16 January 2017

Book Spotlight: Pilgrim Routes of the British Isles, by Emma J. Wells

Available on Amazon UK and Amazon US

This book leads the modern traveller along seven medieval pilgrim routes of Britain (those with historic origins, rather than modern constructs), taking in world-famous sites such as Canterbury and Lindisfarne in addition to out-of-the-way locations along paths not so widely travelled. 

Each route guides pilgrims on a journey of discovery. Illustrated throughout with photographs and colour maps, and written by a renowned expert on pilgrimage, Pilgrim Routes of the British Isles provides clear maps and informative commentary on the history of the most significant landscapes, shrines, art and architecture.

Although it offers some fresh walking ideas, primary consideration is given to understanding the history, significance and practices surrounding the pilgrim routes and sites of Britain, helping you to follow in the footsteps of our forebears and gain invaluable insights into their medieval world. It will be of great interest to walkers and historians alike.
I ll have a copy tucked under my arm as I revisit these important ancient routes across Britain s historic landscape...The context for pilgrimage is given in a clear but well-researched way, with its significance within all the major world religions highlighted. Yet the places are also celebrated for their local flavours, with the importance of native British saints, relics and locations constantly kept to the fore. This is a book that UK travellers, historians and pilgrims can benefit from. ~ Dr Janina Ramirez
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About the Author

Dr Emma Wells is an historian, archaeologist, author, broadcaster and award-winning academic. She is Associate Lecturer at the University of York and an Historic Buildings Consultant. She has a PhD from the University of Durham (soon to be published as a book) and is a regular contributor to television and radio as an expert on pilgrimage. Find out more at  www.emmajwells.com and you can find Emma on Facebook and Twitter @Emma_J_Wells.

15 January 2017

Book Review: Plantagenet Princess, Tudor Queen: The Story of Elizabeth of York, by Samantha Wilcoxson

Available on Amazon UK and Amazon US

I've had to save this book for almost eighteen months because at the time it was published in 2015 I was researching for my own book on King Henry VII. I bought Plantagenet Princess as soon as it was published but as I started reading it I realised it could influence my thinking about Elizabeth of York. I returned to it as soon as my book was written and was fascinated to see Samantha's view of the same story through Elizabeth's eyes.

Elizabeth of York is too often portrayed as a victim of the Wars of the Roses and in my view deserves to be better understood. Samantha evokes the contrasts of the early Tudor period and explores new facets of Elizabeth's complex and often harrowing world.

Having spent three years writing about the life of Henry Tudor, I was particularly intrigued by her sympathetic view of Henry's relationship with Elizabeth, I'm glad I didn't read it before writing my book, as there are understandably different perspectives on Margaret Beaufort and Perkin Warbeck, among others.

Thought provoking and well researched, I recommend Plantagenet Princess to anyone interested in what life might have been like at the Tudor court of the fifteenth century. I will definitely be reading the other books in Samantha's Plantagenet Embers series.  

Tony Riches

(P.S. My new book, Henry - Book Three of The Tudor Trilogy will be published at the end of February.)

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About the Author

Samantha Wilcoxson is a writer and history enthusiast. She lives with her husband on a small lake in Michigan with three children, two cats and two dogs, she has plenty of writing inspiration. The Plantagenet Embers series debuted with 'Plantagenet Princess, Tudor Queen: The Story of Elizabeth of York'. It has been selected as an Editors' Choice by the Historical Novel Society and long-listed for the 2016 HNS Indie Award. Find our more at Samantha's website and follow her on Twitter @carpe_librum.

14 January 2017

Historical Fiction Guest Post: Envoy of Jerusalem, by Helena P. Schrader

Available on Amazon UK and Amazon US

Balian has survived the devastating defeat on the Horns of Hattin, and walked away a free man after the surrender of Jerusalem, but he is baron of nothing in a kingdom that no longer exists. Haunted by the tens of thousands of Christians now enslaved by Saladin, he is determined to regain what has been lost. The arrival of a vast crusading army under the soon-to-be-legendary Richard the Lionheart offers hope -- but also conflict, as natives and crusaders clash and French and English quarrel.

It all started with Hollywood.

Ridley Scott’s film “The Kingdom of Heaven” which describes the fall of Jerusalem to Saladin in 1187 in techno color captured my imagination. Being a historian by training (I have a PhD in it), however, and being equally familiar with Hollywood’s tendency to – shall we say – take liberties with the historical record, I wondered just how much, if anything, in the film was true. To my astonishment, I discovered that Balian d'Ibelin, the hero of Ridley Scott's film. was a historical figure, and that he really had saved tens of thousands of civilians from slaughter and slavery in 1187!

What was more, just a cursory look at the facts revealed that his biography was not only significantly different from that of the Hollywood character, it was also significantly (at least in my eyes) more fascinating. Hollywood made him a blacksmith, but contemporary Arab chronicles described his as “like a king.” In the film, he dallies with a princess, in history he married a Dowager Queen and founded a dynasty. 

In the film, he is born in France and only arrives in the Holy Land shortly before it is overrun by the Saracens; historically Balian d’Ibelin played a leading role at the Frankish victory over Saladin at Montgistard in 1177, played a critical role in opposing the usurpation of the throne by Guy de Lusignan, and also succeeded in reconciling warring factions within the kingdom. 

In the film, Balian doesn’t take part in the fateful Battle of Hattin; in fact, Balian commanded the rear-guard and was one of the few noblemen to successfully fight his way off the field, while the majority became capives. Most intriguing of all, however, rather than returning to France to become a blacksmith again as in the Hollywood film, the historical Balian fought in the Third Crusade and was Richard the Lionheart’s principle ambassador to Saladin in 1192.

In short, I felt Balian deserved a biography that reflected his historical accomplishments better than “The Kingdom of Heaven” did. I sat down to write a biographical novel – and it turned into a trilogy.

For readers tired of cliches, cartoons and fantasy, my three-part biography of Balian based on the above facts not only brings this important and attractive historical character back to life, it provides refreshing insights into everyday life in the late 12th century crusader states. Populated with complex characters, "Envoy of Jerusalem," provides psychologically sound explanations for the decisions and actions of the men and women who made history in this fateful place and period. It offers humans in place of villains and supermen. 

"Envoy of Jerusalem" covers the critical five years between the fall of Jerusalem to the end of the Third Crusade. When the novel opens, Balian has survived the devastating defeat of the Christian army on the Horns of Hattin, and walked away a free man after the surrender of Jerusalem, but he is baron of nothing in a kingdom that no longer exists. Haunted by the tens of thousands of Christians captives now in Saracen slavery, Balian is determined to regain what has been lost. The arrival of a vast crusading army under the soon-to-be-legendary Richard the Lionheart offers hope - but also conflict as natives and crusaders clash and French and English quarrel.

This novel follows the fate not just of kings and barons, but also knights, squires, sailors and tradesmen. It particularly focuses on the horrific impact of a lost war on women - many of whom were condemned to slavery and prostitution in the wake of defeat.  It also portrays the clash of cultures between the natives of the Holy Land and the crusaders. It, unlike most novels set in this period, describes the Third Crusade through the eyes of the men and women who called the Holy Land "home," rather than those that came out from the West. Likewise, Richard the Lionheart is shown as a man of many parts, rather than a brute, buffoon or paragon of virtue.

Last but not least, "Envoy of Jerusalem" explores the crisis in faith that the fall of Jerusalem produced among Christians of the period. The characters struggle with understanding the will of God and their individual role and place in the presumed divine plan. 
Hope I've whet your appetite! 

Helena P. Schrader
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About the Author

Award–winning novelist Helena P. Schrader has a PhD in History.  She has published non-fiction books on WWII and the Berlin Airlift.  Her novels are set in Ancient Sparta, the crusades and WWII. The second book in her three-part biography of Balian d’Ibelin, Defender of Jerusalem, earned five literary accolades. The third book in the series, Envoy of Jerusalem, has won a Pinnacle Award for Biographical Fiction and been awarded a B.R.A.G. medallion.  Helena is a U.S. diplomat currently serving in Africa. Find out more at Helena's website and blog. You can also find her on Facebook and Twitter @HelenaPSchrader.

13 January 2017

Historical Fiction Spotlight: The King's Jew. Book Two: In the shadow of the king. The middle years. 1265 to 1274. by Darius Stransky

New on Amazon UK and Amazon US

As Cristian Gilleson keeps vigil for his dead king (Edward the First) in Westminster Abbey on Friday, October 27th 1307, his enemies, Edward Secundus and Piers Gaveston, still plot his downfall.

In the aftermath of The Baron’s War and the Battle of Evesham in 1265, Lord Cristian Gilleson and his companion Lord Edward (the future king, Edward the First) have some pockets of resistance to clear up.

Cristian’s lady, Dulcea, wonders if they will ever marry but can a Jew marry a Christian? 

The unfaithful Earl of Gloucester (Gilbert de Clare) occupies London and must be ousted.

Earl Gilbert seeks Cristian’s death and their long running feud continues.

Lord Edward takes the cross and leaves for Outremer to wage war on the Sultan Baybars. Will this Ninth Crusade be successful?
All the while the agents of Gilbert de Clare plot the perfect murder in a foreign land.

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About the Author

Darius Stransky; part Irish and part English gypsy but fully formed individual who loves all things medieval. For many years he wrote weekly columns for top media groups in the UK and hired out his writing skills as a freelance to many magazines and periodicals. Then the life and times of King Edward the First became a passion and one morning a character (now known as Lord Cristian Gilleson in 'The King's Jew') appeared and insisted on telling his tale.
Darius immersed himself in thirteenth century Europe and the result was Book One. But it didn't end there for Gilleson hadn't ended his story and so ... the saga continued. Now back in the twenty-first century Stransky enjoys the peace and quiet of his study, his grumpy cat and a good book. But every now and then he returns to his medieval world and writes and writes and writes.... Find Darius on Twitter @DariusStransky 

12 January 2017

Historical Fiction Spotlight: Ravenspur: Rise of the Tudors (The Wars of the Roses) by Conn Iggulden

Available on Amazon UK and Amazon US

England, 1470. A divided kingdom cannot stand.  King Edward of York has been driven out of England. Queen Elizabeth and her children tremble in sanctuary at Westminster Abbey. The House of Lancaster has won the crown, but York will not go quietly.
Desperate to reclaim his throne, Edward lands at Ravenspur with a half-drowned army and his brother Richard at his side. Every hand is against them, every city gate is shut, yet the brothers York go on the attack.
But neither sees that their true enemy is Henry Tudor, now grown into a man. As the Red Dragon - 'the man of destiny' - his claim to the throne leads to Bosworth Field and a battle that will call an end to the Wars of the Roses . . .
'A tough, pacy chronicle of bloody encounters, betrayals and cruelties. Superb' Daily Mail

'Iggulden is in a class of his own when it comes to epic, historical fiction' Daily Mirror

'Superb, fantastic, extraordinary' Sunday Express

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About the Author

Born in London, Conn Iggulden read English at London University and worked as a teacher for seven years before becoming a full-time writer. Married with three children, he lives in Hertfordshire. Find out more at his website www.conniggulden.com and find him on Twitter 

11 January 2017

Guest Post: Doing More with Less: Organizational Learning and the OLSET tool, by Anthi Theiopoulou

New on Amazon UK and Amazon US

It was during the end of the ‘90s that a big question emerged and haunted me since then: how can humans change a system (i.e. a big human-made organization)?

I was a medical student doing very good with my studies, as I always did with anything related to books, when at the end of our third year one of our professors decided to talk to us about career choices. She explained that we could chose to specialize in research or in practicing medicine. “In both cases, she said, you as doctors will have to adhere to the polices of the medical system which are put in place by the big pharmaceutical companies”. The whole auditorium of 200 students left that class with depression. I was one of them. 

But I wasn’t willing to become a doctor and have to obey the system’s orders. Especially as we are talking about a human made system. Thus I decided to find a way to change the medical system for all these 199 fellow students of mine. I had no idea how someone could possibly change a whole medical system but I was going to find out. It was common knowledge that the management science contemplates systems and their change thus I immediately stopped my medical studies and started studying management.

During my management studies it soon became obvious that the mainstream management practices that were part of a BSc curriculum were already outdated and proven counterproductive and yet no alternative was proposed to the students. That was when I read the book “Leadership and the New Science” by M. Wheatley which talked about the innovation of management i.e. management’s newest approach named Organizational Learning (OL), being researched extensively in MIT. In that book I found out about the Society for Organizational Learning (SoL) which I started following and learning from since then.

There, I found out that yes the theory about changing a system was in place already since Maslow’s Eupsychian Management book and significantly advanced through contemporary scientists like the Chair of SoL himself Peter Senge and yet, nobody knew how to apply this new approach at a large scale. It simply never happened before and all case studies followed a different methodology completely dependent upon the scientist that was leading the organization’s change making it impossible to standardize and scale up.

Ten years of research on finding out a way to apply OL at a large scale later, “Doing More with Less; Organizational Learningand the OLSET tool” summarizes all the findings and tools for anybody to be able to change a system or an organisation - regardless of size, sector, culture or age (startup or no).

In this in-depth overview, theory intersects with practice to prepare leaders to apply OL knowledge in their organisations. The book includes the most current research in operationalizing OL, which I conducted at the University of Liverpool between 2011 and 2012.

The information is laid out in three parts:
- Background knowledge required to skillfully implement OL tools
- Theory and research behind the components of the OL equation
-  A customizable OL management system named OLSET that you can apply directly in your organization

The new Organizational Learning Self-Evaluation Tool (OLSET) presented in this book, allows leaders to conduct an OL capacity audit and plan change, ensuring that their businesses have a continuous competitive advantage, regardless of market conditions. OLSET is the answer to my old question since the medical school as it enables humans to change their organisations and systems.

Anthi Theiopoulou
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About the Author

Anthi Theiopoulou is one of the foremost experts on organizational learning (OL), with over fifteen years of experience. From 2009 to 2011, she conducted breakthrough research on OL best practices. She went on to research operationalizing OL at the University of Liverpool from 2011 to 2012. A ten-year member of the Society for Organizational Learning (SoL), she was also part of the Group of 25 for the Evolution of SoL with Peter Senge. She is the president and founder of SoL Greece. Born in Athens, she received an MSc in International Management from the University of Liverpool. In 2015, she founded OLSET Ltd., which provides scientifically based software to help companies of any size to apply organizational learning. She lives in Athens, with her twelve-year-old son. This is her first book.

10 January 2017

Historical Fiction Book Launch: Rebellion's Forge (The Blood of Kings Book 3) by K. M. Ashman

New on Amazon UK and Amazon US

An uneasy peace reigns in Wales. It’s 1109 and the truce with England hangs by the thinnest of threads. While King Gruffydd ap Cynan’s rule of law holds in the north, a spirit of rebellion is rising in the south, as tearaway princes and rebels grow to resent England’s oppression of their homeland. And when Nesta, married off in a political move by England’s King Henry, leaves the safety of her husband’s castle to attend a celebration, the rebels seize their opportunity.

The truce broken, England’s rulers look to turn the ensuing chaos to their advantage, and to crush Wales under their boot once and for all. Gruffydd is left with a stark choice: enforce the peace he so desires for his land, and betray his countrymen, or risk everything he has built by going to war with the English once again. But the decision is soon taken out of his hands by those who ride for liberty from the depths of Rebellion’s Forge.

Rebellion’s Forge is the third book in the Blood of Kings trilogy.

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About the Author

Kevin Ashman is the author of seventeen novels, including the bestselling Roman Chronicles and highly ranked Medieval Sagas. Always pushing the boundaries, he found further success with the India Sommers Mysteries, as well as three other standalone projects, Vampire, Savage Eden and the dystopian horror story The Last Citadel. Kevin was born and raised in Wales and now writes full-time. He is married with four grown children and enjoys cycling, swimming and watching rugby. Current works include the highly anticipated Blood of Kings series, of which Rebellion’s Forge is the third and final instalment. Find out more at www.KMAshman.co.uk and follow Kevin on Twitter @KMAshman.