29 Dec 2017

First Line Fridays 18: The Samurai's Heart by Walt Mussell

Who would believe its the last Friday of 2017? Another year has gone, another year older. I'm making a resolution this year to try and finish all the unread books on my Kindle. I know that with the time and inclination I can get through a 450 odd page novel in a weekend.  At least, I've done it a couple of times. With the Christmas rush over, hopefully, there will be more reading time for a while.

Today, I am sharing a book with a quite unique subject and setting The Samurai's Heart by Walt Mussell is set in late 16th century Japan. Only recently has the history of Christianity in Early Modern Japan come to the attention of the Western world. 
Briefly, it was Catholic and Jesuit priests from areas like Portugal which brought the faith to the region in the sixteenth century: but towards the close of the century, the Japanese authorities chose to ban Christianity, leading to some terrible persecution.

I know little about these events or Japanese history in general: although I have seen the movie Silence and even listened to the audiobook, and I recall reading an article a while back about historians discovering cross-like patterns in Samurai swords.  Christian Samurai: the whole idea just turns our whole idea of history on its head. 

Anyway, I got this book a few months ago from Kindle Scout: 

Japan, 1587. Sen must find a husband to marry into her family’s swordsmith business. She seeks a Christian husband, though Christianity is banned.
Enter Nobuhiro. Third son of a high-level samurai, Nobuhiro fled his harsh father and apprenticed himself to a swordsmith. He yearns to prove his worth.

They seem an ideal match. But for Sen, the choice is faith or family. For Nobuhiro, choosing a Christian ends any reconciliation with his family. Can love be forged from the impossible?

The book comes with a handy glossary and a list of the characters (always useful), and the first line reads thus:

"By the order of the Regent, Christianity has been banned from the nation". 

Happy Friday from little old England, and see you again in 2018! 


22 Dec 2017

First Line Fridays 17: Christmas Classics

Only three days to go! Here shopping has been manic (but its mostly been for groceries, I buy most of my actual gifts online), and we have not had any snow. We rarely do anyway, but many parts of the country have, not a drop here. Just the wet stuff.  

I've always loved Christmas, but I'm not likely to finish any of my longer books before the new year, although my recently delivered copy of The Ladies of Ivy Cottage by Julie Klassen awaits on the shelf. So I'm not including that book, instead of decided to feature two well known-classics which are often associated with the Christmas season.

One is a Christmas story in a traditional sense, the other is not, and both have been adapted for the small and big screen so that sometimes its easy to forget they were originally books.  

Of course, the above is from the much-loved children's book The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis. 

Narnia . . . a land frozen in eternal winter . . . a country waiting to be set free.

Four adventurers step through a wardrobe door and into the land of Narnia, a land enslaved by the power of the White Witch. But when almost all hope is lost, the return of the Great Lion, Aslan, signals a great change . . . and a great sacrifice. 

Yup, this is from Dickens 'A Christmas Carol'. Who needs a synopsis for that: everyone knows the story right?  

Happy Friday, and Christmas Blessings from me until next week.  


19 Dec 2017

Deeds of Darkness by Mel Starr

Chronicles of Hugh de Singleton #10 
 18th August (UK), 21st October (USA), Lion Fiction/Kregel
240 Pages, Print and ebook
To bring justice, Master Hugh must foil the corrupt power of great men.
Many medieval scholars discontinued their university studies before completing their degree. Some lacked funds; others became bored with a scholar's life. Occasionally these young men formed lawless bands, robbing and raping and creating chaos. They were called goliards.

In Deeds of Darkness Master Hugh learns that the Bampton coroner, an old friend, has been slain while traveling to Oxford. As he seeks the killer (or killers) he discovers a band of goliards in the area between Oxford and Bampton. But how to apprehend these youths? They have protectors far above Hugh's station. He must deal with the claims of justice on the one hand and the power of great men to protect their henchmen on the other.

My Review: ★★

I’ve followed the Chronicles of Hugh de Singleton series almost since the start. Well, OK since the third book came out (but then I went back and read the first two). Although I enjoyed the last book, Lucifer’s Harvest, I think I preferred this one. It's certainly up to the standard of some of the older books in the series (and back to full length at 250 pages: the last one was an aberration at only 125 pages), but also offered plenty for new readers.

There’s everything that fans have come to love, with the details about Medieval medicine, surgery, and life. We can learn a new word ‘hamsoken’ which was the Medieval equivalent of breaking and entering. Who knew that those Medieval landowners were supposed to cut the vegetation back from the edges of public roads, so miscreants would have fewer places to hide? Its small details like that which really add to the series, as well as the relationships between characters and not simply the central mystery.

Hugh’s wife Kate is back in her element, as the intelligent and witty Lady who offers a lot of wise advice, and now they have a son, named after John Wycliffe, no less. Also, her father re-enters the story and his character makes a rather unexpected, but satisfying transformation. I shall say no more, so as not to spoil it. Arthur and Uhtred, Hugh’s erstwhile right-hand-men are also ever-present.

That was also done quite well with a suspect who was not immediately obvious. My only complaints were the use of one or two American terms which slipped through ‘anyplace’ and ‘someplace’, were the ones I remembered. Also, I do seem to recall a little inconsistency about the detail of where one character lived. Overall though, I am glad that this series is continuing (and the Black Prince is going to be in the next one again), its pretty much the reading highlight of my Autumn each year. Recommended for all lovers of historical mysteries which aren’t too intense or too dark. 

I requested a copy of this title from the publisher/distributors including Kregel Books but was not required to write a review. All opinions expressed are my own.

16 Dec 2017

King's Folly by Jill Williamson

Kinsman Chronicles #1
Bethany House, April 5th 2016, 576 Pages 
Print and Ebook
The gods are angry.

Volcanic eruptions, sinkholes, ground shakers--everything points to their unhappiness. At least that is what the king of Armania believes. His son, Prince Wilek, thinks his father's superstitions are nonsense, though he remains the ever dutiful First Arm of Armania.

When a messenger arrives and claims that the town of Farway has been swallowed by the earth, the king sends Wilek to investigate. But what Wilek discovers is more cataclysmic than one lost city. Even as the ground shifts beneath his feet, Wilek sets out on a desperate journey to save his people and his world. But can he do it before the entire land crumbles?

My Review:

This must have been the longest book I have read in a good while, and nearly 550 pages. Epic Fantasy is the word: as in long, so the division into three parts did help. So what was my impression? It was a good book, and I would read the next (though I expect that will take me a good few months as its even longer), but I don't count it among my favourite fantasy novels. The downside of having the Netgalley version was no interactive menu, so I could not switch back the character list to remind myself who was who: until I borrowed the Kindle edition.

There were a lot of characters, which interconnected stories, at it was hard to keep track of what was going on at times. Personally, I was not sure about the world building either: the eclectic mix of Medieval type culture with Castles, with elements of Biblical Hebrew (polygamy, lots of gods) ancient Middle Eastern/Egyptian and a few details that seemed decidedly modern did not really work for me.
Once I got into the story, that was not such a problem, but I never really felt totally immersed in in the invented world, so to speak.

I know some people have complained about certain content in these stories: the fact that many characters have mistresses, and that there is a female, Amazon-like culture whose sole purpose seems to be to seduce and enslave men using black magic. I did not find that to be much of an issue because of the way it was treated (not as a good thing). So, this book's not according to everyone's taste, but fantasy fans might like it.

I requested this book via Netgalley, and then borrowed a copy via Kindle Unlimited. I was not required to write a review and all opinions expressed are my own.

9 Dec 2017

First Line Fridays #16: Dragons!

I know, I know the title is inaccurate and it's actually Saturday morning. I just did not get around to the post yesterday. Today I am featuring a book a read a while back, Mercy's Prince by Katy Huth Jones which is the first in a series of 5 books set in a fictional country loosely based on 12th century Britain. It has knights, battles, romance, people that very closely resemble Scotsmen in kilts and DRAGONS! Various breeds of the beasties including cute little ones that can be kept as pets, and deadly ones which can fight with weapons like men: and legendary Great Dragons, are key to the story. 

As second son of the King of Levathia, seventeen-year-old Valerian desires the quiet life of a scholarly monk. But when he fails to save his older brother in battle, Valerian must instead become crown prince. While a traitorous knight schemes against him, Valerian meets Mercy, a pacifist Healer with whom he can speak mind-to-mind like the great dragons.
Their bond emboldens Valerian to seek out the legendary dragons and ask for their help against the monsters who killed his brother. Can Valerian survive the traitor's assassins long enough to find the dragons? And if he does, can he convince them to lay aside their hatred of humans and help him save the land from destruction?

Makes for a great story: and it turns out the chief dragon is named Albionix: which I think is an amazing name. What's more he, like most of the other Great Dragons can talk and communicate with humans: but only some humans.  Yup, shades of Eragon and Dragonheart: but with Bible verses at the beginning of each chapter, which actually work really well.  Are you getting the idea that I like dragons yet?  

The first two lines are:

"Something scaly crawled across Valerian's cheek. He started awake, shivering in his cloak where he lay curled up on the bare ground"  


I have four more books to go in the series: which should be utter bliss. PLUS there is an audiobook of this one, with a British narrator. Until next time, Happy reading and happy Saturday. 


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