29 Dec 2016

Best Reads of 2016

Thought it was time for me to compile a list of the books I have read this year: that I loved the most and want to gush about or give an extra accolade.  
Please note that not all of these titles were published this year, but are books I read in 2016. Click on the titles for links to more information on each book, and my review.


Ancient and Medieval:

Regency to Modern:




23 Dec 2016

Lucifer's Harvest by Mel Starr

Chronicles of Hugh de Singleton #9 
Lion Fiction, 19th August 2016 (UK), Nov 27th (US) 
160 Pages 

King Charles of France has announced that he is confiscating Aquitaine, and Prince Edward has sent for knights and men at arms from England to assist him in opposing the French king. Lord Gilbert Talbot is required to provide five knights, twelve squires, and twenty archers and men at arms, and wishes his surgeon - Hugh de Singleton - to travel with the party, while Hugh's wife Kate will oversee the castle.
Among the party will be Sir Simon Trillowe, Hugh's old nemesis and Kate's former suitor, who had once set fire to Hugh's house. After a brawl on the streets of Oxford Sir Simon had nearly lost an ear; Hugh had sewn it back on but it had healed crooked, and Simon blamed Hugh for the disfigurement. Finding himself in the same party, Hugh resolves not to turn his back on the knight - but it is Sir Simon who should not have turned his back.

For some who have been following this series, the length of this book proved a disappointment. It was only 150 pages, instead of the usual 225-50. I confess, I had my own reservations in that regard, but I certainly enjoyed it.
As the synopsis makes clear, this instalment of the Hugh de Singleton Medieval mystery series involves the Surgeon Hugh being accused of the murder of his long-time enemy, Sir Simon Trillowe (a knight who had courted the woman he married, and once tried to burn down his house). Against the backdrop of the Siege of Limoges in 1370, the intrepid sleuthing surgeon and his erstwhile friends Arthur and Uctred must rise above their own resentments to solve the mystery before it’s too late.

Personally, I appreciated the way that Mr Starr took this novel out of Bampton, the Oxfordshire village where Hugh and his family make their home. It’s set in Aquitaine, one of the former English possessions in France during the Hundred Years War. The setting allows for the story to explore Medieval warfare, and its impact to society, as well as introducing some of the movers and shakers of the period. Major political figures and politics generally do not usually feature in this series, but in this instalment the Black Prince, also known as Edward of Woodstock, the eldest son of King Edward III makes an appearance. Well, several appearances to be exact, which adds an interesting flavour to the story.
Of course, there are the usual historical details about everyday life and Medieval medicine as well, which are one of the things I like most about this series.

As is often the case, there is some exploration of moral and religious issues. In this case, Hugh finds his convictions tested when he must discover that happened to his enemy, and deal with his father who seems determined to see him hanged for a crime he did not commit. He would rather leave the matter well alone, but the accusation assures he cannot, and must face his enemies as well as his own resentments head on.
Regular readers should be warned that this story does have a somewhat darker and more melancholy tone than many of the previous titles, due not only to the mystery but other events which befall major characters. That should not necessarily put anyone off, but just be aware that it marks a slight diversion from the usually light tone.

Overall this was a good story, and well worth a read for fans of the series and Medieval mystery lovers more generally, though I admit it was not my favourite title in the series (I preferred book seven The Abbott’s Agreement and book five The Tainted Coin).

I requested and received a copy of this book from the publisher Lion Fiction. I was not required to write a positive review, and all opinions expressed are my own.

16 Dec 2016

The Reward of Anavrea - Book Trailer

Its finally here! The Reward of Anavrea: Book Three of the Theodoric Saga by Rachel Rossano came out four days ago. For those not familiar with the series, its the latest installment in a Medieval Historical Fantasy saga.

Here's the Amazon synopsis:

She couldn’t hide forever.

A hard life taught Jayne to avoid men, powerful men most of all. When a new nobleman arrives to take over the vargar, she takes her family and hides. But the new baron seeks her out and makes her an offer she can’t refuse: protection. However, once they were sheltered behind the dark stone walls of the vargar, who would protect her from the new master?
His reward isn’t what it seems.

King Ireic of Anavrea charges Liam, a former bodyguard, with the task of retaking and taming a corner of the northern wilds. Upon arrival at Ashwyn Vargar, Liam finds challenges beyond his military experience. The keys to the vargar are missing and so are the field hands who should be harvesting the fields. Once he finds the keeper of the keys, she raises more questions than answers.

Rachel does her own trailers for her books, so here it is:

Click any of the links to find it on your favourite retailers site: 

14 Dec 2016

She Walks In Power by Marylu Tyndall- Audiobook Review

Protectors of the Spear #1 
Audio edition November 15th 2016
Print and Ebook September 2nd 2016, 285 pages 

Alexia D'Clere didn't ask to be Protector of the Spear, but after her dying mother gave her the tiny metal object and made her promise to keep it safe, she had no choice.
Orphaned at age eight, she began to take over the running of her parent's castle with the help of a trusted steward. Yet, when a plot to murder her was revealed, a friar whisked her away to live hidden in the forest. There, she learned to shoot expertly with a bow and arrow and hone her skills to see into the spirit realm. Now, at eighteen, Alexia continues to keep the Spear protected. 

With Alexia's powers of spiritual discernment and her skill as an archer, she is no match for those who come for the spear. That is, until she meets Ronar LePeine, one of the King's elite guard. Ronar desires nothing more than to do his duty to God and King and pay penance for past sins. Yet a forest sprite with red, flaming hair blocks his every move, all the while enchanting him like no other. 

Something evil lurks at Castle Luxley, and both Ronar and Alexia are soon thrust into the middle of a spiritual battle which will not only test their very beliefs but put them both in mortal danger.

Tauriel: Elfin Archer and model for Alexia?
I've had some bad experiences with books by this author, having read two others and really disliked them.
Yet I gave this a chance, and purchased it with some Amazon credits, because I have a weakness for Medieval Fiction and it was said to be more of a fantasy story.
Interestingly, the woman on the cover looked oddly familiar: she's almost a doppelganger for Tauriel from The Hobbit movies- right down the slightly pointed ears.

Perhaps the comparison is apt- the heroine's ability with a bow is superhuman, and there were faint shades of the Tolkienesque.  On the whole this turned out to be a decent adventure story and an interesting spin on the old Robin Hood stories. To be honest, it had to offer something different to stand out from the others, and I confess I enjoyed this a more than I have previous books by this author.
Notwithstanding some unnecessary silliness, like the bare-chested fencing scene, which was clearly put in just so the heroine Alexia could see the hero Ronar in the buff, as well as knights wearing what I call ‘butter armour’ which could be sliced through in a single stroke. Alongside a few clich├ęs of Medieval Fiction, like filth, squalor and dirty helpless peasants who somehow magically managed to obtain fresh milk despite having their livestock confiscated.

Now, I like Tolkien and I like Historical Fantasy, so I could have really liked this, could- but sadly didn't.
However, I believe the author made a serious error in setting a fantasy story in a real time and place.  Something had to give, and in this case, it was historical and to some extent geographical accuracy. The story was meant to be set in some vague version of Medieval England- but a version that included Pine Forests (there weren't any because our climate was not right for them) raccoons- a thoroughly American mammal, not found in the British Isles, and an inordinate number of wolves, considering they had become extinct in England by the end of the fourteenth century. 
It seemed the rule of if in doubt, base the Flora and Fauna on the familiar in the United States rule applied. Yeah, OK, but Britain is not America, we have our own, different climate and plant and animal life.

On the historical side whilst some research was done, perhaps a lot much of the story fell far short. I really do wish authors would do their research on Medieval English Law, as well as Church law. At one point Alexia was accused of 'witchcraft’ and was going to be burned on the say so of a Bishop. No, only a church court could convict a person of heresy- and you could not legally be condemned as a traitor or proclaimed an outlaw without due legal procedure either.
Nor was it ever ‘treason’ to kill the Kings’ Deer.It was against the Forest Laws, which applied only to the Forest and certain animals. Not squirrels or ducks, and not the entire country.

The depiction of Medieval religious ideas fared little better. Now, I’m no Catholic, but I do believe in accuracy- and that if one is going to write anything polemical, one has to get the facts right. So, Medieval Catholics did not believe the Pope was ‘divine’ as was claimed in this novel.. Nor were they banned from reading or quoting the Bible- they had Psalters and Prayer books for goodness sake! They certainly would not have considered it ‘Blasphemy’ to talk about the Holy Spirit, or believe in the Indwelling of the Spirit. They believed certain people were indwelled by the Spirit- one being the King.

Oh, but of course, Friar Josef and Alexia, who were meant to represent true Bible Believing Christians rejected the idea that the King was God’s anointed because according to them 'we are all appointed of God'. By the end, the formerly faithful subjects come to realise like them that the 'unrighteous' King is not worthy of their loyalty and service.
See this is the problem. A lot of American authors assume that the Historical European view allowed for only two options. Loyalty to the King or following God: the two are wrongly assumed to have been mutually exclusive.
That's not how we see monarchy: its rather like telling an American they can't pledge allegiance to the flag, be loyal to their President and a Christian.

In fact it brings to mind two passages from the Bible “Every person is to be in subjection to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those which exist are established by God”. (Romans 13:1-2) and “Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether a King as one in authority or to governors sent by him to punish evildoers” (1 Peter 2:13).
OK, I get that this book was written by an American who is most likely anti-monarchy, but I think this content owes more to her own ideas than Holy Writ, and the  assumption that preconceived ideas of her society are 'Biblical'.

Overall, I believe She Walks in Power is a victim of the popularity of the Genre- written because Medieval Fiction is 'in' and 'cool' at the moment, but without any real familiarity for the period or the geographical setting. There is a sound Gospel message, but I would not agree with all of the other religious messages, and I think there are better ways to write a story about Spiritual Warfare. Perhaps a proper fantasy story set in an invented world would have been better.

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