Friday, 28 November 2014

Outcasts (Crusades Book 1) by Martin Lake

Outcasts: (Crusades Book 1) by Martin Lake
Reviewed by Rob Bayliss

See below for giveaway information!

"John felt he may die at any moment. The sun poured out of a clear blue sky, an intense, implacable heat which seemed intent on beating him to his knees. He uncorked his flask and sipped at the water. It tasted of iron and gave no relief to the desert of his mouth."

Pilgrims John and Simon Ferrier arrive at the Crusader kingdom of Jerusalem on the day that King Guy marches the army to the disastrous defeat at Hattin. The victor, Saladin, is determined to destroy the Crusader kingdoms once and for all.
To defend the city there is only one nobleman, Balian of Ibelin, and four knights. In desperation Balian knights thirty ordinary men to lead the defence, John and Simon among them. The new-made knights fight valiantly but can only delay the inevitable. Balian is forced to surrender the city to Saladin.

Outcasts asks the question: What became of these low born knights?

If, like me, you enjoyed Ridley Scott’s Kingdom of Heaven then you will be aware of Balian leading the doomed defence of Jerusalem. In Martin Lake’s Outcasts we see Balian as not the young Orlando Bloom but as the historically accurate veteran crusader knight, respected by Muslim and Christian alike. I knew that I would enjoy this book; however, I ended up enjoying it in a totally different way than which I envisaged.  
The author skilfully sculpts us an image of Jerusalem, as we see it through the eyes of the young pilgrims: a holy city full of hope and faith on one hand but an assault on the senses on the other. The author has done a good deal of research and we are lost in the heady sights, sounds and smells of this great city but soon this image is smashed and in ruins as the whole region is sent into chaos as war stokes the fires of fanaticism. The book is mainly dialogue driven, rather than describing sweeping dioramas of bloody battles between Crusaders and Saracens, but this enables us to get into the central characters’ heads, to fully empathise with them.

Reading Outcasts I was swept along in the story, eagerly turning the pages. It soon becomes clear that the title is very well chosen: the warriors knighted by Balian are despised by Christian aristocratic knights, their blood and sweat lost in the defence of Jerusalem counting for nothing. The characters we follow are cast adrift from family, from city, denied nationality and even their faith brought into question. They are stranded in a land between worlds, at the crossroads of trade routes and a meeting of peoples and religions. While religious zealots both from the East and West see the world in terms of black and white, those caught between learn to tolerate each other’s differences; the borders, both political and cultural, become more fluid.
The reader, like the characters, is asked to question their cultural concepts of right and wrong; no religion or culture is superior to the other. The central characters experience abuse and resentment from those they would expect help from and yet receive aid and honour from those they would count as enemies. The comparison with modern events, with the stark polarisation offered by the mad religiosity of ISIS, can clearly be seen. Here is a land that has been central to the evolution of Eurasian civilisations and yet has been fought over for millennia, with barbaric conquest dressed as faith. With such a long history of empires rising and falling who can really claim this land as theirs and theirs alone?

The question is well illustrated in a dialogue between Simon Ferrier and the cynical Eraclius, the Patriarch of Jerusalem:

Eraclius sighed."You will learn, that the only way we Christians prosper in this country is by making peace with the Saracens."
"You cannot mean that my lord."
"I do indeed. This land has been fought over since the time of Moses. Who can really say has the best claim to it? the Jews, the Syrians, the Greeks, the Saracens?"
"Surely it is us my lord? We Christians."
Eraclius laughed. "Almost everyone in the Holy Land would question that statement."

The central characters in Outcasts meanwhile,  forced by events to take up the sword, look upon each faith, demanding their souls and obedience, with suspicion. It is their own lives, and those that they love, here and now, that concerns them. Christian Lord or Muslim Sultan: each would use them for their own quest for power; our characters will instead seek their own destinies. How these destinies unfold will be revealed in the sequel, which I eagerly await.

Outcasts is out now available at Amazon.

Author Martin Lake has also so generously offered a copy of Outcasts for a giveaway! To grab your chance to win, simply comment below or at this review's associated Facebook thread.

After studying at the University of East Anglia, Martin has worked as  a lecturer, trainer and a company director. A serious accident curtailed his work load but he found a release in his passion for writing. He can be found online at his blog and followed on Twitter. He also has a Facebook page.


Rob Bayliss is a reviewer at The Review and is currently writing his Flint & Steel, Fire & Shadow fantasy series. Book 1 The Sun Shard is available at Amazon.

Thursday, 20 November 2014

A Jane Austen Daydream by Scott D Southard

A Jane Austin Daydream by Scott D. Southard
Reviewed by Catherine Curzon

There can be few people nowadays who are not familiar with Jane Austen. Her works have been rewritten to factor in zombies, shifted into the modern era by Hollywood and even been transformed into lavish musicals. She has also inspired a whole host of Austen variations, namely sequels and new fiction inspired by or based on the world she brought so vividly to life.

Scott D. Southards book, A Jane Austen Daydream, is an unusual hybrid and has been referred to elsewhere as an example of this Austen variation sub genre, though a very specific one at that. Taking Janes life and works as the inspiration for a work of fiction, Southard has crafted a finely structured novel that asks a simple question - for all the happy endings she gave her heroines, did Jane ever find a love of her own?

Whether you are a fan of Jane Austen or not, there are so many surprises waiting in the pages of this delightful and unusual book that any discussion of the narrative must be necessarily brief for fear of giving anything away. The premise is a simple one though: passing her days writing and matchmaking in her small, apparently idyllic village, new horizons open for Jane when she attends a ball at Godmersham Park. Suddenly no longer content with creating fictional romances, she sets out to find true love, and the candidates for her heart and hand are numerous.

A Jane Austen Daydream is certainly not a biography, although it does feature many biographical elements and a supporting cast including characters from Austen's own life.  There is truth in the narrative, to be sure, but it is seamlessly interwoven with fiction to examine what life was like for a lady of wit and intelligence in Jane's time. For all Jane's apparent contentment and quiet reserve, the limitations on women are very subtly teased out and discussed in the book, which is not certainly all cosy! 

Written in a mannered style intended to echo the narration of its leading lady, Southard manages to capture Janes archness of tone and pin-sharp observations of those around her. In these pages she is a warm, witty and intelligent young lady who really lives and breathes; indeed, there is no suggestion that this is anything other than a young woman, so carefully constructed is Southard's narrative voice. Without giving too much away, there are so many in-jokes and references in the book that fans of Jane will find much to enjoy. Crucially, though, they are not so dominant as to be be off-putting for those who dont know her books so well.

With evocative language, a well-populated village with secrets of its own and a keen eye for period detail, Southard really does immerse the reader in Jane's world. If you find yourself thinking that you know where the story is headed, you might be in for one or two surprises along the way and it's here that I reach a caveat.

There is one particularly vital reveal in the book and I must admit that for a few wobbly minutes, it really did stretch things for me. For a moment the art of the book was laid bare and I found myself thinking a little too much about the mechanics of the writing and all that had gone before, which did pull me out of the story. I can't discuss the plot point in question without ruining the book for readers and must say that the novel did recover very quickly and I actually found myself appreciating exactly why Southard made the narrative decision that he did. 

I mention it as a warning though so that, should you find yourself feeling the same reservations that I did, you can rest assured that it in no way brings the novel down. You'll know the reveal I mean as soon as you see it and I can only urge you to read on, as by the finale everything somehow slots neatly into place, which feels like a most masterful slight of hand!

Southard's research is solid but not intrusive and he really succeeds in placing Jane in the story. He brings her into vibrant, appealing life, crafting a living, breathing woman of many dimensions and by populating her world with characters real and imagined, he creates a village rife with gossip, intrigue and quiet excitement.

Even with the caveat mentioned above, this book was an unexpected joy even to someone like me, who has never read an Austen variation. I particularly enjoyed the fresh tone and sprinkling of wit, whilst the moments of poignancy are well played, particularly when addressing the sometimes harsh realities of the life and limitations of a woman in Jane's era. If you are looking for a biography of Jane Austen then look elsewhere but, if you are searching for a fresh, funny and wonderfully evocative historical fiction novel, A Jane Austen Daydream comes highly recommended.

About the Author

Scott D. Southard, the author of A Jane Austen Daydream, swears he is not obsessed with Jane Austen. He is, however, also the author of the award-winning novels My Problem With Doors, Megan, and 3 Days in Rome. His eclectic writing has also found its way into radio, being the creator of the radio comedy series The Dante Experience. The production was honored with the Golden Headset Award for Best MultiCast Audio and the Silver Ogle Award for Best Fantasy Audio Production. Scott received his Master's in writing from the University of Southern California. Scott can be found on the internet via his writing blog "The Musings & Artful Blunders of Scott D. Southard" where he writes on topics ranging from writing, art, books, TV, writing, parenting, life, movies and writing. He even shares original fiction on the site (currently creating a novel in "real time" with one fresh chapter a week; it is entitled Permanent Spring Showers). His blog can be found at Currently, Scott resides in Michigan with his very understanding wife, his two patient children, and a very opinionated dog named Bronte.

This debut review was written by Catherine Curzon whose musings can be found at Madame Gilflurt

Monday, 17 November 2014

When the Clocks Stopped - Reviewed by Anna Belfrage

When the Clocks Stopped by M. L. Eaton
Reviewed by Anna Belfrage

Please see below for information about the giveaway!!

I must admit to being less than overwhelmed by the first initial pages of this book: time-slip through vivid dreams is not a particularly innovative approach, and the problem with using dreams is that the reader experiences the events at too much of a remove. This, however, was before I met Hazel Dawkins, her charming dog Poppadums and her endearing husband Bruce.

Set in Rype-in-the-Marsh, the marsh being Romney Marsh, When the Clocks Stopped is the story of Hazel, a young female solicitor when women rarely made it beyond the secretarial role. It is the 1970s, and Hazel is very happily pregnant, looking forward to having her baby and retiring from the professional world to concentrate on being a mother and wife, the role she has always aspired to. For a modern working woman, Hazel’s plans don’t make sense: the young woman is a Supreme Court Solicitor, and she wants to throw it all out of the window to coo at her baby? For Hazel, her choice is perfectly rational – and in sync with the general perceptions of the time. (As an aside, there are plenty of young women today who also would prefer being a stay-at-home mum, but who simply can’t afford to – an unachievable dream for most professional couples in the here and now.)

Things, however, conspire against Hazel. Or rather Mr. Stone, her bank manager, does. Once he understands that Hazel is a solicitor, he resolutely takes charge of her life, setting her up with a potential child minder and a string of clients. Hazel’s planned three-week holiday before the baby arrives goes up in smoke, but she is quite incapable of saying “no” to Mr. Stone.

When the Clocks Stopped pulsates with life, with colourful descriptions of the various people Hazel interacts with. Other than her Aussie husband, an intense red-headed accountant who has a tendency to take cold baths and eat like a horse (in between fondling his magnificently pregnant wife), we have the cheerful if persistent Mr. Stone, a charming and resourceful dentist, a cop on a bicycle, a singing doctor, his terminally ill female patient, and a somewhat batty old woman called Mavis. Plus, of course, the marginally less batty Mrs. Pendant, who insists someone is smuggling drugs and people through the sleepy village of Rype – or, to be more precise, smuggling them through the attic of her house. Turns out Mrs. Pendant is not at all batty…

Hazel may be young, but she handles her odd assortment of clients with aplomb, and when Mrs. Pendant asks her to look into the potential trafficking racket, Hazel reluctantly agrees, promising to review Mrs. Pendant’s ancient deeds to try and unravel how come Mrs. Pendant has an attic she cannot access – only her neighbour can.

The moment those ancient deeds end up in Hazel’s hands, her life goes into overdrive. Her house is broken into, disreputable characters follow her around, and if it hadn’t been for Poppadum, the wonderful canine heroine of this story, things would quickly have gotten out of hand. Well, to some extent they do, but with Poppadum at her side and Bruce holding her back, our Hazel is quite capable of taking on the entire world – or is she?

Other than excellent dialogue, beautiful and vivid descriptions, and a light-handed introduction to the intricacies of English property law (in itself quite the impressive feat!), Ms. Eaton also gives us an entertaining romp of a plot, where no one is ever quite who they seem to be and the terminally ill patient arises out of her bed like Lazarus. Entirely captivated, I laugh and turn pages with speed, quite, quite hooked on Hazel and her companions.

Even after finishing the book, it is my opinion that the fragmented story from the 18th century - as retold through Hazel's dreams and the passages featuring Annie from the past - is somewhat distracting however well-written. The history of Romney Marsh, of the smugglers who operated there throughout the previous centuries, could have been presented without resorting to this mechanism. As it is, I flip through the italicised passages depicting Annie's life, so eager am I to return to Rose Cottage and the world of Hazel and Bruce.

Despite the above comment, When the Clocks Stopped is a fantastic read. By the time I reach the end, I am emotionally drained after an excessively exciting finale. Does Poppadum save the day? Ha! My lips are sealed, as they say, but I must say Bruce shows impressive creativity and resourcefulness when so required. Not that I’m surprised; after all, the man is an accountant!

Fortunately for me, there is a second Hazel and Bruce book. Need I say it is already on my Kindle?

The author has so generously offered an e-copy of When the Clocks Stopped for a giveaway. For a chance to win, simply comment below or on this review's associated Facebook thread


About the author 

Marion Eaton has wanted to be a writer all her life, but was somewhat derailed – and delayed – by a legal career that started in the 1970s and went on to be a great success. Other than law and writing, Ms. Eaton has a major interest in holistic health and has, further to her fictional writing, also published a book about energy healing. More information about Ms. Eaton can be found on her websiteWhen the Clocks Stopped is available on Amazon and Amazon UK.

Anna Belfrage is the author of seven 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.

Monday, 10 November 2014

Gracie by Ellie Keaton

Gracie by Ellie Keaton
Review by Samantha Wilkinson

This book is free to download on Amazon

“The world was changing, and Gracie wasn’t sure she liked it.”

Seventeen year old Gracie Thompson is the eponymous heroine in this novel which follows Gracie, who lives in London with her loving family, through the run up to and outbreak of World War II. The story begins in 1937; her twin brother Stan is excited to join the Royal Air Force (RAF) Volunteer Reserves, and to train as a volunteer pilot for the war which now seems inevitable.

Gracie is in service as a lady’s maid and falls in love with her brother’s friend, Charlie, also an RAF pilot. Refused permission to marry by her father, who is still haunted by his experiences in WWI, which was still known as the ‘war to end all wars’, Gracie defies both her parents and the love of her life to join the Women’s Air Auxiliary Force (WAAF), and do her bit for the war effort.

Can her relationship with her parents and with Charlie survive? And will the pilots in her life survive the frequent dog fights?

The novel is written in third person, but from three different perspectives: those of Gracie, Charlie (the love of her life) and Miss Penelope (or Penny as she would rather be called). At the beginning of the book, the short snappy sections made it a little harder to get ‘stuck in’ than I would have liked. However the characters and the plot draw you in, and before the half way mark, I had discovered that the book was hard to put down. I do understand that the time frame covered in the novel would mean that there would be large sections of unutterable dullness if the chapters covered every last minute of the main characters' lives, so the short chapters with time between them work well to cover only the exciting parts of the plot.

Now that I have mentioned the plot… let’s be honest here. It’s a novel; it can’t possibly allow the protagonists' lives to run smoothly, or there would be no plot, there would be no novel. As a result, the chapters cover the most exciting (but not always in a good way) parts of Gracie’s life over the years running up to WWII and in the early years of the same. There are a few tense moments within the plot, and although the plot is clearly the driver for the novel, I found the characters and their reactions to the situations they found themselves in to be realistic but also in parts frustrating. To me this means that the characters are well drawn, and more importantly, believable.

A few of the chapters were written in the form of correspondence, mainly from Gracie to her good friend, Penny. I really enjoyed these; it was a good way to fill the reader in on some basic details of life in the WAAF without resorting to a lengthy and unbelievable monologue, by explaining her new life to her friend who wasn’t there and didn’t know what it was like. The author was also able to give us the background story of the new characters, friends Gracie had met on joining the WAAF, in a gossipy and light tone, which made it the type of letter that any penfriend would be glad to receive!

I particularly liked the references to real events, most notably Neville Chamberlain’s radio address to the nation at 11:15 a.m. on 3rd September 1939, in which the author has actually used the real wording for:

“ note stating that, unless we heard from them – by 11 o’clock – that they were prepared at once to withdraw their troops from Poland, a state of war would exist between us.”

Personally, I found that this added to the realism of the events, and made it more emotional, as I can imagine my grandparents listening to it at the time. 

During the course of the novel we see fictional depictions of what would have been common events during WWII, but seem very strange to us now. This includes the orphans who escaped Europe to the UK before the war started, the air raids of the London blitz, their aftermath and the all too common human costs, the evacuation of small children from the cities to the countryside, as well as looking at how the ladies of the WAAF were treated. I can’t imagine sending my child away from me to keep her safe, but so many people had no alternative. It is the small things like these that the author has depicted, that really make you sit and think about what it must have really been like. Not something you get from every novel.

At the end of the novel, Gracie’s story is tied up, although I won’t tell you if it was a happy ending or not, but the end is left open as an introduction into the second novel of the series, Penny.

Overall, I found it easy to read, and well paced. Overall, I found it easy to read, and well paced. If I’m honest, I definitely would read other books in this series, or indeed, just by the same author. 
Would I recommend this book? Yes. It’s a good story and it’s accessible. There’s an element of romance, but it is not gratuitous (something I find rather off putting in books) and there is enough going on (well there was a war on) without it being only about romance.

Gracie can be found on Amazon and Amazon UK as a free download so get yours now!

About the author

Ellie Keaton is Irish and used to live in London but returned to Ireland in 2012 with her children. She loves to write but it took her a long time to start publishing. She has written various non-fiction articles over the years and published in trade magazines and newspapers, but it was only in 2012 that she published her first short story. "The Wedding Dress" is about a couple who lost everything on 9/11. Ellie says that she was inspired to write it following the July 7th bombings in London. People she had known had lost their lives in both events. She then wrote two more books in the Survivor Club series: Red followed by The Fireman's Daughter. She is currently working on her fourth, Tears, Love and Laughter.

You can learn more about Ellie on her Author pageFacebook and her webpage


Gracie was reviewed by Samantha Wilkinson. Samantha currently lives in Cheshire with her husband, daughter and two cats. Her other hobbies include cooking, sewing, and walking.
Samantha sometimes blogs in a slightly haphazard fashion, and you can read her ramblings here.

If you would like Samantha to review your book please check our Submissions page.

Thursday, 6 November 2014

Anna Reviews: After Whorl: Bran Reborn by Nancy Jardine

After Whorl: Bran Reborn (Book II in the Celtic Fervour series) by Nancy Jardine
Reviewed by Anna Belfrage

We are so grateful that the author is generously giving away ebook copies of the whole series - books I, II and III. Please see details for the giveaway at the bottom of this page.

I suppose all of us have seen those rather devastating pictures of the German tanks mowing down the Polish cavalry at the beginning of the Second World War. Superior technology and superior discipline met passion and courage and left a trail of carnage behind. In Ms. Jardine’s book, it is the Brigantes – a British tribe – that represent the Polish cavalry, facing up to what must have been the most impressive military force of their times, the Roman Legions.

When the legionaries clash with the brave British warriors they, just like those German tanks, cut a swathe through the proud Brigantian fighters, leaving very many dead and just as many badly wounded. One of the wounded is Brennus, a young man who figures on the fringes of Ms. Jardine’s previous novel, The Beltane Choice (which, by the way, I can most warmly recommend).

Brennus returns to life permanently damaged and disfigured. The former champion of his tribe is reduced to a man who has little purpose in life – apart from wanting to make the Romans pay. To mark his new inferior status, Brennus renames himself Bran, a man with no past and little interest in his future. Fortunately for Bran – and the reader – some of his grim outlook on life is affected by the young female firebrand Ineda, a Brigante just like him, as devoted to making the Romans pay as he is.

Where Bran is introspection and bitterness, Ineda is passion and hope, an unquenchable force who refuses to believe the Romans can’t be beaten. Bran is somewhat more sanguine – and besides, what use is he in a battle? – but Ineda’s enthusiasm is very contagious, and soon Bran starts to see that he can fill a purpose in the ongoing fighting between his people and the hated invaders. Bran may no longer be able to fight, but his crippled exterior makes him more or less invisible to the Romans, thereby making him a most valuable spy.

Further to the “political” aspects of her novel, Ms. Jardine also gives us a budding romance between the damaged Bran – who, in his own opinion, has little to offer Ineda – and the inexperienced Ineda, too young to understand Bran’s reticence. She is hurt, he is hurt, and things don’t at all develop as they should, causing as much frustration for Bran as for Ineda. But when at last things start to improve, calamity strikes – again.

After Whorl: Bran Reborn is mostly told through the point of view of Bran and Ineda, but in the latter part of the book Ms. Jardine also gives voice to one of the Roman oppressors. I found this expansion in point of view to further deepen the reading experience, and even more so as the Roman in question is far from a brute. Tribune Valerius has his own baggage, his own issues, and while he is not necessarily a compassionate man, neither is he cruel or heartless.

In general, Ms. Jardine writes a flowing prose with strong dialogue and vivid descriptions, transporting the reader to a time when most of present day northern England was covered in woods, when sun filtered through overhead canopies of leaves to dapple the ground below in splotches of sun.
Add to Ms. Jardine’s writing skills her impressive historical knowledge and you have a most satisfying historical read, where facts and actual historical people take on shape and sound – two thousand years later. Thanks to Ms. Jardine, I now have a very clear idea as to how a Brigantine might have dressed and how his home would have looked – and I’m not entirely adverse to spending some more time in one of those huts, and why not in Ms. Jardine’s next book?

The only little gripe I have is the inconclusive ending, which leaves the Bran/Ineda situation pretty much up in the air. Somewhat frustrating – at least for this reader who cant wait to read the next part in the series!

About the author:  Nancy Jardine lives in her native Scotland where she divides her time between her grandchildren, her garden and her writing. Other than the books in the Celtic Fervour series (of which After Whorl is the second) she also writes contemporary mysteries. She admits to having a tendency to lose track of time when playing with her grandchildren, is an active blogger and also finds time to read, review and generally support other authors.

For more information about Ms. Jardine, why not visit her blog

After Whorl: Bran Reborn is available on Amazon and Amazon UK.


Anna Belfrage is the author of six 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.

If you're interested in the giveaways, that's books I, II and III of Nancy Jardine's Celtic Fervour books, it's simple; all you have to do is leave a comment here on the blog or on this review's associated Facebook thread! Good luck! May the Fervour be with you!

Sunday, 2 November 2014


“Bound to happen sooner or later, I suppose,” the Commander said equably, tamping his pipe down. “It’s the times, my boy, the times. O tempora o mores. The new order. It goes under different names but always calls itself progress, and we are in its way."

Please see below for details about the giveaway!

The story is set in the 70's in a rural riverside village in England (except for the bit that is in Wales). The Cuckoos of Batch Magna follows the lives of a houseboat community as they take on the new American squire, Humphrey Strange and his 'corporation' as they decide to transform his dilapidated old estate into a holiday camp (que cries of 'Oompa Oompa!'), which will destroy the idyllic lifestyles of the Riverboat fraternity. Determined not to be tossed out of their homes on the river so the new squire can get his hands on more money the community, led by cheeky charmer Phineas and the old commander, work on plans to stop the eviction and the holiday camp from going ahead. But it seems that what they thought is not at all what they believed it to be.

How often do we relax and sit back in our armchairs by the fire, pipe and slippers and a copy of our favourite classic novel and a hot toddy on the table beside us? Goodness! you might exclaim at such a thing and proclaim the proverbial one liner that we often use about the  complexity of our busy lives whenever anyone suggests relaxing or doing something for ourselves that we wouldn't normally even contemplate because life goes by far too quickly in our stress filled worlds:  Where on earth would I find the time to do that? Well, this book has nothing whatsoever to do with sitting in a chair by the fire cosily wrapped in a dressing gown, but it does take you back to a time gone by when simple things like a rocking chair, a fire and a good book were the things that made us happy - like going to your local village pub on a hot summer's evening, tables by a river, a pint of real ale and good friends to cheer our souls, knowing that whatever the time of day or season, there would always be someone there  you could call a friend.

If you were born, like me, in the 60's or before, you may remember a time when you could call on your neighbour's house, walk right in without knocking and expect a cup of tea or a piece of home made sponge cake fresh from the oven to be on offer, no fear of being turned away or rejected. That's how life was back then, at least it was so when I was a child, a teenager and a young adult. Sadly times have, like the old commander says there in the quote above, have moved into a new order. These days, people are too rushed to sit and relax; open log fires have been replaced by central heating, which might be far more efficient and less smelly, but it rids us of the centre focus of family life, the hearth.  Who would ever dare to pop next door for a cup of tea and a chat without knocking first? Indeed, who would even pop next door at all?

That's what I liked most about this book, with its touch of the Wind in the Willows for adults about it. It evokes times of quintessential English village life as it was before Xboxes, laptops and mobile phones made the world a lot smaller. The characters are delightful and something right out of Toad of Toad Hall, but they are also very real and typical of the people you can imagine living in the marcher parts of England, except when it is in the bits of it that are in Wales.

The author, Peter Maughan, introduces us to the idyllic existence that the residents of the River Cluny paddleboats experience in their every day lives. The introduction starts when the old squire on whose estate the riverboat residents reside in, dies with his wonderful memories of the Old Cluny Steamboat Company:

'...the day boat trips to Walter Lacy and back and the 2 shilling dips...the paddlers crowded with villagers and farm workers in their Sunday best, with bottles of beer and pop, and sandwiches made for the trip... And the Moonlight Excursions, when courting couples found the shadows on deck and coloured lanterns lit the murmuring, soft summer darknesses.'

And as he draws his last breath, the lives of the Cluny residents are about to be turned inside out.

Another one of the things I enjoyed mostly about The Cukoos of Batch Magna was the wonderfully descriptive narrative that the author employs.

'The mist had rolled up to Batch Magna's High Street, and as far as the castle above the river, the last grey wisps of it drifting among its ruined stone like cannon smoke, like the ghost of old battles.'

It is these passages that make this book such a joy to read, mainly because as the reader, you are transposed into the book itself, planted by the author amongst the winding roads that run through the lush green meadows and the sunlit walks by the softly rippling waters of the Cluny. Batch Magna is a fictional village set somewhere along the Welsh Marches, not far from Shrewsbury and as we are often reminded humourously, is half in England and half in Wales. The characters are delightfully drawn individuals with their own three dimensional personalities - though they have one thing in common: they are all quirky in their own ways. We are invited into their lives and are privy to their emotions and their wants and desires for their families and themselves. They are all  one community and one gets the feeling that you hurt one of them, you hurt them all. 

We have Phineas, an English middle aged playboy crime writer, who can't make up his mind whether he wants to keep on being a playboy or settle down with Sally the local nurse-midwife. Out of the blue and into his life, his vegetarian son Daniel appears to make his life just that little bit more complicated when he unwittingly steps into his father's love life. Then we have the Welsh couple Owain and Annie and their rather large brood of kids; one of them, teenager Ffion, is going through the angsts of being an adolescent on the look out for love. The Chardonnay supping commander and his wife Priny and their dog Pink Gin, along with single mother psychic reader Jasmine and her brood make up the rest of this wacky  river boat crew.
Bill Sikes
And I mustn't forget Bill Sikes, the pitbull who likes to get in on the antics of his master Phineas, and to whom the world is none of his business until he has had his breakfast.

But these aren't all of the characters; there are also the villagers who live on dry land and they also add flavour to the story, especially Humphrey Strange, the American great nephew of the old squire who inherits the estate complete with river and the river boats and whose plans has the residents of Batch Magna trying to devise a cunning plan with which  to retaliate against the greedy big shot Yank's plan.

Although the crew spend the summer evenings plotting in the local pub The Steamer Inn, one can't help but see the humour in the way that the author conveys this to the reader. It is possible to imagine that this is a farce, a comedy that if played out would be something to laugh at rather than be horrified by. Eventually the American comes secretly amongst them only to discover their plot and then the reader is left to follow the hilarious antics that emerge in a way that one might not have imagined it.

Crime writer Phineas is no doubt one of my favourite personages in the book, and I love the scrape he gets into when his lustful playboy self overtakes the sensible middle aged man in him and he has to look for a way out of a scrape his playboy self has gotten himself into. Even Sikes has to get in on the caper, drawn into the mad world of his master. When reading Phineas' passages I was put in mind of Mr. Lucas from Are You Being Served played by the wonderful late Trevor Bannister. He was always late for work and had a creative excuse every time.

I enjoyed this book mostly because the plot, although simple, takes on a different dimension at many turns. This is not a book that follows on particular line but also feeds into the many different threads that encapsulate the lives of the people of Batch Magna with a delightfully written prose. The dialogue is witty and amusing and there are some wonderful phrases, such as:

The commander was the only Englishman he had ever met who really understood otters. but then to Owain' s mind, which had its own logic, The Commander wasn't really an Englishman, but a Welshman who just happened to be English.

I wholly recommend this delightful tome to everyone, whatever your favourite genre be. Its gentle humour and delightful prose will warm the cockles of your heart.

The cuckoo? Well you will have to see who that is when you read it.

Peter Maughan

I am an ex-actor, fringe theatre director and script writer, married and living in the Welsh Marches, the borderland between England and Wales, and the backdrop to a series I’m writing, the Batch Magna novels, set in a village cut off from whatever the rest of the world gets up to beyond the hills of its valley. 
All the books in the series feature houseboats, converted paddle steamers on Batch Magna’s river the Cluny, and I lived on a houseboat in the mid-1970s (the time frame for the novels) on a converted Thames sailing barge among a small colony of houseboats on the Medway, deep in rural Kent. 
An idyllic time, heedless days of freedom in that other world of the river which inspired the novels, set in a place called Batch Magna. 

Follow Peter on his Twitter account and find him on  Goodreads and Facebook.

Check out his website to find out more about Peter's Batch Magna novels.

***Peter has very kindly offered an ebook for a giveaway. Please comment on the blog below for a chance to win a copy or post a comment on our Facebook page ***

Paula Lofting is the author of Sons of the Wolf  and the soon-to-be-published sequel The Wolf Banner. By day she is a psychiatric nurse and by night she dwells in the far off places her imagination takes her to. At the weekends she can be found running around fields with a spear with re-enactment society Regia Anglorum.

If you would like your book showcased by the Review please check our Submissions page.

Saturday, 1 November 2014


This post follows on  from the Blowing My Own Trumpet post that went live during the party we had for our first year, 

When the blog was launched a year ago, we had no idea it was going to be as successful as it has been. What I mean is, we thought we would be looking at the odd review here and there and that it would be just an extended arm of the Facebook page. The Review has now become an ever-evolving enterprise, forever learning, changing and forever challenging ourselves to become more innovative. You can see this in how the quality of our reviews have improved over time. The look of our posts have changed; every book we review is now 'showcased' and in this we hope that we will have left an indelible mark  in people's minds. We want our authors to benefit in some way from our reviews - we may not greatly increase their sales, but if one person in moved enough by our presentation to buy or download a copy, then for us that is something wonderful. For me, the best part about doing this is the joy of helping an author - especially Indie authors who don't have the marketing resources available to them.

One of our principles in working on the blog is that we never ever give bad reviews. That's not our aim. That's not to say that we are economical about our feelings for the book, or that we will give a glowing review to a book that is really substandard, badly written and full of grammatical errors. As time passed, we realised that we needed to find a process that meant that every book we review meets our standard. We decided that to safeguard the reputation of The Review as being an excellent resource for finding good quality books, we would change our reviewing process. We employed the principle that we will only review books that pass a strict previewing process as we describe on our Submission page. When someone submits their email to us, we preview the book first, usually by downloading a sample so there is no cost to the author or the previewer, and the reader will decide whether or not it meets our criteria for a review. If it doesn't, we will email the author with a brief explanation and if they so desire, advice on how to change what needs to be changed to meet the standard our readers demand. We know that authors would rather not have a bad review so this is how we work. We still hold to the principle that a review is primarily to help readers find a good read. We do not wish to present a book as good if it is not, thus cheating the reader. Nobody gains by this.