Welcome to: History + Fiction + Adirondack Spirit

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Writers are often readers. The following book reviews are from my perspective. I'm looking forward to presenting my opinions on a range of books, though mostly on historical fiction, in hopes that it will help inspire readers to read more, and non-readers to start. I'd love to have you check out my latest book, Wanders Far-An Unlikely Hero's Journey while you're here!

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The Dead Horizon by Seth Rain

Circle the Date on Your Calendar

5-Stars

I’ve been looking forward to The Dead Horizon since reading The Warm Machine. I ripped through this book in one day. The Dead Horizon is brilliant.

It is a little daunting to read about a future in which the total global population shrinks to less than twenty-five thousand. It puts being housebound during a worldwide pandemic in perspective.

In this book, the future fate of humanity might just depend on the success of Scott Beck, the protagonist in The Warm Machine, as well as The Dead Horizon. Everything seems to be working against him. A powerful antagonist. The Watchers. Artificial Intelligence. Time. And the rest of humanity, which has become an endangered species. As the author writes, “On the whole, humanity has surrendered.”

This second installment in “The Humanity Series” continues along two tracks, separated by about a year, in the wake of the Rapture. It’s a gruesome time, dominated by death and hopelessness. The author paints a dismal scene. Periodically the reader gets a respite in the form of descriptions like, “By the side of the lake, sheep that had been left to their own devices drank the water. Two ducks landed, skidding across its surface, coming to a halt with a gentle splash.” The author seems to know just when the reader needs a phrase like, “He stood outside, facing the lake. It was dark, mist rolling down from the mountains across the water. He could hear the faint sound of water lapping against the shore; the air was damp and cool. The clouds moved quickly and the crescent moon was milky white.” Otherwise, it’s lots of burning bodies, loneliness, pain, sacrifice, and death, as appropriate for the genre, I’m sure.

I enjoyed following along with Google Maps and checking out places like Lake Buttermere and Ennerdale Water. I also appreciate the real-life settings which give a complete feel of being on location in Britain and Scotland. As mentioned in the book, “Britain was always going to be the final home for humanity.” Someday, I’d like to visit Britain and spend some time in the Lake Country.

I always appreciate the facial expressions, hand gestures, and body language, which reveals the thoughts and feelings of characters in a book. If I must find something to criticize, I would suggest that there was too much use of some of these. Too often, characters are portrayed running a hand through their hair.

Seth Rain has written another exciting, page-flipping book that keeps you driving toward the end. It is the end of time. Will there be a third installment? I sure hope so. Hopefully, humanity will thrive beyond the horizon. My guess is it will not be easy.

Posted March 21, 2020

Clash of Empires by Paul Bennett

The Mallory Family and the French and Indian War

5-Stars

Meet a young George Washington, a young Daniel Boone, and the charismatic Ottawa tribal leader, Pontiac during the French and Indian War. The real stars of this book are the rugged, frontier family, The Mallory clan. The book opens in 1749. Thomas and Abigail Mallory, with their three children, Daniel, Liza, and Liam move across Pennsylvania with their friends, Pierre Baptiste, and Joseph and Henry Clarke.

This book has an enormous cast. The spotlight shines brightest upon Liam who is in his middle teens at the beginning of the book. Unlike his older brother, Daniel, Liam has little interest in farming, settling down, or staying within the confines of settled territory. He spends time among the Mohawk people, marries a chief’s daughter, and turns an enemy into a friend. That friend is Wahta. Despite their wanderlust, scouting, and participation in epic battles, Liam and Wahta find time to help Liam’s brother and sister settle a town that would make their parents proud.

The author presents explicit, devastating, brutal, and violent battle scenes, which unfortunately were realistic presentations of reality. This book also features many forts, which gives a sense of having been present at every engagement in the French and Indian War. Unspeakable violence was a part of life in colonial times and the author doesn’t shy away from the awful reality that comes with presenting war.

I would have benefitted from getting a stronger connectedness to characters, particularly in the beginning, but also throughout. What are their hopes, dreams, and desires? What makes them different from one another as individuals? What makes them tick? What are their fears and insecurities? I watch for and found grammatical issues, for example, somehow the word dotted appeared as .ted. No matter, I loved this book anyway, and I learned a tremendous amount of history as a result of reading it.

I also enjoyed the spiritual components, and I identified with Liam and his buffalo dreams. That’s my spirit animal as well. Other high points of the book include the camaraderie of the fighting men, and the strength of our founding mothers, and the role they played during colonial times.

I read the second book first, then I read this book. Of course, it would be better to read them in order, but either way, I’m so glad to have found the Mallory Saga. I can’t wait for the next installment, so I hope it is coming soon.

Posted February 26, 2020

It is such an honor to host Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tours.  

On February 10, 2020, I have the great fortune to present two very different, important, powerful books on the same day.

 

This is the inaugural stop on the tour for Matamoros, by James Kahn, which is presented first.

 

Far Away Bird by Douglas A. Burton is presented beneath Matamoros... please scroll down.

I highly recommend both books.

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About the Book

Matamoros, by James Kahn

Publication Date: December 20, 2019
Pen Wild Press
Paperback & eBook; 442 Pages

Genre: Historical Fiction/Western

In the U.S. Civil War, by 1862 the Union had blockaded all Confederate ports. Just across the Rio Grande from Brownsville, Texas, Matamoros was the only harbor where the South could ship its cotton to Europe, and smuggle in arms for the rebellion. So it was a haven for Yankee and Rebel spies and diplomats, gunrunners and cotton smugglers, runaway slaves, bandits, Texas Rangers, and rogues of every stripe.

But Matamoros was also full of French Foreign Legionnaires – because that same year, Napoleon III had invaded Mexico, to install Archduke Maximilian of Austria as Emperor.

Set against the backdrop of two wars, this is the story of Clay – an expatriate Southern gentleman running a gambling hall – and Allie, his ex-con artist partner, bringing her cotton train to market – in a star-crossed affair that may or may not survive their conflicted allegiances amidst the tides of battle.

Praise for Matamoros

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“A historical novel offers an in-depth view of the machinations surrounding the Civil War battle for Texas. Kahn’s descriptive prose delivers powerful images…Strong leads star in a passionate war tale filled with political intrigue, violence, and scoundrels.” – Kirkus Reviews

“The author does a wonderful job of capturing the different elements of the setting, exploring the historical and social aspects. The prose is beautiful and highly descriptive, and readers will enjoy the social commentaries that punctuate the narrative. This is an awesome read, fast-paced and filled with action. The author paints exciting images of a town flourishing in times of war and makes readers feel as though they were part of it.” – Readers Favorite, 5 stars

Praise for Matamoros CD

“The music paints a powerful but poignant portrait of these disparate renegades, outlaws, and outcasts, each intent on their own survival. The sumptuous paintings included with the CD add a bonus element as well, and given the complete packaging — story, music and art — it confirms the fact that concept and creativity far outweigh the amorphous nature of digital downloads. More than that, Matamoros is an album for the ages, both heartbreaking and affecting in equal measure.” – Lee Zimmerman, The Daily Ripple

“Few songwriters have the determination to tell full-length stories through their songs. Greats, like Bob Dylan and Neil Young, are a couple of notables in this limited group coming immediately to mind. Therefore, James Kahn has placed himself in a uniquely special group with this song collection. These songs are so good, in fact, they make you want to read Kahn’s novel to learn even more, which makes this album a storytelling gem.” – Dan MacIntosh, The Daily Ripple

“Kahn excels in the diverse composition of story-songs that capture not only the emotional and historical intricacies of their lyrical subject matter but also the natural sonic accompaniment for their travails. The lyrics are intelligence, the performances are skillful, and Kahn works within the limits of his voice to communicate with the heart and mind of the listener. Matamoros subverts the American addiction to instant gratification, and pop culture’s resistance to complexity and nuance, and while doing so, gives his listeners songs that they can sing.” – David Masciotra, The Daily Ripple

About the Author

James Kahn is an ER doctor, novelist, TV writer-producer, and singer-songwriter. In addition to many original novels (including the sci-fi trilogy World Enough and Time, Time’s Dark Laughter, and Timefall) he authored the novelizations of Return of the Jedi, Poltergeist, The Goonies and Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom.

His television credits span the genres, from St. Elsewhere, to William Shatner’s TekWar, to Xena: Warrior Princess. He was a Supervising Producer on Star Trek: Voyager, Co-Executive Producer on Melrose Place, Emmy-nominated for his work on All My Children, medical advisor on Spielberg’s ET: The Extraterrestrial; and produced the feature film The Bet, which won Best Feature at the LA Femme Film Festival, 2013.

He’s previously released four Americana music CDs, including Waterline, The 12th Elf, Man Walks Into A Bar, and The Meaning of Life. Matamoros is the first simultaneous novel and CD release, and his first foray into deeply researched historical fiction.

Review

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Matamoros, by James Kahn

“Big Misfit Family on the River”

5-Stars

Welcome to the Brave River Gambling Emporium in Matamoros, south of the border, across the Rio Grande River from Brownsville, Texas. Your proprietor is Clayton Wilkes. The Civil War is underway. Clay is described as 38-years old, “straw-colored hair, clean-shaven face, a Louisiana lilt and a bent nose from a long-ago drubbing.” Contrary to what you’d expect for the location, “…he dressed in the finest suits of London silk or linen.” The clientele is a rough and tumble assortment of characters. In addition to the humans, a stuffed giraffe presides over the bar, part of Clay’s “big misfit family on the river.” The Emporium is the book’s home base, but Clayton Wilkes’ influence extends way beyond that humble establishment, as the rest of the story reveals.

The author devotes a lot of attention to presenting the complexity of the main character through an eclectic assortment of interactions with other characters in the book. Aside from Clay, the two other most notable characters are Isaac and Allie. Isaac was a slave belonging to Clayton’s father. As a free man, Isaac is like a brother to Clayton, and his mission is to form a nation of freed slaves within Mexico. I don’t think it would spoil the reader’s pleasure to say that Clayton and Allie’s story is a big part of the book. It would seem what they like most about each other, and what they like least about each other are their similarities. Expect thievery, cons, and spying. I loved the spy versus spy storyline, and I can remember the feeling I had when this book caught fire in my soul.

This is a big, detailed, complex, layered book filled with a robust vocabulary and surprising plot twists. If you’re looking for a gentle, easy read, this is not the book. You can even expect to learn some Spanish. One of my favorite characters in the book is a minor character, a military spouse named Mildred Bee. Her catchphrase is a saying that was once popular, “I have seen the elephant.” Wikipedia reveals that the meaning of the phrase refers to “gaining experience of the world at a significant cost.” Maybe instead of cost, think of it as an investment. For me, that significant investment entailed following the huge cast of characters and the transitions, so I recommend reading this book in a quiet, undistracted setting.

I’m always on the lookout for spiritual and supernatural elements in a story. I also like it when a historical novel focuses on technology that is new at that time. In this book, that technology is photography. I loved how the spiritual element develops by the ending of the book. There are mentions of an apparition, and several times the French Order of Nuns of the Incarnate Word and Blessed Sacrament float “across the landscape like stray, ungraspable thoughts.” How curious, and here’s another quote, one of many regarding the legend of la llorona, “...the Weeping Woman had killed her own children, then drowned herself out of anguish, and now wandered around lakes and rivers looking for new souls to claim.”

Amazingly, the author has released a CD to accompany the book, which I’m listening to as I write this review. It is classified within the folk genre and features many influences from other genres as well. Most of the 14 songs are character sketches. Listening to the CD on top of reading the book dramatically adds to the overall experience of Matamoros, and the music is very pleasing to the ear. What a brilliant idea to create musical accompaniment for a book.

It’s ironic that an intricate, complicated book also includes words like “codwallopped.” Our tough-guy main character tenderly says to a pigeon, “Madeira, you’re my favorite, but don’t tell the others.” Expect an ironic ending. Invest in Matamoros.

Posted February 10, 2020

Blog Tour Schedule

Monday, February
Review at  History + Fiction + Adirondack Spirit

 

Tuesday, February 11
Review at YA, It's Lit

Wednesday, February 12
Review at Historical Graffiti

Excerpt at Books In Their Natural Habitat

 

Friday, February 14
Review at  Gwendalyn's Books 

 

Sunday, February 16
Interview at Passages to the Past 

 

Tuesday, February 18

Review at Books and Zebras

 

Thursday, February 20
Guest Post at Tales from the Book Dragon

 

Friday, February 21
Feature at CelticLady's Reviews

Sunday, February 23
Review at Reading is My Remedy

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About the Book

Far Away Bird by Douglas A. Burton

Publication Date: February 6, 2020

Silent Music Press LLC

Paperback; 394 Pages

Cover Art Illustration by George Frei

Inspired by true events, Far Away Bird delves into the complex mind of Byzantine Empress Theodora. This intimate account deftly follows her rise from actress-prostitute in Constantinople's red-light district to the throne of the Byzantine Empire.

 

Her salacious past has left historians blushing and uncomfortable. Tales of her shamelessness have survived for centuries, and yet her accomplishments as an empress are unparalleled. Theodora goes on to influence sweeping reforms that result in some of the first ever Western laws granting women freedom and protection. More than a millennium before the women's rights movement, Theodora, alone, took on the world's greatest superpower and succeeded. Far Away Bird goes where history classrooms fear to tread in hopes that Theodora can finally take her seat among the greatest women in history.

 

Theodora seems impossible--yet her transcendence teaches us that society can't tell us who we are deep down. Before there was a legendary empress, there was a conflicted young woman from the lower classes.

 

And her name was Theodora.

Award Winner!

Grand Prize Winner 2019 Manuscript Contest for historical fiction-Writers' League of Texas

Bronze Medal for Best Debut Novel in historical fiction-The Coffee Pot Book Club

Gold Medal Book of the Year historical fiction- The Coffee Pot Book Club

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About the Author

Douglas Alan Burton is a speaker, author, and expert storyteller whose work depicts heroic figures and their deeper connection to the human experience. Doug blogs about heroes, heroines, and villains in pop culture with some unexpected and refreshing perspective. He grew up in what he describes as “the heroic boyhood culture of late Generation X” that has gone mainstream around the world. He also shares strategies with fellow writers for writing compelling heroic characters in fiction.

 

Douglas recently began outlining a breakthrough storytelling model that reveals a fascinating “heroine-centric” model for story structure he calls The Heroine’s Labyrinth. He believes a powerful new archetype is emerging for women in fiction. His forthcoming novel, Far Away Bird, which centers on the early life of Byzantine Empress Theodora, won the 2019 Manuscript Content for Historical Fiction from the Writers’ League of Texas and will be published in February of 2020.

Follow Doug on Facebook and Twitter and stay in the conversation, and follow his blog at www.douglasaburton.com

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Review

Far Away Bird, by Douglas Burton

The Notorious Theodora

5-Stars

Far Away Bird is the story of Theodora of Constantinople and follows her from 13 to 23-years of age, set between the years 512 to 522. Constantinople was a metropolis and the capital of the Byzantine Empire, a successor to the Roman Empire. Perhaps some have not heard of the Notorious Theodora. Thanks to the author’s amazing treatment of this complex character, I was able to empathize with and understand a legend that history has often judged harshly. Based on what I thought I knew, I confess I had judged her harshly also.

This book opens with a rebellion. Before the rebellion, Theodora was a curious girl, prone to sneaking out of the window to explore the city and scamper across rooftops.

Theodora’s family consisted of her father, mother, and two sisters. Her father trained and performed with circus bears in the Hippodrome, an enormous arena which was the cultural center of the city, at least for its men. The morning after the rebellion, Theodora’s father was among those killed, leaving his wife, Maximina, and daughters with no means of support. The family tried to find a way to survive without turning to what has been called the world’s oldest profession. The author expertly takes us through Theodora’s personal tragedies, devastating burdens, heroic deeds, and personal sacrifices. The phrase, “haunting loneliness and crushing despair” appears in the book, and conveys the hopeless situation experienced by so many people who lived in those times.

My only criticism is that after the opening, the author too quickly sprinted forward five years; perhaps he had a reason for doing so. I found it difficult to leap that gap without at least a few sentences to bridge those missing years.

The book cover is captivating, and I am a sucker for a book cover that is itself a work of art.

Far Away Bird is expertly written, and a story well-told. It is amazing how much the main character experienced before she was a 22-year old woman. The author’s attention to facial expressions, body language, and the thoughts and feelings of the main character brought this troubled young woman to life. If the author chooses to write them, I’m sure this character could fill several more books.

Posted February 10, 2020

Blog Tour Schedule

Monday, January 27

Review at Passages to the Past

 

Tuesday, January 28

Guest Post at Let Them Read Books

Wednesday, January 29

Review at @ya.its.lit

Thursday, January 30

Review at Books and Zebras

Review at Tales from the Book Dragon

Friday, January 31

Interview at Jathan & Heather

 

Monday, February 3

Review at Gwendalyn's Books

Tuesday, February 4

Feature at I'm All About Books

 

Wednesday, February 5

Review at Historical Graffiti

 

Thursday, February 6

Review at A Chick Who Reads

 

Friday, February 7

Review at 100 Pages a Day

 

Sunday, February 9

Review at Reading is My Remedy

 

Monday, February 10

Review at History + Fiction + Adirondack Spirit

 

Tuesday, February 11

Review at Historical Fiction with Spirit

Wednesday, February 12

Review at @bookishbellee

Thursday, February 13

Feature at Just One More Chapter

Friday, February 14

Review at Broken Teepee

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About the Book

Paths to Freedom, by Paul Bennett

Publication Date: November 22, 2019

Hoover Books

eBook & Paperback; 233 Pages

Series: Mallory Saga, Book 2

Genre: Historical Fiction/Military

The French and Indian War is over, but the aftermath widens the gulf between the colonies and King George III. A hard handed approach by the King and Parliament fuels the flames of resistance; flames that soon engulf the Mallory clan, consuming the frontier, shattering their hopes for Mallory Town, and changing their lives forever. Revolution is nigh.
 

"Paths to Freedom (The Mallory Saga #2) exceeded anything that I expected. It is, without a doubt, one of the most moving and most compelling historical fiction books that I have ever read." - Author MaryAnne Yarde

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About the Author

Paul’s education was of the public variety and when he reached Junior High he discovered that his future did not include the fields of mathematics or science. This was generally the case throughout his years in school as he focused more on his interest in history; not just the rote version of names and dates but the causes. Paul studied Classical Civilization at Wayne State University with a smattering of Physical Anthropology thrown in for good measure. Logically, of course, Paul spent the next four decades drawing upon that vast store of knowledge working in large, multi-platform data centers, and is considered in the industry as a bona fide IBM Mainframe dinosaur heading for extinction. Paul currently resides in the quaint New England town of Salem, Massachusetts with his wife, Daryl. The three children have all grown, in the process turning Paul’s beard gray, and have now provided four grandchildren; the author is now going bald.

For more information, please visit the Mallory Saga Facebook page. You can also find Paul on his BlogTwitter, and Goodreads.

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Review

Paths to Freedom by Paul Bennett

Frontier Heroes and Dastardly Villains

5-Stars

I loved this book, and I’ll be thinking about it for a long time to come.

This past weekend we took a long road trip to Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania. I’ll bet you could guess why we were there. It was fun to hear first hand that we can expect an early spring this year — what a fun slice of Americana. I finished one great book on the way there, and I was looking for another one to bring me home. Fortunately, I had Paths to Freedom downloaded on my phone.

I’ve been craving a book just like this one, a great family saga set on the American frontier during colonial times. This book delivered entertainment like a three-ring circus, in a good way of course. In the first ring, Mallory Town, somewhere in western Pennsylvania, a fictional town, but I felt like we passed through it anyway. In the second ring, way out west, as far as the Yellowstone River, and in the third ring, Boston, Massachusetts. It took a while to get acquainted with all the characters. They come from big families, and they have common names like Thomas, James, Henry, Samuel, and John. They are strong and hardy, occasionally irreverent frontier folks who say things like, “You look a tad puckish,” and “I’ll be a suck egg mule.” It felt authentic.

I’ve been thinking about the main character or the protagonist of this book. I think maybe each of the three parts has a different lead. More importantly, it is the family that takes that center stage. The brave, strong heroes are convincingly portrayed, but it was the portrayal of the villains that had me on the edge of my seat. An evil greedy preacher. His henchman. And a bloody lobsterback Major. All in cahoots, of course. I fell in love with this book as I read about the portrayal of the battle to reclaim the small town for the settlers who founded it.

This book is chock full of famous founding fathers, facts, and geographical locations, just like historical points of interest along the highway on a road trip. This occurred to me as we were approaching Albany, New York on our way home from our pilgrimage to see the world-famous groundhog, at the same time as a character from the book was on his way to Boston, via Albany. I love a good road trip, and I love books featuring great road trips. I’m so glad I followed the Paths of Freedom this weekend.

I didn’t read the first book, but I plan to read it as soon as I can. Meanwhile, I can see conflict brewing for Book Three. Colonists versus loyalists, I’m sure.

Posted February 4, 2020

Blog Tour Schedule

Tuesday, January 28
Excerpt at Passages to the Past

Wednesday, January 29
Feature at CelticLady's Reviews

Thursday, January 30
Review at YA, It's Lit
Feature at Broken Teepee
Feature at I'm All About Books

Friday, January 31
Interview at Passages to the Past

Sunday, February 2
Review at Historical Graffiti

Monday, February 3
Review at Books and Zebras

Tuesday, February 4
Guest Post at Nurse Bookie

And here on my review site, a last-minute addition to the tour schedule!

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About the Book

Publication Date: May 20, 2019

Sharpe Books

eBook & Paperback; 317 Pages

Genre: Historical Fiction

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“A gripping and evocative page-turner that vibrantly brings Elizabeth's London to life." - Steven Veerapen, author of A Dangerous Trade

 

London 1578 - a cauldron of conspiracy, intrigue and torture.

 

The might of Spain and the growing influence of the Catholic League in France all threaten the stability of Queen Elizabeth and her state.

 

William Constable, a physician and astrologer, is summoned to the presence of the Queen’s spymaster, Sir Francis Walsingham. He is charged to assist a renowned Puritan, John Foxe, in uncovering the secrets of a mysterious cabinet containing an astrological chart and coded message. Together, these claim Elizabeth has a hidden, illegitimate child (an “unknowing maid”) who will be declared to the masses and serve as the focus for an invasion.

 

Constable must uncover the identity of the plotters, unaware that he is also under suspicion.

 

A connection to his estranged mentor, Doctor Dee, comes under scrutiny.

 

Pressured into taking up a position as a court physician, Constable becomes a reluctant spy.

 

Do the stars and cipher speak true, or is there some other malign intent in the complex web of scheming?

 

Constable becomes an unwitting pawn, in a complex game of thrones and power.

 

State of Treason is the first in a series of Elizabethan thrillers featuring William Constable.

 

Recommended for fans of C.J. Sansom, S J Parris and Rory Clements.

 

About the Author

Paul Walker inherited his love of British history and historical fiction from his mother who was an active member of the Richard III Society.

 

State of Treason is the first in a planned series of Elizabethan spy thrillers. The plot is based around real characters and events in London of the 1570’s. The hero, William Constable, is an astrologer and also a skeptic. He is also a mathematician, astronomer and inventor of a navigational aid for ships. The distinction between astrology and astronomy was blurred in the sixteenth century.

 

The second book in the series, A Necessary Killing was published in November 2019.

 

Paul is married and lives in a village 30 miles north of London. His writing is regularly disrupted by children and a growing number of grandchildren and dogs.

 

Review

State of Treason by Paul Walker

An adventurous intelligencer

5-Stars

State of Treason is set in London, England, in the year 1578. The Virgin Queen, Elizabeth the first is 45-years old, and twenty years into her reign. It seems, perhaps, there could be a plot involving the monarch.

This book is written in the present tense and the first person. The author assumes the identity of William Constable, a fictional mathematician, astrologer, physician, herbalist, and physik, as in physics. He speaks and writes Latin, Greek, French, and Italian, but sadly not Aramaic because that would be handy in this story. Constable is a “Renaissance Man” with a significant library, and he can also swing a sword. As a physician, he seems to disdain the accepted practice of bloodletting as a medical treatment. For some reason, I particularly enjoyed the presentation of Constable’s ailing mother, Lady Amy, who would like to see her son married. How old is the main character? Well, you must figure it out. Here are the clues. His horse is “a bay gelding of nineteen years.” He has had that horse since he “was a youth of ten and he [the horse] was a yearling.”

I had a rough time getting started with this book. In the opening pages, too many characters were presented too fast, and I had a difficult time grabbing hold of something to care about. Fortunately, a few pages in, Constable and another scholar are brought together for a purpose, and I became interested. A strange and perplexing object provides the basis for the plot, the intrigue, and the mystery to be solved. “It’s a small chest or large box about three hands square with a depth of no more than one.” Of course, it has a secret hidden compartment, a complex locking mechanism, and contains a cryptic, mysterious message, a riddle that needs to be decoded and solved.

The author places the reader in the story by setting a dark and shadowy vibe. The large castles, estates, and mansions are poorly lit. Mis-trust hangs in the air. Those in high places are always watching. Even their servants are barely seen. For example, in one scene, “An unseen hand opens the door, and Walsingham strides out.” Elsewhere, the author describes that there is a tapestry, but William Constable can’t make out the scene on the tapestry. I had to look up several words and phrases that were well placed in the story and added to the sense of time and place. Here’s what I learned. Crenellated battlements are kind of like the top of a rook in the game of chess. A scryer is a seer who employs a divining tool such as a crystal ball. A doxy is a prostitute. A hawker is a vocal traveling peddler, and I guess I knew that, now that I think of it. A goodwife is a term that honors a housewife not of noble birth. A codling is an immature fish, a codfish I presume, based on my google search it is served with its tail in its mouth. A mummery is a pretentions ceremony. A palfrey (there is a grey one in the book) is an archaic word for a docile horse. The author does a great job of placing the reader in the setting and involving the reader in solving the mystery.

Here’s a tangent notion. Neither are used frequently, but I was surprised to find the F-word and the S-word, so I looked up the etymology. Apparently the F-word first appeared in the 1400s, however, its meaning was, to strike. So, when preceded by the word wind, as in this book, it meant to strike the wind. As for the S-word, that is a very old word and was not considered to be vulgar. Its appearance in this book related to Constable’s mother’s debilitating constipation, appearing as, “Please sir… your mother… the lady Amy… has shat, sir.”

When I’m reading, I’m always on the lookout for cool sentences. I love this sentence, when Constable addressed his mother, “I am pleased that your aspect has more spark today.” That might be fun to say to someone who is feeling better. Here’s another interesting sentence, “No meal is complete without a ham.”

So, will the guy get the girl? The one who wrinkles her nose a lot. Will the patients’ health improve? Will there be violence? Will something bad happen to Her Majesty? Who is the bad guy? Perhaps there is a conspiracy involving many bad guys. It is possible to guess correctly. I did, so I’m feeling kinda smart, even if I had to look up lots of words I should have known. Anyway, I won’t spoil the ending by answering the questions in this paragraph.

I tremendously enjoyed spending a weekend in Paul Walker’s London, circa 1578. State of Treason is a compelling mystery, featuring intrigue, action, adventure, and a touch of romance. I highly recommend it.

The end of the book suggests a great adventure in the next book in the series. Here’s what a character in State of Treason has to say about the nature of such an adventure, “It fires the imagination and zeal of those who would seek to enlarge the splendor and dominion of Her Majesty. It uplifts and adds the color of heroism to the dreams of all true Englishmen.” Here’s to the next book in the series, A Necessary Killing (William Constable Spy Thriller series Book 2), by Paul Walker.

Posted January 27, 2020

Blog Tour Schedule

Monday, January 20
Review at Donna's Book Blog

Tuesday, January 21

Review at Books and Zebras

Wednesday, January 22
Excerpt at Jathan & Heather

Thursday, January 23
Feature at I'm Into Books
Review at Historical Graffiti

Friday, January 24
Review at Gwendalyn's Books

Review at Historical Fiction with Spirit

Monday, January 27
Review at History + Fiction + Adirondack Spirit

Wednesday, January 29

Feature at The Book Junkie Reads

Saturday, February 1
Excerpt at booknook2020

Monday, February 3
Review at YA, It's Lit

 

Tuesday, February 4
Review at Passages to the Past

Wednesday, February 5

Interview at Passages to the Past

 

Thursday, February 6
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Review

Ruby Moon by Jenny Knipfer

"The flowers and trees seemed to speak her name..."

4-Stars

This book revolves around its heroine, Jenay Follett, a young woman who lived with her small family in Webaashi Bay, a fictional town on the shores of Lake Superior. Her small family included her father, John Pierre, and his sister, Jenay’s Aunt Angelica. Jenay’s mother, Celeste, was a Native American from the Ojibwe tribe that lived in the woodlands surrounding the Great Lakes. Celeste didn’t survive Jenay’s childbirth. Jenay spent a great deal of time in the company of her mother’s sister, Aunt Maang-ikwe. The book is full of linguistic references to the French and Ojibwe languages, for example, the French word for aunt, or taunt is frequently used. Jenay preferred spending time in the woods learning about plants and natural remedies from her Aunt Maang-ikwe. Aunt Angelica was too proper and was overly concerned with fancy garments. Ultimately, Jenay got much strength and knowledge from both aunts. This wisdom is one of the best aspects of this book.

Jenay was independent and rebellious. She had dark, messy hair and wore a doeskin skirt. Jenay was not concerned with how she looked. As the author put it, “The flowers and trees seemed to speak her name, her language.” Jenay’s Aunt Angelica was unable to convince her to be more lady-like but as the events in the book unfolded, Jenay was forced to grow up fast and mature well beyond her years. Jenay is a most likable heroine, and the readers will enjoy empathizing with her.

It was touching reading the Author’s Note after finishing Ruby Moon. The love, wisdom, and personal touches the author wove into this novel were very endearing. I love the little bird that perches between sections of the book within its chapters. I like to think of the bonuses as part of the book, including the quotes, Bible verses, and Herbal Salve Recipe. I think the author’s willingness to share her personal story will inspire others―and increase awareness about the challenges she has struggled with. Near the end, she states, “I consider the writing of this novel a determined miracle.”

Just look at what can happen when faith, miracles, and an unstoppable human spirit get together. The characters were well constructed, the villain was sufficiently menacing, and the story was a tale well worth following. I enjoyed reading Ruby Moon and I am happy to recommend it.

Posted January 19, 2020

Review

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Lost Saints by Elizabeth Bell

Full of Beautiful Sentences

5-Stars

Lost Saints is Book Two of the Lazare Family Saga. You don’t have to read the first book to enjoy the second book, but I strongly recommend you read Necessary Sins first and then read Lost Saints immediately afterward.

This is what I said about Necessary Sins: Necessary Sins is a meticulously researched, fast-moving book. It is also an epic, multi-generational, decade-spanning family saga. I was hopelessly hooked from the beginning and it held my interest throughout. It took me to places I hadn’t been before and introduced me to situations I hadn’t thought to imagine. The main character is richly portrayed, complex, and imperfect. The writing makes you care about his struggles, and the other characters in the book are just as engaging. You can tell this author has made an enormous personal investment in crafting this sensational novel. I’m sure it was a labor of love, and it probably took years to write. The result is a work of art that was well worth creating.

In a prologue to Lost Saints, the author gives a hint of things to come. It is set in the Cheyenne Nation in 1840. We meet Zeya, a young woman whose husband also married her sister. Zeya is, by far, the less favored wife. During a “sacred” ceremony, Zeya couples with the Chief Priest, and ends up expecting a son.

The first half of the book is set in Charleston, South Carolina, and picks up where Necessary Sins left off. It is 1843. The main character, Joseph Lazare, is a Catholic Priest who continues to struggle with the conflict between his desire for Tessa, the love of his life who is unhappily married to another man, and his vow of celibacy. Their relationship is tortured and complicated. Fans of historical romance will particularly enjoy the first half of the book. Do Joseph and Tessa end up together? You’ll have to read the book to find out. As the author writes in Chapter 19, “There were only so many secrets her garden could keep.” Joseph and Tessa’s story stuck with me, as the author writes in Chapter 21, “like seaweed snagging against a pier.”

The second half of the book opens at Independence Rock in Wyoming, in 1841. If you haven’t seen this natural attraction, you should google images of it. The second half of Lost Saints feels more like a western than a romance novel. A new main character emerges. From this point forward, the protagonist is Zeya’s son, and we follow him from birth to adulthood. You might wonder how the second half relates to the first. Not to worry, the author’s plot twists will take you there, like the twists and turns of the Sweetwater River. You will find the three main characters, Joseph, David, and Zeya’s son all have a very difficult time becoming comfortable, as they say, “In their own skins.”

This author’s writing is full of beautiful sentences, like this one, “She reminded him of still winter nights when the snow fell without sound and everything seemed to pause, even his own heartbeat.” Don’t let that tranquil sentence fool you. It was a beautiful, fleeting moment in the life of a troubled young warrior. Where does that life ultimately take him? I’m hoping to find out in Book 3, and I can’t wait.

Posted January 4, 2020

Review

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The Warm Machine by Seth Rain

Fantastic Premise

5-Stars

I was intrigued by the premise.

Can you imagine knowing the day you will die? That would be strange enough, but imagine you know the date but not the year? How would you live your life? In addition to that premise, the author warns, it’s not the end of the world, it’s just the end of humanity. That’s reassuring.

Usually, I am drawn to historical fiction rather than fiction set in the future. So, this book might look a little strange on my reading list!

The Warm Machine opens in Manchester, England, in the year 2038. Twenty years ago, the fax machine seemed like a miracle. Now flip phones conjure up a chuckle. In the future, holo-screens, self-driving cars, drones, and e-cigarettes seem like tired old technologies. What’s the limit for artificial intelligence, or AI? Is it possible to accurately forecast the date of death for every human being with algorithms, like Amazon can predict when I’ll need to order new socks? Is life worth living if our future is predestined? Do our choices have consequences? This book makes you ponder many such philosophical questions while you follow its hero, Scott Beck, through the richly portrayed futuristic cityscapes of Manchester, Birmingham, and London.

Our protagonist is Scott Beck. The tattoo on his hand carries the date 2204. That is his expiration date. Scott drinks a lot of whisky. Can you blame him? For some reason, I found myself wondering whether he had a brand preference―he doesn’t seem to. I didn’t realize whiskey was spelled differently in England, by the way, but I have gone off on a tangent. I wonder if Scott would be a more likable character if he wasn’t one of the select few to have to endure knowing the date of his death. Whether I liked him or not, I was drawn to wish for his success. You’ll see why! He can’t help being the way he is because the future is dark, and weird, and scary. Watchers are lurking everywhere, and they’re kind of creepy.

So, It’s a little scary. I should put April 22nd in my calendar and designate a recurrence. Just in case. Maybe that’s when Book Two comes out. Sign me up!

I highly recommend The Warm Machine. I will follow the author, Seth Rain, and return for future installments in the Humanity Series. I’m a fan.

Posted December 14, 2019

Review

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Katherine, Tudor Duchess by Tony Riches

Will Her Head Remain on Her Shoulders?

5-Stars

Though I haven’t studied this period in history for a very long time, I found myself visiting London this summer. At the Tower of London, the Yeoman Warder spoke fantastically about the horrors of the beheadings that occurred there. I might have benefitted from reading this book before going on that tour. On the other hand, reading it subsequently is kind of like a souvenir.

From the very beginning, the question on my mind was whether Katherine’s head would remain on her shoulders. The pages and chapters flew by and I couldn’t stop until I got to the end. Will there be a happy ending? A tragic ending? I won’t spoil your fun by disclosing the answers to those questions.

This book covers the period from 1528 through 1557. We meet Katherine at the age of 9-years old and follow her path for the next thirty years. It’s a book about loss and it’s a book about change. At the very beginning, Katherine’s mother must give up her daughter so that she can become a ward of the Duke of Suffolk. During those days people didn’t live very long to begin with. It didn’t help that doctors tried to cure people by helping them bleed to death. So, Katherine doesn’t get to stay put very long, making her life story enormously fascinating.

It was a tumultuous period in history, to say the least. Katherine wasn’t just a witness to the reign of the notorious King Henry the VIII, she knew all the famed wives and children of the king. Katherine’s commitment to her faith, and determination to help bring about reforms make her a complex and compelling character in her own right. Her dedication also placed her in great danger, throughout the book. The author never strayed from making this book her story.

I learned so many things from reading this book. Not the least of which is that I have no desire to pop in a time machine and zip back to the 1500s. Then again, reading this book was kind of like being in that time machine.

This is an epic work that includes a huge volume of facts and characters. Long before the ending of the book, I gave up trying to keep track of everyone who was beheaded, imprisoned, or burned at the stake. I would have preferred a higher ratio of feelings to facts. The dirty deeds would have seemed even more excruciating if I had come to know the victims better. This book is action-packed, high stakes, palace intrigue from the very beginning, all the way to its finish.

This book is part of a series. I have not read the other books in the series. This book was complete unto itself, and I didn’t feel lost as a result of not reading the other books first. So I am happy to recommend it on a stand-alone basis.

Posted December 2, 2019

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There's More to Life Than This by Theresa Caputo

Authentic Spirit

5-Stars

A few years ago, I read Flipside by Richard Martini, and many of the concepts discussed in this book were also discussed in Martini’s book. This book is full of positivity, grace, and inspiration. Theresa’s messages are very comforting to people who are dealing with traumatic, shocking, painful, devastating losses. In addition to sharing how she came to understand her gift, Theresa shares her understanding of God, heaven, angels, and our spirit guides who direct us from the other side. To top it all off, there is a heavy dose of personal guidance; advice about living.

This book is authentic. As you read it, you can almost hear Theresa’s voice in your head. I think it is written that way on purpose. I really appreciate the transparency with respect to the ghostwriter, who had to do more than wear a big wig and tall shoes to put the book together. It truly does seem like a team effort.

 

I love this book and I will revisit it many times.

Posted November 17, 2019

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Love Thief-The Legend of Ixmal the Healer by David Bolton

Young Ancient Maya Healer

4-Stars

This is the story of Ixmal, a brave, young healer who rejects the traditions of his time. His story is set in ancient times, before recorded history. His people are the author’s imagination of a precursor to the Maya and Inca civilizations of Central and South American civilizations if I understand correctly. I love historical fiction. The more ancient, the better.

Years before Ixmal was born, his parents founded the village of Ppentaca in the highland jungle west of No Name River. Totec and Shanti escaped slavery in Ocochac, a city to the east of the river. After years of preparation, Totec prepared to attack Ocochac, with the hopes of freeing more enslaved people. A man child had to be sacrificed to assure their mission had the blessing of the Gods. Ixmal opposed sacrifice, stood firm in his conviction, and turned his back on his father, and this conflict opens the book. The Ppentacans accused Ixmal of cowardice; however it was an extraordinarily brave thing to fight against the accepted practice of human sacrifice. I liked the author’s portrayal of Ixmal, his parents Shanti and Totec, and another character we’ll meet later in the story named Sahache.

There is a lot to like about this book. The cover is fantastic. I also love the title. The cover and the title motivated me to buy this book, and to give it a second try after I dropped off at about ten percent, the first time I tried to read it. It has a solid beginning, a good plot, and a satisfying ending. It has well thought out characters that fit well together. I would like this book even more if it revealed more of the characters’ emotions. I also appreciated the book’s spiritual content.

Before the book begins the author says, “In an archaeological dig in the ancient city of Ocochac, an extraordinary document was discovered beneath vines and brush… in the glyphics were two ancient languages.” I found the premise very intriguing. The author states his intent to use “the indigenous vernacular, as well as some key words, to capture the rhythm and meaning of both ancient languages.” This requires the reader to learn a vocabulary of eighteen words and the names of seven Gods. Add to that the names of the mortals, introduced along the way, and additional vocabulary as well. I am sympathetic because I’m sure it took a lot of work to create this element of the book. I’m sure many readers will LOVE this immersion. For me, this was a tripping hazard. Ultimately, I was glad I pushed through because the story, in the end, was worth it.

Posted October 23, 2019

Lies Told in Silence by M.K (Mary) Tod

What about the dog?

5-Stars

The book opens in 1914, as the world is about to be drawn into WWI. We meet the Noisette family, consisting of Henri, Lise, and their children, Guy, Helene, and Jean. Another son, Marc, died young. Henri’s mother, Mariele, lives with them and has recently lost her husband. She is frequently referred to as Grandmere. This word and other French words occasionally serve to remind us that this book is set in France. The coming war divides the family. Henri stays in Paris. Guy enlists. Henri sends the rest of the family to the fictional town of Beaufort, lovingly imagined and described by the author. Ironically, though the war divides this family, in many ways, it unites the family as well. The evolving relationship between the three generations of women is very compelling. Surrounded by the grim realities of war, the womens' bonding provides a nice respite for the reader. It is interesting that the cover features a man. A soldier.

Early on, it is apparent that Helene is the main character of the book. Even so, the reader must wait a while before she steps to the center of the stage. She goes from being a typical 16-year old girl to an enormously capable woman. Life gets complicated, especially in novels, and especially so during times of war. At times when the protagonist must make impossible decisions that will have lasting implications, I found myself questioning, wondering what I would do in such a situation. With no time to contemplate; some decisions must be made immediately. I will refrain from spoiling the story as it relates to the decisions and the lies told in silence.

What about the dog? I know it sounds silly, in the midst of such important happenings to wonder. Certainly, Tout Tout is in the book for a reason. We knew that Tout Tout remained in Paris with Henri, though I would have expected the dog to go with the rest of the family to the countryside. I wondered what kind of dog he was. Then when Henri had to leave Paris for some time, I wondered who tended to poor Tout Tout. Maybe so readers like me could wonder, “Hm.”

 

If this author wrote a hundred books, I would endeavor to read them all. She has a graceful writing style, just the right balance between action, drama, description, and emotion for my taste. There are plenty of facts, historical references, and accounts of war, evidence of enormously detailed research. I appreciate that there were descriptions of the beautiful French countryside, and everyday life in a small, rural town. All that said, I think I most admire this author’s character development, and the bits of wisdom the characters share with the reader. The storytelling flows smoothly from page to page. I’m rarely grateful when I must spend the better part of two days on airplanes and in airports. On a recent trip, I was thankful for the time alone to devour this fantastic book.

Posted October 5, 2019