Saturday, 27 February 2016


The Author has very graciously offered an ebook copy of this wonderfully written book.
 To get your name in the hat for the draw, all you need to do is leave a comment below
 or if you prefer, you can leave a comment  on our Facebook Page.
The draw takes place on the 5th March

 ‘Seek and ye shall find’
   Ox Herding by Jackie Griffiths is not a book that I would have normally chosen to read. Its genre would most likely come under Philosophy, Religious, Spiritual and generally I would steer clear of these types of books in the book shop, mainly because when I’m looking for a book to read, its more likely to be of the blood and battles.variety. However, I had a preview of this book when it was submitted for review, and I was intrigued by the first few pages I read. I cannot put my finger on why, but something about this book caught me and hooked me in, and so, I decided to give it a go.

   The plot is about a young woman, Jae, who loses her beloved grandmother and yearns to find the peace and contentment that her gran seems to have found in the end of her days. Like Jae, Grandma Vivian was thinker – a philosopher; and Jae had spent many Sunny afternoons, sharing tea and cake, with her, pondering over the meaning of life and whether or not there was a God. Jae would ask her wise and seemingly intellectual granny, a number of metaphysical questions, and Grandma Vivian would reply by asking another question, in effect handing the original thought back to her granddaughter to explore more in depth. But when Vivian passes away, Jae is bereft and falls into a deep depression, losing interest in life, her little daughter, her partner and the things that she enjoys. She is left wondering "what is the point?"

   Jae receives a letter from the solicitor, informing her that she has been left a small amount of money that might be enough for her to start a business. Also with the solicitor’s letter, is enclosed a white envelope from her gran with the words inside,
‘Seek and ye shall find.’
 Suddenly, her soul is stirred and she is filled with a desire to know and prompts her to ask:
What is the point of all this? Who am I? What is the truth? Why am I doing this? Is there a God?
   There are ten chapters, all rooted within the sequential phases of understanding of life, as presented in ‘The Ten Ox Herding Pictures’, from the Chinese philosophical classic. Through these chapters, Jae journeys to discover the meaning and secrets of an enlightened life. As I began reading and getting to know Jae, a thirty-something woman, having recently moved out of her partner’s home with their daughter to live with her parents again, I was reminded of a similar situation I had once had in my own life. At 26, I had run away from a damaging relationship to live with my parents and baby boy. Though Jae had not split from her partner, and her reasons for leaving him were more about financial and logistical reasons rather than a relationship that had ended, I felt as if I knew where she was coming from, because like Jae, I was searching for a purpose, a meaning and a reason for living. It was, as I remember, a dark time for me, just as it was for Jae.

   This book is like no other I have ever read before, and I had at some time in my life, looked at various religions and ways of living on my own journey. It might have been likely that back then, more than 25 years ago, I might also have picked up this book, out of interest. Now, I think I know where I am going and although I don’t believe I have ‘arrived’, my days of reading spiritual novels, or texts, are long gone. So I amazed myself, when I found myself looking forward to the next time I could pick up where I left off.

   Written in a ‘Carrollesque’ style ( I picked up on this before I’d seen this mentioned in the blurb on Goodreads), I saw strong resemblances to Jae’s character to that of Alice in Wonderland. She is a curious persona, not afraid to question the mystical presences she meets on the path to her enlightenment. She is also able to challenge them, in an Alice-type way. Jae is stumped by her Granny Vivian’s note – ‘seek and you shall find’, and has no idea where to start looking. But one day, she takes notice of a picture of a bull and its herder. It is these two components of this strange wall picture, that she wonders why she bought, who become very important to Jae on her journey, as the reader shall see when she comes across them on the path.

   The author has written the book in the present tense, which adds a delightful dream-like element to the narrative. She cleverly incorporates the Zen philosophy of the Ten Ox Herding pictures into Jae’s journey, starting with her interviewing various promoters of numerous religions and philosophies. As Jae travels through the spiritual encampment she has stumbled upon, she searches for the truth – the meaning of life - and it is not until she has questioned each spiritual entity, danced the tango with an ox and whipped a subservient bull, that she finds what she is looking for. Sound strange? One might think so, but this book is very thought provoking and has certainly made me think, deeply, about my own beliefs.

   I would definitely recommend this book, especially if you are spiritually inclined. It's different, quirky, and I very much liked that element. Its also deep, but not deep, if you know what I mean. Its easy to read. Although the author describes it as a 'secular journey to find oneself' I find it a very spiritual read, for not all spirituality needs to come from religion.
“It’s as if I’ve lost something mysterious or profound, but I’ve no idea what…How can I begin to search for something if I don’t know what it is I’ve lost? Or even whether I have lost anything in the first place…”
The answer is simple… “Seek and you shall find…”

About the Author

Jackie Griffiths has a BSc in Psychology and Computing and an MA in Psychoanalytic Studies, and has been writing fiction and non-fiction material for twenty years. In 2003 she founded an online copywriting business providing content for websites, print and digital media, before selling up to concentrate on her novels and short stories. She now lives in abject poverty in the freezing ruins of an old sewage works somewhere in the UK, where she is working on her third novel.

Ox Herding can be purchased on Amazon UK and Amazon .Com
And you can read more about Jackie on her Facebook page.
and Twitter

Paula Lofting is the author of Sons of the Wolf  and founder of The Review. She is currently writing a blog to commemorate the 950th anniversary of the Battle of Hastings and the Norman Invasion of England which can be found on her website

Monday, 15 February 2016

Richard reviews: Britannia's Spartan, by Antoine Vanner

The author of this book has kindly offered a printed copy of Britannia's Spartan to one lucky reader. To be in with a chance to win, just leave a comment below or on our Facebook page.
The draw will be announced about a week after this post.
Cover - Britannia's Spartan

Britannia's Spartan is the fourth in Antoine Vanner's Dawlish series. The earlier ones are Britannia's Wolf, Britannia's Reach, and Britannia's Shark. I have been following these from the beginning and have very much enjoyed the introduction to the world of the Royal Navy of the late nineteenth century. 

This was a period of vast technological and social change. At the start of Nicholas Dawlish's fictional life, naval battles were still fought between wooden sailing ships armed with muzzle-loading cannon, of a basic design unchanged since Tudor times. By the time of Britannia's Spartan - the 1880s - he is commanding a steel-hulled ship driven by steam power, with breech-loading guns mounted in sponsons, carrying and being vulnerable to torpedoes. Rudimentary submarines were under development. The only major game-changer in naval warfare which did not appear in the nineteenth century was the aircraft, and these would also make their appearance before Dawlish's death in 1918 (still many books away, I am happy to say).

So, somebody in Dawlish's position had to master an ever-changing series of demands, if he was to continue to progress in his career. Men like Dawlish had been inspired by the careers of Nelson, Pellew, and the like, but the practical business of running a ship had changed radically since their day.
HMS Leander, a sister-ship to Leonidas (Wiki)

At this time England was, at least nominally, at peace. Ship captains were expected to have the ability to represent both their nation and their monarch as surrogate diplomats, not simply as warriors. However, the reality of service in foreign waters, accompanied by a degree of isolation from superior officers which is hard for us to contemplate, meant that every encounter could potentially be hostile. Some countries held grudges against England, and some factions within a country might attempt a surprise attack to gain some political advantage. There was, quite simply, no way to be sure whether the ship seen coming over the horizon was friend or foe. Dawlish's career, and the lives of his crew, depend constantly on his making the right assessment.

Approaching one of the city gates in Seoul, Korea, late 19th century (Daily Mail)
Each Dawlish book so far has focused on a different theatre of action. Britannia's Spartan takes our hero to the Far East, where rivalries and alliances between Korea, China, Japan and Russia have to be understood, and then turned to British advantage. For Dawlish, these cultures are opaque and challenging, as well as stirring up difficult memories of the early years of his naval service. Is he able to identify friend and foe quickly enough to meet the challenges, both on the field of battle and in the political arena?
Upper-class Korean lady with servants in attendance, 1904 (Daily Mail)

In earlier books, Dawlish's naval battles, when they are forced on him, have often been in confined spaces such as river valleys, or around coastlines. Here, on the other hand, we are able to witness him working in the open sea. Ship handling, rather than judicious use of the terrain, is the key to success. Dawlish's ship, Leonidas, is technologically ahead of many ships in this part of the world, but not necessarily all of them. The skills of captain and crew must make up for any shortfall.

But sometimes battle has to be declined, and Dawlish must weigh carefully the consequences of both action and inaction. One of the most poignant moments in the book - and perhaps the one best illustrating Dawlish's own development as a ship captain - is when he has to decide not to provide help to a Chinese landing party who have been ambushed. Never reinforce failure is a military maxim used by von Clausewitz, Napoleon and countless others, back into antiquity and forward to the present day - and Dawlish is forced to adhere to the maxim despite the human cost. In the end he is able to redress the balance, but the moment has clearly weighed very heavily on his soul.
British naval scene, late 1880s (Navyweb)

Both militarily and politically, Britannia's Spartan is a very strong book. Challenges must be faced at sea, during marine landings, and in ornate houses and palaces of state. It is a different world than the Victorian England that Dawlish has left behind. My only regret is that we meet so little of Florence, Dawlish's wife, who is a splendid character in her own right. Given the geographical setting, this was inevitable, but I still missed her.

All in all, Britannia's Spartan comes strongly recommended by me, whether or not you have read the earlier books in the series. Each is self-contained, and you can start to know Dawlish and his career at any point.

About the author:
My name is Antoine Vanner and I write naval fiction set in the period 1859 to 1918. As such I'm dealing with a period of very rapid technological and political development, one in which "The Age of Fighting Sail" evolved somewhat painfully into "The Age of Fighting Steam".

The hero of my fiction is an ambitious Royal Navy officer, Nicholas Dawlish (1845-1918). For me he's a real person whose life I am continuing to research in ever greater detail, and you can find a short summary of his life on the following link: A Life of Service and Adventure.

The first book in the Dawlish series - Britannia's Wolf - is now also available via Audible, read by US actor and drama professor David Doersch.

Find out more at his blog, on Facebook, or Twitter.

Richard Abbott lives in London, England. He writes historical fiction set in the ancient Middle East - Egypt, Canaan and Israel - and also science fiction about our solar system in the fairly near future.

When not writing words or computer code, he enjoys spending time with family, walking, and wildlife, ideally combining all three pursuits in the English Lake District. He is the author of In a Milk and Honeyed Land, Scenes From a LifeThe Flame Before Us - and most recently Far from the Spaceports. He can be found at his website or blog, on Google+, Goodreads, Facebook and Twitter.

Monday, 8 February 2016

Sharon Reviews: The Serpent Sword by Matthew Harffy

The author has kindly donated a signed copy of the book as a giveaway. To be in with a chance of winning, just leave a comment at the bottom of the blog, or on our Facebook page.The winner will be drawn on Monday 15th January.

Certain that his brother's death is murder, young farmhand Beobrand embarks on a quest for revenge in war-torn Northumbria. When he witnesses barbaric acts at the hands of warriors he considers his friends, Beobrand questions his chosen path and vows to bring the men to justice.
Relentless in pursuit of his enemies, Beobrand faces challenges that change him irrevocably. Just as a great sword is forged by beating together rods of iron, so his adversities transform him from a farm boy to a man who stands strong in the clamour and gore of the shieldwall.
As he closes in on his kin's slayer and the bodies begin to pile up, can Beobrand mete out the vengeance he craves without sacrificing his own honour...or even his soul?
The Serpent Sword is the first novel of the Bernicia Chronicles.

The Serpent Sword is Matthew Harffy's debut novel (not that you would know it), and the first installment of his Bernicia Chronicles. Set in the turbulence of 7th century Northumbria, The Serpent Sword is a wonderful story full of action, adventure, betrayal ... and just a little romance. The novel leads you across the countryside of the ancient kingdom of Bernicia, taking you from battlefield, to ancient strongholds or small villages and religious settlements; meeting heroes and villains, friends and foes along the way. The fast-paced action leaves you eager to see how the story ends while experiencing a wealth of emotions along the way.

The two-fold story-line keeps you on your toes, seeing the young hero tackling the enemies of Bernicia - in the forces of Penda and Cadwallon - whilst searching for his brother's killer.
There are some moments of 'head-hopping' in the book, where the author changes the focus of thoughts between the characters. Where this can be confusing in some books, it tends to work well in The Serpent Sword and, to be honest, while it was noticeable at the beginning as I got further into the book, I became less and less aware of it.

The novel is a treasure trove of human experiences; wild, untamed landscapes and people fighting to overcome nature and their enemies in order to make decent lives for themselves.  Life is short and often brutal, and the author does not spare you from the tragedy, but tempers it with stories of deep friendships and a little bit of love.

The story is original and entertaining, with even a little humour thrown in:

 "It cuts the land from east to west," Bassus said. Beobrand thought there could be no way such a huge thing could exist, but it disappeared into the distance in each direction and Bassus seemed serious.
"Who could have built such a wall?" Leofwine had asked as they made their way through a gap in the Wall, amazed at the scale of the stone edifice.
"The same people who made that angel floor back in Engelmynster, I'd imagine," Bassus had answered. "Some say they were giants, but they were just men far to the south. They built the road we're walking on too, I'd wager."
"I wonder what happened to them," Leofwine had pondered.  

The descriptions of fighting are authentic and the author's description of the shield-wall is at the same time accurate and terrifying, thorough and frightening. You can almost hear the clash of arms and the screams of the wounded. The action is frenetic, while the story itself has a depth to it that leaves you speechless.

Matthew Harffy's characters are wonderful creations, exciting, human and - in the case of the bad guys - suitably despicable. From the moment you start reading you are aware you are going on an incredible journey of discovery, though where it will take you and what you will experience along the way are still a mystery.

"Well, Beobrand, Eanflaed here tells me you were in the stables, in the dark. What were you doing there?"Beobrand did not even contemplate lying.
"Grieving for the loss of my brother, sisters and parents, sire," he said, his voice breaking. "I did not want to cry in front of everyone." 
The hall was now completely silent, save for the crackling of the fire and the sound of the dogs crunching bones under the tables. Everyone was straining to hear what was said.

Throughout the novel we follow the adventures of young Beobrand, a young man who has lost more or less everything, and is looking for his place in the world. He is aware of his own demons, but still somewhat naive and easily trusts the wrong people - at first. The Serpent Sword traces the hero's story from his arrival in Northumbria in search of his brother, Octa, through his first disastrous battle, from which he barely survives. But this battle is also the springboard from which his adventure really starts. What follows are a series of events and experiences that turn him from a naive boy learning to fight, into a confident, experienced warrior.

The author has managed to include a wonderful, eclectic mix of characters, who help or hinder our hero on his way; from a friendly young monk, to great war leaders and Sunniva, Beobrand's lover, a  young woman who gives Beobrand a purpose and reason to fight.

Beobrand's nemesis is Hengist; a truly nasty individual. A warrior who appears to have lost all humanity and almost makes Beobrand do the same - almost. 

The enmity between  the two is the driving force behind the novel.

The story is set in 7th century Bernicia - what is now Northumbria - with the action moving from the imposing fortress of Bebbanburgh (Bamburgh Castle) through the wilds of modern-day Northumbria and Yorkshire. Matthew Harffy has done his research well and this shows in his attention to detail; from the weaponry and fighting tactics to the villages and their residents, and the bleak reality that the people need each other - and their warriors - in order to survive

The story-line grabs your attention and leads you on many twists and turns, building up to a wonderful, all-consuming climax. The Serpent Sword is a marvelous, action-packed story from start  to finish. It takes you on a roller-coaster ride of action and emotion that leaves you breathless and eager for more, which is why book 2 of the Bernicia Chronicles, The Cross and The Curse is next on my reading list....


Matthew Harffy lived in Northumberland as a child and the area had a great impact on him. The rugged terrain, ruined castles and rocky coastline made it easy to imagine the past. Decades later, a documentary about Northumbria's Golden Age sowed the kernel of an idea for a series of historical fiction novels. The first of them is the action-packed tale of vengeance and coming of age, The Serpent Sword. The sequel is The Cross and The Curse.
Matthew has worked in the IT industry, where he spent all day writing and editing, just not the words that most interested him. Prior to that he worked in Spain as an English teacher and translator. He has co-authored seven published academic articles, ranging in topic from the ecological impact of mining to the construction of a marble pipe organ.
Matthew lives in Wiltshire, England, with his wife and their two daughters.
When not writing, or spending time with his family, Matthew sings in a band called Rock Dog.
The Serpent Sword
The Cross and the Curse

Sharon Bennett Connolly has been fascinated by history for over 30 years. She has studied history academically and just for the joy of it – even working as a tour guide at historical sites. She is now having great fun passing on that love of the past to her 10-year-old son. Having received a blog, History...The Interesting Bits as a present for Christmas 2014 she is also enjoying sharing her obsession of history with her readers.