Book Review: Hearts Never Change (Plus Giveaway)

Richard Liveth Yet (Book II): A Foreign Country
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 December 16

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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Book Review: Whorl

Whorl by James Tarr

The thrilling main premise of James Tarr’s Whorl is the discovery by a young FBI lab tech of fingerprints that are a match—from three different people. We’ve all been told since we first began to learn about our prints that no one in the world has the same, not even twins. What will this mean for crimes successfully prosecuted on the basis of fingerprints?—which, by the way, outnumber any other type of evidence in solving cases. With implications not just for authorities and those prosecuted by them but also a public sure to panic once they learn of the discovery and realize its implications, the FBI needs to do something—fast.

It fits the narrative perfectly that Tarr waits to bring us to this point. The novel opens with Dave Anderson, a Detroit armored car driver, and subsequent chapters switch to various perspectives. The transitions are smooth and there is no difficulty discerning whose head we’re occupying at any given moment. In many novels it is not unusual to alternate by chapter from one point of view to the next, and the author teases this out a bit with a series of engaging passages until we reach the lab tech’s astounding find.

What is really great about this portion is that though from the blurb we know what’s coming, it doesn’t loom in an “Are we ever going to get there?” fashion. Engaging almost doesn’t say it all because, for starters, that chunk of the book passes by so quickly, given its page-turner status. Why is moves so quickly, luring us along with it, is because here Tarr introduces a sub plot, simultaneously supplying mainline background we don’t realize we’re getting until we’re nearly through it. At this point, putting the book down is simply not a viable option. We’re hooked and, at times hearts racing, waiting for a shoe to drop.

Another author strength is his dialogue. In particular one early passage stands out, given it is so integral to getting the main plot off the ground. Smooth, authentic and well-paced, it supplies a great deal of technical information about fingerprints without resorting to any sort of info dumping or tedious exchanges. As the tale moves forward, the dialogue remains relevant and succinct, yet also manages to tell us so much about who these people are.

There is also a fair amount of detail on firearms, accessibly presented to match enthusiasts as well as those not so in tune to the topic, including readers who feel they might be turned off by it. Those willing to proceed with open minds will even realize that much they read in newspapers has very little in common with reality—and all this is done in a straightforward manner that doesn’t resort to preaching.

Once the paths from the various points of view we are following begin to converge, the action intensifies while, curiously, some elements of everyday life remain intact. As the FBI moves in on the evidence of a reality they don’t want known, readers are aware of only slightly more than characters, therefore are often caught as off guard as those in the book are. We know something is going to happen, and Tarr continues to dangle the suspense, another hovering shoe, with the added contemplation of which angle it may drop from.

“I’ve got a name and a face, I’m wondering if you know the guy, or can run him by some people. I’m wondering if he’s in your line of work.”

 “Which line of work is that?” Bob smiled at him.

 “Shit.” John laughed. “Private contracting, executive protection, I don’t know. For all I know you’re still in and doing super secret ninja stuff with Delta Force or CAG or Dev Group or The Unit or whatever the hell they’re calling themselves now, seems like they change it every year. But it’s a relatively small world, isn’t it? Small number of guys at the Tier 1 level.”

Bob shrugged. “Depends.”

 “On what?”

 “On who you’re working for, and what you’re doing. Private contracting … yeah, that’s a pretty small world. If you don’t know somebody, you know somebody who knows them, heard of them, or worked with them. On the government side, though, the black work, the operations end on the spook side … a lot of them originally come from the spec-ops community, but a lot of them are grown and trained in-house, and never interact with anybody else.”

 As characters unwittingly find themselves in the midst of a conspiracy to conceal information, readers can understand the viable FBI concern, but also question their methods of keeping it all under wraps, and it links with what we know, or have heard, in real life pertaining to communities within regimes whose consanguinity fears exposure. Are these rogue elements, or should we really be asking ourselves whether it is as safe as some believe to trust our own government? How many secrets does the real world have? How far would any administration carry its protection of them? Tarr addresses this in his author’s note regarding the real-world case of Brandon Mayfield, and both that and the story within Whorl, even with poetic license accounted for, serve as cautionary tales for citizens who would put large amounts of faith in those with the power to control their lives.

James Tarr has created with Whorl a superb thriller that grabs our attention and doesn’t let go, with suspense that simmers as well as builds up as each page turns, and many shoes begin to drop. Set mainly in the gritty neighborhoods of Detroit, which the author knows intimately, its rapidly moving intrigue and realistic plot development provides a memorable story and enables contemplation of issues related to real life. With a reluctant but likeable main character, it’s difficult not to want to meet up with him again.

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About the author …

James Tarr is the author of several novels, and co-authored Dillard Johnson’s Iraq War memoir, Carnivore. A regular contributor to many outdoor enthusiast magazines, he also appears on the Guns & Ammo television show. Tarr lives in Michigan with his fiancée, two sons, and a dog named Fish.

Whorl is available at Amazon and other retailers.

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The author provided an early proof copy of Whorl to facilitate an honest review.

Reading 2017: Importance of Book Covers (from the IndieBRAG Cover Contest Series)

A few months back I visited with Stephanie, who at that time helped organize indieBRAG‘s cover contest. It was another opportunity for me to chat about book covers and the role they play in my reading and blogging, and it was a lot of fun!

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Book cover layouts play an important role in the overall presentation of stories, and often times readers first judge a book by its cover. This year indieBRAG has put together a cover contest of books chosen by the indieBRAG Team. These covers were chosen based on several factors including; 1) professionalism 2) visual appeal 3) creativity and 4) fit with the story/genre.

This week we have asked the ladies of the indieBRAG Interview Team to discuss with us the importance of book covers, what they like, want to see more of and so on. Today Lisl talks with us about this.

Lisl, on the scale one to five, how important are book covers to you?

I’d probably say in between four and five. Though I add the caveat that there have been books with solid color covers I’ve enjoyed. If a work’s premise appeals to me, I won’t not read it because of a dull jacket, but it is so that such a cover lessens the chances I’ll be drawn closer and discover the richness between the pages.

Why are they important to you?

A fantastic cover often draws me to a book, even from across a room (or stack). It will make a statement or offer some insight or perspective to the story, or even provide food for further thought that wasn’t necessarily addressed in the book, at least not directly. Sometimes it’s just beautiful or striking in a way that makes me want to experience the pleasure of simply taking it in.

What do you not like in book covers?

Despite my comment above about solid covers, I really don’t care for them. They’re bland and don’t provide any kind of visual peek into the world the story’s characters inhabit, which I really love. I can understand an author preferring not to have images of characters; some want to leave that visualization up to reader interpretation, and I respect that. However, not to have any image, pattern or design detracts from the experience of reading a book—reading the cover is an integral part of the event. The lacking even strikes me as a bit lazy.

What would you like to see more of in covers?

Hmmm … I wasn’t really sure how to answer this at first, so I did a quick examination of five covers I especially like. One, for 1066: What Fates Impose, by Glynn Holloway, is fairly straightforward, with minimal but forceful design that takes a stand, replicating the martial tone threaded throughout the novel. The image on Sarah Bruce Kelly’s Vivaldi’s Muse is the partial reproduction of a Lefebvre painting, which in particular sets a tone, with its creative beauty and expression, and absolutely spot-on colors, that exactly matches the personality of the historical character portrayed within—plus it’s a picture not often seen within the reproductive market (greeting cards, coasters, books, etc.) The other three show images with lots of detail and space for commentary on the themes: Anna Belfrage’s A Rip in the Veil’s girl walking away from the viewer is surrounded by a host of detail meaningful to the theme, as is the warrior on Paula Lofting’s Sons of the Wolf (first edition). And finally, Annie Whitehead designed a magnificent cover for Alvar the Kingmaker that reflects—literally even, what with items mirrored in a crown’s arch—contemplations of the past and present for the people involved, as well as their future and that of others: strands of life that touch multiple lives, including those yet to come, in this world and the next.

Despite the various styles these book covers all have, it’s easy to recognize that the statements made by or the reading of them provide strong and meaningful links to what happens within the narratives. The characters might even recognize themselves or something close to their identity within the images, and if that’s the case, then surely it is all the more striking for a reader. Moreover, the various styles of these covers indicate that there are many ways to achieve this intimacy and insight. 

So I suppose the short(er) answer would be that I’d really love to see covers with more connection to the people and places that populate the books. Their lives and events depicted meant enough to put them to paper, so why not go all the way?

How many books have you read this year thus far? 

Well, 34 to be precise, though I confess I haven’t even looked at one portion of my goal (sci-fi), which focuses more on genre this year than numbers.

Do you participate in cover contests by voting for your favorite? 

I would if I knew about them! I love examining and interpreting covers, though it is true I haven’t been online quite as much recently as in the past, so I’m sure I miss a lot. Which is why I was so excited to learn about indieBRAG’s contest—even as an observer.

When writing a book review do you consider the covers to be part of your rating the book?

Truth be told, I’m not in love with star ratings, and don’t use them (except within online social cataloging sites that make me, in order to post reviews). My reviews tend to be non-linear and contain a touch of the analytical; how much I enjoyed each work can be determined by my words. But as a more direct answer, I typically don’t talk about covers, at least not at great length. This is partly because my entries are a bit longer than many other reviews, and adding too much more might on occasion become a bit weighty for some readers. Also, for better or worse, not all books have covers that bear much discussion.

How much do you blog per week and how much do you talk about book covers?

Also for better or worse, my blogging has to be scheduled around my family and work, so I don’t have a set number of entries per week, though I try to do at least one. (That doesn’t always happen!) I have done a couple of cover crushes, after the practice initiated by a fellow blogger and indieBRAG reviewer, and would love to do more. Sometimes I make mention of covers in reviews, though for the reasons stated above I don’t always.

It’s been great chatting with you, Stephanie, about book covers—and as always, I thoroughly enjoyed the get-together!

A pleasure, Lisl! Thank you for visiting today.

Link to another interview with Lisl here.

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Well, my book count has increased since this interview originally published, and you can see what I’ve read here (and what I’m still reading, here). I do confess, however, I remain behind in my sci-fi ….

Also, you won’t want to miss: Stephanie’s blog, Layered Pages, and her fun new endeavor, Novel Expressions, a Facebook page that in January shall be expanding into a blog well worth marking your calendar for. She’ll be partnering with Erin, whose own blog, Flashlight Commentary, is birthplace of the cover crush spoken of above. 

Previous entries in the Reading 2017 series:

Readers’ Chat with Stephanie Hopkins

Origins of the Challenge

Reading Challenge 2017

New Genre Library (True Crime): Murder in Greenwich

The Importance of Book Covers (Book Blogger Group Chat)

New Genre Library (Graphic Novel): The Metamorphosis

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

Upcoming:

New Genre Library (Science fiction): Title TBA

And a fun entry to round out the year!

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