Monday, December 31, 2018

Happy New Year 2019

In the Gregorian calendar, New Year's Eve (also known as Old Year's Day or Saint Sylvester's Day in many countries), the last day of the year, is on 31 December which is the seventh day of Christmastide
In many countries, New Year's Eve is celebrated at evening social gatherings, where many people dance, eat, drink alcoholic beverages, and watch or light fireworks to mark the new year. Some Christians attend a watchnight service. The celebrations generally go on past midnight into New Year's Day, 1 January.
SamoaTonga and Kiritimati (Christmas Island), part of Kiribati, are the first places to welcome the New Year while American Samoa and Baker Island in the United States of America are among the last.

Tuesday, December 25, 2018

2nd Annual Smashwords End of Year Sale - December 25, 2018 through January 1, 2019

Author Mary Ann Bernal is participating in the 2nd Annual Smashwords End of Year Sale (December 25, 2018 - January 1, 2019). All her novels and short story collections are available at either a reduced price or are free. Why not stop by her profile page and have a look? Click here to find all of Mary Ann Bernal's works.

Monday, December 24, 2018

Christmas celebrations: the old versus the new

History Extra

Professor Arthur Purdue takes a look at our fascination with 'Christmas past' and how the celebration has evolved since Victorian times.

Christmas is, notoriously, a time for nostalgia, and for many ‘Christmas present’ is considered never to be quite the same as ‘Christmas past’. This is partly due to our getting older, but is also because there are layers of tradition in our celebrations, some of them pre-Christian, which draw us inevitably to the ‘Old Christmas’. As Charles Dickens wrote: “How many old recollections and sympathies does Christmas time awaken?”
Christmas is still essentially that which was remodelled in the 19th century to suit the tastes and ideals of the time. Victorian festivities were centred on the home, the family and the indulgence of children and if, in many homes, the hearth or fireside has disappeared and computer games have replaced the railway set as presents, this is still the Christmas we attempt to recapture and regard as traditional.
The trappings of this festival reflect Victorian innovations: the cards, the tree, the crackers, the family meal with a turkey and, of course, Father Christmas or Santa Claus. Yet an older Christmas hovers behind it and its image is fixed on numerous cards and illustrations depicting a world of stagecoaches, ruddy-faced landlords, thatched cottages, manor houses and hospitable squires. The Victorians built into their new Christmas nostalgia for an ideal Christmas located forever in the 18th-century countryside.
Those very architects of the Victorian Christmas, Charles Dickens and Washington Irving looked back to an idealised Christmas of their recent past. To Dickens, Christmas epitomised not only conviviality and humanity, but an affection for the past. In Pickwick Papers he describes a merry old Christmas, a “good humoured Christmas” in which, after blind-man’s buff, “there was a great game at snap-dragon, and when fingers enough were burned with that, and all the raisons were gone, they sat down by the huge fire of blazing logs to substantial supper, and a mighty bowl of wassail”.
Dickens may well have helped create a new Christmas but at the heart of his vision was an idealised old Christmas; one he hoped to revive. This Christmas was a merry, lengthy and mainly adult affair with some relaxation of the normal rules of propriety.
Whether the occasion was generally observed has been doubted by some, as there is evidence that Christmas was in decline during the late 18th century. The puritans of the Commonwealth, who considered it a Popish survival, attempted to abolish the festival, but the Restoration saw it reinstated amidst popular acclaim. However, forms of celebration based on the open-handed hospitality of the aristocrat or squire in the big house and the often drunken and bawdy customs of the country people, were coming to seem quaint and old-fashioned to many.
Such celebrations had little appeal for the well-to-do in towns and, in the countryside, the gentry no longer automatically kept open house for their dependents, while up-and-coming farmers, distanced themselves from their workers and the mumming and licence of the ‘world-turned-upside-down’ that was the ‘Old Christmas’. Only in more backward areas was Christmas celebrated in the old style and The Times reflected in 1790 on the time of festivity having “lost much of its original mirth and hospitality”.
It was the very decay of Christmas traditions and a consciousness of their passing that appealed to romantics and antiquarians. The American writer, Washington Irving, visiting England in the early 19th century, saw the ‘Old Christmas’ as resembling “those picturesque morsels of Gothic architecture which we see crumbling in various parts of the country, partly dilapidated by the waste of ages, and partly lost in the additions and alterations of later days”. His account of the ‘Old Christmas’ presided over by the antiquarian Squire Bracebridge at Bracebridge Hall was an imaginative reconstruction of old customs and traditions, rather than a description of a contemporary Christmas.
It wasn’t, however, solely the antique and antic customs of the decaying ‘Old Christmas’ that appealed to Dickens and Irving, but the underlying social harmony that they perceived in it. The ‘New Christmas’ that Dickens helped to create was essentially a private and family affair, even if Victorian families were large, and one that centred on children. The ‘Old Christmas’, whose passing he regretted, had been more of a community festival; an expression in the idle period of the agricultural year of charity in its older sense of fellowship.
Much has been made of the contrast between Christmas at Dingley Dell in Pickwick Papers, a gregarious and merry festival lasting twelve days, and A Christmas Carol where the emphasis is upon Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, as well as the notion of the family, represented by the Cratchits. This difference can be exaggerated for, if Dickens was Victorian enough to put home and hearth at the centre of things, his main aim was to stress fellowship, empathy between different sections of society, the responsibility of employers and good cheer. Mr Fessiwig’s Ball, held by the employer for all who worked for him, looks back to the festivities in the manor or farm house in which villagers or retainers, as well as family, participated and forward to the office party. Social harmony was the vision he saw Christmas representing and, if the half-imaginary 18th-century Christmas he drew on was a rosy image of pre-industrial society, it was ever-present in his works.
The third ghost to visit Scrooge is the Ghost of Christmas Present who in fact bears a strong resemblance to some of the more jovial depictions of the spirit of the ‘Old Christmas’ – “a jolly Giant, glorious to see” who, “in a green robe, or mantle bordered with white fur”, is surrounded by a display of plenty in the shape of turkeys, geese and ‘seething bowls of punch’. This spirit, a prototype Father Christmas and a kindly if rather pagan figure, continued to hover over the Christmas that Dickens helped refashion.
The Dickensian Christmas is, therefore, a bridge between the old and the new Christmas, the Anglo-American Christmas, which we inherit. The latter is, no doubt, better suited to an urban and mobile society; it is centred upon the family and children and is essentially private and home-based amidst eerily empty streets. It is also rather tamed for, if we eat and drink enough, it lacks the boisterousness and wider conviviality of the older, more adult, Christmas.
Yet, that ‘Old Christmas’ is annually invoked today, as it was in the 19th century, by Christmas cards and festive illustrations in which jovial squires forever entertain friends by roaring fires while stout coachmen swathed in greatcoats, urge horses down snow covered lanes as they bring anticipatory guests and homesick relations to their welcoming destinations in a dream of merry England.
Professor Arthur Purdue is visiting senior lecturer in history at the Open University and co-author with JM Golby of The Making of the Modern Christmas, Batsford (1986).

Saturday, December 22, 2018

The Coffee Pot Book Club: #BookReview — The Briton and the Dane: Timeline by Mary Ann Bernal

The Coffee Pot Book Club: #BookReview — The Briton and the Dane: Timeline, b...:

The Briton and the Dane: Timeline
(The Briton and the Dane Book #5)
By Mary Ann Bernal

Dr. Gwyneth Franger, a renowned expert in early medieval England, is set upon learning the truth about the death of Lord Erik, the last descendant of the powerful House of Wareham. Her quest becomes an obsession, a condition that began with the discovery of a portrait of the tall and valiant warrior. Digesting troves of mildewed scrolls and source documentation only enhances her belief that Lord Erik was brutally assassinated by a cabal of traitors in the pay of William the Bastard, shortly before the onslaught of the Norman Invasion.

On an archeological dig in Southern England, Dr. Franger finds herself transported back to the Dark Ages and at the side of the noble Lord Erik who commands an army of elite Saxon warriors. Witnessing the unrest firsthand, Gwyneth senses that her instincts had been right all along, and she is determined to learn the identities of the treacherous blackguards hiding in the shadows, villains who may well be posing as Lord Erik’s friends and counselors.

Gwyneth knows it is wrong to stop the assassins, but isn’t sure she can find the strength to walk away and watch her beloved Erik die. Will she intervene, change the course of history and wipe out an entire timeline to save the man she loves?

A love story across the centuries…

Unrequited love takes on a whole new meaning for medieval historian, Dr Gwyneth Franger. But her love is no ordinary love, for it is a longing from deep within her soul. Gwyneth is drawn inexplicably towards Lord Erik, an 11th Century Anglo-Saxon noble. Infuriatingly for Gwyneth, the sources of this time are few and far between. However, Gwyneth has discovered that Erik was brutally murdered just before Edward the Confessor’s death. Like a detective, Gwyneth is determined to discover who ordered Erik’s assassination and more importantly, who carried it out.

Gwyneth’s research takes an interesting twist when she finds herself transported to 11thCentury England where, much to her delight, she finds Erik waiting for her. Now that she is here, maybe she can solve the riddle and save the love of her life from a gruesome death.

The Briton and the Dane: Timeline (The Briton and the Dane, Book #5) by Mary Ann Bernal is a passionate, yet sweet romantic story about a true love that transcends time.

The premise of the story was fabulous. Two souls seeking each other out through the centuries is enough to get any romantic heart fluttering. When Gwyneth falls through time and finds herself in the very era that she has spent years researching I had high hopes that her dream would come true and she would finally meet the man who she is so hopelessly in love with. 

Gwyneth is a fabulous protagonist. She is a single-minded and strong woman, who I could not help but admire. Bernal has obviously spent a lot of time imagining how a very modern woman would react to a medieval way of life. Gwyneth reacts, as one would expect. I thought Gwyneth was wonderfully portrayed and I enjoyed reading about her.

This story is set firmly in historical fantasy, but Bernal has decided to follow the timeline of this era to give her readers a magnificent backdrop in which to place her characters. This worked incredibly well, especially when tied in with the time-travel theme. Gwyneth was not hampered by a lack of understanding with the Anglo-Saxon tongue, and the narrative was perfect for a modern reader who may find many of the historical details and customs of this era somewhat foreign.

Bernal is very good at crafting tension, and this book is full of it. Like Gwyneth, I wanted to know who was behind the plot to murder Lord Erik. The enemy always seemed to be one step ahead of them, which I think made this story compelling and it certainly kept me turning those pages. Running alongside this is the beautiful romance between Gwyneth and Erik.

This is book five in the series. I have not read the other four books, but this did not hinder my enjoyment one bit. The Briton and the Dane: Timeline stands firmly on its own feet.

The ending was fabulous and as wildly romantic as the rest of the story.

If you are looking for a romantic historical fantasy, where anything is possible, then this is the book for you.

I Highly Recommend.

Review by Mary Anne Yarde.
The Coffee Pot Book Club.