The Siege Winter: A Novel by Ariana Franklin and Samantha Norman

Readers of my blog will recognize one of the author names in this week’s review: Ariana Franklin. Earlier this year I reviewed the first book in her ‘Mistress of the Art of Death’ series. While this particular book does not fall in to that particular series, it does fall within the historical period she writes in.

England in 1141 was a land torn apart by war as King Stephen and the Empress Mathilda both vie for the crown. It is a dangerous time where there is little law and no one; from little town to large manor; is safe. Emma is a young girl hailing from one such small town. Kidnapped by a depraved monk with a thing for redheads, she is viciously violated and left for dead. When the mercenary for hire Gwil discovers her, he knows he cannot leave her to die and so adopts her. With no memory of who she was before, Emma is renamed Penda, and for her safety her hair is cut short and she begins to dress as a boy.

Penda learns to use as bow and arrow much as Gwil does and soon the two archers find themselves at Kenilworth Castle. A small but strategically important place, young Maud is it’s chatelaine. A fierce young woman, she is determined to hold on to her home as she tempts fate and gives shelter to the empress. Aided by a number of mercenaries for hire, including Gwil and Penda, Maud must face a long and cruel winter. Even with the weather, visitors flock to Kenilworth; kings, soldiers and one particular monk with a penchant for redheads.

I found The Siege Winter an interesting book. Like the other novel I reviewed by Ms. Franklin, The Siege Winter is harsh in its depiction of day to day living. Life of that time was cruel, especially if one was born a woman.

I did notice a few minor discrepancies while reading that might irritate some but shouldn’t deter most readers. The discrepancies are historical for the most part so unless you are an absolute stickler for historical accuracy, there shouldn’t be a problem. Some might take notice that the dialogue is all fairly modern with contractions and such. I found it made it easier to read and to identify with the characters; others might not.

For the casual reader who doesn’t care much for strict historical accuracy, I urge them to give The Siege Winter a try. I found it a most entertaining page turner.

Happy Anniversary to me!

It’s been one year already since I started this lovely blog! Hard to believe but it has been. It’s been an interesting year and I have read a goodly number of books – some I’ve enjoyed and some I haven’t. It is my sincere hope that I can continue to read and review books and that my dear readers will continue to support me.

Here’s to another year my friends!

The Singular & Extraordinary Tale of Mirror & Goliath: From the Peculiar Adventures of John Lovehart, Esq., Volume 1 by Ishbelle Bee

In nearly every review I write I mention how I got this book or that book at my library. It makes it seem that I don’t actually purchase books – but the opposite is true. I do purchase books, just not often! It’s not because I don’t like spending money on books, it’s because I have such limited shelf space left! I have a wall of books, some stacked 2-3 deep with others in boxes on my floor. So when I do actually purchase a book, I do so only one or two at a time simply because I don’t have enough space.

One of my most recent purchases though was this week’s book: The Singular & Extraordinary Tale of Mirror & Goliath: From the Peculiar Adventures of John Lovehart, Esq., Volume 1. Whew, what a mouthful!

A small girl named Mirror and her guardian; a shape shifter by the name of Goliath Honey-flower; have arrived on the shores of Victorian England. Mirror hasn’t quite been herself since the day her grandfather locked her in a strange clock painted with ladybirds. Mirror doesn’t know what happened or what she is – all she knows is now she’s not quite human.

John Loveheart was not born a wicked man. After the untimely death of his parents he was taken in by the demon lord of the underworld; Mr. Fingers. Some say this turned John mad and John tends to agree.

Now Mr. Fingers wants Mirror for his own. He intends to eat her flesh and consume her soul, and by doing both secure his eternal reign. He has sent his son John to track her down and bring her to him, however one must wonder – will John do as he is told?

I found The Tale of Mirror & Goliath a most interesting book. It is very reminiscent of Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass – both books with a little girl as the main character and where the ordinary becomes the extraordinary. The book jumps from time to time and place to place which can be a bit disconcerting for some. It also has a very stream of consciousness kind of narrative; again a bit disconcerting but I found it added to the flavor of the story.

The book has an oddly disjointed flow, which again reminds me of Alice in Wonderland. The characters themselves are engaging enough but there were a few I would have liked more background on. Like Mr. Goliath, how exactly did he come to London from Egypt? And John, I would have loved to have more information on him. Perhaps in the second book – which is also out in stores – we will see him again?

A mixture of dark fantasy and gothic horror, The Tale of Mirror & Goliath is an interesting one. It is hard to place this book in any one genre or to any one particular age group. Older and younger readers alike will likely enjoy the tale but it could also leave one reaching for the nightlight.

A Grave Matter (A Lady Darby Mystery #3) by Anna Lee Huber

Ever since reading the first Lady Darby mystery several months ago and reviewing it on this site, I have since read and reviewed the second and now this week we’ll be looking at the third book of the series. It’s hard to believe that I book I picked up at random would become a series I hold near and dear and truly enjoy.

In A Grave Matter, Lady Kiera Darby is still trying to recover from the death of her good friend and mentor. She has returned to her childhood home with the hope that spending time there and visiting with her brother Trevor, she can begin the slow process of healing. Yet when an elderly caretaker is murdered and a grave is found disturbed at the nearby Dryburgh Abbey, Kiera is once more called in to help.

Kiera knows that helping in yet another investigation will further tarnish her already ragged reputation, yet she also knows that her knowledge of anatomy can be helpful. She also knows that to assist means teaming up with Sebastian Gage and dragging up old feelings. However when Gage brings news that the grave robbing was only the most recent in a string of such thefts, Kiera knows she must help at any cost.

This being the third novel in the Lady Darby series, we are once again meeting familiar faces as well as new ones. We are introduced to Kiera’s brother, Trevor, who resides over the estate where Kiera grew up. We have more glimpses in to Kiera’s past and this time we are given more information on Sebastian’s checkered past.

The mystery surrounding the who and why of the disturbed graves is meant to be the main plot, yet for me I found it more of a secondary plot. For me, the primary plot revolved around Kiera and Sebastian. These two characters have been dancing around one another since the first book and it is here where they are given a sliver of happiness. While it has been painfully obvious to the readers, these two are in love with one another but society and them both being so hard headed, they have held each other at arms’ length. Finally, they admit their feelings and hopefully we will see their relationship continue to grow in future books.

I really enjoyed A Grave Matter for the variety of characters included – some apparently lifted straight out of history albeit embellished a bit. Decent action, some a little bit on the over-dramatic side, but that can be easily forgiven. The descriptions of the abandoned abbey as well as other locales were amazing as usual. In this aspect Huber paints pictures with her words and brings the reader in to the setting.

A very good book and a good addition to the series. I loved it!

Dead Boys by Gabriel Squailia

One of the things I enjoy most about my local library is how they prominently display new books by authors known and unknown alike. There is no favoritism (that I can tell) and the only categorization new titles are given is by genre. One of my personal favorites, and if you’ve been paying attention to the kinds of books reviewed here, is the Sci-Fi/Fantasy genre. Perusing the new titles on that rather large display is how I came about finding this week’s book.

Dead Boys tells the tale of Jacob Campbell, who is dead. Jacob is a preservationist, an individual who provides his clients a kind of taxidermy – staving off the effects of entropy and keeping them looking as lifelike as possible for as long as possible. However when the chance to meet the Living Man; a man who supposedly cheated death and crossed over in to the Land of the Dead without actually dying; arises, Jacob leaves his home and his fortune behind.

Legend says the Living Man met his end somewhere beneath the streets of Dead City and Jacob is on a mission to find the man and the truth. Along the way Jacob is joined by Remington; an innocent with unique powers over the bones of the dead, a pair of headless corpses named Adam and Eve, and Leopold L’Eclair; a hanged rogue with criminal ambitions that draw the wrong kind of attention. The three travel from the labyrinth beneath Dead City to the Plains of War and beyond to White City in their quest for the Living Man and the truth behind the legend.

On both Amazon and Good Reads, Dead Boys gets mixed reviews. Some truly enjoyed it and give it high praise while others were unable to get in to the story and therefore gave it low marks. I find myself somewhere in the middle. While the premise itself was very interesting, and is what drew me to reading this in the first place, the execution (pardon the pun) was less than stellar – in my opinion. The world of the dead was well fleshed out (again, pardon the pun) but I thought more effort could have been given to the characters themselves.

We, the reader, are swept along in the journey of Jacob et al and are with them as they change and grow; but the question of ‘Why?’ is never really answered. Why did Jacob want to find the Living Man in the first place? Why did Remington commit suicide and where exactly did his powers come from? Who were Adam and Eve originally? We are given brief glimpses of answers and are left to our own devices to answer the rest. Personally, I would have liked something a little more concrete.

For a first book, Dead Boys shows a lot of promise. Squailia has a talent for creating a new world from an old one and introducing new characters to bring us along on the ride. Should he continue in this vein and continue to grow better with subsequent novels, I believe he has the potential to be something great. He is a new author to keep ones eyes on.