Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Eleanor of Castile: The Shadow Queen by Sara Cockerill

Publisher: Amberley, September 8, 2014 (Kindle copy).
Genre: Non-fiction, British History Reading Challenge 2014, Kings and Queens of England, Eleanor of Castile, Edward I, Henry III.
Format: Hardcover.
Pages: 448, with 56 illustrations.
Rating: 5 Stars for Excellent.
Source: Free copy from Amberley in exchange for a review. All reviews expressed are from my own opinion.

Available in US @ Amazon. Kindle published September 8, and hardcover will be published November 19, 2014.
Barnes and Noble, the publishing date they are stating for hardcover is October 19, 2014.
I'm unclear if the above dates for future publishing are correct as they are very different.

Links for further information:
Medieval Queens,
English Monarchs,
The Freelance History Writer,
Time-Travel Britain,
Westminster Abbey,
A collection of images from V and A.

Sara Cockerill's website.
Sara Cockerill studied Law at the University of Oxford. She is a practicing QC specializing in commercial law, and the author of a leading specialist legal text. She has had a lifelong interest in English history and has devoted her spare time over the past ten years to researching the life of Eleanor of Castile. She is married with one cat, and divides her time between London and the seaside.

On the 1st of November 1254, twelve year old Eleanor of Castile (1241-1290), and fifteen year old Edward (1239-1307), the son of Henry III (1207-1272) king of England were married. Eleanor's brother Alfonso X (1221-1284) was king of Castile and Leon. Their father had been King Ferdinand (1201-1252). Edward and Eleanor's marriage was a political marriage; nonetheless, it would become a successful marriage considering most royal arranged marriages. They were married thirty-six years. Eleanor had at least sixteen children, six survived. Their son Edward of Caernarfon (1284-1327) became the future Edward II.
Eleanor was successful in fulfilling her duty as queen to have children; but, she was also a successful partner in a royal marriage taking part in Edward's cabinet of advisers, she was also an astute business woman.
Eleanor of Castile: The Shadow Queen, is a narrative biography non-fiction book. It stands alone both in its own distinct genre and its own weighty merit.
My Thoughts:
Sara Cockerill worked on Eleanor of Castile for ten years. She read about, studied, and researched a queen who had been swept aside in favour of other notable queens through the course of British history. One other complete non-fiction work has been written, by J.C. Parsons- Eleanor of Castile: Queen and Society in Thirteenth-Century England. Cockerill refers to his book in her's, it is one of the many sources she utilized. This is the first reason I have given Eleanor of Castile a 5 star review. Ten years of research is a great achievement. The patience and careful study given over ten years has produced an excellent work. I read through Cockerill's list of first, second, and online sources. Many of these sources are included inside another person's historical account, chronicle or letter. Piecing together and shaping the information into a readable biography which is informative and interesting is a careful balance. I feel Cockerill has achieved all of this.
To give the "basic template" of a life is bland. In order to breathe life into a character one must see the person's essential qualities, decisions made, reactions to events, and most importantly their legacy. The book begins with the actions and historical events surrounding Eleanor and her family, and continues with her husband's reign, their children-those who died and survived, a Crusade in which Eleanor accompanied Edward, land purchases and business dealings, and then chapter eleven came. In chapter eleven, Cockerill gave me a close-up perspective of Eleanor. I felt the book culminated in this chapter.
The last chapter of the book is a study on the crosses (several of which are forever lost) which were made after Eleanor's death. This was an added gem in the book.
Edward I is not beloved by all; those in Wales or Scotland have strong opinions of him. He was brutish, avenging, larger than life. On the other hand, he was faithful to his beloved Eleanor. This last point leaves me astounded. Kings such as Henry VIII are written about to great length in both non-fiction and historical fiction, yet he was not a faithful husband. I'm thinking of another king who was also a tyrant, William the Conqueror, I've read he was faithful to his diminutive wife Matilda. People are fascinating to me, this is just one of the reasons I have always loved history.

Friday, September 26, 2014

An Interview with Sara Cockerill, author of Eleanor of Castile: The Shadow Queen

Publisher: Amberley, September 8, 2014, Kindle available. Hardcover available, September 19, 2014. 
Genre: Non-fiction, British History, Eleanor of Castile, Edward I, Henry III. 
Pages: 448, with 40 illustrations.

Sara Cockerill joins me today in sharing about her life, and her new book: Eleanor of Castile: The Shadow Queen

1. In reading the preface of the book, I am more than intrigued at Eleanor's personality, abilities and talents, and contributions to culture and society. During the course of the writing project of Eleanor: What do you feel is her greatest attribute?
The truth is that I find myself so impressed by the range of Eleanor’s interests that this is rather hard to answer!  Ultimately I think what I admire most is her overarching passion for and commitment to her interests – her determination to lead a full and rich life.  After all, it would have been very easy for Eleanor to say that a simple consort’s role was quite enough to cope with, and to let her interests sit on the back burner and get forgotten (think Mrs Elton in “Emma”).  Eleanor  managed to find time to do the essentials of the consort’s job (giving birth to and supervising those hordes of children and observing the ceremonial requirements), and also to do a difficult job in property acquisition and management and maintain her own interests in books, horses, gardens, design and domestic luxury.  All of these things simply cannot be done without a verve, a zest for living, and a determination to live her life in her own way.  And even with that, achieving all this cannot have been easy.  Simply thinking about the mechanics of all she managed to combine has frequently left me feeling rather light headed.

2. How long did the writing project last? What was the first step in the process? For example, reading other books on Eleanor.
I probably started work on the book something over ten years ago, but I did take a couple of years out to write a legal text book in the middle!  The first step was a question, which came to me when reading Michael Prestwich’s writings on Edward I.  There had been in my mind a slight puzzlement that the dynamic, fiery Edward should have been so very devoted to a queen who I had always understood to be very sweet and submissive.  Michael Prestwich pointed out that the character of Edward’s reign does change somewhat after her death, and that got me wondering whether there was a link, and whether anyone had written anything serious on Eleanor.  I started with the books on Edward (because we had all of those already), and finding nothing further, apart from odd hints about acquisitiveness, I searched for books on Eleanor, and discovered John Carmi Parsons’ work.  From there it was a question of understanding his work fully and edging out from ground he had covered into more speculative territory, or ground where I felt there might be new questions to ask, such as linking the itinerary to Eleanor’s property business.

3. You are a barrister, because of your knowledge and experience in law, was there anything in the research of Eleanor that stood out to you pertaining to law, or commerce?
Funnily enough, there were a number of things.  Another puzzle I had always had in my mind was how Edward, the son of one of England’s least legally minded kings, became “the English Justinian”.  As soon as I started researching Eleanor’s family background I was hit between the eyes by the fact that her family were passionate about law and lawmaking.  They regarded it as a fundamental part of the covenant between King, God and people – and they wrote and discussed laws endlessly. And ultimately one can find in Edward’s approach very close echoes of the way the Castilians looked at things. It has therefore seemed to me that Eleanor, perhaps together with her didactically minded brother Alfonso X, should be looked to as influencing Edward in his interest in law and lawmaking.    Another legal aspect was the different treatment of dower in Castile; one can see through Eleanor’s grandmother Berengaria how Castilian princesses would take control of their dower properties on marriage and actively manage them (in Berengaria’s case, even holding them against her own husband).  This meant that Eleanor was raised with the expectation that on marriage she would personally manage a serious property portfolio, and makes the fact that she adopted a property business a natural and obvious fit, and not the anomaly that it at first appears.  I also found echoes of Castilian approaches in Edward’s legislation regarding the Jewish population, and in the settlement of Wales.  And I haven’t finished looking!  I actually think the Castilian influence on Edward’s legal programme is a subject worthy of in depth study.
Writing muse, Tia. 

4.  There is a polar difference between Edward I and Edward II. Do you have an opinion on this?
Indeed I do! I find this very interesting.  Even in the modern context it is not uncommon to find the children of very driven, successful people rejecting the paradigm which their parents demonstrate to them.  As the son of a very successful friend of mine said to his father: “If I do all the stuff you say I should, what’s the result?  I get your stressful, busy life.  No thanks”.  I see much of that attitude in Edward II.  His parents always full of business, their family pushed to the margins of their life, their young children abandoned for three years, his mother working herself into an early grave.  It would hardly be surprising if, seeing it from the outside, he did not embrace that model with enthusiasm.
The problem is (as Kathryn Warner perceptively observes in her forthcoming “Edward II, the Unconventional King”, which I have been lucky enough to read in proof) that Edward II didn't have the option to do something else – he was born to do a job which was not at all to his taste.
I cannot help wondering to what extent Eleanor’s death was key in this alienation from his appointed role, not just emotionally, but practically. Certainly on the emotional side we see quite a lot of evidence that Edward had a sentimental attachment to the mother he never knew – his affinity to things Castilian was often demonstrated, and he maintained close ties with a number of her family.  But in practical terms it was Eleanor who would have superintended his upbringing – and with more consistent discipline and focus than Edward I (himself the product of an indulgent household) would be likely to bestow.  She, at least, knew the theory of training a King.  However, having said that, it is fair to say that the beautifully trained Castilian princes of Eleanor’s family show that training is not all.  Alfonso X himself was plainly more engaged with scholarship than kingship, and the others were not a very disciplined bunch….

5.  Do you have another favorite period in British history you love to read? Why?
My first love in history terms was the Tudor era.  In fact, my first attempt at a biography was one of Elizabeth I, which I tried to get published when I was fifteen. I used to keep fairly well up to date with the writing on the Tudors until I got properly sunk into research on Eleanor, at which point keeping the details of each era, and the diverting ideas about who from one era was related to who from another just got too much for me.  Of recent years therefore, I have taken my historical breaks from the thirteenth century mainly in reading about the World Wars. But I still can’t resist occasional visits to Tudor times.  I pride myself on reading Alison Weir’s new books as soon as they come out, and I have been totally unable to resist Tracy Borman’s Thomas Cromwell, which I am currently enjoying.

6.  What are you most thankful for?
That’s a killer question!  I have been way, way, luckier in all sorts of ways than I deserve.  In general terms I’m most thankful for the amazing family and friends who are part of my life. In connection with the book, I guess it would have to be having an amazing job, which still gives me the flexibility to run off to the British Library and pursue other interests, when cases settle, or I’m waiting for documents to come in, or for answers on queries.  If I had a job with more rigid hours Eleanor would never have got past the planning stage.  And my husband won’t like me mentioning him, but I am very thankful he has never said that he is bored witless of the small doings of Eleanor, which I have found so entrancing!

7.  Do you have another writing project?
Well, I have a fairly substantial list of things which I am thinking of doing.  I am not planning to commit to anything as substantial as Eleanor in the near future – it is too big a commitment of time, and since I can’t work at it full time, I need to be sure that any major project is one I can love for a decade or so.  However while I was researching I was struck by a number of stories and themes from the world of knighthood – and I’m now looking to see if they can be pulled together into an interesting, rather shorter, book.  The idea is that it will showcase some truly remarkable people and their stories alongside relevant – and sometimes disparate - aspects of knightly culture.  I think one gets hints of this through the book – I can’t get away from my enthusiasm for those giants of social mobility, William Marshal and Jean de Brienne; and Eleanor’s own contact with the institution showcases a number of aspects – the Arthurian and literary links, the changing nature and role of tournaments, the administrative undertow which the institution acquired, and so forth.   But certainly one day I would like to do another substantial biography of a medieval queen…
Sara's work space for writing.
Eleanor of Castile: The Shadow Queen is available @

Sara's website: Sarah Cockerill. 
Facebook page for the book. 

Further interviews/reviews with links provided:

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

A World Elsewhere: An American Woman in Wartime Germany by Sigrid MacRae

Publisher: Viking/Penguin Group, September 4, 2014.
Genre: Biography, World War II, Germany, Nazi Germany.
Format: Hardcover.
Pages: 320.
Rating: 5 Stars.
Source: Free copy from Viking in exchange for a review. All reviews expressed are from my own opinion.

Book is available @ Amazon, Barnes and Noble.

"If I set out to understand my parents, I learned that we never completely understand what makes people who they are, and that who they are in fact changes." Page 276.
Sigrid MacRae had been given a beautiful "mother-of- pearl inlay" box which held letters from her father, Heinrich von Hoyningen-Huene. She did not open the box to read its contents until after her mother Aimee passed away. Reading the letters began a quest to understand her parents, as well as the Germany that had been her birth home, her mother's adopted home, and her father's defeat. MacRae shares her father and mother's heritage and lineage. A history course through her father's family is given on World War I and Russia during the Bolshevik Revolution. Post-war Germany is shown through the story of MacRae's family.

My Thoughts:
I read A World Elsewhere in one day. I had been drawn to the story because I'd wondered if American women had married German men and then stayed in Germany during the war? I'd wondered what their life had been like? How they'd survived? How their in-laws had treated them? And what post-war Germany had been like? A World Elsewhere answered all these questions and more.
I am pleased the story takes an honest approach, there are no added dreamy dramatics, after-all there should not be as the war is dramatic all on its own. MacRae does not make excuses for her parents. She allows the story to share their lives.
I feel MacRae's depiction of her parents is well-rounded. From their dreamy romantic youth and young love, to the reality of marriage and children, the worries of making a living to feed and provide for children, unmet dreams, betrayal, long-suffering, and the ability to endure.
MacRae's mother is not a larger than life heroine. Yet, she is a heroine. At first glance through the photographs in the book, MacRae's mother appears to be meek. How wrong for me to think this.
I love stories where I am changed. Changed in my laxity, or changed in my prejudice, or changed in my preconceived idea of what "I thought" life was really like. The older I am the more I realize what I don't know, and that until I have lived in another person's shoes I will not know.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Lies Told In Silence by M.K. Tod, plus a giveaway

Publisher: Tod Publishing, July 2014.
Genre: Historical Fiction, France, France Book Tours, World War I.
Format: Paperback.
Pages: 367.
Rating: 4 Stars for Very Good.
Source: Free copy from M.K. Tod, and France Book Tours, in exchange for a review. All reviews expressed are of my own opinions and feelings. 

About The Author:
M.K. Tod writes historical fiction featuring WWI and WWII.
Her debut novel, UNRAVELLED, was selected as Indie Editor’s Choice by the Historical Novel Society.
In addition to her writing, Mary maintains the blog www.awriterofhistory.com  where she talks about reading and writing historical fiction.
She has also conducted two well-regarded historical fiction reader surveys, and in her spare time reviews books for the Historical Novel Society.
M.K. Tod is delighted to hear from readers at mktod at bell dot net.
Author's websiteGoodreads, Facebook, Twitter. 

In May 1914, Helene Noisette’s father believes war is imminent. Convinced Germany will head straight for Paris, he sends his wife, daughter, mother and younger son to Beaufort, a small village in northern France. But when war erupts a few months later, the German army invades neutral Belgium with the intent of sweeping south towards Paris. And by the end of September, Beaufort is less than twenty miles from the front.
During the years that follow, with the rumbling of guns ever present in the distance, three generations of women come together to cope with deprivation, constant fear and the dreadful impacts of war. In 1917, Helene falls in love with a young Canadian soldier who was wounded in the battle of Vimy Ridge.
But war has a way of separating lovers and families, of twisting promises and dashing hopes, and of turning the naïve and innocent into the jaded and war-weary. As the months pass, Helene is forced to reconcile dreams for the future with harsh reality.
Lies Told in Silence examines love and loss, duty and sacrifice, and the unexpected consequences of lies. [provided by the author]

My Thoughts:
Until a couple of years ago and before I took part in the War Through The Generations Challenge/WWI, I was ignorant of World War I. Since this time I have read several books, and I'm always on the look-out to read more books, as well as watch documentaries on television pertaining to this war. My paternal grandfather was in WWI. He arrived in France in 1918. I do not know any stories about his mark history. I was eight months old when he died. He had not shared stories with other family members. It is a loss, a tragic loss when family history is not passed down for future generations. 
Lies Told In Silence, gave me a solid view of how a French civilian lived during World War I. At times the story is from the voice of Helene, at other times her father or mother or grandmother takes over as the main voice. This gave a panoramic view of the war and of the story itself. Each character had a contribution from their feelings, losses, individual response to a war, previous memories of living through another war, and naivete at never having witnessed a war. 
Sacrifice is shown in Lies Told In Silence. When the book begins the rumblings of war has begun. Helene's father is on edge because he knows war is coming, but does not know when or where or how long it will last. He is terrified for the safety of his family. A loving father places his family's safety first. He makes sacrifices for the sake of his family. Even though his decisions were unpopular, the decisions were made out of love. The sacrifices of the men who fought for their country are shown, from distant and yet descriptive scenes of battle, to intimate personal experiences, for example, Helene's older brother, friends, and a lover.  
I became invested in the story in the first few pages. Their welfare and future kept me reading till the last page. 
I was disappointed in that I'd figured out how the story traveled and ended. I did not like the ending. 
I understood why the ending decisions were made, but I did not like it. 
Helene had been a smart and reasonable girl who had kept her logical mind. Her character had a transformation which was not a benefit and it had lasting consequences. 

Tour Information: 

Monday, September 15
Review Interview + Giveaway at Caffeinatedlife.net
Tuesday, September 16
Review + Excerpt + Giveaway at Book Nerd
Wednesday, September 17
Review + Giveaway at Making My Mark
Thursday, September 18
Review + Giveaway at Words And Peace
Friday, September 19
Review + Giveaway at Readerly Musings
Review + Giveaway at The Bookish Owl
Saturday, September 20
Review + Giveaway at The Fictional 100
Monday, September 22
Review + Giveaway at Queen of All She Reads
Tuesday, September 23
Review + Giveaway at Impressions in Ink
Wednesday, September 24
Review at The French Village Diaries

To enter the giveaway click on the title of book: Lies Told in Silence. 
Nine winners will be chosen to receive either a epub or mobi/Kindle ebook. 

Sunday, September 21, 2014

St. Bartholomew's Man by Mary Delorme, editor Jon Delorme

Publisher: Jon Delorme, July 18, 2011, first edition.
Genre: Historical Fiction, Medieval England.
Format: pdf and read on my Kindle.
Pages: 285.
Rating: 4 Stars for Very Good.
Source: Free copy from Jon Delorme in exchange for a review. All reviews expressed are from my own opinion.

St. Bartholomew's Man on Kindle through Amazon. The price is $2.99.

St. Bartholomew's Man on Wordpress. 
and follow the author on Facebook,
and on Goodreads. 

To read another review: @ Booksplease.

Rudyard Kipling wrote a poem: Rahere "The Wish House". 

To read more information on Rahere: Rahere, the Founder of St. Bartholomew's Hospital.

Rahere, other known spellings are Raher or Raherius. Lived during the age of King Henry I of England. Rahere's birth is unknown, his death was in 1144. He is buried in St. Bartholomew's Priory which he established along with the hospital in 1123. He had been a minstrel in Henry's court. A minstrel is defined as an entertainer. Minstrels were common in royal court from 11th through 17th centuries. There are few (solid) resources in which to find biography information on Rahere. One in particular has been destroyed. I came across a poem by Rudyard Kipling which is noted above.

Rahere an orphan, was raised in a monastery. He sang in the boy's choir. The monks lovingly cared for him, and his years there were spent in comfort and peace. At an early age Rahere shows compassion and a servant's heart. He later leaves the monastery and begins training as a minstrel in King William Rufus's court. William Rufus (1056-1100) was the son of William I, the Conqueror. Rahere was imprisoned and abused for a period of time, and later released. He had wanted to build great things to help people. St. Bartholomew's Man, focuses on Rahere's vision, plan, and act, of building St. Bartholomew's Priory and Hospital, the first hospital in London.

My Thoughts:
I loved this story. Rahere's loving heart is depicted throughout the story. His character qualities are shown as: gentle, kind, sensitive, and merciful. When other people wronged Rahere, he is not vengeful, but perseveres in a higher calling. He is a character which exudes Christ-like love.
The rulers of William Rufus, Henry I, Stephen, and Matilda the daughter of Henry I, are all depicted.
Matilda's quest and struggle to rule is weaved in to the story. This period of English rule was one of insecurity. However, Stephen's rule was relatively peaceful, but he spent money lavishly.
I loved reading about life in a monastery. Their haven was a city of its own. They had a garden and a kitchen. They helped the poor and sick. Holiday celebrations were warm and joyous.
St. Bartholomew's Man has given me another interpretation of life during the 11th century. I've read several books on kings, queens, and royal court officials, but this is a first in reading about a minstrel, and builder of a hospital.