Book Review – Daughters of Sparta by Claire Heywood

Here’s the blurb:

Two sisters parted. Two women blamed. Two stories reclaimed.

‘Required reading for fans of Circe . . . a remarkable, thrilling debut’ – Fiona Davis, New York Times bestselling author of The Lions of Fifth Avenue

‘Fluent and persuasive. I admire the ambition with which Heywood tackles the subject, to which she brings freshness and verve. I enjoyed it very much’ – Elizabeth Buchan, bestselling author of The Museum of Broken Promises

For millennia, two women have been blamed for the fall of a mighty civilisation – but now it’s time to hear their side of the story . . .

As princesses of Sparta, Helen and Klytemnestra have known nothing but luxury and plenty. With their high birth and unrivalled beauty, they are the envy of all of Greece.

Such privilege comes at a high price, though, and their destinies are not theirs to command. While still only girls they are separated and married off to legendary foreign kings Agamemnon and Menelaos, never to meet again. Their duty is now to give birth to the heirs society demands and be the meek, submissive queens their men expect.

But when the weight of their husbands’ neglect, cruelty and ambition becomes too heavy to bear, they must push against the constraints of their sex to carve new lives for themselves – and in doing so make waves that will ripple throughout the next three thousand years.

Daughters of Sparta is that most wonderful of books – one that draws you in from the very first pages and won’t let go of you until the end. I read it in just over a day. I didn’t want to put it down.

The storytelling is engaging, the characters of Helen and her sister, beautifully sketched while everyone around them, apart from their mother, stays very much in the background. This is their story.

At times the reader will hate either or both of the sisters, at other times, the reader will understand their pain, their desire to be more than their birthright.

A beautifully evocative story that speaks of the loneliness of royal marriage, of the heavy, and life-threatening expectations placed on young women to become mothers, and you will be swept along by a tale you think you know but might not.

5 stars from me.

Thank you to Netgalley and the publisher for my review copy.

Daughters of Sparta is available now in ebook, hardback and audiobook.

Today, I’m delighted to host the review blog tour For Lord and Land by Matthew Harffy (historical fiction)

Here’s the blurb;

Greed and ambition threaten to tear the north apart.

War rages between the two kingdoms of Northumbria. Kin is pitted against kin and friend becomes foe as ambitious kings vie for supremacy.

When Beobrand travels south into East Angeln to rescue a friend, he unwittingly tilts the balance of power in the north, setting in motion events that will lead to a climactic confrontation between Oswiu of Bernicia and Oswine of Deira.

While the lord of Ubbanford is entangled in the clash of kings, his most trusted warrior, Cynan, finds himself on his own quest, called to the aid of someone he thought never to see again. Riding into the mountainous region of Rheged, Cynan faces implacable enemies who would do anything to further their own ends.

Forced to confront their pasts, and with death and betrayal at every turn, both Beobrand and Cynan have their loyalties tested to breaking point.

Who will survive the battle for a united Northumbria, and who will pay the ultimate price for lord and land?

Amazon UK: https://amzn.to/3e45G97

Beobrand is back, and you might be pleased to know, as surly and grumpy as ever (at this point, I will say that even his gesithas are discussing it these days). Luckily, the reader is quickly introduced to young Cuthbert, someone to lighten the mood with his eagerness, and there’s also a split narrative that follows the story of Cynan.

For Lord and Land begins quickly, the warriors of Beobrand already on their way to the next problem in need of solving, in the kingdom of the East Angles. Penda of Mercia is on the war path once more, and Beobrand has no choice but to intervene, setting in motion a chain of events that brings more difficulties for him in the long run.

In the background, Cynan has his own conundrums to contend with, and both Beobrand and Cynan find themselves bedevilled by oaths given, and the implications of them. There’s a lovely juxtaposition between how the two of them combat their difficulties, and the story progresses at a fair old rate.

I had to smile when I realised who Cuthbert was going to turn out to be, but I’ll leave that one for you to discover.

This is a longer book than normal, the hardback is 463 pages long, and it needs to be to contain the dual storyline which neatly joins together much later in the story. (It’s really a triple storyline with Beobrand, Cynan and Cuthbert all sharing the point of view.)

Come the end of the book, I confess to being intrigued with the way Matthew Harffy has read his sources and devised the plot For Lord and Land. It feels incredibly complete, perhaps aided by the use of the two lighter characters of Cynan and Cuthbert and I eagerly await book 9, and look forward to seeing how Beobrand and Cynan handle the next problem presented to them.

For Lord and Land brings together many intertwining elements of previous books, and you know what, I think it is absolutely my favourite instalment of The Bernicia Chronicles. A firm 5/5 from me. Enjoy readers, enjoy.

About the author

Matthew Harffy grew up in Northumberland where the rugged terrain, ruined castles and rocky coastline had a huge impact on him. He now lives in Wiltshire, England, with his wife and their two daughters. 

Follow Matthew

Twitter: @MatthewHarffy

Website: www.matthewharffy.com

Follow Aries

Twitter: @AriesFiction

Facebook: Aries Fiction

Website: http://www.headofzeus.com

New Release alert and book review – Death at the Mint by Christine Hancock – historical mystery (tenth century)

Today, I’m really excited to spotlight Death at the Mint by Christine Hancock. Christine writes the Byrhtnoth Chronicles set in the middle of the tenth century, but in Death at the Mint, she has taken one of our favourite characters and allowed him to solve an intriguing mystery.

Here’s the blurb:

“When Wulfstan swore revenge on his enemy, he expected to die. Now that man is dead.
Far to the south, another body is found in an Essex wood.
Abbot Dunstan of Glastonbury is concerned. The victim ran the mint. Is the king’s coinage in danger of corruption?
Dunstan sends Wulfstan to Maldon to investigate.
Can Wulfstan discover the truth? Is there a connection with his own past?
Having lost everything he held dear; can he learn to live again?”

“Finally, Wulfstan – my favourite character in the Byrhtnoth Chronicles – has been given his own story. Read and enjoy!”
Ruth Downie, author of the Gaius Petreius Ruso Mysteries.

(The cover is fantastic)

I was lucky enough to get to read an early draft of Death at the Mint, and also the finished product. Firstly, an assurance, yes, Wulfstan is a character from the previous books but if you haven’t read them (which you might want to do after this one) it won’t detract from your enjoyment. Not at all. This is an excellent standalone Saxon mystery.

Wulfstan, his hound and his horse, make an intriguing team and what I particularly enjoyed was the reimagining of life in a Saxon settlement. This is something I’ve always been a bit terrified of doing in my own books, and Christine Hancock does it incredibly well. Added to which, the mystery will really draw you in.

This was a wonderful book, the mystery has a satisfying ending, which I don’t think readers will guess.

Death at the Mint is released today, 1st July, in ebook, and it’s well worth a read if you enjoy the time period and a good old mystery.

Book Review – Camelot by Giles Kristian – historical fiction – now available in paperback

Here’s the blurb:

‘Britain is a land riven by anarchy, slaughter, famine, filth and darkness. Its armies are destroyed, its heroes dead, or missing. Arthur and Lancelot fell in the last great battle and Merlin has not been these past ten years. But in a small, isolated monastery in the west of England, a young boy is suddenly plucked from his simple existence by the ageing warrior, Gawain. It seems he must come to terms with his legacy and fate as the son of the most celebrated yet most infamous of Arthur’s warriors: Lancelot. For this is the story of Galahad, Lancelot’s son – the reluctant warrior who dared to keep the dream of Camelot alive.’

I’ve just reread the review I wrote for Lancelot nearly two years ago, and even I’m blushing about how effusive I was about it!

Camelot begins in much the same way. The lead character is a young man, about to take his vows to become a monk on the tor at Glastonbury when his world completely changes. The depiction of life on the tor is wonderfully evoked, and even if the author could have just written ‘bird’ ‘tree’ and ‘flower’ I’m sure many will appreciate the attention to detail. (I’ve never been ‘at one’ with nature).

The story starts quite slowly, drawing you back into the world of post-Roman/pre-Anglo-Saxon Britain with deft skill and then the story truly begins to take shape, secrets are revealed, and the ties to the previous book begin to be revealed.

I truly don’t want to give too much of the story away, but the ‘quest’, for that is what it becomes, takes readers from Cornwall to Anglesey and then further, the fear of what is to come in the future a palpable threat and even though we all know what’s going to happen, in the end (outside the scope of the book) I couldn’t help but hope that it would all be very, very different. The characters demand it from the reader.

And the end, is once more, where I have some small complaints about the story. It’s not that it doesn’t do what I want it to do, it’s just that the ending seems wrong for the story, but then, perhaps, it was always going to because that is the legend of Arthur.

But before that ending, the legends of Arthur and his knights are beautifully evoked, and I think a particular strength is the depiction of King Constantine, a bit part character, but immensely powerful and the very embodiment of a land falling to chaos all around him, and yet not prepared to give way and accept what seems to be the inevitable.

This book, once more, has its flaws, some scenes seem unnecessary, and others are skipped over too quickly, but it feels so true to the legends. There’s so much that’s only half-seen, hinted at but never actually known.

A welcome return to Giles Kristian’s ‘world’ first created in Lancelot, and, I think the author notes at the end of the novel explain a great deal. Now, give me the story of Arthur and his knights at the height of their prowess (please!).

Thank you to Netgalley and the publisher for my review copy.

Camelot is now available in paperback (Sorry I missed this on the 24th) 

Book Review – Murder at Madame Tussauds by Jim Eldridge (Victorian mystery)

Here’s the blurb:

London, 1896. Madame Tussauds opens to find one of its nightwatchmen decapitated and his colleague nowhere to be found. To the police, the case seems simple: one killed the other and fled, but workers at the museum aren’t convinced. Although forbidden contact by his superior officer, Scotland Yard detective John Feather secretly enlists ‘The Museum Detectives’ Daniel Wilson and Abigail Fenton to aid the police investigation.

When the body of the missing nightwatchman is discovered encased within a wax figure, the case suddenly becomes more complex. With questions over rival museums, the dead men’s pasts and a series of bank raids plaguing the city, Wilson and Fenton face their most intriguing and dangerous case yet.

Murder at Madame Tussauds is the first of Jim Eldridge’s Museum Detective series, but it won’t be the last.

This is a very evocative portrayal of late Victorian London, complete with Hansoms and fog, and a terrible crime that needs solving.

A thoroughly enjoyable read with a fantastic conclusion.

Thank you to the publisher and Netgalley for my review copy. I’ll be hunting down the earlier books in the series now.

Welcome to today’s stop on the new release blog tour for The Serpent King by Tim Hodkinson

Here’s the blurb:

The fight for vengeance has no victors…

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The great warrior, Einar Unnsson, wants revenge. His mother’s assassin has stolen her severed head and Einar is hungry for his blood. Only one thing holds him back. He is a newly sworn in Wolf Coat, and must accompany them on their latest quest.

The Wolf Coats are a band of fearsome bloodthirsty warriors, who roam the seas, killing any enemies who get in their way. Now they’re determined to destroy their biggest enemy, King Eirik, as he attempts to take the throne of Norway.

Yet, for Einar, the urge to return to Iceland is growing every day. Only there, in his homeland, can he avenge his mother and salve his grief. But what Einar doesn’t know is that this is where an old enemy lurks, and his thirst for vengeance equals Einar’s…

Read Tim Hodkinson’s newest epic Viking adventure.

Here’s my review

The Serpent King by Tim Hodkinson is the fourth instalment in The Whale Road Chronicles, reuniting readers with Einar and the rest of the Wolf Coats.

It is an energetic and fast-paced jaunt through the sea kingdoms of Norway, the Scottish islands, and Iceland, and although we don’t go to Ireland, it’s never far from the characters’ thoughts.

I love this series because the author twists his story through the ‘known facts’ of the time period. I know what’s coming, and many others will also know what’s coming in future books, but the joy is in how we get there.

About the author

Tim Hodkinson was born in 1971 in Northern Ireland. He studied Medieval English and Old Norse Literature at University with a subsidiary in Medieval European History. He has been writing all his life and has a strong interest in the historical, the mystical and the mysterious. After spending several happy years living in New Hampshire, USA, he has now returned to life in Northern Ireland with his wife Trudy and three lovely daughters in a village called Moira.

Tim is currently working on a series of viking novels for Ares Fiction, an imprint of Head of Zeus.

Buy links:

AmazonKoboGoogle Play: iBooks:

Follow Tim:

Twitter: 

Follow Aries:

Twitter: @AriesFiction  Facebook: @AriesFiction. Website:

Don’t forget to stop by the other stops on The Serpent King Blog Tour.

Book Review – The Girl Who Died by Ragnor Jonasson (1980s’s Icelandic mystery)

Here’s the blurb:

Teacher Wanted At the Edge of the World

Una wants nothing more than to teach, but she has been unable to secure steady employment in Reykjavík. Her savings are depleted, her love life is nonexistent, and she cannot face another winter staring at the four walls of her shabby apartment. Celebrating Christmas and ringing in 1986 in the remote fishing hamlet of Skálar seems like a small price to pay for a chance to earn some teaching credentials and get her life back on track.

But Skálar isn’t just one of Iceland’s most isolated villages, it is home to less than a dozen people. Una’s only students are two girls aged seven and nine. Teaching them only occupies so many hours in a day and the few adults she interacts with are civil but distant. She only seems to connect with Thór, a man she shares an attraction with but who is determined to keep her at arm’s length.

As darkness descends throughout the bleak winter, Una finds herself more often than not in her rented attic space – the site of a local legendary haunting – drinking her loneliness away. She is plagued by nightmares of a little girl in a white dress singing a lullaby. And when a sudden tragedy echoes an event long buried in Skálar’s past, the villagers become even more guarded, leaving a suspicious Una seeking to uncover a shocking truth that’s been kept secret for generations.

I’m fascinated by Iceland’s history and that’s why I chose this book (even though it’s not strictly historical at all).I read The Girl Who Died some months ago, and it struck me as a particularly good winter read. Here’s what I had to say at the time.

The Girl Who Died toys with the reader – is it a murder mystery, a ghost story or the story of a woman before her murder? At one point, all of these seem to be possible.

I really enjoyed the story, it kept me up reading, under the covers, long into the night until I had to stop because I was a bit terrified. For a short book, it certainly packs a punch.

Thank you to Netgalley and the publisher for my review copy.

The Girl Who Dies is released today, 10th June 2021, and is available from here.

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Book Review – The Girl and The Mountain by Mark Lawrence – fantasy

Here’s the blurb:

On Abeth there is only the ice. And the Black Rock.
 
For generations the priests of the Black Rock have reached out from their mountain to steer the ice tribes’ fate. With their Hidden God, their magic and their iron, the priests’ rule has never been challenged.


But nobody has ever escaped the Pit of the Missing before.

Yaz has lost her friends and found her enemies. She has a mountain to climb and even if she can break the Hidden God’s power her dream of a green world lies impossibly far to the south across a vast emptiness of ice. Before the journey can even start she has to find out what happened to the ones she loves and save those that can be saved.

Abeth holds its secrets close, but the stars shine brighter for Yaz and she means to unlock the truth.

To touch the sky, be prepared to climb

This is the 14th book by Mark Lawrence that I’ve read. If you don’t know the story, I received Prince of Thorns free when I preordered Book 5 in The Game of Thrones series by GRRM. I’ve read 14 books by Mark Lawrence since, and I’m still only half way through that tome by GRRM (that’s because I’ve decided to wait for the next book before finishing it – I might be waiting for a while.)

I can’t say that I’ve loved everything that Mark Lawrence has ever written but the crafty bugger has a theme running through all the books (he jumped ship to a modern fantay/sci-fi for the Impossible Times Trilogy) – and like the fate of the wolves in The Game of Thrones – I need to know the answer – and that keeps me reading. (Damn you, Mr Lawrence.)

The Girl in the Mountain is the middle of the trilogy following Yaz and her friends. I found book 1, set in a cave system, claustrophobic, and at times, quite uncomfortable. Book 2 at least takes us out of the cave system, but it’s still not necessarily a comfortable read, even for someone who enjoys the starkness of landscapes. There’s no end of peril, and some horribly twisted ‘baddies’ but by the end, I do feel as though we might be ‘getting’ somewhere.

I’m quite sure that the final part of the trilogy won’t answer all of my questions, but all the same, I’m looking forward to the conclusion – and I can’t help but admire someone who can mastermind such a thread through 14 books, and at least three different ‘worlds,’ and an assortment of time periods. I miss the humour of Jalan from the Red Queen’s War trilogy because there’s little of that to be found in the story of Yaz, but the end is in sight. And it’s been quite a ride, and one I do highly recommend you take.

The Girl and the Mountain is available now on kindle, audiobook and hardback. I’m off to preorder Book 3.

(My thanks to Netgalley and the publisher for my review copy. It goes without saying that I would have purchased it anyway.)

Connect with Mark Lawrence. Blog. Twitter. Website.

Just a little shout-out that without Mark Lawrence we wouldn’t have the hugely successful and influential – Self-Published Fantasy Blog Off – an author doing what he can to unearth the gems of e-publishing. Check out his blog for details.

Book Review – Skelton’s Guide to Suitcase Murders by David Stafford – historical mystery – highly recommended

Here’s the blurb;

“November 1929. A woman’s dismembered corpse is discovered in a suitcase and police quickly identify her husband, Doctor Ibrahim Aziz, as their chief suspect. Incriminating evidence is discovered at his home and his wife was rumoured to be having an affair, giving him clear motive.

With his reputation for winning hopeless cases, barrister Arthur Skelton is asked to represent the accused. Though Aziz’s guilt does not seem to be in doubt, a question of diplomacy and misplaced larvae soon lead Skelton to suspect there may be more to the victim’s death.

Aided by his loyal clerk Edgar, Skelton soon finds himself seeking justice for both victim and defendant. But can he uncover the truth before an innocent man is put on trial and condemned to the gallows?”

Skelton’s Guide to Suitcase Murders is a wonderfully plotted novel, with a cast of unmissable characters that is an absolute delight to read. And the cover is fantastic too.

It made me laugh out loud on many an occasion, and the eclectic mix of cast and events, keeps the reader hooked as the story progresses, from the guinea pig to the motorcycle ‘bad-boy,’ from London to Leeds to Whitley Bay to Scotland. And oh, how I loved the letters from Cousin Alan.

It trundles along at a wonderful pace, filled with exquisite detail and I would struggle to decide on a favourite character because all of them, even the bit part characters, are so well sketched.

This is genuinely an absolute treat if you enjoy a mystery deeply steeped in the times (1929-1930) and with an unmissable cast. Looking forwards to Book 3. And, I have the joy of knowing I’ve not read Book 1 yet.

Thank you to Netgalley and the publisher for my review copy.

Skelton’s Guide to Suitcase Murders is released today, 22nd April, and is available from here.

Follow the publisher, Allison and Busby for more great mystery novels.

Book Review – The Queen’s Rival by Anne O’Brien – historical fiction – highly recommended

Here’s the blurb;

“One family united by blood. Torn apart by war…

England, 1459: Cecily Neville, Duchess of York, is embroiled in a plot to topple the weak-minded King Henry VI from the throne. But when the Yorkists are defeated at the Battle of Ludford Bridge, Cecily’s family flee and abandon her to face a marauding Lancastrian army on her own.

Cecily can only watch as her lands are torn apart and divided up by the ruthless Queen Marguerite. From the towers of her prison in Tonbridge Castle, the Duchess begins to spin a web of deceit – one that will eventually lead to treason, to the fall of King Henry VI, and to her eldest son being crowned King Edward IV.

This is a story of heartbreak, ambition and treachery, of one woman’s quest to claim the throne during the violence and tragedy of the Wars of the Roses.”

The Queen’s Rival is a stunning look at the ‘later’ life of Cecily Neville from 1459 until 1483. This is not a ‘quiet’ period of history and to cover the tumultuous events, the author adopts the technique of recording the letters of the main protagonists, either from the pen of Cecily or from those who write to her.

It does take a little while to get used to the technique, but the reader is quickly drawn into the story, not perhaps by the events taking place, but rather by the relationship between Cecily and her two sisters, Anne, Duchess of Buckingham and Katherine, Dowager Duchess of Norfolk. The words they share with each other are just what sisters might well say to each other, especially when they’re not likely to see each other soon.

More importantly, the sisters, while fiercely loyal to their Neville inheritance, are not of one mind about who should rule England, and who has the right to rule England. It highlights just how destructive the War of the Roses was, and is a genius way of quickly ensuring the reader appreciates that families were ripped apart by the protracted war.

This is the story of the women of the later 15th century. It’s their voices that we hear, as they try and come to terms with the rises and falls all of them experience. There are moments when the narrative is hard to read, either because you know what’s going to happen, or just because you really feel for Cecily and don’t want her to experience the tribulations than she does.

I am a huge fan of Anne O’Brien and the ‘forgotten’ women of the medieval period in England. While the author may stress that Cecily is not really a forgotten woman, I was not really aware of her before reading this book. The mother of two kings, the grandmother of future kings, and yet she could also have been queen herself. What an interesting life she led.

I highly recommend this book. And you can find my review here for A Tapestry of Treason.

Thank you to the publisher and Netgalley for my review copy.

The Queen’s Rival is released in ebook and hardbook on 3rd September 2020. (What a stunning cover.) It is released in paperback today, 15th April 2021.