Review: The Pagan Lord (The Warrior Chronicles/Saxon Stories #7) ~ Bernard Cornwell

The Pagan LordAt the onset of the tenth century, England is in turmoil. Alfred the Great is dead and Edward his son reigns as king. Wessex survives but peace cannot hold: the Danes in the north, led by Viking Cnut Longsword, stand ready to invade and will never rest until the emerald crown is theirs.

Uhtred, once Alfred’s great warrior but now out of favor with the new king, must lead a band of outcasts north to recapture his old family home, that great Northumbrian fortress, Bebbanburg.

Loyalties will be divided and men will fall, as every Saxon kingdom is drawn into the bloodiest battle yet with the Danes; a war which will decide the fate of every king, and the entire English nation.

3 Thumbs-UpI haven’t read any of the other books in this series, and after ploughing my way through this I feel I should give a word of advice; do not even attempt to read this book unless you have read the previous six.

Having read other books by this Author, I went into this being acquainted with the way he puts a plot together and develops his characters, and I was not disappointed by what I found within the pages of this novel, his attention to detail from a historical point was apparent on every page.  However, it was the main character I had the most problem getting to grips with, and I attribute this entirely to my not having read the series from the beginning.  I found that I had no idea as to the personality traits and motivation that drove this character through the book and, because of this lack of background I found the book very hard to finish.

Using the weather to reflect mood is always a good direction for an Author to go, especially if their novels are set in times about which very little is known; but in writing this book I felt that the Author had just a little too much grim weather, in both nature and the demeanour of the main character, that really began to pull me down and make me weary. Another issue I had with this book, was the overuse of the word ‘and’; it appears everywhere from the beginning of a sentence, to liberally sprinkled in the same sentence it began, to linking sentences and starting paragraphs.  There were way too many of them.  I can’t remember any of the other books I have read by this Author using the word so liberally, but by doing so it made the calibre of this piece of work fall dramatically.

I haven’t decided whether I will backtrack to read this series from the beginning, but I would recommend any books by this Author who enjoys a good historical read; with this book though, just remember to start with book one.

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Review: The Paris Architect ~ Charles Belfoure

Paris ArchitectLike most gentiles in Nazi-occupied Paris, architect Lucien Bernard has little empathy for the Jews. So when a wealthy industrialist offers him a large sum of money to devise secret hiding places for Jews, Lucien struggles with the choice of risking his life for a cause he doesn’t really believe in. Ultimately he can’t resist the challenge and begins designing expertly concealed hiding spaces—behind a painting, within a column, or inside a drainpipe—detecting possibilities invisible to the average eye. But when one of his clever hiding spaces fails horribly and the immense suffering of Jews becomes incredibly personal, he can no longer deny reality.

Written by an expert whose knowledge imbues every page, this story becomes more gripping with every life the architect tries to save.

3 Thumbs-UpThis debut novel had all the components required to make it a great read, but unfortunately the Author seemed to have difficulty fitting all the pieces together.

The main protagonist is the architect mentioned in the title and, although the reader learns a lot about their background in architecture and his relationship with his Father, there is actually very little depth to a character that could have been so much more.  As I read I felt a no connection with him and at times thought him to be rather a wimp.  Yes, he does grow morally as the novel progresses, but I still couldn’t get rid of that feeling that he wasn’t doing growing as a person but he was moulding his selfish ways into a more acceptable shape for the time and situation in which the book is set.  By the time I finished reading I felt I cared more, and knew more about the motivations and personalities of lesser characters than I did the main.  The Author did a skilful job when writing some of his lesser characters, making you despise some of them so intensely it was surprising whilst at the same time making the reader wonder why.

Having been to Paris many times I recognised a lot of the places that were mentioned in this novel, but I gained a greater appreciation for them when they were described from the viewpoint of an architect, which is the Authors profession.  I had always thought there was something unique about the buildings in Paris, and through his descriptions of the way an arch curved or a pillar was placed, I was able to make sense of why I felt this.  For those readers who have not been to Paris, the Author transports them to this place and gently gives them a guided tour of the city.  Despite being a qualified architect, the Author has taken great pains not to bog down this story with the minutiae of his art, rather leaning on the side of caution and giving enough technical information to keep the book interesting, but not enough to bore the reader.

The chapters and action flow smoothly through the first two-thirds of this book, whether it is horrendous crimes against a person or the designing of a building, everything joins seamlessly and with jarring the reader.  For some reason this was not the case with the closing portion of the novel; suddenly sentences seemed to be very choppy and ill thought-out, the chapters appeared to have been thrown together in an almost random fashion and, for me, it became a little irritating to have this smooth flow so abruptly interrupted.  I would like to say it may have been the intent of the Author that his book end in this fashion, but as the action played out in these last chapters the way in which they were constructed didn’t convince me of this.  I am surprised that the editor did not pick up on this, and it did actually make the novel lose something for me.

I would however, recommend this to those readers who like a good, not great, World War II novel and anyone who just likes an interesting read.

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Historical Novels, Author Events – February 2014

The following list of Historical Novel Author Events is provided courtesy of the Historical Novel Society

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4 February
Janet Oakley gives a talk on Hiking Clubs and CCCs and how they shaped recreation in the North Cascades; 7:30 – 8:30pm at the Bellingham Public Library, Bellingham WA.
http://whatcomreads.libcal.com/event.php?id=488008J

5 February
Petrea Burchard joins the Brown Bags & Books book club at Flintridge Bookstore and Coffeehouse in Flintridge, CA, at 1:00pm, to discuss her novel, 
Camelot & Vine.

8 February
Janet Oakley gives a talk on Hiking Clubs and CCCs and how they shaped recreation in the North Cascades; 1:00 – 2:30pm at the Blaine Library, Blaine WA.
http://whatcomreads.libcal.com/event.php?id=488008J

12th February 
Margaret Skea speaking about /reading from Turn of the Tide at Heiton Village, Scottish Borders United Kingdom

February 17 – 24
The Bellingham One-Act Theatre (BOAT) Festival is back! Enjoy a healthy slate of plays, many of which are original works being staged for the first time. .Tree Soldier: A Reader’s Theater. will be staged at 9:00 pm each evening.  Pass tickets are $10:00
http://www.bellinghamtheatreguild.com/

 

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Review: The King’s Grave: The Discovery of Richard III’s Lost Burial Place and the Clues It Holds ~ Philippa Langley, Michael Jones

The Kings graveThe first full-length book about the discover of Richard III’s remains by the person who led the archeology team and the historian whose book spurred her on

The mystery of who Richard III really was has fascinated historians, readers and audiences familiar with Shakespeare’s dastardly portrait of a hunchback monster of royalty for centuries. Earlier this year, the remains of a man with a curving spine, who possible was killed in battle, were discovered underneath the paving of a parking lot in Leicester, England. Phillipa Langley, head of The Richard III Society, spurred on by the work of the historian Michael Jones, led the team of who uncovered the remains, certain that she had found the bones of the monarch. When DNA verification later confirmed that the skeleton was, indeed, that of King Richard III, the discovery ranks among the great stories of passionate intuition and perseverance against the odds. The news of the discovery of Richard’s remains has been widely reported by the British as well as worldwide and was front page news for both theNew York Times and The Washington Post. Many believe that now, with King Richard III’s skeleton in hand, historians will finally begin to understand what happened to him following the Battle of Bosworth Field (twenty miles or so from Leicester) and, ultimately, to know whether he was the hateful, unscrupulous monarch of Shakespeare’s drama or a much more benevolent king interested in the common man. Written in alternating chapters, with Richard’s 15th century life told by historian Michael Jones (author of the critically acclaimed Bosworth – 1485) contrasting with the 21st century eyewitness account of the search and discovery of the body by Philippa Langley, The King’s Grave will be both an extraordinary portrait of the last Plantagenet monarch and the inspiring story of the archaeological dig that finally brings the real King Richard III into the light of day.

5 Thumbs-UpThis is definitely not a dry history book, and for those who know next to nothing about Richard III they will receive an almost personal history lesson about this Monarch as they progress through the book.  This is an extraordinarily user friendly book.

The chapters in the book alternate between the story of searching for, and eventually finding the grave of Richard III and his factual history, and it is not the one everyone is familiar with  and painted by Shakespeare and the victor of Bosworth Field.  However, in reading this book it soon becomes apparent that this is more than a simple recounting of an archaeological dig; it is very personal to the Author and that comes through in their writing.  The book is loaded with an impressive amount of information, both about the search itself and, as I’ve already noted, the history of this King, but it s the delivery of this information that really impressed me.  There is not a point in this book where the delivery becomes stale and dusty, the Authors managed to make every part of it enjoyable to the reader.

The sections of the book that cover the identification of the remains, and the scientific techniques used are equally as interesting as the descriptive scenes of the battle that took the Kings life.  They covered disputes and grievances between the House of York and the House of Tudor with great tact and never once came out in favour of one House or the other.  This book will also serve to dispel some of the images people have that Richard III was just an all-round evil man; it informs the reader of all the good he did for the country and shows him in the context of the world he lived in.  Through the Authors writing skills the reader is introduced to a man of deep convictions and courage whilst at the same time showing he was definitely not a saint.

The great strength of this book is that it captivates like a well-written historical novel while at the same time informing and educating the reader.  This strength kept me up late into the night to finish this book and once again stoke the flames of my love of history.  Richard III, the last King of England to come from the House of York and the last Plantagenet King found his champions in these hard working people, and will finally have the burial a Monarch deserves, particularly one of such fame.

I highly recommend this book to lovers of all forms of history, plus those who want to learn a little more about this period of time in England.

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Review: The Struggle Trilogy ~ Nelson Lowhim

Struggle“The struggle knows not the logic of morals” is an Arabic saying.

A man, Walid, lives in Baghdad, where bombs tear apart markets and flesh, Americans shoot at anyone who crosses them and the police are too scared to stop murderers as the streets run red with blood. Walid must protect his family, his neighborhood, from this onslaught of violence. But how? He decides to use his brains and gun. As a consequence, he dives into the underbelly of a city in the throes of civil war.

Fighting other Iraqis and the Americans, Walid must figure out how to live just one more day.

Mohammad, Walid’s childhood companion, decides to sell out his friend to get personal justice.

Qassem, an Iranian, trained to work in the shadows for Tehran, plays with men’s lives to achieve his goals.

Douglass, an American soldier, dutifully carries out his mission.

Everyone fights to come out on top, but not all of them can survive. Who will make it to see another day?

4 Thumbs-UpAlthough this is a review on a trilogy of books, I really feel it is more a review on just one book.  If you are going to read this, please don’t try to break it down into three parts, just jump straight in and read it as if it is a complete book, I assure you that you will not be disappointed.  While I am on this subject, I’m not sure why the Author chose to split this book into three as it works very well as a full novel on its own.  Also you if have a weak stomach, be warned that this is a book set in a combat zone; the scenes of violence contained in it cannot be avoided and, in some places, they may make the reader sick to their stomach.  However, this is also one of the strengths of this book, as it serves to bring right into the readers comfortable reading spot a perspective on a war that has often been used as a political tool by Governments far and wide.

The main protagonist is in this book is not a likeable one at all, despite starting out with good intentions in his fight for the preservation of his life and that of his Family’s he soon slides into a world that brings about actions which truly make the reader doubt if he ever had a decent bone in his body to start with.  If it had not been for several other characters I encountered in reading this novel, I think the main character would have truly made me reconsider completing this book.  Other characters are written in such a way that they add depth and breadth to the story; the humanity or inhumanity of war is reflected through their actions and shown in the turmoil they face on a day-to-day basis.  The Author has done an excellent job of taking personalities from both sides of this conflict and making them equally likeable or not, regardless of their background; with a skilful pen the Author demonstrates the motivations of all the different groups operating in this war without taking a firm stand for one group or the other.  Regardless of whether the reader likes the characters or not in this book, there is no avoiding the fact that we are reading about real and suffering people who endure the unthinkable and have, like all humans, lapses in their moral codes.

For me, I found this to be a very emotional book to read; knowing the Author is a Veteran themselves and had actually been in the same dark place my Husband had, made me realize that this was just as much as healing tool for the Author as it was a piece of fiction based on facts for the reader.  The book is full of common military terms and, at times I could hear the words of the Author echoed in conversations I have had with others that were in Iraq during the early years of the war.  Although many readers may think that the ending to this book is rather weak compared to the rest of the contents, I felt it was very indicative of the nature of this conflict; there are no clear rules of engagement and no nice clean happy endings, at the end of the day there are losses on both sides and each have to rebuild not only their homes but their lives as well, physically and mentally.

This is a very thought-provoking novel, and I would highly recommend it to anyone who would like to get another perspective on the Iraq war and those who are interested in military books.

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A Story Can Change Your Life ~ Peter Everwine

Typewriter

A Story Can Change Your Life

On the morning she became a young widow,
my grandmother, startled by a sudden shadow,
looked up from her work to see a hawk turn
her prized rooster into a cloud of feathers.
That same moment, halfway around the world
in a Minnesota mine, her husband died,
buried under a ton of rock-fall.
She told me this story sixty years ago.
I don’t know if it’s true but it ought to be.
She was a hard old woman, and though she knelt
on Sundays when the acolyte’s silver bell
announced the moment of Christ’s miracle,
it was the darker mysteries she lived by:
shiver-cry of an owl, black dog by the roadside,
a tapping at the door and nobody there.
The moral of the story was plain enough:
miracles become a burden and require a priest
to explain them. With signs, you only need
to keep your wits about you and place your trust
in a shadow world that lets you know hard luck
and grief are coming your way. And for that
—so the story goes—any day will do.

Peter Everwine

Review: FEAR! ~ Steven Nedelton

abstract backgroundA real life drama. In this expansive examination of Man’s nature, the author takes us into a world where the government controls everything, war is a constant reality, and no one can be trusted. Throughout it all, one family clings to their values while standing fast against the forces that would see them torn apart.

Ranging in time from the distant past to the near future, FEAR! takes the reader on a journey to the center of Hell.

3 Thumbs-UpA word of warning; if you are easily offended by the ‘f’ word, and feel it is pretty pointless in a book and has no place there, don’t bother to pick up this book as you’ll find offense on nearly every page.  However, if you can come to see that the use of it may actually help the plot in some way, give this book a try.

The book itself is rather enjoyable spanning a time frame from the far distant past to the near future, and as a descriptive writer this Author excels as events and locations in the book come to life before the readers eyes.  With a deft use of words, they are able to transport the reader to the era in which the plot is taking place so vividly that they will have to lay the book down occasionally to check that they really are in their own time.  However, if you are not a fan of time leaping plots you may find this book somewhat confusing as it moves from one era to another quickly.  The way in which the Author does this can make the structure of the book somewhat difficult to follow if the reader is new to the idea of time leaping in their reading material, but it is worth persevering with to read this intriguing book.

The Author does not just limit his descriptive writing talents to the location and events in the novel, he uses them to great effect when writing the characters encountered.  For the most part these are very well-developed and realistically three-dimensional, which added depth to the book, unfortunately the Author was not able to sustain this level of development in all their characters to the point where some seemed to be caricatures of what they truly could have become if more time had been taken in their development.

If you are looking for a solely plot driven book then you will be disappointed in this one, as it appeared to me to be more character driven than plot driven, and as some of these characters were a lot less developed than others it actually affected the pace making it limp painfully along in some places.  I’m not sure if the Authors intent was produce a character driven piece of work, or whether this happened more by chance, but it would have added immensely to the novel if there had been some plot to help in the areas where the characters were too weak to carry the book.

If you enjoy time travel books you may well enjoy this novel, but if you are looking for something deep and meaningful this is not the book for you.

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