SPAIN BOOK REVIEW SERIES – MAY: ‘Spanish Crossings’ by John Simmons

Spanish Crossings is an epic tale of love, politics and conflict, with the yearning but elusive possibility of redemption. A woman’s life has been cast in shadow by her connection to the Spanish Civil War. We meet Lorna in Spain, 1937 as she falls in love with Harry, a member of the International Brigade who had been at Guernica when it was bombed. Harry is then killed in the fighting and Lorna fears she might have lost her best chance of happiness. Can she fill the void created by Harry’s death by helping the child refugees of the conflict? She finds a particular connection to one boy, Pepe, and as he grows up below the radar of the authorities in England their lives become increasingly intertwined. But can Lorna rely on Pepe as he remains deeply pulled towards the homeland and family that have been placed beyond his reach? Coming through the war, then the post-war rebuilding, Lorna and Pepe’s relationship will be tested by their tragic and emotive history.

cover and blurb via amazon 

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Having written a string of Spanish Civil War novels, and read countless more, my enthusiasm is beginning to wane at times (having said that, I plan to write plenty more). To hold my interest, an author needs to come up with a new angle, especially when it comes to the International Brigades, who get far more books written about them than the forgotten local heroes of the war. So thank you to John Simmons, who has tried something outside the usual storyline and predictable ending.

Lorna is fairly typical young woman of her time who works in London. Lorna has a lover, Harry, who volunteers to fight in Spain while his country stands idly by. Only Harry goes and gets killed at Guernica. The pain is real for Lorna, who loses someone in the worst way, killed and largely forgotten in a war his country won’t recognise. Of course, Lorna’s experience isn’t a rare one during the Spanish Civil War, but how she learns to cope is unique. Lorna works at a law firm, which is working with Spanish refugee children.

Pepe has been shipped to England, as were thousands of Basque children during the war, in an attempt to keep them safe as the fascists invaded and destroyed their own country. Lorna ‘adopts’ Pepe, and how Lorna learns to live with Harry’s loss is entwined with how Pepe copes with being sent from the Basque Country and his family left to their fate.

Lorna has been torn from a loved one killed in hell, and Pepe longs for his homeland, the hell which killed Harry. But Pepe is an innocent bystander in this mess, and Lorna’s friendship might just be the only way to save them both. The children of the Basque country became foreigners a country that doesn’t fully understand the complexity or the horror that is happening in Spain, and life in London in the late 1930’s is described beautifully without the usual clichés.

This book allows people to feel what it would have been like for all the Lorna’s and Pepe’s of the age, and the realities of having to cope in a world sinking into fascism. There are plenty of lessons to learn that could be just as meaningful for 2018 as the 1930’s.

From the ship which took 4,000 people to England (when it should have taken about 800), to pre-war London, the bombings of WWII, and beyond is shared by Lorna, the book capped by moments told by Lorna’s son at either end.  Happiness is not simple or attainable for everyone, and what it means to heal and be happy again is different for every person. Lorna and Pepe are a shining glimpse to a time when life and death, reality and art, truth, lies and propaganda, love, friendship and home all meant different things.  Thank you to John Simmons, for a refreshing take on a classic story.

 

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SPAIN BOOK REVIEW – APRIL: ‘Albi’ by Hilary Shepherd

A poignant, compassionate glimpse into the life of a child caught in a country at war with itself

Albi is nine years old when Franco’s soldiers arrive in the village and his life begins to change in confusing ways. It’s not clear quite who should be trusted and who should not. Some neighbours disappear not to be seen again, others are hidden from view in cellars and stables – like his brother, Manolo, who left long ago to join the resistance. Albi is charged with shepherding not just his own sheep, but also those of El Ciego who sends him on errands requiring a good memory and the ability to keep his mouth shut at all times.

Alberto, at 88, is haunted by what he did and what he may or may not have said. And then the daughter of his old friend Carlos turns up wanting stories of old times. Albi’s day of reckoning may be at hand…

cover and blurb via Honno Press

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Here we are – yet another Spanish Civil War book, which alternates between present day and the 1930’s. All I can say is – yay! I’ve written three of these myself, so I’m always pleased to find another one, but this one is different to many I have stumbled across.

The book starts in present time, where Alberto has just been to a funeral, of his friend, Carlos, who grew up with Alberto in rural Aragon. The remembrance of his childhood friend takes Alberto back to the time where he was known as Albi, only aged nine, and the memories he still hasn’t managed to shake.

It’s September 1938, and Republican Aragon is being eaten up by Nationalist rule. Not a story about the frontline, but rather this book takes us into the lives of those who lived during the war under their new fascist rulers, and the reality that they faced in the uproar of the civil war. Poor Albi is only a boy, and his parents, three sisters and his senile grandmother are forced to live under the Guardia soldiers who have occupied their town. Albi’s bother Manolo was gone off with the Republican army and is already a ghost in Albi’s life. Things start hard and frightening for Alibi, adjusting to soldiers everywhere, curfews in place, and odd screaming echoing, but the adults in Albi’s life won’t share anything with him. Albi herds sheep for his disabled father, but whisperings in his house start leading to a slow demise for Albi as his family falls apart with illnesses, hushed up mysteries, secret weddings, and daring daybreak escapes.

Albi and Carlos are kids caught in a real disaster destroying their country. But Albi’s life takes a dangerous turn when he starts passing messages and spending time with Mena, a woman from Valencia who stands out, and  Mena is not one to sit back as war changes their country. The marquis are in the Aragonese hillside, rebel fighters prepared to take on Francoist soldiers, regardless of the cost.

Albi’s trips to see Mena lead him to a moment in the war he cannot forget, not even in 2017 when Alberto’s story has caught the attention of people making a show about the war. While Carlos’ granddaughter is telling the stories she was told, Albi is the one with the real truth, the truth Carlos didn’t know or share. Death came to Albi’s village and he is the only witness who knows the truth, which haunts his dreams nearly 80 years on. But is 80 years enough for Alberto to be ready to tell the whole truth?

Many thanks should be given to the author, as Shepherd has written a book about those who tend to get forgotten. While I write the weekly updates about the war and major battles, it is people in the cities and villages already ‘conquered’ who get forgotten about, who had to live under the cruel rule of their new leaders. Shepherd has told that story through the eyes of a child, who doesn’t take sides, as his innocence will be destroyed either way. The doesn’t dwell on detail and accurately gives the point of view of a child, a messy and confused state in a world which wouldn’t make sense to anyone.

Albi is available April 19.

 

Treat Yourself to FREE Spanish Civil War Novels for Christmas

Do you have to do all the Christmas shopping, wrapping and cooking, only to get nothing in return? Or do you have to spend time with people you really don’t like? Maybe you’re the one who gets generic gifts because no one took the time to listen to your interests. Perhaps you prefer to shun the materialism of the season.

Whoever you are this Christmas (I’m the first two, I’m sure you guessed that), you can download a free book to read just for you. No relying on gifts or sales, because something you already like is available with just a few clicks and no more pain on your wallet.

Click here to purchase my Thomas Cromwell Tudor novel, or

Available as a set for the first time, the ‘Secrets of Spain’ Trilogy brings BLOOD IN THE VALENCIAN SOIL, VENGEANCE IN THE VALENCIAN WATER and DEATH IN THE VALENCIAN DUST together in a collector’s edition. The best-selling series tells the story of two families, separated by the Spanish Civil War, and reunited in the 21st century as Spain’s haunted past helps to free the lost souls of the present. Each book flows between two different timelines, to tell stories of life in 20th century Spain, and how past mistakes still impact life today.

BLOOD IN THE VALENCIAN SOIL 
Spain, March 1939 – the Spanish Civil War is coming to an end. Five young Republicans in the small town of Cuenca know they are on the losing side of the war. History only recognises the winners, and the group know they could die, all destined to become faceless statistics…

Seventy years later, bicycle mechanic Luna Montgomery wants to find her grandfather. He is one of the ‘disappeared’, one of the thousands murdered after the Spanish Civil War. Luna forms an unlikely friendship with a Madrileño bullfighter, Cayetano Beltrán Morales, but they discover there are old wounds that have yet to heal underneath Spain’s ‘pact of forgetting’…

VENGEANCE IN THE VALENCIAN WATER 
Spain, October 1957 –Guardia Civil officers José Morales Ruiz and Fermín Belasco Ibarra devise an intricate system of stealing babies, to be sold to paying Catholic families. But as the October rains fall, the dry Valencian streets fill with muddy water, and only greed and self-preservation will survive…

Over fifty years later, Luna Montgomery and Cayetano Beltrán Morales have another mass grave to uncover, at Escondrijo, in the Valencian mountains. When Cayetano’s grandfather, José, an evil Franco supporter, starts to push his ideas on Luna, her decision to join the Beltrán family comes under scrutiny. But when ‘accident’ occurs at Escondrijo, lives hang in the balance as more of Spain’s ghosts come to life and tell the story of a flood in 1957…

DEATH IN THE VALENCIAN DUST 
Spain, September 1975 – Dictator Francisco Franco is dying, but his parting words are leaving a bitter legacy. Jaime Morales Pena, sword handler for Spain’s greatest bullfighter, finds himself caught up with a young Basque woman named Alazne. As executions are handed down, Spain collapses into turmoil in the shadow of their leader’s death…

Almost forty years later, it’s the final season for Spain’s favourite bullfighter, Cayetano Beltrán Morales. Guided by his father and Uncle Jaime, Cayetano is reluctant to let go of his magnificent career. His wife, Luna Montgomery, is still fighting Spain’s ‘pact of forgetting’. The Beltrán Morales family must at last recognise their identity, where they sit in Spain’s turbulent present, and their potentially fractured future. But death still lurks in the Valencian mountains…

From midnight PST (8am UK time, 9pm NZ time), on Saturday 23 December, until 11:59pm PST December 27 (8am UK, 9pm NZ December 28), you can get all three books in the Secrets of Spain trilogy totally free on any Kindle site worldwide. At a whooping 1000 pages, you are getting a whole lot of Spanish Civil War fiction to treat yourself this Christmas. Click here for time zones

Not sure how to download, or getting a new device to read on? Just click on purchase on Amazon and the book will instantly download onto your Kindle. All other devices just need the free Kindle app installed. In minutes you can be reading all three Secrets of Spain books for free, to enjoy in the sun/snow, to help you avoid family members you hate, take a break from shopping and traffic nightmares, or just bask in the glow of historical fiction. All for free!

CLICK HERE FOR AMAZON US/WORLDWIDE

CLICK HERE FOR AMAZON UK

All other Amazon sites will also have the book for free over Christmas. Also, if you prefer, my Thomas Cromwell fiction FRAILTY OF HUMAN AFFAIRS is also free for five days, so click here if you would like that instead/as well. 

Not sure? Click on the Secrets of Spain trilogy tab on the top menu to learn more about each book, the details, and the research that went into learning about the real-life characters in the books.

DECEMBER SPAIN BOOK REVIEW: ‘Alberto’s Lost Birthday’ by Diana Rosie

A little boy and his grandfather embark on a quest to find the old man’s missing birthday in Diana Rosie’s debut novel, Alberto’s Lost Birthday.

Alberto is an old man. But he doesn’t know how old – he remembers nothing before his arrival at an orphanage during the Spanish civil war.

He rarely thinks about his missing childhood, but when seven-year-old Tino discovers his grandfather has never had a birthday party, never blown out candles on a birthday cake, never received a single birthday present, he’s determined things should change. And so the two set out to find Alberto’s birthday.

Their search for the old man’s memories takes them deep into the heart of Spain – a country that has pledged to forget its painful past. As stories of courage, cruelty and love unfold, Alberto realises that he has lost more than a birthday. He has lost a part of himself. But with his grandson’s help, he might just find it again.

cover and blurb via amazon

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I read this whole book in one sitting; that is a testament to how easy it is to read this sweet work of fiction. By the time I was two-thirds through, I was desperate to see how it all played out.

The book bounces around the trip of Alberto and his seven-year-old grandson, Tino. Tino’s father is in the hospital after a horrific burning accident, and Alberto tries to distract the child with the story of how, as an orphan, he doesn’t know his own age or birthday. They head off on a road trip to find out what happened to Alberto as a young boy.

Other chapters are peppered through the book from the point of view of other major players  in Alberto’s early life- the woman who cared for him at the orphanage, the girl who grew up with him, the angry fascist commander who was killing people during the Spanish Civil War, Alberto’s birth mother and father, a young priest and an English International Brigade fighter who finds young Alberto in the forest. Between these point of views and of elderly Alberto on his mission, the heartbreaking story all comes together.

The Spanish Civil War rears its ugly head, showing the misery of growing up a orphan in war-time, the realities for Alberto’s birth parents, the sins of the 1930’s, all mixed with a few moments of bad luck, PTSD and beautiful family ties torn to shreds, comes together to find the true date of Alberto’s birth written in a rather unusual place.

.Alberto’s first ever party is laced with a pain I could see coming but didn’t want to acknowledge, but his search also healed pains for many people left scarred by the battles of the late 1930’s. The book is simple and no fuss, has its quiet moments, but tells a painful tale in a gentle way. I really enjoyed this book and would recommend it to everyone.

HISTORICAL BOOK REVIEW SERIES: ‘Isabella of Castile: Europe’s First Great Queen’ by Giles Tremlett

In 1474, a twenty-three year old woman ascended the throne of Castile, the largest and strongest kingdom in Spain. Ahead of her lay the considerable challenge not only of being a young, female ruler in an overwhelmingly male-dominated world, but also of reforming a major European kingdom that was riddled with crime, corruption, and violent political factionism. Her marriage to Ferdinand of Aragon was crucial to her success, bringing together as it did two kingdoms, but it was a royal partnership in which Isabella more than held her own. Her pivotal reign was long and transformative, uniting Spain and laying the foundations not just of modern Spain, but of the one of the world’s greatest empires.
With authority and flair, acclaimed historian Giles Tremlett relates the story of this legendary, if controversial, first initiate in a small club of great European queens that includes Elizabeth I of England, Russia’s Catherine the Great, and Britain’s Queen Victoria.

cover and blurb via amazon

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I love Giles Tremlett’s work so I was greatly looking forward to this book. Isabella of Castile is 600 pages of history, kindly broken up into a timeline of an extraordinary life. Isabella is a well-known figure, and so there are persistent stereotypes of her character, ranging from a vicious religiously-driven invader, to courageous and fierce woman, to powerful and saintly queen.The kingdom of Castile had seen its fair share of powerful queens in its time, with varying results, so when Isabella stepped up to rule, not as a regent wife, but on her own, things were bound to get hectic and history, always written by men, has varied in its narrative.

The book opens with Isabella’s early life in the court of her much older half-brother, Enrique IV. Both Enrique and their father, Juan II, were not great rulers, so Castile was in chaos, and Enrique had ruled the same as his father – weak and easily influenced by others. So, when Enrique died, there was little in the way of support for Isabella, either from royalty, wealthy land-owning grandees or the church to support a female ruler. But Isabella was determined to rule, and rule on her own terms, becoming a fierce leader that would be remembered for all time.

Europe was ready to emerge from the middle ages. Plague was wiping out so many people, so many that the illness was contributing to the feudal system collapsing. Ottoman rulers were conquering and Castile was hoping for Christianity to be their great saviour in a difficult time. The land known as Spain today was filled with Christians, Muslims and Jews, and the notion of a stable mix was a pipe dream.

Even before Isabella was a queen, she was a princess with a plan. There are writings of romance between her and the princely heir of Aragon named Ferdinand, Spain’s other great Christian power. But Isabella married with a pragmatic approach, and relished in the display of her bloodstained bed sheets after the wedding. People hated Enrique and his new rules; Isabella was a traditionalist. While Isabella and Ferdinand were planning their alliance while producing heirs, another Spaniard named Rodrigo Borgia was trying to get onto the papal throne, an ally to Enrique. Spain’s kingdoms were in turmoil on levels often ignored in the story of Isabella’s life.

Isabella politely grieved her awful brother when Enrique died in 1474, and Isabella, in her magnificent walled city of Segovia, was officially made the queen in her own right. It was not long before Ferdinand became king in Aragon. Many thought Ferdinand could not rule his kingdom as well as his wife’s, and she was not capable of doing so alone. Only months after their crownings, war came to the southern areas, which Isabella was able to command on her own. Yet Isabella also found time to bear a son and heir to two kingdoms in 1478. Isabella and Ferdinand had much to control over an enormous area and were making their mark in doing so.

The book delves deep into the southern wars before Isabella and Ferdinand conquered Granada in 1492, exiling the Muslims from Al-Andaluz and creating (approximately) the Spain we know today. Then came the Spanish Inquisition to expel all the Jews, the Muslims who had been forced to convert, and Columbus’ missions to what was the Americas rather than Asia. Isabella gave birth to five children, and suffered the event of the death of her eldest son and heir, Juan, in 1497, meaning Juana (yes, the mad one) was the ruler of Castile, Aragon and Al-Andaluz, now all one nation. Juan’s pregnant wife miscarried the precious child which would have inherited. Isabella had seven children, but one was a stillborn son early on, and another loss of was a twin sister to another daughter who survived. Two of Isabella’s daughters, first Isabella then Maria, married the King of Portugal, and Catherine famously married Arthur Tudor as the century changed. Isabella died of illness in 1504, after enduring a number of years suffering from personal loss.

Isabella was a powerful ruler, understood the limitations of her gender (by their standards), had her name blackened by historians and Italian haters, and was pious yet vicious with her Inquisition. She raged when her husband strayed – frequently – and took no lovers of her own. Isabella’s story is all about power, and she was truly worthy of the opportunity to rule. Thank you to Tremlett for putting all of Isabella’s story together, not just the well-known parts. No part of any book written by this author will disappoint.