Blood Enemy (The Long War for England – book 2) by Martin Lake

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An uneasy peace exists between Alfred and the Danish warlord, Guthrum, but there are other Danes with designs on Wessex.  In the continuation of Alfred’s quest to rule England; all of it, the author has wrought a tale of tested loyalties, difficult loves and the emotional stability of a warrior caught in a frenzied blood lust.  The twins, Ulf and Inga are now part of Alfred’s retinue and this story finds them learning who and what they are.  As in the other works by Martin Lake, I was drawn into the mindsets of the protagonists, in this case English and Dane, as each group struggles to maintain and increase their hold on English soil.  The history between Saxons and Danes is long and bloody, making any semblance of peace, compromise or acceptance virtually non-existent especially since the divisions are multiplied by religious fervor – reminds me of today actually.  The author superbly brings those challenges to the fore and has produced another delightful page turning journey into the making of England.  4.3 stars

Fields of Mars – Marius Mules X by S.J.A. Turney

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The Rubicon River, a rather insignificant stream with a rather major significance.  Fronto is once again with Gaius Julius Caesar and follows him across that river and into open rebellion against fellow Romans.  In MM X, the author presents the events of Caesar’s siege of Massilia and his campaign in Hispania against Pompey’s legions.  In a nice bit of plot interweaving, we find Fronto, once again in charge of a legion, with Caesar at Ilerda while at the same time he is also mentally occupied with the Massilia situation due to his business interests there and the fact that his nice villa is now a Roman camp.  The cast is replete with some old favorites, Galronus, Antonius, Brutus, and a nice cameo from Musgava and crew.  On the flip side we have some nasties like Ahenobarbus and Petreius for example.  We are also introduced to an intriguing character, Salvius Cursor, one of those characters who make you wonder if you’re supposed to hate him or to like him – trust me, you’ll understand as you read the book.  The author puts on another display of his battle prowess, but to me it was more of a story about the characters; the mindsets of Caesar – the way he prosecutes this war; Fronto and the fact that he is aging but can’t stay out of the action; Salvius and his need for bloodshed.  It is a masterful telling of historical events that changed the Roman world with a fine smattering of fictional tweaking.  It is sad to realize that we are on the down slope of Marius Mules; only five more volumes to go.  🙂  4.7 stars

Half Sick of Shadows by Richard Abbott

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First, a confession; my only exposure to the famous ballad, The Lady of Shalott by Alfred Lord Tennyson, is the musical adaptation by Loreena McKennitt.  Perhaps I once had to read it for a class in school, but since my reading preference has always been prose, it wouldn’t be out of the realm of possibility that I have simply forgotten.  Anyroad, this adaptation takes the Arthurian legend and adds the author’s own personal touch; an adaptation that, while remaining true to the original’s basic story line, is reminiscent of the science fiction episodes I used to watch on Rod Serling’s Twilight Zone.  The progression of The Lady through the various stages of her existence, and the descriptions of the eras in which she awakes are masterfully told by the author.  The inner turmoil of The Lady, as she struggles with the Mirror to gain access to the people she comes in contact with, drives the tale as the Mirror cautions her time and again about the dangers involved.  The conclusion of the tale, though a heart rending scene, is also one of hope as The Lady finally finds out who she is.  Kudos to the author for a most interesting slant on this well known ballad.  4.7 stars

The Lions of Al-Rassan by Guy Gavriel Kay

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Let me just state from the get-go…I fancy myself as an author given that I have written and published a novel (with more to come) but when I read someone like Guy Gavriel Kay, I ache to have just a little of his talent; just a little more ability to draw word pictures in his manner.  Lions is a complex story of love, loyalty, and devotion during a period of great upheaval; a period reminiscent of the Moorish-Christian competition to see whose God is best(sadly, still going on.)  If I get anything out of reading this tale it is this, that the genocidal insanity of religious domination in political affairs is quite possibly the saddest concept in human history.

Another aspect of Lions is the almost impossible situations some of the characters find themselves in; especially when it comes to love and loyalty…so many lines are crossed and in such a way that the differences between Jaddite-Asharite-Kindath pale in significance to the individuals involved.  The Kindath physician Jehane, the poet/warrior Ammar, the Jaddite warrior Rodrigo and many others, provide the reader with characters so fully developed as to make the story seem historical rather than a fantasy account.

So, my peeps and fellow travelers, prepare for an emotion filled, heart tugging tale from a master at his craft.  5 stars…or maybe two moons…or maybe just the Sun..read the book, you’ll get what I mean.  🙂

 

 

Killer of Kings by Matthew Harffy

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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.  4.6 stars

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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? 

Author info: 

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.

Buy links

Amazon: http://amzn.to/2nNItf2

Kobo: http://bit.ly/2nNEyPz

iBooks: http://apple.co/2ocWWEi

Google Play: http://bit.ly/2ocS2Y7

 

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Website: www.matthewharffy.com

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The Du Lac Chronicles by Mary Anne Yarde

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Alden Du Lac lost his kingdom to the ever ambitious Saxon, Cerdic and is about to lose his life.  Enter Cerdic’s daughter, Annis and thus we are thrust into a powerful story of loss, betrayal, torment, and above all, the love that sees them through.  Annis is young and inexperienced having been sheltered and basically ignored, by her father.  Alden, a son of Lancelot, is/was a king and is haunted by what he feels is his betrayal to his people.  Book one of this series, follows them on an uncertain, tortuous path, firstly to escape the wrath of Cerdic and eventually to prepare to confront him.  I found myself immersed in the time and place as the author skillfully interlaces an emotion filled love story with the the actions of ruthless and ambitious men, and the history of Cornwall.  I love a good Arthurian tale, and while he is already dead at the time of this one, I welcomed this ‘it could have happened this way’ take on the aftermath of his demise, and am looking forward to book two.  4.3 stars

 

Life’s Big Zoo by R.S. Gompertz

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 I first learned of the author from another author friend of mine.  I had sent him a couple short pieces I had written and he replied that I wrote sort of like this guy Ron Gompertz.  Well I needed to check that out so I read his No Roads to Rome books and decided that it was okay to be compared to Ron. When the author first told me about this new book of his and what it was about, I thought great.  The main story line concerns a 13 year old and taking place in the year 1968.  I figured I would have a lot in common with the main character even though I was 17 in 1968 to Max’s 13 and I grew up in Detroit while Max was in Laurel Canyon, outside of L.A.  While Max’s adventures and acquaintances were different than mine, we both experienced the threat of nuclear war, the assassinations of Martin Luther King and Bobby Kennedy, the 1968 Democratic Convention/protests, the Vietnam War, the Russian invasion of Czechoslovakia, etc, etc.  Another difference between us is that Max is Jewish and is about to be Mitzvahed and I was a Protestant about to begin questioning my faith.  It is Max’s Jewish faith and heritage that plays an important part of this story but the author also interjects some wonderful scenes with the hippie denizens of Laurel Canyon.  Some of the luminaries encountered in this time of an amazing musical explosion are Frank Zappa, Joni Mitchell, Cass Eliot and the infamous drummer from the Monkees, Mickey Dolenz.   Oh yeah, the chapter about The Doors is worth the price of admission.

I can’t say enough good things about the characters in this book.  Everyone comes across as totally believable and many mimic traits that I recognize in some of the parallel figures in my life in 1968.  The author seamlessly weaves some very serious plot lines in among the humorous scenes and indeed the second half of the book is of a more somber tone, though some of the shenanigans during the Mitzvah ceremony are not only funny but brought back my own memories of the 1968 World Series and my boyhood hero Al Kaline.  I hesitate to say too much regarding the subject matter as to not spoil its intense emotional pull on the heart that any reader is bound to experience.  Kudos to the author for making me laugh, making me remember, and for making me cry.  5 stars and the highly sought after Hoover Book Review’s “This book will change your life” recommendation ..

 

An interview with Ron Gompertz

Today I am privileged to welcome to my humble, yet insightful, book review blog, Ron Gompertz, author of the delightful No Roads Lead to Rome series.  Ron was recommended to me by fellow author, SJA Turney who, after reading one of my short works said it reminded him of Ron’s style.  Well, I did not know I even had a style so was intrigued by the comparison and that has led to this; an interview with the man, himself.  Ron has a new book coming out, Life’s Big Zoo and it’s a bit different than his Roman historical fiction.

  1. Hello Ron and thanks for your time. The first thing that popped into my mind while reading Life’s Big Zoo was, how much of this is autobiographical?

 

“Life’s Big Zoo” started off as a memoir and, like most memoirs, quickly turned to fiction. That said, the story of a precocious kid growing up between the shadow of the holocaust and the bright lights of the sixties is heavily influenced by my own experiences. I was too young to really participate in the sixties, but old enough to feel both the fear and exhilaration of the times.

 

I was raised Jewish. My father and his parents managed to get out of Nazi Germany just in time. Most of their extended family wasn’t so lucky.  Growing up with this history meant being an outsider in mainstream America and definitely informed much of the novel.

 

I grew up in Los Angeles like my protagonist. I saw the sixties unfolding from the window of the city bus I rode across town to my “special” elementary school. I listened to KHJ (“Boss Radio for Boss Angeles”) and Wolfman Jack on my transistor radio, listened to the neighborhood garage bands, and was scared by the nightly news.

 

 

  1. I was struck over and over with the comparisons with my own experiences in the late 60’s, the conflict arising between, in my case Christian beliefs and the counter culture of the hippies. In your book it is the Jewish faith of Max’s family up against the residents of Laurel Canyon.

The sixties were a time for seeking meaning and searching outside one’s faith or tribe of origin for universal truths. I was very aware of this, even as a kid trying to figure things out.

“Life’s Big Zoo” is a culturally Jewish story, Jewish with an emphasis on “-ish,” a sort of “Catcher in the Rye Bread” that I hope captures the zeitgeist of Laurel Canyon in 1968. I hope it will resonate beyond just my tribe of origin.

 

My father’s brand of Judaism was very tolerant of asking big questions and seeing the universality of all faiths. My parents certainly weren’t hippies, but they were very open minded so I spent my energy rebelling against Nixon instead of them.

I’m hoping that baby boomers will find some universal truths and that younger readers will learn something about their parents (or grandparents!) in seeing the kaleidoscopic world of 1968 through the eyes of a twelve year-old protagonist coming of age under peculiar circumstances.

  1. I fell in love with your characters especially Hannah, Max’s grandmother. She is a joy.

Readers love Nana! My real German grandmother was full of old country wisdom that inspired the character in my book. She wasn’t quite the superhero I created in the book, but she really did say, “God keeps a big zoo.”

 

  1. Max’s brother, Tommy, now he could be a composite of guys I grew up with, although I never met Zappa. That must have been quite the scene at old Tom Mix’s cabin.

Tommy brings the rock-and-roll! Back then there were garage bands in every neighborhood and the dream of love, peace, and music was infectious.

I set the story in Laurel Canyon because it was the center of the folk rock universe. Everyone was there from Joni Mitchell to The Doors and everyone in between (including my favorite band at the time, The Monkees”).  Laurel Canyon was an artistic and cultural nexus like Paris between the world wars. It’s impossible to overstate how significant and downright groovy it was.

Draft-age, poor student Tommy also brings the specter of Vietnam whose significance is also hard to overstate. Growing up, I figured that if the H-bomb didn’t get me, the war would. Few of us expected to live past the age of thirty.

 

  1. While humor does permeate the entire story, the latter third takes on a more somber tone. Without giving anything away, how much of the trip to Germany is true?

The Germany trip was fiction inspired my father’s return to his hometown of Krefeld, fifty years after escaping. He and the other survivors were invited back by schoolkids doing a history project in 1987. He had never intended to return, much less give speeches and meet with journalists and city officials. Meeting the children and grandchildren of the Nazis on this and a subsequent trip brought him to the terrifying question of what he would have done had he not been born Jewish.

We’d all like to think of ourselves as heroes, but history continues to suggest that most of us would remain silent. In “Life’s Big Zoo” I suggest that heroism wears many faces.

 

Once again, thanks to Ron for taking the time to enlighten me, and my peeps and fellow travelers.

My pleasure! Thanks for your interest and support, Paul.