Reading 2017: Rounding Out the Year

See bottom for links to further entries in the “Reading 2017” series.

Well, 2017 has been an absurd year in too many ways, so it was nice to end it with the feeling that at least my reading wasn’t doing too badly. As I’ve mentioned earlier in the series, I wanted to focus more on content and not just books in terms of numbers. After my first year reading challenge (2016), in which I aimed for a certain amount of books to read, I found a way this time to shift away from that numeric goal with some fun and variety. The dirty details:

Three books from each of three new or newish genres:

Graphic novel: These turned out to be The Metamorphosis; The Iliad and the Odyssey and Frankenstein. In passing I also read a couple of Raina Telgemeier’s, who I knew from my son having read her in the lower grades. Two, Smile and Claudia and Mean Janine, I quite liked, though a third not so much as the whole story generally felt unfinished. All three of my central choices I’d read before (in “regular” form) and loved—save The Iliad, which I mildly enjoyed. (Perhaps I ought to give that another shot in ’18.)

Until reading Mary Shelley’s entry in a sort of nineteenth-century Fright Night writing contest, the only thing I really knew about Frankenstein was that everybody mistakenly referred to the monster by the title name. I was surprised at how much I liked the plot way back, though I admit Shelley’s style of writing more than likely had something to do with it. Nevertheless, the graphic novel version held up as well, even though it lost a bit from me knowing how it would end. Still, the tension was apparent and you felt for all parties involved; there just was no winning corner.

In contrast is The Odyssey, which in previous poetic reading I loved on a level so much higher than Frankenstein that I even told stories from it to my boy when he was littler (the island of the cyclops being a favorite). Here, however, we see that color isn’t everything, which is a pity because the shades are rather vibrant and alive. They don’t, however, really do anything for the narrative, though the fault of that may lay within the technique of text on bottom of panel, words within, floating in speech bubbles—too all over the place. The effect is meant to convey casual asides and humorous remarks, but I found it irritatingly distracting. Also, there is so much lost in the story, and while I get there was a lot for the author to choose from, this just isn’t a dynamic intro to Homer’s amazing tale.

For my review of Franz Kafka’a The Metamorphosis (adapted by Peter Kuper), click here.

True Crime: I happened upon it quite by accident, when reading an update on appeal of the amazingly entitled Michael Skakel, convicted of murdering fifteen-year-old Martha Moxley in her own front yard. Apart from the crime’s own shocking nature is the jaw-dropping reality that the Greenwich, Connecticut police were either too incompetent or inexperienced to find the young girl’s killer—or were they cowed by the sleazy Kennedy name and money that tries to lord over everything it touches (and frequently destroys)? Former police detective and author Mark Furhman investigated years later and literally wrote the book on how Skakel’s name became seriously linked to the murder. For my review, click here.

I was so impressed with Fuhrman’s style—as a detective as well as writer—that I sought out another, Murder in Brentwood. Here we are given a glimpse into the cross-aisle backstabbing, soulless ambition and strikingly stupid cult of personality behind the scenes of the infamous O.J. Simpson case that de-armed detective authority and investigation and later destroyed Fuhrman’s career. The author himself is no angel and he comes clean on everything the prosecution accused him of while also rightfully stating something to the effect of the R in racism being today’s scarlet letter—and utilized as recklessly. It’s an amazing story that fills in so many gaps I was shocked to read and even more surprised to learn when I talked to people about it, how widespread is awareness that Fuhrman was totally set up by an ego-enabled prosecution utilizing the wrong tack and a defense that would go to any lengths to win. Most of all, however, it made these two lost souls, people cut down so young, so heartlessly and so devoid of justice, individuals and not just more famous statistics, or distant humans you read of in the papers and then forget about.

Ann Rule is also a gifted writer, and her book, The Stranger Beside Me too was a recommended read. Utilizing her previous experience as a police officer, she at the time events in the book were occurring, had retired and engaged as a true crime writer for magazines and newspapers. She volunteered for the suicide hotline of a crisis center along with Ted Bundy, who I knew very little about except that he had been a serial killer. I don’t tend to think much about this sort of psychopath, but can guarantee that after reading this book they were on my mind for weeks. My usual rejoinder, “I don’t lose sleep over it, but—” lost a lot of airtime because I did stay awake more than I should have. Reading about the victims of Skakel and Simpson didn’t have the same effect—and I knew this straight away—because while they were targeted, in a set of rages, perhaps, they weren’t random. Bundy, on the other hand, could strike anywhere, and that set me on edge for awhile, especially having read Rule’s descriptive passages of sexual and mental abuse of such horrific nature I could barely comprehend how any human could even think this shit up. I won’t go into details here, just suffice to say that ISIS probably borrowed heavily from Bundy’s catalogue of twisted torture techniques. It’s not something I’m really keen on reading more of, to be quite frank.

Science fiction: Sky fi, as my wee one likes to call it. That’s one thing, but the real question, I found, is: What is it? To be honest, Jurassic Park didn’t strike me as sci-fi and when himself suggested it, I was initially taken aback. It contains science and is a work of fiction, yet for some reason I tended to think of outer space, which I typically only like reading about as non-fiction. Then someone suggested 1984, which really threw me for a loop. So I dropped it all and instead of heading for booklists, the first thing I did was look up the definitions because in order to choose some sci-fi, I first had to be clear what it is.

From the Gunn Center for the Study of Science Fiction: “Science fiction is the literature of the human species encountering change, whether it arrives via scientific discoveries, technological innovations, natural events, or societal shifts.”

(Inserting a small note here: I’ve never heard of Gunn before, so don’t endorse or not endorse them.) At the web page their definition is expanded, but even in keeping with this foundation, it also squares with this one:

Och, who am I kidding? The real reason I’m on so long about this is because I didn’t manage to finish my sci-fi reading challenge. Surprisingly, quite a few titles appealed to me, although in thinking about it, I’d be willing to bet at least a few of them I’d put down after awhile, which is something I haven’t done a lot in recent years. Hyperion caught my eye, but somehow it went back to the library unread, and later I settled on Jurassic Park, 1984 and The Time Machine, though only ever finished the first. (I did read 1984 in elementary school, if that can score me some points). And while they weren’t official choices for the challenge, I can’t say enough about Richard Abbott’s Far from the Spaceports series, the first of which shares the series title and the second, Timing, continues the adventures.

Both involve Mitnash Thakur and his AI partner, Slate, battling financial fraud in space colonies near Jupiter, though terminating the criminal activity doesn’t tend to involve standard, earth-like consequences. The colonial culture and detective angles also drew me in, and I’m certain these will both be re-reads.

The other ones, though … I just couldn’t get interested enough to read them. I did have “discipline” in mind as a factor toward the challenge, though when push came to shove, didn’t see much worth in disciplining one’s self to read something, for leisure, that one can’t get into. I did open my mind to the genre, though, which is the real goal, and may return to those titles at a later date.

It might have helped if I didn’t have others that appealed more, but contributing likely was also my own all-around reading slowdown. Once I finished the massive pile of reviews I’d needed to do, I told myself I would read, during Christmas break,  only what I wanted to read—which turned out to be not much. I picked out a few books but simply spent a lot of time doing other things. I’m rarely not in the mood to read, but it does happen, and when it does, it’s a sizeable block. Close to the end I picked up a bunch of children’s books, the easier reading of which has jump-started me in the past. I pretty rapidly went through an old favorite, Kästner’s Emil and the Detectives, which was as absolutely fabulous as it ever was. I may even write a tad about it in the new year. A couple of others I began and passed on, and as of this writing I’m still reading Company of Fools (Ellis), whose story has also pulled me in.

And, finally …

Five off my neglected TBR shelves:

I didn’t have particular titles in mind, though at the time I wrote up a blog about the ideas, I was eyeing a certain few. It wasn’t long before I had to remind myself that lots of my leisure reading is determined pretty much by mood and what I feel like reading, so even had I definitively chosen, they stood a chance of being displaced—or not. It just depends.

As it happens, this year, like last, most of my reading was for reviewing, so very few of my own books came off the TBR. I did, however, manage to meet and exceed my five: Thomas Jefferson and the Tripoli Pirates: The Forgotten War that Changed American History by Brian Kilmeade and Don Yaeger; The Revolving Door of Life, Precious and Grace, The Woman Who Walked in Sunshine, The Bertie Project and The Uncommon Appeal of Clouds, all by Alexander McCall Smith; and three Peter St. John Gang books I’ve been after since I reviewed one last year: Gang Loyalty, Gang Petition, Gang Territory and Gang Spies. As you can see, I’m a great fan of both McCall Smith and St. John, the latter of whom has at least two more on backorder that I mean to read—and I say that with great emphasis! Semi-autobiographical stories of an orphan evacuee from the Blitz, these tales are funny, poignant and delightful, with a re-readability factor that’s out of this world.

A lot of books I’ve read this year have really great covers (e.g. Cometh the Hour, The Popish Midwife, Company of Liars), which had been a focus of many discussions I’ve seen across 2017, two of which I was privileged to be a part of. Another, Hand of Glory by Susan Boulton, came at a great moment, set during and after the Great War as it is, given my sort of “re-awakening” to the era. For the past couple of years I’ve been remembering all the Siegfried Sassoon we’d studied in high school and telling myself to dip into the era some more. Boulton’s story contains a mythical twist and the war portions are written with such dexterity: sensitivity but also a knowing of harsh realities, and some resulting passages simply wind into your reading being. And, at the risk of overloading anyone else’s TBR or shopping lists, speaking of getting into you: Jennie Orbell’s Two Chucks and a Tabby Cat had me laughing nearly all the way through, even at passages that weren’t always topics of humor. Orbell has such a feel for the foibles of humanity and a witty way of pointing them out to us, all while knowing when to retreat.

Retreat is what I did once in awhile, as you can see scattered through my 2017 reads here, by backing away from reviews and picking up one of my own, most of which are listed above. I love to write reviews, mind you, and I admit it felt a little odd to be reading a book with no intention (at least at the outset, and some I had to reprimand myself and say no) of writing it up. That happened at the end of the year as well, and taking a couple of weeks off to be reading whatever I pick up off the shelf has been simply grand.

Reads from the last part of 2017, some of which you may see again in these pages. As mentioned elsewhere, numbers weren’t the goal, though you have to plug something in. (Click image for full Goodreads spread.)
2017 saw the conclusion of my 1066 series (see tab in sidebar for links to posts), and the beginning to my Knights Templar (Michael Jecks) following. I’ve got the next two queued up to read as I type.
My reading of Susan Boulton’s Hand of Glory really revved my engines for more about the Great War. A mystery with supernatural and mythological twists, the novel has great staying power.
I’m hoping to dip into more reading about the Barbary Wars, having finally found a great start with Brian Kilmeade and Don Yaeger’s Thomas Jefferson and the Tripoli Pirates.

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Previous entries in the Reading 2017 series:

The Importance of Covers (Book Bloggers Group Chat)

Readers’ Chat with Stephanie Hopkins

Origins of the Challenge

Reading Challenge 2017

New Genre Library (True Crime): Murder in Greenwich

New Genre Library (Graphic Novel): The Metamorphosis

New Genre Library (Science Fiction): Jurassic Park

New Genre Library is a three-part spinoff series of Reading 2017

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Thanks for reading and may 2018

be your best year yet!

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New Genre Library: Sci-fi (Jurassic Park)

This series explores genres new or newish to me as part of my 2017 reading challenge

Jurassic Park by Michael Crichton

I’m not really into dinosaurs and, had I never seen the movie of the same name—yes, that same one everyone else and their mother has seen twelve times—I likely would have passed Jurassic Park the book up as well. So why haven’t I read it before now? Well, I can thank my ever-present TBR, that pile of awaiting works towering over the tallest skyscraper and which keeps my anticipation on hyper drive. But I can also thank my teenage son, for finally getting to it. After a childhood of “house rule says you have to read the book before you can watch the movie,” he was given some more wiggle room, and still frequently experiences the book-movie pairing, just in reverse: if he loves a movie he checks to see if it’s based on a novel and if so, wants to read it.

Click image to view a slice of terror from the eyes of Tim, as he peers, horrified, through his night-vision goggles.

So he kept telling me I had to check out the Michael Crichton book that re-ignited the dino devotion, and I finally did (after also watching the film with him at least a dozen times). As he told me, there is a lot you’ll recognize, and some you won’t. The book, to the surprise of absolutely no one, is very different to the movie. There’s a Tim and Lex, and their parents are getting divorced, the reason they appear at the island. The story is rolling for awhile, however, before they appear, and we see another little girl first.

There is also a great deal of background detail presented in the novel, some of it slightly dry, but intriguing enough to make the connections Crichton wants us to, and it explains a lot about how events turn out in both book and film—we should say films, given material from the first book is seen in at least one sequel. With a subplot involving the theft of dinosaur embryos creating more questions, tension and irritability, we witness the start of a race against time to avoid catastrophe not only on the island, but also elsewhere.

Most everyone reading this probably knows the end results of Jurassic Park’s cinematic escapade, but I’ve never come across many who’ve read the book, so I’m hesitant to go into too much detail, because there really is more to know than just the plot—and it’s fantastic. Readers will re-evaluate their thoughts regarding the characters they actually cared about the most when they read the cast present itself differently. Character knowledge also plays a role and the thrill this creates runs throughout the entire book, from start to finish, even though those who open the tale are new, underdeveloped and generally there to furnish background information. Individual characters aren’t always as emotive as one might expect, given what they are experiencing, but this tends to become a lesser concern because readers themselves will be flipping pages to find out, snapping back at those they don’t like and running up against their own anxieties in the race to escape the monsters Hammond has spared no expense to create.

OK, yes, I know: they’re not “monsters,” some purists (such as Grant) may feel inclined to shoot back.


“[Y]ou ought to see the vets scrubbing those big fangs so he doesn’t get tooth decay ….”

“Not just now,” Gennaro said. “What about your mechanical systems?”

“You mean the rides?” Arnold said.

Grant looked up sharply: rides?

“None of the rides are running yet,” Arnold was saying. “We have the Jungle River Ride, where the boats follow tracks underwater, and we have the Aviary Lodge Ride, but none of it’s operational yet. The park’ll open with the basic dinosaur tour—the one that you’re about to take in a few minutes. The other rides will come on line six, twelve months after that.”

“Wait a minute,” Grant said. “You’re going to have rides? Like an amusement park?”

Arnold said, “This is a zoological park. We have tours of different areas, and we call them rides. That’s all.”

Grant frowned. Again he felt troubled. He didn’t like the idea of dinosaurs being used for an amusement park.


It’s just that if I were running for my life from huge-toothed ginormous creatures created by a raving megalomaniac, I wouldn’t be too worried about saving them face. Getting out of Dodge would be priority number one. Crichton, however, positions Grant as a true archeologist, someone who cares deeply about his subject of lifelong study, without obnoxiously endangering those who still walk the Earth (and minus the benefit of supra natural means, I might add). Moreover, he maintains a balance because he does care about people, and the conflict he runs up against illustrates how one can walk that fine line and act in the best interests of all—and why doing so has implications for other areas.

All in all, Jurassic Park is what so many already know: a fabulous, thrilling tale of hubris and the questions pertaining to scientific advancement, plus so much more. With characters, events and a timeline that ooze terror and suspense, readers will wonder why they never got to it long before now.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Previous entries in the Reading 2017 series:

The Importance of Covers (Book Bloggers Group Chat)

Readers’ Chat with Stephanie Hopkins

Origins of the Challenge

Reading Challenge 2017

New Genre Library (True Crime): Murder in Greenwich

New Genre Library (Graphic Novel): The Metamorphosis

Stay tuned for rounding out the year and what’s in store for 2018!

New Genre Library is a three-part spinoff series of Reading 2017

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Book Review: Hearts Never Change (Plus Giveaway)

Richard Liveth Yet (Book III): Hearts Never Change
by Joanne R. Larner

The author is so generously gifting a signed paperback copy of
Hearts Never Change to one lucky winner! To get in with a chance to
win, simply comment below OR at this review’s Facebook thread, located here.

Drawing extended to December 22

Warm wishes for a Happy Birthday to Joanne & Rose  

May the best be yet to come!

Every so often readers come across a tale in which it is easy to sense the author had a blast writing it. This doesn’t negate the hard work, long hours and research that went into it, but the story contains so much that buoys the spirit and excites the imagination it is infectious. Hearts Never Change, third in Joanne R. Larner’s Richard Liveth Yet series, is one such captivating yarn. From first page to the last, its energy moves the reader and, quite simply, the book is difficult to put down.

Larner’s first installment in the series sees Rose Archer meeting up with a time-transplanted Richard Plantagenet, who by necessity quickly adapts to his new surroundings, though is challenged by his expectation of how he believes Rose should address him – he is an anointed king, after all. Nevertheless they get on well and develop a plan to return him to his time, armed with information he gains from historical studies and physical training, to face and survive the 1485 Battle of Bosworth.

The series goes on to bring Rose to the fifteenth century, which she mostly gets a feel for, though the news that she is to be a mother frightens her and she returns to her time for the birth of her twins. Hearts Never Change picks up some years later, following Rose’s desperate attempts to get back to Richard. The narrative alternates between his time and hers, and we see them at times so close, but never quite making it. Will they ever?

As with the other two installments, this one’s chapters are called after song titles, and this delightful imaginative twist can work directly, or on another level. For example, Rose decides to leave England for Norway in a chapter entitled, “Farewell, My Homeland.” Here we also learn that “[i]dentity information was stored on microchips implanted into their wrists these days—now the records associated with their chips were false.” Rose lives in this time so perhaps she is used to it, but for readers it is an embarkation to another world. Driverless cars, too, are advanced enough to make their way across Europe (through Germany, Denmark, Sweden and then to Norway). With savvy aplomb, Larner brings readers forward in time, and though the leap of years is not as great as within Richard’s travel, the technological changes are somewhat unnerving, “leveling the field” at least a little bit.

Larner knows when to let up on us, though, and the novel is sprinkled with humor of different sorts: Richard calling out using his medieval verbiage during a modern football match, for example. Having booked tickets online, which he initially suspects is a manner of witchcraft, he later attends, wearing a scarf with the team’s “cognizance” on it. At a foul he shouts, “You misbegotten cur! Our man was about to kick a goal!” Not long after: “Referee! Thou hast need of some eyeglasses, methinks!” Nevertheless, he has a good time:

“’Twas much better than I expected, Andy. As you know, I am used to the thrill of battle where winning or losing is a matter of life or death, so I did not think I would find football so exciting, but ‘tis very fast-moving and unpredictable—quite thrilling!”

 “Well, as the great manager, Bill Shankly, said, of course football isn’t a matter of life and death,” Andy said. “It’s much more serious than that.”

 As the story moves along, Rose is shown to be as mobile and adventurous as in past novels, and Larner’s skill in getting us to a variety of places is evident as the reasons to go there develop naturally. The reading flows smoothly and the characters, even cameos, are realistically portrayed. By necessity, some events or changes move quickly: the novel covers a number of years and depicting too many steps along the way would make the book massive and likely alter its light nature and fluid movement. The author definitely knows where to compress time and infer details for the sake of the story and its smooth progress.

Larner’s ability to blend the varying emotion and style of passage—poignant, humorous, distressing—rests largely on transitions, and these she handles as expertly as with her time management. Historical figures appear and are discussed, and the author’s economical prowess is evident in how much history is relayed in short amounts of passage, all while engaging readers who are hungry for more.

Rich in detail and vivid in descriptions, Hearts Never Change is an addicting read people will be sorry to put down. Its re-readability factor is high, however, and the same is true for all three. While all three novels are stand alones, we recommend reading all, not because of anything missed without them, but rather their fabulous answer to the human desire to be told a story and the feel of someone telling it directly to each individual holding a copy of the book. The third then wraps it all up—or does it? Once you start reading, you won’t rest until you find out.

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See our reviews for other great Joanne Larner books:

Richard Liveth Yet: An Historical Novel Set in the Present Day,

Richard Liveth Yet (Book II): A Foreign Country and

Dickon’s Diaries – A Yeare in the Luff of King Richard the Third (with Susan Lamb)

 

About the author …

Joanne Larner was born in London and moved to Rayleigh in Essex (UK) in 2001. She has wanted to write a novel since the age of thirteen and finally managed it in 2015. She was helped by two things: National Novel Writing Month and Richard III. Richard was her inspiration and she became fascinated by him when she saw the Channel 4 documentary The King in the Car Park in February 2013. She researched his life and times and read countless novels, but became fed up because they all ended the same way – with his death at the Battle of Bosworth.

So she decided to write a different type of Richard story and added a time travel element. The rest is (literally) history. She found his character seemed to write itself and with NaNoWriMo giving her the impetus to actually DO it, she succeeded. After she began writing the story that was in her head, she found that there was far too much material for one book and, in fact, it finally turned into a trilogy consisting of Richard Liveth Yet (Book I); Richard Liveth Yet (Book II): A Foreign Country and Richard Liveth Yet (Book III): Hearts Never Change. The final installment takes place mainly in Richard’s time and Joanne found that many actual historical elements seemed to match serendipitously with her requirements. For example, the characters who were contemporary to Richard, the date of Joana’s death, the fact that Lorenzo’s wife, Clarice, had twins that didn’t survive the birth, etc.

In the event you simply cannot wait for the drawing and possibly win a free signed copy of Hearts Never Change, you may purchase Richard Liveth Yet (Book I) at Blurb, Amazon or Amazon UKRichard Liveth Yet (Book II): A Foreign Country at Blurb, Amazon and Amazon UK and Richard Liveth Yet (Book III): Hearts Never Change at Blurb, Amazon and Amazon UK.  Dickon’s Diaries – A Yeare in the Lyff of King Richard the Third is available on Blurb, Amazon and Amazon UK. The pair will again team up for a second volume, and Joanne  is working on another Richard book, which will be called Distant Echoes and will involve a fictional technology, Richard’s DNA and his story in his own words. Joanne is pleased to add that she has recently had a story published in The Box Under the Bed: An Anthology of Scary Stories from 20 Authors, available at Amazon and Amazon UK.

To follow Joanne Larner and her writing, sign up or follow her at Facebook, Twitter and her blog.

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Author image courtesy Joanne Larner

The blogger received a gratis copy of Hearts Never Change in order to write an honest review

Yorkist Rose image by Booyabazooka at English Wikipedia 

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Book Review: The Break (Plus Giveaway)

The Break (Tales From a Revolution: Nova-Scotia)
by Lars D.H. Hedbor

Would you like to win a FREE paperback copy of any one of Lars Hedbor’s novels?
Simply comment below OR at this review’s Facebook thread, located here. Drawing will  be held on December 16.

In the capable hands of Lars D.H. Hedbor, the American Revolution gets a great storyboard from which to relate its events—and we do mean great given the sheer volume of story in between the pages of eight young adult novels that portray the lives of ordinary people during this time of upheaval and transformation. Traveling from region to region, Hedbor’s historical fiction peeks into details history books necessarily do not, filling it in with authentic characters whose lives touch ours and show that it isn’t always historical giants whose words or deeds mean something in the great scheme of things.

History is written by the winner, so the saying goes, and this is certainly evident in our own knowledge of the Revolution, its civil war like nature often unacknowledged. The Break addresses this as the author in this installment places his focus on Susannah Mills, a Massachusetts girl whose loyalist father evacuates them to Halifax when the protesting of angry colonists shifts toward violence, endangering, in his estimation, their community.

Much of this tale of disruption and betrayal is told in letters back and forth between Susannah and her lifelong friend, Emma, who stays behind, an insightful technique on Hedbor’s part. The reader’s circumstance of being removed from the far-off situations reflects the writers’ own, and we get not only a personal sense of what it was like to read from afar. The dispatches depicting incidents outdated by the time they reach their destinations, we also know a bit more than the characters do regarding how it all will play out. But observation of their own following of affairs and relying on missives, the hopes for and fears of alive in the narrative, lends such poignancy to episodes, particularly as they are related in the words of those experiencing them; we wear their shoes and gain greater insight into the nature of “the enemy” who, in so many instances, is not so different to us. Indeed, war tests us all in ways we often don’t anticipate, and Susannah relays to Emma her fears of and disgust for rebel forces:

At the same time, though it would seem madness to so engage in the face of so many seasoned & disciplined men of the King’s army, the air is here filled with words of intrigue & plots, & I can only imagine what tales you are hearing of events & conditions here. We are particularly alarmed by the stronghold of New-England men in the vicinity of the former fort at the St. John river, who have declared that they will conduct no business with those who maintain loyalty to the King. The military garrison here does not seem inclined to dispense with this threat, & in truth, some of those who have made the boldest statement against the King in public are all too happy to take our money in private.

 A literary look at the perception of the enemy is fraught with peril, one danger being the vilification of one’s own people, something Hedbor adroitly avoids. In spotlighting ordinary royalists, he portrays a number of goodly actions, such as honesty and faithfulness. However, his characters’ actions do at times admit to us that they, too, face behavioral challenges. One bald-face lies, pretending to be witness to arson, rape and murder committed by rebels; another flirts with treason and Susannah’s own father engages in socially unacceptable behavior. The author’s even hand has no need to demonize one to honestly assess the other. As in the words of one loyalist, “I do not think that we need to exaggerate the ill-mannered actions of our foes in order to support the continued energetic opposition to their goals.”

As always, Hedbor’s language usage and food features also suit the era, though in The Break this seems to beautifully stand out more. Susannah’s letters are liberally sprinkled with ampersands, that symbol we so often see in seventeenth- and eighteenth-century writing, along with her random capitalization and archaic words such as divers (many). We see such discussions as folkloric methods on butter churning and a song to accompany the task.

Come butter come

Come butter come

Peter stands at the gate

Waiting for a buttered cake.

 The greater feel of food and correspondence here likely relates to our protagonist being female, thus a bit more isolated from at least some hostilities than males of the era. However, the roles played by historical elements of women’s world in The Break is never extraneous and Susannah has critical battles of her own to prosecute. The intersection between these two trajectories is fitted so perfectly that we can easily distinguish the girl’s intelligence, perseverance and passion.

Reading a portion of the Revolution from the loyalist perspective is a change of pace, but also informative and brings to the fore the realities of division created amongst many of those who were otherwise quite close: friends, family, countrymen. We see how some of our own history travels to far-flung spots (Nova Scotia, England) and it is somewhat fascinating to contemplate, via Hedbor’s tale, those whose American roots may yet remain buried there under layers of genealogy. Of course, this is not a new reflection, but one that promotes a re-unification of sorts, after that long-ago division.

There also is some thrill in spotting recognizable names,

and I await your next missive with my Heart prepared for any manner of Joy that may be brought to a person [Emma writes]. Here our situation is subject to continued Improvements. The rebel Washington—formerly a Colonel in the King’s service, tho, they say, one much given to dourness and Error—is everywhere on the Run, and it can be only a matter of Time before he is brought to Justice, and his armies disbanded forever.

Susannah’s friend goes on to talk about the “dashing Notices of our General Howe’s successes in the field” and other goings-on, unaware of the role Hedbor assigns us as omnipotent readers and the turnaround soon to take place, nevertheless motivating us to consider history and all the what might have beens. Historical fiction that moves us enough to look into it apart from the story itself is powerful indeed, and Lars Hedbor’s storyboard stirring that sort of inspiration—which it does and then some, no matter where one picks up in the series—is all that much greater.

To read an excerpt from The Break, click here.

For information on each book, click here.

A really fabulous, very rewarding chat with Lars Hedbor is here.

You may also wish to have a peek at my previous reviews for Tales From a Revolution

The Prize (Tales From a Revolution: Vermont)

The Light (Tales From a Revolution: New-Jersey)

The Smoke (Tales From a Revolution: New York)

The Wind (Tales From a Revolution: West-Florida)

The Darkness (Tales From a Revolution: Maine)

The Path (Tales From a Revolution: Rhode-Island)

Get your free e-copy of The Declaration!

About the author ….

What made the American Colonists turn their back on their King, and fight for independence? How were they different from us–and how were their hopes and fears familiar to our own hearts?

These are the sorts of questions that I think are important to ask in examining the American Revolution, and in the pages of my novels, I suggest some possible answers.

My first novel, The Prize, was published in 2011, followed by The Light in 2013, and The Smoke, The Declaration, and The Break in 2014; The Wind was published in 2015, and The Darkness in 2016.

I’ve also written extensively about this era for the Journal of the American Revolution, and have appeared as a featured guest on an Emmy-nominated Discovery Network program, The American Revolution, which premiered nationally on the American Heroes Channel in late 2014. I am also a series expert on America: Fact vs. Fiction for Discovery Networks, and will be a panelist at the Historical Novel Society’s 2017 North American Conference.

I am an amateur historian, linguist, brewer, fiddler, astronomer and baker. Professionally, I am a technologist, marketer, writer and father. My love of history drives me to share the excitement of understanding the events of long ago, and how those events touch us still today.

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You can follow and learn more about Lars D.H. Hedbor and his books at his website and blog, Twitter and Facebook. The Break may be purchased in paperback (signed copies available upon request), as Kindle, Nook, iBooks, Kobo or at Smashwords. (Paperbacks also available at Amazon and Barnes and Noble links.)

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Author photo courtesy Lars D.H. Hedbor

The blogger received a courtesy copy of The Break to facilitate an honest review

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Freebie Friday: Giveaway Bonanza!

Need help filling up your shelf? You’ve come to the right place! I think it was last month I started somewhat of a flurry of reviews that came one after the other, many of which have giveaways attached. Typically I hold drawings one to two weeks out, but this time Thanksgiving and upcoming Christmas kind of darted in and out of my schedule and plans, and dates became sort of wonky.

So, for your ease and mine, I decided to post a blog with links to all the drawings in one spot. Simply click on the link (book title) to the review for any book you like the look of and comment there – fancy schmancy not necessary – to get your name in the drawing. (And be sure to leave current contact info in the event you are our winner!) Since some peeps have difficulty commenting at WordPress, I’ve also linked to respective Facebook threads where you can comment instead. You do not need to comment at both; one works perfectly well. Unless otherwise indicated, blurbs are from Amazon and author names link to their websites and/or blog.

There is no limit of books you can enter the drawings for – enter them all if you like!

Drawing to be held December 16 

So without further ado, here are the prizes up for grabs:

Half Sick of Shadows: A Historical Fantasy by Richard Abbott (One paperback copy available, and this author also has December Deals from December 10 – 17)

Who is The Lady?

In ancient Britain, a Lady is living in a stone-walled house on an island in the middle of a river. So far as the people know, she has always been there. They sense her power, they hear her singing, but they never meet her.

At first her life is idyllic. She wakes, she watches, she wanders in her garden, she weaves a complex web of what she sees, and she sleeps again. But as she grows, this pattern becomes narrow and frustrating. She longs to meet those who cherish her, but she cannot. The scenes beyond the walls of her home are different every time she wakes, and everyone she encounters is lost, swallowed up by the past.

But when she finds the courage to break the cycle, there is no going back. Can she bear the cost of finding freedom? And what will her people do, when they finally come face to face with a lady of legend who is not at all what they have imagined?

A retelling – and metamorphosis – of Tennyson’s “Lady of Shalott.”


Lars D. H. Hedbor is offering our winner a choice of any one of his books in paperback. In this case, review links are below and blurbs at author website; click author name to access. (He also has a promotion for free e-copy of The Declaration; click book title to get yours straight away.)

The Light (Tales From a Revolution: New-Jersey)

The Smoke (Tales From a Revolution: New York)

The Break (Tales From a Revolution: Nova-Scotia) 

Excerpt from The Break

The Wind (Tales From a Revolution: West-Florida)

The Darkness (Tales From a Revolution: Maine)

The Path (Tales From a Revolution: Rhode-Island)

The Prize (Tales From a Revolution: Vermont)

 

 

 

 


Child of the Northern Spring by Persia Woolley (Blogger is gifting one paperback/hardback copy direct from online retailer)

Among the first to look at the story of Camelot through Guinevere’s eyes, Woolley sets the traditional tale in the time of its origin, after Britain has shattered into warring fiefdoms. Hampered by neither fantasy nor medieval romance, this young Guinevere is a feisty Celtic tomboy who sees no reason why she must learn to speak Latin, wear dresses, and go south to marry that king. But legends being what they are, the story of Arthur’s rise to power soon intrigues her, and when they finally meet, Guinevere and Arthur form a partnership that has lasted for 1500 years.

This is Arthurian epic at its best-filled with romance, adventure, authentic Dark Ages detail, and wonderfully human people.


Insurrectio and Retalio by Alison Morton (Two prizes: one e-copy of each book)

In Insurrectio

‘The second fall of Rome?’ Aurelia Mitela, ex-Praetorian and imperial councillor in Roma Nova, scoffs at her intelligence chief when he throws a red file on her desk. But 1980s Roma Nova, the last province of the Roman Empire that has survived into the twentieth century, has problems – a ruler frightened of governing, a centuries-old bureaucracy creaking for reform and, worst of all, a rising nationalist movement with a charismatic leader. Horrified when her daughter is brutally attacked in a demonstration turned riot, Aurelia tries to rally resistance to the growing fear and instability. But it may already be too late to save Roma Nova from meltdown and herself from entrapment and destruction by her lifelong enemy…

And Retalio

Early 1980s Vienna. Recovering from a near fatal shooting, Aurelia Mitela, ex-Praetorian and former foreign minister of Roma Nova, chafes at her enforced exile. She barely escaped from her nemesis, the charming and amoral Caius Tellus who grabbed power in Roma Nova, the only part of the Roman Empire to survive into the twentieth century. Aurelia’s duty and passion fire her determination to take back her homeland and liberate its people. But Caius’s manipulations have isolated her from her fellow exiles, leaving her ostracised, powerless and vulnerable. But without their trust and support Aurelia knows she will never see Roma Nova again.


There is Always A Tomorrow by Anna Belfrage (One e-book available)

It is 1692 and the Colony of Maryland is still adapting to the consequences of Coode’s Rebellion some years previously. Religious tolerance in the colony is now a thing of the past, but safe in their home, Alex and Matthew Graham have no reason to suspect they will become embroiled in the ongoing religious conflicts—until one of their sons betrays their friend Carlos Muñoz to the authorities.

Matthew Graham does not leave his friends to rot—not even if they’re papist priests—so soon enough most of the Graham family is involved in a rescue attempt, desperate to save Carlos from a sentence that may well kill him. Meanwhile, in London little Rachel is going through hell. In a matter of months she loses everything, even her surname, as apparently her father is not Master Cooke but one Jacob Graham. Not that her paternity matters when her entire life implodes.

Will Alex and Matthew be able to help their unknown grandchild? More importantly, will Rachel want their help?


Hearts Never Change by Joanne R. Larner (One paperback copy available)

Richard III as you have never seen him before! Richard has been King of England and France and Lord of Ireland for over twenty years and he is beginning to question his life. He misses his secret wife, Rose, who had to return to the twenty-first century when she found she was expecting twins, both for her own and the babies’ safety. Everyone around the king seems to be happily in a relationship. The realm is at peace and his son and heir, Richard junior, is of an age to take over the reins of government, so Richard makes a decision…


Good luck to all!!!

Update: Some of the older reviews for the Tales From a Revolution series are unlinked as they were done before the drawing was planned.

Feel free to comment there anyway OR at any other review from that series OR below on this post OR at this post’s Facebook thread, located here

Whichever is easiest for you; we’ll be checking them all. 🙂

Guest Post: The Culture and Adaptability of Space Settlement (Richard Abbott)

Author Richard Abbott has some great December Deals, with

99c/99p novels and a Goodreads giveaway! Don’t miss out!

Click image for a review of Richard Abbott’s first foray into sci-fi
Pockmarked Phobos, larger of two satellites orbiting Mars, by NASA/JPL-Caltech/ University of Arizona, via Wikimedia Commons
“I came away a satisfied customer, and decided that, apart from the constant changes in ambient light, and the eerie silence of the people walking around alleys and corridors, I quite liked Phobos. Slate was amused. ‘After a month you’d be craving noise. Here you don’t even let yourself sing in the shower. You’d never survive.’ She was probably right. As I walked, I found myself wondering how people managed their lives in situations where a certain amount of noise was called for. What happened during games? In the privacy of a shower? Or a bedroom? Slate was right; I had become quite obsessive about creeping about, and restraining my normal level of liveliness.”

As I started to write this, the European Space Agency was coming to terms with the loss of the Schiaparelli Mars lander. A breaking news item had just shown a picture captured by another satellite – NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter – which probably shows its resting place. Schiaparelli was never supposed to last long on the surface, and the remaining component, the Trace Gas Orbiter, will continue to deliver good science for some time to come. But if I was in that team, I’d be disappointed. Since then, Elon Musk has announced what most people consider is a wildly ambitious plan to land settlers there in huge numbers.

Kindle cover for Timing, the fantastic sequel to Far from the Spaceports (click image for audio excerpt)

Mars has historically proven itself to be a difficult destination to land on, but in my novels I take for granted that the problem has been solved. So this post is not at all about how to land successfully on that planet, but about how I have imagined that society will adapt to new homes, whether on Mars or further afield.

In Far from the Spaceports, and its sequel Timing, the various scattered settlements are separated by days or weeks of travel time. Destinations on the outer rim of the solar system – which so far my characters have not visited – might take a few months. This puts them in the same degree of remoteness as European ports in the age of sail, or global ones in the age of steam. They are far enough apart that you pause to think about the commitment, and ensure you have plenty to do on the journey, but not so far that they take up a significant part of your lifetime.


“That close in, it wasn’t going to last long, in planetary terms. I probably had less than fifty million years to solve the case before the whole thing crumbled into a ring of dust and pebbles. No pressure, then.”


Schiaparelli impact site Mars, NASA/JPL Caltech/University of Arizona (click image)

Each of the places I describe has a particular character. The Scilly Isles – a group of asteroids somewhere in the gulf between Mars and Jupiter – were originally settled to extract minerals, but these are now largely exhausted. The residents are now trying to establish a new identity based on different enterprises. Some readers have commented that there’s a very British feel to them. In passing, the occupants of the real Scilly Isles off the Cornish coast have also needed to constantly adapt to the changing economic environment around them. They have not had much success on the mining front since the Bronze Age, but have successfully found new means of livelihood as older ones die out. Fishing, kelping, cut-flower production, and tourism have all taken turns, alongside the perennial use of the sea which borders them and shapes life there.

The economic life of a place – on Earth or elsewhere – depends crucially on its geography. We know that Phobos – a tiny moon orbiting very close in to Mars – is fragile. It has a rather low density, probably because much of its interior consists of loosely packed rubble rather than solid rock. It is, in all likelihood, riddled with faults. The ground is not sound and reliable. In Timing, this fact dominates life on Phobos, and the social customs are heavily skewed around this fact. Making loud or unnecessary noise is considered a taboo, backed up by local laws. Social gatherings have developed ways for people to be together quietly. Mining of any kind is out of the question, so the economy rests on other industries – like finance. The moon happens to be largely settled by (former) Canadians, and other places tend to have populations largely drawn from one or other of Earth’s nations.

The (real) Scilly Isles

Mars, on the other hand, is huge in comparison to Phobos. Lots of authors have written speculatively about terraforming Mars – boosting the thin atmosphere in various ways with a view to restoring running water on the surface. In my version, this is a long way off, and each settlement is an enclosed pocket of habitable space within a harsh and inhospitable context. But the planet’s size means that there is room for all kinds of difference. There’s a college specialising in financial trading, a glider club – Mars is big on several kinds of extreme sports – and a large, chaotic arena for gambling and more exotic pleasures. And much more besides – if I ever take Mitnash and Slate back to Mars, there’s plenty of opportunity to explore other delights.

On a bigger scale, I see these settlements as basically independent and self-governing. Signal messages from Earth take between about four and twenty minutes to Mars, depending on relative positions. Out to the asteroid belt, that jumps up to somewhere between quarter and half an hour.  That means up to an hour’s delay between asking a question and getting back the answer. You can’t have a real-time conversation like that – back in the days of the Apollo missions it was frustrating enough dealing with a three second round trip! And with journey times lasting weeks or months, you can’t easily enforce decisions either. So I’m not imagining any kind of solar system empire, or federation, or whatever.

For a bit of fun, some code for an Alexa skill the author is developing. (Click image for more of the Alexa results: additional audio excerpt from Timing).

There is no unifying organisation deciding how things should be, and no system-wide constabulary to enforce them. Mitnash and Slate work for the Earth-based Economic Crime Review Board. In the course of their duties they might end up pretty much anywhere in the solar system, troubleshooting fraud and other financial crimes. But although they can ask for information from the main London office, they’re on their own day to day. They don’t, and can’t, go in with all guns blazing. Instead they resolve matters by more covert means, hacking into and fixing the computer systems which have been compromised. The battles they engage in are fought with lines of code, not brawn or physical weapons. Like those people today who consider themselves “ethical hackers”, their work takes them very close to the line between decent and dubious.

So, where next for Mitnash and Slate? There’s another plot brewing, tentatively called The Authentication Key, which will take them out to Saturn. There’s plenty of moons to choose from there, ranging from tiny fragments under a kilometre across right up to Titan, which is larger than the planet Mercury. And of course there are the rings….

This NASA/JPL picture is a composite from the last few days of the recently-finished Cassini-Huygens mission, commenced on October 15, 2007 and named after seventeenth-century astronomers Giovanni Cassini and Christiaan Huygens. It presents a poignant image given its very recent ending (click for NASA’s farewell to Cassini).

 

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About the author…

Richard Abbott writes fiction of several varieties, including both historical and speculative fiction. His historical is set in the Middle East at the end of the Bronze Age, around 1200 BC. It explores events in the Egyptian province of Canaan, following events in the life of a priest in the small hill town of Kephrath during a time of considerable change throughout the region.

His heretofore speculative writing is set in a near-future solar system exploring issues of high-tech crime and human-machine relationships.

Far from the Spaceports introduces Mitnash Thakur and his virtual partner Slate as they investigate financial crime in the asteroid belt. Its sequel, Timing, was released in the second half of 2016.

His latest publication, Half Sick of Shadows, a retelling and metamorphosis of Tennyson’s “The Lady of Shallot,” is now available for purchase, along with his other works, on Amazon and Amazon UK.

Richard lives in London, England and works professionally in IT quality assurance.

When not writing words or computer code, he enjoys spending time with family, walking, and wildlife, ideally combining all three pursuits in the English Lake District.

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You can follow and learn more about Richard Abbott and his books at Facebook and Google–and be sure to check out his brilliant collection of images! The author also has some amazing content at his blog, In a Milk and Honeyed Land, including Polly and Alexa, with space-related and not, his own reviews and reading list, information about his other books, and much more.

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Images courtesy Richard Abbott, except where otherwise indicated.

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Book Review: Retalio (Plus Giveaway)

Retalio (Book VI in the Roma Nova series) by Alison Morton

A B.R.A.G. Medallion Honoree, October 2017

A Discovered Diamond April 2017

Chill with a Book Readers’ Award

Author Alison Morton has generously doubled the goodies! In addition to the current contest with a free copy of Insurrectio to be had, she is also excited to gift a FREE copy of Retalio to one lucky winner! Simply comment below or at our Facebook thread, located here, to be in on the drawing. Both drawings will take place on December 9. Good luck!

Update: Drawing will be held December 16 (see link here)

In this third installment of the second, or Aurelia, cycle of Alison Morton’s six-part Roma Nova series, Retalio opens with Aurelia Mitela in exile. Originally from the small and only part of the Roman Empire to survive the centuries of history and immense change, the ex-Praetorian and former foreign minister of Roma Nova emerges in exile following the successful coup d’etat engineered by her lifelong nemesis, Caius Tellus.

It will be a less than restful exile:

‘Betrayal and collaboration used to lead automatically to a death sentence. You should be grateful this is the 1980s.’ She refused to look at me and instead jabbed her spoon into the coffee cup, almost scraping the glaze off as she rattled it around the tiny amount of liquid at the bottom.

 ‘Is that what you really think I’ve done, Maia Quirinia?’

 ‘I’m an accountant, Aurelia, used to looking at facts and figures. And the evidence against you adds up, if you’ll forgive the pun.’

 This was my childhood friend, my fellow minister, one of the inner circle I had trusted with my secrets, my failures as well as my successes. The person who’d comforted me when I was nearly raped as a fifteen-year-old, whose common sense gave me balance and whose life I’d saved on the dreadful night of fires.

In this brief opening passage of her alternate history, Morton communicates to readers—in one of the best “show don’t tell,” dialogue-driven sequences we’ve read—when our story is set, the pair’s history, the charges Aurelia faces, some context on our protagonist’s conflict with Tellus, Quiriana’s background and how it informs her thinking, as well as her current state of mind and Aurelia’s awareness of it. This sort of succinctness is how Morton’s novel is laid out, and the voice has the same feel as that of Aurelia, pragmatic and proficient.

Which are, of course, attributes Aurelia will need if she is to get through this exile and back to Roma Nova. With crisp efficiency she develops a series of perilous plans, one of which will lead her back into her occupied country, now run like a misogynistic dystopia on steroids. There is also the question of an underage heir, legally Tellus’s charge. But before any of this can come into play, she must first break the tool of every tyrant—the lies designed to discredit Aurelia and isolate her and all the exiles from each other. Without full communication and co-operation, they cannot hope to liberate their homeland.

As its title implies, Retalio ushers in the end of events in this cycle, perhaps with a little retaliation into the bargain. Whose retribution remains an ongoing question, for Morton keeps us on tenterhooks almost up to the end. Before we even arrive at the group’s realization that a distraction to keep Tellus from seeing what they are really up to is in order, we are second-guessing people and events. A trusted bank official, homeless exiles, ordinary Viennese: which ones can we trust? Morton skillfully reveals her foundations, and we find ourselves inspecting every corner for telltale signs of weakness or treacherous build.

As with Aurelia and Successio, I found myself flipping the pages furiously, perhaps at a match for the fast-paced and thrilling narrative. It also is perhaps the most satisfying and best of the three novels, possibly because it wraps things up, even though the finale doesn’t play out in all aspects as we might want it to. But it also employs winding threads and subplots that meet in the end, with perfect pacing and authentic characters that each play their role to perfection, even when they are royally messing up.

As a standalone novel, Retalio is superb. The filling in is measured and complete, and its re-readability factor—as with the others—is extremely high. Don’t give away your copy once you’ve finished—the Roma Novan world Morton has built is addictive and follow-up visits will surely be in order.

To read my review for Aurelia, click here. For my recent review

on Insurrectio, and to get in on the giveaway, click here.

About the Author…

Even before she pulled on her first set of combats, Alison Morton was fascinated by the idea of women soldiers. Brought up by a feminist mother and an ex-military father, it never occurred to her that women couldn’t serve their country in the armed forces. Everybody in her family had done time in uniform and in theatre all over the globe.

So busy in her day job, Alison joined the Territorial Army in a special communications regiment and left as a captain, having done all sorts of interesting and exciting things no civilian would ever know or see. Or that she can talk about, even now ….

But something else fuels her writing … fascinated by the mosaics at Ampurias (Spain), at their creation by the complex, power and value-driven Roman civilisation she started wondering what a modern Roman society would be like if run by strong women.morton

Alison lives in France and writes Roman-themed thrillers with tough heroines.

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You can connect with Alison Morton on her Roma Nova site, Facebook author page, at Twitter and on Goodreads.

Be sure to check out other great titles from Alison Morton~

Inceptio, the first in the Roma Nova series: shortlisted for the 2013 International Rubery Book Award; B.R.A.G. Medallion finalist in 2014; Writing Magazine Self-Published Book of the Year

Perfiditas, second in series: B.R.A.G. Medallion; finalist in 2014 Writing Magazine Self-Published Book of the Year

Successio, third in series: Historical Novel Society’s Indie Editor’s Choice for Autumn 2014; B.R.A.G. Medallion; Editor’s Choice, The Bookseller’s Inaugural Indie Preview, December 2014

Aurelia, four of the Roma Nova thriller series, set in Roma Nova’s recent past – the start of the young Aurelia Mitela’s adventures … HNS indie Editor’s Choice Autumn 2015; Finalist 2016 HNS Indie prize; B.R.A.G. Medallion, October 2015; Discovered Diamond January 2016; Chill With A Book Readers’ Award 2017

Insurrectio, fifth in series, second in a new cycle of three and multiple award winner. To purchase Insurrectio, click here for multiple retailers/formats.

And more on Retalio, book six of the Roma Nova thriller series, set in Roma Nova’s recent past – the conclusion of the younger Aurelia Mitela’s adventures … B.R.A.G. Medallion, October 2017; Discovered Diamond April 2017; Bookmuse Recommended Read; Historical Novel Society reviewed; Chill with a Book Readers’ Award

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A copy of Retalio was furnished to the blogger in exchange for an honest review

Author image courtesy Alison Morton

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