Tuesday, 22 December 2015

Rob Reviews: Varangian - King of the Norse: Volume 2 by Stuart G. Yates

The author of this book has kindly offered a copy of the book to one lucky reader. To be in with a chance to win, just leave a comment below or on our Facebook page

"Hardrada aided me in Scicily, don't forget that."
"And still you put him behind bars. There is no love lost between you, that is certain."
"The man has ambitions. he has grown tired of Byzantium and needs to find his own way, have songs sung about him, not us. He cannot be trusted."
"Yet he did vanquish the Scythians. Without his influence, the Varangians would never have come and crushed those heathen dogs, and Michael would still rule."
Mankiakes studied the dregs of his wine, declining to answer or lend support to the holy man's words.

Stuart Yates’ brilliant Varangian left us at a crossroads regarding the Byzantine throne; the perverse and tyrannical Michael V had been deposed and Harald Sigurdsson and his Varangians had proved their usefulness in helping oust the incumbent and defeat his Scythian Bodyguards. If Harald thought for a moment that this has improved his position at court he was sadly mistaken.

Nature abhors a vacuum and with Michael blinded and exiled and his backers removed, those with the mutual cause of plotting his downfall begin to pick at the bonds that tied each to the other. This is Byzantium – New Rome - a city of political intrigue and deceit. Those who once were useful tools now become threats to be disposed of, while those once ignored become pawns to be moved on the shadowed chess board.

Layer upon layer of plots, deceit and double dealings abound, as different factions scheme; allowing us (the readers) to reacquaint ourselves with characters met in Varangian including the Patriarch Alexius, General Maniakes and his ex-lover and hand maiden to Zoe – Leoni.  Those who deposed Emperor Michael now are the subject of plots against themselves, as others attempt to pull the strings of the would be puppet masters. Despite her best efforts Leoni is denied a semblance of a normal life as she is dragged back into the intrigue – but she has guile and weapons of her own honed during her time at court. The attractions of sex, wealth and power, are an intoxicating brew for all the characters and will lead once more to betrayal and murder.

Meanwhile as Byzantium looks within itself threats grow on the borders of the Empire as Bulgars and Normans grow increasingly bold in their hunger for Imperial lands. But even these incursions could prove useful to those with thoughts of ambition or revenge.

Harald has grown tired of the constant plotting of the Byzantine court; he now wishes to secure his treasure, earned during his time as commander of the Varangian guard, and head homeward to secure the throne of Norway for himself. To get his treasure he has to get past the machinations of his one-time lover, the vengeful Empress Zoe. To succeed he will have to become as sly as those he despises and play along with those who would underestimate both his intelligence and his ruthlessness…

About the Author
Originally from Wallasey, Merseyside, Stuart waited 35 years before getting a degree at university
and embarking on a career in teaching. He's been writing since the age of 12 and was finally published in 2009. Not wishing to be pigeon-holed, Stuart writes the kind of stories he would wish to read himself, in a variety of genres including historical fiction, thrillers, horror and westerns.

Rob Bayliss is a reviewer at The Review and is currently writing his own fantasy series. Information on his writing projects can be found at Flint & Steel, Fire & Shadow.

Sunday, 20 December 2015

The Search for Ethan By Robert Cowan - Reviewed by Robert Southworth

Luckily for us, the author is offering 2 ebook copies of The Search for Ethan to be drawn on the Sunday 3rd of January. Just leave a comment on the blog below or on our Facebook page.

Robert Southworth! I hear you cry, how can it be that you are reviewing a book that has neither a musket nor toga in sight?  Well the clue is in the blurb…
'A gritty contemporary drama, brimming with dark humour. Two typical teenage lives are transformed after a night of hallucinogenic experimentation, when the subsequent bad trip spills into their real lives with tragic consequences. A desperate but comically bizarre search for redemption begins, with help from an unlikely source.'
   I have to admit, that dark humour is a weakness of mine.  However, enough of my weaknesses, and onto the novel. The Search for Ethan is a modern tale, indeed many of us could recognise many of the characters from our hometown or even dare I say it, out own family. The book itself has a number of main characters and switches to and fro between each of their points of views as varying catastrophes erupt. It’s an interesting style of writing, one of which I have never been a great fan but I have to admit, that within this novel it really works and only serves to enhance the storyline. A point on the storyline, this book does not throw you headlong into it straight away. For me, and others may think differently it places the characters first, as a grand master positions his chess pieces before moving in for check mate. This being the case, a reader may ask, well the writing’s brilliant, the characters a joy but where is the story? Trust me, just as you are thinking this, the novel shifts up a gear, and the tale erupts from the pages.
   Now I feel I have to discuss the characters. I have no hesitation in declaring this book my favourite of 2015 when it comes to the creation of characters. Vibrant and colourful in terms of the people themselves and the language used they are a triumph for the writer and a joy for the reader to experience. My personal favourite is Margo,  mother of one of the main characters. Everything about her should make you squirm and cause an instant dislike but in truth in many ways I see her as a hero of the book, others may see it differently. Here we have a quote from the book as Margo searches for the man who has led her son astray (warning strong language).
 “Fuck! What!?What?”
“Where the fuck is Ian dick head?!”
“I don’t fucking know do I.”
Margo began opening drawers until she found what she was looking for. Weasel’s breath abruptly stopped as the blade made contact with the base of his already tender penis.
“Oh fuck, oh fuck, oh fuck…” muttered Weasel dementedly.
“Oh fuck indeed…” replied Margo with the calmness of the end game and certain victory.
As you can see this is not a children’s book. That said, the language is colourful but in keeping with the characters and storyline. The novel addresses complex issues with sensitivity and dark humour, and a great deal of skill by the author. There are no good and bad guys as such, but as in real life most of the characters are capable of positive and negative acts in equal measure, and sometimes great stupidity.
“You’ve killed him,” she whispered.
“Indeed I have,” he replied, his voice tinged with pride.
“Oh my God, what have you done?”
“Eh? Saved your life that’s what I’ve done. I’m a fucking hero.”
The girl started screaming and Stevie heroically, punched her in the mouth…
To summarize I would say the book is something different, and hard to categorize in its approach to the telling of a story. The reader is at the same time mesmerised, delighted and repulsed by the behaviour of some of its main protagonists. As my reviewing is set to come to end for this year, I have no hesitation in declaring this book by Robert Cowan, has been my favourite read of 2015. Its unusual style and brilliant characters have been a joy, and an education for a fellow writer.

About the Author

Robert Cowan lives in a small town in Scotland with his family and a couple of cats. He has always had a love for music and whilst studying for a degree in mechanical engineering bought a drum kit. Despite not making it in the music business the author continued to want to express himself and turned to writing. The Search For Ethan is his debut. A second novel 'Daydreams and Devils' has also been recently published.

You can learn more at http://robertcowanbooks.com/

Robert Southworth is the author of his Spartacus novels.  Robert can be found on 

Monday, 14 December 2015

Alaric reviews: The Book of Zev by Marilyn Horowitz

The author kindly has kindly donated a hardback book and 2 e-books as prizes. To be in with the chance of winning simply comment here on the Blog or on our Facebook page

The Book of Zev is all about questions, chances, and changes. We must constantly ponder what we are and what we will be, or should be. We have lost chances, chances that come that we never notice; chances we take, and the changes we must face as a result of all of them. Life grinds us through many paths, some unkind, others we love. In The Book of Zev, you can easily relate to the ones in the lives of Sarah and Zev. You could also say the book is also about religion, what man makes of gods and beliefs, how religion makes us stronger or weaker, and how perhaps there is a spark of righteousness even in those of us who do not worship or who doubt their beliefs. It’s also a very clever political thriller with well-crafted, real characters.

Sarah is a Jewish kosher chef, struggling with disappointments and her questions about religion. She is feeling lost because of her divorce and her past choices, and deals with the issues with yoga and alcohol. There is another troubled soul, Zev, also a Jew, who is not sure where he belongs in life and the Jewish community; and what his purpose in life truly might be. But when he meets Sarah, he also finds a promise of stability for him. Both Sarah and Zev find some answers and comfort in Gwydion, their guide, and it is through this man they find common ground. There will be challenges, and a purpose for both.

There is the change.

Sarah meets a powerful man from her past, a dangerous man she once was, and still is, in love with, so things get complicated because their relationship is something that is frowned upon by their respective societies. The relationship becomes an opportunity to stop the man from doing something monstrous and wrong. Ultimately, confused but brave, Sarah and the suffering Zev have to decide if they will stand together against what is inhuman, even if it means betraying trust, love, and risking their lives. The lost souls find that despite the open questions and lost chances, they can make a real change in life still.

The characters are the meat of the story. They are very real, and one can easily relate to their lives. The personalities have flaws, severe flaws, and a genuine wish to be better, almost to be a child again, when everything was simpler. The story starts slowly, and that’s ok, because it is building the personalities, letting us inch into their lives making us care for them, and fear for the danger they will face.

The story flowed well. It is soft and at first purposefully sneaks forward, and then grows powerful and meaningful, right when it should. It’s a very good political thriller with very real, troubled people you will root for. For example, how could you not like Zev, who, upon hearing Sarah’s voice,
thinks that is how Moses must have felt when the Red Sea parted?

About the author

Marilyn Horowitz is an award-winning New York University professor, author, producer, and Manhattan-based writing coach, who works with successful novelists, produced screenwriters, and award-winning filmmakers.

 Alaric Longward is a dad, a husband and an aspiring writer who creates fiction, fantasy adventure and drama. You can find more about him and his books at his official pages and his Amazon author page.

Tuesday, 8 December 2015

Anna reviews: Permanent Spring Showers by Scott D Southard

The author of this book has kindly offered a ebooks to each of four lucky readers. To be in with a chance to win, just leave a comment below or on our Facebook page.

The draw will be announced on 16th December

On the morning of Rebecca’s departure to an important conference, her husband surprises her – putting it mildly – by admitting to having been unfaithful with one of Rebecca’s students. She is hurt. She is angry. She is not at all her normal rational self. Enter Vince, and life as Rebecca knows it will never be quite the same again.
   We have all, I suppose, experienced “human solar systems”. You know, groups of people who orbit round a self-evident pivot, a person in whose light they all want to bask. This person is generally one of the “it” people. Popular, charming, quite often handsome as well, this is the person all those circling hangers-on want to emulate – in one way or the other.
   Vince has IT. In spades. He has bright blue eyes and hair he has dyed black to make him look more like a certain Mr Darcy. To further the resemblance, Vince also speaks with a British accent despite being from Boston, and by now he has almost managed to convince himself he is British, having created an entire backstory that has him enrolling in the London School of Arts before ending up in Vermont. An extremely talented artist, Vince is also a charismatic individual, attracting quite the following of both men and women who find him totally irresistible. Vince is the star at the centre of the Vince universe, and all his little satellites whirl around him, eager for his light, his affection.
   Marty wants to look like Vince. Jenn is impressed by Vince. Steve gladly hangs out with Vince. Viv is in love with Vince, and Ralph loves Vince. Our magnet guy is mainly in love with his art – and himself – but is not above using his physical appeal to further his artistic career. Which is why he sleeps regularly with Ralph, who sort of bankrolls Vince’s existence.
   Ralph is a closet homosexual, living in constant fear that his conservative parents will revoke the generous trust funds he lives off should they find out his little secret. Enter Lilly, Ralph’s athletic wife who charms the pants off Ralph’s parents and has a tendresse for a lady called Stacy.
   And then there is Steve, presently trying to survive the breakup with Anna. We have Jenn, an up and coming writer who sees Vince as her muse, and Steve as her experiment. There are the oddly disparate twins Mary and Marty – Mary’s entire life is a dream in pink, while poor Marty plods along in an existence best described as grey, no matter how much he tries to look like dashing Vince. It doesn’t exactly help that Marty’s girlfriend, Viv, has the hots for Vince.
Rebecca knows nothing about Vince or his little group of human satellites when she ends up in bed with him at that so important conference. All she knows is that she is hurting, and here is a handsome young man who speaks Jane Austen English and woos her with poetic language, and a single-minded attention that makes her feel as if she’s the only woman on the planet. And she has no idea that this one night of passion indirectly sets in motion a creative surge that will lead to two artistic masterpieces, several crushed lives, an immense conflagration, and a new beginning.
While Vince sets out to seduce her, he did not expect to fall so hard for this woman ten years his senior – and even less did he expect her to be the one to break things off. Rejection is not something Vince is used to, and the resulting emotions cause him to create a work of art that has one single purpose: to bring Rebecca back to him.
Well, dear readers, there you have it: the stage is set, and Permanent Spring Showers goes on to deliver quite the emotional roller-coaster as all these relationships overlap, gnaw at each other and collide. Permanent Spring Showers is not only about human relationships, it is also about art – and the cost it comes with. Frustrated, ambitious Jenn wants to create an entire new literary genre, and in her dedicated approach to her goal, she is happy to walk all over her friends, invading their privacy, manipulating their reactions, and high-fiving herself when things go just how she has planned them – despite the emotional cost to the people involved. Jenn is a taker – she sucks her friends dry without even noticing it. Or maybe she does, but if so she doesn’t care. Jenn is all about her opus.
Vince, on the other hand, is at times as narcissistic, as single-minded – but he does care for people, and he is more than aware of his capacity to break people’s hearts right, left and centre, so he issues explicit warnings to those who drool all over him. Ultimately, he will use them – but he blows his horn before he runs them over, and he is deeply insulted when Rebecca calls him a “leech”. Vince, you see, is on a mission to elevate the humdrum lives of all the people around him by creating magnificent art, pictures that will speak to the soul and release the goodness within. Such a mission does not go hand in hand with being called a leech…
   The story is told through multiple POVs – ten at my last counting. Each of these POVs has been gifted with a distinctive voice – in itself an achievement – and to further complicate things, Mr Southard leaps between third person and first person, between snippets from Jenn’s WIP novel, to Jenn’s entries in her diary (always, rather entertainingly, addressed to one of Jenn’s literary heroes). He manages all this with impressive elegance, dragging the reader along through a story as multi-layered as an onion.
What I really liked was how Mr Southard approaches his characters. They are presented as they are, and the reader is allowed to like them or dislike them as they please – the author does not predispose us towards one or the other, he merely depicts.
As the book progresses, many of the protagonists grow on you. Ralph, for example, quickly expands from a caricatured rich boy to a tormented soul, a man who lives locked up in himself and is quickly reaching breaking point. Steve is for the most part sane, Jenn is mostly crazy, and Bob, Rebecca’s husband, just doesn’t have a clue – not even when he spends hours staring at Vince’s magnificent mural which depicts his naked wife in the throes of passion. A clear case of seeing what one wants to see, so to say…
   And as to Vince, this somewhat flawed but so talented man is saved by his introspection. Vince knows what he is, what drives him and what he wants to achieve. He is ashamed of how he treats some of the people around him, but does not perceive he has a choice. For Vince, life is all about art. Even when things literarily go up in flames around him, Vince does not see the destruction – he sees the opportunity for even greater art. Ironically, he has no idea that he may have created more than he counted on – and no, I will not clarify further.
Mr Southard has written a complicated, twisting story and the fact that he succeeds in bringing it all together is testament to his significant writing skills. All those POVs do now and then result in POV slippages, but all in all, Mr Southard has his various creations under tight control – and what an impressive array of characters he presents us with! Add to this fast-paced dialogue, excellent description and a gift for peppering his text with humoristic observations of the day-to-day, and you have a novel that is at times challenging but always rewarding. Very rewarding.  

Permanent Spring Showers can be found on Amazon.

About the author

UNIVERSAL BUY LINK:  http://getbook.at/PSS
Barnes and Nobles

Scott D. Southard is the author of A Jane Austen Daydream, My Problem With Doors, Megan, and other works of literary fiction. His eclectic writing has also found its way into radio, as Scott was the creator of the radio comedy series The Dante Experience. He received his Master's in writing from the University of Southern California. Scott can be found on the internet via his writing blog “The Musings & Artful Blunders of Scott D. Southard" (sdsouthard.com) where he writes on topics ranging from writing, art, books, TV, writing, parenting, life, movies, and writing. He even shares original fiction on the site. Scott is also the fiction book reviewer for WKAR's daily radio show Current State. 
Anna Belfrage is the author of the acclaimed The Graham Saga. Set in the 17th century, this is the story of Matthew Graham and his time-travelling wife, Alex Lind. The first book in her next series, The King’s Greatest Enemy, was published on November 1, and is set in the England of the 1320s. Anna can be found on amazon, twitter, facebook and on her website.