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: “Murder in the Cloister” by Tania Bayard

55421664The year is 1399 in Paris and the royal family is concerned about the Priory in Poissy. Something has happened behind the cloistered walls and only one person who is extremely loyal to the king and queen can figure out what is amiss, Christine de Pizan the famous medieval writer. Christine goes to Poissy to act as a copyist for the prioress, but she soon finds herself in the middle of a sinister murder case. A nun has been found dead and it is up to Christine and her allies, plus one frenemy, to figure out who killed the nun while protecting the king’s youngest daughter who calls the priory home. Can Christine figure out who murdered the young nun and make it out of the priory alive? This is the premise of Tania Bayard’s latest installment of her Christine de Pizan murder mystery series, “Murder in the Cloister”.

I would like to thank Net Galley and Severn House Publishers for sending me a copy of this novel. When I was browsing, the cover is what drew my attention. I had not heard of this series or of Tania Bayard before reading this novel. I did not know that this book was part of a series until I started reading it. I have heard about Christine de Pizan and her writing legacy, but I sadly knew nothing about her family life and her connection to King Charles V, King Charles VI, and Queen Isabeau of Bavaria, which would have been useful information to know before reading.

We begin this novel with Christine surrounded by her family and her mother. We find out that Christine is a single mother now as her husband has recently passed away and she is trying to earn money through her writing. As the daughter of Thomas de Pizan, the famous astrologer to King Charles V, she has earned the trust of the royal family. King Charles VI, who is suffering from some sort of mental malady, and his wife Queen Isabeau of Bavaria have asked Christine to go to the Priory in Poissy to copy a manuscript for the prioress and to visit her daughter Marie. She is allowed to bring her son Thomas, but the queen insists on Henri le Picart, a man who Christine despises, to come along and protect her. I found Henri’s character annoying with how he belittles women and their abilities, but he did have some redeeming qualities as the story went along.

I found the actual murder investigation a bit slow for my taste. Bayard tends to focus on the subplot of sorcery a bit too long. I wanted an action-packed adventure full of danger and intrigue, like a novel by CJ Sansom or Toni Mount, but the action fell flat for me. I think Bayard was able to describe the priory and the inner workings very well and the characters were all well written and dynamic. As someone who jumped into this series rather late, it took me a while to figure out the relationship between the characters and what happened in previous cases, which is imperative in solving this particular case.

Overall, I found this medieval murder mystery rather enjoyable. I have not read many medieval novels set in France and I have not read anything about Christine de Pizan, so it was different yet intriguing at the same time. If you want to read this series, I would suggest starting at the very beginning. If you are however familiar with the life of Christine de Pizan and this series, I think you will find, “Murder in the Cloister” by Tania Bayard rather enjoyable and a great medieval escape from reality.

Book Review: “Revelation” by C.J. Sansom

820480The year is 1543 and King Henry VIII is looking for his sixth and final wife; the recent widowed Catherine Parr has caught his eye. It is her reformist values that make her a valuable asset for Archbishop Cranmer and his faction at court, and a target for others. A friend of Matthew Shardlake is viciously murdered, leading to a horrific discovery of a killer is on the loose. On top of that, Shardlake must defend a young man who has been placed in the Bedlam insane asylum for his radical beliefs. It is up to Shardlake and his intrepid assistant Barak, along with the former monk turned physician Guy Malton, to solve both cases before anyone else becomes the next victim. This is the world that readers are plunged to in the next book in C.J. Sansom’s Shardlake series, “Revelation”.

I will be honest. When I saw that this book was dealing with elements of the book of Revelation, I was a bit nervous. I thought it was going to be extremely dark and so apocalyptic that I would not enjoy it. However, Sansom proved that he could make a thriller and still keep the characters that I have come to love and enjoy just as engaging and real to me as they have been in the previous novels. You can never judge a novel by its title, you have to read the book to understand the author’s motive behind their title choice.

We are thrown into the next installment of this engrossing series with Shardlake attending a dinner party hosted by his old friend Roger. Sansom paints this simple and honest friendship between the two men, which is tragically cut short when Roger is found horrifically murdered. After meeting with Archbishop Cranmer and other prominent men, including the Seymour brothers Thomas and Edward, Shardlake soon realizes that this was not a random act of violence, but a stage act by a deranged serial killer who based his murders off of the book of Revelation from the Bible. The additional characters of Thomas Seymour, Archbishop Cranmer, and Catherine Parr adds a sense that these events could have happened. The meticulous details of each murder intensify the experience for the reader and make you wonder if they will ever catch the fiend.

Another element of this novel is Shardlake’s interaction with his client Adam Kite who is a patient at the Bedlam insane asylum. Although we do not know what these kind of facilities were like during the Tudor times, Sansom’s descriptions of mental illness and how people were treated is so believable that you forget that it is fiction. The way that Sansom blends religious radicalism, politics, mental illness, innovations in science, and murder in this novel is nothing short of ingenious. That is Sansom’s true strength as an author. He can create such a believable Tudor world that you never want to leave. There were points in this novel where I questioned whether Shardlake, Barak, and Guy would survive this entire ordeal. Sansom kept me on the edge of my seat throughout this entire novel.
I know that I say this about every Shardlake novel so far, but this one was brilliant. The character development was astonishing and at times, heart-aching as you see your favorite characters struggle to survive. The murders and the details were so vivid that it felt real, which is all due to Sansom’s captivating writing style. I may have questioned the title of this particular novel and whether or not I would personally enjoy it, but once I entered Shardlake’s Tudor world for the fourth time, I was spellbound. If you want a Tudor murder thriller that will keep you guessing until the bitter end, or if you have read the earlier books of the Shardlake series, the fourth installment of C.J. Sansom’s riveting series, “Revelation” is a must-read.

New Book: Robin Hood’s Widow (Book Two in the Robin Hood Trilogy) Author Q&A with Olivia Longueville and J.C. Plummer

Today, I would like to welcome Olivia Longueville and J.C. Plummer to discuss their latest book, Robin Hood’s Widow (Book Two in the Robin Hood Trilogy).

Banner combo narrow (800x359)

Robin Hood has been featured in many books, movies, and television shows.  How is your trilogy different?

We have taken a fresh approach to the Robin Hood story, and we’re excited to share our vision with fans of the legendary hero.   

In our first book, Robin Hood’s Dawn, we re-imagined the origins of the Robin Hood legend, which included exploring his family dynamics: an aloof, selfish father, and a kind-hearted mother devoted to ministering to the poor.  One theme is how the consequences of immoral actions and secret sins can reverberate across generations.  This is part of Robin’s legacy from his father.

We cast Robin as a hero fighting against the tyranny of a lawless government official. When Robin is falsely accused of a shocking crime by the new Sheriff of Nottingham, he could have retreated to a safe place beyond the reach of the sheriff.  However, he feels a responsibility to the people because he believes in the intrinsic value of every human being.  Instead of running away, he stays to protect the people from the sheriff.  And this points to another theme: one person can make a difference by taking a stand for what is right.

The second book, Robin Hood’s Widow, picks up where the first book ends. Robin is alive and still with King Richard in the Holy Land, but Marian, the sheriff, and Guy of Gisborne have returned to England thinking that Robin Hood is dead.

Robin Hood’s Widow explores themes of grief and redemption while featuring Marian’s adventures as leader of the outlaws. Her story is interwoven with Robin’s quest to return home while fulfilling his obligations to King Richard.

In this book, we wanted to explore both the stages of grief and their non-linear nature. Experiencing loss and grief is not like climbing stairs; you don’t complete one stage, progress to the next, and eventually arrive at acceptance. The emotional turmoil of an earlier stage can reappear and reassert itself during the process.

That being said, this story is not sad or depressing; Robin Hood’s Widow is an optimistic tale of triumphing over adversity. 

You’ve emphasized how your Robin Hood story has been re-imagined.  Will fans of the traditional ballads still recognize this as a Robin Hood story?

There is a lot of variety in the many books and screen adaptations of the Robin Hood legend.  We wanted to create a story that was respectful towards fans of the original ballads and legends without adhering to the same storylines that have been previously written.  We hope that all Robin Hood fans will enjoy this fresh retelling of the story.

However, we felt that Marian is a character who deserves more attention.  All too often she is a background character with little to do.  With this in mind, we have focused on creating a Lady Marian who will figure more prominently in the story, especially in Robin Hood’s Widow, where she takes center stage as the leader of the outlaws. She must learn how to lead while finding clever ways to thwart the sheriff and rob those supporters of Prince John who dare enter Sherwood Forest.  We also wanted Marian to be feminine and believable as a woman of the 12th century.    

Robin Hood’s Dawn introduced many familiar characters from the Robin Hood legends: Maid Marian, Little John, Allan-a-dale, Will Scarlet, Much the Miller’s son, Guy of Gisborne, and the Sheriff of Nottingham. In Robin Hood’s Widow, Brother Tuck, a Knight Templar, will join the outlaws.

Readers will also meet real historical figures such as Richard the Lionheart, King Philippe II of France, Prince John “the Lackland,” Eleanor of Aquitaine, and many others, including Ranulphus Besace.  Who was he?  Well, he was a real person who was King Richard’s personal physician!

Do the first two books of the trilogy end in cliff-hangers? Are the books stand alone?  

We have structured the trilogy so that the books do not end in cliff-hangers, and we have endeavored to create a sense of completion in each of the books. 

Although we want readers to start with Robin Hood’s Dawn, we know that some might be more interested in Robin Hood’s Widow. Therefore, we have endeavored to provide enough information in the second book so that a new reader will not be lost.

Both Robin and Marian are guarding secrets that will be revealed in Robin Hood’s Widow!

How did each of you become interested in writing this story and working together as co-authors?

Olivia:

I love to tell stories with multi-dimensional characters.  I speak several languages, and I enjoy writing stories in different languages.  My favorite legendary hero is Robin Hood, and my favorite historical figure is Anne Boleyn.  My first novel is an English-language alternate history featuring Anne Boleyn.

The story of Robin Hood’s Widow is very special to me, and I wrote the original version after I experienced a devastating personal loss. Readers might be surprised to learn that Robin Hood’s Widow was written before Robin Hood’s Dawn!

I met Coleen (J.C.) on the Internet, and we decided to co-author a Robin Hood Trilogy with Robin Hood’s Widow as its centerpiece.  

It is amazing that we have accomplished so much even though we have never met each other in real life.  We talk on the phone and frequently exchange Skype messages and emails.  We have been working together long-distance despite living in very different time zones.

Coleen (J.C.)

I had previously done editing work for other authors, and in 2015, I was inspired to create my own stories.  

I wanted to write a book that would honor the legend of Robin Hood as a man who stood against the tyranny of a powerful government official; a man who fought for justice and fairness because he recognized the intrinsic value rooted in the humanity of all people.  

 

So, you’ve never met, you come from different countries, different cultures, and speak different languages.  How can you co-author a book?  Is it because you have similar writing styles?

Coleen:

Fortunately, Olivia is fluent in English, because that’s the only language I know!

Olivia:

We have found that we have a lot in common—especially our love of writing and of history.  We have to work hard to merge our writing styles, but we have successfully done this. 

Coleen:

That’s true.  Olivia and I have very different “voices” and writing styles.  You might even say they are nearly opposite styles.  

I write in a straightforward, expository style, with a minimum of descriptive elements and metaphorical flourishes.  I am good at explaining things, organizing ideas, and creating natural-sounding dialogue.

Olivia:

My writing is characterized by lush romanticism and passionate lyricism.  I love to create metaphors and descriptions which excite the imagination of the reader in a vivid and dramatic way.

Coleen:

In some respects, Olivia’s words are the emotional heart of the story, and my words represent the rational intellect.  Of course, it’s not quite that cut-and-dried, but it is one way to describe how two people with such different styles have come together to create Robin Hood’s Dawn and Robin Hood’s Widow

Robin Hood’s Dawn (The Robin Hood Trilogy Book 1)

England, 1154-1194
A kingdom under assault.
A conspiracy born of anarchy.
A hero standing against tyranny.

Falsely convicted of a shocking crime, Robin Fitzooth, the Earl of Huntingdon, finds refuge in Sherwood Forest and becomes Robin Hood.  Leading a band of men against the injustices of a malevolent sheriff and his henchmen, Robin begins to unravel a web of treachery threatening the English royal family. 

As shadowy forces gather to destroy the future of a nation, Robin faces deceit, betrayal, and the ravages of war as he defends his king, his country, his people, and the woman he loves from a conspiracy so diabolical, so unexpected, that the course of history hangs in the balance.

From the mists of an ancient woodland to lavish royal courts teeming with intrigue, to the exotic shores of the Holy Land—Robin Hood leads the fight in a battle between good and evil, justice and tyranny, the future and the past.

Part one of an exciting three-part retelling of the Robin Hood legend!

The Robin Hood Trilogy, Book 2 - eBookRobin Hood’s Widow (The Robin Hood Trilogy Book 2)

Robin’s duty to his king sends him on an odyssey that will unfold from the streets of Paris to the banks of the Danube.  From incredible triumphs on the battlefields of the Crusade to harrowing sea voyages to a desperate dash across the frozen landscape of Central Europe, Robin Hood must ensure that King Richard safely returns to England.

Meanwhile, the outlaws of Sherwood Forest rise again under a new leader—and she is unwavering in her pursuit of justice against the tyranny of Sheriff de Argentan.  Marian endures the heartbreak of widowhood only to find strength and purpose as she leads a small band of devoted men in her quest for vengeance while she protects Robin’s legacy.

Sir Guy of Gisborne, tormented by his conscience and enslaved by the sheriff, faces the wraith-like fury of the woman he once loved.  How do you find forgiveness when you have committed an unforgivable crime?  He must attempt a daunting journey of redemption while finding inspiration from an unexpected source.

And through it all, Robin, Marian, and Guy are entangled in a web of treachery spun by the King of France and his sinister advisor, Montlhéry, as the plot to dismantle the Angevin Empire and take the throne of England from the Plantagenets boldly continues. 

Part two of an exciting three-part retelling of the Robin Hood legend!

Robin Hood’s Return (The Robin Hood Trilogy Book 3)

Robin and Marian are finally reunited as they confront an uncertain future. 

While an increasingly reckless Prince John pursues the throne, Queen Eleanor collects an unprecedented king’s ransom. Social unrest and ruinous taxation threatens to tear England apart.

As opposing forces battle for control of the English throne, the King of France and his sinister advisor, Montlhéry, conspire to end the Plantagenet dynasty forever.

Dark secrets and unexpected revelations could destroy the future of England. The course of history hangs in the balance.

Robin and Marian must save both King Richard and Prince John. But can they prevail in the ultimate battle between the future and the past?

About the Authors

Olivia Longueville 

Olivia has always loved literature and fiction, and she is passionate about historical research, genealogy, and the arts.  She has several degrees in finance & general management from London Business School (LBS) and other universities.  At present, she helps her father run the family business.  

During her first trip to France at the age of ten, Olivia had a life-changing epiphany when she visited the magnificent Château de Fontainebleau and toured its library.  This truly transformed her life as she realized her passion for books and writing, foreshadowing her future career as a writer.  In childhood, she began writing stories and poems in different languages.  Loving writing more than anything else in her life, Olivia has resolved to devote her life to creating historical fiction novels.  She has a special interest in the history of France and England.  

Having met on the Internet, Olivia and J. C. Plummer, a writer and historian, decided to co-author The Robin Hood Trilogy.  Olivia and J. C. are retelling the Robin Hood story with an unusual and imaginative plot that is solidly grounded in 12th-century history. The trilogy incorporates twists and turns which will captivate and entertain readers.

Olivia’s social media profiles:

Personal website: http://www.olivialongueville.com/

Project website: http://www.angevinworld.com/

Twitter: @O_Longueville

Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/OliviaLongueville/

Tumblr: http://www.olivia-longueville.tumblr.com/

J. C. Plummer 

J.C. Plummer (Jennie Coleen) graduated Summa Cum Laude from Washburn University with a Bachelor of Arts degree in History and Anthropology.  She later earned a Master of Science degree in Computer Information Science from Dartmouth College.

Co-authoring The Robin Hood Trilogy has merged J.C.’s passions for history, culture, and technology into one unique, exciting project.

As an author and historian, J.C.’s goal is to provide thoughtful and entertaining storytelling that honors the past, is mindful of the present, and is optimistic for the future.

J.C.’s social media profiles:

Project website: http://www.angevinworld.com/

Twitter: @JC_Plummer

Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/jennie.newbrand/

 

Book Review: “Richard III: Fact and Fiction” by Matthew Lewis

41093351When one looks at the study of history as a whole, the traditional way to look at a person as either good or bad through a combination of facts and fictional tales of their supposed exploits. None so much so as King Richard III, one of the most controversial English monarchs. Fictitious tales, like William Shakespeare’s play Richard III, have been accepted as fact throughout the centuries, but who was the real Richard III? Matthew Lewis, in his latest book, “Richard III: Fact and Fiction”, explores who Richard III really was by separating the facts from the fictional stories. 

I would like to thank Pen and Sword Books for sending me a copy of this insightful book. I enjoy books that explore both the facts and fictional stories of historical figures to find the truth about who they were and what they might have been like. 

In his introduction, Lewis explains the fascination of Richard III and his aim for this particular book.

The debate around Richard III and his reputation burns hotter today than ever before …Why is a man who was killed in battle over 500 years ago still attracting such passionate debate? How does a medieval king who reigned for only just over two years have a thriving fan club in the Richard III Society? Part of the reason lies in the mythologising of the facts about him, so many of which are open to the broadest interpretation so that both sides will claim them to make polar opposite points. The purpose of this book is to try and peel away some of the myths to reveal the bare, unadorned facts. Did Richard III invent bail? Did he murder a Lancastrian Prince of Wales, a king, his brother and his two nephews? Did he mean to marry his niece? Why did those previously loyal to the House of York abandon Richard III for an obscure Welshman in exile? (Lewis,1).

Lewis tackles some of the most notable and notorious myths about Richard III, most of which came from Shakespeare’s play. He explores myths from the “murder” of the Princes in the Tower and Henry VI, to if Richard wanted to marry Elizabeth of York and why he was so popular in the North and his death at Bosworth. Of course, there are also obscure and out-of-left-field myths, like Richard, killing Edmund Beaufort, 2nd Duke of Somerset at the tender age of 2 and a half, and Richard inventing bail. Along with discussing the fictional stories and the veracity of the claims, Lewis includes some fun factoids and a glossary of terms that the readers might not know at the end of each segment.  

Although Lewis is a Ricardian, the way he presents his arguments against the fictitious tales does not push the Ricardian argument of Richard being a purely innocent individual. Instead, Lewis focuses on making Richard more human rather than either a vile villain or a knight in shining armor. This is what I appreciate about Lewis and his approach to Richard III. He makes the study of  Richard III approachable for those who want to study about the man, not the black or white myths. With this particular book, I couldn’t put it down. I found extremely enjoyable and overall fascinating. If you want a book that brings the fictional tales and examining the facts about Richard III, I highly recommend you read Matthew Lewis’ latest book, “Richard III: Fact and Fiction”. It is a re-evaluation of the facts that Richard III deserves.