Blog Tour Book Review: Daughters of the Night Sky

Daughters of the Night Sky by Aimie K. Runyan

About the book:

A novel—inspired by the most celebrated regiment in the Red Army—about a woman’s sacrifice, courage, and love in a time of war.

Russia, 1941. Katya Ivanova is a young pilot in a far-flung military academy in the Ural Mountains. From childhood, she’s dreamed of taking to the skies to escape her bleak mountain life. With the Nazis on the march across Europe, she is called on to use her wings to serve her country in its darkest hour. Not even the entreaties of her new husband—a sensitive artist who fears for her safety—can dissuade her from doing her part as a proud daughter of Russia.

Marina Raskova, first woman navigator in the Soviet Air Force and female instructor at the Zhukovskii Air Academy, later founder of the 588th Night Bomber Regiment, via Wikimedia Commons

After years of arduous training, Katya is assigned to the 588th Night Bomber Regiment—one of the only Soviet air units comprised entirely of women. The Germans quickly learn to fear nocturnal raids by the daring fliers they call “Night Witches.” But the brutal campaign will exact a bitter toll on Katya and her sisters-in-arms. When the smoke of war clears, nothing will ever be the same—and one of Russia’s most decorated military heroines will face the most agonizing choice of all.

Paperback, 316 pages
Published January 1, 2018 by Lake Union Publishing

My Review:

Upon being asked to read and review Aimie K. Runyan’s Daughters of the Night Sky, I headed over to check out the blurb, catching sight of her cover on the way. Having spent a number of school years reading anything I possibly could—historical or fiction—on World War II, it was easy to deduce the novel was set in this era. Excited about this, I was further pleasantly surprised to learn the book not only takes place in Russia, but also amongst an all-female pilot regiment. I’d read quite a lot about Russian women, including during the war, though rarely (if ever?) military women, and certainly not pilots. So it was I proceeded, intrigued, not in spite of, but owing to my inexperience with the main character Katya’s professional background.

What amazes me most about Runyan’s tale perhaps comes after, in her author’s note admission that she is neither a pilot nor expert on Russia, and her understanding and interest of the war is of a casual nature. Knowing that my own knowledge – far from expert, but still fairly wide – took years of reading, study and absorption to achieve, I completed the book thoroughly impressed by the amount of research she had to have done for the framework alone.

More surely must have come out of the author’s study from a sociological angle, specifically how the people who lived at the time, especially given this era follows the horrific purges of the 1930s, relate to one another. Some behavioral patterns would resonate nearly universally while others are more unique to their own communist society: riddled with mistrust, it was nevertheless ostensibly based on economic goals rather than the more militaristic ones of the Nazis, who taught race hatred while Stalin et al. outwardly preached progressivism.

Yevdokia Davidovna Bershanskaia, leader of the 588th, in which Katya utilizes one of the regiment’s famous and eerily silent Polikarpov Po-2 biplanes. via Wikimedia Commons

Runyan subtly but impeccably portrays these interactions between Russians from all walks of life, from Katya’s relationships with her misogynistic grade-school teacher and military commander to female colleagues learning their trade whilst simultaneously acclimating to the cultures, perceptions and unknown political ideologies of the rest of their female company. Her dialogue carries a heavy burden, given its necessary role of probing into the psyches of various characters as well as portraying its findings to readers. The author combines this with a deeper probing of Soviet society, the secrets characters choose to reveal to one another embedded within portraits of prose rather than mere descriptions, providing for readers a further reflection of the weight of words.

If this all sounds rather intense, it was. Yet Runyan manages her narrative with a deft hand, producing a highly readable tale with lots of the lighter moments that tend to punctuate life, even during war time. As Katya’s romance develops we are treated to wonderful descriptions of her suitor’s art, her own violin recitals and the depth of their value to her. This is very much in keeping with Russian tradition of performance, visual and other arts, and not all that unusual given post-war recollections of Western front soldiers writing poetry in foxholes or storing future novels’ first chapters in their uniform pockets.

As we learn more about the “Night Witches” and their bombing of German targets, Runyan continues to maintain her balance with realistic portrayal of Russian anger at the savaging of their nation and observations of Germans as sentient beings with hardships of their own. The deprivations Katya and others experience—whether in flight school or after, in the field and as wounded—is authentic and unpretentious, and we learn a great deal about ordinary systems as we emerge into precarious situations that test the mettle and sheer capabilities, loves and loyalties, and love of country of every person we encounter.

Though Daughters of the Night Sky might more accurately be categorized as historical romance, it is not difficult to see why it isn’t, for this would rob characters and the historical pilots of their accomplishments, even if their loyalties don’t align with ours. The history of Russian women during the Soviet period is fascinating, and readers commencing or continuing with Katya’s story, which brings so much more to bear than a romance, even if it is of a lifelong sort, are gifted an up-close account as it really may have occurred within the ranks of women trying to effect change as they fight a society at war with those beliefs and an enemy determined to destroy both.

Difficult to set down, Daughters of the Night Sky is a keeper, a treasure, a story that will inspire many to educate and challenge their own abilities, look back at others whose lives informed theirs, and revisit the people and histories that shaped who we are today.

About the Author:

Aimie K. Runyan writes to celebrate history’s unsung heroines. She is the author of two previous historical novels: Promised to the Crown and Duty to the Crown, and hard at work on novel #4. She is active as an educator and a speaker in the writing community and beyond. She lives in Colorado with her wonderful husband and two (usually) adorable children. To learn more about Aimie and her work, please visit her website, and see her also at Facebook, Twitter and Goodreads.

Tour Schedule: Blog Stops

March 12th  

Book Review – 2 Kids and Tired Books


March 13th

Guest Post – Let Them Read Books

Book Review – Locks, Hooks and Books

March 14th

Book Spotlight – The Writing Desk

Book Review – The Maiden’s Court

March 15th

Book Excerpt –  A Bookaholic Swede

March 16th

Interview –  Just One More Chapter

Book Excerpt – A Literary Vacation

Book Review – before the second sleep

The author provided a copy of Daughters of the Night Sky in order to facilitate an honest review


It has been a pleasure to co-ordinate with Novel Expressions Blog Tours

and I look forward to more great reading and recommendations!


Book Review: Forty Years in a Day

Forty Years in a Day
by Mona Rodriguez and Dianne Vigorito

History is a fascinating mirror and perhaps none within more so than the people who lived through it. Adding to the layers of intrigue are oral traditions passed down within families that lend new angles of perception and understanding to previous events, not least of them being the awareness that these are one’s own people.

I’ve been fortunate recently to have made the acquaintance of several books written about authors’ relatives and ancestors, amongst them Forty Years in a Day, a family story told to one woman by her immigrant father on his 90th birthday. Having journeyed to Ellis Island, scene of so many immigrant beginnings on our shores, the pair pass through the interior of a building that “exploded with thousands of personal stories of hardship and hope.” Clare sees her father’s face in those lining the walls, these images reflecting the “disquietude of an era.”

She understands already that the comfortable life she lives now is in debt to those who came before, including her father, Vincenzo. His childhood journey from an Italian village to New York’s Hell’s Kitchen was marked with a near-death experience and instances of degradation his mother, Victoria, tried to pass off as ordinary in the hope he would forget. Whether Vincenzo recalls those earliest instances or retrieves them from his mother’s diary is not articulated, but authors Rodriguez and Vigorito lay out an understanding for Clare to absorb that is much larger than any of it, suggesting that even had Vincenzo remembered, he is beyond it. As father and daughter sit outside the island’s museum, silently taking in the crisp autumn afternoon, Clare remarks on the beauty of the day.

“My father simply replied, ‘Clare, every day you’re alive is a beautiful day.’

Throughout his life, the phrase ‘it’s a beautiful day’ had become his mantra. I had always thought of it as cordial chitchat used to fill the uncomfortable gaps of silence in conversations, but only now did I comprehend the depth of his penetrating words.”

As they sit on the bench, Vincenzo Montenaro tells his daughter Clare the story of his life and his family, more precisely that of his mother, forced to leave an abusive husband and board a ship alone with several small children. The language is straightforward and accessible, but never simple, and the authors clearly work well together, possessing a talent for relating details that elapse over a long and arduous period of time, without overburdening the reader. We get a clear sense of how awful is the journey and its inherent pains, terrors, humiliations, discomforts, even cruelties.

“Hell’s Kitchen and Sebastapol,” by Jacob Riis, c. 1890, shortly before our story begins, via Wikimedia Commons

This, in fact, is the style of the entire novel—many years encapsulated in much the same way the elder Montenaro would have done when taking only a single afternoon to describe forty years of his life. It is part of the authors’ craft that one never really knows for sure whether each individual segment is shortened by necessity or because suggestion is more powerful than a full-on witnessed account. Indeed, certain details are too wrenching to lay openly on the table, so to speak, and in fact would not do them justice. Some things, as is oft repeated, are best left to the imagination.

Vincenzo takes Clare—and us—through his mother’s story, her journey with the children to America and the years in which her life is essentially on hold because she mistakenly believes the husband she fled lives on. As time moves forward, Victoria, and her family as well as society, experiences growth and the awkward, inspirational and even ordinary moments informing and directing decisions pertaining to children, careers, dating, friendships, recreational activities, marriage, crises, illness and death, war, struggle, failures and triumph, and looking toward the future while remembering dreams of the past.

Somehow the myth pertaining to this era’s more “innocent” time has managed to stay afloat in our own society,  though Rodriguez and Vigorito attempt no such fluff. Life at this time was difficult, even nightmarish for some, though there were opportunities as well. New York City in the first half of the twentieth century was no playground: Irish mafia wars rivaled disease and poverty and though many emerged intact, very few escaped at least some contact with all three.

But, like life in any era, there existed also the magnificence of the ordinary, perhaps what Vincenzo, even in childhood, reveled in the most as he passionately embraced his appreciation for life:

Victoria knew the smell of the fresh baked bread and sauce simmering on the stove were ones the children looked forward to six days to Sunday. The minute she and [sister-in-law] Genevieve left the kitchen to ready themselves for church, Vincenzo would rip a loaf of the warm bread into pieces, dunk them into the sauce, and dole them out to his cousins and siblings. By the time Victoria returned, washcloth in hand, one of the loaves would have inconspicuously disappeared. Smiling to herself, she would casually wipe away the residue of red that rimmed their lips, pretending she was unaware of their weekly ritual.

Mission House, Hell’s Kitchen, c. 1915 Bain News Service, via Wikimedia Commons

Perhaps one of the novel’s greatest strengths is the manner in which it balances understanding of one realism within history: from the beginning human beings have always loved to be told stories, and it is no accident that our own histories resonate so deeply within us. The series of stories told throughout the book, as Vincenzo and his siblings—and the enlarging cast of characters—journey though teen years and young adulthood, as they enter into middle age, these stories satisfy a need to know about life for others and at other times, told by two with the eye and instinct of keen storytellers who know exactly when to divulge, when to pause and hold onto secrets and twists. They also embody the mirror image of those who love to be told a tale by fully displaying the seeming human satisfaction in telling one. Effortlessly weaving through time and connections within the characters’ own era, neighborhood and circles, they also touch our own.

So much happens in this novel, really a memoir of sorts–beginning in first person and shifting away as Vincenzo picks up–but readers are moved forward, perhaps a reflection of Vincenzo’s own perspective and the manner in which he habitually looks forward, rarely dwelling on past events. Here, too, the authors, who are in fact cousins telling their own family’s story, bring us to witness exactly how much the patriarch values the future and those who will occupy it. Like Clare who learns so much that afternoon, readers will be “exhausted and inspired from the journey[,]” and wouldn’t have it any other way.


This review previously appeared at Before the Second Sleep’s former location.

A copy of Forty Years in a Day was provided in order to facilitate an honest review.


R.I.P., Dianne Vigorito. Thank you so much for sharing your journey with us. 

Book Review: Daring to Drive

Daring to Drive: A Saudi Woman’s Awakening
by Manal al-Sharif

Perhaps no other prohibition or decree forced upon women has been as discussed, analyzed, examined or reviled by the entire world as the ban on female driving in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. Ostensibly, the regulation exists to protect women, or at least this is what they are frequently told. However, navigating the demands of daily life can be challenging to say the least, when denied the freedom of mobility and, when considering other strictures enforced in women’s lives or extant in Saudi society—dearth of public transport, proscription on being in the company of unrelated males, lack of willing/able family drivers or funding for an official one—seemingly impossible.

Such was the circumstance for Manal al-Sharif, who previously had worked her way out of the slums of Mecca to become a computer scientist for Saudi Aramco, dodging and climbing over, around, under and through each of the many obstacles appearing before her as she made her way through a degree program and, later, job offer that entailed her shift to a city in the Eastern Province (EP) where she didn’t even know anyone. In Daring to Drive she lays out the elements of plotting strategies, mapping out her daily routines in meticulous manner most of us could never imagine, just to make her way through movement of the day.

Saudi women summoned in defiance of the ban are charged with “driving while female,” possibly experiencing further isolation in that Saudia is the only country where such a ban exists. Consider al-Sharif’s surprise when she learns the restriction is not even based in any actual law—upon conducting her own research she finds nothing in either statutes or Koran to support it. It is rooted only in tradition.

Al-Sharif opens her memoir with a rundown of the latter portion of her encounter with police at her house the night she is ticketed for driving while female. From there she takes us to her childhood home amongst assorted relatives and neighborhood personalities with a chronic tendency toward being mean to each other. I lost count of the beatings she received from her family members, though recall with painful clarity the one following an injury her sister suffers that involved horseplay, a broom and the roof of her mouth. Al-Sharif tells this and other stories with a matter-of-factness that stings a little, not because child abuse or even lower-level corporal punishment doesn’t exist in our own country, and not just for its frequency in hers. I thought I isolated at one point that it was because the voice she presented is so accepting of it, unquestioning, even as the adult Manal telling the story. I found it disturbing, while at the same time privileged to be invited so deeply into the family psyche and all its attendant baggage and vulnerabilities. One must maintain a balance, sitting up straight and listening respectfully without falling too far into whoa, sh**.

As her years move forward we do see the child Manal’s thinking process grow from a talent for sneaking what we would call average childhood pleasures into her existence to outrageous acts borne of religious fervor to determination to claim the education her mother had plotted her entire life to steer her toward. Her experience and innate savvy enables her to navigate her way through the challenges of accepting a position in the EP on the other side of the country, which entails her arriving on her first day of work knowing she had no idea where she would sleep that night.

Soon after this I began to realize another voice had emerged, moreover that al-Sharif’s reflection of her own growing maturity and widening of her field of vision—in the landscape of her persona—is evident in her own meta-awareness. Her always-fluid prose ripples with it and at last I realized that her style itself is one of evolution, not merely the story within it. The connection it embodies is so powerful, even amongst experiences many in her audience don’t share, not only owing to common humanity and empathic structure, but also a bond that leaps to life within us as she celebrates even small victories. Particularly for Westerners currently witnessing the throes of a feminism that marginalizes dissenting women and hypocritically ignores abuse of women in other countries, it conveys a true victory, an actual achievement of honest liberalism that only the most imprisoned might reject.

Al-Sharif also surprised me in another manner. As I read, I sometimes lamented what I thought was the barrage of negativity coming from events depicted in her story. I tend to be wary of books that either whitewash oppressive societies or portray them as if there is not a redeeming characteristic to be found. I didn’t have a stake in whether Saudia lived up to the stereotypes attached to it or not—though my Middle Eastern reading tends mostly to focus on Iran, I thought this might be a great opportunity to branch out a bit, and was concerned with disappointment via monotony or agenda. Here she tells us bitter truths that act to veil much of what we later discover to be the seedlings of her subsequent strength. Actually, this characteristic exhibits itself early on; we just don’t recognize it, and at times it doesn’t recognize itself as it transitions through a society severely affected by radicalization and women contributing to their own oppression. Amidst all these we also see the joy of her drawing; a sister, who like sisters anywhere, sneaks off to see a boy; a beloved Barbie doll; her parents’ efforts to shield their children from discrimination; trips to Egypt and—that universal uniter—fabulous feasts.

It is to al-Sharif’s credit as a writer when I say my realization of further technique within her prose approached me silently, like the new day dawning, within which a watcher might be scrupulously keeping track, though unable to determine when or where the first ray hits. Such is her theme of awakening, reflected in the memoir’s title, the tale of her growing awareness itself, and the manner in which her words open up, blooming with the nourishment of the light, after which readers realize the seeds of activism sprung up, and those who leap to her support as her role flowers to life.

Women find their own agency when, like men, they are free to do and to fail. Yes, of course, some failures entail tragedies not easily brushed aside, but most of the time they consist of lessons learned, small steps in a process of flowering the spirit that cannot occur without balance in a life of growth that takes us up to the sun, but also importantly, particularly in a harsh desert land, oftentimes with the rain. This, too, brings its own nourishment in those failures, and it is fitting that al-Sharif’s own mother, who successfully fought so hard for her children to escape poverty and achieve a full education, spoke of rain and small steps: “The rain begins with a single drop.”

The agency is there; one must sometimes first find the balance of nourishment to achieve it.

Daring to Drive is a fairly fast read, though not to be confused with rapidly-consumed books of lesser integrity. Within these pages al-Sharif packs much more than her own tale; it is almost as if she tells the story of mankind coming into itself as we awaken to a new world of possibility and fresh opportunity to go faster than we had been—literally and figuratively—knowing some of the obstacles others before had faced. As readers turn the pages, the world outside their peripheral vision falls away, dinners burn, the evening tiptoes quietly by, the metro stops closest to work are forgotten. Though al-Sharif refers to herself as an “accidental activist,” if this is the kind of work she produces, it would be to our benefit if she keeps at it on purpose.


At this writing it has been announced that Saudi women will,

by royal order, be entitled to drive by June 24, 2018.

Book Spotlight: Mary – Tudor Princess

Mary – Tudor Princess
by Tony Riches

 New on Amazon, Amazon UK and Amazon AU

From the author of the international best-selling Tudor Trilogy, the true story of the Tudor dynasty continues with the daughter of King Henry VII, sister to King Henry VIII. Mary Tudor watches her elder brother become King of England and wonders what the future holds for her.

Born into great privilege, Mary has beauty and intelligence beyond her years and is the most marriageable princess in Europe. Henry plans to use her marriage to build a powerful alliance against his enemies. Will she dare risk his anger by marrying for love?

Meticulously researched and based on actual events, this ‘sequel’ follows Mary’s story from book three of the Tudor Trilogy and is set during the reign of King Henry VIII.

 Excerpt from Chapter Nine – 1514

Mary noted the look of disdain from Countess Louise. Dressed in white mourning clothes, she’d wasted no time in taking control. The whole of Paris came to a standstill as the grand procession made its way to Notre-Dame, where Louis was laid to rest with undue haste at the side of Anne of Brittany.

‘You must retire now to your mourning chapel, as is our custom.’ It sounded like an order to a disobedient child.

Mary stared at Countess Louise. She had little time for French customs. ‘For how long?’ She tried to sound assertive yet it sounded petulant.

‘Until it can be established that you are not with child.’ Her tone suggested she doubted it. ‘One month or two.’

‘I refuse to be shut away. I must write to my brother the king, there is too much to do.’

‘You cannot refuse,’ Louise’s voice sounded harsher now, ‘and King Henry has of course been informed.’

Mary realised she could make a dangerous enemy by resisting the will of the countess. ‘I agree on condition my secretary is permitted to see me to take letters to England.’

The countess gave a curt nod. ‘I am pleased you respect our customs. You are the Dowager Queen of France and will want for nothing while you are in mourning.’ She softened a little for the first time. ‘You might pray for my son, that he will be a wise and noble king.’

Mary agreed. She had no choice. She entered the darkened rooms of Cluny Palace, overlooking the Seine, and heard the door close behind her with a thump. Looking around she saw an altar with a blue-robed statue of the Virgin and a few prayer books. Worst of all, the windows and walls and even her bed were hung with heavy black cloth, blocking the light.

She shivered in the cold, turned back and tried to open the door. It rattled in the frame as she shook the handle, realising it had been locked from the outside. She called out but heard no reply.

She’d been tricked. The duke’s scheming mother had made sure nothing would stand in the way of her son’s coronation. Even a king who clung to the last of his life despite his pain. Mary crossed to the altar and kneeled before it. Taking a taper, she lit it from the solitary candle and lit a second for Louis. As she watched the yellow flame take hold she recalled the last words Louis said to her, ‘Je t’aime mon ange,’ and wept.

About the Author

Tony Riches is a full-time author of best-selling historical fiction. He lives in Pembrokeshire, West Wales and is a specialist in the fifteenth century, with a particular interest in the Wars of the Roses and the lives of the early Tudors.

For more information about Tony’s other books please visit his website and his popular blog, The Writing Desk, and find him on Goodreads as well as Facebook and Twitter.


Additional Links:


Amazon UK

Amazon AU

Amazon Author Page



L.A.P. it Marketing LLC


Update: This post’s title has been corrected to reflect its spotlight status,
as opposed to blog tour, which was added in error. 

Blog Tour Book Review: Two Journeys Home

 Two Journeys Home: A Novel of Eighteenth Century Europe
(Book II in The Derrynane Saga)
by Kevin O’Connell

About the Book:

It’s 1767. As the eagerly anticipated sequel to Beyond Derrynane begins, Eileen O’Connell avails herself of a fortuitous opportunity to travel back to Ireland. In Two Journeys Home, the O’Connells encounter old faces and new—and their lives change forever.

Her vivacious personality matched only by her arresting physical presence, Eileen returns to Derrynane this time not as a teenaged widow but as one of the most recognised figures at the Habsburg court. Before returning to Vienna she experiences a whirlwind romance, leading to a tumult of betrayal and conflict with the O’Connell clan.

Abigail lives not in the shadow of her sister but instead becomes the principal lady-in-waiting to Empress Maria Theresa.

Hugh O’Connell leaves behind waning adolescence and a fleeting attraction to the youngest archduchess when he begins a military career in the Irish Brigade under Louis XV. But more royal entanglement awaits him in France…

Author Kevin O’Connell again deftly weaves threads of historical fact and fancy to create a colourful tapestry affording unique insights into the courts of eighteenth-century Catholic Europe and Protestant Ascendancy–ruled Ireland. Watch as the saga continues to unfold amongst the O’Connells, their friends and enemies, at home and abroad.

Editorial Reviews:

O’Connell is a fantastic storyteller. His prose is so rich and beautiful it is a joy to read. The story is compelling and the characters memorable – all the more so because they are based on real people. . . I am Irish but I did not know about this piece of Irish history. It is fascinating but historical fiction at the same time . . . Highly recommended for historical fiction lovers!

(c) Beth Nolan, Beth’s Book Nook

I enjoyed the first part of the Saga awhile back . . . (and) couldn’t wait to continue the story of Eileen and her family . . . this author really does have a way with words. The world and the characters are so vivid . . . Overall, I was hooked from page one. I honestly think that (Two Journeys Home) was better than (Beyond Derrynane) – which is rare. The characters and world-building was done in such a beautiful manner . . . I can’t wait for the next one . . .

(c) Carole Rae, Carole’s Sunday Review, Book Girl of Mur-y-Castell

Two Journeys Home: A Novel of Eighteenth Century Europe . . . is a gripping story that will transport the reader back in time, a story with a strong setting and compelling characters . . . a sensational romance, betrayal, family drama and intrigue . . . The plot is so complex that I find it hard to offer a summary in a few lines, but it is intriguing and it holds many surprises . . .  great writing. Kevin O’Connell’s prose is crisp and highly descriptive. I was delighted (by) . . . how he builds the setting, offering . . . powerful images of places, exploring cultural traits and unveiling the political climate of the time . . . The conflict is (as well-developed as the characters) and it is a powerful ingredient that moves the plot forward . . . an absorbing and intelligently-crafted historical novel . . . .

(c) Divine Zapa for Readers’ Favourite

My Review:

Starting a series with a sequel can be tricky business, though many authors routinely employ the technique of briefly filling in, whether via a quickie paragraph to bring readers up to speed, or a few details scattered here and there. In most instances this works out and all is well. Kevin O’Connell in Two Journeys Home takes it all a bit further by embedding details within the lead character’s reflections, as well as third-person narrative, and it does more than merely work. Because the information is so well paced, the author is able to choose carefully where he places it, and the natural feel within the acquisition of details of Eileen O’Connell’s life in The Derrynane Saga’s first installment, Beyond Derrynane, makes her story so much more readable and enticing.

Two Journeys Home tells Eileen’s story in between the two titular voyages, once upon arriving home to Ireland following several years spent at the Austrian court of Empress Maria Theresa, the second after her return there following a marriage attempt forbidden by her family in the interest of protecting the illegal import business that created their wealth. Readers follow her relationship with her young charge Antoine, the empress’s last daughter, future fill in for a role in perpetuating alliances via marriage. The author explores Eileen’s memories and rapport with the girl, so close that she privately addresses her Irish caretaker as Mama.

O’Connell’s prose really is quite vivid and sensory, with lavish and lovely descriptions painting images not only of breathtaking scenery, but also, if it could be said, of interaction between characters and how they experience various moments within their journeys through life. Their inner landscape is given due attention and it is not rare to feel almost a sense of delight in response to some passages, owing to a sensation of being able to both practically hear the individual’s lines as well as relate to the perspective from which they utter them. Too, we are introduced to other connections, including some of Eileen’s relations in the Irish regiments of the Austrian and French armies, who contribute to the story as a richly related family drama in addition to fantastic and revealing historical fiction. One difficulty I did have with O’Connell’s prose is his overuse of rather long and somewhat arduous insertions requiring frequent re-reads that take away from the passages’ fluidity. Fortunately, after about the novel’s first third, these ease up and we can once more immerse ourselves in a fascinating journey through rarely-glimpsed perspective, that of an Irish experience in Catholic Europe as well as a senior servant within the Hapsburg dominion.

Though the greatest part of outright conflict appears in the book’s first half, and the second doesn’t necessarily address the “mélange of political, relational and religious upheaval” Eileen faces, as referenced in the book’s own blurb, there is real allure with the cast of characters, how they relate to one another and the contexts within which they are placed. Moreover, a tension does indeed build as Antoine’s marriage looms and a growing sense of unease develops as readers begin to detect a familiarity with this tale and how Eileen, despite her final assessment of her own, “smaller” life back in Ireland as preferable to Antoine’s luxurious future role, has no way to know how it all will play out. It is as if we are impotent in the face of future danger and maligning forces; we witness it through the veil of time and the players we see cannot hear our warnings as each goes off to their futures and final destinations and we can only watch.

Two Journeys Home concludes before going into the greater part of that future, with Eileen’s connections to her past still very intact, and a sequel approached without previous knowledge of the story becomes one we are drawn to follow to the saga’s very end.


A copy of Two Journeys Home was provided to the reviewer in order to facilitate an honest review

See below for links to more great reviews, guest blogs and spotlights on Two Journeys Home


About the Author:

Kevin O’Connell is a native of New York City and the descendant of a young officer of what had—from 1690 to 1792—been the Irish Brigade of the French Army, believed to have arrived in French Canada following the execution of Queen Marie Antoinette in October of 1793. He holds both Irish and American citizenship.

An international business attorney, Mr. O’Connell is an alumnus of Providence College and Georgetown University Law Center.

A lifelong personal and scholarly interest in the history of eighteenth-century Ireland, as well as that of his extended family, led O’Connell to create his first book, Beyond Derrynane, which will, together with Two Journeys Home and the two books to follow, comprise The Derrynane Saga.

The father of five children and grandfather of ten, he and his wife, Laurette, live with their golden retriever, Katie, near Annapolis, Maryland.

Find the author at his website, Facebook or Amazon profile pages, and buy the book here!

Tour Schedule: Blog Stops (February 19th – 23rd)

February 19th

Spotlight  Layered Pages

February 20th

Guest Post –The Writing Desk

Guest Post – Blood Mother Blog

February 21th

Book Review – A Bookaholic Swede

Book Excerpt – Kate Braithwaite

Guest Post – A Literary Vacation

February 22nd

Interview & Review – Flashlight Commentary

Book Excerpt – Just One More Chapter

Book Review –Impressions In Ink

February 23rd

Book Review – Lock, Hooks and Books

Book Review – before the second sleep

March 5th –Tour Recap

Novel Expressions Blog Tours Website

Book Review: Knight Assassin

Knight Assassin: The Second Book of Talon
by James Boschert

Upon initially encountering James Boschert’s titular character in the first installment of his Talon series, we find a likeable Frankish boy abducted from his Levantine home to Persia, where he remains for five years as his captors assimilate him to their ways. The nature of memories and experience, mixture of perspectives and existence amongst unremitting danger is yet one portion of Talon’s story as he learns in the most honest way he can to cope with all he endures.

Assassins of Alamut leaves off with Talon being separated from the woman he loves as she is forced back into peril, and Knight Assassin picks up shortly after this as we witness Talon, en route to his ancestral homeland, still raw with the emotion of losing her and trying to stay on even terms with the Templars who took him into custody. At his father’s newly-inherited (via his wife) fortress in France he finds a family happy to see him, though bewildered about who he may have grown into and wary of threats against the family and their newly-acquired legacy.

This reviewer fairly flew through Knight Assassin. Having already bonded with Talon helped, naturally, but it is also true that Boschert’s plotlines are innovative and intriguing, and his ability to draw readers into scenes is magnificent. With authentic characters we journey through scenarios depicted in genuine fashion, such as Talon’s entire approach to his previous captors: they are enemies of his people, but he truthfully speaks of what he saw in their culture to admire.

For those attached to the Middle Ages, every page feeds the hunger as well as whets the appetite for more. There are feasts and feuds, love interests and family loyalties, clerical abuses of law and authority —elements one might expect, with much more added to Boschert’s creations. The author makes it more personal without an over focus to endanger the tale’s relatability. His dialogue gives us clearer portraits of those who populate his stories, and there is a satisfaction to the manner in which Talon lays down his plans and then carries out each mission. He holds enough back to keep us in suspense, divulging just the right amount to skip the minutiae while pumping up anticipation from the details we are privy to. We find ourselves Talon’s champion, even in moments of fearful doubt, breathing immense sighs of relief when he is in the clear.

That, however, doesn’t always happen, and Boschert knows exactly when to go in which direction. He also knows just who to add, and where they need to go, in Knight Assassin’s case, a group of Welsh archers, or a girl from a Catharic background, one not widely known or understood today. It stirs the sense of hunger, providing tantalizing details for further exploration of this saga that proves itself the very reason why humans crave stories. Fluid and addictive, meandering like a river through various locales, we wonder where the author might next take us in the series’ number three—and it can be assured we shall be journeying there.


For reviews of two more James Boschert reading treasures, click the titles below:

Force 12 in German Bight

When the Jungle is Silent

The author provided a copy of Knight Assassin in order to facilitate an honest review. 

Keep your eyes peeled for my cover crush of this fantastic novel



Book Review: Future Confronted

Future Confronted by Louise Rule

An indieBRAG Medallion recipient

It has on many occasions through time been spoken of: the unnaturalness of outliving one’s own child. Unfortunately, many people have had to endure this terrible order of events and each has their own way to grieve. It takes great fortitude to re-count events, for in so doing, one re-lives them and their affiliate pains, not only in the telling but also the reverberating ache that strikes the heart long after the listener has gone away.

In summoning the courage to tell her story—her son’s story—Louise Rule has gifted upon us a piece of herself, of her strength and love for people and life that teaches us without lecturing, enables us in our quest to see the world and its inhabitants as the precious creatures they are.

Rule’s son Rob was just 20 when he was diagnosed with an inoperable brain tumor, and less than two months later he was no more. Just like that, one might think, right before the swoosh of horror that passes through the consciousness coming to grips with the understanding that most people take much more time than that to absorb the very reality of such an illness. Just like that.

That sort of swiftness is related to the flash of time Rule writes of in her poem, “Just a Moment,” that serves to introduce Rob’s memoir. She references that first awakening of each day before full consciousness, wherewithal, has set in—preceding the full knowledge, for her, of the reality that is.

This Moment lulls me into trusting

Everything is fine. The Moment

Passes, reality remains

I remember…

It is fitting that Rule opens the book with two memories: one of herself as a child staring up through an apple tree to the sky above, leading closer to the present as it transitions to an ash tree and a downpour, as if the heavens themselves are weeping at the loss to the world, whose tree we are under. Symbolic of healing, a state Rule pursues though cautioning on the difference between this and the impossibility of “getting over it,” the tree has now embraced Rob’s remains, his ashes, holding him in a way his mother no longer can.

Like life, even a life punctuated with occasional negative events, this memoir has its bright moments, most often shared with loved ones. Rule recounts these, too, proceeding by first talking about life after Rob’s death—fitting, given the sometimes-overwhelming task of continuing to live not just after her child has died, but also following a harrowing ten-week period in which speed and unplanned become key notions of existence, when even the compensation of adrenalin threatens shutdown and yet somehow keep going is the order of the day, and then, suddenly, without warning—stop. The adjustment is harrowing and can be debilitating.

Reflected in the title, this circumstance can lead to the breakdown of an entire family, and Rule relates how her clan could not simply go gently, as they say, nor move on: circumstances necessitated a confrontation with what was coming and a reconciliation with what was. She artfully manages the roles of each section in the book by steering them in their duties: a nonlinear storyline—the only way, really, it could have been done—told to an imaginary companion whose presence develops into a full personality, one who understands the singular import of allowing the bereaved to do all the talking. In so doing, she anchors Rule as the author finds her way to a voice uniquely hers, yet fitting for all.

Rule is also clearly suited to the English degree she achieved—having commenced before her son’s illness and finished up after his death. Lyrical and flowing, while simultaneously conversational, her prose maps out these and other events free of emotion for its own sake, but with a writing quality and management skills that at times can lead us to envision the scenes in ways that reflect the moments. In one passage, for example, when the family first learn the seriousness of Rob’s diagnosis, it is as if we are viewing the passage through a prism and sensing the confusion via the distortion.

Nobody spoke; a heavy silence. We were all studying the registrar’s face, eventually; he looked at each of us in turn, then began talking again. I must admit to the fact that I can’t remember what he said after that. His mouth was moving, yes. I could hear a mumbling, yes, but I couldn’t seem to understand him. I tried…I did, I tried, but it had all become surreal, like watching T.V. with the sound down; it was happening to somebody else, not us…not us. Everything was running in slow motion. I became aware that everyone was standing up and moving toward the door…The door clicked, I turned around and stared at the door. We stood rooted, a tragic tableau in the corridor.

Within the pages of Future Confronted Rule takes us through the journey Rob and his family face as they make their way through a labyrinth, navigating in a learn-as-you-go fashion of how to do death when, in reality, despite modern advances in technology and a world of endless interpersonal seminars on taking life by the horns, most of us are still learning how to live.

Rule understands this, and makes no attempt to pass off anything formulaic—or even anything except what she knows and claims only for herself. She shares with us events from Rob’s (and her others sons’) childhood, linking, always linking her transitions and leading us to something we know we have to hear, not because it is hers, but because of her courage and generosity, that becomes ours.

The Russians say that no one ever truly dies as long as there is someone to remember them, and the author brings this to bear on the words of Cicero as she quotes:

The life of the dead is placed

In the memory of the living

Breathtaking and perhaps even frightening in the enormous responsibility this carries, Rule utilizes her skill and draws on her faith to achieve this memory keeper duty. In so doing, she allows us to see Rob a little bit more deeply, allowing us to share her task.

This review previously appeared at Before the Second Sleep’s former location