Retalio by Alison Morton

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A vile almost inhuman character; a combination of Augustus’s intelligence and the brutal madness of Caligula has overthrown the legal government of Roma Nova and replaced it with a distinctly male dominated presence.  Forced to flee for their lives, many of the Roma Novans; including the indomitable Aurelia and the young Imperatrix, Silvia, begin the long, slow process of reclaiming their homeland.  Throughout this alternative history series I have been fascinated by the author’s ability to conjure up a world that is recognizable and totally believable, and she has done so once again.  Not only are the political, and logistical nuances covered in a thorough, convincing manner, the portrayal of the internal conflicts and emotions of the characters had this humble scribe stopping occasionally to catch his breath.  It is safe to say that Retalio is an excellent addition to this remarkable history of Roma Nova.  The villain, Caius Tellus, as well as ranking high on my favorite fictional bad guys list, bears a certain resemblance to the current occupant of the White House, at least to me.  An unintentional resemblance, I’m sure, but prescient nonetheless.  A page turning delight (with the above mentioned pauses for breath taking), a heart racing tale of intrigue and courage.  5 stars

The Spider and the Stone by Glen Craney

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A tantalizing look at the life of James Douglas, or The Black Douglas as he was called by those who feared him.  My only real venture into this part of history was Braveheart, but that centers on William Wallace, not the man who rose to become the right hand of Robert the Bruce in the long standing war with Edward Longshanks and his son Edward Caernarvon.  I was drawn into this epic tale right from the start; the intensity of the narrative grabbed and never let go.  The characters are beautifully written, from the morose, melancholic Bruce, the savage brutality of Longshanks, the effervescent monk Ned Sweeney, the redoubtable Belle, the scheming Isabella, and of course, the continually torn Jamie Douglas.  The author presents the events and the time such that one can feel the thunderous approach of  Longshank’s heavy horse, or the bitter Scottish weather confronting the fleeing Bruce and Douglas.  An entertaining book to be sure; one that demands your attention to the detriment of sleep or other obligations.  4.8 stars

Gods of War – King’s Bane II by C.R. May

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It’s a tough gig to move an entire nation to a new home.  It’s even tougher when you have enemies everywhere bent on destroying you before you leave.  Gods of War continues the story of the Engeln people migrating to Britannia and the exploits of Eofer; a.k.a. King’s Bane.  A gritty tale of courage, drama and a fierce determination to succeed, the author paints a vivid picture of the times while drawing on the somewhat meager historical record, doing with it what all good historical-fiction authors do – make the story believable.  A wonderful cast of characters bolstered by the author’s ability to describe the terra-firma, the action, and the emotions of this intrepid band of warriors.  I am looking forward to the continuation of this tale, a tale of how Britain came to be.

4.3 stars

Imperator, Deus by John R. Prann, Jr.

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A well written account of Constantine and his rise to become the sole Emperor of Rome.  It is also the story of his involvement in the Arian controversy that culminated in the writing of The Nicene Creed.  The author’s presentation of the debates over the true nature of Jesus are as enlightening as they are entertaining.  I came away with the sense that, yes, this is how they could have happened.  The descriptions of the main characters taking part; the atmosphere surrounding the, at times tumultuous, gatherings; the drama between Constantine and the opposing factions, are all factors in making this a nice page turning work.  In addition, the author’s rendering of the military campaigns of Constantine are nicely detailed events punctuated with scenes of bravery, cunning, and the camaraderie of Constantine’s personal guard.  All in all, a well researched and produced story.  One that gives the reader a chance to look back at these defining historical moments and ponder the significance of Constantine, and the future effects of the creed, and the empowering of the church.  4.3 stars

Guillaume by Prue Batten

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Once again I found myself drawn into the medieval world as depicted by one of my favorite authors, Prue Batten.  Once again, she does not disappoint as she embroiders a tale full of intrigue and suspense.  The story takes place in the village of Lyon and concerns a family’s trading business; a business that draws unwanted attention from an over zealous monk – a despicable character who is just one example of the author’s ability to weave believable personas into the fabric of the story’s time and place.  From the Crusade induced troubled mind of the protagonist to the steel backbone of the maligned Jewess, Ariella, the reader is treated to a page turner of a tale.  Ms. Batten is a master at setting the stage, leaving hints and clues as to what is coming, and yet still surprising the reader with the eventual results.  A descriptive, and at times poetic, look at a world that was gradually moving into the time of the Reformation, and where loyalty and trust were often hard to find.  5 stars and an anxiously awaiting reader for the third volume of this marvelous series.

The Escape by Steven A. McKay

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A delightful short featuring John Little or Little John as he is more famously known as. A night out with friends, lots of ale and food, and a group of mean looking mercenaries bent on mayhem. A pleasant night goes awry but have the mercenaries taken on more than they can handle? An imaginative bit of writing at the end had me thinking, “clever, Mr. McKay, very clever indeed.”

4.3 stars

The First Blast of the Trumpet by Marie Macpherson

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I attended Knox Presbyterian Church in Detroit, MI when I was young; indeed it was the church in which I was married, so, reading about the life of John Knox seemed like an interesting thing to do.  What I found, in The First Blast of the Trumpet, was far more than just a historical fiction biography.  Scotland in the mid-16th century was filled with religious and political turmoil.  It was an era of burgeoning church reform; building on the Lutheran reformation in Germany.  It was also a time when Henry VIII of England wanted Scotland for his own.  In this turbulent atmosphere the author has produced a wonderfully crafted tale; one that propels the reader into a world where the Church is beginning to lose it’s grip on the populace; a world where Scotland is struggling to maintain its independence; a world where the reader experiences life in a Cicstercian Abbey.  While this is the story of John Knox, the main character in the first book of this trilogy, is Elizabeth Hepburn, Prioress of St. Mary’s Abbey.  I fell in love with Lisbeth right from the start, a jaggy thistle with romantic dreams but whose future was not hers to control.  As the story progresses and the jaggy thistle grows up, Elizabeth becomes what was a rarity in a male dominated society; a strong woman able to defy and even defeat her male counterparts and overlords.  Yet, she is also a woman troubled by that romantic streak she maintains in memory and even in hope.  The story is also full of the dramatic tension between the corrupt officials of the Church and the reformers.  John Knox was destined for a life in the Church but doubts about the teachings of the Church and the influence of others leads him to turn his back on the Church and by extension his Godmother, Elizabeth.  Naturally, the Church responds viscerally as heretics are now burning for their sins.  This emotion packed look into the early life of Knox; this tale filled with unexpected turns; this work replete with characters who draw you into their world, comes with Hoover Book Reviews highest recommendation.  4.8 stars

P.S. I would be remiss if I didn’t mention? forewarn? my peeps and fellow travelers of the enchanting use of archaic Scottish throughout the book.  I jalouse you may want to keep Google nearby if you want to ken the meanings.  🙂