Monday, 27 October 2014

Book Review: Revenge of the Knights Templar by Adriana Girolami

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 A tale of swords and superstitions, of passion and deception, of political machinations and posturing, Revenge of the Knights Templar is an exceptional debut novel by talented author Adriana Girolami.

This story has been on my to read list for most of 2014. Now, that I have finally completed reading it, I can say that the wait was worth it.

The ability of an author to transport the reader to a different time and place, and do it convincingly, is a task that perhaps only the most seasoned of authors would attempt. So it makes this story all the more remarkable that it sets itself up brilliantly, with the kind of prose I wish I could use in my writing.

After the initial few chapters, where most if not all of the main characters are introduced, the pace picks up and doesn't let go. In fact, I had to stop myself from finishing the novel too quickly.

It is a thoroughly entertaining and thrilling read, set in the 1480s where, as always, who ever wields power can do so with a silken rose or an iron fist.

Our heroine, Polyxena, is destined to become a duchess, but not in the way she envisaged. Her love, the Duke Arsenio is brutally cast aside in a battle of wills and swords, seeing the repugnant Duke of Saxe-Hanover seizing power, with Polyxena, seemingly hapless to play anything but the dutiful wife.

Things can't go on like this forever, and with the tyrant becoming ever more tyrannical (as they do!) the evil Duke begins to make mistakes...the biggest of which seem his superstitions. The fate of one cat in the story was a pivotal moment for me.

Polyxena, as befits a great heroine, is anything but a housemaid and often voices her displeasure at the Duke's actions - especially with his joy at the arrangement of so many executions of his enemies. Polyxena, understandably, is horrified. One of the condemned is her new love, Duccio.

The story has a great premise, but actually backs this up with superb execution. The characters are believeable, you feel hatred for the evil Duke, love and hope for the beautiful and intelligent Polyxena. I even found my distaste of Flavia coming around to better thoughts later on. Such is this beautifully woven tale.

The cover, though stunning, should not hide the fact that the sword fights are realistic in their description, and Miss Girolami places you as if you wielded the sword yourself! I was truly swept into the action of this story, which I will say is as well written as any part of the Lord of the Rings.

The author's wordcraft is exciting and perfectly describes each scene. The characters are superbly drawn, and the detail of her vision leaves nothing to chance. You, dear reader, are transported to 1480s Europe, and can do nothing about it!

This story is a historical epic, a romance, a thriller, a mystery and is full of great lines, written beautifully and without any hint of pretence.

It's not without humour, with great lines such as:

"The erotic spectacle stimulated the drunken crowd, who quickly joined the royal pair in a sexually driven bacchanal. An orgiastic took over the room while everybody rubbed and caressed anything that wasn't theirs."

And stark, great authoritarian lines such as:-

"A river of blood will cleanse you of audacity!"

Also:-

"It's easy to learn cruelty when you live with evil."

Truly, I can't wait to read this book again. It's been by far one of my favourite reads of 2014, and one can only wait for Miss Girolami's next book. As for Revenge of the Knights Templar, I thoroughly recommend you read it. Now. 

Friday, 17 October 2014

Book Review: Mine 2 by J. Kahele

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You know the often quoted saying, especially in movies, where people say that a follow-up or sequel can never match the original?

That's true. But authors wouldn't write a follow up unless they could beat it. In Mine 2, I believe author J. Kahele has achieved this improbable feat.

Mine 1 was a brutal read, about a woman suffering severe emotional and physical abuse at the hands of her Senator husband, Ben Kramer.

Jenna Kramer is a character I could feel great sympathy for. A common riposte from people about women who stay with the men who hit them is 'why doesn't she leave him?'

And whilst I agree with that, unless I was in the horrific situation Jenna finds herself in, how could I know what I would say, how I would react, what would I do?

It's clear Ben Kramer is a brutal man with few, if any, redeeming qualities. Does this make him sound one-dimensional? No, because if he was, you could predict his next move. You can't. This is masterful story telling.

That said, like Mine 1, this is not an easy read. It is not a book to make you smile. It is not for the faint of heart, because the violence is graphic, very hard-hitting, and relentless.

With so many horrors happening in the world, why read this book?

Well..if you want an utterly compelling story with a thrilling narrative and a woman who you really feel for and want her to come through this....read Mine, then read Mine 2.

The antagonist, Ben Kramer, doesn't love Jenna. He controls her. As I reviewed in Mine 1, she cannot even wear blue jeans because it displeases Ben.

And when Ben is displeased, boy, does he show it.

Fortunately, Jenna is not alone, and she has a new love, Andrew Carington, who really does love Jenna, but when I was reading some of his actions, I found myself shocked.

Can I, as a male, tell you honestly that a woman I have been in love with has never annoyed me, to the point that her words and actions have enraged me?

Of course I cannot say that. But I can say that my discipline means there is a line I would not cross. But there are many men that do, and the women on the end of their cruelty stay with them.

I have taught women martial arts who have previously suffered from abuse from men in their lives. I have heard real horror stories from them, the details of which turned my stomach and made me ashamed that I was the same gender as these torturers.

There is no circumstance in which a man should hit a woman. I don't care what it is. There is nothing that can justify that.

With reference to the book, this is a book everyone should read and they will enjoy it. The author, J. Kahele, is a truly talented writer and I believe she is going to go far.

Here is a lady author who has not gone down the route of 'sex for sex' sake' in her writing. That may be the hot topic right now, but for my own part, I want to read intelligent writing. And it is here in abundance.

Does Jenna find happiness? Is Andrew the answer? Does Ben mend his ways and win Jenna back, or does he get his comeuppance?

The last line of Mine 2 is automatically one of my all-time favourites!

So many haunting lines that just hit you where it hurts, such as:-

"Abusers are not merely low-paid, uneducated alcoholics, like society would like us to believe. They are from all different positions in society; an abuser can be just about anyone, from a factory worker to a senator."

All true. Wearing a suit does not necessarily make me more civilised!

The answers to the questions above are within this fantastic book, arguably my favourite book of 2014. This is such a hard thing to say, amongst so many great titles, but I love this book. I felt all of Jenna's pain, all of Andrew's rage, and I understood his position too (for the most part!) - and I could not stop reading.

The last book I read this fast was the superlative Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins. That's how good this is.

Take a bow, J. Kahele. You have won a new fan.

Monday, 13 October 2014

Book Review: Mine by J. Kahele

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Once in a while, a true edge-of-the-seat (or in this case, page) thriller entertains and enthralls us.

Mine tells us the tale of Jenna Kramer, who comes into contact with handsome attorney Andrew Carington. All well and good, you may say. But Jenna is married. Not only that, she is married to Ben, a Senator. Not only that, Ben is a possessive nutjob, I'm thinking his mother could be Annie Wilkes from Misery.

Mine is a brutal examination of how people can be controlled in relationships. Of course there are things we will do that our partner / spouse will not like. But in Jenna's case, she finds herself eating a wall because she chose to wear blue jeans. Something with Ben doesn't like. He doesn't like this at all.

In fact, when the first assault from Ben happens, it is truly shocking. And the way he follows it up with an 'I Love You' makes it all the more worse.

I have had Mine on my to read list for a while. It's such a pleasure to read a truly thrilling novel, where the author uses great prose to draw us into this world.

You root for Jenna, that's a given, but really, no-one should have to go through what she goes through in this book.

Even more pleasing is the knowledge that a second book in the series exists.

Make sure you read Mine, because I was reminded of Fatal Attraction, Jagged Edge, Stepfather...and similar thrillers of this ilk. Ben could be in any of these kind of films...he is a guy you love to hate. But is down to the author's talent as a writer that this Ben is so utterly chilling.

I find myself still thinking about the book, even though I have read it, and would re-read it!

So buy Mine, and enjoy. You may not look at your relationship in the same way again!




Sunday, 12 October 2014

Book Review: Lady Isabella's Scandalous Marriage by Jennifer Ashley

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Jennifer Ashley is best known for her romance novels, but she writes paranormal on occasion too. This book was recommended to me so I purchased it. This review is for the paperback edition.

I'll sometimes lend my books out. In my mum's case, I'm trying to broaden her reading beyond Catherine Cookson, Maeve Binchy and Danielle Steele. So I lend her the occasional book.

A good thing I read this first then - from the first few pages the rating could be considered as extremely hot, and not the kind of book to lend to Mum!

So this review is based on the second book in the series, and is my first JA read.

Isabella is a strong, independent young woman, and doesn't give in to the affections from men easily. However, in this book, it seems she will wilt in the end, although I won't spoil the ending! 

The book could be considered a Highland romance, as our 'hero' paints whilst wearing a kilt. Fair enough!

It also means he can get his clothes off more quickly, which, if Isabella is as hot as we are led to believe, I'd probably be going for her too!

I like the descriptions of England, which are extremely well done, you really feel like you are there. I suppose it must be hard for American authors to write with true authenticity if they haven't been to the country they write about. But her descriptions are so vivid that the author must have been here.

The ending was actually rather unpredictable. And it's that thought I'll leave you with. Jennifer Ashley has sold tonnes of books, so she must be doing something right. It's an enjoyable romance that has lots of intensity, which puts it above many of its peers, but lack just that bit extra to make it awesome.

A very good read, nonetheless!


Saturday, 11 October 2014

Weekend Writing Workshop #2: My Tips for Writing and Getting That Book Written - Part Two

If you missed the first of my Weekend Writing Workshop tips, then check out this link:- Tips #1

This week, I continue my tips. Whichever ones work for you, build them into your routine, and you will achieve great success! This is what I am wishing for you, and for all of us.

6. Lack of self-belief is your biggest enemy.

There you are, with a great sounding idea in your head. You start writing. Maybe you've already done the synopsis, or you haven't. Maybe you have the story in your head, and just want to get going without fully thinking it through.

But you must start somewhere. There are countless websites and books that will say 'oh you should do this - I did and I sold xxx amount of books'  and others will say 'oh you should do this' completely contradicting the other website.

Ignore them, because whilst you view the pros and cons, you are not writing.

But I digress. Procrastination is a killer of most things, but you need to believe in yourself if you are to get the book written (even if it is a book about self-belief!!).

Family may or may not support you in this venture. Same goes for friends - on and off line.

Writing is a lonely process. But if you have something to say, and you think it could be better served outside of blogging, then get the book done. Believe in yourself. Let no-one say to you 'you can't' when you can. Let no-one affect your goal. Otherwise you, who believes you have a book in you, will never get it done.

It's the fear of the thing, not the actual thing, that is scary - am I right?

Yes. I fear that terrible review. I fear the sales hitting the floor. Or worse - I fear not being able to write something good - something that I can believe in.

You may be thinking - 'but who would really want to read my story?' Well, let me say this - Hollywood pumps billions into making, producing and distributing low brain - high octane action movies (yes, Jason Statham, I am talking about you!) and it's fine...it has an audience. Not every movie has to be The Piano or Schlinder's List. I enjoy action movies. I love the stupidity of some of them. But they make money - because the studio believes it will.

The point is, even the worst ones make money. You can make money from your writing enterprise but you know - or may not know, the full extent of the amount of work you are going to have to put in.

But you can perhaps only put out trash once. Reviewers can be very unforgiving, and friends may get bored of you if you have 'yet another book' coming out. Not always the case, but you must push on nonetheless.

Why? Because you are a writer. You have a story to tell. Believe in it and yourself, and there is nothing you cannot achieve.

7. Give yourself a structure.

I like structure. I like process. Affect me in any way, and it could upset what I need to achieve that hour / day / week / month.

For some, it is writing for one hour in the morning before you go to work. For others, it is writing late into the small hours. But do give yourself a structure. Commit to finishing that chapter, or that word milestone, or simply getting particular scene as best as you can.

Don't let it become a chore, though. Actually, even when I knew my writing was substandard, I would still type away. It's like a pianist (also a hobby of mine) trying to find the right note or chord. Keep going. Give yourself a structure. Never stop until you have achieved your goal for that day, and if you do under hit or under achieve, resolve to fix it the very next day.

8. Pick a genre you like, not the hottest thing around.

The beauty of books is that they can be picked up at any time, and can contain absolutely anything within its pages. Imagine this - you read The Hunger Games, loved it, and thought 'hey, I can write a dystopian novel and it will be a hit because it is all the rage now.'

What happens? Many authors try it - Keira Cass, Veronica Roth, and so on. And your interest wanes because it is getting rather samey.

So if you are really set on writing the hottest thing right now, I think you can still write it, but it may get swallowed up by the Suzanne Collins and Co machine!

Quality is quality though - if you can write a quality book, then it will be found.

9. Allow yourself down time and down days.

There are days you simply won't want to write, nor be able to write. So allow yourself these moments of down time. Don't punish yourself. It happens. You have so much going on in your life that you can't focus. But the next day, it's better. And you can focus. Then you write, and you actually write better than you would have if you had forced it.

I'm trying to give myself the weekend off from writing, so that my body can heal from the teaching I do, and my brain can heal from the writing I do. Whatever works for you, do it by NOT doing it!

Go to the cinema, grab an ice cream, go shopping, see the football game, hammer the playstation.

But live.

10. Write the synopsis.

This is a very hard thing to do unless you have a real handle on your story and characters. Who do you mention? Who do you leave out? What significant event can be mentioned without giving the story away? What hook can you include that will make people want to read?

For my first fiction book, Dark Winter: The Wicca Circle, I managed to include two things that I wanted.

i) The short story hook the reason why the book is engaging and should be read
ii) A diary style entry that would get you into the character's head.

The Short Story Hook:-

Romilly Winter is no ordinary heroine, just an ordinary one. 

She has a gift. She can see the future. But can she see far enough? The world in which she lives is under attack - the dead are rising, and evil follows her at every turn.

Will she be able to save herself - and the world?

The synopsis cannot make you care about Romilly at this point, but it does give you an idea of the difficulty in which she finds herself. The cover gives you some idea, but raises more questions than answers. Can she save the world, indeed. If the story is total fantasy, you will have trouble caring about that. But this paranormal tale is told with elements that you have to believe are real, and could happen. That's why the short story hook works.

Again, if you missed the first of my Weekend Writing Workshop tips, then check out this link:- Tips #1

Happy reading and writing!

Wednesday, 8 October 2014

Book Review: The Modern Man by Cristiane Serruya

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I do love a well written philosophical book, and one of those that affected me the most over many years is Bruce Lee's Tao of Jeet Kune Do.

I am an experienced martial arts teacher, but when that book was written, it was ahead of its time. Bruce Lee was ahead of his time. Arguably now, only some of his concepts are being truly understood. I continue to wrestle with them myself.

The next thing to say is that I am a fan of Cristiane Serruya's works, without necessarily being a fan of 'hot romances'.

But her TRUST trilogy was, and is, a revelation.

So where does The Modern Man stack up? Written by the author when aged just 18, it shows a great maturity and, in relation to Bruce Lee - someone else who was ahead of her time.

At times, the book seems dream-like, almost stuck between the haze of half-sleep whilst dealing with the brutality of life. Some may even view this as a pro-feminist text. It may well be, but that's not how I took it.

It is a complex narrative, but beautifully written, and every single line engages you. It is a book worthy of many, many re-reads. In The Tao of Jeet Kune Do, many sentences deserve multiple re-reads.

I have read other philosophy books, but few as good as the one I mentioned. Now we can add this one to the list.

One of the most striking parts of the book, for me, was this:-

'The man has forgotten what is hot or cold.

He forgot what is wind or rain.

The man forgot the elements of Nature.'

I believe this is one of the most damning judgements on our lives today. We are controlled by our electronic devices, that makes me actually shudder at former Sun Microsystems supremo, Scott McNealy, who said 'we want everyone to be connected, everywhere.'

I thought that was a fine ideal at the time. Since then, Sun has gone the way of the technological dodo, and Mark Zuckerburg wants us checking Facebook even when we are outdoors!

No. Let's reclaim our place in the universe - with Nature at our centre.

I'd like to think this is the message the author wishes to convey in those few sentences, but I expect it runs much deeper, much more meaningful than that.

I would like to think Miss Serruya is working on a new non-fiction text. One wonders what she would treat us with.

If you want a book that will make you THINK - get this book. It's wonderful, but not in the literal sense of the word. It is not an easy read, despite its brevity. But then, it doesn't need to be long.

The best authors know when they have arrived at the final page.




Tuesday, 7 October 2014

25 Things I Know To Be True (since writing Dark Winter#1)


1. Hormones really are a b*tch.
2. There are some witches really can’t do *everything*.
3. Theory is so much more easier than practice.
4. If you’re attracted to someone, bl**dy tell them so!
5. Kung Fu doesn’t work that great on zombies.
6. Red heads are hot, even if they are flaky.
7. Know the difference between a friendly hug and when someone tries to squeeze the life out of you.
8. Mirrors are scary things (especially at 2am in the morning and you really need the bathroom)


9. Wearing blindfolds is always a bad idea.
10. Going to zombie-self-defence class should be compulsory.
11. Choose your friends carefully.
12. Anything that marks you out as different, makes you special. Not weird.
13. Shadows and shapes always look bigger in the dark.
14. Not every mirror can make you prettier.
15. Always carry your gloves.
16. Never ask a girl to give you her mirror.
17. Falling in love makes you blind to that person’s faults.
18. To avoid disappointment, get your prom date request in early.
19. Chocolate can pretty much defeat anything.
20. Information found on the internet can often be wrong.
21. There is never ANY reason to let a zombie girl into your house.
22. Dead people do keep grudges.
23. Scary things can happen in the daylight too.
24. Accept that you are stuck with the genes your parents gave you.
25. Hope will keep you going, and faith will see you through.