Thursday, 28 March 2013

Review of Rome The Art of War by M.C Scott

I have really got into reading books about Rome recently, so I was delighted to receive a copy of M.C Scott’s latest book ‘The Art of War’.

It is AD 69 and the story follows Vespasian’s rise to power. The main character is Pantera, a spy who returns to Rome intent on pulling people on to Vespasian’s side. Pantera is ruthless and will use whatever skill it takes to ensure that he gets his way. What I liked most is that we get to know Pantera from many different angles, as the story is told from the viewpoint of a series of different characters.

Beautifully written, this is a book that I felt unable to put down. Ancient Rome, complete with all of the sights, sounds and smells came alive on the pages and I felt totally hooked.

This is the fourth book in the series, but reads equally well as a standalone novel.

In short, this book is amazing – 5 stars without a doubt. I cannot wait to read Manda’s next book about Joan of Arc.

 Thank you to Transworld for sending me a copy to review.

Interview with M C Scott - Author of Rome: The Art of War

I am delighted to welcome Manda Scott to the blog. The brilliant 'Rome: The Art of War' is published today.
Please tell us a little about yourself
I grew up in Scotland, and trained to be a vet at Glasgow Vet School before coming down to England to work as a horse vet in Cambridge and Newmarket. I took a specialist degree in veterinary anaesthesia and spent most of my professional life as an anaesthetist, with a particular interest in intensive care of neonatal foals. Somewhere along the line, I started writing again (I'd spent my childhood writing 'books' which I found in the house when my mother died) and around the turn of the millennium, I gave up veterinary work for ever and took to writing full time. That was the time, too, when I made the switch from writing contemporary crime thrillers, for which I did no research beyond walking into the pathology department and asking the guys how they'd commit the perfect murder, to writing historical novels that took huge, huge amounts of research.
These have shaped my life. First came the 'Boudica: Dreaming' series that charted who we were before the Romans came, and what we lost when Boudica lost that final battle. In many ways, these were the books I'd always wanted to write. I'd read Rosemary Sutcliff as a child and been enthralled not so much by Marcus and his imperialism, but by Esca and Cub. They were wild and had an authenticity that sang from the pages, but she never let us see what went on behind the goatskin door flaps when the Romans were not around. I wanted to know that and writing was as good a way to find it out as any.
After those, I wrote a one-of 'The Crystal Skull' based around the Mayan 2012 prophecies, and then began the ROME series of ancient world spy thrillers - again, I was addicted to John le Carré and Len Deighton and wanted to write something with that sense of constant danger, but in the past. Along the way, I think I found the historical basis for Christ, which was rather exciting: I'll write more on that, one day.
I live in south Shropshire, which is rather too far from London for my own good, but is beautiful and perfect for the dog training, of which more down the page.
Please tell us a little about 'The Art of War' and your inspiration for the book
Rome: The Art of War is fourth in the ROME series. I originally planned the series quite differently, but after The Coming of the King, I realised that I could write my own reply to Eagle of the Ninth, Rosemary Sutcliff's seminal novel, the one that kicked this all off for me. I knew that the Ninth hadn't really lost their Eagle, but I discovered that the Twelfth really had and yet the legion hadn't been disbanded, which means that someone, somehow, got it back again. So Eagle was a first person novel told from the perspective of a young conscript who joins the 'unlucky twelfth' and rises slowly through the ranks. It was such a joy to write and is easily the best thing I've written, so finishing it was a hard act to follow. I wanted to come back to Pantera, the spy who had been my central character in The Emperor's Spy and then The Coming of the King and I knew that I wanted to bring him into Rome and look at the Year of the Four Emperors which was quite easily one of the most documented - and most exciting - periods of Roman history.
I tried writing it in the third person, but it didn't have the life it needed, so I started again and wrote a multi-first person novel with Pantera at its heart - we see everyone's view but his, and yet we come to know him better than we have ever done. The Year was a time of great upheaval and there's no clear over-arching dynamic: men changed sides back and forth with no obvious reason other than the desire to be on the winning side, so it took some serious thinking to forge a path through - and in the end, it became clear that it was the men working behind the scenes, the agents of both sides, who were hunting each other while trying to influence the coming clash of armies, who drove the entire dynamic. So Pantera is right at the heard of all that happens, which feels good.
What are you working on now?
I've moved to a dual narrative style for a book looking at Jeanne d'Arc. I think I know who she really was and it wasn't a yeoman's daughter from Bar - I am astonished, really, at how people accept that as if it could somehow be possible. The general statement nowadays is that we don't believe in her god, but she did - and so her faith let her do the impossible. Which is still… impossible. I don't care how much faith you have, you can't put on a full suit of armour, pick up a lance, mount a fully trained war horse and ride into battle. Which she did. Although in the beginning Jean d'Alençon found her running about in a meadow with a lance, which is exactly what squires did when they were training. Impressed, he offered her a war horse and she rode it so well, he let her keep it. And then someone made her the armour. And then during the siege of Orléans, when her banner caught fire, she spun the horse on the spot, pulled the banner down and quenched the flames. And later, when they were losing, she and La Hire (a knight on the French side), couched their lances and led the charge that began the rout of the English.
All of this - and lots of other small details, chief amongst which is that she referred constantly to 'my father in heaven' who had told her to put the Dauphin on the throne, lead me to believe she was Marguerite de Valois, illegitimate daughter of Charles VI, the 'mad king' who loved the tilt so much he would go out incognito to watch the tournaments.

I also have reason to believe that she didn't burn and that her bones are still in existence.
So this is a dual thread narrative. one looks at the impact on the present day of the discovery of those bones. The other looks at the person she was, and the ways she became what history has made of her. It's a joy and a delight and I love every part of the writing.
Where is your favourite place to write?
My office at home in the cottage in Shropshire. In fact, this is pretty much the *only* place I can write. If I go away, I take research books and read and make notes, I don't' write.
What do you like to do outside of writing?
 I am completely addicted to dog agility. I have a working cocker spaniel and will soon (I hope) have another and we train here in Shropshire and in Devon with some very switched-on dog behaviourists and trainers who have woven together the leading edge science of how dogs learn (how anything learns) and the skills we need for top level competitive agility. We haven't competed much (injuries, deaths in my family, a litter of pups) but we won first time out, so I have hopes for later this season if I can work out why she's lame. One of the advantages of having been a vet is that I have good friends who have all the machines that go ping and can tell me what's wrong.
When I'm not doing that, I teach shamanic dreaming courses (more on which here: and do all the admin for the Historical Writers' Association, of which I am founder and Chair. I write a blog of my own, very intermittently, and try to keep on top of Facebook and Twitter. And I have been known to play computer games…
Here is a picture of Manda's beautiful dog!
Thanks Manda.
Rome: The Art of War is available to buy now.
Look out for my review coming later today.

Sunday, 24 March 2013

Review of Trapped by Jacqui Rose

The story begins with Maggie Donaldson`s release from prison for assault. She has her father, Max Donaldson`s, temper. Max is a nasty, abusive and ruthless gangland “face” in Soho, bent on controlling not only his extortion business but also his family by violent means. Maggie`s mother Sheila has put up with him for years but has done nothing to shield her daughter and sons Tommy and Nicky from the beatings he metes out to all of them.

Max has a hatred for everyone, especially his sworn enemy, Frankie Taylor, who is more successful than he is and who is respected in the underworld, unlike Max. Frankie has a wife, Gypsy, who loves the designer lifestyle and one son, Johnny, on whom he dotes. . The feud between the Taylors and the Donaldsons has gone on for many years, so many, in fact, that the origin of the discord has been buried.

Meanwhile – Maggie and Johnny have their own dangerous secret. They must keep the knowledge of their relationship as far away from the two families as possible. How can they do this is the face of the recently rekindled hostilities between Max and Frankie? How can Maggie protect her drug-dependent brother Nicky and what is the incubus which is taking over Tommy`s thoughts and giving him nightmares?

Trapped” shows us the brutal underside of society in Soho where the love, loyalty and faith between people can be misdirected by hatred, spite and greed, the latter two personified in Frankie`s sister Lorna. It is an arresting story with plenty of drama and stellar twists which leave the reader breathless. I find it even more rivetting as Jacqui has drawn on her own experience in the penning of this book.


Reviewed by Liz.

Thanks Liz and thank you to Avon for sending us a copy to review.

Sunday, 17 March 2013

Review of Instructions for a Heatwave by Maggie O'Farrell

Instructions for a Heatwave is an outstanding novel by award winning author Maggie O'Farrell.

It is the summer of 1976, the year of the drought and heatwave in England. For Gretta Riordan, the day begins the same as any other when she bakes bread and her retired husband leaves the house to buy the newspaper. However, that is where normailty ends, for Robert doesn't return from his visit to the local shop. It is a mystery, like he has vanished into thin air. In her desperation to find out where he is, Gretta tries to get into contact with her three grown up and very different children.

Siblings Monica, Michael-Francis and Aoife all live separate lives and seem to make little contact with one another. At the time of their father's disappearance, each of them are living with their own problems. Monica is trying to deal with her partner's children, Michael-Francis and his wife are having marital problems and Aoife is living in New York doing a job she loves, but struggles with. As the family get to grips with Robert's disappearance, the reader gets to know each character and their own story. From London to New York and onto Ireland, the reader is swept away in this mesmerising story.

This absorbing and beautifully written book illustrates the ways in which secrets can tear families apart and in some ways seek to bring them closer together. I really loved this book, the characters are so well formed that I felt like I knew them and the element of mystery meant that I didn't want to put it down.

5 stars

Thank you to Tinder Press for sending me a copy to review.

Wednesday, 13 March 2013

Review of The Poisoned Island by Lloyd Shepherd

From the very beginning, the reader is swept back to the early 1800s when the British Empire was attaining its height and the discovery of exotic faraway places was coming to an end. Sir Joseph Banks, president of the Royal Society, has personally financed one last voyage to Tahiti in the Solander in order to gather the exotic flora of the island and plant it the gardens and hothouses at Kew. Is this his only reason for the voyage? He seems more interested in one particular plant – this fascination noticed by his librarian, Brown, when the cargo is unloaded at Kew.

Meanwhile, against the backdrop of the East End docks, its poverty and lawlessness, River Police Constable Charles Horton and his Chief, Magistrate John Harriott , find that they are investigating the death of Sam Ransome . Ransome has been discovered by his lady friend, killed in mysterious circumstances in his rather seedy lodgings on the very night of the docking of the Solander - lying on his bed strangled but with a huge smile fixed on his face. His sea chest has been ransacked but nothing seems to be missing - his wages are still there, intact. The captain of the Solander, Captain Hopkins, a very upright and trusted captain can see no reason for Ransome`s death, but his ship`s Chaplain, a half-caste Tahitian islander, has an air of mystery about him and is unwilling to part with any information. The gruesome murders of five more crewmen follow, each in equally exceptional circumstances, the one link between them all being a kettle , a cup and some tea leaves?
How do these deaths connect with Banks and Brown? Was this voyage just a trawl for singular plant life to further the new science of Natural Philosophy championed by the Royal Society? What did Captain Hopkins and his crew really bring back to Kew from the sacred mountain on Tahiti? This story is masterful, combining as it does history and real characters with imagined personae, intrigue and politics. For anyone who has read” The English Monster”, this is another very rewarding read. If you haven`t been introduced to Lloyd Shepherd, this is an admirable first taste!

Reviewed by Liz.

Thanks Liz and thank you to Simon and Schuster for sending us a copy to review.

Friday, 8 March 2013

Sophie's Run Blog Tour - Review and guest post by Nicky Wells

Come on Tour with Sophie and Dan… Visit Sophie’s home town of Newquay
Sophie’s Run Blog tour 2013

Her famous star remains her rock while life takes her on a little detour…

Who says that the road towards true love is straight and even? Sophie is certainly discovering that it is anything but.

So she has finally found the man of her dreams! Well… she knows who he is, even though she hasn’t actually quite met him yet. But she misses her opportunity, and then her life goes crazy. Rock star and ex-fiancé, Dan, keeps getting in the way of her new romance—even if he is just trying to be helpful. A fire, an impromptu mini-trip with Dan, and a dreaded wedding later, Sophie is still struggling to meet the love of her life. Then, just as she is getting it together with her perfect man, best friend Rachel commits an act of unspeakable betrayal.

Sophie has had enough. Confused and distraught, she decides that it is time for radical change. Surprising herself and shocking her friends, she embarks on a secret journey and eventually gets her life back on track.

Review of Sophie's Run 

I loved Sophie's Turn, so I was delighted to be asked to be part of the blog tour for the sequel; Sophie's Run.

 The novel opens with Sophie seeing the man of her dreams, the one she knows is 'the one'. However, that is the problem, she has seen him but has no idea who or where he is. Just as she considers finding him, her life begins to turn upside down. Firstly, there is a fire at her beloved flat, a mini-break with ex-fiance and rock star Dan and then a trip to a wedding she has been dreading. When her best friend Rachel makes a huge mistake, Sophie decides to make some big changes to her life.

Although, it is a sequel it would also read well as a standalone novel. That said, I loved catching up with Sophie and Dan. I particularly enjoyed Wells' description of all of the places that Sophie visits in this book. From shopping in style in Berlin to a weekend break in Scotland, the locations are so vividly described that it is easy to imagine that you're there with the characters.

There are lots of twists and turns in the plot. Just when I thought something would happen another obstacle or event jumps in the way. This really kept my attention and made me feel that I didn't want to put the book down.

This is a great read, that is action packed. I can't wait to find out what will happen next! 

Guest post by Nicky Wells
Hi! My name is Nicky Wells, and I am the author of Sophie’s Run, Part 2 in the Rock Star Romance Trilogy. Welcome to the Sophie’s Run blog tour where Sophie and Dan quite literally take you on tour with them! Today, Sophie wants show you around Newquay, where she grew up. Over to you, Sophie!

*Sophie clears throat, smiles and waves* Hi, everyone. How are you? Thanks for coming today to Sarah’s gorgeous blog to join me on tour. I’m really excited about this post. I’m a seaside girl through and through and I can’t wait to show you around my home town of Newquay in Cornwall, West England. It is so beautiful there. Are you ready?

Oh, before we get going, I should say that I am not paid by the Tourist board. I just love my roots!

First of all, Fistral Beach. My parents own a little cottage that just about manages to overlook Fistral Bay and this is the beach of my childhood. I was surfing there before the pros arrived!

By Derek Harper [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons
<a title="Derek Harper [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons" href=""><img width="512" alt="Fistral Beach - - 875170" src="//"/></a>
Now this, you have to admit, is something else. Isn’t it? I have coveted owning this bungalow since I was three years old. Imagine living on your own island, complete with suspension bridge! Imagine sitting in your lounge in the winter as the gales howl around the rock and the spray of the waves splashing and foaming against your bedroom winter. Wow. I have to say that I have never actually set foot in the house. I believe it was for sale a few years back but I already lived in London then… Still, there’s time.

By Kicior99 (Own work) [GFDL ( or CC-BY-SA-3.0-2.5-2.0-1.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons
<a title="By Kicior99 (Own work) [GFDL ( or CC-BY-SA-3.0-2.5-2.0-1.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons" href=""><img width="512" alt="Plazawnewquaypiatyraqzwysylam" src="//"/></a>

This is Porth Beach. It’s quite narrow and most of the sand you see totally disappears at high tide. However, when the tide is really far out, you can just about manage to walk around those rocks at the top left hand corner of the picture to get onto the main beach. You only have a few minutes to do so as the tide turns and you might get wet feet but it is totally exhilarating. Be careful though and don’t take any risks!

By Frozenjakalope (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
<a title="By Frozenjakalope (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons" href=""><img width="512" alt="Newquay-porth" src="//"/></a>

 On a fine day, we often get seals in the harbour. As a kid, I used to spend hours sitting on the harbour wall watching these lovely creatures play. It’s meant to be lucky to see them! 
By Nilfanion (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 ( or GFDL (], via Wikimedia Commons
<a title="By Nilfanion (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 ( or GFDL (], via Wikimedia Commons" href=""><img width="512" alt="Grey Seals in Newquay" src="//"/></a>

I could go on for hours and hours but I’ll leave you with these images for now. My heart is sore with longing as I write. It’s been too long that I’ve visited down there. Still, having read this post, YOU will understand just why exactly why I run to where I run to in Sophie’s Run. Happy reading and thank you so much for joining me. See you soon!

Wait, wait, wait, there’s more: Introducing the Sophie’s Run Give Away!
1) Standard Giveaway

Nicky Wells is giving away one delicious chocolate gift to a lucky winner in the UK or North America!
The small print: This Gift prize is a product of Unique Chocolate. The Gift prize is subject to availability in your country. If the Gift prize is not available in your country, Nicky Wells reserves the right to offer a substitute gift prize of a similar nature at her discretion. Nicky Wells will require the winner’s postal address for shipping purposes.

Rafflecopter Links:

<a id="rc-926ff61" class="rafl" href="" rel="nofollow">a Rafflecopter giveaway</a>
<script src="//"></script>

a Rafflecopter giveaway

2. Bonus Giveaway

Nicky Wells offers a giveaway of one Amazon gift voucher worth $20/£15 for one lucky winner. To enter, simply share your thoughts on Sophie’s Run with Nicky. Email your comment to and your name will be entered into the draw. Competition closes 1 May 2013.

About Nicky Wells: Romance that Rocks Your World!

Rock On! Nicky Wells writes fun and glamorous contemporary romance featuring a rock star and the girl next door. A signed author with U.S. publisher, Sapphire Star Publishing, Nicky is in the throes of publishing her Rock Star Romance Trilogy. Nicky loves rock music, dancing, and eating lobsters. When she’s not writing, Nicky is a wife, mother, and occasional teaching assistant.

Originally born in Germany, Nicky moved to the United Kingdom in 1993, and currently lives in Lincoln with her husband and their two boys. In a previous professional life, Nicky worked as a researcher and project manager for an international Human Resources research firm based in London and Washington, D.C.

Visit Nicky on her blog where you can find articles, interviews, radio interviews and, of course, an ongoing update on her work in progress. You can also follow Nicky on Twitter and find her on Facebook. Nicky is a featured author on the innovative reader/author project, and has joined the Romantic Novelists’ Association. Nicky also has author pages at Sapphire Star Publishing, Amazon and, of course, Goodreads.

Sophie's Run is available to buy now:

Sunday, 3 March 2013

Review of Pedigree Mum by Fiona Gibson

Pedigree Mum is a fantastic novel from bestselling author Fiona Gibson.

Kerry and Rob have been happily married for a number of years when they decide to move from London to the coastal town of Shorling. Kerry is ecstatic and cannot wait for the family to settle into their new home. However, out of the blue Rob makes an enormous mistake that dramatically effects the family's lives. Before she knows it, Kerry is struggling to look after the children, hold down a job and put up with desperate pleas to get a dog. Feeling sorry for the children, Kerry gives in and adopts a lovely dog called Buddy.

I loved Kerry's character, she is strong, determined and tries hard to get her life back on track. There are also a number of characters and sub-plots woven into the plot, which work really well. I particularly liked Harvey and found Brigid to be quite amusing. The best character, however, has to be Buddy the dog, he is very good at getting himself into awkward situations and embarrassing Kerry.

I loved this book and did not want to put it down. Gibson has created a strong story with believable characters and filled it with lots of humour that had me laughing out loud. There is a certain clown scene in the novel that I think is one of the funniest scenes I have ever read!

5 stars

Thank you to Avon for sending me a copy to review.