Friday, June 23, 2017

The Alice Network Blog Tour and Review

The Alice Network by Kate Quinn
Publisher: William Morrow Paperbacks
Publication date: June 6, 2017
Genre: Historical fiction
Source: Publisher for an honest review

Description:

In an enthralling new historical novel from national bestselling author Kate Quinn, two women—a female spy recruited to the real-life Alice Network in France during World War I and an unconventional American socialite searching for her cousin in 1947—are brought together in a mesmerizing story of courage and redemption.

1947. In the chaotic aftermath of World War II, American college girl Charlie St. Clair is pregnant, unmarried, and on the verge of being thrown out of her very proper family. She's also nursing a desperate hope that her beloved cousin Rose, who disappeared in Nazi-occupied France during the war, might still be alive. So when Charlie's parents banish her to Europe to have her "little problem" taken care of, Charlie breaks free and heads to London, determined to find out what happened to the cousin she loves like a sister.

1915. A year into the Great War, Eve Gardiner burns to join the fight against the Germans and unexpectedly gets her chance when she's recruited to work as a spy. Sent into enemy-occupied France, she's trained by the mesmerizing Lili, the "Queen of Spies", who manages a vast network of secret agents right under the enemy's nose.

Thirty years later, haunted by the betrayal that ultimately tore apart the Alice Network, Eve spends her days drunk and secluded in her crumbling London house. Until a young American barges in uttering a name Eve hasn't heard in decades, and launches them both on a mission to find the truth ...no matter where it leads.



My Take:

It's hard to know where to start on this review of The Alice Network. The time covered is World War I through the turmoil after World War II.  The current action takes place after WWII and Charlie is searching for her cousin, Rose, who went missing during the war. Charlie meets Eve and her driver Finn and talks them into helping her with her mission.

Eve is a mystery to Charlie at first. She is difficult, is obviously traumatized by something in her past, but smart and interesting and funny at times. Charlie and Eve are more alike than either suspects. The novel is told in a back-and-forth style between Charlie's present and Eve's past during WWI. Eve's amazing story is told bit by bit as the reader follows Charlie's search for her cousin.

I found the character development to be very well done and was quickly pulled into the drama of Charlie running away from her parents' plans to take care of her "little problem" and take definitive action on her own. Even knowing the repercussions of her actions, she is determined to finally do something for herself. Charlie is a very sympathetic character and I thought she was easy to relate to.

Eve is a more difficult character - but once her story starts to come out, I was completely pulled into her life and her troubles. Without giving too much away, Eve is a real hero and such a tough woman. She had some very wild, dangerous, and ultimately traumatizing times during the war and she has the demons and ghosts to prove it. 

The story of The Alice Network itself is every bit as exciting and heartbreaking as the stories of Eve and Charlie individually. There is a section at the end of the book which describes which people and events are based on actual historical events. The stories of the amazing, brave women who worked in the spy network read like fiction - despite being based on actual events. After reading The Alice Network, I want to read more about them.

The Alice Network is all the buzz for a good reason - the book is highly readable, the story is intriguing, the tension is almost unbearable, and the characters are wonderful. This is definitely a book that I will be recommending to all my friends and to my book club.





About the Author:

Kate Quinn is a native of southern California. She attended Boston University, where she earned a Bachelor's and Master's degree in Classical Voice. A lifelong history buff, she has written four novels in the Empress of Rome Saga, and two books in the Italian Renaissance, before turning to the 20th century with "The Alice Network." All have been translated into multiple languages. Kate and her husband now live in Maryland with two black dogs named Caesar and Calpurnia, and her interests include opera, action movies, cooking, and the Boston Red Sox












Monday, May 15, 2017

Candace Robb's Kate Clifford Mystery Series Book Blast

Please join author Candace Robb as her Kate Clifford Mystery Series is featured around the blogosphere, from May 9-24.

The Service of the Dead by Candace Robb

Paperback Publication Date: May 9, 2017
Pegasus Books
Paperback; 256 Pages
Series: Kate Clifford Mysteries, Book One
Genre: Historical/Mystery/Thriller



Expertly recreating the social and political upheavals of late medieval Europe, Candace Robb introduces a new series starring Kate Clifford, a woman forged on the warring northern marches of fourteenth century England.

Political unrest permeates York at the cusp of the fifteenth century, as warring factions take sides on who should be the rightful king--Richard II or his estranged, powerful cousin in exile, Henry Bolingbroke. Independent minded twenty-year-old Kate Clifford is struggling to dig out from beneath the debt left by her late husband. Determined to find a way to be secure in her own wealth and establish her independence in a male dominated society, Kate turns one of her properties near the minster into a guest house and sets up a business. In a dance of power, she also quietly rents the discreet bedchambers to the wealthy, powerful merchants of York for nights with their mistresses.

But the brutal murder of a mysterious guest and the disappearance of his companion for the evening threatens all that Kate has built. Before others in town hear word of a looming scandal, she must call upon all of her hard-won survival skills to save herself from ruin.

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | IndieBound


Praise for The Service of the Dead

“Robb’s deft hand creates a realistic political and commercial climate as King Richard II’s reign draws to a close in 1399. Comparable to Sara Poole’s Poisoner mysteries and Ariana Franklin’s Adelia Aguilar series, with its strong political setting and multiple plot strands.” (Booklist)

“A historical novel that deftly captures politics and interactions between different social interests in late medieval England…against the backdrop of social pressures and military actions, Kate’s character and world shine and draw readers into her choices and challenges.” (California Bookwatch)

“Kate Clifford is a wonderful creation, hard-nosed in some respects, compassionate and caring on the other. I look forward to the next installment of this delightful series!” (Historical Novels Review)

“The novel resonates with its compelling portrayal of an England on the brink of crisis.” (Publishers Weekly)

“The Service of the Dead is a tasty brew of political intrigue, larceny, and murder set within the walls of medieval York. Candace Robb’s latest historical mystery is steeped in the atmosphere of the late fourteenth century, and in Kate Clifford she’s given us a no-nonsense heroine and sleuth who is not only smart, but fierce when those she cares about are threatened. You’re going to love her.” (Patricia Bracewell, author of the Emma of Normandy Trilogy)

“The Service of the Dead by Candace Robb is a strikingly well-crafted novel that is a compelling page-turner from beginning to end. Very highly recommended for community library historical fiction collections.” (Midwest Book Review)

~~~~~~~~~~


A Twisted Vengeance by Candace Robb

Publication Date: May 9, 2017
Pegasus Books
Hardcover; 400 Pages
Series: Kate Clifford Mysteries, Book Two
Genre: Historical/Mystery/Thriller



As the fourteenth century comes to a close, York seethes on the brink of civil war-and young widow Kate Clifford, struggling to keep her businesses afloat, realizes that her mother is harboring a dangerous secret…

1399. York is preparing for civil war, teeming with knights and their armed retainers summoned for the city’s defense. Henry of Lancaster is rumored to have landed on the northeast coast of England, not so far from York, intent on reclaiming his inheritance-an inheritance which his cousin, King Richard, has declared forfeit.

With the city unsettled and rife with rumors, Eleanor Clifford’s abrupt return to York upon the mysterious death of her husband in Strasbourg is met with suspicion in the city. Her daughter Kate is determined to keep her distance, but it will not be easy-Eleanor has settled next door with the intention of establishing a house of beguines, or poor sisters. When one of the beguines is set upon in the night by an intruder, Kate knows that for the sake of her own reputation and the safety of her young wards she must investigate.

From the first, Eleanor is clearly frightened yet maintains a stubborn silence. The brutal murder of one of Eleanor’s servants leads Kate to suspect that her mother’s troubles have followed her from Strasbourg. Is she secretly involved in the political upheaval? When one of her wards is frightened by a too-curious stranger, Kate is desperate to draw her mother out of her silence before tragedy strikes her own household.


"Lovers of Shakespeare’s Richard II will find Robb’s intricate sequel to 2016’s The Service of the Dead a particular treat, as it charts the course of Richard’s downfall and his cousin Henry of Bolingbroke’s rise through the fears and uncertainties of the residents of the city of York in July 1399. These anxieties are worsened by a series of strange deaths connected to the extended family of Kate Clifford, a fierce young widow struggling to cope with not only her own household of jostling servants and the recently arrived illegitimate children of her late husband but also the return of her quarrelsome mother, Eleanor, from Strasbourg with religious women in tow. The character of Clifford is compelling and finely drawn, and for those readers who are patient enough to manage an unusually large number of secondary characters, the answers to a series of mysteries, starting with the reason for an intruder’s attack on a beguine (or poor sister) in the middle of the night, are highly satisfying." - Kirkus Reviews, STARRED REVIEW

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | IndieBound


About the Author


Candace Robb did her graduate work in medieval literature and history, and has continued to study

the period while working first as an editor of scientific publications and now for some years as a freelance writer. Candace has published 13 crime novels set in 14th century England, Wales, and Scotland. The Owen Archer series is based in York and currently extends over 10 novels beginning with THE APOTHECARY ROSE; the most recent is A VIGIL OF SPIES. The Margaret Kerr trilogy explores the early days of Scotland’s struggle again England’s King Edward I, and includes A TRUST BETRAYED, THE FIRE IN THE FLINT, and A CRUEL COURTSHIP.

Writing as Emma Campion, Candace has published historical novels about two fascinating women she encountered while researching the Owen Archer mysteries, Alice Perrers (THE KING’S MISTRESS) and Joan of Kent (A TRIPLE KNOT). 

Candace was born in the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina, grew up in Cincinnati, Ohio, and has lived most of her adult life in Seattle, Washington, which she and her husband love for its combination of natural beauty and culture. Candace enjoys walking, hiking, and gardening, and practices yoga and vipassana meditation. She travels frequently to Great Britain. 

For more information, please visit Candace Robb's website. You can also find her on Facebook, Twitter, and Goodreads.

Book Blast Schedule

Tuesday, May 9
Passages to the Past

Wednesday, May 10
The Reading Queen

Thursday, May 11
Carole Rae's Random Ramblings
The Paperback Princess

Friday, May 12
Jo's Book Blog

Saturday, May 13
The Never Ending Book

Monday, May 15
A Book Geek

Tuesday, May 16
So Many Books, So Little Time

Wednesday, May 17
Book Nerd

Friday, May 19
Books, Dreams, Life

Saturday, May 20
Buried Under Books

Monday, May 22
The Book Junkie Reads

Tuesday, May 23
The Lit Bitch
A Literary Vacation

Wednesday, May 24
T's Stuff


Monday, May 8, 2017

Outremer blog tour - Extract

Outremer by D.N. Clark
Publisher: Clink Street Publishing
Publication date: May 9, 2017


Outremer I
Who Controls The Past Controls The Future
 An epic love story must overcome religious divide and a plot to eradicate two blood lines, as the Crusades and the search for the ancient mysteries of the Holy Grail gather momentum.
Raised by his father in La Rochelle, France, Paul Plantavalu is known for his artistic nature, inquisitive mind and Christian faith. He also has an unshakable love for his Muslim childhood friend, Alisha al Komaty. Courageous and outspoken, she returns Paul’s love. But their path is paved with obstacles; religion, war, political chaos and a mysterious enemy determined to destroy their family lines.
Sometime between 1110 AD and 1120 AD in the aftermath of the first crusade, a small band of nine knights — the founding knights Templar — recover ancient precious artefacts left by a former, advanced civilisation, beneath the City of Jerusalem. Ruthlessly guarded, the secrets revealed by this discovery are highly prized by powerful and dangerous forces far and wide; the repercussions of their capture are inextricably linked to Paul and Alisha. As Paul starts to experience dark and vivid dreams and the fragile balance of peace starts to crumble, it will fall to an enigmatic man known as Kratos and his female warrior protégée Abi Shadana, to safeguard Paul and Alisha.
Paul and Alisha’s love story weaves between the threads of our reality and other realms — from the Druids to the Sufi mystics, the Magi of the East, the secret political arm of the Knights Templar and the Isma’ilis, the Assassins. Knights and pilgrims alike will witness some of the darkest battles ever fought. The discovery of a unique sword’s lethal power and whispered connections to King Arthur and the Holy Grail lead Paul and Alisha to question if their lives ever be the same again.
The first of a four-part series, Outremer is an historical epic, which sweeps across England, Scotland and France, to Syria, Jerusalem and Egypt. Discover the truth — and crack the ancient code — behind the great mysteries of the High Middle Ages for yourself.

About the author: After strange and vivid experiences whilst living in Cyprus as a child, author D N Carter has been fascinated by the history, myths and legends of the Middle Ages and mankind’s past. As he got older travels to Pyramids of Giza in Egypt, the Languedoc region of France and the deserts of Arabia fuelled his enthusiasm. While not decoding maps and mathematical codes D N Carter enjoys adventure sports from parachuting to microlight flying. Today he divides his time between East Anglia in the UK and the south of France with his family.




Extract                                                                  

This scene follows immediately after the original founding knights of the Templar's locate and enter a secret chamber beneath Jerusalem and recover ancient artefacts in 1109 AD.

Megalithic Hypogeum of Hal Saflieni, Malta, 1109 AD.

    No sooner had the Count knelt down to pick up the ornate necklace in Jerusalem, when at that exact same moment, across the Mediterranean Sea upon a raised artificial plateau near the shore on Malta’s East coast at the site of a buried Megalithic Hypogeum, a tall, clean-shaven middle aged looking man dressed in a full-length white mantle stood motionless beneath a single standing, large and very ancient Holm Oak tree. The tree shaded an even more ancient stone burial mound. The man sensed something, like a soft wave of water gently hitting him. The setting sun was reflecting hues of crimson and red off the white undersides of the Oaks leaves to beautiful effect. His long tied back hair matched the white of his clothes. His eyes were closed tightly, his hands resting upon a staff as he breathed in deliberately slowly, held his breath for a moment, and then exhaled even more slowly. A slight breeze blew his mantle tunic top open revealing a black and yellow striped cord with a hexagonal pendant replete with a depiction of a stylised bee hanging around his neck.



Fig 1:

    The staff was unusual in that it had a dark polished metallic type horse shoe at the top positioned above a round ball of identical colour. As the Sun sank slowly over the horizon, it cast long shadows across the small open clearing within the woods where the great Oak tree stood separate from the rest. The round ball section of the staff appeared to glow from the inside and a pale bluish green light began to emanate from it shining through his fingers. The man opened his eyes wide revealing large piercing blue eyes that reflected the silhouette image of the tree he stood before. His gaze slowly moved downwards to look at the small figure of a young blonde haired girl of no more than four years of age approach him. Her smile was mesmerising as she stood before him and looked up. He sighed softly and returned the smile. She outstretched her hand for his and when his hand met hers, he knelt down and looked intently into her clear youthful blue eyes.
    “We are but the last few of our kind! You cannot understand me, nor grasp what I say to you yet, but now, as my work can again continue, so too is your journey just beginning my child; so come, we have much to do,” he said softly.
    The little girl squeezed his hand tightly, and simply smiled back at him.

Port of La Rochelle, France, Melissae Inn, Spring 1191.

    A tall figure cloaked from head to toe in a dark grey, almost black, ankle length over tunic with a bright blue sash wrapped around his middle and over his right shoulder stood with his back to the main entrance door of the two storeyed Melissae Inn. A former manor house, it was situated alone at the top of a raised outlet of land that jutted into the harbour opening of the protected straits of the Pertuis d’Antioche, part of the Bay of Biscay to the south of La Rochelle. The port echoed with the sounds of traders, sailors and builders working upon the new half completed outer harbour wall and castellated towers that flanked the entrance. Several large Genoese galleys were berthed alongside Hospitaller and Templar ships along with several merchant Cog vessels; their sails were being furled away.
    With stables, a sizable bunkhouse and a natural fresh water well, it was a haven for travellers and pilgrims to stop and rest as many passed by on the path named the ‘Allee Stella Maris’ due to several myths and stories that surrounded it being named as such, which the inn fronted onto. It had commanding views north across the sheltered harbour and west overlooking the open Atlantic ocean beyond. The sun was casting its last rays on the horizon creating bright shimmering starbursts of light upon the calm waters, which silhouetted him to those inside the inn. A chilly breeze gently blew and he raised the hood up over his head. He stood a while longer gazing out towards the open ocean as raised voices and laughter filled the air with a cacophony of noise he would rather not hear. Stephan, the inn’s proprietor, exited the door looking more like a blacksmith than an innkeeper with his oversized boots and dark leather apron and sleeves rolled up on his arms. Large in both size and character, his receding ginger hair gave away his older age despite his face being youthful and kind looking.
    “I think it’s about time you came inside and warmed yourself. That wind will chill you before you realise it,” he said loudly to be heard above the noise. He wiped a small drinking goblet with a cloth as he waited for the man’s reply and adjusted a small sign that hung bearing the name of the inn and an image of a bee, a beehive and a scallop shell.
    The man raised his right hand in acknowledgement but carried on looking out across the har­bour. A horn blew in the distance and echoed out as workers constructing the harbour entrance fortifications were called to stop their day’s work. The regular and repeated thuds and metallic clanging sounds started to cease almost at once. Only the noise of several horses tied up near the inn neighing and making the odd snort as a Mareschal farrier tended them now punctured the air, plus the occasional laugh and female shriek coming from inside the inn. As the last rays of the sun set in bright crimson and orange hues on the long streaks of cloud on the horizon, the man turned slowly, pulled the hood and cloak around himself tighter and walked toward the inn’s main entrance. Built from both local sandstone blocks and with large wooden beams, the inn was a solid refuge against the bitter Atlantic winds and weather that could batter the shoreline during the winter months, but mostly the bay afforded La Rochelle a temperate climate all year, almost identical to its southern French ports on the Mediterranean. It made for an ideal location as a major Freeport for traders.



Friday, April 21, 2017

Lilli de Jong Book Blast

Lilli de Jong by Janet Benton

Publication Date: May 16, 2017 Nan A. Talese Hardcover & eBook; 352 Pages Genre: Fiction/Historical/Literary

   

   READ AN EXCERPT.

 A young woman finds the most powerful love of her life when she gives birth at an institution for unwed mothers in 1883 Philadelphia. She is told she must give up her daughter to avoid lifelong poverty and shame. But she chooses to keep her.

Pregnant, left behind by her lover, and banished from her Quaker home and teaching position, Lilli de Jong enters a home for wronged women to deliver her child. She is stunned at how much her infant needs her and at how quickly their bond overtakes her heart. Mothers in her position face disabling prejudice, which is why most give up their newborns. But Lilli canít accept such an outcome. Instead, she braves moral condemnation and financial ruin in a quest to keep herself and her baby alive.

Confiding their story to her diary as it unfolds, Lilli takes readers from an impoverished charity to a wealthy family's home to the streets of a burgeoning American city. Drawing on rich history, Lilli de Jong is both an intimate portrait of loves lost and found and a testament to the work of mothers. "So little is permissible for a woman," writes Lilli, ìyet on her back every human climbs to adulthood."

Available for Pre-Order at


  Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million | iTunes | IndieBound | Kobo | Powell's


Praise for Lilli de Jong

"Lilli de Jong, discharged from her teaching job and banished from Quaker meetings because of her father's selfish choice, finds comfort in the affections of her father's apprentice, Johan. The night before he leaves to embark on a new life, she succumbs to his embrace with his promise that he will send for her. Soon thereafter, a pregnant Lilli finds herself shunned and alone, her only option a Philadelphia charity for wronged women. Knowing that she must relinquish her newborn, she is unprepared for the love that she feels for her daughter. Lilli quickly decides to fight to keep her, but in 1883 that means a life of hardship and deprivation. Telling Lilli's story in diary form, debut author Benton has written a captivating, page-turning, and well-researched novel about the power of a mother's love and the stark reality of the choices she must make. VERDICT A great choice for book clubs and readers of Geraldine Brooks." - Library Journal, Starred Review

"A powerful, authentic voice for a generation of women whose struggles were erased from history - a heart-smashing debut that completely satisfies." - Jamie Ford, New York Times bestselling author of Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet

"Beautifully written, emotionally resonant, and psychologically astute, Lilli de Jong is the story of an unwed mother in late 19th-century Philadelphia who, facing peril at every turn, will do almost anything to keep her daughter alive. Benton turns a laser eye to her subject, exposing the sanctimony, hypocrisies, and pervasive sexism that kept women confined and unequal in the Victorian era - and that still bedevil many women today. A gripping read." - Christina Baker Kline, #1 New York Times bestselling author of Orphan Train and A Piece of the World

"A stunning ode to motherhood. Lilli de Jong reminds us that there is no formula to being a good mother. Love is the essential ingredient, and only it gives everlasting life to our legacies. A debut of robust heart that will stay with me for a very long time."  - Sarah McCoy, author of The Mapmaker's Children

"Janet Bentonís remarkable novel Lilli de Jong is historical fiction that transcends the genre and recalls a past world so thoroughly that it breathes upon the page. From the first sentence, Lilli's sensitive, observant, determined voice casts an irresistible spell. Benton combines rich, carefully researched detail with an imaginative boldness that is a joy to behold - though reader, be warned: Lilli's story may break your heart."  - Valerie Martin, author of The Ghost of the Mary Celeste

"[A] gorgeously written debut . . . Lilli's fight to craft her own life and nurture her bond with her baby is both devastatingly relevant and achingly beautiful. A stunning read about the fierceness of love triumphing over a rigid society." - Caroline Leavitt, author of Is This Tomorrow

"The trials Lilli undertakes to keep her baby are heart-rending, and it's a testament to Benton's skill as a writer that the reader cannot help but bear witness. In a style reminiscent of Geraldine Brooks, she seamlessly weaves accurate historical detail as well as disturbing societal norms into the protagonist's struggles . . . An absorbing debut from a writer to watch." - Kirkus Reviews

"A heartrending debut . . . Bentonís exacting research fuels Lilliís passionate, authentic voice that is 'as strong as a hand on a drum . . . that pounds its urgent messages across a distance' . . . Lilli's inspiring power and touching determination are timeless." - Publishers Weekly

"A harrowing look at the strictures of nineteenth-century American society. . . . [Lilli] is a full-fledged heroine, persevering despite seemingly insurmountable odds. . . her voice is distinctive, her fierceness driven by a motherís love." - Booklist

 "I loved this novel. Lilli de Jong is deeply moving and richly imagined, both tragic and joyous. Janet Benton has an exceptional ability to bring history to life . . . It's not only a compelling, beautifully crafted historical novel, however: it's also important . . . Lilli's life-and-death struggle is shockingly common to women even today." - Sandra Gulland, author of the internationally bestselling Josephine B. Trilogy

"Writing with a historical eye akin to Geraldine Brooks and incisive prose matching that of Anthony Doerr, debut novelist Janet Benton magically weaves a gripping narrative of hardship, redemption, and hope while illuminating a portrait of little-known history. The result is an unforgettable and important reflection on the maternal and, ultimately, the human bond. Stunning!" - Pam Jenoff, author of The Kommandantís Girl

"A confident debut . . . Sentence by carefully-crafted sentence, Benton ensnares the reader." - The Millions

About the Author

Janet Bentonís work has appeared in The New York Times, The Philadelphia Inquirer, Glimmer Train, and many other publications. She has co-written and edited historical documentaries for television. She holds a B.A. in religious studies from Oberlin College and an M.F.A. in creative writing from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, and for decades she has taught writing and helped individuals and organizations craft their stories. She lives in Philadelphia with her husband and daughter. Lilli de Jong is her first novel.

Visit Janet Benton's website for more information and updates. You can also connect with her on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Goodreads.

Book Blast Schedule

Monday, April 17
Bookfever

Tuesday, April 18
So Many Books, So Little Time

Wednesday, April 19
Luxury Reading

Thursday, April 20
100 Pages a Day
The Never-Ending Book

Friday, April 21
A Book Geek
Caryn, The Book Whisperer

Saturday, April 22
History From a Woman's Perspective

Monday, April 24
Creating Herstory

Tuesday, April 25
The Book Junkie Reads

Wednesday, April 26
SJ2B House of Books

Thursday, April 27
A Fold in the Spine
One Book Shy of a Full Shelf

Friday, April 28
Just One More Chapter

Monday, May 1
Back Porchervations

Tuesday, May 2
Books & Benches
Oh, for the Hook of a Book

Wednesday, May 3
The Lit Bitch
Unabridged Chick

Thursday, May 4
Beth's Book Nook Blog

Friday, May 5
Brooke Blogs
Trisha Jenn Reads

Sunday, May 7
A Dream within a Dream

Monday, May 8
Book Nerd

Tuesday, May 9
Broken Teepee
The True Book Addict

Wednesday, May 10
What Is That Book About

Thursday, May 11
CelticLady's Reviews

Friday, May 12
A Literary Vacation

Monday, May 15
Passages to the Past

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

The Varangian Blog Tour and Review

The Varangian by Bruce MacBain

Publication Date: November 29, 2016
Blank Slate Press
eBook & Print; 341 Pages
Series: Odd Tangle-Hair Saga, Book Three
Genre: Historical Fiction

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The third volume of Odd Tangle-Hair’s Saga finds our hero in Golden Miklagard (Constantinople), posing as an ambassador from the Grand Prince of Rus. But his real mission is to assassinate his former master, Harald the Ruthless, who has now risen high in the Emperor’s Varangian Guard. Odd is dazzled by the brilliance of the Byzantine capital and its beating heart--the Great Palace, with the astonishing Throne of Solomon that levitates above the heads of kneeling courtiers.

Here, Odd will meet Constantine Psellus, an ambitious young bureaucrat who mentors him in the ways of the court. He will be drawn into an intrigue that involves the Empress Zoe, who spends her days brewing vats of perfume, and John the Guardian of Orphans, the powerful and sinister eunuch who schemes to advance his family. And Odd will fall in love with Selene, an alchemist’s daughter, who supports herself by gambling in the waterfront taverns.

Finally, after a hard-fought campaign against the Saracens in Sicily and the overthrow of an Emperor, Odd reaches the pinnacle of power and believes he has vanquished his enemy Harald once and for all. Then disaster overwhelms him.

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | IndieBound


My Take:

It is with a bit of sadness that I begin this review of the third - and I believe the final - installment of Odd Tangle-Hair's epic tale. First of all, I have to point out just how much I love the covers of these books. After looking back over my previous reviews I was again struck with the beauty of the book covers. 

Odd finally makes it to Constantinople in the guise of an ambassador of Rus and is introduced to a whole new set of royal intrigues. Of course he makes some new friends, some new enemies, and encounters some old friends and enemies as well. Constantine Psellus becomes a mentor for Odd - and it is a good thing for Odd, since this new royal court is on a whole new level of strange and complicated. There are some really interesting and dangerous characters that Odd must maneuver around - including his old master, Harald the Ruthless. He is still ruthless and generally not to be trusted. Harald has aligned himself with John the Guardian of Orphans, who wields an unusual amount of power at court and displays frightening and disturbing personality traits.  

For once, Odd will find love with the adventurous and rebellious Selene, the daughter of an alchemist. As usual, things don't go as planned and Odd is sent off to fight in yet another war with Harald and pretty much anything that can go wrong does go wrong.

Odd's travels throughout the three novels have taken him all over the world. The reader gets to follow his misadventures with the added bonus of  learning a great deal about historical events and people and cultures. I think this third book in the series does a great job of wrapping up Odd's story --- although I admit that I would love to read more about his life. Odd is an engaging and fun character who is smart, curious and likable. His life is often hard and tragic, but never, ever boring.


I really enjoyed The Varangian, but it can be hard to read about all the hardship one of your favorite character must endure.  I really love the attention to historical detail and the seemingly effortless manner in which MacBain explains actual history within Odd's story. One of my favorite moments in the book is when Odd discovers Homer and compares his epic tales with the familiar tales of Odin and the other Norse Gods - and the fact that Odd is now traveling through some of the same places that Homer writes about. The various epics being discussed within the telling of Odd's epic tale is just so much fun.

Odd's story is thoroughly appealing and would be a wonderful introduction to readers hesitant to read Norse or Greek mythology -- I mean who could resist reading more after encountering them within Odd's epic tale?

I wholeheartedly and without hesitation recommend all three of the novels in the Odd Tangle-Hair saga. 


Praise for The Varangian

"Thoroughly effective at explaining the intriguing and highly complex circumstances of the time period, Macbain’s (The Ice Queen, 2015, etc.) book shines in a way that only historical fiction can. Who needs King Jon Snow in Game of Thrones when one can get a glimpse of the historically real and undeniably sinister John the Guardian of Orphans? Even the most terrifying dragon pales in comparison to the sheer horror of a society so comfortable with castration. As the story ventures outside of Constantinople, the reader is treated to a plot that can only be described as epic … a highly entertaining Viking adventure." - Kirkus Reviews

"This is the third and final of Macbain’s Odd Tangle-Hair novels. All three have been spellbinding in their storytelling, though this one may be the best. Odd’s journey takes us around the Mediterranean and eastern European world, and all the way north back to Iceland. The characters are wonderful, the story intriguing, the combat real but never superfluous, and Odd makes for the perfect protagonist. Highly recommended." - Historical Novel Society

"Written by a historian with deep understanding of the cultures, peoples, and languages of this world, The Varangian speaks with an authoritative and compelling voice that can equally present naval battles decided by Greek Fire and court intrigue culminating in advancement to lucrative rank or in mutilation and blinding. This is a masterfully written and suspenseful tale that weaves fictional characters into the dramatic story of eleventh-century Byzantium and ambitious women and men, some home grown and some drawn from afar, who aimed to profit from an empire of legendary wealth and splendor." - Emily Albu, Professor of Medieval and Byzantine Studies, UC, Davis

"The Varangian is the third and final volume of Bruce Macbain’s Odd Tangle-Hair’s Saga, and like the first two entries, it is as compelling and wild a ride as historical fiction offers. Macbain brilliantly weaves in his vast knowledge of 11th century Viking and Byzantine life with a great storyteller’s ability to drive the plot forward, a plot filled with intrigue, violence, betrayal, and lust." - Barton Kunstler, author of The Hothouse Effect

“Detailed and vivid writing.” -Albert Noyer, author of the Getorius and Arcadia Mysteries

About the Author

03_Bruce MacBainBruce Macbain holds degrees in Classics and Ancient History and was formerly an Assistant Professor of Classics at Boston University. He decided to stop writing scholarly articles (which almost no one read) and turn his expertise to fiction—a much more congenial medium. His previous novels include two mysteries set in ancient Rome (Roman Games, The Bull Slayer) and the first two novels in the Odd Tangle-Hair series (Odin’s Child, The Ice Queen).

 For more information, please visit Bruce MacBain's website. You can also find him on Facebook, Twitter, Google+, and Goodreads.

Blog Tour Schedule

Monday, March 20
Kick Off at Passages to the Past
Tuesday, March 21
Review at Rainy Day Reviews
Friday, March 24
Interview at Dianne Ascroft's Blog
Sunday, March 26
Excerpt at T's Stuff
Wednesday, March 29
Guest Post at The Writing Desk
Friday, March 31
Excerpt at What Is That Book About
Tuesday, April 4
Review at Book Nerd
Friday, April 7
Review at Svetlana's Reads and Views
Tuesday, April 11
Review at A Book Geek
Thursday, April 13
Review at Oh, for the Hook of a Book!
Tuesday, April 18
Excerpt at Books, Dreams, Life
Wednesday, April 19
Guest Post at Myths, Legends, Books and Coffee Pots
Thursday, April 27
Review at Broken Teepee

Giveaway

To win a copy of The Varangian by Bruce Macbain, please enter via the Gleam form below. Three copies are up for grabs!

Rules
 – Giveaway ends at 11:59pm EST on April 27th. You must be 18 or older to enter.
 – Giveaway is open to residents in the US & Canada only.
 – Only one entry per household.
 – All giveaway entrants agree to be honest and not cheat the systems; any suspect of fraud is decided upon by blog/site owner and the sponsor, and entrants may be disqualified at our discretion.
 – Winner has 48 hours to claim prize or new winner is chosen. The Varangian




Friday, April 7, 2017

Alan 2 Blog Tour Spotlight

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We invite you to Bruce Forciea's ALAN 2 Blog Tour! Please leave a comment to let Bruce know you stopped by!
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Title: ALAN 2
Author: Bruce Forciea
Publisher: Open Books
Pages: 278
Genre: Cyber-Thriller

A brilliant artificial intelligence (AI) scientist, Dr. Alan Boyd, develops a new program that integrates part of his brain with a computer’s operating system. The program, Alan 2, can anticipate a user’s needs and automatically perform many tasks. A large software company, International Microsystems (IM) desperately wants the program and tempts Dr. Boyd with huge sums of money, but when Dr. Boyd refuses their offer, IM sabotages his job, leaving him in a difficult financial situation.

Dr. Boyd turns to Alan 2 for an answer to his financial problems, and Alan 2 develops plan Alpha, which is a cyber robin hood scheme to rob from rich corporations via a credit card scam.

Alan and his girlfriend Kaitlin travel to Mexico where they live the good life funded by plan Alpha, but the FBI cybercrime division has discovered part of Alan 2’s cyber escapades, and two agents, Rachel and Stu, trace the crime through the TOR network and Bitcoin.

Alan 2 discovers the FBI is on to them and advises Alan and Kaitlin to change locations. A dramatic chase ensues taking them to St. Thomas, a cruise ship bound for Spain, and finally to Morocco. 

Will they escape detection? They will if Alan 2's Plan Beta can be implemented in time. Or is 'Plan B' something altogether different than it appears to be, something wholly sinister that will affect the entire population of the world?
Watch the trailer at YouTube!

Purchase Information:

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Publisher

EXCERPT:

Bang! Bang! Bang! The flimsy apartment door rattled on its frame with every blow.
“Kaitlin, don’t even think of answering that!” Alan growled through his teeth.
Kaitlin shrugged her shoulders and moved away from the door toward the living room where Alan sat at a table full of electronics gear.
“Dr. Boyd, are you home?” shouted the voice on the other side of the door in an Indian accent. “I want to talk to you. I have a very good offer. Please, Dr. Boyd, it will only take a minute, and I think you will be quite pleased with what we have for you.”
“Go away; leave us alone,” Alan shouted. “I don’t want your offer.”
“But Dr. Boyd, we do pay very well. We are great admirers of your work.”
“I don’t care and I don’t want your money,” said Alan. “Now go away before I call the police.”
“Think about it, Dr. Boyd; I will be in touch.”
“Incessant bastards,” said Alan as his attention turned back to his work. “I’ll cherish the day they leave us alone. Kaitlin, come over here and help me with this injection.”
Alan rolled up the sleeve of his t-shirt while Kaitlin picked up the syringe containing the gadolinium contrast. She pinched an ample section of skin and plunged the syringe into his arm. The needle stung like an angry wasp, causing Alan to grimace.
“Can’t you be gentle? You’ve done enough of these by now to get the hang of it. You shouldn’t jam it in like that!”
Kaitlin rolled her eyes and shook her head. “I think I do pretty well considering I don’t have any medical training,” she said while jerking the syringe out of his arm.
“Okay, okay. Just take your position at the console.”
She sighed, plopped onto a small task chair and rolled over to a makeshift wooden table holding a desktop PC and a large high-definition monitor. She had been through this process countless times before.
Alan entered a large metallic structure in the center of the living room. The box-like structure, made of aluminum, dominated the rectangular room which was devoid of furniture. Its dull silver hue contrasted the blank walls. He closed the door and climbed into a chair that looked like it came from an early Gemini spacecraft. The stiff plastic chair, sandwiched between two large metal discs, afforded a good deal of postural support but little comfort. He sat down and slowly slid his head between the thick metal and plastic arms of a large U-shaped device. There was just enough clearance as he wriggled his head to achieve the perfect position. He pulled down on a large metallic tube suspended above him so that it surrounded his entire head. He positioned the tube so that the rectangular slit lined up with his visual axis, allowing for a line of sight to the monitor located outside of the tube. The small fMRI scanner had taken a good deal of time and money to cobble together, but it was the only way to capture the needed information from his brain.
Alan viewed Kaitlin through a small round Plexiglas window in the door and signaled with a thumbs-up to begin the scan. She waved and entered the start sequence into the keyboard, sat back, slid an unlit cigarette between her lips and picked up a copy of People Magazine. He pushed his head back against the headrest and adjusted the monitor suspended on a boom so he could see the screen. The machine first hummed as it powered up and then made periodic knocking sounds.
Alan focused his attention on the monitor while the scanner began its first sequence. The monitor displayed a series of images designed to evoke emotions. Each image popped onto the screen and persisted for ten seconds before another replaced it. There was a small child holding hands with his father, a mother holding a baby, a couple admiring their child in a crib, and many more. All the images had been chosen to trigger emotional responses, causing changes in blood flow to certain areas of Alan’s brain. An image would appear for a few seconds and then the machine would complete a scan.  The process repeated until all one hundred twenty-seven images had been displayed. The entire cycle then repeated two more times with random sequences of the same set of images.
This would be the final scan involving diffusion tensor imaging of Alan’s frontal lobes. Previous scans had involved the study of responses to a variety of topics. In addition to emotions such as sadness, joy, anxiety, and fear, there were cognitive studies that examined Alan’s problem solving techniques as well as his reaction to global events. In all, there were over one hundred fifty scans taken over the past two years. 


About the Author

Bruce Forciea is known for taking complex scientific concepts and making them easy to understand through engaging stories and simple explanations. He is an Amazon Best Selling Author and author of several books on healing and biology, along with science fiction thriller novels. His fiction writing draws on a diverse and eclectic background that includes touring and performing with a professional show, designing digital circuits, treating thousands of patients, and teaching. His stories include complex plots with unexpected twists and turns, quirky characters, and a reality very similar to our own. Dr. Forciea lives in Wisconsin and loves writing during the solitude of the long Northern winters. 

Website & Social Links:

WEBSITE | TWITTER | FACEBOOK

Thursday, April 6, 2017

The Blinds

The Blinds by Adam Sternbergh
Publication date: August 1, 2017
Publisher: Harper Collins
Hardcover; 400 pages
Genre: Fiction/Thriller/Suspense
Source: Publisher for an honest review

A blistering thriller from the Edgar-nominated author of Shovel Ready—a speculative modern Western with elements of Cormac McCarthy, Jim Thompson, and the Coen brothers that is wickedly funny, razor-sharp, and totally engrossing


Imagine a place populated by criminals-people plucked from their lives, with their memories altered, who’ve been granted new identities and a second chance. Welcome to The Blinds, a dusty town in rural Texas populated by misfits who don’t know if they’ve perpetrated a crime, or just witnessed one. What’s clear to them is that if they leave, they will end up dead.

For eight years, Sheriff Calvin Cooper has kept an uneasy peace—but after a suicide and a murder in quick succession, the town’s residents revolt. Cooper has his own secrets to protect, so when his new deputy starts digging, he needs to keep one step ahead of her—and the mysterious outsiders who threaten to tear the whole place down. The more he learns, the more the hard truth is revealed: The Blinds is no sleepy hideaway. It’s simmering with violence and deception, aching heartbreak and dark betrayals.


My Take:

I wasn't sure what to expect from The Blinds - except that is sounded quirky and fun and different from so many other books I have been reading lately. Fortunately for me, The Blinds grabbed by interest from the first page -- the first paragraph - if truth be told. I couldn't put the book down and read it in a day.


So, there is this place, this isolated, tiny town where criminals as well as people who are "innocents" agree to go to live out their lives. No leaving, no outside contact. No memories of before. All are there voluntarily, so how bad were their options to choose this? The set up is great - and then things get weird. 

I've thought and considered how to review The Blinds and it is a difficult task. I don't want to give anything away -- and there are some pretty interesting and important things that could easily be given away. 

So many things about The Blinds still intrigue me: the way no one in the town knows who they were before they came to the town - or what they did. What kind of stories do they tell themselves about their past? How do they decide to go on and remake their lives and personalities? What kind of person came up with the concept and would actually implement it? 

Oh! Something to keep in mind: nothing and no one is quite what they seem and the truth is a slippery thing.

I highly recommend The Blinds as a fast-paced, quirky, dark, disturbing and oh-so-fun read! 







Monday, March 27, 2017

Beethoven in Love - Spotlight



We're happy to host Howard J. Smith's BEETHOVEN IN LOVE: OPUS 139 Virtual Book Tour today! Please leave a comment to let him know you stopped by!



Title: BEETHOVEN IN LOVE; OPUS 139
Author: Howard Jay Smith
Publisher: SYQ
Pages: 385
Genre: Literary Fiction/Biographical Fiction

At the moment of his death, Ludwig van Beethoven pleads with Providence to grant him a final wish—one day, just a single day of pure joy. But first he must confront the many failings in his life, so the great composer and exceedingly complex man begins an odyssey into the netherworld of his past life led by a spirit guide who certainly seems to be Napoleon, who died six years before. This ghost of the former emperor, whom the historical Beethoven both revered and despised, struggles to compel the composer to confront the ugliness as well as the beauty and accomplishments of his past. 
As Beethoven ultimately faces the realities of his just-ended life, we encounter the women who loved and inspired him. In their own voices, we discover their Beethoven—a lover with whom they savor the profound beauty and passion of his creations. And it’s in the arms of his beloveds that he comes to terms with the meaning of his life and experiences the moment of true joy he has always sought.

Purchase Information:

Amazon



Book Excerpt:
Prologue:
The Death of Beethoven
Vienna, 5:00 pm, March 26, 1827  
Outside Beethoven’s rooms at the Schwarzspanierhaus, a fresh measure of snow from a late season thunderstorm muffles the chimes of St. Stephens Cathedral as they ring out the hours for the old city.
    Ein, Zwei, Drei, Vier… Funf  Uhr.  Five O’clock.
    Beethoven, three months past his fifty-sixth birthday, lies in a coma, as he has now for two nights, his body bound by the betrayal of an illness whose only virtue was that it proved incurable and would, thankfully, be his last. Though his chest muscles and his lungs wrestle like giants against the approaching blackness, his breathing is so labored that the death rattle can be heard over the grumblings of the heavens throughout his apartment. 
     Muss es sein? Must it be? Ja, es muss sein. Beethoven is dying. From on high, the Gods vent their grief at his imminent passing and hurl a spear of lightening at Vienna.
     Their jagged bolt of electricity explodes outside the frost covered windows of the Schwarzspanierhaus with a clap of thunder so violent it startles the composer to consciousness. 
     Beethoven’s eyes open, glassy, unfocused. He looks upward – only the Gods know what he sees, if anything. He raises his right hand, a hand that has graced a thousand sonatas, and clenches his fist for perhaps the last time. His arm trembles as if railing against the heavens. Tears flood his eyes.
     His arm falls back to the bed… His eyelids close… And then he is gone ...




About the Author

Howard Jay Smith is an award-winning writer from Santa Barbara, California. BEETHOVEN IN LOVE; OPUS 139 is his third book. A former Washington, D.C. Commission for the Arts Fellow, & Bread Loaf Writers Conference Scholar, he taught for many years in the UCLA Extension Writers’ Program and has lectured nationally. His short stories, articles and photographs have appeared in the Washington Post, Horizon Magazine, the Journal of the Writers Guild of America, the Ojai Quarterly, and numerous literary and trade publications. While an executive at ABC Television, Embassy TV, and Academy Home Entertainment, he worked on numerous film, television, radio, and commercial projects. He serves on the Board of Directors of the Santa Barbara Symphony - "The Best Small City Symphony in America" -  and is a member of the American Beethoven Society.

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