a great review of Men of the Cross

A wonderful review of Men of the Cross posted on Tales of the Fiction House and copied here. (Thank you, Mark!)


Posted on July 25, 2014
by Mark Rogers, Editor

(Taking a break from Mr. Raji Singh’s whimsical Lore of the Lindian Woods animal tales: They’ll return next week. A national news commentator’s sad remarks on the dozens of wars occuring now throughout the world, prompts this book review.)

Disclosure: Fiction House Publishing has no financial interest in the novels of any of the authors mentioned. Normally we do not comment on the works of other publishers. The thoughtful approach to her subject matter by the author, Charlene Newcomb, causes us to reconsider.

Ms. Charlene Newcomb’s latest work, MEN OF THE CROSS, Book I of the Battle Scars trilogy, traces war’s brutal effects. It lays bare the emotional scars that war inflicts. Ms. Newcomb paints a compassionate portrait of the novel’s characters. She utilizes masterful storyteller’s methods of incorporating plot, dialogue, comedy, and pathos to delve into intertwining relationships.

If you enjoyed author Sharon Kay Penman’s LIONHEART, or more recent A KING’S RANSOM, you will find Ms. Newcomb’s work a fitting companion.

MEN OF THE CROSS takes place in the later span of the Middle Ages. Knights are pledging their troth to King Richard the Lionheart. They follow him in the Crusades. This isn’t a book, which only recreates battles. It has ample humor, akin to the type you’ll find in Richard Hooker’s M*A*S*H or Joseph Heller’s CATCH 22. Various characters from the Robin Hood legends arrive on the pages: Robin himself, Allan-a-Dale, and a brash Little John. Their rollicking adventures in the Middle East will have you retelling their tales to co-workers at the water cooler.char's book

The novel’s major characters are brave knights, Henry de Grey and Stephan l’ Aigle. They grow close. Midst war atrocity and soldier camaraderie, they force themselves to question their own stolid values and their relationships. Their life and lifestyle decisions are as hard fought as those of the battlefield. The scars of war cause them to rethink everything about their lives – except loyalty to their King.

The emotions in MEN OF THE CROSS are ragged and raw and often bawdy – befitting knights of valor. Unlike many novels steeped in wars, in this book Ms. Newcomb demands profound character change. Instead of becoming battle hardened, Henry and Stephan evolve into tender, merciful men. They find deep meaning in one another.

Frank Yerby’s excellent THE SARACEN BLADE is one of my favorite novels of this genre. I’ve read it more than once. I can say the same thing about Charlene Newcomb’s MEN OF THE CROSS. It is a book that tempts a first and then a second look!

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random moments in a life…

I have a new roof! Here’s hoping the water leak from the chimney is a thing of the past. Next up: replacing warped flooring and checking for further damage inside the house. Oh the joys of homeownership.

My iPhone 4S died. RIP. Because I decided to get the blue 5C rather than the 5S, I had to wait 5 whole days(!!) to get the replacement phone.

I’ve watched Becket and re-watched The Lion in Winter in the last 10 days. I prefer Peter O’Toole’s Lion Henry II to his characterization in Becket. Katharine Hepburn’s Eleanor in Lion is magnificent. Both movies have some questionable interpretations of actual events and downright inaccurate history so as the saying goes: ‘don’t believe everything you see/hear.’

This should be a lesson for all of us watching television news, reading newspapers, or reading posts on social media sites. :)

I am working my way through the rough draft of Battle Scars II: For King and Country  and at the 54,000 word mark. The draft is currently 133,000 words. I’m wondering how much of it will hit the cutting room floor on the next round of edits. And to think I believed book 2 would be shorter than the 99K of book 1!

Several real life figures make brief appearances in book 2: Count John, Queen Eleanor. Richard will have a slightly larger role than his brother and his mother, but only makes his appearance at the end of the book. I name-drop other famous people (Marshal, Huntingdon, Murdac), most of whom are involved in one siege or another during the time period of the story (1193-1194). My research on English baronies in Lincolnshire led me to Bolingbroke, which was part of the estate of Ranulf, 6th Earl of Chester. Ranulf was born in the same year as my main character Henry de Grey. Was there any chance they might have met at boys? That appears highly unlikely, but Ranulf was at the siege of Windsor (spring 1193) and heavily involved in the siege at Nottingham in 1194. I do believe I will have several opportunities to place Ranulf with Henry and his friends.

Not mine, but rather a former boss who has written his memoirs. I was invited to the surprise party to celebrate “the end.” I saw 2 other former co-workers there – it was good to catch up – and met some of the boss’ close friends, including a retired medieval history professor! What fun.

Roasted edamame. Can you say yummy?

Every trip to my refrigerator makes me smile. Look at all the memories there. (There’s a second refrigerator in the garage covered with magnets, too.)

fridge magnet2

Have a great week my friends.

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moments in Third Crusade history: 10 july 1190 – the bridge collapse on the River Rhône

It is highly likely that most of us missed this in European history classes, but Medievalists familiar with the Third Crusade and Richard the Lionheart may recall that today is the anniversary of the collapse of a bridge near Lyon in the year 1190. Last year, I’d mentioned that the chronicler of the Itinerarium (that is, Chronicle of the third crusade : A translation of the itinerarium peregrinorum et gesta regis ricardi) does not provide much detail, except to describe the aftermath of what could have been a major disaster for the crusading armies. (What if the Lionheart had died?) The Itinerarium states that Richard ordered boats tied together across the river to get his army to the opposite bank. (What a sight that would have been!) In The Annals of Roger de Hoveden, the chronicler writes, “the bridge, being thronged with men and women, broke down, not without doing injury to great numbers.” I included a passage from Ambroise, another chronicler who gave the event a few more lines, in the Author’s Note of Men of the Cross and repeat that passage here:

An early turning point for Henry and Stephan in Battle Scars occurs with an incident regarding the first reported fatalities. The armies of Richard and Philip of France had not even departed the European continent when a bridge over the Rhone River at Lyon collapsed in July 1190. Ambroise describes the scene as utter chaos with hundreds of people, animals and wagons plummeting into the rapidly-raging river. The chroniclers report only two deaths (or two bodies recovered per Ambroise) from that mishap. Scholars note that deaths among the “common” people often were not reported.

“But those who in the morning passed
Crowded the bridge so thick and fast
Misfortune did them overtake.…
the arch fell and they tumbled in,
and were shouting, groans and din…
The water there so fiercely surges
That little which falls in emerges.”
–Ambroise, The crusade of Richard Lion-Heart

This event is significant for Sir Henry and Sir Stephan in Men of the Cross. It seemed like a great moment to dramatize, and provided me the opportunity to show the heroic – and harrowing – efforts of my main characters.

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The “Three” Questionnaire for Writers

I saw this questionnaire on jodiellewellyn’s blog and decided it would be fun to alter it a bit and complete it.

1. Born in South Carolina
2. U.S. Navy veteran
3. Librarian

1. Spiders
2. Tornadoes
3. What the construction folks will find when they assess the slow leak in my house

1. Coffee
2. My computer
3. Dropbox

1. Writing
2. Traveling
3. Reading

1. A history teacher.
2. Rock musician. (I was in an all girl band in high school – played guitar & electronic piano.)
3. An astronaut. (Beam me up, Scotty!)

1. Agincourt by Bernard Cornwell.
2. A Game of Thrones by George R.R. Martin (currently reading)
3. Devil’s Brood by Sharon Kay Penman (currently reading)

1. Revising the rough draft of For King and Country, sequel to Men of the Cross (Battle Scars series).
2. Verifying historical research for Battle Scars II.
3. Plotting (barely) book 3 of Battle Scars.

1. See Italy & Austria.
2. Retire from the day job.
3. Live in the big city.

1. Italy
2. North Dakota, South Dakota, Rhode Island, & Alaska (because then I will have been to all 50 states.)
3. Canadian Rockies via train.

1. St. Ives, Cornwall
2. Edinburgh, Scotland
3. NY, NY & Colorado (tie)

THREE CELEB IDOLS (or crushes):
1. Chris Hemsworth (Thor is Stephan in Men of the Cross)
2. Kit Harrington (Jon Snow is Henry in Men of the Cross)
3. Sam Troughton (a scene from the Robin Hood BBC series shows Sam (who played Much) remembering the horrors of the Third Crusade – this was inspiration for Henry’s PTSD)

1. Do my own count?
2. “To live is so startling, it leaves little time for anything else.”–Emily Dickinson
3. “Trust in dreams, for in them is hidden the gate to eternity.”–Khalil Gibran

What are your answers fellow bloggers?


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Happy 4th of July!

Statue of Liberty from my 2006 trip to NYC



My God!  How little do my countrymen know what precious blessings they are in possession of, and which no other people on earth enjoy! — Thomas Jefferson

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Thank you, Sharon Kay Penman

2knightsI am honored that Sharon Kay Penman has included Men of the Cross on her to-be-read list and suggests it may be of interest to her readers.  She writes:

Charlene Newcomb has written a novel that I’d be interested in reading, Men of the Cross, the story of a young knight who follows the Lionheart to the Holy Land on the Third Crusade, where he finds a forbidden love and discovers the high price that battlefield glory exacts from soldiers; readers of A King’s Ransom know that I have great sympathy for the toll that PTSD has taken upon fighting men down through the ages.

Sharon’s Lionheart and A King’s Ransom will give the reader a great sense of King Richard I, rich with the politics and personalities of the late 12th century. Imagine being one of Richard’s knights, just outside his inner circle. Men of the Cross tells that side of the story and (in my humble opinion) complements Sharon’s novels.

Thank you, Sharon.

P.S. (Sharon reported on Facebook this morning (6/30) that gremlins had wiped out her post, but you can also find it at http://www.goodreads.com/author_blog_posts/6551201-read-this-at-your-peril.)

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Baronial estates & my novel in 12th century England

2014.06 zombie blogI was up early this morning. Too early. My favorite coffee hangout doesn’t open until 7am on Sundays. I almost called for the Zombie Response Team.¹ No coffee and I feel like a zombie! I tried to convince the baristas at Radina’s that they should open at 5:30, but no, they aren’t going for it…

Yesterday’s research was verifying the  crops being cultivated in Lincolnshire in the 12th century. This morning, in my zombie-like state whilst waiting for coffee, I reviewed my notes and re-read “Lincolnshire’s medieval lords” in Platts’ Land and people in medieval Lincolnshire: History of Lincolnshire IV. In that book we learn that many estates were granted to Norman lords, or tenants-in-chief, after the Conquest in 1066. Smaller estates – like my fictional Greyton – would have been granted to knights in reward for their service to a king.

With that information, I needed to establish when it might seem reasonable for Henry de Grey’s family to have become part of England’s baronial system. In Men of the Cross, Henry refers to himself as a small estate holder and calls his betrothed’s father a minor baron. So, backtracking just a bit:

  • Henry was born in 1170 during the reign of Henry II (of Thomas Becket ‘fame’)
  • Henry’s father, Edward de Grey, was born in 1146
  • Henry’s grandfather, born 1120
  • Great-grandfather de Grey, born 1100
    • served Henry I (reigned 1100-1135), the son of William the Conquerer

The Domesday Book (1086) does not reflect the fictional De Grey family in Lincolnshire – no surprise there. While it is fictionally possible that Henry de Grey’s great-great grandfather was granted some acreage north of Grantham and to the west of the River Witham after that great survey, I’m going to assume it was great-grandfather de Grey who received that honor around the year 1125.

note: I do not address this in book 2 of Battle Scars. It’s just the backstory in my mind and in a few notes I keep on a spreadsheet that has a timeline of events related to both book 1 and book 2.

Henry’s father and grandfather were also knights, but in my own twisted mind, it makes more sense that the land had been in the family for a while, almost 70 years by the time book 2 opens in 1193. The land and the people of Greyton are part of what makes Henry who he is. There are glimmers of that in book 1; readers will see more of that Henry in book 2.

Readers will also see that book 2 mentions the period known as the Anarchy – the reign of Henry I’s successor, King Stephen (1135-1154). Henry (de Grey)’s family may have struggled to keep hold of their land in the civil war between King Stephen and Matilda, who was the daughter of Henry I. My main character, Henry, knows his grandfather served King Stephen. His father Edward served Henry II. (Henry was a very popular name during the Middle Ages!) What if Matilda had overthrown Stephen? (Well, she did – briefly.) Oh my… Let’s not even go there. Of course, we all know that Matilda’s son – Henry II – was Stephen’s successor. Confused? Don’t worry. You won’t need to know all this to enjoy Battle Scars!

~ ~ ~
¹Photo (taken by me) is from Thursday’s journey across the prairie to Lawrence, KS. My boss was driving (a hybrid, not a covered wagon). :)

Men of the Cross (Battle Scars I) is available in print and for Kindle on Amazon & Amazon (UK) and other Amazon sites worldwide, and for Nook via Barnes & Noble

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