Tuesday, October 21, 2014

The Hallowed Ones by Laura Bickle

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆
Obtained from: Personal Kindle Library
Read: April 10, 2013

Katie is on the verge of her Rumspringa, the time in Amish life when teenagers can get a taste of the real world. But the real world comes to her in this dystopian tale with a philosophical bent. Rumors of massive unrest on the “Outside” abound. Something murderous is out there. Amish elders make a rule: No one goes outside, and no outsiders come in. But when Katie finds a gravely injured young man, she can’t leave him to die. She smuggles him into her family’s barn—at what cost to her community? The suspense of this vividly told, truly horrific thriller will keep the pages turning.

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On paper, nothing about Laura Bickle's The Hallowed Ones sounds like it will work. A post-apocalyptic, paranormal fantasy with an Amish twist, I thought the title a joke when I first stumbled across it. Had a friend's daughter not begged me to buddy read it with her I doubt I'd have ever picked it up, but the narrative proved me wrong almost from the start. 

In a market saturated with melancholy and conscience-stricken bloodsuckers, I was pleased to see Bickle's more traditional interpretations. Her vampires are downright creepy and pose a legitimate threat to Katie and her neighbors. Could they give you nightmares? This Walking Dead fan wasn't fazed, but I'd hazard caution if you're the squeamish type. Personally, I was just impressed that a contemporary young adult author would hold classic horror in such high regard. 

I'd snickered over the setting of this piece, but looking back I think it a truly inspired choice. The Amish community is isolated from mainstream society so assuming you can wrap your head around the premise, a lot of the situational drama actually makes sense. If that weren't enough, Bickle embraces the lifestyle and culture of the Amish people and manages to explore their faith without standing atop a soapbox which is actually pretty impressive when you stop and think about it. 

There is a light romantic element to the story, but unlike many of her peers, Bickle doesn't mire her narrative in an overabundance of sexual tension and teenage hormones. In point of fact, Bickle's heroine is both practical and level-headed, an individual who can actually be admired that's not something easily found in this particular genre. 

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"Plain folk are taught that evil is spiritual. The absence of God."
Mrs. Parsall bit back a sob. "Well it seems as if God's left the building, and we're left to our own devices."
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Monday, October 20, 2014

Sinful Folk by Ned Hayes

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
Read: October 19, 2014

A terrible loss. A desperate journey. A mother seeks the truth. In December of the year 1377, five children were burned to death in a suspicious house fire. A small band of villagers traveled 200 miles across England in midwinter to demand justice for their children’s deaths. Sinful Folk is the story of this treacherous journey as seen by Mear, a former nun who has lived for a decade disguised as a mute man, raising her son quietly in this isolated village. For years, she has concealed herself and all her secrets. But in this journey, she will find the strength to claim the promise of her past and find a new future. Mear begins her journey in terror and heartache, and ends in triumph and redemption.

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Author Ned Hayes was entirely unfamiliar to me when Sinful Folk arrived in my mailbox and I'll be honest, I didn't really know what to expect from the book when I cracked it open. All I know for certain is that I was pretty ticked by the time I finished chapter eight. 

Now before you jump down my throat, realize context is everything. I began reading Sinful Folk in August when I'd landed an excerpt of the novel in nationwide contest. An excerpt that only included chapters one through eight. Do you see what I'm getting at? If not, allow me to spell it out for you. I was hooked on this piece from page one and wasn't exactly thrilled at only having part of the novel at my immediate disposal. 

For two months the story hovered on the edge of my imagination, but thankfully, Sinful Folk turned out to be worth waiting for. I actually reread the opening chapters and finished the entire novel in two days, but that's neither here nor there. What matters is that the delay and anticipation didn't outweigh my ultimate admiration for Hayes narrative.

First and foremost, I liked the tone of the piece. It's dark, heavy and desperate. Everything I'd imagine life in the fourteenth century to be. A lot of authors have a tendency to romanticize the era and I really appreciated the edginess of Hayes' prose especially when you consider the material he covers over the course of the story. There's a lot more in these pages than the jacket suggests - suspicion, anti-semitism, revenge, etc. - and here again, I think the layers and subplots bring a very authentic level of drama to the story. 

Mear is also worth noting. Her situation and lifestyle allow her to be a somewhat androgynous narrator. At times she feels masculine, at others feminine and I thought it really interesting to see that voice develop as she came into her own. It's not unusual to see a character evolve, but it isn't every day that an author is so creative in illustrating that transition. 

Sinful Folk is heavy reading and covers a substantial amount of historic material. There were a couple moments that I found almost overwhelming, but even so, I consider the time the time I gave this piece well spent and look forward to reading Hayes again in the future.  

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The good, the bad, the virgin, and the harlot: no one is spared, all go rose-spattered with plague lesions. I see no sense, no judgment before doom strikes. Death takes us all with the black malady or the sweating sickness, or the white blindness or the winter croup, or the crops failing or bitter water in our mouths.
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Check Out All the Stops on Ned Hayes' Sinful Folk Blog Tour Schedule


Monday, October 20
Review at Flashlight Commentary
Tuesday, October 21
Review at Historical Novel Review
Wednesday, October 22
Spotlight at What is That Book About
Spotlight & Giveaway at Passages to the Past
Thursday, October 23
Review at History From a Woman’s Perspective
Guest Post at Books and Benches
Monday, October 27
Review at Just One More Chapter
Spotlight & Giveaway at Historical Fiction Connection
Tuesday, October 28
Interview at Layered Pages
Wednesday, October 29
Review at Back Porchervations
Thursday, October 30
Interview at Back Porchervations
Friday, October 31
Review & Giveaway at The True Book Addict
Monday, November 3
Interview at Triclinium
Spotlight at Boom Baby Reviews
Tuesday, November 4
Spotlight at Historical Tapestry
Wednesday, November 5
Review at Deal Sharing Aunt
Thursday, November 6
Review at bookramblings
Saturday, November 8
Review at Book Nerd
Monday, November 10
Review at Book Babe
Tuesday, November 11
Review at Impressions in Ink
Review & Giveaway at Let Them Read Books
Friday, November 14
Review & Giveaway at Broken Teepee
Tuesday, November 18
Review at CelticLady’s Reviews
Review & Giveaway at Beth’s Book Reviews
Wednesday, November 19
Review at Books in the Burbs
Review at Bookworm Babblings
Thursday, November 20
Review at With Her Nose Stuck in a Book
Friday, November 21
Review at Library Educated

The Bitter Trade by Piers Alexander

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
Obtained from: Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tours/Netgalley
Read: October 12, 2014

In 1688, torn by rebellions, England lives under the threat of a Dutch invasion. Redheaded Calumny Spinks is the lowliest man in an Essex backwater: half-French and still unapprenticed at seventeen, yet he dreams of wealth and title. When his father’s violent past resurfaces, Cal’s desperation leads him to become a coffee racketeer. He has just three months to pay off a blackmailer and save his father’s life - but his ambition and talent for mimicry pull him into a conspiracy against the King himself. Cal’s journey takes him from the tough life of Huguenot silk weavers to the vicious intrigues at Court. As the illicit trader Benjamin de Corvis and his controlling daughter Emilia pull him into their plots, and his lover Violet Fintry is threatened by impending war, Cal is forced to choose between his conscience and his dream of becoming Mister Calumny Spinks.

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Ask Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tour coordinator Amy Bruno, acclaimed author Anna Belfrage or B.R.A.G. host Stephanie Moore Hopkins and they'll tell you my name is synonymous with one thing: coffee. I wont waste time denying it, the ambrosial beverage is my life blood, the fuel that keeps me writing reviews at all hours of the night. It's no exaggeration, I can rarely be found without a steaming hot cup at my side so when I heard author Piers Alexander had incorporated the robust bean and the coffeehouses of seventeenth century London into the plot of The Bitter Trade, let's just say I sat up and took notice. I've picked up novels on less, but few have impressed me as much as Alexander's debut. Richly atmospheric, the narrative plunges readers into the cutthroat world of England's capital, immersing them in a deliciously dark climate of suspicion and intrigue. 

Calumny Spinks, the unfortunately named son of an ill-favored union, proves a captivating and charismatic protagonist. Young though he is, the resourceful seventeen year old develops a bold, ambitious and passionate persona over the course of the narrative. A cheeky, foul-mouthed rogue with a propensity for trouble, the boy is memorable for all the right reasons and he isn't the only one. Across the board, Alexander composes a host of engaging and thought-provoking characters, individuals who illustrate what it meant to be outsiders, subject to English law but beyond its protection.

The explicitness of Alexander's language might offend more sensitive readers, but personally, I liked his wickedly sharp and biting prose. Fast-paced and quick-witted, one can't help being swept into Cal's world and the conspiratorial schemes of which he finds himself a part. There were several instances where I felt Alexander might have done more with the story, but by and large I've no significant complaints over the time I spent with his work. 

Food for thought, The Bitter Trade is set against the Glorious Revolution, a period that is not well-known this side of the Atlantic and I while I certainly appreciated the historic scope of the novel, I'm not above suggesting readers familiarize themselves with the Huguenots before delving into this debut. It is not a requirement by any means, but a basic understanding of events might prove beneficial, especially to those who've never studied the overthrow of James II.

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“Ale makes men foolish,” snapped Peter, “but coffee makes them dangerous. Do not think on it. Where merchants gather, there is knavery in the air."
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Check Out All the Stops on Piers Alexander's The Bitter Trade Blog Tour Schedule


Monday, October 13
Review at Back Porchervations
Spotlight at Literary Chanteuse
Tuesday, October 14
Spotlight & Giveaway at Passages to the Past
Wednesday, October 15
Interview at Back Porchervations
Guest Post at Historical Tapestry
Thursday, October 16
Spotlight & Giveaway at Peeking Between the Pages
Monday, October 20
Review at Flashlight Commentary
Tuesday, October 21
Review at Oh, For the Hook of a Book!
Wednesday, October 22
Interview at Oh, For the Hook of a Book!
Thursday, October 23
Guest Post at Historical Fiction Connection
Tuesday, October 28
Spotlight at What Is That Book About
Wednesday, October 29
Spotlight at Unshelfish
Thursday, October 30
Review at Broken Teepee
Saturday, November 1
Review at With Her Nose Stuck in a Book
Monday, November 3
Review at Book by Book
Review & Interview at Dab of Darkness
Tuesday, November 4
Review at Just One More Chapter
Spotlight at CelticLady’s Reviews
Wednesday, November 5
Review at Turning the Pages
Guest Post at Just One More Chapter
Thursday, November 6
Spotlight at Let Them Read Books
Monday, November 10
Review at A Book Geek
Tuesday, November 11
Review at Book Nerd
Wednesday, November 12
Spotlight at Layered Pages
Friday, November 14
Review at Anglers Rest
Review & Giveaway at Booklover Book Reviews

Sunday, October 19, 2014

The Red Wolf's Prize by Regan Walker

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆
Obtained from: Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tours
Read: September 28, 2014

Sir Renaud de Pierrepont, the Norman knight known as the Red Wolf for the beast he slayed with his bare hands, hoped to gain lands with his sword. A year after the Conquest, King William rewards his favored knight with Talisand, the lands of an English thegn slain at Hastings, and orders him to wed the heiress that goes with them, Lady Serena. Serena wants nothing to do with the fierce warrior to whom she has been unwillingly given, the knight who may have killed her father. When she learns the Red Wolf is coming to claim her, she dyes her flaxen hair brown and flees, disguised as a servant, determined to one day regain her lands. But her escape goes awry and she is brought back to live among her people, though not unnoticed by the new Norman lord. Deprived of his promised bride, the Red Wolf turns his attention to the comely servant girl hoping to woo her to his bed. But the wench resists, claiming she hates all Normans. As the passion between them rises, Serena wonders, can she deny the Norman her body? Or her heart?

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Delving into eleventh century fiction always feels like coming home. It's pretty much where I started my love affair with period based literature and I don't think I've ever really gotten over it. Heavy romance isn't my usual stomping ground, but the premise of Regan Walker's The Red Wolf's Prize, with its reference to the Norman Conquest, piqued my interest so I figured it worth a shot. 

Generally speaking think this a fine piece. It's a great example of the genre and I liked how Walker used the tension between the English and the Normans as a foundation for the tension between Renaud and Serena. I also enjoyed the subplots surrounding supporting characters Cassie and Rhodhi.

Ideally, I'd have liked to see more emphasis on the politics of the day and a more complex story overall, but that's just me. All told, The Red Wolf's Prize is a lighter historical, perfect for those who appreciate heavy romantic story lines and heated passion. 

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With sudden clarity, he realized he’d been played the fool. Rage filled him as he slowly rose. The lady had deceived him, living beneath his nose disguised as a servant, determined to thwart his claim to her. Well, her deception was at an end.
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Check Out All the Stops on Regan Walker's The Red Wolf’s Prize Blog Tour Schedule


Wednesday, October 1
Guest Post at Historical Fiction Connection
Friday, October 3
Spotlight at Historical Tapestry
Monday, October 6
Review at Historical Romance Lover
Tuesday, October 7
Review at With Her Nose Stuck in a Book
Wednesday, October 8
Review at Historical Fiction Obsession
Thursday, October 9
Spotlight at Book Reviews by Lanise Brown
Friday, October 10
Review at Unshelfish
Saturday, October 11
Spotlight & Excerpt at The Lusty Literate
Monday, October 13
Review at The Life & Times of a Book Addict
Tuesday, October 14
Interview at Caroline Wilson Writes
Wednesday, October 15
Guest Post & Giveaway at Passages to the Past
Thursday, October 16
Review at Book Marks the Spot
Saturday, October 18
Spotlight at Romantic Historical Reviews
Wednesday, October 22
Review at Princess of Eboli
Spotlight & Giveaway at bookworm2bookworm’s Blog

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Interview with Danny Saunders, author of The Captive Queen

Author interviews are one of my favorite things to post which is why I am super excited to welcome author Danny Saunders to Flashlight Commentary to discuss his latest release, The Captive Queen. 

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Welcome to Flashlight Commentary Danny. Great to have you with us. To start things off, please tell us a bit about The Captive Queen.
The Captive Queen: A Novel of Mary Stuart is a historical fiction about the life of Mary, Queen of Scots. This sovereign is famous for having been executed on the orders of her cousin Elizabeth, Queen of England. In this novel, I describe the important moments of the reign of Mary Stuart. This period of Scottish history was significant in the evolution of the relationship between Scotland and England. I found it interesting to include the fictional character of Charlotte Gray in the role of lady-in-waiting

What inspired you to write this story? Where did it start? 
I am a Scottish descendant and I wanted to honor my British roots. My maternal grandmother was a big influence on me.

Why do you think Mary’s story is so intriguing to modern readers? 
Several reasons! Her death is not trivial and her life has been incredible. In addition, Scotland fascinates people, especially lovers of historical fiction.

Mary is fairly recognizable monarch. How did you approach her character and what do you hope readers take from your interpretation of her? 
Mary Stuart has never been lucky in her love relationships. The first died suddenly and two husbands have not been great with her. A strong woman despite the storm...

Mary’s lady-in-waiting, Charlotte Gray, plays a prominent role in your story. Without giving away too much, what can you tell us about her?
Charlotte Gray is a woman determined and unscrupulous. She will do anything to keep her role with the Scottish queen. Despite her detestable attitude, she is in love with an unattainable man.

Atmospherically, what was your favorite part about writing a story set in the 16th century?
This century was a major turning point in the history of Europe. France, England and Scotland (of course!) shone particularly. Moreover, these countries had women in power (Mary Stuart, Elizabeth and Catherine de Medici).

There are several themes within your narrative. Which is your favorite and why?
The life of Mary Stuart at the royal court of France. To understand the decisions of the sovereign, one must know her French education.

You probably have many, but is there a scene you particularly enjoyed writing?
My favorite scene is that of the ball at Stirling Castle. Charlotte Gray demonstrated her more human side. Despite its many flaws, this is a woman in love.

What scene posed the greatest challenge for you as an author? Why was it troublesome and how did you work through it?  
When Charlotte Gray is attacked by a violent man. Her distress has made me feel a deal pain.

Sometimes fiction takes on a life of its own and forces the author to make sacrifices for the sake of the story. Is there a character or concept you wish you could have spent more time with or expanded on?
The chapter on the trial of Mary Stuart has been more difficult in research. I read a lot of historical documents.

Historical novelists frequently have to adjustment facts to make their stories work. Did you have to invent or change anything while writing The Captive Queen and if so, what did you alter and why? 
Everything related Charlotte Gray is fictional. Only two passages about Mary Stuart were invented: the ball and the stolen jewel.

If you could sit down and talk with one of your characters, maybe meet and discuss things over drinks, who would you choose and why?
Without hesitation, Mary Stuart, Queen of Scots. I would try to convince her not to go to England.

Just because I’m curious, if you could pick a fantasy cast of actors to play the primary roles in a screen adaptation of your work, who would you hire? 
Wonderful question! For the character of Mary Stuart, Scarlett Johansson, and for the character of Charlotte Gray, Sarah Bolger.

Okay, we've talked a lot about your book. Let's switch gears and talk a little bit about you. How would describe your writing process? 

I love writing! I hope to write several more years. When I write, I always listen to Celtic music. I close my eyes, imagine my characters and story.

Who are your favorite authors? 
I greatly respect the British author Dame Agatha Christie.

What do you like to do when you're not writing? Any hobbies?
When I'm not writing, I travel in Europe and the United States. My travels give me inspiration.

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Danny Saunders is a true European history enthusiast. He has always been keenly interested in royalty. Danny holds a bachelor’s degree in political science and also pursued communication studies at the university level. He has worked as a journalist for various written and electronic media. Of Scottish descent, Danny takes genuine pride in his British roots. The Captive Queen: A Novel of Mary Stuart is his first historical novel.

Website ❧  Facebook ❧  Twitter ❧  Goodreads


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Format: Print & eBook
Publication Date: April 24, 2014
Released by: CreateSpace
ISBN-13: 978-1497462434
Length: 330 pages
Genre: Historical Fiction

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Check Out All the Stops on Danny Saunders' The Captive Queen: A Novel of Mary Stuart Blog Tour Schedule


Monday, August 25
Spotlight & Giveaway at Passages to the Past
Tuesday, August 26
Spotlight & Giveaway at Historical Fiction Obsession
Friday, August 29
Review at Ageless Pages Reviews
Monday, September 1
Review at JulzReads
Tuesday, September 2
Review at A Chick Who Reads
Wednesday, September 3
Interview at To Read or Not To Read
Friday, September 5
Review & Giveaway at Book Lovers Paradise
Monday, September 8
Review at CelticLady’s Reviews
Review & Giveaway at A Bookish Affair
Tuesday, September 9
Review & Giveaway at Peeking Between the Pages
Wednesday, September 10
Excerpt & Giveaway at So Many Precious Books, So Little Time
Friday, September 12
Review at Princess of Eboli
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