Book Corner: Wynfield’s Kingdom, by MJ Neary

51si0e8ddl-_sx331_bo1204203200_My latest book review, of MJ Neary’s latest novel, Wynfield’s Kingdom: A Tale of the London Slums, the first novel of his stunning new series, set in Victorian South London, has gone live over at The Review today!

Wynfield’s Kingdom: A Tale of the London Slums is one of those amazing books which makes you feel like you’ve discovered something really special. Set mainly in the slums of Bermondsey and Southwark in South London, it paints an image of Victorian London which will stay with you for days – and nights – afterwards. The novel is an amazing story of human existence and endurance, with so many twists and turns that it will not fail to surprise and mesmerise you. The fact you never quite know what the next chapter will bring keeps you hooked and curious to the very end.

Tom did not trust Diana. She might have been helpless but certainly not harmless. Feebleness and innocence are not synonyms. She was dangerous precisely because of her physical weakness. One could expect anything from her. Tom feared that she would torch the tavern out of sheer spite.

“She’s your burden now,” he told Wynfield. “I wash my hands. You brought her here, so you watch over her now. If she starts making trouble, I’ll kick both of you out on the streets. I won’t have any nonsense in my house. You both came here as patients. I allowed you to stay here and that alone was unwise on my part.”

To read the full review of this fantastic novel – and to enter the prize draw and be in with a chance of winning an e-book in the giveaway, simply visit The Review and leave a comment. Good luck!

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©Sharon Bennett Connolly 2016

Book Corner: Scars From the Past by Derek Birks

51o-ahuwnblMy latest book review, of Derek Birks‘ latest novel, Scars From the Past, the first novel of his stunning new series, set 10 years after the conclusion of his fantastic Rebels& Brothers series, has gone live over at The Review today!

Scars From the Past is the first novel from Derek Birks’ new series and, I have to say, it is the ultimate page-turner! It is a new direction for the author. While there is just as much action as in the first series, the story is less about national politics and more family orientated, as the Elders fight to survive, and to avoid the family imploding.Where the first series concentrated on duty and feudal loyalty, this new novel examines more personal relationships; love and friendship.
The original Rebels & Brothers series told the story of Ned Elder, a Sharpe-like hero who fought his way through the Wars of the Roses and Edward IV’s battle to win – and hold – the throne of England. The new series, set ten years after the end of the fourth book, The Last Shroud, follows the adventures of the next generation. Ned’s son, John, is a young man finding it difficult to live up to his father’s legend and the reader follows his journey as he realises his own identity and that duty and responsibility are not so easy to run from…..

To read the full review of this fantastic novel – and to enter the prize draw and be in with a chance of winning a hot-off-the-press signed paperback copy in the giveaway, simply visit The Review and leave a comment. Good luck!

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©Sharon Bennett Connolly 2016

Book Corner: The Anglo-Saxons in 100 Facts

51+1qeawUSL._AC_US160_The Anglo-Saxon age was one of great change and unrest. Lasting from the departure of the Romans in approximately AD 400 until the Norman invasion in AD 1066, this era was defined by the continued spread of Christianity, the constant threat of Viking raids and the first stirrings of a nation that would become known as England.

With its strange customs and unfamiliar names, the Anglo-Saxon era became mysterious and misunderstood, ironically by the descendants of the Anglo-Saxons, the English people themselves. Archaeological discoveries have forced us to re-evaluate these ingenious and skilled people, and to acknowledge the debt we owe to them. Martin Wall seeks to ‘de-mystify’ the period, breaking it down into easy-to-read, bitesize chunks, and to show that the so-called ‘Dark Ages’ were by no means backward or inferior. It was a truly heroic age, whose exemplars, such as King Offa, Alfred the Great, Lady Aethelflaed or Athelstan, stand beside the giants of world history. In 100 excerpts from these turbulent, bloody and exciting centuries, a proud, complex, but ultimately doomed civilisation is revealed.

The Anglo-Saxons in 100 Facts by Martin Wall is one of those fascinating little books which are such fun to read. It’s 192 pages are packed full of stories from the Anglo-Saxon period which help to trace its history and define the era. Starting from the 5th century AD, the book traces the Anglo-Saxon story  all the way to the Norman Conquest… and beyond.

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Aethelflaed, Lady of the Mercians

In short, bite-sized chapters, The Anglo-Saxons in 100 Facts, is full of those little bits of history you may have missed, or overlooked. Weaving the stories together to build a beautiful picture of the now-lost Anglo-Saxon world. Not only presenting the great personalities of the era, the book also investigates the influence of the church, literature, politics and the Vikings. It helps to explain the drive behind King Alfred and his desire to unite England as one nation.

The book is written in such an easy-going, conversational manner, you don’t even realise you’re reading – it is as if the author is right there, talking to you.

Welsh malcontents murdered a Mercian abbot, Egbert, who was travelling with his companions in Brycheiniog, a small mountain kingdom in South Wales. Egbert was under the protection of Aethelflaed who was justifiably furious. Within three days she concentrated her army on the Welsh border and invaded the little kingdom, burning and ravaging as she went. Tewdr, the King of Brycheiniog, had no choice but to retreat to his fortified Crannog, a fort on a man-made island in Lake Llasngorse. The indefatigable Mercian queen was not to be denied, however, and the place was stormed and burned and Tewdr’s relatives taken as hostages, including his wife.

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Offa, King of Mercia

The Anglo-Saxons in 100 Facts is a very enjoyable read, full of facts and information, and a little bit of humour. All the main characters of the period are covered – from Offa to Harold II and beyond – and given their place in the larger history of the nation as a whole. Outside threats and influences – such as the church, the Normans and, of course, the dreaded Vikings – are discussed, analysed and assessed.

It’s amazing  how much information one writer can pack into less than 200 pages!

The author knows and loves his Anglo-Saxon history and it shines through on every page. Thoroughly and comprehensively researched, it is a fun read for anyone wanting to know ‘a little bit more’ about the time before the Normans, and the build-up to the Conquest from the Saxon point of view.

I just wanted to read the excerpts about Aethelflaed – for my research – and found myself devouring the entire book.

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Pictures courtesy of Wikipedia

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©Sharon Bennett Connolly 2016

Book Corner: The Serpent Sword by Matthew Harffy

TheSerpentSwordFrontCoverOver at the Review today!

I recently had the pleasure of reading and reviewing Matthew Harffy‘s debut novel, The Serpent Sword for The Review.

Here’s a taster:

The Serpent Sword is Matthew Harffy’s debut novel (not that you would know it), and the first installment of his Bernicia Chronicles. Set in the turbulence of 7th century Northumbria, The Serpent Sword is a wonderful story full of action, adventure, betrayal … and just a little romance. The novel leads you across the countryside of the ancient kingdom of Bernicia, taking you from battlefield, to ancient strongholds or small villages and religious settlements; meeting heroes and villains, friends and foes along the way. The fast-paced action leaves you eager to see how the story ends while experiencing a wealth of emotions along the way.

The two-fold story-line keeps you on your toes, seeing the young hero tackling the enemies of Bernicia – in the forces of Penda and Cadwallon – whilst searching for his brother’s killer….”

To read the full review, and to be in with the chance of winning a signed copy of the book, just visit The Review and leave a comment. The winner will be drawn on Monday 15th February. Good luck!

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Book Corner: South of Burnt Rocks

Over on The Review blog!

Read my review of G.J. Berger‘s wonderful South of Burnt Rocks West of the Moon.

 “After three great wars, Rome has crushed Carthage. Now the undefended riches of Iberia beckon–gold, tin, olives, wine, and healthy young bodies to enslave. Burnt Rocks tells the story of Lavena, last child of the strongest remaining Iberian tribal leader at a time when Rome plunders and loots her land. At times helped only by her father’s favorite dog, a special horse, or guided by spirits of the earth and sky, she strives to unite her people and oust the Roman menace. Based on real characters, places, and events, Burnt Rocks recreates that shadowy history–and eternal human nature rubbed raw.”

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South of Burnt Rocks West of the Moon was a wonderful surprise.  It is one of those thought-provoking books that you don’t come across very often; transporting you back in time to the Roman occupation of the Iberian Peninsular. The heroine is a young girl, Lavena, not yet out of her teens, who is trying to fulfill her promise to her parents and save her people, whilst at the same time coming to terms with her father’s past.

Having peacefully co-existed with the Iberian natives, the Roman army has a new leader, and new agenda. They are searching for their lost scouts, for native gold, and eager for slaves. The Romans are relentless but Lavena must find a way to fight them with her small band of devoted warriors.
Among the Roman legions is one man, Martius, who searches for the truth about his missing brother but is also drawn to the ‘barbari’ girl, who appears to him in only glimpses through the trees.
The wonderful prose of the book draws you in,  the language paints its own picture of Roman occupied Spain, respecting the spirits and ancestors of the native tribes and weaving a spell that keeps you enthralled in the book to the very end.
When Lavena has to face a council of elders to give them the news of Rome’s aggression and  to plea for help, the picture is vividly described, the words magically entrancing:
“We humbly come to you, to this village, without any men, because the Roman overseer, Piso, left this land, and Rome sent a monster army in his place.”
The nobles quieted and leaned in further.
“That new army has more fighters and weapons and its killing madness is greater than I know how to tell you – and it comes this way.”…
“They come for all the gold in this land, for the young ones to take back as slaves – and the young women and girls to ruin in a manner none should ever know.”
… She told them what she could of the battle for her village, but not about how her mother and those with her died, not about the real end of the she-warriors. She told them how she fled.
 

 

G.J. Berger recreates the land of the Iberian Peninsular wonderfully; describing the landscape and its people in such amazing language that you can’t help but feel transported there. The contrast with the vast fighting force of the Roman army, the inexorable, unbeatable military machine that moves over the land relentlessly.
The characters are vivid and have a realism to be marvelled at. They are human, suffering through their fears and doubts, making mistakes and sometimes surviving in spite of themselves. You find yourself urging Lavena on, while feeling suitably disgusted at the mean, lascivious, grasping Roman leaders.
Throughout the book, you can feel the author has a strong sense of direction; he knows where he wants to take you, but knows that the journey is what matters. We follow Lavena from her training as a warrior, through the loss of everything she holds dear, to her final confrontation with the Roman army, knowing everything she has been through, everything that has led her to that moment…
I can’t tell you how much I enjoyed reading this novel. It was a surprise from the first words, drawing you in, leading you on Lavena’s journey and seeing the country of Spain in its early days; the landscape itself becoming part of the story. The sights, sounds and smells of Roman Spain invade your mind as you read.
It is hard to believe this is a debut novel. The storyline is impressive, the language polished; everything about it comes from a storyteller of immense skill and vision.
It is a book not to be missed.
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Book Corner: Duval and the Empress’s Crown

Over on The Review blog!

Read my review of Duval and the Empress’s Crown by Michele McGrath.

632747“Police Agent Alain Duval is tasked with finding the crown but time is very short and his suspects many. Present when the crown disappeared are Napoleon’s sisters, Princess Elisa, Princess Pauline and Princess Caroline. Are they involved or merely witnesses? Aided by his wife Eugenie and his friends Lefebvre and Fournier, Duval sets out to unravel the mystery.” 

Ever since I was a teenager I’ve had a soft spot for the Napoleonic Period.  Napoleon’s story has always fascinated me; the rise of an obscure Corsican to become the most powerful man  in France (a novelist just couldn’t make it up!). So when the chance came to review a novel of the period I jumped at it.Duval and the Empress’s Crown is not the longest book you’ll ever read. At just shy of 100 pages, it’s short and sweet. But it is a little gem.

From the first words you are drawn into the world of Imperial Paris, still recovering from the petrifying post-Revolutionary Terror, but looking forward to the pomp and pageantry that accompanies an Empire.
And into this world are thrown 3 friends: Duval the former soldier, Fournier the career policeman and Lefebvre the reformed thief. They work for Napoleon’s feared Chief of Police, Fouquet. With just days until the coronation of Napoleon and Josephine, the Empress’s crown is stolen from the jeweler tasked with creating it. Duval and his friends are given the unenviable task of finding it – in time for the coronation.
It’s a race against time…
To make matters worse, it soon becomes evident that the prime suspects are the Emperor’s own sisters; the Princesses Elisa, Pauline and Caroline. Duval has to be both determined and diplomatic in order to recover the crown in time for the coronation, just days away. With the Terror still only a recent memory, Duval has to tread very carefully, or he could end up not only with a ruined career, but facing the guillotine!
Duval and the Empress’s Crown is a great detective novel, full of adventure, intrigue and royal scandal. The story takes you through the investigative process in great detail, while giving you the human side of the lead characters. The three policemen enjoy a wonderful relationship, and the book is at its best during the scenes when they are together. Their banter seems natural and easy and makes the reader smile:

 [Duval] “What about my lame leg?”
[Lefebvre] “What about it? You ran at such a high speed when Monsieur Duclos was firing his pistols at you, I couldn’t catch you up, lame leg and all”
[Duval] “Just as well he was such a bad shot….”

You are also treated to glimpses of the glamour and power of the French Empire by visiting the salons of the Emperor’s sisters, as Duval tries to unravel the mystery of the crown’s disappearance. He has to tread carefully with the wily Elisa and pregnant Caroline. And then there is the Emperor’s over-familiar sister, Pauline:

“Let us be comfortable while you tell me what my brother wants of me”

Although this is the fifth book in a series, it really doesn’t matter. It is eminently readable as a standalone, with only vague references to the previous novels in the series – ensuring you don’t feel like you are missing anything. The author has done a wonderful job of taking the reader on a journey through post-Revolutionary Paris. You can still feel the long shadow of the guillotine, while being treated to a glimpse of the splendour and elitism of the emerging Imperial court, where careers are made and ruined by the whim of one man…
Duval and the Empress’s Crown is a wonderful, easy, light read. The plot is not over-complicated but flows smoothly and swiftly to its conclusion. Whilst it could benefit from deeper descriptions of locations and events the characters are well-developed, amusing and capable of eliciting a range of emotions from the reader.
It’s a wonderful novel for a lazy day in the sun. A highly enjoyable read.

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