Book reviews

Wolfson History Prize 2020 – Shortlisted book – Chaucer: A European Life. *EXTRACT*



I am so pleased to be able to share an extract from the Wolfson History Prize 2020 shortlisted book, Chaucer: A European Life by Marion Turner.


Chaucer: A European Life is a fascinating exploration of Chaucer’s life and travels in Europe and how it affected his writing. Written by the poet’s first ever female biographer, the book reveals how the “grandfather of English literature” was actually profoundly impacted by his experiences on the continent.


Here’s the extract: 


Chaucer travelled to Lombardy— perhaps the most transformative of all his journeys— in the wake of the Good Parliament of 1376. After the English Commons’ extraordinary assertion of the rights of insurgent voices, Chaucer experienced a regime of absolutism and extreme brutality, a regime in which only the Visconti voice mattered. And while visiting this centralizing and terrifying state, Chaucer came into contact with literature that was to change his poetic trajectory completely. He also lived, for a few weeks, under a regime that simultaneously exalted violence and revered, sponsored, and promulgated culture. What he experienced there can only have been an assault on the imagination on an enormous scale. The negotiations of 1378 were part of a complicated European picture, in which the empire and the split papacy were struggling for dominance. The space of empire stretched across much of Western Europe. It also dominated the political imaginations of some of the greatest poets of the fourteenth century, and was increasingly important to England’s foreign policy in the reign of Richard II. When Chaucer visited Lombardy in 1378, he was swimming in the slipstream of imperial power broking, as the powers of Europe positioned themselves between the Scylla and Charybdis of Rome and Avignon. He also visited a state that was itself an imperial fief, and that was ruled by tyrants with imperial ambitions in their own region.


The idea of empire continued to shape English politics in various ways for the rest of Richard’s reign: in 1382, he married the sister of the Holy Roman Emperor; by the later 1380s, he was increasingly styling himself in imperial terms; at the end of his reign, he aspired to become the emperor himself. Chaucer had first-hand experience of secular rulers who attempted to impose a singular, dominant perspective on their subjects; he responded with poems that repeatedly rejected hegemonic ideologies and the idea of the sovereign voice and instead privileged tidings— stories, ideas, points of view— in all their messy multiplicity.


Both in his discovery of the ideas of Petrarch and Dante, and in his engagement with Italian politics, Chaucer encountered an ideology of history- as- destiny, a belief that a plan was unfolding in time, in the space of empire. The Holy Roman Empire dominated the political understanding of Petrarch and Dante; it had a particularly acute significance in the century of the Avignon papacy and the Schism, when papal power was moving away from its Italian heartland. From 1378 until 1417, two rival popes ruled from two rival centres, Rome and Avignon. For centuries, Italian city- states had wrestled with imperial- papal conflicts, originally supported by the Ghibelline and Guelf factions, respectively. The Visconti were ‘imperial vicars,’ originally dependent on imperial patronage for their position, and they increasingly modelled their own claims to authority on the language of imperial power. 

Chaucer: A European Life by Marion Turner (Princeton University Press) is shortlisted for the Wolfson History Prize 2020. The winner of the Wolfson History Prize 2020 will be announced in a virtual ceremony on Monday 15th June

Thank you to Ben at Midas PR for the opportunity to take part in this blog tour and for providing this marvellous extract.

Book reviews, Fantasy, YA fiction

Harbinger by Olga Gibbs – Book Review


“I am Uriel: The Harbinger of Chaos, The Keeper of the Gates, The Begetter of Life, The Dam of The Ends, and I’m coming to take what is mine!”

The clash with Baza and his angels had demonstrated to Ariel that Earth (Apkallu) is not the safe heaven she hoped it would be, and it is only a matter of time before she is hunted and dead.

The only way to survive is to accept her destiny and to fight back.

But upon her return to Uras, Ariel is rejected in her own domain and has to suppress the revolt against her reign. The angels refuse her and her lead, abandoning her and Uras in favour of another ruler.

She knows that without an army of followers she won’t stand a chance against Baza or Mik’hael, so now she needs to go into the most unexpected places to find it.



#3 in the Celestial Creatures series and yes it can be read as a stand-alone but you will miss out on a great YA fantasy series.

Ariel is back and looking after her sister, Jess. All the while she is getting ready for a battle with the evil angels.

Rafe is by her side as always, but they bicker and Ariel doesn’t always list to the advice she is given.

They end up in terrible trouble, but can the feisty, determined and stubborn Ariel be able to get everyone to safety or are they destined to remain in Hell?

Wow, the world building by Olga Gibbs is phenomenal, it feels so real. With some great characters, new and old to get acquainted with and a twisty plot really has you hooked from start to finish.

Thank you to Melanie at Fraser’s Fun House for the opportunity to take part in this blog tour, for the promotional material and an eARC of Harbinger. This is my honest and unbiased review.


Harbinger purchase link:




Olga Gibbs lives in a leafy-green town, nestled amongst the green fields of West Sussex, England. She lives with her husband and their two daughters.

She was writing from the age of fifteen, mainly short stories and novellas and was a guest columnist for a local newspaper. When she is not dreaming up new adventures for her imaginary friends, she does outreach work with teenagers.

The “Celestial creatures” series is now complete!

Please visit author website for more information on upcoming books.


Book reviews, War fiction

Warriors For The Working Day by Peter Elstob – Book Review


‘Few other novels of the war describe the grinding claustrophobia, violence and lethal danger of being in a tank crew with the stark vividness of Peter Elstob. It’s possible to almost smell the fumes and sweat, while the intimate detail of operating such a beast and the camaraderie of the crew are utterly compelling. This is a forgotten classic that deserves to be read and read.’
“If poetry was the supreme literary form of the First World War then, as if in riposte, in the Second World War, the English novel came of age. This wonderful series is an exemplary reminder of that fact. Great novels were written about the Second World War and we should not forget them.”
In April 2020 IWM will publish two more novels in their Wartime Classics Series which was launched in September 2019 to great acclaim. The novels were all written either during or just after the Second World War and are currently out of print. Following the IWM’s commitment to tell the stories of those who experienced conflict first hand, each novel is written directly from the author’s own experience and takes the reader right into the heart of the battle.
Warriors for the Working Day follows one tank crew as they proceed from training in Aldershot to the beaches of Normandy, and on into the heart of a newly liberated Europe. Closely based on Peter Elstob’s own wartime experiences as a tank commander and radio operator, the novel brilliantly evokes the particular horror of tank warfare – the intense heat and the claustrophobia endured by so many, yet often overlooked.
Life within a British tank was very precarious as they were noticeably inferior to German armour, and were nicknamed Ronsons (cigarette lighters) by their crews as they lit ‘first time, every time.’ The novel also examines battle exhaustion in a way that a 21st century reader will recognise, with men and officers able to experience a certain amount, before fear becomes an overriding obsession.
Warriors for the Working Day is generally recognised as Peter Elstob’s greatest work. Originally published in 1960, it sold nearly a quarter of a million copies and remains one of the finest fictional depictions of life in a tank during the Second World War.
Alan Jeffreys, (Senior Curator, Second World War, Imperial War Museums) has written an introduction to each book that sets them in context and gives the wider historical background. He says, ‘researching the Wartime Classics has been one of the most enjoyable projects I’ve worked on in my years at IWM. It’s been very exciting rediscovering these fantastic novels and helping to bring them to the wider readership they so deserve’.



Based on Peter Elstob’s personal experience of tank warfare, Warriors For The Working Day is a tale of fear and the horrors of war.

It really captures the heat and aggression of a tank battle, mixed with the claustrophobia of being baked in a flammable tin can with a crew of men all battling their own demons, doubts and fear at the same time.

Incredibly compelling and a must read for any fan of classic war fiction.

Thank you to Anne Cater and Random Things Tours for the opportunity to participate in this blog tour,  for the promotional materials and a copy of the book. This is my honest, unbiased review.

Peter Elstob (1915 – 2002) was born in London but educated in New York and New Jersey when his family moved to the USA as a result of his father’s work. He spent a brief period at the University of Michigan and a short stint in the RAF. In 1936 he volunteered as a pilot in the Spanish Civil War on the Republican side and published his first novel in 1939, The Spanish Prisoner, based on his experiences in Spain. On the outbreak of the Second World War, he attempted to re-join the RAF but when he was turned down, volunteered for the 3rd Battalion, Royal Tank Regiment, where he served across Europe and in the Middle East. After the war, Elstob pursued a variety of ventures – he co-ran the Arts Theatre Club in London, founded an artistic and writer’s community in Mexico and attempted a trans-Atlantic balloon flight in 1958. However, his main success was the beauty mask, Yeast Pac, which he and his partner developed and marketed successfully for many years. He wrote several novels and a number of well received military histories, including Hitler’s Last Offensive (1971) about the Battle of the Bulge.
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IWM (Imperial War Museums) tells the story of people who have lived, fought and died in conflicts involving Britain and the Commonwealth since the First World War.
Our unique collections, made up of the everyday and the exceptional, reveal stories of people, places, ideas and events. Using these, we tell vivid personal stories and create powerful physical experiences across our five museums that reflect the realities of war as both a destructive and creative force. We challenge people to look at conflict from different perspectives, enriching their understanding of the causes, course and consequences of war and its impact on people’s lives.
IWM’s five branches which attract over 2.5 million visitors each year are IWM London, IWM’s flagship branch that recently transformed with new, permanent and free First World War Galleries alongside new displays across the iconic Atrium to mark the Centenary of the First World War; IWM North, housed in an iconic award-winning building designed by Daniel Libeskind; IWM Duxford, a world renowned aviation museum and Britain’s best preserved wartime airfield; Churchill War Rooms, housed in Churchill’s secret headquarters below Whitehall; and the Second World War cruiser HMS Belfast.