Book Review: Lord Edward’s Archer by Griff Hossker (@HoskerGriff) #RBRT #medieval adventure

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Author Griff Hossker has written 116 books, all centered on warfare, many in the Middle Ages with knights, Vikings, swordsmen, and Saxons, but some set in WWI and WWII. He’s a very popular author, so I decided to read this book, which I purchased for review.

The story is set in the 13th century in Wales, France and England. The main character is a young man named Gruffyd, who has been trained by his father, a famous archer, to follow in his footsteps. His father is retired from his life as a hired soldier and ekes out a meager living, enough to support him and his son. At seventeen, Gruffyd is already a strong, smart and able bowman and is hired by the lord of a nearby castle. The lord is a base and cowardly man, and when the nobleman commits a devastating deed affecting Gruffyd, the young man makes a life-altering decision. For a while he lives as an outlaw living wild in the woods while seeking a passage to France. There are a considerable number of obstacles in his journey but when he reaches France, he is hired as an archer by Lord Edward, heir to the throne of England. Edward is waging war against certain French factors who are a threat to his father’s throne. He quickly becomes captain of Lord Edward’s archers and plays a major role in some of England’s most decisive and ruthless battles, both in France and in England. Gruffyd is very young for such an important post and must continually prove not only his own worth, but also the value and importance of his archers in winning significant battles.

Did I enjoy the book? Yes and no. The author’s style of writing – short sentences, almost staccato in style and with sparse description—took a bit of getting used to. The story itself moves quickly and is true to both the history and battles of the time and the use of the longbow. As a reader, I learned a great deal about archery (long bow, cross bow, and the pros and cons of both), how archers were used to advantage in battle, and the life of an outlaw in England – it’s not all Robin Hood. The battle scenes spared no gruesome detail, but then battles in the Middle Ages were gruesome affairs.

What I found somewhat off-putting were the deaths of most of Gruffyd’s friends, while he himself moved seamlessly and without injury through challenge after challenge, always finding just the right solution and earning a lot of money from his employer in the process. It was a tiny bit too perfect. The name Gruffyd chooses to disguise who he really is – Gerald War Bow – felt an off note, but considering the names of other characters, such as Dickon of Downholme, Matty Strawhair, and Rafe Oak Arms, perhaps not so much. The author has an enormous grasp of warfare in the Middle Ages and the history of the time, so it’s perhaps just the writing style that threw me off.

I was drawn along by the story, despite the drawbacks, and if you like historical novels, you might want to sample one of his books to see if his storytelling appeals to you.

PS I thought the cover was spectacular!

About the author (from Amazon):

Griff Hossker was born in Lancashire. He became an English teacher and taught in the North East of England for 35 years. He co-wrote a number of musicals including Shakespeare The Musical and The Journey (produced at the Millennium Dome in 2000). He enjoys history, visiting castles and reading historical novels. His novels span English history from the Roman invasion through to World War II as well as a trilogy of books set in the American Civil War and an ongoing Napoleonic series.
He has travelled extensively speaking about his novels, and he has sold more than 980,000 books world- wide. He has regular interaction with his readers whom he regards as friends rather than customers.

You can find Griff Hosker

On his website: http:/www.griffhosker.com
On twitter: @HoskerGriff

And on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/griff.hosker.9

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An Uncommon Woman: Sojourner Truth

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This month is Black History month here in the U.S. I would like to open the month by telling you about Sojourner Truth.

Sojourner Truth was an African American evangelist, abolitionist, women’s rights activist and author who lived as a slave, serving several masters throughout New York before escaping to freedom in 1826. Truth was born Isabella Baumfree in 1797, one of the 10 or 12 children of James and Elizabeth Baumfree. Her parents had been bought by a Colonel Hardenbergh from slave traders and kept at his estate in a big hilly area  about 95 miles north of New York City.[

She was born Isabella Baumfree in 1797 to slave parents in Ulster County, New York. When she was about nine years old, she was sold at a slave auction to John Neely for $100, along with a flock of sheep, separated forever from her family. Neely was a cruel and violent man who beat his slaves, including young Isabella, regularly. Before she was 13, she was sold two more times, the final time to John Dumont and his wife Elizabeth of West Park.

When she was 18, she fell in love with another slave but was not allowed to marry him because they had different owners. Instead, she was forced to marry a slave named Thomas, who was also owned by Dumont. She eventually bore him five children.

In the early 1800s, New York started legislating emancipation, but it was a slow process that would take over two decades to come for all slaves in the state. Dumont promised he’d give Isabella her freedom on July 4, 1826, but the date came and went, and he refused to let her go.

The tall (six feet) woman was so incensed that Dumont had reneged, she left his household. taking  her infant daughter. As she later said, “I did not run off, for I thought that wicked, but I walked off, believing that to be all right.” She was taken in by Isaac and Maria Van Wagenen in New Paltz, but Dumont came after her to claim his ‘property.’ Wan Wagenen bought Isabella’s services from Dumont for $20 and declared her freed in 1827.

Dumont had one more card to play. After the New York Anti-Slavery Law was passed, Dumont illegally sold Isabella’s five-year-old son Peter. Isabella countered by filing a lawsuit to get him back. She was the first black woman to sue a white man in a United States court and win. While living with the Van Wagenen, Isabella she became a fervent Christian. In 1829, she moved to New York city with Peter to work as a housekeeper, first for evangelist preacher Elijah Pierson and then for another preacher, Robert Matthews.

In 1843, with what she believed was her religious obligation to go forth and speak the truth, she changed her name to Sojourner Truth and embarked on a journey to preach the gospel and speak out against slavery and oppression. She became convinced God called on her to leave the city and go into the countryside “testifying the hope that was in her”.

Truth helped recruit black soldiers during the Civil War and worked in Washington, DC, for the National Freedman’s Relief Association, rallying people to donate food, clothes and other supplies to black refugees.

Her activism in the abolitionist movement gained the attention of President Abraham Lincoln,  who invited her to the White House in October of 1864. While Truth was in Washington, she put her courage and disdain for segregation on display by riding on whites-only streetcars. When the Civil War ended, she tried to find jobs for freed blacks weighed down with poverty.

In 1867, Truth moved to Battle Creek, Michigan, where some of her daughters lived. She continued to speak out against discrimination and in favor of woman’s suffrage. She was especially concerned that some civil rights leaders such as Frederick Douglass felt equal rights for black men took precedence over those of black women.

Unknown Photographer, Sojourner Truth, 1864. Carte de visite (seated). Source: Gladstone Collection, Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress. Reproduction Number: LC-USZC4-6165 (3-11b)Sojourner Truth died at home on November 26, 1883, leaving behind a legacy of courage, faith and fighting for civil rights. She gifted future generations with her autobiography, The Narrative of Sojourner Truth, which she dictated in 1850 to Olive Gilbert since she never learned to read or write.

Truth’s life is perhaps best summed up by her own words: “Children, who made your skin white? Was it not God? Who made mine black? Was it not the same God? Am I to blame, therefore, because my skin is black? …. Does not God love colored children as well as white children? And did not the same Savior die to save the one as well as the other?”

Clearly these words resonated through the next centuries, taken to heart by Martin Luther King.

Book Review: Black as She’s Painted: An Ashmole Foxe Georgian Mystery by William Savage (@penandpension) #RBRT #Georgian Mystery

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This review is for Rosie’s Book Review Team. The book was purchased by the reviewer.

Black as She’s Painted is the fifth book in the Ashmole Foxe Mysteries series by William Savage.  His other series is the Dr. Adam Bascom Mysteries and both are set in Georgian England, in and around Norwich. I will be honest and reveal I am a huge fan of William Savage and have enjoyed both of these mystery series. However, even though I come from a medical background, the Ashmole Foxe books are slight favorites, possibly because of the charismatic, unconventional and quirky protagonist.

Ashmole Foxe is a bookseller with his own shop, run largely and profitably for him by an entrepreneurial widow, Mrs. Crombie. Foxe is a dandy and an unrepentant hedonist, a lover of beautiful women in his bed, fine wine and a surfeit of good food, but despite all these social faults, he has solved several other mysteries for Norwich’s political and mercantile elite. Thus it is natural for him to be approached for assistance when a rich goldsmith turned banker Samuel Mellanus goes missing. Almost immediately there is further news: the banker’s wife, who has a promiscuous reputation, has been found naked and strangled to death in her own bed.

A group of politicians/merchants need Foxe to find Mellanus, since having a missing banker is catastrophic for a bank and its money, but they also need him to discover how thousands of pounds have been stolen from the bank, without anyone noticing they were missing…until now. Add to this conundrum is the fact that Mellanus had closed his gold smithing business for no apparent reason, letting all his workers go, and Foxe discovers that coins and jewelry were taken from Mr. and Mrs. Mellanus by their pretty maid Maria.

Can Foxe find Mellanus and the missing money? Was Eleanor Mellanus as black as she was painted, or was it simply her misfortune to be both desirable and dumb, used and betrayed by the men she welcomed to her bed?

To solve these crimes, Foxe will use his considerable investigative powers and intellect, plus the help of characters introduced in previous books: a motley crew of street children, Mistress Tabby – a so-called Cunning Woman or folk healer, who practices folk medicine, and magic, and a sea captain, Captain Brock, who has just returned from his honeymoon.

As usual, the author wraps the solution to these crimes in layer upon layer of hard- won information, much of it not useful at the time of its uncovering, plus a number of tangential crimes. Also as usual, the reader learns a great deal about specific aspects of Georgian life. In each book, one of these aspects is a focal point, in this case coinage and banking.

William Savage is a living compendium of Georgian life, and he creates a world into which the reader is absorbed, alternatively colorful and dangerous, and populated by characters that become real. Over the series, I have come to look forward to the reappearance of many of them, interested in how their lives are evolving, as they most certainly do.

I was not disappointed by the tangled ball of yarn created by the author to be unwound by Ashmole Foxe. The pacing of this mystery series is slow, in keeping with life in Georgian England, and is something I have learned to enjoy. It allows the reader to savor the story.

If I had one criticism, it is the length of time it takes to get to the mystery. There is always a period of introduction at the beginning of the Foxe stories but this one was long enough to be on the tedious side.

I was also disappointed that the changes in Foxe’s life in the last book – his turn to more sedate attire and true consideration of the women in his life – were not evident in this one. Can this man go on forever in his present state? Will age catch up with him? I guess I will have to wait for the next book to find out.

In any event, as always, I strongly recommend this latest Ashmole Foxe adventure to anyone who likes historical mysteries and to anyone who might!

About the author:

William Savage grew up in Hereford, on the border with Wales and took his degree at Cambridge. After a working life largely spent teaching and coaching managers and leaders in Britain, Europe and the USA, he retired to Norfolk, where he volunteers at a National Trust property and started to write fiction as a way of keeping his mind active in retirement. He had read and enjoyed hundreds of detective stories and mystery novels and another of his loves was history, so it seemed natural to put the two together and try his hand at producing an historical mystery. To date, he has focused on two series of murder-mystery books, both set in Norfolk between 1760 and around 1800 — a period of turmoil in Britain, with constant wars, the revolutions in America and France and finally the titanic, 22-year struggle with France and Napoleon.

Norfolk is not only an inherently interesting county, it happens to be where the author lives, which makes the necessary research far easier. The Georgian period seemed natural choice for him as well, since he lives in a small Georgian town, close by several other towns that still bear the imprint of the eighteenth century on many of their streets and grander buildings. It also had the attraction of being a period he had never studied intensively, and so far he has not regretted his choice. The period has far exceeded his expectations in richness of incidents, rapidity of change and plentiful opportunities for anyone with a macabre interest in writing about crimes of every kind. He cannot see himself running out of plot material any time soon!

You can find Black as She’s Painted on Amazon:

https://www.amazon.com/Black-As-Shes-Painted-Georgian-ebook/dp/B07H1SZN37/ref=sr_1_12?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1548117841&sr=1-12&keywords=William+Savage

William Savage’s blog is Pen and Pension:  http://penandpension.com I highly recommend his blog for his fascinating posts on all aspects of life in Georgian England.

You can also find him

On Twitter: @penandpension

And on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100009908836774

Book Review: Killing Adam by Earik Beann (@EarikB) #RBRT #SciFi

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I enjoy a good science fiction book, and this one did not disappoint. How many of us watch people fixated on their cell phones, Ipads, or other digital devices? How many of us are one of these addicts? Author Earik Beann has taken this a step further in his world, where small implants behind the left ear allow people to experience anything they could ever imagine.

These Alternate Reality Chips are the ultimate addiction: some people spend twenty-three hours a day online, only stopping when their chip forcibly disconnects them twice a day so they can eat. Jimmy Mahoney’s wife is one of these. Once a vibrant, loving woman, her addiction to her ARC is slowly sucking the life out of her and she spends her days in bed, disconnected to the world around her. Many in her situation have died already, unwilling or unable to log off to take care of even their most basic needs, and Jimmy fears for her future. Jimmy, on the other hand, doesn’t have an ARC. He is one of the few incompatibles (without the device) because of a brain injury which occurred during his years playing football, rendering him unable to connect. He rides on a bus full of silent, ARC connected people to a meeting of similar incompatibles, just for company. To the people who are not connected, being without an ARC is worse than being blind and deaf, and they struggle to hang on to what’s left of a society they are no longer a part of.

There is no more hunger, no more crime in Jimmy’s world – it’s called the Golden Age of Humanity. But is it? A few of the incompatibles see the cracks, although they have no idea what to do about it. One day Jimmy meets Trixie, a newcomer to the meeting. She is actually a singularity (artificial intelligence) who can inhabit the bodies of different people (in sequence), and she introduces Jimmy to Adam, the singularity who runs the world and who thinks he is God. Adam has destroyed other singularities that have arisen from computer programs in different parts of the world, but it has been unable to eliminate the one inhabiting Trixie. Jimmy is chosen to be the conduit for the virus that will help Trixie destroy Adam, because Jimmy can transmit but Adam can’t get into Jimmy’s mind. So it’s the case of a good vs bad singularity.

Once Jimmy becomes acquainted with Adam, he is drawn into a life and death struggle – which he doesn’t completely understand at the outset – with the most powerful and omniscient computer-based brain on earth, a being that exists everywhere and that has limitless power.

I was completely drawn into this story, even though I had a few questions; but aren’t there always in science fiction? Based on many op-ed pieces I’ve read about the changes inevitable to the human race with the development of computers, the premise is all too realistic. Just consider the many uses to which Watson, IBM’s super computer, has been put – in medicine, agriculture, space travel and winning at Jeopardy. There is a lot of action in this story after the initial premise is laid out, a roller coaster ride that leaves the reader breathless and compels you to turn the page.

Beann’s writing is smooth and his characters are drawn well enough – they are definitely not cardboard cutouts. Crazy Beard, an odd ball man who lives under a tree and who is dragged along on the wild ride, may not have been essential to the story, but he is a calming diversion when the action becomes too frantic.

All in all, I strongly recommend this book for science fiction fans and I’m looking forward to his author’s next outing.

About the author (from Amazon):

Earik Beann is the author of Pointe Patrol, the story of how nine neighbors (and a dog) saved their neighborhood from the most destructive fire in California’s history. Previous to that, he wrote six technical books on esoteric subjects related to financial markets. He is a serial entrepreneur, and over the years he has been involved in many businesses, including software development, an online vitamin store, specialty pet products, a commodity pool, and a publishing house. His original love has always been writing, and Killing Adam is his first published novel. He lives in California with his wife Laura, their Doberman, and two Tennessee barn cats.

The author can be reached

On twitter: @EarikB

At his own website: https://earikbeann.com

And on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/earik.beann

Movie Review: Christopher Robin

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Not being able to find a serious movie on Netflix or Amazon last night, the family decided on Christopher Robin, which was recently in theaters. It was such a great choice! We alternately laughed, chortled, and chanted a lot of the phrases we remembered from the books – in short, we had a great time.

It’s hard for a movie to elicit nostalgia from every generation, but after 90 years, Winnie the Pooh is a still character to which we can all relate. The first Winnie the Pooh story written by Alan Alexander Milne first appeared in the London Evening News in 1925 on Christmas Eve. The story, “The Wrong Sort of Bees,” would be the first chapter in the first volume of stories, “Winnie-the-Pooh,” published on October 14, 1926. Milne named the boy in the story after his son, Christopher Robin Milne, and named Pooh after Christopher Robin’s teddy bear Winnie. A  2017 movie concerns this part of  the bear’s story, Good-by, Christopher Robin.

My own children grew up with the books, as had I, but they also saw Disney’s The New Adventures of Winnie the Pooh on TV, a series running from 1988 to 1991. The theme song and the catch phrases from each character have stuck in my head from their many viewings!

Christopher Robin is pure fantasy – of course created by Disney – with Pooh and all the other character from the Hundred Acre Wood – Eeyore (my personal favorite), Piglet, Owl, Rabbit, Tigger, Kanga and Roo. The story is simple: it begins with Christopher Robin at his going-away party in the Hundred Acre Wood with all of his friends and his last day for many, many years with Pooh. He goes to boarding school and grows up into a joyless, all-too-responsible adult, neglecting his wife and his daughter Madeline, while he works to save his job.

Christopher Robin receives a surprise visit in London from his old childhood pal, Winnie the Pooh, who needs his help to find his friends who have gone missing in the Wood.

Christopher Robin goes back to the Wood, battles a Heffalump and finds the old friends, but has to return to London with a plan to save his department in the luggage manufacturing company.  His plans get left in the Wood, so the lovable bear and the gang travel to the big city to help Christopher fight a Woozle and rediscover the joy of life.

https://nerdist.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/07/Christopher-Robin-trailer-3.jpg

Jim Cummings, a Disney voice actor mainstay, returns as the voice of Winnie the Pooh, a role he has had since 1988. Ewan McGregor plays the grown-up Christopher Robin and Margot Robbie his frustrated wife. Pooh and the other characters are CGI, but are made to resemble weathered toys. McGregor and the actors worked with real, plush, stuffed animals that matched their onscreen counterparts.

I can’t recommend this movie enough. If you have children who have read Winnie the Pooh, they will love it. If you are a Winnie the Pooh fan, you will, too. Watch it together.

Some of my favorite Pooh quotes:

Sometimes the smallest things take the most room in your heart.

If there ever comes a day when we can’t be together, keep me in your heart, I’ll stay there forever.

One of the advantages of being disorganized is that one is always having surprising discoveries.

People say nothing is impossible, but I do nothing every day.

A day without a friend is like a pot without a single drop of honey left inside

If the person you are talking to doesn’t appear to be listening, be patient. It may simply be that he has a small piece of fluff in his ear.

Josef Lada, Czech Painter and Illustrator

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                                     Bust of Josef Lada in his home town of Hrusice

Today is Josef Lada’s birthday. He was a Czech painter and author born on December 17, 1887 in in the small village of Hrusice, Czechoslovakia, into a cobbler’s family, Lada moved to Prague at the age of 14 to become an apprentice binder. Entirely self-taught, he created his own style as a caracaturist for newspapers, and later as an illustrator. He produced landscapes, created frescoes and designed costumes for plays and films. Over the years he created a series of paintings and drawings depicting traditional Czech occupations, and wrote and illustrated the adventures of Mikeš, a little black cat who could talk.

He is best known as the illustrator of Jaroslav Hašek’s World War One novel The Good Soldier Švejk, a classic book I urge everyone to read. It is a humorous political commentary on the Czech world view. He produced nearly 600 cartoons of the Švejk characters, depicting Austria-Hungary officers and civil servants as incompetent, abusive and often drunk.

  • Some interesting facts about Lada

  • At the age of one, little Josef fell over in his workroom and managed to injure himself so badly that he permanently lost sight in his right eye.

  • He has had gallery exhibits in Paris, Vienna, Geneva, Riga, Venice, Rome, Edinburgh, Budapest, Moscow and Sofia

  • He designed costumes and theater sets for the National Theatre and other Czech theaters.

  • There is an asteroid named for Josef Lada (17625, 1996 AY1).

  • To complement Jaroslav Hašek’s Good Soldier Svejk, Lada’s drew over both 1300 illustrations (both color and black and white). New editions of this book are still published in many countries all over the world. The 1956 animated version of the movie “Svejk” by Jiří Trnka is considered a treasure of the Czech cinematography.

  • While Lada’s Christmas scenes remained popular under communism, the regime took exception to religious figures in a 1970s calendar which were replaced by a bowl of fruit.

  • His children’s book Mikeš about a talking black cat recently sparked a debate about racist undertones in Czech literary works for its depiction of a Roma character.

  • His youngest daughter Eva tragically died during an aerial bombardment on February 14, 1945. She was only seventeen years old.

I find his love his illustrations, particularly these two.

 

 

 

 

Book Review: Little School in the Woods by Emily Brewer

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This is a special book and is suitable for both elementary and middle school children. I discovered it at a book fair in Winston Salem and talked to the woman who inspired it, Mary Neely Grissom. She is a soft-spoken lady with a heartfelt desire to tell this story.

Julius Neely was born to former slaves. Caroline, his mother, had been owned by three farmers and had given birth to a daughter, Harriet, who had been taken away, bequeathed to another family. Caroline ran away from her third owner and hid in the woods, finally taking refuge at Smith Plantation where the slaves hid and fed her. In the spring she headed for the plantation of her first owner, Mr. Neely. There she met a freed slave named Jonas Gillespie, who hid her from the Smith’s overseer. The Civil War ended soon after, she and Jonas became recognized as a married couple, and they had six children, the last of which was Julius Neely.

Julius was a smart lad, and he recognized early in his life that education was the way to move up in the world. This story is about the school he built for the children and grandchildren of former slaves, hidden away in the woods because education was not supposed to be available to them. Built in 1908, the school education 1,300 students over 40 years.

It’s also the story about Julius’ daughter May, who got a college degree and returned home to teach in the school, and one of the students, May’s niece who just happens to be Mary Neely Grissom. Long years passed before Mary came back to try to find that little school in the woods, and the rest of the tale is about what happened to that school building.

This is a sweet, lovingly described tale, which touches on slavery, oppression and segregation in a non-confrontational way and above all, shows how adversity can turn to hope and how dreams can be realized through integrity and hard work.

How this book was written is serendipitous. Mary Neely and Lynn Parker grew up at the same time but in distinctly segregated communities in North Carolina, but finally met through Lynn’s church in 2000. Mary told Lynn the story of her grandfather and his school, and Lynn in turn introduced Mary to the writer Emily Brewer. Together Mary and Emily collaborated on this book, which is charmingly illustrated by Maggie Shibley, a studio art and English graduate from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

I can’t recommend Little School in the Woods more highly. It is a perfect teaching tool about the educational struggles of the early Jim Crow era in North Carolina and reflects the history of the South.

About the author:

Emily Brewer launched Legacy Storybooks in 2012 in order to help families create narratives that both mine family stories for the meanings that have shaped the family’s identity and crystallize the legacy of loved ones from generations back.

Her background in academic historical research, in journalism, in teaching college writing and literature, and in editing and design all come together in her roles as researcher, storyteller, project manager, and book designer.

Emily has previously worked in Venice, Italy, is learning to play the ukulele, and was once interviewed on Good Morning America after she helped deliver a stranger’s baby while she was waiting for the CW bus on the UNC campus.

She grew up in Asheville, North Carolina, and now lives with her husband and son just outside of Chapel Hill.

The book is available through Amazon:

https://www.amazon.com/dp/1389279219/ref=sr_1_4?ie=UTF8&qid=1518490594&sr=8-4&keywords=little+school+in+the+woods

and has its own website: http://littleschoolinthewoods.com/

 

A Reblog of a poem from Sue Vincent and Ani

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Couldn’t not spread this offering from Sue Vincent and her adorable dog Ani:

Go to    https://scvincent.com/2018/12/08/from-the-small-dog-3/#comment-170064 for the original!

From the small dog…

bird and dog 001_DxO

“The time has come,” the doglet said,
“to talk of many things;
Of tennis balls and squeaky ducks,
and sneaky bees with stings;
of why the sparrows fly so fast
and if that cat has wings.”
“Just wait a bit,” the writer said,
“I’m busy with these things.”

“But writer,“ said the small dog then,
“The sun will shortly set,
the pheasants will be playing out,
and rabbits too, I bet.
I really should be practising,
I haven’t caught one yet.”
“Hmm. Never mind, it’s raining
and you don’t like getting wet.”

“Ok then,” sighed the little dog,
“We could consider, please,
the therapeutic benefits
of sharing Cheddar cheese.
Or why that spider’s sitting there,
Or why do you have knees…”
“You scratch a lot,” the writer said,
“You sure it isn’t fleas?”

The clouds were turning dusky pink,
Upon the fading blue.
The writer sighed, put down the pen
another task was through.
“Come on, small dog, go get the leash,
your walk is overdue.”
The small dog answered sheepishly,
“Tough luck, I ate your shoe.”

With apologies to Lewis Carroll….
But none at all to her.
She should come out more.

Laughter 1Thank you Sue and Ani for the chuckles!

Book Review and Blog Tour: The Blue by Nancy Bilyeau (@Tudorscribe) #RBRT #historicalfiction

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This review was supposed to be published yesterday, at the end of the tour, but due to a mix-up I am blogging this review as what I call a clean-up at the very, very end!

This book is about porcelain, something I’ve never really thought much about, except for choosing my tableware pattern before I married. I never realized that in eighteenth century England, fortunes could be made or lost on it. In The Blue, historical fiction writer Nancy Bilyeau crafts a story as lovely and colorful as the porcelain about which the tale centers.

Genevieve Planché, London-born descendent of French Protestant Huguenots who fled the persecution of Kings Louis XIV and Louis X, views porcelain with disdain. She has talent and wants to be an artist, but her grandfather, with whom she lives in London, has arranged a career for her as a decorator of porcelain at the Derby Porcelain Works. The thought of it makes her want to scream. No male artist in London will take on a female apprentice, so in a last desperate attempt to avoid her fate, she crashes a party at the home of William Hogarth, the internationally famous painter. She pleads with him to accept her as a student but is rudely rebuffed. While there, she meets Sir Gabriel Courtney, a charming roué, from whom she escapes when she leaves the party.

Her unavoidable departure for Derby is complicated by two things – first, the reappearance of Denis Arsenault, journeyman silk weaver with whom Genevieve had been besotted. Arsenault is wanted by the law for leading a riot in the workshop where he worked. He’s returned to take Genevieve to New York with him. But before that can happen, the second complication occurs: Sir Gabriel reappears as a dinner guest at her home and offers her an opportunity she can’t refuse – learn for him the secrets of porcelain manufacture at the Derby Factory and in particular the formulation of a new, unknown color of blue. If she does, he will send her to Venice to study art.

She travels to Derby, takes up her apprenticeship, but in doing so learns more than she wants – not only about porcelain but also about industrial espionage.  Genevieve resolutely faces the obstacles to her dreams with no idea of the danger that lies in what she’s been asked to do.

The Blue is a rich romp into 18th century patriarchal society and the role of women. The author has crafted a tale with colorful, memorable characters against the teeming background of London and the midlands in the 1700s – all impeccably researched. Even the lesser characters have a three-dimensionality. The political animosity between England and France during that century (the colonial wars, the Carnatic wars) creates an unsettling daily environment in which the reader becomes immersed and feels much in the time.

Genevieve is a great leading lady: dogged, intelligent, and brave, but has compassion and understanding, even when she’s been wronged. Sir Gabriel is a worthy villain, debonair and desperate. The reader may find themselves almost liking him when his reasons for drawing Genevieve into his plots is revealed. Thomas Sturbridge, the chemist responsible for formulating the blue, is an aw-shucks sweet man with a backbone of kindness. In general, with the exception Thomas and Genevieve’s grandfather, the men in this book are unpleasant, rude and often crude; I suspect that in a competitive situation with the amount of money and fame at stake, this would be the case. In any event, the author is clearly invested in her characters.

The real surprise is the descriptions of the production and decoration of porcelain, something fragile and unimportant in the historical scheme, but which fans the flames of fancy and avarice in people rich and poor and tests the limits to which the very rich and important will go to possess the finest. I was heretofore completely ignorant of this aspect of 18th century life, and the author demonstrates a fine touch of ingenuity in making this the centerpiece of the story.

The plot has many surprising twists and turns which take the reader one way and another. Spies, secret writings, robberies, chemical experiments, kidnappings and escapes – there are many things to entertain woven into the story. I also appreciated that the morality of industrial espionage, even in those times, was not ignored.

If you are looking for an increasing wild ride of well-informed historical fiction, this book is for you.

About the author

Nancy Bilyeau is a magazine editor has lived in the United States and Canada and who has worked on the staffs of InStyle, Good Housekeeping, and Rolling Stone.

She is also the author of the Tudor mystery series The Crown, The Chalice, and The Tapestry. In The Blue, Nancy draws on her own heritage as a Huguenot. She is a direct descendant of Pierre Billiou, a French Huguenot who immigrated to what was then New Amsterdam (later New York City) in 1661. Nancy’s ancestor, Isaac, was born on the boat crossing the Atlantic, the St. Jean de Baptiste. Pierre’s stone house still stands and is the third oldest house in New York State.

Nancy studied History at the University of Michigan and clearly feels most comfortable with writing about past centuries. She is currently the deputy editor of the Center on Media, Crime and Justice at the Research Foundation of CUNY and a regular contributor to Town & Country and The Vintage News.

She currently lives with her husband and two children in New York City.

You can find her on

Twitter: @Tudorscribe

On Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/NancyBilyeauAuthor

On her own book site: http://nancybilyeau.com/

And on her blog: http://nancybilyeau.blogspot.com/

And here is the banner for the book tour, which you may have missed. Mea culpa!