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Tag: "adventure"

Blog Tour: Of Fathers and Sons by Evan Ostryzniuk

[ 2 ] July 21, 2013

images (2)Please welcome Evan Ostryzniuk, author of Of Fathers and Sons, as he tours the blogosphere with Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tours!

Reviewed by MaryLu McFall

This second historical novel in a series puts us squarely in Italy with Geoffrey, otherwise known as Hotspur. The young squire is growing up under the eye of John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster, a well-known powerful man in English history. Evan Ostryzniuk writes history with great depth, and the novel rings with authenticity. The period of history is full of derring-do and deeds of bravery. It is also full of treachery and bloodshed.

As in the first book, Geoffrey is of interest to readers who enjoy watching a character grow. In this second book, Geoffrey becomes involved in the machinations of those who would destroy the right of Niccolo to rule. The fact that he is only ten years old when his father suddenly dies is seen as an opportune time to form alliances to attack the boy.

The year is 1395 and this period of Italian history is one of great interest to many scholars. Italy is not a country of one mind; it is a country of city states each ruled by men of wealth and political power and influence. The period is not one of great familiarity to the average reader, even avid readers of historical fiction. Ostryzniuk is not only a writer but a scholar; however the novel is structured in such a way that a reader is captivated by Geoffrey and his ambitions. As with many young men of that and several centuries thereafter, the military route is one of the most successful.

While enemies of Niccolo plot their strategies, the heads of the city states of Florence, Venice and Bologna combine to see to it that the Este estates remain in the hands of the rightful heir. While Niccolo is/was illegitimate, the Pope sees to it that that is not as issue and Niccolo is legitimatized.

This novel reads slowly, but it is one that deserves to be read slowly. Details of history are combined in such a way as to pull you forward albeit reluctantly at first. Such detail is not a habit of American readers. And one very fine point is the fact that the book has smaller margins, the type running a good four inches across the pages. Once your eye becomes accustomed to taking in more than the usual line of text your brain adjusts to reading much more than the usual froth of too many historical novels.

I am looking forward to reading the third novel and going back to add the first to my list of reads. The fact that these books involve the Lancasters was a real bonus, as the family was the inspiration for my own novel, The Family Lancaster.

Rating: ★★★★★ 

Reviewed by MaryLu McFall, who lives in Newnan, GA and is the author of an e-book A Little Karmic Murder and the forthcoming e-book, The Family Lancaster. She works part-time at an independent bookstore in Peachtree City and researches book values and lists the Omega Bookstore collectibles on

Review and giveaway copies were provided free of any obligation by Knox Robinson Publishing. No monetary or any other form of compensation was received.

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Review: Tainted Angel by Anne Cleeland

[ 2 ] July 7, 2013

images (8)Reviewed by A.D. Cole

In the time of Napoleon’s exile on Elba, there is a growing sense of unease; a fear of a second war, should the emperor escape. It is during this tense phase that Anne Cleeland’s novel, Tainted Angel, takes place. Gold is going missing in both France and England. England’s economic stability rests in the hands of one man, who owns far too many government-issued bonds. And it is the task of the lovely spy, Vidia, to keep track of this man.

However, when she finds herself surprisingly (and not unpleasantly) seduced by her fellow spy, Lucien Carstairs, it becomes blatantly evident that her employer has begun to question her loyalty. She quickly ascertains that Carstairs’ primary motivation is the ferreting out of her every secret. What she’s unable to determine at the outset, however, is whether Carstairs also has true feelings for her. Unfortunately, she can’t adequately explore the depths of those feelings when, at any moment, he might be handing her over to the hangman.

What ensues is a complex plot full of twists and lies and romance. The beginning felt mired down in unanswered questions and it took what I considered to be too long getting going. I was probably a third of the way through the book when I finally felt I had a firm understanding of the characters and story line. In the end, though, it all made sense. Everything comes together nicely and you wind up with a very clear, vivid picture of what was going on. I would have preferred to know a few more things up front, though. Such as whether or not I could trust Vidia or Carstairs. With Vidia, I wasn’t certain, for a while, whether she was a heroine or an anti-heroine.

The characters were well developed. The author created rich and detailed histories for them all of which were given to us through brief, entertaining references and anecdotes. There weren’t any long, dull back stories.

Tainted Angel is a historical fiction. The author, in her dedication, refers to it as Regency Adventure. This is all well and good, but I would say the romance thread drove this novel just as much as the plot. So I’m not sure what tipped this into the general fiction category, unless it’s the lack of graphic description in the love scenes. Anyhow, if you absolutely don’t enjoy romance, you’ll likely not enjoy this book.

There was a lot I thoroughly enjoyed. I liked the duplicity in all the characters. The humor. The willingness on Vidia’s part to forgive being double-crossed, time and time again. The fact that she uses terms like double-cross, twigged (being found out), and grass (to tattle). Her willingness to follow her heart with her eyes open to reality. Her self-deprecation at her foolishness for following her heart in spite of reality. And the way everything comes together in the end.

I enjoyed this novel. The more it percolates in my mind, the more I’m pleased with it. But it was definitely slow going in the beginning. Fortunately, Vidia’s personality and her interest in Carstairs carry that part of the novel. So I think it’s worth a read, especially if you enjoy Regency era romance and adventure.

My favorite quote: “It is beyond vexing, she thought in annoyance as she slid between the silken sheets in her chemise–she couldn’t even have a warm night with a willing man without international repercussions.”

Rating: ★★★½☆ 

A.D. Cole is a homeschooling mother and aspiring romance novelist. She lives in the Ozark foothills and spends her free time reading, writing, baking and pondering life’s little mysteries.

Review copy was provided free of any obligation by Sourcebooks Landmark. No monetary or any other form of compensation was received.

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Review: 1356 by Bernard Cornwell

[ 0 ] June 11, 2013

628x471Reviewed by Marcus Hammond

The Hundred Years’ War was a complex series of conflicts that pitted England against France from 1337 to 1453. In the fourth book in Bernard Cornwell’s Grail Quest series titled 1356, Thomas of Hookton, an excommunicated mercenary is sent on a search for an ancient holy relic that could turn the tide of war. As a mercenary, Thomas is known as Le Batard for his ruthless skills as a combat leader and archer. Thomas, however, is a legend in his own right. Excommunicated for rescuing an alleged heretic (his wife) from the torture of a clergyman, Thomas fights for the honor of his men, family, and liege lord. During battle, Thomas and his Hellequin devastate the enemy ranks with skilled archers and vicious men-at-arms.

As the story opens, Thomas and his Hellequin are told by their liege lord to find and deliver an ancient holy relic into the hands of the English. The holy relic, La Malice, is St. Peter’s sword, and it is believed to bring certain victory to whoever holds it. The Church also seeks La Malice but to bring victory to the French side. As Thomas sets about his quest, he has no idea of the treachery that closely follows his every move.

Thomas is a likeable character that is easy to connect with throughout the story. His dark past, firm leadership, and his code of ethics make him stand out in stark comparison to the cruel and greedy French lords and clergymen that hunt him down. While Thomas is clearly a brutal fighter, he also shows a distinct humanity that borderlines on chivalry when protecting his family and friends.

Another aspect that makes this novel shine is Cornwell’s amazing job of blending a fictional world with the historical events surrounding the Hundred Years’ War. The climax of the novel occurs during the Battle of Poitiers, which is widely regarded as one of the more important conflicts in the Hundred Years’ War. Through careful research and vivid imagination, Cornwell skillfully recreates this centuries old battle in a bloody, gripping, and fast paced way.

Overall, 1356 is a worthwhile entry into the historical fiction genre. I had not read any of the previous three Grail Quest novels that all detail events in Thomas of Hookton’s life. While there were times that it was clear that aspects of Thomas’ background and personality had been previously developed in other novels, I never once felt like 1356 suffered due to that lack of developmental experience. I did finish the book, and instantly went back to the first novel to catch up.

Rating: ★★★★☆ 

After obtaining a Masters in Liberal Arts and Literature Marcus has dedicated most of his time to teaching English Composition for a community college in the Midwest. In his down time, he spends time avidly reading an eclectic selection of books and doing freelance writing whenever he gets the chance. He lives in Kansas with his wife.

Review copy was provided free of any obligation by Harper. No monetary or any other form of compensation was received.

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Review: Jack Absolute by C.C. Humphreys

[ 4 ] June 7, 2013

Jack-Absolute-by-C.C.-Humphreys-e1367598941495Reviewed by A.D. Cole

Jack Absolute, by C.C. Humphreys, is historical fiction at its best. High stakes, high action, a dash of romance, all centered around Britain’s final end-run to suppress the American Revolution. We’ve got a dashing, clever, irresistibly charming champion. His classically educated Iroquois sidekick, named Até. The lovely, if occasionally mysterious, Loyalist American, Louisa. A vicious enemy in Count von Schlaben, who may or may not be a spy. With a cast of characters like this, how can you go wrong?

The story kicks off with a duel, in which we are introduced to Jack Absolute, who very much does not want to duel. His enemy is twenty years his junior and far more exuberant. But it’s his enemy’s second, Count von Schlaben, who catches Jack’s eye. This man will continue to be a thorn in Jack’s side. And because of this illegal duel, Jack finds himself being gently blackmailed by General Burgoyne into returning to the Army. Though it has been eleven years since he last served, and his life’s plans lay in the opposite direction, Jack finds a sense of relief and excitement at having this choice made for him.

Eleven years before, Jack lived among the Iroquois natives. He became one of them. It is his connections with the Iroquois, as well as his knack for counter-intelligence, that make him such a boon to General Burgoyne. But Jack’s faith in the General is misplaced as it slowly becomes evident that the General’s camp has been infiltrated by spies. Throughout the ensuing conflicts, Jack evades death more times than he can count, and sacrifices more than he ever wanted.

C.C. Humphreys lifted the character of Jack Absolute from Richard Brinsley Sheridan’s play, The Rivals, first performed in 1775; you can read about this in the author’s note at the end. In Humphreys’ book, the action takes place twenty years after the events in The Rivals. Jack is no longer a brash young man; instead, now, he is a brash, older man, pushing forty and looking to salvage his family estate, which is in ruins. Richard Brinsley Sheridan is made a character in Humphreys’ novel so that we witness Jack watching himself being portrayed on the stage. An interesting way to handle the situation. Though I would have been perfectly happy had the author not acknowledged the original play at all.

If you haven’t seen or read The Rivals, I absolutely assure you that it isn’t necessary in order to enjoy this book (although I recommend it because it’s a funny play). All that’s required here is a love of adventure and an appreciation for historical backdrops. Although this isn’t a naval adventure, I’d compare it to the novels of Patrick O’Brian or C.S. Forester. I’m looking forward to the continuation of this series. What a fun read!

Rating: ★★★★☆ 

A.D. Cole is a homeschooling mother and aspiring romance novelist. She lives in the Ozark foothills and spends her free time reading, writing, baking and pondering life’s little mysteries.

Review copy was provided free of any obligation by Source Books PR. No monetary or any other form of compensation was received.

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Review: A Wandering Warrior by Harry E. Gillenland, Jr.

[ 2 ] May 29, 2013

AWW_smallReviewed by Jennifer Jensen

A Wandering Warrior, set in 12th Century England, follows the life of young Thomas Beaumont, a common soldier who has just learned of the death of his honorable older brother and uncle. With no family left, Thomas sets out in search of Simon Mowbray, the man responsible for his brother’s death. Once Thomas has avenged his brother by taking Simon’s life, Thomas plans to give thought to perhaps taking a wife and beginning a family of his own.

While wandering west in search of Simon, Thomas rescues two noblewomen, one of whom sets her sights on Thomas. Though he finds Lady Juliana beautiful, it is a Traveler woman named Emalda who may be the one to steal Thomas’s heart. After Thomas fulfills his vow to his brother, he attempts to make his way back to Emalda, only to learn that her people have moved on.

A Wandering Warrior is the eighth novel by Harry E. Gillenland, Jr., and shows off his creative imagination. The author is definitely a storyteller, but to me this novel seemed incomplete; at only 199 pages, there was certainly room to flesh out descriptions and develop the world just a bit more. At best, A Wandering Warrior in its current state felt more like a rough draft than a polished novel.

The editing, as far as grammar and sentence composition, seemed fine. Where the editor lacked in assisting this book to be all that it could be was with the exposition and dialogue. In the opening chapters, everything was so rushed. The entire back story is given to the reader through third person narrative in one large clump. For my tastes, I prefer back story to be delivered more creatively, using techniques such as dialogue, flash backs, and a small bit of narrative summary to move the story along. The dialogue felt forced; yes, the novel is set in a different century, but it didn’t have a natural flow to it. There was never any guessing about the characters; they all said exactly what was on their minds, which didn’t make a single one of them all that interesting.

Thomas was a little too unbelievable to me. After all that he goes through in A Wandering Warrior, he’s just a little bit too trusting, forgiving, and happy. He trusts people with his true identity and purpose, merely based on a hunch. He’s lucky more times than nearly all people are, which doesn’t ring true to life. He loses important people, and doesn’t seem to grieve their deaths. When coming face to face with the person who indirectly caused one of the deaths, he is forgiving. Thomas’s life isn’t easy, but through it all he is too positive.

A Wandering Warrior is an interesting story, and I’m sure it will please some readers. I’m a sucker for happy endings and romance too, and this novel offers plenty. Everything was simply too easy for Thomas, and parts that could have packed a more emotional punch were not developed well enough to make me feel anything. Simply put, I think this should have gone through several more rounds of contemplation and editing before being published.

Rating: ★★☆☆☆ 

Jennifer graduated from the University of Utah with a BA in English. She occasionally dabbles with her own fiction writing, particularly with the Young Adult and Paranormal genres. She currently resides in Utah with her husband and daughter.

Review copy was provided by Harry E. Gillenland, Jr. Compensation was received but in no way influenced the thoughts and opinions expressed in this review.

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Review: Pandora’s Temple by Jon Land

[ 2 ] May 4, 2013

Land_PandorasTempleReviewed by MaryLu McFall

The author of Pandora’s Temple has dozens of books to his credit. The hero of this particular adventure is Blaine McCracken, an indestructible mature man who can face any situation with aplomb and courage. His sidekick, Wareagle, is a seven-foot Indian who, thankfully, does not call Blaine kemosabe. The two of them are on their way to rescue four college students who are hostages of a dangerous Mexican drug dealer. The trip is successful even taking the Dangerous Drug Lord captive and turning him over to the proper authorities at the border. The adventure takes a turn in New Orleans where Blaine and Wareagle are called to investigate a disaster on an oil rig. No, the culprit isn’t BP.

Everyone on the rig has been killed, except Katie Demarco (not her real name, naturally). She left the rig and is in New Orleans trying to contact Todd Lipton head of WorldSafe, an environmental group known for guerrilla tactics. Katie calls to warn him that Ocean Bore was not looking for oil, that she thinks they are on to her being a plant, and to be careful. Todd is not being careful, having granted an interview to reporter, Beth Douglas. Since the group is hidden at a site in Greenland, technology catches up with them and now their location is known. Disaster strikes within three or so chapters, and the entire group is killed by an unknown enemy.

The scene switches back and forth in one short chapter after another. Many an adventure writer today writes this way, bringing the reader to a cliff and leaving the scene after an intervening chapter or two of another plot line. In most cases this device works. However, after being cliff-hung over and over in this one it became aggravating, annoying, and over-done. Still, the action scenes were interwoven with character backgrounds so that I did come to know the characters. Blain is sixty-some, and that seemed a bit of a stretch. As they say, old soldiers…whatever. Wareagle is too nearly a cliché of an Indian to be a fully rounded character, but he serves as a sidekick with indestructible genetics. Katie is much more complex, and her life and her choices are based on events that gradually come to light.

Interwoven is the ancient story of Pandora’s Temple. Within the temple that was built in ancient times is a jar with, you guessed it, safely sealed inside what no man should ever fool with—and it’s not hope. The search is on for the Temple, supposedly somewhere in the Mediterranean. Our heroes have had escapades there before, and they are reluctant to return. But return they must and they do so with Katie who is finally shown to be quite an efficient killer.

The jar holding the secret is shown early in the novel, but no one recognizes it for what it truly is. A sub-plot emerges with a Japanese villain also seeking the jar, but his intentions are totally different. All in all, a overly complicated plot comes to a satisfactory close with some meeting their karma in expected ways.

Rating: ★★★☆☆ 

MaryLu McFall is the author of A Little Karmic Murder, an eBook that is available on Kindle, Nook, and all other electronic readers. She lives, works part-time at an independent bookstore, and will soon have her Young Adult novel, The Family Lancaster, published as an eBook as well.

Review copy was provided free of any obligation by Open Road E-riginal. No monetary or any other form of compensation was received.

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