I’m delighted to welcome Florence Keeling and her book, Please Remember Me, to the blog, which is released today. #blogtour #RachelsRandomResources

Here’s the blurb:

Inheriting a run down house from a stranger isn’t exactly the present Laura had expected for her 30th birthday. Especially when the house in question holds memories of a frightening encounter from her prom night fourteen years ago…

So when a man starts appearing in the house her first thought is that she must be dreaming. But Ben is very real indeed and somehow linked to an antique mirror and another life in 1942.

As their friendship blossoms, Laura learns more about the house and its history…and even discovers some surprises about her own destiny.

With her future foretold, Laura must find a way to alter destiny. But how can you change the future if it’s already written in the past?

Purchase Links – 

UK – https://www.amazon.co.uk/Please-Remember-Me-Florence-Keeling-ebook/dp/B0B325J7BT

US – https://www.amazon.com/Please-Remember-Me-Florence-Keeling-ebook/dp/B0B325J7BT

Meet the Author

I was born in Coventry but now live in Nuneaton. I married the love of my life over 20 years ago and we have two almost grown up children. We share our lives with two mad dogs as well.

Writing is a great passion of mine, that one day I hope to be able to turn into a career but until that day comes, I will continue working in accounts and payroll.

I also write for children as Lily Mae Walters.

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#Jason by Mark Knowles is now available, and so I’m reminding you of my review for #Argo, and giving a shout out for, the #BladesofBronze books

Here’s the blurb

An action-led reimagining of the famous Greek myth, Jason and the Golden Fleece, brilliantly told by classicist Mark Knowles.

He has come to take what is yours…

Iolkos, Thessaly. 1230 BC. King Pelias has grown paranoid, tormented by his murderous past and a prophecy of the man who will one day destroy him.

When a stranger arrives to compete in the Games of Poseidon, Pelias is horried, for this young man should never have grown to manhood. He is Jason, Pelias’ nephew, who survived his uncle’s assassins as a child. Now Jason wants his revenge – and the kingdom.

But Pelias is cunning as well as powerful. He gives his foe an impossible challenge: to claim the throne, Jason must first steal the fabled Golden Fleece of Colchis.

Jason assembles a band of Greece’s finest warriors. They are the Argonauts, named for their trusty ship. But even with these mighty allies, Jason will have to overcome the brutal challenges hurled his way. His mission and many lives depend on his wits – and his sword.

PRAISE FOR ARGO AND MARK KNOWLES:

‘Mark Knowles has taken the legend of Jason and the Golden Fleece, and stripped it down to its bare bones… What is left is a deeply researched historical epic, so brilliantly brought to life I could taste the salt air on my tongue… Epic battles, well- rounded characters sailing through a brilliantly described world’ Adam Lofthouse, author of The Centurion’s Son

‘What a spectacular triumph! Knowles has taken a reassuringly familiar legend and elevated it into a new, realistic and engrossing story’ Sam Taw

‘[Knowles] has teamed his love of learning classics and childhood love of sword-and- sandals epics to accomplish something remarkable’ Boarding Schools’ Association

Review

The legends of Greece don’t often cross my mind when I’m thinking of stories to read, but I read a wonderful retelling of the legend of Troy last year, and so I was really intrigued to be invited to read Argo by Mark Knowles. And I’m so pleased I did.

Argo is a rich retelling of the journey to retrieve the Golden Fleece, populated with a cast of characters with names even I recognised. Some of them leap from the page more clearly than others, as is to be expected with such a large cast, and the ship, Argo itself, is one of the clearest, for even someone such as me to imagine. Reading the author’s bio, it’s easy to see why the ship is such an important part of the story.

I was swept away by the tale, and intrigued to know how it would all end. I should probably have known, but I didn’t.

The story is rich in detail, the journey told in great detail, as are the stops along the way, and the people the Argonauts interact with. It certainly builds in tension so that the last quarter of the book went by in a flash. This truly is a wonderful reimagining of the legends of Jason, the Argonauts and of course, Argo.

I’m lucky to have been given an advanced copy of the sequel Jason, and I’m powering my way through the book now, which, luckily, starts exactly where Argo stops, and I was so pleased I had book 2 straight to hand. Do check back for me review.

Curious? Here’s a link for Argo.

https://amzn.to/3Ltsqx8

Just to reassure everyone, there is a fab map!

Meet the author

Mark Knowles took degrees in Classics and Management Studies at Downing College, Cambridge. After a decade working as a frontline officer and supervisor within the Metropolitan Police Service, he became Head of Classics at a school in Harrogate. He is a particular fan of experimental archaeology and rowed on the reconstructed ancient Athenian trireme Olympias during its last sea trials in Greece in 1994.

If you missed the introduction to Jason from Mark Knowles on Monday, here it is again.

Introduction to Jason by Mark Knowles

Getting Argo home in the process of writing JASON was great fun. In fact, once I’d got the route straight in my head, it gave me the most joy I’ll probably ever have in writing a story. It presented an opportunity to weave together as many strands of myth as I could without – I hope – stretching credibility. And what more could an unashamed Classics geek want? JASON features an all-star ancient Greek cast: Circe, Talos, the Sirens, King Minos, Ariadne, the Minotaur, and the Oracle, ranging over a vast landscape from as far north as the Danube to Crete in the south. 

‘Sprouting wings and flying home would have been a more useful suggestion!’ So says Idas, a thorn in Jason’s side, as options are discussed to outwit the ships blockading the Black Sea straits. His comments are apposite when looking at the wackier ancient suggestions for the return leg of Jason’s voyage. In one surviving version of the myth, we see Argo traversing the Sahara; in another, sailing to Greece via Scandinavia. Needless to say, all these routes (but one) are physically impossible. But what an opportunity for a writer to stretch the imagination!

I even discovered a lost island when researching the route. An old map of the Anatolian coastline based on a Roman geographer’s work showed an island just off the Thracian coast (modern day Bulgaria), which some natural disaster or other seems to have swallowed in the Middle Ages. As soon as I saw it, I had to have it for Circe’s mysterious island of Aea. This sums up the spirit in which JASON was written. I hope, in joining this epic voyage, you make some discoveries of your own.

Preorder Jason here.

https://amzn.to/3PvpuTV

Welcome to The Last Seven (cover reveal) #TheNinthCentury #Coelwulf

I’m excited to share this one with you. I mean, we all knew what it was going to look like, but all the same, I think this looks suitably menacing for a title like that:)

Here’s the blurb:

He sent twenty men to infiltrate three hundred. It had to be enough.

While Archbishop Wulfhere of York begs for assistance against Jarl Halfdan, now living in Northumbria, Bishop Smithwulf of London is eager for Coelwulf to forge an alliance with King Alfred of Wessex. And the three Raider jarls continue to hold Grantabridge. Yet, Coelwulf has so far managed to dismiss all of these concerns, his worry only with his missing warrior, Pybba.

But while searching for Pybba, events overtake Coelwulf, his men are murdered, and his aunt taken, but by which of his enemies?

If Coelwulf fails to rescue his aunt alive, then what hope does he have for keeping his kingdom secure?

The year is AD875 and the men of Mercia must once more ride into the fray. The future of Mercia depends on them.

Preorder now

books2read.com/TheLastSeven

Today, I’m really delighted to be welcoming Adam Lofthouse to the blog, with a post about his new Roman-era historical novel, Valentia, which is released today (and which I’ve already read and reviewed)

Here’s the blurb:

Meet Tribune Sixtus Victorinus. Drunken soldier. Absent father. Unlikely hero.

Wall of Hadrian, Britannia, AD 367

It’s just another day, until it isn’t. Tribune Sixtus Victorinus is scouting north of the Wall when he first sees the smoke. Little does he know it’s about to change his life forever. Riding south he finds a province in chaos, the local populace in flight, the soldiers absent. 

For rebellion is in the air at the far reaches of empire. The land is ablaze, overrun with barbarians, ‘Valentia’, is the word on everyone’s lips. And no one seems to have the first clue what to do about it. 

And so Victorinus must act. He has let his life run to ruin, drunk his youth away. Now he must forge himself into the soldier he always wanted to be, the hero his children think he is. 

Because his family are among the missing, and traitors lurk much closer than he could ever believe. 

To save his family, he must first save an empire.

Buy Now

Adam Lofthouse the idea behind Valentia

I’m not very good at remembering where the ideas for my stories come from. I can remember researching for my first, The Centurion’s Son, and trying to find a period in Roman history that hadn’t already been ‘done’ by the authors I loved reading (Ben Kane, Anthony Riches, Conn Iggulden, Simon Scarrow etc) I settled on the Marcomannic War, but as for the idea of Albinus and his strained relationship with his father, I literally couldn’t tell you how I came up with it. 

For this one though, I sort of know. I was reading the excellent Imperial Brothers by William Hughes, which covers in great detail the reigns of Emperor Valentinian in the west and his brother Valens in the east. I’d researched the period before, and my first attempt at a novel was even set in the eastern empire during Valens’ reign, based around the battle of Adrianople (the book was bloody awful, but I learnt a few things whilst hacking away at my keyboard)

But researching the same period again, and having a few novels under my belt, I felt much more confident diving back into the time period. I discovered something known as the barbarico conspirito (barbarian conspiracy to you and me) which took place in the year 367AD. Britain in that year was effectively cut off from the western empire, as tribes from north of Hadrian’s wall, Ireland and Germania all swarmed on the isolated population at once. 

It instantly caught my attention, my imagination running wild as I thought of the possibilities. I needed a hero, a man to base my story around. What I came up with was Sixtus Victorinus, an aging tribune of the miles areani (a scouting unit that roamed the wild lands north of Hadrian’s Wall, keeping tabs on the Picts). I’ve always been drawn to the sort of anti-hero, and some of the best books I’ve read are centred around them (read The Damned by Tarn Richardson; Inquisitor Poldek Tacit is a phenomenal creation). I started delving into his past, into his mind. The idea of an estranged wife and kids, of drinking to hide the shame of a wasted life, full of regret for the path that remained untrodden, sprang from me, and I knew I had my man. 

The other thing that drew me to this event was the amount of real-life people I could throw in to the story. Magnus Maximus and Theodosius the Great both feature (before they elevated themselves to the purple and took those names, pointed their respective armies at each other and brought the Roman world into civil war – but that’s a tale for another book), so too do the magister militum Flavius Jovinus, and the Theodosius the Great’s father, the Count Theodosius. The more I researched the more found myself itching to get started, but I still needed an antagonist, someone who could have been powerful and ambitious enough to be the man behind the conspirito. 

Enter stage and left, Lupus Valentinus. A senator recorded as being banished from the emperor’s court for a crime that has not survived the centuries, only avoiding execution thanks to a friend in Rome having a word in Valentinian’s ear. He was perfect, not in the least because of his name. 

Valentia is a word that crops up when researching the later western empire, but no one can quite agree on what it was. Some say it was for a time the northernmost province in Britain, between Hadrian’s Wall and the Antonine Wall, others have it as being south of the Wall. Others say it was something else entirely. Again, this worked perfectly for me. I could have it as Valentinus’ own province, the beginning of a new world he was birthing on Britain’s northern soil. He hadn’t though, banked on our anti hero Victorinus to step up and fight him for the right.  

So, I had my story, throw in some stunning artwork by the wonderful folk at More Visual (check them out at bookartwork.com) and I have a book. It was an utter joy to write, and I do hope you’ll enjoy reading it.

Thank you so much for sharing Adam. I wish you tonnes of luck for the new release, and below is my review of Valentia, a fantastic novel.

My Review

Valentia by Adam Lofthouse is a fascinating reimagining of Britannia during the late 360s. This then is Roman Britain, complete with Roman soldiers and senators, Roman weapons and, of course, Hadrian’s Wall. (It’s the 1900 anniversary of Hadrian’s Wall this year, so it’s all quite apt:)) But, this is also a world of Germanic warriors, Saxon invaders, the tribes from beyond the Wall, and even some pirates.

Historically, the end of Roman Britain might be a few years in the future, but this is a world on the brink, the reach of the Romans starting to fade, and the events in Valentia tell of a people as yet unaware of the coming calamities, and, Adam tells it very well. We have abandoned Roman forts, discontent Roman soldiers who aren’t getting paid on time, and the tribes from across Hadrian’s Wall more aware of what might be happening than the Romans. And the emperor is very far away in Rome.

Our two main characters, Tribune Sixtus Victorinus, and Felicius are opposites of the same coin; one jaded and a drunk, the other, still a career Roman soldier. Between them, they must disentangle the unexplained events on the borderlands, and then they must rouse support from all that they can to defeat the coming rebellion.

Valentia starts fantastically well, immediately sucking the reader into the world of the 360s. It’s really quite hard to put the book down as the tension ramps up. Tribune Sixtus is a sympathetic character, for all, he is perhaps to blame for many of his problems. The small group of warriors who make up his area of command are well-sketched, and there is tragedy in the offing. Felicius’ life is more regimented, and it is Felicius who gives us the glimpse of what it was to be a Roman in the waning years of the Empire.

I really enjoyed Valentia. The book starts with a bang and builds really well to its conclusion, meeting a great cast of characters on the way. If you’re a fan of stories set in Saxon England, then you’ll love this earlier glimpse of Britannia.

I’m delighted to share an excerpt from Jenny Knipfer’s new book, On Bur Oak Ridge #blogtour

I’m sharing an excerpt from Jenny Knipfer’s new historical fiction novel, On Bur Oak Ridge. I hope you enjoy.

Molly

I remember the day Jacob asked me to dance, staring at me across the room in the hotel ballroom in Land O’ Lakes—the day we met.

“You should go talk to him. He’s handsome,” my friend Kitty French—a young woman as silly and feminine as her name suggests—whispered in my ear, her arm tucked around my elbow in a conspiratorial fashion.

The man with a dark complexion, trim beard, and mustache of umber-brown, met my gaze, our eyes strung together by an unseen cord. Dressed in a charcoal-toned suit, he stood opposite me, across the dancefloor, with a cup of punch cradled in his hand. His full, even lips curled upward in a slow progression, as if he just realized that he’d won a prize. I gulped and had a feeling the prize might be me. I dropped my gaze, smoothed down the deep-red, silk fabric of my skirt, and tucked my lips in, trying to avoid a blush, but the heat on my cheeks told me that I failed.

“Well,” Kitty prodded. “His smile is an open invitation, if you ask me.”

I fished for an excuse, so I didn’t have to be brave. “I can’t approach him. That would be improper.”

I disliked doing brazen things and being noticed.

“What is this, the 1860s?” Kitty leaned back and gulped down the rest of the contents of the cup she held in her right hand. “If you don’t, I will.”

She raised one eyebrow in a challenge.

But as it happened, Jacob made his way to me. The band had struck up a slow waltz.

With his dark eyes sparkling, he asked me, “May I have this dance?”

I hesitated. I didn’t even know his name. He must have read my thoughts, for he introduced himself, and I stuttered out a reply, giving him my name.

Then, as if on cue, he held out his hands to me, passing his cup off to waitstaff. I nodded and gulped, forcing my drink on Kitty, who pouted.

Jacob’s arm pressed around me, and his thick hand held mine firmly. As we twirled around the dancefloor, he asked me all manner of questions, which I answered in a near breathless blur.

To have the attention of a richly dressed, handsome man sent my head spinning. With each step, turn, and twirl, I lost a bit of my heart to him. Little did I know that, years later, he would hand it back to me, broken beyond repair.

My heart aches thinking about our past. “Oh, Jacob…”

Here’s the blurb:

The plot has its twists and turns to keep readers intrigued…to the very end. A great comfort read that will soothe the spirit with renewed hope and faith.” Readers’ Favorite five-star review 

A HISTORICAL NOVEL OF FINDING HEALING AND A SECOND CHANCE AT LOVE

In the early 1900s, quiet and reserved Molly Lund finds refuge from her past at the Nelsons’ farm in Minnesota. In an attempt to turn a new page in her life, Molly works at making peace with her losses and coming to terms with the disfiguring burns on her face. 

Samuel Woodson, the Nelsons’ hired hand, carries his own cares. Split from his family and bearing a burden of misplaced guilt for an act that haunts him, Samuel–seeing past Molly’s scars–draws her out of her self-protective shell. 

Molly and Samuel form a friendship, but just as their hearts lead them deeper, an unexpected guest comes calling, demanding what’s his. 

Will Molly and Samuel find a way to be together or will they be separated, due to impediments beyond their control? Can they trust in God’s plan and travel a path that heals the hurts of the past?  

Readers of historical fiction, Christian historical fiction, and Christian historical romance will delight in this beautifully wrought story of the healing power of love. 

A heartwarming story of healing from external and internal scars. Through some of lifes harder lessons the characters learn to trust, forgive, and find second chances out of the ashes of pain and loss.” 

Anne Perreault, author of eighteen inspirational novels, including the Yellowstone series

Trigger Warnings:

Grief, trauma from burns, accidental death, time in an insane asylum

 

Buy Links:

Available on #KindleUnlimited 

Universal Link: https://books2read.com/u/3JELBX

Amazon UKAmazon USAmazon CAAmazon AU

Connect with the author

Jenny lives in Wisconsin with her husband, Ken, and their pet Yorkie, Ruby. She is also a mom and loves being a grandma. She enjoys many creative pursuits but finds writing the most fulfilling.

Spending many years as a librarian in a local public library, Jenny recently switched to using her skills as a floral designer in a retail flower shop. She is now retired from work due to disability. Her education background stems from psychology, music, and cultural missions.

All of Jenny’s books have earned five-star reviews from Readers’ Favorite, a book review and award contest company. She holds membership in the: Midwest Independent Booksellers Association, Wisconsin Writers Association, Christian Indie Publishing Association, and Independent Book Publishers Association.

Jenny’s favorite place to relax is by the western shore of Lake Superior, where her novel series, By The Light of the Moon, is set.

She deems a cup of tea and a good book an essential part of every day. When not writing, Jenny can be found reading, tending to her many houseplants, or piecing quilt blocks at her sewing machine.

Her new historical fiction, four-part series entitled, Sheltering Trees, is set in the area Jenny grew up in, where she currently lives, and places along Minnesota’s Northern Shore, where she loves to visit. She is currently writing a four-part novella series entitled: Botanical Seasons and a three-part fantasy series entitled: Retold Fairy Tales.

Connect with Jenny:

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Amazon Author PageGoodreadsBook Trailer

Follow the On Bur Oak Ridge tour with The Coffee Pot Book Club

I’m delighted to welcome fellow historical fiction author, Paul Bennett, to the blog with his American Revolution series The Mallory Saga

I’m delighted to welcome fellow historical fiction author (and avid reader and reviewer) Paul Bennett to the blog, to spotlight his series about The American Revolution.

Here’s the blurb for the series:

Follow the Mallory family as they attempt to live a peaceful life on the PA frontier in 1756. They face tragedy and loss as they become embroiled in The French and Indian War – Clash of Empires. In Paths to Freedom, the colonies are heading to open revolt against King George III, and the Mallory’s are once again facing the spectre of war. Crucible of Rebellion continues the Mallory story through the early years of The Revolutionary War. Book 4, A Nation is Born completes the Revolution and The Mallory’s have played their part in the victory. In book 5, A Turbulent Beginning, the nascent nation finds it hard going to establish a peaceful existence. The Natives of this land resist the westward expansion of white settlers.

Trigger Warnings:

Violence and battle scenes, mild sexual content, and profanity. 

Here’s the blurb for Book 5 – A Turbulent Beginning

The Revolution is over, and a new nation has emerged from the ashes of war. The new government, leery of a powerful central government, learns quite quickly the folly of state legislatures controlling military operations, abandoning The Articles of Confederation to write The Constitution.


More lessons are learned by this second attempt when they discover that the indigenous tribes along the Ohio were more than a match for militia troops. It is time for President Washington and his War Secretary Henry Knox to come up with a better plan to pacify the warring tribes.


The Mallory clan is spread out from the Congaree River in South Carolina to the Wabash River in the Northwest Territory. The desire to be together again is stronger than the fear of traveling through a war zone. They are once again in the middle of the storm…Can they survive?…Can they make a difference?

Buy Links:

This series is available to read for free with #KindleUnlimited subscription.

Series in order:

Clash of Empires

Paths to Freedom

Crucible of Rebellion

A Nation Is Born

A Turbulent Beginning

Clash of Empires – Universal Link

Amazon UK: https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B01MXR186R

Amazon US: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B01MXR186R

Amazon CA: https://www.amazon.ca/dp/B01MXR186R

Amazon AU: https://www.amazon.com.au/dp/B01MXR186R

Meet the author

Paul was born in Detroit when the Big Three ruled the automobile industry, and The Korean Conflict was in full swing. A lifelong interest in history and a love of reading eventually led him to Wayne State University where he majored in Ancient History, with a minor in Physical Anthropology. However, to make ends meet, those studies were left to the realm of dreams, and Paul found himself accidentally embarking on a 50 year career in computers. A career that he has recently retired from in order to spend more time with those dreams….7 grandchildren will help fill the time as well. 

He now resides in the quaint New England town of Salem, Massachusetts with his wife Daryl, just a few minutes’ walk from the North River, and the site where the Revolution almost began.

The Mallory Saga is the culmination of Paul’s love of history, and his creative drive to write stories. With Nightwish and Bruce Cockburn coming through his headphones, and many cups of excellent coffee, Paul hopes to carry the Saga into the late 19th century, bringing American History to life through the eyes and actions of the Mallory family.

Connect with Paul

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FacebookLinkedInInstagram

BookBubAmazon Author PageGoodreads

Follow The Mallory Saga by Paul Bennett blog tour with The Coffee Pot Book Club

I’m delighted to be taking part in the blog tour for A Summer of Castles by Rachel Walkley #blogtour which is released today (I think I recognise the castle in the cover too!)

Here’s the blurb:

A Summer of Castles. A secret in ruins.

At the beginning of the sultry 2003 English summer, Robyn Yates quits her job to photograph fifteen castles for a man she’s never met. A man who won’t tell her his real name. 

What motivates her is an unusual ability she can’t explain nor understand. Somebody does though and is keen to exploit her secret.

But Robyn isn’t alone on her journey. An artist is painting pictures of the same castles. Wherever she goes, so does he, like a stalker. But is he dangerous? And could this man be the same person who wants her photographs? 

She decides to challenge him, never anticipating that the confrontation will change the path of both of their lives.

The stifling summer will eventually end, but will Robyn find out the truth in time?

Purchase Links 

UK US

Meet the author

Aspiring writer who pens Women’s Fiction and magical tales about family secrets.

What else?

An East Anglian turned Northerner – almost.

Information professional, always.

Biologist, in my memories.

Archivist, when required.

Amateur pianist and flautist.

Reluctant gardener.

Scribbler of pictures.

And forever…. a mother and wife.

Oh, not forgetting, cat lover!

Connect with Rachel Walkley

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Instagram / Twitter handle – @racheljwalkley

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I’m delighted to be taking part in the cover reveal for Happiness is a Thing With Wings by Susi Osborne #blogtour #RachelsRandomResources

Here’s the blurb:

Joanna is approaching the end of her forties and the empty nest syndrome looms. She consoles herself with gin and chocolate, realising that apart from her son Jack, she has achieved absolutely nothing in her life.

Somewhat on the plus side of plump and barely five feet tall, she finds it difficult not to envy her younger, prettier sister. Such elevated elegance seems so unfair – as does Hannah’s successful marriage. Joanna, in contrast, has remained in a loveless marriage for the past thirty years, stuck in a rut with the most miserable man on the planet but not having the impetus to get out.

It takes an embarrassing but hilarious encounter in the supermarket to make her realise what she’s been missing. It’s exactly the push she needs to make her change her life. With a little encouragement, Joanna starts to regain her independence, finally leaving her grumpy husband to enjoy life as a single woman. As she attempts to rebuild her own future, her family and friends continually surprise her with their own revelations.

Life is never dull, laughter never far away; can Joanna finally find true happiness within herself at last?

Pre-order Link – https://amzn.eu/d/ftHPlMW

Publication Date – 28th August 

Meet the Author

For many years Susi Osborne worked in libraries, and later as a classroom assistant in a junior school. She currently runs a business selling all things vintage in an antiques centre. She also runs Northwich LitFest which she started ten years ago. Susi lives in Cheshire with her husband, her family and two dogs. Happiness is a Thing With Wings is her fifth novel. Her previous books are – 

The Ripples of Life

Grace & Disgrace

Secrets, Lies & Butterflies

Angelica Stone

Connect with Sushi Osborne

Facebook

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Website

Today, I’m incredibly excited to share a guest post by Kate Shanahan about her time-slip historical fantasy book, Tangled Spirits, set in medieval Japan (It’s a fabulous book that I highly recommend).

Hi, I’m Kate Shanahan, author of Tangled Spirits, a time-slip historical fantasy set in medieval Japan before shogun, samurai, and sushi were a thing. I’m blogging today about the cultural environment in 10th-11th centuries Japan that fostered the highest level of female literacy in the world at this time (among the aristocratic elite, that is.)

The world’s first full-length novel is usually considered to be Tale of Genji, written by Murasaki Shikubu, a lady-in-waiting at the imperial court of Japan at the beginning of the 11th century. She wrote this long, complex novel in an era when nearly all women everywhere in the world (and most men too) could neither read nor write. And not only did she write it, but enough people enjoyed reading it to ensure it was copied, shared, sold, borrowed, studied, illustrated, filmed, and gamified over the next 1000+ years.

I read Tale of Genji when I taught English in Japan. That same year, I read The Pillow Book, a journal written by lady-in-waiting Sei Shonagon, a contemporary of Murasaki’s. Sei invented a new form of journal called zuihitsu or ‘miscellany.’ In today’s terms, it’s more like the world’s first blog. 

Both Sei and Murasaki were ladies-in-waiting in the court of Emperor Ichijo, and they both could read and write Chinese as well as Japanese, rare skills for women even in their erudite sphere. How is it that these two women in medieval Japan both managed to create new forms of literature that are still studied today?

In the course of my research, I learned that women held many positions of high rank and even power in Japan’s early history. In fact, eight of Japan’s emperors have been women, six of them before the year 770. The Heian Period (794 to 1185) is known as the ‘golden age of Japan’ for its flowering of the arts and literature, and much of this flowering came from girl-power. 

(Before I go further, let me be clear that I’m only referring to the tiny elite at the top of the food chain who led a life of luxury and leisure far, far removed from the hardships of the unranked.)

I’ve noticed that Westerners are often surprised at some of the rights and privileges women enjoyed in this era in Japan. In the Heian Period, married noblewomen often continued to live with their parents after marriage, with the husband stopping by from time to time to see her. The wife’s father or uncles influenced the education and development of her children. This is called a ‘uxorial’ form of marriage, and it not only gave a woman more control and influence over raising her children, it also meant that if she weren’t happy with her husband’s behavior, she could send him away without seeing him. Women also could initiate a divorce and remarry. Men often had several wives and consorts, and women just one (at a time), but love affairs were not frowned upon as long as discreetly managed. 

The most important element of the environment that eventually produced Tale of Genji and The Pillow Book was the Fujiwara Regency. The emperor’s role was a sacred one with a focus on the rituals and prayers needed to keep divinities happy, so the regent’s role was a political, secular one. There were 21 regents from the Fujiwara clan between 804 and 1238, and the most famous was Michinaga, who was regent during both Sei Shonagon and Murasaki Shikibu’s tenure at court. In the course of my research for Tangled Spirits, I learned this proverb: “if one must have a child, let it be a girl.”  Fujiwara clan members gained power and access to the emperor by marrying their daughters to him. Those daughters produced children who often became Crown Prince and Emperor, and because of the uxorial tradition, Fujiwara regents kept their power by their influence over their imperial grandchildren. And that made daughters more valuable to a Fujiwara regent (or regent wanna-be) than a son. 

And literacy comes into play because it was important for these Fujiwara daughters to be able to entice the emperor with their beautiful calligraphy, their skill with writing poetry, and with reading out loud to him. Beauty and elegance were of utmost importance at court in this era, and calligraphy could make or break a love affair. Thus a high priority was placed on the education of potential imperial consorts.

And then once a Fujiwara daughter was at court, whether as a concubine, an official consort, or a Royal Consort (Empress), it was important for that consort to have women around her with skills in calligraphy, poetry, witty repartee, and story-telling, both to make the salon attractive to the Emperor and to entertain the consort. Women in this elite class lived lives of comparative leisure, and they stayed indoors most of the time. Reading, writing, and story-telling flourished as entertainment. 

And that created a sort of domino effect. Parents might not be of a high-enough rank for their daughters to be selected for the Emperor, but they educated their daughters to make them attractive to the consort’s salon, and that is how both Sei Shonagon and Murasaki Shikibu came to court.

It’s clear from the diaries of Sei Shonagon and Murasaki Shikibu that they both could read Chinese writing as well as the native ‘onnade’ and that such learning was considered masculine. Murasaki wrote that Sei was a show-off for not hiding her knowledge of Chinese, while Sei wrote that male courtiers sent poems in Chinese as a sort of prank, hoping to force her to reveal her knowledge (but she was too clever for that.) However, recent research indicates that a nobleman might teach his daughter to read and write Chinese as well as Japanese to improve her chance to obtain a position as an official in the Imperial Handmaid’s Office. Murasaki Shikibu writes in her diary that she learned Chinese by eavesdropping on her brother’s lessons, but it’s possible that both Murasaki and Sei Shonagon were taught Chinese reading and writing for that reason, as neither family was in the top ranks of nobility. Some high-ranking men even sought to marry women who could read Chinese as a skill that could help their own careers in government bureaucracy.

If you’d like to read more blog posts about Heian Japan or find out more about Tangled Spirits, you can find mine at kvshanahan.com

If you’d like to read more about literacy in this era, here’s an interesting article that I found in jstor.org.

Heldt, G. (2005). Writing like a Man: Poetic Literacy, Textual Property, and Gender in the “Tosa Diary.” The Journal of Asian Studies64(1), 7–34. http://www.jstor.org/stable/25075675

Here’s the blurb for Tangled Spirits.

Journey to the imperial court of Japan as Kate Shanahan skillfully blends fictional and historical figures and events into a time-slip tale of intrigue, personal sacrifice, and a friendship that spans a thousand years. 

Two spirits. One body. It’s harder than it looks.

2019: Anxious and insecure, Mina Cooper wants to change her life, to change herself, but she gets more change than she bargains for when her spirit is pulled into the past and into someone else’ body – in 10th century Japan. And now she has a lot more to be anxious about. Like exorcism. And bandits. And chaotic magic by an inexperienced shaman. 

999: Desperately lonely after her mother and sister die in an epidemic, aspiring shaman Lady Masako attempts to call her mother back from the spirit world, but gets possessed by Mina instead.

After a struggle for control and a failed exorcism, the two spirits agree to cooperate long enough to get help from the Royal Astrologer, the only person powerful enough to send Mina home.

But his help comes at a cost, and Mina’s imperfect knowledge of history offers little to negotiate with. And the longer he waits to help her, the greater the risk her spirit will fuse with Masako’s, and she’ll never get home.

Meet the author

Kate grew up in Massachusetts, but spent 4th, 8th, and 11th grades living in England, and speaks both languages (British and American) fluently. After graduating from University of Michigan with a BA in Political Science (East Asia Concentration), Kate taught English in Sapporo, Japan for two years. She enjoyed the experience so much that she returned to U of M for an MA in Asian Studies (Japan Specialization), and while there, worked part-time for the Center for Japanese Studies. Fortunately for Kate, Honda was expanding operations in Ohio around the time she finished, and she spent an entire career at Honda in project, business, and people management, thrilled to be able to travel to Japan and speak Japanese for work. Then she retired to work on that book about Sei Shonagon that she always had in the back of her mind to write, and that book evolved into Tangled Spirits.
 
After all those years in northern latitudes, Kate and her husband recently moved to Florida’s Gulf Coast where the sunshine makes it difficult to focus on writing. But she’s determined to do it anyway. After a bike ride.

Kate Shanahan Website

Tangled Spirits on Amazon

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Tangled Spirits is on special offer until 19th July 2022, for 99p/99c on Amazon UK/US and is also included in a Kindle Unlimited Subscription

Good luck with the new book, Kate. Thank you so much for such an interesting post about Japan. I can see why you were drawn to the period.

Here’s my review

I was lucky enough to read an early version of Tangled Spirits, and I flew through it in two days. It’s a fantastic and really intriguing story.

I liked the whole story – the idea of a 21st-century woman’s mind in a 10th-century woman’s body, seeing everything through new eyes, putting both current interpretations on etiquette and prevailing thoughts, as well as the 10th-century justification for it all. It was just tongue in cheek, and court politics enough, to ensure the reader always wants to know what’s going to happen.

Masako and Mina are both intriguing characters. As the story is told through Mina we know more about her thoughts and more about Masako’s actions. I could understand both of their viewpoints well enough, even if like Masako, I found it a bit frustrating that Mina wouldn’t share more of her knowledge of the future. I enjoyed that as time went on, they acted more and more like one another.

A really enjoyable read and one I highly recommend.

Today, I’m absolutely delighted to welcome back Amy Maroney to the blog to showcase her new audio books, starting with The Girl from Oto narrated by Meg Price #blogtour #audio

Here’s the blurb:

A Renaissance-era woman artist and an American scholar. Linked by a 500-year-old mystery…

The secrets of the past are irresistible—and treacherous.

1500: Born during a time wracked by war and plague, Renaissance-era artist Mira grows up in a Pyrenees convent believing she is an orphan. When tragedy strikes, Mira learns the devastating truth about her own origins. But does she have the strength to face those who would destroy her?

2015: Centuries later, art scholar Zari unearths traces of a mysterious young woman named Mira in two 16th-century portraits. Obsessed, Zari tracks Mira through the great cities of Europe to the pilgrim’s route of Camino de Santiago—and is stunned by what she finds. Will her discovery be enough to bring Mira’s story to life?

A powerful story and an intriguing mystery, The Girl from Oto is an unforgettable novel of obsession, passion, and human resilience.

Buy Links:

This book is available on #KindleUnlimited.

Series links:

The Girl from Oto

Mira’s Way

A Place in the World

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Audio

Meet the author

Amy Maroney lives in the Pacific Northwest with her family, and spent many years as a writer and editor of nonfiction before turning her hand to historical fiction. When she’s not diving down research rabbit holes, she enjoys hiking, dancing, traveling, and reading. Amy is the author of the Miramonde Series, a trilogy about a Renaissance-era female artist and the modern-day scholar on her trail. Amy’s new series, Sea and Stone Chronicles, features ordinary people seeking their fortunes under the rule of the medieval Knights Hospitaller in Rhodes, Greece. To receive a free prequel novella to the Miramonde Series, join Amy Maroney’s readers’ group at www.amymaroney.com.

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