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The Brewer's Tale by Karen Brooks
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The Brewer's Tale

by Karen Brooks

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This is a tale of beer and the subjugation of women in 15th-century England.

Anneke Sheldrake is a wealthy merchant’s daughter until her father drowns and it is revealed that he has deprived his children of their inheritance. Desperate to keep her household together, Anneke turns to brewing ale to make ends meet – thus irredeemably lowering her social standing in the eyes of the townfolk and her brother. But social slippage is soon the least of Anneke’s worries for, as a woman with no male protector, she is vulnerable to attack from those threatened by her brewing skills, her business nous, and her beauty. Anneke battles corrupt officials, evil monks, a lecherous knight, and a vindictive cousin simply to make a living from her craft.

I feel conflicted about this book.

On the one hand, I can appreciate its many good points. Brooks brings the craft of the medieval brewer to vivid life. The historical setting feels utterly authentic, and the characters display convincing medieval mindsets. Further, the introduction of that notorious figure from medieval literature, the Wife of Bath, adds colour to the second part of the ‘Tale’. Often interpreted as a medieval feminist, this Canterbury Tales character takes Anneke under her capable wing and supports her in her fight for feminine self-determination. Cleverly, Brooks also makes the catalyst of The Wife of Bath’s Tale – rape – central to The Brewer’s Tale.

On the other hand, the romance was - to say the least - obvious and overstated, verging on Mills and Boon; the continual disasters that befell the brave heroine beggared belief; and, even as an audiobook, it felt like it needed a stronger edit, with irritating repetitions and unnecessary descriptive passages.
Oh, and the voice of the narrator, Hanna Norris, was initially distracting; but eventually it became part of the 'background'.

Having said that, I found myself drawn into the tale and appreciated the deeper understanding it provided of what was an important part of life in those times. ( )
  Jawin | Jul 15, 2017 |
In the year 1405 in medieval England Anneke Sheldrake turns to brewing ale to support her family after her father is lost at sea. Using her Dutch mother’s recipes she only has six months to succeed before she will lose her home and family. Her hard work and successes gain her enemies who seek to destroy what she has built. A terrible tragedy unfolds and grief-stricken Anneke flees to London to try once again.

I found this an interesting read with a good Glossary included as well as an Author's Note. Brooks has thoroughly researched the craft of the medieval brewer and brings the story to life. Running alongside is the story of medieval women and the harsh life and rules they had to live under. 'If a venture prospers, women fade from the scene' (Joan Thirsk, quoted in Judith M. Bennett, Ale, Beer, and Brewsters in England: Women's Work in a changing World 1300-1600). ( )
  DebbieMcCauley | May 16, 2015 |
When Anneke Sheldrake’s father is lost at sea she is horrified to learn that she and her younger siblings have been left with nothing. Desperate to keep what remains of her family together, she strikes a bold bargain with her father’s employer and, armed with her late mother’s family recipes, daringly chooses to go into business as a brewer of ale. Despite being ostracised by most of her family and friends, and repeatedly harassed and intimidated by the local Abbot and his cronies whose monopoly of the ale trade is threatened, Anneke’s brew steadily wins favour amongst the community. Just as success seems within her reach, Anneke is targeted in a malicious attack that razes nearly everything she holds dear. Forced to flee for her life, Anneke is nevertheless determined to begin again and finds an unlikely ally in a London brothel owner. With courage and hard work, Anneke, taking the name Anna de Winter, slowly rebuilds her life and business, until the horrors of her past once again threaten to destroy her.

A saga of betrayal, love, tragedy, courage and triumph, The Brewer’s Tale is an ambitious historical drama by author, Karen Brooks.

Anneke is strong protagonist, with spirit and convictions uncommon for her time. Despite harrowing personal tragedy she finds the strength to rise above it and carry on, refusing to be cowed by her persecutors. Her courage, loyalty and determination are admirable qualities and ensure the reader is firmly on her side, willing her to triumph.
Anneke’s loyal cast including her sweet sister, Betje, the brash Alyson, and the dashing hero, Lord Leander Rainford, are eminently appealing. The villains, including Anneke’s spiteful cousin, a raft of spiritually corrupt monks, and her inescapable enemy are infuriating and often terrifying.

Though set in medieval England, the story begins in ‘The year of Our Lord 1405 in the sixth year of the reign of Henry IV’, I didn’t get a true sense of the period. It seemed not that much different from Georgian or Victorian times, though to be fair it mattered little as the details were consistent and the setting well grounded. I was surprised at how interested I was in the history of the brewery industry, and I finally discovered the difference between beer and ale. (I don’t drink either so had never thought about it before)

The writing is articulate and the first person perspective works well. The pacing was reasonable but I did feel the story, at well over 500 pages, was too long overall. I was tempted to skim at times, particularly as the plot was, though well thought out, generally predictable, with the second half of the story essentially mirroring the events of the first.

Nevertheless, The Brewer’s Tale was a satisfying read and I’d recommend it to readers who enjoy the drama and romance of sweeping historical fiction driven by a strong heroine. ( )
  shelleyraec | Oct 22, 2014 |
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It had been Mother's secret and mine, one passed down through the de Winter women for generations. I would ensure it was kept that way, until I was ready to pass it on. When Anneke Sheldrake is forced to find a way to support her family after her father is lost at sea, she turns to the business by which her mother's family once prospered: brewing ale. Armed with her Dutch mother's recipes and a belief that anything would be better than the life her vindictive cousin has offered her, she makes a deal with her father's aristocratic employer: Anneke has six months to succeed or not only will she lose the house but her family as well. Through her enterprise and determination, she inadvertently earns herself a deadly enemy. Threatened and held in contempt by those she once called friends, Anneke nonetheless thrives. But on the tail of success, tragedy follows and those closest to her pay the greatest price for her daring. Ashamed, grieving, and bearing a terrible secret, Anneke flees to London, determined to forge her own destiny. Will she be able to escape her past, and those whose only desire is to see her fail? A compelling insight into the brewer's craft, the strength of women, and the myriad forms love can take.… (more)

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