Tuesday, October 17, 2017

New Release: 12 Days at Bleakly Manor by Michelle Griep

Once Upon A Dickens Christmas #1
September 1st 2017, 192 Pages, Print, ebook and audio

"A mysterious invitation to spend Christmas at an English manor home may bring danger...and love?

England, 1851: When Clara Chapman receives an intriguing invitation to spend Christmas at an English manor home, she is hesitant yet feels compelled to attend—for if she remains the duration of the twelve-day celebration, she is promised a sum of one thousand pounds.

But is she walking into danger? It appears so, especially when she comes face to face with one of the other guests—her former fiancĂ©, Benjamin Lane.

Imprisoned unjustly, Ben wants revenge on whoever stole his honor. When he’s given the chance to gain his freedom, he jumps at it—and is faced with the anger of the woman he stood up at the altar. Brought together under mysterious circumstances, Clara and Ben discover that what they’ve been striving for isn’t what ultimately matters.

What matters most is what Christmas is all about . . . love"

It's not Christmas, its October, but I decided to read this alongside the audiobook borrowed on Scribd. The description of the book is pretty accurate, its pretty much like a combination of Dickens Bleak House with one of Agatha's Christie's darkest stories 'And Then There Were None' (which was originally entitled 12 Little Indians).

I'm rather in two minds about how some of the characters seemed to be directly lifted from Bleak House, especially Mr. Tallgrass (Mr. Bart. Smallweed, clearly was the inspiration there), and Miss Scurry with her mice, who was clearly based on Miss Flyte with her collection of prophetically named birds.
Whilst I am sure authors borrow from other works all the time, it's not something I'm always totally comfortable with when I spot it. This was still a great book though, and it does not detract from Dickens great tale. To be fair, its hard to beat the classics, so why not use them as an inspiration?

Aside from some of the inevitable Americanisms, and the American narrator of the audiobook who struggled with some of the accents, I did enjoy this book. A lot. Its great little short read for any time of the year, but also ideal reading on a long Winter night over the Holiday season incorporating intrigue, suspense, mystery, but also love and redemption.

I requested the ebook edition of this title from Netgalley for review. I was not required to write a positive one and all opinions expressed are my own.

Friday, October 13, 2017

First Line Fridays #12: Lady Jayne Disappears by Joanna Davidson Politano

I've noticed that First Line Friday posts are all I have been, well, posting for a few weeks now, with far less reviews. Maybe its because I'm not posting reviews of most of the titles I listen to as audiobooks, or that reading time is sometimes limited I seem to keep waking up late, which cuts out some of the time I would otherwise spend reading of an early morning. 
Perhaps I need to buy that LED light to stick to the shelf above my bed, instead of rolling over and going back to sleep now that the mornings have grown dark with the onset of British Autumn. 

Anyway, today I am featuring the first line of the book I am about to start reading (or more likely listening to most of on Audible), which I picked as it was set in the Victorian Period, and and I rather like this stories those with a Gothic bent or some underlying mystery.  I heard about the novel months ago, waited for it to appear on Netgalley then had to wait several days before finally being approved.

The first lines read: 

London, England 1861 
 "Well Miss Harcourt. Are you, or are you not, Nathaniel Droll?"

Happy reading and have a good weekend, untul next time. Hopefully I will get more review up in the intervening days. 

Friday, October 06, 2017

First Line Fridays #11: The Middle Ages Unlocked

That time of the week again, and I've managed to fall behind in my reading Challenge again, but I am making my way through two audiobooks and one paperback, so it's not because of laziness. Today also marks another milestone: The First Line Fridays group has a new home and we are including our posts in a new links list.  

Today is also a first for me: I'm including a non-fiction title on this site which is not Christian, for like the first time ever. Those who follow me on Goodreads will probably have seen this title on there: it's a History book that I have been reading for a while. Not because its a bad book, but just because I only read a few pages every now and again in between other titles. 

The Middle Ages Unlocked: A Guide to Life in Medieval England 1050- 1300. Well, the title is pretty self-explanatory, it's from a British Publisher, and the authors are Polish and Latvian scholars. I've always enjoyed reading about how people lived in the past, and not just about major political events, so a book that covers everything from law to clothing, building styles and the dietary habits of Medieval English men and women is ideal for me. 

What's also interesting about this book though, is that it also examines the lives of the Jewish communities of Medieval England, alongside the English, Normans and other majoritygroups. 
There were several thousand Jews in England until their forced expulsion in the late 13th century. 

Today I am including two first lines, actually the first lines of the first two paragraphs, as I think this gives a better idea of what the book is about. 

"So many people love the Middle Ages. Movies, books,  role-playing games and reenactment, these help us to enjoy - and shape how we see, the period.... The Middle Ages of our imagination of popular culture is not, however, always close the Middle Ages that historians and archeologists know." 

That's my contribution for the week: from now on instead of the little list of links at the bottom we're going to be using the button below. Happy Friday from me, and remember to comment with the first line of the book you are reading.


Wednesday, October 04, 2017

The Captain's Daughter by Jennifer Delamere: Review

London Beginnings #1
Bethany House, June 7th 2017, 352 Pages
Print and Ebook
Warm-Hearted Victorian Romance Brings 1880s London to Life

When a series of circumstances beyond her control leave Rosalyn Bernay alone and penniless in London, she chances upon a job backstage at a theater that is presenting the most popular show in London. A talented musician and singer, she feels immediately at home and soon becomes enthralled with the idea of pursuing a career on the stage.

A hand injury during a skirmish in India has forced Nate Moran out of the army until he recovers. Filling his time at a stable of horses for hire in London, he has also spent the past two months working nights as a stagehand, filling in for his injured brother. Although he's glad he can help his family through a tough time, he is counting the days until he can rejoin his regiment. London holds bitter memories for him that he is anxious to escape. But then he meets the beautiful woman who has found a new lease on life in the very place Nate can't wait to leave behind.

The Captain’s Daughter was an interesting story that worked some very interesting details into the plot: such as the work of the Victorian social reformer George Muller, and the popular composers and playwrights Gilbert and Sullivan. I didn’t know HMS Pinafore was originally written by them.

Much of the ‘action’ revolves around the heroine joining a theatre company and the lives of its members, as well as her relationship with two men: one an Anglo-Irish soldier on leave from India, and the other a charming young member of the company. Although I say ‘action’ this is not one of those fast-moving thriller type stories. It’s more a slow-paced, light historical fiction cum Romance.
The Romantic elements are not overwhelming, and the religious elements worked well into the story without being too preachy. My only complaints were that the dialogue did not always seem authentic for the time-period, and there were a few Americanisms. Londoners don’t and never have given directions by saying ‘two blocks away’. It’s not how we measure distance in British towns and cities. We also don’t say ‘someplace’. I did find those jarring at the beginning but got past it.

I would say that overall I prefer Sandra Byrd’s novels set in the Victorian period, as they tend to be more richly detailed and mysterious, but this one was still good. Probably just a matter of taste, as the former have more of a Gothic feel, and this one does not. 

I requested this title from the Publisher via NetGalley. I was not required to write a positive review and all opinions expressed are my own.

Friday, September 29, 2017

First Line Friday #10: King's Folly by Jill Williamson

Another week come and gone. The British weather didn't disappoint this morning, with a good old-fashioned downpour. Yesterday, I finally caught up on my Goodreads Challenge, after months of being behind. Isn't that great?  

I'm still reading last week's book which is a paperback, but I like to read at least one Kindle book as well. So I've decided to turn my attention to the first novel in Jill Williamson's fantasy series The Kinsman Chronicles. I have literally had a Netgalley version of King's Folly on my Kindle for nearly 2 years. Sometimes it takes me ages to get around to books. 

This series has actually been published in two different versions: as 3 full-length novels (the third one is due out next year), and also as a series of 9 shorter ebooks with each of the longer novels split into three parts. I sort of cheated as started reading King's Folly with the short ebook covering the first third of the story called Darkness Reigns. Truly it does. 

Briefly, the series is a prequel to the author's King's Blood series which came out several years ago, set many centuries before. Although it adopts the traditional vaguely Medieval-ish setting for fantasy, many of the details are based on the peoples, cultures, and events of the Old Testament. So it's a polygamous culture in which the King has many wives and concubines. 
The ending of the world of Armania with earthquakes and fleeing of the population could be seen as having certain parallels with historical events. 

The first line (from the prologue) reads: 

"Aldair Livina sat at the table in the great cabin of his privately owned ship, the Half Moon, looking over his most recent chart of the Eversea. After an eleven-night voyage north-northwest from the Port of Everton, he had discovered a new island." 

Happy Friday reading from Old England (with a hope for the weather to improve for the rest of the day).
Don't forget to check out what the other members are reading. Next week, we are going moving to a new location and getting our own linky tools list based at a new blog called Hoarding Books.


Friday, September 22, 2017

First Line Friday #9: The Hour Before Dawn

After a short break, I'm back to First Line Fridays this week. Life is still busy, but my plans to catch up on my Reading Challenge are going well after the Summer hiatus. Today I'm featuring the second in a series of sequels to a trilogy of tales that were first written 20 years ago.  The original Hawk and Dove Trilogy by British author Penelope Wilcock was a set of 3 short stories centred around a monastery in Yorkshire in the late 1300s.  

Forget Cadfael, the Hawk and Dove is not a mystery series, but focused instead on specific characters: brothers of the fictional St Alcuin's monastery, using their lives and struggles to convey spiritual lessons. The first three stories entitled The Hawk and the Dove, The Wounds of God and The Long Fall placed particular emphasis on Abbot Peregrine, who took on the name Columba when be become a monk. His name was the source of the series title: Columba is the name of a Saint, but also means 'Dove', Peregrine means Hawk and is the name of a breed of falcon.
Fast forward to 2011 when a set of three sequels to the original trilogy was published by Crossway Books following the characters of the first series under the leadership of a new Abbott. A few years later, the series was taken on by British based publisher Lion Fiction, and three more titles were added taking the total up to 9. 

I read the original trilogy back in 2014 and requested the three sequels from the Publisher more than a year ago. The first one (or the fourth book in the series), I read back in March before joining this group, and I'm just getting around to The Hour Before Dawn now. 
Judging from some of the reviews, this title proved to be one of the most controversial in the series because it explores the impact of psychological and emotional trauma through the rape of one of the characters (the sister of one of the monks).
Now, I for one dislike the inclusion of content such as rape scenes in stories just for the sake of it, or just to crank up the drama: but nor do I shy away from books which explore difficult subjects. Readers will be able to read my opinion when I write the review.

The first line reads:

Brother Thomas thought he had never heard a monk shout so loud. 

Remember to check out what the other members of this group are reading on their own websites. Until next time, have a great weekend and happy reading, with love from England.

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

The Space Between Words by Michele Phoenix

Thomas Nelson, Sept 5th, 2017, 336 Pages
Print, ebook, and audio 

"There were seconds, when I woke, when the world felt unshrouded. Then memory returned."
When Jessica regains consciousness in a French hospital on the day after the Paris attacks, all she can think of is fleeing the site of the horror she survived. But Patrick, the steadfast friend who hasn’t left her side, urges her to reconsider her decision. Worn down by his insistence, she reluctantly agrees to follow through with the trip they’d planned before the tragedy.
“The pages found you,” Patrick whispered.
“Now you need to figure out what they’re trying to say.”
During a stop at a country flea market, Jessica finds a faded document concealed in an antique. As new friends help her to translate the archaic French, they uncover the story of Adeline Baillard, a young woman who lived centuries before—her faith condemned, her life endangered, her community decimated by the Huguenot persecution.
“I write for our descendants, for those who will not understand the cost of our survival.”
Determined to learn the Baillard family’s fate, Jessica retraces their flight from France to England, spurred on by a need she doesn’t understand.
Could this stranger who lived three hundred years before hold the key to Jessica’s survival?

I know, I always say that I don’t like and don’t tend to read contemporary fiction. But ‘timeslip’ novels aren’t quite the same, right? They’re partly historical. Besides, since reading Catching the Wind by Melanie Dobson I have come to rather like them.

I know some people have complained that the historical aspects of this work are in the background. Only a small part of it relates the actual story of the Huguenot Bayard family in 17th century France. I did not find that to be a problem myself and liked how their story became interwoven with that of Jessica, and her search for truth and healing with all that had happened to her.

People looking for a lot of genealogical information and the history of the French Protestants will, therefore, be disappointed. I enjoyed the human drama the development of the characters, as well as the blossoming romance that accompanied the historical details. As well as the characters ‘tracking down’ the members of the historical family.

Personally, I also think there was meant to be a connection in the way that the 17th-century French peasant girl and the modern American protagonists in their response to violence, evil and intolerance, and the worst actions of human beings. All in all, it was just a well told, tightly plotted story about faith, endurance, and survival during terrible trauma and adversity which I enjoyed.

I requested a copy of this book from Booklook Bloggers and purchased the audiobook of my own volition. I was not required to write a positive review, and all opinions expressed are my own.

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

New Release: A Dangerous Engagement by Melanie Dickerson

Regency Spies of London #3
Septemeber 12th 2017, Waterfall Press, 306 Pages
Print, Ebook and Audio
Just as merchant’s daughter Felicity Mayson is spurned once again because of her meager dowry, she receives an unexpected invitation to Lady Blackstone’s country home. Being introduced to the wealthy Oliver Ratley is an admitted delight, as is his rather heedless yet inviting proposal of marriage. Only when another of Lady Blackstone’s handsome guests catches Felicity’s attention does she realize that nothing is what it seems at Doverton Hall.

Government agent Philip McDowell is infiltrating a group of cutthroat revolutionaries led by none other than Lady Blackstone and Ratley. Their devious plot is to overthrow the monarchy, and their unwitting pawn is Felicity. Now Philip needs Felicity’s help in discovering the rebels’ secrets—by asking her to maintain cover as Ratley’s innocent bride-to-be.

Philip is duty bound. Felicity is game. Together they’re risking their lives—and gambling their hearts—to undo a traitorous conspiracy before their dangerous masquerade is exposed

Despite some weaknesses, A Dangerous Engagement was probably my favourite book in the Regency Spies of London trilogy. The writing style could be very repetitive, and the constant complaints about society’s expectations regarding marriage and rules imposed on women, which have been common to all the heroines of the series, were grating. I don’t like feeling that I’m being hit over the head with moral themes or modern judgments.
However, I liked the plot and the premise of this story, and it kept me interested to the end. I loved the hero Phillip, a younger son trying to find his place in the world who went into espionage to try to prove himself. Aside from the weaknesses outlined above, I did like the heroine Felicity as well, and her spinster Aunt who came into her own towards the end was a wonderful supporting character.

The tension and mystery in the story were very well-written, not dependent on a lot of action, but more on the situation and underlying sense of danger. There was murder, intrigue and a dangerous group of political revolutionaries following an unlikely female mastermind. I must confess to having smiled when the characters referred to their planned violent revolution as a ‘glorious revolution’. The Glorious Revolution is the name given to bloodless coup in 1688 in which the Catholic King James II was ousted by parliament in favour of his Protestant daughter Mary, and her Dutch husband William of Orange.

The ending built up the tension and danger well, my only complaint was the treatment of the romance, which became a little corny, with the characters falling in love based on looks. This bothers me because the female characters in books by this author will frequently complain if men are only interested in them for their looks, money, childbearing ability or political influence. But it’s OK for them to base attraction on such superficialities. I was glad that Philip and Felicity’s relationship developed to be more than just that by the end though to be based on character and mutual beliefs.

Altogether, I found this a satisfactory conclusion to the series and an authentic Regency novel. I requested the e-book from NetGalley for review and obtained the audiobook of my own volition. I was not required to write a positive review and all opinions expressed are my own.

Thursday, September 14, 2017

Audiobook Review: An Invonvenient Beauty by Kristi Ann Hunter

Hawthorne House #4
Bethany House, September 5th 2017, 384 Pages
Print, ebook and audio

Griffith, Duke of Riverton, likes order, logic, and control, and he naturally applies this rational approach to his search for a bride. He's certain Miss Frederica St. Claire is the perfect wife for him, but while Frederica is strangely elusive, he can't seem to stop running into her stunningly beautiful cousin, Miss Isabella Breckenridge.

Isabella should be enjoying her society debut, but with her family in difficult circumstances, her uncle will only help them if she'll use her beauty to assist him in his political aims. Already uncomfortable with this agreement, the more she comes to know Griffith, the more she wishes to be free of her unfortunate obligation.

Will Griffith and Isabella be able to set aside their pride and face their fears in time to find their own happily-ever-after?

The final installment in the Regency Romance Hawthorne House series finally gives Griffith, the oldest of the four Hawthorne siblings (and eldest son and heir to the Dukedom), his chance at love. It started off on a humorous note, with the young Griffith and his friend paying back school bullies.
Years later, the most practical and unromantic of his siblings decides to seek a wife, a young lady whom nobody would expect yet is most suitable. At first, all goes well, until an old love interest comes back onto the scene and Griffith meets the Lady’s beautiful cousin, Isabella Breckenridge.

I must say that the premise of this book was good (a young woman who is being used by a relative to attract the attention of the young men of society for his own purposes, but cannot marry any of them) as was the characterization. Griffith was a likable character in all the previous books, the wise oldest brother, so tall that he was constantly banging into things, and supposedly could not dance.
There seemed to be fewer egregious Americanisms in this novel, which was something that really annoyed me with the previous ones. 

Other reviewers, however, have remarked that it seems repetitive, and they never connected with the characters. I can understand where they were coming from and I wonder if the author was in some sense, running out of steam with this one. I’m not sure that the informal behaviour of Griffith and his brothers in parliament rang true, acting more like they were in the audience of a football match. The details themselves were interesting, and not often used in the genre, but could have been a little better.

It was an enjoyable story and plodded along and a decent pace. I would not say there was really anything to make it stand out from a lot of others, but it’s a good light read to pass the time.

Friday, September 08, 2017

First Line Fridays #8: The Captain's Daughter by Jennifer Delamere

Another week come and gone, and I am starting to catch up thanks to audiobooks and fitting in some more reading time. I am including this week a Victorian historical Romance that just seems to get being pushed back and back on my to read list, but I intend to get around to it next.  
Got it from Netgalley way back in March. I'm terrible when it comes to British Fiction, I sometimes go a little click-crazy on the site requesting anything like that from the major Christian Publishers, especially if its a new author or a series I already liked the previous books in.

 The Captain's Daughter: London Beginnings #1

The First Line: 

Dartmoor Coast, England, 1873

  "I'm not surprised to find you here" Rosalyn Bernay said, wrapping an arm around her sister's waist".  

Remember to check out what the other members of this group are reading on their own websites. Until next time, have a great weekend and happy reading, with love from England.

Introducing another new member this week: Ellie Harriger whose blog is Sprinkles and Pink

Wednesday, September 06, 2017

Murder on the Moor by Julianna Deering

Drew Fathering Mystery #5
January 31st 2017, 336 Pages, Print and Ebook

Mystery Awaits on the Mysterious Yorkshire Moors

At the urgent request of an old school friend, Drew and Madeline Farthering come to Bloodworth Park Lodge in the midst of the Yorkshire moors, a place as moody and mysterious as a Bronte hero. There have been several worrisome incidents out on the moor--property destroyed, fires started, sheep and cattle scattered--and worst of all, the vicar has been found dead on the steps of the church.

Drew's friend is obviously smitten with his bride of eight months, though it's hard to imagine what she sees in the awkward man. Drew can't help wondering if her affections lie more with the man's money and estate, while her romantic interests focus on their fiery Welsh gamekeeper. As the danger grows ever closer, it's up to Drew to look past his own prejudices, determine what is really going on, and find the killer before it's too late.


 Purely as a story, I think this was one of the best in the series yet. It had everything, the enigmatic and atmospheric landscape of the Yorkshire moors that has lent itself well to tales of the strange and mysterious since the Brontes, well-drawn characters and a solid central mystery. Honestly, there were echoes of the literary greats, and many twists and turns to keep the characters guessing, and the resolution for some of the main characters ended it all on an uplifting note. Even the religious themes were worked well into the story.

Yet one thing really marred this story: well perhaps two things: the first that it was a little hard to keep track of all the characters, but you can get over that after a while and just follow the central mystery. What really did it was the Americanisms. The whole book was riddled with them 'gotten, someplace, write him, out in the yard, Two Hundred- Fifty' etc. Sorry, but it's a British mystery. Nobody, except the American wife of the protagonist Drew, should, well, speak that way.

For that reason, it can't be taken as seriously as some of the works of great British Literature that the characters read and quote. It's sad that so many books like this are spoiled by this very same thing.

Friday, September 01, 2017

First Line Fridays #7: The White Feather Murders by Rachel McMillan

Yes, you may ask what am I doing picking up yet another new book when I am so behind on my Goodreads Challenge? I am going to catch up when work starts again, thanks to audiobooks. Cheating, I know.  
Admittedly I was not really planning to read this book, I'm doing so because of a well-timed sale on the Kindle edition. 

I requested The White Feather Murders, the final book in a trilogy featuring two unconventional female Canadian sleuths based in early 20th century Toronto, from Netgalley way back in March. You've guessed, it was another title that I forgot to download. I'm not normally so absent minded, but its happened twice this year. 

Since then I have been hoping for the Kindle edition to go on sale, or for my library to get it. The former happened first. Seems fitting as I have all the others on Kindle too.

                               The White Feather Murders: Herringford and Watts Mysteries  #3 

The first line goes: 

 "War was on the tip of Merinda Herringford's tongue"  

Have a look at what the others in the group are reading by visiting the links below.

And welcoming another new member his week Alicia Ruggieri at A Brighter Destiny

Friday, August 25, 2017

First Line Fridays #6: Of This and Other Worlds by C.S. Lewis

I'm being a bit of a rebel today, and rather than including the book I am actually currently reading, including instead a book on my shelves that I have read or heard parts of and dipped into from time to time.  Of This and Other Worlds may be the seminal work on writing and modern literature by the great C.S. Lewis, known to most as the author of the Chronicles of Narnia. The Narnia books, however, represent only a tiny proportion of his works.  Lewis actually wrote extensively on theology, religion, literary criticism and Medieval and Renaissance Literature.

Of This and Other Worlds is basically a collection of essays and other writings spanning Lewis career, from the 40s to the early 1960s, including everything from a review of his friend J.R.R Tolkien's famous epic Lord of the Rings and George Orwell's work to a paper on ways of writing for children, a paper examining the then newly emerging genre of Science Fiction, and a reply articles and critical pieces he had read over the years. At just under 200 pages, it's a light read but contains some of his most profound thoughts and famous quotes.

So today instead of including the first line, I am featuring two of my favourite lines from the paper called On Three Ways of Writing for Children: 

"When I was ten, I read fairy tales in secret and would have been ashamed if I had been found doing so. Now that I am fifty I read them openly. When I became a man, I put away childish things, including the fear of childishness and the desire to be very grown up"

"Since it is very likely that they (children) will meet cruel enemies, let them at least have heard of brave knights and heroic courage" 

It's not a new book and has been published and reissued several times over the last few decades, although I believe in America it goes under the title Of Other Worlds and contains a slightly different selection of Lewis' writings. 

Good reading and happy Friday from little old England. As always, check out the links to see what the other members of the First Line Fridays group are reading.

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Oswui King of Kings by Edoardo Albert

Northumbrian Thrones Trilogy #3 
October 21st 2016, 560 Pages, Lion Fiction 
Print and Ebook 

Oswald’s head is on a spike. Can Oswiu avoid the same fate? The great pagan king Penda set a trap, and when the brothers Oswiu and Oswald walked in, only one came back alive.
Rumours abound that the place where Oswald’s body is strung up has become sacred ground – a site of healing for those who seek it. Oswald’s mother believes he will protect those he loves, even beyond the grave.

 So she asks the impossible of Oswiu: to journey to the heart of Penda’s kingdom and rescue the body that was stolen from them. Will this fateful task allow Oswiu to prove himself worthy of uniting the kingdoms under him as the King of Kings, or will it set him on a path to destruction? Oswiu: King of Kings is the masterful conclusion to The Northumbrian Thrones trilogy.

Oh my goodness, I am going to miss this series. Never mind, the paperbacks are all on my shelf anytime a re-read becomes necessary. London based author, archaeologist and journalist Edoardo Albert has bought his Northumbrian Thrones trilogy, encompassing the lives of three seventh century rulers of the Saxon Kingdom of Northumbria to a conclusion in magnificent style, yet not detracting from the known historical facts.

Oswiu was a supporting character in the last book, the younger and somewhat less confident brother of the Saintly King Oswald (both of them nephews of Edwin, the focus of the first book). I say Saintly quite Literally. The Seventh century King Oswald of Northumbria is actually a canonized Saint in the Roman Catholic church.
After the deadly trap with kills his beloved brother, Oswald, at the behest of his mother, embarks on a quest to retrieve the remains of his brother- impaled to a tree in an act of ritual humiliation by Penda King of Mercia, the perpetual enemy of the Northumbrian monarchs. The scene in which Oswald's pet raven, Bran, exacts his own sort of vengeance for his master was one of the most memorable in the book. Indeed, Bran has emerged as a character himself in the course of the series. I appreciated the way that the role of royal women was represented in this tale, as they are so often considered powerless and marginalized: in reality, they were the Peaceweavers. "It is the part of women in this Middle-earth to weave together kingdoms in our bodies and on our beds, to requite war with desire, to make peace with the children we breed. That is our part. "

The book then proceeds to follow the first 13 years of Oswui's reign, revolving mostly around his power-struggles with Penda, and efforts to secure the throne of Deira, which alongside the small Kingdom of Bernicia from Northumbria as a whole. (For international readers, this was the ancient Saxon Kingdom, encompassing much of what is now NorthEastern England North of the River Humber, as well as parts of Southeastern Scotland.) It is a complicated story of shifting loyalties within families, loss, betrayal, death, and ultimate victory. Interwoven within is the story of how the English Church grew in this formative period and the faith of the characters themselves, Oswiu and his relatives, as well as Aidan, first Bishop of Lindisfarne, who according to tradition, prevented the destruction of the great fortress of Bamburgh with his prayers.

In this last book, a new element is introduced when Penda claims to be the embodiment of the god Woden on earth, and turns his expansion of power into a clash of gods, making it his goal to eradicate the new religion from the lands of the Angles, along with all the Kings who have embraced it. Never believing he can truly be the match of his brother, Oswui and his family must fight, in the end for their very survival. In the course of events, Oswui makes some hard decisions and takes controversial courses of action. His likely complicity in the murder of the Christian King of Deira (and his Kinsman) Oswine 'Godfriend' has been a blot on his reputation across the centuries. Deservedly so. Oswine here emerges as a sympathetic and tragic figure: a King who never really wanted to be one, a man who wished to do right, caught up in the turbulent tides of power. This was a world in which men of God could barely avoid violence, and the fate of Kingdoms was decided at the point of a sword.

My only complaints were that the book was not long enough. OK, not really. It was 550 pages long, but Oswui reigned for another 15 years after the novel ends, one of the longest reigning and living of all the pre-conquest Kings. A lot happened in that 15 years, and I think it would have taken another full-length book to cover it all. Still, I would have liked to hear a little more about that period. The other was some of the fantasy- like elements in the story, which though they were well written, I felt weren't always necessary.
Such as the suggestion that Oswald's Spirit lingered in the form of a black cloaked figure, who at one point stands next to Oswui and is spoken to by him.

Overall though, this novel and the entire trilogy have proved to be an excellent contribution to the genre, in which Pre-Conquest Britain is often her ignored or is represented in whimsical Romance novels with cliched or stereotyped characters. Recommended for lovers of solid and immersive Historical Fiction, and easily ranked among better-known authors.

Sunday, August 20, 2017

Audiobook Review - Bread of Angels by Tessa Afshar

July 14th 2017, Recorded Books

Purple. The foundation of an influential trade in a Roman world dominated by men. One woman rises up to take the reins of success in an incredible journey of courage, grit, and friendship. And along the way, she changes the world.

But before she was Lydia, the seller of purple, she was simply a merchant's daughter who loved three things: her father, her ancestral home, and making dye. Then unbearable betrayal robs her of nearly everything.

With only her father's secret formulas left, Lydia flees to Philippi and struggles to establish her business on her own. Determination and serendipitous acquaintances--along with her father's precious dye--help her become one of the city's preeminent merchants. But fear lingers in every shadow, until Lydia meets the apostle Paul and hears his message of hope, becoming his first European convert. Still, Lydia can't outrun her secrets forever, and when past and present collide, she must either stand firm and trust in her fledgling faith or succumb to the fear that has ruled her life.

I forgot to download my copy of this book from NetGalley before it was Archived, so purchased the audiobook.

It was a sweet story, which really brought to life a minor figure mentioned in the book of Acts and her world. Rich in details that can help shed light on the people the New Testament called the 'God Fearers': Gentiles who believed in the One God but never formally converted to Judaism. There were some excellent and well drawn-characters, and the themes were woven well into the story. I'd like to do some more research into the creation of purple dye at this time because it seems very much like how it was done in Medieval Europe (combining Woad with Madder instead of using cochineal snails).
Lydia was a woman much wronged, and in the grip of fear for much of her life. Fear of not being good enough, fear of betrayal and losing the business and reputation she'd worked so hard to build up. The story had plenty of drama and even a hint of Romance.

A couple of modern Americanisms like 'store' and 'I will write you' stood out, but they didn't detract from the story. Its' one of those stories which are reasonably faithful and authentic in the historical setting, but not so much so that it bogged the reader down, making for a relatively light, easy read.

Why the lower rating? Just a matter of personal taste. I still don't really care very much for Biblical Fiction, and I just didn't find this book as immersive as some others. I'm certainly going to be listening to the Audiobook of 'Land of Silence' soon and would look for more by this author.

Friday, August 18, 2017

First Line Fridays #5 - The Message in a Bottle Romance Collection

Finally progress! Bread of Angels audiobook done, and Oswui: King of Kings finished.  I've finally made a start on a book I requested from NetGalley way back in January. I have not included the author in the title because it's one of those collections of short stories by multiple authors. 
I have to confess: I requested it mostly for the first story: The Distant Tide by Heather Day Gilbert, a Viking Romance because her previous full-length Viking Era novel Forest Child won me over.

So currently I am working through the first of five novellas in the collection: it's enjoyable- but...  Yes, there is a but: I am concerned about the Historical details in the story. It's set in Ireland in 1170, something I did not realize: I thought it was set in the 9th century. 
Vikings would be fine in the 9th century, but not in the 12th after what historians refer to as 'The Viking Age' ended. There were no more raids on England after 1066, and in Ireland, they stopped even earlier as the Vikings started to settle down, develop a more stable economy and become Christianized. 

Also, the heroine and her family live in the inevitable castle- but there's only one problem with that: Castles were brought to Ireland by the Normans, the same people who introduced them to England after their famous victory at the Battle of Hastings. Hence, an Irish royal family at the time the Normans came to conquer Ireland a century or so later would not have been living in a big old stone castle. 
 So yes, it's a nice story; but it really should have been set a century or so earlier. I think it's a general problem with a lot of Fiction: that knowledge of the Middle Ages is rather limited, and the expectations of audiences mean that things like castles and Vikings can be dropped into just about any Medieval story, regardless of the historical context. Hollywood has been doing something similar for 50 years, so perhaps they are partly to blame.

I'm going to finish the story as a truly believe Mrs. Gilbert is a wonderful author, and read the others in the collection (it's extremely rare for me to ever give up on a novel), but historical accuracy is important to me.

The first line from the Prologue (which introduces the Message in the Bottle which gives its title to the collection) reads: 

Ballyfir Monastery, The North of Ireland, 
834 AD 

Flames lapped at the monk's robes.  

I apologize if this week's posts reads like a prolonged history lesson. I'll wrap up by wishing everyone a happy Friday from little old England. 

Friday, August 11, 2017

First Line Fridays #4 - Bread of Angels by Tessa Afshar

Reading progress has been slow this week: so slow in fact that I am still reading two of the books featured in previous posts. Life happens.
So, this week I am sharing the first line of an Audiobook that I am currently working through. I forget to download the Ebook version of this title from NetGalley but thankfully had a backup with the Audible version.

Biblical Fiction is not normally my thing, but I have recently started to get over my aversion to it. This is in fact only the second book I have listened to in the genre, a fictionalized account of the life of Lydia of Thyatira, a woman mentioned briefly in the Book of Acts, as one of the first Europeans converted by the Apostle Paul in the Macedonian city of Philippi. 

The first line from the Preface Reads:

"I have never served as a soldier, yet I have a strange sense that most of my life I have stared down the blade of a sword, the face of my adversary haunting me" 

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