Book Review: Clash of Empires

Ben Kane is a best selling author in the Historical Fiction genre, but this is the first time I have read one of his books.

At 448 pages, it took me a while to read it, but that is no reflection on his lively and authentic writing, which at times had me staying up far too late to finish a chapter. Kane interweaves real historical figures with fictional characters, setting them in and around actual recorded events. In this book, he deals with the enmity between the Macedonian Empire of Philip V, and the might of Ancient Rome. As well as those two main players, we have the various Greek states involved on both sides, and allies who can turn their coats for the right reasons.

Kane deals with the style perfectly. He uses some main characters from each side, and we follow the same events through their different viewpoints. Whether a new member of the fearsome Macedonian phalanx, or an experienced Roman legionary, the story is at all times completely believable, and feels very authentic too. We get the view from the nobles at the Macedonian court, and the behind the scenes political machinations of Roman senators and Consuls vying for power and wealth.

There are detailed descriptions of the training of the soldiers, the composition of the various regiments, and the fighting tactics. The effect of total war on the civilian population is covered too, as well as the incredibly harsh punishments inflicted in the armies. With the action switching from Rome, to Athens, then up to Macedonia, all locations are genuine, and maps are supplied too. We visit the camps of the different soldiers and see what they do when they are idle, then follow them to taverns and sporting events.

But it is without doubt during the battles and sieges that Kane’s skill excels. With compelling descriptions of formations in combat, the use of catapults and missile weapons, and the courage and fear shared equally on both sides, he delivers an edge of the seat experience that at times makes you imagine you are there. This shows real writing skill, and reminded me of the books of Bernard Cornwell and Steven Pressfield.

I wasn’t aware of it when I bought this Kindle version for just £1, but the book finishes leaving no conclusions, as it is the first in a series. The second one, featuring many of the same characters, and continuing the events from the last page, is now available.

I will certainly be buying more of his books, and this one is unreservedly recommended.

European ‘Roach Trip

I don’t reblog very often, as you know. But I couldn’t resist this fun post from an English blogger who has written a great book for kids, and has taken it on her travels around Europe.
Check out The Little Cockroach.

The Little Cockroach

Whoop whoop… off we go. The van is packed, excitement is high & Pedro is ready. European vacation here we come!⠀

Pedro has made it to Amsterdam!! I absolutely love this city. The first time we came here with the kids it was Pride and there were parties every where. Elsie couldn’t believe adults could be so fun & silly. It set the bar high and although they both still love it … it will never be as bright, colour and fun as that first weekend.

On our way to Stuttgart we noticed Backnang was only 25 minutes away from where we were heading, so we decided to swing by. It’s beautiful. I’ve seen ‘Twinned with Backnang’ so many times on the ‘Welcome To Chelmsford’ sign. I always wondered what it was like and I never thought I’d visit…. but here I am!! ⠀

We went from Backnang to Stuttgart…

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The Indie Writer’s Handbook

A great resource for writers, brought to you by Nicholas. And only $3.99 too!

Nicholas C. Rossis

I was lucky enough to be sent an ARC for The Indie Writer’s Handbook by one of my favorite authors, David Wind. David has included a kind mention to this blog in his book, which is specifically aimed at Indies, hence the ARC.

“A great primer for new Indie authors (as well as ones who have been around and are wondering if they are doing everything they can to succeed). The easy, conversational style makes the fact that it is packed with information painless, the screenshot walk-thru’s of how to fill-out and accomplish various tasks online were a great idea – I’d definitely recommend!”

USA Today and WSJ Bestselling Indie Author Amy Vansant

David Wind

David Wind is a Hybrid author with 40 books of fiction published both Traditionally and Independently. He is a member of the Authors Guild, The Mystery Writers of America, The Science Fiction and Fantasy…

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Book Review: The Three

I bought a used copy of this book in hardback, following some very good reviews around the blogs. It has taken me some time to get through it, with 480 pages, and a weighty ‘real’ book to prop up at bedtime.

Thinking of this review, I am left wondering ‘where do I start?’

This is a book about writing a book. Publishing that book, and what happens after that. The bulk of it is presented as the research done by that author, alongside news reports, survivor’s testimony, and interviews with people who knew other characters. It uses whole chapters of ‘text speak’ to show teenagers conversing, and others that are transcribed from taped conversations. Although this adds a very complex structure, it is never once confusing, and everything is in context throughout. Here is an online synopsis.

They’re here … The boy. The boy watch the boy watch the dead people oh Lordy there’s so many … They’re coming for me now. We’re all going soon. All of us. Pastor Len warn them that the boy he’s not to­­–
The last words of Pamela May Donald (1961 – 2012)

Black Thursday. The day that will never be forgotten. The day that four passenger planes crash, at almost exactly the same moment, at four different points around the globe.

There are only four survivors. Three are children, who emerge from the wreckage seemingly unhurt. But they are not unchanged. And the fourth is Pamela May Donald, who lives just long enough to record a voice message on her phone. A message that will change the world.

The message is a warning.

So, is it a science fiction book? Sort of.
An investigative thriller? Sort of.
A doomsday scenario? Sort of.
A dystopian tale? Sort of.

It seems from reviews that it is each of these to some readers, and all of those to many too. With global action switching from Japan to South Africa, Britain to the United States, it is certainly an ambitious book, with immense scope. It feels meticulously researched, much like the way the character who is writing the book inside this novel researches her story. There are androids, spooky children, bitchy men and women, and Christian cults in America. The Biblical references are many, and the culture of modern-day Japan and South Africa is examined too.

Suffice to say, there is a lot going on. But it certainly held my attention.

It also has one really great last page.

But all the way through, I couldn’t help but feel there would never be any conclusion. I suspected a sequel was in the works, and possibly a dramatic adaptation too. That made it difficult for me to get completely immersed, as much as I would have liked to.

No surprise then to discover a sequel is available now, and that the BBC is adapting this book into a TV serial.

This is currently only 99p in the UK, for the Kindle version. (As opposed to £14.99 for the original hardback)
If it sounds like your thing, here are some links.

Tales from the Irish Garden – Serialisation – Winter: Christmas Under the Magnolia Tree by Sally Cronin

Here is your chance to read the serialisation of Sally’s lovely book!

Smorgasbord Blog Magazine

Winter: Christmas Under the Magnolia Tree

By December, high in the mountains, the rain fell as snow and lay deep on the ground in the magic garden. Christmas was just two days away and beneath the roots of the old magnolia tree preparations were well in hand. The bees, that had been forced to hibernate in the special honey-chamber when the Winter Fairy brought early snow; hummed festively in the background.

Queen Filigree was very excited, not just because she adored Christmas, but because her favourite son, Prince Zachary, was coming home for the holidays. He had married a princess who lived in the gardens of a Royal Palace many miles to the north and she had not seen him for many years. They were due to arrive tomorrow and the ladies of the chamber were bustling around in the guest apartments, preparing the beds for the visiting royalty and…

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Book Review: The Dry

This murder mystery by Jane Harper won the Sunday Times Crime Book Of The Month in 2017, and it is easy to see why. It thrusts the reader straight to the heart of small-town life in Australia, during one of the longest droughts and heatwaves known in that country. And into a community that has been outraged by a terrible triple murder.

There is no slow build up, as Melbourne detective Aaron Falk returns to his old home town for the funeral of a friend, exposing old wounds from his past, and revisiting old enemies and friends alike. The arid heat of the outback literally glows off of the page, as we follow his investigation into the death of his former friend, and the unsolved mystery from his own teenage years too.

A family has been killed, and the regional police have written off the case as a murder/suicide, by a struggling farmer. But that local farmer was once Falk’s best friend, and with the help of the local country cop, he sets about investigating the background to the case, stirring up a hornet’s nest of resentment and bitter memories along the way. Falk is no swaggering hero, and he also has to overcome the prejudices of narrow-minded small town people as he tries to solve the case.

Much of the story is told in flashback, but it is never confusing to the reader. The descriptions of the characters and the harsh environment are so well done, I could almost picture myself walking around with Falk, as he views the dilapidation of the town he once called home. Lots of potential suspects are on offer, with the usual swings and roundabouts accompanying a murder investigation with witnesses unwilling to help, and scant evidence to go on. And with his efforts frustrated at every turn, Falk is tempted to abandon it all, and return to his police role in the big city.

But he doesn’t of course, and his doggedness eventually wins through.

This book is 381 pages long, and was remarkably cheap on Kindle when I bought it for just £1. I found myself staying up late to read it, and walking around with my Kindle during the day to occasionally catch another chapter. As a result, I finished it in two days, not bad going for me. So it is very good, make no mistake about that, and I recommend it to anyone who enjoys crime thrillers and murder mysteries.

However, I did guess the identity of the killer, and before the halfway point too.

But maybe I have just watched too many films…

Here’s a link.

Book Review: The Story of the SS

This non-fiction book is something of a niche interest, to say the least. Most of us will know something about the German SS, whether the battlefield atrocities they committed, how they served in concentration camps, or the combat exploits of the Waffen SS. This long book (384 pages) examines the formation, background and organisation of the Nazi SS in great detail.

Starting shortly after the end of WW1, the rise of Hitler’s National Socialist Party is covered, as well as the creation of the SA, which led to the offshoot organisation, the SS. All the leading political figures of the day are examined, as well as many minor officials and their roles in the building of the controlling Nazi state that followed. The book goes on to discuss the roles that SS figures played before and during WW2, adding some photos and background details about the war in general, and specific events like the invasion of The Soviet Union, in 1941.

The use of SS units to execute prisoners, kill civilians, and fight partisans is contrasted by the political machinations of their members on the home front, and in the countries occupied by Germany. We also learn about the collaborators, the foreign volunteers, and the often brave and distinguished combat units that fought to the very end, in 1945. Then the author goes on to look at those who escaped justice, and those who faced trial for their involvement in the SS, and its actions.

Much of the book contains lists of units, with the German names translated for the benefit of non-German readers. Numerous individual characters are highlighted, from the top leaders of the organisation, down to some who were little more that murderers in uniform. Chilling totals of the deaths they were responsible for, and the crimes committed in both concentration camps, and after battles in the field.

This is not a book for everyone of course. But given the current world political situation, it serves to remind us just what ‘ordinary’ men can be capable of.
As an historical record, it has great value.

Here is an Amazon link.