Friday, May 30, 2014

Eleven Eleven by Paul Dowswell


Set during the final 24 hours before the armistice at 11 a.m. on 11th November 1918, the story follows a German storm trooper, an American airman and a British Tommy. Their destinies converge during the death throes of the first ever conflict to spread across the globe. War becomes incredibly personal as nationality and geography cease to matter to each of these teenagers on the Western Front, and friendship becomes the defining aspect of their encounter. But who will live and who will die before the end of the day? A thrilling story of the last 24 hours before armistice. Three lives collide and three destinies are determined during one single day in this powerful and timeless novel


The eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month. A day of great joy and of greater sorrow and waste of life. Dowswell takes the reader on a chaotic journey through the final hours of World War II. Not in a grandiose newsreel way but from the point of view of individual characters who symbolize the thousands of men and women who continued to fight and die up to the eleventh hour and beyond.

Dowswell uses the viewpoints of various segments of the war machine to give the reader a taste of both Allied and German perspectives. On a deeper level the reader experiences the muck, rats and lice of the terrified but valiant ‘poor bloody infantry’, as well as the courageous and glory seeking fly boys in their gossamer winged planes high above the field of battle. Until the canvas frames are strafed and descend from the heavens amidst fire and blood. 

Eleven Eleven is a well written gritty story which offers no apologies for the starkness of its content. Beneath the death and ugliness of the war machine the author does not fail to reveal the human side of the war. In death and in life, we are all human beings of the same race.

Dowswell’s varied cast of characters come to life and leap off the page to draw the reader into their story.   

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Red Shadow by Paul Dowswell


Russia, 1940. Fifteen-year-old Misha’s life is about to transform when his father is offered a job in Stalin’s inner circle. They move into a luxurious apartment in the Kremlin, but doubts about the glorious new Russia quickly surface. Misha realises that the secret police can do whatever they like. His own mother is arrested and sent to prison, but Misha and his father daren’t complain. Then as German troops advance on Moscow, the atmosphere in the Kremlin ignites. Misha and a friend find themselves at the heart of a battle against the mighty state in this powerful evocation of one of the most turbulent places and periods of the 20th century, told by a master storyteller.


Life in Stalinist Russia at the onset of World War II was a time of fear and uncertainty. Even if your father was one of Stalin’s most trusted advisors. Dowswell paints a gritty, realistic and well researched portrait of the political intrigue that seethed behind the Kremlin walls just prior to the Nazi invasion. The plot twists and turns carrying the reader on a rollercoaster ride that seems destined to end in darkness. 

Dowswell’s well-drawn characters draw the reader into the midst of the chaos and paranoia as the bombs begin to fall. Friends and neighbors disappear, spirited away by the Black Ravens. The story plays out against a rich background of vivid images and memorable secondary characters.

The story line also pays tribute to those few courageous individuals who are compelled to stand up in the face of oppression and help those who are unjustly persecuted. The many layers and storylines of this novel blend together seamlessly. I look forward to reading more works from this talented author. 

About The Reviewer - Nancy Bell is an award winning author, editor, a horsewoman, wife, mother and grandmother who lives near Balzac, Alberta with her husband, four horses, two ponies, various dogs, cats and whatever else happens to wander into the yard. 


Paul Dowswell set himself quite a task in writing Red Shadow. It’s no wonder that he struggles a bit before finding his footing. Historical fiction is tricky enough to write for an adult audience. Putting historical events into a young person’s point of view, in hopes that history will call across time to modern youth --- that’s even harder. Add to this the challenge of presenting a wartime story, in this case one without a clear enemy, leaving the protagonist (and the reader) in constant emotional confusion.

Protagonist Misha, a Soviet teen during Stalin’s rule, lives a fairly luxurious life in the Kremlin. Yet his mother is snatched by the police and presumably “liquified” for being an “enemy of the people.” Every day Misha and his friends must decide what is safe to say, and to whom, lest their candor lead to their demise.

The Nazis are marching toward Moscow. Yet it isn’t Hitler’s troops that prove the greatest threat to Misha’s survival. Rather, it’s Stalin’s government, turning against its own people in paranoia that crosses over into madness.

In trying to pull the reader into such a politically and psychologically complex world, Dowswell overcompensates at the start. The first quarter of the book is densely encyclopedic. What should be highly-charged scenes (like the arrest of Misha’s mother in the prologue) are reported clinically, without believable emotion.

However, by the second half of the novel, Dowswell gains confidence. He trusts in himself, his readers, and his characters. There’s more action and psychological truth, and less historical detail for its own sake. 

Red Shadow turns into a breathless tale about a dizzying time in Russian history. Dowswell deserves praise just for approaching such a tale in a YA novel. And, on the whole, he triumphs over the challenges. Would that the people of Moscow had fared as well against the two despots who tormented them.

Friday, May 23, 2014

Hannibal: Enemy of Rome

The great Carthaginian general, Hannibal, has never forgotten the defeat and humiliation of his father by Rome. Now he plans his revenge and the destruction of the old enemy.

While Hannibal prepares for war, the young son of one of his most trusted military commanders goes on an innocent adventure with his best friend - and disappears.

Captured by pirates, put up for sale in the slave market, one of the boys is sold as a gladiator, the other as a field slave. They believe they will never see home or family again.

But their destiny - interwoven and linked with that of their Roman masters - is to be an extraordinary one. The devastating war unleashed upon Rome by Hannibal will last for nearly twenty years. It will change their lives - and history - forever.

My Review

Ancient Rome in the 2nd century is the setting of this tale of two friends whose countries are at odds with each other as they prepare for the Second Punic War. Hanno is the youngest son of a wealthy Carthaginian. He contravenes his father’s wishes to attend a political meeting, and instead, goes fishing with his best friend, Suni. The pair are rescued by a band of unscrupulous pirates and sold into slavery. Hanno is purchased by a Roman land baron named Fabricus whose overseer hates Carthaginians, and Suni is to become a gladiator. Hanno is befriended by his owner’s children, Aurelia and Quintus. When he saves Quintus’ life, a bond is formed between them. One day, Quintus helps Hanno escape, and the two part to fight in the 2nd Punic War on opposite sides – Hanno to fight with Hannibal and Quintus to fight for the Romans.

Poignant relationships, and vividly real battle scenes color the pages of this gripping novel. I enjoyed every moment of this book. The writing is clear and invisible, the research impeccable, and the poignant hardships faced by the characters made for a very engrossing story. The storyline is touched with realism and took many interesting twists and turns. Although the battle scenes were numerous, which will greatly appeal to male readership, this does not detract from holding the interest of female readers. There is something for all in this tale.

The story continues with two more installments in this new series. Ben Kane is a talented, best-selling author, and I love the way he can weave a complex tale. Most definitely, I will be reading more of his work. This is a fabulous book that I read in the span of 24 hours. Yup, it was that good!

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Deep Summer by Gwen Bristow

From the back cover:

Bristow does “a grand job of storytelling” (the New York Times) in this memorable novel of the late eighteenth-century pioneers who settled the Louisiana wilderness, establishing a civilization of charm, luxury, and tragic injustice!

For his service in the king’s army during the French and Indian War, Judith Sheramy’s father, a Puritan New Englander, is granted a parcel of land in far-off Louisiana. As the family ventures down the Mississippi to make a new home in the wilderness, Judith meets Philip Larne, an adventurer who travels in the finest clothes Judith has ever seen. He is a rogue, a killer, and a thief—and the first thing he steals is Judith’s heart.

Three thousand acres of untamed jungle, overrun with jaguars, Indians, and pirates, wait for Philip in Louisiana. He and Judith will struggle with their stormy marriage and the challenges of the American Revolution as they strive to build an empire for future generations.

This is the first novel in Gwen Bristow’s Plantation Trilogy, which also includes The Handsome Road and This Side of Glory.

My Review:

Once in a while, a great book comes along – and this is it! From its compelling characters, to the tumultuous backdrop, this family saga kept me enthralled to the very end. The first book in a trilogy, Deep Summer’s main focus is Philip and Judith Larne who marry and establish a plantation in the Louisianna territory. The story expands to encompass key characters from surrounding plantations.

Beautifully written, the storyline moves along at a steady clip as the characters face numerous threats in the form of deceit, fires, yellow fever epidemics, illicit love affairs, and betrayal. Each character is thoughtfully revealed and portrayed - their personal stories rich with detail. And that's what keeps readers hooked throughout. 

History, romance, murder, deceit, honour, and endurance are all themes interwove into the storyline. I could not put the book down once I started and I am eager to read the other two books in the series, in addition to the author’s other titles. If you love rich family sagas that are bold and vivid, then get this book! Truly unputdownable!

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

The Secret Woman by Victoria Holt

A rich gothic tale of mystery, suspense, and romance

With Over 100 Million Copies Sold,
Victoria Holt is the Queen of Gothic Romance

"I shall be back," he said.

"Perhaps sooner than you think."

He took my face in his hands and looked at me; I thought he was going to kiss me, but he seemed to change his mind and suddenly, he was gone and I was alone in the autumn-scented garden.

Dark Secrets. Lost Treasure. Delicious Scandal.

Anna Brett fears she's doomed to be a governess to an English family for the rest of her life. But when the dashing captain Redvers Stretton struts back into her life, she is whisked away from the bleak English countryside forever. But is that such a good thing?

While the charming blue-eyed captain makes Anna forget her troubled past, he is hiding dark secrets of his own. It's no coincidence that Stretton's ship is namedThe Secret Woman. During their voyage to the South Seas, with a murder dogging her steps and the mystery of a missing treasure haunting her dreams, Anna is forced to confront the clever captain—a man who may have just as many secrets as she.

Originally released in 1970, Victoria Holt’s gothic novel, The Secret Woman makes a renewed debut. After the deaths of her parents, her Aunt Charlotte becomes Anna’s legal guardian. They live in an old manor filled with antique furniture purchased and sold as part of her aunt’s business. Anna develops a strong interest and acquires much expertise regarding antiques, as she is being prepared to take over when her aunt dies.

At the age of twelve, Anna meets Redvers Stretton, one of the heirs to the Crediton family fortune. She falls in love and over the years becomes obsessed with the kind, handsome sea captain. When her aunt dies, suspicion falls on her, and she soon finds herself nearly destitute. Fate brings her back to Crediton Castle where she works as a governess. There she learns that Redvers is married to a sick wife named Monique and Chantel, the nurse who cares for her. Soon, Anna finds herself sailing to exotic islands near Australia where secrets will begin to unravel.

This is a wonderfully complex novel filled with plenty of secrets, a strong gothic atmosphere, a mystery involving a ship and missing diamonds, mind altering potions, a poignant love story, and fascinating characters that kept me entertained and guessing until the end. The start and middle of the story were slow, but near the middle, the story picks up and the pace is greatly increased. Despite this, the book is definitely worth reading for its lush storyline and great writing.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

The Lincoln Myth by Steven Barry - Book Tour!

#1 Internationally Bestselling Author Steve Barry is back with 
Book 9 in the Cotton Malone series! 
And it proves to be just as exciting and just as successful as his other books!

Steve Berry is the New York Times and #1 internationally bestselling author of: 

The Lincoln Myth
The King's Deception
The Columbus Affair
The Jefferson Key
The Emperor's Tomb
The Paris Vendetta
The Charlemagne Pursuit
The Ventetian Betrayal
The Alexandria Link
The Templar Legacy
The Third Secret
The Romanov Prophecy
The Amber Room. 

His books have been translated into 40 languages with 17,000,000 copies in 51 countries.  They consistently appear in the top echelon of The New York TimesUSA Today, and Indie bestseller lists.

On May 20th, he will be releasing his latest novel, The Lincoln Myth!

The Lincoln Myth


September, 1861: All is not as it seems. With these cryptic words, a shocking secret passed down from president to president comes to rest in the hands of Abraham Lincoln. And as the first bloody clashes of the Civil War unfold, Lincoln alone must decide how best to use this volatile knowledge: Save thousands of American lives? Or keep the young nation from being torn apart forever?

The present: In Utah, the fabled remains of Mormon pioneers, whose 19th century expedition across the desert met with a murderous end, have been uncovered. In Washington, D.C., the official investigation of a international entrepreneur, an elder in the Mormon church, has sparked a political battle between the White House and a powerful United States senator. In Denmark, a Justice Department agent, missing in action, has fallen into the hands of a dangerous zealot – a man driven by divine visions to make a prophet’s words reality. And in a matter of a few short hours, Cotton Malone has gone from quietly selling books at his shop in Denmark to dodging bullets in a high-speed boat chase.

All it takes is a phone call from his former boss in Washington, and suddenly the ex-agent is racing to rescue an informant carrying critical intelligence. It’s just the kind of perilous business that Malone has been trying to leave behind, ever since he retired from the Justice Department. But once he draws enemy blood, Malone is plunged into a deadly conflict – a constitutional war secretly set in motion over 200 years ago by America’s Founding Fathers.

From the streets of Copenhagen to the catacombs of Salzburg to the rugged mountains of Utah, the grim specter of the Civil War looms as a dangerous conspiracy gathers power. Malone risks life, liberty, and his greatest love in a race for the truth about Abraham Lincoln —- while the fate of the United States of America hangs in the balance.

Read an Excerpt

Excerpt from
by Steve Berry

“I have not left anyone in doubt. My task is to save the Union. I would save it the shortest way under the Constitution. The sooner the national authority can be restored, the nearer the Union will be the Union as it was. If I could save the Union without freeing any slave, I would do it. If I could save it by freeing all slaves, I would do it. If I could save it by freeing some and leaving others alone, I would also do that. What I do about slavery, and the colored race, I do because I believe it helps to save the Union. What I forbear, I forbear because I don’t believe it would help to save the Union. I shall do less whenever I shall believe what I am doing hurts the cause, and I shall do more whenever I shall believe doing more will help the cause.”

“Then you are not my president, sir. Nor would you be the president of those who voted for you.”

“But I am president. So take this message back to the general. He was sent west to move the army to Memphis and keep advancing eastward. Those are still his orders. He shall either obey them or be removed from his post.”

“I must warn you, sir, that it could be hard if you continue to oppose the general. He could set up for himself.”

The federal treasury was empty. The War Department a mess. No Union army anywhere was prepared to advance. And now this woman, and her insolent husband, were threatening revolt? He should have them both arrested. Unfortunately, however, Fremont’s unilateral emancipation had become popular with abolitionists and liberal Republicans who wanted slavery ended now. A bold strike at their champion could be political suicide.

He said, “This meeting is over.”

She threw him a glare, one that said she was unaccustomed to being dismissed. But he ignored her sneer and stepped across the room, opening the door for her to leave. Hay, his personal secretary, was on duty outside, as was one of the stewards. Mrs. Fremont passed Hay without saying a word, and the steward led her away. He waited until he heard the front door open, then close, before signal-ing for Hay to join him in the parlor.

“That is an impertinent soul,” he said. “We never even sat. She gave me no chance to offer her a seat. She taxed me so violently with so many things that I had to exercise all the awkward tact I have to avoid quarreling with her.”

“Her husband is no better. His command is a failure.”

He nodded. “Fremont’s mistake is that he isolates himself. He does not know what is going on in the matter he is dealing with.”

“And he refuses to listen.”

“She actually threatened that he might set up his own government.”

Excerpted from THE LINCOLN MYTH by Steve Berry. Copyright © 2014 Steve Berry. Excerpted by permission of Ballantine Books, a division of Random House, LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.