Marik’s Way by Nick Brown

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I have really enjoyed the author’s previous works. His series Agent of Rome is top notch Roman historical fiction, and I wasn’t too concerned that he switched to a more fantasy like tale especially since this fantasy tale isn’t heavy on the fantasy, but more focused on telling a believable tale of a man and the world in which he lives. Marik is a warrior who, due to circumstances he is wary of discussing, finds himself adrift in an unfamiliar land, broke and without weapons. In a series of episodes/adventures, the author gives us a character who is many faceted; diligent, brave, caring, but also prey to his past and to the uncertainty of his future. This depth of character is found in many of the supporting cast, my favorite being Nasreen, a fierce warrior in her own right burdened by a gruesome physical affliction, and the revenge she seeks for having it.

Since this tale takes place in a fantasy world, it is up to the author to provide the necessary geography, and the lowdown on the people who inhabit this world. This, my fellow readers, is done most admirably by Mr. Brown. The varied landscapes/waterscapes are a prime example; a crashing surf or a region made of reeds, I was drawn into the sites, canoeing the labyrinth of an endless marshland, or surviving a deadly storm on a makeshift raft.

A well told tale of a resourceful wanderer still looking for his future.  5 stars

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

Michael – Book 3 of The Triptych Chronicle by Prue Batten

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Astonishing, amazing, creative – fiction that stirs the heartstrings. When I first started writing reviews, and was on the hunt for authors who would feed my passion, Prue Batten came highly recommended – to paraphrase the recommendation – “Prue could write a phone book and make it compelling.” The depth of character that permeates her narratives is certainly on display in Michael. The mental anguish, the sheer trauma, the weight of responsibility, the relentless downward spiral of hatred and revenge – all that and a downright entertaining story to boot. A tale of merchants and the life and death competition for riches and power set against the political maneuverings of the unpopular ruling class in Byzantine Constantinople. Like an exquisite piece of fine needlework, the author has embroidered an intricate tale highlighted by the details of that vast city and the life within it. So, dear reader, if you have not read Prue Batten, then you are denying yourself a literary treat. 5 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

Bloodaxe – Erik Haraldsson 1 by C.R. May

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An exhilarating start to a new series, Bloodaxe follows the early life of Eric Haraldsson, the favored son of Harald Fairhair, King of Norway. Favored son or not, the path to true acceptance as rightful heir is strewn with Fairhair’s bastard progeny. Honing his skills as a warrior and a leader of men, and enriching himself and crew by raiding villages and churches, Eric returns to his homeland ready to rule. What follows is a stirring rendition of revenge for wrongs done in the past, and making war on half-brothers who dare to resist. Through the telling of this tale I felt myself relishing in the spray of the sea as Eric’s warship plowed from one adventure to the next. Eric Bloodaxe, as the name implies, is a character true to his time, and is not hesitant to deal out death. however, the author has endowed him with a depth that complements that warrior instinct with a clarity of purpose, and a will to succeed. Looking forward to the next chapter. 4 stars

 

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

The Sailing Master – Book One – Coming of Age by Lee Henschel Jr.

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Years ago I read Patrick O’Brian’s Aubrey-Maturin series and was captivated by the vivid portrayal of life on a British warship. In The Sailing Master-Coming of Age I found that same vivid portrayal and was once again transported to an age when nations relied on their navies for protection and for exploration. The author gives a wonderful account of what it took to man and sail a warship, often in chaotic conditions. While O’Brian focused on the doings of and the relationship between the captain and his surgeon/spy, the focus here is on the crew; especially the young boys who live a rough existence doing the bidding of officers and crew.  The protagonist, Owen Harriet, is taken on as cabin boy for his uncle, the captain of the frigate Eleanor. It’s a tough learning curve for a 12 year old when he finds himself alone and fearful. However, his innate intelligence is put to use as he is tutored by Eleanor’s sailing master, and in a nice twist he gets involved in espionage with a mysterious diplomatic passenger.  The author, by his descriptive abilities, makes the reader feel the roll of the ship in heavy seas, entertains the reader with the conversational patois of the crew, and shows the reader the best and the worst qualities of the men on Eleanor. I really enjoyed this book, a tale of many layers, and not just a few surprises. 5 stars

That Woman by Wayne Clark

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That Woman

2017 Book Excellence Awards Finalist for Fiction

2017 Winner 50 Great Writers You Should Be Reading

A brief synopsis of the tale:

Kidnapped in France and brought to America as an indentured servant, a young woman takes on the brutal merchant king of New York’s East River waterfront…

Illness suddenly deprives 17-year-old Sarah Da Silva and her older brother Jacob of a mother. Before Sarah has come to terms with that loss, her merchant father grows frail and increasingly desperate in the face of impending bankruptcy. On the rainy night their father scours the docks of Bordeaux, France, to make his final bid to save his family, his children are kidnapped and forced onto a ship bound for New York City where they’ll be separated and sold to the highest bidder as indentured labor.

Purchased by a grotesque merchant whose wealth, backed by a team of henchmen, allows him to dominate the chaotic East River docks, Sarah strikes back the only way she can. Vowing to never allow him to put his hands on her again, she presses a knife to his fat neck. She demands her freedom, a roof over her head and the means to start a business. Her leverage? Knowledge obtained on the voyage that would bring the big man to his knees forever. He yields to her demands but privately swears to become her worst nightmare.

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My review:

I’ve been studying American history for near 60 years.  Granted that most of what I was taught in school was rote dates, events and people, not a deep look into the causes of those events or what it was actually like to live during those events.  That’s why I love well researched historical-fiction.  A good author can transport the reader into those lives; the conditions they live in; their hopes and fears.  I was transported in That Woman to a time, and place that I know a bit about having published a novel that covers The French & Indian War – an event that takes place almost immediately after the conclusion to That Woman – and was able still to come away with fresh insights as to colonial life in New York during the mid 18th century. I also came away with the thought that the characters were written superbly – they belong in that time and place.  The tale moves along at a brisk pace as Sarah seeks to recover from the ordeals she has suffered.  The plot, set against the backdrop of the mercantile world of the busiest port in the colonies, has many elements and a few nice twists making That Woman a compelling read and a look at some history that is often ignored.  4.3 Stars

 

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Award-winning author Wayne Clark was born in 1946 in Ottawa, Ont., but has called Montreal home since 1968. Woven through that time frame in no particular order have been interludes in Halifax, Toronto, Vancouver, Germany, Holland and Mexico.

By far the biggest slice in a pie chart of his career would be labelled journalism, including newspapers and magazines, as a reporter, editor and freelance writer. The other, smaller slices of the pie would also represent words in one form or another, in advertising as a copywriter and as a freelance translator. However, unquantifiable in a pie chart would be the slivers and shreds of time stolen over the years to write fiction.

For more information, please visit Wayne Clark’s website and blog. You can also find him on FacebookTwitter, and Goodreads.

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The Bloody Black Flag by Steve Goble

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The life of a pirate is a hazardous one, fraught with many dangers.  How much more so when you are sailing with a captain who is a bit maniacal.  Spider John Rush and his best mate Ezra join the crew of Plymouth Dream and find themselves at odds with many of their shipmates, a situation that thrusts Spider John into a mystery to be solved and revenge to be meted out.  The tale is engaging and certainly exciting.  Life aboard a pirate vessel is presented in fine detail; the characters are believable; the plot lines are nicely filled with surprises.  All in all it is a page turning read that keeps the reader on the edge of their seats as mysteries are unraveled as Spider John seeks answers and revenge.  4.2 stars