I Am the Chosen King – a review

Over the next two or three weeks, I intend to review the seven books read in recent months. Some of these were on my list for my 2019 challenges, and all have counted towards my 2019 Goodreads Challenge.

First is a novel I won in a giveaway on the author’s website that I follow. As it is a thick book, I had some difficulty carrying it around in my old wheelchair. But over time, I found a solution and read the novel.

I Am the Chosen King

(Saxon #1)

by

Helen Hollick

Original Title when published in the UK: Harold the King

In this beautifully crafted tale, Harold Godwinesson, the last Saxon King of England, is a respected, quick-witted man both vulnerable and strong, honorable and loving-and yet, in the end, only human. After the political turmoil and battles leading up to 1066, we all know William the Conquerer takes England. But Helen Hollick will have readers at the edge of their seats, hoping that just this once, for Harold, the story will have a different ending.

Review 5 stars

This beautifully written novel was well worth spending time reading. In summary, I loved all the details and characters. Although I already opposed the Normans, Helen Hollick turned me into a fan of Harold Godwinesson. But I’ve never liked William the Conqueror – even when I discovered the Normans had Norse ancestors. The novel felt well-researched.

On a superficial level and the one I learnt at school decades ago, the story is straightforward. But the reality and the twists, intrigues and rivalry as it unfolds is complex. Helen Hollick captures all the nuances and fills in history’s gaps convincingly.

The settings in England and Normandy evoked a sense of what the 11th century was possibly like. Some of the places I glimpsed from my own travels. For instance, London and its environs were very different and yet the descriptions triggered images and memories in my imagination. I lived for a few years near Waltham Abbey, so could picture it as it was.

One negative could be the portrayal of the original Britons – the Welsh. Were the Welsh worse than other peoples around that period? Ruling England is a tough job, but does it mean all one’s enemies are violent savages? Or is that my Welsh bias?

Anyways, the Godwinesson family take centre stage, led by Harold’s influential father, Earl Godwin. Early on there are indications that sibling rivalry is inevitable, and as the story unfolds it becomes more intense leading to the fatal actions of one brother, Tostig. How the role of other family members weaves into this is well-portrayed and justified.

Then there is royal intrigue. Again, inevitable given the characters, a reluctant King, his powerful mother – Emma, Queen and wife of the late Cnut the Great – and then Harold’s politically astute father. Emma, who is the protagonist of Hollick’s next book in the series, The Forever Queen – chronologically a prequel – is reluctant to let her son, Edward rule as if he’s weak. But this ‘confessor’ is distracted by spiritual matters – until he tastes power.

I’m not going to accuse the author of treating her characters as black and white as others have. They take sides and few of them waver. Even the despicable William has his moments of introspection. So, the characters felt realistic, reacting and creating events. Some lived dangerously, wanting what others had and failing – or in William’s case succeeding.

Emma must teach Harold’s ambitious sister Edith about her duties as Queen when she marries Edward, becoming the next Queen of England. And what does power do when petty sibling rivalry plays its role? Hollick weaves that rivalry into the historical facts, and the tale unfolds as it did in 1066. Fortunately, Harold’s hand-fast wife, Edith Swanneck rises above this rivalry, and their love endures even when he has to marry another in the eyes of the church – another relationship well-portrayed.

When Edward dies and Harold is chosen as the King of England, other claimants emerge inevitably. One is Duke William of Normandy. Historically he claimed both Edward and Harold had promised him the crown, but the records are questionable enough for the writer to expand on the facts and give Harold justification for accepting the crown himself.

Result – invasions north and south. The pace builds as the ending unfolds that most English know from school. So, we know what happens in this timeline. Tostig creates tension and trouble with his Norwegian allies. And as made clear in the scenes of him securing his dukedom, William never gives up. History can’t be changed.

Damn that Norman bastard.

The tension of those final days gripped me as I marched up and down England. Hollick had me praying for an English victory. ‘What if’ kept playing through her words. But this wasn’t the clever alternative history collection, 1066 Turned Upside Down which Hollick contributed to. This was the actual year 1066 but crafted brilliantly and enjoyably.

Story – five stars

Setting/World-building – five stars

Characters – five stars

Authenticity – five stars

Structure – five stars

Readability – five stars

Editing – five stars

The Pearl Thief – a review

When I was compiling my list for the 2019 Cloak and Dagger Challenge, I missed off a number of books including Elizabeth Wein’s The Pearl Thief. As Wein’s Code Name Verity was my top read in 2018, I was looking forward to reading this prequel. Well listening to what was my first Audible novel, though not my first audio book.

I’m now listening to another Elizabeth Wein novel – Black Dove, White Raven – but back to the review of my sixth read for the Challenge

The Pearl Thief

(Code Name Verity 0.5)

by

Elizabeth E. Wein

Before Verity . . . there was Julie.

When fifteen-year-old Julia Beaufort-Stuart wakes up in the hospital, she knows the lazy summer break she’d imagined won’t be exactly like she anticipated. And once she returns to her grandfather’s estate, a bit banged up but alive, she begins to realize that her injury might not have been an accident. One of her family’s employees is missing, and he disappeared on the very same day she landed in the hospital.

Desperate to figure out what happened, she befriends Euan McEwen, the Scots Traveller boy who found her when she was injured, and his standoffish sister Ellen. As Julie grows closer to this family, she experiences some of the prejudices they’ve grown used to firsthand, a stark contrast to her own upbringing, and finds herself exploring thrilling new experiences that have nothing to do with a missing-person investigation.

Her memory of that day returns to her in pieces, and when a body is discovered, her new friends are caught in the crosshairs of long-held biases about Travellers. Julie must get to the bottom of the mystery in order to keep them from being framed for the crime.

In the prequel to Printz Honor Book Code Name Verity, this exhilarating coming-of-age story returns to a beloved character just before she learned to fly.

Review 5 stars

After I was bowled over by the brilliance of Elizabeth Wein’s Code Name Verity, I enjoyed re-connecting with the memorable Julia Beaufort-Stuart – albeit when she was fifteen.

This is a different genre – a mystery and coming-of-age story that my wife and I listened to engrossed. This was our first Audible book and the narration by actress Maggie Service was excellent, bringing to life the characters.

The mystery begins when Julia wakes up in hospital and realises that her injury might not have been an accident. Desperate to figure out what happened, she befriends Euan McEwen, the Scots Traveller boy who found her when she was injured, and his standoffish sister Ellen. As Julie grows closer to this family, she experiences some of the prejudices they’ve grown used to first-hand, a stark contrast to her own upbringing, and finds herself exploring thrilling new experiences.

Wein artfully weaves pearl gathering in the river and a missing-person investigation into Julia’s evolving relationships. Facts are slipped into scenes in subtle ways, and the author even adds a useful addendum about Pearls and Travellers at the very end. Wein always strikes me as a writer that does her research and knows how to knit it into a tale – as she does here.

The characters were distinctive and grew over time, not just as their layers were unpeeled but also by their interactions. For instance, the complex relationship between Julia and Ellen grows from social divide to mutual understanding and deep friendship. Others grow from their shells or achieve deserved recognition in a similar way.

The Scottish setting echoed my own time there, especially along stretches of riverbank. And some of the prejudices were familiar from the class world I know.

By the end, the mysteries – yes, there I far more than one- have been solved in unexpected ways. For me, some seeds had been sown that foreshadowed Code Name Verity – subtle and poignant.

An excellent listen – and another memorable character.

Story – five stars

Setting/World-building – five stars

Characters – five stars

Authenticity – five stars

Structure – five stars

Narration – five stars

Editing – five stars

Ten Minutes Past Teatime – a review


This is the first post written with my new ‘one-handed’ keyboard – well, smaller than my UK-bought one so easier to use when my left-hand cramps and claws. Just need to adapt to its idiosyncrasies.

On to my review of a short story that a writer I follow sent her subscribers.

Ten Minutes Past Teatime

by

Elizabeth Chatsworth (Goodreads Author)

Please note, this is a short story/novelette.

A Victorian spinster-scientist and a Viking shield-maiden find passion and danger in dark-age Ireland.

1896: Forty-three-year-old scientist Miss Minerva Minett is determined to become the first female member of an exclusive inventor’s club. To win their annual membership competition, she invents a time-traveling submersible, and launches her vessel into the Irish sea for a quick trip to the dark ages. But when she sinks a Viking longship, accidentally joins a monastery raid, and falls into the arms of a grizzled shield-maiden, she discovers that time may not be on her side.

Review 4.3 stars

This entertaining steampunk short story had me amused and entertained as forty-three-year-old Victorian scientist Miss Minerva Minett attempted to become the first female member of an exclusive inventor’s club, by launching her time-traveling submersible into the Irish sea for a quick trip to the dark ages.

From the amusing opening through her encounter with the grizzled shield-maiden, Alfhild to the twist at the end, I chuckled at the inventive mind of Minerva and her creator.

The experiments and inventions were as memorable as the characters, including the one that delivered the twist at the end. Being steampunk, I expected alternative history, so I won’t over-judge the authenticity beyond wondering about some oddities such as a misplaced dragon-head.   

The romance between Alfhild and Minerva is a bonus with neat contrasts across cultures and time. And with a name like Minerva, there had to be goddess references.

Alfhild was the true goddess, not she. Or maybe they both were?

It was a thesis she would have to explore in more detail. For the sake of science.

But the humour is always there.

Minerva cocked her head. Surely, she didn’t hear the word goldfish in the chorus? “ . . . Minerva’s Magic Goldfish. Answers every sailor’s wish . . .” Oh, dear.

A fun read, although short.

Story – five stars

Setting/World-building – four stars

Characters – five stars

Authenticity – three stars

Structure – four stars

Readability – five stars

Editing – four stars

2018 Reads and Beyond

As a writer, reading is an important part of the process. Reading teaches me many writing lessons while entertaining me. I hope that it’s making me a better writer.

Inspired by some of the writers and readers that I follow, here is my 2018 reading list and top books of the year. Most were not published in 2018, but that’s when I read them so that’s what counts.

First, the list as I reviewed them – with links:

Avalanche (A Stone Mountain Mystery #3) by Kristina Stanley – 5 stars

The Warrior’s Path (When Women Were Warriors #1) by Catherine M. Wilson – 5 stars

For The Winner (Golden Apple Trilogy #2) by Emily Hauser (Goodreads Author) – 5 stars

A Journey of the Heart (When Women Were Warriors #2) by Catherine M. Wilson – 5 stars

A Hero’s Tale (When Women Were Warriors #3) by Catherine M. Wilson – 5 stars

Death in Dulwich (London Murder Mystery #1) by Alice Castle – 4.7 stars

Apricots and Wolfsbane by K.M. Pohlkamp – 4.9 stars

Air and Ash (TIDES #1) by Alex Lidell – 4.3 stars

The Shepherdess of Siena by Linda Lafferty – 4.3 stars

The Last Wish (Saga o Wiedźminie #1) by Andrzej Sapkowski – 5 stars

Lord of the Flies by William Golding – 4.5 stars

The Secret Keeper by Kate Morton – 5+ stars

The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (The Chronicles of Narnia) by C.S. Lewis – 4.4 stars

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button by F. Scott Fitzgerald – 4.3 stars

Sword of Destiny (Saga o Wiedźminie #2) by Andrzej Sapkowski – 5 stars

Look the Other Way by Kristina Stanley – 4.6 stars

The Death of Mrs. Westaway by Ruth Ware – 5 stars

Never on Saturday by Sue Barnard – 4.4 stars

Heathcliff: The Unanswered Questions Finally Answered? by Sue Barnard – 4.4 stars

Horsemanship by Gina McKnight (Editor) – 5 stars

Mr Churchill’s Secretary (Maggie Hope Mystery #1) by Susan Elia MacNeal – 3.7 stars

The Strange Death of Fiona Griffiths (Fiona Griffiths #3) by Harry Bingham – 5 stars

Code Name Verity (Code Name Verity #1) by Elizabeth E. Wein – 5+ stars

Joseph Barnaby by Susan Roebuck – 4.6 stars

Method Acting For Writers: Learn Deep Point Of View Using Emotional Layers by

Lisa Hall-Wilson – 5 stars

The Ragged Edge of Night by Olivia Hawker – 5 stars

What Child Is This by Rhys Bowen – 5 stars

Eadric And The Wolves: A Novel Of The Danish Conquest Of England by David K. Mullaly – 4 stars

I’ve missed a few books – the Children’s ones – but these are the majority. On reflection, there are more five stars awarded than memorable books, and I’ve tended to be unfair to the authors I interact with. Why? Reverse favouritism?

Anyway, thinking back over the year and looking for memorable reads, here’s my top three for each of the genres that I lean towards:

Thrillers- Mystery- Suspense-Crime:
The Secret Keeper by Kate Morton – 5+ stars

The Strange Death of Fiona Griffiths (Fiona Griffiths #3) by Harry Bingham – 5 stars

Avalanche (A Stone Mountain Mystery #3) by Kristina Stanley – 5 stars

Fantasy:
The Warrior’s Path (When Women Were Warriors #1) by Catherine M. Wilson – 5 stars

The Last Wish (Saga o Wiedźminie #1) by Andrzej Sapkowski – 5 stars

For The Winner (Golden Apple Trilogy #2) by Emily Hauser (Goodreads Author) – 5 stars


Historical Fiction:

Code Name Verity (Code Name Verity #1) by Elizabeth E. Wein – 5+ stars

The Ragged Edge of Night by Olivia Hawker – 5 stars

Apricots and Wolfsbane by K.M. Pohlkamp – 4.9 stars


Some of these cross genres and showed that is achievable seamlessly. These lists lead into my top five reads of 2018 – well fiction reads – in order.

Top Five Reads of 2018
1.             Code Name Verity (Code Name Verity #1) by Elizabeth E. Wein – 5+ stars

2.            The Secret Keeper by Kate Morton – 5+ stars

3.            The Warrior’s Path (When Women Were Warriors #1) by Catherine M. Wilson – 5 stars

4.            The Strange Death of Fiona Griffiths (Fiona Griffiths #3) by Harry Bingham – 5 stars

5.            Avalanche (A Stone Mountain Mystery #3) by Kristina Stanley – 5 stars

Top Non-fiction has to be my ‘desk-bible’ – Method Acting For Writers: Learn Deep Point Of View Using Emotional Layers by Lisa Hall-Wilson. By the use it has already got, that 5 stars rating is low.

Keeping track of my reading has been my Goodreads account. I’ve now taken part in the Goodreads Reading Challenge for the last three years and passed my modest goal each year. I set the bar low as there are days when I struggle to read more than a few pages; not because the books are bad but because of health issues.

In 2018, I read 45 books and passed my target of 3o – call that figure 42 as three books got counted twice. Only 28 got reviewed – as above – but Goodreads did keep tally so I must have some reviews outstanding.

However, despite reading 41 books in 2017, I have kept my goal for 2019 low at 35. I am ahead as I type this, but I’m now reading a chunky 500-page book.

In my next Book Review post, I will list some of the books that I plan to read – with another Challenge as the target.

The Things You Didn’t See – a review

As I’m a writer that reads, this book review comes first and then the life problems are the footnote to this new style post.

The Things You Didn’t See

by

Ruth Dugdall (Goodreads Author)

Her instincts are telling her something isn’t right…

On a chilly morning in rural Suffolk, Cassandra Hawke is woken by a gunshot. Her mother is clinging on to her life, the weapon still lying nearby. Everyone thinks it’s attempted suicide—but none of it makes any sense to Cass. She’s certain there’s more to it than meets the eye.

With her husband and father telling her she’s paranoid, Cass finds an unlikely ally in student paramedic Holly. Like Cass, she believes something is wrong, and together they try to uncover the truth. But is there more to Holly’s interest than she’s letting on?

With her family and loved ones at risk, Cass must ask herself: is she ready to hear the truth, and can she deal with the consequences?

**

            Review 4.4 stars

If I went by the blurb, this book would be Cassandra Hawke’s tale – but that’s just part of this novel which starts twenty years earlier when eight-year-old Holly Redwood sees a ghost shot at a remote farm on Halloween.  The unresolved experience lurks in her past until as a trainee paramedic she is called out to help with an attempted suicide – at the same farm.

Cass doesn’t believe that her mother committed suicide but her husband and her father behave as if she is paranoid. However, she befriends Holly who believes her as the explanations don’t feel right. And Holly suffers from synaesthesia, a condition where the person can feel the emotions of others as if they are their own – a mixed blessing it seems for Holly.

The setting pulled me in, in part as I know Suffolk and Norfolk. The descriptions were immersive, blending imagined places with the real ones that matched my memories.

The author uses two POVs to differentiate the two protagonists – first person for Cass and third for Holly. First allows the reader to see into Cass’s confused thoughts – the mind some say is paranoid. There are reasons for that, but I’ll just say that those are cleverly unclear at first. Who is telling the truth?

Holly as a protagonist stood out for me – and not just because of the prologue that set the unsettling feelings going.

As a fan of first person and deep POV, I kept wanting to get inside Holly’s head more than was possible. However, two first person POVs is hard for some readers, and the author made the necessary choice choosing Cass – a mind that twists the plot. And the suspicions. Would Holly as first person POV instead been a different book?

Suicide or murder? What starts as an ‘open and shut’ case, works through murder suspects at a steady pace that was in danger of losing me – especially when I identified the culprit or thought I did. But there was enough drama for me to read on and meet all the secondary characters – including the suspects. They all had their own traits and worked. But too many felt irritating, even if there was some justification for their attitudes. Death and murder have repercussions. Or do they for everyone? Who profits?

This is not a rushed mystery but as the plot deepens, the pace picks up. I had my suspicions, but my suspect remained hidden from the police for a long time. There was a point where I felt the story was being drawn-out, but I was also teased and tested. Suicide can be instigated, and I have experienced that. But that may or may not be the resolution?

Am I teasing or tempting you? Read this recommended novel to find out what happens in this cleverly crafted story. The twist works even if…well, you’ll see what I mean.

Story – four stars

Setting/World-building – five stars

Authenticity – five stars

Characters – four stars

Structure – four stars

Readability – four stars

Editing – five stars

**

Falling Future

I was aiming to write this review for Thursday 3rd January, but I was still working through New Year emails, my IWSG post, and other messages that overwhelmed me into Friday and beyond. And then came the weekend, and writing was not easy as my mind was fractured by my MS. Plus, the emails kept coming.

Anyway, this review was delayed until I could make a realistic space – and create a new banner that lets me post any day of the week.

UPDATE: Added the banner as I forgot yesterday – distracted by this new WordPress layout.

It didn’t help that I fell on the floor – or rather crashed out of my manual wheelchair transferring to a power chair. We’ve been looking at buying a power wheelchair, but they are expensive – especially on two retirement incomes. Second-hand is more manageable so that is the route we are going.

Falling hurts – especially when I smashed my head, broke a tooth, and bruised my right arm; I’m right-handed. Falling could be a theme too – for my memoir. Falling in love, falling from horses (or ponies) and falling ill – which means falling on the ground.

So, do I start working on / distracting myself with my life story? Should it be called ‘The Art of Falling’ or ‘A Life of Falling’ or something else?

Next week’s new arrival

The Ragged Edge of Night – a review

Thursday_horizons

NaNoWriMo might be my focus for November but I am making time for this Thursday Creation Review as this book seems timely with a strong message.

RaggedEdge

The Ragged Edge of Night

by

Olivia Hawker

For fans of All the Light We Cannot See, Beneath a Scarlet Sky, and The Nightingale comes an emotionally gripping, beautifully written historical novel about extraordinary hope, redemption, and one man’s search for light during the darkest times of World War II.

Germany, 1942. Franciscan friar Anton Starzmann is stripped of his place in the world when his school is seized by the Nazis. He relocates to a small German hamlet to wed Elisabeth Herter, a widow who seeks a marriage—in name only—to a man who can help raise her three children. Anton seeks something too—atonement for failing to protect his young students from the wrath of the Nazis. But neither he nor Elisabeth expects their lives to be shaken once again by the inescapable rumble of war.

As Anton struggles to adapt to the roles of husband and father, he learns of the Red Orchestra, an underground network of resisters plotting to assassinate Hitler. Despite Elisabeth’s reservations, Anton joins this army of shadows. But when the SS discovers his schemes, Anton will embark on a final act of defiance that may cost him his life—even if it means saying goodbye to the family he has come to love more than he ever believed possible.

Review 5 stars

Although the pace was slower than many of my usual reads, the setting of a rural village in World War II Germany made for an underlying threat that drove the story forward. The pace matched the reality portrayed.

The influence of Hitler and his Nazis seeped into the story, although the main protagonist Anton Starzmann was building a new life with Elisabeth Herter, a widow with three children in rural surroundings. His past as a Franciscan friar, whose pupils have been ‘relocated’ by the SS, haunts his gradual attempt to take a stand against the Nazi evil.

Early on he hears a conversation that becomes fundamental:

“Her companion is quick to answer, quick to defend. “It’s only this: I’ve never seen God. Why should I credit Him for a blessing, or leave Him any blame? Men are quite capable of destroying the world on their own, as we can plainly see. They don’t need any help from above.”

Anton observes that he hasn’t met Hitler, but the Fuehrer’s evil exists – and he resists. The musical instruments of his condemned pupils become central to that stand, and not just in their re-use – far better than what the Nazis plan for them.

“I’ve heard the Party are paying good money for brass. The Schutzstaffel want it for casings—ammunition.”

I wondered if music could foil the savage beast and, in a way, it became a means to take a stand. I shared the fear that the resistance within Germany and the village of Unterboihingen, called the Red Orchestra would be exposed and killed.

It didn’t matter that I knew the outcome of WWII as I didn’t know whether anything about that resistance. It’s a sad fact that it became easier for others to see all Germans as evil. Having had a German girlfriend, I know that isn’t true. And this book confirms that there was a lot of good alive, and people trying to survive.

The characters from Anton to minor characters come alive as the story builds and I became invested in their lives.

The village and its surroundings are beautifully described, and the language is so evocative of the hard but special life that Anton and his new family are living. The war rages and the nightly bombing of nearby Stuttgart threaten behind the village life that attempts to continue, using lessons and practises of the past. Barter replaces money – as it did in many countries.

There are highlights to enrich the children’s lives like precious Easter eggs, chocolates and simple handmade gifts.

The end and the impending terror draws closer when a ruthless act forces a final act of defiance.

The story resonated so much with me that I was pleased to discover that it is based on real events. And that makes it relevant to today when Neo-Nazis are on the rise everywhere.

But as the author says:

“We are Widerstand—resistance—you and I. No force can silence us, unless we permit silence. I prefer to roar.”

This book was an Amazon First Reads free with my Prime membership, and even if I’d paid the proper price The Ragged Edge of Night would be a recommended must read.

Story – five stars

Setting/World-building – five stars

Authenticity – five stars

Characters – five stars

Structure – five stars

Readability – five stars

Editing – five stars