Thursday, December 29, 2016

Best Reads of 2016

Thought it was time for me to compile a list of the books I have read this year: that I loved the most and want to gush about or give an extra accolade.  
Please note that not all of these titles were published this year, but are books I read in 2016. Click on the titles for links to more information on each book, and my review.

HISTORICAL FICTION:

Ancient and Medieval:









Regency to Modern:








FANTASY 



CRIME & MYSTERY 






 

Friday, December 23, 2016

Lucifer's Harvest by Mel Starr

Chronicles of Hugh de Singleton #9 
Lion Fiction, 19th August 2016 (UK), Nov 27th (US) 
160 Pages 

King Charles of France has announced that he is confiscating Aquitaine, and Prince Edward has sent for knights and men at arms from England to assist him in opposing the French king. Lord Gilbert Talbot is required to provide five knights, twelve squires, and twenty archers and men at arms, and wishes his surgeon - Hugh de Singleton - to travel with the party, while Hugh's wife Kate will oversee the castle.
Among the party will be Sir Simon Trillowe, Hugh's old nemesis and Kate's former suitor, who had once set fire to Hugh's house. After a brawl on the streets of Oxford Sir Simon had nearly lost an ear; Hugh had sewn it back on but it had healed crooked, and Simon blamed Hugh for the disfigurement. Finding himself in the same party, Hugh resolves not to turn his back on the knight - but it is Sir Simon who should not have turned his back.
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For some who have been following this series, the length of this book proved a disappointment. It was only 150 pages, instead of the usual 225-50. I confess, I had my own reservations in that regard, but I certainly enjoyed it.
As the synopsis makes clear, this instalment of the Hugh de Singleton Medieval mystery series involves the Surgeon Hugh being accused of the murder of his long-time enemy, Sir Simon Trillowe (a knight who had courted the woman he married, and once tried to burn down his house). Against the backdrop of the Siege of Limoges in 1370, the intrepid sleuthing surgeon and his erstwhile friends Arthur and Uctred must rise above their own resentments to solve the mystery before it’s too late.

Personally, I appreciated the way that Mr Starr took this novel out of Bampton, the Oxfordshire village where Hugh and his family make their home. It’s set in Aquitaine, one of the former English possessions in France during the Hundred Years War. The setting allows for the story to explore Medieval warfare, and its impact to society, as well as introducing some of the movers and shakers of the period. Major political figures and politics generally do not usually feature in this series, but in this instalment the Black Prince, also known as Edward of Woodstock, the eldest son of King Edward III makes an appearance. Well, several appearances to be exact, which adds an interesting flavour to the story.
Of course, there are the usual historical details about everyday life and Medieval medicine as well, which are one of the things I like most about this series.

As is often the case, there is some exploration of moral and religious issues. In this case, Hugh finds his convictions tested when he must discover that happened to his enemy, and deal with his father who seems determined to see him hanged for a crime he did not commit. He would rather leave the matter well alone, but the accusation assures he cannot, and must face his enemies as well as his own resentments head on.
Regular readers should be warned that this story does have a somewhat darker and more melancholy tone than many of the previous titles, due not only to the mystery but other events which befall major characters. That should not necessarily put anyone off, but just be aware that it marks a slight diversion from the usually light tone.

Overall this was a good story, and well worth a read for fans of the series and Medieval mystery lovers more generally, though I admit it was not my favourite title in the series (I preferred book seven The Abbott’s Agreement and book five The Tainted Coin).

I requested and received a copy of this book from the publisher Lion Fiction. I was not required to write a positive review, and all opinions expressed are my own.

Friday, December 16, 2016

The Reward of Anavrea - Book Trailer

Its finally here! The Reward of Anavrea: Book Three of the Theodoric Saga by Rachel Rossano came out four days ago. For those not familiar with the series, its the latest installment in a Medieval Historical Fantasy saga.

Here's the Amazon synopsis:

She couldn’t hide forever.

A hard life taught Jayne to avoid men, powerful men most of all. When a new nobleman arrives to take over the vargar, she takes her family and hides. But the new baron seeks her out and makes her an offer she can’t refuse: protection. However, once they were sheltered behind the dark stone walls of the vargar, who would protect her from the new master?
His reward isn’t what it seems.

King Ireic of Anavrea charges Liam, a former bodyguard, with the task of retaking and taming a corner of the northern wilds. Upon arrival at Ashwyn Vargar, Liam finds challenges beyond his military experience. The keys to the vargar are missing and so are the field hands who should be harvesting the fields. Once he finds the keeper of the keys, she raises more questions than answers.

Rachel does her own trailers for her books, so here it is:




Click any of the links to find it on your favourite retailers site: 

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

She Walks In Power by Marylu Tyndall- Audiobook Review

Protectors of the Spear #1 
Audio edition November 15th 2016
Print and Ebook September 2nd 2016, 285 pages 

Alexia D'Clere didn't ask to be Protector of the Spear, but after her dying mother gave her the tiny metal object and made her promise to keep it safe, she had no choice.
Orphaned at age eight, she began to take over the running of her parent's castle with the help of a trusted steward. Yet, when a plot to murder her was revealed, a friar whisked her away to live hidden in the forest. There, she learned to shoot expertly with a bow and arrow and hone her skills to see into the spirit realm. Now, at eighteen, Alexia continues to keep the Spear protected. 

With Alexia's powers of spiritual discernment and her skill as an archer, she is no match for those who come for the spear. That is, until she meets Ronar LePeine, one of the King's elite guard. Ronar desires nothing more than to do his duty to God and King and pay penance for past sins. Yet a forest sprite with red, flaming hair blocks his every move, all the while enchanting him like no other. 

Something evil lurks at Castle Luxley, and both Ronar and Alexia are soon thrust into the middle of a spiritual battle which will not only test their very beliefs but put them both in mortal danger.
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Tauriel: Elfin Archer and model for Alexia?
I've had some bad experiences with books by this author, having read two others and really disliked them.
Yet I gave this a chance, and purchased it with some Amazon credits, because I have a weakness for Medieval Fiction and it was said to be more of a fantasy story.
Interestingly, the woman on the cover looked oddly familiar: she's almost a doppelganger for Tauriel from The Hobbit movies- right down the slightly pointed ears.

Perhaps the comparison is apt- the heroine's ability with a bow is superhuman, and there were faint shades of the Tolkienesque.  On the whole this turned out to be a decent adventure story and an interesting spin on the old Robin Hood stories. To be honest, it had to offer something different to stand out from the others, and I confess I enjoyed this a more than I have previous books by this author.
Notwithstanding some unnecessary silliness, like the bare-chested fencing scene, which was clearly put in just so the heroine Alexia could see the hero Ronar in the buff, as well as knights wearing what I call ‘butter armour’ which could be sliced through in a single stroke. Alongside a few clichés of Medieval Fiction, like filth, squalor and dirty helpless peasants who did not seem to know how to grow their own crops so they were dependent upon the heroine.

Now, I like Tolkien and I like Historical Fantasy, so I could have really liked this, could- but sadly didn't.
However, I believe the author made a serious error in setting a fantasy story in a real time and place.  Something had to give, and in this case, it was historical and to some extent geographical accuracy. The story was meant to be set in some vague version of Medieval England- but a version that included Pine Forests (there weren't any because our climate was not right for them) raccoons- a thoroughly American mammal, not found in the British Isles, and an inordinate number of wolves, considering they had become extinct in England by the end of the fourteenth century. 
It seemed the rule of if in doubt, base the Flora and Fauna on the familiar in the United States rule applied. Yeah, OK, but Britain is not America, we have our own, different climate and plant and animal life.

On the historical side whilst some research was done, perhaps a lot much of the story fell far short. I really do wish authors would do their research on Medieval English Law, as well as Church law. At one point Alexia was accused of 'witchcraft’ and was going to be burned on the say so of a Bishop. No, only a church court could convict a person of heresy- and you could not legally be condemned as a traitor or proclaimed an outlaw without due legal procedure either. Nor was it ever ‘treason’ to kill the Kings’ Deer.It was against the Forest Laws, which applied only to the Forest and certain animals. Not squirrels or ducks, and not the entire country.
Nor was it High Treason to help a prisoner escape or steal a Relic. High Treason meant trying to kill or physically harm the King, taking up arms against him, siding with his avowed enemies, or seducing his wife or daughter. I’m getting very tired of reading about characters being charged with ‘treason’ for so much as sneezing in the King's presence.

The depiction of Medieval religious ideas fared little better. Now, I’m no Catholic, but I do believe in accuracy- and that if one is going to write anything polemical, one has to get the facts right. So, Medieval Catholics did not believe the Pope was ‘divine’ as was claimed in this novel.. Nor were they banned from reading or quoting the Bible- they had Psalters and Prayer books for goodness sake! They certainly would not have considered it ‘Blasphemy’ to talk about the Holy Spirit, or believe in the Indwelling of the Spirit. They believed certain people were indwelled by the Spirit- one being the King.

Oh, but of course, Friar Josef and Alexia, who were meant to represent true Bible Believing Christians rejected the idea that the King was God’s anointed because according to them 'we are all appointed of God'. By the end, the formerly faithful subjects come to realise like them that the 'unrighteous' King is not worthy of their loyalty and service.
That's not in any version of the Bible I have read. In fact it brings to mind the passages “Every person is to be in subjection to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those which exist are established by God”. (Romans 13:1-2) and “Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether a King as one in authority or to governors sent by him to punish evildoers” (1 Peter 2:13).
OK, I get that this book was written by an American who is most likely anti-monarchy, but I think this content owes more to her own ideas than Holy Writ, and the  assumption that preconceived ideas of her society are 'Biblical'.

Overall, I believe She Walks in Power is a victim of the popularity of the Genre- written because Medieval Fiction is 'in' and 'cool' at the moment, but without any real familiarity for the period or the geographical setting. There is a sound Gospel message, but I would not agree with all of the other religious messages, and I think there are better ways to write a story about Spiritual Warfare. Perhaps a proper fantasy story set in an invented world would have been better.

Monday, November 28, 2016

Heather Day Gilbert Viking Fiction Author- Interview and Giveaway!



1: So first off why Vikings? Is if for the relatively unknown connection with America?

HG: I became interested in Vikings as a child, when I realized my maiden name would've been Thorvaldsson if my great-grandfather hadn't changed it to "Day" when he emigrated to America from Norway. That side of the family was allegedly related to Eirik the Red and Leif Eiriksson, so I started reading up on the Icelandic saga accounts of Eirik's family. I stumbled into the tale of Gudrid, a ward of Eirik the Red and a Viking Christian who sailed to North America, where she gave birth to the first recorded European baby to be born on that continent. Although it seemed daunting, I wanted to write her story, as well as the story of Freydis, another (in)famous Viking warrior woman who was Eirik the Red's daughter. I wish American history included more about these brave women's stories.

2: This is really two questions, but I have noticed that your ‘Vikings of the New World’ saga alongside a lot of my favourite Christian Medieval novels don’t ‘fit’ the typical mould of Romance or Fantasy, and also tend to be self-published, or from smaller publishing houses. Do you think there’s still a gap in the market for these kind of books? 

HG: Of course, the one exception that I can think of in terms of the major Christian Publishers are Lion Fiction/Kregel who have produced a lot of non-Romantic and literary Medieval fiction in the last few years. Of course, what stands out about them is that they’re UK based, and they are prepared to accept more ‘edgy’ content. So do you think there’s a cultural difference in tastes and reception of these kinds of books (between America and Europe)? Why? 

To answer the first part: Yes, many authors go indie because publishers aren't looking for what they're writing—and I'd imagine women's fiction/saga historicals aren't nearly as popular as fantasy or romantic historicals. When I submitted God's Daughter four years ago, Christian book publishers were not looking for anything set outside the USA, much less a Viking-era tale.
That's an interesting observation about Kregel (the American imprint of Lion), because it is the one publisher that seriously considered God's Daughter. In the end, they didn't feel they could market it (keep in mind this was three years ago, before there was much Medieval Christian fiction at all. Also at that time, Regency was just getting popular, which finally featured a non-USA setting). 

Part of the reason I wanted to go indie is because I knew Vikings were on the upswing (the Thor and How to Train your Dragon movies were out then, and soon after I published God's Daughter, the Vikings miniseries released on The History Channel). I knew, from the interest in my posts and pins about Vikings, that I could market my book to a solid niche base of readers and hopefully build from there.

I know there are cultural differences between the US and UK Christian publishing houses, such as Kregel/Lion, but I appreciate that both Kregel and Lion are getting unusual books out to readers who are anxious for out-of-the-box tales. But in the end, it comes down to what an individual publisher is looking for, and often these more obscure time periods/locales don't fit the bill. This is where indie books definitely fill a gap.

3: Favourite character and why? What would you change about them if you could (though of course you cannot as they’re historical figures?) 

HG: Of the Viking characters I've written? That's tough! They really all seem to be alive and walking Vikings of the New World Saga, I'd probably say Freydis, since she really grew on me, although I will say that I'm also rather infatuated with Thorfinn Karlsefni (Gudrid's husband). Although Leif Eiriksson really cracks me up sometimes.

4: You may know that I harbour ambitions to one day write a novel about a very strong and formidable Anglo-Saxon Lady with a Christian slant, which would almost certainly have to be part of a series. Any tips and advice?

HG: I really hope you do, because I'd enjoy reading that series! I'd just say that it's really important not to info-dump on the historical reader, because you don't want your novel to read like a textbook. Yes, we might have invested countless hours of research into this topic, but we have to figure out ways to meld the facts into a driving storyline. This elaboration on the facts can lead to some lower reviews, but we have to be prepared to stand behind the integrity of our work. Also, I've found that when presenting paganism in a negative light, you can expect to have some harassment by way of reviews. But let's be honest—every author writes from a worldview. For example, The Mists of Avalon is decidedly pro-pagan. My worldview is Christian, so I add this to the end of my Amazon blurbs: This book is written from a Christian worldview.

5. I always try to ask this one, so I will ask you too. Can you think of anything interesting or unexpected you discovered when doing the research for this series? 

HG: Yes—many things! The one I stumbled onto at just the right time was that sometimes Vikings dug escape tunnels under benches in their longhouses. As you know, I integrated that fact into Forest Child, hopefully in a memorable way. We don't have access to many facts about the Vikings, but the more that turn up, the more it looks like the saga accounts were true, which warms my heart since I really tried to stick to those accounts when writing God's Daughter and Forest Child.
Thanks so much for your thoughtful questions! Nice to visit today!

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AUTHOR BIO:
HEATHER DAY GILBERT, a Grace Award winner and bestselling author, writes novels that capture life in all its messy, bittersweet, hope-filled glory. Born and raised in the West Virginia mountains, generational story-telling runs in her blood. Heather is a graduate of Bob Jones University, and she and her husband are raising their children in the same home in which Heather grew up. Heather is represented by Rebeca Seitz and Jonathan Clements of SON Studios in FL.

Heather's Viking historical novel, God's Daughter, is an Amazon Norse Bestseller. She is also the author of the bestselling A Murder in the Mountains mystery series and the Hemlock Creek Suspense series. Heather also authored the Indie Publishing Handbook: Four Key Elements for the Self-Publisher.
Guess what! As a special extra Heather has agreed to do a Giveaway of a copy of the Boxset of her Vikings of the New World Saga. That's right! One lucky person can win a copy of God's Daughter and Forest Child together. Enter using the form below.






a Rafflecopter giveaway

Friday, November 25, 2016

My Enemy, My Heart by Laurie Alice Eakes - New Release


The Ashford Chronicles #1 
Waterfall Press, November 15th 2016, 385 Pages
Print, Ebook and Audio 

The sea is Deirdre MacKenzie’s home, and the crew of her father’s Baltimore clipper is the only family she loves. She’s happier wearing breeches and climbing the rigging of the Maid of Alexandria than donning a dress and learning to curtsy. But when the War of 1812 erupts, the ship is captured by a British privateer, leaving her father, the captain, dead. Deirdre watches her crew herded into the hold, destined for the notorious Dartmoor prison in England. Though her fate as a noncombatant is uncertain, she knows she must find a way to free her crew.

Kieran Ashford has caused his family one too many scandals. On his way to exile in America, he is waylaid by the declaration of war and a chance to turn privateer and make his own fortune. But he regrets his actions as soon as the rich prize is secured. Now his best chance at redeeming himself in the eyes of his family is to offer Deirdre the protection of his name in marriage.

But love and loyalty clash as Kieran begins to win Deirdre’s heart despite her plot to betray him. Will Kieran’s plan mend the relationship with his family, and can this fated couple find true love despite the secret lies between them?
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This was a fair story, as far as Romantic Fiction goes, and it even worked quite well as a cross-cultural Romance with protagonists whose nations are at war. Yet it also represented everything I do not like about this author's work: An overly simplistic, nationalistic version of history which ignores the complexity and moral ambiguity of many wars and conflicts,  coupled with a woeful lack of familiarity with the history, politics, culture and society of Great Britain in the Nineteeth century. 

It begins with a note blaming the British for starting the War of 1812, by picking on and bullying the Americans and continues in the same kind of bent. The Americans are depicted as the wronged innocents, whilst no mention is made of American aggression, including the invasion of Canada by the United States which occurred early in that conflict. 
The first forty percent or so of the book follows Deidre aboard her father's ship after it is seized by British Aristocrat Keiran Ashford and his crew in the Caribbean. Sadly, it also involves a lot of Romantic 'mush' with kissing, touching (which was really not appropriate for a person who said he would not behave dishonourably towards any woman), and talking about 'stirring up feelings', alongside escape attempts, a proposal, and eventually a marriage of convenience between the protagonists. 

As another reviewer says, the British characters do sometimes 'read as American', and use Americanisms. One example is how Keiran at one point refers to the heir to the throne as: 'The Prince Regent of England'. That was not his title: he was the Prince Regent of Britain, or Great(er) Britain. This inability to distinguish between England and Britain, even on the part of British characters, is common to this author's work: along with the fact that the Brits talk like Americans with posher accents.

In the second part of the book, Keiran brings the pregnant Dierdre home to his family's estate in Cornwall, and there is much conflict and angst between them because of misunderstandings, his past, and a mutual failure to communicate or trust each other. Although Keiran's family accept her, Dierdre does not fit in, a did act like a bit of a brat.
At the start, she got huffy because Keiran did not her he was an aristocrat- though I'm fairly sure other characters had previously referred to him as Lord- so it should have been obvious. Like the good Republican she is, Dierdre does approve of the aristocracy, because all the Newspapers she has read say they are the oppressors of the working classes (she had previously compared people in domestic service to slaves)  and- even worse, the unelected rulers of Britain. This is another common assumption in novels by this author- that nineteenth century Britain was some kind of backwards, feudal state still ruled by the nobility.
Clearly, Deidre had not heard of the elected House of Commons, the Second Chamber of Parliament, or the Middle Classes, for that matter.

Anyway, from the outset, Deidre plans to break her crew out of Dartmoor Prison, where they have been incarcerated with lots of evil, brutal redcoats as their guards. I'm gonna be honest: the continual griping by the characters about the horrible conditions in Dartmoor and inhumanity of locking people up there really got my back up- its not as if Britain was the only country in history to incarcerate Prisoners of War. France was doing the same thing at this time, and I'm sure even America did. And for goodness sake- what else were we meant to do: let enemy combatants go into the countryside?

It is at this point that the attitude of the characters becomes most hypocritical and reprehensible. Whilst agonising that American and French Prisoners might be cold or hungry, they do not even spare a thought for their countrymen- the British soldiers and sailors fighting Napoleon. Whilst Dierdre condemns Britain for attacking America, she has no qualms about setting her crew free knowing full well that they intend to go to France and fight for them against Britain.

She is troubled by no pangs of conscience so that her men are going to go and help the French fight against and kill the sons, fathers, and brothers of the local people who take her under her wing- and neither are the British characters who are prepared to assist her mission for that matter. There is no understanding or comprehension whatsoever of why Britain was fighting France.
At one point Deidre even assumes it is to protect the wealth and privilege of the Upper Classes, which is patent nonsense and even offensive. Not even mentioned is the very real existential threat to Britain posed by a man- Napoleon Bonaparte who had conquered much of Europe, and wanted to invade with a huge army.
We were fighting for our survival: not our convenience. It just something that many American authors who write about this period don't seem to get, and its incredibly annoying.

Overall, My Enemy, My Heart is a reasonable Romance novel.  but its not a favourite. No doubt the intended audience would go in for it, but I hope they don't learn their history from it.

I received an ebook of this title from the publisher via Netgalley for review, and purchased the audiobook of my own volition. I was not required to write a positive one and all opinions expressed are my own. 

Thursday, November 24, 2016

The Shattered Vigil - Patrick W. Carr - New Release

The Darkwater Saga #2
Bethany House, 1st November 2016 
464 Pages, Print, ebook and Audio 

Victory over the dark forces during the feast of Bas-solas should have guaranteed safety for the continent. Instead, Willet and the rest of the Vigil discover they've been outsmarted by those seeking to unleash the evil that inhabits the Darkwater. Jorgen, the member of the Vigil assigned to Frayel, has gone missing, and new attacks have struck at the six kingdoms' ability to defend themselves.
Just when the Vigil thought they had quenched the menace from their enemy in Collum, a new threat emerges: assassins hunting the Vigil, men and women who cannot be seen until it's too late. The orders of the church and the rulers of the kingdoms, fearing the loss of the Vigil's members altogether, have decided to take them into protective custody to safeguard their gift. On Pellin's orders, the Vigil scatters, leaving Willet to be taken prisoner by the church in Bunard. 
In the midst of this, Willet learns of the murder of an obscure nobleman's daughter by one of the unseen assassins. Now he must escape his imprisonment and brave the wrath of the church to find the killer in order to turn back this latest threat to the northern continent. 
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Audiobook Cover
I’m quite picky with fantasy, and I don’t always like much of what I read. To be brutally honest, I found the first book in this series The Shock of Night a bit of a slog, to the point that I stopped enjoying it and just wanted to get it over with towards the end.

I requested this one partly because the Audiobook had just been released, so I hoped to listen to that alongside this, in truth though, I think I listened to the whole thing as an Audiobook. This second instalment in the Trilogy seemed stronger than the first, with better characterization, and not so much of an emphasis on the main protagonist Willet Dura.
It was more interesting to learn something about the lives, personality and motivations of the other members of The Vigil.
(For those unfamiliar with the last story, they are mysterious group, who called themselves the Guardians of the realm, who seem to belong to the Church, but really act on their own authority, possess the frightening power to read men’s minds, delve their memories, and profess to live for Hundreds of years.)

The nature of the evil powers present in the story, and the supernatural abilities of the Vigil and others seem to become more clear and understandable in this story, unlike the last one which was more confusing, although I suppose there is meant to be some blurring of lines to reflect the flaws in human nature. The Vigil do what they think is for the best, but sometimes it backfires or their actions raise serious questions about the morality of their motives. If people were ‘gifted’ by God with superhuman abilities, as they are in this story, would it be right to use their power and ‘gifting’ to punish evil or escape danger, if it meant destroying others, and such a course was forbidden to them?

The characters’ wrestle with these issues and their own demons throughout the story, which adds a more credibility and depth. Also, I appreciated that Willet did not seem quite so smarmy and cocky in this story. It got annoying after a while in the last one. He doubts himself here, and had to rely on the help of others.
One or two other reviewers said they would have preferred more action in this story, but I think many stories rely too much on non-stop action, and it often detracts from other aspects of storytelling, such as world-building, or character and plot development. Sometimes a slower-paced story with depth and well-drawn realistic characters is better than a fast- paced thriller.

I confess, this is not my favourite pseudo-Medieval fantasy series (it feels too modern to be in any sense ‘historical’). I still prefer The Traitor’s Heir by Anna Thayer, but this one is worth a read (or a listen) for lovers of Imaginative Fantasy which explores moral themes.

I requested an e-book version of this title from the Publisher via Netgalley for review, and purchased the Audible book of my own volition. I was not required to write a positive review and all opinions expressed are my own.

Saturday, November 19, 2016

The Jazz Files- Fiona Veitch Smith

Poppy Denby Investigates #1
Lion Fiction, 360, Pages, November 27th 2015 
Print and Ebook 

Introducing Poppy Denby, a young journalist in London during the Roaring Twenties, investigating crime in the highest social circles!

In 1920, twenty-two year old Poppy Denby moves from Northumberland to live with her paraplegic aunt in London. Aunt Dot, a suffragette who was injured in battles with the police in 1910, is a feisty and well-connected lady.

Poppy has always dreamed of being a journalist, and quickly lands a position as an editorial assistant at the Daily Globe. Then one of the paper's writers, Bert Isaacs, dies suddenly--and messily. Poppy and her attractive co-worker, photographer Daniel Rokeby begin to wonder if it wasn't a natural death, but murder.

After she writes a sensational exposé, The Globe's editor invites her to dig deeper. Poppy starts sifting through the dead man's files and unearths a major mystery which takes her to France--and into deadly danger.

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Excellent Historical mystery from a British author (which is of course a real boon for me), set in the midst of the Jazz Age.

Methodist Pastor's daughter Poppy Denby comes to London after recieving a letter from her Aunt, who is secretly planning on helping her find a career.
At first she, but faces discrimination when she turns up at her interview for the role of a Manager.
They don't want a woman- a situation which the strong and independent niece of the former Suffragette Dorothy Denby is not willing to put up with.
With the help of some friends and new contacts Poppy is quickly introduced the enigmatic but eccentric Canadian editor of 'The Globe', as it quickly offered her first assingment- to report on New play showing in a top London Theatre.

Soon after meeting the leading lady, the fiesty Delilah Marconi and the death of another journalist Poppy learns of a possible cover-up involving the shady dealings of a corrupt peer, Melvyn Dorchester, in which her Aunt, Delilah's mother and several other members of a women's sufferage movement may have been embrioled.

Adventure, mystery, intrigue and danger ensues in this delightful mystery rich in historical details, and plenty of fiesty ladies, a flapper or two, and even a cameo by Marie Curie!
Readers may wish to note that although there are Christian themes in this story, it does not shy away from the tougher issues of life, or the realities of human nature.
So there is mention of characters losing their faith, having affairs, and one character accuses Poppy's Aunt of being a Lesbian (although I do not remember any indication that it was true).

I was invited to download this title from Netgalley by the publisher, Lion Fiction to read and review. I was not required to write a positive one and all opinions expressed are my own.

Sunday, November 13, 2016

The Silent Songbird by Melanie Dickerson - New Release

308 Pages, November 8th 2016
Thomas Nelson, Print, ebook and audio


Evangeline is gifted with a heavenly voice, but she is trapped in a sinister betrothal—until she embarks on a daring escape and meets brave Westley le Wyse. Can he help her discover the freedom to sing again?
Desperate to flee a political marriage to her cousin King Richard II’s closest advisor, Lord Shiveley—a man twice her age with shadowy motives—Evangeline runs away and joins a small band of servants journeying back to Glynval, their home village.
Pretending to be mute, she gets to know Westley le Wyse, their handsome young leader, who is intrigued by the beautiful servant girl. But when the truth comes out, it may shatter any hope that love could grow between them.
More than Evangeline’s future is at stake as she finds herself entangled in a web of intrigue that threatens England’s monarchy. Should she give herself up to protect the only person who cares about her? If she does, who will save the king from a plot to steal his throne?
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I have read everything by Melanie Dickerson, including all her fairy-tale retellings. This one is the long-awaited sequel to her earlier novel The Merchant’s Daughter, which I was looking forward to as its set-in England. Sadly, I was disappointed as I felt this was one of her weakest stories in terms of historical accuracy and certain details of the plot. That's just my opinion, take it or leave it, but let me elaborate further.

First off, I don’t like forced marriage stories. Why? Because the common assumption that forced marriage was normal in the Middle Ages is totally wrong. The church banned it from the twelfth century, so that any marriage which was conducted without the free consent of both parties was totally illegal.
So the fact that right in the first chapter, the heroine starts whining about her lack of freedom- before being faced with a forced marriage which then features very prominently throughout the story was sort of off-putting. (The legal ban is even mentioned- but hastily dismissed as though everyone could just ignore it when it was the church, not the King who had the jurisdiction over marriage.)
Ok so I could accept that in this instance, it was essential to the story- but not that the heroine was some kind of exception to all the weak, downtrodden, doormat Englishwomen who willingly accepted forced and unhappy marriages because they had not right to refuse.

Most of us Englishwomen are more contentious than that! We're a stubborn race. Also, the sources from the time show many examples of Medieval English noblewomen who married people of their own choice- including royal wards, judging from the number of fines made for marriage without Royal consent.

Moving on, I though this was, overall a decent story. As an adventure and fairy-tale retelling, it’s even quite good, and I could see the parallels with the Little Mermaid although it’s been a long time since I saw the movie.
I don't think I ever totally warmed to the heroine Evangeline though. She came across, at least at first, as shallow, self-centred and a childish brat. Her initial objections to her marriage were a good illustration- because her suitor was old and ugly. So, her love was dependent on looks and age, as if nobody ever found happiness with someone older, or not good looking? Shouldn't real love look past that?

Then, all of a sudden, Eva transforms into a strong, independent warrior woman when she takes some instruction in self-defence. OK, so that’s not improbable and we are told she had a rebellious streak. Yet mastering the longbow in 2 hours did not seem plausible at all. Medieval longbowmen trained for years, starting from when they were 7, with a weapon that had a draw weight of close to 90 pounds. Nobody learns to use one in 2 hours.
And her foot stomping when Westley told her to stay behind for her own safety? That did not make her look independent or capable at all. Really, why do female characters have to behave like utter brats, or do really reckless things to prove how 'strong' they are?

Westley was a better character, and it was nice to 'meet' his family again, although I did not feel that the details about their involvement in the Peasant's Revolt rang true. Primarily it about tax, not 'Freedom', did not involve villiens, and it was not just like a modern worker's strike. It was terribly violent, and culminated in the Archbishop of Canterbury being beheaded by a mob in the streets. I can totally understand why Westley's friend was so resentful over what happened to his father- someone in that situation does not need sanctimonous platitudes about equality of the classes.

Overall them, The Silent Songbird was worth a read, but the German- set stories are better, especially the last two The Golden Braid and The Beautiful Pretender. I do plan to read her next few books, I just hope they get better.

I requested a copy of this title from Booklook Bloggers with the intention of reading and reviewing it. I was not required to write a positive one and all opinions expressed are my own.
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