What We Are Reading-April

Christina: Their Castilian Orphan by Anna Belfrage is the epic conclusion to this amazing historical series and I was eager to see how things would play out in the end. It sees the return of the hero’s truly vile stepbrother, whose presence hangs like a threatening cloud of doom over the story, keeping you on the edge of your seat. And as always, there is a lot at stake for Robert and Noor d’Outremer and their family in every way. Ms Belfrage immerses the reader in the era (late 13th century Britain), bringing it to life effortlessly. It is clear that she’s done a huge amount of research, although this is never rammed down your throat, but subtly woven into the narrative. You really feel you’re there, in the drafty castles, in a damp tent on military campaign, or riding through the mist towards a Welsh manor – it’s all beautifully depicted. And the characters are wonderful, making you root for them and wish them to have a happy ending. There were some heart-rending moments which actually made me cry – that doesn’t happen often when I read – but overall it’s a very satisfying read. If you haven’t started this series yet, go and buy His Castilian Hawk and begin the journey – I can thoroughly recommend this to all lovers of history and romance!

I also just want to do a quick shout-out for the latest installment in Patricia Rice’s Gravesyde Priory Mysteries (No 3) – The Bones In The Orchard. I won’t give a summary as that might ruin the mystery and suspense, but I just want to say if you haven’t started this series yet, hurry up and do so! I’m loving the mix of Regency romance and sleuthing, and the unusual setting (out in the countryside rather than the ballrooms of London) is a very refreshing change. Already looking forward to the next one!

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Quiz—The Heiress’s Daughter

Anne here, and for your entertainment, here’s a quiz on a book you haven’t yet readThe Heiress’s Daughter, which comes out on May 21st.It’s just for fun, and intended to give you a little taste of the book to come, something a bit different from an excerpt or a blurb. But if you’ve read The Rake’s Daughter you might find it too easy. I’m also trying to avoid spoilers.

So, make a note of your answers, check them on the link at the bottom and come back and tell us how you went, and whether you enjoyed it or not. I’ll be giving a copy of The Heiress’s Daughter to someone who leaves a comment.

1)  Our heroine, Clarissa, is
a) rich and slightly arrogant,
b) intensely loyal to those she cares about
c) determined never to marry
d) passionate about cats

2)  Clarissa grew up
a) abroad, in many different countries
b) in London
c) in Bath
d) in the country

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Historical Food Crazes

This is a cronut!

Nicola here. The latest food trend has passed me by until now but at the weekend I read about something called a “Crookie.” The crookie was preceded by the cronut and the cruffin, which for those readers like me who are clueless of food fashions, is croissant dough crossed with various other sweet foods: cookies, doughnuts and muffins. I haven’t tried any of them but I’m told they are delicious.

The fashion for trying out new things in food is as old as the human race, according to food historians. When the Romans came to Britain, they brought with them fruit such as grapes and figs and herbs including coriander, which must have been an eye-opener for British-Romano cuisine. More spices entered the British diet after the Norman Conquest of 1066, with cinnamon, cloves and saffron from Mediterranean and Middle Eastern trade.

Can you imagine the excitement in Tudor England when both tomatoes and turkeys appeared on the menu (though not necessarily at the same time?) The Italians had tried the tomato out first and weren’t too keen to start with, having munched on the leaves and pronounced them inedible (they are actually poisonous in large quantities.) Nor was the potato initially welcome. The Spanish introduced them in the second half of the 16th century. The Histoires de legumes by Pitrat and Foury states that the first written mention of the potato was a receipt for delivery dated 28th November 1567 when they travelled from Las Palmas in Grand Canarias to Antwerp. Sir Walter Raleigh brought them to England in 1588 but initially they were treated with suspicion and considered no better than animal feed. As one of my favourite meals is a baked potato with cheese, I can only be grateful that eventually they caught on. And where would we be without chips/fries?

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Life in a Roman Legion

Christina here. Do you believe in serendipity? I definitely do! I happen to be working on another book set during Roman times (although in Britain, not Italy) and guess what happened? The British Museum put on an exhibition about Roman legions! Although my hero is not a legionary, the villain is, so this was the perfect research opportunity and naturally, I had to go and see it.

The exhibition was called Legion – Life in the Roman Army – and it was amazing! A collection of fabulous artefacts, with plenty of backstory and historical information. Here’s a brief summary of what I learned, including my favourite exhibits:-

Rome’s first emperor, Augustus (63 BC – AD 14), ruled over a vast empire, based on military dominance. To maintain power everywhere, he created the first professional army of full-time career soldiers divided into regiments – legions. Together these consisted of approximately 150,000 male Roman citizens, plus an equal number of non-citizens in so-called auxiliary units. This vast army was incredibly efficient and well-trained, and for the most part invincible. Although not always – in AD 9 on the Danube frontier at Teutoburg Forest three whole legions (around 20,000 men) were completely annihilated by ‘barbarians’ (Germanic tribes)!

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