Sunday, 11 May 2014

Sunday Wrap Up: Week ending May 11, 2014

Here at The Review we have a bit of a trend going on this week, what with reviews and interviews--and give aways! Our friend Anna has two of them, and she and our fearless leader Paula both sit down to chat a bit with a couple of our authors. It's been a busy week and we're certain you'll be glad you checked in!


Anna's review for Fractured is out of this world!

"When seventeen-year-old Lisen Holt decides to go down to the beach at night, little does she know that life as she knows it is about to change forever. One moment she’s in Malibu, watching the waves crash in under the weak light of a slivered moon, the next an eerie appearance in grey robes has her flat on her back while doing some sort of magic over her. And when Lisen next regains full consciousness, she is no longer on Earth; she is in the haven of Solsta, an isolated outpost of learning and healing in a world known as Garla.

The story revolves around Lisen, Ms. Hart St. Martin’s very likeable protagonist. More than bewildered by the turns her life has taken, Lisen proves herself courageous and intrepid, handling one stranger situation after the other with aplomb. Her confusion, her grief over her lost life on Earth, her fear of this destiny suddenly shoved down her throat – all of this is well-described. Add to this Lisen’s engaging capacity to be self-deprecating, and we have a heroine it is very easy to root for.

Fractured has its fair share of magic, starting with the initial chapter when Lisen is spirited back to her real world. I’m a sucker for well-described magic, and one of the more fascinating passages in the book is when Lisen is possessed by a soul she tries to guide to the afterlife. Lisen’s self is threatened by this unwelcome guest, and the author does a great job of portraying the borderline schizophrenia that afflicts Lisen – and the utter relief she feels when she is back to being alone in her head again."

To read the rest of the review and comment for chance at a FREE copy, simply click here!


Anna doesn't take a break this week! Back in this galaxy, now time travelling (it's in her blood) to medieval Italy, she introduces us to a woman with no ordinary story...

"From the moment I first meet Aurelia Rubbini, I am entranced by this girl-woman, all the way from her tawny hair to her mild demeanour. Set in 14th century Italy, The Slave portrays Aurelia’s life, from the momentous meeting with Batu, a slave from foreign lands that her father has brought home, to her arranged marriage and its subsequent consequences.

The day Batu enters Aurelia’s life, she is awaiting her father’s return home after months on the road. Not that her father does more than throw his daughter a cursory glance, reminding her indirectly just how disappointing it is that she lives when her brother died. Aurelia, however, is more interested in the dark stranger that follows her father into the courtyard. Dirty and dishevelled, with his hands tied and with eyes that regard his new surroundings with apprehension, Batu touches Aurelia’s heart already then. When the newcomer is locked in alone in the cellar, Aurelia braves her fear of the dark to bring him food and a candle. Eyes meet, fingers graze and a tentative friendship is formed.

Before going any further, I must applaud Ms. Montagna for giving us a heroine that comes across as very true to her times. Aurelia is raised to be dutiful and obedient, and for most of the book she remains just that, no matter the rather forced circumstances she finds herself in. Only when she can no longer survive by being compliant does Aurelia rebel – quietly – and reinvent herself.

Where Aurelia is all soft graces and submissiveness, Batu, the slave, is not. Sloe-eyes and black-haired, he stems from somewhere in the east, from the grass-covered steppes that link Europe and Asia. Personally, I would have wanted to know more of Batu’s backstory; as it is he remains something of an enigma. Why, for example, does he never express a desire to go home, not even when Aurelia offers him his freedom?"

Why indeed? Well…I can't tell you! You know you want to read the book, and Anna's got a chance for you to do it for FREE! Click ---> here <---- (there) and hop on over to get the goods (as much as our reviewer will give away, that is) on this terrific-sounding novel and get your name in the hat for a chance to win a copy.


Paula takes over as she talks shop with author and historian Marc Morris. Let's listen in...

"I have the privilege of interviewing historian Marc Morris. Marc is the author of The Norman ConquestCastleA Great and Terrible King. All books come highly recommended! Here Marc speaks to me about all of them."

You say yourself that you cut your teeth on studying and writing about the 13th century; what then drew you to the Conquest and what were the differences you found in studying each period?

Well, although my thesis was on the thirteenth century, I'd define my specialism as 1066-1307 - that's the period I taught for a few terms in Oxford and London. So it was a case of looking for a large topic within that time period, and the Conquest seemed the obvious choice.

The differences were considerable, for reasons I touch upon at the top of the Conquest book, and boil down to the massive amount of evidence that survives for the thirteenth century, compared to the little that survives from the eleventh. Sometimes I found the secondary material for the Conquest period frustrating, because once you scratched it and looked at the evidence for a particular argument, often it was flimsy or non-existent. It meant that I spent more time analysing the evidence with the reader in the Conquest book than I did in A Great and Terrible King.

Many people believe Edward I to have been a rotten king, cruel and vicious. How would you describe him having written a biography of him?

Well, I'd certainly reject that description. He was considered by his contemporaries - and not just his English subjects - to be one of the greatest kings that had ever reigned. I don't even think that in the first half of his reign he showed himself to be particularly cruel and vicious - no more so than any other contemporary ruler, and certainly not as cruel as, say, King John, or Henry I, or William the Conqueror. One of the most significant judgements on Edward's character comes from the author of the 'Song of Lewes', written in the wake of the Battle of Lewes, and - crucially - written by his enemies. It praises his valour and commends his conduct in the battle. What it condemns him for is duplicity, and that was a charge repeated by others throughout his life. The Welsh complained of it, and so did the Scots. In the case of Scotland, the charge is hard to throw out. Edward resorted to some fairly low chicanery and bullying to get the Scots to admit he was their overlord. In the end, of course, these tactics came back to bite him, and the Scots vindicated their right to independence. It was only during the last couple of years of his life, fighting final campaign in Scotland, that his actions can be considered truly cruel and vicious.

Would like to read the rest of the interview? (Of course you would.) As you like, kind readers! Here you go!


Not stopping for a rest, Paula turns to her musings of Morris's The Norman Conquest.

"The opening pages of this book show useful maps of England and Normandy at the time of the Conquest and there are also family trees to assist the reader in knowing who is who. Mr Morris shows no preference for either side, in his introduction he states that he has tried to be as balanced and fair as he possibly can. He himself states that he has no particular fondness for either side, choosing to describe the Normans as coming across as "arrogant, warlike, inordinately pleased with themselves and holier than thou." He also calls the 11th century English as binge drinking slavers and political murderers.

I found it difficult, however, not to be moved especially when reading about the plight of the Northerners who were left with no means of feeding themselves after William's Harrying of the North.

If you asked me what I like most about this book," Paula continues...


Back to you, Anna! (She's always got such great tea spreads…) A chat with Pauline opens up her world to us and indeed, it is of great fun and interest to learn about it!

Hi, Pauline, how nice to have you visiting us here at The Review! Before we start things off, let’s get nice and comfy in The Review’s generous leather sofa. So, do you want tea or coffee? Do you have hot chocolate? If not I’ll have a herbal tea.    

Some chocolate cake? Or I do have a very nice apple crumble instead. I’m supposed to be losing weight, but a slice of virtual chocolate cake won’t do me any harm.

There, all settled then, so let’s start by you telling us a bit about yourself. I am especially interested in hearing how a French major ended up working as an accountant…

I’m not a professional accountant. I’m actually a bookkeeper, a skill I learnt on the job. But it is a sad and funny story. Back when I was in university in the 1970s there was very little offered in the way of career counselling. The so-called Careers Counsellors seemed to have only one function – to hand out application forms for the state and Commonwealth public services. (So different to today, but in a lot of ways I come from a different era.) Consequently, anyone doing a Bachelor of Arts was given two choices – teaching or the public service.

Having decided against teaching, I found myself accepted into the Commonwealth public service. I was given an eight page questionnaire about which department I wanted to serve in. Hoping to use my languages I asked for Foreign Affairs or Immigration. At the interview I was asked what I had been doing for the last few years. I answered, ‘Studying French’ and I was told I had a job in the Finance Section of the Department of Social Security. (I guess there is some similarity between the words France and Finance.) To demonstrate how good the public service was in fitting round pegs into square holes, I started work with an English Honours graduate. They were fortunate that I happened to have a good head for figures. (I’m one of those rare people who can do both maths and languages.) As you can imagine, I didn’t last long in the Department of Social Security, and only stayed long enough to save up for my first trip to Europe. However, when I got back I couldn’t settle back into a permanent position and soon began a career as an office temp, building on my accounting knowledge as I went. It has made me that strange hybrid, a practically-minded writer.

In The Slave, the annual feast of the local Madonna plays an important role in that it allows Aurelia to escape the constraints of her normal life to breathe somewhat more freely out in the country. What is the background to the feast of the Madonna? Have you ever participated in a similar celebration?

The culture of the village Aurelia visits is based on that of my mother’s native village in southern Italy where every village has its own Madonna festival. These festivals are so important that the emigrants from those villages continue to celebrate them in their new countries, so I grew up knowing the importance of the Madonna. When I was in Italy last year, I happened to be in my mother’s village in time to participate in two such celebrations. One Madonna is purely Christian, celebrating a miracle attributed to her centuries ago. The other, though, the Madonna of the Grain, is much older and has its true origins back in pre-Christian times when it was the festival of Ceres, the goddess of the grain. There are two precessions for this Madonna. In the spring, her statue is carried to a mountain-top chapel. At the end of summer it is carried back down to the village church. This symbolises the grain being buried in spring and sprouting in summer.

You'll want to get to know this book and author more--and this interview is a fantastic read. Click here to join Pauline and Anna on The Review sofa and settle into a lovely cup of tea right in this spot.

In the rare event you might have missed last week's Wrap-up, never fear! Here you go!                                           

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