Book Review: ‘The Silent Shield’ by Jeff Wheeler

The fifth book in The Kingfountain Series, ‘The Silent Shield’ is another wonderful foray into the kingdom of Ceredigion and the conflict that threatened to consume the surrounding lands. 

The continued story of Tryneowy Kiskaddon is personal and compelling, enchanting in both plot and the language used to tell the story and depict the places in which it takes place. 

A young woman of strength and integrity, Tryneowy is an admirable character that readers can respect, a role model for equality and embracing one’s abilities despite the judgement and expectations of others. 

Readers who have not read the previous books in this series will find this to be a complete story on its own, and thoroughly enjoyable as such. 

Those reader would, however, be better advised to start at the beginning of this outstanding series, simply because it is so immensely enjoyable. 

The Mansfield Trilogy

Lona Manning’s historical romance novel ‘A Contrary Wind’ is an excellent variation on Jane Austen’s Mansfield Park, and now stands as the first book in The Mansfield Trilogy. 

‘A Contrary Wind’ is not new to this blog: the book was awarded a Gold Acorn review in January 2019, and won a silver award in the annual Golden Squirrel Awards in the same year. 

That a second and third book have been written to follow and further develop Fanny’s story will delight all who have read the first instalment in the series.

This is a series that even devoted fans of Jane Austen will enjoy for its consistency with the language and style of Austen, even though the story does divert from that of Mansfield Park and follow its own original path. 

What other reviewers have said about ‘A Contrary Wind’:

“…Excellent.. it’s a novel which certainly deserves a place on the bookshelves of a Jane Austen fan.” — Jane Austen Centre, Bath

“Manning …. emulates Austen’s writing style so well that she often seamlessly incorporates exact passages from the original into her narrative…. Many try to emulate Austen; not all succeed. Here, Manning triumphs.” BlueInk Review Starred Review

“Highly recommend it. Extremely well written, extremely clever, the way she incorporated details from the original Mansfield Park.” — First Impressions podcast

“Brava to Lona Manning for her thoughtful twists and skillful execution in this variation. This story was in no way predictable and it kept me guessing almost until the end!….   – Meredith Esparza, Austenesque Reviews

“A Contrary Wind is well-written, keeping close to the style of Austen. I thoroughly enjoyed it and highly recommend it. I never lost interest and enjoyed the occasional comic relief.”  — Historical Novel Society

Book Review: ‘A Moth in the Flames’ by S.E. Turner

When the reader first meets Sansara, it quickly becomes evident that she is a powerful young woman with a destiny to fulfil, but they can not predict how she might achieve that mission, nor what her role will be in the resolvution of the mysteries and complications of earlier storylines. 

The way in which the pieces of the puzzle fall into place and this instalment is seen to fit neatly into the broader narrative leaves readers who have followed the series as a whole with deep satisfaction. The conclusion of the book is well executed, and yet it does not feel like a complete ending: there is  a sense that there is more to come, and that there is a new generation of adventurers, warriors and leaders to come. 

The fifth book in The Kingdom of Durundal fantasy series, ‘A Moth In The Flames’ stands on its own as a very good fantasy story, full of mystery, adventure, magic and challenge. While first-time visitors to the Kingdom of Durundal will be able to infer the assumed knowledge needed to give this story its own integrity and resolution, returning readers will bring with them the deeper understandings and knowledge that will enable them to draw more meaning from the conversations and explanations between characters that reference the events and characters of the previous books in the series. 

So, while readers of fantasy are sure to enjoy this book on its own, my recommendation would be to start with book one and enjoy the richness of the bigger story, so that Sansara’s story is enjoyed in its entirety. 

Book Review: ’13 Ways to Midnight’ Book 2 by Rue Volley

In this sequel to ‘13Ways To Midnight’, Echo’s story continues as she tries to realign her priorities and build her life in Port Royal. 

Readers will find Echo to be realistically flawed and conflicted, but also admirable in the way she seeks to maintain her personal ethics and integrity. She is a character who challenges readers to consider right from wrong, and to understand that ones actions, even the ones considered to be minor, can have unexpected consequences that still need to be reconciled. 

The story is original and unpredictable, keeping the reader guessing and building a sense of anticipation. The story is very appealing for Young Adult readers, with sufficient complexity and interest to engage wider audiences, too.

’13 Ways to Midnight’ is proving to be an excellent series. 

Book Review: ‘Sweet William’ by Sherrie Hansen

They say that the course of true love never runs smoothly, and that is certainly true in Lyndsie Morris’ life. 

The fourth book in Hansen’s ‘Wildflowers of Scotland’ series, ‘Sweet William’ is an excellent read in which romance is balanced by sass and snark, and happy coincidence is tempered by tragedy. That balance continues in the characters, some of whom are delightful while others are just plain nasty. 

It’s fair to say, then, that this story is quite realistic and believable in the way it reflects the best and worst of life and of human nature and challenges the reader to consider how to beat respond to challenges and trials,  and how one might seek happiness with a clear conscience at the same time. 

The story is well paced and the writing is very good indeed. 

This book, like the series to which it belongs, is highly recommended.

Book Review: ‘Miss Mabel’s School For Girls’ by Katie Cross

It is a rare thing to find a series of books for Young Adult readers  that ticks all your favourite boxes: mystery and magic underscored with macabre and gothic elements, strong female characters, quirky twists, and themes and ideas that are universally compelling and interesting for teen and adult readers alike.

Just as it exists in the world-famous Harry Potter series, it exists in The Network Series by Katie Cross. This first book in The Network Series delivers a well-paced, expertly constructed story that ticks all of those boxes and more. 

Make no mistake, though: This is no mere imitation. ‘Miss Mabel’s School For Girls’ is original and unique, and the story is thoroughly engaging. The book ends with sufficient resolution to bring the story to a satisfying conclusion while dangling enough magical carrots to leave the reader wanting to just keep reading. 

The writing is excellent, creating an environment and atmosphere that is vivid and almost tangible, and propelling the reader into a story full of mystery, suspense and foreboding. 

Readers of all ages will find this book hard to put down, and should expect to be left wanting more. Thankfully, there is an entire nine book series, and another fantasy series featuring dragons by the same author, to look forward to. 

Author Spotlight: Ted Halstead

Ted Halstead is the author of The Russian Agents thriller series. His latest release is the third book in the series, titled The End of America’s War in Afghanistan.  

He served twenty-five years in the State Department as a Foreign Service Officer, most of it overseas, and was promoted to the Senior Foreign Service after his second tour at US Embassy Riyadh. His tours included four years at US Embassy Seoul, and two years at the East Asia Pacific Bureau in DC. He is a National War College graduate, and served for three years at a regional US military headquarters.

While there is continuity of some characters through the series, each of the books is a standalone novel. it is not necessary to read any one book before reading the others. The books are all set in different countries at different times, and each book’s story ends with a satisfying resolution.

What inspired you to write?  

Throughout my career in the US Foreign Service, I had experiences that I shared with my fellow officers. From my very first tour, I was told I should write a book about them.  Security classification and privacy concerns have made writing a nonfiction account impossible. However, I have worked many of those experiences into my novels.

What’s your favourite thing that you have written?  

That’s a very hard question. I will always have a special place in my heart for my first book, which took me almost seven years to write. I poured a lot of myself into The Second Korean War, drawing on the four years I served at the US Embassy in Seoul. That was also true for my second book, The Saudi-Iranian War. I drew on two tours at US Embassy Riyadh for that book, spaced twenty years apart. My third book, The End of America’s War in Afghanistan, has some of my favorite supporting characters. Sadly, many don’t survive.  If I must choose one, I have to say The Second Korean War.

What’s your favourite thing that someone else has written?  

Wasp, by Eric Frank Russell. I read it when I was starting high school, and it made a great impression on me. Published in 1957, it was incredibly far ahead of its time. I genuinely envy anyone who hasn’t read it yet!What are you working on writing now?  The End of Russia’s War in Ukraine. Check out my blog, accessible through my Amazon Author Page, for the first couple of pages.

Do you have a favourite food or drink that helps you write?  

Coffee, of course!

Who designs your book covers?  

Ivan Zanchetta, for all three of my books. Just Google his name to find his site. Highly recommended!

What’s your favourite kind of music?  

At the moment, 1970s R&B. Check out the soundtrack for the movie Shaft and see if you agree with me that Isaac Hayes really did deserve his Grammy. Especially for the block of songs following Cafe Regio’s. Or try the song Natural Man by Lou Rawls, and see if you’re as amazed as I am that it came out in 1971.

What’s the best vacation you’ve had?  

Hawaii, during my tour in Seoul. After the pollution of early 1990s Seoul, it was such a pleasure to breathe clean air!

What is your pet hate? Have you ever built it into a character or used it in your writing?  

Bureaucracy. I hated it all 25 years I was part of one of the largest on Earth, and did my best to make it bearable for every member of the public we served. You will see this in all my books in many ways.

What movie can you watch over and over again?  

The Incredibles. First, it’s one of those rare movies I can safely enjoy watching with my granddaughter. Plus, there are so many sly references to old Bond and superhero movies it takes repeated viewings to find them all!

What would you like people to know about being an Indie author?  

I started self-publishing on many sites, including Barnes & Noble, Smashwords, Google Books, Apple etc. But I ended up dropping the others because I decided to try making my first book available through Kindle Unlimited, which required me to do Amazon only. I was honestly shocked by how many people read both that book and the others since through KU – literally millions of pages! That actually means more to me than book sales. I’m sure I’m not the only one who’s bought a book and either never read it, or just read a few pages before losing interest. As someone who puts a lot of himself into his books, it’s very gratifying to see that people are really reading them!

Thanks for being here and sharing with us today, Tom! 

Thanks for having me!

Ted’s books are all available in Kindle, paperback and audiobook formats.  They are also available through Kindle Unlimited.

Book Review: ‘The Hollow Crown’ by Jeff Wheeler

Find your copy here.

The fourth book in The Kingfountain Series, ‘The Hollow Crown’ is another wonderful foray into the kingdom of Ceredigion and the surrounding lands. 

This book changes the focus of the story from Owen Kiskaddon to his daughter, Tryneowy, and the reader is once again drawn into the intrigue and adventure of life among the noble families, wizrs, the fountain-blessed folk, and the villains who conspire against them. It is an exciting and enchanting tale in which the reader becomes deeply immersed. The storytelling is mesmerising and the settings and scenery are richly and vividly drawn. 

Tryneowy’s story is both compelling and interesting. As she grows up, she becomes a young woman of strength and determination, guided by her ethics and loyal to her loved ones and the oaths she makes. She is a character that young women can admire, speaking up for equality in an era where women were not able to do all that men could, and showing that people should be valued for their integrity and abilities regardless of gender. 

Readers who have not read the previous books in this series will find this to be a complete story on its own, and thoroughly enjoyable as such. 

There is, however, a profound sense of being part of something much bigger—an overarching, ‘big picture’ narrative — and evening a sense of belonging that the reader develops throughout this most excellent series. This is the magic and allure of Wheeler’s writing and the world he has created with Kingfountain and the Kiskaddons at its centre. 

Book Review: ‘The Last Temptations of Iago Wick’ by Jennifer Rainey

This is the first of two books thus far in the ‘Wick and Lovelace’ steampunk/gaslamp fiction series, although both Iago Wick and Dante Lovelace both also appear in ‘Iago Wick and the Vampire Queen’.

Similar to life for a tempter such as Iago Wick, this book is never dull. Mystery, adventure, temptation and danger combine to provide a well paced, very entertaining read that hooks the reader early and proceeds to charm them into feeling far more empathy for a demon than most would be willing to consider wise. 

Iago and Dante are delightfully devilish, giving the reader an insight into how demons might go about distracting and tempting humans while at the same time being thoroughly charming and polite. 

The writing is fluent and witty, vividly bringing to life the Victorian-esque city of Marlowe, Massachusetts, and the spectrum of characters who live there. This is a story laced with dark humour and keen insight into what makes people tick, making it both very readable and deeply fascinating. 

Overall, it’s a fabulously wicked and highly recommended read.

Book Review: ‘Cookies and Scream’ by CeeCee James

Find your copy here.

‘Cookies and Scream’ is the second book in the Baker Street Cozy Mysteries Series by  CeeCee James, which features amateur sleuth Georgie Tanner, her Aunt Cecelia and the fictional historical town of Gainesville, Virginia. 

A visit to a local historical re-enactment places Georgie at the heart of a murder mystery that has many roots in both local history and her own past. What ensues is an intriguing and often dangerous chain of events that nudge Georgie closer to the truth. 

The story is well-written and the mystery is challenging and interesting. This is shaping up to be a series I am keen to follow.