Akela by Ryan Uytdewilligen

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Forrest Gump meets Woody Allen in this endearing story about a sea turtle seeking to be reunited with the love of his life.

When Akela is separated from his migrant soulmate, Kalea, he will do anything to be reunited with her. Journey with this charming and neurotic sea turtle as he crosses paths with celebrities, politicians, and other moments in history with unbreakable determination to be reunited with his love.

REVIEW

I wasn’t sure what to expect when the author requested that I read his novel about the travels and travails of a Green Sea Turtle, but the premise was intriguing. I mean how could I resist seeing 20th century American history through the eyes and thoughts of a sea going reptile? While that is a major theme running throughout the book, it’s the emotional experiences Akela goes through in this wonderfully creative take on humanity that pulled me in. Add in some entertaining characters, both human and animal (a couple of my favorites are a gator named Earl, and a group of vultures known as The Good Time Gang), and what transpires is part whimsical fantasy, and part poignant introspection. A journey full of expectations, dangers, surprises, and self-realizations await you dear reader, making for an enjoyable read. 4 stars

The Last Emir (Knights Templar #2) by S.J.A. Turney

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Risk everything; fight to the last: a taut and intense historical thriller from master author S.J.A. Turney

The relics of Christendom have been plundered during the long Moorish conquest of the Iberian peninsula. Newly minted Templar Sergeant Arnau de Vallbona must recover one of the most elusive to save his priory at Rourell in Spain.

Travelling to Majorca on a stealth mission to retrieve the bones of St Stephen, Arnau soon discovers the raid is more complex than it first appears: the mighty Almohad dynasty has laid claim to the island, and will fight them every step of the way.

Along with his companion, the aged warrior Balthesar, Arnau is in desperate straits. Surrounded on all sides by hostile forces, it will take all their cunning and strength to escape with their prize – and their lives….

A thrilling and unexplored account of the Knights Templar, grounded in extraordinary research, The Last Emir is perfect for fans of Bernard Cornwell, K.M. Ashman and C.F. Iggulden.

REVIEW

Arnau is not a very complex man…steadfast, loyal, unerring in his devotion to the Order and to God. However, in The Last Emir, complexities are the name of the game, and Arnau will either adapt or he will die. While the story line revolves around the search for a long lost relic, the plot soon encompasses the fight of good versus evil, the age old story of revenge, and the irony of one’s faith being tested and used in a much broader understanding of God and men. The author has given the reader a heart pounding tale with his usual flair for drama making it hard to put the book down. Meticulously researched, the reader is drawn into a time and place of religious turmoil, and the seeking of power and dominion over heathens and infidels. The story, entertaining as it is, also has the quality to make one think about how things in the world could be without the religious intolerance we have been subjected to for millennia. As a reader, The Last Emir, is a pleasure to enjoy. As a member of the human race, The Last Emir, is a hopeful glance at how Christian, Muslim, and Jew can coexist. 5 Stars

Belle o’ the Waters by Raima Larter

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Belle Waters is about to celebrate her fourteenth birthday, and she is terrified. The fear of marriage looms large for her, and every other girl who was born into the Mormon settlement of Salt Lake in the 1850s. She knows it is her duty to marry and bring Heavenly Father’s children into the world, but she’s not interested in tying the knot with anyone—especially not the Prophet, an old man with a number of wives and counting. But when the US Army invades Salt Lake intent on arresting the Prophet, Belle soon realizes that the possibility of becoming a child bride is only the beginning in a series of disastrous threats.

 

Belle o’ the Waters is a work of fiction, but is loosely based on a true historical event: the Mountain Meadows Massacre of September 11, 1857, which sparked a short-lived Mormon War. Although set over a century ago, the themes and issues explored in this novel are extremely relevant to the modern age: religious freedom and extremism, the role and status of women in society, and the contemporary impact of homegrown terrorism. Belle o’ the Waters is a searing exploration of those living within an oppressed community, and an ultimately revelatory novel about what it means to lead a courageous life, despite one’s circumstances.

 REVIEW

A fascinating tale of the courage of a young Mormon girl in the face of some pretty daunting circumstances. The author has crafted a tale of survival in a landscape filled with a natural world both beautiful and dangerous, and a religious calling even more dangerous. Strong, believable characters, a creatively imaginative story line, and a look at a time and place in American history imbued with an iconoclastic mystery, Belle o’ the Waters had me hooked from page one. I especially enjoyed the use of Belle’s journal entries during the tale as they bring into focus the intense situations that arise during her life, and without spoiling anything, she faces much that would break many fourteen year old girls on the verge of womanhood. A page turning delight, with requisite pauses to catch one’s breath, awaits you dear reader. Prepare to be entertained, and perhaps maybe even educated a little about an oft overlooked piece of American History. 4 Stars

The Earl Strongbow (The Invaders Series Book 3) by Edward Ruadh Butler

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Exiled from court, distrusted and indebted, Richard de Clare is a man whose past is greater than his prospects and whose once-great name overshadows his deeds. Having backed the loser in the civil war, he faces penury and disgrace due to the disfavour of the distant and over-mighty king.

He has, however, one last gambit to play, one final attempt to claim a wealth and glory that would eclipse even the greatest exploits of his mighty fathers.

And, nothing less than the hand of an Irish princess and a throne will suffice if Richard is to surpass the great feats of his family.

REVIEW

Raymond de Carew, Strongbow’s right hand man in the quest for glory in Ireland, is a troubled soul. Despite his prowess as a warrior and battle leader, he’s mired in self doubt about the path his life should take. In this, the 3rd volume in The Invader Series, the author has given the reader in depth looks into the lives of Strongbow and Raymond. Their strengths and weaknesses, their tenacious resolve, their motivation and desire to succeed are what fuel this action packed, tension filled drama. Obstacles, surprises, deception, and treachery from within threaten not only Raymond’s reputation, but Stronghold’s last gasp at respectability. I found the characters to be true to their various backgrounds; Norman, Ostman(Dane), Gael(Irish), and Welsh. The author paints them with their built in disdain for others, whether that takes the form of Norman vs Ostman, or nobility vs upstarts (in this case Sir Hervey is a right bastard 🙂). A thoroughly enjoyable tale of a volatile time, a volatile place, and certainly a lot of volatile men with big ambitions, and sharpened blades.  4 stars

Storm of Steel (Bernicia Chronicles #6) by Matthew Harffy

 

 

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AD 643. Anglo-Saxon Britain. A gripping, action-packed historical thriller and the sixth installment in the Bernicia Chronicles. Perfect for fans of Bernard Cornwell.

Heading south to lands he once considered his home, Beobrand is plunged into a dark world of piracy and slavery when an old friend enlists his help to recover a kidnapped girl.

Embarking onto the wind-tossed seas, Beobrand pursues his quarry with single-minded tenacity. But the Whale Road is never calm and his journey is beset with storms, betrayal and violence.

As the winds of his wyrd blow him ever further from what he knows, will Beobrand find victory on his quest or has his luck finally abandoned him?

REVIEW

While the previous books in this series have shown Beobrand in all sorts of dilemmas, and in a wide range of emotions, Storm of Steel has managed to raise the bar. The opposing forces within this warrior chieftain; anguish, pride, brutal in war and anger, generous and kind, are displayed throughout this absolute page turning episode of Dark Age Britain. As is expected in a time where violence and brutality are seemingly constant companions, the tale is full of action, a storm of steel. But what really makes this part of the saga most appealing to me is the depth of character Beobrand has become. Without giving anything away, the situations, the anguish, angst, frustration, and doubts Beobrand has to deal with make this tale tick. He is long past the inexperienced young warrior in book 1, and with every ordeal he becomes more human, less exalted. The rest of the cast ain’t too shabby either. The author continues his wonderful portrayal of the warrior band of brothers; their camaraderie, their fierce loyalty to their lord, their battle proven worthiness, their grief at the loss of a friend. Their mettle is tested again and again in this tale of rescue and revenge. Surprises aplenty as Beobrand navigates the tortuous path woven for him by The Norns.  5 stars

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About the author

Matthew grew up in Northumberland where the rugged terrain, ruined castles and rocky coastline had a huge impact on him. He now lives in Wiltshire, England, with his wife and their two daughters.

 Follow Matthew Harffy:    

Twitter: @MatthewHarffy

Facebook: @MatthewHarffyAuthor

Website: http://www.matthewharffy.com/

Buy links:

Amazon: https://amzn.to/2INuSlg

Kobo: https://bit.ly/2IQsFWo

Google Play: https://bit.ly/2GEC8i9

iBooks: https://apple.co/2UQcr6Y

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Once More Unto the Breach by Meghan Holloway

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For readers of The Nightingale and Beneath a Scarlet Sky comes a gripping historical thriller set against a fully-realized WWII backdrop about the love a father has for his son and the lengths he is willing to go to find him, from a talented new voice in suspense.

Rhys Gravenor, Great War veteran and Welsh sheep farmer, arrives in Paris in the midst of the city’s liberation with a worn letter in his pocket that may have arrived years too late. As he follows the footsteps of his missing son across an unfamiliar, war-torn country, he struggles to come to terms with the incident that drove a wedge between the two of them.

Joined by Charlotte Dubois, an American ambulance driver with secrets of her own, Rhys discovers that even as liberation sweeps across France, the war is far from over. And his personal war has only begun as he is haunted by memories of previous battles and hampered at every turn by danger and betrayal. In a race against time and the war, Rhys follows his son’s trail from Paris to the perilous streets of Vichy to the starving mobs in Lyon to the treacherous Alps. But Rhys is not the only one searching for his son. In a race of his own, a relentless enemy stalks him across the country and will stop at nothing to find the young man first.

The country is in tatters, no one is trustworthy, and Rhys must unravel the mystery of his son’s wartime actions in the desperate hope of finding him before it’s too late. Too late to mend the frayed bond between them. Too late to beg his forgiveness. Too late to bring him home alive.

REVIEW

“Grief and I had long been acquaintances, but now it met me in an unfamiliar guise. When I lost Aelwyd and the twins, and later my father, I had been gorged to excess on pain and anger. Grief had been a wolf pacing within the confines of my chest, gnashing at my heart, howling and feral and bitter.”

Let me say at the outset, this book is one of the best I’ve read, and I read a lot of excellent books. The above quote is a prime example of the author’s descriptive talent. Dialogue and narrative are so beautifully rendered, to the point where the reader’s mind has to work very little to conjure up the images described or the emotional depth the characters feel. Right from page one, I was hooked. The chaotic atmosphere created by the German retreat from Paris jump starts an incredible adventure. An intense drama, as Rhys and Charlotte follow the trail of his lost son, unfolds into a stunning tale of survival in a landscape filled with enemies and memories. The use of flashbacks to Rhys’ past, along with the letters from Owain that begin each chapter, are an integral part of the narrative, adding context as they reach into the very hearts and minds of father and son. Another important aspect of this book is the detailed look at a time and place filled with unspeakable horrors, and the heroic efforts by those who chose to defy the invaders. The research done by the author is very evident throughout the tale, and that coupled with an imaginative/creative writing style had this reader on the edge of his seat, pausing occasionally to take a breath. The author also found a way to include my new favorite fictional canine, a poodle named Otto. This, my peeps and fellow travelers, is a book to savor. 5 Stars

Killer of Kings – The Bernicia Chronicles by Matthew Harffy

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Blurb:

AD 636. Anglo-Saxon Britain. A gripping, action-packed historical thriller and the fourth instalment in The Bernicia Chronicles. Perfect for fans of Bernard Cornwell.

Beobrand has land, men and riches. He should be content. And yet he cannot find peace until his enemies are food for the ravens. But before Beobrand can embark on his bloodfeud, King Oswald orders him southward, to escort holy men bearing sacred relics.

When Penda of Mercia marches a warhost into the southern kingdoms, Beobrand and his men are thrown into the midst of the conflict. Beobrand soon finds himself fighting for his life and his honour.

In the chaos that grips the south, dark secrets are exposed, bringing into question much that Beobrand had believed true. Can he unearth the answers and exact the vengeance he craves? Or will the blood-price prove too high, even for a warrior of his battle-fame and skill? 

REVIEW

Beobrand, mighty warrior, lord of his own hall, leader of his own war band but still tormented by events in the past.  Sent by King Oswald on a seemingly innocent mission finds himself embroiled in war and conflict.  He also finds that the main tormentor, the man he has pledged to kill, is among the foes arrayed against him.  In this latest installment of The Bernicia Chronicles, the author has taken this rash, headstrong, Dark Age warrior, and as he has done throughout this series has turned up the angst, turned up the rash/reckless responses, and turned up the brooding melancholy. A short quote, “It seemed it was his wyrd to become that which he most despised.”

The author also exhibits his same flair for bringing the reader into the scene he is describing, whether it is Reaghan placating/pleading her goddess or Beobrand in the midst of sword-song.  Killer of Kings is a multi-layered, page turner; an excellent addition to what has become one of my favorite series.  5 stars

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About the author

Matthew grew up in Northumberland where the rugged terrain, ruined castles and rocky coastline had a huge impact on him. He now lives in Wiltshire, England, with his wife and their two daughters.

 Follow Matthew Harffy:    

Twitter: @MatthewHarffy

Facebook: @MatthewHarffyAuthor

Website: http://www.matthewharffy.com/

Buy links:

Amazon: https://amzn.to/2IRI8W6

Kobo: https://bit.ly/2GC9YnM

Google Play: https://bit.ly/2W3G4y3

iBooks: https://apple.co/2ISjuF1

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Guest Blog post

Why I chose to write about the Anglo-Saxon period

By Matthew Harffy

People often ask me why I chose to write about the Anglo-Saxon period. The answer to that question sounds like a typical author’s cliché answer, such as, ‘the characters have a life of their own’, ‘I cannot not write’, and, one of my favourites, ‘I don’t choose what the characters do, I just write their story as they tell it to me’. I have heard writers say all of the above in one form or another, and I have even said some of those things myself. I used to think they were all trite answers that authors would trot out in order to sound mysterious and intriguing. That is, until I became an author myself and realised that there is an element of truth in every one of them! I suppose that is the case with most clichés. And, as is so often the case with clichés, even though my answer to the question about how I decided on the period to write about sounds contrived, it is actually true.

You see, I didn’t set out to write about the seventh century. This early mediaeval period, often referred to as being in the Dark Ages, chose me.

I can remember the moment when the seed of the first book in the series, The Serpent Sword, was sown. That was one October night back in 2001. But before I get to that, I need to give a bit of my history which will explain why that seed took root.

My parents moved us all to Northumberland when I was nine years old. I didn’t have the easiest time at school there. Being from West Sussex, my accent marked me as an outsider, which the girls seemed to like and the boys appeared to hate. This resulted in me being popular with the girls and being bullied by many of the boys.

But even though school wasn’t always fun, I loved the countryside that surrounded the small village of Norham where we lived. Northumberland is much more rugged and sparsely populated than the south east of England and everywhere you turn there are reminders of the distant past. The village of Norham itself, nestling beside the broad expanse of the River Tweed, is overlooked by the crumbling ruins of a Norman castle and its mediaeval church once housed Robert the Bruce’s forces when they besieged the castle for seven months in 1318. The land is hilly and wild and the coastline is rocky and dotted with ruins, such as the picturesque and magnificent Dunstanburgh Castle, which sparked my youthful imagination.

One of the most famous castles on that coastline is Bamburgh. The fortress that stands on the mighty crag overlooking the North Sea is huge and built in a mediaeval style, having been significantly restored in the nineteenth century. But for a long time I never understood the castle’s significance to the region from long before it was a stone castle that played an important role in the fifteenth century Wars of the Roses.

We moved away from the area when I was still a child, but it had a lasting effect upon me and my view on the world. I remained interested in the natural world and also in castles and the people who had lived in them. Growing up in the eighties, I became obsessed with fantasy novels and films and played role-playing games such as Dungeons & Dragons, where larger-than-life characters battled evil creatures with swords, spears, shields and magic.

Years went by and so it was in 2001, with my first daughter asleep in her cot and my wife working late, that I found myself watching a documentary on television about Bamburgh Castle and graves which archaeologists were excavating there. The graves dated from the seventh century and earlier and the programme spoke of the importance of Bamburgh, or Bebbanburg as it was known then, in the early mediaeval period. This was the time of the Anglo-Saxons, whom I knew little about at the time. Bebbanburg was the capital of the northern kingdom of Bernicia. I had never heard of such a place, but in the seventh and eighth centuries Bernicia and its neighbouring kingdom Deira, which when unified became Northumbria, were some of the most important kingdoms of the British Isles and even of Europe!

That television programme gave me a brief glimpse into the past of a landscape that I hadn’t visited for twenty years. And something about it spoke to me. I rushed upstairs and started to write the first scene of what would become, many years of research and writing later, the first novel of the Bernicia Chronicles, The Serpent Sword.

As my writing and research continued over the ensuing years, I discovered that the period was perfect for writing epic, gripping thrillers. Good stories need conflict and the seventh century is full of it. You have the Anglo-Saxons invading from the east battling with the native Britons who they referred to as the Welsh (which derives from the Old English for foreigner!). There is the clash between old pagan religions and Christianity. And there is even the conflict between the Roman Christianity coming from the south, and the Irish form of Christianity, spreading from the west and the north. Most of the kings of the time died in battle and there was subterfuge and intrigue aplenty. On top of all of that, there were very few written records, meaning there is a lot of leeway for a novelist to create original stories. I realised that I was able to write stories that indulged my love of swords and battles and great heroes, grounding them in a real historical time and place. The only real difference from the fantasy books and games I loved was that there were no dragons and no magic, though of course, the people of the time believed in both.

And so you see, I did not make the decision to write about the early Anglo-Saxon period. If I hadn’t lived in Northumberland as a child, perhaps that television documentary would never have resonated with me in the way that it did. But as I look back, I am so pleased that my parents chose to move to Northumberland, as without that experience the seeds for The Serpent Sword might never have found fertile ground in my mind and I’m sure that my life would have been much less interesting and rewarding as a result.

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Song of Songs: A Novel of the Queen of Sheba by Marc Graham

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Lift the veil of legend for the untold story of Makeda, the Queen of Sheba, and Bathsheba, wife and mother of Israel’s first kings.

When Makeda, the slave-born daughter of the chieftain of Saba, comes of age, she wins her freedom and inherits her father’s titles along with a crumbling earthwork dam that threatens her people’s survival. When she learns of a great stone temple being built in a land far to the north, Makeda leads a caravan to the capital of Yisrael to learn how to build a permanent dam and secure her people’s prosperity.

On her arrival, Makeda discovers that her half-sister Bilkis (also known as Bathsheba) who was thought to have died in a long-ago flash flood, not only survived, but has become Queen of Yisrael. Not content with her own wealth, Bilkis intends to claim the riches of Saba for herself by forcing Makeda to marry her son. But Bilkis’s designs are threatened by the growing attraction between Makeda and Yetzer abi-Huram, master builder of Urusalim’s famed temple. Will Bilkis’s plan succeed or will Makeda and Yetzer outsmart her and find happiness far from her plots and intrigue?

REVIEW

I don’t know why it is that I particularly enjoy historical fiction tales from this era and region. Perhaps it has something to do with my first history professor at Wayne State University and his teaching of the Ancient Near East. Or, perhaps it is because of my life long fascination with ancient Egypt (Kemet) vividly portrayed in The Ten Commandments. 😎 Whatever the reasons, Song of Songs has joined my list of favorites from this period. The author has crafted a tale of three people whose intertwined fates makes for not only an intriguing tale of love, adventure, and drama filled historical events, but also a tale rich in the cultures, traditions, and gods of the time. One of the things that makes a story transport the reader into the pages, is having characters who are so immersed in their time and cultures that they draw the reader in with them. You are Makeda in the desert; you are Yetzer defying the fates; you are Bilkis building a kingdom.

The narrative and dialogue lull the reader into a page turning trance. The author skillfully weaves the three separate threads through the tapestry of their lives, bringing them together in a climatic fashion. A well told telling of the Biblical rendering of the time of David, Bathsheba, Solomon, and the building of a temple. 5 stars

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About the Author

Marc Graham studied mechanical engineering at Rice University in Texas, but has been writing since his first attempt at science fiction penned when he was ten. From there, he graduated to knock-off political thrillers, all safely locked away to protect the public, before settling on historical fiction. His first novel, Of Ashes and Dust, was published in March 2017.

He has won numerous writing contests including, the National Writers Assocation Manuscript Contest (Of Ashes and Dust), the Paul Gillette Memorial Writing Contest – Historical (Of Ashes and Dust, Song of Songs), and the Colorado Gold Writing Contest – Mainstream (Prince of the West, coming from Blank Slate Press in Fall 2019).

He lives in Colorado on the front range of the Rocky Mountains, and in addition to writing, he is an actor, narrator, speaker, story coach, shamanic practitioner, and whisky afficianado (Macallan 18, one ice cube). When not on stage or studio, in a pub, or bound to his computer, he can be found hiking with his wife and their Greater Swiss Mountain Dog.

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