Tuesday, June 16, 2020

#BookReview: Shame the Devil by Donna Scott

Genre
Historical Fiction

Buy Links
Amazon US
Amazon UK
Amazon CA


DESCRIPTION: 
England, 1643. The Civil War has created a great divide between those who support King Charles and those who would rather see his head on the block. Young Scot Colin Blackburne finds himself caught in the middle when he witnesses Parliamentarians murder his mother because of his father’s allegiance to the king. As further punishment, the family is sent to Yorkshire as indentured servants.

Mistreated by his master and tormented by a Parliamentarian soldier, Colin vows to take up arms for the king and seek vengeance against the men who killed his mother. The only bright spot in his life is his unexpected, and forbidden, friendship with his master’s daughter, Emma Hardcastle.

With her father constantly away on campaign and her mother plagued by madness, Emma is drawn to Colin and his brother, Roddy. She introduces them to her troubled neighbor Alston Egerton, who has a clandestine relationship with Stephen Kitts, the soldier out for Colin’s blood.

As they all become entangled in a twisted web of love, jealousy, desire, and betrayal, the war rages on around them. Resentful at being forced into servitude and forbidden from being with the woman he loves, Colin puts his plan for vengeance into motion, though it will have disastrous consequences for all of them.

Secrets are revealed and relationships are torn apart. With the country teetering on the brink of ruin, Emma fights to survive, Alston is forced to confront his demons, and Colin must decide whether his burning desire to fight for justice is worth sacrificing a future with the woman he loves.

REVIEW: 
I owe my discovery of Donna Scott’s Shame the Devil to its cover designer. Historical Editorial featured the title in one of its social media announcements, and I was immediately sucked in by the imagery. It had been a minute since I had read a novel set in the Stuart period, and the prospect of returning to the era tickled my imagination.

In looking at my library, I would have no trouble shelving Shame the Devil alongside Stella Riley’s A Splendid Defiance. I think Scott’s handling of the politics lighter than Riley’s, but consider her gentle manipulation of the material appealing and easy to follow, even for those unfamiliar with the details of the English Civil War. I came to the novel expecting the conflict to play a more significant role in the story than it does, but once I adjusted my mindset, I grew to appreciate how Scott used the history to frame the dramatic events of her story.

Shame the Devil has a large cast, and I am not above admitting I liked some more than others. I enjoyed Colin, Roddy, and Emma well-enough, but I was genuinely attached to Alston. He’s got a bit of a Sydney Carton thing going on, but I was captivated by his arc and thought his story the most dynamically compelling. Stephen, repugnant though he is, also deserves a shout out as a fabulously layered antagonist. 

The latter chapters of the novel were a little too drawn out for my tastes, but I enjoyed the time I spent with this piece overall and look forward to reading the author’s next release.

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
Obtained from: Kindle Unlimited
Read: June 9, 2020
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#AuthorInterview: Historical Fiction Interview with Donna Scott, author of Shame the Devil

Genre
Historical Fiction

Buy Links
Amazon US
Amazon UK
Amazon CA


Welcome to Historical Fiction Reader, Donna. It is a pleasure to have you with us. To start things off, please tell us about SHAME THE DEVIL.
Thank you so much for having me! It’s truly a pleasure to answer these questions. First and foremost, Shame the Devil is a story about love. Love for family, romantic love, love between friends, and love for king and country. And, as in real life, that love isn’t always requited, honorable, or without sacrifice. Although the story takes place during the English Civil War, the themes of love and revenge are timeless.

At the risk of sounding impertinent, where did you find this story? Did it strike like lightening out nowhere, or was it an idea that grew in your imagination over time?
It definitely didn’t strike like lightning! I knew I wanted to write about an uncommon time period. I chose the mid-17th century because I personally wanted to learn more about the era, and also because it wasn’t a saturated time period in the historical fiction market. The English Civil War and, more specifically, the Battle of Dunbar had plenty of built-in religious and political conflict. In order to amp it up, I knew I had to have a Scottish hero (servant) and an English heroine (noble) to not only address the Scottish Covenanters v the English New Model Army issue, but create a Romeo and Juliet type of forbidden love between them. The story evolved as I wrote. If a story can be explained using the alphabet, I knew, for example, letter points A, B, D, H, M, T, and Z. The rest filled itself in as the story progressed.

What historical resources did you turn to while researching SHAME THE DEVIL? Which would you recommend to readers who want to learn more about the English Civil War?
I like to do research while I’m traveling, and since I’ve had opportunities to visit the UK on several occasions over the years, I picked up bits and pieces from museums, experts, libraries, and original documents along the way. For anyone who wants a taste of the English Civil War, I would suggest reading anything about Oliver Cromwell and King Charles I. The Devil’s Whore (a British film) does a good job with the scenery, costumes, and sentiment of the time.

Without giving too much away, what can you tell us about Emma, Colin, Roddy, and Alston?  
Colin is forced to try to make sense of the death of his mother and can’t seem to shake the need for vengeance on her behalf. Although Emma’s mother is alive and living at the estate, she suffers from madness and therefore leaves Emma motherless, in a sense, too. Roddy probably adapts the best to his new situation as an indentured servant being only seven when he arrives at Appleton Hall, but he feels the pain of the losses that occur throughout the story. And then there’s Alston. Alston suffers silently about who he is and who he wishes he was.  He is bound by his fears, his loyalty to his father and his religion, and the time in which he lives. All of the characters are tortured in one way or another, but I think Alston suffers the most—at least internally.  

I did not admire Stephen, but I loved how complex he is. Was he a challenging character to write? 
Glad you don’t admire Stephen! Strangely enough, any villain I write is always the easiest character for me. Those chapters seem to flow freely when I put my fingers to the keyboard.  Hmmm.  Not sure what that says about me as a person. 😀

Do you have a favorite scene in SHAME THE DEVIL?
Glad you don’t admire Stephen! Strangely enough, any villain I write is always the easiest character for me. Those chapters seem to flow freely when I put my fingers to the keyboard.  Hmmm.  Not sure what that says about me as a person. 

Authors are often forced to sacrifice portions of a story when polishing their work for publication. Is there a character, scene, or concept you would have liked to have spent more time on in SHAME THE DEVIL?
Yes. My former agent had me remove a lot of war history, specific scenes that I thought took a look into the question “who are the good guys?” but served only as additional detail that wasn’t truly necessary.  At least according to her. 😀

As an author, who influences you and your writing? 
There are so many talented writers out there.  My top historical fiction authors are Ken Follett, Michelle Moran, Diana Gabaldon, Noah Gordon, Jennifer Donnelly, Amor Towles, Philippa Gregory, and about twenty others.  

If you could pick a fantasy cast – anyone at all, living or dead, at any point in their careers- to play your characters in a big-screen adaptation of SHAME THE DEVIL, who would you cast?
This is a tough question. I honestly think I’d like them to be played by actors we’ve never heard of, people who haven’t been in dozens of other roles already.  PS—I don’t think you could squeeze this book into a movie.  It would have to be a series.  Dreaming over here. 😀

What do you hope readers take from their experience of SHAME THE DEVIL?
I believe most people read historical fiction not simply to be entertained, but to learn a little something too.  At least that’s what I enjoy about reading it. So if Shame the Devil takes them to another place and time where they can live and feel alongside the characters, while learning a bit about the mid-17th century and the religious and political controversy embedded in the push and pull of the Parliamentarians and Royalists, then I have succeeded as an author.  

Thank you for giving me the opportunity to answer these wonderful questions.

Best, 
Donna

Saturday, May 30, 2020

#BookReview: The Jane Austen Society: A Novel by Natalie Jenner

Genre
Literary Fiction

Buy Links
Amazon US
Amazon UK
Amazon CA

Social Media
 Official Website
Facebook
Twitter

DESCRIPTION: 
Just after the Second World War, in the small English village of Chawton, an unusual but like-minded group of people band together to attempt something remarkable.

One hundred and fifty years ago, Chawton was the final home of Jane Austen, one of England's finest novelists. Now it's home to a few distant relatives and their diminishing estate. With the last bit of Austen's legacy threatened, a group of disparate individuals come together to preserve both Jane Austen's home and her legacy. These people―a laborer, a young widow, the local doctor, and a movie star, among others―could not be more different and yet they are united in their love for the works and words of Austen. As each of them endures their own quiet struggle with loss and trauma, some from the recent war, others from more distant tragedies, they rally together to create the Jane Austen Society.

A powerful and moving novel that explores the tragedies and triumphs of life, both large and small, and the universal humanity in us all, Natalie Jenner's The Jane Austen Society is destined to resonate with readers for years to come.

REVIEW: 
Natalie Jenner's The Jane Austen Society was an unusual pick for me. I am naturally drawn to novels with heavier subject matter and more complex political themes, but something in the premise caught my eye, so I decided to try my luck.

Before I get too far ahead of myself, it should be understood that I am not a Janeite. I have read some of Austen's books, and I have a working knowledge of her life, but I do not go weak in the knees at the mere mention of Mr. Darcy. This makes me something of an anomaly among the reviewers who have offered comments on The Jane Austen Society, but I think my neutrality on Austen allowed me to assess Jenner's work from a different angle than those harboring a pre-existing passion for the classics and their creator.

Having said this, I admit I enjoyed the time I spent with Jenner's debut. I feel the novel falls to the lighter end of the historical fiction spectrum, but I thought the book offered a lovely portrait of village life in the wake of World War II. The fact that Jenner's cast is multi-generational also brings something special to the story as their diverse reflections and perspectives showcase the universal appeal of Austen's work and how fans come to understand it differently each time they visit it.

I enjoyed Evie Stone and delighted in her effort to catalog the Knight library, but I fell hard for Dr. Gray, Adam Berwick, and Adeline Forrester. Publishing trends favor stories that focus on younger leads, but I found the older members of Jenner's cast far more intriguing. Their stories are predictable, but the emotional nuance of their arcs more than make up for the general lack of ambiguity.

The only character I did not like was Mimi Harrison. I do not know if she was a late addition to the novel, but she struck me as out of place. Almost like she was shoehorned into the story on the heels of #MeToo to give the novel contemporary relevance. I do not wish to imply that theme unimportant or her character lacking, just that I did not feel either inherent to The Jane Austen Society and wish Jenner had held both in reserve for another release. 

Comparatively speaking, I feel The Jane Austen Society falls somewhere between Fowlet's The Jane Austen Book Club and Shaffer's The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society. The book is a little slow in terms of pace, but I thought it delightfully heartwarming and look forward to reading Jenner again in future.

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆
Obtained from: Netgalley
Read: May 30, 2020
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Saturday, May 23, 2020

#AuthorInterview: Historical Fiction Interview with author, Steven A. McKay

Genre
Historical Fiction

Buy Links
Amazon US
Amazon UK
Amazon CA

Social Media
 Official Website
Facebook

Welcome to Historical Fiction Reader. It’s a pleasure to have you with us. To begin, please tell us a bit about yourself and your books. 
Thank you for having me, I’m excited to answer these questions! I’m 43, been writing since 2013 and I’m married with a couple of great children. When I’m not writing I love playing guitar and listening to heavy metal (and Jethro Tull). My first book was Wolf’s Head, and since then I’ve written quite a few novels and novellas. My latest full-length novel is called LUCIA, and that was bought by Audible so you can only find it there for the first 12 months. It tells the story of a young girl taken into slavery by the Romans and I’m extremely proud of it as it’s not like my usual books at all.

As a writer, what attracted you to historical fiction?
I think it’s all the heroic or inspiring deeds and people we imagine populating our past – men and women like Odysseus, King Arthur, Jane Eyre, Anne S. Cuthbert, and so on. There’s something very romantic, yet still grounded in reality, about those people so it offers the reader escapism without straying too far from our current existence the way fantasy or sci-fi does. It’s also fun to research a period in history, find some interesting events and people, then mould it all to suit your own vision. I find it fascinating to discover things like, for example, the medieval monks in Selby Abbey got into trouble for drinking, fighting and fornicating – that’s the kind of thing that makes a great story!

How would you describe your style of storytelling? 
I like to keep things rolling along without lots of unnecessary waffle – generally, there should be something exciting happening regularly, be it a fight or a chase or a plot twist or whatever. Some historical fiction authors feel the need to show us all how much research they’ve done, so they’ll describe armour, or clothes, or the wine-making process or something in minute detail. Certain readers enjoy that, but I’m here to tell an entertaining story, not take you back to school. I do research everything, and I put a lot of time and effort into making my books as accurate as possible that way, but, ultimately, I want to tell an exciting tale that moves readers. That is my goal with every book I write.

Who, if anyone, inspires you as a writer?
Because I do so much research these days, I don’t have a lot of time to read fiction anymore. People like Bernard Cornwell, Ben Kane, Douglas Jackson and Tolkien were who inspired me originally to start writing myself. More recently, I broadened my horizons with Audible and listened to some audiobooks which were not my usual fare – Daphne Du Maurier became a HUGE favourite, I loved her Rebecca and Jamaica Inn in particular. And I also loved Jane Eyre. Those stories – with wonderful female heroes – were what inspired me to write LUCIA. It’s good to try new genres!

Your first novels, The Forest Lord series, centered on the legends of Robin Hood. Were you intimidated tackling subject matter that is so well-known? 
No, not really. I thought it was a bit of a blessing that so much of the story was well known, as it meant I had a kind of map to lead me along. Obviously I fleshed it out using my own ideas and characters, but there were certain things in the old legends that HAD to be in there in one way or another so it was a little easier than having to make everything up myself. At the same time, looking at what other authors had done with Robin Hood made me happy, as they were all working along similar lines, similar time frames, similar characters – I went back to the very first, original ballads and tales and realized they were quite different. They were set in Yorkshire for a start! That meant I could stay close to the original legend AND be different to modern writers and movies and such, so that was great. It makes my books stand out I think.

Of the characters in this series, which was your favorite and why? 
It has to be Little John. He’s funny, honest, good-natured, loyal, likes a drink, and stands nearly seven feet tall so he kicks all kinds of ass! I always listen to heavy metal when I write and John is definitely a guy who embodies that culture - he is very “metal”. There are so many really cool characters within the Robin Hood mythos though and I had a LOT of fun bringing them all to life and putting my own spin on them. I’m quite proud of the Sheriff of Nottingham and Yorkshire too – he’s not the usual “baddie” you find in the legend, and he kind of became more real, and more interesting, as the series went on.

Your second series, Warrior Druid of Britain, took a different direction. Historically speaking, did you find it challenging to transition from Medieval Britain to Roman Britain? 
Not really. They are fairly similar when it comes to things like food and technology. Going from, say, modern day to medieval would be hard because society is SO different. But 14th to 5th century isn’t a huge jump in many ways. As always, I did a lot of research (which never stops) to make sure I’m getting things right but, honestly, although historians no longer like the term “Dark Ages”, they were called that for a reason. There’s not a lot known about certain aspects of that period and that’s excellent for a fiction writer, as it means I can make lots of things up and no-one can tell me I’m wrong! Of course, there’s still people who want to say “druids didn’t do this” or “druid’s didn’t believe that” but come back to me when you have proof. No-one knows for certain what these people really lived like and that really opens up the imagination and lets a writer be creative.
Overall, in terms of characters – it doesn’t matter what year it is, people are much the same. We live, love, laugh, cry, feel jealousy, hatred, pride and so on.

The power of the old Gods plays a significant role in this series. Why did you feel this material so important? 
Religion played a huge part in daily life back then and I personally find it really interesting that they had all these different gods and goddesses. It wasn’t a case of, “Here’s a book written by God, you’ll read it and believe that and nothing else.” In those days people were allowed to believe in whatever they liked, and they saw the druids as representatives of those old gods. Of course, Christianity began to find a foothold around that period and it’s interesting to look at the struggle between the old ways and the new. We know who won in the end, but why? While the country was seeing huge change thanks to the departure of the Romans and the influx of the Dalriadans and Saxons, religion was also drastically changing. The battle between the old gods and Christianity was as important – probably more – than any other in the formation of what we now call Britain.

On a more personal level, whether you believe in one God, or ten, or none, the world is a strange place and sometimes things happen that can’t be explained by normal means. Magic, miracles or misperception – it always makes for an interesting tale. My druid isn’t of the “fantasy” type – he’s no Gandalf or Allanon who can shoot blue fire from his fingers. The magic in my books is more “real”, more subtle, and leaves space for the reader to wonder what’s actually happening. Sometimes, letting the reader’s imagination fill in the blanks is the best way to do things, as fans of HP Lovecraft will know.

Faces of Darkness, your newest release, is a standalone set in 1328, but it takes inspiration from a real unsolved case from the 1980s. Why did this case capture your attention and was it difficult reworking the context to a historic setting? 
The case of Cindy James is just so strange. For those who’ve never heard of her, Cindy claimed she was stalked for years, suffering many horrific attacks in the process and eventually being found dead. I don’t want to give away too much, but I just felt like she needed some kind of closure as, to this day, no-one really knows what happened to her. So I tried to do that in Faces of Darkness. It was a little difficult to put the case into a medieval setting because back then they didn’t have things like phones for people to make harassing calls on and that was one of the most sinister aspects of the real case (listen to her answerphone message if you want to be really creeped out!). But I think I managed to tell a decent version of the story while also bringing a satisfying resolution for the reader.

I did think about setting it in the 1980’s, making it my first “contemporary” story, but I felt like Friar Tuck and Little John would be the perfect characters to solve the mystery. Readers have really enjoyed it so I will probably write more along similar lines and using the same characters.

What do you hope readers take from their experience of your work? 
I really just want people to be entertained and escape the real world for a while, especially now when we’re all frightened and in lockdown. Sometimes I throw in little things that might make people want to look a bit deeper and I think my books all have this, perhaps quite childlike sense of “everything will be alright in the end”, but that’s good. We all need hope and, despite all the terrible crap some of my characters suffer, there’s always light at the end of the tunnel.

For all of us!