17 March 2018

Book Review ~ Margaret Pole: The Countess in the Tower, by Susan Higginbotham

Available from Amberley Publishing
and on Amazon UK and Amazon US

The true story of 'The King's Curse';
the extraordinary life of Margaret
Pole, niece of Richard III, loyal
servant of the Tudors.

I should begin by saying I'm an avid reader of Susan Higginbotham's historical fiction, so I've been looking forward to reading her non-fiction biography of Margaret Pole, Countess of Salisbury, one of the last surviving members of the House of York.

Perhaps unfairly, Margaret Pole is best remembered for her botched execution and a rather unflattering portrait of a thin-faced woman holding a sprig of honeysuckle blossom (a sign of love and faithfulness.)  Interestingly, when I saw the portrait in the National Portrait Gallery, it had been classified as 'Unknown woman, formerly known as Margaret Pole'.

This new book should go some way to restoring Margaret Pole's place in Tudor History, as Susan has done an excellent job of setting out the facts of her complex life and explaining the historical context. Readable and informative, this book falls short of answering my question about why Margaret was executed at the age of sixty-seven - but I suppose we will never know.

Tony Riches

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About the Author

Susan Higginbotham  runs her own historical fiction/history blog, History Refreshed by Susan Higginbotham, and owns a bulletin board, Historical Fiction Online. She has worked as an editor and an attorney and lives in Apex, North Carolina, with her family. You can find out more about her books at www.susanhigginbotham.com. Find Susan on Faceboook and follow her on Twitter @S_Higginbotham

16 March 2018

Special Guest Post by Chrystyna Lucyk-Berger, Author of The Breach: Reschen Valley Part 2

New on Amazon UK and Amazon US

Burying the past comes at a high price… It’s 1922 and a year after the Italian Fascists marched on Bozen. Nationalism in the Tyrolean Reschen Valley creates enemies out of old friends and Katharina Steinhauser fiercely protects the identity of her daughter’s father from both her family and her community.

Beneath the Surface: The (hi)Stories We've Never Before Heard

Imagine driving south over the Austrian border into northern Italy. The top is down. The sun is shining. You start to run through what Italian you know, and as you cross the Reschen Pass—still a German name—you encounter the first pizzeria on the side of the road and, “Yes! We’re in Italy!”

Other than that little bit of Italian signage, not much has yet changed. The landscape still looks like the Austrian Tyrol: mountains, fields, a bubbling creek, the sturdy, wooden alpine architecture. Right next to the pizzeria is a Speck and Äpfel stand. Because you’ve been in Austria for at least a day, you already know that these are the signs for that incredible smoked bacon you had with your dumplings, and those delicious apples were in the last guesthouse’s strudel.

At first, you might believe some Tyroleans migrated over the border, maintained their “brand” and wrote their signs in German. Except, that’s not it. The first town you encounter, Reschen, also has another name: Rescia. Graun—the sign indicates—is also called Curon Venosta. The valley itself is both called Obervinschgau and Val Venosta. And then, coming over a ridge, you gasp. Where once there was fertile farmland, now a beautiful 4-mile-long reservoir, nestled in the Alpine peaks, stretches to the southern horizon. You slow down because something else has caught your attention and everyone on the road is pulling off to the right. You follow them because you can’t believe what you’re looking at. About 200 yards from the eastern shore, and rising out of the water, is a medieval church tower, fully intact.

The first time I saw it, all I wanted to know was what in the world happened here?

Step into the time machine, dear reader. Let’s go back to just before the outbreak of World War I and illustrate the situation: the Austro-Hungarian Empire had its reach into a good part of today’s northern Italy, just above the Po Valley. A good majority of that land also belonged to the autonomous province of Tyrol, which had earned its hard-won freedom after the Napoleonic Wars. However, in Italy, a large group of disgruntled nationalists held to the belief that the lands to the Brenner Frontier (if you Google this, look just south of Innsbruck) were rightfully Italian. After all, that line of mountains was a wonderful natural barrier against potential enemies to the north.

The thing is, Italy and the Austro-Hungarian Empire had little conflict with one another. In the Tyrolean province, Italian migrants were generally welcomed with open arms. They worked there, lived there, filled in the jobs that needed filling, especially in agricultural labour.

So what happened? It’s called the Treaty of London. Signed in 1915, the Triple Entente promised huge swaths of land to the Italian nationalists if Italy took up arms against its neighbours and Germany. And there you go. Now imagine Giuseppe and his family work on your Tyrolean farm. He’s called to service. He has to cross the line to the south, pick up his weapon, turn around and face his employer in a war where not one single Italian unit ever crossed into Tyrol. Not one. The battles were all fought south of the line.

Enter the good ol’ U-S-of-A, the end of the war, and Woodrow Wilson’s Fourteen Points, specifically number 9, which stated:

“IX. A readjustment of the frontiers of Italy should be effected along clearly recognizable lines of nationality.

Now, Imagine you’re Wilson, stirring your cup of tea. The French, the Russians and the British pull you aside and say, “With all due respect, we’re going to have to ignore point number nine in the case of Tyrol, at least starting at the south of the Brenner Frontier.” And, they added, there were also places like Trieste that wouldn’t count in this imaginary “line of nationality” because, ehem, there was, ehem, a secret treaty.

Wilson was not prepared to budge on this, so Italy’s prime minister, Vittorio Orlando, arrived with his delegation and debated how the Brenner Frontier was absolutely Italian. He rolled out some maps and pointed out that this was naturally true. The rivers, look! They flowed from the south to the north.

Nobody checked to see whether they really did. And they didn’t. The Italians had fudged the maps.

Very simply put, Wilson was in a pickle. Italy was granted the new frontier and the Tyroleans were faced with a cultural pogrom not unlike Stalin’s over Ukraine: the German language and culture were systematically oppressed and eradicated starting in 1920. When Hitler and Mussolini created a pact, they demanded the Tyroleans stop complaining and choose to either be Italian or German citizens. Those who voted German were relocated to new territories within the Third Reich (an ironic drama in itself for those who were relocated to farms seized in the Sudetenland). Those who chose to stay in Italy were threatened with relocation to the colonies in Abyssinia. Either way, the Tyroleans were facing displacement. If World War II had not broken out, who knows how things would have turned out? But when Hitler marched on Poland, the whole program came to a halt.

And what of this church tower? What happened at this lake on the Reschen Pass?

The Austro-Hungarian Empire had laws in place, which dictated that no man-made structure could be built if it affected over a certain percentage of the locals’ livelihoods. Those laws protected the Obervinschgau Valley from a proposal to raise the lakes of Reschen and Graun by five meters for the purposes of producing electricity. The plan was reneged. Dead in the water, so to speak, before it could find its legs because it would have affected too much of the fertile farmland in the valley.

But Italy suffered in World War I. They had barely managed to hang onto their breeches and one of the first things that occurred was a very strong force that swore that would never happen again. Enter stage right: Benito Mussolini. Italy was in chaos and, after wresting control from the monarchy, he laid out a plan to make Italy the strongest industrial nation in Europe. The race against America began.

In order to build machines and technology, you need power. You need electricity. And the new territory of the Alto Adige / Südtirol, or South Tyrol, had a treasure trove of areas for reservoirs and dams. But how do you get around those old laws? You write new ones.

The Reschensee / Lago di Rescia is just one of perhaps a thousand stories about the misdeeds enacted against the German-speaking Tyroleans but the way this particular reservoir was built reads like a thriller. Corruption, greed, and prejudice were the key cornerstones in making this beautiful reservoir possible. Beneath the surface, lie seven villages, wholly and completely destroyed and a history of families who were ripped from their homes. The only thing the Fascists were not able to take down? The church tower. A story in itself.

Discovering the plight of the Tyroleans to the south of the Brenner really got under my skin. The more I dug into the history, the more I could understand why there is—to this day—a film of discontent, a bitterness that lies just beneath the surface, still hot to the touch.

On subsequent visits to the reservoir—regular trips that had taken on the form of a pilgrimage—the history began to unfold. On one such visit in 2005, I sat on the water’s edge and watched as—from the surface—an entire village of characters rose like ghosts from the destruction beneath the lake. They clambered into my little Fiat and never left. I’m telling you, I’ve got a story to tell.

Chrystyna Lucyk-Berger

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About the Author

Chrystyna Lucyk-Berger was born in Minnesota, USA, in 1969 and grew up in the culture-rich neighborhood of "Nordeast" Minneapolis. She started her writing career with short stories, travel narratives, worked as a journalist and managing editor of 14 magazines before jumping the editor's desk and pursuing her dreams of writing and traveling. In 2005, she self-published a historical narrative based on her relatives' personal histories and experiences in Ukraine during WWII. In 2000, she moved to western Austria and established her own company. She now primarily writes historical fiction, with two series set to be launched in 2018/2019. You can find out more at www.inktreks.com and follow Chrystyna on Facebook and Twitter @ckalyna

15 March 2018

Book Launch ~ The Breach: Reschen Valley Part 2, by Chrystyna Lucyk-Berger

New on Amazon UK and Amazon US

Burying the past comes at a high price…

It’s 1922 and a year after the Italian Fascists marched on Bozen.

Nationalism in the Tyrolean Reschen Valley creates enemies out of old friends and Katharina Steinhauser fiercely protects the identity of her daughter’s father from both her family and her community.

Meanwhile, the Fascists have wrested control from the monarchy and momentum behind the Reschen Lake reservoir increases with plans to wipe out the Reschen Valley's towns and hamlets. Katharina risks writing to Angelo Grimani, the man in charge, and begs to have the project reassessed.

But Angelo is hemmed in by a force that steers him far from his dealings with the Reschen Valley and that which binds him to Katharina. It's the opportunity the Fascists have been waiting for.

No Man's Land: Reschen Valley Part 1
FREE on Amazon UK and Amazon US 
15th-17th March

"An authentic, rich story." Laurel Busch
"Well-executed…powerful…moved me to my core.” Ann Howard Creel, The Uncertain Season

“…vivid and intriguing…transports you to another time and place.” Kristi Saare Duarte, The Transmigrant

“Utterly atmospheric. I could not put this down.” Louisa M. Bauman, Sword of Peace
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About the Author

Chrystyna Lucyk-Berger was born in Minnesota, USA, in 1969 and grew up in the culture-rich neighborhood of "Nordeast" Minneapolis. She started her writing career with short stories, travel narratives, worked as a journalist and managing editor of 14 magazines before jumping the editor's desk and pursuing her dreams of writing and traveling. In 2005, she self-published a historical narrative based on her relatives' personal histories and experiences in Ukraine during WWII. In 2000, she moved to western Austria and established her own company. She now primarily writes historical fiction, with two series set to be launched in 2018/2019. You can find out more at www.inktreks.com and follow Chrystyna on Facebook and Twitter @ckalyna 

14 March 2018

Blog Tour ~ Daughters of the Night Sky, by Aimie K. Runyan

Available on Amazon UK and Amazon US

A novel—inspired by the most celebrated regiment in the Red Army—about a woman’s sacrifice, courage, and love in a time of war.

Russia, 1941. Katya Ivanova is a young pilot in a far-flung military academy in the Ural Mountains. From childhood, she’s dreamed of taking to the skies to escape her bleak mountain life. With the Nazis on the march across Europe, she is called on to use her wings to serve her country in its darkest hour. Not even the entreaties of her new husband—a sensitive artist who fears for her safety—can dissuade her from doing her part as a proud daughter of Russia.

After years of arduous training, Katya is assigned to the 588th Night Bomber Regiment—one of the only Soviet air units composed entirely of women. The Germans quickly learn to fear nocturnal raids by the daring fliers they call “Night Witches.” But the brutal campaign will exact a bitter toll on Katya and her sisters-in-arms. When the smoke of war clears, nothing will ever be the same—and one of Russia’s most decorated military heroines will face the most agonizing choice of all.

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About the Author

Aimie K. Runyan writes to celebrate history’s unsung heroines. She is the author of two previous historical novels: Promised to the Crown and Duty to the Crown. She is active as an educator and a speaker in the writing community and beyond. She lives in Colorado with her wonderful husband and two (usually) adorable children. To learn more about Aimie and her work, please visit www.aimiekrunyan.com and follow her on Twitter @aimiekrunyan

13 March 2018

New Book Review: The Castle at War in Medieval England and Wales, by Dan Spencer

Available for pre-order on Amazon UK
and from Amberley Books

This ambitious book aims to set the many castles of England and Wales in an historical context, through the role they played in medieval conflicts. Dan Spencer's passion for his subject shines through and like all the best history books, makes you want to get out and explore some of these fascinating castles.

I have visited most of the castles mentioned in the book and consider myself to be fairly knowledgeable about their history, but still found some new and thought-provoking ideas.  For example, I'd not realised that the local townspeople often petitioned to have castles 'slighted' in the civil wars.

It's also fascinating to realise how much we still have to learn about many of our great castles, as the efforts at 'interpretation' are gradually being revisited. (Even as I read this book my nearest castle at Pembroke is undergoing new archeological studies which are likely to change its 'story'.)

I'm happy to recommend The Castle at War in Medieval England and Wales to anyone with an interest in the subject - and will definitely be doing some more exploring.

Tony Riches

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About the Author

Dan Spencer is an expert in late medieval warfare, particularly on the subjects of gunpowder artillery and castles. He has experience of writing for both an academic and popular audience, which includes conveying cutting edge scholarly research in a format accessible to non-historians. He has written a number of articles in academic journals as well as co-authoring, The Agincourt Companion (Carlton Books Limited, 2015). He is the main contributor to the www.agincourt600.com website and co-designed the Future Learn open access online course – ‘Agincourt 1415: Myth and Reality’. His knowledge of castles and warfare has also been enhanced by his experience of teaching the subject to undergraduate and international students at the University of Southampton. You can find him on Twitter @GunpowderDan

Full disclosure: A review copy was kindly provided by Amberley Publishing

12 March 2018

Book review ~To the Edge of the Sky: A Story of Love, Betrayal, Suffering, and the Strength of Human Courage, by Anhua Gao

Available on Amazon UK and Amazon US

This is one of the most touching, memorable and remarkable books I've read in a long time. My knowledge of life in communist China was the typical western mix of Chairman  Mao's little red book and atrocities in Tiananmen Square, until I read Jung Chang's story,  Wild Swans: Three Daughters of China

Anhua Gao's To The Edge of the Sky is an equally vivid first-hand account of one woman's struggle to against impossible odds. For me, the examples of cruel injustice and betrayal by her own family and colleagues were the most shocking aspects of her story. 

Amazingly, Gao and others learn to forgive, and there are many touching examples of people risking their own lives to protect others. In particular, she is helped by a senior judge, who could have so easily have turned his back but instead saves her life, and most probably that of her young daughter.

Gao's story is a 'must-read' for anyone who wishes to understand modern China. For the first time, I was able to see how the communist regime was able to develop and thrive. I also feel I have an insight into how anyone could live under such extreme oppression. I admire Gao's strength in adversity, although there were times when I wondered how she could possibly survive.

I'd like to end with a quote from Gao's book:  
'It is difficult for me to describe adequately the horrors of the cultural revolution. All I can do is write what I know to be true. You will have to imagine the terror for yourself.'
Tony Riches

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About the Author

Anhua Gao (her name means Tranquil Flower) was born in 1949, the year that Mao Tse Tung declared the foundation of the People's Republic of China.  Her parents were highly respected in China but by the time she was eleven years old both had died leaving her to face the challenges of communism with her remaining family. Eventually escaping to a new life in Britain (her mother once pointed out the island country to her on a Chinese world map, located on the far left "on the edge of the sky"), she has become a best-selling author.

11 March 2018

Tudor Book Launch: The Scandal of Christendom (Above All Others; The Lady Anne Book 4) by G. Lawrence

New on Amazon UK and Amazon US

Autumn, 1530: Cardinal Wolsey has fallen. 

The notorious Cardinal and Chancellor is gone. But even with the death of her greatest enemy, Anne Boleyn finds herself no closer to her goal to become Queen and marry the man she loves. Katherine of Aragon is still Queen of England, Rome and the Emperor Charles of Spain stand against Henry's wish to place Anne on the throne, and there is increasing dissent in England. Armed with words and deeds, Anne must fight on. She has allies and friends, but as her path to the throne becomes increasingly controversial, she finds many foes too... including Bishop Fisher and Sir Thomas More.

Believing the King must be pushed into a radical mind-set, Anne, along with Cromwell and Cranmer, work through Parliament, the Church and court, attempting to make their King into both Pope and Emperor within England. Henry will rule over a Church of England, as the temporal and spiritual leader of his people, and with that title will come the break from the shackles of Rome.

In a war against the Church, against slander, sedition, and many enemies, Anne struggles on, yet even as the dawn of her new life arrives, it does not come easily. And as she toils, Anne becomes aware that the fight for her throne is transforming her into a different person; one who is isolated, volatile, and at times, cruel. Reasurring herself that when she becomes Queen, all will be well, Anne strides ahead, but will the love that has sustained her for so long endure under such pressure? And will the people of England ever accept her as their Queen?

The Scandal of Christendom is book Four in the series Above All Others: The Lady Anne, by G. Lawrence

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About the Author

Gemma Lawrence is an independently published author living in Cornwall in the UK. She studied literature at university says, 'I write mainly Historical Fiction, with an emphasis on the Tudor and Medieval periods and have a particular passion for women of history who inspire me'.Gemma can be found on Wattpad and Twitter @TudorTweep.