Friday, 30 October 2015

Kristie Reviews, Fava by John Hazen

Please note that the author has gifted a copy of Fava for a lucky winner. Just leave a comment at the bottom of the blog or on our Facebook page here.
The winner will be drawn 6th November

In today’s high-stress world, it is refreshing to come across a book that both keeps your attention and entertains you. As I read Fava by John Hazen, I was impressed by the fast-paced enthralling story that the author wove. From the first page the reader is drawn into the world of high-stakes journalism and connects with the main character, Francine Vega. In addition, the premise of the story is intriguing. We live in a world that is constantly threatened by extremist violence through terrorism.       This novel offers a fresh look on the crisis confronting the world today. Vega, a beat reporter, is trying to find the big break that will propel her on to the national scene. Backed by a devoted boss and a protective cameraman, she comes across a seemingly innocuous story of a lottery winner. Determined to scoop the other reporters, she manages to ascertain who won the lottery and interview him before anyone else. What she learns seems unbelievable at first. As she digs deeper, she becomes concerned. However inconceivable she believes his story to be, she takes at it face-value and reports it to a government official. What transpires next will send her on a multi-continental quest to find the truth and save the world from radical extremists in three countries. While on the run, she is pursued by officials from several countries and has trouble deciding who to trust.

   The author adroitly weaves the back-drop of Vega’s past into the storyline. We come to know the human behind the crusader through the story of Vega’s past. The strength of her character becomes evident and makes her more than a one-dimensional do-gooder. While he develops her backstory, the author also explores her flaws. Although I do not want to give the story away, the author shows how easy it is to get swept away by emotions.
   The plot is tight, leaving the reader on the edge of his/her seat throughout the entire book. Through the novel, Vega depends not only on her wits, but also on the goodwill of others. This allows the author to explore both sides of human nature – the negative as well as the positive. The main characters are well-developed, making the reader care about their fates. As I read the novel, I was able to identify with the characters’ range of emotions. The level of government corruption is believable as well, given today’s headlines.
   The author’s use of first person point-of-view allows readers to get inside the protagonist’s mind and understand why she makes the choices she does.  With a third-person perspective some of the immediacy would have been lost. His descriptive voice adds colour to the narrative. For example, when Francine meets a source for her story, readers are given a vivid description of the man:
 ‘An overweight fifty-plus year old bureaucrat with a graying comb-over looked up from his computer screen. Mr. Epstein straightened up in his chair, sucked in his gut, tucked in his shirttail, smoothed back his unkempt hair and took off his wire framed glasses.’
   Not only does this description allow a reader to immediately picture the man (he sounds like someone I’ve met before), but it also shows how beautiful Francine is without the author having to tell us. Readers of Fava are in for a suspense-laden, roller-coaster thrill ride. The novel offers a fascinating and intriguing look at the complex political arena. If you enjoy suspense thrillers, this book may be for you

About the Author
John Hazen 

Fava can be purchased from and
John began writing novels relatively late in life, but once he started he hasn’t looked back. Inspired by Lynn, his wife of over thirty years, he pursued the dream of becoming an author and is now working on his fifth book.  Degrees from Rutgers, The New School and NYU— and a lifelong passion for learning and a love of history—influence him as a writer.
John can be found on Twitter
and you can read more about him at his Website

Kristie Dean is the author of several books. Her latest book, published by Amberley Publishing, is The World of Richard III. This nonfiction book leads readers on a journey through the landscape of Richard's time. Following Richard's trail, the reader will visit the castles, cathedrals, manor homes and chapels associated with Richard, examining both Richard’s history with the location as well as the location’s history. She is currently working on her next project for Amberley, The World of the Yorks, due out in 2016. Kristie can be found on Amazon Facebook Twitter and on her Website.

Thursday, 29 October 2015

Louise Reviews The Last Campaign of Marianne Tambour: A Novel of Waterloo

Please not that the author is gifting a signed paperback and an ebook for two lucky winners.
See below for details.
The winners will be drawn on Thursday the 5th November

From David Ebsworth's amazon page

On the bloody fields of Waterloo, a battle-weary canteen mistress of Bonaparte's Imperial Guard battalions must fight to free her daughter from all the perils that war will hurl against them - before this last campaign can kill them both.

This book, an immense story of war, and the lives of those who live through it, deserves an accolade for astounding depth of detail, not only in the descriptions of the characters, but also in their actions. A cinematic, full colour, masterpiece. A powerfully packed novel of the history of one of the most iconic battles, that of Waterloo, told from the female perspective. Ebsworth has characters driven by their personalities, and their battle for survival. The personalities, and their struggles are such, that the characters become three dimensional, and the struggles becoming personal to the reader. We have Marianne Tambour, who is a cantiniere; Liberté Dumont, who is a female Dragoon, and informer to the police minister, Joseph Fouché.

I first have to mention the book cover for Marianne Tambour. The detail, the story beckoning, the tale of a well-known war, with the unknown personal lives that lived within that war. This is, indeed, a cover of some note.

I have read that we view a cover in a clockwise fashion. This being the case, then, I shall start with the image of the woman, top right. Is this Marianne Tambour? Then there is the title of the book, slashing the cover in half, written in blue and red, resembling a signature, perhaps; confirming the protagonist, in colours imitating the tricolour above. Below this we have three soldiers, one of whom is most definitely Napoleon. The horses look worn down, mirroring the men mounted upon them, demonstrating the bone-weariness of war. The bodies beneath the horses' hooves, strewn like discarded chaff. Then there is the author's name, supporting the entire scene, in a capitalised font; bold, underlining the image above. We then swing our vision around and back to the top of the cover, and there is the tricolour. Is it being held by Marianne Tambour? Or is it the arm of a soldier? Only reading the story within will inform.

David Ebsworth's story of intrigue within the well-known story subject of the battle of Waterloo, is inspired. It is written as a journal, of sorts, each chapter being pinned to a day, a date, and a time. A countdown, if you will.

Chapter One 
Wednesday 14th June 1815, 2.00pm 
The boning knife flashed from the left, flensed the lower buttons from Marianne's coat in the instant she jumped back, a reflex from the strange gift of premonition - or perhaps it was a curse - that she possessed.

These opening lines, of what is Marianne Tambour's last campaign, are so powerful as to warn the reader of what is to come. Mayhem, death, and a struggle for survival.

When I first started to read Ebsworth's novel, I was hooked immediately by those first opening lines. First of all, they intrigued me. A boning knife, a knife that has a particular function; that of taking flesh from bone. The image is harrowing in its starkness. Its blade is narrow, with a long point, perfect for the task. The knife, 'flensed the lower buttons from Marianne's coat', flense, an interesting verb to use, as this is the particular action of stripping blubber or skin from whales, another very particular function. For me, that would imply the stripping of Marianne's flesh from her bones in a most brutal fashion. Imagine how close that knife came as it took the lower buttons from Marianne's coat. A hair's breadth closer, and Marianne's story would be over. It is detailed description like this; that encompasses the reader, the narrative being absorbed by osmosis, tantalising, and beckoning the reader.

Whether you are on the French side, or the English side, it matters not. Ebsworth's narrative is being told not only from the female perspective, which in itself, is refreshing, but it is also being told from the French point of view. Very often, when reading about Waterloo, we are treated to the English view of the event. For me, it was like snooping behind enemy lines, if you will, overhearing, and being alarmed at the terrible events.

Marianne has a tenacity which helps her to stay alive after her husband's death. She not only has herself to look after, but also her child, Poppy. Here Ebsworth impacts the feeling of survival, a child, after all, is a precious thing, the future of a population. War is a destructor of populations, and so we are ensconced in two battles, the one of Waterloo, and the survival of Marianne, and her child.

There is much brutality in this story of war, if you could, you would look away, but the draw is to watch, to flinch, to be torqued into a curl of anxiety, followed by relief. We are manipulated by Ebsworth's text, he leads, and we follow.

This is from Chapter Eighteen: 
'Fouché tells me you're something of a sword-sharpe,' he said. More lather, she thought. That's good. She slipped her fingers inside the knuckle guard, wrapped them around the wired leather in a tug-of-war over some disputed garment. The Lieutenant's eye was drawn inevitably to them and it was the only chance that Liberté needed. 

This is a most compelling fight scene, told entirely from the female perspective. The sword-fight between Lieutenant Henry and Liberté, is written in such a way that the draught from the swords is palpable, as they sweep past. They were fighting with sabres,

These were hardly duelling blades, after all. There was no subtle slash and parry for a Dragoon, the heavy sabre either wielded straight as a lance, or hacking like a bludgeon. A butcher's clever, she always thought, this backsword, as opposed to the light cavalry sabre's flensing knife.

The sword fight is described cinematically. Detail after detail laid before the reader, jamming the brain with the same rush of adrenaline as the characters must be experiencing. I was left breathless after reading the sabre duel. I know nothing of fencing, per se, other than it is an art. So the description, so rich in its detail, left me in no doubt as to the stamina and the art, needed by the combatants.

If you like to read books about the battle of Waterloo, and you are au fait with the history, then this book is one for you. If you have no notion of the battle, then this book is also one for you. Ebsworth's fine art of creating a world, one which is both believable, and all encompassing, is a unique talent. His use of prose is superlative. Marianne Tambour, is a tour de force.

To win a copy please leave a comment below or on our Facebook page

From David Ebsworth's amazon author page:

David Ebsworth - aka - Dave McCall

David Ebsworth is the pen name of writer, Dave McCall, a former negotiator for Britain's Transport & General Workers' Unioin. Dave was born in Liverpool (UK) but has lived for the past thirty years in Wrexham, North Wales, with his wife, Ann. Since their retirement in 2008, the couple have spent about six months of each year in southern Spain. Dave began to write seriously in the following year, 2009. He has recently published his fourth work of historical fiction. The Last Campaign of Marianne Tamboiur: A Novel of Waterloo. His previous books have been about: the Jacobite Rebellion of 1745; the Spanish Civil War in 1938; and the Anglo-Zulu War of 1879. Dave's main passions are his family, history, travel, Spanish food, swimming and sailing. He is a member of the Historical Novel Society and the Alliance of Independent Authors.

David Ebsworth is author of many books, which can be found on amazon
You can also find him on Facebook
And on his website

Louise Rule is author of Future Confronted, a biographical account of her family's struggle to come to terms with a much loved son's terminal diagnosis and is currently writing her first historical novel, The Touching of Stones set to the background of the Scottish Wars of Independence. 

Sunday, 25 October 2015

Commemorating Agincourt 600 years - The Battle - by Rob Bayliss

We few, we happy few, we band of brothers;
For he to-day that sheds his blood with me
Shall be my brother; be he ne’er so vile,
This day shall gentle his condition;
And gentlemen in England now-a-bed
Shall think themselves accurs’d they were not here,
And hold their manhoods cheap whiles any speaks
That fought with us upon Saint Crispin’s day.
Henry V – William Shakespeare

In  13th August 1415 Henry V, with 12,000 men, landed in France to further his claim to the French crown and lands through his Great Grandfather, Edward III. His claim to the throne of France was a tenuous casus belli for Henry, but in truth the Hundred Years War had always been about territory.
The Norman Conquest of England had created the strange situation that a supposed subject of the French Throne (Duke of Normandy) now had lands and military power equal or exceeding that of his liege lord. Subsequently the French Crown had long endeavoured to conquer French lands ruled by the English monarchy such as Aquitaine, Normandy, Brittany and Flanders.  By 1415 only Aquitaine and Calais remained under English rule but France itself was riven by civil war between Charles VI and John the Fearless, Duke of Burgundy. Seeing a chance to rebuild the Angevin Empire Henry V resumed the Hundred Years War.
   The siege of the port Harfleur lasted until 22nd September and took its toll on Henry’s forces as disease thinned his ranks, but he waited for the Dauphin - the heir apparent to the French Crown, to respond. By October the campaigning season was coming to an end and a costly expedition had only yielded one town. The French had so far failed to challenge Henry militarily. Therefore, in order to ensure his claim to Normandy and Flanders more substantial than merely historical, he chose to march to Calais, rather than retire directly overseas to England for the winter.

   Biding their time the Dauphin had gathered an army around Rouen. They shadowed the English, blockading crossings of the river Somme and forcing Henry south to find a ford.  Finding a crossing at Peronne he resumed his march northwards. The French followed but without the protection of the river hesitated to give battle. Yet all the time the French were growing stronger as reinforcements arrived. In contrast, after a 16 day march of 260 miles, the English were in a pitiful state; wracked by disease and short of supplies. On 24th October both armies faced each other across a narrow strip of freshly ploughed open ground between the woods of Agincourt and Tramecourt.  The English were at the south while the French positioned themselves at the north, barring the road to Calais. Throughout the night it rained. Cold, wet and hungry the English settled as best they could, for what many considered would be their last night on earth.
On 25th Henry, fearing further French reinforcements, arrayed his forces for battle. He positioned his English and Welsh longbowmen on his flanks behind sharpened stakes, angled so as to create an enfilade killing ground. In the centre he placed his heavily armoured men at arms, in three battles, behind more archers. The French clearly outnumbered the English force. We only have estimates but the English now ranged from 6-9000, 5/6ths being commoner archers, the rest being heavy infantry. The French had anything 12-36,000, some 10,000 being men-at-arms, with 1200 mounted knights. The rest would be other infantry consisting of crossbowmen and archers.
Despite this clear numerical advantage the French sat awaiting further reinforcements. Perhaps  they expected the English to retreat at the sight of so many enemies? If defeated the English men at arms could expect to be captured and ransomed, whereas the archers would be killed outright. Henry knew his men were in a poor state, with hunger beginning to afflict them; he therefore took a gamble and advanced closer to the French. If the French had attacked at this point before the English had reset their anti-cavalry stakes the result would have been a slaughter, but for some reason no action was taken. Impatient for battle, with the French at 300 yards, Henry’s longbowmen released a volley. The air turned dark with arrows, that made a sound like rushing water. The sheer numbers of arrows meant that some were bound to find exposed areas of flesh amid the opposing ranks. Incensed and stung into action, instead of answering with their own archers and crossbowmen, the French cavalry charged.

   The charge was a disorganised disaster; many were still feeding or watering their mounts. The cavalry were unable to outflank the archers, protected as they were by the woods behind them and the forest of spikes in front of them. Instead they were funnelled into the killing ground where arrows pierced the horses’ unprotected flanks. Those horses that completed the nightmare journey found themselves impaled on the fence of sharpened stakes. Soon all was a chaos of maddened horses and thrashing limbs. Expecting to mop up after the shock of the cavalry charge 5000 French men-at-arms began their advance, only to face retreating horsemen and stampeding arrow maddened horses. In full plate armour they faced an energy sapping 300 yard slog through the now hoof-churned mud and the shambles of fallen comrades. All the time a deadly storm of arrows rained on them. They had to bend their heads down to protect the eye slits in their visors and yet they made it to the English line and by weight of numbers managed to push the English men-at-arms back.

  Their arrows spent and needing to retrieve usable ammunition, the longbowmen took up swords, hatchets and mallets and attacked from the flanks. The French men-at -arms were exhausted and were butchered by the manoeuvrable light infantry. Many were knocked over, too exhausted to defend themselves or rise again. It is very possible that many suffocated in the shambles of mud and bodies. The French second line advanced but merely disappeared in the crush making it increasingly impossible for those at the front to fight or manoeuvre. For three hours the slaughter continued; men were killed or captured in their thousands. It was said that great heaps of dead began to mount up in front of the three English battle standards, both French lines utterly defeated. Thousands of French nobles were disarmed it was said they actually outnumbered their captors.

   Looking up from the slaughter the tired English army saw the French still gathered at the north with reinforcements still arriving, they seemed to be forming up for another attack. These reserves still outnumbered Henry’s forces and were fresh. Screams were heard behind them as French forces had rounded their position to attack Henry’s baggage train. Despite all their valiant efforts, defeat was still a real possibility for the English; those taken prisoner could easily snatch an abandoned weapon and join in the fray. Not prepared to accept such an outcome Henry ruthlessly ordered the prisoners to be killed.
  Such an act of terror is still controversial, many of Henry’s knights refused to embark on such an unchivalrous act and most of the archers had returned to their defensive positions seeing the French to the north preparing to advance. Those killed at this time would have probably gone into the hundreds, but it had the desired effect. The French reserve saw the captured nobles being slaughtered and, deciding that the battle was truly lost, fled the field.

  Seldom are victories so crushing and decisive, the ratios of those killed is astonishing. Some sources list 4-11,000 French dead to 1600 English and Welsh, others 7-10,000 to little over 100. It was a classic battle using the longbow and is rightly remembered as the epitome of English tactics of the period, perhaps more so than the similarly fought battles of Crecy and Poitiers. It also shows that overwhelming numbers do not necessarily ensure victory. The French allowed Henry to manipulate them into attacking him recklessly over terrain that suited a defensive posture. Thanks to Shakespeare of course the battle has entered the national psyche, a symbol of backs to the wall defiance; how stirring words can bolster fear-filled hearts.

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, 24 October 2015

Commemorating Agincourt: The Hundred Years War and The Road to Agincourt
by Sharon Bennett Connolly

The Battle of Agincourt
This Sunday, 25th of October 2015, marks the 600th anniversary of the Battle of Agincourt. One of the greatest battles in English history, it epitomises the pinnacle of English successes against their traditional enemy, France, during the epic struggle of the Hundred Years War. But what started it all?

The origins of the Hundred Years War go back 200 years before its outbreak, to Henry II. His marriage to Eleanor of Aquitaine meant he was not only Duke of Normandy in the north of France, but Duke of Aquitaine in the south. And his accession to the English throne in 1154 brought all these French possessions to the crown of England. This made for the awkward position that the sovereign of England was technically a vassal of the King of France, causing no end of squabbles and friction for years to come.

Wars broke out frequently and the French gradually ate away at England's French possessions.

It all came to a head with a crisis in the French monarchy. When Philip IV, the Fair, of France, died in 1314, he was successively succeeded by each of his 3 sons; Louis X, Philip V and Charles IV. Only one of these kings produced a son, King John the Posthumous was born 5 months after the death of Louis X, his father, and lived - and ruled - for only 5 days. Following the death of the baby king Philip V seized the crown, effectively disinheriting Louis X's daughter, Jeanne.

Although Salic Law was known in France, it generally related to property and had never actually been used to decide the succession to the crown. However, Philip V made certain that it would be from now on, by having the Estates General declare that women were not eligible to succeed to the throne of France.

Unfortunately for the French royal family, both Philip V and his successor, his brother, Charles IV, only had daughters. Charles IV died in 1328, leaving his wife, Jeanne d'Evreux, pregnant; a regency council was set up to rule the country, until the child's birth. However, Jeanne gave birth to a daughter, Blanche, and France had to find a new king.

Edward III King of England

One candidate was Edward III of England. Edward was the oldest grandson of Philip IV through his daughter Isabella of France, Queen of Edward II of England. However, Edward III was only 15 years old and England - and Edward - were controlled by Edward's mother, Isabella of France, and her lover, Roger Mortimer, who had deposed and possibly murdered Edward's father, Edward II. Edward's claim came through his mother - and he was English.

The assembly of French notables, convened to decide who should be king, declared: "It had never been seen or known that the kingdom of France should be subject to the government of the King of England."

As a result, they chose another as their king; the nephew of Philip IV, Philip of Valois, Count of Anjou and Maine. Philip was in his thirties, with a 9-year-old son, and had been Regent during Jeanne's pregnancy.

Edward III initially agreed to pay homage to Philip VI, who was crowned in 1329, for his French possessions. However, he was still a minor and under the tutelage of his mother and Mortimer. When Edward took control of his kingdom, in 1330, he had a change of heart. Irked by Philip's support for the Scots, and encouraged by local conflicts in Guyenne, Edward questioned the validity of his oath to Philip, made while he was still a minor. And in 1337 Edward III declared war.

Battle of Crecy, 1346
Initial English successes devastated France: the  French fleet was destroyed at Sluys in 1340, and Edward III ravaged the French countryside, in a great chevauchee. In an attempt to bring the French to battle Edward's 'scorched-earth' policy saw towns besieged, convents and monasteries ransacked and the people displaced. The French were eventually brought to battle at Crecy in 1346, where their cavalry was destroyed. The fall of Calais followed in 1347

In 1356, at the Battle of Poitiers, the English, under the Black Prince (Edward, Prince of Wales) captured France's king, John II the Good. John was sent to England - where he died in 1364, still awaiting the payment of his vast ransom.

The 1360 Treaty of Bretigny was the crowning success of England's war, with Edward III taking possession of almost a third of France.

Although technically at peace, the two countries kept picking at each other - each supporting opposing factions in places of mutual interest, such as Brittany. In then end, with the failing health of the Black Prince, and and aging Edward III, a resurgent France emerged under Charles V; which saw English possessions reduced to a few ports and their environs by 1380.

After 1389 truces between France and England were almost continuous. Richard II married Isabella of Valois, daughter of Charles VI, in 1396, as part of a 28 year truce.

Charles VI had suffered from madness since 1392 and France had started to implode. The king was surrounded by bad councillors and factions, such as the Armagnacs and Burgundians, had riven the country apart with their in-fighting. Many parts of France were ruled almost totally independent of central government.

However, with the turn of the century, the English had problems of their own and were unable to take advantage of France's woes. Richard II was imprisoned and, later, murdered by the usurping Henry IV, who spent his reign preoccupied by troubles and rebellions in England.
Henry V

Henry IV and his son, the future Henry V were divided as to which French factions they should support; Henry IV preferred the Armagnacs, while the Prince of Wales supported the Burgundians.

With the death of Henry IV, and the accession of Henry V, English ambitions turned to France yet again. Almost immediately, Henry laid claim to his inheritance in France. he made a pretense of negotiating for peace, while preparing for war. He would accept nothing less than the total reinstatement of the Plantagenet possessions in France.

There is an, almost certainly, apocryphal story  of Henry V taking up arms against the French after they jokingly sent him a set of tennis balls, suggesting that he stick to such 'childish' occupations, for which he had established a reputation during his father's reign.

Henry saw war with France as a way of diverting the interests of the great nobles away from internal conflicts, thus restoring and maintaining order at home. With peace negotiations faltering, and having dealt with several plots to displace him from his throne - the last of which, the Southampton Plot was foiled in the first week of August 1415 - Henry V and his army  arrived in Normandy on 13th August 1415 and laid siege to Harfleur.

Harfleur held until 23rd September, by which time Henry's army of about 10,000 was greatly depleted by dysentery. He was making for Calais - and England - when, on 25th October, he came face-to-face with the French.

At Agincourt.
Sir John Gilbert's "Morning of the Battle of Agincourt, 25th October 1415"

Pictures courtesy of Wikipedia 

Bibliography: The Perfect King, the Life of Edward III by Ian Mortimer; The Life and Time of Edward III by Paul Johnson; The Reign of Edward III  by WM Ormrod; The Mammoth Book of British kings & Queens by Mike Ashley; Britain’s’ Royal Families, the Complete Genealogy by Alison Weir; Brewer’s British Royalty by David Williamson; The Plantagenets, the Kings Who Made Britain by Dan Jones;; The Oxford Companion to British History edited by John Cannon; Chronicles of the Age of Chivalry Edited by Elizabeth Hallam; Agincourt, My Family, the Battle and the Fight for France by Ranulph Fiennes; The Course of French History by pierrre Goubert; The History Today Companion to British History Edited by Juliet Gardiner & Neil Wenborn; The Plantagenets by Derek Wilson.

Sharon Bennett Connolly has been fascinated by history for over 30 years. She has studied history academically and just for the joy of it – even working as a tour guide at historical sites. She is now having great fun passing on that love of the past to her 10-year-old son. Having received a blog,  History...The Interesting Bits as a present for Christmas 2014 she is also enjoying sharing her obsession of history with her readers.

Friday, 23 October 2015

Commemorating Agincourt: The History of the Bow, contributed by Richard Abbott

The historical period I know most about is the ancient world, so the Battle of Agincourt is rather over two thousand years in my characters' future. Nevertheless, there are some interesting parallels. The main thing I knew about Agincourt - other than that it took place 600 years ago in 1415 - was that longbows had won the day. Sure enough, a poster I saw on the London Underground last week confirmed this by showing a rather dogged, defiant man, bow at full stretch, to symbolise the whole battle.
Smithsonian image -
possible early arrow heads

The bow is at least 10,000 years old - some evidence suggests over 70,000 - and through all that time has served as both hunting tool and weapon of war. Early arrow heads are found quite often, but bows are less long lived, and the earliest European bow discovered so far dates from around 6000BC. The technological challenge in all that time has been how to gain more power. More power equals more range, or more destructive effect at the same range. But the basic design has remained the same.

Now, bowmakers have achieved more power either by careful choice of wood, skilled use of the grain, physical size, or careful splicing of the wood with other materials such as horn to give a composite bow. All of the above have to be combined with training, so that the user develops the physical strength and steady aim to make effective use of the weapon. Back in Medieval times, such training was compulsory, and the many streets called The Butts up and down the country recall that training.

In the Late Bronze Age, a typical composite bow might have a range of over 300 metres, with effective range against protected troops of about half that. Many cultures, from Egypt across to North India, used lightly built chariots as missile platforms, manoeuvring rapidly ahead of enemy formations to disorganise and weaken them. Other groups, chiefly those living on the steppe or the plains, used mounted archers for a similar purpose. Oddly, the Romans seemed not to rate bows highly, preferring to recruit auxiliaries for this purpose, but every other ancient culture I know of regarded them highly - numerous deities were closely linked to archery, so the skill had divine sanction.

Wikipedia image, English longbow 6'6" in length
Back at Agincourt and other battles of the age, a longbow in the hands of a skilled man had a maximum range of up to 400m, and was reputed to penetrate armour at half that. Moreover, the firing rate was immense - it is said that at Crecy, 6000 archers launched 42,000 arrows per minute. Against a slow moving or closely packed group of enemies, the effect was murderous. Keeping up such a rapid rate of fire was exhausting, however, and should be likened to a sprint rather than a distance run.

The interesting parallel to the Late Bronze Age is that in both cases, changes in military technology are linked to social transformation. In both cases, the dominance of a settled elite group - the mounted knight or the charioteer - was broken by the innovative use of simple weapons. Noble birth and heritage was no guarantee of survival, and a process of social levelling took place.

So what led to the decline of the bow? Quite simply, the gun. Early guns were certainly inaccurate and risky to use, but they had a longer range than a bow, needed no particular strength to use as weapon, and could be put in the hands of comparatively unskilled soldiers. By around 1600, bows had essentially disappeared from the battlefield except for isolated unusual cases. 

They emerged again, and have survived until now, as a sporting piece. Regency and early Victorian writings tell us that archery was considered an entirely suitable sport for a woman, and archery clubs had members of both sexes. A far cry from the battlefields of the Hundred Years' War perhaps, but probably a whole lot more fun as well!

From Agincourt600 web site
Richard Abbott lives in London, England. He writes about the ancient Middle East - Egypt, Canaan and Israel - and when not writing words or computer code, he enjoys spending time with family, walking, and wildlife, ideally combining all three pursuits in the English Lake District. He is the author of In a Milk and Honeyed Land, Scenes From a Life and The Flame Before Us. He can be found at his website or blog, on Google+, Goodreads, Facebook and Twitter.

Sunday, 18 October 2015

Anna Reviews: A Decent Woman by Eleanor Parker Sapia

The author has very kindly offered a copy for a giveaway which will be drawn on 
Monday the 26th October. See below for details

In 1898, the former Spanish Colony of Puerto Rico became American, this as part of the treaty ending the Spanish American War. The population of Puerto Rico may have had their own concerns about this sudden transfer of their citizenship, but such concerns were swept away in 1899, when the little island suffered one of the worst hurricanes in history, leaving behind a traumatized population and an infrastructure in tatters.

   None of the above really play a part in A Decent Woman – except as background. The recent hurricane is the reason why young Serafina is so terrified when yet another storm hits the island just as she’s giving birth. The new American regime, bringing with it modernities such as electricity and educated doctors, threatens the existence of Doña Ana, until recently a much respected midwife. And as Doña Ana has a tendency to hedge her bets by praying not only to the Virgin and the saints, but also to an assortment of African deities, she is also under close scrutiny by the Church. Not a good place to be in, putting it mildly.


   I enjoy reading books set in unusual places. In this case, Ms Parker Sapia presents us with the humid, tropical setting of Playa de Ponce, a small town just on the outskirts of Ponce – and of Ponce itself, already sliding into genteel oblivion now that the Americans have made San Juan the capital. It rains, it is unbearably hot, it rains some more, storms pass by at regular intervals, causing flooding and damage to the sad collection of sheds that house most of Playa’s inhabitants. Puerto Rico at the time is also a pot-luck of beliefs. People may flock to church on Sunday, but only a fool would ignore those other gods, such as Oyé, Changú and Yemayá. Here and there, rags in various colours decorate the doors, a silent offering to whatever God the colour belongs to. In a world where man is so exposed to the elements, it makes sense to keep all potential deities happy – just in case. The Holy Virgin figures prominently – in a book dedicated to the world of women, it is apt that she does.

   A Decent Woman is the story of Serafina and Ana – mostly of Ana – who meet when Ana delivers Serafina’s first child during a storm. Ana is old enough to be Serafina’s mother, Serafina has no mother, Ana has no daughter, and in each other they find something of what they’re lacking. Serafina is a Puertoriqueña but Ana is from Cuba, and her past casts long shadows. Ana was born a slave, lived her first few decades as a slave,  and was forced to flee Cuba head over heels. Why is not revealed – not initially – and as the story progresses Ana has other battles to fight, primarily that with an intolerant priest and a humiliated doctor.

Ana as a child slave with her mistress

   Where Ana is wary of others and generally disillusioned with life – she has lost too many people to risk developing new relationships – Serafina is a child-woman of sixteen, several years younger than her husband. A whirlwind romance ended in marriage, and before she knew it, Serafina was pregnant – one of the good, decent women in this world, those that see their role as wife and mother. But it isn’t easy, coping with a new baby when you’re not much older than a child yourself, and Ana sees no option but to help. Opposites attracts, one could say, with Ana acting the mainstay to Serafina’s initially so exuberant and hopeful take on life.
   Spanning the first few decades of the 20th century, this is a story about women – from the pampered wives of high society to the syphilis-infected whores. In a time where women had no rights, a single woman was viewed with suspicion, the assumption being that the only way such a woman could survive was on her back. Doña Ana experiences first-hand just how vulnerable a single woman can be – even more so if she is black, lacks a formal education and can't read. Although Serafina is a married woman, she is not much better off. A wife is at the mercy of her husband’s whims, whether they be to drink too much and abuse her, or keep a stable of mistresses on the side. Sometimes, however, the downtrodden fight back – sometimes, they have to, to survive.

   Life for Serafina and Ana takes a number of surprising turns. At times for the good, just as often for the bad, but neither Ana nor Serafina have the luxury to give up. They do, however, have each other, despite the differences in age and status. In a setting heaving with tropical heat, with hurricanes and earthquakes, with corrupt policemen and abusive pimps, unfortunate demise and premeditated murder, such a friendship can be the difference between life and death.

   Ms Parker Sapia does a great job of depicting early 20th century Puerto Rico – all the way from the opulence of the mansions of the rich to the various natural catastrophes that regularly sweep across this little island. Both Ana and Serafina are well-developed characters, women it is easy to care for.
I do believe the novel would have benefited from a thorough edit – specifically as concerns the time line. There are various occasions when I am jolted out of the story by strange time leaps, such as where one chapter is dated 1915, the next 1917 – but it starts off the morning after the events in the preceding chapter. As a reader, I spend considerable time sorting out these timing issues… Likewise, in some cases the leaps are too long: one moment Serafina is living in marital bliss, the next chapter her husband has a mistress set up in a separate home, behavior which is difficult to reconcile with the amorous and tender husband of just some pages back.
   All in all, A Decent Woman offers interesting insight in the life and fate of women – not that long ago. I loved the setting, the various descriptions of customs and rites, and having been fortunate enough to experience first-hand the rich Latino culture of Hispanic America, I was delighted to find myself yet again submerged in festivities and traditions that still, to this day, contribute to the fabric of everyday life.

About The Author

Historical novelist, Eleanor Parker Sapia was born in Puerto Rico and raised as an Army brat in the United States, Puerto Rico, and several European cities. As a child, she could be found drawing, writing short stories, and reading Nancy Drew books sitting on a tree branch. Eleanor’s life experiences as a painter, counselor, alternative health practitioner, a Spanish language social worker, and a refugee case worker, continue to inspire her writing. Eleanor loves introducing readers to strong, courageous Caribbean and Latin American women who lead humble yet extraordinary lives in extraordinary times. Her debut historical novel, A Decent Woman, set in turn of the century Puerto Rico, has garnered praise and international acclaim. She is a proud member of PENAmerica and the Historical Novel Society. A Decent Woman is July 2015 Book of the Month for Las Comadres and Friends National Latino Book Club.
Eleanor is currently writing her second historical novel titled, The Island of Goats, set in Puerto Rico, Spain, and Southern France. When Eleanor is not writing, she loves facilitating creativity groups, and tells herself she is making plans to walk El Camino de Santiago a second time. Eleanor has two loving grown children, and currently lives in wild and wonderful West Virginia

Find our more about Ms Parker Sapia on her Blog!
A Decent Woman is available on

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Anna Belfrage is the author of eight published books, all part of the acclaimed The Graham Saga. Set in the 17th century, the books tell the story of Matthew Graham and his time-travelling wife, Alex Lind. The first book in her next series, The King’s Greatest Enemy, will be published on November 1, and is set in the England of the 1320s. Anna can be found on amazon, twitter, facebook and on her 

Tuesday, 13 October 2015

Richard reviews: Dying Phoenix by Loretta Proctor

The author, has kindly agreed to gift a signed paperback copy of her book to each of two lucky winners. If you would like the chance to win a copy, please leave a comment below. The Winner will be drawn on 20th October!

Dying Phoenix, by Loretta Proctor, opened a window for me on a slice of modern history I knew almost nothing about - Greece, in the months surrounding the generals' coup of 1967. In recent months, Greece has once again been forefront in international news, and although the main issues today are economic rather than political, I came to understand something of the passion that fuels debate there.

A Greek army tank on the streets of Athens following the Junta coup; 21 April, 1967
A Greek army tank on the streets of Athens following the Junta coup; 21 April, 1967

There's a lot of background that needs to be conveyed to the reader, and this is done largely through dialogue. Many different points of view are portrayed here. Indeed, there is a whole spectrum from those who supported the right wing army position, right through to those who were implacably hostile to it. Although the opinions of the central characters are clear, the author presents the diverse range of opinions credibly and sympathetically.

I discovered before long that Dying Phoenix follows on from a previous book, The Long Shadow. Broadly speaking, this second story follows the fortunes of the generation living in the legacy of the first. I am sure that familiarity with that earlier book would give extra depth to some of the characters, especially the older ones. However, the two works are self-contained, and this one can be thoroughly enjoyed in its own right.

A Junta poster depicting their emblem and the date of the coup: 21 April, 1967
A Junta poster depicting their emblem and the date of the coup: 21 April, 1967

Dying Phoenix - appropriately enough given the mythological reference - holds out the possibility of future hope against the background of disappointment in the present. Indeed, a main theme of the book is how people face failure, both their own and that of others. Idealism is a powerful force, particularly amongst the young, and seeing one's ideals being crushed remorselessly by superior strength is a terrible thing. In among the violence and intolerance, however, there are signs of rebirth, as the fires of destruction exhaust themselves. Also, those with longer memories can see that this struggle is only the latest in a very long series of similar ones. There is a continual hope that this time it might be consummation rather than recapitulation - a worthy dream, but one that is not yet fulfilled.

Geography plays a key role in the story, ranging from English locations such as Brompton Cemetery and Kensington in London, via urban Greek settings in Athens and Thessaloniki, through to rural havens in the Macedonian mountains. Each place has its own character, and its own inhabitants, who blend self-interest and self-sacrifice in different measures.

Dying Phoenix presents these key events in the life of modern Greece through the eyes of quite ordinary people. You will not find here a historical analysis of the generals' actions or motives, but rather the personal perspectives of those caught up in the turbulence. Some are eager for direct involvement, while others are anxious to avoid it, fearful of the consequences for their family. It all makes you wonder how you would react if you had been there.

In short, I found this a fascinating account of a turbulent time for many individual Greeks as well as for Greece as a nation. The difficulties and pains of those days are not avoided, and this struggle brings the characters to life. If you like to immerse yourself in the details of a situation, as seen through the eyes of ordinary people, Dying Phoenix may well be for you.

To be in with a chance of winning two signed paperbacks just leave a comment below or on our Facebook page


Loretta Proctor is an Anglo-Greek now living in Malvern, UK.   She published articles, short stories and won an award in the late 1960's for a one act play, The Ikon of Mileos.  Greece has always provided inspiration and on retirement to this lovely part of England she returned to writing novels. Her first, The Long Shadow, is set in WW1 during the Salonika Campaign and has since been translated and published in Greece as O Iskios tou Polemou. Dying Phoenix, which is set in the 1960's, is the sequel.
To read more about her books, you can go to her website.

Richard Abbott is the author of In a Milk and Honeyed Land, Scenes From a Life and The Flame Before UsHe can be found at his website or blogon Google+Goodreads, Facebook and Twitter.

Thursday, 1 October 2015

Anna Reviews: Absinthe and Chocolate by Dale Amidei

The author has kindly agreed to gift 2 ebooks and a signed paperback to three lucky winners, if you would like to win a copy, please leave a comment below. The Winner will be drawn on the 9th October!

One would think, with the above title, that this is a novel set in Paris in the Belle Epoque, a time in which far too many young men developed a permanent addiction for the ”green fairy” that lives in the Absinthe liqueur. Nothing could be further from the setting of this particular novel. Instead, the absinthe and chocolate are part of a ritual the main protagonist performs prior to perpetrating yet another act of violence – for the greater good.
   Mr Amidei takes his time setting the scene. Various characters are introduced, while piece by piece Mr Amidei lays the foundation for his story. I must admit to finding the initial chapters of the novel somewhat slow – too much detail combined with an elaborate prose weighs down the narrative. Our main character, the attractive if deadly, Boone, spends more time sipping absinthe and writing poems than actually doing anything. Yet.
   I would, however, urge readers to persevere. Mr Amidei has constructed a complex story, and the lengthy descriptions in the initial third of the novel are more than motivated by the rather explosive second half.
   In Absinthe and Chocolate, the world of Intelligence has gone private. A former US agent has come up with a business model which, in principle, has turned that ancient art of spying upside down. Mr McAllen pays for intelligence – any intelligence – and his huge servers groan and moan under the weight of all the information stored in them. Individual little nuggets of, seemingly, irrelevant information, form patterns when set side by side, and Mr McAllen’s company quickly becomes an indispensable provider to all Intelligence Agencies worldwide. Not something these agencies appreciate. In fact, they’re all more or less upset by this new world order – all but the Americans, who can rely on McAllen never doing anything that could harm US interests.
   Obviously, such a situation cannot go unchallenged. If nothing else, there are others who want a share of the profit generated by intelligence brokering – greed is one of those capital sins that really bring out the lesser person within. One young man in particular decides it is time to teach McAllen a lesson – and pad his own bank account – and when this young Saudi liaises with a Russian former GRU director, Absinthe and Chocolate truly takes off.

   The storyline leaps from Virginia to Paris, from Paris to Bratislava to Geneva, to Moscow and Girona and New York. Sufficient detail is presented at each location to bring the reader along on the journey, and as the action increases, so does my pulse, especially as the author has built in a couple of double bluffs. Other than the enigmatic Boone, Absinthe and Chocolate presents a number of interesting characters, chief among them Sean Ritter and Thibaud Marseille. One is American, married to an Iraqi woman. The other is French and definitely unwed. Excellent operatives, these men are adept at taking lives – and have done so frequently throughout their careers. Both these men somehow reconcile what they do with a strong belief in God, a somewhat contradictory approach which results in interesting and complex characters.
   Interestingly enough, one of the characters I found most fascinating was a certain Mikhail Ivanovitch Smolin, formerly GRU, these days expansive Russian business tycoon, who does not hesitate to start his day with vodka. Dangerous, intelligent and amusingly sardonic in what he says and thinks, Smolin regards the world with certain caution – but jumps at the chance of laying his anything but lily-white hands on McAllen’s digital empire. Smolin is a man with no illusions – not even about himself – which is why I found his internal dialogue one of the highpoints of this novel.
Smolin’s partners with the young Saudi Yameen al-Khobar. Just why al-Khobar carries a grudge the size of an elephant when it comes to McAllen is never adequately explained, but whatever his motivations, this young man is as lethal as a rattlesnake – except that he’s much quieter.
   And as to Boone herself, this lean, mean fighting machine is your classic kick-ass heroine, as capable of drinking her male company under the table as executing a combination of kicks and punches that will leave them equally out of commission. It took this reader some time to warm to Boone – she is too aloof, too efficient, too untouchable. Fortunately, as the story progresses, Mr Amidei also allows us to see her vulnerability, her loneliness, and as the body count rises and danger threatens people she cares about Boone reveals herself as being as human as the rest of us – albeit with somewhat better control over her nerves and substantially better at deploying firearms.
   In general, Mr Amidei has done a good job of creating distinctive voices for his various characters. Initially, I feel there are too many POV characters, which may be one of the reasons why the first few chapters are somewhat challenging – as a reader I don’t get the opportunity to truly bond with anyone before I am in someone else’s head. Once again, as the story gets going, this sensation of split personalities diminishes markedly – instead, the various POVs add to the intricate layers in Mr Amidei’s story.

   There is a strong Christian undercurrent in this book – the author firmly believes that all of us are what we are and where we are in accordance to divine design. At times, this grates with me – at others, I find it refreshing that the author does not apologise for what he believes in. Other readers may be of a different opinion – depending on their respective values and beliefs.
Things end with a bang – as they should, in books of this genre. When the smoke clears, it seems good has vanquished the bad – but this reader fears this may not be the case. I am sure Mr Amidei will sort such issues in future instalments starring Becky Boone Hildegard. But unless you want to make close acquaintance with this formidable lady’s wicked blade, I suggest you call her Boone – only Boone.

To win a copy of Absinthe and Chocolate just leave a comment here on the blog or on our Facebook page if you prefer

About the author 

Mr Dale Amidei lives and writes on the wind- and snow-swept Northern Plains of South Dakota. Novels about people and the perspectives guiding their decisions are the result. His fiction features faith-based themes set in the real world, which is occasionally profane or violent. For more information about Mr Amidei and his books, why not visit his blogsite

Absinthe and Chocolate can be found on and

Anna Belfrage is the author of eight published books, all part of the acclaimed 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