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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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.

Book Review: There is Always a Tomorrow (Plus Giveaway)

There is Always a Tomorrow
by Anna Belfrage

The author so generously has donated a FREE e-copy of

There is Always a Tomorrow for one lucky winner!

Want your name in our contest drawing? Simply comment below OR at this review’s Facebook thread, located here

Drawing December 9

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

Following a flurry of historical fiction and other awards, novelist Anna Belfrage’s Graham Saga series drew to its conclusion in 2015—much to the dismay of her extensive fan base. The series has a significant readability factor and, being eight installments long, followers have been drawn time and again back to the books detailing the lives of seventeenth-century native Matthew Graham, his time-travelling wife, Alex, their large family and encounters with the era’s dangers and those who exacerbate them. Readers simply cannot get enough and, looking forward to the possibility of a spinoff story here or there, are periodically wooed back with bonus material.

(As if they need to be wooed.)

Belfrage has now done one better by releasing a delightful secret, her ninth entry, There is Always a Tomorrow. Set against the backdrop of mercurial 1600s Maryland in its anti-Catholic phase, the family encounters trouble when hysteria reaches a boiling point, thanks to one of their own sons, who has betrayed a Catholic priest, their close friend, to authorities. The Grahams are torn between loyalties—their child, a friend in deep trouble and their own Presbyterian background—and creating distance between themselves and danger entails a second thread involving another son, Samuel, adopted by Quachow into a local Native tribe, whose loss Alex continues to mourn.

The tale shifts back and forth between these events and those of two Graham boys in England with their Uncle Luke, and a final storyline with threads on both sides of the Atlantic, eventually making its chaotic and potentially destructive way to Graham’s Garden.

One of the first things we noticed about Tomorrow is that despite the challenges faced by the family, they aren’t uprooted in quite the manner they have been in past tales. This is to the story’s advantage because apart from avoiding risk of a type of overexposure, Belfrage also shows her consideration for the main characters who, ehem, aren’t getting any younger. They are all too aware of this as well, though this reality doesn’t haunt them in any overly dramatic manner, and the result is a very genuine approach to acknowledging the passage of time in the series.

Despite this transition, Alex never forgets where she comes from, even if she doesn’t talk about it all that often, though readers are aware she has on occasion, to a select few people, including her favorite son, Ian. Through their growing up years, Alex has also told fairy tales, old and new—although these terms can deliciously muddy the waters if one ponders on the time travel issue too deeply—to her children, and in this installment readers are treated to a delightful acknowledgement when she asks her grandson, “Did I ever tell you the story of the magic wardrobe?” It provides a link to her native era and by extension to readers, as if to whisper through the winds of time that her fight to remain where a freak thunderstorm brought her was not a rejection of us; she had simply found the place she belonged. This provides foundation for both the romanticism of the books as well as the series’ continuity, and Belfrage’s sprinkling of the novels with such memories, or considerations of the future solidifies the connection. With the dual perception, that of Alex’s remaining twenty-first century attitudes paired with those she has developed in her new/old life, more are crafted, and what exists between readers and the Grahams grows as well, a relationship.

As always, the author’s style is one of seamless flow, and she has a marvelous ability to build so much into circumstance. Rachel, for instance, who comes to Maryland from her dark and troubled life in England, by her very name takes us back to earlier in our journey with Alex, to another little girl who once lived, another Rachel who was loved and was lost, and who also is not forgotten. As Alex remembers her girl, we mourn with her, feeling the hurt she does in her ongoing failure to make a connection with this Rachel, who represents a link not only between lands, but as well within the family, as we learn she is the daughter of another lost child.

The Prodigal Son, a B.R.A.G. Medallion winner, was our first encounter with the Grahams, and remains a lasting attachment (click image).

Interestingly, her character isn’t as fleshed out as one might expect it to be, and the relaying of her young troubles seems to pass by very quickly, as if almost too easily told. Yet this has meaning as well, for her existence in historical seventeenth-century London would also have been underdeveloped as a marker of her place in society: invisible. The paradox of history being littered with the remains of figures we can’t even name is a tragedy compounded by such realities as illiteracy, a bitter reminder of what is built into human DNA to crave, and what Belfrage provides: relationships. She remains within reality, however, and though the series is a mixture of historical fiction, time slip and fantasy, she doesn’t resort to the unfeasible; relationships between all events indeed are solid and authentic, further explaining our connection and longing for more of these tales. Some of these associations are more developed than others, despite familial bonds, and not all are cherished, as is the case in real life.

“The astounding thing is that she dares voice such an opinion in my home.” Kate’s mouth shaped itself into a little spout. “An intolerable and quite useless little missy is what she is.” She sighed. “There are days when I really miss Lucy.”

 “Not me.” Alex shook her head slowly. Simon’s deaf daughter had been extraordinarily beautiful, just as extraordinarily gifted, and somewhat twisted inside. And far too curious for her own good, which was why she was now gone, permanently.

Is it? you might ask. Even those who have read the installment this passage refers to automatically will be pulled back, on the surface wanting to re-experience events of this time. Also, however, they will recognize the cryptic wording and begin to wonder. Did I miss something? Was Alex involved in something untoward? If not, how much does she really know? While this and other passages may or may not lead to something extra, there are many points along the way in which we yearn for the stories again. And, as with so much of the material within Tomorrow, Belfrage’s characters themselves engage in a story about memory and self-identification, what makes them who they are. Old wounds are addressed, sometimes successfully, other times less so, and new questions rise to the surface. It is a testament to Belfrage’s skill as an author that we find no firm conclusions when we ask the universe: Does this mean there is more to come? Or is there simply much we have forgotten, or perhaps not recognized? She also manages satisfactorily to fill in new readers while simultaneously lighting that spark of I have to go back and read the others. Series veterans, perhaps bemused, might say, simply, Don’t expect that to be the only time that happens.

Perhaps the best of The Graham Saga, There is Always a Tomorrow firmly included, is that uncertain familiarity. With biblical references, by way of names, fables and more, we tap into it as much seems almost a replay of the heritage of so many: prodigal sons, feuding brothers, thirty pieces of silver, sacrifice within various contexts. These and other ancient comedies re-enacted in real life and within literature are as familiar to us as our own names, yet often so unrecognized, woven so deeply into the fabric of our beings as they are. At times it seems this is destined to continue into countless tomorrows, with the hope we can be better, make something brighter, next time. And as is the brilliance of Belfrage, this wraps itself within the time warp question and how circular it all might really be. She creates in us a sensation that hopes there is always a sequel, though this has yet to be seen, for as contradictory as it may be, all good things must end.

Or do they? Whether or not Belfrage brings us any more in the series, we sense continuity: perhaps in spinoff stories, linkage in unrelated tales, maybe even fan fiction. There certainly are re-reads, and while the books all have many levels and can be approached from a number of angles, they also may be enjoyed as straightforward stories, not to mention be destined for greatness.

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To see other reviews and blogs with Anna Belfrage, click titles below:

A Rip in the Veil 

A Rip in the Veil (Updated)

Like Chaff in the Wind

The Prodigal Son (with Chocolate Cake Author Interview)

A Newfound Land

Serpents in the Garden

Revenge and Retribution 

Whither Thou Goest

To Catch a Falling Star

In the Shadow of the Storm (Book I in The King’s Greatest Enemy series)

Other:

Cover Crush for A Rip in the Veil

Chocolate Brownies Author Interview

On My Retrieval of Apple Pie from Sweden (A Chat with Author Anna Belfrage)

Reading 2017: The Importance of Covers (Book Blogger Group Chat)

Sunken Pie Author Interview (Of Pies, Books and Other Essentials) (Stay tuned)

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Author Anna Belfrage in her own words …

I was always going to be a writer – well in between being an Arctic explorer, a crusader or Richard Lionheart’s favourite page (no double entendre intended – I was far too innocent at the time). Anyway, not for me the world of nine to five, of mortgages and salary checks. Oh no; I was going to be a free spirit, an impoverished but happy writer, slaving away in a garret room.

Life happened. (It does, doesn’t it?) I found myself the bemused holder of a degree in Business Admin, and a couple of years later I was juggling a challenging career, four kids, a husband (or was he juggling me?), a jungle of a garden, a dog, a house …. Not much time for writing there, let me tell you. At most, I stole a moment here or there.

Fortunately, kids grow up. My stolen moments became hours, became days, weeks, months … (I still work. I no longer garden – one must prioritize). It is an obsession, this writing thing. It is a joy and a miracle, a constant itch and an inroad to new people, new places, new times.

Anna Belfrage can be found on Amazon, Twitter, on her website and at her fantabulous blog, where you can learn more about the author, the Grahams, other projects and her world.

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A courtesy copy of There is Always a Tomorrow was provided to the blogger to facilitate an honest review. Author image courtesy Anna Belfrage.

Book Review: Hidden Treasure

Hidden Treasure: How to Break Free of
Five Patterns That Hide Your True Self
by Alice McDowell, Ph.D.

Releases November 14, 2017 

I don’t read, let alone review, a great many self-help books, and wasn’t sure what to expect from Alice McDowell’s Hidden Treasure: How to Break Free of Five Patterns That Hide Your True Self, but upon seeing its blurb I was curious straight away. Who hasn’t heard that most of us have accumulated some (or at least one) bad habit that gets in the way of greater success, more rewarding relationships, or even of lasting contentment? “Sure,” I thought to myself, “I’m game.”

Click image to see the author’s extensive website

I found the book is broken down into rather straight forward segments consisting of an introductory chapter, five that each lay out one of the patterns referenced in the title and a final chapter, aptly titled, “Now What Do I Do?” Two appendices provide further information. A one-time questionnaire helps you gain better insight into which pattern you fit, thought and physical exercises are combined with each section on the five types and quirky drawings are sprinkled throughout the book. Brilliantly, the author also includes links to audio book companions.

So what exactly is a hidden treasure? Some readers might, by virtue of the book’s title and it being self help, be able to deduce a general idea of it referring to a type of worthiness we don’t really see within ourselves, or display; the author gets to that pretty quickly by defining it as the “true self,” the one that is too often blocked by childhood trauma or early environmental behaviors and the defenses we utilize to protect ourselves from them.

In the beginning I confess, I started to become a bit skeptical, concerned this would be too New Age-y and questioned the author’s frequent use of childhood, even birth, events as the culprit behind behavioral defense, and feared it all would descend into relativism when she spoke of a spiritual teacher giving a pass to pirates, who raped and pillaged Vietnamese escapees in the 1970s, based on the conditions under which they were raised. I also wasn’t completely sold on the re-birthing process discussed within true stories and other passages.

Having said all that, it is important to note that keeping an open mind, at least adopting a “Well, let’s just see where this goes” sort of mindset most definitely has its reward. As it turns out, the author’s approach is much more balanced, and this is more greatly reflected as the work moves forward, with acknowledgement that these behaviors exist on a continuum, some experiencing the negative impact to a greater or lesser degree than others.

She also wisely advises that none of these past experiences provide carte blanche to unload on others and stresses personal responsibility with a blame pledge that doesn’t prohibit a person from ever complaining, rather that one “honestly examine[s] what you claim to be the source of your feelings and [reject] the false belief that others or circumstances are causing them.” Especially in today’s environment in which people are routinely blamed for being offensive (a wrongly- and overused word I have grown to loathe) simply for expressing their opinions, I was relieved to see this important distinction made more than once.

McDowell introduces terms that correspond to childhood experiences and the techniques developed to protect ourselves from them, and the chapters succinctly explain examples of early trauma, behaviors standard for that character type, individual experiences and ways to heal. She also provides a table that summarizes the structures, which I found to be a useful visual to bring it all together.

The author early on acknowledges that traditional names of each of the five character structures aren’t as “palatable” as the terms used today. These are (with modern terms in parentheses):

Schizoid (Outsider)

Oral (Dependent-independent one)

Masochist (Endurer)

Psychopathy (Controller)

Rigid (Achiever)

While I’m not generally in favor of the term upheaval that continues to occur in our society, I appreciated these additions, given their association with psychology and mental health and how labeling ourselves and others with the older terms don’t necessarily go a long way toward the healing her book promotes. Being referred to as a controller, for example, isn’t exactly flattering, but it retains its negative connotation without wildly fantastic phrases that to the lay ear cast aspersions on a person’s ability to function in society.

Occasionally I came upon an exercise I wasn’t sure I could bring myself to do—not owing to physical inability, more along the lines of my own awkward feelings—though the vast majority are not only ones I felt I could participate in, but they also bore relation to the unique difficulties with added, associated benefits. For example, a person who presents within the oral structure and feels overwhelmed, never seeming to be able to have enough of anything, or anything done, might try the “I Am Enough” mantra.

[Elena recounts:]

 The simple act of repeating “I am enough” seemed ridiculous, but I was desperate because I felt insecure and existentially unworthy. I’m humbled by this exercise. Whenever there’s a crisis or I feel inadequate, I switch on my “I am enough” mantra. It helps me defuse the negative spiraling voices. By doing this on a daily basis, I’m actually starting to anticipate my triggers and not give them power. My life’s purpose and energy has been a Sisyphean striving for enoughness: to be intelligent enough, well-read enough, rich enough, compassionate enough, loveable enough, spiritual enough, limber enough. Lately I’m starting to entertain the radical concept that perhaps “I am enough” just the way I am.

 I especially chose this example because today it seems everyone relates to this on some level: perhaps they are fed up with the commercialization/“competition” of Christmas, or constantly compare themselves to other parents and people at work who seem to get more done. It also fits in very well with other works I have read that speak of continual growth paired with giving yourself permission to be who you are, such as a “good enough parent,” as one article spoke of. Another opened up the idea of rising from sleep an hour or so before one’s usual time, and some of the breathing exercises within Hidden Treasure would fit quite nicely in that period, to set the tone for the day, ground oneself, feel more connected to oneself in a world in which so many demands are made upon us.

Perhaps the element I most loved within Hidden Treasure is that within each chapter devoted to a particular character structure is a “gift” section: positive character traits that also tend to accompany each, transformed or of a higher version. For example, endurers might carry a great deal of anger, but that energy can also be utilized to achieve, especially as re-worked persistence (elevated above stubbornness) and their hardworking nature also contribute. Achieving all this becomes so much more a reality because, as McDowell stresses, you are not your structure and, importantly, gives readers choices. Having introduced Hidden Treasure groups and the idea of readers forming their own circles, she openly states there might come a time when a group is no longer needed, or participants have reached a point at which growth in a new direction is natural.

The stated parameters (e.g. accepting and identifying self behaviors) pair well with the flexibility within Hidden Treasure and I like that the physical and breathing exercises can fit into any lifestyle. Moreover, the book’s setup ensures that once someone identifies which character structure they fit into, they can easily focus on that particular chapter for easy return and reference. Accessible and written with a positive message, it works within a balance for all to experience ongoing, constructive change.

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More on Alice McDowell, Ph.D and Hidden Treasure

When I was 11 years old, my father suddenly died of a heart attack. I started questioning everything. Why did this happen to me? What is the purpose of life, anyway? Why am I here? This set me on a path of discovery.

My journey led me to the IM School of Healing Arts where I learned about the five patterns—called character structures. Impressed with the changes occurring both within my classmates and myself, and building on my prior studies, I developed a three-year program of five weekends a year called Finding the Hidden Treasure, which I have been teaching for the last 20 years.

My students—of all ages and walks of life—discovered that the most powerful, life-changing part of the course was their work with the five character structures. Some found life partners or improved their intimate relationships. Many found themselves to be happier at work, while others found the strength to leave unsuitable jobs and find ones more in alignment with their true self. Some began—or deepened—a spiritual practice.

With such success, I asked myself, “Why not offer this to more people?” This idea started me on a journey to write Hidden Treasure. I hope that reading the book and doing the exercises will also change your life for the better.

I’ve taken you to the present. I hope you’ll be part of my future.

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The five personality patterns in this book are well documented — it is the author’s approach to the patterns that differentiates this book.

With its light tone, the illustrations and cartoons help readers stay off their case and not take themselves too seriously, rare in this subgenre.

You can read Hidden Treasure‘s synopsis and a few brief reviews, as well as watch the book’s trailer. Also available is an excerpt from the first chapter (with a fun drawing included!) and some more on the five character structures. You can even take the character structure quiz to find out where you might fit in.

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If you are in the Ithaca, New York area, come check out Hidden Treasure‘s launch appearance!

Ithaca, NY: December 3, 2017 at 3:00 p.m.
Buffalo Street Books
215 N. Cayuga Street, Ithaca, NY 14850
Located in the Dewitt Mall

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An advance reader copy (ARC) of Hidden Treasure was provided for the blogger to write an honest review.

Book Review: Insurrectio (Plus Giveaway)

Insurrectio (Book V in the Roma Nova series) by Alison Morton

Historical Novel Society Indie Editor’s Choice Spring 2016

Chill with a Book Award Book of the Month February 2017

A B.R.A.G. Medallion Honoree, October 2016

For your chance to win a FREE e-copy of Insurrectio, simply comment below to get your name in the draw!

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

Imagine a remnant of the Roman Empire has survived, transformed into a society in which women have more public power, and continues to govern today in a modest portion of Europe. Author Alison Morton has done this and her alternate history series, featuring Aurelia Mitela, descended from the lead of the originally exiled Twelve Families, ex-Praetorian and current imperial counsellor in Roma Nova, is the fabulous result of her wanderings through the past.

Click image to peruse one of the nicest author sites: attractive, organized, user friendly–plus a free e-copy of Inceptio, first in the series

Roma Nova is divided into two parts of three books each: the second cycle, Aurelia, Insurrectio and Retalio, functions as the prequel story and occurs in the 1960s and 80s, ahead of Inceptio, Perfitidas and Successio, set in an alternate-reality present day. There is no disadvantage to opening with the Aurelia cycle, indeed at any within it, for Morton has written them as stand-alone novels, each a complete and satisfying story of a chain of events in the life of our protagonist, whose childhood nemesis, Caius Tellus, brings his antagonism to bear on the government he loathes. A misogynist with an axe to grind, he derives special pleasure from targeting Aurelia, whose strength and determination threatens not only his fragile ego, but also the plans he has in store for their small but silver-rich nation.

Most of us have heard it said repeatedly: power never exists in a vacuum. Aurelia understands this all too well, but has difficulty getting others to realize the danger of the void that exists, and which Tellus has already recognized. As circumstances go from bad to worse, Aurelia seeks to protect her teenage and lately contrary daughter, while simultaneously working to reconcile her relationship with Miklós, whose inability to remain in one spot unsettles her. At just about the time Aurelia begins to wish her strong ethics had not stayed her hand in a confrontation with Tellus some years earlier, others in her social and administrative circles see her as conspirator, and Aurelia is faced with a dilemma that umbrellas all her other troubles: is it too late to do anything?

Thinking I might like it enough, not being a big reader of Roman historical fiction, I had been pleasantly surprised with my reading of Aurelia a year or so ago. That sense of wonder increased exponentially with my inhalation of Insurrectio, the bulk of which was absorbed in one 24-hour period. The pages turned in swift succession with the thrill of events often occurring just as quickly, and I found myself responding to them, sometimes aloud, groaning in exasperation, lecturing people, smacking my forehead in disbelief, urging them to light a fire under it ….

Part of what makes Morton’s political thriller so exciting is the pace at which her story moves, influencing a habit I have recognized in myself and seen in others, of reading more rapidly, as if somehow that might prompt the positive outcome of characters in danger. Paired with a narrative of intrigue and deception, betrayal woven into even small corners of instances, we become more suspicious of everything and then cry out when someone falls into a trap.

One such potential snare is a Roma Novan law that functions for the society’s women to retain power, but its discriminatory nature provides a weak spot for exploitation. As plot device, however, it is strong, setting the stage for Caius to make his attempts at “reform,” and threatening to lead his nation to a Roman dystopia. Then there is the Roman feel of the setting, what with traditional names (including plural ending of surnames), titles (domina, Praetorian), reference to ancient worship (“What in Hades is that supposed to mean?” or “Jupiter! What’s this?”) and the perception that the Prussians are a soft society, amongst a people who use cell phones, drive cars and do business worldwide. This, to be honest, is a lot to mix together, but Morton does it with style and flair as she also subtly mirrors real-life current events and passionate but flawed expectations:

Terrifying as the attack … had been, it was minor compared with the trouble in the city. By the time he’d flown out to see me, Plico had compiled the full picture. A parade of thousands of men from the Roman National Movement marching in full toga order from the forum had ended a rally in front of the amphitheatre with twice the number they’d started with. There’d been declamatory speeches which some of Plico’s operatives had listened to while mingling with the toga toughs.

 ‘The speakers call themselves Gracchus, Sulla, Clodius and so on.’ He snorted. ‘Pseudonyms, obviously, but they’ve got the crowd fired up. My people said they pushed emotional words at the crowd, repeating over and over again stuff about land, virtue, tradition, strength, order, manliness, grabbing every popular reference they could from history. They called for stability, jobs, respect—all the usual stuff—without any explanation about how they were going to deliver them, of course.’

It would be a mistake to perceive this as mere gender reversal, not only because, as weak Roma Novan governance itself demonstrates, any group is subject to instability, but also as it removes personhood from the entire populace, not only its men. As a study in leadership, it works, because this angle, too, reveals the strengths and weaknesses of all people (not only women), and highlights a need for balance to overcome inequality, not legislatively favoring one or certain elements within any population.

As we are given greater view to genuine gripes exploited by an agenda, the rapid pace of the narrative reflects the manner in which individuals must act. Though Aurelia draws on her past experience to move forward, as a character she grows. Her humanity is more revealed, though so too is her vulnerability. Her very real anxieties threaten to trip her up as they carry readers along with events, breathlessly urging her to be as wary of her fears as the occasions that birth them. For readers familiar with the titular character of Aurelia, this is especially satisfying given her very practical and efficient portrayal in the cycle’s first installment.

Overall, it’s easy to say this was a fantastically paced tale with a plot that captures reader attention and doesn’t let go. Aurelia is a likeable character up against an enemy carefully developed into a realistic and formidable foe. With subtle teasers here and there as to the future of Roma Nova, it beckons us deeper into Alison Morton’s world. Read alone or along with the others, those within this world grow closer to us and we care about what happens to them, as does Aurelia, even though she doesn’t like some of them very much. It causes one to wonder what happens next, which can be seen in the first three books of the series, though we suspect they will remain with us long after even their conclusion.

To enter the contest for a FREE e-copy of Insurrectio, simply comment below – no need for anything fancy! – and you’re in! Alternately, you may also comment at this review Facebook thread, located here. 

Drawing to be held December 2

To read my review for Aurelia, 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

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

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

Image courtesy Alison Morton

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