The Abbey of Death by Steven A. McKay

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Will Scarlett, outlaw, wolf’s head, violently tempered right hand man to Robin Hood, has been pardoned for his many sins and crimes but cannot find peace within.  Donning the robes and tonsured hairstyle, he becomes a monk.  In a wonderful bit of story telling, the author has taken an account of a troublesome group of monks who basically disregarded their vows and ran wild, causing strained relations between the townsfolk and the local abbey.  Brother Scaflock(Scarlett) finds that old habits die hard even as he begins to find some of the peace he’s been seeking.  A tension filled tale worthy of being the final episode in the author’s very fine Robin Hood series, The Forest Lord. 4.3 stars

 

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Katharina – Deliverance by Margaret Skea

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One of the things I like about historical-fiction is the way an author can take a subject, be that a place, an event, or in this case a person, and tell a story that is so compellingly real that you think you’re reading a non-fictional account.  That is, in the opinion of this humble, yet moderately astute reviewer, precisely what Margaret Skea has done in Katharina – Deliverance.  Little is known of the woman who became the wife of Martin Luther, but by the time I finished this portion of her story, I felt as if she had sprung out from the pages of history, so fully depicted, so fully a part of that time.  As for the historical bits of this early period of Luther’s reformation, I have to admit to a certain ignorance.  Of course, I knew the basics and was aware of the incredible repercussions that resulted, but I was somewhat unaware of the schisms among the reformers, though certainly not surprised.  What the author has done is to skillfully blend the fiction with the fact, and like a good medieval tapestry weaver, leaves no trace of the seams between the two.  4.8 stars  Note: the sequel is expected in 2018, and is already on my ‘to be read list.’

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

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.  🙂

 

 

The Fire and the Light by Glen Craney

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I found myself in unfamiliar territory regarding location, time and subject while reading The Fire and the Light, not that that is a bad thing.  The 13th Century is not my normal reading period, French history is not my usual subject and the Albigensian Crusade is just a distant history lesson long since forgotten.  What I found in picking up this book is a marvelous story by Mr. Craney.  He has taken the bits and pieces of this historical event and has crafted a tale worthy enough to be thought of as actual history, rather than fiction.  The characters are superbly written, from the spiritual leader of the Cathars, Esclarmonde, to the dastardly members of the Church seeking to destroy her and her band of heretics.  The emotions and the conflicts engendered by the Cathar beliefs are true high points in the narrative; the giving up of everything, including those you love, the willingness to die for those beliefs, the extreme suffering endured…all of this and more kept me enthralled and entertained throughout the tale.  Once again, I found myself immersed in a setting so brutally real that I would put the book down for a bit, catch my breath before returning to it.  4.7 stars and a Hoover Book Review “Highly Recommended Award”

 

 

The Lion and the Rose by Kate Quinn

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The sequel to The Serpent and the Pearl continues the trials and tribulations of the three main characters, Giulia Farnese, Carmelina and Leonello, all of whom play prominent roles in the lives of the Borgia clan.  Kate Quinn has delivered a masterful look at the historical timeline of Pope Alexander, the sixth of that name, and has filled in the gaps with stunning results. Edge of the seat drama coupled with exquisite glimpses of the pomp of the Vatican Court and the powerlessness of those who serve.  Hardhearted cruelty, tenacious loyalty and love being found in all the wrong places are some of the highlights that await you, dear reader.

In all of the Kate Quinn books that I have read prior to this I have felt a twinge of envy for her very talented Muse and The Lion and the Rose was no different.  Kudos for another well written series.  4.8 stars