Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Book Review: Blackwell's Paradise by V.E. Ulett


Relive the pleasure of falling into the past in Volume II of Blackwell’s Adventures.

The repercussions of a court martial and the ill-will of powerful men at the Admiralty pursue Royal Navy captain James Blackwell into the Pacific, where danger lurks around every coral reef. Even if Captain Blackwell and Mercedes survive the venture into the world of early nineteenth century exploration, can they emerge unchanged with their love intact. The mission to the Great South Sea will test their loyalties and strength, and define the characters of Captain Blackwell and his lady in Blackwell’s Paradise.

Old Salt Press | January 2014 | 300 pages 

My Review

Blackwell's Paradise is the second installment in V.E. Ulett's Captain Blackwell series.  At the heart of this series, which is set primarily on the high seas in the early 19th century, is Royal Navy Captain James Blackwell and his wife Mercedes.   In Blackwell's Paradise, Captain Blackwell, his crew, and Mercedes find themselves headed for the Pacific on a mission of exploration.  But as Blackwell's ship approaches the Sandwich Islands (Hawaii), an ill-fated mishap has disastrous consequences for both Blackwell and Mercedes, testing their love and resolve, and putting Blackwell's mission in jeopardy.

As was evident in the series' first novel, Captain Blackwell's Prize (click here to read my review), V.E. Ulett is clearly at home writing about 19th century nautical life.  While there is considerable attention paid to detailing the activities involved with running and serving on a ship of war,  Ulett never overwhelms the reader with nautical jargon.  As a result, this is a novel that can be enjoyed by readers already familiar with nautical historical fiction, as well as by those brand new to the genre.   Ulett's characters and prose feel authentic, helping to convey a strong sense of both time and place.   While Captain Blackwell and Mercedes form the core of this novel, Ulett has once again created a solid cast of supporting characters, some of whom carry over from Captain Blackwell's Prize.  

While the characters and plot are engaging, one of my favourite things about Blackwell's Paradise is its setting.  A good deal of this novel is set on the Sandwich Islands, and Ulett does a great job conveying the customs, beliefs and politics of the Islands and its peoples.  While not featured prominently, King Kamehameha has an important role in the novel, and I was intrigued by his quest to control the whole of the Islands.  

Overall, Blackwell's Paradise is an entertaining and educational novel, one that is sure to appeal to fans of nautical historical fiction.  Although Blackwell's Prize can be read as a stand alone novel, I recommend reading Captain Blackwell's Prize first. 

I'm looking forward to finding out what adventures Captain Blackwell and Mercedes embark upon next! 

Rating: 4 out of 5 Stars
Source: I received a copy of Blackwell's Paradise from the author in exchange for a fair and honest review. 

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Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Book Review and Giveaway: Daughter of the Gods by Stephanie Thornton


Egypt, 1400s BC. The pharaoh’s pampered second daughter, lively, intelligent Hatshepsut, delights in racing her chariot through the marketplace and testing her archery skills in the Nile’s marshlands. But the death of her elder sister, Neferubity, in a gruesome accident arising from Hatshepsut’s games forces her to confront her guilt…and sets her on a profoundly changed course.

Hatshepsut enters a loveless marriage with her half brother, Thut, to secure his claim to the Isis Throne and produce a male heir. But it is another of Thut’s wives, the commoner Aset, who bears him a son, while Hatshepsut develops a searing attraction for his brilliant adviser Senenmut. And when Thut suddenly dies, Hatshepsut becomes de facto ruler, as regent to her two-year-old nephew.

Once, Hatshepsut anticipated being free to live and love as she chose. Now she must put Egypt first. Ever daring, she will lead a vast army and build great temples, but always she will be torn between the demands of leadership and the desires of her heart. And even as she makes her boldest move of all, her enemies will plot her downfall….

Once again, Stephanie Thornton brings to life a remarkable woman from the distant past whose willingness to defy tradition changed the course of history.

NAL Trade | May 6, 2014 

My Review

Daughter of the Gods, the latest novel from Stephanie Thornton, tells the story of Hatshepsut, one of only a few females to ever rule as an Egyptian pharaoh.  Having read and enjoyed Thornton's first novel, The Secret History (click here to read my thoughts on it), I jumped at the chance to review this one.  Am I ever glad I did -  I loved this book!   

There is a lot to like about Daughter of the Gods.   The novel's heroine, Hatshepsut, is vividly portrayed.  Even though I didn't always agree with the choices she made, I quickly came to admire Hatsheput's intelligence, perseverance, dedication and sacrifice.  It was not difficult to understand why she is considered one of ancient Egypt's greatest rulers.  In addition to Hatshepsut, Daughter of the Gods is full of memorable characters whether they are figures central to the story or just sit on the periphery of it.  I particularly enjoyed Thornton's characterization of Hatshepsut's nephew Tutmose, her friend Aset (who is also mother to Tutmose), and her bodyguard Nomti. 

Thornton's writing is lovely, and her descriptions of Egyptian royal life and customs help to create a strong sense of both time and place.  I was captivated by Hatshepsut and the world in which she lived right from the opening pages.  Given few details concerning Hatshepsut's life and rule exist, Thornton had significant latitude to fill in the blanks.  Using what little is known of Hatshepsut as a foundation, Thornton has crafted a thoroughly engaging and entirely plausible narrative.  The story moves quickly, never losing focus or getting bogged down in excessive detail.  While the novel comes in at well over 400 pages, Daughter of the Gods doesn't feel like a long book.  In fact, I enjoyed the novel so much that I wouldn't have minded if it had been even longer.  

I noted in my review of The Secret History that Thornton's writing reminds me of Kate Quinn's, and that is still the case.  As I was reading Daughter of the Gods, however, I found myself thinking of Michelle Moran's Egyptian novels.  While I'm a big fan of both Quinn and Moran, after reading both of Thornton's novels she is now the one whose works most stand out for me.  As such, if you love Kate Quinn and Michelle Moran's books you definitely need to check out Stephanie Thornton.  You won't be disappointed.

Highly recommended to all fans of historical fiction, especially those who enjoy reading novels about lesser known historical figures.   I can't wait to read Thornton's next novel, The Tiger Queens

Rating: 5 out of 5 Stars
Source: I received an advanced copy of this novel from the publisher as part of Stephanie Thornton's virtual book tour, in exchange for a fair and honest review.

Daughter of the Gods is currently on tour!  Click here to check out the tour schedule. 

About the Author

Stephanie Thornton is a writer and history teacher who has been obsessed with infamous women from ancient history since she was twelve. She lives with her husband and daughter in Alaska, where she is at work on her next novel.

“The Secret History: A Novel of Empress Theodora” is available from NAL/Penguin, and “Daughter of the Gods: A Novel of Ancient Egypt” will hit the shelves May 2014 and “The Tiger Queens: A Novel of Genghis Khan” will follow in Fall 2014.

For more information, please visit Stephanie Thornton’s website. You can also find her on Facebook, Twitter and Goodreads.


I'm pleased to host a giveaway for one paperback copy of Daughter of the Gods.   Giveaway details are as follows:

- Open to residents of Canada and the United States only;
- To enter simply leave a comment on this post including your email address;
- One entry per person;
- The giveaway will close at midnight (EST) on May 16, 2014.
- The winner will be selected using

Good Luck!

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Friday, May 2, 2014

Book Review - 1066: What Fates Impose by G.K. Holloway


England is in crisis. King Edward has no heir and promises never to produce one. There are no obvious successors available to replace him, but quite a few claimants are eager to take the crown. While power struggles break out between the various factions at court, enemies abroad plot to make England their own. There are raids across the borders with Wales and Scotland.

Harold Godwinson, Earl of Wessex, is seen by many as the one man who can bring stability to the kingdom. He has powerful friends and two women who love him, but he has enemies will stop at nothing to gain power. As 1066 begins, England heads for an uncertain future. It seems even the heavens are against Harold.

Intelligent and courageous, can Harold forge his own destiny – or does he have to bow to what fates impose?

Matador Publishing | March 4, 2013 | 440 pages

My Review

G.K. Holloway's debut novel, 1066: What Fates Impose, transports the reader to England just prior to the Norman Conquest in 1066.  At the centre of this novel is Harold Godwinson, son of England's most powerful nobleman and a respected Earl in his own right, who is best known to history as the English monarch beaten by William the Conqueror at the Battle of Hastings.  But, as is vividly shown in this novel, there was much more to Harold than his last battle. 

Given that G.K. Holloway's novel is not the first work of historical fiction I've read about Harold Godwinson or the events leading up to the Norman invasion, much of 1066's storyline was already familiar to me.  As I'm interested in time period covered by the book, however, I was curious to read Holloway's interpretation of the historical figures and events synonymous with the era.  The novel's principal protagonist, Harold, is portrayed as an honourable, intelligent, and strong man.  This matches the impressions I'd gleaned of Harold from the other Conquest-era novels I've read.  King Edward (aka Edward the Confessor) on the other hand, comes across as a weak ruler, one who too easily puts his trust in those who seek to use him for their own ends.  Aside from well developed characters, another strength of this novel is the attention it pays to the complex politics of the era, both within England and abroad.  But 1066: What Fates Impose is not only a novel of politics and battles, there is also a well-drawn romantic element to the storyline. 

1066: What Fates Impose is a well-written, engaging, and superbly researched work of historical fiction.  Holloway has added enough historical detail to give readers a real flavour for 11th century England while ensuring that the narrative isn't bogged down in it.  Whether you are new to historical fiction set in England around the time of the Conquest, or are already familiar with the period's people and politics, 1066: What Fates Impose is recommended.   I look forward to reading more from G.K. Holloway. 

Rating: 4 out of 5 Stars
Source: I received a copy of this novel as part of G.K. Holloway's virtual book tour in exchange for a fair and honest review.

1066: What Fates Impose has been touring the blogosphere for the past couple of weeks.  Click here to link to additional reviews. 

About the Author

I have been interested in history since I was a boy, which I suppose explains why, when I came across a degree course in History and Politics at Coventry University that looked tailor made for me, I applied right away.

In my first year at Coventry I lived in the halls of residence within a stone’s throw of the Leofric Hotel. In the opposite direction, just a short walk from my halls, is the bell tower that houses a clock, which when its bell chimes the hour, produces a half size model of naked Lady Godiva riding a horse for the titillation of tourists. Above her, Peeping Tom leans out of a window for a better view. In all of the three years I was there, it never once occurred to me that I would one day write a book featuring Earl Leofric and his famous wife, as key players.

After graduating I spent a year in Canada before I returned to England to train as a Careers Officer in Bristol. Later, I lived and worked in Gloucestershire as a Careers Officer and then in Adult Education as an Education Guidance worker.

After I met my wife, I moved back to Bristol to live and I worked at Bath Spa University as a Student Welfare Officer for a number of years. It was about this time I read a biography about King Harold II which fascinated me so much I read more and more about the man and the times. I found the whole pre-conquest period of England so interesting I couldn’t understand why no one had written a novel about it. So, I decided to write one myself. Now, after many years of study and time spent over a hot keyboard, I have finally produced thatnovel.

1066: What Fates Impose is the result of all that study and hard work and is the first book I’ve written. I am now working on a sequel.

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