Book Review: ‘1066 Turned Upside Down: Alternative Fiction Stories by Nine Authors’

1066 was a pivotal year for England: it brought the death of two kings and end of Anglo-Saxon rule, the Battle of Hastings, and the Norman Conquest. 

‘1066 Turned Upside Down’ is a collection of speculative historical fiction, presenting some very enjoyable reading and some really thought-provoking alternative histories. 

As a collection, the quality of the writing is exceptional and the variety of possible outcomes presented is truly fascinating. My personal favourites are the contributions by Annie Whitehead and Joanna Courtney, but I also really enjoyed Richard Dee’s story that highlights the power of teachers to inspire and mentor their students. 

It is not necessary to know the history of 1066 before reading: these stories will satisfy both curious minds and history buffs alike. The true historical context of each story serves as an introduction for the fictional account that follows. 

The stories are all quite believable, each one challenging the reader to question: what might have been if things had gone even just slightly differently? 

The Mansfield Trilogy

Lona Manning’s historical romance novel ‘A Contrary Wind’ is an excellent variation on Jane Austen’s Mansfield Park, and now stands as the first book in The Mansfield Trilogy. 

‘A Contrary Wind’ is not new to this blog: the book was awarded a Gold Acorn review in January 2019, and won a silver award in the annual Golden Squirrel Awards in the same year. 

That a second and third book have been written to follow and further develop Fanny’s story will delight all who have read the first instalment in the series.

This is a series that even devoted fans of Jane Austen will enjoy for its consistency with the language and style of Austen, even though the story does divert from that of Mansfield Park and follow its own original path. 

What other reviewers have said about ‘A Contrary Wind’:

“…Excellent.. it’s a novel which certainly deserves a place on the bookshelves of a Jane Austen fan.” — Jane Austen Centre, Bath

“Manning …. emulates Austen’s writing style so well that she often seamlessly incorporates exact passages from the original into her narrative…. Many try to emulate Austen; not all succeed. Here, Manning triumphs.” BlueInk Review Starred Review

“Highly recommend it. Extremely well written, extremely clever, the way she incorporated details from the original Mansfield Park.” — First Impressions podcast

“Brava to Lona Manning for her thoughtful twists and skillful execution in this variation. This story was in no way predictable and it kept me guessing almost until the end!….   – Meredith Esparza, Austenesque Reviews

“A Contrary Wind is well-written, keeping close to the style of Austen. I thoroughly enjoyed it and highly recommend it. I never lost interest and enjoyed the occasional comic relief.”  — Historical Novel Society

Book Review: ‘The Spyglass File’ by Nathan Dylan Goodwin

This is the fourth full length novel featuring Morton Farrier, forensic genealogist. The books in this series all explore an historical mystery while Morton also researches his own genealogical background. 

This is an intriguing story, extremely well told. 

A captivating blend of WWII intrigue, family secrets and investigative mystery fiction, this is yet another riveting instalment in a most excellent series. 

New Release: ‘Slick Filth’ by Erato

Having read and thoroughly enjoyed ’The Cut of the Clothes’ by Erato, it is a pleasure to be able to introduce the author’s new release. 

‘Slick Filth: A Story of Robert Walpole and Henry Giffard, to Which is Appended the Farce of The Golden Rump’ by Erato is a story of satire, assassination attempts, politics and censorship in 18th century England.

“Sir Robert had composed the most seditious, disgusting, obscene, shameful thing I had ever seen.”

It’s 1737 and England is on edge: someone has tried to assassinate the king at the theatre, and every stageplay is a satire of the royal family. Enter Prime Minister Robert Walpole with a cunning scheme that will grant him power to censor anything that goes on stage — by writing the filthiest play ever conceived. All he needs to pull it off is a patsy, which he finds in Henry Giffard, the proprietor of the theatre at Goodman’s Fields. But will Giffard cooperate with the Prime Minister’s plan, or will obscenity and satire be allowed to overrun the British stage?

Based on true events, Slick Filth includes a recreation of the notorious play The Golden Rump, which so offended Parliament that new censorship laws were enacted for the first time in England’s history. The book is typeset in historical fonts, making you feel like you’ve been pulled back in time to watch the drama unfold first-hand.

Available in hardcover only, this book is more than just a book but an art project of itself, set in 18th century type with added “errors” for the sake of both authenticity and humour. 

Book Review: ‘The Old Gilt Clock’ by Paulette Mahurin

Find your copy here.

There are times, particularly in the face of conflict or adversity, in which one might be tempted to ask, “What can one person do?”

The story of Willem Arondeus is testament to the fact that one person can do a very great deal to oppose hatred or wrongdoing, both through their own efforts but also by inspiring and encouraging others to also stand against evil. 

 Willem’s life story is well written and makes compelling reading. A man well acquainted with prejudice and hatred, Willem has been brought to life by the author in a manner that is both realistic about his flaws and empathetic about his suffering, credibly portraying him as a very normal person with a profound commitment to doing what was right.

This book adds a personal dimension to history and confronts the reader with the sense of helplessness experienced by the Dutch people of the time, and with the anger and resentment they harboured toward the Nazis and those who dumped with them. It made me reflect on what I know of my own grandfather, who was also a member of the Dutch resistance during the German occupation of the Netherlands in WWII, and to feel.somehow even more strongly connected to Willem and his friends as a result.

This is often an uncomfortable read, but it is an important one. Because stories like this are told, our generation is reminded to be vigilant against evil, to stand with the oppressed, and to ‘do some good ‘.

Book Review: ‘Ambrosius: Last of the Romans’ by Tim Walker

Find your copy here.

Sequel to ‘Abandoned’ and the second book in Walker’s ‘A Light In The Dark Ages’ series, this book brings to life Ambrosius Aurelianus, the man who united the Britons and became their king after the withdrawal of the Romans, and who led them in the defence of Britain against the invading Angles and Saxons. 

The story is dynamic and interesting, full of action, political strategy and war, reflecting the turbulent nature of a time dominated by tribal loyalties and vigorous competition for control of the land that the Romans left behind. 

Walker breathes life into characters that, while they existed in history, are often only shadowy figures known for particular feats of war or achievements in government. That the reader can visualize them, become familiar with them, take an interest in their personal well-being and success, and feel loyalty to them is testament to the talent and skill of the author in recreating places, scenes and events from the past.

Book Review: ‘The Orange Lilies: A Morton Farrier Novella’ by Nathan Dylan Goodwin

The third book in Goodwin’s The Forensic Genealogist series, ‘The Orange Lilies’ is a shorter story that focuses on Morton’s own history and the family secrets that have obscured it for so long. 

Equally interesting and intriguing as the first two books in the series, this story is different in that it is far more intensely personal for Morton, and does not involve an exterior case that Morton is called upon to investigate. This story brings some well-crafted resolution to the questions Morton has harboured as a sub-plot that runs throughout books one and two, and returns him to a position of strength and resolve, from which he can approach the future and future investigations more confidently. 

Morton’s exploration of his family history takes the story back to the opening months of World War I and his great-grandfather’s service as a soldier. While the discoveries he makes are fascinating, some questions regarding his great-grandfather and extended family still remain, giving a satisfying sense of continuity to the overall narrative of the series, and providing healthy anticipation for the next book. 

This is an excellent read, and the series as a whole is brilliant. If you enjoy historical fiction and mystery, do not overlook this book and its companions in The Forensic Genealogist series. 

Book Review: ‘The Persecution of Mildred Dunlap’ by Paulette Mahurin

This is a really thought-provoking story about the consequences of prejudice, hatred and gossip in the lives of those who suffer the judgement and contempt of others. It is well-written and easy to read, although the nature of the story is both serious and discomforting. 

Set in 1895 in a small rural community in Nevada, ’The Persecution of Midlred Dunlap’ is one of those stories that takes a slice of time, brings it to life, and makes one thankful that things have changed since then. On reflection, though, the reader is confronted by the fact that some things haven’t changed that much at all. People still discriminate against and make fun of those who are different, or who live in ways of which they do not approve. We may have laws to deal with those issues now, and legal means of both protection and redress, but those can not actually change human nature or the tendency of some people toward the behaviours that made those laws necessary in the first place.  

Through clever crafting of characters and story, the author demonstrates that there are all sorts of hatred and prejudice that people suffer, ranging between racism, religious persecution, discrimination on the basis of looks, sexuality or lifestyle, to peer pressure and bullying. The treatment of those who are different in various ways by those with the position and power to persecute them is abhorrent, emphasising the narrow-mindedness and hatred that motivates such abuse. The fact that. even though we live 120+ years later, one does not have to travel far or look too hard to see that some things never change, is an indictment that can be neither escaped nor explained away. 

In contrast, Mildred is a character who demonstrates kindness, resilience, thoughtfulness and generosity. Like her, Edra, Charley and Gus are positive characters who stand against the horrid behaviour of their neighbours. Those characters who show kindness, acceptance, and respect bring light and relief to the darker undertones of the story and return balance to the portrait of humanity that is painted in these pages. Through them, the story reminds us that love does indeed drive out both fear and hate, and that a true friend is a gift of immeasurable worth. 

There is so much power and weight in this story, and also much that is hopeful and encouraging. It is a work of historical fiction well worth reading, 

Audiobook Review: ‘The First Queen of England, Part 2’ by M.J. Porter

Elfrida, or Ælfryth, was the first anointed and crowned queen of England, ruling alongside her husband, Edgar, in the 10th century.

‘The First Queen Of England’ Part 2 is the second instalment of Elfrida’s story, and shows just how strong and resilient  she was in a world dominated by patriarchy, politics and warfare. 

Just like the first book in the series, this book is very well written and is entirely consistent with the historical context of the story, even though it is undoubtedly fiction. 

It is a significant achievement on the author’s part to reanimate characters from the long-distant past in such a way that the reader feels as though they know them and can understand their concerns, cares and motivations. It is pleasing to witness the dynamics of the characters as they mature, and intriguing to observe the intricacies of the machinations and politics at court and the personal impact on the queen and king as individuals as well as rulers. 

The narration by Sheila Daly Payson is most enjoyable. Her voice is pleasant and her reading is fluent. Her characterisation of the different roles is effective, and really brings the various characters to life. 

As richly detailed and intriguing as part 1, ‘The First Queen Of England, Part 2’ is a most enjoyable story. This is in every aspect a very pleasurable audiobook experience, and is also available as an ebook or paperback. 

Fast Five: Historical Fiction Book Recommendations

Step back into the past with these excellent historical fiction reads.

I, Richard Plantagenet 
https://www.amazon.com/dp/B01KKUXNYY

The First Christmas
http://www.amazon.com/First-Christmas…/dp/B078HV168L/

Arthur, Dux Bellorum
https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B07NTP9ZTT/

The Artist 
https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B07BJKPWNB/

Miriamne the Magdala 
https://www.amazon.com/gp/aw/d/B0793T93TD/