Monday, December 31, 2018

Adventure on the High Seas

Whilst looking for something totally unrelated, I happened upon a familiar series of naval related fiction - the Hornblower series. Naval fiction is not something that I am overly familiar with - though I will preface this by saying that I did enjoy the Hornblower TV series (with Ioan Gruffudd) and had seen Master and Commander (with Russell Crowe).

Which, quite naturally, got me thinking - how many other series were out there? So here is a brief selection for you to begin your own high seas adventures!

Horatio Honblower by CS Forester
Horatio Hornblower is a fictional Napoleonic War-era Royal Navy officer who is the protagonist of a series of novels by C. S. Forester. He was later the subject of films, radio and television programs, and C. Northcote Parkinson elaborated a definitive biography. 

The original Hornblower tales began with the 1937 novel The Happy Return (U.S. title Beat to Quarters) with the appearance of a junior Royal Navy captain on independent duty on a secret mission to Central America. Later stories filled out his earlier years, starting with an unpromising beginning as a seasick midshipman. As the Napoleonic Wars progress, he gains promotion steadily as a result of his skill and daring, despite his initial poverty and lack of influential friends. After surviving many adventures in a wide variety of locales, he rises to the pinnacle of his profession, promoted to Admiral of the Fleet. (source: Wikipedia)

Master & Commander by Patrick O'Brian
Master and Commander is a nautical historical novel by the English author Patrick O'Brian, first published in 1969 in the US and 1970 in UK. The book proved to be the start of the 20-novel Aubrey-Maturin series, set largely in the era of the Napoleonic Wars, that O'Brian continued working on up until his death in 2000.

Master & Commander cover.jpgThe novel is set at the turn of the 19th century. It follows the young Jack Aubrey who has just been promoted to the rank of Master and Commander, and Stephen Maturin, a destitute physician and naturalist whom Aubrey appoints as his naval surgeon. They sail in HM Sloop of War Sophie with first lieutenant James Dillon, a wealthy and aristocratic Irishman. The naval action in the Mediterranean is closely based on the real-life exploits of Lord Cochrane, including a battle modelled after Cochrane's spectacular victory in the brig HMS Speedy over the vastly-superior Spanish frigate El Gamo. The novel puts the reader into the times in every aspect, from the ways of the Royal Navy on sailing ships to the state of science and medicine and social status. (Source: Wikipedia)

The Bolitho Books by Douglas Reeman
The Bolitho novels are a series of nautical war novels written by Douglas Reeman (using the pseudonym Alexander Kent). They focus on the military careers of Richard Bolitho and later, his nephew Adam Bolitho in the Royal Navy, from the time of the American Revolution past the Napoleonic Era. (Source: Wikipedia)

see also: Fiction DB for full list of titles and also Books Series In Order

Matthew Quinton Journals by JD Davies
The series of nine novels centre on the adventures of Captain Matthew Quinton, one of the young "gentlemen captains" promoted by King Charles II of England despite their almost complete lack of experience of the sea. 

Matthew Quinton Journals (9 Book Series) by  J. D. DaviesWe open the series in 1662 - Quinton, having sunk the first ship he was given to command, is surprised when the King gives him captaincy of H.M.S. Jupiter with orders to stamp out a Scottish rebellion. In a country of divided loyalties, Charles II needs someone he can trust, and – with an elder brother deep in the King’s confidence – Matthew is one of the few eligible candidates not serving in the Mediterranean.

But now Quinton must face an unruly crew, suspicions of murder, stirrings of conspiracy and the angry seas. Will treason be found in Scotland… or is it lurking closer to home?

The final book - Ensign Royal - ias a rip-roaring historical novella, set four years before Gentleman Captain. Matthew Quinton, eighteen years old and an ensign in the Royalist Army in exile, is sent by his older brother the Earl of Ravensden into the heart of Oliver Cromwell’s England. Surrounded by enemies, he soon becomes tangled in a dark web of conspiracy…

Fighting Sail Series by Alaric Bond
The ‘Fighting Sail’ Series gives an insight into the world of the seamen and naval officers who fought during the Revolutionary War, a chance to experience an exciting period of history, to view the men and the ships, and sample the extremes of life at sea. (Source: Alaric Bond's website)

The Fighting Sail Series (10 Book Series) by  Alaric Bond
His "Fighting Sail" series of novels, set during the Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars, differ slightly from the standard formula of the "hero who becomes an admiral". Instead they chart the course of several characters, from both lower deck and commissioned ranks, and give a dramatic and authentic insight into life aboard a man of war during the age of sail.

Bliven Putnam Naval Series by James Haley
A Bliven Putnam Naval Adventure (2 Book Series) by  James L. HaleyAdventure series featuring young midshipman Bliven Putnam (great-nephew of Revolutionary War hero Israel Putnam) as he begins his naval service aboard the U.S.S. Enterprise. The second installment chronicles the build up to the biggest military conflict between the United States and Britain after the Revolution—the War of 1812. Whilst the third sees Captain Bliven Putnam taking on pirates in the Philippines and diplomatic relations in Hawaii.

Revolution at Sea Saga by James Nelson
The Revolution at Sea Saga, sometimes known as the Isaac Biddlecomb Series, is a series of five novels written by James L. Nelson, published from 1997 to 2001. The Revolution at Sea saga focuses on Isaac Biddlecomb and Ezra Rumstick, former smugglers for Isaac's surrogate father (and later father in law) William Stanton. Over the course of the series, Biddlecomb and Rumstick become increasingly involved with the naval aspect of the American Revolution (specifically 1775 - 1777), which brings them into contact with historical figures such as Benjamin Franklin and George Washington. (Source: Wikipedia)

Nathan Peake Series by Seth Hunter
A prisoner or a Philadelphia dandy, a wild beast, a gypsy, a seafarer, a pied piper, a sorcerer and a magician...

Peake was the son of a retired English admiral and an active American revolutionary, steering a wild tack between the two whilst doing his best, often in difficult circumstances, to serve Mad King George, his often devious Prime Minister William Pitt - and the officers and men of the King's Navy. But he was also an American agent in Europe, one of a select group of secret agents answering directly to General Washington and known, on that account, as 'Washington's Boys' . Series is set during the wars with Revolutionary France (specifically 1793 - 1798). 

Alan Lewrie Naval Adventures by Dewey Lambdin
Dewey Lambdin's 25 book historical fiction series follows the naval adventures of Alan Lewrie. Starting in 1780 as a young midshipman in The King's Coat, 17yo Lewrie rises in the ranks (and though on somewhat dubious grounds, to a baronetcy) and sees some of the greatest naval battles of the American Revolution and Napoleonic Wars. In the worthy tradition of Hornblower, Aubrey, and Maturin, his exploits echo with the sounds of crowded ports and the crash of naval warfare. An officer and a rogue, Alan Lewrie is the ultimate man of adventure. 

Lord Ramage by Dudley Pope 
Nicholas, Lord Ramage is a fictional character, the protagonist of a series of 18 sea novels written by Dudley Pope. Ramage was an officer in the Royal Navy during the Napoleonic Wars. He is a contemporary of Horatio Hornblower, but unlike the latter, who never fought in a large fleet battle, Ramage participated in both the Battle of Cape St. Vincent and the Battle of Trafalgar. Most of the novels are based on real events in the late 18th and early 19th centuries.

see more @ Nicholas Ramage and Goodreads

Adventures of Charles Hayden by S Thomas Russell
These books are historical fiction about HMS Themis, a Royal Navy frigate under the command of Lieutenant Charles Hayden, at the time of the French Revolution.

Born to an English father and a French mother, Lieutenant Charles Saunders Hayden's career is damned by his mixed heritage. Assigned to the HMS Themis, an aging frigate under the command of a captain reviled by his crew for both his brutality towards his men and his cowardice in battle, Hayden is torn between honor and duty, as the British navy engages the French in a centuries-old struggle for power.

Kydd Sea Adventures by Julian Stockwin
A Kydd Sea Adventure (4 Book Series) by  Julian StockwinThis series of 22 novels about the Royal Navy tells the story of young Thomas Paine Kydd, a young wig-maker from Guildford, who is pressed into service on a British battleship, the Duke William, in 1793. Set during the Napoleonic era, the action takes Kydd far and wide, from the shore of the fledgling Americas, to the battle of Trafalgar, and throughout the Mediterranean and to the Dutch East Indies. These are the stories of one man's journey from press-gang to Admiral during the Great Age of Fighting Sail.

The Shocking Secrets of The Suitcase Baby

From Hachette Australia - Tanya Bretherton on her book The Suitcase Baby:

SYDNEY, 1923: a suitcase washed up on a harbourside beach reveals its grisly contents - and from there, an extraordinary story unfolds.

During the process of researching The Suitcase Baby I began to realise that although the term ‘true crime’ may not have existed in the 1920s, public delight in criminality and the macabre has existed for a very long time. Stories which provide an overly detailed account of very gruesome criminal events filled the pages of 1920s newspapers, but also news reports going back into the nineteenth century as well. Newspaper editors have always devoted a huge amount of copy to the reporting of criminal events and the moral and legal implications arising from them. Murder and mayhem certainly sells newspapers today, but the same could also be said two hundred years ago. 

The research I undertook for The Suitcase Baby was fascinating because it became about so much more than just one woman’s story. Sarah took risks and she challenged social norms surrounding marriage and family but she paid a huge price for it, and so did her children. Unfortunately, many women at the time also found themselves in similarly terrible, and ultimately tragic predicaments.

read more @ Hachette Australia

Inspector George Gently Books by Alan Hunter

Gently Does It (Inspector George Gently Series Book 1) by [Hunter, Alan]Another set of books which inspired a TV series are Alan Hunter's Inspector George Gently series, starring Martin Shaw (of TV series The Professionals fame) as the main character.

A full list of titles (nearly 50 of them) can be found on Hunter's wikipedia page. As Hunter himself prefaces:
"This is a detective story, but NOT a whodunit. Its aim is to give a picture of a police investigator slowly building up his knowledge of a crime to a point, not where he knows who did it - both you and he know that at a fairly early stage - but to a point where he can bring a charge which will convince the jury."

From the 2007 BBC Press Release for the TV Series:
Britain, 1964: a time when the line between the police and criminals has become increasingly blurred; when the proliferation of drugs is about to change the face of policing forever; when Britain's youth stand on the brink of a social and sexual revolution. Inspector George Gently is one of the few good men at Scotland Yard, his sense of public duty an increasingly rare commodity in a police force where corruption is rife and unchecked. In Northumberland, George takes on the headstrong young Detective Sergeant Bacchus.
Writer and Executive Producer – Peter Flannery on adapting the series:
About four years ago I was rummaging in a dusty old bookshop when my hand fell on a paperback book called Gently Through The Mill by Alan Hunter.  Looking through it, I realised it was one of a substantial series of books featuring George Gently of Scotland Yard – the character and the writer being completely unknown to me. I bought the book for a couple of pounds and took it home.
This was not a completely random decision, nor was it inspired by any lifelong devotion to the detective fiction genre, which has always rather eluded me. But I had decided some while earlier to be on the lookout for a series of novels that could provide the basis for potential television adaptation.
To my surprise I found I enjoyed the novel, Gently seemed attractively old-fashioned, not just in his methods and his mindset, but in his values. I found there were dozens more in the series and that they were available for option. I started reading them avidly.
Image result for inspector george gently 2017
Martin Shaw on playing George Gently:
George is an old-time copper. He fought with General Montgomery in the Second World War; he's a very tough, seasoned fighter. He knows about hardship and has seen tough times, and that's a bonus.  I think he carries a lot of baggage around, what with the grief of the murder of his wife as well. He faces the seemingly impossible task of trying to change a corrupt police force – a one-man mission.

Constable Books by Nicholas Rhea

For those that fell in love with the UK TV series "Heartbeat", what you might not know is that they are based on the "Constable" books written by Nicholas Rhea.

The Constable Files
'Constable on the Hill', now available for KindleThe Constable books are probably Nicholas Rhea's best known work, since they form the rootstock from which the much-loved TV series, Heartbeat, sprang. Author Nicholas Rhea drew on his own experiences as a local bobby for a small Yorkshire village in the 1960s to chronicle the career of Constable Nick, from his first arrival in Aidensfield in Constable on the Hill (first published in 1979), through his years on his rural beat, to his retirement in Constable over the Hill (2011). Even after his retirement, Nick wasn't allowed to take it easy: he helped to create a small private police force of monk-constables serving Maddleskirk Abbey and its adjoining college. There were more stories to be told, as well, about Nick's earlier life, explored in Constable on Trial.

As Nicholas himself says:
"The concept of the Constable books arose because I wanted to write a book which showed that the police undertook much work which was not associated with crime or detective investigations. As I had served as a village constable in a delightful part of the North York Moors, it seemed logical to use that experience as a background to the stories, and to add a touch of humour which is always present in police work."

Murder, 1920s Bombay & A Woman: Sujata Massey’s Book is a Thriller

From The Quint:

A Murder on Malabar HillA Murder on Malabar Hill (also titled the Widows of Malabar Hill) is a murder mystery set in 1920s Bombay with a protagonist who, being the first practising woman lawyer in the city, is fighting the fight on two fronts — crime & gender discrimination.

Inspired partially by Cornelia Sorabji – who was the first female advocate in India – Perveen Mistry has to struggle to establish herself as a female lawyer in 1920s Bombay. Despite a law degree from Oxford and a sharp mind, she isn’t taken seriously by most prospective clients – until a property dispute leads to a murder in a women’s zenana. Suddenly, her gender becomes an advantage; allowing her to don the cap of a detective and prove herself as a formidable lawyer.

The Satapur MoonstoneNext in the series is The Satapur Moonstone

India, 1922: It is rainy season in the lush, remote Satara mountains southeast of Bombay, where the kingdom of Satapur is tucked away. A curse seems to have fallen upon Satapur's royal family, whose maharaja died of a sudden illness shortly before his teenage son was struck down in a tragic accident. The kingdom is now ruled by an agent of the British Raj on behalf of Satapur's two maharanis, the dowager queen and the maharaja's widow. The royal ladies are in dispute over the education of the young crown prince, and a lawyer's council is required-but the maharanis live in purdah and do not speak to men. Just one person can help them: Perveen Mistry, India's only female lawyer. 

read more here @ The Quint

The Dark Kingdoms: The Impact of White Civilisations on Three Great African Monarchies

The Dark Kingdoms: The Impact of White Civilisations on Three Great African Monarchies by [Scholefield, Alan]
Alan Scholefield's book " ....  is the story of three kingdoms. Two of them succumbed to white pressure and disappeared. One of them survives. Each is seen at a critical period in its history, when black met white head-on."

King Affonso ruled the first of the three kingdoms, and welcomed the Portuguese as brothers, only to find his people were treated like cattle.

King Gelele ruled the second kingdom with a will of iron and fought to keep his culture alive but, trapped between white invaders and rival tribes, that iron will would bend and buckle.

Lastly Moshesh of Lesotho, the last man standing: who played them all at their own games and won.

Using diaries from famous figures like the explorer Richard Burton, Alan Scholefield breathes new life into a past that once seemed dead.

read more about Africa's Monarchies here
  • African Kings by Daniel Laine
  • Jimma Abba Jifar, an Oromo Monarchy: Ethiopia, 1830-1932 by Herbert S. Lewis
  • The Oxford Handbook of Modern African History edited by John Parker & Richard Reid
  • Layers of Time: A History of Ethiopia by Paul B. Henze
  • Wikipedia - Monarchies In Africa

Books - Henry III of England

This tome from Matthew Lewis - Henry III, The Son of Magna Carta - popped up in my news-feed and sounded like it could be a good read.

Synopsis: From the ashes of Magna Carta, a new England was to be forged.
Front CoverHenry III became King of England within days of his ninth birthday. His father, King John, had overseen a disastrous period in English history and the boy king inherited a country embroiled in a bitter, entrenched war with itself. With barons inviting a French prince to take the crown, the young Henry was forced to rely on others to maintain his position.

As he grew into adulthood, Henry had to manage the transition to a personal rule, wrenching power from men who had held it almost unchecked for years. With a settled position at home, attention could turn to the recovery of lost territory abroad and the salvaging of Henry’s family reputation. All would not go according to plan.

Henry III is an interesting character - son of the oft maligned King John, Henry became King of England aged 9yo, ruling for approx 56 years. His reign was not entirely peaceful, with the Barons rebelling, leading to civil war in which Henry's son, Edward, took a prominent role.

Another tome of interest is this one by Darren Baker - Henry III - The Great King England Never Knew It Had.

Henry IIISynopsis: Henry III (1207-72) reigned for 56 years, the longest-serving English monarch until the modern era. Although knighted by William Marshal, he was no warrior king like his uncle Richard the Lionheart. He preferred to feed the poor to making war and would rather spend time with his wife and children than dally with mistresses and lord over roundtables. He sought to replace the dull projection of power imported by his Norman predecessors with a more humane and open-hearted monarchy. But his ambition led him to embark on bold foreign policy initiatives to win back the lands and prestige lost by his father King John. This set him at odds with his increasingly insular barons and clergy, now emboldened by the protections of Magna Carta. In one of the great political duels of history, Henry struggled to retain the power and authority of the crown against radical reformers like Simon de Montfort. He emerged victorious, but at a cost both to the kingdom and his reputation among historians. Yet his long rule also saw extraordinary advancements in politics and the arts, from the rise of the parliamentary state and universities to the great cathedrals of the land, including Henry's own enduring achievement, Westminster Abbey.

A couple more books on Henry III:

  • The Minority of Henry III by David Carpenter
  • The reign of Henry III by David Carpenter
  • King Henry III and the Lord Edward by Sir Maurice Powicke

Sunday, December 30, 2018

More Crusader Fiction

As you may have guessed, the Crusades are a favourite period of mine. So I enjoy finding new (and old) titles that feature the Kingdom of Jerusalem. Here are a few more fictional titles for your reading pleasure:

Shadow of the Swords by Kamran Pasha
Shadow of the Swords: An Epic Novel of the CrusadesAn epic saga of love and war, Shadow of the Swords tells the story of the Crusades—from the Muslim perspective.

Saladin, a Muslim sultan, finds himself pitted against King Richard the Lionheart as Islam and Christianity clash against each other, launching a conflict that still echoes today. In the midst of a brutal and unforgiving war, Saladin finds forbidden love in the arms of Miriam, a beautiful Jewish girl with a tragic past. But when King Richard captures Miriam, the two most powerful men on Earth must face each other in a personal battle that will determine the future of the woman they both love—and of all civilization. Richly imagined, deftly plotted, and highly entertaining, Shadow of the Swords is a remarkable story that will stay with readers long after the final page has been turned.

Note: there may be another book prior to this, however, cannot find any details.

Crusader King: A Novel of Baldwin IV and the Crusades by Susan Peak
A new historical novel about the unusual life of King Baldwin IV of Jerusalem, the leper crusader king who - despite ascending to the throne at only 13, his early death at 24 and his debilitating disease - performed great and heroic deeds in the face of seemingly insurmountable odds. Teenagers and avid readers of all ages will be amazed at this story and be inspired by a faith that accomplished the impossible! 

Note: aimed at younger readers

The Magdalen Cycle by Scott Rezen
Book 1: The Leper King
King of Jerusalem and Defender of the Holy Sepulcher, Baldwin IV walks the sword s edge between the intriguing barons of his own Court and the jihad of Islam. Between the two, however, a sinister presence lurks a heretical society called the Order of Sion that will stop at nothing to see its own dark designs come to fruition. Baldwin is young, innocent, and a military strategist of no small measure. And, he is a leper. In the midst of mounting political tensions and war, a mysterious woman unexpectedly befriends the lonely sick king a woman who claims she is Mary Magdalen.

Book 2: The Pawns of Sion:
The Leper King is dead. His sister, Countess Sibylla, longs to return to the convent and leave the crown in the hands of her young son. But when the boy suddenly dies, the Order of Sion forces Sibylla to become queen and crown her estranged husband, Guion de Lusignan as king. Meanwhile, a squire named Ernoul discovers that a woman attending his sick mother in the Hospital of Saint-John is the beloved saint, Mary Magdalen, and that he is the illegitimate son of a powerful lord. As the Order of Sion regains strength and the kingdom moves ever closer to war with Salehdin, Mary seeks out the hiding place of the lost Cup of Christ... but is it the end of a long quest or a trap set by the enemy to destroy her?

The Last King of Legends Series by Serafia Cross
Book 1: The Kingmakers
The KingmakersPrincipled people, crucial events and overwhelming afflictions build legendary kings such as the thirteen-year-old leper boy, Baldwin, who inherits a kingdom at war - the Kingdom of Jerusalem. This is the first book in The Last King of Legends series, based on the true story of King Baldwin IV of Latin Jerusalem, who reigned from 1174 to 1185.

Book 2: In the Face of Trials
Sixteen-year-old King Baldwin IV of Jerusalem continues his journey as Protector of the Holy City despite his ailing physical condition as a leper. His army disobeys his direct command and accompanies a proud pilgriming prince on a battle campaign leaving only 675 knights with the king to defend Jerusalem. Saladin emerges from the south to invade the Kingdom of Jerusalem with 30,000 men, and King Baldwin rides out to meet him in battle with his insignificant army and great faith in God.

Books 3: The Sovereign Gambit
Though the leprosy of King Baldwin IV robs him of his hands, feet, face, and his strength, it does not rob him of his mind--and the eighteen-year-old king decides to play a gambit to force Saladin's hand. A torrent of events--that will mark the beginning of the end for the Kingdom of Jerusalem--is unleashed. Baldwin struggles to save the kingdom from absolute ruin and preserve its future, yet, sometimes, all he can do it watch.

Note: For more on Baldwin IV Of Jerusalem, I recommend "The Leper King & His Heirs" by Bernard Hamilton

Crusader by Elizabeth Laird
Two boys, two faiths, one unholy war—two boys from opposing worlds come face to face in a thought-provoking historical fiction adventure set in the era of the Third Crusade.

The Crusader by Michael Alexander Eisner
A knight possessed by demons, an ambitious monk skilled in exorcism, and a bloody Crusade that ends in a terrible siege lie at the heart of Michael Alexander Eisner’s action-packed medieval adventure of Christian warriors and Muslim infidels in the Holy Land. 

Francisco de Montcada, the young Spanish heir to a vast family fortune, returns from the Crusades a gaunt shell of a man, rendered speechless by the horrors he has witnessed. As his friend Brother Lucas draws out his story, Francisco relates a gripping tale of fierce battles, cruel betrayals, and religious zealots. 

Booke of DaysA Booke of Days by Stephen J. Rivele
A critically acclaimed recreation of the first papal crusades, in 1096, focuses on one man who undergoes a spiritual crisis amid the fury and mindless greed of the pilgrimage.

The story is related as the journal of Roger of Lunel,a duke of the Provence area of southern France. His story evolves from his joining the First Crusade, and follows him through to the taking of Jerusalem, and home again, focusing on his growth as a man, and as a Crusader.

If you are looking for a series then I can recommend the following:
The Celtic Crusades Series by Peter Lawhead
The Iron Lance; The Black Rood; The Mystic Rose
An epic trilogy of Scottish noble family fighting for its existence and its faith during the age of the Crusades—and of a secret society whose ceremonies will shape history for a millennium.

Crusader Series by Kathryn Le Veque
The Crusader; Kingdom Come
Premise: A Biblical Archaeologist by degree, her target is a holy relic of unimaginable power. But what she discovers instead is the tomb of a long-buried Crusader, one of the thousands who came to this desert land in search of glory and riches. 

The Knight Templar / Crusades series by Jan Guillou
The Road to Jerusalem; The Knight Templar; The Kingdom at the End of the Road
The hero is a Templar crusader named Arn Magnusson, so the focus is on him and medieval Sweden.

Note: there is possibly a fourth in the series (but my Swedish is non-existant)

Saturday, December 29, 2018

Asian Mystery Crime Fiction

Bangkok Shadows by Stephen Shaiken
Bangkok Shadows by [Shaiken, Stephen]In Bangkok, everyone gets the chance to start over. Few questions are asked. When American criminal defense lawyer Glenn Murray Cohen took a bundle of cash from a murdered client and moved to Thailand and a new life, he thought his troubles were over forever.

For seven years, Glenn enjoys the life of a wealthy expat, forms friendships and seeks love, spending much of his time at the mysterious NJA Club where he pursues the beautiful Noi. This pleasant life is turned upside down when American agents come calling, pressuring him to kidnap a Russian gangster, a dangerous task for which he is woefully unprepared. Glenn is drawn him into an underbelly of corruption, criminal activity and international intrigue hidden in the shadows of Bangkok.

An American In China (series) by Malcolm Bosse
The War Lord: 1927 post-Imperial China.
The Great War has left scars behind, marking the world even a decade after its conclusion. In China, men of British, American, German, Italian, French, and Japanese origin flood into a land recently freed from centuries of Imperial rule, seeing a chance to make a profit and escape the darkness that recently shrouded the world.

Unlike many of his American countrymen, Philip Embree has not come to China for money, but to spread Christianity and the word of God. But when the train on which the young missionary is travelling is hijacked by bandits, he finds himself thrust into a world that he could never have imagined. 

Fire In Heaven: It is 1948 and Mao is beginning his rise to power.
A girl is gone and Philip Embree must find her, or he tells himself. Sonia, the daughter of Philip’s estranged wife, has run away with her lover, Chamlong. But Philip has never been a man of his word.

Let lose in China, he ends up involved in an American scheme and under fire from all sides. And while Philip is getting into trouble, the girl is getting into worse.

Shadow of the Dome: A gripping tale of friendship, duty and destiny in the court of Kublai Khan by Karen Warren
Kokachin is a Mongolian princess, living with her mother and brother at the court of Kublai Khan in China. Her best friends are Tarkhan, the son of the household cook, and a displaced Chinese princess named Mei Lien. Kokachin is active and adventurous, and chafes at being an idle princess. 

Based on true events in the thirteenth century, Shadow of the Dome is a tale of friendship, duty and destiny that will have readers captivated from the very start. 

Red Princess Mysteries by Lisa See
Book 1: Flower Net
Red Princess Mysteries (3 Book Series) by  Lisa See
In the depths of a Beijing winter, during the waning days of Deng Xiaoping’s reign, the U.S. ambassador’s son is found dead–his body entombed in a frozen lake. Around the same time, aboard a ship adrift off the coast of Southern California, Assistant U.S. Attorney David Stark makes a startling discovery: the corpse of a Red Prince, a scion of China’s political elite. In an investigation that brings them to every corner of China and sparks an intense attraction between the two, David and Hulan discover a web linking human trafficking to the drug trade to governmental treachery–a web reaching from the Forbidden City to the heart of Los Angeles and, like the wide flower net used by Chinese fishermen, threatening to ensnare all within its reach.
Book 2: The Interior
While David Stark is asked to open a law office in Beijing, his lover, detective Liu Hulan, receives an urgent message from an old friend imploring her to investigate the suspicious death of her daughter, who worked for a toy company about to be sold to David’s new client, Tartan Enterprises. As pressures mount and danger increases, Hulan and David uncover universal truths about good and evil, right and wrong–and the sometimes subtle lines that distinguish them.

Book 3: Dragon Bones
When the body of an American archaeologist is found floating in the Yangzi River, Ministry of Public Security agent Liu Hulan and her husband, American attorney David Stark, are dispatched to Site 518 to investigate. As Hulan scrutinizes this death—or is it a murder?—David, on behalf of the National Relics Bureau, tries to discover who has stolen from the site an artifact that may prove to the world China’s claim that it is the oldest uninterrupted civilization on earth. 

Crusader -Two Historical Fiction Series

The Crusader by John Cleve

The Crusader (3 Book Series) by  John CleveA rousing, steamy adult tale of war and women that storms the senses with its violent depiction of the age of chivalry.

Book 1: The Accursed Tower

Meet the handsome and legendary, young Crusader, renowned for his courage and virility. Get swept up in the Crusader’s unforgettable adventures alongside Richard the Lionheart, as he sets out on his quest to free the Holy City, Jerusalem, from the clutches of the Moslem leader Saladin. Their journey will be long and perilous, crossing foreign and dangerous lands. Who can they trust and who will make it out alive? 

Book 2: The Passionate Princess
Against the violent backdrop of one of history's most turbulent eras, The Passionate Princess tells a rousing tale of war and women: of savage battles in the scorching desert, of sinister plots in the tents of the Christian squires, and of frenzied nights of passion with the beautiful ladies of the crown.

Book 3: Julanar the Lioness
Guy Kingsaver returns in another unblushing saga of war and women. This time, the mighty Crusader is held captive atop a North Egyptian mesa by a band of armored warrior women led by the beautiful Julanar, who engages Guy Kingsaver in a duel in which the weapons are wanton lust and sensuous abandon as well as the scymitar and crossbow.

Book 4: My Lady Queen
The Crusader is summoned to the city of Tyre, which is threatened with siege. The fearless hero is pitted against the wiles of the beautiful and notoriously vicious Luisa de Vermandois, and is called upon to employ his sensual art to charm Saracen secrets from a desperate lady spy.

Book 5: Saladin's Spy
Guy’s heroic exploits continue on battlefield and in bedchamber as he fights alongside Richard the Lionheart to subdue the important Palestinian city of Darum. Thanks to Saladin’s Spy, sadistic Turks capture a crucial castle, murdering every knight within its hilltop walls. A helpless prisoner there is the brutally captured young woman who came from France to the Holy Land as nurse . . . but is destined to become the slave of her dusky captors. One man is the obvious choice to try to free her . . .

Crusader: The Complete Campaigns by Paul Bannister
Crusader: The Complete Campaigns by [Bannister, Paul]Set across the reigns of three Plantagenet Kings: Richard I, John, Henry III.

Crusader 1165AD
The Third Crusade is on the horizon, and Henry II is on the throne. And now young Frederick Banastre is being sent to court to become a steward to the young prince Richard, readying him for his own chance at glory.

Treason 1190 AD
Frederick Banastre has taken the cross, to fight alongside Europe’s finest warrior, Richard the Lionheart, in the Holy Land. To manage England in his absence, Richard appointed three regents: a chancellor and two others who shared the duties of Justiciar.

Templar 1216 AD
King John has died and his young son, Henry, a boy of only nine years has been left to rule. A new regent must be found before internal strife tears the country apart once more. Count Ramon of Toulouse seems to be the perfect choice; he is powerful enough to bring the barons to heel until Henry is ready to fully assume the throne.

Siege 1215
King John Signs the Magna Carta in an unconditional submission to a group of rebel barons. The Pope declares it illegal. During the ensuing First Baron War, King John dies and nine-year-old Henry inherits the crown. Treachery and rebellion blight the years that follow. 

Thurstan de Banastre, Baron of Waleton, Lancastershire, is living in dangerous times. He and his fellow barons are desperate to oust their tyrannical king, Henry of Winchester, who imposes harsh tax burdens, and ignores the terms of Magna Carta that his father had pledged to uphold.

A Spy's Life - An Eclectic Selection

An eclectic selection of titles featuring that all time favourite character in novels - the spy.

A Spy's Journey by Floyd Paseman
For thirty-five years, Floyd Paseman served in the Operations Directorate of the Central Intelligence Agency. From spy in the field to the top ranks of the Company's career agents, he experienced it all as well as seven different presidential administrations. While Paseman's account of his long service has enough real-life derring-do to keep the reader engaged, of even greater interest, however, are Paseman's observation on politics and the CIA, especially how change of presidential administrations could bring sweeping, and often negative changes to the agency.

Blowing My Cover: My life as a CIA Spy and Other Misadventures by Lindsay Moran
This is a frothy, lightweight, and highly entertaining memoir of life in the CIA by a female case officer who had absolutely no business being there. Lindsay Moran served in the Agency from 1998 to 2003. She trained as a case officer, served one unsuccessful tour overseas, and has written an account of her adventures that may leave the reader wondering which was worse, Ms Moran as a spy or the CIA as an agency.

Agente: Female Secret Agents in World Wars, Cold Wars and Civil Wars by Douglas Boyd
This book records the lives of the "agentes" and investigates the powerful motives that drove them to undertake such dangerous work—like patriotism, ideology, love and revenge. The book is full of all sorts of trickery and treachery, double and even triple crossing, daring escapades and escapes, and death in the experiences of these women, many of whom are lesser known in the annales of history.

Spy of the Century: Alfred Redl and the Betrayal of Austria-Hungary by John Sadler & Silvie Fisch
Redl was a rare Austro-Hungarian officer who came from quite modest roots, virtual poverty in fact. Gifted with a brilliant mind and with a little luck and influence, Redl secured a commission, and eventually became a staff officer and rose to colonel. At some point Redl began spying for Russia. As the authors note, his motives are unclear, certainly his fondness for high living may have played a role, but he may also have been blackmailed into espionage, as the Russians were early aware of his homosexuality.

The Widow SpyThe Widow Spy by Martha D Peterson
This is a first hand account of a true Cold War spy operation in Moscow, told exclusively by the CIA case offiicer who lived this experience. She was one of the first women to be assigned to Moscow, a very difficult operational environment. Her story begins in Laos during the Vietnam War where she accompanied her husband, a CIA officer. She describes their life in a small city in Laos, ending with the tragic death of her husband. Then her own thirty year career begins in Moscow, where she walks the dark streets alone, placing dead-drops and escaping the relentless eye of the KGB. Experience her arrest and detention in Lyubianka Prison, as only she can relate it.

Who's Who In espionage by Ronald Payne & Christopher Dobson
MI6, the CIA and SMERSH are amongst the many intelligence services that have been exploited by writers of fiction in recent times. Unlike some of their fictional counterparts, however, intelligence officers have evolved from adventurers to career professionals, mirroring their parent services’ similar shift.  Following years of research into the world of intelligence, Dobson and Payne have profiled over three hundred personalities from the inter-war years to the early 1980s.  From effective spymasters like ‘C’ to the less well-known operatives such as Colonel ‘Z’, their stories are too captivating to remain untold.

Review - The Truth About Archie & Pye by Jonathan Pinnock

The Truth about Archie and Pye (A Mathematical Mystery Book 1)
" ... revenge, served piping hot, on Wedgewood bone china with a silver service ..."

The storyline rumbles along like a proverbial train wreck - you want to look away but can't - as what begins as a paradox soon develops into a workable probability theory as events triangulate towards their inevitable conclusion.

Enough of the mathematical hypotheses - our disgruntle narrator Tom Winscombe finds himself drawn to the mysterious murders of the enigmatic Vavasor twins - Archimedes and Pythagorus, after a chance meeting on a train sets off the chain of events which are at times almost - dare I say it - Mr Beanish. Who is behind the mysterious deaths; who wants the mystery to remain just that, a mystery; how are the Belarusan mafia connected; what secrets does a locked briefcase hold - if only Tom could open it.

Escapism for the mathematical inclined ... is that an axiom I hear you ask??

The Crusades Series by Mark Butler

A traditional numbering scheme for the Crusades gives us nine during the 11th to 13th centuries, as well as other smaller crusaders that are mostly contemporaneous and unnumbered. There were frequent "minor" Crusades throughout this period, not only in Palestine but also in Spain and central Europe, against not only Muslims, but also Christian heretics and personal enemies of the Papacy or other powerful monarchs. Such "Crusades" continued into the 16th century, until the Renaissance and Reformation when the political and religious climate of Europe was significantly different than that of the Middle Ages. 

The Crusades (5 Book Series) by  Mark ButlerThis series by Mark Butler is set against the backdrop of the Fourth and following Crusades. From the streets of Barcelona to the mighty battles in the East, readers will come to understand how the greatest army in the world assaulted the wrong nation. How Christians slaughtered Christians in the pursuit of money, power and perhaps most important of all...Legacy. Our main protagonist is one Rayjo de Merafiza, hero of the Third Crusade, who with his sons, join the Crusading army as it heads towards Constantinople.

Book 1 - The Fourth Crusade
As the armies of Christianity gather for the greatest war of their lives, a few powerful men and unfortunate circumstances turn the Europeans away from their intended target and onto Constantinople, the most unlikely of targets. The Orthodox Greeks are forced to furiously defend their homeland.

Book 2 - The Fifth Crusade
The year is 1215 in medieval Europe. Pope Innocent III is waging two Crusades simultaneously. The smaller Albigensian Crusade is a vicious war on the Cathars, an extremist sect of separatists in Southern France. The Fifth Crusade is also raging, emptying Europe's fighting men into the Middle East and Northern Africa and slaughtering thousands. The peoples of Europe are exhausted and skeptical of the Church, which has thrust civilization back into madness.

Book 3 - The Sixth Crusade
The church is bankrupt, the Fifth Crusade a colossal failure. When King Frederick, the Holy Roman Emperor, embarks on the Sixth Crusade, Leonardo di Spie, a spy, thief and killer, is entrusted with keeping him alive against insurmountable odds.

Book 4 - The Seventh Crusade
The world of 1248 is fraught with danger. The Holy Land is under the dominion of the ruthless Ayyubid Muslims, the greatest military force in the world. They jealously control the fertile Middle East.

In a calculated military action, King Louis IX of France launches a massive invasion of Ayyubid Egypt. It is a mighty arrow launched at the Egypt's capital, Cairo, from across the Mediterranean Sea. If Louis succeeds in his quest, his nation will flourish for a thousand years and his name will be written in the history books forever.

Book 5 - The Final Crusade
In this final novel about our brave Crusaders, Butler paints a vivid picture of medieval Europe, complete with full-scale battles, mystical creatures and breath-taking scenery. Join the Coquets on their final journey as Butler goes deeper than he ever has before, in a quest to expose the core of the human condition.

Friday, December 28, 2018

My Life in the IRA by Mick Ryan

Review by Frank MacGabhann for the Irish Times

Image result for My Life in the IRA - The Border CampaignIf anyone believes that the IRA’s “Border campaign” of 1956 - 1962 was heroic, this is a must-read book. As Pádraig Yeates puts it in his perceptive introduction, this is a story of “suffering, hardship, frustration and constant disappointment”. He could have added rain, mud and freezing cold. Mick Ryan, from East Wall in Dublin left school at the age of 13 and joined the IRA at 18 just in time to participate in the Border campaign. Like many a young man of his generation, he dreamed of being in the GPO in 1916 with Pearse and Connolly and believed that their sacrifice, along with that of Tone, Emmett, Mitchell and others sustained his own. A vivid story-teller, Ryan describes in detail the tragicomic attacks with hopelessly antiquated weapons mounted against the northern state, punctuated by grateful stays at nationalist safe houses, with people gladly sharing what little food they had, sometimes only bread and tea. The book is also a poignant social history of Ireland in the 1940s and 1950s. 

see also synopsis @ Mercier Press
see book launch @ Youtube

The Black Prince by Adam Roberts review

From The Guardian:

The Black Prince derives from a plan Anthony Burgess made for a novel in the early 1970s, and then turned into a screenplay for a film that was never made. It’s about the life and campaigns of Edward of Woodstock, eldest son of Edward III and father of Richard II, who defeated the French at Crécy and Poitiers, founded the Order of the Garter, and died of dysentery in 1376 before he could become king.

Image result for the black prince by adam robertsBrought out by crowdfunded publisher Unbound, this is a weird and wonderful book on which no commercial publisher would have taken a punt. Burgess said of his planned novel: “The effect might be of the fourteenth century going on in another galaxy where language and literature had somehow got themselves into the twentieth century.” Adam Roberts recreates that effect with panoramic camera swoops over Europe, inset newsreel headlines, and stream-of-consciousness accounts of the major battles of the century (Crécy, Poitiers, Nájera). These are voiced by a whole range of characters: if you want to see medieval Europe from the perspective of a blind king of Bohemia, a dog, a chicken seller, a Cornish miner, a mercenary, the mother of Richard III, or the Black Prince himself, this is the book for you.

read more here @ The Guardian

Y Digymar Iolo Morganwg – Book Review

From Nation.Cymru:

Image result for Y Digymar Iolo MorganwgIolo Morganwg seems to be in vogue at the moment. This book, which offers a “new and exciting portrayal” of the laudanum-soaked polymath comes hot on the heels of two novels, I, Iolo, and Saith Cam Iolo, both released within the past four years.

Not that the fascinating, divisive figure of Iolo Morganwg ever really went away. Ridiculed as a forger of documents and inventor of traditions, and lauded as a creative genius, he has always prompted intense discussion and divided opinion here in Wales.

For the uninitiated, Edward Williams (his non-Bardic name) was in his day considered a leading expert on medieval Welsh literature. However, it turned out after his death that he had filled in the gaps in Wales’ bardic DNA with his invented manuscripts.

He also founded the Gorsedd, best known these days as a kind of Welsh honours system, tasked with the inauguration of bards, litterateurs, and celebrities on the Eisteddfod field.

As with his manuscripts, Iolo Morganwg largely invented the traditions behind the Gorsedd. But it’s now been going since 1792 – almost as long as the United States –and anyway, all tradition needs to be invented at some point, right?

Almost 200 years after his death, the debate rages on. Iolo Morganwg is a little bit like Marmite – some hate him for muddying the waters of Welsh history with ‘fake news’, and others think he’s great.

read more here @ Nation.Cymru

Thursday, December 27, 2018

Review: Miss Seeton Series

Emily Seeton, aka Miss Seeton, Miss Ess, or the Battling Brolly, is the fictional heroine in a series of British cosy mystery novels written in part by Heron Carvic; then following Carvic's death, by Roy Peter Martin, writing as Hampton Charles (I guess preferring to focus more on his own "The Superintendent Otani Mysteries" under the name of James Melville); then picked by Sarah J. Mason (writing as Hamilton Crane), before branching out on her own with the “Trewley & Stone” series .
Image result for miss seeton series

In each book, we find Miss Seeton using her skills as an art teach as she randomly draws psychologically and, perhaps, psychically informative sketches that allow Inspector Delphick of the Yard, and his assistant Bob Ranger, to solve the crime. The primary storyline is the seemingly naive and oblivious Miss Seeton finding herself in awkward situations, then managing to provide enough random clues and insights for the detectives to use to solve these mysteries.

I have read a number of titles in the series (of which there are 23 - 22 and a prequel). The character of Miss Seeton is standard cosy fare (elderly spinster involved in solving crimes); the villagers, distinctly unique (reference "The Nuts"); the crimes predominantly local with a few trips further afield; the community, typically English of the 1950s style. Whilst the first five stories were original and charming, as the series goes on, it does get a bit repetitive, and with so much crime in one sleepy village, I'm surprised Scotland yard has opened a branch there! In the end, Miss Seeton comes across as a poor man's Miss Marple crossed with Inspector Clouseau as the final author, I feel, struggles to provide anything original with which to involve our heroine. 

So a little synopsis of the titles (those I have read are prefaced with ***):

Heron Carvic Books:
*** Picture Miss Seeton: our introduction to Miss Seeton and the story behind "the battling brolly". In this outing we are faced with kidnappings, a drug ring, series of untimely deaths of rich elderly people.
*** Miss Seeton Draws The Line: series of child murders, robberies; introduction of the recurring character of reporter Amelita Forby.
*** Witch Miss Seeton: heroine is call in to infiltrate the latest witchcraft craze, Mss Ess takes on a teaching role and (unofficially) joins the Yard.
*** Miss Seeton Sings: setting is Geneva, with Miss Ess on a mission for the FO and Bank of England; art fraud, and attempt on her life, introduction of Thrudd Banner, investigative journalist.
*** Odds On Miss Seeton: gambling and a casino are the setting, a day at the races, a shooting, a death, a kidnapping.

Notable lines:
"... she is one of those people things happen to - or she happens to them .."
"... arm her with a brolly and all hell let loose. But take it away and everything quietened down at once .."

Hampton Charles Books:
A Miss Seeton Mystery (23 Book Series) by  Heron Carvic Hampton Charles Hamilton CraneMiss Seeton By Appointment: Buckingham Palace, a traitor, royal treasures.
Advantage Miss Seeton: tennis anyone?
Miss Seeton At The Helm: luxury cruise to the Greek islands, warring art experts.

Hamilton Crane Books:
*** Miss Seeton Cracks the Case: highway robbery and a series of break ins linked to the past.
Miss Seeton Paints the Town: best kept village competition, arson. 
Hands Up, Miss Seeton: Miss Ess is mistaken for a thief and jailed. 
Miss Seeton by Moonlight: how to trap an art thief - with Miss Seeton at the centre of a sting operation. 
*** Miss Seeton Rocks the Cradle: kidnapping case; feud between the Campbells and MacDonalds; revival of the Jacobite cause; lost gold mine.
*** Miss Seeton Goes to Bat: cricket is the word of the day, inter-village competition, burglaries.
Miss Seeton Plants Suspicion: hop-picking season, and the unsolved gruesome “Blonde in the Bag” murder.
*** Starring Miss Seeton: village pantomime of Cinderella is the back drop to a series of robberies baffling the Yard; a bomb is set off and a treasure uncovered.
Miss Seeton Undercover: konker battle, a popular TV cookery show in search of rare apples, gin party. 
Miss Seeton Rules: Guy Fawkes Night sees modern day treachery and treason, and a vanishing princess. 
Sold to Miss Seeton: a relentless storm, a visit to an auction house, an ancient chest.
Sweet Miss Seeton: artiste of the chocolate medium, a rejected muse, a gang of criminals. 
Bonjour, Miss Seeton: a screening of Henry V, a trip to France, murder and mayhem at the grand bulldozer race.
*** Miss Seeton Quilts the Village: a wedding, mystery dating back to WWII with Roman silver, Nazi gold, wartime collaborators and modern-day bikers.
Miss Seeton Flies High: a production of Camelot at Glastonbury, a hot air balloon, a missing heir.
Watch the Wall, Miss Seeton: smugglers and poachers, and a fundraising concert.
*** Miss Seeton’s Finest Hour (prequel): backstory of Miss Seeton during WWII, wich features wartime sabotage and or course murder; enter the brolly (umbrella).