Sunday, 31 May 2015

Anna Reviews: M is for Memories

M is for Memories by Joan Fallon
Review by Anna Belfrage

See below to learn how you can win a FREE COPY of 
M is for Memories
Drawing June 6

When Nancy Miller is talked into writing her memoirs, she doesn’t quite realise what she has taken on. What she had hoped would be a controlled process, ensuring certain doors remained firmly closed, quickly spirals into a revisiting of a past she would prefer to forget. That’s the thing with memories – they spring unbid into your head at the most inopportune times…

For most of her life, Nancy has been a successful artist, her water colours selling for impressive amounts. Since the 1960s she’s been living in Marbella, and when the story opens she is pushing eighty, a somewhat forgetful old biddy who suspects her son is planning to lock her away in a home for the elderly.

Nancy is not an easy person to like – nor does she go very much out of her way to be liked, downright rude as she is to the hired help, to her son – even to Ana, the young woman hired to help her with her memoirs. As the novel progresses, however, Nancy grows on you. That tough exterior hides a vulnerable interior, a woman forever shaped by her experiences in her twenties.

It is difficult to become old, to become invisible. Where once Nancy drew the eye whenever she ventured outside, now she considers whether she should buy a beautiful dog to attract interest and comments – but due to age and infirmity, a dog is not an option. With each day, Nancy retires further and further into a self-imposed exile, her contacts with the outer world reduced to her son’s visits and the hours spent with Ana.

Nancy views Ana with a combination of affection and distrust. The young woman is bright and courteous, she never talks down to Nancy, never seems to notice when Nancy’s lipstick is awry or her clothes stained with spilled wine. Ana, it seems, accepts Nancy as she is. Except, of course, for her enervating tendency to return, over and over, to the subject of Nancy’s husband, Nick.

Nick, according to Nancy, is dead. Very, very dead. Nick, according to Ana, is not necessarily dead, as there is no death certificate. As far as Ana can make out, Nick and Nancy were living together in England until 1964, when suddenly Nancy showed up in Marbella with her three-year-old son in tow. All very mysterious – and the more evasive Nancy becomes, the more determined Ana becomes to find out the truth.

Ms. Fallon does an excellent job of weaving the present day narrative with retrospective passages from Nancy’s past. As a young, gifted female artist she falls in love with Nick, a young handsome man with aspirations to be an artist but without the talent required. What begins as a love affair, a mutual attraction, morphs into a controlling relationship in which Nick isolates Nancy from her family and friends, restricting her social interaction to him. Her success just serves to underline his artistic failures, and with each passing day Nancy’s life shrinks further and further, her every waking moment dedicated to ensuring Nick doesn’t get angry. Because if he does, well, then there’s hell to pay – and the one who pays is Nancy.

As a woman, it is impossible to not be affected by Nancy’s story. In a language devoid of hyperbole or sentimentalism, Ms. Fallon describes Nancy’s transformation from an independent woman with dreams to a battered victim. Even worse, Nancy is fully aware of her transformation, hates what Nick has reduced her to, but she has nowhere to go; her single attempt to flee her abuser backfiring badly.

In the present, Nancy’s relationship with her son Martin is a complicated thing, with him trying to protect and care for a woman who views every kindness as an attempt to steal away her independence. But she loves her son – adores him, even – and the sentiment is reciprocated, despite constant squabbles and misunderstandings. Yet again, I must congratulate Ms. Fallon on her descriptive writing – by using both Nancy’s and Martin’s points of view, she allows the reader some insight into how they think and feel.

The tour de force, however, lies in how Ms. Fallon presents Nancy. Intelligent and observant, this old woman has moments of absolute clarity – but just as many of deranged ramblings. Nancy forgets things, falls asleep at all moments, refuses the food the hired help prepares, vacillates between genuine concern for her pregnant daughter-in-law and huge irritation with the woman for monopolising Martin’s time. She is irritable and mean, suspicious of everyone, dryly amusing and more than aware that her life is fast approaching its end. Thing is, Nancy considers it her right to live her life as she pleases right up to the bitter end – she has had to fight hard for her independence, and has no intention of relinquishing it to anyone, not again, not after Nick.

As Ana progresses with her work, she realises a key to the events of the past lies in Nancy’s painting. From bright depictions in the early stages of her career, they become dark and brooding around the time of Martin’s birth, but some years later on they become lighter in tone, an endless sequence of paintings that has one thing in common – water. Herein, Ana suspects, lies Nancy’s secret. But Nancy won’t tell, and Martin doesn’t want to know, so Ana concludes that some secrets should be left undisturbed.

Ms. Fallon is an excellent writer. Her dialogue rings true throughout, her characters grow into tangible beings, and her descriptions bring the various setting to life, from the utterly depressing flat Nancy and Nick share in their youth, to the view outside Nancy’s window. Ana’s efforts to unravel Nancy’s secrets create a building tension throughout the book, a bit like a musical symphony with a final crescendo. Most of all, Ms. Fallon gives us a thought-provoking and unsentimental description of a woman struggling with the onset of old age while still fully convinced she is still the same person she was when she took that momentous decision back in 1964.

There were some minor irritants in the book, such as Nancy’s grandsons having brown eyes and then suddenly they were blue, or that the eldest boy became the younger. Beauty spots, no more, but unnecessary blemishes in a book as excellent as this. Ms. Fallon has written a little gem, combining multiple narrative threads into a book it was quite impossible to put down. Impresionante, Señora Fallon – más que impresionante!

The author has so generously offered a FREE COPY of M is for Memories to gift one lucky reader. 

To claim your chance to win, simply comment below or at this review's Facebook thread, located right here!

About the author

Joan Fallon began her career as a writer after moving to Spain at the start of the new millennium. Her first book was a social history inspired by the women in her new home, but since then Ms. Fallon has gone on to write various novels, many of them with a connection to Spain. 

You can find out more about Joan and her books by going to her website. M is for Memories is available at Amazon and Amazon UK


Anna Belfrage is the author of eight 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 AmazonTwitterFacebook and at her website

Note: This post has been updated to include the date of the drawing.

Thursday, 28 May 2015

Guest Post: Winner of Book of the Month Award, C.R. May

Winner of The Review's May 2015 Book of the Month Award
Sorrow Hill by C. R. May

You have a chance to win a FREE COPY of Sorrow Hill. Simply comment below OR at Rob's review, located here OR at the Facebook thread for the contest, located here

Drawing May 30, 2015

C.R. May discusses his current project...

One of the things which Rob touched on during our discussion concerned the amount of information which is woven into the narrative of the Beowulf poem itself. As you know, Sorrow Hill was my first attempt at writing, so in a way I was as surprised as most people seem to be when I realised that it was going to take me far more than a traditional trilogy to tell the tale in its entirety. I remember thinking to myself about midway through book two that my tale could easily fill at least half a dozen volumes as the twisted tale of inter tribal and familial warfare unfolded across the Scandinavian lands and beyond. 

In Wræcca I was introducing primarily Swedish characters who would come to play an important part in the future of Beowulf and the Geat nation as the decades rolled by. However, as I realised the enormity of the task ahead of me and gained confidence in my writing ability, I began to hanker after creating new tales with new characters to fill them. I decided to end the Beowulf story where most people would expect, with the death of Grendel's mother. But my writing heart remained in the northern lands, and as the Brennus story was nearing its conclusion I began to think about a subject for my next series. My novella, Dayraven, tells the story of a historically attested raid made by the Geats under King Hygelac around the year AD523, three years after the death of Grendel in Monsters. It incorporates many of the characters which were in the Sword of Woden books and I decided to continue the story from that point but change the lead character from Beowulf to another. This would enable me to 'cherry pick' the highlights from events in the Scandinavian lands, but move the main focus of the story across to Britannia. The Angle, Eofer was the perfect choice for this. 

Married to Hygelac's daughter, Astrid, he crops up regularly in the Sword of Woden books. Kin to the following two kings of the Geats, Heardred and Beowulf himself, he would be honour bound to lend his support in times of trouble, despite the fact that he would now be helping the Angles carve out their new kingdom on the other side of the North Sea. His king, Eomær, is widely regarded as the leader who led the English people from their first home in modern day Jutland to East Anglia in the mid 520's, so the stories would dovetail perfectly. It's a vast canvas which I hope will keep me busily writing for years. In the first book the seat of Anglian power still resides in Old Angeln, although they are coming under increasing pressure from their neighbours the Danes, now freed from the depredations of Grendel and the fell hag. The following extract is the opening scene of chapter one, following on from a prologue which sets the scene for a major thread in the storyline. 

Eofer is returning home from a summer spent raiding and fighting in Britannia and, immediately after the squall you will read about below, the tale picks up where the Dayraven novella left off. The series is called Eofer King's Bane and the first book will be titled Vikings after the following passage from another Anglo Saxon poem, "Widsith." Considered older than Beowulf, "Widsith" contains the first recorded use of the word Viking, and yes, King Ingeld of the Heaðobeardna and Heorot itself will all be present!

Hroþwulf ond Hroðgar heoldon lengest

sibbe ætsomne suhtorfædran,

siþþan hy forwræcon wicinga cynn

ond Ingeldes ord forbigdan,

forheowan æt Heorote Heaðobeardna þrym.


Hrothwulf and Hrothgar held the longest

peace together, uncle and nephew,

since they repulsed the viking kin

hewn at Heorot Heathobards army and Ingeld

to the spear-point made bow.



The eorle scanned the horizon and chewed his lip. It didn't look good. It didn't look good at all.

Sæward wiped his hands on the seat of his trews and took a firmer grip on the steer board.

“Look at it move!”

Glancing across he shared his lord's misgivings.

“This is going to hurt.”

Away to the south, a boiling rampart of darkness was bearing down on the ships of the Englisc fleet, and the pair watched as the helmsmen instinctively hauled at their own big blades and fanned out. They would need all the sea room they could get, and soon. The squall was little more than a mile or so distant now, moving quickly, its leading edge pulsing as lightning bolts flickered at its heart.

The sea was already responding and the Fælcen began to saw as white caps showed alongside, creamy waves slapping against the strakes of the sleek longship as they shot by.

The men exchanged a look.

“Half way?”

Eofer risked a glance to the south and was horrified to discover that the storm front had already gobbled up half the distance to them. He shook his head, crying out against the force of the freshening wind as he began to make his way down the ship.

“A third. Any more and we will be lucky if we only lose the sail. If the mast goes...”

The crew had gathered amidships, and they wrenched their faces away from the wall of death as their eorle approached.

He would need the strongest, most experienced men at the oars if they were to ride this one out, and Eofer snapped out his orders. “Duguð, row. Lash your oars to the thole pin and keep us from broaching.”

He turned to the expectant faces of the younger warriors. “Youth, you bail.”

Rounding on two dark haired lads, he stabbed out a finger. “Crawa, Hræfen. Lower the spar half way down the mast and square it off. Reef the sail by two thirds, then I want you to stand by the sheets. Keep your eyes on the sail. If it looks like it is about to blow out forget pulling the pins, just use your knife to cut them.” He flashed them a smile of encouragement. “Better to go two sheets to the wind than swim home.”

The twins gave a nervous laugh and scampered off to their task as Eofer cast a look of longing at the twin wash strakes lying snugly on the cross trees amidships. Fixed along the gunwale, they were used to raise the freeboard in heavy seas but, casting a look beyond the sweep of the stern, Eofer could see that it was already too late to peg them into place. The storm was upon them.

The crew looked up as one as an outlier moved in to extinguish the light and warmth of the sun and a spray of raindrops, as large and heavy as peas, swept across to mottle the deck.

Eofer hurried back to the steering platform, ready to throw his weight alongside the helmsman. A last glance outboard and he gasped at the terrible beauty as the Englisc ships, islands of colour and life in a vista of purple and black, were swallowed by the monster. 

In the blink of an eye the Fælcen was engulfed in a maelstrom of water, noise and gloom. Wind and wave searched out the smallest chink in their defences and found one as the power of the first roller nudged the stern aside. It was only a fraction but it was enough, and the following wave smashed into the tall stern post like a shield strike, the ship recoiling from the blow and offering up a glimpse of her flank to the onrushing madness. As the Fælcen began to broach, Eofer threw himself bodily into Sæward and desperately added his weight to the push. Both men grimaced with effort and fear as they stared down at the shredded waves which threatened to engulf them. The steerboard gunwale was kissing the sea, they were a heartbeat from the end as she began to respond and drag herself back to an even keel.

Before the ship could right herself the next wave hit. Driving beneath the hull, the stern was thrust skyward as the bows were forced deep, but she was a well found ship and she lived up to her name, lithe, fearless; a hunter. Rising again from the swell, she shook the water from her timbers and forged ahead. As the great hooked beak of the prow crept around, Eofer scanned the deck and the breath caught in his throat as he saw that the boy, Hræfen, was missing from his place at the steer board side. As his eyes moved out to search the torn surface of the sea for any sign of the lad, the big arm of Imma Gold reached out from its place at the benches and casually plucked a dark mass from the waters, depositing it in the scuppers like a bundle of sodden rags. As the big warrior bent to his oar their eorle watched with pride as the bundle came back to life and the boy dragged himself back across to his station by the steer board sheet. Kissing the lashing which had saved his life, Hræfen resumed his watch on the tortured sail.

Up for'ard, Eofer saw that Spearhafoc had taken up a position in the bows. Balanced perfectly she was a woman of many talents, and he was proud of the qualities she had developed since she had joined his war band. Fearless, lithe and deadly with spear and sæx alike, the shield maiden, although no volur, regularly conversed with the gods. The tawny feathers of the hen Sparrowhawk corkscrewed from her hair as the gale snatched away her invocation to Ran. Bracing herself in the very upturn of the prow as the waves hurtled past only feet away, the young woman was holding aloft a sacrifice as she offered to fill the goddess' drowning net with something other than the crew of the Fælcen.

The gale set up an unearthly howl in the rigging, fire bolts danced at the masthead but, with the ship running steadily before the gale, Eofer knew that the worst moments were already past. Clinker built in good Englisc oak from the Wolds near his hall, the hull flexed and creaked as she was driven before the white caps like the pure-blood she was. Smaller than the dragon ships with barely a draft to speak of, the Fælcen, at twenty oars, was the type of warship which the Englisc called scegð, perfect for carrying a small, hard-hitting force of warriors deep inside the lands of their foemen.

He relaxed his grip on the steer board and let Sæward run her on. They shared a look, and each man knew just how close they had come to joining the legions of those lost at sea, spending an eternity in the hall of the sea god, Wade. Sæward leaned across and they shared a laugh as the helmsman cried above the noise.

“That was fun. Shall we do it again?"

About the Author:

C.R. May was born in Bow, East London before his family moved to South Ockendon, Essex. After hearing that Ockendon translated as Wocca's Hill in Saxon, a lifelong passion in history was kindled, which has taken him from Berlin to the site of the battle of Little Big Horn (via Erik the Red's Icelandic hall!). The influx of Germanic adventurers was recorded in the place names around him and, inspired one day, he decided to weave his own stories into this history. You can read and discover more information at his blog and the author may be found at Facebook.

Rob Bayliss is a reviewer at The Review and is currently writing his own fantasy series. Information on his writing projects can be found at Flint & Steel, Fire & Shadow.

Tuesday, 26 May 2015

Rob Interviews Book of the Month Award Winner C.R. May

Winner of The Review's May 2015 Book of the Month Award

You have a chance to win a FREE COPY of Sorrow Hill. Simply comment at Rob's review, located here OR at the Facebook thread for the contest, located here
Drawing May 30, 2015

Being a West Countryman, my drink of choice is usually cider. However, today I’m having a chat with Cliff May, the talented author of Sorrow Hill, the first in his trilogy of Beowulf: Sword of Woden series. Therefore it only seems right and proper to tap a cask of mead and imbibe a horn or three. Is a horn the equivalent of a pint? Will mead really colour my teeth green, as happened to one of Beowulf‘s companions? Oh well, I don’t know the answers but it will be fun finding out, ah, here’s the man himself!

Waes Hael, Cliff, you’ll need this to wet your whistle (hands over a full horn of mead). Firstly congratulations on receiving The Review's Book of the Month award for Sorrow Hill. Could you tell me a little about yourself and how you became a writer?

Thanks, Rob, I was very pleased to be chosen, it was completely unexpected. I have been writing now since the end of 2012 and, as you know Sorrow Hill was my first-ever novel. In fact it was about the first thing longer than a shopping list that I had written for about forty years! The bomb sites of the blitz in east London were my playground as a child and later the family moved to south Essex. Nearby was the Battle of Britain Spitfire airfield at Hornchurch where I could explore the hangars and old revetments known as E pens where the aircraft sheltered from attack. I stumbled across an old paperback called Nine Lives by a New Zealander called Alan Deere who was based there during the battle, and I read and re-read the book until it fell apart. It was a thrill to be able to visit the scene of the action, and I think that a lifelong love of reading and history probably started there. Following 15 grim years working in the City, my then-wife was unhappy at home and wanted to return to work so I became the prototype house husband, taking over the care of our children who were then three and one years old. I combined the role with renovating two tatty old wrecks which we moved to during that time, a Victorian town house followed by a 14th century hall house. I taught myself some of the old medieval skills like timber frame carpentry and lime plastering. It was hard physical work repairing centuries of wear and neglect, removing and taking literally tons of concrete and rubble to the local tip in the family car, but the end results were immensely satisfying. I used to treat myself to a short break every year during this time, always with an eye on history. One year I visited Iceland and searched out the locations mentioned in the sagas, another I crewed on the full size replica of Captain Cook's ship, Endeavour, sleeping in hammocks and watching the sun rise over the North Sea while sweating in a sail aloft. Two further children followed a decade later, one of which we were assured was autistic. Caring for him and looking after a baby (and two teens) in the middle of extensive building work taught me the patience and self-discipline a writer needs. My son is fine now, but I still have a daughter at primary school and writing offered me a kind of 'virtual existence' outside the home, plus a welcome source of income, which would still enable me to care for the family full time. One evening I sat at the laptop and wrote 'The boy stood at the base of the tree...' and I haven't stopped since!

Ha! I understand that ‘virtual existence’ bit. Hmm, this mead is nice, I could get used to this. If I recall a previous conversation we had, you told me you galloped through the writing of Sorrow Hill and the sequel Wraecca. Are you a regimented author, do you set aside writing time in your day?

I am very fussy I am afraid. I need peace and solitude to write because I never really plan very much at all. I have a vague idea of the start and end of the book plus a few highlights, but even those few supposedly fixed points rarely survive the actual writing process. The story comes into my head as I write it, almost like the pictures which flash into your mind when you read a good description in a book, and I write what I see. If someone comes into the room and speaks to me I have no idea what they are saying for a while as I return to the world! I write mostly during the day alongside running the home and luckily, now that the youngest children are older, 13 and 11, I can write at the weekends and during the school holidays. Basically, now that I am a single parent, I write when I can.

I’m with you on that one. The more I write, the more the ideas flow… Talking of which, our horns are both empty; here, have a top up. Your love of the period and of Beowulf is obvious; but to wrest three novels from one poem is no mean feat. Have you always known you would write this series?

Originally I had the idea that I would write either a stand alone novel (sensible for a first timer) or a series (stupidly, I took this option) set in the drowned land beneath the present North Sea. Oil and gas companies have mapped the seabed and produced detailed maps of the area known to scientists as Doggerland after the Dogger Bank, then a hilly region on a grassy plain. The rivers Thames, Rhine, Seine etc. all flowed into one huge watercourse which flowed to the Atlantic via a great waterfall at a time when the chalk cliffs near Dover and Calais were still one continuous ridge; it's a fantastic setting. Our ancestors hunted great herds and fought off prides of lions there; it has great potential for a story, but I went with Beowulf in the end because most people think they know it. For quite a short tale there is an incredible amount hidden within the narrative: wars between the Geats, Swedes and Danes, family feuds, even a battle on the frozen surface of Lake Vanern. Add Hygelac's raid which I wrote about in my novella, Dayraven, and there is actually a mind-boggling amount that an author can wring from the bare bones which has come down to us.

Well I hope you write of Doggerland sometime soon, I’d like to see that waterfall in my mind’s eye.  But further to the last question: your descriptions of equipment, landscapes and even fighting style is very detailed; how much research did you do before beginning your story?

I have always loved the period which we used to call the Dark Ages. Western Europe became a sort of 'wild west' where anyone with the will to rise above the restrictions of their birth could, with luck, rise as high as the norns would allow them. Wealth in the form of land, gold and silver was there for the taking in the period between the fall of Rome and the emergence of the new centralised kingdoms and the Christian church in the 6th and 7th centuries, which combined together to hoover up all that wealth again. I have always read everything I could find about the period so I had a pretty deep background knowledge to begin with, but Paul Mortimer's book, Woden's Warriors is a cracker for equipment, weapons and tactics, plus he was kind enough to send me a file from a yet to be published book, so a special thanks to him. There are several sagas which complement the Beowulf poem, Ynglinga Saga and especially The Saga of King Hrolf Kraki are the best; the Penguin classics of the latter is a great read, in many ways almost a parallel of the Beowulf tale. Sam Newton's book on the origins of Beowulf helped to disentangle the many threads in the poem as did the verse translation edition of Seamus Heaney's recent book. For the descriptions of the locations I used Google Earth a lot. It's a fantastic resource for historical novelists; you can travel the same roads as your characters (sadly now lined by different coloured wheelie bins, even in rural Sweden) and describe a place as it actually is on the ground. 

This is thirsty work; I'll just have a drop more. How would you describe your character Beowulf?

The starting point for all my characters is my belief that people have always been essentially the same, with the same strengths and faults as today but surrounded by less technology. I wanted Beowulf to be a far more complex character than he was portrayed in the computer-generated (CGI) film, for example. Sorrow Hill covers the years of his childhood to late teens so I introduced some of the insecurities which we all feel during that time. He is desperate to please his father but Ecgtheow seems aloof. His infatuation with Kaija and his bumbling attempts at speaking to her. Later, in Wraecca, he suffers from what we would all recognise now as head trauma but he thinks that he is losing his mind, and of course he rescues one young girl from abuse and avenges the murder of another. I wanted him to have what we would call now a social conscience, rather than be the muscle-bound bore portrayed in the film. I think that it makes him a more rounded character, someone people would like and respect as a man as well as a hero.

Yes I agree, and in my opinion you have more than succeeded. I found the CGI film a grand spectacle but I didn’t find its portrayal of Beowulf inspiring. You have rooted the story of Sorrow Hill with an actual recorded battle. When you embarked on the series did you have a mind to write historical fiction or fantasy?

That's a great question, Rob. My original intention was to write as little fantasy as possible but as the writing progressed, I found that it took so much away from the tale that the essence of the story was lost. It was a bit like Lord of the Rings without Gandalf or Orcs. So Beowulf was attacked by conger eels during the swimming race with Breca instead of a sea monster and the nest of trolls which he boasts about killing before the fight with Grendel became remnants of the Neanderthal population surviving in the backwoods of Sweden, etc. Luckily I quickly realised my error. How could you explain the fact that Beowulf swam down through the mere to attack Grendel's mother for 'the best part of a day'? Although I kept most of the rationalizations like those mentioned above, I decided to increase Woden's involvement to help account for some of the more supernatural/superhuman episodes in the books. I think that the mix helped to isolate the fight with Grendel, in Monsters, and made the passage all the more powerful by being more than just another fantastic episode among a string of others.

What struck me was how you brought the religious belief system of your characters' culture alive. I found it believable. The figure of Woden - the All Father- and the echoes of him in our folk memory and culture has always fascinated me; has he you?

The more that you study the figure of Woden the more you realise what a complex character he has. Public perception is based on the later Norse figure of Odin, by which time he had become more of a god of war and the nobility. Before that, the more warlike qualities were largely the domain of Tiw/Tyr and Woden was far more shamanistic. His connection to poetry, healing, magic, runelore, and even ecstasy indicate that he was a far more fascinating character in earlier times. Of all the old gods, Woden represented the qualities of the human mind and emotions, good and not so good, as opposed to, say, the more practical concerns of crop fertility and weather of Yngvi-Frey and Thunor. Cunning, shifty and vindictive at times, but also willing to sacrifice himself for the good of others, it is this multi-faceted character which I think makes him so appealing to us still.

Well I’ll drink to that. Thank you for your time, Cliff; it’s been fascinating and an absolute pleasure. Just one last question… do my teeth look green to you?


About the Author:

C.R. May was born in Bow, East London before his family moved to South Ockendon, Essex. After hearing that Ockendon translated as Wocca's Hill in Saxon, a lifelong passion in history was kindled, which has taken him from Berlin to the site of the battle of Little Big Horn (via Erik the Red's Icelandic hall!). The influx of Germanic adventurers was recorded in the place names around him and, inspired one day, he decided to weave his own stories into this history. You can read and discover more information at his blog and the author may be found at Facebook.


Rob Bayliss is a reviewer at The Review and is currently writing his own fantasy series. Information on his writing projects can be found at Flint & Steel, Fire & Shadow.

Saturday, 23 May 2015

Rob Reviews Book of the Month: Sorrow Hill: Sword of Woden

The Review's May 2015 Book of the Month Award
Sorrow Hill - Sword of Woden Volume 1 by C.R. May
Review by Rob Bayliss

See below to learn how to claim your chance to win a 
FREE COPY of Sorrow Hill 
Drawing May 30, 2015

“Trolls!” Hrothgar cried with a laugh. “What are trolls going to do to me? Tear down the doors of Heorot and murder all my warriors?”

For longer than I care to remember I’ve been a fan of the legend of Beowulf from the epic poem. I enjoyed it even before I came to realise the cultural significance of it to my English sense of self. It gave me a love of the so-called “Dark Age” period of history and the realisation that history is contained in the very words that we use… and a love of fantasy of course, for Beowulf has perhaps one of the darkest and most fearsome monsters to ever be spawned from the human subconscious: Grendel, the Grinder!

We’ve had cinematic versions since of course: the computer-generated Beowulf, which is a feast for the eyes, yet personally I found it strangely disappointing, and the enjoyable 13th Warrior which borrows heavily from the legend. But the poem places Beowulf in the real world. His people are the Geats, with Swedes and Danes as neighbours. Anglo Saxon the poem may be but the protagonist is placed in the Scandinavian world as this tale predates the formation of England. Looking back to some mythic golden age seems to be a human trait!

In Sorrow Hill C.R. May takes us back to this golden age and places us in a distinct timeline. It’s the early 6th century and the Geats find themselves in a turbulent world of change that will ultimately erase their kingdom from history.

The Western Roman Empire is on the brink of collapse; their province of Britannia has been lost and the Geats' cultural contemporaries, the Anglisc, are in the process of carving out New Anglia in those fertile, ice free lands. Beowulf himself is the son of an Earldorman and through his mother, a grandson of a king. He is being prepared to take his father’s place and join the noble warrior elite, but his wyrd- his fate - is to be different.

This is where the author skilfully walks a line between historical fiction and fantasy for while on a boyhood mission to capture eaglets for his father, Beowulf meets a wanderer and shares the man's fire as the night closes in. There is something different about this one-eyed travelling man called Hrarni, who seems to know all about Beowulf. The boy gives Hrarni an eaglet, much to the traveller’s delight. In return the one-eyed man gives the boy much sage advice and makes a gift of part of his staff, as a token of his favor.

We watch as Beowulf grows and develops from a child under the tutorage of his foster father, learning his craft as a warrior and a leader of men. His world is turned upside down when his family is torn apart in a scramble for power. In the ensuing chaos the old adversaries of the Geats, the Swedes, mount an attack. Only Beowulf is on hand to mount a defence and test both his wyrd and warrior craft.

C.R. May is certainly a skilled story teller. This is a page turner that is difficult to put down. It is a fast-moving action packed novel charting Beowulf’s journey through childhood and awkward adolescence. Crucially we see Beowulf, not as some mythic hero but as a real person, slightly insecure desperate to please his aloof father. The society in which he develops is described to perfection, as are the battle scenes. You’ll feel the tension and smell the fear as the shields smack together to form a wall and you clasp your spear, listening to your breath beneath your grimhelm. The author’s prose and power of description paints a wonderful picture of this “golden age” of the proto-English (for want of a better term), but I feel special praise should be made in that this book carries a profound spiritual element that brings the religion of the time to life, breaking down the barriers between historical fiction and fantasy and, most importantly, the reader's disbelief.

Swept away in this book, all too soon the reader turns the last page but fear not; Sorrow Hill is the first of a trilogy with Wraecca and Monsters following. There is more to learn of Beowulf, the Sword of Woden and it's not only men that walk the earth.

Awestruck and  terrified the Geat aetheling moved towards the dying flames and knelt in supplication.
"Forgive me, Lord. I would not have raised a weapon had I known it was you!"
The man motioned for Hygelac to join him and, throwing back his wolf skin hood regarded him with his one remaining eye.
"You have been entrusted with the care of one who is of interest to me," the one eyed man began. "I would like you to ensure that he grows to become the greatest warrior in the north. In return I can offer you reputation and riches." He paused and fixed the aetheling with his penetrating stare. "Do we have a deal?"
A smile played across Hygelac's features as he began to realise the opportunity which was presenting itself to him. A god needed his help and was willing to bargain. He decided to grasp the opportunity with both hands.
"I want to be king," he replied coldly.

Author C.R. May has so generously offered to gift a FREE COPY of Sorrow Hill to one lucky winner! To get your name in our drawing, simply comment below OR at this review's Facebook thread located here.
Drawing May 30, 2015

About the Author

C.R. May was born in Bow, East London before his family moved to South Ockendon, Essex. After hearing that Ockendon translated as Wocca's Hill in Saxon, a lifelong passion in history was kindled, which has taken him from Berlin to the site of the Battle of Little Big Horn (via Erik the Red's Icelandic hall!). The influx of Germanic adventurers was recorded in the place names around him and, inspired one day, he decided to weave his own stories into this history. You can read and discover more information at his blog and the author may be found at Facebook.

Rob Bayliss is a reviewer at The Review and is currently writing his own fantasy series. Information on his writing projects can be found at Flint & Steel, Fire & Shadow.

Wednesday, 20 May 2015

Rob Reveals His Choice for Book of the Month

The Review's Book of the Month for May goes to...

When I was asked to pick my Book of the Month I have to admit I was somewhat stumped. True I’ve read lots of brilliant books, many meeting the indie criteria, since I’ve been a contributor to The Review. I had a few books in mind but I wanted to feature something different, something not yet on our blog-page’s bookshelves. The following points are what I look for when choosing a Book of the Month:

To be well written and have an interesting style
Good characterisation
Good plot development
A good degree of research and authenticity
Emotional empathy - to feel involved in the book

Funnily enough it was while going through the preview process that I found what I was looking for. I read the sample and approved it, secretly hoping that I could review it myself (which I later did!). I instantly liked the author’s style and prose and looked at other titles he had written. And it was there that I saw a title and read the blurb and wondered if I had stumbled upon the book that I wanted. I quickly purchased it and put it on my Kindle. Well I’m happy to say that yes it was.

Let me first take you back 40 years to 1975. I was eight years old and at primary school. I used to read and collect Asterix books and absolutely loved them, although I was a little young to fully appreciate the witty puns of the English translation. I loved the art and the stories and it featured Romans and Gauls, so I always had an interest in the ancient. Then our school started a book club whereby you could order books to read. I remember buying a book on ghosts, a book of Maildun the Voyager and another that had a profound effect on me. That book was Dragon Slayer by none other than Rosemary Sutcliff, which still has pride of place on my bookshelf. I admit I was first drawn to the striking cover by Charles Keeping. But reading the book was like coming home because, you see,

it was the story of Beowulf. And so I learned about Geats, King Hrothgar, Heorot the Hart and of course Grendel.

I then learned that it was based upon an old poem, one of the few surviving pre-conquest tales of our forebears. I urge everyone to read some of the wonderful translations and have a go reading the original. You can see root words in the Old English, familiar yet strange, yet spoken aloud they stir your blood and touch your soul. Hear them and imagine being gathered in a hall, the winter wind howling outside, the fire casting monstrous shadows that writhe on the walls, while the skald tells his tale for his meal, each telling no doubt a little different to suit his audience. A tale of heroes, monsters and blood. Children cling to their parents while the adults smile reassuringly and yet look furtively at the door; was it strongly barred?

My reading later went on to avidly consume the books of Tolkien and other authors of fantasy, but that isn't surprising as the seam of Beowulf runs through it; Tolkien was of course a professor of Anglo-Saxon. And in Beowulf, with Grendel the troll, we have a template for future works of fantasy.

So it will therefore come as no surprise that my choice for Book of the Month would feature a certain Beowulf Ecgtheowson, the first of a trilogy in fact. 

Beowulf the poem was never meant to be read, it would have been performed by an animated story teller and this book reflects that vibrancy. The author's style effortlessly draws you in and we see the character of  Beowulf develop from childhood and through adolescence. We know where this tale will take us and yet we become privileged to see how he came to be a leader of men on his own right and join him on his journey. The world which he inhabits is skillfully brought to life, the peoples and landscapes eloquently described.

There is humour, treachery, honour, murder and war, yet these are heroic times and the old gods walk among their followers. And that is where this book takes the reader beyond what would be loosely described as historical fiction, for in this book, with Beowulf as your guide, you will actually meet Woden. But reader, I beseech you, have a care, the All Father's favour can easily be withdrawn; this you will understand.

It is my absolute pleasure to announce my Book of the Month is Sorrow Hill: Sword of Woden Volume I  by C.R. May.

Don’t wander too far from the hall: the-death-that-stalks-by-night lurks in the shadows and you wouldn't want to miss the review, would you?


C.R. May was born in Bow, East London before his family moved to South Ockendon, Essex. After hearing that Ockendon translated as Wocca's Hill in Saxon, a lifelong passion in history was kindled, which has taken him from Berlin to the site of the battle of Little Big Horn (via Erik the Red's Icelandic hall!). The influx of Germanic adventurers was recorded in the place names around him and, inspired one day, he decided to weave his own stories into this history. You can read and discover more information at his blog and the author may be found at Facebook


Rob Bayliss is a reviewer at The Review and is currently writing his own fantasy series. Information on his writing projects can be found at Flint & Steel, Fire & Shadow.

Friday, 15 May 2015

Emma Reviews: Green

Green by Kristin Anderson
Review by Emma Powell

See below to find how you can win a FREE copy of Green

This tale of boy meets girl most definitely adds a fresh and thoroughly modern stance on the romance genre. I always pondered if there would be any struggles to write a contemporary romance mainly due to having the ability to keep readers held, keep them turning the pages, despite using a genre that’s been around for aeons. I’m pleased to report this book does both.

The book starts with the female lead, Ellie, embarking on the rocky path of online dating - and failing.  It is written with my favourite take on life - humour. It is also laying the foundations of the kind of character Ellie is: genuine and honest but more than capable of looking after herself. Her character is set in a successful lifestyle but that of someone who has fought her way from a poor childhood so her tough but sensitive personality flows well within the story. It’s a good start for a fab read - fresh, funny and believable.

The male lead, Jake, is attractive due to his understanding of the environment and those around him.  He is someone whose beliefs are so strong, he is actually making a difference - working to make the world a better place. Any physical descriptions aren't til much later on and the author cleverly uses the man he is, as opposed to what he looks like, to make him likable and interesting.

It is pleasing to read that despite their initial meeting, Jake and Ellie do not fall into each other’s arms.  When they do, it is not plain sailing and at one point, the reader is actually wondering if they are going to end up as a couple. Ellie is happy to make some changes to her carbon footprint but is way too independent to completely change for another person. Clashes ensue but the reader can sympathise with Ellie because she is trying hard. Jake is understanding but stands by his principles which the reader cannot argue with: his need to make a difference, including helping underprivileged kids.  However, don’t think he’s a saint, far from it.

Whilst not a nasty character, Jake can be stubborn in his beliefs to the detriment of those around him. I got a whiff of ignorance on occasion, not in a deliberate way but sometimes he needs to exercise some empathy with Ellie! When he realises this, the reader can’t help but find him so likeable. This all makes him a very interesting character and adds depth to the story, including his realisation he has to make changes, too.

The author has cleverly taken two strong, independent characters, seemingly happy in their way of life.  Meeting each other makes them question their own ways of living, what they have, what they want.  It’s a story that takes the reader down a road of modern adventure and discovery with both characters needing to change. The story unfolds showing changes a person makes to be with another whilst maintaining their own identity - not easy to do and definitely not easy to write, no matter the genre.  Setting this story against the backdrop of very real environmental concerns is what appealed to me - as I’m sure it will others - and what makes the story genuine, thoughtful and empathic. The author obviously has first-hand knowledge of these concerns and this flows from the words on the page. Along with a good supportive cast of supporting characters that do not get in the way of Jake and Ellie, Green is a solid and enjoyable read.

It also makes you realise you can make changes for the better without losing sight of who you are. And sometimes we need to think of others, our environment and leaving a better place for future generations.

Green really is of the romantic genre but one that tells a real story, with real concerns, struggles and rewards. Appropriately paced, the twists and turns flow well and makes sure environmental concerns play a pivotal role; the whole book has a well-earned place in contemporary fiction.

The author has so kindly offered a FREE COPY of Green for one lucky winner. To enter our drawing, simply comment below OR at this review's Facebook thread, located here.


Kristin Anderson has a professional background that makes her more than qualified to write on Green's subject matter. To find out more, see her website or connect with her on Facebook, Twitter and Goodreads.

Of her writing process with Green, Anderson says…

I picked up a manuscript I had started in 2010 and started breathing new life into it. After revising my first draft, I sent it off to a half-dozen friends in California, New York and the Netherlands. Two drafts and two years later, I have transformed my novel into an engaging reading experience I am proud to share with the world. Green, which was released in November of 2013, is available on Amazon and Amazon UK


Emma Powell has been reviewing for us since The Review started. She has now joined the admins team and you can find more of Emma's scribblings on her blog here.

Thursday, 14 May 2015

Review by Karen Andreas: The White Rajah

The White Rajah by Tom Williams

Please note that the giveaway is no longer valid!

Journey into the Heart of Sarawak

A chance encounter with the well-born British adventurer James Brooke in an English tavern changes the life of John Williamson forever. Beginning in the 1830s, this lad from humble beginnings falls in with James and his friends and heads to the other side of the world to adventures unimagined.

John is the story teller here, and his is an authentic voice, reflecting the attitudes and values of his time.  He is well aware of the social gap between him and his hero, James, which makes James’ egalitarian views more profound. Through John’s eyes, James grows from an idealist to a pragmatic ruler as his ambitions for his new country evolve.  

After initial failure, James succeeds in his next attempt to establish a trading foothold in Borneo. He finds himself in the middle of an insurgent movement to overthrow the sultan. It is there that he shines, and James is instrumental in the sultan regaining his throne. As a result, James is appointed the rajah of Sarawak, a small country populated by its native tribes, Malays and the Chinese who have created a trading base.      

This book works on so many levels. It is first and foremost an intimate look on how a white man came to Borneo and painstakingly created a place for himself – and for his new people – in the world. It’s not blood and guts glory, overrunning a country and forcing the white man’s will. James must manage the diverse cultures in Sarawak, establish sound finances for the country and create a portal for the trade of Sarawak’s most valuable commodity, antimony, while protecting the people from exploitation. Interwoven with all these goals are strong personalities and peril. There is military genius at work, of course, but also patience and pride.  

Even more interesting is the piracy that is such a part of Sarawak’s culture. This piracy occurs mainly in the interior of the country – and an entire economy is dependent on destruction and theft. James must root out the pirate tribes to protect the growing trade and financial interests in Sarawak. Apparent success blinds him to the dangers lurking in the jungle, and in a sudden and shocking moment, James faces losing all he has built for his people, for himself and John.

Through it all, John watches with admiration and love as James succeeds and moves forward – and away. Small moments portend great changes – even victories have unintended consequences. A casual kiss leads to an eventual relationship between the hero worshiper and hero. James’ humanity and care for his subjects belies an ambition unleashed at the moment of an execution that opens the door to rule.  The aftermath of the shocking revolt throws up walls that separate more than the outside from the inside.

These are, of course, men of their times, and so lovers’ passion never rules in this story. Military, political and financial pragmatism are the tools James uses to build his country and a successful, beloved dynasty that lasts into the twentieth century. James’ ability to attract talented men is crucial – as is his ability to know when to cut loose these same men. The struggles faced by James and John to navigate life and death, success and failure which often march side by side, are compelling.  

What an odd and interesting story about a part of the world most do not know. An English adventurer brings Sarawak into the stream of civilization, and, in the end, becomes the beloved White Rajah.

For your chance to win a FREE COPY of The White Rajah, simply comment below OR at this review's Facebook thread, located here.

We will draw a random winner from comments. 

About the Author (in his own words…) 

I live in Richmond, which is nice and on the outskirts of London, which is a truly amazing city to live in. My wife is beautiful but, more importantly, she's a lawyer, which is handy because a household with a writer in it always needs someone who can earn decent money. 

I street skate and ski and can dance a mean Argentine tango. I've spent a lot of my life writing very boring things for money (unless you're in customer care, in which case 'Dealing With Customer Complaints' is really, really interesting). Now I'm writing for fun. OK, The White Rajah isn't exactly a bundle of laughs but it has pirates and battles and an evil villain and it's a lot more fun than a review of the impact of legal advice on debt management. 

Readers can learn more about Tom Williams and his books at his blog as well as his Amazon and Amazon UK author pages. He can also be found at Twitter and Facebook


Karen Andreas lives in Florida with three cats, one horse, oh, and her husband Michael. She is the former editor and now contributing writer to the Florida Council of Bromeliad Societies; together Karen and Michael serve as webmasters

Monday, 11 May 2015

Richard Reviews: Burke and the Bedouin

Today we have a fabulous review from Richard's Reading Room, so
get yourself some coffee and cake and enjoy!

***Please not that the giveaway is no longer valid.***

As Tom Williams explains in his author's notes, James Burke is a real figure from the Napoleonic Wars. This episode from his life, however, is fictional. I like this kind of exploration of possibilities, proposing some hidden reasons behind a historical event. In this case, the event is Nelson's Battle of the Nile, and the unanswered background questions are why the French fleet remained at anchor for so long in Abu Qir Bay, and how Nelson managed to find them there.

Battle of the Nile

We follow Burke and his subordinate William Brown on a series of journeys in lower Egypt between Alexandria and Cairo, through the Nile Delta and the desert lands beside it. Burke's initial task is to spy out French intentions towards Egypt, but this simple mission is rapidly overtaken by the stark reality of an invasion. The military need then switches to the urgency of passing information back to Burke's superiors and the Royal Navy, at the same time seeking to delay and frustrate the French. The climax of the book is the naval battle in the bay, as witnessed from two quite different points of view. It also highlights another theme of the book: warfare is transitioning from the heroics of individuals to the dominance of organised firepower.

The vast majority of the book follows Burke himself, with a smaller section helping us appreciate Brown's travails on a detached mission. The story is told in a laconic style, broadly following the report that Burke might make to his superiors, but including rather more personal detail than they would care about. This style gives the impression of a personal diary, and also conveys something of Burke's personality. For example, we follow the personal struggles of an early 19th century soldier trying to overcome his sense of proper dress in order to blend in to the crowds.

“If the French are looking for a European, wouldn’t it make more sense for you to dress as an Arab?”
Burke had shed his tailcoat in preparation for his journey and was, once again, wearing the wrapping gown which had become his usual attire whilst riding in the desert.
"How much more ridiculous would you have me look?"
Bin Alim glanced pointedly at Burke's breeches and boots, clearly visible below the gown.
"How much more ridiculous could you look?"

As a possible explanation for the French commander's actions before the battle, the tale works well. Burke's relationships with the Bedouin - and to a lesser extent other groups inhabiting Egypt at the time - are credible and sympathetically presented. Perhaps the most compelling part is the battle, in which our protagonists are simply bystanders. The confusion and sheer dogged effort of the crews concerned comes over vividly.

William felt he could hardly breathe for the smoke that filled the gun deck...Around him, gunners were peering out of the ports, while the rest of the crew squinted to see over the gunners' shoulders or gathered where the broken planks of the hull allowed a view of the world outside.

Burke and Brown are the only two characters who are explored to any real depth, but there is a good supporting cast of minor players of several cultures for them to interact with. The focus is definitely on achieving the military goals, rather than exploring the country or its inhabitants for their own sake. Love interest is provided by a Spanish beauty, Bernadita, rescued from a life of slavery and abuse in Cairo. She is, apparently, only too eager to leap into Burke's bed, but does also provide local information and advice at key moments. She is conveniently dumped in Gibraltar in the closing chapter to make her own way home to her family in Grenada.

This is an entertaining light read, set in a corner of the Napoleonic Wars which is often neglected.

For a chance to win a copy of Burke and the Bedouin leave a comment below OR on our Facebook page, located here.

About the Author

Tom Williams used to write books for business, covering everything from the gambling industry to new developments in printing technology. Now he writes about love and adventure in the 19th century, which is not nearly as well paid, but much more fun. It also allows him to pretend that travelling in the Far East and South America is research. Tom lives in London. His main interest is avoiding doing any honest work and this leaves him with time to ski, skate and dance tango, all of which he does quite well.

Readers can learn more about Tom Williams and his books at his blog and his Amazon author page. He can also be found at TwitterFacebook and his Amazon UK author page.


Richard Abbott is the author of In a Milk and Honeyed Land and Scenes From a Life. He can be found at his website or blog, on Google+Goodreads, Facebook and Twitter.

Note: This post has been updated to include additional author links.