Book Review: Anna of Byzantium

Anna of Byzantium by Tracy Barrett

Anna of Byzantium is Tracy Barrett’s young adult historical fiction account of Anna Komnene, daughter of Byzantine Emperor Alexios I, now known for her medical practice, hospital administration and historical scholarship, particularly an epic account of her father’s reign, the Alexiad. Compressed for time and characters, the novel moves quickly yet presents an appealing account of Komnene’s life, from royal status as heir to her father’s throne to devastating loss and betrayal.

Her misfortune advances from several directions, so the book’s own blurb revealing her removal doesn’t ruin the story, because getting there is an important part of the plot. As events develop and occur, readers get hooked into the tale and Barrett’s savvy understanding of when to drop the hammer and when not, keeps our exhalations of relief weighted as we continue to wait for the other shoe to drop.

Crusaders Council via Wikimedia Commons

Because Komnene—Anglicized to Comnena in the novel—is born less than two decades following 1066, her story gives us insight into what occurs in other parts of the world as England reels from a devastating invasion. The author skillfully fills in details of Comnena’s region throughout the book, and her brevity provides quite a bit more information than young (or any) readers might realize they are absorbing. Moreover, with extremely strong writing, she does it typically through dialogue or Anna’s own contemplations, which further bring us closer to our protagonist.

Like many authors of historical fiction, Barrett takes liberties, including that relating to her marriage to Nicephorus Bryennius. She addresses this in her author’s note, but doesn’t explain why, which we would have appreciated. The ending also comes rapidly, though it does answer some questions as it links to details of the real Komnene’s history and work. The book’s thematic angles—justice, misrepresentation and even sibling rivalry, amongst others—are ones young adults will relate to even as they recognize the vast differences in their and Comnena’s lives, and very well may inspire many readers to reach out for more on this intriguing historical figure.


Book Review: Britannia’s Spartan

Britannia’s Spartan
The Dawlish Chronicles: June 1859, April – August 1882
by Antoine Vanner

In this captivating nautical historical fiction adventure, Antoine Vanner’s Britannia’s Spartan takes us east, a welcome change in setting for those of us new to the series chronicling the life of Nicholas Dawlish, RN.

As captain of the newly commissioned HMS Leonidas, Dawlish is tasked with a voyage of mechanical testing. His 1882 tour finds him, however, smack in the middle of a clash of political wills as the Crown, China, Japan and Russia all seek to influence the still-isolated Korea, as diplomatic protocol and demands dictate his balance. Encountering various power brokers, he must constantly assess their motives against the narratives they present. As his diplomatic and political abilities are tested, military clashes breach his mission, which soon enough becomes nearly one of survival.

Our first foray into The Dawlish Chronicles by way of winning Britannia’s Spartan in a contest, it seemed appealing for its setting, and upon reading does not disappoint. Vanner skillfully weaves in background information on Victorian class tensions, technological advancements of the era, seafaring culture and tactical pursuits, to name a few. As events heat up, Dawlish’s responses are authentic, and his military inititatives—especially when taking grand chances that could destroy his career—are intense in their nail-biting thrill.

Vanner’s own abilities, such as spinning information new to many readers (e.g. nautical terms, military tactics), are impressively developed, and his descriptive prowess takes the breath away. His attention to detail enables succinct coverage of unfamiliar situations, and readers quickly become vested in what happens to the captain and his crew. An engaging tale of a time and view to cultures often unexplored by readers of historical fiction, Britannia’s Spartan is an outstanding seafaring story that continually calls, and I suspect readers—including this one—will happily hear more of that in the rest of the series.

Reading 2018: Requiem, Reviews and Year of the TBR

Peering ahead to the new year, a portion of my reading “challenge” for 2018 is to move away from thinking of it so much as a challenge and more of something I just do. There may be some uneasy feelings speaking toward the “requiem” segment of this, our next title, it not sitting so well to remember the dead as part of a challenge. Maybe they wouldn’t mind; I don’t know. I just don’t want to forget them, and maybe that’s all they would want, too.

German cavalry of the 11th Reserve Hussar Regiment in a trench, in France, in the Western Front during 1916 Bundesarchiv, Bild 136-B0560/Tellgmann, Oscar/CC-BY-SA via Wikimedia Commons

In the last couple of years, I think the first memory that brought me to where I am today, to this part, is of reading Siegfried Sassoon in high school literature classes. At that time and long after, I read everything about World War II I could get my hands on. The Great War—not so much. What I recall most from then were this poet, the horrible trenches and a theater of miserable mud. I didn’t really think of it all much post school. So it was curious that Sassoon came to mind so recently, and then here and there I saw references to that terrible time as centennial anniversaries rolled through the last few years. When I received a particular book for review, set during and after the “war to end all wars” that didn’t, I began to realize I should follow up on all of this.

Another contemplation I’d been having was to focus on my TBR—to be read. For the last couple of years I’ve been doing a lot of reviews, which I love, but admittedly took up a lot more of my time than I should have let them do. While I remain convinced of the massive amount of amazing stories hidden within the indie community (where most of my reviews came from), I also want—need—to delve into my own choices for reading material. This resulted in my two-pronged decision pertaining to book reviews and changes in how I do them:

  • The time I spend on them will, by necessity, be significantly less than before. I’ll be doing fewer, and plan to shave off much of the analysis, aiming for greater succinctness.
  • My choices will come from requests and my own perusals. Also, I may write about topics I’ve read books on, rather than reviews, per se (for my own picks), so I can vary content in the blog more than in the past. I’m also aiming to get back to more food entries and other fun stuff.
It’s happening this year, Jayne!!!

This all works together very nicely because, apart from enabling me to continue this endeavor without losing touch with my family, I can spend some quality time with much (I hope) of what’s been roaming through my mind, themes and topics I wish to explore and learn more about. As it happens, lots of books about the Great War reside on my TBR, including such works as: Jünger’s Storm of Steel; Testament of Youth, Vera Brittain’s memoir that has also been made into a film; The Summer Before the War and All Quiet on the Western Front.

I decided to read at least one book each month to observe the 100th anniversary of war’s end, marked by a phrase most know: “At the eleventh hour, on the eleventh day of the eleventh month ….” Nearly a full year will pass before we reach that early-morning moment, and, especially in these days of historical omissions and fabrications, I hope we shall remember November 11, 1918 long after the novelty of its centennial observation concludes. The people—the living and the dead—given their place in the two-minute silence deserve no less.

There are, of course, many other titles on my TBR, including a great number that have literally been sitting on my shelves collecting dust. Some are ones I’d picked up in the past, knowing I may or may not like them. They looked promising, though, obviously, but leaving them forgotten for so long seemed so wasteful. For that and because I also began to run out of space, I determined to make a physical change to the setting, that of cleaning up and clearing out.

My favorite Dickens: I purchased this book to re-read at least three years ago. I hope this year will be the one!

In addition to the bi-annual wiping down of the house, as I call it, occasionally I instigate a purge, typically when conditions approach those they now do: overcrowded spaces occupied by items unused or that have outlived their usefulness. While hesitant to place books in the latter category, I would concede that if they aren’t being read and hopefully enjoyed, then they belong to someone else. I went through the last of the shelves overnight: taking them all down and going through each individually, dusting the shelves, and replacing with those books unread that I fully intend to, or those experienced but that have extra special significance to my own journeys. At one point I may let go of these too, but for now I take it a little bit at a time.

And of those not returning to my shelves? They deserve to find a special place in other readers’ lives; those readers, too, should be able to experience the magical journeys and amazing tales I have been so fortunate to happen upon. Some I haven’t read, and I set them aside to explore and figure out if each is a good match for me, which could indeed include the phrase literacy teachers employ: the “right book, right now.” At some point I may want to return to one or more, but that is for later. Any that aren’t good fits for me when I pick them up will have storytelling opportunities elsewhere.

The newly opened space on my book cases are ones I’m unaccustomed to, but the refreshed emptiness, as well as the removed books’ path ahead, represent the unknown, really, something that awaits all of us in the future. I find this fitting as well, for all of this, my reading goals and the opening up, gifts us the dual perspective of remembering the past while continuing to look into and create a better future.

Off the shelves of young Turtle

I don’t have a number in mind yet, that is for how many books I aim to read, apart from the twelve Great War works. Similar to last year (which was only yesterday!), numbers really aren’t as important as the content and quality I take away from what I read, how it can enrich my life and others’, even if in smaller ways. So, I may just choose a random number and when I reach it, equally randomly tack on another set.

So for the long and the short, I’ll be reading and remembering the Great War through the year, with a number attached only to keep myself up to date, in short enough segments of time that I can aim to experience a rewarding range of perspectives, themes, genres and approaches, but each long enough to give me time and space to process individual works thoughtfully, without any sort of systematic but senseless rush.

Simultaneously I’ll be re-uniting with my TBR and choosing books to read I’ve been wanting to for so long. I actually got a bit of an early start with that in the last month, despite the slowdown I wrote about yesterday, and overall it’s been glorious. I’m looking forward to those moments when something pops in my head and connected to it a book I know I have. “Oh, I think I’ll read that!” Or when I can get a library book knowing I have a greater chance of reading it before it has to return to its base. Incidentally, my TBR does contain some previously-read titles, though I will let mood and interest mostly dictate whether I get to them or not.

I know there are other bloggers and readers out there with their own challenges, and I’m looking forward to seeing their ideas, and sharing in many different ways the journey through 2018. Happy New Year!!!

See also:

Erin Davies’s Presidential Challenge at Flashlight Commentary

Stephanie M. Hopkins’s 2018 Reading Goals at Layered Pages


January 1, 1918: This day 100 years ago marks the period between the Battle of Jaffa (December 1917) and the withdrawal (March 1918) of the 52nd (Lowland) Division to the Western Front. The 54th (East Anglian) stayed on and would take part in operations at Berukin (April 1918) and later (September 1918) at the battle of Sharon.
(Scroll to bottom of Revolvy page to see additional links there.)

Reading 2017: Rounding Out the Year

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

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

Three books from each of three new or newish genres:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And, finally …

Five off my neglected TBR shelves:

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

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

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

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

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


Previous entries in the Reading 2017 series:

The Importance of Covers (Book Bloggers Group Chat)

Readers’ Chat with Stephanie Hopkins

Origins of the Challenge

Reading Challenge 2017

New Genre Library (True Crime): Murder in Greenwich

New Genre Library (Graphic Novel): The Metamorphosis

New Genre Library (Science Fiction): Jurassic Park

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


Thanks for reading and may 2018

be your best year yet!

New Genre Library: Sci-fi (Jurassic Park)

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

Jurassic Park by Michael Crichton

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“You mean the rides?” Arnold said.

Grant looked up sharply: rides?

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

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

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

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

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

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












Previous entries in the Reading 2017 series:

The Importance of Covers (Book Bloggers Group Chat)

Readers’ Chat with Stephanie Hopkins

Origins of the Challenge

Reading Challenge 2017

New Genre Library (True Crime): Murder in Greenwich

New Genre Library (Graphic Novel): The Metamorphosis

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

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


Book Review: Hearts Never Change (Plus Giveaway)

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

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

Drawing extended to December 22

Warm wishes for a Happy Birthday to Joanne & Rose  

May the best be yet to come!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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.


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 


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.


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.)


Author photo courtesy Lars D.H. Hedbor

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