Templar Silks by Elizabeth Chadwick

In her latest novel, Templar Silks, Elizabeth Chadwick returns to the hero of her earlier books The Greatest Knight and The Scarlet Lion: William Marshal, knight, soldier, statesman and adviser to kings of England. Unlike those other two books, which took us right through William’s life and career, from youth to death, Templar Silks concentrates on one specific episode – William’s journey to the Holy Land – which was mentioned only briefly in The Greatest Knight.

The novel opens in April 1219 with William on his deathbed, surrounded by family and friends at his home in England, Caversham Manor. Before he dies, he asks his squire to bring him the silk burial shrouds he was given by the Templars in the Holy Land thirty years ago. As he waits the arrival of the silks, he looks back on the long-ago adventure that shaped the rest of his life.

In 1183, William was in the service of Henry II’s eldest son, known as the Young King. In need of money to pay his soldiers, the Young King gives orders to raid the shrine of Rocamadour, but falls ill with dysentery shortly afterwards. Aware of the sacrilege he has committed, his dying wish is for William to atone for his sins by taking his cloak to Jerusalem and placing it on Christ’s tomb. Still unmarried at this point and free from the greater responsibilities he will hold in later life, William is happy to undertake the pilgrimage, but the journey proves to be even more eventful and dramatic than he had expected.

William spent three years on his pilgrimage but historians know very little about what actually happened during this period of his life. This allows Elizabeth Chadwick to use her imagination to create William’s story – and with her own knowledge of the medieval world and the political situation in 12th century Jerusalem, she is able to make his actions feel plausible and realistic.

William is accompanied on his journey by a small party of fellow knights and squires, two Templar Knights who act as guides, and his younger brother Ancel. There is no historical evidence that Ancel took part in the pilgrimage – in fact, he is barely mentioned in historical records at all – but the relationship between the brothers was one of my favourite aspects of the book. Ancel and William are very different people, with Ancel depicted as more sensitive, more cautious, and not as quick to learn when it comes to fighting, jousting and other knightly pursuits. There are times when they become frustrated with each other, but the love and loyalty between them is always plain to see.

And William needs all the loyal friends he can find if he is going to survive this difficult mission. After a traumatic experience in Constantinople, he and his men arrive in Jerusalem to find this most holy of cities approaching a moment of crisis. King Baldwin is dying of leprosy and his nephew, his only heir, is too young to rule. Baldwin’s brother-in-law, Guy de Lusignan, is the next most logical contender, but Guy has many rivals and Jerusalem desperately needs strong, united leadership to deal with the threat of Saladin. William has more reason than most to dislike Guy, who was responsible for his uncle’s death several years earlier, but choosing to support another claimant could lead him into even more danger.

Due to the nature of the story, the setting and the focus on politics and the military, most of the main characters in this particular novel are male, but there is one female character who has a large role to play during William’s time in Jerusalem. She is Paschia de Riveri, the beautiful concubine of the Patriarch Heraclius. It is never very clear what Paschia’s motives are or how she truly feels, but as William became more entangled in her schemes, I couldn’t help thinking that it would all end unhappily for him – while hoping, for his sake, that I was wrong.

I enjoyed Templar Silks, with all of its adventure and intrigue, but it does feel a bit different from Elizabeth Chadwick’s other recent novels such as her Eleanor of Aquitaine trilogy and Lady of the English, which are more biographical and cover much longer time periods. It seems that Chadwick is not ready to leave the Marshals behind just yet; her next novel, The Irish Princess, is going to be about the parents of William’s wife, Isabelle de Clare.

Thanks to Little, Brown Book Group UK for providing a copy of this book for review via NetGalley.

The Winds of Heaven by Monica Dickens

When I saw that Jessie of Dwell in Possibility was hosting a Mini Persephone Readathon this weekend, I knew I wanted to take part and I knew exactly what I would be reading: The Winds of Heaven, a book published by Persephone which I had originally been planning to read for Jane’s Monica Dickens Day last month but didn’t have time. I wasn’t sure what to expect from Monica Dickens as I’ve never read any of her books before, but I loved this one and will now be looking for more.

The Winds of Heaven (1955) follows the story of Louise Bickford, whose husband, the controlling and oppressive Dudley, dies a year or two before the novel opens. Left alone with no money to support herself, Louise cannot afford anywhere to live, so is forced to rely on the hospitality of her daughters. Although Louise has shown her three daughters nothing but love and affection, they each make it very clear that they don’t really want her staying with them and see her as a burden to be moved on to the next sister as quickly as possible.

Louise is a lovely person – generous, selfless and sensitive to the feelings of others; I had a lot of sympathy for her and for the situation in which she finds herself. The logical solution would be to get a job, but a combination of factors – her age (approaching sixty), her class, her lack of experience at any type of work and the disapproval of her daughters – mean that this is never considered as a realistic option for Louise. All she can do is continue to move from one household to the next, trying to make herself useful but knowing that she is unwanted and unappreciated.

The three daughters seem to have inherited none of their mother’s good qualities. They are three very different people, but in their different ways they are all as unpleasant and selfish as each other. Miriam is a snob, obsessed with appearances and her place in the community. Her marriage is not a particularly happy one, but as Arthur is rich enough to pay for holidays abroad and ponies for the children, she’s not complaining too much! Eva, the middle sister, is an aspiring actress who lives in London and is too preoccupied with her career and her affair with a married man to give any thought to her mother’s problems. Anne, the youngest, is a farmer’s wife but does very little to help out on the farm – she is a lazy, sullen, resentful woman who thinks only of herself and her own comfort.

For a novel with so many unlikeable characters, I found this a surprisingly enjoyable and entertaining read. Louise’s story is obviously a very sad one at times, but Monica Dickens writes with enough humour and lightness that it never becomes completely depressing. And although her relationships with Miriam, Eva and Anne are difficult, Louise does have two special people in her life who make things much more bearable. One is her young granddaughter Ellen, with whom she forms a close bond. Ellen is Miriam’s eldest daughter and, like Louise, she often feels like an outsider in the family. The other is Gordon Disher, a man she meets while sheltering from the rain in a London tea shop.

Mr Disher is the most unlikely of romantic heroes – he is overweight, sells beds in a department store and writes cheap paperback thrillers with titles like The Girl in the Bloodstained Bikini. He is also a lovely, kind, gentle man who sees that Louise is unhappy and does all he can to make things better for her. Their meetings are few and far between – Louise is sure she’s too old for romance and she doesn’t spend a lot of time in London anyway – but I found their relationship quite moving and always looked forward to the moments when they were together.

Towards the end of the book, events take a more dramatic turn and if I have a criticism it would be that I’m not sure whether this was really necessary. The final sentence, though, was perfect! I wish Monica Dickens had written more books about these characters, but I enjoyed this one enough to know that I will be investigating the rest of her novels anyway!

The Winds of Heaven endpapers

Six Degrees of Separation: From The Tipping Point to The Silvered Heart

It’s the first Saturday of the month which means it’s time for another Six Degrees of Separation, hosted by Kate of Books are my Favourite and Best. The idea is that Kate chooses a book to use as a starting point and then we have to link it to six other books of our choice to form a chain. A book doesn’t have to be connected to all of the others on the list – only to the one next to it in the chain.

The first book this month is The Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell and, as usual, I haven’t read it! It’s a non-fiction book about “that magic moment when ideas, trends and social behaviour cross a threshold, tip and spread like wildfire”. It sounds interesting, but is probably not something I will ever read.

It can be difficult to think of that all-important first link when you’re not familiar with the starting book. All I could come up with was another book with the word ‘Tipping’ in the title: Tipping the Velvet by Sarah Waters! I have read and enjoyed all of Sarah Waters’ novels, although this one, about two music hall stars in 19th century London, is not a favourite.

There was a BBC adaptation of Tipping the Velvet in 2002, which starred Rachael Stirling and Keeley Hawes as the two main characters, Nan and Kitty. Keeley Hawes also starred as Rachel Verinder in the BBC’s 1996 adaptation of The Moonstone by Wilkie Collins. I usually stick to books I’ve actually reviewed on my blog when I’m choosing links for my chain, but although Wilkie Collins is one of my favourite Victorian authors and The Moonstone is one of his best books, I don’t seem to have re-read it since I started blogging. How can that be? I must read it again soon!

The Moonstone, like some of Collins’ others, has multiple narrators who take turns to tell their part of the story. I think Collins is the master of the ‘multiple narrator novel’, but another book written in the same format which really impressed me was Lament for a Maker by Michael Innes.

The title of this novel was inspired by the William Dunbar poem Lament For The Makers. A lot of books have titles taken from the world of poetry, but one of the first that came to mind when thinking of them was Alan Bradley’s I am Half-Sick of Shadows, which is a line from The Lady of Shalott by Tennyson.

I am Half-Sick of Shadows is the fourth book in Bradley’s Flavia de Luce mystery series. There are now nine books in the series, but I haven’t read all of them yet. For my next link in the chain, I’ve chosen another book which is the fourth in a mystery series I haven’t finished reading: Ten-Second Staircase, a Bryant and May novel by Christopher Fowler. Unlike the Flavia books, which feature a ten-year-old detective, the Bryant and May mysteries have a detective duo who are in their eighties!

It’s been a few years since I read Ten-Second Staircase, so I had to look at my review to remind myself that it was about a killer known as The Highwayman. This leads me to my final book for this month – a novel about not a highwayman but a highwaywoman. Her name is Katherine Ferrers, or ‘the Wicked Lady’, and she is the heroine of The Silvered Heart by Katherine Clements, set in 17th century England.

I nearly didn’t take part in this month’s Six Degrees of Separation because I just couldn’t see how to get started with the first link, so I’m pleased that I did manage to put a chain together after all! In July, the starting point will be Tales of the City by Armistead Maupin – I haven’t read that book either, but I can already see several possible directions I could go in with that one!

My Commonplace Book: May 2018

A selection of words and pictures to represent May’s reading:

commonplace book
noun
a book into which notable extracts from other works are copied for personal use.

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My master was not often rude to people, but he replied sternly: ‘Every war is a civil war. Does the fact that armies come from different realms make the fight between them more natural? We all occupy the same realm, sir: it is called humanity.’

Tomorrow by Damian Dibben (2018)

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Anne Boleyn

‘The guide’s here,’ she said, seeing a lady in Tudor dress advancing towards them. ‘She’s early too. And what a gown!’ It was an exact replica, in sumptuous black velvet, of the elegant attire Anne wore in her portrait. Even the French hood – no easy thing to get right – was perfect.

The Tower is Full of Ghosts Today by Alison Weir (2017)

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‘Well, never mind about that,’ said his lordship. ‘It’s no use your saying that you’d prefer to be a governess to marrying me, because it’s absurd! No one would. Dash it, Hero, I don’t want to talk like a coxcomb, and I dare say I may want for principle, and have libertine propensities, and spend all my time in gaming-hells, besides being the sort of ugly customer no woman of sensibility could stomach, but you can’t pretend that you wouldn’t be far more comfortable with me than at the curst school you keep on prosing about!’

Friday’s Child by Georgette Heyer (1944)

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‘The thing is to be happy if you can,’ said Arthur.

‘No; – that is not the thing. I’m not much of a philosopher, but as far as I can see there are two philosophies in the world. The one is to make one’s self happy, and the other is to make other people happy. The latter answers the best.’

The Prime Minister by Anthony Trollope (1876)

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Flag used by the Templars in battle

‘Then I hope you are finding comfort in your memories, sire.’

William smiled a little. ‘Not all are comfortable, but they are instructive and enlightening. When I returned, I stowed them away and did not look at them again, but now it is time to make my peace with those that are still difficult, and to draw sustenance from the uplifting ones.’

Templar Silks by Elizabeth Chadwick (2018)

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He’d grown to accept that joy was to be discovered at the edge of existence, fluttering in the corner of one’s eye, glimpsed only in those moments of serenity at dawn before one was fully awake. Happiness, when it came to Albert, was an explosion of sunlight.

House of Gold by Natasha Solomons (2018)

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Louise apologised again. ‘I’m afraid I spoiled it. Is it a favourite of yours? I like thrillers, too. Miriam, my daughter, is trying to remould my taste. I have to keep books like that in a drawer, because if I leave them by my bed, she takes them away and substitutes a biography she thinks I should read, or one of those novels they write nowadays about uneasy people who think things for pages and pages.’

The Winds of Heaven by Monica Dickens (1955)

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Jane Seymour

His smile vanished. ‘Jane, you have little idea of what makes a woman beautiful to men. It is not just a matter of face and form. If her heart is pure, it shines forth. If she be modest and virtuous, yet kindly withal, it is written in her face. But if she is shrewish, complaining and unkind, be she never so lovely, she cannot be beautiful.’

Jane Seymour: The Haunted Queen by Alison Weir (2018)

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“I am afraid,” confessed Pen, “that I am not very well-behaved. Aunt says that I had a lamentable upbringing, because my father treated me as though I had been a boy. I ought to have been, you understand.”

“I cannot agree with you,” said Sir Richard. “As a boy you would have been in no way remarkable; as a female, believe me, you are unique.”

She flushed to the roots of her hair. “I think that is a compliment.”

“It is,” Sir Richard said, amused.

The Corinthian by Georgette Heyer (1940)

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‘One thing I do know,’ I said, ‘is that there is no pleasure on this earth better than reading. I have been transported,’ I said, ‘to realms beyond my wildest imagining, to places I shall never see, for they are on the other side of the world, or do not exist at all. And I have been made to cry – and to laugh and to think and to be peaceful, and all of this I have got from books’.

The Illumination of Ursula Flight by Anna-Marie Crowhurst (2018)

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Favourite books read in May:

The Prime Minister, House of Gold, The Corinthian and The Winds of Heaven (lots of good ones this month!)

Where did my reading take me in May?

England, Italy, Austria, Germany, the Holy Land

Authors read for the first time in May:

Damian Dibben, Anna-Marie Crowhurst, Monica Dickens

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Have you read any of these books? Which books did you enjoy in May?

20 Books of Summer – 2018

This time last year I decided to take part in 20 Books of Summer hosted by Cathy at 746 Books. It’s a simple idea – to make a list of twenty books (or fifteen or ten) that you would like to read during the summer months – but it’s more difficult to complete than you might expect! I managed to read 16 out of 20 last year, which I was still quite pleased with, but I’m looking forward to trying again this year.

Here are my twenty books for 2018, in no particular order:

1. The Story Keeper by Anna Mazzola

2. Desperate Remedies by Thomas Hardy

3. The Silence of the Girls by Pat Barker

4. A Game of Hide and Seek by Elizabeth Taylor

5. The Way of All Flesh by Ambrose Parry

6. Fool’s Errand by Robin Hobb

7. The Poison Bed by EC Fremantle

8. Elizabeth and Her German Garden by Elizabeth von Arnim

9. For the Immortal by Emily Hauser

10. Post of Honour by RF Delderfield

11. The King’s Witch by Tracy Borman

12. Marking Time by Elizabeth Jane Howard

13. Lamentation by CJ Sansom

14. The Bull from the Sea by Mary Renault

15. Tapestry of War by Jane MacKenzie

16. Don’t Look Now and Other Stories by Daphne du Maurier

17. My Beautiful Imperial by Rhiannon Lewis

18. Fortune’s Fool by David Blixt

19. The Wardrobe Mistress by Patrick McGrath

20. The Craftsman by Sharon Bolton

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I’ve included a mixture of review copies (from NetGalley and from authors/publishers), books from my Classics Club list and some that I just want to read. I will need to read these twenty books between 1 June – 3 September, but I’m sure I will find myself reading others that aren’t on the list too!

Have you read any of these? Will you be taking part in 20 Books of Summer this year?

Top Ten Tuesday: Bookish Worlds I’d Never Want To Live In

The topic for this week’s Top Ten Tuesday hosted by That Artsy Reader Girl is: Bookish Worlds I’d Want to/Never Want to Live In. I decided to focus on the second option and list ten of the most unpleasant or unappealing settings from books previously reviewed on my blog…and here they are:

1. The Republic of Gilead (The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood)

From my review: “In this new dystopian society, women no longer have any of the rights or freedoms they had before; they’re not allowed to work, not allowed to have their own bank accounts, not even allowed to read in case reading leads them into temptation.”

2. The room (Room by Emma Donoghue)

From my review: “The story is narrated by Jack, a five-year-old boy who has spent his whole life living with his mother in a converted shed measuring eleven foot square. His mother had been kidnapped seven years ago and Jack was born in captivity. He has no idea that a world exists outside Room and apart from Ma and Old Nick, the man who is keeping them captive, he has never seen another human being.”

3. Tregannon House, Cornwall (The Asylum by John Harwood)

From my review: “Most of the action takes place within the confines of Tregannon House (the private asylum on Bodmin Moor, Cornwall, in which Georgina becomes trapped) and the atmosphere Harwood creates is wonderfully claustrophobic and eerie. I really sympathised with Georgina’s situation and shared her terror and bewilderment.”

4. Melanie Langdon’s drawing room (The Victorian Chaise-Longue by Marghanita Laski)

From my review: “The book conveys a sense of confusion, panic and disorientation and I could really feel Melanie’s helplessness as she lay on the chaise-longue, trapped in Milly’s body, desperately trying to work out who she was and how she could escape.”

5. The Marshalsea Prison (The Devil in the Marshalsea by Antonia Hodgson)

From my review: “The prisoners who had some money to spend or who had influential friends, lived on the Master’s Side, which was almost like a complete town in itself, with coffee houses, bars, restaurants and even a barber. They had the freedom to move around and in some cases were even given permission to go out into London during the day. For the poor people on the Common Side, things were much worse. Crammed into tiny cells and suffering from starvation, disease and overcrowding, they died at a rate of up to twelve a day.”

6. Starkfield, Massachusetts (Ethan Frome by Edith Wharton)

From my review: “The most striking thing about this book, for me, was the tense, claustrophobic atmosphere Wharton created, making the reader feel locked within Ethan’s miserable world. The town of Starkfield, Massachusetts is as stark as its name suggests; the descriptions of the snow, the ice and the cold all contribute to the heavy feeling of oppression which hangs over the entire book.”

7. Hill House (The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson)

From my review: “I loved the descriptions of Hill House – it has all the characteristics you would expect a haunted house to have, including a tragic history – but there are very few physical manifestations of ghostly activity. The creepiness of the story comes mainly from the fact that we don’t know how much of the ‘haunting’ is caused by Hill House itself and how much is the product of Eleanor’s disturbed mind.”

8. Lexham Manor at Christmas (Envious Casca by Georgette Heyer)

From my review: “I have rarely read a novel with so many nasty, rude, unpleasant characters and I couldn’t think of anything worse than being a guest at the Herriards’ party, even without a murder taking place! From the obnoxious, sarcastic Stephen and the haughty butler Sturry to the cantankerous, bad-tempered Nathaniel, they were all so annoying I was surprised only one murder was committed.”

9. Green Town, Illinois at carnival time (Something Wicked This Way Comes by Ray Bradbury)

From my review: “Good versus evil is obviously one of the major themes of the novel. A feeling of malice and danger hangs over the carnival from the moment it arrives and the people connected with it are both strange and sinister – particularly the blind Dust Witch who hovers over the boys’ houses in a hot air balloon in one of the creepiest scenes in the book.”

10. The future (The Time Machine by HG Wells)

From my review: “Remembering when this novel was published, Wells’ vision of a future world has been developed from some of the issues which would have seemed relevant at the end of the 19th century, such as widening class divisions, theories of evolution and Darwinism. It’s a bleak and depressing view of the future – and if that really is what we have to look forward to, then imperfect as our current society may be, I’m very glad to be living in 2016!”

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Have you taken part in this week’s Top Ten Tuesday? Can you think of some bookish worlds you wouldn’t want to live in?

Some recent additions…

It’s been a while since I posted about any new additions to my TBR, so I thought I’d share with you some recently acquired books which I discovered in a second-hand bookshop this morning:

The Sussex Downs Murder by John Bude – I love the British Library Crime Classics series, although I haven’t read many of them. This will be the first one I’ve read by John Bude.

Busman’s Honeymoon by Dorothy L Sayers – A Lord Peter Wimsey mystery that I haven’t read yet.

Farewell the Tranquil Mind by RF Delderfield – I loved my first Delderfield novel, Long Summer Day, so I was pleased to come across another of his books. This one is set during the French Revolution.

The Dante Club by Matthew Pearl – I’m not sure about this one as I had mixed feelings about the other Matthew Pearl book I’ve read (The Last Dickens), but I thought it would be worth giving it a try.

The Persian Boy by Mary Renault – The second in her Alexander the Great trilogy. I already have the first book on my shelf but haven’t read it yet.

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Have you read any of these? What did you think of them?