Book Review: Midshipman Graham and the Battle of Abukir

Midshipman Graham and the Battle of Abukir
by James Boschert

James Boschert possesses a genius for utilizing great yarns to draw readers into historical and other events and circumstances we previously knew little to nothing about. In this most recent Boschert read, Midshipman Graham and the Battle of Abukir, the author sets his titular character’s adventures within and shortly following the 1799 battle between Revolutionary France and the Ottoman Empire, along with their British allies.

Napoleon has designs on Egypt that stretch all the way to Constantinople and India, even after his catastrophic loss at the Siege of Acre not long before. Commodore Sir Sidney Smith lands his ships at Abukir, on Egypt’s northern coast, with the goal of further demoralizing and defeating French troops, though he underestimates their resolve as well as the Turkish commander’s leadership style, and the battle is every bit as dramatic and horrific as the novel’s cover image hints.

Midshipman Duncan Graham himself, though introduced early on, takes on a greater role only later in the story when the Scot finds himself trapped behind enemy lines. Having reflected on the events that led him not only to this moment, but also this era in his life and lack of money to buy his way to advancement, his path forward is tested sorely as he and a British spy attempt to make their way back to the sea and their squadron.

The point at which Graham finds himself in dire straits marks a turning, whereby Boschert transitions us from backstory and development to the meat of the tale. It takes on a somewhat lighter tone, which is brilliant given the battle we’d just witnessed, one with a grim outcome and lasting visual reminders. He balances Graham’s fears and abilities deftly, and does something similar with his circumstances, which are certainly frightful, but also at times comical.

Boschert has previously established his dexterity with word choice, and in Midshipman Grahamhe utilizes it to forge the continuity of the balance he addresses. For instance, his omnipotent storyteller doesn’t choose sides, commenting frankly on the skills and shortcomings of French, British and Turks alike. Moving into greater nuance, the author also pairs deadly settings with simply lovely descriptive passages, at times signaling the necessity but also fruitlessness of war. We happen upon a “velvety silence” within a city in which the rats are so bold that they take the time to “amble,” rather than, say, scurry, even in the presence of man and canine.

At other moments the natural surroundings personified even act as his enemy, such as when Graham continually blunders into “low bushes, which tried to trip him up or raked his face with their spiteful thorns.” The tall ruins of a cityscape “jutted up over the other buildings looking like rotten teeth.” Boschert has demonstrated the prowess of his word choice before, and we see these are more than merely pleasant-sounding or clever word combinations: they perform a function within his story that do more than set the stage as Graham walks amongst what they represent, how they grow him and the trajectory in which history moves.

To that end Boschert engages in a bit of historical foreshadowing as well, at least in terms familiar to us. A literal bloodbath, following the Battle of Abukir, prompts a British major to cry, “The water is like a sea of poppies all around; I have never seen the like!” When the same officer continues to express his dismay as he sips on wine, Boschert illustrates to us the dual capacity of forgetfulness as well as mental self-preservation.

While this particular battle is unfamiliar to many, especially those not especially schooled in the Napoleonic wars, Boschert remains true to his standard by skillfully engaging us in a narrative, and even when we think we know the outcome, the lead to that moment is the story. Moreover, with him creating a fictional character, rather than simply re-telling the story from a historical figure’s point of view, apart from escaping the multitude of such narrations, sets up the ability to embed commentary on Georgian society and the mores of the time, including character representation of countries within the British union and the changes each were undergoing.

We would add that the novel requires an additional proofreading to benefit its presentation, though as a tale it still is able to convey a marvelous sense of adventure, growth, compassion, daring and drive. Boschert writes that, “We may not be done with this young scamp as yet,” and given Duncan’s affability, enterprise and eagerness to cultivate who and what he is, we certainly hope we aren’t done, as we part ways with his character in a manner that speaks perhaps the most to the potential of what he has before him and the empire of which he is a part.

Bataille d’Aboukir, 25 Juillet 1799, by Louis-François Lejeune (1775-1848) (Collections du Château de Versailles) via Wikimedia Commons

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The author supplied a free copy of

Midshipman Graham and the Battle of Abukir

to facilitate an honest review. 

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Book Review: Britannia’s Gamble

Britannia’s Gamble
The Dawlish Chronicles: March 1884—February 1885
by Antoine Vanner

A Discovered Diamond Review and Book of the Month

Following my previous read of Britannia’s Spartan, Nicholas Darwish returns in Antoine Vanner’s Britannia’s Gamble, sixth in his series chronicling the life and adventures of the Victorian era Royal Navy officer. This time we see him recruited for a mission placing him within grasp of a savage Islamist revolt across the Sudan, his key objective being to reach and rescue General Charles Gordon, who maintains a weakening defensive position within the lone holdout, the city of Khartoum. Plagued by one catastrophe after another, time runs short as Dawlish contemplates and questions his own motives and role in the operation, and their position becomes ever more desperate.

My “discovery” of Antoine Vanner’s novels came quite by chance in that I’d won a copy of Britannia’s Spartan in a contest, and it set me happily back onto the course of nautical adventures. I found Dawlish to be a likeable character who poses authentic questions of ethics and morality to himself and, while he has high expectations of others, is no less demanding of his own conduct. In the pages of Gamble, too, he is courageous, though not without fear.

The felucca edged across, the oars still, now only the current carrying it forward in absolute silence. Dawlish crouched like Shand and the Sussexes in cramped discomfort. He tugged at the lanyard of his holstered pistol—an action that was by now an unconscious habit—and pushed the safety catch forward on his Winchester. The same fear was on him now as he had first experienced as a mud-plastered boy in a ditch in China and he prayed that, as then, it would not master him. Each man around him would be feeling no less. Courage was conquest of fear, not its absence.

 One of the best elements of Vanner’s tales is that they take readers to locales many of us don’t know much about, or recognize in a broader view or modern context. As we progress through the story, the author utilizes documented historical figures or actions—such as Gordon or the Siege of Khartoum—within his plot, its population increasing with fictional characters whose roles are so smoothly matched with history we sometimes think we might look them up to discern who is real and not. All the while their experiences tell us even more of the place at this time: its geography, conditions, influence, challenges, allies and workable military strategy.

I also thoroughly enjoy the manner in which Vanner truly takes readers on board his vessels, immersing us in the naval and shipboard terminology without drowning our senses—a perfect combination of trusting readers without making unreasonable demands on their previous knowledge. Feeling a part of the crew, readers rejoice in their victories and feel their hearts sink when things go wrong.

In Britannia’s Gamble, there are plenty of things that can go south, and they do. Vanner’s expertise in storytelling is such that we follow his narrative and sometimes recognize on oncoming crisis, pulling in our breath along with his characters, in whose journey and mission we have invested. Maps are sprinkled through the novel, so we get a sense and better idea of where the group is as they travel overland or upriver, with even more suspense at such moments as when we know we are close to Khartoum, or dangerous passages, when that internal uh oh occurs.

Another great characteristic of the author’s presentation is that he makes plenty of room for readers to bond with characters apart from Dawlish. He most definitely maintains the spotlight, but true to his character, he gladly gives due recognition. A talented and accomplished naval officer, Dawlish also cares about the dignity of humanity, and this stirs childhood and professional memories as well as gnaws at his ideas of the future, particularly following one incident that will undoubtedly alter the course of his life, and even the nature of his concern for others.

Dawlish himself contemplates his own perspectives by way of his journal, an activity that sets up the possibility that the chronicles are drawn from the diaries as the captain looks back upon his life. We see his immediate musings, which of course reflect upon the kind of person he is. “Night fell, not darkness absolute, but the same vast unfeeling dome of stars that had mocked the pettiness of their aspirations ever since Kurgel.” He often thinks of his wife, Florence, back home, perhaps dreading her response to something he’s done, or feels delight in her presence in his life. The variety and breadth of his meditations even develop the character of the absent Florence, additionally bringing to the novel a female influence other than that of the standard lovable prostitute or sought-after heiress.

These and other angles are what tend to make Dawlish himself more fully developed than many other nautical or historical fiction characters, and Vanner placing him in the various locales, following plotlines drawn from history with plenty of his own life events depicted within, are surely what bring us back time and again. Of course, so far I’ve only read two of The Dawlish Chronicles, but the officer hasn’t seen the last of me, nor I of him.

A smooth and addicting read, Britannia’s Gamble is fully capable as a standalone or installment in a series one simply cannot get enough of. Realistic action scenes—in which victory is not always assured—and a well-developed plot combine with the strength of the author’s imagination and impressive research to bring a story of great quality and years of re-visitation and the seeking of Dawlish in other volumes in which we will follow him time and again around the world.

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Learn more about and follow Antoine Vanner and his work at his fascinating website, The Dawlish Chronicles, including more about Britannia’s Amazon, also a Discovered Diamond, with Florence Dawlish as protagonist and narrated from a female point of view. Additionally, subscribers to Vanner’s mailing list at intervals receive free short stories that fill in some gaps in Darwish’s life not covered in the novels.

The author provided the blogger with a copy of
Britannia’s Gamble in order to facilitate an honest review.

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This review previously appeared at The Review

 

Book Review: The Freedman (Tales From a Revolution: North-Carolina) (Brand Spanking New Release)

The Freedman (Tales from a Revolution: North-Carolina)
by Lars D.H. Hedbor

Release Date: May 31, 2018

Mark your calendars! Book signing with Lars Hedbor:
June 9, 2018 at Jan’s Paperbacks!

Author Lars D.H. Hedbor has asked himself countless times, “What made the American colonists turn their backs 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?” Naturally there is no single answer, though he probes history in his series, Tales From a Revolution, searching for the ones that are perhaps most identifiable, common, relatable, recognizable—answers that come from the lives of ordinary people and not just as historically and intellectually written out in the annals of our time as a colony and a nation.

Tales From a Revolution moves through and settles within various regions during an assortment of periods, observing individuals and families as their lives play out within the ebb and flow of fortunes, history, and revolution. In his latest installment, The Freedman, Hedbor takes us to North Carolina, where the slave Calabar is suddenly granted liberty after years of toiling on his late master’s indigo plantation. The man’s son and heir, indifferent to this particular product, turns Calabar off his land, and the formerly bonded man unexpectedly faces the question of what to do with his own freedom.

Grieving at the sudden separation from his wife and baby girl and plunged into a society that struggles within its own bonds, Calabar endeavors to find a balance within the surprising variety of responses to his appearance amongst the townspeople—and his to them. As he repels enemies close to home and a new one appears when revolution draws nearer, the freedman takes steps and makes decisions to determine his own life and the paths he will walk. While his hopes and fears are both recognizable and foreign to those around him, Calabar’s choices will play into the rise or fall of a nation in the making.

With The Freedman, Hedbor not only continues his pattern of producing a quality tale, but also demonstrates his wide imagination with the plots and people he brings to life. Calabar is not the first character to appear outside the bounds of ordinary colonist, but does strike a unique note in the author writing from the point of view of a former slave. It is a daring choice, and Hedbor gives us a win: Calabar is unfamiliar with the ways of the larger society he has until now regarded as a free one, and his intelligence is not naturally paired to its patterns. However, his determination and willingness to admit to himself he doesn’t know something, aid him in making his way, and he begins to understand on a deeper level how alike and different he and the others are, often in ways they do not. Through Calabar’s eyes, we perform a study of our hearts and his, further bringing to bear on our understanding of our own history the questions Hedbor initially asked himself about our ancestors.

This chapter in the Tales is perhaps one of the most subtle Hedbor has yet produced. Woven through the narrative as deeply as Calabar’s indigo on material are passages that often speak to more in the larger picture.

The captain’s face registered a moment of surprise, and then he turned his full attention to Calabar. Under the man’s piercing gaze, Calabar felt as though he were laid bare in both body and soul, the captain’s eyes a physical force as they roved over his face and limbs. He felt acutely self-conscious of the contrast between the rough clothing he still wore while they awaited the tailor’s work, and the hat perched on his head like a shield against the judgement of the world.

 In this, one of Calabar’s transitional moments between his old life and new, we see more than the freeman’s assessment of a former slave: it is a microcosm of the colony itself as it determines its path and the people’s own preparation for it. In this manner the colony is silent partner to Calabar’s more open statement of who he is becoming as both take stock of themselves, both still imprisoned by the measurement of others, both echoing the words once spoken by Calabar’s Affey: “Our hearts are still our own.”

It is nothing short of magnificent that Hedbor writes these characters, with their fantastically diverse backgrounds, as convincingly as he does. It should be noted that the author also distinguishes Calabar’s speech in two ways: one to portray a good faith representation of the English he would have spoken, having begun to speak it at about age ten. Within that, he distinguishes the freedman’s speech between insider and outsider listeners, and the aim is precise, for we “hear” Calabar with the likely accent without it making a negative statement about his intelligence.

While perhaps also one of Hedbor’s most sentimental novels in content, The Freedman avoids falling into the maudlin in practice. It can be both difficult and harrowing to engage in introspection, to recognize how others see us, even if some of those judgements view ways not entirely of our making. The story’s plot in itself conveys that realization, while the author’s dialogue, narrative, imagery and representations carry it out, with a raw sort of beauty whose naked utility leads us all the way to present day. As we look back upon the lovely picked up along the way, sprouting from the hearts of those with hopes and fears, those we know and that we don’t, we begin to recognize why they did it, what they knew of their hearts and ours, despite the differences of circumstance and centuries.

Highly recommended for anyone familiar or not with Hedbor’s previous work, The Freedman is a more than worthy successor with much more to say each time we revisit.

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To see information on each book, click 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 Break (Tales From a Revolution: Nova-Scotia) 

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 was 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 Freedman may be purchased in paperback* (signed copies available upon request), at Kindle, Nook, iBooks, or Kobo.(Paperbacks also available at Amazon and Barnes and Noble links.)

*soon to be added

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Author photo courtesy Lars D.H. Hedbor

The blogger received an advance reader copy of
The Freedman to facilitate an honest review

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From the Archives, Volume I: Kicking off the Summer

Recently I’ve been musing about repeat reads and authors whose work I relish so much I look forward to the next almost as soon as I’ve finished their most recent. Some authors, of course, have passed, so there won’t be any new entries from them: Mary Stewart, Willa Cather, Lewis Carroll and O. Henry come to mind. These writers are some who are the reason many people re-read.

Others, however, are current and it’s not been too long since reading and enjoying the stories that leapt from their imaginations or ideas and contemplations sprung to mind upon reviewing accounts of historical figures. Some authors have appeared at this blog more than once, others just a single time, and occasionally I wonder about the worlds they’ve all created or expanded, perhaps the characters or settings: how they might have grown since we’ve last met, or the manner in which we might regard each other since last crossing paths? How might other people perceive them?

So last night I perused some entries from May and June in other years, eventually deciding to showcase a few once more—for the benefit of those who’ve seen them and not. Especially now, in this season of a little respite for many of us (even if only in smaller ways), people are beginning to contemplate summer reading. Of course this goes on for other reasons year-long, so I thought it would be fun to kick it off as a series now, when the warmer weather is making its presence known, drawing us out to decks and yards, to gardens and beyond to revel in the glorious outdoors with the expanse of the sky to signal the limitless possibilities of what we might find in the “golden afternoon.”

Beirut Nightmares by Ghada al-Samman

During a two-week long subconflict of the Lebanese Civil War, al-Samman’s protagonist finds herself trapped in her apartment by competing snipers stationed within nearby buildings during the 1975 Battle of the Hotels. She experiences a series of dreams that begin to merge with her waking world and forces her to confront reflections of herself and the society she not only inhabits but also contributed to. Within events through the fortnight period, al-Samman explores the identity of place and how it affects those within as well as the cost of re-birth.

“Where” exactly an author is coming from, it has become more and more clear in literary studies, often is influenced by geographical location, although not merely a physical space as defined by political boundaries. To be sure, this indeed plays a part in an individual’s sense of identity. However, the topography of a “mental map” serves to create a sense of self as well, and its formation is influenced by a variety of factors, such as the past; emerging or existing words or phrases with nuances peculiar to geographic location; currents events; how and in what way individuals view themselves as well as how they perceive and remember others. Click here to read more.

The Hour of Parade by Alan Bray

The Hour of Parade is the recipient of an indieBRAG Medallion (click image).

One of only two actual reviews in today’s collection, The Hour of Parade sees Alexi Ruzhensky journey in later winter of 1806 to Munich with intent to avenge his brother’s death by killing Lieutenant Louis Valsin, the French cavalry officer who’d recently cut young Mischa down in a duel. Very soon after the novel’s opening Ruzhensky meets up with the concept of a small world when he runs into two soldiers from Valsin’s regiment, necessitating his rapid entry into the scenario he has fabricated as cover: that his father had business dealings in Austria and he means to straighten out his family’s financial affairs.

In these moments author Alan Bray creates a palpable tension for the Russian officer as well as readers, who can sense his apprehension as “the dead and the unknown living” both seem so near to his current moment, the vivid imagery erupts into scenes that overcome his awareness. Click here to read more. 

The First Lie by Virginia King, Guest Post: “Rocking with Rocks”

The First Lie is an indieBRAG Medallion Honoree (click image).

This novel from Australian author Virginia King may be set mainly on Hawaii, but reminds us that Down Under many are pulling out their warmer clothing in preparation for the onset of winter. Lucky for readers, curling up in a nice corner with a great book is also a yummy proposition. And while this guest post leans toward the author’s sequel, The Second Path, whereas I actually reviewed The First Lie, I include it here because it does carry our theme of re-visiting old literary friends—plus I really loved King’s analysis of rock symbolism, and I think you will too.

“The symbolism of objects has always fascinated me. My love of folklore means there’s always a mythical twist to my modern mysteries and ‘magic objects’ with fairy tale credentials often link up to form a matrix of clues. Such as rocks.

In Selkie Moon’s second mystery The Second Path the symbolism of rocks came to me, setting up a chain reaction of events in the story. It’s a good example of how an idea implants itself in the subconscious and multiplies into a theme.” Click here to read more.

March to Destruction (Book II in The Emperor’s American series) by Art McGrath

In addressing how he came to write about an American serving in Napoleon’s Grande Armée, author Art McGrath references his quest to discover how such a circumstance might come to be. “It was discovery through writing, and while it may sound like a cliché, it was as if Pierre Burns was standing over my shoulder telling his story. He wanted to be discovered.”

In March to Destruction, superb sequel to McGrath’s The Emperor’s American, the author indeed employs the Method philosophy to tell Burns’s story—in fact, so effectively that readers would be forgiven for believing this to be the memoir of a real historical figure. Since the series’ opening novel, Burns’s—excuse me, McGrath’s—narrative has tightened as he further employs an economy perhaps reflective of the manner in which a soldier’s self awareness might utilize minimum movement to ultimately provide maximum advancement. Click here to read more. 

Author Spotlight: A Study and Some Personal Experiences of Lewis Carroll

Early edition of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, inspired by a rowboat expedition up the Thames, with Dodgson, the Reverend Robin Duckworth and the three Liddell sisters: Alice, Edith and Lorina.

“Why is a raven like a writing desk?” Just about every adult and nearly as many children have heard this cryptic question, though the answer is shrouded in time, lost documents, hearsay and conjecture. Alice herself probed some very curious matters and her beloved creator, Charles Lutwidge Dodgson—better known as Lewis Carroll—seemed to have no end to puzzles and queries with which to bend our minds and provide all sorts of intrigue: a little something for everybody.

However, Dodgson was much more than a quirky children’s author. He was also a mathematician and logician, artist and Anglican cleric who served as a don at Oxford University. In his time the art of photography was in its infancy, and Dodgson was a keen practitioner, later running a successful studio that produced about 3,000 images, though many have been lost.

Dodgson taught mathematics at Christ Church College and, like today’s learners, many of the students were accustomed to blocking the possibility that they could do well in mathematics. He created fun ideas and games to help make the material less dense and dull, as well as syllogisms to aid in the study of logic.

From childhood, even before I fully understood what I was absorbing into my brain, I found Dodgson’s life and career to be fascinating and filled with worlds of information from nearly every discipline. Dodgson was also an artist and he inspired me to give the form a serious study, so for one year I focused utterly and completely on drawing. Click here to read more. 


While there are a few other entries in May and June of previous years, by necessity there are limitations to what could be included here. However, at least two of those authors will be re-visiting the blog, so do keep your eyes peeled! Also, I probably did review others within this time in at least one other year (2015), but they don’t appear via the archives because at that point I’d switched to another host, only to return here a year later. Bit by bit I’ve been re-posting those reviews, so I think they have all by now been added, though in other months on the calendar than initially.

To see other reviews from this or any other time period, see the archive drop down button in the right sidebar. And until next time, happy reading!

(A little something for everybody.)

Blog Tour Book Review: The Immigrant

The Immigrant: One from My Four Legged Stool
by Alfred Woollacott III

About the book:

A historical saga that covers a winter of 1650-1651 journey of John Law, a young Scotsman captured by the English Lord Cromwell’s forces in seventeenth-century Scotland during the Battle of Dunbar. He survives a death march to Durham, England and is eventually sent to Massachusetts Bay Colony as an indentured servant, arriving aboard the ship Unity that was carrying around 150 prisoners of war from different Scottish clans. Now an outcast, and in the sanctuary of the new colony, John starts over as an immigrant in a Puritan theocracy. He is first indentured to the Saugus Iron Works and then to Concord as a public shepherd in West Concord (now Acton). The young man faces obstacles often beyond his control, and his only ally is his faith. After his indenture is served he struggles a near lifetime to obtain title to his promised land. From start to finish The Immigrant is an intoxicating journey that follows the travails of John, his faith in God, his good wife and growing family.

Paperback: 416 pages
Publication Date: January 1, 2015

My Review and Examination:

“We all have unique four legged stools, each leg an outshoot from our grandparents who contributed to our being.”

So begins author Alfred Woollacott III’s introductory remarks to The Immigrant, historical fiction detailing the life of John Law, an unwilling Scottish immigrant—from the stool leg representing the author’s maternal grandmother—whose time co-incides with such historical figures as Mary Rowlandson of the famous captivity narrative and Metacom of King Philip’s War, though his own life is “too insignificant for the historian’s lens.”

Woollacott’s musings on how we are shaped includes consideration of our forebears, the histories they endured and repetitions that occur through time, pulsing along with biological bonds and ancestral recall, a sort of collective memory inhabiting each of us that we receive and pass down, along with our own additions. This is illustrated in The Immigrant’s opening scenes, wherein Reuben Law’s inner essence carries readers from the American Revolution’s opening salvos at Lexington and Concord (1775) back in time to the Battle of Dunbar (1650), part of the third in a series of English civil wars. Doon Hill is where we meet up with Reuben’s—and the author’s—ancestor, John Law, who is captured, sold into indentured servitude and sent off to the colonies.

From the beginning Law harbors negative attitudes toward the English, as they demonstrate much the same, though he aims high for his future while simultaneously mourning the loss of his mother—who probably thinks he has been killed in battle—and any way to communicate with her.

Central to the larger story, however, is a parcel of land he acquires and names “New Scotland,” and which through time he fights for as key within a gift he is building for his future, that being the time ahead within his own life as well as long after. A sense of place runs through the novel, not only as pertains to New Scotland, but also within Law’s focus forward and the land’s role as conduit in his relationships with those yet to come. On one occasion he stands atop a hill on a peninsula near Charlestown and contemplates a foreboding.

“[The hill] sent chills though John’s back muscles to the nape of his neck. The hill wasn’t a windswept brae, it was nothing like Doon Hill, yet, for some reason, it was. He stepped toward it and saw the future. He sensed soldiers storming the hill, and fear-filled men atop the hill, hiding behind breastworks. John was afraid, and an incomprehensible eeriness captivated him. Perhaps his soul knew a descendant, Reuben Law, years later would be behind the breastworks, atop of what would then be known as Bunker Hill.”

It is a bit of a twist for the sense of history when past figures contemplate those not yet born—not merely for what these figures hope to gift descendants, but also what they might experience and the kinship of emotion that reverberates through time. Periodically Woollacott’s narrative reminds readers of the running memory known to the soul, though not necessarily the individual, solidifying a contemplation of the links between generations infused with an essence that survives death.

On its face, however, The Immigrant is John Law’s story, told mainly through his point of view, though jaunts into others’ perspectives occur as well. We travel through his days and years as he works for independence, marries, has children and the family rise and fall together. Though the book could do with a more vigorous edit, Woollacott quite finely guides us through individual days or longer periods, deftly gifting us experience of the time, with finer details of what it was like to live in an era many of us cover only briefly in our lessons as we pass through a series of disputes, battles and wars between colonists and Natives. Historical figures make appearances, as do those whose lives we know nothing of but for authors such as Woollacott, whose painstaking research maps out for us a greater structure and narrative to better understand what it is we may be remembering in our biological bonds.

The archetypal captivity narrative, Mary Rowlandson’s Sovereignty and Goodness of God details her nearly three-month captivity during King Philip’s War and is often considered to be the first American “bestseller.” John Law may have been familiar with the book, published as it was during his lifetime (1682).

One thing I liked the very best about Woollacott’s style is his ability to tell a simple story that can easily be read as such, while also containing these and other layers and threads of historical reality, contemplation and an almost paranormal tincture that can be explored as little or much as readers wish. He also has a way with foreshadowing that sends little prickles down one’s neck, a response that indicates how much we really are invested not only in the past, but also our past.

Centuries from now, most of us, having occupied the same rungs of society’s ladder John Law did in his own time, will be remembered on various levels, the challenge being the question of which. Woollacott references a quote from British poet and historian Thomas B. Macaulay:

“People who take no pride in the noble achievements of remote ancestors will never achieve anything worthy to be remembered with pride by remote descendants.”

A fascinating glimpse into the history of one family, a colony, region and seventeenth-century society, The Immigrant details the differences through time between its Scottish and English settlers with emphasis on how they see their lives, themselves and each other, not how we do, bringing voice to those who too often do not have one.

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About the Author:

Alfred Woollacott III retired after a career spanning 34 years, choosing to reside full time at his summer residence on Martha’s Vineyard. Being “45 minutes from America” and with a 50—60 hour per week void to fill, he began dabbling into his family history. His dabbling grew into an obsession, and he published several genealogical summaries of his ancestors. But certain ones absorbed him such that he could not leave them. So he researched their lives and times further while evolving his writing skills from “just the facts ma’am” to a fascinating narrative style. Thus with imagination anchored in fact and tempered with plausibility, a remote ancestor can achieve a robust life as envisioned by a writer with a few drops of his ancestor’s blood in his veins.

When not writing, Al serves on several boards and keeps physically active with golf, tennis, and hockey. He and his wife of 44 years, Jill, have four children and ten grandchildren.

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To learn more about Woollacott and his work, please visit his website, and see him also at AmazonFacebook and Twitter.

Tour Schedule: Blog Stops

April 16th

Book Review – Locks, Hooks and Book

April 17th

Book Review– before the second sleep

Book Excerpt – A Bookaholic Swede

April 18th

Guest Post – A Literary Vacation

 Special Spotlight at Layered Pages

The author provided a copy of The Immigrant 
in order to facilitate an honest review

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

and I look forward to more great reading and recommendations!

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This blog entry has been updated to reflect a
correction within the list of blog stop dates. 

Book Spotlight: Mary – Tudor Princess

Mary – Tudor Princess
by Tony Riches

 New on Amazon, Amazon UK and Amazon AU

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

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

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

 Excerpt from Chapter Nine – 1514

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

About the Author

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

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

 

Additional Links:

Amazon

Amazon UK

Amazon AU

Amazon Author Page

 

 

L.A.P. it Marketing LLC

 

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

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.

Freebie Friday: Giveaway Bonanza!

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

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

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

Drawing to be held December 16 

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

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

Who is The Lady?

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

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

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

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


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

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

The Smoke (Tales From a Revolution: New York)

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

Excerpt from The Break

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

The Darkness (Tales From a Revolution: Maine)

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

The Prize (Tales From a Revolution: Vermont)

 

 

 

 


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

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

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


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

In Insurrectio

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

And Retalio

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


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

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

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

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


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

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


Good luck to all!!!

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

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

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

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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