Saturday, 21 December 2013

The Darkness of Depression - "From Darkness into Light" Blog Hop 2013


The Darkness of Depression
To many people, having something in common with Ernest Hemingway, Sir William Blake, Oscar Wilde, Stephen Fry or Agatha Christie would be something to celebrate.  I am in esteemed company, or so it appears.  Whilst I would love to have a small amount of the talent for writing that those mentioned possessed, the trait that we share is something darker and certainly nothing to shout about.  I suffer with depression.

Oh, depression? You mean you sometimes feel a bit sad? We all get like that sometimes, get a good night's sleep, get a grip, things will look better in the morning.  Isn't that what you mean by depression?  Well, no actually. Depression is something people seem reluctant to talk about - myself included - because you are automatically assumed to "have something wrong with you" and are judged by people who know little about either yourself or the condition itself.

It is difficult to comprehend how depression can cripple someone who is outward looking, funny, intelligent, esteemed, admired or loved.  It isn't a character flaw, nor is it something that can be ignored.  For myself, it comes in waves normally as I am experiencing personal issues, flare ups of pain in my health condition or when bad news is received.  Simple things such as answering emails, dealing with correspondence, keeping myself and my home clean & tidy or doing things that normally give me pleasure like reading, painting or writing seem so daunting that I revert into myself even more.  It makes you feel hopeless, useless and you question your role in the world and whether or not your family and friends deserve you.  You sink into a deep black hole, so dark and black  it makes you feel that you can never climb out.  Sometimes it lasts a short while, other times it can last weeks or even longer.  But it is at those darkest, bleakest times that a support network along with a prepared plan of recovery - which could be medication, cognitive behaviour therapy, natural or alternative therapies - help provide the tiny ray of light that brings you back into the real world.

My depression is not that severe, when compared to others.  But it floors me in ways that make me withdraw into myself and it must seem to friends and acquaintances that I am ignoring them and my responsibilities.  I am not, but at times like that I need you to shine a torch and light a candle for me so that I can bring myself out of the darkness and into the light once more.


#21decbloghop

Why not visit the other blogs on this fantastic one day blog hop and find out more about the winter solstice throughout the ages!

1.      Helen Hollick : A little light relief concerning those dark reviews! Plus a Giveaway Prize
2.      Prue Batten : Casting Light....
3.      Alison Morton  Shedding light on the Roman dusk
4.      Anna Belfrage  Let there be light!
5.      Beth Elliott : Steering by the Stars. Stratford Canning in Constantinople, 1810/12
6.      Melanie Spiller : Lux Aeterna, the chant of eternal light
7.      Janet Reedman   The Winter Solstice Monuments
8.      Petrea Burchard  : Darkness - how did people of the past cope with the dark?
9.      Richard Denning The Darkest Years of the Dark Ages: what do we really know? Plus a Giveaway Prize! 
10.  Pauline Barclay  : Shedding Light on a Traditional Pie
11.  David Ebsworth : Propaganda in the Spanish Civil War
12.  David Pilling  :  Greek Fire plus giveaway
13.  Debbie Young : Fear of the Dark
14.  Derek Birks  : Lies, Damned Lies and … Chronicles
15.  Mark Patton : Casting Light on Saturnalia
16.  Tim Hodkinson : Soltice@Newgrange
17.  Wendy Percival  : Ancestors in the Spotlight
18.  Judy Ridgley : Santa and his elves  Plus a Giveaway Prize
19.  Suzanne McLeod  : The Dark of the Moon
20.  Katherine Bone   : Admiral Nelson, A Light in Dark Times
21.  Christina Courtenay : The Darkest Night of the Year
22.  Edward James  : The secret life of Christopher Columbus; Which Way to Paradise?
23.  Janis Pegrum Smith  : Into The Light - A Short Story
24.  Julian Stockwin  : Ghost Ships - Plus a Giveaway Present
25.  Manda Scott : Dark into Light - Mithras, and the older gods
26.  Pat Bracewell Anglo-Saxon Art: Splendor in the Dark
27.  Lucienne Boyce : We will have a fire - 18th Century protests against enclosure
28.  Nicole Evelina What Lurks Beneath Glastonbury Abbey? 
29.  Sky Purington  :  How the Celts Cast Light on Current American Christmas Traditions


Saturday, 26 October 2013

The Bard of the Windy City - an interview with David Blixt

David Blixt is relatively unknown in the UK but recent reviews of his books, one by myself and another by the Historical Novel Society have thrust him into the limelight.  His unique, unpretentious humour is a refreshing change to the genre of historical fiction and I have to say I cannot understand why he has not got a mainstream publishing deal!  He was awarded "Editor's Choice" in the last quarterly edition of the HNS Review Magazine for "Fortune's Fool" and I awarded him my highest accolade, The Golden Hammer & Anvil Shield, for "Her Majesty's Will".  

David kindly took sometime out to answer some questions on his writing and has kindly given a copy of "Her Majesty's Will" as a giveaway prize!  Please comment on this interview, share the link on Facebook and Twitter to enter.  Full details can be found on my Giveaway Page!

1 - Can you tell us about your writing life?  How did you start?
When I was 11, I had a teacher who made us write fiction every Friday. Mr. Melby was his name. 200 word stories on a chosen theme. Then he started letting us choose the topics ourselves. I did a Tolkien/Starlin knock-off that spilled from page to page. I still remember it – terribly derivative, but lots of fun. After that, I never stopped writing. For my senior project in high school I wrote a comedic sci-fi novel (that will never see the light of day).

I didn’t discover Historical Fiction until I was 17, on a car trip with my father. He was listening to an audiobook of Colleen McCullough’s The First Man In Rome. I rolled my eyes and stared out the window, expecting to doze off. Instead I was entranced. In the following years, I was introduced to Bernard Cornwell, Raphael Sabatini, Sharon Kay Penman, Mary Renault, and Patrick O’Brian.  At 19, I was working on a novel when a woman I fancied said my writing reminded her of Jonathan Carroll. Seeing what he does in his books, his dark freedom and brutal honesty, I tried to capture that. But I’m not him. So I stopped writing for a bit, and focused on theatre instead. Which led me deeper into Shakespeare, already a passion.

Then the woman I would one day marry handed me Dorothy Dunnett’s The Game Of Kings and I found my home. I had never considered writing Historical Fiction before that moment. But seeing what she’s able to do with her world, her characters, her stories – she is the monarch of the genre, absolutely unparalleled – I suddenly had a framework for so many stories that lived inside my head. That was in the year 2000. I’ve been writing ever since.

2 - Do you have a favourite author and genre?
Apart from Historical Fiction and the authors named above, I’m a huge Dashiell Hammett fan (and by extension, the novels of Robert B. Parker, who modelled himself after Hammett and Chandler). I also feel the need this week to give a shout-out to the late Tom Clancy. He taught me how to write action sequences across a vast canvas.

In terms of Her Majesty’s Will, the biggest debt I owe is to a hometown friend, Robert Asprin. His Myth Adventures series is one of my favourites, and growing up in Ann Arbor, I got to meet and know him. His sense of the absurd and how to turn a story on its head served me very well in this ridiculous flight of fancy.

3 - Shakespeare is a huge passion of yours and your novel, Her Majesty's Will is a very light-hearted romp with the famous playwright as a central character.  How did you come to imagine him in such a role?
I’m drawn to gaps, holes in stories we all know. What caused the Capulet-Montague feud? What did Caesar and Brutus discuss at dinner the night before the Ides? So naturally I was intrigued by Shakespeare’s ‘lost years’, the time between his departure from Stratford until his first recorded mention in London. Where was he? What was he doing?  It was tempting to write a serious tome. But there have been too many of them, all too self-important. That was a trap I wanted to avoid. I didn’t want to give a ‘fictional biography’, as they’re called. I wanted to tell a story. I looked at the events of those years and noticed the Babington Plot. The mental conversation that followed went like this:

‘Shakespeare as a spy? That’s absurd!’
‘But wait – wasn’t Marlowe a spy at this time?’
‘So they say.’
‘What if Shakespeare and Marlowe team up to foil the Babington Plot? A buddy comedy, like the Hope/Crosby Road movies.’
‘That’s totally ridiculous!’
‘Right-o. Get to work.’
‘Okay. I’ll need some tequila.’

I wrote the first several chapters, and had a ball. Then I took a break for a year, doing shows and working on another series. Then I came back and in the space of about a month finished the whole thing. In the process, I utterly debased Stephen Greenblatt’s wonderful Will In The World. But I made a deal with myself. Accepting my utterly ridiculous premise, I had to stick to historical facts.

I’m also rather fatigued by Tudor novels, because they’re always about the court. I wanted Will and Kit to rub elbows with the scum of society – thieves, pimps, whores, and actors. A view of Tudor society from the bottom up. But I made sure to use real people. And I have to say, I was smiling as I wrote that whole book. I’m smiling now, thinking about it.

4 - You are a prolific writer, what else have you written?
One series is set in 14th century Verona, exploring all the characters of Shakespeare’s Italian plays, combined with the actual people of Dante’s time. I started with an odd inspiration from the end of Romeo & Juliet about the origin of the feud, but the research took me to fantastic heights. Three novels are out now – The Master Of Verona, Voice Of The Falconer, and Fortune’s Fool (Historical Novel Society Editor’s Choice last August!). The fourth novel, The Prince’s Doom, is coming in January.

I’ve also got a series set in first century Rome and Judea, about the destruction of Jerusalem, the building of the Colosseum, and the birth of the Roman Church. Those are the Colossus books. The third will be out next summer.

There’s also a play called Eve Of Ides, which will be published in November. Plutarch tells us that the night before his assassination, Caesar went to a dinner party at Lepidus’ house. Brutus, Antony, Cassius, and Trebonius were all there. My biggest problem with Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar is that Caesar and Brutus never have a conversation. We never see how Brutus gets to the point of saying, ‘It must be by his death.’ So my play does that.
I have some short stories as well, some historical, some not. My Pinocchio-inspired story Remember Me will be published by Grey Matter Press in November.  At this moment, I’m about 5 years behind my brain. There are at least three stand-alone novels I desperately want to write, as well as continuing the series. I have a sequel in mind for Will & Kit, with the worst title in the history of the world: Will’s Will Will. It’s a riff on Love’s Labour’s Lost, and pits Will and Kit against the Spanish Armada.



5 - How do you research your books?  Are there any specific resources that you return to time and time again?

Each series has its touchstones. I already mentioned Greenblatt. There’s also Asimov’s Guide to Shakespeare and Asimov’s Guide to the Bible. Shakespeare’s Songbook I use constantly. I read a lot of Ian Mortimer. Will and Ariel Durant are priceless. And I learn a lot from my fellow writers, constantly. But the best is to walk in the places I’m writing about. London, Verona, Rome – these are cities I know well, and love. I try to include in-jokes for locals, whenever possible.

But clearly my biggest influence is Shakespeare himself. I’ve been fortunate, as an actor, to do perform in two-thirds of the canon so far, and many of them repeatedly (over 30 R&Js at this point – yikes!) Familiarity has not bred contempt – far from it. I didn’t want to be too tongue-in-cheek about the plays, but I did want to plant the seeds for some scenes and characters. His love of the common man is so clear, even as he fears mobs and hypocrisy. I wanted to root that in some reality.

6 - What advice would you give to an aspiring writer?

Write.
Kill your darlings.
Write.
If you’re bored by what you’re writing, make something unexpected happen. If you’re not interested, your reader won’t be either.
Write.
Characters dictate the action, and their motives matter.
Write.
Always flout the reader’s expectations.
And write.

7 - Which three historical figures, either real or imaginary, would you invite to a dinner party?

Caesar, Shakespeare, and FDR.

8 - At which event in history would you have liked to been a fly on the wall?

Oh, the assassination of Caesar. But even more, I would have loved to be present at the moment the first Brutus threw out the Tarquin and refused the crown, setting up the Roman Republic. So much of Western history stems from that moment. I would love to see that first hand.
Thanks for having me! Let’s get together when I’m in London next fall. I’ll buy.

Now go to my Giveaway Page to enter my latest competition to win one of David's books!

Monday, 7 October 2013

Review - Her Majesty's Will by David Blixt

Before he found fame as a playwright and poet, Will Shakespeare was a schoolmaster.....and not a very successful one.  He barely got through each day until one night he saw a woman being assaulted.  Except the woman looked rather tall and powerful for a tavern wench.  He blunders into the fracas, saving the woman from her attacker only to discover that the woman is, in fact, a man.  The disguised fellow is on a secret mission and the fate of the Queen, and England itself, in jeopardy.

The spy is Kit Marlowe and he cajoles his new friend into helping him secure the realm.  What follows is a jaunt of one haphazard calamity to another, good humour and derring-do of "Shakespearian" proportions!


Review

As a keen reader of historical fiction, I sometimes wonder if the genre takes itself too seriously.  The books are always serious, deathly plots and treachery abound yet David Blixt's "Her Majesty's Will" is most definitely a shot in the arm.

I found myself smiling on every page as Shakespeare and Marlowe became a parody of themselves, akin to a Tudoresque Morecombe and Wise as they inadvertently muddle their way through various escapades and scrapes with death.  Blixt has a talent for light hearted prose that is rich in detail, with inventive plotting and vibrant, colourful characters.  

Blixt is a very talented author who deservedly won the "Editor's Choice" award in the Historical Novel Society's Independent Review for his book "Fortune's Fool" and whilst I haven't read that particular tome, if it is as exciting and well written as "Her Majesty's Will", then I will be buying it shortly.

Take a chance and read something that is well researched, historical and - yes - funny.  You will not be disappointed.

I give "Her Majesty's Will" 5 Crosses and award David Blixt "The Golden Hammer & Anvil Shield" for writing an original novel which will have you laughing out loud.

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Tuesday, 1 October 2013

Review - The Arrow of Sherwood by Lauren Johnson

The year is 1193 and Lord Robin of Locksley returns home after years of fighting in the Holy Land.  He has changed from the headstrong, hedonistic boy that committed a crime and was sent away as punishment.  Where there was once a boy, a man now stands.

However, in the time he has been away his father has died and his lands have been usurped.  The county is in turmoil as the Vipont family and their supporters squeeze the local villeins and serfs for every penny in tax and fine them heavily for any transgression - however small.  Innocent people are condemned to hang just for standing up for their rights and Robin begins to realise that as a lord, he has a responsibility to defend the people whom he once ruled.

He tries to regain his lands legally, but when he uncovers a plot between the Viponts and the John, Count of Mortain to wrestle the crown from King Richard his life becomes threatened and he is banished from the Locksley Estate.  A cold blooded murder finally pushes Robin into a corner, when the only thing he can do is what he does best......fight.

REVIEW

The tale of Robin Hood is one that everyone can recite.  Will Scarlette, Friar Tuck, The Sheriff of Nottingham and Maid Marian are all well known characters whose part in the tale are well known.
However, Lauren Johnson, cleverly twists the characters in this imaginative reworking of the legend and not all the usual suspects play their pantomime roles.

The author is a historian and it shows as her accuracy to the period is exceptionally accurate.  Combined with a natural flair for story-telling, The Arrow of Sherwood is a very impressive debut by the Bristol born author.  Being very interested in this period of history, I am always drawn to stories like this but even though the legend of Robin Hood is well known, this is a refreshing and unique perspective and one that deserves to be read.

I am proud to give the Arrow of Sherwood 5 Crosses and bestow Lauren Johnson with the Golden Hammer and Anvil Shield for writing a very impressive debut novel which surprises and thoroughly entertains.
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Monday, 19 August 2013

Review - Gracianna by Trini Amador

Discovering a Luger pistol in his grandmother's house as a four year old boy, Trini Amador had no idea about the truly remarkable life his grandmother, Gracianna, had lived.

Gracianna Lasaga was a heroine of the French Resistance during World War II.  Her early life was difficult but a chance meeting with some American tourists, would change her life forever.  They promised her a job in America and so she left her rural Pyrenees village and went to Paris, then hoping to earn enough money to sail to America.  She finds a job in a cafe and then war is declared, which changes everything.

Gracianna finds herself dragged into a horrific world of violence and death, of occupation and oppression.  The challenges and choices she makes have a profound effect on those around her and, ultimately, the fate of her country.  There is love, family conflicts and devastating cruelty - but Gracianna does her best to overcome all obstacles and survive.


REVIEW

GRACIANNA is a cleverly constructed book that could deceive you.  The author writes in a very easy to read manner, which means you devour the pages.  But if you are not careful, you miss the beautifully crafted world of his grandmother and fail to appreciate the amazing life she had.

I don't think any of us could imagine living in our own country once a foreign power had invaded, let alone be able to work in the shadows as a member of the resistance, risking life and limb in order to try an topple an evil regime.  Some of the choices Gracianna has to make, some of the ethical decisions that shape her life, are so unbelievable today, that you can scarcely believe this was the way of the world, in Europe a mere sixty years ago.

Trini Amador has written a book that will inspire, move, scare and shock you.  But it is written with care, with love and with obvious respect to a woman who, along with thousands of others, made the brave decision to put their lives on the line and fight an enemy they were forced to co-habit with.  I loved this story and found it to be though-provoking and inspirational.

I give "Gracianna" 4 Crosses!

Friday, 28 June 2013

Review: The Riddle of Solomon by D.J. Niko

Dr Sarah Weston is a rich girl rebelling against her heritage.  An archaeologist, she is a constant disappointment to her father who wants his daughter to be more obedient and take up a position slightly more fitting to her lineage and gender.  Rachel is happiest in the field and her partnership with Dr Daniel Madigan is one full of excitement, pent up passion and together they make one hell of a dig team.

A chance discovery of an ancient scroll, buried for centuries in the middle of a desert in Saudi Arabia give Sarah and Daniel cause to believe the lost treasure of Solomon is not a biblical myth, but a reality and they begin to ask questions that result ina  deadly attack on their camp.  A British millionaire, Trent Sacks,  has spent his life trying to uncover the secret location of Solomon's treasure.  He is the last living descendant of the Davidian line and as soon as he discovers the scroll exists, he sends his own agents to secure it.

Is Solomon's myth real?  Is there a treasure to be found and will Sarah and Daniel live long enough to discover it before Trent Sacks who wants to use it to announce himself as The Messiah, in accordance with Scripture?





Review

One of the good things about running your own blog, is that you can break your own rules every know and then.  My wonderful followers know I concentrate on historical fiction, but I do read other genres and I was very surprised to find how much I enjoyed "The Riddle of Solomon", a modern day novel with a heavy emphasis on the Biblical past.

Biblical conspiracy novels are ten a penny and most travel the same well-worn path, rehashing the same plotlines and not breaking any new ground.  However, D.J Niko has written a novel steeped in rich detail and written with care and passion.  I am not an expert in archaeology, or the Bible for that matter, but it is a refreshing change to read a novel where the author has done extensive research and has obvious knowledge of the subject in hand, rather than make things up for the sake of it and hope no one thinks too much about the historical element of the story.

With summer coming, I am putting a list of reads together for my audience and I am happy to suggest "The Riddle of Solomon" for anyone taking their Kindle or a paperback to the beach.  It is rich in detail, has a fast-paced plot and I give it  4 CROSSES !!


Tuesday, 28 May 2013

Pre-Release Review! War God by Graham Hancock

ISBN: 978-1444734379
RELEASE DATE: 30 May 2013
PUBLISHER: Coronet

It is the year of our Lord 1519 and Hernando Cortes is preparing to sail from Cuba to the New Lands in what will become known as Mexico, to conquer the people and claim the land in the name of God and the King of Spain.

Meanwhile, in the city of Tenochtitlan, the Great Speaker (Priest) Moctezuma is sacrificing hundreds of slaves in the hope of pleasing the War God, Hummingbird.  Two women - from very different backgrounds - are being prepared for sacrifice and rival tribes are preparing for an assault on the city in an attempt to stop Moctezuma from winning the favour of Hummingbird.

In a twist of fate, the girls are released and hear of the invasion.  They believe the men from across the sea are heralding a new age of peace and they begin the dangerous task of destroying Moctezuma and his hold over the people of Mexica.


Review

One thing I love about historical fiction and those who write novels set in the past, is discovering how another person interprets those times and weaves a fictional story into and around a skeleton of fact.  

Writing about events that have been well documented is a difficult undertaking.  Because of the wealth of information available, it is sometimes impossible to find a "way in", to find a place where you can start and develop a story.  However Graham Hancock has, once again, produced a book that entertains as well as educates.  Many of us will have a basic understanding of the Spanish Conquest of the South American continent but the true scale and brutality of the invasion, as described in War God is likely to shock. Not only the violent methods inflicted by the Spaniards on the natives, but the way the indigenous population waged war on each other and corralled their prisoners before sacrificing them on the steps of their Pyramids and feasting on their remains.

War God is a rich and deeply involving novel that grips you from the very first page.  If you can handle the gruesome detail, then you will devour every page and the end will come too soon, leaving you desperate for book two, The Return of the Plumed Serpent.

I give "War God: Nights of the Witch" 4 Crosses!








Wednesday, 15 May 2013

Review - Three Kings, One Throne by Michael Wills

In 11th century Europe, the most coveted throne of all was that of England.  Contested on three fronts, Viking, French and Anglo-Saxon it was a time of war and political turmoil.

Torkil, an Anglo-Saxon thayne is a vassall of Harold Godwinsson, Earl of Wessex and the most powerful man in England.  Harold is positioning himself to take over the crown once King Edward has died and is gaining favour throughout the realm as the most suitable heir.  With Harold he has to negotiate the release of Godwinsson family hostages held by William, Duke of Normandy - another claimant to England's crown.

Ivar, is a slave to Harald, a Danish prince.  He rises from nothing to a position of trust and becomes a feared warrior who becomes one of the Emperor of Turkey's elite bodyguards.  When the time is right, he will join with his Master to make their own bid for the throne of England.

Told from these two perspectives "Three Kings, One Throne" ventures across early medieval Europe telling how one of the most bloodthirsty eras came to shape our world today tells the story of two warriors and how their destinies entwine.




Review

There are many tales set in the backdrop of the short reign of Harold Godwinsson and nearly all are written for an purely adult audience.  Michael Wills has written a beautifully simplistic story for young adults which entertains and educates at the same time.

It is not as puerile as my own school history lessons were, which basically consisted the telling of a battle where a king had an arrow stuck in his eye before the Normans took over and a long tablecloth was stitched telling the story!  Michael Wills has done some breathtaking research and constructed a novel which gives enough of the brutality of the age without causing nightmares to the reader.  It is colourful and rich, the descriptions of the various cities in which the action takes place is vivid and helpful annotations explain to the reader where places are or describe items that may be unfamiliar.

If you want to inspire a teenager to read about 11th Century England and develop an interest in history, I cannot recommend this book highly enough.  It does have elements that are probably a little too mature for any young person under the age of 13, but nonetheless it is pitched perfectly to educate and entertain a teenage audience.

I give "Three Kings, One Throne" 5 Crosses!

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BUY "THREE KINGS, ONE THRONE" FROM MY 

AMAZON STORE!

Friday, 10 May 2013

Review - Siege by Nick Brown



AD 270 and a newly promoted member of the Roman Internal Security Service Cassisus Corbula is given his first assignment - a probable suicide mission.

The fort of Aluauran is an outpost of strategic importance; standing in the middle of the Arabian desert it holds a well of fresh water and acts as a vital staging post.  The fort is undermanned and a force of Palmyran marches on it under the orders of Queen Zenobia, they are to wrestle the fort from Roman hands and make it their own.

A supporting cohort is making its way to the fort, but it is doubtful they would make it in time to stop the Palmyrans.  Corbula has to take command of the men, falsely telling them he is a Centurion, and hold the fort until reinforcements arrive.  One hundred men against the force of a nation is long odds, but Corbula must prevail or else the Roman Empire will lose its eastern frontier.



Review

Nick Brown has done a marvellous job in writing a book that is well researched and hugely entertaining.  The premise of an unprepared, yet well theorised young man being sent into a hell-hole to rally a body of men who have little respect for unseasoned campaigners is interesting, especially when he has to conceal his true role as a "Grain Man" - a term used for the Secret Service - who are despised.

I've read quite a few books set in Ancient Rome and can tell that Nick Brown has done an excellent job researching his novel.  His characters are expertly crafted, they jump off the page and the internal dilemmas the inexperienced officer has when trying to rally the troops are superbly written.  In particular, Corbula's  manservant Simo is the pick of the bunch.  Deeply loyal, despite only being given to Corbula at the start of his mission, he is a cross between The Admirable Crichton and a St Bernard; he is perceptive, witty and quickly proves his worth in all manner of ways.

Brown's military knowledge shines through in his battle scenes which are hard hitting and described in brutal terms.  The ragtag bunch of disheartened and drunken soldiers know they have little time to prepare for war and realise they may not survive to see the relief column.
All in all, Nick Brown has written a superb debut novel and I look forward to reading more of Corbula's adventures. 

I give "Siege" 5 Crosses!

Monday, 6 May 2013

Review - Murder as a Fine Art by David Morrell

London 1854 - the nightly fog that obscures most of London is the perfect hiding place for a killer.  A family is found dead in their home; father, mother, two young children and their housemaid.  All beaten to death and their throats cut.

Detective Inspector Sean Ryan is the policeman in charge of the investigation and it quickly becomes apparent that these shocking deaths are similar to a murder that happened 43 years previous and which were written about in an essay by the infamous writer Thomas de Quincey.  Famous for his book detailing his lifetime addiction to opium "Confessions of an Opium Eater", de Quincey had written a piece called "Murder as a Fine Art" all about the brutal Ratcliffe Highway murders.  It seems this new slaying is a homage to the original and de Quicey, being in London to promote his writing, is the prime suspect.

Ryan is pushed into a premature arrest by the Home Secretary, the powerful an popular Lord Palmerston. But when an attempt on de Quincey's life fails it becomes clear that there are forces at work which have great influence and unlimited resources.  Ryan, his assistant Constable Becker, Thomas de Quincey and his daughter Emily, end up fighting the establishment and a group of hidden assassins not only to discover the killer's identity but to uncover a conspiracy that could have drastic consequences to the British Empire.



Review

David Morrell transports you back 150 years to a time of social deprivation and when London was one of the most unhealthy places to live in the known world. The odour of sewage, the smog, the gaslit streets and the atmosphere of fear caused by the horrific murders are portrayed evocatively.  

The story is well researched and certainly inventive, however I did feel at times that the writing became a homage to the level of research undertaken by the author, rather than a novel which told a story.  I also felt the pace was slightly off, parts of the plot were revealed to quickly in my opinion and a few of the characters needed a bit more "meat on their bones".  I am not a fan of Americans who write novels set in Britain but who feel it acceptable to use American slang rather than the correct words.  For example, an English street urchin would not ask for a "cookie" and neither would they stand on "sidewalks".  I found this to be off-putting, especially as the author has done such a sterling job by thoroughly researching the era in question.

However, there is no doubt that this is a very original piece of work and the author is passionate about Victorian London.  The prose is easy to read and you can clearly imagine being in London as night falls and the fog comes down around you.  Overall, it is an entertaining novel and would be a great holiday read.  

I give "Murder as a Fine Art" 4 Crosses !

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Sunday, 5 May 2013

Fifth Knight Giveaway Winner

The winner of the Fifth Knight Giveaway is:

AMY CAMPBELL!!

Congratulations Amy, I hope you enjoy the book.  thank you to Elaine Powell for being so thoughtful and providing a copy of her book as a prize.

There will be another giveaway soon, so keep in touch!

Friday, 19 April 2013

The Fifth Knight - an interview with E.M. Powell


As part of the Historical Fiction Blog Tour, author E.M. Powell discusses writing her historical thriller, "The Fifth Knight" and is offering a copy of the book to followers of Sir Read-A-Lot!  Follow the link HERE to enter the giveaway.

So, please bow and curtsey to E.M. Powell as she takes centre stage at Sir Read-A-Lot's Court of Historical Fiction!


1 - What gave you the inspiration to write "The Fifth Knight"?

I have a long-standing interest in medieval literature and history. At University I studied Old and Middle English, reading such wonderful stories such as Beowulf and Sir Gawain and the Green Knight in their original forms. My second completed novel was a medieval suspense called Lollard’s Daughter. It was based on the heretical group, the Lollards, who were active from the mid-14th Century to the Reformation. That novel came very close to getting me representation. While it was disappointing at the time, I knew medieval was definitely what I wanted to write. So I started to look around at famous medieval historical events. I of course came across the murder of Thomas Becket, Archbishop of Canterbury, in 1170. So I thought to myself, ‘Could I really?’ Turns out, I could- and did.

2 - Is the Angevin period your favourite era and why?  If not which is your favourite and why?

The Angevins and the Plantagenets are neck and neck. For the Angevins, you have Henry II, his extraordinary Queen, Eleanor of Aquitaine, and their raft of sons- all of whom are a book in themselves. But within the Plantagenet reign, you have The Black Death. I would love to take on a saga about those 1,000 days of death from 1347 – 1351. I suppose that means a photo finish, so I guess I’ll just have to write them all!

3 - You initially released the book as an eBook serial, what made you repackage the book into one tome?

When The Fifth Knight was out on submission (by my agent, the tireless and wonderful Josh Getzler at HSG), there was some interest. Then an offer came from Thomas & Mercer, who are the crime and mystery imprint at Amazon Publishing. Amazon launched Kindle serials in September 2012. Kindle Serials are novel-length stories, published in a number of episodes. A customer pays a one-off price, and then each episode is delivered automatically to their Kindle. Thomas & Mercer really liked The Fifth Knight and suggested that it would work well divided up into six episodes. They would then release it as a complete novel.  And that’s exactly what happened. On the day it was launched, The Fifth Knight was alongside Charles Dickens’ The Pickwick Papers on the Serials promotion page. Surreal? Yes. Thrilling? Double yes!

4 - Do you have a writing regime?  How do you fit it into your day job (if you have one)?

My regime is that I don’t really have one. I try and write where and when I can. I have a part-time day job so the days not in there are where I have the most potential hours. But as every writer knows, life is no respecter of time set aside. It’s also quite difficult to convince your Nearest & Dearest that staring into space while you’re sat over an idle computer is actually writing. It’s just in my head, and any minute now will come out. I also think that writing sort of percolates. You think you’re finished for the day. Then out of nowhere, in the most unlikely of circumstances (like mopping the floor/having a meal/cleaning gunk out of the shower trap) an idea just strikes and you have to rush to capture it on paper. My N &D don’t even look up now when they hear the cry of ‘Oh!’ and I leg it to go and grab a paper and pen.

5 - What advice would you give to any aspiring writers?

Never, ever give up! It took me eleven years and three fully completed manuscripts to get to where I am now. I have a pile of rejections that weighs (almost) as much as I do. But if you give up, you’ll never do it.

6 - Do you have any other projects in the pipeline?

I’m currently working on the sequel, which is called The Blood of The Fifth Knight. That title may change. I also have a side project, which is a Steampunk series set in the Coroner’s Office of Victorian Manchester. Think Ripper Street as alternate history. Many people think the idea is crazed. I like it a lot.

7 - Which three historical persons would you invite for dinner?

Emmeline Pankhurst. I think I would spend most of the evening just gaping at her in awe. Then I’d probably drink too much and cry into her face for what she’s done for women everywhere. She would then probably slap me.  Pliny the Elder. What did he do when he saw Vesuvius blowing up in 79 AD? He recorded everything he saw because he thought it fascinating and exciting, then tried to rescue a female friend. He was an old man in poor health but was unstoppable till the end. I like that. A lot. Thomas Becket, Archbishop of Canterbury. Because I would ask him what it was like that dark December evening in 1170, when murderers came for him in his own cathedral. I’d ask him how he had the courage to stand and face them, when most of us would plead/run/hide/fight.

8 - At which event in history would you have liked to have been present at?

I have been. The birth of our daughter in 1998. Take the sun, moon and stars, roll them up in a slice of Heaven and put them in my arms. That was the moment she came into the world. I’m afraid nothing in history could ever match that.

Wednesday, 17 April 2013

Review - The Fifth Knight by E.M. Powell


England 1170 - King Henry II has uttered a sentence that will reverberate for centuries.  Five knights are charged with the arrest and detainment of the Archbishop of Canterbury, Thomas Becket.  One of the five, a young mercenary called Sir Benedict Palmer, sees this opportunity as a way to escape his poverty stricken existence and gain favour with the king.  However when the clandestine arrest turns into cold blooded murder, his life is turned upside down.

The main reason for the attack on the most revered holy man in England is to secure a young nun, Theodosia who unknowingly holds the key to a secret.  The ring leader of the group, Sir Reginald Fitzurse, has plans for the young nun which involves rape, torture and murder.  Palmer's conscience gets the better of him and he escapes from Fitzurse with Theodosia.  As they make their escape, they venture across England and try to discover the real motive behind Becket's assassination, a truth that could destroy England and bring about the King's downfall.



Review

Re-telling history is a dangerous and often thankless task. Rather than accepting the author's fictional account of what might of happened, you tend to get "helpful readers" as Bernard Cornwell calls them, who are keen to point out the minutiae of errors in facts or are plainly affronted that you have  been brave enough to write a different version of events.  However, I believe good historical fiction is based on two words..."What If?"

E.M. Powell has asked that question and written a tale that gives an alternative version of one of history's most infamous killings.  There were, of course, four knights involved in Thomas a'Becket's however what if there were five?  This is the wonderful premise of an engaging and well-written novel that was originally released as a Kindle serial.

A flawed, chivalrous hero paired with a naive yet beautiful heroine is always a mix that works, regardless of genre.  Their pursuers are sociopathic and sadistic, there is a conspiracy and the fate of a nation hangs in the balance as good battles evil. What more could you ask for?

"The Fifth Knight" is thoroughly enjoyable, well researched and easy to read.  E.M. Powell has created a novel that will appeal to all and I award it 4 crosses!

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Read an exclusive interview with E.M. Powell here

Enter my latest giveaway and win a copy of "The Fifth Knight" here

Buy "The Fifth Knight" from the Sir Read-A-Lot Amazon Store!

Tuesday, 9 April 2013

March Giveaway winner!

The winner of "Oleanna", the prize in my March Giveaway is:

CARL SCOTT!

Congratulations Carl, please could you email me or send me a message on Twitter (@SirReadalotUK) with your contact details so that I can arrnage to have the book sent you.

There is another exciting giveaway coming soon & a fabulous review later in the week.

Thursday, 4 April 2013

Review - Like Chaff in the Wind by Anna Belfrage



Set in present day Sweden and 17th Century Virginia and Scotland, the saga of the Graham family continues.  Matthew Graham is kidnapped and sent to Virginia to work as slave labour on a tobacco plantation.  His brother, Luke, wants revenge on Matthew who cut off his nose in retaliation for the abuse he inflicted on his wife, Alex which resulted in the death of their unborn baby.

Matthew's wife, Alex, makes the decision to travel across the Atlantic to free him - a journey that should take two months ends up taking a year and Alex is plagued by nightmares which show her the degradation and suffering Matthew is having to endure.

Can she make it to Virginia and pay the indenture fee to release her husband before he is worked to death?


REVIEW

Timeslip novels are tricky things to get right.  Many historical novel purists are reticent to read them as they push the genre to its limits, others enjoy them as they try to bring freshness and new direction.  I am normally one of the purists; I like timeslip and science fiction but to reconcile them into a historical fiction setting is normally off-putting, but "Like Chaff in the Wind" is so well-written, I concede defeat!

Anna Belfrage creates characters that jump off the page and the multi-era storyline is superbly crafted.  She portrays the desolation and fear of the protagonists as they fight to survive a situation not of their making and as Alex's modern day life threatens to intervene and stop her from saving Matthew, you find yourself not actually being aware of reading a timeslip novel - but just a very good novel.

This is a saga with a previous chapter and it would benefit the reader to have read the first novel in the series, but if like me you haven't the story is still enjoyable. Anna Belfrage is definitely a novelist to watch.  Once again, an independent author demonstrates that the industry is one filled with talent and that they ares not afraid to challenge the sensibilities of genre fiction. 

I award "Like Chaff in the Wind" 4 Crosses!

Read my exclusive interview with Anna Belfrage here