I was entranced by the Downton Abbey series on Public Television. The setting, the costuming and above all, the acting, were superb. Following an English family of nobility and the servants who support them, before, during and after WW I, was fascinating – not only due to the social interactions, but also the effects of the war on the class strata. The affection, not only in the upstairs and downstairs groups but also, with reserve, between the groups, was lovely to see.
The movie takes us back to Downton Abbey with a storyline based on the upcoming overnight visit of the King and Queen to the house, during one of their tours of the countryside. This prospect sends both upstairs and downstairs into a tizzy. In a draw on reality, King George and Queen Mary actually did visit Highclere Castle, which doubles as Downton.
There are actually several storylines all skillfully juggled. Lady Mary, daughter of Lord and Lady Crawley, has taken charge of much of the running of the estate from her father, and she wonders – as the owners of such huge, costly places still do – whether their ownership of the castle and estate can continue in the face of the economy. Branson, Lord Crawley’s Irish son-in-law, is drawn into an assassin’s plot to kill the King. The dowager Lady Crawley, played wondrously by Maggie Smith (she steals every scene) is concerned that her son, Lord Crawley, will not be the heir of a cousin’s considerable estate, despite being the only living male relative. The repartee when she is present sparkles.
“I know several couples who are perfectly happy. Haven’t spoken in years.”
And downstairs, Carson, the newly married and just retired butler, is called out of retirement to direct the servants. He not so reluctantly (he looks like a cat with a mouthful of bird) displaces Barrow, the footman who worked his way up to that position. But just as soon as Carson has established an orderly schedule of preparation, the servants from Buckingham Palace arrive, sweeping in to take over everything with royal arrogance. Even Mrs. Patmore, the Abbey’s wonderful cook, is displaced by a haughty French chef. But never underestimate how the Abbey servants can resolve the situation!
Other subplots: The lonely daughter of the King and Queen is considering a scandalous divorce; a rakish stranger initiates Barrow, who we know is gay, into the nascent homosexual underground of the time; and Daisy, Mrs. Patmore’s assistant, has to deal with a jealous fiancé, one of the footmen.
The movie was like a dinner with old friends – interesting, fun, comfortable. The scenery, the acting and the lush costuming added to the enjoyment. And there is a happy ending.
If you are a fan of the series, you will not be disappointed with the movie. I wish it had lasted for hours! Here’s hoping for another movie, and a long, long life for Maggie Smith.
Ailish Sinclair has written a captivating romantic fairy tale for adults, set in 1597 Scotland.
Isobell has been pledged by her father to marry a man she calls Wicked Richard. Together with two boys, Ian and Jasper, she flees her intended husband and a life of privilege in London, sailing in the hold of a ship to a smugglers cave below a remote castle in Scotland. There she will work as an assistant cook.
With no training for her menial job, she is taken under the wing of Bessie Thom, the castle’s cook – a large, jolly woman who is also an herbalist – who reminds me strongly of Mrs. Fitz in Outlander. Isobell meets Agnes, a sour and bitter young woman who is the governess to Wee Thomas and who loves to tell tales of witchcraft; the handsome Duncan McCulloch, Greeve of the castle; Christen Michel, an elderly woman who is the mother of the Laird’s first wife, Mary, who died giving birth to Wee Thomas; and finally the Laird himself, Thomas Monteith. All of these characters are so well drawn, I could easily see and hear them. The authentic use of Scottish words and phrases draws the reader into this medieval world.
I called this a fairy tale – Isobell falls in love with the laird, a bear of a man who is kind and gentle and sad – and the reader is lulled into contentment by both their love and the beauty that surrounds the castle: fairy pools and standing stones and beautiful woods. But this tale turns grim and gritty when it delves into accusations of witchcraft and witchcraft trials, prevalent at the time.
Thus the narrative encompasses hope and despair, good and evil, friends and enemies. The author writes beautiful descriptive prose of the Scottish countryside and delves into the heart of Isobell in an astonishing way, encompassing her views of conflicts between the Protestant and Catholic faiths and the feeling of the ancient religion, carried on by women, when Isobell finds the standing stones.
I really liked this book, despite the fact I expected and got a satisfying conclusion. Isn’t this usual for fairy tales?
A truly enchanting tale!
About the author
Ailish Sinclair trained as a dancer and taught dance for many years, before working in schools to help children with special needs. A short stint as a housekeeper in a castle fired her already keen interest in untold stories of the past and she sat down to research and write.
She now lives beside a loch with her husband and two children where she still dances and writes and eats rather a lot of chocolate.
You can find Ailish Sinclair
On Twitter: @Ailish Sinclair
On her website: https://ailishsinclair.com/
And on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/ailish.sinclair.9
You can find The Mermaid and the Bear on Amazon:
This book was purchased for review.
I will admit I am a fan of William Savage’s mysteries. He has two series, one about Adam Bascomb, MD, and the other about Ashmole Foxe, bookseller, stylish dresser and man about town. Both are set in or around Norwich, England in the period between 1760 and 1800, a period of great turmoil in the country. I enjoy both, but Ashmole Foxe is a favorite character of mine.
Although Ashmole Foxe is not of the nobility, he is a tradesman of the highest order and has a friend in Alderman Halloran. Halloran serves as a link between Foxe and the mayor of the city and its wealthy merchants, who frequently employ his investigative talents and logical mind in solving the murders of noblemen and women, merchants, and tradesmen. Mr. Foxe has developed nicely through the series (each book of which is stand-alone) with the gradual creation of an extended family that assists him in his pursuit of murderers: Mrs. Susannah Crombie, a widow who runs his bookshop; Charlie, a street urchin whom Foxe is grooming to be a bookbinder and who interacts with street urchins in pursuing clues for Foxe; and Miss Tabitha Studwell, a Cunning Woman (wise woman), herbalist and healer.
In this outing, Foxe finds himself with three murders to solve, and the each present him with different challenges. The first, and most important to the mayor, is the stabbing death of the son of Lord Frederick Aylestone, son of Viscount Penngrove, at a masquerade. The second is the death of an elderly collector of books of the occult, found stabbed in his library following an interview with a rare visitor. The third, and the one which Foxe is most emotionally involved, is the stabbing death of a man the street urchins called ‘Uncle’ – a poor person who lived on the streets but who was good and kind to them and whose body was discovered to have a valuable pendant around the neck, bearing the crest of a local semi-noble family.
The various paths Foxe chooses takes in solving each mystery are intertwined but are taken slowly and deliberately – after all, this is a historical period when life proceeds at a slow pace and within the confines of social norms. I enjoyed the challenge of seeing if I could keep up with, or ahead of, Foxe in his thinking. This only happened with the first murder but was enjoyable nonetheless. The twists and turns of each path keeps readers on their toes and second-guessing.
The author is a past master of the history of the times and manages to include a wealth of detail – the city and its underbelly of crime, the people, and the social strata, not to mention the clothes, the food, manners and the décor. All of this makes the reader feel they are living there with Ashemole Foxe. Each character is well-drawn and compelling for their sins, foibles, or goodness. The mysteries are always drawn to a suitable conclusion, and there is always a teaser at the end. In the last book, Foxe, a heretofore confirmed bachelor who satisfied his needs in elite brothels, proposed to Lady Arabella Cockerham. Her response led him to believe he had been rejected. Or had he? This time around we learn more about Lady Arabella.
This was a thoroughly satisfying book and for fans of William Savage and for those who have not yet had the pleasure of being introduced to his two sleuths, I highly recommend this as a great read.
About the author:
William Savage grew up in Hereford, on the border with Wales and too his degree at Cambridge. After a career in various managerial and executive roles, he retired to Norfolk, where he volunteers at a National Trust property. His life-long interest has been history, which led to research and writing about the eighteenth century. But his is not just a superficial interest in history, but a real desire to understand and transmit the daily experience of living in turbulent times.
You can find the author
On Twitter: @penandpension
On his blog: http://penandpension.com
You can find A Sickness in the Soul on Amazon:
For the first week of our trip to Ireland, we stayed in Westport, a town in County Mayo on Clew Bay on the west coast. It’s a charming town winning the Best Place to Live in Ireland in 2012.
The layout of the town follows medieval principles of urban design introduced by the Norman in the 13th century, but the design was commissioned in the 1780s by John Browne, who owned a stately home nearly, called Westport House. More on that later. The river Carrow Beg was diverted to allow the incorporation of the river into the design and many of the shops and buildings date from that time, giving the town its charm.
The Browns also built the cathedral in Westport, which despite the fact it is Protestant, is very decorative.
Croagh Patrick (pronounced Cro Patrick), a famous pilgrimage mountain, is the backdrop for the town, which lies at the edge of the beautiful Clew Bay – a huge expanse that is said to contain 352 islands, one for each day of the year, including one bought by John Lennon and Yoko Ono back in what the locals call the ‘hippy days.’ We took a tour of the bay on our last afternoon. It is a gorgeous place, great for fishing and lobstering (the lobsters are sent to France but I ate fish everyday we were there), and I was highly entertained by a half hour conversation with the boat owner, who also happens to be a sixth grade teacher.
We think Ireland is the nicest place we’ve ever visited – the people are so kind and cheerful!
I purchased this book for review as a member of Rosie’s Book Review Team.
The Confessor’s Wife is an engaging tale of the wife of Edward the Confessor. Edith of Wessex , daughter of Godwin, the Earl of Wessex, spends her early years in a household with two older brothers, Harold and Sweyn, and a beloved younger brother, Tostig. Her father, knowing that she must make a good marriage in support of her family, sends her as a teenager to the royal abbey of Wilton. There she is to be educated in the running a household, along with the artly skills of the high-born and with fluency in various languages. Despite her despair at having to leave her home, she find a friend in Aethel, also the daughter of a nobleman but who has taken her vows as a nun, and also in the Abbess. After years, during which she comes to feel at home at the abbey, her brother Sweyn, a pompous, self-centered man, comes to retrieve her. She is to be married – to Edward, the King of England.
Edith’s nemesis in her marriage is her mother-in-law, Emma, who despises Godwin and his family, believing Godwin is responsible for her oldest son’s death. Edith finds herself in an untenable situation – married to an older man, hated by her mother-in-law who thwarts her at every turn, and her family obligations. She must prove herself worthy to all of them.
In time, her relationship with Edward becomes respectful and deeply caring, yet she bears him no children – a cause for a man to cast his wife aside. Royal politics sway this way and that, and at one point Edith is sent back to the abbey, when her family falls from grace. And yet Edward does not remarry.
How does she navigate the political waters that swirl around the king? How can she ensure the promotion of her family’s men to the highest offices in the land, and help raise her brother to the throne? And how can she do this, when criticized over many years for being a barren wife?
Kelly Evans has taken a woman who is little more than a footnote in history and created a story around her that makes her real and emphasizes the perils of a queen in that period.
I had not known of Edith prior to reading this book and had barely heard of King Edward the Confessor, so the history of the story fascinated me. The strength of the author’s writing is definitely in the dialogue, which gives three-dimensionality to the speakers and had me drawn in from the beginning. I felt the love of Edith for her brother Tostig, even when he proved feckless and disloyal, her dislike of the ceaselessly critical Sweyn, and her tolerance of the scheming Emma and her simpering mother, Gytha.
While much less descriptive than the writings of other authors of historical fiction – and there were times when I absolutely yearned for more detail – the dialogue kept me reading. The author made Edith’s life and the obstacles she face very real despite the sparseness of the background elements. There were a few lapses into modern expressions, which brought me up, but not enough to drag me away!
The author has written several other historical novels. One of them is The Northern Queen about Edith’s mother-in-law, Emma. I think readers of historical fiction will enjoy this book, and I am definitely interested in reading The Northern Queen.
About the author (Amazon)
Kelly Evans was born in Canada of Scottish extraction and graduated in History and English from McMaster University in Ontario, Canada. After graduation, she moved to the UK where she worked in the financial sector and continued her of history, focusing on Medieval England and the Icelandic Sagas.
She now lives in Toronto, Canada with her husband Max and two rescue cats, retiring after twenty years to write full time. She’s a voracious reader and enjoys history, music (she plays the medieval recorder), and watching really bad horror and old sci-fi movies. To that end, she has written books featuring zombies and the walking dead.
She’s currently working on my next novel, The Beggar Queen, set in Merovingian France.
You can find Kelly Evans
On her website: https://kellyaevans.com/
On twitter: @ChaucerBabe
And The Confessor’s Wife on Amazon
You probably wonder why I say I am taking a respite, because I have already been doing that, not blogging much – but not really, since I’ve been working hard on a second edit of my historical novel.
Now I AM taking a respite, for the next two weeks, from writing, blogging, face booking and texting.
In the meantime, I would like to direct you to the following blog site:
Takami Ibara is the MOST amazing photographer of birds (and other things) but the birds are like small gems and a photograph from Takami is a gift. The site above is the latest blog – take time to have some real visual pleasure in your day!
A hint as to what I will be doing!
I was back in Plymouth – ostensibly to celebrate our anniversary, as I was married in St. Peter’s Church there – but also to make some visits to historic sites I had missed
One of these is the shady and peaceful Old Burying Ground in Duxbury also known as the Myles Standish Cemetery – one of the oldest cemeteries in the country, coming into use in the late 1630s.
TThe most prominent feature of the cemetery is a striking monument placed over what is believed to be Myles Standish’s family plot. Martial in appearance, in keeping with Standish’s profession, the monument includes a castellated stone enclosure and four 19th century cannons and cannon balls from the Boston Navy Yard.
According to tradition, Captain Standish was buried beneath two rough, pyramid shaped fieldstones. Stones matching this description were located within the Old Burying Ground and two exhumations (one was not deemed enough) revealed a male skeleton between those of two women (consistent with Standish’s request in his will to be buried between his daughter and daughter-in-law). They also found the remains of two boys, probably Charles and John Standish, the Captain’s sons, both of whom had died young. Examining the remains of the man believed to be Captain Standish, a doctor proclaimed that he had been a man of great physical strength. The poor man was exhumed a third time so his remains could be placed in a hermetically sealed copper box which would then be placed in a new cement chamber. One can only hope Captain Standish can now rest in peace.
You can hardly expect to find any of the Mayflower passengers’ burial sites still marked there. They would have had wooden tomb markers after all, and this cemetery fell into neglect for many years.
But I did find some stones that gave me goosebumps because I recognized who had been buried there. The oldest stone (1697) marks the burial site of Jonathan Alden, son of John Alden and Priscilla Mullins. Both his parents were buried in this place but since no one knows where, there are some stone tablets to note their existence. His sister Sarah, married to Myles Standish’s oldest son, Alexander, is also interred here…somewhere.
I also found a tombstone for Deacon William Brewster. He was not THE Elder Brewster but the son of Love Brewster, who was the son of the Elder. The family helped to settle this area, along with the Standishes, the Aldens, the Bradfords and the Howlands.
I also found the tombstone of Gamaliel Bradford and his wife, Abigail. He is descended from William Bradford, second governor of the Plymouth Colony via William Bradford, Jr., and his son, Samuel Bradford.
Many of the Mayflower descendants were active participants in the Revolutionary War, and I hope to write about this at some time.
I am facing a couple of plane flights – one shortish to Boston this month and one long to Ireland next month. I am not looking forward to either of them.
Why you might ask? First, I hate the anthills of airports, the endless walks between gates and to baggage claim (have you ever checked out the Amsterdam airport? I believe if you got lost there, you might never be found – either that or reappear as a well-toned marathoner).
Second, the airplane seats have gotten small and smaller. At first I just thought my derriere was getting bigger and bigger, and I figured the airlines should create a business, persuading people to diet to be more comfortable. And some new seats are made of hard plastic – just what my piles appreciate!
It also occurred to me that my legs must have grown longer, since I had so little room in which to squish them. Since I was born in the Dark Ages, I should be in a medical journal for leg growth after forty.
Third, when the person in front of you puts their seat back, voila! – you have the food on your tray table right under your chin, so you don’t need a napkin.
Forth, there are the bathrooms, or the ‘lavs’ in flight lingo. I already suffer from claustrophobia when I get into one and close the door, elbows hitting the walls. Now they are even smaller. You have to enter sideways and then attempt to turn around to close the door and lower yourself to the toilet seat. Lowering your pants is akin to playing Twister. Remember that game? And you can only wash one hand at a time. I recommend the airlines offer catheters to anyone with a wide-body or in a wheel chair.
I have heard of some interesting proposals for future air travel. The first is that passengers will travel standing up. Two visions come to mind – the packing of passengers like sardines (pass the oil, please, and we can slither in a few more) and the chaos that would ensue in turbulence if you are just tethered to the ceiling. Maybe they will have a steel rod to which you will be affixed to prevent you from moving around. And what happens when your flight is delayed by seven hours on the tarmack? Instant venous thrombosis!
Actually, this is not a fantasy, folks. At the Aircraft Interiors Expo 2018 in Hamburg, the SkyRider 2.0 design on display aimed to help airlines squeeze in more passengers by allowing an “ultra-high density” and reducing the space between rows. The seats have high backs and a seat shaped like a short saddle, akin to standing in the stirrups on a horse. Aviointeriors , the developer, actually compared the seating position to that of a horseback rider, pointing out that cowboys can sit on saddles for hours without feeling uncomfortable. Oh yeah? I’m no cowboy and just where did the term saddlesores come from? I guess we could call them giddy-up seats.
The other proposal is actually more benign: changes to middle seats – those torture boxes of confinement between two elbows and spreading fat rolls. To get more people to select them, a company plans on offering middle seats that are set back a little from the ones on either side, and are also a little lower to the ground, thus preventing the intrusion of elbows. Oh, and they would be a teensy bit wider, too.
Needless to say, Hubs and I now fly business class unless it’s a short flight. We flew what I call subtourist on a recent flight to Chicago, where we sat rigidly forced into a child-sized seat that sloped down and forward so we would slide off without the seat belt. It’s called a change in the seat pitch, to decrease leg room.
Check out Elizabeth Calwell’s Dear Passenger: Welcome to My Wacky World as a Flight Attendant.
or any of Barb Taub’s posts on travel – she’s way funnier than I am! Find her n her blog: Writing and Cofee. Especially Coffee. https://barbtaub.com/
One of the more interesting people I’ve met as a result of switching my career to writing is a flight attendant, Elizabeth Calwell. She has a great sense of humor, and turned it, along with her experiences for many years in air, into a book, Dear Passenger.
I am going to let her tell you about her book, which I highly recommend. I’ve read it twice!