Rosie’s #Bookreview Team #RBRT #HistoricalFiction SEVERED KNOT by @CryssaBazos #TuesdayBookBlog

Today’s team review is from Terry, she blogs here https://terrytylerbookreviews.blogspot.co.uk/

#RBRT Review Team

Terry has been reading Severed Knot by Cryssa Bazos

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4.5 out of 5 stars

I enjoyed this book so much.  The basic story: Iain Johnstone is a Scottish soldier imprisoned by Cromwell’s men after persuading many of his contemporaries to go south and fight for Charles II.  Mairead O’Conneil is a young woman staying at her uncle’s house in rural Eire for ‘safety’ while her father and brothers fight the Parlimentarians ~ but then the soliders come… and both Iain and Mairead find themselves on a slave ship bound for Barbados.

I hadn’t read this relatively new writer before, but I’m glad I’ve discovered her; she’s seriously talented.  The book is professionally presented, which I appreciated so much; it is clear that the research has been both meticulous and extensive, but at no time was I overly aware of it; I never felt that I was reading her research notes, as can so often be the case.  The atmosphere of the prisons, the slave ships and the Barbadian plantations, with all their horrors, is colourfully illustrated, and her characterisation and dialogue kept me engrossed, throughout.  I liked, too, that it gave me a view of how the English troubles spread far and wide.  Aside from all this, it’s a terrific adventure story.

Within the plot is a romantic thread, a background shadow in the first half of the book that steps closer to centre stage as it goes on.  The theme is the romantic novel standard of two people taking against each other on sight then being extraordinarily rude to each other whenever they cross paths before finally admitting their passion, which can work well if cleverly written, and this was.

Sadly, though, because of the descriptions of Mairead (tiny, skinny, frizzy-haired, plain, sprite, ‘Mouse’) I could only ever picture her as a sort of meek teenage imp, rather than a woman likely to inflame the passions of the Sean Bean-as-Sharpe/Boromir-like Iain, so it fell a little flat for me.  This sort of opinion is only ever a personal viewpoint, though, and I must bear in mind that I not a fan of romantic fiction, generally; I was glad that other non-love stuff made up the main body of the book.

Despite these reservations, I am still rounding the 4.5* up to 5* on Amazon in the interests of objective reviewing, because it really is an exceptionally good novel, and I will definitely place her on my mental ‘read more’ list.

Book description

Barbados 1652. In the aftermath of the English Civil War, the vanquished are uprooted and scattered to the ends of the earth.

When marauding English soldiers descend on Mairead O’Coneill’s family farm, she is sold into indentured servitude. After surviving a harrowing voyage, the young Irish woman is auctioned off to a Barbados sugar plantation where she is thrust into a hostile world of depravation and heartbreak. Though stripped of her freedom, Mairead refuses to surrender her dignity.

Scottish prisoner of war Iain Johnstone has descended into hell. Under a blazing sun thousands of miles from home, he endures forced indentured labour in the unforgiving cane fields. As Iain plots his escape to save his men, his loyalties are tested by his yearning for Mairead and his desire to protect her.

With their future stolen, Mairead and Iain discover passion and freedom in each other’s arms. Until one fateful night, a dramatic chain of events turns them into fugitives.

Together they fight to survive; together they are determined to escape.

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Rosie’s Review Team #RBRT THE FIRST BLAST OF THE TRUMPET @MGMacPherson #HistFic #TuesdaybookBlog

Today’s team review is from Noelle, she blogs at http://saylingaway.wordpress.com

#RBRT Review Team

Noelle has been reading The First Blast Of The Trumpet by Marie MacPherson

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The book is the first of a trilogy about John Knox, a Scottish minister, theologian, and writer who was a leader of the Reformation and the founder of the Presbyterian Church of Scotland, marking the 500th anniversary of his birth. In this first book, Knox plays a minor role to the two main characters: Elizabeth Hepburn, a feisty woman who becomes the Prioress of a convent, and David Lindsey, her one-time lover, who is the long-time tutor and confidant of King James V of Scotland.

The story opens with a charming scene that reminded me of Little Women, where Betsy, the nanny to the three Hepburn daughter, herbalist and possible witch, divines the girls’ fates from the tossing of nuts into a blazing fire. The three girls are completely different in character and although the book traces the fate of little Meg and the voluptuous and fiery Kate, it is the strong-willed Elizabeth who drives the story.

This is a meticulously researched historical novel, right down to the immediate inclusion of a Scots dialect with the English. I must admit this put me off at first, because there were many words I didn’t know and I hardly wanted to take time to look them up. However, as the chapters passed it became clear what the words meant, much like reading English with words represented by only a few letters.

The amount of detail, intertwined plots, religious conflicts, monarchical rivalries, and interpersonal connections are too much for this reviewer to detail, but if a sense of time and place drive your interest in history, and especially Scottish history, you will be in pig heaven.

Ms. Macpherson’s main characters shine with description like bright pennies – the gluttonous and painted Dame Janet, Prioress before Elizabeth; Maryoth, the nun covetous of being prioress, evil and conniving against Elizabeth; John, Elizabeth’s uncle and Prior of St. Mary’s, greedy and eager to have Elizabeth replace Janet, his sister, to keep the rich convent in the family; and Davie Lindsey, Elizabeth’s young lover, who proves feckless and sacrifices Elizabeth more than once to serve his king. If there was any downside to the many characters, it was the number of them, but the author includes family trees and a complete cast of characters for the challenged!

There are no lusty love scenes, although rape and sex abound, so this is not a romantic barn-burner. The author, however, does a great job educating the reader about the social mores of sex, courtship, marriage and child-bearing.

John Knox comes into the tale rather late, as the apparent son of a poor woman, into whose lungs Elizabeth breathes life, then adopts as her godson. He will be a major character in the next two books. This volume lays down the considerable history of the time from Margaret Tudor, sister to Henry VIII and wife of James IV, to the birth and early years of Mary, Queen of Scots, and sets the stage for Mary’s contentious relationship with Knox.

All in all, a challenging and intellectual but satisfying read, which I recommend – but not to the casual reader.

Book description

Hailes Castle, 1511. Midnight on a doom-laden Hallowe’en and Elisabeth Hepburn, feisty daughter of the Earl of Bothwell, makes a wish ― to wed her lover, the poet David Lindsay. But her uncle has other plans. To safeguard the interests of the Hepbum family she is to become a nun and succeed her aunt as Prioress of St. Mary’s Abbey, Haddington.

However, plunged into the political maelstrom and religious turmoil of the early Scottish Reformation, her life there is hardly one of quiet contemplation. Strong-willed and independent, she clashes with those who question her unorthodox regime at St. Mary’s, including Cardinal David Beaton and her rival, Sister Maryoth Hay.

But her greatest struggle is against her thrawn godson, John Knox. Witnessing his rejection of the Roman Catholic Church ― aided by David Lindsay ― she despairs that the sins of her past may have contributed to his present disenchantment. 

As he purges himself from the puddle of papistry, Knox finds his voice, denouncing everything he once held dear, but will that include his godmother, Prioress Elisabeth? And by confessing her dark secrets, will Elisabeth steer Knox from the pernicious pull of Protestantism or drive him further down the fateful path he seems hell-bent on; a path that leads to burning at the stake?

In a daring attempt to shed light on a wheen of unanswered questions about John Knox’s early, undocumented life, this novel throws up some startling claims and controversial conjectures.

Book one of The Knox Trilogy.

About the author

Marie Macpherson

Marie Macpherson was born in the Honest Toun of Musselburgh, six miles from the Scottish capital, Edinburgh. After earning an Honours Degree in Russian and English, she spent a year in Moscow and Leningrad to research her PhD thesis on the work of the 19th century Russian writer, Lermontov, said to be descended from the Scottish poet and seer, Thomas the Rhymer. The rich history of East Lothian – especially the Reformation period – provides the inspiration for her first fictional work, based on the early life of the Scottish reformer, John Knox. Ms.Macpherson is the winner of the Martha Hamilton Prize for Creative Writing from Edinburgh University and was awarded the title ‘Writer of the Year 2011’ by Tyne & Esk Writers.
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Rosie’s #BookReview Team #RBRT TURN OF THE TIDE by @margaretskea1 #HistFic #wwwblogs

Today’s team review is from Cathy, she blogs at http://betweenthelinesbookblog.com

#RBRT Review Team

Cathy has been reading Turn Of The Tide by Margaret Skea.

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Initially, I wasn’t too sure about this book. There are a lot of characters, and their allegiances, to keep track of, which I found it a little confusing at first. Writing them down as a quick reference helped as it’s not so easy to keep referring back on a kindle. The more I read, the easier it became and the story took hold. Set in Ayrshire in the sixteenth century it tells of a notorious feud that lasted almost two centuries, between the Montgomeries and the Cunninghames. In the middle of these two warring clans is Munro and his family. Munro owes his loyalty to the Cunninghames, even as he is ever more uncomfortable with their actions and behaviour, and his understandable failure to comprehend the reasoning behind the feud.

After an ambush and horrific massacre, not to mention several terrible retaliations, the two families are charged by King James VI to publicly declare a truce and with members of each family vying for the King’s favour, it’s not long before tensions erupt again. Munro escapes retribution for his part in the ambush but his conscience, his wife and his gradual friendship with several Montgomeries, make him reassess his priorities, regardless of the fact his association with the rival clan would be condemned out of hand by certain members of the Cunninghames.

The story is firmly rooted in the time and place by skilful, descriptive writing and evocative dialogue. It’s a complex tale of politics and intrigue, with basically one main, and despicable, miscreant – William Cunninghame, Glencairn’s heir. Despite the truce, he has no intention of even attempting to keep the peace. He is vicious, overbearing and completely intolerant of perceived slights, as Munro’s family learn to their cost. Anyone who offends him is in a very precarious position.

It’s a harsh and dangerous time, when hatred and revenge is rife. Munro walks a fine line between the two families, always having to be on the alert while just wishing to live his life quietly, at home with his wife and children. Always conscious of the choices he makes, and the resulting actions, as to how they might affect his family. This is shown extremely well by the vast chasm between daily family life on the farm and the conflicting violence and tragedy.

Margaret Skea creates a good balance between fact and fiction, blending both seamlessly. Munro especially stands out, and initially it was his character that helped draw me into the story, which, to all appearances is a convincing and representational account. The characters, both real and fictional, are well defined and believable and the story well crafted – I can only imagine the depth of research this took. I love the tense build up to a very unexpected ending.

Book Description

Old rivalries…new friendships…dangerous decisions. 
Set in 16th Century Scotland Munro owes allegiance to the Cunninghames and to the Earl of Glencairn. Trapped in the 150-year-old feud between the Cunninghames and the Montgomeries, he escapes the bloody aftermath of an ambush, but he cannot escape the disdain of the wife he sought to protect, or his own internal conflict. He battles with his conscience and with divided loyalties – to age-old obligations, to his wife and children, and, most dangerous of all, to a growing friendship with the rival Montgomerie clan. Intervening to diffuse a quarrel that flares between a Cunninghame cousin and Hugh Montgomerie, he succeeds only in antagonizing William, the arrogant and vicious Cunninghame heir. And antagonizing William is a dangerous game to play…

About the author

Margaret Skea

Margaret Skea grew up in Ulster at the height of the ‘Troubles’, but now lives with her husband in the Scottish Borders. 

An interest in Scotland’s turbulent history, and in particular the 16th century, combined with PhD research into the Ulster-Scots vernacular, led to the writing of Turn of the Tide, which was the Historical Fiction Winner in the 2011 Harper Collins / Alan Titchmarsh People’s Novelist Competition and the Beryl Bainbridge Award for Best First Time Author 2014. 

An Hawthornden Fellow and award winning short story writer – her recent credits include, Overall Winner Neil Gunn 2011, Chrysalis Prize 2010, and Winchester Short Story Prize 2009. Third in the Rubery Book Award Short Story Competition 2013, a finalist in the Historical Novel Society Short Story Competition 2012, shortlisted in the Mslexia Short Story Competition 2012 and long-listed for the Historical Novel Society Short Story competition 2014, the Matthew Pritchard Award, the Fish Short Story and Fish One Page Prize, she has been published in a range of magazines and anthologies in Britain and the USA.
New collection of short stories – including some those from competitions mentioned above available for pre-order now.

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