07 February 2016

Author Interview & Book Giveaway: JOSEPHINE MONTGOMERY on FITZGERALD HALL

This week, we're pleased to welcome author JOSEPHINE MONTGOMERY with her latest release,  FITZGERALD HALL, set in the 7th and 21st centuries. One lucky visitor will get a free ebook copy of Fitzgerald Hall - this giveaway is open internationallyBe sure to leave your email address in the comments of today's author interview for a chance to win. Winner(s) are contacted privately by email. Here's the blurb.

An historical fiction adventure charts a course from southern California to the magnificent Fitzgerald estate located in southern England where archeologists discover a 7th-century bed burial grave in Fitzgerald Hall meadows. Valeska, an Anglo-Saxon teenager, is unable to join her ancestors in the next world; she knows if her bones are removed from the burial bed grave, and archeologists take them to a laboratory for study, she can never join her spirit family. It will take the co-operation of people in the 21st century and there isn’t much time. Valeska needs someone to see and believe in her spirit that appears by the baptismal font, in the Anglo-Saxon church in Fitzgerald village, between Winter Solstice, around the 21st December through December 30th.

An Anglo-Saxon poem in Fitzgerald Hall library reads,
Did the sword of Wulfhere strike the blow
  That echoes through the meadows still.
  Eternity won’t settle scores
  When brothers of my tribe they kill.
 The graves and barrows of our land
  Are filled with men who did not fight

 The cowards killed us in our beds
 We’ll vanquish them come solstice night.

Q&A with Josephine Montgomery

An Anglo Saxon teen burial in an ornamental bed is an unusual subject, was it difficult to write?

I love of archeology and history and if I am inspired by an archeological discovery my imagination takes flight. The research can a lot take time because I base my stories on available, researched fact. The extraordinary 7th century discovery in Trumpington Meadows, England, offered unique insights into the origins of English Christianity.

What information did the archeologists discover from the bed burial?

Bed burials were a very limited Anglo-Saxon practice in the mid to later 7th century. The girl, aged around 16, was buried on a beautiful, ornamental bed with a pectoral Christian cross on her chest; it was probably sewn onto her clothing. The cross, fashioned from gold, was intricately set with cut garnets; the artifact dates this grave to be the very early years of the English church, probably between 650 and 680 AD. To be buried in this elaborate way, with such a valuable artifact, tells us the girl was undoubtedly high status or even royalty.

Where does the story take place?

It begins in San Diego, USA where three girls, university students, two American, one British, share a house. Chloe, the Brit, has no concept of domestic duties which doesn’t sit well with Anna the neat-nick. They accept Chloe’s offer to spend Christmas with her family in England, a chauffeur picks them up at London Heathrow airport and drives to Fitzgerald Hall, one of England’s Great Houses. The American girls soon realize why Chloe is inept at domestic chores, she has never done any. Emily and Anna had a challenging time adapting to life with the privileged, wet bath towels were left on the floor for the house maid to pick up, their beds were made, everyone dressed for dinner and it wasn’t done to thank the servants. As Lady Fitzgerald mentioned, ‘Servants are people too, but only on their days off.’  At dinner Anna and Emily meet two male British aristocrats, Chloe’s cousins, and so, from the 21st century to the 7th century, an extraordinary journey begins that will change the American girls lives forever.

As a Brit. how challenging was it to write from the perspective of American students in California?

Not too difficult, I lived in both Northern and Southern California. Also, my granddaughter, from London, England, was an exchange student in the USA and stayed with us during university holidays, along with her American student friend. I had to make sure when writing American dialogue that I did not use long, enunciated English words that are part of the vocabulary of the Upper Classes.

Does this book stand alone and do you have another book planned?

No, I am currently finishing my third book in the Fitzgerald Hall trilogy. I studied written and spoken Arabic at Amman University in Jordan and have traveled the Middle East extensively and may write my next book set in Egypt in the time of the Heretic Pharaoh, Akhenaten. 

Learn more about author Josephine Montgomery


Fitzgerald Hall draws on the British writer’s knowledge of the nobility and class structure in England and their struggles to keep the Great Houses of England from falling into ruin. Living and working in both Northern and Southern California heightens the writer’s awareness of the difference between England’s class structure and the California lifestyle.

04 February 2016

Excerpt Thursday: FITZGERALD HALL by JOSEPHINE MONTGOMERY

This week, we're pleased to welcome author JOSEPHINE MONTGOMERY with her latest release,  FITZGERALD HALL, set in the 7th and 21st centuries. Join us again on Sunday for an author interview, with more details about the story behind the story. One lucky visitor will get a free ebook copy of Fitzgerald Hall - this giveaway is open internationallyBe sure to leave your email address in the comments of today's post or Sunday's author interview for a chance to win. Winner(s) are contacted privately by email. Here's the blurb.

An historical fiction adventure charts a course from southern California to the magnificent Fitzgerald estate located in southern England where archeologists discover a 7th-century bed burial grave in Fitzgerald Hall meadows. Valeska, an Anglo-Saxon teenager, is unable to join her ancestors in the next world; she knows if her bones are removed from the burial bed grave, and archeologists take them to a laboratory for study, she can never join her spirit family. It will take the co-operation of people in the 21st century and there isn’t much time. Valeska needs someone to see and believe in her spirit that appears by the baptismal font, in the Anglo-Saxon church in Fitzgerald village, between Winter Solstice, around the 21st December through December 30th.

An Anglo-Saxon poem in Fitzgerald Hall library reads,
 
Did the sword of Wulfhere strike the blow
  That echoes through the meadows still.
 
  Eternity won’t settle scores
  When brothers of my tribe they kill.
 
 The graves and barrows of our land
  Are filled with men who did not fight

 The cowards killed us in our beds
 We’ll vanquish them come solstice night.

**An Excerpt from FITZGERALD HALL**

Chapter One
WHAT TO DO ABOUT CHLOE

“Chloe, there’s underwear and a wet towel on the bathroom floor again.”
     “Sorry, Anna, I’ll get them later, I’m drying my hair.”
     Anna glanced around the living room, her eyes fell on the coffee table, “and pick up the remains of your late night snack please, Chloe. That girl’s a slob,” said Anna slamming Emily’s car door shut.
     “Give her time she is trying,” said Emily backing her car down the driveway.
     “How much learning do you need to hang up a bath towel, it’s like living with a four year old, pick this up put that away? Chloe is lucky I haven’t strangled her with one of her long vowels,” said Anna.
     “They all talk like that, Anna”
     “What?”
     “She’s British they all talk funny, I like listening to her,” said Emily.
     “And so do all the guys,” snapped Anna.
     “We could ask her to give us elocution lessons,” said Emily laughing.
     “No thanks,” said Anna, “we might turn in to American slobs with a British accent.”
     “I’m working at the Chinese restaurant after class, I’ll bring take-a-way for dinner and we can decide what to do about Chloe,” said Emily.
      Anna had finished setting the table for dinner when she heard Emily’s car door slam. Chloe’s lack of the most basic house-keeping skills were a constant source of irritation to Anna, a decision had to be made, renew the lease on the house or look for an inexpensive apartment for two.
       “I’ve warmed serving dishes and set the dining room table,” said Anna, “let’s eat, I’m starving.”
     Emily watched Anna carefully empty the food containers into warmed dishes and carry them into the dining room where chopsticks, serving spoons and napkins were neatly laid out on a white tablecloth. Chinese food tastes better when eaten from take-out cartons, thought Emily, preferably sitting on the floor around a coffee table.
     “It’s obvious Chloe really gets on your nerves,” said Emily after dinner, “but we can’t afford a nice house like this without her rent money.”      
     “I know,” said Anna, “Chloe pays her share of expenses on time and if she uses the last of anything she always replaces it. I like Chloe, she has a great sense of humor and is a genuinely nice person, but it’s her ability to live in total chaos that drives me nuts.”
     “Maybe her Mom waited on her hand and foot,” said Emily and that’s why she hasn’t a clue how to cook, dust, use the vacuum cleaner or do laundry. Remember St. Patrick’s Day when you asked her to chop up the cabbage and cook it?”
         “I’ll never forget it,” said Anna, “that was the first time I’d eaten boiled lettuce and ham, I guess in the fridge iceberg lettuce does resemble cabbage.”
     Their laughter was interrupted by the insistent ring of the doorbell.
     “That’s Chloe, she’s forgotten her key again, at least it isn’t one o’clock in the morning,” said Anna.
     “Sorry, forgot my key,” said Chloe. “The restaurant gave me a blueberry cheesecake it’s a bit squashed so they couldn’t use it, let’s sit round the coffee table and eat while we discuss our plans for Christmas. If you two aren’t going home for the holidays I have a suggestion.”
     Chloe flung her coat over the back of a chair, kicked off her shoes in different directions and put the cheesecake on the coffee table, Anna winced as blueberries slid off the serving knife and fell in squishy, purple blobs over the glass topped table. 
     I hope Chloe doesn’t suggest we all stay home and cook Christmas dinner, thought Emily, Anna’s nerves couldn’t stand the mess.
     “My suggestion is we all go to the Mission and help serve Christmas dinner to the less fortunate,” said Anna.
     “That’s a really nice idea, Anna, but I was hoping you and Emily would accept an invitation to my home in England.”
     “England,” said Emily, “we’re American university students we can’t afford the airfare to England, we’d starve if we didn’t work part time in restaurants and bring home leftovers.”
     “You wouldn’t have to buy a ticket, I have enough frequent flier miles for all of us if we travel coach class. Think about it and let me know tomorrow, I need to phone Mother if you decide to accept. I’m off to bed the restaurant was really busy tonight.”
     Emily and Anna looked at each other in disbelief.
     “What do you think Anna, should we accept?”
      “I’m not sure, we don’t know anything about Chloe’s family, she always changes the subject when we ask questions,” said Emily. “I’ve read that some people in England still live in little brick houses with a toilet at the end of the yard. Maybe Chloe swept floors with a broom and that’s why she never learned to use a vacuum cleaner.”
     “You’ve read too many historical novels,” said Anna. “We can’t tell her we don’t want to live with her because she’s too messy and then accept a free trip to England.”
     “Let’s sleep on it,” said Emily, we’ll decide tomorrow.”
     Two weeks later the girls were packing to spend Christmas in England.
     “I’ve just spoken with Mother,” Chloe shouted from her bedroom, “it’s snowing and it looks like we’ll have a white Christmas in England.”
     “I don’t have snowy weather clothes,” Anna called back.
     “Neither do I, said Emily, we’re California beach girls.”
      “Don’t worry about it,” said Chloe, “pack a couple of casual outfits, Mother will provide the rest. Oh, I nearly forgot, she asked if you would mind sharing a bedroom, it’s a bit small but we’ll have a full house this year.”
     “A little room, Mother will provide clothing,” whispered Anna, “we’ll probably be sleeping in the attic and tramping around in snow wearing Mother’s old flowery frocks. What have we got ourselves into?”

Amazon US   
Amazon UK   

Learn more about author Josephine Montgomery


Fitzgerald Hall draws on the British writer’s knowledge of the nobility and class structure in England and their struggles to keep the Great Houses of England from falling into ruin. Living and working in both Northern and Southern California heightens the writer’s awareness of the difference between England’s class structure and the California lifestyle.

24 January 2016

Author Interview & Book Giveaway: ROSE SEILER SCOTT on THREATEN TO UNDO US

This week, we're pleased to welcome our first guest in 2016, author ROSE SEILER SCOTT with her latest release,  THREATEN TO UNDO US, set during the Nazi period in Europe. One lucky visitor will get a free copy of Threaten to Undo Us - this giveaway is restricted to North American residents onlyBe sure to leave your email address in the comments of today's author interview for a chance to win. Winner(s) are contacted privately by email. Here's the blurb.

As Hitler’s Third Reich crumbles and Stalin’s army advances, German civilians in the Eastern territories are forced to flee for their lives.

Leaving her dying mother, Liesel and her four young children hope they can make it from their home in Poland across the Oder River to safety. But all that awaits them is terror and uncertainty in a brutal new regime that threatens to tear Liesel’s family apart. With her husband a prisoner of war in Russia and her children enslaved, Liesel’s desire for hearth and home is thwarted by opposing political forces, leaving her to wonder if they will ever be a family again.

Based on a true story, Threaten to Undo Us offers a unique perspective on the Second World War, exposing historical events that took place in its enormous shadow.

**Q & A with Rose Seiler Scott**

There are lots of books on World War Two. What makes Threaten to Undo Us different and unusual?

The shelves at the library are filled with stories and memoirs from the Second World War. Most focus on the Holocaust or stories of Allied soldiers. Few books in English are written from the perspective of German protagonists and even less have been written on one of the largest expulsions in history that took place after the Second World War.

Where did you get the idea?

War stories, such as the Diary of Anne Frank, The Hiding Place and Unbroken, have always captivated me with tales of people surviving under the most trying circumstances. Over the years, I heard a number of anecdotes from my Dad’s side of the family and realized the story they told was nothing short of incredible. No-one else seemed to be curating their experiences, so when the family gathered and started talking about those days, I grabbed a scrap of paper and took notes.

What were some of the challenges you faced in research and what did you discover?

It was confusing to piece together the family narrative, because it didn’t seem to fit history and the framework of World War Two as I understood it. My Dad’s family is German, but they lived in Poland. Most of them were children at the time, but one of the things they repeatedly said, was they were in concentration camps. I wondered why. They weren’t Jewish. Family friends mentioned similar trials, but initially I could find no mention in any historical sources about this. Eventually I was led to a few crucial books about what happened after the war in communist Poland and East Germany. One of these books, John Sacks, An Eye for an Eye was all but blacklisted for the shocking expose’ that it was.

The rise of internet sources has been a boon for research and allowed me to find similar accounts and brief mentions of “labour” camps after the war. The history in a nutshell is this: Before the war, culturally German people lived all over Europe; in Poland, Ukraine, Czechoslovakia (now Czech Republic), Hungary, Romania, etc. In the final days of the war, as Russian forces moved west into German occupied territory, Hitler took a defiant last stand which prevented the German army from retreating in enough time to get their civilians out in a safe, organized manner. Women, children and the elderly had to flee for their lives and many didn’t make it to safety. In the worst cases, there were massacres of ethnic Germans in Czechoslovakia and East Prussia. Those who survived and returned to their homes, were soon forced out and many were taken for interrogation and imprisonment in former concentration and prisoner of war camps, even if they had nothing to do with Nazi atrocities.

As a response to the devastation in Europe and as retribution to the Germans for their part in the war, Stalin, Churchill and Roosevelt determined at the conferences of Yalta and Potsdam to “repatriate” all Germans to Germany, even if they had never lived there. Given the mess Germany was in, it was ill-prepared to receive large numbers of refugees. As the communists took power, it became an opportunity for revenge, terror and slave labour in several East European countries.

A few years ago, I had reached a point in the writing the book where I felt it was necessary to go to Poland and Germany in order to write knowledgeably. I made the trip with my parents in 2009. Even though so much has changed since the war, I felt it really helped to actually be there. Certain scenes would not have come to life in the same way had I not gone.

How long did it take to write the book?

12 years, give or take. I was raising a family, volunteering at my children’s school and regularly suffering with migraine headaches. I was frustrated by the lack of information, set it aside for a while a few times.  

How much of the story actually happened and how much is fiction?

Though the book is based on the true story, the decision to go with fiction made it more representative of a whole group of people and created an even more compelling narrative. Events have been imagined, re-imagined and embellished, but for the most part the plot is what really happened. I won’t say too much more, but the more unbelievable an event in the book sounds, the more likely it is to be true! Truth really is stranger than fiction, but fiction plays a role in telling the truth.

Sounds like a really heavy read. Is it a depressing book?

Yes and no. Yes. The book is about a family’s struggles under two totalitarian regimes. Bad things happen. Grown men have told me they were moved to tears.

No. I prefer avoiding graphic depictions of evil, violence and bad language. I also believe there is hope, even in the darkest of times and faith is organically woven as a theme into the story in a way that I think appeals to a broad audience.

What are you working on now?

I was seriously considering a story based on my English grandmother who also had a very interesting life, but people are asking for a sequel to Threaten to Undo Us. Hopefully it won’t take me 12 years this time! 

See the book trailer:


Learn more about author Rose Seiler Scott

Amazon Author page: http://www.amazon.com/Rose-Seiler-Scott/e/B00UO1SL7E

21 January 2016

Excerpt Thursday: THREATEN TO UNDO US by Rose Seiler Scott


This week, we're pleased to welcome our first guest in 2016, author ROSE SEILER SCOTT with her latest release,  THREATEN TO UNDO US, set during the Nazi period in Europe. Join us again on Sunday for an author interview, with more details about the story behind the story. One lucky visitor will get a free copy of Threaten to Undo Us - this giveaway is restricted to North American residents onlyBe sure to leave your email address in the comments of today's post or Sunday's author interview for a chance to win. Winner(s) are contacted privately by email. Here's the blurb.

As Hitler’s Third Reich crumbles and Stalin’s army advances, German civilians in the Eastern territories are forced to flee for their lives.

Leaving her dying mother, Liesel and her four young children hope they can make it from their home in Poland across the Oder River to safety. But all that awaits them is terror and uncertainty in a brutal new regime that threatens to tear Liesel’s family apart. With her husband a prisoner of war in Russia and her children enslaved, Liesel’s desire for hearth and home is thwarted by opposing political forces, leaving her to wonder if they will ever be a family again.

Based on a true story, Threaten to Undo Us offers a unique perspective on the Second World War, exposing historical events that took place in its enormous shadow.

**An Excerpt from THREATEN TO UNDO US**

Chapter 1
    1945
 Ernst’s face was cast in darkness; his tall frame a shadow in the open doorway.
              “I’m in the army now,” he said, his solemn voice fading as he backed away into the night. “I can no longer give you my protection.”
 Submerged in the blackness of loss, paralyzed to reach out, Liesel pleaded to her husband, “Come back!” Her voice echoed off the wall. Simultaneously she heard the rumbling of a truck motor and a tinny voice on a bullhorn. “All German citizens of the Third Reich are to evacuate as  soon as possible. You are no longer under the protection of the German army.”
            Liesel’s eyes fluttered open and her conscious mind recalled that Ernst had left their home in Poland months ago and was missing in action, somewhere in Russia.
The blackout curtains were securely in place. A single gas lamp, dimly lit, cast a soft glow on the green tiles of the Kachelofen. On the hearth ledge of the large ceramic stove, a few sticks of kindling poked out of the wood box. Above the mantel the cuckoo clock ticked softly, its pendulum swinging gently back and forth in counterpoint to Liesel’s racing heart.
In the gloom, silent companions watched from the walls; Ernst in his Wehrmacht uniform and his brother attired in the black garb of the “Schutz-Staffel,” sepia silhouettes of Liesel’s parents and grandparents and a portrait of her children, taken near the beginning of the war.
Kurt and Olaf stood on either side of Liesel like miniature sentinels in the matching dark suits she had made for them. Edeltraud was only a baby sitting on Liesel’s lap, wearing a perfectly tailored coat and a ruffled hat. Rudy stood next to the chair, his face turned slightly as if his attention was elsewhere.
The announcement reverberated down the street. “Allied forces are advancing. You are no longer under the protection of the German army. All German citizens of the Third Reich, General Government, are to evacuate to the west.”
Startled, now fully awake, her heart pounded and icy fingers of terror crept over her. Reich citizens of the General Government of Poland. That meant her. Evacuate her home? With four young children? Thoughts swirling anxiously, she wondered how she would manage everything in her condition.
Pulling her sweater tight against the sudden chill of the room, she heaved herself out of the rocking chair she had fallen asleep in, knocking over a half empty glass of tea in the process. Amber liquid splashed on the braided throw rug and streamed out across the floor in several directions.
She felt the baby move within her. It would only be a few more weeks and she hoped for a girl, a sister for four-year-old Edeltraud. A girl wouldn’t be drafted into the army.
Liesel forced herself to take a deep breath. Words she had learned long ago came to mind and she whispered them to herself. “The name of the Lord is a strong tower. The righteous run to it and are safe.” She repeated this a few times until the panic receded enough for her to think.
A mental list began to take shape. She would need food, utensils, bedding, things for the baby. First she must tell the boys and enlist their help.
She put on her coat and headed out to the barn. The warm smell of hay and manure enveloped her with heavy sweetness. Kaspar brushed up against her leg, meowing softly. Kurt was mucking out one of the stalls, while Olaf sat on the stool milking Wande.
Mutti? Wass is loss?” Eleven-year-old Kurt replied, his voice mirroring the tone of his mother’s.
Jungen, we will have to leave quickly.” She swallowed, choking on the enormity of her task
“Where are we going?” asked Kurt.
Olaf, less than two years younger than his brother, patted the cow. “What about Wande and Kaspar?” His voice was brittle and his eyes glistened.
Liesel lowered her voice. They must not sense her alarm. “We are — taking a trip. We’ll take some chickens along if we can, but the rest will have to be left behind. Too many animals will slow us down,” she explained, thinking things through even as she spoke. “Olaf, make sure there is hay and grain for the animals while we are gone.. Leave their pens open.”
In case we don’t come back.
“But mother, I don’t want to go,” Olaf said. Standing up, he gripped the top of the cow’s pen. “Who will look after Wande and the goats if I am gone?”
 Feeding, milking, and grooming were his jobs and Liesel had observed how seriously he took these tasks. At butchering time he was scarcely to be found, unlike his older brother, who had always been fascinated by the process at an early age and was not at all bothered to wring a chicken’s neck or help pour the blood from a pig’s head.
Liesel squared her shoulders. There was no time for obstinate children right now. Looking him in the eye, she grasped his ears firmly, an action that was reserved for only the gravest offences. “You must do as you as you are told.”
Olaf’s eyes filled with tears and he looked down. “Yes, Mother.”

See the book trailer:


Learn more about author Rose Seiler Scott


15 January 2016

New & Noteworthy: January 15

Happy New Year to our readers!

Unusual Historicals welcomes not one, but two new contributors to start off 2016. Laura Rahme is an Australian-French author who has written stories set in Ming Dynasty China and medieval Venice. Alison Morton is the author of the popular Roma Nova series of thrillers set in an alternate-history 20th century Rome. Both are no stranger to writing stories set outside the mainstream. Welcome to U.H., ladies!

In other Unusual Historicals news:


Michelle Styles' novel PAYING THE VIKING'S PRICE has been published this month in German as In den Armen des Barbaren (In the Arms of the Barbarian). Meanwhile, her novel TAMING HIS VIKING WOMAN has been listed as one of Harlequin's top reads in their Best of the Best list. Congrats, Michelle!


Blythe Gifford's WHISPERS AT COURT was named one of the best "Not-Your-Usual Historicals" of 2015 by Wendy, the Super Librarian, writing for Heroes and Heartbreakers. Wendy writes, "I can always count on [Blythe's] stories featuring a very strong sense of place, and she always weaves in realistic for the era conflict."

Heather Domin's new novel THE HEIRS OF FORTUNE is now available in paperback per reader request. It will soon be distributed through all major book retailers, but until then you can get a copy at Lulu.com. To celebrate, Heather is currently reformatting her other two novels, THE SOLDIER OF RAETIA and ALLEGIANCE, for re-release later this month.

11 January 2016

New Year Traditions: Muharram observances within the Islamic calendar

By Lisa J. Yarde


The twelve months of the Islamic or Hijri calendar found their basis in the sightings of the new moon, unlike the s0lar-based Julian and Gregorian calendars used in Christian medieval and modern history. Year 1 of the Islamic calendar commenced in the summer of 622 AD. So, the current Christian year of 2016 corresponds to the Islamic year of 1437. A new Muslim year has never occurred on a fixed date. The migration of dates is not unheard of in other religions From the enactment of the Julian calendar under the reign of Gaius Julius Caesar, January 1 signified the start of a year. However, during the Middle Ages up through the late 16th century, Christians observed the new year at varying points between December 25 through March 25. The Islamic lunar calendar also meant the start of a new month began in the evening. For instance, in 2015, the new year of 1437 began on the evening of October 15, 2015, and 1438 may occur on October 1, 2016.

From the earliest days of Islam’s foundation, the eyewitness viewing of the heavenly symbol shaped like a crescent meant the arrival of a new month. The Koran provided an explanation, saying of the appearances of new moons, “…They are but signs to mark fixes of time in the affairs of men and for pilgrimage.” Once the new moon occurred, several observances coincided with the start of a new year during the first month of Muharram. The word connotes ‘haram’ or what is forbidden. Muharram is one of the four most sacred months and typically lasts thirty days. Some of the practices associated with the month even predate the advent of Islam.

During the month, the Prophet Muhammad recommended that fasting should occur, but the act has never been obligatory as during Ramadan, a month-long fasting period.  For Muslims, divisions among the sects of the Sunni and Shia have meant differences in traditions during Muharram across the centuries. For both, the tenth day of Muharram long held a special significance. For the Sunni, it meant devotion and fasting in remembrance of a battle between Moses and the Egyptians. For the Shia, solemnity overshadowed the day, because it marked the deaths of Muhammad’s grandson Hussein and his infant son Ali at the Battle of Karbala, Iraq in 680 AD. Shia rites have included self-flagellation.

In Turkey, one ritual food, in particular, is served during Muharram. The significance of its preparation predates the Muslim religion. Ashure is a sweetened pudding or porridge made primarily with grains, fruits, and nuts served all year-round as a dessert. The pre-Islamic tradition acknowledges the Biblical flood and the survival of Noah and his family. Their remaining supplies included the foods that make Ashure, which becomes a Turkish staple during the new year celebrations of Muharram.

All images licensed from Adobe Stock - Adobe Creative Solutions


Lisa J. Yarde writes fiction inspired by the Middle Ages in Europe. She is the author of two historical novels set in medieval England and Normandy, The Burning Candle, based on the life of one of the first countesses of Leicester and Surrey, Isabel de Vermandois, and On Falcon's Wings, chronicling the star-crossed romance between Norman and Saxon lovers before the Battle of Hastings. Lisa has also written five novels in a six-part series set in Moorish Spain, Sultana, Sultana’s Legacy, Sultana: Two SistersSultana: The Bride Price and Sultana: The Pomegranate Tree, where rivalries and ambitions threaten the fragile bonds between members of a powerful family. Her short story, The Legend Rises, which chronicles the Welsh princess Gwenllian of Gwynedd’s valiant fight against English invaders, is also available.

20 December 2015

Author Interview & Book Giveaway: Joan Fallon on THE EYE OF THE FALCON

This week, we're pleased to again welcome author JOAN FALLON with her latest release,  THE EYE OF THE FALCON,(Book #2, Al-Andalus series). One lucky visitor will get a free copy of The Eye of the Falcon. Be sure to leave your email address in the comments of today's author interview for a chance to win. Winner(s) are contacted privately by email. Here's the blurb.

The Eye of the Falcon is the second novel in a series about Muslim Spain, set in the Andalusian city of Cordoba.  By the end of the 10th century al-Andalus was a rich and peaceful country, but when the Omayyad caliph died and left an eleven-year-old son as his heir, things began to change.  The eventual disintegration of that powerful dynasty had begun.
The young caliph was imprisoned in his beautiful palace, isolated and cut off from the Royal Court, while his ruthless regent and his ambitious mother battled over who should rule.  The Eye of the Falcon is a novel of intrigue and murder set at the end of Muslim Spain's Golden Age, rich with the historical details of an exotic way of life, long disappeared.

**Q&A with Joan Fallon**

The Eye of the Falcon is listed as the second novel in a series about Muslim Spain. Which of your books was the first book in the series?

The first of the al-Andalus series was The Shining City, a novel about the ruined city of Madinat al Zahra.

Did you always intend the book to be part of a series? If not, what changed your mind?

I never really intended to write a series of books; I thought that The Shining City could stand very well on its own as a novel about life in Spain at that time. However, when I began researching what little information there was about 10th century Spain, I realised that there was more than one story there. Al-Rahman III’s reign had been a time of peace and prosperity, which could have continued for a hundred years or more, except for the greed of one man, al-Mansur. His lust for power turned him from a humble civil servant into the ruler of al-Andalus and brought about the eventual disintegration of the Omayyad dynasty.
A number of events coincided to give al-Mansur his opportunity. The caliph Abd al-Rahman III, who had brought peace to a warring kingdom of princedoms and united them into a caliphate, died after ruling for forty years. His son, al-Hikam, did not survive him for very long and the throne passed to the hands of his grandson, al-Hisham II, a boy of eleven. And herein lay another story. How was a child going to rule such a wealthy country, especially as it was surrounded by enemies?

Who is the main character in your novel?

At first I was going to make the boy-caliph the main character, but the fact that he was so isolated made it difficult for him to interact with the other characters in the story. So I made his mother, Subh, the main character because she moves between her son and al-Mansur, who is not only the boy’s Regent but also her lover. So Subh is constantly torn between her passion for al-Mansur and her loyalty to her son.
Subh was originally a slave who was sold into the harem of al-Hikam II. The only problem was that al-Hikam was homosexual - not an unusual occurrence among the elite at that time - and it seemed that he was never going to produce an heir. With the encouragement of his mother, Subh set out to seduce him by dressing up as a boy. The ruse worked and eventually she gave him two sons. In doing so, she became rich and powerful.

Are all the characters in the novel real people?

Not all of them, but the main ones were real people. The caliphs existed, as did al-Mansur, General Ghálib and others in the government. Subh was a real woman but there was little information available about her life before she entered the harem, so that part is pure fiction. Al-Jundi and his family are fictitious characters that started life in the first book, The Shining City. As is frequently the case with history, what information there is about people living in the past relates to the rich and powerful. Servants, slaves and artisans are hardly ever mentioned by name. If Subh had not given birth to the Caliph’s sons, we would never have heard of her either. Consequently, all the supporting characters, soldiers, servants, slaves, falconers etc. are fictitious.

How much of the story is true and how much is fiction?

There is a saying that truth is often stranger than fiction and, in this case, I think it is very true. That the most powerful and richest ruler in the Western world could be isolated and deprived of his birthright because of his age seems unbelievable, yet it happened. That a concubine was able to dress as a boy in order to seduce the homosexual caliph, also seems very far-fetched, but it happened. Of course, the rest of the story is fiction - it is after all a novel. The episodes with the falcons could easily be true, because falcons were an important status symbol, but there is nothing recorded. Al-Mansur was a ruthless man and many deaths are attributed to his lust for power, but a lot of it is speculation. He is however, recorded as having burnt thousands of the city’s books - a loss that al-Andalus never recovered from.

Were there any particular difficulties in writing a historical novel where you know what really happened to one of the main characters?

Yes, I felt sorry for Hisham. I would have liked the young caliph’s life to have been happier and for him to have had the opportunity to rule when he came of age, but that would have taken the story too far away from actual events.

Are you planning to write another book in the series?

I would like to make the series a trilogy but so far have not decided whether to look at the very beginning of the 10th century, when the country was overrun with rebels or to move to the end of the 10th century and the beginning of the eleventh, when al-Hisham is killed and al-Mansur’s family take control. Either way there is plenty of material for another exciting novel.

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Learn more about author Joan Fallon


18 December 2015

New & Noteworthy: December 18

Happy Holidays from the Unusual Historicals crew! We are pleased to share two new releases with you this month.

Sultana: The Pomegranate Tree, the fifth novel in Lisa J. Yarde's Sultana series, is featured this week at Unusual Historicals. Leave a comment for Lisa before Sunday, December 20 for a chance to win a digital copy!

You can also purchase Sultana: The Pomegranate Tree from the following  retailers:





Heather Domin's new novel The Heirs of Fortune, the sequel to 2009's The Soldier of Raetia, is now available in ebook formats from the following retailers: 


A paperback edition is coming soon from Lulu. Saturnalia Special: from now until January 1st, use coupon code WS76F at Smashwords to get Soldier of Raetia for  $1.99.