Monday, June 29, 2015

Joan of Arc by Helen Castor

"I would rather die than do something which I know to be a sin, 
or to be against God's will."

"You say that you are my judge; I do not know if you are; 
but take good heed not to judge me ill, 
because you would put yourself in great peril."

"Get up tomorrow early in the morning, 
and earlier than you did today, 
and do the best that you can."

"Always stay near me, 
for tomorrow I will have much to do and more than I ever had, 
and tomorrow blood will leave my body above the breast."

 "Act, and God will act."

"I was in my thirteenth year when I heard a voice from God 
to help me govern my conduct. 
And the first time I was very much afraid."

 One life is all we have and we live it as we believe in living it. 
But to sacrifice what you are and to live without belief, 
that is a fate more terrible than dying."

 If I am not, may God put me there; 
and if I am, may God so keep me."

"Children say that people are hung sometimes for speaking the truth." 

Joan of Arc

The legend of Joan of Arc has endured through the centuries. How a young fourteen year old girl could overcome the social biases over her gender and not only gain the ear of the king, but lead an entire army (of men) in battle still astounds the world! Yup, it's hard to believe, but Joan of Arc accomplished every bit of it!

From the tender age of thirteen, she heard voices from Heaven that clearly assured her that she had been chosen to convince King Charles VII, who lacked confidence, that he could oust the English from the city of Orleans with her help. Not only was she to gain the King's confidence, but she was the one to lead the battle. 

Joan took the voices to heart. First, she gained the attention of the women in the King's court. Then she gained an audience with the king himself, and managed to convince him that she, a teenage girl, a virgin no less, untouched by man or the world, could free Orleans as long as he provided her with battle gear and an army.

"I am not afraid... I was born to do this," she said to the king.

And this she proved! Not only did she free Orleans, but the English fled back to their homeland. As a reward, she asked that her home town of Domremy pay no taxes. The king granted her this wish and for centuries thereafter, the town was tax-free.

Encouraged, the king wanted more from Joan. He wanted her to seize Paris from the English too. But this was not part of God's plan. The voices from Heaven were silent. As a result, Joan's army failed, and poor Joan was captured. And what did King Charles do on her behalf after she had come to his rescue when he needed her? Absolutely nothing! He deserted Joan in her hour of need. 

The English accused Joan of witchcraft and heresy and put her on trial. The evidence? Well, she wore men's clothing and armor! While imprisoned, she suffered horrendous abuse. 

They found her guilty and sentenced her to burn at the stake. The young Joan faced her death with courage, grace, and great dignity.

Twenty years later, the English king overturned the verdict and made amends to her family by granting them pensions and honoring them in numerous ways.

Five hundred years after her death, the Vatican canonized her as a saint.

Numerous movies and books have been created commenorating this courageous woman's life. She stands as a model of bravery, perseverence, and faith for all women to this very day. She continues to movitate and live in our hearts.

Helen Castor has now taken her turn at writing about this amazing young woman. She has written a comprehensive, believable, and vibrant novel, about Joan including insight into her doubts, her fears, her convictions, and her great love for her family. One of the best books I've read about this famous historical woman.

"It was the day of victory. First light dragged, cold and sodden, over a camp of exhausted men. Exhausted from unpredictable weeks of forced march, parrying the enemy's manoeuvres along the banks of the river Somme, or moving at speed to this urgent rendezvoux. Exhausted from a fear-filled day with the enemy in sight, waiting for a battle that had not come beore sundown. Exhauted, now, from a wet night bivouacked in the fields, or billeted nearby with the terrified villagers of Tramecourt and Azincourt. Exhausted, but expectant." Opening Paragraph.

From the author of the acclaimed She-Wolves, the complex, surprising, and engaging story of one of the most remarkable women of the medieval world—as never told before. Helen Castor tells afresh the gripping story of the peasant girl from Domremy who hears voices from God, leads the French army to victory, is burned at the stake for heresy, and eventually becomes a saint. But unlike the traditional narrative, a story already shaped by the knowledge of what Joan would become and told in hindsight, Castor’s Joan of Arc: A History takes us back to fifteenth century France and tells the story forwards. Instead of an icon, she gives us a living, breathing woman confronting the challenges of faith and doubt, a roaring girl who, in fighting the English, was also taking sides in a bloody civil war. We meet this extraordinary girl amid the tumultuous events of her extraordinary world where no one—not Joan herself, nor the people around her—princes, bishops, soldiers, or peasants—knew what would happen next. Adding complexity, depth, and fresh insight into Joan’s life, and placing her actions in the context of the larger political and religious conflicts of fifteenth century France, Joan of Arc: A History is history at its finest and a surprising new portrait of this remarkable woman. Joan of Arc: A History features an 8-page color insert.

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Thursday, June 25, 2015

Spoils of Olympus by Christian Kachel

"The dream is a recurring one but I wish it were more frequent. I'm visited by my father and we speak of where he has been. I', told of the horrors death has in store for the unrighteous and he urges me to always defend my house and enjoy life's pleasures. My father certainly lived by the latter, sometimes to the detriment of the former, but I decided long ago that, overall, he was a good man." Opening Paragraph

Synopsis:  322 BC. The Macedonian Empire is on the verge of civil war following the sudden death of Alexander the Great. As a boy, Andrikos, watched as Alexander's army marched through his homeland of Greek Ionia after defeating the Persians at the Granicus River on their way to the total conquest of the Persian Empire. Soon he will be embroiled in their world, forced to flee his old life due to an unintentional crime. Thrust into the army, Andrikos struggles to cope with the brutal yet necessary training which his superiors put him through to prepare for the coming wars of succession as Alexander's surviving generals seek to divide and conquer the spoils of Olympus. But Andrikos is not destined to be a nameless soldier; by chance he is chosen for a clandestine mission - and is immersed in a world of intrigue, violence and brotherhood. The path that lies ahead of Andrikos requires him to shed his immaturity to defend Alexander's legacy from those who would usurp it.
Review by Mirella Patzer
History and Women

Alexander the Great is dead and those driven to succeed him begin their machinations towards seizing power. Amid the chaos is a young man named Andrikos. Like many young men without a purpose, his life consists mainly of drink and women and floating through life unchallenged. He gets mixed up with a group of ruffians where he gets into trouble and is forced to flee. He joins the army to avoid his past catching up to him. It is then that he is introduced to the brutalities of war, of training, of battles to the death, of treachery. And once enlisted, he cannot get out unless he is killed.  

For a debut novel, this is exceptional. No stranger to battle and war, the author has written a vivid and compelling portrayal of what it means to be embroiled in action. The author holds nothing back, so be prepared for the brutality contained within this novel's pages. Some scenes can be disturbing to the feint of heart. Thankfully, I'm not one of them, so I was able to enjoy the book without hesitation. The author knows has seen war, and he knows the heart of a warrior and he is able to implant this into his characters. He also took time to describe how war affects the civilians and the hardships they face after the last battle cry is heard.

I love novels about Ancient Greece and this one had a wonderful storyline weaved among the hair-raising battle and warrior scenes. Looking forward to Christian Kachel's next novel!

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Mistress Of The Court by Laura Purcell

Mistress of the Court


Orphaned and trapped in an abusive marriage, Henrietta Howard has little left to lose. She stakes everything on a new life in Hanover with its royal family, the heirs to the British throne. Henrietta’s beauty and intelligence soon win her the friendship of clever Princess Caroline and her mercurial husband, Prince George. But, as time passes, it becomes clear that friendship is the last thing on the hot-blooded young prince’s mind. 

Dare Henrietta give into his advances and anger her violent husband? Dare she refuse? Whatever George’s shortcomings, Princess Caroline is determined to make the family a success. Yet the feud between her husband and his obstinate father threatens all she has worked for. As England erupts in Jacobite riots, her family falls apart. 

She vows to save the country for her children to inherit – even if it costs her pride and her marriage. Set in the turbulent years of the Hanoverian accession, Mistress of the Court tells the story of two remarkable women at the centre of George II’s reign.


If anything, I enjoyed Laura Purcell’s second novel based on the lives of the Hanoverian court more than her first, Queen of Bedlam, a touching story of the unfortunate and misunderstood George III and how his illness impacted on his daughters.

Mistress of the Court is a deeply moving biographical story of Henrietta Howard, who was to become Countess of Suffolk. The loss of her father at a young age, followed by the deaths of her elder siblings, left Henrietta at the mercy of wealthier relatives. Through gratitude and duty, she married Charles Howard, a man who proved to be a disastrous choice, but her strong character made her determined to overcome both physical abuse and being one of a noble family but without the financial rewards.

Queen Anne is reaching the end of her reign, and despite poverty and a drunken wastrel of a husband, Henrietta takes him to Herrenhausen and the court of Sophia of Hanover. Using her noble contacts and discreet manners, Henrietta secures positions for both herself and Charles. Within months, Sophia is dead, but this is quickly followed by Queen Anne, making Sophia’s son George King of England.

Henrietta returns to her homeland in triumph, though her feckless husband’s behaviour threatens to ruin them both. Nor is she to be left alone to enjoy her achievement, and instead, has to fight for everything she has, and fight again when circumstances contrive to deprive her of all that she loves.

Manoeuvred into a position at court she never sought, subject to the jealousies of others, the violent spite of her husband and the resentment of her royal mistress, Caroline of Ansbach, Henrietta remains serene, aristocratic and unaffected – at least to the outside world.

Written in a realistic, but unsentimental way, this is a fictional, but chillingly accurate account of Henrietta’s misery among the luxury of court life, while clinging to the belief that one day, she will be free to have a life entirely her own. Ms Purcell’s knowledge of the intimate life of the Hanoverians is stunning, and in this novel she has brought a remarkable, and unappreciated heroine to gritty, heart-breaking life. A definite keeper.

Anita Davison also writes as Anita Seymour, with a 17th Century biographical novel Royalist Rebel and The Woulfes of Loxsbeare series. Her latest venture is an Edwardian cozy mystery, Murder on the Minneapolis released by Robert Hale.




TWITTER: @AnitaSDavison