Tuesday, 15 November 2016

Becky Bookworm Book Review: Viking Fire by Justin Hill

Viking FireViking Fire by Justin Hill

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Harald Hardrada is one of my FAVOURITE Viking Kings EVER! I have read both fictional & non-fiction books on his epic journey from zero to hero but I will confess Justin Hill's 2nd novel which focuses on this giant of Norse history, is the first that has made me fall deeply in love with him. Almost as much as I fell in love with King Cnut in Helen Hollick's Hollow Crown.
Harald's is a story that involves him facing and overcoming challenge after challenge and shaping him to be the great Norwegian King, as great as the tales tell him to be.
My favourite part of the entire book has to be when Harald reaches Miklagard, the Great City, Constantinople (Istanbul) - the city, society, landscapes, people and of course the very treacherous politics was superbly captured and brought alive on the page. There is one particular and relatively minor conflict Harald gets embroiled in as he serves amongst the Emperor's armies, involving one of the men of the many crews he now commands, and the choices he makes in that event is the strongest indicator of the kind of leader and ultimately King Harald will mature to be. I won't give away too much detail about the situation but it is a clear & firm demonstration that Harald is a man worthy of following and more evidence of why so many did.
There are of course lots of more everyday scenes involving Harald that better define his character and personality, be it with his crew, his mistress or wives, with his children or even when he is talking to a General or an Emperor. Each of these scenes is distinctive and sometimes emotionally touching. I have laughed with Harald, cried with Harald, cheered with Harald, even yelled in anger or shock with Harald. You really do get under the skin, into the blood and dive in his soul as you read each chapter.
Within each chapter I found there was at least 1 line I read that would stick in my head for hours after I had put the book down (which was only ever when I was working I must admit). I found so many literary gems amongst the prose that I started adding them to my own personal list of favourites and it grew and grew as I read the book. I won't list them all as they might hint at spoilers for new readers but I will mention the first line that I was struck by. It was when Harald was with his brother, King Olaf's army, waiting to face the rebellion forces. Harald remarked to himself that Death is like going to sleep, it's living that hurts. If you hurt you know you are alive. Or something like that, to that affect at least. Having recently, in the past year, encountered death through my father, and having had morbid thoughts about what dying is actually like, this one line made a lot of sense to me and I could see how that would bring some comfort & strength to a young warrior facing his first fierce battle. It also showed that this was a Viking who due to his Christian upbringing at least, was considering more than just what kind of afterlife he might have in heaven, he was actually contemplating how he transforms from earth to heaven through death. It is a small yet significant way of reminding the reader that at the end of the day, despite his momentous life & impact on history forever, Harald was still a human being, like ourselves, who will consider his own existence and the sad and often scary fact that we all die in the end. Albeit in Harald's time death & dying was more common and more visible than it is in the 21st century.
I thoroughly enjoyed this book and it's beautiful and masterful telling of Harald's life. Highly recommend to fans of Vikings, 1066, or just Historical Fiction in general.

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Becky Bookworm Book Review: Path of Gods by Snorri Kristjansson (Valhalla Saga Book 3)

Path of Gods (The Valhalla Saga, #3)Path of Gods by Snorri Kristjansson

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Absolutely bloody brilliant! Great characters, superb action, amazing battles and sparkling dialogue. Combined with a cleverly and well crafted plot that is full of surprises and a good dash of humour. A fine and fitting end for all involved, some remarkable plot twists that neatly bring the characters and storyline full circle with great storytelling. This final book was packed full of Norse mythical references and I was especially impressed with the introduction of a horror element to the magic used. It didn't revert to stereotype and still maintained a strong Nordic influence and style to its approach and indeed how the heroes and companions fought against this new and increasing threat.
Overall this trilogy is a masterful retelling of the raise of King Olaf and his blood-coated mission to make the Danes Christian and Snorri has cleverly captured the religious conflict of the time and presented it in a manner that really does remind the reader why the Vikings held firm to their belief in the Aesir and the Old Ways for no great heroes have ever truly emerged from Christian trials and adventures, only in the ways of the North are true heroes forged, their tales becoming legend.

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Becky Bookworm Book Review: Blood Will Follow by Snorri Kristjansson (Valhalla Saga 2)

Blood Will FollowBlood Will Follow by Snorri Kristjansson

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Although I felt a bit lost to begin with having returned to this story a good while since reading the first book I did reconnect with the trio of main characters quickly. They each got their own journey full of adventure, magic and bloodshed and like the triple knot Valknut Snorri weaves their three storylines cleverly throughout the book and tying it all fluidly and smoothly together at the end in quite a dramatic and tense clash. I was particularly impressed with how well and almost naturally Snorri introduced two of the old god characters into the story, often without naming them directly but reflecting and honouring traits, omens and symbols that make each unique and individual.
Snorri's writing is quite steady in terms of pace and he shows great skill and talent in creating drama without relying on the a-typical fight scenes. Some of my favourites scenes have simply involved evocative and simple descriptions, scenery, dialogue and characters body language.
Will definitely be ordering the final book in this really enjoyable saga.

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Sunday, 21 August 2016

Becky Bookworm Book Review: The Death of Robin Hood by Angus Donald (Outlaw Chronicles Book 8)

What can I say about this final heroic adventure with a legendary man so many have come to love? I will do my best to give away no spoilers here...

Firstly there is a strong theme of Division running through this last adventure. England has become fractured by civil war over the Magna Carter and King John's lack of acknowledgement of it. So the Royalists and the Rebels once again start fighting over lands & castles. But into this mix steps King Louis and his invading French army to support the Rebels in exchange for the throne. Thus the civil war is now a war of conquest and through siege and battle Robin & Alan & Co find themselves changing sides to match their loyalty to the English Kingdom rather than the King.
There are of course many superb nail-biting, heart-stopping and dramatic and dangerous experiences of the war both as victors and losers through these turbulent years.
Yet as mentioned before Division can exist at any and all levels - not just loyalty - division can be caused by love & hate, oaths sworn and lies told, anger & jealousy, rank and by blood.
So it is amongst a world fractured and shattered both within the band of brothers & companions through to the very fate of the English Throne that creates the turmoil that leads to a shocking last turn of the page for our brave heroes.
It was a true joy to read word for word paragraph and page. It made me laugh, cheer, boo, hiss, gasp, and cry out the words "oh god no". It made me happy, disgusted, proud, sad and by the end heartbroken.
The tag line on the end of the book sums it all up really - and if you have read all of the adventures and this one you will understand - "Heroes fall. Legends live forever."
Angus Donald has indeed re-forged this legend and character into a burning brand that will be burnt into the minds and souls of many readers. A mark of loyalty to his stories that will never fade. A mark that all readers of this series will proudly bare.

Tuesday, 19 July 2016

Becky Bookworm Book Review: Winter's Fire by Giles Kristian (Sigurd's Saga Book 2)


God of Vengeance was all about - Vengeance. And family and honour and betrayal.
Winter's Fire is about Reputation and Patience and Survival.
Sigurd and the company had some serious big adventures and that did earn Sigurd a reputation and even a nick-name - Odin-Favoured. But Sigurd knows it will take more than this new reputation and the head of a Jarl to have any battle luck against King Gorm. Who will now be even more determined to squash the threat from Sigurd before it becomes serious. So Sigurd and Co head south, away from Gorms reach to earn more war-fame, silver and loyal sword-norse.... but danger stalks them at every turn.
The adventures that happen in this sequel are more frequent albeit more small in scale compared to previous book. But each twist in the weft and warp of this growing saga shows Giles is still a Master of Kennings and a skillful Skald for keeping the pages turning. We grow even more on the current cast and equally learn to love or hate new characters that enter the tapestry of the tale. I particularly love a brilliant plot line that Giles has dedicated to Sigurd's sister Runa as it matches my favourite aspect of the Vikings. I won't reveal any further details so I don't spoil it.
I would best describe this as a simmering and bubbling sequel that is as enjoyable as the first with gripping beats of drama and tension all the way through.
It is building a great expectation for an epic dramatic finale in Wings of the Storm where the heat of the drama is turned to boiling point. I for one can not wait to see blood spill over the edge of this literary vessel and watch with baited breath to see who survives.

Monday, 11 July 2016

Becky Bookworm Book Review: Magnus Chase and the Sword of Summer by Rick Riordan

Click on the cover to read my full review of this exciting & very funny new YA Norse fantasy series by Rick Riordan...

Becky Bookworm Book Review: The Last Viking by Berwick Coates

Click on the cover to read my full review of The Last Viking - a new historical novel on 1066...

Becky Bookworm Book Review: Valkyrie's Song by MD Lachlan (Wolfsangel Cycle Book 4)

Click on the cover to read my full review on MD Lachlan's 4th blood-soaked saga of the Fenrir curse set in the Harrying of the North...

Becky Bookworm Book Review: The Immortals - Hereward (Book 5) by James Wilde

Absolutely bloody fantastic! Another page-turner, edge-of-seat read with more cliffhanging action, drama and battles than Game of Thrones and The Bourgois put together! James Wilde is giving Hereward the adventure of a lifetime and the reader a tour of historical events with the power of a whirlwind. Truly enjoyed every chapter. Immediately pre-ordered Book 6 upon finishing last page. At least I don't have long to wait for my next Hereward fix. Historical fiction fans MUST READ this series. This forgotten English hero deserves everyone's attention as James's writing deserves every word to be read.

Sunday, 3 July 2016

Becky Bookworm Book Review: Chronicles of the Vikings by R. I. Page

Chronicles of the VikingsChronicles of the Vikings by R.I. Page

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

A really interesting if old book that carefully goes explores nearly every aspect of Viking culture and history from geographical aspects through to their customs and beliefs. All through the words of the Vikings themselves, from runestones, sagas and other historical documents. Definitely recommend for anyone with a strong interest in Vikings.

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Becky Bookworm Book Review: Valkyrie: War of the Realms (Book 3) by Kate O'Hearn

Click on the cover to read my full and final review of a truly exciting series by Kate O'Hearn...

Becky Bookworm Book Review: Shieldwall by Justin Hill

Click on the cover to read my full review of this exciting new historical novel set in the huge historic moments of the year 1066...

Becky Bookworm Book Review: The Weight of Stars by Tessa Gratton

Click on the cover to read my full review of this Novella compilation to accompany the 3 United States of Asgard books... (found near the bottom of the page link)

Becky Bookworm Book Review: Fin Gall by James L. Nelson

Click on the cover to read my full review of this historical novel set in Norse Ireland...

Becky Bookworm Book Review: The Harrowing by James Aitcheson

The HarrowingThe Harrowing by James Aitcheson

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Where to begin - how about from the very beginning - I must warn all future readers that this book is one of those where it is what it says on the cover - Harrowing - this is a book that deals with the grim, the dark, the deadly, the deceitful, the shameful, even sinful, parts of humanity. All set within the bleakest period of medieval English history - the Harrowing of the North - where the Normans led by Duke William (and King of England alas) came and 'laid waste' to the northern shires. So if you are at all squeamish this probably isn't the best choice - not that James has filled every chapter with hangings, murder, rape, hall burning, starvation etc. In fact the actual carnage of the setting is presented in a more sinister manner, with a great subtlety that will chill you. As horrific as the previous list of incidents involved in The Harrowing is, James shows you that for a survivor the empty landscape, lack of food & water and absence of family, friends, homes and most importantly TRUST, is perhaps a bigger danger than the blades of the Normans themselves.
So welcome to the world of 1068 and you will learn, see, feel, hear and experience why so many of the time thought it was the End of the World and that God was indeed punishing them all for their wicked ways through the medium of Norman tyranny.
The Reader will get to know 5 characters in this dark & foreboding world - Tova a servant, Merewyn a Lady, Beorn a Warrior, Guthred a Priest and Oslac a Minstrel. Each flees not just the Normans but also a secret past, a secret sin, each struggles against suspicion to forge an unlikely alliance of travellers as they try to reach a place in the far north where an army of rebels is gathering to strike back at the Normans. Over 7 days and 7 nights, each character battles not just the severe winter elements, the sights of their people butchered and the constant threat of the approaching Norman army; each also battles with their own fear of the future, each tries in vain to keep any hope of freedom, peace, even normality, returning to their once simple lives.
This is a very different book compared to James's original trilogy involving Tancred a Norman Knight. Not just in point of view - the majority of the tale is told from Tova's eyes, you only ever hear her thoughts and opinions and feelings towards the group of survivors - this makes a noticeable different in that James is writing from a female voice, not a male voice. He also uses multiple voices as this story is about five people, not just Tova. This technique is perhaps the most challenging to write as you must make each voice distinctive as each character is and he does this masterfully well. The toning and phrasing is just right for each character - as the Reader travels with these characters I am sure each reader will have their own favourite and each will not only judge but also change their minds about others as their secrets are revealed one by one, and these secrets will have an impact on the groups survival. It is another wonderful masterstroke by James to weave five characters and five stories together as one but to also enable the past of each character to have such a direct and guaranteed surprising & shocking impact on the 'Present' of the story. Shows great story craftsmanship as well as planning & plotting to pull it off so completely without any flaws or tangles.
Yet again James has managed to illuminate in full colour, sound & sensation a much over-looked sometimes forgotten period of English history and remind us all through these five unique characters how very human the Anglo-Saxons were and the very real life-changing danger they all lived through.

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Tuesday, 23 February 2016

Becky Bookworm Book Review: Foresworn (Sisters of Fate Book 3) by Rinda Elliott

Yet again the world Rinda Elliott has created gripped me utterly and completely, once I started I struggled genuinely to put it down. Finished it within 2 days and it proved to be a worthy climax to this series.
Read my full review by clicking on the cover:

Monday, 15 February 2016

Jorvik Viking Festival 2016 - King Canute's Millennial Anniversary

This years Jorvik Viking Festival is a special one. Not just because the beloved Jorvik Viking Centre was unfortunately flooded at the end of the year due to severe storms. So support from attending this years events is an essential part in helping it repair and rebuild anew.

But also because its 1000yrs since a Viking sat on the throne.

Yes an actual real Viking (albeit it Christian). King Canute (or Cnut) claimed the English throne in 1016 after his long standing opponent Edmund Ironside (last son of Ethelread the Ill-Councilled). King Canute also married my other favourite norse historical figure, Emma of Normandy. She became Queen of England twice and Mother of two future Kings, one from each husband (Harthacnut & Edward).

I am going to excitedly attend 7 events:

- Tuesday 16th
1) Vikings in your Vocabulary with Richard Dance and Sara Pons-Sanz
2) Helen Thirz Addyman Lecture: In Praise of King Canute: Norse Poetry in England

- Wednesday 17th
3) Thorfinn the Nicest Viking with David Macphial
4) Coffin Fit - The Story of the Swinegate Skeletons

Friday 19th
5) Historical Writing Masterclass with Justin Hill
6) Canute, the Wave and the seeds of 1066 with Justin Hill

- Saturday 20th
7) King Canute's Spectacular Finale

There are loads more events listed on the website.

Even if you can't attend the Festival this year (many events already sold out) please, if you love history at all or appreciate how museums allow thousands to learn about history often for free, please donate to the Jorvik Viking Centre and help them generate funds to repair and rebuild a new, bigger & better Centre for 2017. Support their Campaign Canute.

You can read more about their positive plans for the future and how to donate by clicking here.

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