Friday, 31 January 2014

Lisl's Bits and Bobs: Review of Claire: Book II in The Merencourt Saga

Claire (Book II in The Merencourt Saga) by Carol Edgerley

Remember to see below for a giveaway!

The 19th and early 20th centuries contain not a few accounts of resolute women, females who pushed back or laid claim to their slice of the world, many meeting success and motivating others to aspire to greater goals. Marguerite de Merencourt was one such woman, and although the legacy she passed to her children and grandchildren contained mixed blessings—for Marguerite’s obstinate streak, so admirable in her younger years, often worked against her favor as she grew older—she remains a draw for readers precisely because some of her efforts yielded less than absolute success.

Marguerite’s eldest daughter Claire, introduced to readers in the final pages of her mother's story, possesses Minette’s striking beauty as well as indomitable spirit, and from an early age mesmerizes those around her, though not always for the better. Her father’s bullying nature softens to smiles, but upon a long-time-coming visit to her maternal grandparents’ home in France, the teen is viciously rejected by the same woman who pushed away her own infant—Marguerite as a baby. As Claire is coming into her own, she often clashes with her mother and the failure of both to choose their battles widens the already substantial chasm between them.

Claire opens to a scene of the girl celebrating—or trying to—her first grown-up birthday at the end of the new century’s debut decade. While the mores of the time have not drastically altered since her mother was 17, Claire recognizes the changes dawning in the world—cars and telephones make their appearances in the novel—as well as within herself, and like most teenaged girls, resents her mother’s strictures as much as she is mortified by her working status as a Calcutta business owner.

Unfortunately for Claire, she doesn’t seem to learn from her mother’s mistakes, nor does Minette—to the detriment of both. Eager to escape the house as well as the hanging cloud of a family secret, Claire enters into a marriage arranged by her mother, only to find that her once-charming fiancé has little feeling for her other than as sexual release in the absence of the married woman he had conducted an affair with during their engagement. Betrayed by her partner in life and humiliated in the public forum, Claire directs her energies and considerable organizational skills on lavish entertaining and a posh lifestyle.

Picknicking at Diamond Harbour near Calcutta
Photo courtesy Carol Edgerley
Before readers get very far into the story, Minette and Claire have already bickered over so many and such petty grievances, one wonders if they spend copious amounts of time nursing exhaustion, for indeed it takes a great deal of energy to be angry. Edgerley’s dialogue, however, always fresh and sharp, combines with the narrative and clearly shows characters’ perspectives as well as the larger picture. While the novel has some editing issues, the story within not only withstands, but also is too strong to be detracted and as family members frequently engage in heated rows, the danger of staleness pales when up against these strong and well-spoken women.  

At the racecourse, near Calcutta
Photo courtesy Carol Edgerley

Having said that, there is indeed more to 
the characters than smartly-chosen words delivered for maximum effect. Readers are permitted to witness the ambitious Claire as she at times struggles to maintain her footing or determine the next step. Troublemaker Sonia is not always able clearly to see her sister’s secrets in order to exploit them, and Christina, with a tendency towards submission and desire just to keep the peace, develops a strength enabling her to speak out against Claire’s less desirable behaviors and actions.

Though Minette has kept most details of her unhappy childhood from her children, some eventually learn the most significant details, such as when Claire’s grandmother verbally assaults her—for being Minette’s daughter, of course, but also because she is so startlingly like her. “That unnatural mother,” as Minette considers the Marquise, nevertheless has exerted some sort of influence as we later see Claire repeat some of her grandmother’s acts and treat her own children with a contempt shocking to modern readers.

Claire’s life does, however, have its happy moments, and Edgerley’s descriptive prowess of them and other scenes is as powerfully true to reality as it is scrumptiously absorbing. Scenes of both ordinary and grand wrap around readers as if they are part of them, and as they move though seamless transitions, investment in those they read about deepens. Appreciation for Claire and others develops despite—or perhaps because of—her flaws and obstinate inability to move past some of them.

“The young woman had never looked more beautiful, her dark hair drawn up into a loose knot encircled by strands of jasmine. In her hands, she held a bouquet of the same delicate white blooms encircled by green foliage. The elegant bodice of her soft taffeta gown was scattered with seed pearls that proceeded in swathes over the flowing skirts. Only her hands were seen to tremble…wedding nerves, it was said.”

Claire, aged about 48 in France
Photo courtesy Carol Edgerley
When still becoming acquainted with Claire and how she endures living in a pressurized society under the seal of a loveless marriage, this reviewer had at first mused she might be a character readers “love to hate.” It soon becomes clear that such stylization shortchanges Claire, her story and readers themselves. Multi-faceted, Claire’s dreams, disappointments, loves, losses, sins and attempts at atonement could be any of ours, and reflect the reality she once lived.

How Claire goes on to make a satisfying life for herself and her family is nothing short of astounding; with her perseverance in the face of unforgiving setbacks as well as unmitigated joy, she carries on amidst global as well as local changes, community and personal. Like India herself as midnight, a new day, approaches, Claire must acknowledge the past as she aims to settle into her future, one that will certainly contain agonizing choices alongside the promise beckoned by the birth of a new era. Having grown attached to her, both despite and because of her lapses, readers will long with and for her, and wish for more.

For a chance to win a soft copy of Claire from Carol Edgerley, simply comment below or at our Facebook page!

Carol Edgerley is the author of the first two books of The Merencourt Saga, Marguerite and Claire, with a third, Susanna, in the works. You can find more about the author at her websiteTwitter and Facebook.  

Lisl can also be found at before the second sleep. If you would like Lisl to review your book or conduct an interview, please see our submissions tab above. 

Thursday, 30 January 2014

Louise Rule Reviews The Witch Finder by Blythe Gifford

The Witch Finder by Blythe Gifford – Reviewed by Louise Rule

If you would like a chance to win a copy of The Witch Finder all you have to do is leave a comment here or on our Facebook page.

“It’s October 1661, Scotland, the Borders – Hoofbeats woke her, sending her heart tripping fast as the horse, even without knowing who rode. Nothing good rode at night.”

These are the opening lines to a story that will take you into the realms of the witch finder. The horrors of not being able to make someone believe that you are innocent, when those around you see you as guilty. Blythe Gifford cleverly draws the reader into the story, pitting the searcher against the searched.

The opening lines of a book, for me, are very important. They have to set the scene, hook me in, and make me want to turn the page. Blythe Gifford’s The Witch Finder does that for me. It is not a book that I would instinctively choose, but the cover intrigued me. First of all it has a teaser – “He’s a haunted man. She’s a hunted woman.” The title of the book overlays the picture in a bright yellow font that catches the eye; encouraging the reader to view the picture that sits behind it; a woman cloaked in black. So, being naturally curious, I had to read it.

Margaret is our protagonist, hiding her mother who has been sent mad through interrogation in Edinburgh by the witch finder called Scobie.  They are living in a small, remote, barely furnished cottage out along the road from the village of Kirktoun. Here she could keep her mother safe and away from prying eyes and questions. Blythe has the reader feeling sympathetic towards both Margaret and her mother from the outset. We feel her panic as the witch pricker comes riding past her home. Will Margaret’s mother be found? Will Margaret be accused of being a witch? Nail-biting moments carry the reader page by page. We are taken into the realms of interrogation, and the bitter futility of declaring innocence.

The Witch Finder is Alexander Kincaid who had watched his mother die. We are told that she was the victim of a witch’s curse. It is because of this that he dedicates his life to finding witches. 

Blythe Gifford has a sound knowledge of the era of witch finding in Scotland in the 17th century. The witch finder being referred to as the Witch Pricker, because of the brass pointed tool that was used to prick into the accused. If the accused felt no pain they were guilty, if they did not bleed from the wound, they were guilty. If they professed their innocence, then it was The Devil putting those words into their mouths. They were literally, damned if they confessed, damned if they didn’t. Either way the use of the witch pricker tool always proved the poor woman guilty.

There are some really poetic images running through the story, for example: ‘…The flash of anger. But it rippled away like the sparkle of a fish in the stream, so quickly he wondered whether he had seen it at all.’ And: ‘The moon, half eaten by clouds, looked down on them as wind rattled the trees, sending leaves scuttling across their steps.’

I have never been to Scotland, but I know Scottish people, and have heard different Scottish accents on films. I feel that Blythe has realistically used the Scottish dialect here and there where it has the most impact. I think had she written all speech in dialect the book would have become difficult to read. Writing in dialect is a difficult thing to do properly; I think that Blythe has achieved it. For example, ‘Since I’m nae witch, I canna answer’; and the use of a word I have to assume is a dialectal word, ‘unricht’ which I would presume means ‘wrong – “unright”’.

Blythe confidently carries the reader through the story at a great pace. There are breath-taking moments, holding-your-breath moments, and moments of great relief. I feel, because of her ability to carry the reader through, the book had the possibility of being brought to its conclusion in a more comprehensive and less rushed manner. Although the ending is complete in its way, given the subject of this book, I would have expected an ending with more dynamism. I don't know if Blythe Gifford intends a second book or not, but I consider there is scope for the story to continue.

The Witch Finder can be purchased in paperback and in e-book format here.

Blythe Gifford
You can find Blythe Gifford here at

Louise Rule
Louise Rule is author of Future Confronted.
View her Facebook Page here. 

Tuesday, 28 January 2014


Sworn Sword sweeps us into the 11thc just as the English are on the rise after their devastating defeat at Hastings just over two years before. From the outset we are thrust into a world of where life depends on who wins the battles.  Bloodshed and loss is now a way of life for most people since William of Normandy clawed the English crown from the head of the  usurper’, Harold Godwinson.  

The Death of Harold on the BT

With the opening focusing on an English uprising in the streets of Dunholm, strong hold of Robert de Commines, Lord of the North, we meet our protagonist, Tancred, a Breton, commanding his own conroi. Tancred and his comrades have been trying to fight off the attack when Tancred hears that his beloved Oswynn Is murdered by the marauders; but there is no time to grieve, for he must save his lord, Robert, set upon with his men in the mead hall. Tancred leads his conroi to the rescue but they are too late and Lord Robert is burned alive with his comrades inside the blazing  hall. The Normans are slaughtered almost to a man, but Tancred, who has been badly injured, is carried by his surviving friends Eudo and Wace to the relative safety of York. There the trio find refuge in the house of Robert’s vicomte, Guillaume (William) Malet.

The Conroi

Tancred spends some time under the care of Malet’s priest, Aelfwold who tends his patient’s wounds and saves him from developing a life threatening infection. When he is well, Malet gives the now lordless knight an ultimatum: owe him a debt for the succour and hospitality he had provided him with, or carry out a mission  that would set him free of any obligation owed. Reluctantly, he accepts, for he would rather stay behind in York to exact revenge upon the English who killed his lord and his woman Oswynn. But little did he realise when he gave his oath to Malet, that he would become embroiled in a secret that holds the fate of the kingdom in the balance...

I approached this novel with caution, a) because I am a die-hard Anglo-Saxon supporter and b) because the Normans did terrible things to the English during the invasion, so when I realised this was going to be a story told from the point of view of one of the invaders, I was unsure as to whether or not I was going to enjoy it.  It’s not that I am so narrow minded I can’t enjoy a book from any other viewpoint other than the English one, it is that I didn’t want to read something that promoted the Norman invasion as a good thing and that William was a good guy fighting for his rights, and by the shedding of much English blood, winds up on the English throne. Although Tancred fought on the Conqueror’s side at the Battle of Hastings, he views the English with suspicion and believes that the rightful King now sits on the throne, this is a book that tells the story of one man’s journey to find a new purpose to his life, now that his beloved lord is no longer in the world.

What I liked about James Aitcheson’s portrayal of an England in the aftermath of Hastings, is that it shows the reader how the scene would have looked to just such a man, especially as it is written in the first person, without making it heavily pro-Norman or pro- English. Although the latter are seen as pretty much the bad guys in a way, and the former as the righteous, it’s understandable, because we are seeing it from Tancred’s point of view and as far as he is concerned, he and his comrades are vindicated, for they represent loyal supporters of the rightful King, assisting him in keeping the peace in his new kingdom that was bequeathed to him, quite honourably by his cousin Edward, and stolen from him by the usurper Harold Godwinson. Presented as thus, I found it easy to glide into the story from the start.

Tancred himself is portrayed as a battle hardened, traumatised character who, having lived through the horrors of Hastings, loses his lord and beloved in that one night at the siege of Dunholm.  Lord Robert had taken him into his service and saved him from a life of poverty and starvation when he was a young run away from the cruel monastery he had been brought up in. Oswynn was the English girl who he had taken as his lover and Tancred, devastated by both losses, swears vengeance on the young, arrogant claimant to the throne, Eadgar Atheling, the perpetrator of their deaths.  The design of vengeance and the need to atone for not preventing their murders embeds itself throughout the book and sets the theme for the sequel, Splintered Kingdom.  

Tancred is a likeable character, although at times morose and stubborn. In swearing an oath to the man who he is indebted to for saving his life, he is set upon a course that will force him to examine his own values  in order to find a new purpose in life after Commines death. He is like a lost soul, searching for his rightful place in the world and along his journey, we meet the beautiful, but changeable Beatrice, who appears to be hiding a tragic past of her own.  Their relationship seems doomed as Beatrice’s impenetrable facade and Tancred’s equal aloofness, makes their liaison a difficult one although they are both inexplicably drawn to each other.

We also meet Aelfwold, the priest who saves Tancred’s life with his healing skills. Aelfwold comes across as a gentle, loyal servant of Malet’s, charged with a secret mission for his lord in which Tancred is forced to become involved. Malet extracts an oath out of Tancred to pay back the debt he owes to him, by accompanying Beatrice and her mother to safety in London when Eadgar’s forces threaten York.  But the mission doesn’t finish there, Tancred must continue to Wilton with Aelfwold who has a message for a mysterious woman about a ‘body’.  Tancred and his friends, Eudo and Wace become suspicious of Aelfwold. Is he the amiable holy man he appears to be, or is there something more sinister lurking beneath his priest’s mantle?

The medieval priest

So, to summarise, Sworn Sword is a great read, an engaging plot, interesting characters and a couple of great battles, one which marks the end of the book and paves the way for Tancred’s next adventure. Mostly this book is very enjoyable and I am looking forward to read the next books in the series. There were a couple of things, however, that raised my eyebrows, but they were only minor: one was the cheek-plates on Eadgar’s helmet and being a re-enactor I know that these Coppergate type of helms were not likely to have been worn in the 11thc but belong to a much earlier time. Also the description of a two storey monastery building with a long corridor and  rooms leading off it sounded more like a Gothic manor than an pre-Norman building. However these are the most negative things I could probably find and certainly do not spoil what is a fantastic debut and story. I highly recommend this book especially to those who are looking for good quality historical fiction about the consequences of the Norman Invasion on England as a whole.

Author James Aitcheson

            ***If you would like to download the first chapter of Sworn Sword, click here***

 James can be found on Facebook and Twitter

      If you would like to leave a comment here please do, we love to discuss reviews and books      we've read with you. If you prefer to use Facebook to leave a cooment, here is the Link

This review was written by Paula Lofting
Paula Lofting is the author of Sons of the Wolf a novel also set in 11thc England before the conquest and is told through the eyes of an English warrior Wulfhere. 

If you would like your book reviewed by Paula or one of the Review Team, please see our Submissions Page

Monday, 27 January 2014

Anna reviews Floats the Dark Shadow

Floats the Dark Shadow
By Yves Fey
Reviewed by Anna Belfrage

It must be an indication of just how engrossed I was by this book that I used my expired boarding pass to bookmark it as I got ready to disembark – I was reading on my Kindle.
How to start? How does one describe a book that so vividly paints another time, another place? Maybe we should start where it all takes place, Paris in the last few years of the 19th century. The city is a greenhouse of creativity – when has Paris not been that – and poets, painters, musicians, they all converge on the French capital, reinventing the art forms, creating new ones and generally revelling in youth and life – and sin.
Paris is brought to magnificent life. Not only as it stands in the 19th century, but also as it was, with excellent descriptions in passing of one quartier or the other, the history of the Salpetrière, of Montmartre. But Paris is not a kind city, it is a city where the dark stands side by side with the light, and the author does an excellent job of depicting the decay and the poverty against which the glories of Belle Epoque Paris stand in sharp contrast.

I would be willing to bet a substantial part of my salary that Yves Fey paints; how else to explain the author’s vibrant and precise description, from the cherry blossoms on a rainy day, to the Moulin de la Galette in sunset. It is also extremely apparent just how much time and effort our author has invested in researching Paris as it was – and to my delight, this is not restricted to buildings and streets, to anecdotes about the French Revolution or the Paris Commune, but also encompasses painters and, most of all, poets. 
In reading Floats the Dark Shadow, I am reintroduced to poets such as Baudelaire and Rimbaud, Moréas and Verlaine. Ms Fey also breathes life into the fascinating – and rather macabre - story surrounding Joan of Arc and one of her most flamboyant captains, Gilles de Rais. This ancient story forms an essential background to the sinister events that unfold during two brief months in the decadent Paris of the late 19th century, and to further spice things up, we have Satanists and dabblers in the occult, we have an angry seething city, with anarchists and revolutionaries calling for death to the bourgeoisie, and then we have Theo.
Theo is a young American woman who, through a series of events, has ended up in Paris where she paints. Through her French cousin, Averill, Theo has become a member of an avant-garde group that call themselves Les Revenants. Young and driven by passion to change the world, Theo’s companions live right on the edge, drinking absinthe and attending some rather odd events, such as a concert in the catacombs of Paris, the living audience complemented by the thousands upon thousands of skulls that adorn the surrounding walls. (Very evocative, let me tell you.)
And then, the children start disappearing. Pretty boys, mostly, now and then a girl. Quite often children no one will miss – or with parents too poor to demand the attention of the police. One of these children is a boy Theo knows. Another of these children is the protégé of one of Paris’ foremost mobsters, and he does have the clout to get the police moving, which is when Michel Devaux enters the scene. Yet another child Theo knows disappears. And another. One of these children – a blind little girl – is discovered gruesomely murdered, and the only link Inspector Devaux finds is that all the children, in one way or the other, have had contact with one or more of Les Revenants.
Floats the Dark Shadow is told mainly through the eyes of Theo and Michel. One is a young woman besotted with her cousin, who now and then worries her absinthe-addicted cousin may be the culprit; the other is a determined officer of the law, a man combating demons of his own. As the book progresses, Theo and Michel grow into complete human beings – especially Michel, a man whose character has been tempered through terrible loss and staggering guilt. Theo is less complex, but this is in keeping with her youth, so it never jars. In many ways, Floats the Dark Shadow is a coming-of-age novel, because by the time the novel ends, Theo has lost her innocence, her basic belief in the goodness of man. Once lost, such innocence cannot be recaptured. “Two months and all of it was gone. The evil destroyed. Love destroyed.” 
It is to Ms Fey’s credit that she presents us with a tormented villain. Borderline insane, this modern day Gilles de Rais has lost his way. His atrocious deeds make us shudder; the despair in his actions is evident, and while I condemn him, I also find myself wishing this deformed, cruel soul will find some rest. I was also very impressed by how skilfully Ms Fey wove her plot, keeping the reader in suspense well into the last few chapters. While the book ends on a rather sad tone, it could not have ended otherwise. Besides, there is always hope, there is always a tomorrow, and we leave Theo as she prepares to embrace a new phase of her life, far from the recent horrors she has experienced.
Floats the Dark Shadow is not for the lazy reader. The first few chapters do not immediately hook, and then there are these constant literary references – a delight for those among us who have stumbled upon them before, perhaps a challenge to others. But for those that persevere beyond the first few pages, Yves Fey will prove a fantastic guide into the long-gone Paris of the Belle Epoque. The language is sensuous and rich, it weaves a tapestry of sound and scents, of events and emotions, which transports the reader to those brief weeks a long-gone May, when the trees rained cherry blossoms from above, while in the darker recesses of the city, evil prowled. 
Merci, Mme Fey, pour une expérience inoubliable. I will not, I think, ever forget just how dark the shadow can float.

Ms Fey has kindly offered an e-book giveaway, and all you have to do to be in the draw is to leave a comment here or on our Facebook page. If you just can’t live with the suspense of waiting for the giveaway, Ms Fey’s book is also available on Amazon 

About the author:
Yves Fey has an MFA in Creative Writing from Eugene Oregon, and a BA in Pictorial Arts from University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA). She has read, written, and created art from childhood, and is an ardent movie buff. In her varied career, she has been a tie dye artist, go-go dancer, baker, creator of ceramic beasties, illustrator, fiction teacher, and now, novelist. A chocolate connoisseur, she's won prizes for her desserts. (A woman after my own heart!) Her current fascination is creating perfumes inspired by her new novel. For more about the author and her work, see her web page.

Anna Belfrage is the author of four published books, all part of The Graham Saga. Set in the 17th century, the books tell the story of Matthew Graham and his time-travelling wife, Alex Lind. Anna can be found on Amazon, Twitter, Facebook and on her website. If you would like Anna to review your book, please see our submissions tab above. 

Saturday, 25 January 2014

Address to a Haggis

"Trenching your gushing entrails bright"

January the 25th in Scotland is celebrated as Burns Night when the nation celebrates the memory of her national bard Robert Burns. To join in and become an honorary Scot for the night grab a haggis, a strong drink, something tartan and prepare to recite "The Address to a Haggis." 
Don't worry, there is an English translation available below. 

                             ADDRESS TO A HAGGIS                              

Fair fa' your honest, sonsie face, 
Great chieftain o the puddin'-race!
Aboon them a' ye tak your place,
Painch, tripe, or thairm:
Weel are ye worthy o' a grace
As lang's my arm.

The groaning trencher there ye fill,
Your hurdies like a distant hill,
Your pin wad help to mend a mill
In time o need,
While thro your pores the dews distil
Like amber bead.

His knife see rustic Labour dight,
An cut you up wi ready slight,
Trenching your gushing entrails bright,
Like onie ditch;
And then, O what a glorious sight,
Warm-reekin, rich!

Then, horn for horn, they stretch an strive:
Deil tak the hindmost, on they drive,
Till a' their weel-swall'd kytes belyve
Are bent like drums;
The auld Guidman, maist like to rive,
'Bethankit' hums.

Is there that owre his French ragout,
Or olio that wad staw a sow,
Or fricassee wad mak her spew
Wi perfect scunner,
Looks down wi sneering, scornfu view
On sic a dinner?

Poor devil! see him owre his trash,
As feckless as a wither'd rash,
His spindle shank a guid whip-lash,
His nieve a nit;
Thro bloody flood or field to dash,
O how unfit!

But mark the Rustic, haggis-fed,
The trembling earth resounds his tread,
Clap in his walie nieve a blade,
He'll make it whissle;
An legs an arms, an heads will sned,
Like taps o thrissle.

Ye Pow'rs, wha mak mankind your care,
And dish them out their bill o fare,
Auld Scotland wants nae skinking ware
That jaups in luggies:
But, if ye wish her gratefu prayer,
Gie her a Haggis


Fair and full is your honest, jolly face,
Great chieftain of the sausage race!
Above them all you take your place,
Stomach, tripe, or intestines:
Well are you worthy of a grace
As long as my arm.

The groaning trencher there you fill,
Your buttocks like a distant hill,
Your pin would help to mend a mill
In time of need,
While through your pores the dews distill
Like amber bead.

His knife see rustic Labour wipe,
And cut you up with ready slight,
Trenching your gushing entrails bright,
Like any ditch;
And then, O what a glorious sight,
Warm steaming, rich!

Then spoon for spoon, the stretch and strive:
Devil take the hindmost, on they drive,
Till all their well swollen bellies by-and-by
Are bent like drums;
Then old head of the table, most like to burst, 
'The grace!' hums.

Is there that over his French ragout,
Or olio that would sicken a sow,
Or fricassee would make her vomit
With perfect disgust,
Looks down with sneering, scornful view
On such a dinner?

Poor devil! see him over his trash,
As feeble as a withered rush,
His thin legs a good whip-lash,
His fist a nut;
Through bloody flood or field to dash,
O how unfit.

But mark the Rustic, haggis-fed,
The trembling earth resounds his tread,
Clap in his ample fist a blade,
He'll make it whistle;
And legs, and arms, and heads will cut off
Like the heads of thistles.

You powers, who make mankind your care,
And dish them out their bill of fare,
Old Scotland wants no watery stuff,
That splashes in small wooden dishes;
But if you wish her grateful prayer, 
Give her [Scotland] a Haggis!

Many thanks to Stuart for his wonderful nod to the birthday of Robert Burns!
Comment below or at our Facebook page!

Friday, 24 January 2014

Linda Root reviews Blood on the Moon

Blood on the 

by D. Michelle Gent
A  review by Linda Root

This is the third book in the formidable and prolific Michelle Gent’s excursion into the Society of the Wolves and features once more the female Sentinel called Red. It differs from its precursor Deadlier than the Male, which while not technically a time slip adventure, features Red in two aspects. She first appears in medieval Europe when she is known as Hazel, then as the colorful, flamboyant contemporary Sentinel wolf named Red, who is not the kind of werewolf anyone with half a brain-- human or wolfen-- wishes to mess with. Red and her kind do not like to be called werewolves, and in respect for their wishes, I shall refer to them as the Wolf, a species separate from the Humes with whom they share the planet and sometimes interbreed.  The resultant of such encounters are anathema called Throwbacks. As Sentinel, Red’s job is to flush them out.

Unlike Deadlier, Blood on the Moon  is a contemporary story, but one that draws on myriad disciplines from mythology to systems science and the structure of groups. This is not a book that invites a simple visit on an e-reader during a high school or middle school student’s free period or lunch hour.

What makes both novels featuring the character Red stimulating but difficult to review is that Gent has created a complex parallel society in which to place her characters. The Wolf society has its own rules, hierarchy, enforcers and, unfortunately, its own violators, splinter groups, rebels, and factions that do not agree as to how the Wolf should deal with one another or interact with the Humes with whom they share the planet.  Those issues are not simple because in Gent’s universe, the Wolf presence is widespread and highly developed, but vastly outnumbered by humankind. Because of the disparity in numbers between the societies of Wolf and Hume, the former is always at risk. The great danger is that a subculture within the society of the Wolf will behave outrageously and thus draw attention to its presence, resulting in a widespread purge which will obliterate the species.  Understanding this is important to the story, because the mainstream  led by Lycoan is  neither humane nor less wolflike than those who follow the evil Darius.  They simply realize that their survivial as a species requires vigilance, obscurity and temperance.  Red and her friends are no less vicious than their less responsible counterparts.  Red wolfs down human organs with the best of them. She simply does not flaunt it in a manner that threatens the superior-in-number human forces.
The opposition, represented by Darius, aka Lord Grey, is not beyond exploiting his throwbacks and tricking his disciples in order to advance his cause, which in his case is domination of the Wolf and ultimately suzerainty over the planet.
In Blood on the Moon Red has many of the same allies and enemies readers met in Deadlier than the Male, and a few new characters to drive the plot. The first is a human female, the teenage Jessica “Rabbit” Warren. Orphaned Jessica has an ability she does not share with her  human friends—Jessica can detect the presence of a Wolf. She has observed them as they cavort and she has followed them as they hunt, and she aspires to become one of them. And that is where the story begins.
Jessica, like many adolescents who are discontented with their lot in life, falls in with the wrong crowd, the faction led by Lord Grey, who in reality is Red’s age-old enemy Darius. Red hopes that she has eliminated him in the final conflict of Deadlier than the Male, but she remains cautious. Unfortunately, Red’s skepticism is well placed. At the hands of a  Hume policeman who is in Darius’s control,  Red’s faction has been tricked into complacency. The death of Darius has been faked.  The resurrected Darius intends to replace Red with Jessica once she has become a Wolf, but he has not shared his agenda with his followers, who think he is a Wolf  of noble  intentions.  From this point the plot develops very much  like a contemporary political thriller in which well-intentioned followers do not realize that their leader has a different plan than the one promulgated  to the masses, and in which the line between good and evil are difficult to discern.
Gent has so artfully  comingled current societal  issues into her storyline  that we find ourselves forgetting that we are reading a horror-fantasy. There is more to the story than the usual blood and entrails expected in a story about werewolves, but there is plenty of that, too. And because our protagonist is herself a Wolf,  Red is true to her nature and capable of hunting at the head of the pack.

The story is populated with a complex cast of characters, and if there is a difficulty in reading Blood on the Moon, it is the challenge of managing the large supporting cast. Among my favorites are Selene, who is assigned  to be Jessica’s  mentor, and Falco, who is to be her sponsor in her quest to become a Wolf, but there are many others. Selene’s true role in the story is one of the novel’s best crafted surprises. I miss the degree of romance I found in Deadlier Than the Male, but Red has plenty of other matters with which she must deal. There are several subplots including one involving a Wolf who is outraged  when his role in Jessica’s development is minimalized and who behaves very much like an  employee who gets passed over for a coveted promotion or a jilted suitor. There is an incident when Red must kill a friend. The book is full of incidents of betrayal and loyalty, each  a subcurrent of the major conflict over the leadership of the Wolves. The issues faced by the characters are believable once the reader accepts the premise that the species in Gent’s stories are not the canis lupis of the motivational wall  posters or in the photographs of Jim  Brandenberg. These are sentient, superior and  vicious beings. 

D. Michelle Gent is a principal in Gingernut Books, and is an experienced  editor, which is apparent  in the quality products she has produced. Like Gent’s other novels, Blood on the Moon is an ambitious work of exceptional creativity which should make it incredibly seductive to any reader who likes fantasy- horror. But it will also attract many of us who rarely explore that genre. In  summary, this is an ideal read for fans of the genre, but also for anyone who is not afraid to explore something new, or who is ready for a sophisticated and thoroughly adult journey into the world of vampires and werewolves.  And best of all, the author and Gingernut Books, Ltd. assure us that there are more to come.

Blood on the Moon is available on Kindle and paperback.

Linda Root is the author of the historical novels in the Queen of Scots Suite, available on Kindle and paperback at Amazon. More from Linda can be found at her blog.

Michelle Gent is giving away a copy of Blood on the Moon to one lucky winner. To get your name in the hat simply post in the comments section or on our Facebook page here.

Thursday, 23 January 2014

Steven A McKay Reviews: The Eagle's Vengeance

The Eagle's Vengeance

by Anthony Riches

The barbarian leader Calgus defies both his barbarian captors and Britannia's legions - and Marcus Aquila - once more in the sixth thrilling novel in the Empire sequence, praised by fellow authors Conn Iggulden, Ben Kane and Manda Scott


The Eagle's Vengeance  is the sixth book in the Empire series and, in my opinion, one of the best yet.
I first discovered Mr Riches when I was off work ill a few years ago and spent much of the week in bed reading his début, Wounds of Honour. That was a fairly straight-forward boys'-own adventure and The Eagle's Vengeance continues in the same vein.
There's lots and lots of violence and earthy language and it reads brilliantly. The characters are familiar, having been developed throughout the series, and they're all different enough from each other that it's quite easy to keep track of who's who.
My personal favourite is young centurion Marcus who fights with a sword in each hand and is basically a Roman superhero type, so I was glad to see he plays a big part in this book, being tasked with heading into Scotland to retrieve the legion's eagle from the painted maniacs that inhabit the north. It's all fast-paced, fighting, being hunted, betrayal, revenge etc. etc. and it's written in such a fine style that you want to keep reading.
The one problem I have with this book, and the others in the series, is the dialogue, which at times doesn't come across as very realistic. The centurions and other officers you might expect to speak in flowery, somewhat melodramatic language, but the lowest-ranking legionary talks in the same manner and it breaks the immersion when you're sitting thinking, “A regular foot soldier wouldn't be delivering an eloquent, long-winded monologue like a senator.” I'm not suggesting regular soldiers are all idiots, but those legionaries wouldn't have had much education and their talent for oration seems out of place.
Still, it's a minor quibble and is more than outweighed by the gripping story, frantic set-pieces and always interesting characters.

I loved Anthony's first few books, but I didn't particularly enjoy the last two in the series so I'm really pleased to have liked The Eagle's Vengeance as much as I have. Thoroughly looking forward to the next one now! For more on Anthony, visit his web page.

Reviewed by Steven A. McKay, author of Amazon's “War” chart number one, Wolf's Head (also available at Amazon UK).

Anthony Riches is kindly giving away a signed copy of this book so if you would like to enter the draw to win a copy, comment on the blog here or on our FACEBOOK PAGE! Good luck!

Wednesday, 22 January 2014

Marsha's Special Feature: An Interview with Bestselling Author Elizabeth Chadwick

I am honored to welcome bestselling historical fiction author, Elizabeth Chadwick.  Elizabeth was kind enough to answer a few questions about her writing, research, favorite authors, and much more. The first book I read by Elizabeth was The Greatest Knight, a novel about the extraordinary knight, William Marshal. Thus began my love affair with the Marshal and his sire, John FitzGiIbert. FitzGilbert's exciting life is told in Elizabeth's wonderful book, A Place Beyond Courage. The research and authenticity that Elizabeth puts into each book is amazing, which is one of the reasons she is often my go-to author when I want a brilliant read. Having just finished Elizabeth's newest book, The Summer Queen, a tale about Queen Alienor of Aquitaine, I am anxiously awaiting the second book of the trilogy coming soon, The Winter Crown.

 Hello, Elizabeth, and thank you for agreeing to answer a few questions.

Q: Have you written any other novels in collaboration with other writers? 
No, it’s always my own work.  I have adapted a film script though. I was asked by Columbia Pictures to adapt the script from First Knight starring Sean Connery and Richard Gere and turn it into a novel as part of their marketing process for the film.  Daughters of the Grail started life as a one page film treatment, but I had to provide the main story and work it up into a novel.  The film never got made – as is the way with these things so many times.  But the above are the nearest I have ever come to working with anyone else.

Q: How much research do you do? 
How long is a piece of string!  I began researching when I was 15 when I started to write my first novel about a character in the Holy Land. I knew very little about the 12th century Middle East and I wanted my book to feel as real as possible, so I immersed myself in the research to world build the stage on which my hero and heroine were going to interact. In the story they return to life in the Angevin Empire under Henry II, so I had to research the European aspect as well.  I was never, ever as diligent about the WWII history homework being handed out at school at that time! 
 I am never not reading about my historical period.  As well as the need to know material, just browsing the era for fun is tremendously rewarding and deepens my knowledge. If you are going to write about 12th century people then you owe it to them, your readers and yourself to make them as of their time as possible.  My research is in depth and inter-disciplinary.  So I read primary sources, secondary sources, archaeology reports, I visit locations where possible and I also re-enact with a living history society to get a feel for the period.  I use online research as well, but you have to be careful.  There are some fantastic resources out there but also a lot that give out unreliable information.  You need a kind of ‘garbage radar’ to keep you safe online!

Q: Do you ever get any ideas about something to write by photos you have, or places you remember?
Photos sometimes.  They come in useful for descriptions and I enjoy looking at them, especially for the above mentioned research. I get a lot of ideas and emotional resonances from music though. That’s a very strong source of ideas.  I’ll hear a song and immediately be able to work up a scene from the lyrics, or have it push me into new ideas and ways of thinking. All of my novels have soundtracks attached to them and most scenes will have songs associated with them that are pertinent to the scene, or to a person in the scene and how they are feeling. The songs are seldom medieval. Emotion is emotion whatever causes it, and the feelings created by the song are just as powerful today as they were then.  The Eleanor trilogy has two songs that cover a main resonance of her story for me. ‘Do You Want The Truth or Something Beautiful?’ by Paloma Faith – because getting at Eleanor through the centuries of scandal, gossip, detritus, bad press and the opposite heroine worship has been interesting.  And the Abba song ‘Eagle’ for the chorus, which encapsulates Eleanor to me and symbolises the great white (female) gyrfalcons of Talmont which I have imagined as her totem symbol.  Her relationship with her husbands?  How about ‘Bleeding Love’ by Leona Lewis!  Henry II? ‘King of the Hill’ by Roger McGuinn, or ‘Solitaire’ by various artists.  The pair of them together from Eleanor’s viewpoint would have to be the well-known  ‘Rolling in the Deep’ by Adele.  Very pertinent lyrics!

Q: On average how long does it take you to write a novel? 
I have 18-month contracts at the moment, but that’s to build in time to do things like online interviews, days out to do talks, and all the online social interaction that is part of most writers’ lives these days. Also the research, which is detailed. When I first began writing, the early novels with imaginary protagonists took me about a year, but obviously now that the books are more complex they take longer. The internet was a lot less busy then too.  I always make sure I build in enough writing time.  I have never been late with a deadline and I never intend to be. It’s unprofessional.

Q: Where is your favorite place in your home to write? 
I write in my study, which is a converted bedroom in our cottage overlooking the garden.  I have a large screen and a large desktop PC and keyboard. The bigger the better.  I can’t get on with laptops – can’t stand them for writing. 

Q: Do you have a favorite coffee or tea by your side while writing? 
English breakfast tea is first choice - a decent quality supermarket tea does the job fine.  I sometimes like Earl Grey, but have to be in the mood.  I drink Redbush tea too, perhaps a few times a week.  Coffee every morning around 11.30 and some chocolate with it – that’s a must!

Q: Who are your favorite writers? 
Too many to mention all of them, but I have wide ranging tastes and I tend to read outside my period of historical fiction for leisure.  In my period I love Sharon Kay Penman, and currently James Aitcheson. I autobuy C.J. Sansom.  I enjoy Barbara Kingsolver, Diana Gabaldon, Peter James, Barbara Erskine, Charlaine Harris, Essie Fox, George R.R. Martin, Anita Shreve, Terry Pratchett.  Told you I was all over the place!  I like variety.  I like entertainment.  

Q: Who are your influences? 
Several when I was starting out and for different reasons – as well as enjoying their books!
Roberta Gellis – for showing me via the first four Roselynde Chronicles that romantic historicals could have all the ingredients that romance readers love, but still deliver on feel right for the time period.  In my very early stages of writing she showed me how much doing the research reaped benefits. 
Sharon Kay Penman – for showing me via Here Be Dragons that you could tell a romantic story about real people (as opposed to Gellis’ imaginary protagonists) and still keep true to the history.
Dorothy Dunnett – because she is a mistress of both language and complex plot.  I am in awe.  The way she uses words is an inspiration. When setting out, I always read Dunnett when I wanted to raise my game.
Mary Stewart – Her Crystal Cave novel made me think, ‘Yes, I’d love to write absorbing, descriptive fiction like that.  That’s the kind of thing I want to do for a living.’  Again, I am in awe of the way she paints with words.  I’d  love to take some of the scenes she creates and hang them on my wall.

Q. Have you found out anything in your research about a certain person that changed your perception of them?
There was John FitzGilbert the Marshal, star of my novel A Place Beyond Courage.  He has often received the fuzzy end of the lolly from historians, armchair historians and novelists as the dreadful father who gave his son as a hostage for his word and then abandoned him to his fate by saying that he’d do as he pleased and if the other side didn’t like it, they could go ahead and hang the little chap because he John had the anvils and hammers to get better sons than him.  I was curious as to what kind of man would say this, and when I read at a superficial level, it didn’t look good.  But when I started sweeping away modern thought patterns and actually looking at the man and his situation in depth, then a very different character emerged, a man with a strong sense of duty caught between a rock and a hard place during some very difficult and dangerous times and having to make some very tough decisions about everyone’s survival.
I also have to say that the things I have been discovering about Henry II while writing my current project The Winter Crown have left him a lot more persona non grata than he was before I started out!

Q. You are a member of  Regia Anglorum. Has being a re-enactor helped with the writing of your novels?
Definitely. Being a member of a living history society makes you think in different ways about aspects of medieval life and also gives you an appreciation of how innovative, clever and skilled they were.  Also that you don’t need high technology to obtain results.  I have a replica 11th century clay cooking pot that is every bit as good as modern saucepan. If I make a beef and barley stew in it, it will simmer away for ever on a very low heat (at the side of the hearth in medieval parlance), the contents don’t evaporate because the liquid condenses on the rim of the pot and the top remains cool enough to pick up in the hands.  The thing with re-enacting is that I can find these things out about the item in use rather than just seeing the glued-together pieces in a museum exhibit or as a photo in a book. Re-enacting really helps me to understand the people back then and their way of life, and that’s what helps in its turn to make the fiction live.

Born in Bury, Lancashire, Elizabeth Chadwick began telling herself stories as soon as she could talk.  She is the author of more than 20 historical novels which have been translated into 16 languages.  Five times shortlisted for the RNA Major Award, her novel To Defy A King won the historical prize in 2011.  The Greatest Knight, about forgotten hero William Marshal became a  New York Times bestselling title, and its sequel The Scarlet Lion was nominated by Richard Lee, founder of the Historical Novel Society as one of the best historical novels of the decade.  The Summer Queen, the first novel in her new trilogy about Eleanor of Aquitaine  was published in June 2013 and became a hardcover bestseller in the UK.  It is to be published in the US by Sourcebooks in summer 2014.  When not at her desk in her country cottage, she can be found researching, taking long walks with her husband and their three terriers, reading, baking, and drinking tea in copious quantities.
She can be contacted at her website, Twitter and on Facebook.

I want to thank Elizabeth for taking the time out of her busy schedule to do this interview and to highly recommend her novels to anyone that loves a well researched historical fiction book.