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.

Thinking Aloud On a Sunday

That Book.

After twenty days of compiling my latest fiction serial, it was suggested that I offer it for publication, as a novella. I went to bed last night thinking about that flattering idea.

Ever since I started blogging, in 2012, friends, family, and blog followers have often urged me to write a book. At first, they suggested I compile my Ambulance Stories into a collection, or perhaps expand the idea into a novel, based on over twenty years of attending emergency incidents. Later on, many people kindly offered their opinion that some of my short fictional stories would make an interesting book, and I should choose some of the most popular ones to put in it.

Way back at the start of this blog, I wrote a post about why I didn’t want to write a book. Here it is, for those of you who have never seen it.

It has been a long time since then, and I have met lots of people around the blogs. People who have published their own books, sold them on Amazon, or other sites, and have either done reasonably well, or sold none at all. I admire them all, for having the determination to get the books finished, and for going through the potentially arduous process of trying to get them published. I have gone so far as to introduce both a ‘Blogger’s Books’ and ‘Featured Blogger’ series, in the hope of helping them by promoting their work.
Good luck to them all.

I have also read a lot about how Amazon dominates the market, and traditional publishers are only interested in authors with a proven track record. The hard work of editing, proof-reading, getting Beta readers, and constantly trying to promote books on every social media platform available. There have never been so many books for sale. Even moderately successful authors have had to resort to giving away copies of new novels, in the hope of attracting readers to the sequels.

So we know that there is no money in it, for 99% of published writers. But I concede that isn’t the point. Getting the work out there, seeing our name on a book cover, and reading a blurb about YOU on the back. That must be a wonderful feeling, even if nobody ever buys a copy, or reads it for free. But I have been around long enough to imagine the sleepless nights associated with completing a novel. I have just written a serial of almost 27,000 words. That took me close to thirty hours, including some corrections. In a novel, that would translate to just sixty pages. 60. I have read chapters longer than that.

Even short novels these days, at least in Kindle editions, are usually around 275 pages. Let’s say I went for 300 pages. That would be five times the length of my serial, so would take me at least 100 days to write.
Hang on! That sounds easy enough.
Maybe I should do it?

But that’s the easy part. Writing it is just the start. Then comes the really hard work. And work is the operative word here.

I gave up work in 2012. I had worked pretty hard, mainly in stressful jobs, since my first job in 1969. When I turned my back on the day to day routine of employment, I promised myself I would never work again. I got a dog, started walking, and began taking photographs again. Not long after that, I started blogging. I enjoyed the process, and soon developed my blog into what it is now, an enjoyable hobby that takes up a large portion of my day.
No complaints there. I have met some wonderful people, and made real friends online too.

I also started writing again, for the first time since my teens. I enjoyed it, constantly trying to improve my fiction, taking on board various welcome criticisms, as well as being very happy with the praise that came for my work too. Later on, I managed to get articles published on film websites, and finally saw my name in print, when a short story was accepted for publication in a magazine.

For me, that was a considerable personal achievement.
But it still wasn’t ‘work’.

So I doubt I will be writing that book anytime soon. ūüôā

Book Review: Look Behind You

This is not a book by another blogger. I bought this one from Amazon for just 99 p, based on good reviews, and the usual Amazon recommendation that I might like it.

It is described as a ‘psychological thriller’, though I would probably say it is more of an old-fashioned ‘whodunnit?’. It has a crime, a victim, a few suspects, and the ubiquitous disinterested police investigator. That leaves the terrified victim having to resort to doing her own detective work, with the help of one close friend, as everyone around her refuses to believe her version of events. It builds to the usual page-turning climax, as we the reader rush to discover who is the real culprit. So, nothing new there.

The story begins with a woman waking up, trapped in a cellar. She has no idea how she got there, and no recent memory of what happened. After she manages to escape, her confusing world tumbles around her, as nobody, including her loving husband, believes a word she tells them. Slowly but surely, we get the back story, from the perspective of the heroine. A controlling relationship in an unhappy marriage. Past arguments and incidents are still there for her to recall, and it becomes clear that there was a catalyst, an event that has clouded her memories of what happened after that.

As she searches for clues, turning to friends and colleagues for sympathy and advice, it is left up to us whether to believe her, or agree with the others that everything is a figment of her imagination, and her way of dealing with grief, and stress.

Despite numerous necessary flashbacks, including memory ‘revelations’ that drive the plot, it is easy to follow, and I always knew where I was supposed to be in the story. The description of a loving relationship slowly turning to control is well done, and believable. But the appearance of a loyal friend who is devoted to the heroine felt clumsy and predictable, and despite joining those ‘page-turners’ close to the finale, I was not at all surprised by the ‘big reveal’, sadly.

Most of all, I am left frustrated that the characters in such books are always in the upper echelons of society. Chemists, Teachers, Doctors, university-educated, wealthy people who have dinner parties, and few money worries. Don’t women who work in supermarkets ever find themselves in peril? Is an unemployed person never stalked and terrified? For me, the outwardly cosy world of the upper middle classes seems to be the only ground considered to be fertile, for so many writers.

That said, for under ¬£1, it’s a decent read, and I managed the 280 pages in just three sittings.

But I would have liked a much better twist.

Here’s an Amazon link.

Book Review: In Search Of A Revolution

Blogger Christoph Fischer is also a prolific writer, and many of his novels have been published. I have had two of his books waiting on my Kindle for a long time now, and finally got to read this one over the past few days. Here is a short bio of Christoph.

Christoph Fischer was born in Germany, near the Austrian border, as the son of a Sudeten-German father and a Bavarian mother. Not a full local in the eyes and ears of his peers he developed an ambiguous sense of belonging and home in Bavaria. He moved to Hamburg in pursuit of his studies and to lead a life of literary indulgence. After a few years he moved on to the UK where he now lives in a small town in West Wales. He and his partner have three Labradoodles to complete their family. Christoph worked for the British Film Institute, in Libraries, Museums and for an airline. ‚ÄėThe Luck of The Weissensteiners‚Äô was published in November 2012; ‘Sebastian’ in May 2013 and ‘The Black Eagle Inn’ in October 2013 – which completes his ‘Three Nations Trilogy’. “Time to Let Go”, his first contemporary work was published in May 2014, and ‚ÄúConditions‚ÄĚ, another contemporary novel, in October 2014. The sequel ‚ÄúConditioned‚ÄĚ was published in October 2015. His medical thriller “The Healer” was released in January 2015 and his second thriller ‚ÄúThe Gamblers‚ÄĚ in June 2015. He published two more historical novels ‚ÄúIn Search of a Revolution‚ÄĚ in March 2015 and ‚ÄúLudwika‚ÄĚ in December 2015.

And this is my five-star review, posted on Amazon UK.

This novel is set in a familiar time period, but in locations unfamiliar to many, and rarely featured in literature. Two friends in Denmark are inseparable, despite holding completely opposite political views. Close to the end of WW1, one of them decides to leave the country, and he volunteers to fight for the Reds, in the Finnish Civil War of 1918. Whilst there, he meets a nurse, and forms a relationship with her.
Meanwhile, his friend back in Denmark is espousing the views of the other side in politics, the burgeoning far-right. He is forced to leave Denmark, and flees to join his friend in Finland, with his arrival turning the relationship into an unusual love triangle.
This story has huge scope, reminiscent (to me at least) of novels like ‘Doctor Zhivago’, and the ‘Don’ books of Sholokhov. We follow the characters from 1918, right through to 1948, during the time of The Winter War between Finland and the USSR, into WW2, and collaboration with Nazi Germany. Historical detail is first-rate, and the changes in the main characters are well-described too. It’s all there for us. The social structure of Finland and Denmark, the turbulent politics of that thirty-year period, and the short but intense military actions experienced during three periods of conflict. And importantly, characters that I cared about and wanted to follow.
I am looking forward to reading many more of Fischer’s books.

As you can see from that review, I liked this book a lot. I also enjoyed the ‘traditional’ writing style, and construction of the novel. The book is divided into parts, and we follow certain characters in each time period, with chapters focusing on one or the other. No gimmicks, no style excesses, and what boils down to a good old-fashioned read. The historical setting may not be for everyone, but I assure you that this rarely-covered area of conflict is fascinating, and seeing political ideals tested to the breaking point as the whole world descends into all-out war gives the reader much to think about.

We also get a window into the lives of people of all classes at the time, from poorly paid labourers living in cramped conditions, to the dismissive wealthy changing sides and allegiances to secure their fortunes. But the book is also about close relationships. Those between parents and children, often stilted by the demands of a rigid society, and those of close male friends, disrupted by the arrival of a determined woman. Something for everyone, in just under 300 pages.

I read the Kindle edition of this book, and here are some links for you to see more about Christoph and his other books, and to buy the novel, if you should choose to do so.

Book Review: The Knife With The Ivory Handle

The last week of January, and I have already finished two books. Good going for me.

Cindy Bruchman is one of my oldest and dearest blogging friends. For some reason, I had never got around to buying a copy of her first novel, something I rectified as soon as I got my new Kindle Fire tablet. To start with, here is my five-star review, on Amazon.

‘Ms Bruchman sets her novel in an historical period rarely explored. Based around true events at the turn of the century (1900-) and actual places which are well-researched, and carefully described. But it is with the characters she impresses the most. A disparate mix who come across each other, and are then woven together throughout the story.
Young orphans, Annette and Jon, departing for an uncertain future as potential adoptees. A black man fleeing from the law. A Catholic priest who has a high opinion of himself, and a farm hand who offers the chance of escape to the unhappy Annette.
The way they meet and interact forms the heart of the tale. Their talents, their hopes and fears, and their love for the animals featured too. In under 200 pages, the backstories are also filled in very nicely, and any sympathetic reader will soon be totally invested in them, following their lives with a desire to know the outcome.
This is first-rate historical fiction, populated by characters I believed in, and locations that are brought to life on the page’.

That gives you a good idea what the book is about, but without adding plot spoilers, it is hard to convey just how well this book takes the reader on a journey. From the first chapter, I was quickly immersed in the characters, and wanted to know how things turned out for them. One in particular, the mutilated black man, Casper, really got under my skin. Cindy sets this book in an America that is unfamiliar to me, both in the historical period, and because I have never been to that country. But I was there; under the trees, in the back of carts, or riding in the goods wagons of trains heading to new places.

There is also an undeniable spiritual aspect to the story. A young priest who learns to deal with the harsh realities of his role in a poverty-stricken community, while also questioning his suppressed sexual desires. The connection between a brother and sister across time and space, and how natural talent in the arts can be inspired by events beyond control.

From the orphanage in New York, to the cornfields of the mid-west, and the bleak mining towns in between, we are taken on a tour of a part of America after 1900, beautifully described in just enough detail to place ourselves on those very spots with the characters. Racism and lynchings, poor working conditions for low pay, and the bleak furture of ordinary people in very different times. It is all there, amazingly packed into less than 200 pages.

And that actual Knife With The Ivory Handle? Oh yes, it is included, with a deft touch indeed.

I am certainly looking forward to Cindy’s next book.

Here is a link to Cindy’s book, which is available in a Kindle edition too. (I read that version)

And this is a link to her own excellent blog.

Please check out this book, if the story interests you. And stop by her blog for more great writing!

Book Review: Yeshiva Girl

I finally got to grips with my Kindle App, and read my first book of 2019. It was ‘Yeshiva Girl’, a new novel by American writer and blogger, Rachel Mankowitz.

This is the story of Isabel, a teenage girl living in Long Island. It could have been just another coming-of-age story, but this one is really different. For one thing, it is set in a strictly religious Jewish Orthodox community, and for another, it has the dark theme of parental abuse. Isabel tells her story to the reader, introducing characters along the way. These include her best friend, other girls at school, and boys too, of course. We also get insights about the teachers, religious leaders, and her parents and grandparents. Halfway through, it struck me that descriptions were sparse, usually concerning clothes and hairstyles. But this didn’t matter in the least, as the excellent writing style allowed me to picture everyone of them clearly in my head.

A Yeshiva is a religious school, only attended by the children of Orthodox and Conservative Jewish families. Isabel has been removed from a more liberal school to be sent there, as her troubled father has decided to upgrade his religious observance, and try to increase his standing in the community. He has a reason for this of course, as he has been accused of inappropriately touching a young girl, and faces suspension from his job, as well as police proceedings.

As events unfold, we are left in no doubt that he is not only guilty, but has also molested his own daughter in the past. Family tensions are palpable, with the father’s outbursts often resulting in violent acts. In the claustrophobic confines of the tight-knit religious community, Isabel turns for help to the boy she is attracted to, her best friend, and her own mother and grandfather. With others reluctant to upset the system, she is in turn neglected, or disbelieved, causing her considerable emotional distress, and making life both at school and at home almost unbearable. As we follow the course of the story, it is impossible not to feel for Isabel, as well as her beleaguered mother.

I became totally involved in this book, right from the start. Despite the dark theme, there are no unpleasant or graphic descriptions, just inferences and allegations. I also got an insight into life in a closed religious community, with a life lived according to countless rules, where women are treated as little more than second-class citizens. They are expected to obey, to observe the restrictions on their lives and behaviour without complaint, and even endure emotional and sexual abuse without recourse to justice. Coming from a pretty much agnostic background, I found it fascinating that people are prepared to surrender every aspect of daily life to strict religious observance. And although this book is about the experiences of a Jewish girl, I feel certain that it could apply to any religion that demands life be led to a set of restrictive laws and rules.

There are many Yiddish and Hebrew words and terms used, as well as the names of various food items and cooked dishes. However, these never confuse the non-Jewish reader, as they are cleverly explained in the context of events. Though no dates are used, the fact that nobody uses a mobile phone, laptop, or computer would suggest it is set during the 1960s or 1970s. I certainly got that impression. But the time period didn’t appear to be important to me as I read, as I am sure such things have gone on for a very long time, and will continue to do so.

An excellent debut, from someone writing about what they know and understand, and managing to get that across to readers with no experience of the way of life described.

Here is a link to the book, and a link to Rachel’s blog.
I would like you to know that I bought the Kindle version of the book, and I am not reviewing a free copy.

Blogger’s Books: Tarkentower

I am very pleased to be able to feature the latest book by writer, blogger, and magazine publisher, Daniel White. Daniel is the owner and editor of both Unfit Magazine, and Longshot Island Magazine, and has been kind enough to publish some of my stories and articles in that great publication.

D. S. White received his BA at Columbia College in Chicago and his MBA at National Taiwan University. He is the editor-in-chief at Longshot Press, which runs two imprints, Longshot Island and Unfit Magazine. While his expertise is in business, his passion is in writing. He was born in the mountains but now lives by the sea.

Here is a synopsis of his exciting new book.
“Meet Lewis Fuller, a simple kid with no idea of what’s at stake or how to fix anything. Just having arrived in the future, he’s got a lot of catching up to do.
Dr. Tarkentower had plans of changing the world forever. Tired of seeing so much pain in the eyes of his patients, he quit his job at the hospital and created a vast machine that could control time itself. From there, he put the whole earth into a loop, repeating the same day over and over.
Each day his machine picks a few people who go forward in time, escaping the loop, living on a future planet that is not so crowded. It sounds like the perfect solution.
But people stuck in the loop are slowly going insane. As they arrive in the future, they bring with them a world of chaos. Lewis has to find Tarkentower’s machine and turn it off to save the future. And to pull that off, he’s going to need a lot of help”.
“There’s nothing more dangerous than someone who wants to make the world a better place.”‚ÄĒBanksy

As you can see, this is a fresh look at the whole idea of Time, an interesting mix of science fiction and dystopian thriller that should appeal to a very wide audience. Daniel’s writing style is accessible, and his scenarios believable. This is a compelling read for any fans of both genres.
Here are some more links to the book.
If you have Kindle Unlimited, it is currently free on that.
In this link to Daniel’s blog, he explains the whole process of writing this new novel.

Please share this post, and the links, on all your social media platforms, and reblog if you think your own readers will be interested. Let’s get together to promote Daniel’s book. He is a very supportive publisher, a fine writer, and a big part of the blogging community.