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

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.

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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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1066 Turned Upside Down – a review

 

As I am now writing an alternative history based on “what if the Vikings had settled permanently In North America”, I delayed reading this superb collection until I’d done more research and written my first draft. I was pleased to see some of my thoughts echoed and to discover how real historical writers craft their tales.

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1066 Turned Upside Down

by Joanna CourtneyHelen HollickAnnie WhiteheadAnna BelfrageAlison MortonCarol McGrathEliza RedgoldG.K. Holloway, Richard Dee

Ever wondered what might have happened if William the Conqueror had been beaten at Hastings? Or if Harald Hardrada had won at Stamford Bridge? Or if Edward the Confessor had died with an heir ready to take his place? Then here is the perfect set of stories for you. ‘1066 Turned Upside Down’ explores a variety of ways in which the momentous year of 1066 could have played out differently.

Written by nine well-known authors to celebrate the 950th anniversary of the Battle of Hastings, the stories will take you on a journey through the wonderful ‘what ifs’ of England’s most famous year in history.

 

REVIEW *****

As a history addict, I’ve been fascinated by alternative histories for decades so when I saw this collection was being released, I had to read it. However, I delayed delving into this until my own alternative history had evolved. I was not disappointed with any of these tales as they all took different approaches and in their own styles.

In most cases, the characters were based on the historical records, although those sometimes disagree so there was room for subtle variations – as well as believable fictional creations. Sometimes the background characters in the historical panorama have the most interesting tale to tell. As I’m part-British, I kept rooting for Harold and disliked William so cheered when the Normans were thwarted by their enemies.

However, I must admit to having a Viking bias so my favourite tale was Joanna Courtney’s ‘Emperor of the North’ about King Harold Hardrada, closely followed by Anna Belfrage’s ‘The Danish Crutch’ – never discount a ‘cripple’ (or else I’ll run you over with my wheelchair). But there were moments when I laughed as well as cried, and all the stories had me nodding with enjoyment and reading avidly. There is even an amusing and clever science fiction/time travel spin in Richard Dee’s ‘If You Changed One Thing’, and I must mention Alison Morton’s ‘A Roman Intervenes’ when her own alternative Roma Nova world impacts on events.

The collection is assembled in such a way that between the ‘alternatives’ are the related facts as they happened, as far as historians and archaeologists know – which still leaves room for these experienced writers’ imaginations. After each tale, there are interesting points of discussion to make the reader pursue the thoughts raised.

With all these writers’ credits, I now have a list of books to keep me historically entertained for months – if I don’t just keep re-reading this collection of five-star tales.

Whale Song – a review

Time for another review and although some might class this novel as YA, it was much more.

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Whale Song

by Cheryl Kaye Tardif 

A haunting story of love, tragedy, sacrifice and transformation that will change the way you view life…and death.

Thirteen years ago, Sarah Richardson’s life was shattered after the tragic assisted suicide of her mother. The shocking tragedy left a grief-stricken teen-aged Sarah with partial amnesia. Some things are easier to forget.

But now a familiar voice from her past sends Sarah, a talented mid-twenties ad exec, back to her past. A past that she had thought was long buried. Some things are meant to be buried.

Torn by nightmares and visions of a yellow-eyed wolf, yet aided by the creatures of the Earth and by the killer whales that call to her in the night, Sarah must face her fears and uncover the truth―even if it destroys her. Some things are meant to be remembered―at all cost.

This haunting tale of change and choice sensitively explores issues of the right to die, integrating the optimistic spiritualism of native myth and the hard realities of modern-day life.

This beautiful story, told in flashback, straddles the genres of mystery and family drama, and is set in the wilds of Canada — Vancouver Island, Victoria, Bamfield and Vancouver.

REVIEW *****

Although “Whale Song” is told in flashback, it never feels like that. Early on in my reading, I wrote that this was “a beautifully written coming-of-age novel and more”. The voice of Sarah Richardson grows with all the experiences that she faces and she reacts to events as anyone her age would, from bullying at school – a well-crafted case of reverse racism – to her first kiss, then the tragedy that rocks her life, the assisted suicide of her mother, and how that impacts on the years after her mother’s passing

Although my time spent on Vancouver Island was merely days, the author portrays a vivid picture of the place that is central to the novel. The descriptions are as evocative as her mother’s paintings, and the depiction of the Nootka indigenous people – or is that First People – was sensitive and colourful. I loved the characters of Goldie and her grandmother, as well as the role of the wolf, so integral to the plot, as integral as the captivating killer whales. The meaning of the book title makes total sense at the end.

This was a novel that I found hard to put down – but life intervenes, unfortunately. The theme of forgiveness resonates throughout the novel weaving into the different plots, from the bullying to the suicide. I might have been a victim of bullying but I empathised and understood this bully totally. Throughout the last few pages especially, I was weeping with joy and sadness. I was sad to reach the end, but I loved this so much I will read it again and recommend it totally.

The best book that I have read for ages.

Wind Catcher – a review

 

I seem to be reading more YA books than normal, and enjoying them. Wind Catcher has to be one of my favourites to date, and it was the native American elements that first attracted me to these authors. Jeff Altabef was generous and offered me a free copy of the first book in the Chosen series.

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Wind Catcher (Chosen #1)

by Jeff Altabef and Erynn Altabef

2015 Readers’ Favorite Gold Medal Winner

Lies.
Betrayal.
Destiny.
A choice that changes everything.

My name is Juliet Wildfire Stone, and I am special. I see visions and hear voices, and I have no idea what they mean.

When someone murders medicine men in my sleepy Arizona town, I can’t help but worry my crazy grandfather is involved. He’s a medicine man and more than a just a little eccentric. He likes to tell me stories about the Great Wind Spirit and Coyote, but none of it makes any sense. I thought I knew the truth, but in order to clear his name I dive into his alien world and uncover an ancient secret society formed over two hundred years ago to keep me safe—me! And I can’t help but to start to wonder whether there’s some truth to those old stories my grandfather has been telling me.

I just want to be an average sixteen-year-old girl, but apparently I’ve never been average. Could never be average. I didn’t know it before, but I’m a Chosen, and those voices I’ve been hearing… well, they’re not just “voices.” I’ve started to develop abilities, but they might not be enough. A powerful entity called a Seeker is hunting me and he’s close—really close.

I thought I knew the answers but truth is, I don’t. Betrayed by those I love, I must choose to run or risk everything in order to fulfill my destiny. I hope I make the right choice. Don’t you?

REVIEW – ****

I follow Jeff Altabef, on various media, and he kindly sent me “Wind Catcher” for free. Having read the blurb and the first few pages, I would have willingly paid – writing costs as does any job. I am glad that I ignored those reviewers that criticised the narrator/protagonist’s “wavering” about her ‘chosen’ role and wanting to be normal. I may be retired, and a man, but I remember all the teenage anxieties I went through of wanting to be normal. Okay, I ended up rebelling but that was my ultimate response to being bullied, after constant failings to conform, so I felt for Juliet.

For me, Juliet was a well-rounded character and I had a sense early on that there was a deep respect for the weird, traditional native ways of Sicheii, her grandfather. Like so many of us, there was a point to reject those ways and gravitate to conformity. She needed, like the best protagonists, to go through several life-changing events before she was ready to face her antagonists. Clearly, Jeff’s daughter Erynn added her own experiences to ensuring this character worked. This was a coming-of-age story, although the growth was something most of us never experience.

Only when a heroine is ready can she face her antagonist. So, we get a great ending when all the pieces come together, bringing closure to the key plotlines. However, Book 2 is set-up cleverly and with the right questions left unanswered. Like, will she find romance with the right guy?

Overall, I enjoyed Wind Catcher and was unable to put it down. The Native American elements felt right to me – although I am not an expert. As a mystery writer, the tension and the intrigue kept me guessing even with the subtle hints. I can’t wait for Brink of Dawn and Scorched Souls reaching the top of my to-read pile. Recommended read.