A Black Matter for the King by Matthew Willis & J.A. Ironside

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Blurb

TWO POWERFUL RIVALS — ONE DECISIVE BATTLE

Now a political hostage in Falaise, Ælfgifa forms an unlikely friendship with William, Duke of Normandy. William has been swift to recognize her skills and exploit them to his advantage. However, unbeknownst to the duke, Gifa is acting as a spy for her brother, Harold Godwinson, a possible rival for the English throne currently in the failing grip of Edward the Confessor. Homesick and alienated by the Norman court, Gifa is torn between the Duke’s trust and the duty she owes her family.

William has subdued his dissenting nobles, and a united Normandy is within his grasp. But the tides of power and influence are rarely still. As William’s stature grows, the circle of those he can trust shrinks. Beyond the English Channel, William has received news of Edward’s astonishing decree regarding the succession. Ælfgifa returns to an England where an undercurrent of discontent bubbles beneath the surface. An England that may soon erupt in conflict as one king dies and another is chosen.

The ambitions of two powerful men will decide the fates of rival cultures in a single battle at Hastings that will change England, Europe, and the world in this compelling conclusion to the Oath & Crown series on the life and battles of William the Conqueror.

My Review

Let me start out by saying that Aelfgifa is probably the character in fiction I’ve found who is closest to me in terms of biting wit, though I will admit freely that I’ve never gone one on one with powerful individuals such as Duke William of Normandy, or her brother, Harold Godwinson. To me, those conversations were the highlight of this tale. That’s not to imply the other facets of the book aren’t worthy, indeed I was thoroughly entertained by this telling of the monumental events leading up to and including 1066. It is the kind of writing that draws the reader into the settings, you are sitting in the herb garden eavesdropping on William and Aelfgifa; thundering alongside William and Gallet as they spur their coursers into the enemy; commiserating with Aelfgifa as she struggles to convince Harold of a better course of action. Intense drama, creative working of the sparse historical record, and a detailed look into what made William and Harold tick. William’s volatile temperament, Harold’s miscalculated duplicity are a couple examples of the genesis that became the Norman invasion of Saxon England. A rousing, page turning tale awaits you my fellow readers. 5 stars

About the Authors

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J.A. Ironside (Jules) grew up in rural Dorset, surrounded by books – which pretty much set he up for life as a complete bibliophile. She loves speculative fiction of all stripes, especially fantasy and science fiction, although when it comes to the written word, she’s not choosy and will read almost anything. Actually it would be fair to say she starts to go a bit peculiar if she doesn’t get through at least three books a week. She writes across various genres, both adult and YA fiction, and it’s a rare story if there isn’t a fantastical or speculative element in there somewhere.

Jules has had several short stories published in magazines and anthologies, as well as recorded for literature podcasts. Books 1 and 2 of her popular Unveiled series are currently available with the 3rd and 4th books due for release Autumn/ Winter 2017.

She also co-authored the sweeping epic historical Oath and Crown Duology with Matthew Willis, released June 2017 from Penmore Press.

Jules now lives on the edge of the Cotswold way with her boyfriend creature and a small black and white cat, both of whom share a god-complex.

WEBSITE | FACEBOOK | TWITTER | GOODREADS

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Matthew Willis is an author of historical fiction, SF, fantasy and non-fiction. In June 2017 An Argument of Blood, the first of two historical novels about the Norman Conquest co-written with J.A. Ironside, was published. In 2015 his story Energy was shortlisted for the Bridport short story award.

Matthew studied Literature and History of Science at the University of Kent, where he wrote an MA thesis on Joseph Conrad and sailed for the University in national competitions. He subsequently worked as a journalist for Autosport and F1 Racing magazines, before switching to a career with the National Health Service.

His first non-fiction book, a history of the Blackburn Skua WW2 naval dive bomber, was published in 2007. He now has four non fiction books published with a fifth, a biography of test pilot Duncan Menzies, due later in 2017. He currently lives in Southampton and writes both fiction and non-fiction for a living.

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The Lady of the Tower by Elizabeth St.John

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I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book.  A fascinating tale of the period when England said goodbye to the Tudors and hello to the Stuarts. The protagonist, Lucy, grows up in a household where she is treated with contempt by her guardian and by her scheming sister Barbara. In a time when women had very little say in their futures and where the intricate, backstabbing antics of the Royal Court, Lucy struggles to survive.  Married to an important member of the King’s retinue of courtiers, she finds herself living in the infamous Tower of London, the wife of the Tower Gaoler.

The author paints a vivid picture of life in the early 17th century. I was drawn in by the descriptive, and indeed the educative nature that arises from the pages. Lucy, a woman, dares to formulate and even more daring, lets her opinions known. It was indeed a world dominated by men of noble birth, not very unlike the world we live in now(substitute rich for noble). In Lucy’s words, “I so tire of these court behaviors, where the men who rule think only of their own affairs and not of those of the citizens of this land.” Words that I utter every day.

I chose to read this book not knowing much of the period, at least not from the perspective of the court of King James and his son Charles. I now know a lot more, and if there is one thing I love to do is to learn history. If I can do that and be entertained along the way, then so much the better. The author has done those things while at the same time preparing the way for a sequel. After all of the pain, anguish, fear, and even the joys of her life, Lucy emerges as one of the more interesting characters I have come across in my historical-fiction reading. 5 stars

The Cardinal’s Court by Cora Harrison

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When Hugh Mac Egan’s client is implicated in a murder…a murder that happened while the King, Henry VIII, was in residence at Cardinal Wolsey’s Hampton Court, he has to use all of his wiles to prove him innocent or watch him hang(or worse). The Cardinal’s Court is a wonderfully crafted whodunit, plenty of suspects to choose from, plenty of motives, and plenty of shenanigans designed to foil Hugh’s progress. The author has given the reader a fascinating look into the court intrigues, the political maneuverings, the nuances of Irish versus English law, and the daily routines that enable Hampton Court to function.  An enjoyable read awaits you, my peeps and fellow travelers, along with a tantalizing mystery to solve.  4 stars

The Devil’s Wind – A Spider John Mystery by Steve Goble

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A cracking follow up to The Bloody Black Flag, The Devil’s Wind is an entertaining mystery guaranteed to have you scratching your heads, along with Spider John as he tries to unravel a murder on board the merchant vessel, Redemption. Having given up the hazards of piracy, Spider John is heading home to Boston after joining a merchant convoy escorted by the British Navy. What should be a routine voyage turns out to be anything but as the Captain of Redemption is found dead in his cabin seemingly self-inflicted, but nagging circumstances have Spider John looking for a murderer.

The author has crafted an intriguing tale complete with a bevy of interesting characters, plentiful twists and turns, and page turning drama. The list of suspects is long; each with a plausible motive, and it takes all of Spider John’s abilities to finally piece the mystery together…all the while on constant alert for pirates. All in all, a cracking read – one that ends, or rather, doesn’t. Methinks there will be more of Spider John.  🙂  4 stars

Conrad Monk and the Great Heathen Army by Edoardo Albert

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A delightful tale of a rather unusual monk and his attempts to get rich while avoiding the Danish horde that is running roughshod over Britain. Conrad is a schemer, always ready with a plan; which is a good thing as his plans have a way of not going according to plan. His companion, Brother Odo, a very devout monk, unwavering in his faith in God and in Conrad’s plan(s), provides much of the mirth while also provoking sympathy from the reader. The author has crafted an entertaining version of the Danes – the sons of Ragnar; Ivarr, Ubba, and Halfdan – and the eventual clash with Aethelred and Alfred. I particularly enjoy historical-fiction when the historical events are written in such a way that the fictional aspect; the interaction of the fictional characters with the historical, the way that the story is tweaked to allow the reader to think, “Yeah, it could have happened that way.” Conrad Monk and The Great Heathen Army did just that while also sparking periodic chuckles and chortles from this amused reader.  4 stars

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Last Dance in Kabul by Ken Czech

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BLURB

The Ultimate Dance Between Love and War

When his superiors ignore his warnings of an impending Afghan insurrection in 1841, British army captain Reeve Waterton vows never to return to Kabul. But then he rescues strong-willed Sarah Kane from an ambush and his plans for civilian life and self-preservation unravel around him.

At first Reeve dislikes Sarah as much as she loathes him. She’s as impudent and disdainful of authority as he, plus she’s betrothed to his bitterest rival.

It’s only after Reeve’s closest friend is brutally murdered and the Afghan tribes explode in revolt that he and Sarah discover their desperate need for each other. When the retreating British army is caught between the jaws of Afghanistan’s blizzard-wracked mountain passes and hordes of vengeful tribesmen, Sarah and Reeve must rely on their skills, courage, and blossoming love just to survive.

MY REVIEW

An intense tale of the British in Kabul Afghanistan in 1841, and the insurgency that drove them out, Last Dance in Kabul had my attention riveted from the start.  The characters are well developed, as are the story lines. I was impressed with the historical aspect of the tale as well, and with the pure drama of the action throughout the book; especially in the climatic retreat through the mountains. I am always grateful for books that highlight a period or event in history that I am not familiar with. The British in Afghanistan is not a subject brought up much in American history classes; though it probably should be taught if just to highlight what a nightmare it is to invade that country. Ask Alexander, or the Russians, or the British(more than once), or the Americans deployed there now.  Last Dance in Kabul is a cracking read; enjoy the drama, the romance, and be prepared to be shocked at the warfare. 5 stars

About the Author

Dr. Ken Czech is a retired history professor and an internationally recognized authority on the historical literature of exploration and sport. His passion, however, has turned to writing fiction. He and his wife Mary live in Central Minnesota on an abandoned granite quarry.

For more information, please visit Ken’s website. You can also find him on FacebookAmazon and Goodreads

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The Sailing Master – Book Two: The Long Passage by Lee Henschel Jr.

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Conflict. Love. Commitment & Betrayal . . . all abound in this intrepid novel of the sea set in the Golden Age of Sail. The looming shadow of the Napoleonic War dims the waning glow of the Enlightenment, yet Owen Harriet’s heartfelt narrative provides insight into the human condition. And an overarching question emerges . . . is this chronicle simply the story of a man, or of an entire age? From the opening broadside at the Battle of the Nile to the ironic conclusion off Ushant, Owen continues to come of age, maintaining a steadfast relationship with his beloved mentor, Ignatius Comet Lau, HMS Eleanor’s esteemed Sailing Master. Deep within French Indochina. Lost on the Mekong River. Owen befriends an inscrutable boy monk, only to fall prey to a demonic French privateer. A powerful enigma continues to haunt Owen and he begins to understand. A premonition of unknown origin? An Oracle? Or a remnant calling from his own childhood imagination.

MY REVIEW

The Long Passage continues the development of young Owen Harriet, now a Midshipman aboard HMS Eleanor. The author has delivered a seaworthy tale that not only entertains, but is also rather instructive about life in the British Navy, and especially instructive on navigating the vastness of an ocean. Another aspect of the narrative that I enjoyed was the descriptive talent of the author. From the reed beds of The Mekong to the inquisitiveness of a blue whale, the reader is immersed in the scenery, and flinching from the sound and fury of a cannon volley.  Owen grows up a lot on this journey through his innate intelligence and by his experiences, some of which are rather harrowing, and I look forward to reading more of his adventures. I highly recommend both books of The Sailing Master series.  5 stars