Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Oswui King of Kings by Edoardo Albert

Northumbrian Thrones Trilogy #3 
October 21st 2016, 560 Pages, Lion Fiction 
Print and Ebook 

Oswald’s head is on a spike. Can Oswiu avoid the same fate? The great pagan king Penda set a trap, and when the brothers Oswiu and Oswald walked in, only one came back alive.
Rumours abound that the place where Oswald’s body is strung up has become sacred ground – a site of healing for those who seek it. Oswald’s mother believes he will protect those he loves, even beyond the grave.

 So she asks the impossible of Oswiu: to journey to the heart of Penda’s kingdom and rescue the body that was stolen from them. Will this fateful task allow Oswiu to prove himself worthy of uniting the kingdoms under him as the King of Kings, or will it set him on a path to destruction? Oswiu: King of Kings is the masterful conclusion to The Northumbrian Thrones trilogy.
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Oh my goodness, I am going to miss this series. Never mind, the paperbacks are all on my shelf anytime a re-read becomes necessary. London based author, archaeologist and journalist Edoardo Albert has bought his Northumbrian Thrones trilogy, encompassing the lives of three seventh century rulers of the Saxon Kingdom of Northumbria to a conclusion in magnificent style, yet not detracting from the known historical facts.

Oswiu was a supporting character in the last book, the younger and somewhat less confident brother of the Saintly King Oswald (both of them nephews of Edwin, the focus of the first book). I say Saintly quite Literally. The Seventh century King Oswald of Northumbria is actually a canonized Saint in the Roman Catholic church.
After the deadly trap with kills his beloved brother, Oswald, at the behest of his mother, embarks on a quest to retrieve the remains of his brother- impaled to a tree in an act of ritual humiliation by Penda King of Mercia, the perpetual enemy of the Northumbrian monarchs. The scene in which Oswald's pet raven, Bran, exacts his own sort of vengeance for his master was one of the most memorable in the book. Indeed, Bran has emerged as a character himself in the course of the series. I appreciated the way that the role of royal women was represented in this tale, as they are so often considered powerless and marginalized: in reality, they were the Peaceweavers. "It is the part of women in this Middle-earth to weave together kingdoms in our bodies and on our beds, to requite war with desire, to make peace with the children we breed. That is our part. "

The book then proceeds to follow the first 13 years of Oswui's reign, revolving mostly around his power-struggles with Penda, and efforts to secure the throne of Deira, which alongside the small Kingdom of Bernicia from Northumbria as a whole. (For international readers, this was the ancient Saxon Kingdom, encompassing much of what is now NorthEastern England North of the River Humber, as well as parts of Southeastern Scotland.) It is a complicated story of shifting loyalties within families, loss, betrayal, death, and ultimate victory. Interwoven within is the story of how the English Church grew in this formative period and the faith of the characters themselves, Oswiu and his relatives, as well as Aidan, first Bishop of Lindisfarne, who according to tradition, prevented the destruction of the great fortress of Bamburgh with his prayers.

In this last book, a new element is introduced when Penda claims to be the embodiment of the god Woden on earth, and turns his expansion of power into a clash of gods, making it his goal to eradicate the new religion from the lands of the Angles, along with all the Kings who have embraced it. Never believing he can truly be the match of his brother, Oswui and his family must fight, in the end for their very survival. In the course of events, Oswui makes some hard decisions and takes controversial courses of action. His likely complicity in the murder of the Christian King of Deira (and his Kinsman) Oswine 'Godfriend' has been a blot on his reputation across the centuries. Deservedly so. Oswine here emerges as a sympathetic and tragic figure: a King who never really wanted to be one, a man who wished to do right, caught up in the turbulent tides of power. This was a world in which men of God could barely avoid violence, and the fate of Kingdoms was decided at the point of a sword.

My only complaints were that the book was not long enough. OK, not really. It was 550 pages long, but Oswui reigned for another 15 years after the novel ends, one of the longest reigning and living of all the pre-conquest Kings. A lot happened in that 15 years, and I think it would have taken another full-length book to cover it all. Still, I would have liked to hear a little more about that period. The other was some of the fantasy- like elements in the story, which though they were well written, I felt weren't always necessary.
Such as the suggestion that Oswald's Spirit lingered in the form of a black cloaked figure, who at one point stands next to Oswui and is spoken to by him.

Overall though, this novel and the entire trilogy have proved to be an excellent contribution to the genre, in which Pre-Conquest Britain is often her ignored or is represented in whimsical Romance novels with cliched or stereotyped characters. Recommended for lovers of solid and immersive Historical Fiction, and easily ranked among better-known authors.

Sunday, August 20, 2017

Audiobook Review - Bread of Angels by Tessa Afshar

July 14th 2017, Recorded Books

Purple. The foundation of an influential trade in a Roman world dominated by men. One woman rises up to take the reins of success in an incredible journey of courage, grit, and friendship. And along the way, she changes the world.

But before she was Lydia, the seller of purple, she was simply a merchant's daughter who loved three things: her father, her ancestral home, and making dye. Then unbearable betrayal robs her of nearly everything.

With only her father's secret formulas left, Lydia flees to Philippi and struggles to establish her business on her own. Determination and serendipitous acquaintances--along with her father's precious dye--help her become one of the city's preeminent merchants. But fear lingers in every shadow, until Lydia meets the apostle Paul and hears his message of hope, becoming his first European convert. Still, Lydia can't outrun her secrets forever, and when past and present collide, she must either stand firm and trust in her fledgling faith or succumb to the fear that has ruled her life.
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I forgot to download my copy of this book from NetGalley before it was Archived, so purchased the audiobook.

It was a sweet story, which really brought to life a minor figure mentioned in the book of Acts and her world. Rich in details that can help shed light on the people the New Testament called the 'God Fearers': Gentiles who believed in the One God but never formally converted to Judaism. There were some excellent and well drawn-characters, and the themes were woven well into the story. I'd like to do some more research into the creation of purple dye at this time because it seems very much like how it was done in Medieval Europe (combining Woad with Madder instead of using cochineal snails).
Lydia was a woman much wronged, and in the grip of fear for much of her life. Fear of not being good enough, fear of betrayal and losing the business and reputation she'd worked so hard to build up. The story had plenty of drama and even a hint of Romance.

A couple of modern Americanisms like 'store' and 'I will write you' stood out, but they didn't detract from the story. Its' one of those stories which are reasonably faithful and authentic in the historical setting, but not so much so that it bogged the reader down, making for a relatively light, easy read.

Why the lower rating? Just a matter of personal taste. I still don't really care very much for Biblical Fiction, and I just didn't find this book as immersive as some others. I'm certainly going to be listening to the Audiobook of 'Land of Silence' soon and would look for more by this author.

Friday, August 18, 2017

First Line Fridays #5 - The Message in a Bottle Romance Collection


Finally progress! Bread of Angels audiobook done, and Oswui: King of Kings finished.  I've finally made a start on a book I requested from NetGalley way back in January. I have not included the author in the title because it's one of those collections of short stories by multiple authors. 
I have to confess: I requested it mostly for the first story: The Distant Tide by Heather Day Gilbert, a Viking Romance because her previous full-length Viking Era novel Forest Child won me over.

So currently I am working through the first of five novellas in the collection: it's enjoyable- but...  Yes, there is a but: I am concerned about the Historical details in the story. It's set in Ireland in 1170, something I did not realize: I thought it was set in the 9th century. 
Vikings would be fine in the 9th century, but not in the 12th after what historians refer to as 'The Viking Age' ended. There were no more raids on England after 1066, and in Ireland, they stopped even earlier as the Vikings started to settle down, develop a more stable economy and become Christianized. 

Also, the heroine and her family live in the inevitable castle- but there's only one problem with that: Castles were brought to Ireland by the Normans, the same people who introduced them to England after their famous victory at the Battle of Hastings. Hence, an Irish royal family at the time the Normans came to conquer Ireland a century or so later would not have been living in a big old stone castle. 
 So yes, it's a nice story; but it really should have been set a century or so earlier. I think it's a general problem with a lot of Fiction: that knowledge of the Middle Ages is rather limited, and the expectations of audiences mean that things like castles and Vikings can be dropped into just about any Medieval story, regardless of the historical context. Hollywood has been doing something similar for 50 years, so perhaps they are partly to blame.

I'm going to finish the story as a truly believe Mrs. Gilbert is a wonderful author, and read the others in the collection (it's extremely rare for me to ever give up on a novel), but historical accuracy is important to me.


The first line from the Prologue (which introduces the Message in the Bottle which gives its title to the collection) reads: 

Ballyfir Monastery, The North of Ireland, 
834 AD 

Flames lapped at the monk's robes.  


I apologize if this week's posts reads like a prolonged history lesson. I'll wrap up by wishing everyone a happy Friday from little old England. 

Friday, August 11, 2017

First Line Fridays #4 - Bread of Angels by Tessa Afshar




Reading progress has been slow this week: so slow in fact that I am still reading two of the books featured in previous posts. Life happens.
So, this week I am sharing the first line of an Audiobook that I am currently working through. I forget to download the Ebook version of this title from NetGalley but thankfully had a backup with the Audible version.

Biblical Fiction is not normally my thing, but I have recently started to get over my aversion to it. This is in fact only the second book I have listened to in the genre, a fictionalized account of the life of Lydia of Thyatira, a woman mentioned briefly in the Book of Acts, as one of the first Europeans converted by the Apostle Paul in the Macedonian city of Philippi. 


The first line from the Preface Reads:

"I have never served as a soldier, yet I have a strange sense that most of my life I have stared down the blade of a sword, the face of my adversary haunting me" 

Friday, August 04, 2017

First Line Fridays #3: Murder on the Moor by Julianna Deering


Greetings again from little old England for my latest FLF post.
Is it really that time of the week? Gosh. Finished one novel, still getting through another and behind on my Goodreads Reading Challenge this year, but I will catch up- eventually. I hope. The Kregel Blog Tour for The Captivating Lady Charlotte which I featured last week ends today, thankfully my post went up on Wednesday and that can be ticked off the list.  I've also created my own little graphic, as you can see above.

So this week I am listing a book I am about to start, instead of one I am actually reading (I tend to read two Fiction books at once) by American author Julianna Deering.
The genre combines two of my great loves, History, and Mysteries as part of a Murder Mystery series set in England in the 1930s. A setting evocative of Agatha Christie and Dorothy Sayers, complete with a charming aristocratic sleuth. In this installment, our hero and his friends end up running into a mystery in a hunting expedition on the Yorkshire Moors.

Murder on the Moor: Drew Fathering Mysteries #5



So without further ado here's our first Line:
"And I sank down where I stood, and hid my face against the ground. I lay still a while: the night swept over the hill and over me and died moaning in the distance; the rain fell fast, wetting me afresh to the skin.' ” 
At Farthering Place, nestled in the Hampshire countryside, the rain also fell fast, drumming against the windowpanes, joining the wind and the thunder to make the cold October night even more forbidding."

I know, I know it's actually two lines, but I chose another because the first line is, in fact, a quote from another book. Hopefully, my review will be up soon, until next time, have a great week.

Want to join in the book fun? Visit the other members to look at their books, or comment with the first line of your own current read. 

 
And this week a new member: Nicole at The Christian Fiction Girl

Wednesday, August 02, 2017

The Captivating Lady Charlotte by Carolyn Miller: Kregel Blog Tour

Regency Brides: A Legacy of Grace #2
Kregel Publications, 27th June 2017, 310 Pages
Print and Ebook
       
        Her heart is her own--but her hand in marriage is another matter

Lady Charlotte Featherington is destined for great things on the marriage market. After all, as the beautiful daughter of a marquess, she should have her pick of the eligible nobility hen she debuts. She, however, has love at the top of her list of marriageable attributes. And her romantic heart falls hard for one particularly dashing, attentive suitor. Sadly for Charlotte, her noble father intends her betrothed to be someone far more dull.

William Hartwell may be a duke, but he knows he was Charlotte's father's pick, not the young lady's own choice. And the captivating Lady Charlotte does not strike him as a woman who will be wooed by his wealth or title. While she has captured his heart, he has no idea how to win hers in return--and the betrayal and scandal his first wife put him through makes it difficult for him to believe that love can ever be trusted. His only hope is that Charlotte's sense of responsibility will win out over her romantic notions.

Can a widowed duke and a romantically inclined lady negotiate a future and discover love beyond duty? Will they be able to find healing and hope from the legacy of grace? Poignant and charming, this is another beautifully written, clean and wholesome Regency romance from Carolyn Miller.
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The second title in the Regency Brides series was a wonderful continuation, complementing the first book. This was once again a wonderfully well-told story with realistic characters and evocative scenery. Although the arranged marriage to between hurting and seemingly unsuited characters is a formula which has been used before (rather often), I did not come across as tired or cliched in this novel.
In fact, I loved the character of William, Duke of Hartington, the quiet and rather reclusive character judged by society, who really had so much to offer, and was a much better person than he seemed. Certainly, a lesson about not judging by appearances to be learned there.

In fact, the heroine Charlotte learns and matures throughout the series: many of the important passages about the nature of love were deservedly highlighted in the Kindle edition many times. They are profound words to think upon. I could argue that learning about what love really meant was the central theme of this book, and was something both the characters had to do. Again, as with the last book, the faith elements worked well in the story- except, it must be said, in one or two passages.
Readers of the prequel will enjoy seeing the return of characters from it, especially Charlotte’s cousin Lavinia and her husband Nicholas, and their formidable Aunt Patience. They weren’t just cameos with walk on roles either but had important parts to play alongside the hero and heroine, and even got their own minor storyline. I don’t want to give anything away but will say that this story does not shy away from exploring difficult subjects.

However, towards the end of the book, I felt something started to give. Perhaps it was that the story of Charlotte and William’s developing relationship was drawn out too long, but they both started to exhibit some very annoying, dare I say, immature behaviour. Taking offense at the most trivial things, sulking, and flitting from one emotion to another. Something that could have been resolved quite easily by their just talking things out, and believing each other, which neither had any reason not to do by that point. I got rather tired of Charlotte agonizing over her changeable feelings, and then William turned around and started acting like a brat too. One of those moments when you just want to knock the characters’ heads together.
The ending was also a little far-fetched and melodramatic for my liking. It was resolved and wrapped up yes, but could have been better. Overall though, I did enjoy this story and thoroughly recommend it for lovers of clean Regencies.

I requested this title from the Publisher, Kregel. I was not required to write a positive review and all opinions expressed are my own.

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For the rest of this week, both titles in Carolyn Miller's series are on sale on Kindle for $3 for the pair. Click the pictures to visit Amazon and take advantage of this great deal, which is available internationally.

https://www.amazon.com/Elusive-Miss-Ellison-Regency-Brides-ebook/dp/B01NBTFSWChttps://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B06Y191D82/ref=series_rw_dp_sw



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