of women like in other periods of history, like the medieval period? In Lynda Telford’s book, “Women in Medieval England,” she explores women’s lives from the Anglo-Saxons to the Tudors to give us a picture of what rights and responsibilities women had during this period.

I want to thank Amberley Publishing for sending me a copy of this book. The title of this book is what drew me to it as I have read many books about individual women in medieval England, but never a comprehensive study. I wanted to learn more about women from every echelon of medieval society and how their lives differed from our own.

Telford begins her book by exploring the women who lived during the rule of the Anglo-Saxons. Reading about their experiences and the laws that dictated their lives is a critical aspect of Telford’s argument that medieval women did not have much more freedom than their counterparts from other eras. It may seem strange that as time moved on from the Anglo-Saxons to the medieval dynasties, the Plantagenets and the Tudors, women had less freedom to choose how they lived their lives. During the plague, women were called to work more to make up for men who died, but even that did not last long. Women were told how to live their lives from the men in their own families and even the church.

Telford has researched the topic of medieval women rigorously, and it shows. She has a passion for this subject, and it is demonstrated throughout this book with everything from letters to court cases. Every aspect of a woman’s life is taken into account to give her reader a better understanding of medieval society.

My problem with this book is that Telford focuses so heavily on the negative aspects of a woman’s life, like prostitution and domestic violence, that it is difficult to find the good parts of the life of a medieval woman. It was a bit too dark and depressing for my liking. I have read other books about strong and independent medieval women, but I do not see it here in this book. Telford is so focused on presenting her argument that Anglo-Saxon women had more freedom than medieval women that it obscures the facts that she does present. In short, she needed to show both the good elements and the harmful elements of the lives of medieval women to present a more balanced argument.

Overall, I think it was a decent book. This book is well researched, and it did present a side of medieval life that I was not expecting. I think it was a bit dark but informative. If you want a comprehensive study of women’s rights and lives during the medieval period, I recommend reading “Women in Medieval England” by Lynda Telford.

Book Review: “Usurpers, a New Look at Medieval Kings” by Michele Morrical

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In medieval Europe, to be considered a strong king, you must keep a firm grasp on your crown, or those who see you as weak will take advantage. These men were known as usurpers throughout history who steal the throne through combat or by illegal means. Some of the most well-known kings in English history have been categorized as usurpers, but is this a fair assessment of their mark in history, or is it a case of propaganda changing their legacy? In her debut nonfiction book, “Usurpers, a New Look at Medieval Kings,” Michele Morrical explores the lives of six English kings who bear that title to see if it makes sense with the facts of how they came into power.

I would like to thank Net Galley and Pen and Sword Books for sending me a copy of this book. When I heard this book was published, I wanted to see how Morrical described a usurper and which king she considered usurpers. I have never heard of a book that focused solely on those who stole thrones in England, so I was excited to see how well it read.

Morrical breaks her book into six sections, with each part focusing on one specific king and his rise to power. She focuses on William the Conqueror, Stephen of Blois, Henry IV, Edward IV, Richard III, and Henry VII as examples of rulers in English history known to be usurpers. Morrical writes biography vignettes to give her readers an understanding of how they came to power and who they had to remove from the throne to become the next monarch. In some cases, it meant starting a new dynasty, and in others, it was just a continuation of the family’s lineage, but it was a different branch of the family tree. The biographies tend to get repetitive, especially with the sections dedicated to the Wars of the Roses. If you are new to these kings and the events of their lifetimes, the repetitive nature will help you understand how everything is connected.

I think Morrical can improve if she writes another nonfiction book by using quotes from primary sources and other historians to strengthen her arguments. I wish she had included discussions from chronicles or other primary sources from around the times that these men became rulers to see the consensus of the time towards the new king. It would have added an extra layer to the stories, and readers could see how our definition of a usurper king would have compared or contrasted to the views of the past. I would have also liked Morrical to have discussed whether being a usurper king had a positive or negative connotation. Many kings on this list were considered game-changers when ruling England and transformed how England was viewed in the grander scheme of European politics.

I think for her first book, Morrical does a decent job of presenting her viewpoints about certain kings and presenting the facts about their lives. One can tell that Morrical is passionate about usurpers and understanding why they took the English throne from their predecessors. Overall, I think it is not bad for a book that combines the lives of six kings of England into one text. If you want a good introductory book into the lives of usurper kings, you should give “Usurpers, a New Look at Medieval Kings” by Michele Morrical a try.

Book Review: “Daughters of Edward I” by Kathryn Warner

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The future King of England married a Spanish princess to create an alliance between the two countries through their children. This may sound like the marriage of Henry VIII and his brother’s widow Katherine of Aragon. However, this story is much older and the happy couple was Edward I and Leonor of Castile. Unlike the Tudor match, Edward and Leonor have numerous children, including Edward’s heir who would one day become Edward II, whose story has been told in various ways. The stories that Kathryn Warner has chosen to focus upon in her latest book, “Daughters of Edward I”, are the princesses who tend to be hidden behind their brother’s legacy.

I would like to thank Pen and Sword Books and NetGalley for sending me a copy of this book. I have read a few books by Kathryn Warner in the past and I have enjoyed them in the past for their complex nature. I enjoy a challenge and when I heard about this book, I knew I wanted to give it a shot. I, unfortunately, was not familiar with these princesses before partaking in this new adventure, so I was excited to hear their stories for the first time.

Edward I and Leonor of Castile had around fourteen children, but only six lived into adulthood; their heir Edward II and his five sisters. The names of the sisters were Eleanor of Windsor, Joan of Acre, Margaret of Brabant, Mary of Woodstock, and Elizabeth of Rhuddlan. Their marriages and children, except for Mary of Woodstock who would become a reluctant nun, would connect the Plantagenet bloodline to some of the most important families in England and beyond. When it comes to the marriages of the sisters, they tend to follow the counsel of the crown, except for Joan of Acre who chose to follow her heart and marry a man who she loved for her second marriage.

Warner’s specialty is unraveling the convoluted nature of certain family trees to uncover members who tend to slip into the shadows of the past. She explores the sisters’ relationships with their father Edward I, their brother Edward II, their nephew who would become Edward III, as well as the families that were essential to understanding England during the 13th and 14th centuries. I will admit that I did find myself using the lists in the back that gave brief descriptions of the daughters and their children as I was getting a tad confused on who was who and their relationship to others. However, I am really glad that Warner included that resource as it added something to this book.

Warner has taken on the difficult task of trying to uncover the stories of the daughters of Edward I and Leonor of Castile and has given readers a resource that can prove valuable in understanding this complex family dynamic. There were parts where the writing was a touch dry for my taste, but overall I found it a stimulating reading and that is because of the laborious research that Warner partook to tell their tales and the tales of their descendants. If you want a meticulously researched resource that tells the stories of women who knew Edward I, Edward II, and Edward III well, “Daughters of Edward I” by Kathryn Warner is the perfect book for you to add to your collection.

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

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Have you ever wondered what it would be like if you were able to travel back in time to the medieval ages and had to start your life all over again? Could you make the transition from the 21st century to the medieval period with no electronic technology and different customs? What would you wear? How would you get around with no cars and horses being very expensive? Where would you live? What job would you have? These questions and quandaries are answered in the latest nonfiction book by Toni Mount aptly entitled, “How to Survive in Medieval England”.

I would like to thank Pen and Sword Books and Net Galley for sending me a copy of this book. I have found time travel books really interesting in the past few years, so I was intrigued when I heard about this title.

Mount has created a fun and creative guide for those who have a passion for medieval England. For clarification, Mount defines medieval from 1154 to the death of King Richard III in 1485. It’s quite a range, but it gives the reader a chance to see how England transformed during the medieval time. In this book, Mount gives her readers the everyday details that they would want if they traveled to the past or if they just wanted to better understand the past. The information that Mount includes is practical and easy to follow so that anyone who is jumping into the past can understand.

The true highlight of this title and what separates Mount’s book from other time-traveling books are the interviews. No, she does not have her own Tardis, but it feels like she might with these passages. Mount has taken historical figures, both well known and those who her audience might not be familiar with, and has decided to write discussions with them to better understand the past and the motivation for their actions. It is a brilliant way for an author who writes both historical fiction and nonfiction to express their craft in a unique and engaging way.

I have read a few time travel books and I have to say, this one is special. It is one that is engaging for history experts and novices alike. There are warnings, but Mount has also included a bit of humor to make sure that her audience realizes that the past was not always dark.

Medieval England may look drastically different than our 21st century, but if you break it down, the people of the past are just trying to survive the best that they can just like we are. If you want a handy guide to take on your journeys to the past or you just want a book to better understand the past, I highly suggest you read this book, “How to Survive in Medieval England” by Toni Mount.

Book Review: “The Betrayal of Mary, Queen of Scots: Elizabeth I and Her Greatest Rival” by Kate Williams

40554521Two cousins fighting for the right to rule England during the 16th century. One was the daughter of Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn who fought tooth and nail to rule without a man by her side. The other was the daughter of Mary of Guise and King James V of Scotland whose marriage record would prove to be fatal. Elizabeth I and Mary, Queen of Scots, may have been sister queens, but the way they were treated in their own countries differed completely. While Elizabeth I was praised and protected from harm in England, Mary was a scapegoat for so many in Scotland. The way that Mary was used as a pawn even though she wore a crown was nothing short of extraordinary. The story of how these two queens came on a collision course that would leave one queen beheaded and the other forever changed has been told in many different ways from both sides of the tale, but it has rarely been told as a cohesive nonfiction book. That is until Kate Williams’ marvelous biography, “The Betrayal of Mary, Queen of Scots: Elizabeth I and Her Greatest Rival”.

Before we get to the part of the tale that many Tudor fans know very well, the end of the tale, we must understand what shaped Elizabeth I and Mary, Queen of Scots to be the queens of England and Scotland respectfully. As someone who knows quite a bit about Elizabeth I’s story, I found Williams’ explanation of her childhood informative and relatively brief.

Williams chooses to focus on the much-maligned Mary, Queen of Scots. We tend to assume that Mary’s life as a pawn with a crown began after her first husband, King Francis II of France, tragically died and she had to go back to her native Scotland. However, Mary was a pawn in someone else’s game her entire life. The only man that Mary loved and who loved her back was Francis. Her other relationships with Darnley and Bothwell were trainwrecks that would cause Mary immense pain and sorrow. Bothwell was the epitome of a disastrous relationship that was doomed to ruin Mary’s life. The two people who Mary thought she could depend on, Elizabeth I and Mary’s own son King James VI, ultimately chose to save face than to help protect a queen who had nowhere else to go.

I will be honest and say that before I read this book, I felt that Mary was the villainess of Tudor propaganda. She, after all, was wanting to dethrone Elizabeth I so that she could become the Catholic Queen of England. I have always been someone who has been a big fan of the reign of Elizabeth I, so I assumed that I would not be a fan of Mary, Queen of Scots. However, that all changed after reading this book. To see Mary put her faith and trust into those who she thought had her best interest at heart and to be betrayed every single time was utterly heartbreaking.

This is a gorgeously written biography of Mary, Queen of Scots that shows Mary in a sympathetic light while portraying how cataclysmic the numerous betrayals she endured affected her life. It was my first time reading a biography about Mary, Queen of Scots, or a book by Kate Williams, and I have to say it is one of my favorite biographies that I have read so far this year. I did not want to stop reading this biography. It made me feel so sympathetic towards Mary and her plight. If you want an exceptional biography about Mary, Queen of Scots, “The Betrayal of Mary, Queen of Scots: Elizabeth I and Her Greatest Rival” by Kate Williams is a must to have in your collection.

Book Review: “Essex: Tudor Rebel (Elizabethan, Book 2) by Tony Riches

Essex Tudor Rebel Tour BannerToday, I am pleased to share my book review of the latest Elizabethan novel by Tony Riches as my contribution to his “Essex: Tudor Rebel” blog tour. Thank you to Tony Riches for sending me a copy of his latest novel, and to The Coffee Pot Book Club for allowing me to take part in this tour. 

Being a favorite of a queen is not all glitter and fame. Take, for example, the men who were considered the favorites of Elizabeth I. They had to deal with a queen whose temper and praise were interchangeable. One of the most famous examples of a favorite enduring the wrath of the queen was Robert Devereux, Earl of Essex. A handsome rascal who had a mountain of debt to his name, Essex tries to follow his queen’s orders while staying true to his nature. His road from loyal man to Elizabeth I, his numerous adventures, and his ultimate rebellion are masterfully told in Tony Riches’ latest Elizabethan novel, “Essex: Tudor Rebel”.

I would like to thank Tony Riches for sending me a copy of his latest novel. I enjoyed his first venture into the Elizabethan era about Sir Francis Drake. When I heard about this novel, I was excited to dive in. Obviously, I knew about the Essex Rebellion and Essex’s fall from grace, but I really wanted to know about the man behind it all.

Robert Devereux was the son of Lettice Knollys and Walter Devereux, 1st Earl of Essex. Many recognize Robert’s rather remarkable mother Lettice Knollys as she would gain the ire of Queen Elizabeth when she married the Queen’s favorite, Robert Dudley. Essex’s father Walter would die with a mountain of debt when Essex was a boy. The fact that Essex grew up as a poor Earl does not make him stray away from the lavish lifestyle that he craves. In fact, he adds to his father’s debt with his own, making it nearly impossible to pay off.

What makes him so appealing to Queen Elizabeth I is his youthful bravado. Essex is like a son to Elizabeth I. They were so close that some assumed that they were lovers. Riches puts this myth to rest in this novel. That does not mean that Essex was single like his queen. In fact, he did marry the daughter of the famous spymaster Sir Francis Walsingham. His daughter, Frances, is extremely loyal to her children and is not afraid to speak her mind when she believes that Essex is in the wrong. Essex is not exactly the most loyal of husbands as he does have affairs and illegitimate children.

Essex did not shy away from battles. He was known for his ventures in France, Cadiz, and Ireland, but his reputation would be battered like the numerous storms he encountered. He wanted the glory to restore his reputation, but his naivete and anger towards the queen who treated him like a son would lead to his downfall.

There is something magical about a new novel by Tony Riches. He is able to capture the audience’s attention with realistic scenarios, characters that jump from the pages of the past, and dialogue that is entirely believable. Essex may seem like an outlandish character, but his desire to restore his honor and to pay back his debt is understandable. There were moments where I was getting frustrated with Essex because of his poor decision-making skills, but Riches really made me feel sympathetic for this naive young rogue by the end. If you want another brilliant escape into the late Tudor age, I highly recommend you read book two in Tony Riches’ enchanting Elizabethan series, “Essex: Tudor Rebel”.

Essex---Tudor-rebel-Kindle(Blurb)

Robert Devereux, Earl of Essex, is one of the most intriguing men of the Elizabethan period. Tall and handsome, he soon becomes a ‘favourite’ at court, so close to the queen many wonder if they are lovers.

The truth is far more complex, as each has what the other yearns for. Robert Devereux longs for recognition, wealth and influence. His flamboyant naïveté amuses the ageing Queen Elizabeth, like the son she never had, and his vitality makes her feel young.

Robert Devereux’s remarkable true story continues the epic tale of the rise of the Tudors, which began with the best-selling Tudor trilogy and concludes with the reign of Queen Elizabeth I.

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Tony Riches AuthorAuthor Bio

Tony Riches

Tony Riches is a full-time UK author of best-selling Tudor historical fiction. He lives in Pembrokeshire, West Wales and is a specialist in the history of the Wars of the Roses and the lives of the early Tudors. Tony’s other published historical fiction novels include: Owen – Book One Of The Tudor Trilogy, Jasper – Book Two Of The Tudor Trilogy, Henry – Book Three Of The Tudor Trilogy, Mary – Tudor Princess, Brandon – Tudor Knight and The Secret Diary Of Eleanor Cobham.

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Book Review: “Plantagenet Princes: The Sons of Eleanor of Aquitaine and Henry II” by Douglas Boyd

55182667._SX318_One of the most infamous families in the history of England lasted for over three hundred years and it was filled with numerous princes that fought for their right to rule, much to the chagrin of the Tudor dynasty. The Plantagenet Dynasty was full of scandals and bloodshed, testing the core values of what it meant to be a family and rulers of an emerging country like England. This dynastic clash for power that came to define this dynasty began with Henry II and his sons by his wife Eleanor of Aquitaine. When their father refused to give the boys any true power, which was to be excepted with all princes, his sons waged war against Henry II and their brothers. The stories of these bonds and what ultimately tore them asunder are told in Douglas Boyd’s latest collection of biographies aptly titled, “Plantagenet Princes: The Sons of Eleanor of Aquitaine and Henry II”.

I would like to thank Net Galley and Pen and Sword Books for sending me a copy of this book. When I read the description of this one, I was drawn in. I am always looking for more information about this fractured family, so I decided to give this book a try.

Boyd begins by describing the lifestyles of a knight and how they went into battle, which was essential for a medieval prince. He also dived into the complicated relationship between Eleanor of Aquitaine, her first husband Louis VII of France, and her second husband Henry II. Since Eleanor did not have any make children with Louis VII, she decided to divorce him to marry the soon-to-be King Henry II of England. It is Eleanor’s children with Henry II that are remembered for their feuds. Their sons; Henry the Young King, Richard I, Geoffrey Duke of Brittany, and King John fought against one another and their father to some extent for the throne of England. I found the chapters about the sons engaging albeit short.

The big problem that I had with this particular title is that it only spent a portion of the book on the actual princes of Eleanor of Aquitaine and Henry II. I was craving more depth, more information out of these chapters, but Boyd decided to go all the way through until the crowning of Henry IV. Once he started to go onto the descendants, I will be honest that I started to find the writing a bit dry.

It is fine as an overview, but I was hoping for a bit more. Boyd also used a lot of research that has been used numerous times. He did not present any new information and reused some myths about these figures. I wanted to hear Boyd’s voice and his opinions about these figures, but it felt lost in this book.

Overall, this book is just okay. I was looking for a bit more depth with the research that focused on the sons of Eleanor of Aquitaine and Henry II, not their descendants. Boyd knows a lot about the Plantagenet dynasty, but it just fell flat for me. If you want a book that gives an overview of the Plantagenets until the coronation of Henry IV, check out “Plantagenet Princes: The Sons of Eleanor of Aquitaine and Henry II” by Douglas Boyd.

Guest Post: “Forsaking All Other” Excerpt by Catherine Meyrick

Forsaking All Other. Tour BannerpngToday, it is my pleasure to welcome Catherine Meyrick to my blog to share an excerpt from her novel, “Forsaking All Other”. I would like to thank Catherine Meyrick and The Coffee Pot Book Club for allowing me to take part in this blog tour. 

Excerpt

Wyard studied Lucy Torrington. Was this the manner of woman his mother thought would suit him best? She was well-dowered and, no doubt, malleable. But she was not to his taste, insipid was probably the best way to describe her. It had been a mistake to allow Eloise to talk him into coming here, he should have gone straight to Bucklings Hall.

He glanced at Bess Stoughton. Of all the women present she was the most appealing. Despite his initial misgivings, she seemed honest and sensible. She was not predatory or flirtatious, nothing like that bold piece who had tried to get him to dance last night. Perhaps Bess Stoughton’s relationship with that serving man was some sort of protection—life could be difficult for a widow. And she looked at him with neither pity nor revulsion.

‘You know Mistress Torrington well?’

‘As well as any. Lucy is a good and gentle girl who deserves to be treated with kindness and respect.’

‘Who does not?’

Her eyelashes fluttered as if surprised at his comment. ‘Lucy would bloom best married to someone who loved her.’

‘Few have that blessing. Kindness and respect are the best that most of us can hope for.’

She bit her lip, frowning. ‘Are you considering marrying Lucy?’

Wyard shrugged, ‘She is one of a number of young women my mother thinks would make a suitable bride.’ He gave a wry smile. ‘It may be more accurate to say would make a suitable good-daughter.’

‘Do you have a list of requirements—number of hands high, girth, teeth, temperament? A list such as you would take to a horse market.’

It sounded ridiculous the way she described it. He gave a sudden bark of laughter. ‘In truth, I have no list.’

‘Do you always do as your mother wishes?’

‘Rarely, but it is probably time I married and she fears that, left to my own devices, I will either never marry or choose someone highly unsuitable.’

‘Who would be unsuitable?’

‘From my mother’s position, someone without money or connections.’

‘And from your own?’

‘I have not thought so far.’ If you could not marry the best, the most loving woman you had ever met, it really did not matter.

‘Well you should. Can you imagine what it is like for a woman married to a man who is forcing himself to his duty, who does not like her company or her person, who married her simply because his mother or his father told him to?’

He had never thought of it from a woman’s point of view. ‘Was your own marriage like that?’

‘You lack courtesy, Master Wyard.’

‘But you sound as if you speak from experience.’

‘That is none of your business,’ she snapped, colour flooding her cheeks. ‘If I were a man, if I had your freedom, I would do exactly as I pleased. I would never accept a bride who had been bundled up for me by my mother.’ She glared at him, ‘Now, if you will excuse me.’ She swept away towards the group of singers, her back straight and her head held high.

Wyard wanted to stop her, to explain it was never so easy. He watched her go, wondering why he had never imagined he could truly do as he wished.

Forsaking All Other by Catherine Meyrick(Blurb)

England, 1585.

Bess Stoughton, waiting woman to the well-connected Lady Allingbourne, has discovered that her father is arranging for her to marry an elderly neighbour. Normally obedient Bess rebels and wrests from her father a year’s grace to find a husband more to her liking.

Edmund Wyard, a taciturn and scarred veteran of England’s campaign in Ireland, is attempting to ignore the pressure from his family to find a suitable wife as he prepares to join the Earl of Leicester’s army in the Netherlands.

Although Bess and Edmund are drawn to each other, they are aware that they can have nothing more than friendship. Bess knows that Edmund’s wealth and family connections place him beyond her reach. And Edmund, with his well-honed sense of duty, has never considered that he could follow his own wishes.

With England on the brink of war and fear of Catholic plots extending even into Lady Allingbourne’s household, time is running out for both of them.

Love is no game for women. The price is far too high.

 

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Catherine MeyrickAuthor Bio:

Catherine Meyrick

Catherine Meyrick is a writer of historical fiction with a particular love of Elizabethan England. Her stories weave fictional characters into the gaps within the historical record – tales of ordinary people who are very much men and women of their time, yet in so many ways are like us today. These are people with the same hopes and longings as we have to find both love and their own place in a troubled world.

Catherine grew up in regional Victoria, but has lived all her adult life in Melbourne, Australia. Until recently she worked as a customer service librarian at her local library. She has a Master of Arts in history and is also an obsessive genealogist. When not writing, reading and researching, Catherine enjoys gardening, the cinema and music of all sorts from early music and classical to folk and country and western and, not least of all, taking photos of the family cat to post on Instagram.

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Book Review: “Revelations” by Mary Sharratt

53968576._SY475_Margery Kempe, the only daughter of the mayor of Bishop’s Lynn, England has made a tough decision in 1413. She has decided to leave her home, her husband, and her fourteen children to go on a pilgrimage to the holy city of Jerusalem as a way to honor her late father’s dying wishes. As she begins her journey, she meets the famous anchoress Julian of Norwich, who entrusts Margery with an important mission. She gives Margery her book Revelations of Divine Love and tells her to spread her message throughout the world in secret. Margery’s pilgrimage, her connection to Julian of Norwich, and the aftermath of her journey are intricately woven together in Mary Sharratt’s stunning novel, “Revelations”.

I would like to thank Houghton Mifflin Harcourt and Net Galley for sending me a copy of this book. When I read the description of this novel, I was intrigued. I have heard the names Margery Kempe and Julian of Norwich floating around in recent years, but I sadly knew nothing about their life stories. I hoped that this novel would shed some light on both women and why they are remembered in such high regard today.

Sharratt’s novel is based on the research of historians, such as Dr. Janina Ramirez, who have argued that Margery Kempe knew Julian of Norwich and that Julian gave Margery her precious book Revelations of Divine Love. Margery is no ordinary woman as she has visions that will guide her to the path in which she believes God has chosen for her.

We begin with Margery as a young maiden, who has no desire to marry the man that her family has told her to marry. Reluctantly, she does marry John Kempe and they have fourteen children together. It is during the birth of her fourteenth child, Margery almost dies and so she decided to make a vow of celibacy, which her husband reluctantly agrees to. It was not until her father’s death that Margery chooses to fulfill his dream for her, to go on pilgrimage to Jerusalem. Since John chose not to go on pilgrimage with his wife, she decides to don the clothes of a bride of Christ, which means to dress all in white as a virgin.

Many believe that Margery’s visions, her sudden bursts of tears, and her choice to leave her family make her an evil woman. Except for Julian of Norwich, the famed anchoress, and someone who understood Margery’s struggles. Since Julian could not walk away from her duty as an anchoress to explore the world, she gave Margery the treacherous task of carrying her book throughout the world, giving it only those scholars who could be trusted with the knowledge of this scandalous text.

Margery’s journey to discover who she was meant to be is deep and riveting. It showed how even in the early 1400s, there was a struggle between different views of Christianity. From women accused of preaching in the streets to those accused of Lollardy, there was a real sense of danger and death for those who did not follow the status quo. Sharratt shows the dangers that a woman faced when she traveled on pilgrimage alone, but she also showed how deep Margery’s faith was and how willing she was to make sure that her message was heard. If I did have a small concern, it would be that I wish Sharratt delved into the writing of Margery Kempe’s autobiography, The Book of Margery Kempe.

As someone who has never read anything about Julian of Norwich or Margery Kempe, I found this novel enchanting. This was the first novel that I have read by Mary Sharratt and I thoroughly enjoyed it. It was a delightful escape into the past and the life of a friendship and a pilgrimage that would change the life of Margery Kempe forever. If this sounds intriguing to you, check out “Revelations” by Mary Sharratt.