28 Sept 2019

Foremost by Jody Hedlund Review

The Lost Princesses #2
210 Pages, September 24th 2019, Northern Lights Press 
Print and Ebook 

 A second princess. Another key to the treasure. And a cruel king desperate to squelch the growing rebellion.

Raised in an isolated abbey, Lady Maribel desires nothing more than to become a nun and continue practicing her healing arts. She’s carefree and happy with her life…until a visitor comes to the abbey and reveals her true identity as one of the lost princesses.

When he was a young boy, Edmund Chambers helplessly watched King Ethelwulf murder his family. Edmund escaped and has lived in the abbey ever since, uniquely trained to work with wild animals. Secretly, he loves Maribel and desperately hopes she doesn’t complete her holy order vows.

When King Ethelwulf’s army arrives at the abbey to capture Maribel, she flees with Edmund across the desolate Highlands in an attempt to reach Adelaide’s rebel army. Edmund can no longer hide his love, but can Maribel give up her dreams of becoming a nun to love him in return?

My Rating: ⭐⭐⭐


 This was another book that I finished with somewhat mixed feelings. It was a good YA story with plenty of adventure and romance. 

First of all, this story finally vindicated me in my conviction that this series is fantasy NOT Historical Fiction, because of the inclusion of undoubted fantasy elements such as man who can communicate with animals, including a mythical dragon- like creature. 

 Its not set in a real time or place, nor is it based on real events. It includes mythical creatures, as well as American animals such as cougars and raccoons that have never been indigenous to Europe.

Anyway, on with the review. As said, this was a decent YA Fairytale story with a strong female lead and plenty of love and adventure. Maribel's medical training and knowledge of herbs made things more interesting.
Making her a nun, or rather a postulant (nun in training who had not taken her vows) was an interesting idea.

However, I did feel this story started to get weak and lag in a number of ways. First of, it felt repetitive towards the end, with lots of telling (over and over again), how the characters had learned their lessons analysis of feelings etc.
Yes, there were some important moral lessons about overcoming selfishness here, but we don't need to have them summed up over and over again.
Even the hero Edmund does not feel very much different from the hero of the last book, or the prequel. The only thing that set him apart are his trained animals.

Second: the battle scenes. I've commented on this in reviews of novels by this author before, but sadly the situation has not improved. The battle scenes are unrealistic to the point of being ridiculous. Highly trained soldiers go into battle without helmets or any kind of protection over the most vulnerable parts of their body, and (predictably), get killed when the goodies shoot them in the neck or throat- or more often throw knives at them. Which is a terrible cliche in itself.

I mean honestly: even the most incompetent fighting force in history would have learned their lesson after a few failed military engagements in which lots of people were killed this way. 

And honestly, I just hate it when the bad buys in novels are useless, inept and stupid. Its just bad characterization done to give the heroes and easy ride.

Also throwing daggers seems to be the main fighting method employed by certain characters in this novel, who must also have a get out of physics free card. Daggers are not guns: you can't hit any target with pinpoint accuracy from any distance.
In fact, I read that they're not very accurate at a distance of about 20 feet , and if they spin through the air, there is just as much of a chance the hilt would strike the person first.
The probability of them hitting the intended target, blade first at a precise 90 degree angle each time is next to impossible.

I really do hope that some of these weaker elements will be improved upon in the third and final book in the series, but I fear if this hasn't happened by now its not likely to. Its kind of disappointing overall. 

27 Sept 2019

Evermore by Jody Hedlund Review

The Lost Princesses #1
August 27th 2019, Northern Lights Press,  222 Pages 
Print and Ebook 
An ancient key. A secret treasure. And a princess destined to use them both to fight evil and restore peace.

Raised by a noble family, Lady Adelaide has always known she’s an orphan. Little does she realize she’s one of the lost princesses and the true heir to Mercia’s throne…until a visitor arrives at her family estate, reveals her birthright as queen, and thrusts her into a quest for the throne whether she’s ready or not.

Unable to tolerate King Ethelwulf’s cruelty and lawlessness, Christopher Langley left Mercia years earlier, training a group of rebels in neighboring Norland. When he returns home after his mother’s death, he discovers that not only is Adelaide all grown up, but she’s also the rightful queen of Mercia.

When King Ethelwulf discovers Adelaide’s location, he’ll stop at nothing to capture her and the key she holds to the ancient treasure. Christopher is just as determined to protect Adelaide so she can lead the growing rebellion. When feelings ignite between the two old friends, forces threaten to destroy their love and rip them apart forever.

My Rating: ⭐⭐⭐ 


So, to start with the positives: it was a good adventure story with interesting characters. I don't think they were as developed as I would usually want, but this is technically a Young Adult book.
Its probably the kind of story I would have really enjoyed as a teenager, with lots of action and a strong female lead. It also fills the niche in the market for clean YA fiction with positive spiritual themes.

The world building was also a little better in this story than the other Medieval series by this author: I think because its set up more as fantasy or an outright Fairy Tale, rather than the previous series which caused confusion by using real place names. That said, there there was a lot of telling rather than showing, which might have been a result of story being written in the first person.

However, I'm reading this as an adult, and there's a lot that fell short to me. First of all the battle scenes were terribly unrealistic. Sometimes to the point of laughable. All the bad characters seem to have really convenient gaps in their armour above their hearts or their neck: and nobody seems to wear padding underneath except the heroes in the jousting scenes.

I mean seriously, we're missing the basic point of armour here. It wasn't worn for fun, it was protection. The idea of highly trained warriors going out with the most vulnerable parts of their body uncovered is just absurd. Its obviously just done to make them easier to kill.

There's some really annoying misconceptions as well, such as the characters wearing armour ALL THE time. Even when they're out hunting or even eating inside their castle. Cops don't wear bullet proof vests when they're eating dinner at home, or going out with their kids. So why do we assume Medieval knights did?
I mean seriously. Chainmail is really uncomfortable. People took it off as soon as they weren't involved in combat anymore.

Finally, although I get the strong female lead bit, I really think this was rather overdone with Adelaide. She is the second 'warrior woman' character by this author and gets thrown in the deep end quite quickly impersonating a boy in a joust. I mean we get it. OK. Girls are just as good as boys. Really. We get it. We don't need to keep being told how Adelaide was great at fighting, training to use weapons ETC.

By the end of the novel, I felt this went from endearing, to an annoying modern feminist intrusion, where Adelaide literally thinks she can only prove herself as a worthwhile Queen and leader is by dressing in men's clothing and besting men in combat.  
I really don't think its a great message to send to girls that to be 'strong' you have to act like a man. As if femininity is a bad thing to be shunned.

24 Sept 2019

Top Ten Tuesday: Fall TBR Pile

Welcome to another Top Ten Tuesday post, the group hosted by the Artsy Reader Girl blog

Yesterday was the vernal equinox, meaning one of the two days of the year when the day and night are exactly the same length, an event which marks the beginning of Autumn.Yes, Autumn is what we call it in Britain, not Fall. 

I have so many books still on my TBR pile. Not all are recent releases, but I've picked a selection of recent and older releases for today's post. 

Recent Releases (Released this Year)

 Older Titles (Published before this year) 


 I don't know if I will be able to read all of these before the end of this Autumn, or even the end of this year, but I shall try.

22 Sept 2019

Merciless by Tamara Leigh Reviewed

Age of Conquest #1
November 16th 2018, 400 Pages 
Print, Ebook and Audio  

Genre: Historical Fiction/Romance
Setting: Northern England and the Midlands: 1066-1068

The Wulfriths. It all began with a woman.

A battle. A crown. The conqueror. The conquered. Medieval England—forever changed by the Battle of Hastings. And the rise of the formidable Wulfriths.

An honorable Norman
Chevalier Cyr D’Argent convinced himself he joined Duke William’s invasion of England to reform its church and place its rightful king on the throne. But after a decisive Norman victory, the truth of his quest is revealed when his search for fallen kin leads to a Saxon grieving a boy slain. Certain the defiant young woman will become plunder, he forces her off the battlefield. Following a pilgrimage of penance, Cyr returns to England to seek his missing brother and claim the barony awarded by King William who stipulates he end the rebellion on his lands. He agrees, only to discover the woman he cannot forget is among those he must vanquish—and may even be their leader.

A rebellious Saxon
On a fateful autumn day in 1066, Aelfled of Wulfen’s mistake leads to the death of her lady’s son. Unforgivable—as is the silver-haired warrior who tempts her to put a blade in his back then does the unthinkable in protecting her from his fellow Normans. Now under the usurper’s rule, faith crippled by her people’s suffering, she finds her sanctuary threatened —and destroyed when betrayal delivers her into the hands of the man who haunts her dreams. As the fires of unrest scorch lives and lands, Aelfled struggles to shield her heart as well as her people. But perhaps love can unite Normans and Saxons. Perhaps she is meant to be here…with him…for such a time as this.

My Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐

I didn't know that to expect with this new series, but I purchased the book way back last year so decided it was time to get to it.

I actually really liked it. It created a strong sense of what the years immediately following the Norman Conquest might have been like. Turbulent and troubled, with rebellions and many of the English refused to accept their Norman overlords. English was 'not on its knees, nor was it on its feet', as is stated in the book.
The Normans regard the English as 'heathens'. Which this Englishwoman thinks is downright cheeky, since we were Christians when their ancestors were still Viking pirates.

There are some colourful new characters to follow, and once again its a large family of siblings, with a couple of extended relatives (a cousin and Aunt), who will probably all forge out their own stories. There is romance, but I think its sort of slow burning, and takes a bit of a back foot at times with all the intrigue and talk of rebellions and uprisings.

I only had a couple of historical niggles. First off, the number of castles only 2 years after the Battle of Hastings. There were a few before the Conquest, but they were very much a Norman and continental thing, and most were not erected until several years after the conquest: and most were simple Motte and Bailey affairs at this time. The architecture described just seemed too seem more like the castles of much later periods.

Second, there were a couple of references to rotten teeth, which I think is something of a misconception. Archeologists have said that the Saxons had really good teeth. They simply did not have access to processed sugar in their diet, so tooth decay just wasn't really an issue then.

Also, some of the fighting styles. Almost all of the characters fight primarily or exclusively with swords. Yet the Bayeux tapestry and other sources from this period suggest people using spears on horseback and even axes. Not just swords.

Aside from those minor issues though I really enjoyed this, and look forward to the second book which I have waiting on my Kindle.

20 Sept 2019

First Line Friday: Peaceweaver by Deborah Kinnard

Today I am including another book from my Kindle backlog. Peaceweaver by Deborah Kinnard is set in an usual time and place: Medieval Wales. The 10th century, to be precise. 

I consider Wales to be the forgotten part of Britain, especially when it comes to Christian fiction. Everyone knows about Scotland and Ireland and their supposed 'Celtic' heritage, but poor Wales gets forgotten, despite the fact that the Welsh as the descendants of the Romano-Britons may have embraced Christianity before anyone else in Britain.
Yup, that's right: its possible the Welsh are descended from the original people of Britain who intermarried with the Romans and became Christian in Roman times.

This title is now, sadly out of print since the Publisher went out of business last year, but I purchased the novel on Kindle a couple of years before that, so its still available in my library and the author says she might independently republish it at some point.

About the Book

Young Anmair is smart, stubborn and worth more than a marriage pawn in 10th century Wales. Her father, however, has other plans, and gives her in wedlock to a man she’s never met.

She finds her bookish new husband is as averse to marriage as she. In a world of Viking raids, territorial wars, and family treachery, Anmair must both prove herself worthy of true love, and a woman who can hold the Faith Box. She and Cadell must work together to weave a tapestry of peace.

Welsh pronounciation is tricky, but think the correct way to pronounce this name is An-Mare, and the 'f' in Welsh sounds like 'v' so the last part is Evan. The place name Clwyd sounds like Kloo-Id.

Got that right? Congratulations you've spoken a couple of syllables of what might be the the oldest surviving language in mainland Britain.

Have Fun, and don't forget to comment with your own First Line 


9 Sept 2019

Always by Jody Hedlund

The Lost Princesses #0.5 
August 13th 2019, Northern Lights Press, 136 Pages
Print and Ebook 

 A fierce elite guard. A loyal lady in waiting. They must work together to save three princesses from certain death.

On the verge of dying after giving birth to twins, the queen of Mercia pleads with Lady Felicia to save her infant daughters. With the castle overrun by King Ethelwulf’s invading army, Lady Felicia vows to do whatever she can to take the newborn princesses and their three-year old sister to safety, even though it means sacrificing everything she holds dear.

Gravely wounded in battle  the king of Mercia tasks Lance, one of his fiercest elite guards, to protect his family along with keys to an ancient treasure. As Lance makes plans to sneak the princesses out of the capital city, he doesn’t need or want Lady Felicia’s help.

With the dark enemy in pursuit, Lance and Felicia must put aside their differences to outrun King Ethelwulf and prevent him from killing the princesses. In a desperate attempt to hide the young girls, Lance and Felicia agree to a marriage of convenience, a decision that will change their lives—and hearts—forever.

My Rating: ⭐⭐⭐


I decided to borrow this since I have a month left on my Kindle Unlimited subscription, and I decided to see what all the fuss was about.
 This series, I would say are set up as more Fantasy than the last series which some people seemed to think were actual Historical Fiction. I've always maintained the previous series were Fantasy as well, but I digress.

Always was a fun beginning to a new series, and an interesting self-contained adventure which would appeal to younger readers. It sets up a lot of the background for the stories, but has its own story-line and sympathetic characters, as well as romance and a faith message.

Its clean and sweet, but adult readers really do need to be prepared to suspend their disbelief in several places. A couple of common fantasy tropes in this story did have me saying 'Oh come on!' including throwing a sword. Swords are not projectile weapons people. They're not aerodynamic, and won't just go flying straight through air or spinning impressively like you see in movies.
There's also a character wearing a 'chain mail cape'. I had to do a double take at that. A cape made of chain mail. Really? And the point in such a garment would be what? Except being a cumbersome nuisance?

The thing that I have to say irked me most about this novel though there the number of references to American animals. I recall mention of mink, grizzly bear, raccoons and coyotes.
OK, so I said this is fantasy, but really if you're going to write a novel set even in a fantasy land that's meant to be loosely based on Medieval Britain (even called Britannia, I mean its obvious) can you please do some research on European animals? Otherwise what's the point of the Medieval setting?

So overall, I kind of enjoyed this book. It looks to be a solid start to the new trilogy and the concept looks promising. I just hope its a little more authentic and a bit less silly.

7 Sept 2019

Flight of the Raven by Morgan L. Busse

Ravenwood Saga #2
April 30th 2019, 400 Pages,  Bethany House
Print, Ebook and Audio 

 Selene Ravenwood, once the heir to House Ravenwood, is now an exile. On the run and free of her family's destiny, Selene hopes to find the real reason her family was given the gift of dreamwalking. But first she must adapt to her new life as wife to Lord Damien Maris, the man she was originally assigned to kill.

While adjusting to her marriage and her home in the north, her power over dreams begins to grow. As the strongest dreamwalker to exist in ages, her expanding power attracts not only nightmares but the attention of the Dark Lady herself.

With a war looming on the horizon and a wicked being after her gift, Selene is faced with a choice: embrace the Dark Lady's offer, or search out the one who gave her the gift of dreamwalking. One path offers power, the other offers freedom. But time is running out, and soon her choice will be made for her.

My Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐


Book 2 was one heck of a ride. It has a romance, with the developing relationship between Selena and Damien: but also the growing sense of adventure and danger, with the threat of the Dominia Empire.

As this is fantasy, the powers of the different 'Houses' come into the story, and Selene is learning to come to grips with her own power as a dream-walker. Like all good fantasy stories, there is a struggle between good and evil.
In this case, it is largely Selena's as she struggles to let go of what she was taught and wants to use her power to help people, while struggling to be accepted in a new land.

The fantasy world-building continues, only in this one I think it was stronger and a little more credible. There was more background to the different families and Houses, and the source of their power.
Selena learns alongside the reader, which is a great way of developing the story and the plot.

Alongside the spiritual and fantasy elements, there is political drama, with the growth of an Imperial Conquering power that threatens all the people in the fictional world, as well as friction between and within the different families.
There a couple of fantasy tropes: i.e people fighting with swords but without shields (which were kind of vital in pre-modern warfare), wearing leather and able to endure combat for a longer period than someone would be able to in real life. But a lot of those are to be expected.

Honestly, when it comes to fantasy I am picky. I did not think I would like this series, but I liked the first novel, and this one is even better. The Ravenwood Saga is a Fantasy series I can recommend for all those who like the genre.

Thanks to Netgalley and Anne Rogers for allowing me to read the Epub of this title. I was not required to write a positive review, and all opinions expressed are my own.

A Worthy Rebel by Jody Hedlund Review

An Uncertain Choice #5 
September 4th 2018, Northern Lights Press 
Print and Ebook 

A desperate noblewoman, a rebellious peasant, and a forbidden love.

While fleeing an arranged betrothal to a heartless lord, Lady Isabelle becomes injured and lost. Rescued by a young peasant man, she hides her identity as a noblewoman for fear of reprisal from the peasants who are bitter and angry toward the nobility.

Cole Warwick cannot turn his back on a person in need and soon finds himself falling for Izzy, the gentle and beautiful runaway who is mending in his cottage. As the leader of an imminent uprising against the nobility, he tries to resist his growing feelings for Izzy to protect her from the dangerous life he’s chosen. But the longer she stays, the more he hopes she’ll never leave.

When Izzy’s true identity is revealed, Cole feels betrayed. With the rebellion underway, can Cole forgive Izzy and find a way to save her from an unhappy marriage? Or will he and his peasant army be destroyed before he has the chance to fight for the people and the woman he loves?

 My Rating: ⭐⭐

I really could not get on with this book. I understand its Young Adult, so aimed at teenagers, but even then. It was so annoyingly repetitive, constantly telling instead of showing. We don't need to be told 5 or 6 times how pretty and kind Izzy is, how sacrificial, how hardworking and decent Cole is. How much his family suffered. We got it. Just really, stop telling us.

Even the characterization isn't great. Isabel is almost sickly sweet: she supposedly hates violence so much it makes her sick, and yet does not even bat an eyelid when her manservant attacks guards in front of her to get their horses.
The villain is basically a caricature. Most of his actions were inexplicable, or just so exaggeratedly evil it was almost cartoonish: he also felt very generic and similar to a lot of other villains in this series. Complete with his own personal torture dungeon, cos' he really loves torturing people. There does seem to be this ever-present and slightly disturbing fixation with torture in every novel in this series.

As Historical Fiction, this story was, I'm sorry to say, atrocious. It described as a work of 'Historical Recreation but the only way it resembles actual history is that there was an event called the Peasant's Revolt that took place in 1382. That's where the parallels end- and even the date is wrong.

Worse still though, the story was with sloppy historical inaccuracies, inconsistencies and lazy misconceptions. That all peasants were dirt poor, wore rags and were starving. In fact, there were considerable variations in wealth among the Medieval English peasantry, because 'peasant' really just meant someone who lived in the country and wasn't gentry. There were basically two types of peasants: the villeins who were tied to the land and had to pay certain fines and dues for marriage, could not leave etc.

Then there were Free peasants, who held their lands by rent, could buy and sell land, did not have to pay fines and could move around. They could be pretty well off. In this novel though they're all lumped together into one stereotypical and homogeneous mass. They pay rent, yet apparently haven’t the rights of Free Tenants.

We're continually told they're poor as dirt: and yet they all have beds (pretty expensive). We're told that they struggle to feed themselves yet have baskets full of vegetables in their homes.
We're told they'll starve over winter because they can't hunt: why not just slaughter their nice fattened pigs like actual Medieval peasants did? They throw peat on their fires: when they live right next to a flippin' great forest.

Oh, and the peasant workforce living on Isabel's land were so incompetent that they don't even know about crop rotation- a system which commonly used by European farmers for nearly 1000 years- and literally relied on her to buy food for them for the winter.
I mean honestly: what kind of farmer sucks so badly at farming that he has to have his landlord give HIM money to buy basic necessities?
No. Just no. Medieval peasants only tended to starve if there was a crop failure or natural disaster or something. Yet I've noticed that for most of this series, they're all totally incompetetent and helpless. I think its a plot contrivance to make them reliant on the hero/heroine so that he or she looks good.

The most egregious historical inaccuracy though was the claim that it was considered to be a 'mortal sin' and 'heresy' for peasants to try and better themselves and rise through the ranks. NO. IT. WAS. NOT. There are actual historical examples of peasants who did just that: rising to gentry within a generation or two through advantageous marriages or buying land.

It’s a total misunderstanding and oversimplification of Medieval religion and social attitudes: and honestly,  Catholics would take issue at such an interpretation.
Seriously, can authors please take some some effort to acquaint themselves with these things before writing novels set in the Middle Ages?

Also: if you're going to write battle scenes, please acquaint yourselves with weaponry and tactics from the period. I'll grant that most of the details were right: but there were a couple of silly errors that really let the side down.
Like expensive and heavy weapons breaking after a single use (as if they were made of plastic or something), and just being left. Two minutes research on Google tells me that Pikes, a weapon mentioned in this novel, were spears on poles that could be up to twenty feet long. Common sense would suggest they couldn't be used on horseback, like the soldiers do here.

I do commend Mrs Hedlund's desire to write clean and wholesome stories for teens, but this really didn't do it for me. Maybe I'm not the right age group, but the whole story just felt rushed. I'd like to see a more historical research as well if the stories are going to be set in a real historical time and place or incorporate actual historical events.
I say this because so many people are likely to take these as an accurate representation of the past or as 'fact'.

3 Sept 2019

Top Ten Tuesday: Outside My Comfort Zone

Welcome to another TTT (Top Ten Tuesday) post, the group is hosted by The Artsy Reader Girl. 

Today's theme is Books Outside My Comfort Zone.

Some long term followers may know that this Blog was originally devoted almost exclusively to Historical Fiction and Fantasy. The only books I read included outside that Genre were biographies and the odd non-fiction History book.

I almost never read Contemporary Fiction. I seldom do so now, but I am starting to move outside my comfort zone a little, as some of the books on my recently read and TBR list show. 



 I also don't normally read American Fiction, unless there's British character in it, or its one of those Dual Timeline stories about the Second World War or something.
Sorry to my followers across the pond. Its just I don't really identify with stuff set in the United States because I don't live there. And honestly, its boring to constantly be cast as the bad guy on the grounds of nationality. Which is why generally avoid anything set during the Revolutionary War like the proverbial plague. 

I have read a few books set in America that I've liked though, and I have a few others on my Kindle. Most of these reflect my status as a certified Mystery buff. I'm a sucker for a good mystery or thriller set just about anywhere. 


 General Market titles aren't necessarily outside my comfort zone per se, its just that I don't usually review them on here because this blog is devoted to Inspirational and Christian books. I do read them, I just review them elsewhere, usually on Amazon or Goodreads. Although I have a couple on my Netgalley account that I might eventually review here.


Join me again for another Top Ten Tuesday post in a week or two.

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