The Spider and the Stone

The Spider and the Stone

The Spider and the Stone by Glen Craney (Historical Fiction)

Lovers of castles and keeps, knights, and the lore of Scottish clans will thoroughly enjoy this well-written novel. Covering the years 1296 to 1330, the book brings to life the struggles of disparate and often warring Scottish clans to name a king they can all support while striving to rid Scotland of rule by the English kings Edward I, II, and III. Robert the Bruce, James Douglas (also known as The Black Douglas), and William Wallace (Braveheart) are among the familiar Scots portrayed here. We also meet Queen Isabella, wife of Edward II and sometimes known as the She-Wolf of France, plus a myriad of other characters including Edward II’s male lovers, some interesting clerics, a group of Knights Templar, and Isabelle MacDuff, a Scotswoman who played an important role in the crowning of Robert Bruce and is depicted here as James Douglas’s lover.

Glen Craney makes it clear that he has fictionalized the details and stories of historic characters about whose personal lives little is known. He has done extensive research, nicely displayed in his use of the vernacular and in his descriptions of countryside, castles, and towers. As one does from any good work of historical fiction, I came away with a desire to learn more about the time period – in this case, the wars for Scottish independence, the Plantagenet kings, the Knights Templar, and the Culdees. The book, although long, moves steadily and kept my unflagging interest, much of that driven by Craney’s writing style which fits the era in its elegance. The book includes intricate battle scenes based on real events, minor love scenes, and some gore.

Grandma gives The Spider and the Stone five stars.  5 stars

Bella Reads and Reviews Books received a free copy from the author in exchange for an honest review.

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How Speleology Restored My Sex Drive

How Speleology

How Speleology Restored My Sex Drive by Michael Bernhart (Action/Adventure)

Don’t judge this book by its title – it is a witty adventure story involving some hefty topics, including racism, kidnapping, and the aftereffects of serving in Vietnam, yet it kept me chuckling from beginning to end. The year is 1993, and the narrator, Max Brown, is the 52-year-old father of mischievous nine-year-old twins, Mary and Margaret (M&M), and husband to their “scrumptious” mom, Sally, who is much younger than he. As the title suggests, he worries about sexual performance, but that’s nowhere near what this novel is all about.

His precocious daughters disappear into the wilds of northern Georgia while visiting Sally’s crazy backwoods uncle, Skeeter. They and Skeeter hope to find Confederate gold rumored to be hidden in abandoned mines. Local Klan members don’t take well to outsiders messing around in their territory, but decide to see what the treasure hunters might discover before getting rid of them. Max and Sally don’t know which of the locals they can trust as too many negative things occur after they confide in seemingly friendly folks. They must rely on their own wiles and wits if they’re going to find their girls before it’s too late.

What makes this such an enjoyable read is the voice of Max Brown as he relates what’s going on with his kids, his wife, her wacky uncle, and the various people they run into on their quest. Max’s self-deprecating humor and his wry observations keep the narration light and funny even when the stakes are high and things are going poorly. None of it makes light of what the KKK stands for, however, nor are Klansmen portrayed as buffoons. The book depicts racism in all its ugliness and introduces us to people who must face it every day. As for the title and what it implies, think PG-13 when it comes to sex. Max is honest and funny but too much of a gentleman to go into detail.

Grandma gives How Speleology Restored My Sex Drive four stars. 4 stars

Bella Reads and Reviews received a free copy of this book from the author in exchange for an honest review.

Engadine Aerie

Engadine Aerie

Engadine Aerie by Bluette Mathey (Mystery/Suspense)

This is Book Five in the Hardy Durkin Travel Series, Durkin being one of those likeable everyday guys outside of law enforcement who just happens to keep stumbling upon, and solving, crimes and mysteries. In this case, there’s a murder, attempted murder, an attempted terrorist bombing, and a terrorist arms deal.

The author provides lots of characters to keep track of. Durkin is an outfitter/trekker who has joined a friend guiding her first ski tour group through a trip to the Engadine Valley of the Swiss Alps. We know every member of the group by name and follow their stories. We also follow wealthy royalty from Abu Dhabi and a set of sinister fraternal twins who live in the Engadine, plus a middleman or two in the arms deal. And because this is a stand-alone novel based on a series, we are brought up to date on Durkin’s past and his relationships with additional characters who appeared in previous books and are back again. For some of the aforementioned, we learn detailed family histories – in one case dating back to the Crusades, with theories about the Templars thrown in for good measure.

Mathey personally visits the off-the-beaten-track locations she writes about, a strong point in this series. She also does a lot of research. We get details about various parts of the Alps with histories of hotels and other significant sites, brand names for what the rich are wearing, and descriptions of the expensive cars they’re driving. Falconry plays a part in the story, and the author does a good job of bringing that to life.

The plot is complicated, as tales of international intrigue often are, and I admit to sometimes losing track of it all, but not enough to miss out on the main points. Overall, this is a very ambitious book that is generally successful but could use a trimming of the minutiae.

Grandma gives Engadine Aerie four stars. 4 stars

Bella Reads and Reviews Books received a free copy from the author in exchange for an honest review.

The Sweet Oil of Vitriol

The Sweet Oil of Vitriol

The Sweet Oil of Vitriol by Daniel Eagleton (Suspense)

If you need a protagonist you will like and empathize with, this book is not for you. Tom Glaze is a failed Mossad agent who drinks too much, uses cocaine, fantasizes about every attractive woman he meets, and makes some poor decisions on the job and in his personal life. He is definitely not your usual hero type, and that made him interesting to me, although a sense of humor or some other endearing characteristic would have made him more palatable. I didn’t like him, but I still wanted to know if and how he was going to pull off a planned hit on a crooked international politician.

Eagleton’s writing style takes some getting used to. At first I thought the lack of the pronoun “he” was a typo, but I soon learned that the author prefers to write in sentence fragments, describing the action in a series of phrases minus a stated subject. I am not opposed to an attempt at originality as long as the endeavor works, and once I came to accept the absence of pronouns, it did. Overall, I found the book well-written and well-edited, with a rare proofreading oversight like “she put his hand on his.”

This is the first book in “The Tom Glaze Series,” and it did a good job of wrapping up the current story while leaving plenty of room for more action to come. Perhaps, as Tom Glaze makes more of a name for himself in his chosen trade, he’ll rely less on booze and drugs and keep his distractions under control. At least one could hope so, and this reader would be willing to find out.

Grandma gives The Sweet Oil of Vitriol four stars. 4 stars

Bella Reads and Reviews received a free copy of the book from the author in exchange for an honest review.

The Miseries of Mr. Sparrows

The Miseries of Mr. Sparrows

The Miseries of Mr. Sparrows by Matthew A. J. Timmins (Humor/Mystery)

This is probably the most unique work I’ve reviewed in a very long time. It reads like a historical novel set in Victorian London, with a strong sense of place and gritty, Dickensian characters with lots of quirks and warts. At the same time, it’s very funny.

The setting is not exactly London but the very similar city of Claudon, capital of Albion, on the banks of the River Plew. Our anti-hero, Mr. Robin Sparrows, is a lowly legal clerk who is paid a pittance to do menial tasks for a disreputable law firm. He’s a timid, self-effacing fellow who falls prey to all sorts of dilemmas, most often due to the nefarious behavior of others. Still, his sense of duty propels him forward and keeps him going as he seeks to deliver a package to the Empire’s most notorious criminal, a man responsible for starting the Crocodile War with the nation of Crocodon.

I loved many things about this book. The writing is superb. The eccentric characters are entertaining, and the names of places — Upper-Hem-On-The-Edge, St. Audley’s Home for Limbless Soldiers — and the names of people — Lord Ernest Arenblast, the diminutive Warden Webert Stillbee — have the sparkling creativity of J.K. Rowling. I found myself chuckling at clever similes and plays on words as well as the outlandish situations in which the hapless Robin finds himself — attempting to hide on a windowsill while being attacked by a territorial pigeon was just one of many.

Readers with an appreciation for the mildly absurd and those who enjoy clever narrative and strong writing skills will find this refreshing novel most entertaining. If Mr. Sparrows were to return with new adventures, I would be happy to meet up with him again.

Grandma gives The Miseries of Mr. Sparrows five stars. 5 stars

Bella Reads and Reviews received a free copy of this book from the author in exchange for an honest review.

Exodus ’95

Exodus95.jpg

Exodus ’95 by Kfir Luzzatto (Suspense)

Two ordinary people unwittingly become pawns in a confrontation between dangerous and powerful men seeking the same valuable item. Add in the dilemma of a lead with a multiple personality disorder that’s getting out of control, and you have the action-filled premise of Exodus ‘95.

Dan is a likeable, somewhat self-effacing, everyday guy who has done things of substance but is no macho hero. He is a native-born Israeli who served in the 1973 Yom Kippur war as a very young man, and in 1995 is just your average guy trying to make a go of a small business in Tel Aviv. Claire is a somewhat enigmatic young American who, while clever and resourceful, is a graphic designer, not a covert agent. Together they must outwit a ruthless Russian and an equally ruthless Egyptian in order to save their lives.

The writing is well done; Luzzatto has several fiction and non-fiction books under his belt. He keeps the pace moving and held this reader’s attention throughout. The story is not predictable, and the characters are engaging. The multiple personality disorder made things feel surreal and disturbing to me, and I found myself wishing it wasn’t there because the people involved were more believable without it and the tale was good on its own. However, it adds a unique twist that ups the tension and the stakes and ultimately did not keep me from enjoying the book.

Grandma gives Exodus ’95 four stars. 4 stars

Bella Reads and Reviews Books received a free copy from the author in exchange for an honest review.

Oath of Honor

oath-of-honor

Oath of Honor by Matthew Betley (Thriller)

This page-turner kept me reading into the night, and the action never stopped. Anyone who enjoys thrillers with lots of involvement by covert government agencies and special ops forces will find this a satisfying read full of all the requisite suspense, anti-American global conspirators, highly trained specialists, and a traitor somewhere in the upper echelons of the U.S. government.

The main characters, former Marines Logan West and John Quick, are wise-cracking, close-as-can-be brothers in arms who now work as members of an FBI special task force. They are likeable, far-from-perfect individuals whose skills and dedication are put to the test as they search for stolen technology that has the potential to start a war between the U.S. and China. In addition to following the action through them, we also enter the worlds and minds of the co-conspirators from Sudan and China who are racing to put their stolen technology to use. And we meet other highly skilled special ops personnel, including the amazing and enigmatic Amira, who adds her own female awesomeness to the action. We also get a glimpse of the good-natured competitiveness between agencies and branches of the armed forces while they cover each other’s backs without compromise.

Oath of Honor is the second book in The Logan West Thrillers series that began with Overwatch. Author Matthew Betley is a former Marine with a high level of experience in the areas about which he writes and is also a recovering alcoholic, a trait he has given Logan West as part of his personal struggles. The result is a book that grabs the reader from the action-packed first chapter and just keeps on going to the ready-for-more conclusion.

Grandma gives Oath of Honor five stars. 5 stars

Bella Reads and Reviews received a free ARC of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.