Book Corner: Half Sick of Shadows by Richard Abbott

Today over at The Review, you can read my thoughts on Richard Abbott’s fantastic new historical fantasy novel, Half Sick of Shadows, a fabulous re-imagining of Alfred Lord Tennyson’s The Lady of Sahlott.

And there’s a fabulous giveaway! With one signed paperback copy going to a winner in the UK, or and ebook to anywhere else in the world.

Here’s a taster:

There is one great advantage to being a book reviewer; every now and then you get to read a gem of a book, one that you may never have discovered had you relied on Amazon’s reading recommendations. Half Sick of Shadows is one such treasure. This novel, inspired by Alfred Lord Tennyson’s epic poem The Lady of Shalott, is unique and engrossing from the very first page.

When trying to think of a single word that could be used to describe this novel, the only one that seemed to fit was ‘mesmerising‘.

The reader is instantly drawn into the world of the Lady, who can watch the lives and interactions of the people in the world only through the guide of a mirror. She can see the world, but is apart from it, safe in her own keep…..

 

To read the full review of this fantastic novel – and to enter the prize draw and be in with a chance in this fantastic giveaway, simply visit The Review and leave a comment.

Good luck!

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Looking into the lives of some of the most fascinating women from medieval history, Sharon’s book, Heroines of the Medieval World, will be published by Amberley later this year and is now available for pre-order from both Amberley Publishing and Amazon.

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©Sharon Bennett Connolly 2017

Book Corner: Blood of the Wolf by Steven A. MacKay

14527440_1508064235887286_1454685879_nMy latest book review, of Steven A. McKay’s latest novel, Blood of the Wolf, the final novel of his stunning Forest Lord series, a wonderful new reworking the legend of Robin Hood has gone live over at The Review today!

With Blood of the Wolf, Steven A McKay has definitely saved the best to last! The fourth and concluding part of his fabulous Forest Lord series sees Robin and his band of Merry Men reunited and embarking on one final adventure together, facing a most formidable foe; a new and particularly vicious band of outlaws. This book has everything: suspense, action and enduring friendships that are tested to their limits. Old and new enemies make the reader eager to see Robin win through, and a few surprises along the way make this a thoroughly entertaining and gripping novel.
It leads you on a desperate chase through  the forests, in the halls of the Sheriff’s castles and into the villages of England …

To read the full review of this fantastic novel – and to enter the prize draw and be in with a chance of winning a 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:1066 What Fates Impose by G.K. Holloway

51dwzulugglMy latest book review, of Glynn Holloway’s epic novel 1066: What Fates Impose has gone live over at The Review today!

Glynn Holloway’s 1066: What Fates Impose is an experience in itself. It takes you on the epic journey of Harold Godwinson, earl of Wessex, and William, duke of Normandy – Harold’s rival for the throne of England – that ends at Senlac Hill, Hastings on 14th October 1066. It is a riveting tale, weaving together the lives, loves and conflicts of those who held the fate of England in their hands. Impossible to put down, 1066: What Fates Impose, gives the reader a panoramic view the events that would change the course of English history forever….

To read the full review of this fantastic novel – and to enter the prize draw and be in with a chance of winning a 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 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: The Pawns of Sion

715UoPpSVSLOver on The Review blog!

Read my review of Scott R. Rezer‘s The Pawns of Sion.

“At first glance The Pawns of Sion looks like a straightforward story about the politics and rivalries of the Kingdom of Jerusalem. But once you start reading, you discover the novel delves deeper than you’d ever thought possible. Scott R. Rezer has created a story which merges two realms, that of man and that of the angels. The war between Salehdin and the Christians runs parallel with the greater, age-old battle of good versus evil. The author has cleverly interwoven the two realms in a deep, intense book. The plot is detailed and unveiled in layers the deeper into the book you get.

Set in the years immediately before the Third Crusade, the action moves fast and furious from the death of King Baldwin V, through the behind-the-scenes manipulations of the Order of Sion and the Magdalen’s attempts to stop them, while Salehdin takes advantage of the deep divisions revealed among the Christian lords. And underlying it all is the centuries-long search for the Holy Grail….”

I found The Pawns of Sion both fascinating and intriguing. It looks deeper into the origins of Christianity than other Crusader novels and the age-old battle of good against evil mirrors the irreconcilable differences of the Christian and Muslim combatants. There is the occasional missing word in the text, but this does not detract from the overall enjoyment of the book. The author knows how to evoke the reader’s sympathy – or distaste – for particular characters. You find yourself rooting for the good guys.

The full depth of the story is slowly  revealed – each revelation releasing a new feature of the plot. And as each new secret is disclosed, it adds a little explanation to the motives and desires of the protagonists.

The language is, at times, haunting, drawing aside the veils between the realm of the natural world and that of the spiritual, giving the reader a sense of the surreal:

….Her magic shrank from the shadow of his evil rather than endure its touch.
“Did you think you could defeat me with so little a thing as the death of your beloved daughter?”
“You have no place here, Simon,” she hissed, ignoring his taunt. She drew a thin silver blade from the belt beneath her cloak. The rasping sound of metal upon metal overwhelmed the silence of the wood. “You never have.”
“Your words wound me, Mariamne,” said Amalric de Lusignan. “Why must we continually bicker when we might become friends?”
She walked towards him, sword on shoulder, shedding her immortal glamour and taking on a semblance men knew….

330px-SangrealAs with many people, the Knights Templar have always held me in awe and although they are not the heroes of the story, their Grand Master Gerard de Ridefort is one of the leading characters. The author makes good use of the known protagonists of the time, weaving his story around their lives and the events that shaped the Holy Land and its politics at the time. Each character is imbued with the qualities passed down by history.

Balian d’Ibelin is the good, noble knight, whose integrity is beyond question. Guion (Guy) de Lusignan is the weak, easily manipulated, indecisive king, while his wife, Sybilla, is the pawn he uses to gain power. Then there’s the young Ernoul, a fictional character who struggles to come to terms with his destiny. The historical characters are intermingled with the fictional ones, allowing the writer to create his own story within the historical record.

The characters are brought to life in the hot, arid backdrop of the Holy Land in the second half of 12th century. The author has recreated the Medieval Near East vividly, cleverly evincing the heat, the dust and the thirst, in the reader’s mind.

Although I found the duality of the story confusing at first, it didn’t take me long to find myself totally immersed in the concept, and in the general story itself. I like the depth of the story; the first few chapters reveal a complexity to the politics and religion of the Holy Land of the time. Individual stories are expertly woven together to make one great tapestry; a tapestry depicting the disasters befalling Outremer which would eventually lead to the launch of the Third Crusade. And behind it all are the origins of Christianity itself, the fight for good against evil and the search for the greatest relic, the Holy Grail.

It’s going to be very interesting, to see how this story continues in Book 3.

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Book Corner: An Interview with Toby Clements

kingmaker for HWAMyself and Jayne Smith interviewed Toby Clements for The Review.
Toby Clements has kindly offered a signed copy of his book for a lucky winner.  Just leave a comment at the bottom of the blog or on our Facebook page. The winner will be drawn on 12th November.

While at the Harrogate History Festival Jayne and I tried to grab a couple of writers to do exclusive interviews for the Review Blog. Unfortunately, Toby Clements was always busy with panels, preparing to interview Stephen Church about King John – or on a really long bike ride. So we jotted the questions down and Toby was kind enough to reply by email.

Writing about the Wars of the Roses, Toby Clements’ first book in the Kingmaker series, Winter Pilgrims, earned him a place among the 5 finalists for the 2015 Historical Writers’ Association Crown for Debut Historical Fiction. The second book in the trilogy, Broken Faith, is out now and Mr Clements is working on book 3 as I write.

  1. What made you start writing? It is a terrible cliché and I am only telling you because it is quite funny, but I was always telling stories as a child, only I had a weird stammer, so that I se-e-ed things like tha-at, and I used to tell my older brother these terrible bedtime stories based on us having watched the HG Wells Time Machine film together with my father who described the Morlocks as ‘hairy buggers’ – it was the 1970s, so that was OK then – and so my early stories were all about the Hairy Buggers, told to my brother, punctuated by his six-year-old’s snores on the bunk bed above. After a while my mother suggested I write them down because I was getting pretty tired trying to stay awake to finish them.
  2.  Who are your major writing influences? I am a HUGE fan of Hilary Mantel’s writing, but also of Bernard Cornwell’s plots, so my literary influence would be an imaginary son/daughter of theirs.
  3. What first got you interested in writing history? Another terrible cliché: two enthusiastic teachers at my primary school: Colin Stoupe and Hugh Fairey, to whom I owe great thanks.
  4. Why choose the Wars of the Roses as you setting? I was always a warlike child, I suppose, and I was at school near Tewkesbury – one of the key battles of the Wars of the Roses – and I’d loved the Ladybird edition of Warwick the Kingmaker since before I could read. But what really got me into it was the idea of the Battle of Towton being fought in the driving snow, lasting all day, and during which more Englishmen were killed even on the first of the Somme. I thought: HOW did that come to pass, when their fathers and grandfathers had fought shoulder to shoulder with one another at Agincourt and so on…
  5. What made you choose a monk and a nun as your central characters? I wanted someone who would perhaps know nothing of the politics of the 15th Century world, and so could ask the right questions at the right time without me shoe-horning in a load of random exposition, and who could see things afresh and react to them, rather than that world being so ordinary they would not bother to describe it. That I have two heroes is a chance quirk of researching fate.

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    Toby Clements
  6. Who do you think is your best character? Who is your personal favourite? And why? Katherine is the greatest, because she always knows exactly what to do, even if her choices are often very hard. Thomas is more like me: a bit bumbling, just sort of going along for as quiet a life as possible. He is pretty affable, and doesn’t bother to say much, but when he knows what he is supposed to be doing, he is pretty good at it.
  7. What comes first, the storyline or the research? I change my mind about this every month. At the beginning it is all accuracy – a la Hilary Mantel – but as the month wears on and the money gets tight, I start to think this is a luxury I can’t really afford. One look at the bestseller charts will tell you which the readers prefer.
  8. Which do you find easiest to develop, the plot or the characters? I struggle with plot, I suppose. My characters are all quite modest and ordinary, so they come quite easily.
  9. Do you know how the book is going to end when you start it? Kind of. I know I have to get them somewhere at such and such a time, and the known history acts as a series of pegs on which to hang the skein of their adventures, so that is pretty easy to map out. As to who dies and who falls in love, and so on… yes, I think I do, but am open to changing my mind.
  10. How do you approach your writing day? I am at my desk by 8.30 and just try to bash away while I can. Sometimes I have to go off and do other jobs – I review books and am a sort of jobbing carpenter – but if I am at home, I try to chug through until about 6. Sometimes I get a load done, sometimes not much. It varies because I don’t really plan my writing very well in advance.
  11. If Ridley Scott was to approach you to make a film of your books, who would you want to play Thomas and Katherine? I honestly don’t know. I don’t watch enough films or telly, really. Sorry.index
  12. Have you ever changed your mind about killing off a character? I have, but no one major, and each time I am damn glad I did. A dead character is no use whatsoever. In Winter Pilgrims I had Sir John die at the battle of Towton, ‘unobserved during that afternoon’ but my editor insisted that was too sad, so Katherine saved his life with some revolutionary brain surgery.
  13. What is next in the pipeline, after the Kingmaker Trilogy? I have one more novel to write set in the Wars of the Roses, but this will be a more complex piece, from multiple points of view, and more of a political novel than a fighting novel. After that I have a slight idea for another series, but I am not sure how commercial it will prove, so it may never see the light of day. We shall see.
  14. Which other periods of history would you like to write about? I don’t have another period about which I am so interested, so I think it will be close to the 15th Century or maybe it will be a little later. I don’t want to choose another just because I have to. In a way I’d rather stop writing than it become something I must do.

 

A huge ‘thank you’ to Toby Clements for answering our questions! You can find Toby Clements on his pinterest page and his books are available on Amazon.

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Book Corner: An Interview with Novelist Derek Birks

Whilst at the Harrogate History Festival last week I had the opportunity to do some interviews for The Review, with my Review colleague, Jayne Smith. The 1st interview was with the charming Derek Birks, author of the Rebels & Brothers series of books, which I have recently reviewed.junefeudcover

What made you start writing? I always wanted to write. I started at about 17, writing adventure stories, but they were rubbish. Then I got caught up with other things. 40 years later I wanted to find out if I could do it. looking back, I couldn’t have written the books I have when I was that age.

Why are your stories set in the Wars of the Roses? It’s always been one of my favourite periods. The characters are so fascinating – you couldn’t make up the characters and situations if you tried.

Who were your major writing influences? Bernard Cornwell and Alexandre Dumas. I love the Musketeers stuff. And Bernard Cornwell was a breath of fresh air – his writing was less polite than anything else around at the time.

How do you approach your writing day? I write almost entirely in the mornings, staring around 7.30. I can write for as long as I want, but usually finish about 1 o’clock and then have lunch.

If you lose track, do you give up or carry on? If I hit a snag, to clear my mind I go for a walk, or a swim and don’t think about it – then the ideas pop in my head. It helps to make for a better plot, usually. The same happens if my editor – my son- says something is not working; I’ll think about it and come up with something better.

How do you kill off your characters? I started my first book writing something direct and full of action, but that meant some characters would die. By the 3rd book my characters’ attitude to death changed. In the first 2 there was no fear of the consequences. By the 3rd I looked at battle weariness and regret and the characters look at it differently. I changed my mind about killing a character I had always intended to kill off – and killed off someone else instead. In book 4, someone had to die, it was just a matter of deciding who.

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Derek Birks,, Jayne Smith and myself.

Most books written about wars have women as peripheral characters, weak and helpless. Why did you write Eleanor as a fighter? There is an audience for a strong woman. I tried to have several different women’s roles, and Eleanor was the antidote to the traditional women’s roles. She’s a catalyst for control. She has an edge in that men don’t expect her reactions.

Do your characters talk to you? I don’t think they do. I sometimes go to bed thinking of the story line. But they do have specific theme music; Eleanor’s is Try by Pink and Ned’s is Brothers in Arms by Dire Straits.

Who do you think is your best character and who is your favourite? I would like to think Ned is my best character – and Eleanor is definitely my favourite. I can’t imagine Eleanor getting older. She was the hardest to develop through the book sand I hope she grew up.

If someone said they wanted to make a film, do you have an actor or actress in mind to play Ned and Eleanor? Ned would need to be someone with an amount of vulnerability – Sean Bean wouldn’t be right for it. Eleanor would be someone like the woman in Kill Bill – Uma Thurman?

Do you know how the book is going to end when you start it? Usually, yes. I wrote the end of Feud before writing the middle. With the 2nd and 3rd books yes. With the 4th I knew there was going to be an almighty clash, but didn’t know who would go – I was going to do a Butch & Sundance thing where everyone but 1 died, but decided that was less plausible. I hope the ending came across plausible.

shroud
Did you change any of  your characters halfway through? With my 3 main characters – the 3 siblings – I had a clear idea of what they would be like at the beginning and where they were going. But I did change Robert. At one point he could be viewed as an out-and-out villain, but he was more complex in book 4. Normally I don’t change whether or not they are essentially good or bad.


What’s Next? I wanted to do something like Dumas did with the Musketeers sequel, you know, Twenty Years After. So the next series is set 12 years after, in 1482/3. Some characters from the 1st series will be in it. I’ve only written 10,000 words so far, so its in the very early stages. It will be a series, but it may go on for a while. I have learnt from writing the first series, the first of the new series will be written as a stand alone, with few or no loose ends. 

A big thank you to Derek Birks for answering our questions.

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Book Corner: Men of the Cross

men_largeB.R.A.G. Medallion winner, Men of the Cross by Charlene Newcomb.

“War, political intrigue and passion … heroes … friends and lovers … and the seeds for a new Robin Hood legend await you.”

After that kind of introduction Men of the Cross had a lot to live up to. And it didn’t disappoint. Having read several Crusader novels and a few re-telling the Robin Hood legend, the idea behind the book intrigued me.

But this book has a unique perspective and stands out from the crowd.

With Richard the Lionheart and Robin Hood as supporting characters the story follows idealistic young crusader Sir Henry de Grey and his best friend, the cynical and war-jaded Sir Stephan l’Aigle, on their journey through the Third Crusade.

The two knights accompany Richard’s army from Southampton to the walls of Jerusalem – and on through the countries of Eastern Europe and Richard’s capture in Germany.

I thoroughly enjoyed Men of the Cross and found it hard to put down. The storyline is fast paced and entertaining, with all the emotions thrown into the mix: excitement, fear, love, despair, pain and happiness.

I love the way the story is interwoven with that of Robin Hood, Little John and Alan a Dale; every now and then you get a glimpse of the Merry Men they are to become, their own special camaraderie amidst the wider story.

It is a journey of discovery for Henry and Stephan – of themselves as soldiers, friends and lovers; the realities of war; fighting the Saracens; relationships; their preconceived conventions and their own hearts. Along the way they entertain queens, lose friends and risk death itself, experiencing the highs and lows of the crusading life.

After reading only the first four chapters of Men of the Cross, I found myself hoping that the rest of the book could live up to such a promising start. The main characters are well-thought out and it’s a pleasure to see them grow and mature as the story progresses, and to see how their individual experiences and feelings react to the events enfolding them.

Even the supporting characters are wonderfully vivid: the king’s sister, Joanna, and wife, Berengaria, act as spectators to the Crusade, bringing lively exchanges and the feminine touches into an all-male world.

Man against man. Man against the elements. Man against his own heart.

As I got deeper into the book, I found myself wondering how the author would handle the grisly realities of the Third Crusade. When following the Lionheart through the Holy Land, it is impossible to ignore the mass execution of 3,000 Muslim prisoners. So how would Ms. Newcomb handle it?

This turned out to be one of my favourite scenes in the book. Instead of concentrating on one beheading after another, you saw it through the eyes of Sir Henry, as a pivotal moment in his initiation into the realities and horrors of war:

Henry’s stomach knotted, his thoughts filled with despair. This is war?”

His doubts demonstrated through his own internal dialogue and response to his distaste:

You know nothing of war.” 

Charlene Newcomb has a knack of setting scenes so vividly you can almost hear the swing of sword through air, the yells and screams of victims and combatants alike and the anguish of a knight discovering that chivalry has little place in war. The battles are urgent and hectic – their descriptions give the combined sense of the confusion, fear and exhilaration of the participants.

The background scenes are described in fantastic detail. Whether it is the noises and odours of the busy port, the bustling streets of Messina or Acre, or the calm and splendour of a royal palace, it is easy to imagine yourself transported.

The love scenes are artfully and sensitively portrayed – with the anguish and uncertainty of a blossoming relationship cleverly interweaved into the storyline.

Henry and Stephan’s friendship, love and loyalty are tested to their very limits in this wonderful novel.

The long and winding journey of the Lionheart’s crusade, from its launch to his imprisonment in Germany, is skilfully re-told in such a way that you will feel the highs and lows – the joys and desperations – and the excitement of two young men learning the art of war, love and friendship through their experiences.

I look forward to reading how the characters develop in the next instalment, to hearing how they rescue the king from his German prison, and of the further adventures of Henry and Stephan and – of course – Robin Hood and his men.

 

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Article originally published at The Review in June 2015.

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