Book Review: ‘Highland Raven’ The Celtic Blood Book 1 by Melanie Karsak

Historically, very little is known of the early life of Gruoch, later known as Lady Macbeth. Immortalised by Shakespeare as a conniving, power -hungry shrew, audiences have been fascinated by her for centuries. 

Karsak weaves a kinder tale of the young Gruoch in this excellent work of historical fantasy. History, magic and fantasy combine to tell a story of a young woman searching to discover her destiny and calling in life, while still learning who she is and the power she holds over men. 

This story is so powerfully and beautifully written that it is easy to forget that this is fiction, and to believe that this really is Gruoch’s story. We see Gruoch’s strengths and vulnerability, her loyalty and hatred, her past and glimpses of her future. As readers, we love those she loves and despise those she hates, and we become deeply invested in her hopes and dreams. 

The author has also incorporated some lovely nods to Shakespeare’s play, littering quotes and references to the text throughout the narrative. This very cleverly lends credibility and legitimacy to Karsak’s story, reinforcing that sense of reality and closeness to Gruoch that the reader feels from almost the first page onwards. 

The story delivers a fascinating blend of mystery, fantasy, romance, and adventure in an expertly crafted package that is almost impossible to put down once started. 

‘Highland Raven’ has been awarded a Gold Acorn. 

Find your copy here

Audiobook Review: ‘Escaping from Houdini’ by Kerri Maniscalco

The third in Kerri Maniscalco’s Victorian macabre mystery series, ‘Escaping from Houdini’ is set on the Etruria, a cruise ship travelling from London to New York in 1899 with Audrey Rose Wadsworth, her beau Thomas Cresswell, and Uncle Jonathan Wadsworth aboard.

A series of gruesome murders present this Victorian forensic science team with a series of challenges and mysteries that must be solved before arriving at their destination. 

The story is intricate and complex, dark and dangerous, and completely captivating. Themes of distraction, illusion and deception interweave like a macabre carnival dance. The personal consequences and implications for Audrey Rose, Thomas, and other passengers on the ship are compelling, keeping the audience engaged both mentally and emotionally in the drama as it unfolds. 

Nicola Barber’s narration is expressive, fluent and most enjoyable. Barber has a definite gift for characterisation and drama  that makes her storytelling lively and most enjoyable.  

An excellent audiobook experience, ‘Escapting From Houdini’ has been awarded a Gold Acorn. 

Available as a novel or audiobook

Book Review: ‘The First Queen Of England’ by MJ Porter

Elfrida, or Ælfryth, was anointed and crowned queen of England in the same ceremony that her husband, Edgar, was crowned King in 973 AD. 

‘The First Queen Of England’ is the first instalment of Elfrida’s story. This is a really well-written book, based on sound research and good knowledge of the historical context of the story. 

Historically, there is quite limited information available on the early life of Elfrida, but Porter has penned a well-crafted and believable personal story which, while it is fictional, is consistent what is known of both Elfrida and Edgar and their families. 

This task brings with it many challenges, not the least of which is diffusing a cast of characters from the different perspectives and accounts of history which have been the subject of discussion and debate for centuries. In presenting lead characters who are engaging and interesting, but also flawed and fallible, the author has given the reader people with whom they can relate at a very human level, despite their differences in social status and experience, and the changes in society that have occurred during the vast amount of time that stands between them. 

The supporting characters are likewise portrayed with not only their attractive qualities and strengths on public display, but also their motivations and interests exposed to the reader’s scrutiny. This gives the reader a rich insight into the machinations and social engineering of life at court and among the nobility in 10th century England. The characterisation is detailed, insightful and razor sharp, revealing the author’s considerable talent at filling in the blanks on the pages of history and creating characters that are complex and often quite delightful in the way they play their roles.  
Porter paints the settings and events in vivid colours and textures that seem almost tangible, bringing Elfrida’s home in Wessex and the King’s court at Winchester to life in such a way that each place is depicted clearly and then becomes familiar to the reader as the story progresses. 

A richly and intricately detailed work of historical fiction, ‘The First Queen Of England’ is an immensely enjoyable read. It has been awarded a Gold Acorn. 

Find your copy here

Book Review: ‘The Chronicles of Aveline’ by Ken Fry

There is no doubt that many of the things done throughout history in the name of God and religion served only to dishonour and shame both. This truth is highlighted throughout this book, as it is in any study of the period in which the story is set. 

’The Chronicles of Aveline’ is a medieval drama set during the 12th century in the decade leading up to the Third Crusade. 

From the thrill of adventure and the rush of first love to crushing loss and thrilling adventure, Aveline discovers the depth and extent of her own strength and resilience. Hers is a story of courage and commitment, and of the powerful motivation that comes from an intensely personal pursuit of justice.  

The story is well crafted, making use of suspense and anticipation to heighten the reader’s engagement in the story as the tale progresses, and maintaining an emotional involvement in Aveline’s inner life as well as her physical fate. The writing is vivid and sensory, bringing the characters and settings to life in a most enjoyable manner. 

The story comes to a natural conclusion, but leaves questions unanswered and destinies unfulfilled, suggesting that there is much more of Aveline’s yet story to come. I certainly hope that turns out to be the case. 

’The Chronicles of Aveline’ has been awarded a Gold Acorn. 

Find your copy here

Book Review: ‘Oathbreaker’ The Kings Hounds book 2 by Martin Jensen

This sequel to The King’s Hounds continues the story of the friendship between Winston and Halfdan as they find themselves investigating a murder at a monastery en route to carrying out another assignment on behalf of King Cnut.

Historical enmity and mistrust, not only between Saxons and Danes but also between two prominent monasteries, cloud the situation, requiring the two medieval amateur detectives to tread carefully while ferreting out the relevant facts and details from the actions and words of the cast of characters that surrounds them. 

This is a great story, full of interest and intrigue. The characters are varied and colourful, and the settings are lifelike and fascinating.

The story is embellished with interesting historical details and insights that enable the reader to develop their own questions and theories about the suspects, just as they would with a mystery set in the present, keeping them engaged in the plot and paying careful attention to the clues discovered and discussed by Winston and Halfdan. 

A most enjoyable medieval mystery read, ‘Oathbreaker’ has been awarded a Gold Acorn. 

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Book Review: ‘Blood and Ink’ by DK Marley

‘Blood and Ink’ is brilliant historical fiction that takes the questions surrounding Shakespeare’s life and the authorship of the works that bear his name, and weaves them into a most enjoyable and credible narrative. 

The story is rich in vibrant detail, from the sounds of horses’ hooves on cobblestones to the swish of cloaks and the innermost thoughts of both Shakespeare and Marlowe as it follows their lives from childhood to their final days. 

The web of intrigue and espionage surrounding the court of Queen Elizabeth I is brought to life in the characters who surround her and the machinations of the Star Chamber, drawing the reader into the high drama and adding another layer of complexity to the tale told in these pages. 

The writing is bold and vivid, seamlessly incorporating quotations from the works of both Shakespeare and Marlowe. While it is definitely fiction, the author has made the story feel so real that it could, in fact, be history. 

An excellent work of historical fiction, ‘Blood and Ink’ has been awarded a Gold Acorn.

Find your copy here.

Book Review: ‘Storm at Keizer Manor’ by Ramcy Diek

The story opens at a point where the relationship between Annet and Forrest is complicated by their different pasts and by their different aspirations for the future. As is often the way, their feelings for one another really only crystallize when they are blindsided by events that change everything for them. 

As the narrative progresses, the reader is reminded of the importance of both communicating one’s love for another so that nothing is left to assumption or doubt, and of making the most of every moment, not taking each other for granted. 

This book delivers a fascinating study of the contrasts in moral judgements and social expectations of women between the 19th and 21st century, and challenges the reader to contemplate how they might cope if they found themselves in a different time, and without electricity, cars or smart phones. Annet is challenged not only by the differences between the two time periods, but also by the prejudice with which she is treated by those who have no understanding of her origins or culture. 

The story is quite well structured and progresses at a good pace. The characters are realistic and varied, and generally quite well developed, although I did feel that Forrest was a little too prone to dithering about and moaning without really developing or progressing the story much at a crucial part of the plot when he could have heightened the drama and suspense had he responded differently. 

The use of alternating points of view enabled the reader to have quite deep insight into the thoughts and feelings of both Forrest and Annet, engaging in their circumstances and becoming quite invested in how the complications of the story might be resolved. 

Overall, this was quite an enjoyable and interesting book. 

Storm at Keizer Manor’ has been awarded a Silver Acorn.

Find your copy here