Friday, April 29, 2011

The Map of Time by Felix J. Palma

"The Map of Time" by Felix J. Palma is a novel set in the Victorian era that crosses into several different genres. It can be considered historical fiction, a thriller, a mystery, fantasy, time travel, science fiction, and a vast array of other sub-genres. This is one reason why the book appeals to a vast audience of readers.

The story is darn good. It is no wonder it has become an international bestseller. Told by an omniscient narrator, it hooks the reader immediately with a character who plans a suicide. Thereafter, each page of this complexly rich book keeps the reader riveted with its cast of colourful characters – both imaginary and real – including Jack the Ripper, Bram Stoker, Joseph Merrick (the elephant man), Jules Verne, and others. Numerous plot twists, heart-wrenching loss, and a travel into the past and present, keeps the reader guessing and holds their interest to the very last page. It makes the reader think about what might happen if one could change the past and how that would affect the present and the future.

It is no surprise that in 2008, the novel won the Ateneo de Sevilla Novela Prize. The book has so much to offer – part mystery, part romance, part fantasy, and full of creativity and adventure, this novel is sure to please. But you’ll have to wait until June 2011 for its release. It’s available for pre-order now. Get it! Get it now!

The Comet by Miriam Newman


An ambitious young Norman knight, Neel, is seriously wounded at the Battle of Hastings and nursed back to health by a Saxon girl, Rowena. For her, it is only a matter of Christian duty and she is shocked to receive his proposal of marriage in return. She dares not refuse, but how can she love a Norman?

The Comet by Miriam Newman is a wonderful historical romance that takes the reader into 11th century England. What I enjoyed most is that it is realistic and well written with greater emphasis on a good story line rather than simply romance. It is this, which gives the novel a greater appeal. I very much enjoyed the plot and dialogue. The characters were complex and evolved beautifully. Each page was believable and plausible, rich in historic detail. It accurately portrayed the discord between the Normans, Welsh, and English.

The interplay between the heroine and hero definitely evokes much emotion -sometimes humorous, sometimes passionate. Each of them face hard choices and suffer loss as they come to realize their love for each other. Highly entertaining, this is a quality romance which will not disappoint.


Elysium by Diane Scott Lewis

Diane Scott Lewis’ second novel brings new tension to an event from history through the eyes of a young girl infatuated by her hero.  Napoleon Bonaparte, the scourge of Europe, is brought by the British to the volcanic Island of St Helena in the South Atlantic.

Napoleon was jaded by the women in his life, military defeat and treachery. Through his eyes the reader comes to understand how he feels about his devastating defeat at Waterloo and imprisonment by the English, whom he imagined would treat him as an honoured guest. The fact that his escape from Elba and the carnage he went on to inflict at Waterloo appears to have escaped him. When his requests for some home comforts, including a list of library of books, are accompanied with a bill, he realises the British don’t hold him in the esteem he thinks he deserves.

Ensconced with a small group of loyal, if sycophantic and self-serving friends, Napoleon must fight severe restrictions, constant surveillance by British troops et to guard him, and boredom - until he hears a beautiful voice singing in the courtyard of his ramshackle residence.

Amélie Perrault, the daughter of Napoleon’s chef, is a young woman of deep compassion and intelligence. She is also an accomplished cook under the teachings of her father, and an admirer of Bonaparte. Incensed at his treatment, she rails against the disrespectful English officers who refuse to give her hero the proper respect she feels is his due.

The subject of a certain amount of jealousy due to the former Emperor's attentions, Amélie becomes caught up in the political intrigues of the small community as it comes to light that someone on the island is intent on murdering Napoleon. While the former Emperor plans to escape his captors and regain his empire, this unlikely couple strive to uncover the identity of this assassin and somewhere along the line, they fall in love.

Ms Scott Lewis brings life to a piece of European history with her beautifully written and intricately detailed prose, bringing a satisfactory conclusion that may not have been Napoleon's ultimate fate, but is a satisfactory one for these two lovers.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Photo Credit: (c) Marcia DeFiore

Many thanks to Scott Oden for speaking with me today. If you read my review on Monday, you know Scott Oden is the author of “The Lion of Cairo.” He’s also written “Men of Bronze” and “Memnon,” both of which are historical. “Lion of Cairo” is an historical fantasy.

1.       Your opening scene in “Lion of Cairo” is the fight where Assad wins a special weapon. I can’t talk much about Assad without discussing this knife, so I hope you forgive the spoiler to the readers. Where did you get the idea of a djinn-possessed knife? (If that is, in fact, what’s within the blade.)
Assad's knife -- and 'knife' is something of a misnomer: the salawar, or Khyber knife, is roughly the same length as the Roman gladius -- was inspired by Michal Moorcock's devilish sword, Stormbringer, and the One Ring from Tolkien.  It's not a djinn in the blade, precisely, but something a bit more sinister.  I hope to delve deeper into the blade's history in the sequel to The Lion of Cairo, called The Damascene Blade.Woo hoo!
2.       This is the first novel of yours I’ve read, but on your blog you cross back and forth between Orc-strewn fantasy and history. Is this your first foray into historical fantasy? Will there be other stories in this or other settings?
This is my first journey into fantasy, historical or otherwise.  My first two books, Men of Bronze (2005) and Memnon (2006) were straight-up historical fiction, but I've always had a desire to write sword-and-sorcery in the vein of Robert E. Howard.  That's how Lion was brought into being: to answer the question of "how can I make Assassins cool?"  The setting of The Lion of Cairo is only quasi-historical.  It draws on three distinct time periods: Egypt of the Pharaohs, the early Fatimid Caliphate, and the Mameluke period.  There are a handful of historical figures (Shirkuh, his nephew Yusuf ibn Ayyub, and King Amalric of Jerusalem), though I've distorted them somewhat by depicting them as seen through the lens of the 1930s pulps.  Everything else is pure fantasy.
The Lion of Cairo is the first in a trilogy that will chronicle the fight between the indomitable Emir of the Knife, Assad, and his nemesis, the necromancer Ibn Sharr.  And there's going to be a novel about Orcs in the near future!

3.       Assuming there will be other stories, will the reader ever see other fantasy elements creep in?
The sequels to The Lion of Cairo will have a great many fantasy elements: dark gods, ancient Egyptian magic, Medieval sorcery, djinn . . . everything you'd expect from a sword-and-sorcery tale infused with an Arabian Nights aesthetic.  The Orc novel, which I'm plotting as we speak, is going to take a mythological look at everyone's favorite foot soldiers of evil. 

4.       I’m always fascinated by other writers’ creative processes and you mention RPGs (Role Playing Games to the uninitiated reader) on your blog. Do you use RPG modules to help you in world-creation?  If so, how does it help you, or do you do it for fun?
I rarely use RPG sessions for anything but a fun way to interact with friends and participate in a shared fantasy experience.  I'm no great shakes as a world-builder, which is why I tend to pillage history for my plots, settings, etc.  I discovered early on that a place-name like "Thebes" or "Alexandria" comes with a pre-existing sense of weight, of gravitas that's hard to manufacture.  Tolkien was able to perform the same feat with his secondary world creation through his implementation of exhaustive histories; REH did it by plundering historical sources. 

One thing I'd love to do inside the framework of a RPG is to create a rigorously historical ancient Greek simulation -- characters would portray Athenian citizens during that city's Golden Age, navigate the morass of politics, back-stabbing, and double-crossing to make a name for themselves.  I'm reticent to undertake the project, however, because it has such a narrow focus and no fantastical elements.

5.       What sparks your creativity and keeps you going? 
I find endless inspiration in the overlooked corners of history. I believe as Robert E. Howard believed: there's enough blood and thunder on every page of history to fill a lifetime's worth of novels.  There is nothing quite so fulfilling to me as pouring over the works of ancient authors like Herodotus or Plutarch and finding a phrase or situation that piques my interest - that gets the creative juices flowing.  Even my fantasy has its genesis in the pages of history.

As to what keeps me going . . . it is the sometimes Quixotic desire to see what's around the next bend, over the next hill, or on the next page.  I can't imagine NOT writing . . .

Thanks so much to Mr. Oden for this look inside his head and the creation of “Lion of Cairo.” 

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

The Moghul by Thomas Hoover

India 1620: India is ruled by the son of the great Akbar, and is about to pass his crown to one of his sons. Brian Hawksworth, ship's captain and emissary of King James, must choose sides, but will he choose correctly? The future of England, and of India, depend on it.
He had come to India to open trade for "barbaric" England and squeeze out the Portuguese, who try to kill him at every opportunity. But once on land, he becomes captivated by the country and the people. The beauty and romance of the exquisite Moghul Empire seduce him from his material goals to a new quest for supreme sensuality in music, mystical visions, and sacred lovemaking.
From pulse-pounding sea battles, to tiger hunts, war elephants, harems and forbidden love--The Moghul takes you on a breath-taking tour of the India that existed before the British Raj.

This is a long book! I have to say I enjoyed the first third of the book, but then, for me, it got bogged down in Indian politics of the time and made the reading a slow progress.
The Moghul is not for the faint-heated and not one that you can easily put down for a few days and pick back up again. I did this and found myself lost. What makes it difficult is not only the foreign names, but the many characters. I am one who loves books that have numerous characters, but this book, with its unfamiliar place names and politics of the rulers of India at the time, was tough going in parts.
The descriptions are wonderful though and at the beginning the plot is clear and enjoyable, but sadly the middle to the end of the book lost some of its magic because of the weight of intrigue and I lost interest in those fighting for the kingdom. Iwould have preferred that the author stay with the main character, the Englishman, Captain Hawksworth.
Also, if the author had cut back a little on the politics I would have enjoyed the story much better.
I did learn much about the early times of India though, which was very interesting.
I read The Moghul by Thomas Hoover on my Kindle.

Monday, April 25, 2011

The Lion of Cairo by Scott Oden

The Lion of Cairo: 01

The Lion of Cairo by Scott Oden

On the banks of the ageless Nile, from a palace of gold and lapis lazuli, the young Caliph Rashid al-Hasan rules as a figurehead over a crumbling empire. Cairo is awash in deception. In the shadow of the Gray Mosque, generals and emirs jockey for position under the scheming eyes of the power grand vizier. In the crowded souks and narrow alleys, warring factions employ murder and terror to silence their opponents. Egypt bleeds. And the scent draws her enemies in like sharks: the swaggering Kurd Shirkuh, who serves the pious Sultan of Damascus and Almaric, the Christian king of Jerusalem, whose greed is insatiable and whose knights are hungry for battle.

And yet all is not lost. There is an old man who lives on a remote mountainside in a distant land. He holds the power of life and death over the warring factions of the Muslim world – and decides to come to the Caliph’s aid. He sends his greatest weapon into Egypt. He sends a single man. An Assassin. The one they call the Emir of the Knife…

The strength of the book is, perhaps best demonstrated by how many “rules” Oden breaks within the first two pages and yet, you won’t be able to put the book down. The novel starts with the much-villain-ized prologue. If you're a writer, you might have heard about that rule on not starting a novel in the middle of a fight because the reader won’t know who to cheer for? Yup, he breaks that rule, too. And by the end of that four page fight scene, I couldn’t have cared less how many rules Mr. Oden broke as long as one intriguing tool – the knife – was explained.

Mr. Oden did not disappoint me in that or any other aspect of the book. In fact, he managed to surprise me.  
Oden killed off a few characters I had come to like and did not expect to die. However, their deaths have meaning and power.  Assad, the Assassin or Emir of the Knife, is probably considered an antihero in that he rejects every core value of the normal human except for loyalty to his master. He is not particularly likeable, but he is compelling. When he entered a scene, I could not put the book down until he disappeared again and because of that, I felt like I liked him by the end of the book. Would I like to meet him in an alley? No. Way. But as a character, I still can’t wait for his return.

Lion of Cairo is an amazing tapestry of faith, betrayal, loss and just a little bit of love. If you enjoy books centered around warfare and political intrigue, run, don’t walk to the bookstore and buy this one.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Nero’s Concert by Don Westenhaver

In Nero’s Concert by Don Westenhaver, flames engulf Rome, sparking murder and religious conflict that divides friends. Leading the investigation of the suspicious blaze is Rusticus, a former gladiator who is also now Emperor Nero’s finance minister and close friend. When a woman, Camilia, appears in Rusticus’ office with a death mask found on a Roman Senator, his interest peaks in many ways. Oddly, it seems as though the Senator did not die because of the fire. Someone might have been murdered him instead. As Camilia and Rusticus chase clues about the murder, more bodies turn up, bearing masks of those who were closest to Emperor Nero and the image of Rusticus’ deceased wife. It is a painful reminder of what he has lost and threatens to derail the burgeoning relationship he has enjoyed with Camilia. Many of the Roman people are blaming Nero for the fire, as he has benefited from the destruction from a newer and larger palace. By contrast, Nero is particularly keen on seeing the new sect of Christians blamed for the disaster. Camilia is keeping a dangerous secret from Rusticus that could endanger both their lives and the welfare of everyone the pair loves.

I liked the ease with which Mr. Westenhaver tells this story. The dialogue and descriptions are easy to follow. The characters were very clear-cut; it was easy to pinpoint the antagonists. The only person shaded in gray was Nero, dependent on Rusticus’ point of view. Without giving away the ending, I did wonder how easily Nero and Rusticus could have parted without the Emperor making a more significant effort to find his lifelong friend. It seemed as though their friendship would have warranted a different resolution.   

Monday, April 18, 2011

Sons and Daughters of the Ocean by Kevin C. Mills

Part family saga and part nautical adventure, Sons and Daughters of the Ocean by Kevin C. Mills reveals the harsh unpredictability of life in a19th century seaside town in New England and how quickly childbirth, illness or accidents can snatch a life away. In the small village of Brooks Harbor, every family’s livelihood is in some way tied to the sea. Some make their living by it; some die by it, never having known another life. Wives, sisters and daughters care for families and businesses at home while their men leave, sometimes for years at a time. One line in particular captures the essence of the book: “To the sons and daughters of the ocean. May we never be devoured by our mother.”

The story alternates between the perspectives of Albert Miller, Sarah Dyer, and Sammy Jones, with occasional broader glimpses of other individuals in narrative. Albert’s family are primarily farmers by trade, but unlike his brother, young Albert cannot envision himself contained within his hundred acres, turning up soil. He longs for something else, something more fulfilling, more adventurous. Albert begins to take interest in Sarah Dyer, whose father has recently died.

Although his awkwardness makes for slow going at first, their relationship gently unfolds, until both are certain that their future is with each other. Albert, however, feels compelled to provide for her and takes assignment on a ship called the Angelyne, captained by George Fuller, whose wife (an older sister to Albert) died in childbirth. Albert is handed over to the steward, Griff, for mentoring and the two men develop a close bond.

Meanwhile, at home, Sarah must take on even more responsibilities – all the time wondering when, or if, Albert will return. Concurrently, Sammy Jones is aboard another ship, the David Watson, and just like Albert, he must face the perils of the sea: long hours of backbreaking work, powerful storms that can capsize ships, and the ever-present danger of pirates.

While the opening portion of this book builds gradually, readers should be encouraged to know that there are genuinely tense scenes later on, as well as some powerfully descriptive and detailed passages about ocean storms and sailing. Kevin C. Mills confidently guides his readers through this nautical tale with an unfailing knowledge of his subject.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

The Circle Cast - The Lost Years of Morgan Le Fay

Reviewed by Laurie Rezanoff

I am a huge fan of all things King Arthur, Camelot and magic. I remember clutching my special sticker book full of the images of the Knights from the Round Table, Guinevere, Sir Lancelot et al wherever I walked at the age of 5.

In only a few instances have books (Marion Zimmerman), TV (Merlin) or movies (such as "Excalibur") dealt with Morgana or Morgan Le Fay, the half-sister to Arthur. How she became a sorceress, and where she lived before entering Arthur's life have either been overlooked or barely explained. Until now. I thoroughly enjoyed Alex Epstein's look into her life, in Ireland and how that exile helped her to become the driven and powerful woman she was later known to be.

I look at this book as the prequel to the King Arthur myth and legend. Alex has done a superb job of enlightening the reader to the real history of the times, without losing the storytelling aspect. I felt totally drawn in and transported to 480 A.D. Ireland, to the land itself, while learning the true spelling/pronunciations of the name places prior to eventual Saxon changes.

I truly believe there is natural energy within Mother Earth and the four elements that Druids and other such sensitive people were able to connect with, harness and hopefully use for the good of all. I also believe there were (and still are) people in the world who used such energies for their own corrupt power and control over life circumstances beyond their control. Morgan Le Fay became one of these people, and she continued to choose revenge no matter how good her life became in Ireland.

Born in the US and now living in Montreal, Quebec, Alex has captured the raw energy of the land, the people of that time in history, and the mythical person who we know as Morgan Le Fay. Her encounters with power-hungry figures influenced her decisions and ensured her survival to become the Sorceress of legend. Her thirst for revenge against the man who killed her father and changed her life forever was never quenched, yet it certainly was later transferred onto Arthur.

Enjoy this adventurous journey into the Unknown, part of the Quest that would later be, the legend of Camelot, magic, Morgan Le Fay and King Arthur.

A Dead Man's Debt by Grace Elliott

Back Cover Blurb:

A Dead Man's Debt - a story of blackmail, duty and an unexpected love!

After publically humiliating a suitor, Miss Celeste Armitage is sent from the Ton in disgrace and resolves never to marry. But when she finds a sketch book of nude studies and discovers the artist is her hostess's eldest son, Lord Ranulf Charing, she finds herself dangerously attracted to exactly the sort of rogue she is sworn to avoid. Nothing is as it seems. Lord Ranulf's life is a facade and he is being blackmailed over his late brother's debts. But just as the darkly restless Ranulf unexpectedly learns to love, the vengeful fury of his nemesis unleashed. In order to protect Celeste, Lord Ranulf faces a stark choice between duty and true love... However Ranulf has underestimated Miss Armitage's stubborn resolve to clear his name, and in so doing places the woman he loves in mortal danger.

What a wonderful surprise this book turned out to be. I stumbled upon it quite by accident and it turned out to be one of my favourite historical romance reads this year.  It stands apart from other novels of the genre for several reasons.  First, the book is a little longer in length than most and this gave the author time to write with greater detail, bringing her characters truly alive. Secondly, it allowed plenty of time to write in more twists and turns and enhanced scenes. The result - a novel with tension that kept building and building, gaining momentum with every page turn. Thirdly, the story is just plain good!

Right from the start, each character is immersed in some kind of conflict. The hero, Ranulf, is faced with clearing his dead brother's debts and trying to make his way as an artist despite his family's disapproval. Heroine, Celeste, is striving to recover from a tarnished reputation after humiliating a suitor. And an evil villain and villainess are out to take what is not theirs and destroy the love blossoming between Ranulf and Celest. As you read along, just when you think the Ranulf and Celeste have suffered to the maximum extent, enter another twist that makes matters worse for them. The novel truly did keep me hook, providing me with one surprise after another - all unexpected. 

This story has it all - love, betrayal, blackmail, illicit love, scandal, secrets, danger, and savagery. And the list continues.  Couple all this with the author's artful writing, and you have a novel that is sure to delight. I'm not surprised it is getting raving reviews already.  The characters are so real, so believable, I'm still thinking of them hours after the story ended.  

The talented Grace Elliot is definitely a historical romance writer to watch in the future. I'm hooked and I'm already breathlessly awaiting her next novel. I hope she hurries! 

Mary of Carisbrooke by Margaret Campbell Barnes

Mary of Carisbrooke by Margaret Campbell Barnes has recently been re-released by Sourcebooks.

Back Cover Blurb:
The moving, tragic story of Charles I, the last absolute monarch of England, during his imprisonment in Carisbrooke Castle on the Isle of Wight. Richly drawn and inspired by the New York Times bestselling author's own experience living on the Isle of Wight, this dramatic retelling brings to life the cavalier king whom Cromwell deposed. But even more fascinating than the account of royal hopes and misfortunes is the tale of a charming servant girl who is as romantic and tender in love as she is bold and resourceful in plotting the king's escape.

Mary of Carisbrooke is the story of Mary, a fictional young servant girl who is the daughter of the sergeant in charge of the military garrison at Carisbrooke Castle on the Isle of Wight during King Charles I’s imprisonment there in 1647. It is an endearing tale of a friendship that blooms between her and the king as she aids him in failed escape attempts. 

King Charles I

The history of the kind and gentle King Charles I, deposed by Cromwell, and ultimately executed always draw me - the loveable king falling victim to the harsh political climate. Through the eyes of seventeen year old Mary, the novel beautifully depicts what life must have been like for him in Carisbrooke Castle on the Isle of Wight during such dangerous times.

View from above of Carisbrooke Castle

Landscape view of Carisbrooke Castle

This is a wonderfully written piece of historical fiction depicting England’s Civil War where the engaging lost against Oliver Cromwell for control of England and the crown. I thoroughly enjoyed the author’s portrayal of both Mary and King Charles as she aids him by delivering and passing letters to Royalists and family. 

Numerous personages of the time came into the story, and although it became sometimes confusing trying to remember all the names of the characters and their roles, the essence of the story did shine through. All in all, this was a wonderful story, which I highly recommend. A tale full of intrigue and danger that kept my interest from first page to last.  Highly recommended.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Tom Fleck by Harry Nicholson

Reviewed by: L. Greg Graham

Every once in a great while the lucky reader finds a book that he wants to go on forever. Tom Fleck is such a book. A good historical novel takes the reader into a world that he knows little of and allows him to walk around in someone else’s life. A very good novel makes the reader want to live there. This novel transports the reader to the windswept pastures and fens of northeast England at the time of the Battle of Flodden. At first, 16th century England appears to be a well ploughed field until you discover that Henry VIII and his many wives assert no royal prerogatives here, and Elizabeth launches no fleets of plucky Englishmen to fend off the Spanish Armada. Instead, we live with common men trying to survive one of the bloodiest battles in English history.

This is the story of a landless cowherd working the less than bountiful lands of a minor lord in the north of England. His goal in life is to own a few acres so that he can pasture his own cattle and live in a house with a roof that does not leak on him and his sister. What are his assets? He’s a pretty good shot with a longbow, he has a gold piece that he dug out of an ancient burial mound, and he has a dog that does a good job of running down rabbits and retrieving them. I have no intention of summarizing the plot. Why spoil the fun of going along with Tom on his ride up to the borderlands?

I will say however, that I have always held a fascination for the borderlands between England and Scotland during the 15th and the 16th century. In many ways, these people are much more the cradles of American democracy than any documents signed by King John at Runnymede. The attitudes these northerners hold are the same as those found in America a century later: advancement should be based upon skill and drive rather than on birth right; the absolute rejection of the belief that one’s station in life is determined at birth; self reliance, and a general distrust of authority.

Harry Nicholson could easily have set this story on the frontier in 18th century America. He wouldn’t have even had to change the names. Those border clans basically peopled America over the next century bringing with them their drive and spirit.

Nicholson’s descriptions are exquisite. His love for the land comes through on every page. This novel is practically a tribute to the landforms, the fauna and the flora of northeast England. The author treats the reader to the trills of the larks, and the ‘pee-wit’ cries of the plovers. We see the forget-me-nots, the speedwells, and the eyebright that grow along the lanes. During the Battle of Flodden, the author takes the time to describe a covey of partridge scared up by the sound of the cannon fire and the look of the trampled wild irises growing along a creek the day after the battle.

The author depicts everyday life. Lords and ladies are mentioned only because they must be, but the author’s eye is ever on the common people. Tom meets good and bad folk. The soldiers are not faceless extras. They are conscripts far from home who must fend for themselves. For them battle is a scary, brutal business where few are lucky to survive unharmed. Tom, on the eve of Flodden, recites his version the soldier’s lament that he fights for master’s he does not like against men he does not hate for a cause the means nothing to him.” Apparently nothing has changed over the centuries.

I would recommend this book to anyone who appreciates a good adventure about people that don’t usually have their story told. I wish Harry Nicholson good luck on this novel, and I truly hope it is the first of many.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

A Song of Awakening by Roby James

A Song of Awakening by Roby James
Review by Tracy Falbe

Set in the 13th century, A Song of Awakening by Roby James opens during an uneasy peace between the Welsh and the English, who are determined to subjugate the tenaciously independent Welsh. Three Celtic bards, two old men and their apprentice Ine, journey to the Welsh village of Flint to witness the birth of Briana. The older bards prophesize that Briana will bring freedom to Wales. Because bards are highly revered within Welsh society, Briana becomes entrenched among her people as their hope for their future.

As little Briana grows up, the prophecy about her seems completely impossible. She is just a girl in a dangerous world increasingly threatened by Welsh tempers and English ambition. But for a time, she enjoys a decent life in Flint. She shows an aptitude for music, and Ine gives her lessons when he can.

Another major character in the novel is Rees a nephew of King Edward of England. While Rees is maturing, one of the old Celtic bards also stops by this young man's house and encourages him to maintain his love of music. Rees is mindful of the advice but knows that it is his role to be a knight. He grows into an excellent knight and is hardened by the Crusades into a phenomenal fighter. His intellect is also stimulated in foreign lands where he learns formal reason and logic from a scholar. The novel emphasizes that Rees is set apart from the vast majority of medieval society because of his intellect and his ability to apply it to problems.

Of course King Edward has a dangerously sharp mind as well. Cunning, cruel, cold, Edward Plantagenet is a man who gets his way, which includes brutally conquering the Welsh and securing that land with new castles. Edward projects indomitable authority. Many people dread his presence, but the author still imbues him with a recognizable humanity. 

Edward easily recognizes the many talents of Rees and constantly takes advantage of them. He forces Rees to perform some ugly tasks when subduing the Welsh, and he makes Rees rule in Flint.

As the gripping dramas between the characters develop and play out, A Song of Awakening presents a marvelous depiction of the medieval world. Every scene is lush with detail, and you can really feel yourself at the banquet table listening to Ine play and sing or imagine the fiery stallion beneath Rees as he rides in his armor to battle. Rees beautifully embodies the concept of knighthood. He is skilled, powerful, and inspiring, but harsh deeds not of his choosing tarnish his honor.

Many tragedies and travails shape Briana as she matures. She is a bold woman but knows how to hide her true feelings in order to protect herself and others. The hope her people place in her is a great burden because she does not know what to do for them, but her loyalty to Wales is unswerving.

A Song of Awakening is written with beautiful, complex, and unhurried prose, and every word contributes to its engaging and heartfelt story. As the title implies, music is the soul of this novel. The mystical energy of music mortars together the story elements with the strength of a castle wall. Roby James has succeeded wonderfully in summoning the drama, culture, and challenges of medieval life. The author shows both male and female perspectives with thoughtful care. Everything is there from the whoring and ale-swilling of lower ranking knights to the intrigues of Queen Eleanor's household. Although this is a long novel, the story never drags. A strong current of conflict, expectation, and hope carried me from page to page. I highly recommend A Song of Awakening to anyone who appreciates finely crafted historical fiction and genuine characters. 

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Odessa by Ginger Simpson

Back Cover Blurb:

The wagon carrying Odessa Clay and her father overturns, killing him. Alone and scared in the middle of the desert, she faces finding her way to Phoenix and Aunt Susan. Food and water run out, and Odessa is near death when Zach Johnson finds her. Squinting up into his tanned and handsome face, Dessie believes she’s died and gone to heaven.

Would-be-outlaw,  Zach Johnson finds a woman alone and unconscious in the middle of nowhere. Where did she come from? First glance: she appears young, but the curves beneath the dusty gingham say otherwise. He didn’t plan to become someone’s hero, but how can he leave her stranded?

Will the promise of Odessa’s sweet lips lure Zach from the secret mission that has his gut twisted into a knot? His father’s ranch isn’t the only thing at stake—now it’s his heart.

Every once in a while I love to read a good western; not so unusual for me, a native born Albertan raised in the west in the shadow of the Calgary Stampede.  Enter Ginger Simpson - an award winning author who specializes in historial westerns.  A leader in her genre, her books never disappoint. So when I picked up Odessa I expected a lot.  And I was definitely not disappointed.

The story opens with Odessa Clay whose father has just been tragically killed when their wagon has rolled over him while on their way to Phoenix to join her aunt. Distraught, Odessa sets off on foot. Soon she runs out of food and water. Nearly dead, Odessa is lucky that Zach Johnson finds her. He is kind and honourable, but with a secret of his own. To save the family farm, he has decided to join a gang and commit a robbery. But first, he must take care of Odessa and see her safely to Phoenix. Neither Odessa or Zach expect to find love along the way. Soon Zach will be faced with a choice and he must find his way out of the trouble he has put himself and Odessa in. 

Author Ginger Simpson knows how to write a good book. A polished, multi-published author, she has won several awards. Historically accurate and compelling, Odessa clips along at a quick pace with outstanding descriptions of the American wild west. I enjoyed the quotes from reall historical outlaws at the start of every chapter; a very nice touch. The characters are as realistic as the setting she describes. Both the hero and heroine are loveable, faulted, and feisty.  The prose is free and easy, allowing the reader to fall into the story without struggle.

If you've never had the good fortune to read a Ginger Simpson book, then this is one you should try! A lovely story by a lovely author.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Authors and Books: A new blog!

Announcing Authors and Books, a place to learn about new books on the market and the authors who write them!

Stop by and follow! 

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Author Interview: Heather Domin, The Soldier of Raetia

Heather Domin, author of The Soldier of Raetia

Please tell readers about yourself and your background.

My name is Heather Domin – I'm a writer, reader, and fan girl who prefers the more all-inclusive "nerd". I'm 33 years old, and I live in Florida with my husband and two cats. I have a degree in History that I used to fill my bookshelves and a minor in German that I use to sing along with Wir Sind Helden lyrics. I was an introverted kid who started reading at two and wrote my first story at five; I didn't do much except those two things until I found the internet at 19, at which point I realized there were other nerds like me out there who might want to read some of this stuff. Imagine my surprise when they did. Nowadays I hang out at LiveJournal and review books for the Historical Novel Society, but writing will always own the top spot in my nerd heart.

The Soldier of Raetia is your most recent release. Please tell us about the story.

The Soldier of Raetia is the story of a young Roman named Dardanus who applies for military sponsorship with a legion general named Valerian. Dardanus has a lot to learn about what it means to be a soldier, and at first glance, Valerian seems to be the least willing candidate to teach him. But a bond forms between them that neither could have imagined, and as the legion moves out to the northern frontier, battles and betrayals will prove just how deeply Dardanus and Valerian have changed each other's lives – and hearts – forever.

This book was a labor of love in every way: it was my first novel-length piece, my first foray into the world of Serious Authors, and my first time writing under my real name. It took six years to finish, mostly because I kept stopping to do stuff like travel and get married; it became my security blanket, and when the time came it was just as hard to let go of. It's not an easy novel to categorize, which has hindered its readership, but those who take to it tend to do so pretty strongly. I love my story, and if someone else does too, that's my highest goal as a writer.

What are greatest strengths and weaknesses of the character Valerian?

His loyalty is definitely his greatest strength. He would do anything for the men who serve under him, and they know it. For him it's not about politics or rhetoric – it's about protecting the innocent and making wrong things right. He's no softie, though; mess with his legion and he will end you without batting an eye. Stubbornness is his biggest weakness – it's cliché, I know, but it's a good cliché. He's buried his emotions for so long that he's forgotten how to feel his own desires; he has these definitions of what's appropriate and what's not, and he refuses to let go of his death grip on them. His sense of honor is his blessing and his curse.

How would you like readers to view the character of Dardanus?

I want them to root for him, and I want them to like him. I guess I have the second one covered, as a reviewer said once that he's "too likeable" and is therefore a Gary Stu. I don't think he's perfect – he's naïve, he's maudlin, and he's too easily shaken until the legion hardens him up and helps him find the man inside. He's all emotion where Valerian is all logic. He's a kid at the crossroads – he's had one dream his whole life, and now that he's got it, it's not what he thought it would be; but maybe, just maybe, it might be something a thousand times better. I don't think it's too hard for a reader to relate to that. I'd say that's what I want for Dardanus.

What inspired you to write about Roman legionary training and life?

Ancient Rome has fascinated me since I was a little girl. I started out as a fan of Greek mythology, but as I learned more about the ancient world, I found myself drawn to Rome. I love how it parallels my own culture as an American, both good and bad, and the lessons to be learned from that. I've always loved tales of battle, and there's something about the ancient armies that thrills me. Yes, it's a romanticized vision, and no, I don't feel bad about that. It's an archetype, an ideal. A band of brothers who give their lives to each other in service to a higher cause. I wanted to write a story about two men falling in love, and I wanted to write a story about a Roman legion, so I thought, hey, why not do both in the same novel? Why not indeed.

The brotherhood and comradeship is very evident in your story. Did you have any difficulties writing in a male POV?

I didn't think about it too much, actually. I was more concerned with not letting my sociopolitical beliefs color my characters than of making them "feminine". In a way I felt freer to express emotion – a man is admired for crying that Single Manly Tear where a woman is dismissed as weepy; men are allowed to feel rage while women are deemed hysterical. I just wrote what felt natural to the story. To me it's more about culture than gender, but I guess I've always been in touch with my masculine side.

If I were to peek at your bookshelves, what would I likely find?

The 25-cent fruits of many, many Friends of the Library sales. All my history and Classics from college. A bunch of German textbooks. Lots and lots of historical fiction, some sci-fi, some horror, some classics. My collection of Star Trek Pocket paperbacks. Very few hardcovers. A library I curse every time I move house and bless every time I sit in my chair with a cup of tea on a Sunday morning.

What’s next for you?

I began prep work for the sequel to The Soldier of Raetia while I was still revising the manuscript. Unfortunately, a sad event in my personal life threw me off this path for over a year. I think I've come to terms with things now enough to begin work on the first draft, which is titled Heirs of Fortune. I don't intend to take six years to finish this time. I've got two other novels in completely different genres (a medieval bio-novel and a contemporary paranormal) that I've poked at over the years, but it's not their time yet. In the meantime, I'm reading a lot and reviewing a little, having fun with my LJ, and enjoying everything I write from blog posts to Twitter updates.

Please provide your website and blogs where readers can learn more about you. Also, let readers know where The Soldier of Raetia is available in bound print and ebook formats.


Writing blog:



SoR trade paperback:

SoR at Kindle Store:

SoR PDF ebook:

Any closing thoughts you would like to share.

I know my book is a genre straddler – some romance fans will get bored waiting for the good stuff to start, and some historical adventure fans will be put off by the sexual content. I've always subscribed to the old saying, "write the kind of book you would want to read"; that's what I did with The Soldier of Raetia, and that's what I plan to keep on doing. I'm not out to change the world – I just want to tell you a story. I believe there are people out there who will respond to what I write; connecting with them and giving them what I have to offer is my only goal as a writer.

Please leave a comment on our review of The Soldier of Raetia to win a copy of this great book on Kindle OR any of the free applications for Kindle.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Book Giveaway: The Soldier of Raetia by Heather Domin

In the Augustan period, a young man comes of age and learns the ways of Roman military life, in Heather Domin’s The Soldier of Raetia. At twenty years old, Manilus Dardanus has come to Rome, guided by his father’s intentions. He seeks the patronage of the illustrious general Marcus Cassius Valerian, who commands Augustus Caesar's twenty-fourth legion. General Valerian, hardened by battle and tragedies of the past, at first assumes that Dardanus is like the sons of so many sycophants who have sought his favor. Despite his own misgivings, Valerian helps mold Dardanus into a warrior and re-discovers deeply buried emotions within himself. Dardanus grows and changes as well, from a reticent young man at the whim of others’ designs to become someone who chooses his own destiny. A confrontation with Germanic barbarians is his first test of all Valerian’s training. Dardanus learns to be a staunch friend, a dedicated soldier and a valiant protector of his general.

I find Roman military history and the Augustan period extremely fascinating. Ms. Domin gives the sense of a Roman legion as a unit, truly fighting as one. With myriad details of training, camp life and fighting scenes, her work blossoms as an example of an authentic historical. Ms. Domin has a skill for painting worlds where visuals unfold on the page as if the reader is standing right there within a scene. What I enjoyed the most must be the characters, even more so than the descriptions of Roman legionary life. Dardanus and Valerian are the heroes of this story, but equally evident is the bond each has formed with his comrades. Valerian treats his tribunes, particularly Pertinax, his doctor Salvio, even his slave Tacitus with respect and tolerance, even when they overstep their bounds. His love for Dardanus is unlike anything he has ever experienced. It leaves him unprepared for the magnitude of his feelings. Dardanus finds his purpose as part of the whole and makes what seem to be friendships with his units, particularly Iocundus and Elerius. Those connections make this a strong, emotional piece of writing. The companionship between brothers forged by adversity and endurance, in tests of arms and by the spilling of blood had me cheering every victory. The relationships were just as believable as Ms. Domin’s descriptions.

Two concerns I did have were about the portrayal of Dardanus and his fellow soldier Elerius. There was personal and professional risk to Dardanus throughout the story, and he warred against himself with every decision. Still, I felt he did have any significant adversity to overcome. Living beyond the last battle provided him courage and made him a man. Keeping his wits about him in his interactions with Valerian brought out an inner strength he never knew he possessed. It would have been interesting to see him thrown into a situation where other emotions bubbled to the surface, instead of his usual acceptance and sometimes, resignation. Without spoiling anything for other readers, I also found Elerius’ grasping nature and the consequences of it predictable. For me, he was a less nuanced character and compelling character than the others Ms. Domin brought to life so vividly. While some of his actions are villainous, he does not come across as anything more than misguided and ambitious, yet not dangerously so. Still, I hope Ms. Domin may revisit his final fate in the future. She has told me there is a sequel to The Soldier of Raetia and I look forward to reading it.

Heather Domin has agree to give away a KINDLE copy of The Soldier of Raetia. Please leave your comment, telling Ms. Domin why you would like to win this book. This is an INTERNATIONAL giveaway.

Friday, April 1, 2011

Call Me Duchess by Maggie Dove

Back Cover Blurb:

A rapist is loose in London…and he has plans for Marguerite Wiggins.

Grippingly suspenseful and romantic, CALL ME DUCHESS is one young woman’s stunning journey to find love in 1870s London while a dashingly handsome chaperone, a heinous villain, and her own lofty aspirations stand in her way.

Armed with a list from their father of “acceptable” men to marry, the four Wiggins sisters go to London to debut in society and make advantageous marriages. Marguerite had decided years ago that she would marry no one but the Earl of Wallingford. However, because of a serial rapist attacking women of the ton, the sisters’ uncle hires a bodyguard to protect them. Marguerite is attracted to their bodyguard, Ashton James. When she has the opportunity to further her acquaintance with the Earl, she seems to ruin her chances with him and in society. Will she get the opportunity to make amends with the Earl? Will she forget the Earl and choose Ashton? Will any of the sisters marry at all?

Call Me Duchess is the second novel in the Windword Trilogy Series. The beautiful cover drew me to the book and made me eager to read it. This historical romance takes place during the London Season in the late nineteenth century. It is a tale for four sisters whose father has squandered the family wealth. The sisters must find wealthy husbands during the London season or they will face severely reduced circumstances. Each sister sets out on her own search for a husband, but it is Marguerite who sets her sights higher than the others. She plans to become the wife of Phillip Lancaster Phillip Lancaster, the Duke of Wallingford, with whom she has been in love with since a child. With their Aunt Elizabeth’s help, they attend London’s most exclusive balls and parties, chaperoned by the handsome Aston James. Aston performs his duties as chaperone well, but it is Marguerite whom he is drawn to, but Marguerite is in pursuit of the Duke and rejects all other interested gentlemen, especially Aston.

Call Me Duchess by Maggie Dove has a nicely developed plot with plenty of subplots and twists that keep the reader guessing and turning pages. The secret rapist adds plenty of suspense and mystery. The various characters and their colourful antics keep the story interesting. For lovers of the historical romance genre, this one is very well done! I highly recommend it.

The Winter Prince by Cheryl Sawyer

As a 17th Century enthusiast and having just written my third book on the era, I was very excited to read this novel of Mary Villiers, the only daughter of Charles I’s assassinated favourite Duke of Buckingham has been treated like a Royal child all her life. Rich, beautiful and spoiled, Mary is destined to make marriages of state, and at twenty her second husband is James Stuart, Duke of Richmond. A staunch royalist, Mary toys with treason by visiting Lord Essex and tells him she disagrees with King Charles’ actions in declaring war on his Parliament and giving up London at the beginning of the English Civil War.

Mary met Prince Rupert when she was younger and doesn’t appear to have been very impressed with the arrogant young nephew of King Charles.  When they meet again, she reminds him that she teases everyone, but their attraction is mutual and devastating.  Mary is a loyal and dutiful wife, and thus she agrees to be Rupert’s friend, when he would like to take their liaison much further.

The war takes Rupert off into dangerous territory, leaving Mary to fret and worry about the man she admits only to herself she is in love with. Our hero and heroine can only meet every few months, and largely at the exiled Court in Oxford or on Queen Henrietta’s forays into Europe in search of funds and support for her husband’s cause.  This leaves the lovelorn Rupert and guilt-ridden Mary to endure heartfelt looks and regretful sighs and the ‘will they won’t they’ which gets tedious after a while. To the author’s credit, Rupert and Mary’s love affair was mostly gossip and speculation at the time, so to give them a happy ending was out of the question. 

Mary and Rupert are doomed to show their affection in cryptic ways, like when Rupert sends her a book of poems with pinpricks in the pages to show her which lines he wants her to read, or contrived meetings – like their ‘accidental’ tryst in a secret tunnel beneath Merton College which had been undiscovered for two hundred years.

Cheryl Sawyer is an accomplished writer and she delves into the minds of her characters in fluid, emotive prose that fits the 1640’s beautifully. Her in-depth accounts of the conflicts, the victories, private ambitions and characters of the players is exemplary. She portrays the King and Queen faithfully, as proud, vain, egomaniacs without the intellectual capacity to realise that some compromise would have saved them. The casual dismissal of their subject’s lives to obtain their own ambitions is staggering, but plays excellently into the ‘Divine Right of Kings’ philosophy that was Charles I’s downfall.

For anyone interested in the English Civil Wars, this is a fabulous account, but I also feel Ms Sawyer has benefitted Mary with all the virtues and none of the faults of a girl raised as a princess.

This novel also gives rise to the question, ’How much history should an historical novel contain?’ In this case too much as I felt the military accounts were more like a textbook in places and in order to stick to facts, Rupert and Mary’s ‘affair’ was tenuous and there wasn’t much to work with.