Friday, September 30, 2011

Review of Isabeau by N. Gemini Sasson

I finished Isabeau by N. Gemini Sasson a couple of days ago and enjoyed it very much. It is well-researched and the writing is excellent. Sasson does a very good job of plopping the reader down in England at the beginning of the 1300s. And she chose a fascinating historical story to tell, that of Queen Isabella and her loved Sir Roger Mortimer.

That Isabella, daughter of the King of France, was married at the age of 13 was only to be expected. That was the fate of a royal daughter. However, her new husband, England's King Edward II, was deeply in love with Piers Gaveston and had no interest in her except for an alliance with France and the heir she would eventually produce.

However, Gaveston was hated by the English nobility and eventually executed by them. Edward was devastated. He eventually turned to Hugh de Despenser. Isolated and lonely, Isabella began an affair with Roger Mortimer that would rock the kingdom.

I enjoyed Sasson's characterization of Isabella and Mortimer. She gave them plenty of depth, showing Isabella at different times as a vulnerable girl, a loving mother and a proud queen. She showed the many sides of Mortimer as a hardened soldier and a tender lover who, none the less, had problems dealing with the strength of the woman he loved. I liked that she did not portray Isabella, as she so often is, as the “She-Wolf of France” or Mortimer as a murderous villain as is so often the case.

It is a complex novel that keeps a fast pace as it goes from court scene to battle to family scenes. It speeds from treacherous nobles to loving loyalty, from dungeon to palace. It definitely does not allow you to lose interest.

Where I did feel that she let the reader down was in the portrayal of Edward II. He was a much more complex man than I felt Sasson portrayed him as, a man who loved music and plays, yet had to be dragged from the battlefield when the English lost at Bannockburn, who was the highest rank in the land and yet loved rowing and fishing and whose friends were often commoners. He was generous with his friends, and if overly so there are worse faults. It would have increased the depth of the work if she had rejected the historical calumny of Edward as she did of Isabella and Mortimer.

That would have made her story stronger, but it is extremely good as it is. Sasson knows the world of early 14th century England so well that she does make you feel that you're there. You come to sympathize and hope for good things for Isabella and Mortimer in spite of their mistakes, and she ends the novel on a note of hope and possibility.

I recommend Isabeau highly to any historical fiction fan. It is a marvellous read. It is available at Amazon, Barnes & Noble and Smashwords.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Teaser Tuesday: Mud and Gold By Shayne Parkinson

Teaser Tuesdays is a weekly book meme that I just came across last week. It is hosted by MizB of Should Be Reading. Anyone can play along! All you have to do is:

-Grab your current read
-Open to a random page (note: since I read on an e-reader I type in rather than "open")
-Share two (2) “teaser” sentences from somewhere on that page
-BE CAREFUL NOT TO INCLUDE SPOILERS! (make sure that what you share doesn’t give too much away! You don’t want to ruin the book for others!)
-Share the title & author, too, so that other TT participants can add the book to their TBR Lists if they like your teasers!

My teaser comes from the historical novel Mud and Gold by Shayne Parkinson, available on Smashwords. It is set in Australia and is part of a lengthy serious by the author:

Charlie looked at his son in amazement, and Amy knew that this time it would be hard to shelter Malcolm. ‘Hey, boy, you do as you’re told,’ he said.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Review of The Forever Queen by Helen Hollick

I really enjoyed this novel by Helen Hollick but I had some big reservations about it, too. I suppose you might say I have a bit of a difficult relationship with The Forever Queen.

The title character of this is Emma, Queen of England, daughter of Richard I, Duke of Normandy. At 13, Emma was shipped off to England to marry the inept Æthelred the Unready of England. England was being heavily raided by the Vikings and life was a lot less than easy or safe. Add to that her smarmy husband, her inability to speak the language and her youth and you can see why she had quite a struggle. It was very easy to come to sympathise with the young girl as she struggled to cope with a difficult life.

However, when her unpleasant husband Æthelred, dies, she marries King Cnut the Great of Denmark, now also King of England. In my opinion, King Cnut is not nearly written about enough. He was without doubt the best king to ever rule England and a fascinating man. After a life of struggle and relative unhappiness, Queen Emma finally finds love, although not always an easy life, with her new husband.

The Forever Queen is full of family life, jealousy, Vikings raids, battles, and treacherous noblemen. All that keeps it an interesting read. However, there is a down side to the novel. It is also full of an overwhelming amount of detail, much of which is not needed for the story development. I understand what a balancing act it is to give enough detail to help a reader picture an unfamiliar time and not bog down a story, but I am sorry to say, I don't think Helen Hollick achieved that balance. A good trimming of unnecessary detail would have served this novel well. Oddly enough, with all the historical detail, I didn't feel that the characters were fleshed out as well as they could have been. Although I came to really feel for Emma (and disliked the direction the author went with her character at the end), many of the other characters seemed to be rather thin and some came and went rather without any explanation.

At the end, I do recommend this novel. There is not nearly enough written about the 11th century and King Cnut is more than worth being written about. However, don't expect either a happy ever after ending or an easy read. I can't say this is a perfect novel by any means, but it is very much worth reading. It should be on any historical fiction lovers list of novels to pick up.

You will find The Forever Queen by Helen Hollick on Amazon.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Teaser Tuesday: Isabeau by N. Gemini Sasson

Teaser Tuesdays is a weekly book meme that I just today came across. It is hosted by MizB of Should Be Reading. Anyone can play along! All you have to do is:

-Grab your current read
-Open to a random page
-Share two (2) “teaser” sentences from somewhere on that page
-BE CAREFUL NOT TO INCLUDE SPOILERS! (make sure that what you share doesn’t give too much away! You don’t want to ruin the book for others!)
-Share the title & author, too, so that other TT participants can add the book to their TBR Lists if they like your teasers!

My teaser comes from Isabeau, A Novel of Queen Isabella and Sir Roger Mortimer by N. Gemini Sasson.

Isabeau is written from the point-of-view of a particularly fascinating woman, Queen Isabella, often referred to as The She-Wolf of France and from that of her lover, Roger Mortimer and of and events that had long-ranging effects in the Kingdom of England. This is from early in the novel, page 67 which happens to be where it fell open. Mortimer is about to be imprisoned in the Tower of London by an angry Edward II.

“You promised you would procure our pardons,” I said aside to Pembroke.

“He tried,” Edward said, his lips curving into a sardonic smile as he stepped before me tauntingly, “valiantly.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Sample of A Kingdom's Cost

I have removed the sample due to the terms of exclusivity I now have with Amazon. However, you can read or download a sample here on Amazon. The prequel, Freedom's Sword is also available on Amazon.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Review of The Fabulous Voyage Across the Ocean Sea by Jan Prasad

I just finished reading The Fabulous Voyage Across the Ocean Sea by Jan Prasad, and I am simply awestruck. Both the writing and the research in this novel is faultless. Even more, I am struck by the authors ability to bring to life the story of a people beset by cruelty and hatred in the D'Avilas, a family of conversos during the height of their persecution and expulsion from Spain in the 15th century.

Miguel D'Avila, a gem dealer, has long been estranged from his father after his father had an affair with his betroathed. However, Miguel is summoned to return to his father's side in Toledo. After his father's housekeeper, in Miguel's company, witnesses one of the horrific executions of conversos, she accuses the family of secretly practicing Judaism. Although they escape trial, which would have meant certain death, Miguel is charged by his dying father with finding his illegitimate half-brother, Luis. After locating his brother, Miguel is drawn into Christopher Columbus's plans for a voyage to the east by a western route funded by the monarchs, Isabella and Ferdinand. Instead they find a New World, but a new world with very old persecution as the native peoples are subjected to torture, forced conversion and enslavement.

When Columbus returns to Spain without Miguel, Luis is drawn to the New World to learn his fate and to escape the dangers of life in Spain in spite of his suspicions that Columbus has not discovered a route to the east. Yet he is drawn back to his homeland by his responsibilities there and discovers that Miguel had left a son in Spain, Aurelio, who has survived in an orphanage. Although his uncle was unable to rescue him from the orphanage, eventually Aurelio finds out the truth about his family and the truth about Columbus to be passed down to a dramatic end in the 20th century.

This novel leaves one pondering the falsehoods with which we grew up and the unjustices upon which our society was founded. And one must ponder whether those are truly past or lurking within us for the chance to re-emerge.

In spite of what I consider an awful cover, I really can not recommend this novel highly enough.

The Fabulous Voyage Across the Ocean Sea by Jan Prasad is available on Amazon.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

In the Despair of a Dungeon: Freedom's Sword


There would be a window slit high in the wall. If he waited, it would get light. It had to get light. It had to.

He lay huddled for hours, quiet. Thinking thoughts he could have done without. Like that, he'd heard of prisoners left to starve to death in dungeons. Like that, men were sometimes gnawed by rats as they died. Like that, he might go mad if it didn't get light.

It didn't. He counted his breaths to keep from screaming. Pressed his fists into his forehead. Nothing changed. He had to move--to know where he was. He licked blood off his lips, his tongue so dry it felt like leather. Perhaps he could get to the water dripping somewhere. Perhaps...

On his hands and knees, he crept across the clammy floor, pressing a shoulder against the rough stones of the wall. Otherwise, he might crawl in circles. He swept his hands ahead as he went. A well or hole could be in front of him, and he wouldn't know. He trembled, half from weakness and half from fear of what he would find. A few feet of crawling brought him to a corner. The next wall was rough stone set with mortar as well. Pressing against it, he explored that way. He came almost at once to another corner. Around that one. A few feet down that wall and he knew where he was. The wooden door they had thrown him through. He stroked his way up it, the greasy wood slick under his palms, fingering wide strips of iron when he came to them. Solid.

Merciful God. He clamped his teeth on a whimper.

In the fourth corner, he came upon a clay pot. A slops jar, empty but still reeking of old piss. Surely that meant he wouldn't be left here to die. Why would they give him a slops jar and let him die of hunger and thirst? He realized it must have been a day since he'd pissed. He inched his back up the wall and breathed a sigh of relief as his heavy bladder drained. He'd not known how much his belly had been aching until that moment.

He shook off the last drop of piss. The stink added to the musty smell.

Then he sank down onto the floor, arms around bent legs and head on his knees. His head was pounding again. His mouth was parched. Curse them. Trice-curse them. What had he done but follow his king? What any knight was sworn to do.

Cressingham's face seemed to float before him in the darkness. His fat lips sneered as he pointed and pronounced: ...traitors and criminals... "No," Andrew whispered.

He had fallen into a doze when footfalls echoed in the quiet. At first, it was part of his dream. It seemed years since he had heard anything but the distant, tormenting drip of water. They couldn't be real. He shivered with chills, his lips cracked and leaking blood. When the heavy wooden door creaked open, he raised his hand to shield his eyes from the glimmer. A gaoler bent, watching Andrew closely, and put a bowl and cup on the floor.

"Is it day?" Andrew croaked.

The gaoler was a barrel of a man with a pebbly face and beard down onto his chest, clad in a dark leather jack studded with metal. "No talking." He slammed the door.

Andrew blinked as the light vanished. On hands and knees, he crawled towards the precious cup. It was cool and beaded with water. Grasping it with both hands, he took a mouthful and let it dribble down his parched throat. Careful not to let a drop escape, he sipped until it was gone. He used a finger to wipe out the last drop.

A wave of despair washed through him. How could he do this? It was too much. He leaned his forehead against the wood of the door and choked down a sob. He had to get through it. That was all.

The bowl had beans in it and a lump of bread. He scooped them up with his fingers and shoveled them down. Then he wiped the bowl clean with the bread, too, and licked the juices off his fingers. He crawled back onto the straw and curled up in a ball. He was cold... so cold. After a while, he slept.

Eons seemed to come and go. He couldn't tell when he woke if it was day or night. He could feel that his eyes were open when he touched his face. Open or closed, there was no difference in the darkness. He lay huddled against the chill and sang "Turn Ye to Me" to hear something besides the drip of that water he couldn't reach. He hummed every tune he could think of. He took to cursing to make a change.

Another gaoler came to leave another bowl and cup. This one was a scarecrow of a man. Andrew begged him to say if it was day or night. A blow of a truncheon was his reply.

He lost track of how many times they had come--of how many days he had been here. He had no sun and no moon. He had nothing to make marks on the wall. His stomach ached with hunger, the bowls of beans never quite filling his belly, but his fever and chills passed. He sat up and realized that the pounding in his head was gone. His muscles were stiff and every move hurt, but no worse than from a fall in a joust.

It had to be faced. It would go on.


Freedom's Sword, the story of Andrew de Moray's desperate struggle to defend Scotland's freedom, is only $2.99 on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or Smashwords.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Wrai's Main Skill Comes into Play -- Stealing

Reitz pulled his horse up beneath the drooping branches of a stand of big oaks. "Ayla and Patul can go to the inn while I show you the house. We'll be off as soon as you lift the medal," he said.

"Not so fast." Wrai turned his horse to gaze at the town in the darkening shade. "You know where the house is so that means you've been there before."

"Of course. We tried to buy the thing," Patul said. "It's an elderly widow. I hoped that she'd be glad of the gold, but she wouldn't even talk about selling. We wrote to her first and then went to her home."

"All three of you?"

Patul shook his head. "No, I was afraid all three of us showing up with frighten her so I went by myself. Maybe I should have taken Ayla with me. The woman wouldn't let me past the door."

"And you don't suppose she might connect this medal disappearing to the stranger who showed up at her door and just happened to be at the inn when it disappeared?" Wrai turned back to the three and gave them a searing look. "I intend to come out of this little venture alive and with my hands still attached. So I'll give the orders when it comes to stealing."

Reitz cleared his throat and shifted in his saddle. He had the good sense not to argue though.

Patul lifted a pacifying hand. "You're the one who knows this business."

"Good. So you went to her house. What's it like?"

"A sturdy cottage, really. Yard filled with rose bushes. Tidily kept." Patul's eyes narrowed as he thought. "Too tidy for her to do all of the work, I'd say though she seemed a sturdy body. She answered the door herself and I didn't see any sign of anyone else around."

"Any barking? No sign of a dog?"

Patul shook his head again. "Nothing like that."

"And it's a small house, you say?"

"Nothing more than a cottage."

"Most likely she has a girl come in to help occasionally then. Not likely to have a servant live in besides having to feed and clothe them. If she's not rich..." Wrai tilted his head as he considered it. Sounded likely but he'd have to see the place. "No stopping at the inn. Once it's full dark, you'll show me the place and ride through to the other side of town. Find the first stand of trees and keep out of sight until I join you."

"That makes sense." Reitz sounded reluctant, but by now the light had faded enough that Wrai couldn't make out his face. "The moon will be at half tonight."

They dismounted and let the horses crop at the sparse weeds under the trees. Wrai pulled his black jerkin, breeches, and an old worn hat out of a saddlebag to change. A cool breeze came up rustling the branches together, and the moon rose to cast its greenish light over the landscape. They rode at a steady walk up the Whorlton road and through the little town. They passed a couple of townsmen making their way into the local inn; otherwise, the street was still. It was a nice enough town with stone cottages spaced along the street, most with gardens and outhouses. Wrai had ridden through a couple of times on his way to somewhere more profitable.

In the moonlight, he could make out the jumbled lines of the slate roofs and a few trees shading the yards. About halfway through the town, Patul made a sound in his throat and nodded toward a cottage. Wrai slid from the saddle and tossed Patul his reins. By the time they had ridden a horse's length past, he was already in the dark recesses of the garden in the deep black shadows under an oak tree.

The scent of sweet damp and old roses clung to the garden air. A tiny glint of light peeked through the closed shutters. He slid around to the rear of the house and squatted within the arch of a vine-covered trellis to watch, tipping his hat to be sure no light would catch his face.

The back door opened, the glimmer of a candle showing a plump wrinkled face. "Out you go, you old rascal," a high wavering voice said. Then the house went dark. A cat nosed at him and he scratched a ragged ear. It purred, winding around his leg. All he needed was a cat following him into the house. He pushed it away, and after a while, it slunk into the night, no doubt to find a rat for its dinner. From a nearby house, the sound of a squalling baby broke the night. Wrai dropped to a knee to make himself more comfortable and flexed his shoulders as they began to cramp.

A drunken voice shouted an oath followed by the sound of wood shattering. "Stupid goat lover."

Another crash followed and the sound of running footsteps. There was a clatter of hobnail boots and a jangle of armor as the watch came running up the way. The torch they carried made wavering shapes in the night. Wrai caught his breath, ducking his head to be sure the shine of his eyes was hidden. Damn, the last thing he needed was the watch to see him lurking.


A sound of blows and groans followed, then they dragged a dark shape between them back up the road. Breathing a sigh of relief, Wrai waited. The town quieted. An owl hooted. A couple of cats tangled, yowling. After a while, there was nothing but the rustle of the wind in the trees.

Wrai rose and slipped across the narrow space of the yard to the window. He studied the shutters and, as he expected, they were closed by a bar. He could raise it but there was always a chance that would make noise. He frowned. If the door bolted too, he wouldn't have any choice but to chance it. He knelt to examine the lock in the moonlight and smiled. Large and sturdy. Just the kind an old widow would think would protect her treasures. The heavy old thing gave way in a few second.

Cracking open the door, he listened. The house was still until a snorting came from another room. He slipped inside only to find the blasted cat twisted around his ankles, purring at him again. He stopped a stumble with a hand on the wall and silently chuckled. He'd certainly lost his touch in the years since he gave up the trade if a damnable cat could trip him up.

The room smelled of rising dough and herbs and under it the scent of beeswax polish. He reached up to brush his fingers over a bunch of herbs that hung from the rafters. Another snort came from the left side of the house. His eyes had adjusted to the dark, and he made out the shape of a doorway ahead toward the house front. He would hope that the old body didn't keep her treasures in her bedroom. With the cat determinedly rubbing at his ankles no matter how he shoved it away with a foot, he made his way into the other room.

Here the floor was polished to a glow in moonlight that peeked in through the shutters. Tables swathed in cloths sat everywhere interspersed with spindly chairs. Each table was crowded with pendants and statuettes.

He couldn't help the sigh, and he rolled his eyes. How long in the blazes of Hedrin would it take to go through all these gewgaws? The stupid cat kept rubbing up against him as he eliminated first one table of folderol and then another. On the third, centered in front of the window he saw it, gleaming in a ray of moonlight. He scooped it up and hefted it. Not as heavy as he'd expected. Lighter than the others, but the rune was similar as well as he could see.

The woman gave a snort like she'd been stuck. He froze, heart pounding, but the bed creaked and she settled back to a rhythmic snore. He shook his head at his jumpy nerves. Dumb bastard. Been out of the game too long to be doing this.

Slipping the medal into his tunic, he stood still for a moment to be sure she had settled into a deep slumber before he moved toward the door. She'd miss the thing as soon as she woke. He had no doubt of it, so he strode steadily through the dark streets until he was past the last house. The moon lit the road before him until a bulk of trees rose on the side.

Reitz called out, "Here."

Wrai vaulted into the saddle and handed the piece over to Patul with a grimace. What business did he or these mages have stealing from some old widow? Faceless Goddess help him, this wasn't a night he'd be proud of. He'd take money from someone who risked it, and he'd rolled more than a few honey-fat noblemen. But curse him if he could see a reason why rich mages should be stealing from some old biddy.

Pah. She was probably a mean old shrew who kicked puppies. He shrugged but still frowned.

"Let's get out of here." He glared at Patul and jerked the reins of his horse.

"Wait," Reitz said. Hoofbeats clattered in the distance accompanied by the clatter of harness.

Bollocks. Surely, the woman hadn't found her loss so soon. Ayla sucked in her breath, and he laid a hand on her arm. "Shhh..."

Militia cantered the road, the low light glinting off their armor and weapons. The lord's banner snapped as one held it aloft.

Wrai's breath caught in his chest. A coincidence? Normal patrol? They'd seen several on their way, but it wasn't a risk he cared to roll on.


Laying the Odds is only $2.99 at Amazon.