Lindsey Davis – Deadly Election

lindseydavis-deadlyelectionIn the blazing July heat of imperial Rome, Flavia Albia inspects a decomposing corpse. It has been discovered in lots to be auctioned by her family business, so she’s determined to identify the dead man and learn how he met his gruesome end.

The investigation will give her a chance to work with the magistrate, Manlius Faustus, the friend she sadly knows to be the last chaste man in Rome. But he’s got other concerns than her anonymous corpse. It’s election time and with democracy for sale at Domitian’s court, tension has come to a head. Faustus is acting as an agent for a ‘good husband and father’, whose traditional family values are being called into question. Even more disreputable are his rivals, whom Faustus wants Albia to discredit.

As Albia’s and Faustus’ professional and personal partnership deepens they have to accept that, for others, obsession can turn sour, and become a deadly strain that leads, tragically, to murder.

Deadly Election is book three in the Flavia Albia series and returns us to Rome about a month after the events of the previous book Enemies at Home. This book was a lot of fun, but in some ways far more about Albia and Faustus than about the case. We learn more about Albia’s role as her father’s representative at the family auction house, about Faustus’ past, and perhaps most importantly and most entertainingly the developing bond between Albia en Faustus.  Read More …

Lindsey Davis – Enemies at Home

lyndseydavis-enemiesathomeWe first met Flavia Albia, Falco’s feisty adopted daughter, in The Ides of April. Albia is a remarkable woman in what is very much a man’s world: young, widowed and fiercely independent, she lives alone on the Aventine Hill in Rome and makes a good living as a hired investigator. An outsider in more ways than one, Albia has unique insight into life in ancient Rome, and she puts it to good use going places no man could go, and asking questions no man could ask.

Even as the dust settles from her last case, Albia finds herself once again drawn into a web of lies and intrigue. Two mysterious deaths at a local villa may be murder and, as the household slaves are implicated, Albia is once again forced to involve herself. Her fight is not just for truth and justice, however; this time, she’s also battling for the very lives of people who can’t fight for themselves.

It’s once more unto the breech for Flavia Alba in the second book of her series, Enemies at Home. I enjoyed the first of this series, The Ides of April, but for some reason I never managed to fit in the next book onto the reviewing schedule. With book three in the series released last month, this historical fiction month seemed like a great time to catch up on both of the books. And I have to say I enjoyed Enemies at Home even more than I did The Ides of AprilRead More …

Ray Celestin – The Axeman’s Jazz

raycelestin-theaxemansjazzNew Orleans, 1919. As a dark serial killer – The Axeman – stalks the city, three individuals set out to unmask him.

Detective Lieutenant Michael Talbot, heading up the official investigation, and harbouring a grave secret, is struggling to find leads. Former detective Luca d’Andrea, working with the mafia, whose need to solve the mystery of the Axeman is every bit as urgent as that of the authorities. Meanwhile, Ida, a secretary at the Pinkerton Detective Agency, stumbles across a clue which lures her and her musician friend, Louis Armstrong, to the case and into terrible danger . . .

As Michael, Luca and Ida each draw closer to discovering the killer’s identity, the Axeman himself will issue a challenge to the people of New Orleans: play jazz or risk becoming the next victim.

The Axeman’s Jazz has been languishing on my TBR shelves for a year. I’d originally planned to read it for last year’s historical fiction month in conjunction with my interview with its author, Ray Celestin, but the best laid plans and all that. Thus I decided that The Axeman’s Jazz should be my first book read for this year’s historical fiction month. And it ended up making me kick myself for not reading it last year, because it was a fascinating read.  Read More …

Oskar Jensen – The Yelling Stones

oskarjensen-theyellingstones“It was the first day of spring. The Yelling Stones, snow-swaddled, loomed before the great hall that bore their name and waited for something to happen. It would not take long…”

Astrid Gormsdottir cannot wait for the snow to melt so that she can ride freely through field and forest. But on her first spring ride she is attacked by wolves, only to be saved by a newcomer, a boy named Leif. And as winter ends there are whispers of a terrifying beast, trolls being attacked and witches on the move.

Astrid and Leif must join forces to face an unknown danger that threatens their very way of life.

The tagline to Oskar Jensen’s The Yelling Stones is ‘A Viking tale of myth and magic.’ Of course, this is catnip to my inner nine-year-old—who am I kidding? This is catnip to thirty-five-year-old me! To add to the must-read-this-now factor of the book, The Yelling Stones has a heroine and a hero who doesn’t fit the traditional Viking mould. The story was every bit as fun and adventurous as its cover indicates, yet it isn’t as straight-forward an adventure romp as it would seem either; there is some true tragedy in the book and some quite serious themes.  Read More …

Karen Maitland – The Raven’s Head

karenmaitland-theravensheadVincent is an apprentice librarian who stumbles upon a secret powerful enough to destroy his master. With the foolish arrogance of youth, he attempts blackmail but the attempt fails and Vincent finds himself on the run and in possession of an intricately carved silver raven’s head.

Any attempt to sell the head fails … until Vincent tries to palm it off on the intimidating Lord Sylvain – unbeknown to Vincent, a powerful Alchemist with an all-consuming quest. Once more Vincent’s life is in danger because Sylvain and his neighbours, the menacing White Canons, consider him a predestined sacrifice in their shocking experiment.

Chilling and with compelling hints of the supernatural, The Raven’s Head is a triumph for Karen Maitland, Queen of the Dark Ages.

The Raven’s Head is Karen Maitland’s latest historical novel, one that I’d been very much looking forward to reading. I have enjoyed Maitland’s writing on The History Girls blog and have wanted to read her work since reading reviews for Company of Liars. Earlier this week I read her previous novel The Vanishing Witch, which I really enjoyed, and I was interested to see how much of the unique style of that book was particular to that story and how much was part of Maitland’s authorial voice. Based on the sample I’ve read so far (n=2) Maitland definitely has a distinctive and consistent writing style, one that really suits my reading tastes.  Read More …

Author Query – Karen Maitland

karenmaitland-theravensheadOne of my favourite non-SFF blogs is The History Girls. And one of my favourite History Girls is Karen Maitland. I’ve been wanting to read her ever since I saw reviews for Company of Liars, but as is so often the case never got around to it. Today marks not one, but two book birthdays for Karen however, with the paperback release of last year’s The Vanishing Witch and the release of her latest novel, The Raven’s Head. I was fortunate enough to receive review copies for both of them. I reviewed The Vanishing Witch yesterday and check back for my review for The Raven’s Head tomorrow. But today I get to bring you an Author Query with Karen in which she has some fascinating answers to offer to my questions.  Read More …

Karen Maitland – The Vanishing Witch

karenmaitland-thevanishingwitchTake one wealthy merchant. Add one charming widow. And one dying wife.

The reign of Richard II is troubled, the poor are about to become poorer still and landowners are lining their pockets. It’s a case of every man for himself, whatever his status or wealth. But in a world where nothing can be taken at face value, who can you trust?

The dour wool merchant?

His impulsive son?

The stepdaughter with the hypnotic eyes?

Or the raven-haired widow clutching her necklace of bloodstones?

And when people start dying unnatural deaths and the peasants decide it’s time to fight back, it’s all too easy to spy witchcraft at every turn.

I’ve wanted to read Karen Maitland’s work for years, ever since I read reviews for Company of Liars, but as often happens in a reviewer’s life, I never got to it. This made me doubly excited when this ARC for The Vanishing Witch appeared in my mailbox, but it was a big book – 688 pages in my proof copy – and it languished on my To Be Read pile. Now with the paperback for The Vanishing Witch out tomorrow, not to mention Maitland’s latest The Raven’s Head, this seemed a good time to read it. It was a wonderful read, super atmospheric and very much what I expected Maitland’s writing to be based of what I’ve read of her non-fiction articles on The History GirlsRead More …

Guest Post: David Churchill’s Top Five Historians

davidchurchill-devilLast month I reviewed David Churchill’s first novel The Leopards of Normandy: Devil, which I enjoyed very much. I say first novel instead of debut novel, since it’s a public secret that David Churchill is a pseudonym for thriller writer and journalist David Thomas. I really enjoyed Devil and I’m looking forward to the rest of the books. So I was stoked to be able to be part of the blog tour for the book and host a guest post. Today David reveals his top five historians, who fed his love of history.  Read More …

Rebecca Burns – The Settling Earth

rebeccaburns-thesettlingearthMarriage transplants Sarah thousands of miles from home; a failed love affair forces Phoebe to make drastic choices in a new environment; a sudden, shocking discovery brings Mrs Ellis to reconsider her life as an emigrant — The Settling Earth is a collection of ten, interlinked stories, focusing on the British settler experience in colonial New Zealand, and the settlers’ attempts to make sense of life in a strange new land.

Sacrifices, conflict, a growing love for the landscape, a recognition of the succour offered by New Zealand to Maori and settler communities — these are themes explored in the book. The final story in the collection, written by Shelly Davies of the Ngātiwai tribe, adds a Maori perspective to the experience of British settlement in their land.

I don’t know that much about New Zealand, other than it’s where the Lord of the Rings was filmed, there was a huge earthquake a few years ago and it’s where the kiwi bird is from. Oh and they have a lot of sheep. So when the author approached me about reviewing her collection of historical short stories set there, I was interested at once. Additionally, while I’ve been reading more SFF short fiction, I’d never yet read any historical short fiction, so I was interested to see whether short fiction in that vein would work for me.  Read More …

David Churchill – The Leopards of Normandy: Devil

davidchurchill-devilThe fate of England hangs in the balance of a fight between brothers

The noble families of Europe are tearing themselves apart in their lust for power and wealth.

Emma, Queen of England, is in agony over the succession to her husband Canute’s throne … while the sons of her brother, the Duke of Normandy, battle in the wake of his death.

Robert, the younger son, has been cheated of Normandy’s mightiest castle and sets out to take it by force. He emerges from a bloody siege victorious and in love with a beautiful — and pregnant — peasant girl.

Robert’s child will be mocked as William the bastard. But we have another name for him

… Conqueror.

The first instalment in the Leopards of Normandy trilogy paints a world seething with rivalry and intrigue, where assassins are never short of work.

The Leopards of Normandy: Devil was one of my most anticipated reads for the first half of the year. William the Conqueror is a fascinating figure in English history. The effects of his taking over England on the English language was huge and one of the more interesting topics we studied in linguistics class—linguistics not being my favourite topic at uni. And while this era of European history is quite interesting due to its eventful nature, it is also one I don’t know that well. Enter Devil and the chance to learn more about both William and this period of history. Devil was very much what I expected it to be, with some surprises and some elements that really bugged me. Despite these, I really enjoyed the story as much as I’d hoped to.  Read More …