Traitor’s Knot – a review

As anyone knows that has read my guest post ‘From Ostler to Eventer’ on Cryssa Bazos’s website, I found a strong connection to this book through horses. But there was so much more, so, read on for my review.

Traitor's Knot

Traitor’s Knot

by Cryssa Bazos (Goodreads Author)

England 1650: Civil War has given way to an uneasy peace in the year since Parliament executed King Charles I.

Royalist officer James Hart refuses to accept the tyranny of the new government, and to raise funds for the restoration of the king’s son, he takes to the road as a highwayman.

Elizabeth Seton has long been shunned for being a traitor’s daughter. In the midst of the new order, she risks her life by sheltering fugitives from Parliament in a garrison town. But her attempts to rebuild her life are threatened, first by her own sense of injustice, then by falling in love with the dashing Hart.

The lovers’ loyalty is tested through war, defeat and separation. James must fight his way back to the woman he loves, while Elizabeth will do anything to save him, even if it means sacrificing herself.

Review 5*

When I first read the reviews, I added Traitor’s Knot to my Must-Read list. However, I was lucky enough to win a copy in a Giveaway – so many thanks, Cryssa Bazos.

Growing up in England, it was hard not to take sides over the English Civil War so this excellent novel stirred all the right passions and unleashed memories. As a child, I was a Royalist but then switched my loyalties to Parliament as I read more. Then I saw yet another side and wavered again. Therefore, I can feel how many of the characters in Traitor’s Knot struggled with their consciences, although through the author’s words the emotional and physical strife comes vividly alive.

From the first page, I was swept into the past, drawn in by the characters and the action. The setting of the Civil War era felt real and the characters’ behaviour seemed appropriate for the time. I am not a historical expert but nothing jarred and, in fact, there were moments where I nodded my head thinking, ‘That sounds right’. I am convinced that Cryssa Bazos did a great deal of intense research. As a retired equestrian journalist, everything horse-related was accurate and one horse was a character in himself.

The plot was cleverly crafted, with the characters being carefully drawn together as events weaved fate. This was never going to be a smooth ride for James Hart and Elizabeth Seton, and the author made sure of that at every stage. No surprise that I wrote, ‘Beware those Roundheads and their twisted ways’, especially after the opening. One stirred my old animosities and I was ready to make him suffer – that takes great writing.

But knots have ways too. The novel’s title is clever, and knots tie things up in so many ways -I even wanted a ‘knot garden’ and the author delivered. Throughout, there was clever plot development and world building – constructing fiction that felt historical. As a mystery writer, I enjoyed the twists and turns as the plot wove around and away from the obvious. Although I knew my English Civil War, so expected one inevitable outcome – no spoilers, there were unexpected turns of events and I could easily ignore what I knew from school. This was on another more realistic level than dry history text books.

The crafting of the climax was exceptional, building on the strands of the plot, weaving them together in an intricate knot. And the final denouement was so devious and edge of the seat thrilling that I was unable to put the book down even to get some work done.

I look forward to the next novel from Cryssa Bazos.

Story – five stars

Setting/World-building – five stars

Structure – five stars

Readability – five stars

Editing – five stars

 

Followers of Writing Wings will know that over the last month I have been fortunate to connect with Cryssa Bazos through the English Historical Fiction Authors Blog, and subsequently promoting my novel. Therefore, we have chatted and I may have an idea about what her next novel might be about. But I leave that for her to say.

Cryssa’s website, where there is more about her novel, highwaymen, and the 17th Century, is: https://cryssabazos.com

 

The Writer’s Cut

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You are invited to the launch of my equestrian mystery Spiral of Hooves: The Writer’s Cut aka The Second Edition on August 7th, 2017, which is incidentally my 64th birthday.

Join me on Facebook or Goodreads as I discuss how the novel came about, my horse world, being an MS warrior, and my future from motorbikes and longboats to spacecraft and airships. I will answer any question posed…within my ability to do so. Of course, there will be prizes from signed copies to other goodies.

The party begins at 9 am. MDT (1600 BST; 1100 EDT; 0800 PST) on Facebook – see HERE for details and invite. (Facebook says in Boise but the party is online so come as you are.) I will also drop in and out of Goodreads to chat and answer questions – HERE – whenever I can slip off Facebook. I am running Giveaways for signed paperback copies of “Spiral of Hooves” – one copy on Facebook, one on Goodreads, and one on each Blog running my ‘interview-promo’ post.

If any authors are willing to join the Facebook party it would let me sit back and chill for an hour – or visit Goodreads – while you entertain the fans and promote yourself. Just ask for a slot and I can add you to the schedule.

ARC copies are still available to read in PDF format, and there is still time to review Spiral of Hooves before the release on August 7th.

I can also supply blog copy to anyone willing to post about the novel and my world. Each blog will be invited to run a Giveaway for a signed paperback copy.

The following links should also direct you to specific Amazon sites:
https://www.createspace.com/3893100
http://www.amazon.com/dp/1548508411
http://www.amazon.ca/dp/1548508411
http://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/1548508411
http://www.amazon.de/dp/1548508411
http://www.amazon.es/dp/1548508411
http://www.amazon.fr/dp/[1548508411
http://www.amazon.it/dp/[1548508411
…………………

  • BLURB: In Canada, researcher Armand Sabatier witnesses what could be the murder of groom Odette Fedon, but traumatic images from his past smother his memory, and a snowstorm buries the evidence. Harassed by nightmares but fighting through them, Armand remembers the crime a few months later. By then he is in England, where he is dragged into a plot involving international sport horse breeding.

Suspecting everyone around him, Armand is forced to brave the past that he has kept buried. But what made Armand leave France? Where did he learn to survive and fight for justice? Why is the English rider Carly Tanner treading the same path as the first victim, Odette?

Can he save Carly before he has more blood on his hands?

  • Genre – Mystery-thriller
  • Tone of the book – serious but not gory
  • Target audience – young adult upwards interested in horses and mysteries

I hope to see you at The Writer’s Cut Party.

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Edge of a Knife – a review

 

As both a reader and writer, I am fascinated by alternative histories so when Robert Edward mentioned his book on Goodreads, I was game for a read.

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Edge of a Knife (The American Mage War #1)

by Robert Edward (Goodreads Author)

It has been thirteen years since southern war wizards decisively defeated the Union Army and gained independence for the Confederate States of America. In 1876, the United States is a shattered nation. It stands alone, beset by enemies in a world torn apart by the terrible power of magic. Across the globe, kings and presidents, emperors and generals command sorcerers who harness the four elements of earth, air, water, and fire to wreak havoc on their enemies.
A magical fault line divides North America, where the hydromancers of the United States and pyromancers of the Confederate States maintain an uneasy truce. Both nations race to acquire new and more powerful magic to ensure victory when the next war inevitably comes.
In a Pittsburg tavern, Jared Gilsom, son of a wealthy shipping magnate, smuggler, and part-time thief, meets a strange woman. She has ties to an enigmatic group working both inside and outside the Union government to develop the North’s magical arsenal. A chance battle with southern agents in the city streets draws Jared into their mission. After retrieving a vital treasure from a renegade hydromancer, Jared joins a clandestine raid into the heart of the Confederacy. There, he finds a nation on the brink of its own collapse, where ambitious opportunists wait only for the right moment to seize power.
As Jared and his companions fight their way out of the South, the world continues to spiral into chaos. And magic will either save America or ensure its destruction.

Review 3.8*

My passion for Alternative history began with the American Civil War when I read Ward Moore’s Bring the Jubilee. So, I was drawn to this alternative when again the South was victorious. However, in Robert Edward’s well-crafted world in ‘Edge of a Knife’ magic has somehow emerged although why is a key theme of this novel.

In the opening pages, I was pulled into the story, and this alternative world worked, and the setting of post-alternate American Civil War felt right. At first, the magic was not overt or an all-conquering force. Later in the tale, we discover what has happened to reawaken magic, although Edwards doesn’t reveal all even as the novel concludes. Roll on Book 2 or maybe even in 3.

Anyway, the story was intriguing as it developed, with neat political parallels as well as the central plot. Jared as the main POV character evolved steadily, and a vivid picture emerged, although the others were less vivid – but then we were never inside their heads and nor was Jared. Action in other settings meant that the POV changed, more often to Confederate characters adding another perspective that generated events that crossed with the main character’s quest.

A few scenes from a political perspective felt like exposition, although those scenes added to the world-building and in one case foreshadowed a concluding scene.

At the midpoint, the stakes are raised, and the unexpected twists work. Beyond that key point, there was a sense that the story was building to a climax – a climax that hinted at possible events in Book 2. The events kept racing and twisting as the satisfying ending unfolded. One of the concluding scenes from the perspective of another nation – no spoilers on offer – was unexpected even though subtly foreshadowed. These scenes set up Book 2 and revealed a clever twist that I didn’t see coming.

I recommend the read for those that enjoy alternative history. I can’t say if the American Civil War period is correct, but to me, that felt right. As for stars, I was wavering as I finished the novel between three and four. The inconsistency of some spellings – Pittsburgh with an extra ‘h’ – and some sloppy sentence constructions pointed to a lack of final editing. However, these didn’t ruin the read.

Story – four stars

Setting/World-building – four stars

Structure – four stars

Readability – four stars

Editing – three stars

The Secret Garden – a review

I have joined the Insecure Writers Support Group Bookclub on Goodreads and for June/July, we are reading Frances Hodgson Burnett’s classic children’s book The Secret Garden.  The Club says, “This book was chosen to demonstrate characterization, which was voted #1 for what you would like to learn to do better. Even if you’ve read this book in the past, reread it with fresh eyes, keeping a look out for characterization examples.” So, this is my review.

The Secret Garden

The Secret Garden

by Frances Hodgson Burnett

When orphaned Mary Lennox comes to live at her uncle’s great house on the Yorkshire Moors, she finds it full of secrets. The mansion has nearly one hundred rooms, and her uncle keeps himself locked up. And at night, she hears the sound of crying down one of the long corridors.

The gardens surrounding the large property are Mary’s only escape. Then, Mary discovers a secret garden, surrounded by walls and locked with a missing key. One day, with the help of two unexpected companions, she discovers a way in. Is everything in the garden dead, or can Mary bring it back to life?

 

Review *****

I never read ‘The Secret Garden’ as a child, nor any of Frances Hodgson Burnett’s books. Now in my second childhood, this was, therefore, my first encounter and I enjoyed the read even if there are failings from a writer’s perspective in the 21st century.

However, as I started reading I found the descriptions and characterisations were pulling me into a secret world. The author had a way of using short phrases to capture a sense of the characters and settings. Maybe the technique would be hard to replicate today, but it worked in the context of the novel and the period in which it is set. This was a time before the First World War for both characters and author. This may explain a certain innocence that two world wars dispelled.

Locked into the words and images, I was drawn deeper into Mary’s world and her explorations. Robin was a cute character that felt almost human in his mannerisms. Some might say anthropomorphic – Anthropomorphism is the attribution of human traits, emotions, and intentions to non-human entities – but for me, the characteristics fitted the bird I knew from growing up in England. He becomes the character that ‘unlocks’ the secret garden and the healing that Mary and others need.

When she was in the garden, I could see it and sense it. Some might feel that Dickon is unreal and yet he came alive for me, first in what his sister Martha said about him and then when Mary met him. I’ve been lucky that I have known a few special people like him and the character echoed memories of those that have a rapport with wild animals.

When Mary found the source of the crying, the book added another character and another level. Damaged characters and healing is a theme from the start of the novel, but it’s the secret garden that’s the catalyst. I liked all the interactions between the characters, and the use of mirror images that Mary and others must face to grow.

When Spring arrived, there was magic is in the air. That is what makes this book work for me and why I suspect that it still survives alongside other children’s classics. Frances Hodgson Burnett captures that feeling of magic that in many ways exist in the natural world around us. There are elements that felt wrong to me reading in 2017, but omniscient POV, idealised social situations, and outdated attitudes were, unfortunately, the norm when the novel was written so they didn’t spoil my enjoyment – just deducted one star as a writer with a conscience. But that star magically re-appeared.

Fahrenheit 451 – a review

One of the books on my ‘To Review ‘list is one that I read many decades ago, then decided to re-read recently. Most of you may know of ‘Fahrenheit 451’ in some way, but here is the Goodreads blurb as usual.

Fahrenheit451_17880067

Fahrenheit 451

by Ray Bradbury

The terrifyingly prophetic novel of a post-literate future.

Guy Montag is a fireman. His job is to burn books, which are forbidden, being the source of all discord and unhappiness. Even so, Montag is unhappy; there is discord in his marriage. Are books hidden in his house? The Mechanical Hound of the Fire Department, armed with a lethal hypodermic, escorted by helicopters, is ready to track down those dissidents who defy society to preserve and read books.

The classic dystopian novel of a post-literate future, Fahrenheit 451 stands alongside Orwell’s 1984 and Huxley’s Brave New World as a prophetic account of Western civilization’s enslavement by the media, drugs and conformity.

Bradbury’s powerful and poetic prose combines with uncanny insight into the potential of technology to create a novel which, decades on from first publication, still has the power to dazzle and shock.

 

Review ****

I read this novel many decades ago during my early twenties when I devoured endless sci-fi by all the masters, including Ray Bradbury. Yes, it’s a classic novel but being honest this was never my favourite Bradbury – that would be Something Wicked This Way Comes.

I’ve recently re-read the book and re-discovered its depth and complexity. I was pleased to re-discover elements that I had forgotten, like the Mechanical Hound, probably because it scared me as it did Montag as he fled from it and his old life as a fireman burning books. However, the concept of a world where books were burnt and the media controlled people has become frighteningly true. The concept of people finding a way for books to survive resonated with me, and has drawn me to similar books since. Therefore, I had to relive the horror of a ‘bookless world’ that Ray Bradbury captured in his words. The danger is real and always there; although we have reached the point that the media is controlled as well.

The story never lets up and the writing keeps pace with the nightmare. I felt that there was no hope for the wife he leaves to her drugs, fake friends, and shrinking lives – echoed in so much all around us today. As a reader, I became Montag and desperately prayed for his escape, unable to remember the ending.

It was also good to read some of Bradbury’s background and thoughts on the book in the prefaces, written over the years. He explains how the book was created and that it was written in a very short time at the beginning of his career. So, is four stars me the jaded adult being mean? Not when I would give his later books five. Am I still doing the master a disservice?

Or perhaps I am letting another version of Fahrenheit 451 colour my vision – Francois Truffaut’s 1966 film, which focuses on elements of the book. However, I always feel that in the short time available that a filmmaker cannot capture all the complexity of a novel, so to me Truffaut did an excellent job. The film became a separate creation – a remediation.

Fahrenheit 451, the book will always be where the horror and the warning began. 4.5 stars then.

***

For another excellent blog post on Fahrenheit 451, visit: http://www.lucyvhayauthor.com/book-versus-film-fahrenheit-451-5-ways-the-book-is-better/

 

 

Graylin Brown – a review

 

I’m feeling a bit stressed at the moment, trying to get my debut novel republished, my latest book revised, falling behind in the revision workshop I’m meant to be doing, aware that April is the Blogging from A to Z Challenge, and that I need to announce my A to Z theme in three days.

On top of all that, I realise that there are nine books that I read over the winter but never did proper reviews for; not because I didn’t enjoy them but because I let life get in the way – or should that be declining health and fending off the MonSter. So, that brings me to the stand-out book in the list and the one that meant a great deal.

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Graylin Brown

by Rodney Saulsberry

If you love the Motown sound you will love, Graylin Brown! The fictional story of a soulful R&B singer, William Bell, who made his way from Detroit to Hollywood with all the joy and pain in between.

 

Review *****

I must confess that I can’t remember why I picked this book up, but I must admit that I was so grateful from the moment I started reading it. It was probably another review or an Amazon sample but I’m totally glad whatever the reason was. This was a beautiful and emotional read.

From the opening scene, the reader knows that something is wrong with William Bell as he lies in a hospital bed – I had been there and knew. But then the book flashes back to when William was healthy and caught up in the early days of Motown as a talented musician for whom stardom beckoned. Those were wonderful moments and I was swept along, although in the pit of my stomach I knew what was coming. Something strikes him down and the doctors can’t diagnose him – not surprising as this was the 60s and even now this disease is missed or overlooked; and even in 2000, I slipped through the system in a way.

But this is William’s story, not mine. And from here there are a few hinted spoilers, so if you don’t want to know more, stop here and believe me that this book may be shortish but a novel that I recommend.

William recovers, but his recording boss sees him as a liability, waiting for this unknown disease to strike. His career staggers along as his colleagues that he had a hit record with flourish. The cruelty of those judgmental people like his boss is so real and Rodney Saulsberry captures every nuance.

Some years later, William collapses again and from there – well read the book. William’s struggle mimicked mine in many ways, although I have never had a hit record, just struggled with multiple sclerosis. But I understood what he was going through. I asked the author how he had captured the progress so perfectly and he told me that he had family members that had lived with MS.

This is a very realistic depiction of life with multiple sclerosis, with great characters. The feel of the music industry back in the Motown days feels realistic, especially as I have close musician friends though from later decades. I urge you to read this, and I might even be brave enough to do that again. At moments, it had me in tears, not least because the main character’s MS echoed mine, but also because his blood family were there for him at every moment.

The ending is beautiful and so much more. Writing this brings those emotions back. When you finish this moving read, you might understand why.

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