Originally posted on parmenionbooks:
Author Bio: in his own words
I live with my wife, son and daughter, and two (close approximations of) dogs in rural North Yorkshire, where my wife and I both grew up, surrounded by friends and family. A born and bred Yorkshireman with a love of the country, I cannot envisage spending my life anywhere else, though my anchor is sometimes tested as the wanderlust hits and we travel wherever I can find the breathtaking remains of the classical world. I have a love of travel and history, architecture and writing and those four interact well enough to keep me almost permanently busy.
Since leaving school and University, I have tried a great number of careers, including car sales, insurance, software engineering, computer network management, civil service and even paint ing and decorating sales. I have lived in four counties and travelled as widely as time and budget allowed and find myself…
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An unusual review of a little gem for you today. As you know I occasionally like to review the odd non-fiction work among the novels I read. Well the other day I came into possession of a copy of Facts about Fritz by Robin Schafer and Tim Hardy. Rob is a German military historian and consultant (and without doubt the most knowledgeable such I have ever come across) and Tim is a talented graphic designer. Together they have combined their skills to release this wonderful item.
If, like me, you have a passing knowledge of the First World War, mostly gained through school, holidays in northern Europe… and Blackadder, of course… then this book might prove as fascinating and informative to you as it does to me. If you are already an expert, it is pitched a little below your level to be honest, but that doesn’t mean it’s not worth having. Far from it.
Essentially, this book is 50 pages, with every two pages being an individual fact sheet on one aspect of the German army in 1914-1918. The production is superb. Glossy and beautiful, it’s a thing of beauty. But beyond that, it is chock full of period photographs, fascinating images of artefacts surviving to the present day, anecdotes and accounts from witnesses as well as the facts themselves as provided by the informed mind of Rob. The content varies from short factoids – such as
“Approximately 40,000 Messenger dogs operated with German units during the war.”
to letters written by the men at the front, to lengthy paragraphs detailing for instance the Reich’s Postal Service, to extracts from contemporary tales. All interspersed with appropriate imagery.
Subjects covered include such wide-ranging matters as the Iron Cross, Flags, Trench Newspapers and the Flying Circus.
The book is an objective and factual work on the army of the Kaiser’s Germany and should be fascinating to anyone who has even a passing interest in the era. The book costs £7.99 and is currently only available through Tim Hardy’s website HERE. I would also urge you to keep an eye on Rob’s site - as well as being fascinating in general, he has another book on Fritz and Tommy coming out next year through the History Press and that will be worth grabbing.
Back with some more choice fiction for you in the next week. :-)
I cannot tell you what a pleasure it is to be back at sea once again with Captain Thomas Kydd. Though the majority of my reading is of novels set in the ancient world or at most in the high medieval era, every now and then I like to dip into another era for a change, and Stockwin is fast becoming one of my absolute favourites.
If you’ve not read any of the Kydd series, I’d best warn you that you might not want to start with this volume, Pasha being the fifteenth book in the series. Of course, the bright side of that is that if you haven’t read any of them, I’m switching you onto not just one book, but 15.
Set in the late 18th to early 19th century, the series follows the nautical adventures of one Thomas Kydd, a low born southern Englishman who rises through the ranks of the British Navy, as well as those of his confidential secretary Nicholas Renzi. The first volume begins in 1793, meaning – those of you familiar with the era will probably already have thought of this – the reader has some of the most amazing and world-changing events to come.
So on to Pasha – Volume 15 – which takes place in 1807. After the disastrous debacle in South America from book 13 and the brief sojourn in the Caribbean in book 14, Kydd is called back to England. Fearing for his career and even legal repercussions after South America, our hero returns with his ship l’Aurore to face his doom. What he is returning to is far from what he expected.
More than any other book in the Kydd series I am fearful of giving anything away with Pasha. It is a book far too easy to spoil for the prospective reader, and so I shall attempt to tempt you without detailing too much plot.
As you might guess from the title, this book takes place in the Eastern Mediterranean – the domain of the Ottoman Empire. Sent east from the coast of Spain with orders to put himself at the disposal of the British ambassador in Constantinople, Captain Kydd finds himself at a critical moment in Ottoman history. Allied with both Britain and Russia, the Ottoman sultan is in the unenviable situation of being attacked by their Russian ‘friends’ while being wooed by their enemy the French. The British ambassador is desperate and nervous and on the verge of something precipitous, and Kydd is unable to do much more than do as he is told.
Throw into the mix a British nobleman acting as a spy and intriguer in the court of the Sultan, and things can only become more complex. At stake in this mess is the potential for Napoleon Bonaparte to secure an alliance with the Ottoman Empire and with it, a route for his forces into the wide world without having to break out past the British Navy. So no pressure, then?
Cue intrigue, races under fire, sea battles, imprisonment, escape, trickery, panic, land assaults and so much more in a switchback tale that is easily the best in the series and stands to be one of my top books of the year.
Incidentally, there is one scene in the book that will stay with me for a long time, because it reminds me very closely of one of my favourite movie moments of all time. Remember that scene in Das Boot, where the sub has been stuck on the bottom of the sea and manages to resurface but has to make a run through the Straits of Gibraltar on diesels, with the captain in the conning tower, yelling ‘Verdammt’ as he pounds his fist on the sub while guns blast from both sides? You don’t? Well now go out and watch that movie too! But there is a comparable scene in Pasha that held me with the same power.
Finally, I will say once again that Stockwin’s writing is among the most authentic in the field. Not only has he managed to get the feel of the era in his speech and descriptive, but his own history in the Royal Navy informs everything he writes and lends it an air of authority. Moreover, in addition to that wonderful prose and conversation, in this particular volume, he manages to add in the exotic heady culture of Ottoman Istanbul. It is a win, quite simply.
Kydd is back, and volume 15 is the best yet, full of surprises and excitement.
The book is out today. Go get it.
Hi folks, sorry for the extended hiatus. A few books I couldn’t yet or wouldn’t review have combined with school holidays and then a punishing month of writing madly to schedule and resulted in little time to read, review or just plain whiffle. But recently I’ve been back to the reading again, and to get me started, I was spurred on by the resurfacing of an old fave…
Valerius Verrens is back, guys, and back with a bang! Those of you who are following the series will remember that book 4 (Sword of Rome) had ended in something of a cliffhanger, as though the book hadn’t ended but rather hit an advert break. Well ‘Enemy’ picks up seamlessly where ‘Sword’ left off, continuing to tell the story of the Year of the Four Emperors from Verrens’ point of view.
In my review of book 4 I analogised the plot with a pinball machine, Verrens being twanged and shot back and forth betweem protagonists and antagonists almost against his will, necessity and honour requiring that he surrender himself to his fate.
Well I would say that book 5 follows suit, but it wouldn’t be a fair analogy. For unlike the ordered, almost Machiavellian maoeuvering of the previous book, Enemy of Rome picks up the pace and feels more like Verrens is a stick caught in the current of a fast flowing river as it plummets over a fall. He keeps hitting rocks and getting caught in eddies, and all the time moves closer and closer to the precipice.
That’s the feeling. Doug continues to tell the story of one of Rome’s most fateful years with style and vision. Indeed, I found in this book something of the same world-changing prose that created the infamous ‘temple scene’ of book 1 that remains one of my favourite pieces of writing of all time. You see Doug tackles something not many people can write convincingly: a night battle. Oh it’s easy enough to write the mechanical aspect of such an event. But few people can convey the panic, the confusion and the dread involved in it. Doug has done that in spades. The battle scenes in this are masterpieces, and none more so than the night fight.
But enemy of Rome is more than a string of battle scenes. As I noted with my stick and current analogy, Verrens does not often get to play the same role for very long: prisoner, general, negotiator, spy, protector, besieger. Verrens plays his part in the wars that we knew were coming between Vitellius and the rising star of the era: Vespasian. But he will also play his part in the intrigues in Rome, where camps are polarising and the streets are unsafe, while the woman he loves is forced to play a careful game in the house of Vespasian’s brother, for that same house plays host to the vile Domitian.
I think probably the only problem I ever have with these books is that my view of Domitian sits at odds with Doug’s. I see him as a somewhat withdrawn and antisocial character, but an able administrator and a man with sense who was handed the reins of a runaway empire and managed to bring it to a halt. But then every good novel needs antagonists, and Domitian certainly fits the bill with the Verrens series. He is certainly a loathesome character in these books. But praise due in a similar vein for changing my view of another historical figure. My picture of Aulus Vitellius has always been drawn from the views of his opponents and successors, and the picture Doug paints of him is a truly sympathetic one that tugs at the heartstrings. Bravo Doug for your Vitellius.
The story rockets towards the conclusion, which is every bit as exciting and tense as a reader of Doug’s work has come to expect, all the time keeping the flavour and the plot alive, and even leaving time for the characters to grow as it progresses. And what of the end? Well obviously I won’t ruin things for you. No spoilers. But suffice it to say that unlike the cliffhanger of book 4, this book has something of a game-changing ending that might see book 6 when it arrives being something of a departure. I’m certainly looking forward to it, anyway.
In short, then, this novel is a strong component in the continual growth of the Valerius Verrens series and really will not let you down. Full of tension and fury, tortured honour, impossible love and dreadful inevitability, it will keep you riveted til the very end.
Read the book, folks.
Staymaker is the first book by indie author Andy Millen, and is something of a departure for my reading pile for, while it is in the strictest sense a historical novel, it is much more ‘gangland’ than ‘blitzkrieg’.
The novel revolves around the smuggling rackets of the mid 18th century – a time when the government duty on good such as rum and tea and bans on export of wool along with compulsory sales systems were making the poor poorer. Thus rose groups, gangs and families who were by the letter of the law criminals, yet considered themselves ‘free traders’ and were often hailed as something of a dark hero by local residents and the folk they supplied at vastly improved rates.
And therein lies something of what drew me to it.
This is not a straight tale of bad guys and good guys. Every man in Staymaker is a shade of grey (though some are darker than others.) The tale and the action that unfolds within will evoke memories of old movies, series and books that you have probably forgotten. Moonfleet. Poldark. Jamaica Inn. Even Treasure Island and kidnapped. That certain era of history. And it really does evoke it. It is a well-written, well-characterised and well-plotted novel that brings us the story of a gang and its leaders who bear in many ways a resemblance to the Krays of the mid 60s in East London. Yes they were dangerous and even murderous men. But to the folk who lived around them, there was a certain respect (speaking as a man who has family who lived around them) for the levels of control they kept which prevented random crimes from afflicting the common folk.
I feel certain that you will experience the time and the location through the telling of the tale, and certain scenes are so nicely put together that they are almost cinematic.
The one negative point I must raise for a fair review is that the proofing of the book is a little lacking and would benefit from a solid edit (an issue that is a common hiccup with the indie writers and of which I myself have fallen afoul before now.) Typos, incorrect words occasionally and regular misplacings of speech marks were notable and for that I dropped the book from a 5 star to a 4 star rating. But I feel sure that with the next release that extra star will not be found wanting – as with other indie writers clearing up edits and rereleasing is a simple thing and I expect Millen will release a version 1.1 in the near future. And it is nothing but a hiccup in the scheme.
So that’s my thing. Buy Staymaker and read it for a thoroughly engrossing tale of the seedy underbelly of 18th century trade and familial wrenches through the gangs of the south east. You will, I’m sure, be transported back to an era of secretive signals and hidden trade.
Nice one, Andy. I look forward to seeing what next bleeds from your quill.