Wednesday, January 1, 2014

A King Ensnared: A Historical Novel of Scotland (Volume One) by J. R. Tomlin.

A King Ensnared: A Historical Novel of Scotland (Volume One).  J. R. Tomlin. CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform. November 2013. 244 pp.  ISBN#: 9781493786598.

Prince James Stewart, son of the weak King Robert of Scotland, begins his youth lamenting that his father refused to save James’s brother from starving to death in prison.  Even after James is taken captive by the King of England, his father does nothing about a ransom and James is confounded when he tries to mourn his spineless father’s death and yet mourns the loss of a father.  King Robert’s half-brother, the Duke of Albany, refuses to acknowledge James as King of Scotland and fights with the French against the King of England.  James pays the price of it all!

For many, many years James remains the prisoner of King Henry IV and V, a pawn which both Kings use to stop Scotland aiding the French and to bind their loyalty to the English Crown.  James comes close to madness from his boredom but manages with reading courtly literature, learning to fight with sword and wrestling skills, writing literate poetry worthy of the noblest bards in history, and attempting to maintain his integrity as King.  He frequently refuses to sign agreements to which he knows his Scottish leaders would never agree.  The first King Henry made his son promise to free James, but that remained to be seen.  James will first train in war and become an actual English knight before he fights with the King against France.  There he sees justice supersede mercy, a belief that such acts guarantees people will obey out of fear rather than love and trust!

James comes across as a strong character, trained intellectually and physically to act like a King.  He gradually earns the respect not only of his servants in prison but also his captors.  The author presumes that the reader knows his or her history well and if not it might be difficult for the reader to figure out who is against who and why.  There are lists of characters, a glossary and a short synopsis of previous novels which would help in this area; but this makes it difficult for this novel to be a stand-alone story that the reader can follow easily.

Still, all in all, A King Ensnared is an engaging story about the beginnings of a well-known historical character who had a significant impact on English, French and Scottish history!

Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Shadow on the Crown by Patricia Bracewell

Shadow on the Crown.  Patricia Bracewell. Viking Adult: Penguin Group (USA).  February 2013. 432 pp. pbk. 948 KB – eBook.  ISBN#: 9780143124351. ASIN#: B008EKORX4.

Emma of Normandy was to wait for her arranged marriage until her older sister, Mathilde, had been wed.  Their father and mother, Duke Richard and Dowager Duchess Gunnora, had larger worries with the presence of the Danish King, Swein Forkbeard, docked at the Duke’s winter harbor.  So far Forkbeard had been bought off by the Norman King and King Aethelred II of England.  This will soon change. Spanning a three year period from 1001 to 1004, this is the story of Emma’s marriage to the English King Aethelred II, a man haunted and tortured by the ghost of his dead brother, Edward.  Aethelred is a cruel, hard man who trusts neither man nor woman, believing all to be scavenging for his crown.  His three eldest children have similar hearts of stone, except for Althestan who falls hopelessly in love with Emma but dare not advance beyond one point as he knows his father’s reaction would be ruthlessly fatal.

Another woman of the English Court, Elgiva of Northampton, has her eye on the King of England, not out of lust for his body but for her insatiable craving of power.  She and her maid Groa, a fearsome woman with magical and lethal powers, will betray and kill to gain the ultimate queenly prize.  But the wyrd for Emma and Elgiva is tragic in very different ways that are absolutely mesmerizing.

A seer in the beginning of the novel states that Althestan will win his father’s Offa’s Sword but that the future King of England will be one who has his “hand” in the Queen’s hand.  Althestan has no idea what this means but like his brothers will pay careful watch to see what his own wyrd or fate is to be.

Battles between family, earls, and the Vikings fill these pages with an excitement that provides for a quick, interesting read.  Murder seems a regular method to put aside one’s opponents, the type of killings that cannot be proven.

While the Christian faith is the main religion of England, pagan rites and beliefs lurk in the darkness.  Sin abounds everywhere but it is interesting how the monks and priests of Catholicism have such respect (and fear) from even royalty.  They alone perhaps are advisers who keep the English royalty family of Aethelred from killing each other in their jealous goal for power which they would rashly use if they had it.

Emma, remarkably based on the actual book Anglo-Saxon Chronicles, evolves into a strong, compassionate, fiercely protective and just woman who knows her own strengths and weaknesses and is determined not to allow her new family to change, unless it be stronger. 

Characters interact in an ever-changing plot and customs in which the reader becomes totally engaged.

Shadow on the Crown is wonderful historical fiction.  Highly recommended!

White Dog Fell From The Sky by Eleanor Morse

White Dog Fell From The Sky.  Eleanor Morse. Penguin Group (USA). December 2013. 368 pp. pbk. ISBN #: 9780143124436.

It is sheer irony to be reading this novel four days after the great South African leader, Nelson Mandela, has been laid to rest in his hometown in South Africa.  For Eleanor Morse has crafted the story of a white woman, Alice Mendelssohn, and a South African colored man, Isaac Muthethe, who lived through the perilous times in the late 70’s and did so much more than survive.  1976 – It is against the law for a colored person to be outside without a passport; it’s also against the law for them to enter certain stores, use public facilities reserved for white people, or look a white person directly in the eye, let alone to disagree with that person.  It practically is against the law to live.  Now it has become even more dangerous as the secret members of the ANC resistance movement are carrying out their protests against apartheid with violent acts. 

The South African Defense Forces in turn are killing ANC members or those suspected of being involved with the ANC.  So Isaac, after seeing his best friend brutally killed, flees South Africa into neighboring Botswana. There a white dog “with the wisdom of ages” falls out of the sky and becomes Isaac’s devoted companion and guide. Isaac’s future as a medical student seems a dead goal since he is now considered an ANC member though he has never participated in any actions and attended only a couple of meetings.  Isaac finally finds work as a gardener for Alice and learns to do a beautiful job with the help of an elderly gardener who lives nearby Alice’s home.  Isaac’s goal is to save enough money for his sister and brother to go to school and to save his other brother from poverty and living as an outlaw.  Much will happen to all in these pages but Isaac is one very dedicated and persevering proud black man.

Alice, on the other hand, is about to undergo tremendous change as she chooses to leave an unfaithful man.  She will mistrust many men before she finds one to trust and respect as well as love.  They will share a journey in which the unrivaled immensity and unbridled cruelty of the African bush, the latter created by the white colonizers who now believe this ancient land is now their own home.  The descriptions of the scenery and animals in this portion of the novel are nothing short of extraordinarily beautiful and lyrical.

Isaac will undergo a phase in his life that is agonizingly painful to read but which the reader realizes must be told as the realistic truth that existed for far too many during that very violent historical period.  Alice and her friend will ultimately prove to be saviors to both Isaac and his family but to tell that story here would be to deny the reader an amazing, well-researched, intriguing and phenomenal experience!

Eleanor Morse is a literate, intelligent and gifted writer who has gifted the world with a classic work of vivid historical fiction.  Highly, highly recommended!!!!!

The Tudor Conspiracy: A Novel by C. W. Gortner

The Tudor Conspiracy: A Novel.  C. W. Gortner. St. Martin’s Griffin. July 2013. 352 pp.  pbk. ISBN#: 9780312658496.

Mary Tudor and Princess Elizabeth are bitter enemies forevermore.  Mary is now Queen of England and doing everything possible to force her sister to convert from Protestantism to the Roman Catholic faith.  That victory would guarantee England remains a Catholic country and would enable Mary to marry Philip, Prince of Spain.  Imagine how such a union would change the face of history!

“Nothing is ever as it seems!” is the essence of this plot and Brendan Prescott, spy who once saved one of the sisters, is the protagonist called to the Queen’s presence for specific employment.  His job?  Prove Elizabeth is a traitor; bring evidence that will enable Mary to eliminate her ever-threatening sister.  Court intrigue, rumors and plots fill every page as supposed friends and implacable foes lead and mislead this easily targeted spy.  The reader must pay attention as Brendan seems to serve both sisters with equal determination.  Yes, he is misled at times but learns to become sharper mentally and trust his increasingly correct instincts as to who is really vying for favor.  There are truly no innocents herein!

Private letters, secrets, poison, murder, brutal beatings, threats, sword battles, sexual temptation and more force the reader’s excitement into more intense reading and flipping of these riveting pages.  For C. W. Gortner is a master of the mystery, the spy novel, the adventure story, the intricacies of England’s domestic and international manipulations of history, the obsessive lust for power and revenge, and the foibles that betray even the most careful antagonists!

The subplot of this novel awaits the reader’s pleasure as Brendan searches for his true identity amidst the royalty related to the Tudor sisters.  This quest is no less satisfying and the reader is rooting for Brendan every step of the way.

The author’s brilliance shines clearly in the way his characters seem to move through an emotional gauntlet of fury, confusion, fear, mourning, happiness, and mistrust in a matter of minutes.  One is never sure what will happen in the next second which makes the anticipation even more enticing!  Words cannot properly convey how well-crafted The Tudor Conspiracy… is.  Treat yourself, if you haven’t done so yet, to a brilliant, literate, engaging and exciting read which illuminates the intricacies of this well-known royally entangled historical period and characters!  Stunning!

Sunday, December 29, 2013

Far Shore - Love is Salvation - Book Three by Traci L. Slatton

Far Shore: Love is Salvation – Book Three.  Traci L. Slatton. Parvati Press. October 2013. 252 pp. pbk. ISBN #: 9780989023276.

“Non-existent scrims of vibration” are the key to the mists now threatening the extinction of mankind anew in this final book of “The After Series” trilogy.  Before they can be eliminated, however, there are human obstacles to overcome.  Ironically, the mists will be part of the solutions to each indomitable force obstructing success.  Each person in this story is developing new powers from the mists’ presence and has to learn to use them for the best of the community. 

Initially, however, Emma, our heroine, makes a very difficult decision, a choice that will affect her entire future and that of the family she has come to love. For now Emma has a singular mission, to heal two friends, one of whom is completely broken by another human. At the same time, the mists are acting strangely, actually surrounding crowds of travelers in the shape of a lasso and many who are touched by the mists are losing their minds.  Emma’s healing powers will evolve in a totally new way, for better or worse yet to tell.

When Emma and Arthur again meet, he shows ambivalent feelings toward Emma for a totally logical reason as well as the suffering he has endured which has left him a very angry man. They share some very feisty dialogue indeed. Alexei, their enemy, as well undergoes a transformation that the reader must decide is credible or not as the plot thickens and Emma’s reactions to him as well are startling.

Emma is quite an anti-clique person, something the reader should note as the plot progresses.  Once she has been part of a rescue or healing event, she remains totally devoted to those who have entered her world.  The unique quality of this final novel is how love plays out in very, very unexpected ways that are notably profound not only for the characters but for those who are forming new Safe Zone communities. Their ability to unite these qualities is the key to the ultimate quest which is, after all is said and done, to conquer the mists!

Far Shore… is a well-crafted finale to a notable sci-fi story.  Traci Slatton doesn’t reduce the story to a simple good guy-bad guy scenario and leaves the reader again with questions about evolving relationships, powers of the mind and spirit, and what it takes to live with each person’s virtues and vices and all the foibles in between.  Science and humans are dynamic, emerging phenomena with whom the reader will engage in intelligent, engaging steps throughout this highly recommended novel!