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.

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

There is Always a Tomorrow
by Anna Belfrage

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

There is Always a Tomorrow for one lucky winner!

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

Drawing December 9

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

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

(As if they need to be wooed.)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Rip in the Veil 

A Rip in the Veil (Updated)

Like Chaff in the Wind

The Prodigal Son (with Chocolate Cake Author Interview)

A Newfound Land

Serpents in the Garden

Revenge and Retribution 

Whither Thou Goest

To Catch a Falling Star

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

Other:

Cover Crush for A Rip in the Veil

Chocolate Brownies Author Interview

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

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

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

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Author Anna Belfrage in her own words …

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

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

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

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

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

Book Review: Insurrectio (Plus Giveaway)

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

Historical Novel Society Indie Editor’s Choice Spring 2016

Chill with a Book Award Book of the Month February 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Drawing to be held December 2

To read my review for Aurelia, click here.

 

About the Author…

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Image courtesy Alison Morton

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Book Review: The Darkness (Tales From a Revolution: Maine)

Tales From a Revolution: Maine
The Darkness
by Lars D.H. Hedbor

Update: Drawing referenced below will be held December 16

(see link here)

Comment below or at Facebook link located here to get your name in the drawing!

Note: Lars Hedbor will donate all proceeds for The Wind in the month of September to hurricane relief. Books are great for gifting, a weekend read or your favorite classroom. By purchasing in September, you will be positively touching the lives of those affected. Thank you so much!

In each young adult novel within his Tales From a Revolution series, Lars D. H. Hedbor focuses on a particular region, whose Revolution story is told from within the context of how the people there experienced the breakaway colonies’ fight for freedom. Each tale comes to us through the perspective of a local, in the case of The Darkness, George Williams, a teenager living on a small island off the coast of Maine.

Like Florida, a portion of whose story we see in The Wind, Maine isn’t one of the original thirteen colonies. Owing to geography and current events, the region acts as a bit of a buffer between Nova Scotia and Massachusetts, and the inhabitants are not unaffected by incidents farther south, such as the Boston Tea Party and Lexington and Concord. Shubael, George’s father, has pledged his family to the king’s side with the signing of a loyalty oath, but as the novel gets moving, Hedbor uses a rhythmic ebb and flow of dialogue to inform us that the man does, actually, have some rather firm sympathies for the rebels. Still, he would prefer to just live his life, as does George, whose excessive breaks and poor choices frustrate his father.

The author has a talent for creating characters apart from the standard mold; they are ordinary people, those so many of us long to read and know about, but they inhabit a wide range of society, as briefly spoken of in my review for The Smoke. In different ways, the choices they make render them extraordinary, and the roles they play in their time each aid in underwriting a chain of events that contribute to history as we now know it—or, as the case may be, don’t always know. Hedbor adds to his plots by setting episodes against the backdrop of documented historical and natural events, such as the war on Lake Champlain in The Prizeor a thrilling glimpse of General Washington in the time leading up to his crossing of the Delaware in The Light.

The author continues in this fashion with his inclusion of a Harvard-sponsored expedition to Maine to observe the solar eclipse of 1780. In fascinating detail drawn out by characters’ experiences, we also learn of a phenomenon that occurred on May 19 of the same year: a strange darkness that shrouded a wide area of land, upward to Portland and as far south as New Jersey, where Washington recorded the event in his diary. Later known as “New England Dark Day,” it was widely feared to portend the approach of Judgement Day.

George’s own observation of the occurrence is matched by that of the animals around him.

It was dark enough now that George could hear the birds in the trees at the edge of the field singing their evening songs, though they sounded confused and forlorn. The cattle were moving of their own volition to the barn, too, just as though it was the end of the day, and not close to noontime.

Perhaps more than any previous Hedbor novel I have read, The Darkness emphasizes the need as well as reward for our awareness of such events in the lives of our forebears, especially given these occurred at such a watershed moment. Moreover, many of us having ourselves recently experienced a solar eclipse—or at least witnessed the enthusiasm for it—speaks to the reality that our place and response to this natural phenomenon, indeed our understanding of it, has its roots in the culture that experienced it before us, as well as within the embryonic path of American science pursued by Dr. Williams of Harvard.


In a historically famous response to the darkness, Connecticut legislator Abraham Davenport replied: “I am against adjournment. The day of judgment is either approaching, or it is not. If it is not, there is no cause for an adjournment; if it is, I choose to be found doing my duty. I wish therefore that candles may be brought.” —New England Historical Society


George’s attention is drawn to this expedition as well as a rebel spy he first encounters as she pummels a British soldier attempting to assault her. Securing an apprenticeship in town enables George to meet up with Louise more often, and he slowly begins to realize that the network of rebels and their active sympathizers is wider than he once understood. He becomes more involved than he’d originally planned, partly through a growing love for Louise, as well as events linking all of them to the scientific investigation, a criminal act and the perverse justice and public relations meted out by British officials. However, circumstances conspire to separate the pair as the redcoats keep an eye on the expedition, wanting no part of further American rebelliousness.

Another talent in no short supply is the author’s ability to portion out just the right amount of information to facilitate the growth of his plot and character development. In The Darkness, Louise’s introduction might have been a bit more rounded out, to explain her attraction to the grungy and hapless George, other than his status as her would-be rescuer. Nevertheless, the pair work well together and Louise’s strength and will helps George to grow within his. Hedbor’s portrayal of the relationship George has with his two menacing older brothers is not only realistic, but often intensely relatable, especially to those readers who occupied the lowest rung in their respective families. Sibling cruelty, the author is well aware, often knows no bounds.

As always, Hedbor’s dialogue frequently contains within it messages passed, revealing the speaker’s positions, all while utilizing language beautifully suited to the era. The end result is a revelation that people are people and whether then or now, are subject to a wide range of emotions that, even when veiled, occasionally display a need to release. As George’s oldest brother, Lemual, speaks to a student setting up equipment in preparation for the eclipse study, the results of which have implications for the improvement of seafaring accuracy, he asks the young man about the importance of knowing the precise time.

“Because, on the day of the eclipse, we will then be able to determine with great precision when specific parts of the event take place. With that knowledge, and some rigorous and painstaking mathematical analysis, which the good professor will doubtlessly suggest one of us would profit from performing on his behalf, we can calculate precisely where within the moon’s shadow we stood when it crossed over our location.”

The dialogue also presents us with an opportunity to explore their perspective from their angles, as opposed to our own. Observing George silently examining

a marvelous mechanical clock, with hands that not only counted off the hours, but also the minutes and even the seconds[, o]ne of the students pointed out the pendulum that swung ponderously back and forth under the main workings of the clock and explained, “That’s made of two different medals, arrayed such that it will adjust itself for complete accuracy, even when the temperature changes. It’s an amazing advance in the precision of timekeeping, and we’re very fortunate to have this one.”

The novel’s conversations reveal Hedbor’s attention to the detail of language, not only pertaining to era but also relational makeup. Maine is within close proximity to Nova Scotia, from where thousands of French-speakers were expelled, less than two decades before, to the thirteen colonies. Therefore, when a Harvard student’s reply includes French nuance—“Understand that we are, of course, sensible of your position under the occupation of the Crown’s forces”—it is not out of the realm of possibility that his English might have been influenced by those Acadians who may have landed nearby, especially given his likely age. Linguistically, minority speakers do not generally have an enormous effect on the mainstream language, and Hedbor’s limited instances of such influence would be a statistically sound representation.

That the author’s inclusions of details large and small, within language and other angles, could engender such discussion, speaks to his dedication to research as well as accurate and genuine representation of the people he portrays. Readers can experience this in a variety of ways, such as within the tasks set out by Helen, George’s mother, purchases and availability of items and the running of a business. War is depicted, certainly, but people also had to continue with their lives during and after, and the rich detail Hedbor presents magnificently fills to the brim a 200-page book written in a manner amazingly suited to young adult as well as grown-up readers. Being able to attract a crossover audience and create intrigue and appeal within those readers is no small feat, but Hedbor pulls it off time and time again.

The Darkness is a worthy addition to Hedbor’s Tales From a Revolution series: it is an enthralling and absorbing story that captures reader imagination and brings to life the history we know a portion of and its people even less. Suitable for young adults (perhaps even a bit younger) and up, it also brings to us the richness of our ancestors’ lives and broadens the appeal of historical fiction and, indeed, the search for more real details of the lives of people who shaped who we are.

sensitive

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About the author ….

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Keep an eye out in these pages for more from Lars Hedbor, including an upcoming giveaway of a signed and personalized paperback copy of a Hedbor novel of the reader’s choice, and my review of The Path, the author’s latest novel, on sale October 19 (or pre-order now).

For those in or close to Aloha, Oregon, come have some fun! Release party for The Path will be October 28, between 1:00 and 4:00 in the afternoon, at Jan’s Paperbacks

Photo courtesy Lars D.H. Hedbor

A copy of The Darkness was furnished to the blogger in exchange for an honest review.

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