Queens Of the Conquest by Alison Weir

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The lives of England’s medieval queens were packed with incident—love, intrigue, betrayal, adultery, and warfare—but their stories have been largely obscured by centuries of myth and omission. Now esteemed biographer Alison Weir provides a fresh perspective and restores these women to their rightful place in history.
Spanning the years from the Norman conquest in 1066 to the dawn of a new era in 1154, when Henry II succeeded to the throne and Eleanor of Aquitaine, the first Plantagenet queen, was crowned, this epic book brings to vivid life five women, including: Matilda of Flanders, wife of William the Conqueror, the first Norman king; Matilda of Scotland, revered as “the common mother of all England”; and Empress Maud, England’s first female ruler, whose son King Henry II would go on to found the Plantagenet dynasty. More than those who came before or after them, these Norman consorts were recognized as equal sharers in sovereignty. Without the support of their wives, the Norman kings could not have ruled their disparate dominions as effectively.
Drawing from the most reliable contemporary sources, Weir skillfully strips away centuries of romantic lore to share a balanced and authentic take on the importance of these female monarchs. What emerges is a seamless royal saga, an all-encompassing portrait of English medieval queenship, and a sweeping panorama of British history.  (*Blurb from Amazon.com*)

Non-fiction/Historical 

Release Date: September 26, 2017
Includes: Maps, family trees, illustrations, glossary, British terms, two appendixes, bibliography, notes, and references. 

Queens Of the Conquest focuses on the consorts of the Norman kings of England. These ladies lived lives none of us, no matter how well read or traveled, could ever begin to imagine. Spectacular language with feeling, concern, and incredible knowledge tell the tales of the backbone of a Norman society. Alison Weir’s gift of historical realness to her readers is incredible. Bravo, Miss Weir.

As I would imagine people might like to read this particular volume for research, I feel I should say that the book’s contents are arranged in such a way that a pupil will feel at ease flipping through the pages (digital or paper, applies to both) knowing that whatever bit of information they’re looking for will be right there. Every bit of every Queen’s life is explained and painted in such a way that a reader–scholarly or leisurely–will understand on a level deeper than common knowledge usually allows.

For those reading for leisure, which I assume is most of us, this is just book one and that means there are more coming in the Medieval Queens series. If the rest of the series is as meticulously involved as this one, I’m in. It is unfortunate that the Norman queens haven’t been given the same amount of attention (in my opinion) as the queens of other eras because they are, simply put, incredible.

The only gripe I really have is that I cannot seem to find any information regarding subsequent books in this series, other than that there is some. I will most certainly be following up, however, and I will let my own readers know about any editions to come.

Pre-order Queens Of the Conquest by Alison Weir on Amazon.com if you are interested.  

You can also visit Alison Weir’s website if you follow this link through cyberspace! 

 

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How It Began

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Yes, I am always this attractive…

I was nine years old when I decided I wanted to be a writer. I didn’t really know what the job entailed, but I had wonderful examples available to me whenever I chose to have them.

My mom took me to the library often. We lived in Winchester, Indiana at the time and I remember those library trips well. Winchester had a great library, too, but it wasn’t cold like small town libraries often are. I was always happy to shed my coat to wander between shelves and decide on my reading material for the next two weeks. Somewhere, there would be a coffee smell wafting around, though I never discovered the source. Happily, I discovered a sincere love for books and the people who created them.

Particularly, I learned to enjoy Anne Rice. I was young, but I was always ahead in my Reading classes. I could comprehend far ahead of my level and that was in part due to boredom in my earliest years. The film adaptation of Anne Rice’s Interview With A Vampire came out that year and I got a VHS copy. I don’t remember who bought it for me or when I first watched it, but I do remember being completely enamored with the world of the undead, possibly because Brad Pitt was in the movie. And, in a move I now detest, I read the book after I watched the movie, rather than the other way around. I discovered thick and thorough description and how words can be beautiful if you string them together in certain ways.

From there, I learned of other vampires and monsters. Vivian Vande Velde became another favorite author quite quickly. The young adult section at the Winchester public library never knew what hit it. I was wide open and those characters were more than just intriguing. I couldn’t figure out why I, like so many other people out there, was so drawn to them. By the time I was eleven, I knew all of the folklore associated with the creatures of the night.

Of course, it was not just vampires. I also read werewolf stories. I read classic literature, beginning with some of Shakespeare’s very best tragedies. Before I knew it, the reading material at school bored me to no end and I had surpassed the expectations of my teachers. I still enjoyed reading the required novels in classes, but it wasn’t the same as reading the books I chose myself at the library. I began to wonder if there was ever going to be more to learn or if I was just going to flounder around in search of new books, new concepts.

Along with the reading material I spent hours with, I kept journals and notebooks full of words strung together that probably only made sense to myself. I looked at sentence structure only when doing homework. But, in the safety of my bedroom, the words I scrawled on notebook paper were written only to please me. They had meaning and were often thrown together in haste because I learned that writing when angry or upset was the best medicine for anything.

And, I was angry and upset an awful lot. There was little going on in my life that I didn’t take issue with. I wanted to ask why a lot. Every day. I questioned everything because I was stubborn–where most kids my age just accepted their lot for unchangeable, I wanted to know why.

Why do I have to live in a place with a shit economy? Why couldn’t I go see my dad when I wanted to? Why was everybody voting against Bill Clinton when he obviously knew what he was doing? Why are adults so grumpy all the time? Why can’t I live somewhere closer to town so that the library and stores to shop in would be just a skip away? And, most importantly, why doesn’t anyone ever listen to me? Do I even exist?

At some point at this period in my life I even wrote an entire short story about why I hated living in a house surrounded by corn fields.

Everything always came back to vampires, though. There was a young adult book by Annette Curtis Klaus called The Silver Kiss in which the hero doesn’t exactly get the girl.  Most vampire books I had read up to that point had involved a vampire hero who always turned the girl of his dreams so she could be his mate forever. Or the head vampire was killed so that he could be human again and be with her. Or, maybe they just ran away together. But, not The Silver Kiss’s hero.

In the book, the main character’s mother is dying of cancer. The girl is at a very impressionable age, going through very real situations. The vampire in the story doesn’t whisk her away to a better life or make her forget her problems. Instead, his immortality forces her to face her mother’s impending death. She is shown what a life cycle really is. Everything that is born must die one day. It is the natural way of things. And, of course, the vampire’s day comes too. He doesn’t turn her into a vampire. He doesn’t tell her flowery, beautiful things about being undead. He is killed. He dies. And, the main character, Zoe, is forced to go on with her life without her mother and without Simon, the vampire she once knew.

Something about reading a story about a creature who obviously couldn’t exist and being able to pull a small, but immensely strong, sliver of truth out of it really hit me. Life isn’t pretty. Life is not about the hero impressing a girl or saving her from her own boredom. Life is messy and dirty and gut-wrenching. Truth is most certainly stranger than fiction, as they say. The feeling I got when I read about Louis and Lestat living as the undead or about Simon dying even though he’d been given immortality is one that I still, to this very day, cannot describe in a way which would be sufficient to another person. No matter which words I chose, it would not be enough to portray the twisting in my guts and stalling of my heart. Life is short and pain is inevitable, so I write as a buffer between the two.

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Escapology by Ren Warom

I’ve never read anything by this author (probably because it’s her debut novel), but I gave this book a good, fair shot because all books deserve a fair shot and I don’t believe in sticking to the same authors all the time. It’s not good for the soul. Let’s move on to my thoughts, shall we?

There are a few big points to remember when reading this book.

  1. It’s very fast paced.
  2. There is a SHARK on the cover. Who doesn’t like sharks? Keep up!
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Release date: 6/14/16

Shock Pao is not just any Haunt—he’s the best. There isn’t a system that he can’t crack into, no virtual lock he can’t pick, nothing he can’t steal for the right price. Outside virtual world the Slip, though, he’s a Fail—no degree, no job, no affiliations to protect him from angry ex-customers. Of which he has quite a few. So when his ex brings Shock a job which could help him escape his miserable existence, he accepts, little realizing that it will turn out to be his most impossible, illegal and insane assignment yet.

Amiga works for Twist Calhoun, one of the toughest crime lords in the Gung, as a Cleaner—assassin. Trapped in a world of kill-or-be-killed, she wants out. But when Shock’s war comes to her, she doesn’t have a choice: it’s her job to bring him to Twist, dead or alive—or it’ll be her head in a bag in Twist’s vault.

See?  There’s a thing called the Slip (which is sort of described in the blurb above) and all of these people doing all of these crazy, great things. Very fast paced, as advertised.

The story is told through the points of view of a handful of characters, though I am partial to the story line of one in particular, Shock Pao. Shock is every bit the character I want to read about when I pick up a book to read. There is something deep and needed in a character who has been well fleshed out—let’s face it, we (as readers) don’t always get that. Shock, I think, is one of those figures we always want to read, but can’t find. One of the best things I can say about Shock Pao is that he is not perfect. He has problems that could stack up as high as the Eiffel Tower, but he keeps going, perhaps because he has little choice. In that way, I think a lot of readers can probably relate to him, if even on a smaller scale.

But, wait! There is another character from this very same novel I like even more and I am disappointed I didn’t get to read more from or about him. His name is Cassius Angel and he’s the captain of a land ship called Resurrection. Those blog readers who know me know I have a weakness for all things nautical. This particular captain needs his own book. I want to read about the life and times of Captain Cassius Angel and his ship, the Resurrection. The more I read about him in Escapology, the more I wanted to know. While reading the novel, my own unmet whim to hear more from Cassius Angel began to overshadow my need to give a hoot about the other characters. This actually became a big problem for me.

Amiga was the one character I couldn’t really relate to on any scale whatsoever and, more than that, I just didn’t want to read what she was doing. I couldn’t force myself to be interested in Amiga no matter how hard I tried and, believe me, I did try.

This book is great for some people. It wasn’t really my bag, though, because I’m not into cyberpunk at all. I didn’t choose this book, it chose me. Honestly, I’m glad it did. As I say often, it’s good to read something you wouldn’t normally read. The story is well written and the characters are well fleshed and well placed. I am disappointed that Cassius Angel doesn’t have his own book, but there is always time for that and here’s to hoping! Ultimately, I found it difficult to bounce from one character’s point of view to another to another. Some folks have no qualms with this, but I have a hard time with more than two POVs, especially toward the beginning of a story because the beginning is where the reader is supposed to be hooked.

I will not be including a star rating in my blog for this book because I don’t think it would be fair of me to do so as this story wasn’t for me. This does NOT mean Escapology isn’t worthy of any stars. I simply don’t want to be unfair to the author or the book and I feel that by rating a book that just wasn’t what I’m into, I’d be slighting a writer because though this story wasn’t something I’m interested in, the writing and storytelling abilities are very there and I’m just not Ren Warom’s audience  for this title. Maybe the next one.

If you happen to be into cyberpunk, futuristic sort of things, please head on over to Titan Books and buy a copy by clicking here.   

If you feel like this genre simply isn’t for you, I’ve made a note in my stash of notes to keep up with this author. I want to see what she does next.

 

 

 

 

 

Welcoming 2016 With Stories and Changing Tastes

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Every year I keep a log of books, short stories, and articles of note that I’ve read. In 2015, I logged an awful lot of books. Some were new releases, but more often than not, not. By this log, though, I figured that I read more how-to books, gardening books, and history books than anything else. I don’t know why it happened this way, but maybe because I’ve been sort of fighting a dark depression and anxiety with hobbies–gardening, sewing, and just about anything I can do which would keep my hands busy. I’m the kind of person who needs to be doing something, even if it’s something small, such as mending a buttonhole or planting a seed. And, once I’m focused, that’s it. I’m addicted to something new and you’ll soon find me in bookshops and online seeking out books regarding my new hobby, whatever it may be. I can’t just be a novice at anything. I will constantly strive to master it.

But, in 2010, for example, I logged mostly romance and horror novels. In 2011 and 2012, same. In 2013, by some strange tap of the reading fairy’s wand, I changed directions and returned to my science fiction and fantasy roots. You see, the firsts books I really loved–and I mean REALLY loved–were sci-fi novels, comics, fantasy tomes, and short stories in magazines involving elves, ghosts, goblins, werewolves, aliens, and vampires. I started reading time travel novels again. I started picking up newer novels by authors I’d forgotten I loved so much in high school. And, I began to change the way I think about things again. I think that’s just something that happens ever so often in life. Your life changes direction, so your reading lists change direction, too.

By 2014, I’d changed completely. I haven’t completely let go of reading romance, but I want to read everything about everything. Sometimes there just isn’t enough space on a year’s worth of bookshelf for all of the books a person would wish to read. I think that might be what happens to me. I am too ambitious. But, there are just so many books!

But, back to 2015.

Last year, my children grew. My fortunes changed (sort of) with the coming of a move which will take me from living in a small 3 bedroom house with a small yard to a small 4 bedroom house with a yard that reaches beyond what the eye can see (my husband’s family’s farm). In anticipation of this move, my family and I have discussed a lot of changes. We’re letting go of cable because it won’t be available. We’re going to have an internet connection to watch Netflix and Hulu and do internety things. But, we’ve also decided that we’re going to raise some chickens and continue growing beautiful herbs and Cherokee purple tomatoes (which are to die for, by the way, and can be found at Burpee’s online). On the farm, my father-in-law and brother-in-laws (and their wives and families) raise chickens, horses, cows, pigs, and sometimes goats. And, I think my niece has some rabbits somewhere. So, with all of this in mind, I’ve been reading about soil, about how to raise animals (because I’m absolutely terrified of horses and have no clue how to manage livestock, much less live with them), and about how to live a simpler life.

Now, hold on, people. Before you start thinking ahead, NO. No, we are not homesteaders. Absolutely, just no. I have mad amounts of respect for homesteaders, but that’s not what we’re doing  at all. We’re just simplifying things and moving forward with raising our family in an area where I won’t have to worry about being so close to other people. Well, except for my husband’s family. Two of his brothers, their wives, their collective six children, and my mother-in-law and father-in-law all live on the same stretch of property, but it’s big enough that none of us have to look at each other if we don’t want to. Or unless I need to be saved from the horses (ha ha).

The beautiful part of how life changes your reading habits, though, is that when I move to my little farm shack in the middle of nowhere, I’ll have new places to read. Also, I have a niece and a sister-in-law who both love to read, too, so maybe we can exchange good books ever so often. Who knows–we might even start our own book club right on the edge of the mountain. I’m sure the new experiences I have there will absolutely reflect in the 2016 reading log. I have plans to pick up a Farmer’s Almanac and a Gardener’s Almanac next time I’m in the Dollar General store in town. And, beyond that, there’s a discount store in Beckley (about 35 minutes from me) where I can pick up as many books about flowers and plants as I want because they’re really cheap. I’d love a book about flowers so I can learn about which ones are the easiest to grow and which ones need what because I do have plans for a white rose bush and roses are not things I know a lot about, although I’ve always loved white roses (among other white flowers, I also love the white moonflowers/Datura).

bookThere are a few crime fiction novels I plan to read this year, though, and they’re already sitting on my nightstand. AND, I do have some drama, history, and romance novels sitting in my shelf, waiting on me to give them some attention. First, though, I have a book filled with the love letters between Lucrezia Borgia and Pietro Bembo. The book is called “The Prettiest Love Letters In the World” because they truly are. I’ve already taken a peek at them.

scandalsAnd, of course, it’s January 3rd, which means I’ve already read a book this year. It’s was called “Treasury of Royal Scandals” and it was published some years back, but still such a great read. Books aren’t like food–they don’t ruin after a while. They stay great. I’ve learned that there is also a book out there called “A Treasury of Great American Scandals,” which I’d like to add to my collection, too. The author, Michael Farquhar, has many books out I’d like to snatch. Seriously, where has this guy been all my life as a reader? “Treasury of Royal Scandals” was brilliant. It was a great way to start the year, in my opinion.

I’m curious to know how everyone else feels on the subject of changing tastes in books. Is it just me? Do the rest of you change tastes every now and then? I can’t imagine I’m the only person on the face of the planet who sometimes switches from medieval kings and queens to cyborgs and werewolves.

 

7 Things A Writer’s Spouse Should Expect

GaimanI sometimes feel very, very sorry for my husband because he’s stuck with me. I’m not the easiest person on the planet to live with. I blame being a hermit for the majority of this, but there are other reasons, I suppose. I’m difficult. Plain and simple. But, I’m a decent writer. So, if you’re in a relationship with a writer and you are planning on marrying them, there are things you should come to expect.

  1. Expect coffee- Expect it at 6 AM, noon, and 4 PM. And sometimes at midnight.
  2. Expect silence- Writer spouse will sometimes vacate all senses. He/She will disappear into their own world for long stretches of time. It is in my experience that these stretches of time are optimal buying times for presents for the writer. Or, ya know, a good time for the spouse to have a bowling night or catch a movie with friends. Whatever.
  3. Expect messy hair and pajamas- I can’t write very well if I’m uncomfortable. And, I can’t shower if I’m in the middle of a big scene.  I know I’m not alone in this.
  4. Expect a blizzard of post-it notes- These little pastel colored sticky paperlets (Is that a word? Heh. It is now.) are excellent for jotting down single thoughts or making short lists of murder suspects. And, they’re all over my kitchen. Also, I have index cards and other piles of papers all over the place. Don’t worry. They file away nicely in large zip-lock bags.
  5. Expect nary a dish to be washed- I wash dishes, sure. But, I don’t wash them when there are only a few in the sink. Now, I realize this drives some people crazy, but shut up. No, really. Shut up. I refuse to abandon my manuscript for three coffee mugs and a couple of saucers.
  6. Expect your bed to be vacated in the middle of the night- Have I mentioned that sometimes the mood to write strikes at the weirdest times? Like, when you’re lying in bed…Because it does.
  7. Expect take out meals- I don’t think a lot of folks would complain about this. My husband doesn’t. The man loves his pizza. Little Caesar’s drive-thru window is a place we frequent. Nobody can beat a quick meal for $5 a pop. But, sometimes cooking is just not on a writer’s mind. Neither is eating, for that matter. Sometimes we just forget that there are other people in the house and that, by most standards, food is expected to be served at some point.

 

10 Things For Writers To Be Thankful For

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  1. Free word processing programs. A lot of writers are on a tight budget (who would have thought, right?), so sometimes it’s convenient to have free MS Word Alternatives. I’ve used Open Office many, many times and I like it quite a bit. It’s more than adequate. Remember the days when computers came equipped with Word? Those were the days, huh?
  2. Coffee pots that turn themselves off. Sometimes, when writing, one might forget to get up and turn it off themselves. Not naming any names or anything…
  3. Friends who are also writers. Online, offline, or anywhere in between, sometimes only another writer will understand what’s going on in our heads. Spouses, children, parents, and other friends may try and do a really great job supporting us, but when you have a deadline and you need a shove, sometimes it just takes another writer to kick your butt into gear. AND, they sometimes know of submission calls you’ve never heard of.
  4. A comfy writing spot. Is it just me, or do other writers out there also have a favorite spot to write? In bed? On the couch? Outside? In the car? You name the place and I promise I know a writer who prefers to write there. I even know a lady who likes to write in her bathroom floor. Beer may or may not play a role in that scenario.
  5. Failures, great and small. Without them, we wouldn’t grow and learn. We all have them. If a writer ever tells you they’ve never failed with a project, they’re just lying.
  6. A life story. Everybody has a life story. Some are normal, but of all the writers I know, I only know a few with a normal upbringing. Experiences gained through childhood and beyond shape who we are as people and that seeps into a person’s writing in so many ways. Be thankful, even if your life has been shitty. Or don’t. That’s up to you.
  7. Bookshelves (or boxes, crates, stacks…) full of books. These are our greatest tools. You can’t write if you don’t read.
  8. Beta readers. These people are crazy important. They’re our test subjects, sort of. They read our books before anyone else. Good betas give honest feedback. I have a beta I know will tell me the truth. If my book sucks, she’ll say, “Honey, this is trash. Fix this shit.” And I totally love her for it.
  9. Imagination and the willingness to use it. Why would a twenty-something scientist’s assistant take off in a beat up Ford to venture into alternate realities, knowing death was always a likely scenario? Because I wanted to write that, that’s why.
  10. Foods of convenience. Frozen or delivery pizzas, ramen noodles, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, microwave meals, soup in a can, Chinese delivery–while I don’t suggest on living off of these things, they come in handy when you have a deadline or when you’re at the end of your novel and you just have to keep going or else you might burst.

10 Things To Know About Your Characters

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I try to keep a thorough character sketch on each character I write. Sometimes it’s a little bit difficult and I get halfway through a novel and realize there’s something in a character’s past I hadn’t accounted for. There are ten questions I ask myself (and write down) about each character. These questions are not the only things you would find if you started reading through my scribbled folder of character sketches. These are things that go beyond name, hair color, and height. For the sake of helping writers write, I’ll share my questions with you and if you can think of any questions you’d like to add, just write it in the comments!

  1. How does this character make money?
  2. Where have they lived in their lifetime?
  3. What was this character’s family life like? Parents? Siblings?
  4. What kind of education does this character have? Which schools did they go to? What did they study and why?
  5. What are his/her goals? What drives him/her?
  6. What are his/her obstacles? What’s standing in the way of his/her happiness?
  7. Is he/she a party animal, homebody, or somewhere between the two?
  8. What are the character’s strengths and weaknesses?
  9. What are this character’s habits and mannerisms like?
  10. What is the character’s greatest fear?