Tag Archives: ancient civilizations

Review: The Varangian (Book 3) by Bruce MacBain – An Exciting Viking Adventure

Today I have a review The Varangian, which is book three in a great historical fantasy series that I’ve been following (Odd Tangle-Hair Saga). However, it looks like it might end up only a trilogy. It’s so well-done though I can’t help but wish for more. You can also read them stand alone, but you’ll get so much more out of it if you read them all. Don’t forget to check out the giveaway for the book at the end of the post!

perf6.000x9.000.indd

Review –

I really can’t say enough good things about the Odd Tangle-Hair Saga penned by Bruce MacBain. The Varangian is the third, and it seems the final, in the series. You can view my review of the second book, The Ice Queen, HERE, and an interview I had with Bruce HERE. I was first drawn to this series because I love historical books that combine into fantasy, especially if they are dealing with ancient civilizations or Vikings.

Bruce’s story telling ability draws in the readers and often as soon as I start his books I’m completely absorbed into the worlds and legend he has created. Of course, with great anticipation, it was the same with The Varangian. Without being over flowerly or academic or hard to follow, Bruce somehow writes in a way that allows to feel as if we are also privy to the story as if we were in it ourselves. It’s like the long lost story your Viking grandpa would tell if you lived in a more far away time and you  had a Viking grandpa (haha)…but you get my drift.

I couldn’t wait to see what adventure Odd Tangle-Hair became drawn up into and as he venture into Byzantine empire in this book, I was as enthralled by Bruce’s authentic details and descriptions of this time and place as much as his protagonist was in the story. Of course, Odd must have some suspenseful mission up his sleeve as always that will take us through excitement, danger, sadness, and this time, even love. Constantinople is the perfect setting for such deep emotions and Bruce plays into that very well, allowing the reader to be swept away as well.

It’s also very obvious that Bruce is a true historian. He knows the people and places of the ancient worlds like he was living among them. This allows the reader, especially historical lovers, to be immersed even more into the story. A true feeling of place is captured in his dynamic prose.

Book three probably brings us the most compelling and climactic action as Odd finally comes head to head with antagonist Harald, as well as the friction between so many various cultures all coming to a point at this beautiful city of Constantinople. Both Odd and Harald are written with a high level of characterization and depth, but Bruce is also adept at bringing us a strong supporting cast of new characters in each book. They were exceptionally well-done in The Varangian, allowing the time and place to be even more engaing as you can’t have a good story without good characters.

As Odd tells his story, a perfect narrator, I could definitely smell, taste, hear, and see his adventure as if I lived it with him. I’ve completely enjoyed this series and will treasure it for years to come. Very highly recommended.

02_The Varangian.jpgThe Varangian by Bruce MacBain

Publication Date: November 29, 2016
Blank Slate Press
eBook & Print; 341 Pages

Series: Odd Tangle-Hair Saga, Book Three
Genre: Historical Fiction

The third volume of Odd Tangle-Hair’s Saga finds our hero in Golden Miklagard (Constantinople), posing as an ambassador from the Grand Prince of Rus. But his real mission is to assassinate his former master, Harald the Ruthless, who has now risen high in the Emperor’s Varangian Guard. Odd is dazzled by the brilliance of the Byzantine capital and its beating heart–the Great Palace, with the astonishing Throne of Solomon that levitates above the heads of kneeling courtiers.

Here, Odd will meet Constantine Psellus, an ambitious young bureaucrat who mentors him in the ways of the court. He will be drawn into an intrigue that involves the Empress Zoe, who spends her days brewing vats of perfume, and John the Guardian of Orphans, the powerful and sinister eunuch who schemes to advance his family. And Odd will fall in love with Selene, an alchemist’s daughter, who supports herself by gambling in the waterfront taverns.

Finally, after a hard-fought campaign against the Saracens in Sicily and the overthrow of an Emperor, Odd reaches the pinnacle of power and believes he has vanquished his enemy Harald once and for all.

Then disaster overwhelms him.

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | IndieBound

Praise for The Varangian

“Thoroughly effective at explaining the intriguing and highly complex circumstances of the time period, Macbain’s (The Ice Queen, 2015, etc.) book shines in a way that only historical fiction can. Who needs King Jon Snow in Game of Thrones when one can get a glimpse of the historically real and undeniably sinister John the Guardian of Orphans? Even the most terrifying dragon pales in comparison to the sheer horror of a society so comfortable with castration. As the story ventures outside of Constantinople, the reader is treated to a plot that can only be described as epic … a highly entertaining Viking adventure.” – Kirkus Reviews

“This is the third and final of Macbain’s Odd Tangle-Hair novels. All three have been spellbinding in their storytelling, though this one may be the best. Odd’s journey takes us around the Mediterranean and eastern European world, and all the way north back to Iceland. The characters are wonderful, the story intriguing, the combat real but never superfluous, and Odd makes for the perfect protagonist. Highly recommended.” – Historical Novel Society

“Written by a historian with deep understanding of the cultures, peoples, and languages of this world, The Varangian speaks with an authoritative and compelling voice that can equally present naval battles decided by Greek Fire and court intrigue culminating in advancement to lucrative rank or in mutilation and blinding. This is a masterfully written and suspenseful tale that weaves fictional characters into the dramatic story of eleventh-century Byzantium and ambitious women and men, some home grown and some drawn from afar, who aimed to profit from an empire of legendary wealth and splendor.” – Emily Albu, Professor of Medieval and Byzantine Studies, UC, Davis

“The Varangian is the third and final volume of Bruce Macbain’s Odd Tangle-Hair’s Saga, and like the first two entries, it is as compelling and wild a ride as historical fiction offers. Macbain brilliantly weaves in his vast knowledge of 11th century Viking and Byzantine life with a great storyteller’s ability to drive the plot forward, a plot filled with intrigue, violence, betrayal, and lust.” – Barton Kunstler, author of The Hothouse Effect

“Detailed and vivid writing.” -Albert Noyer, author of the Getorius and Arcadia Mysteries

Author Bruce MacBain, Biography

03_Bruce MacbainBruce MacBain has degrees in Classics and Ancient History and was formerly an Assistant Professor of Classics at Boston University.

He decided to stop writing scholarly articles (which almost no one read) and turn his expertise to fiction—a much more congenial medium.

His previous novels include two mysteries set in ancient Rome (Roman Games, The Bull Slayer) and the first two novels in the Odd Tangle-Hair series (Odin’s Child, The Ice Queen).

For more information, please visit Bruce MacBain’s website. You can also find him on FacebookTwitterGoogle+, and Goodreads.

Giveaway

To win a copy of The Varangian by Bruce MacBain, please enter via the Gleam form below. Three copies are up for grabs!

Direct Link: https://gleam.io/MTA2D/the-varangian

Rules

– Giveaway ends at 11:59pm EST on April 27th. You must be 18 or older to enter.
– Giveaway is open to residents in the US & Canada only.
– Only one entry per household.
– All giveaway entrants agree to be honest and not cheat the systems; any suspect of fraud is decided upon by blog/site owner and the sponsor, and entrants may be disqualified at our discretion.
– Winner has 48 hours to claim prize or new winner is chosen.

Follow along with the tour!

Hashtags: #TheVarangianBlogTour #HistoricalFiction #HistFic #Historical #Vikings

Twitter Tags: @hfvbt @BMacbain

04_The Varagian_Blog Tour Banner_FINAL

Advertisements

Leave a comment

Filed under Book Reviews

Review: The Memory Painter by Gwendolyn Womack

Hello! Today I’m featuring a review of The Memory Painter! At the bottom is also a giveaway for a $25 gift card and an Eye of Horus Necklace!! Stay tuned Monday for an interview with Gwendolyn Womack as well.

02_The Memory Painter PB Cover

 

Review

I don’t have much time to read lately with my work and home schedule, and when I do I have to read quickly, so I like books that can captivate me and take me away for a few hours when I take a summer break and spend an evening at the beach. I have to say that The Memory Painter was perfect for me to take along on our annual Fourth of July day out. I had been dying to read it and it immediately was swept into the story. Here’s the synopsis:

The Memory Painter: A Novel of Love and Reincarnation

by Gwendolyn Womack

Publication Date: July 5, 2016
Picador USA
Paperback; 336 Pages
ISBN: 978-1250095770

Genre: Historical Fiction/Time Travel/Mystery/Romance

Finalist for the 2016 RWA Prism Awards for Best First Book & Best Time Travel/ Steampunk category.

Two lovers who have travelled across time.

A team of scientists at the cutting edge of memory research.

A miracle drug that unlocks an ancient mystery.

At once a sweeping love story and a time-travelling adventure, Gwendolyn Womack’s luminous debut novel, The Memory Painter, is perfect for readers of The Time Traveler’s WifeLife After Life and Winter’s Tale.

Bryan Pierce is an internationally famous artist, whose paintings have dazzled the world. But there’s a secret to Bryan’s success: Every canvas is inspired by an unusually vivid dream. Bryan believes these dreams are really recollections―possibly even flashback from another life―and he has always hoped that his art will lead him to an answer. And when he meets Linz Jacobs, a neurogenticist who recognizes a recurring childhood nightmare in one Bryan’s paintings, he is convinced she holds the key.

Their meeting triggers Bryan’s most powerful dream yet―visions of a team of scientists who, on the verge of discovering a cure for Alzheimer’s, died in a lab explosion decades ago. As his visions intensify, Bryan and Linz start to discern a pattern. But a deadly enemy watches their every move, and he will stop at nothing to ensure that the past stays buried.

The Memory Painter is at once a taut thriller and a deeply original love story that transcends time and space, spanning six continents and 10,000 years of history.

It’s not too far fetched to say I was intrigued by these words….time travel, art, egypt. But of course, there was so much more as I came to find out. I am not a fan of romance novels, but I AM a fan of original ones that tear at your heart strings, that seem soul ribbing real, and are underlying to the main thriller plot. You can just feel it as they feel it, no need to be overly descriptive with it type of thing. So yes, as it describes there is a love story, but it’s quite an interesting one!

The plot moves quickly a good amount of the time, from the beginning and then again by the middle. I was a tad bogged down by the scientific element, and didn’t quite connect as much to Linz, one of the main protagonists and a neuroscientist. I did love how intelligent she was, fierce, a chess player in more ways than one, but she also seemed more aloof than Brian, the other protagonist, who is an artist. Of course, being a writer and a lover of the arts myself, he seemed more open, creative, and sensitive to me. I find often it’s the other way around when authors form characters, especially a duo of man and woman, in books, right? So really, I don’t have to connect to each character only if they are the same gender as me, we all are different. That I connected to him was enough and though I didn’t connect to her, I still realized she was fully dimensional and just as complex as he. Then, of course, there are all the characters we meet as we slip and slide back through time. Just make sure you are paying attention so you know who is who and how the correlation goes along with the plot. However, though Womack is less with drippy descriptive atmospheric details, she is wonderful at showing and not telling the reader about a scene or a character’s personality, which is priceless. For a first time author, she writes cleanly and for the screen. Less is more in sentences, creating a scenic flow.

I loved discovering the mystery with Linz and Brian, uncovering layers of how they connected, the dreams, the past times and lives. It was intrigue to me the tie in of him as a painter who paints reoccurring dreams and she a research scientist on memory with similar dreams. I love art representing the soul, the universe within you. I loved traveling to ancient Egypt and the idea of an advanced civilization. It’s something I’ve always pondered about Egypt in my studies. As one of my degrees is in history, that’s when my eyes really started to perk and I immersed myself into the story, completely lead along the entire time by the desires of these characters. They wanted to tell me their story and understand the connections that reincarnation brings within the universe and how it affects our memories.

It’s an original idea, maybe a few too many changes in character and time that some readers might not like because it takes a lot of attention, but overall it was a superb start to a writing career and I can’t wait to read the next novel.

A thriller and mystery of the mind, heart, soul, and universe that outreaches the normal bounds of our fast-paced thinking and extends us into looking past our self-made boundaries of love, life, and humanity. Highly recommend reading if you connect to deep thinking books of love and life and the ties that bind science and history.

Praise for The Memory Painter

“Gwendolyn Womack’s tale dazzles.” ―US Weekly (Standout Spring Novels)

“…hang on for a wild and entertaining ride around the world and through the centuries back to ancient Egypt.” ~ Library Journal, starred review

“A sweeping, mesmerizing feat of absolute magic. . . . ” ~ M.J. Rose, New York Times Bestselling Author of The Witch of Painted Sorrows

“Layers of past and present form a rich pastry of a narrative, poignant and thoughtful, rich and suspenseful, filled with intrigue and dripping with meaning… ” ~ Charlie Lovett, New York Times Bestselling Author of The Bookman’s Tale and First Impressions

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million | IndieBound

Author Gwendolyn Womack, Biography

Copyright JennKL Photography

Copyright JennKL Photography

Originally from Houston, Texas, Gwendolyn Womack began writing theater plays in college at the University of Alaska, Fairbanks. She went on to receive an MFA from California Institute of the Arts in Directing Theatre, Video & Cinema. Currently she resides in Los Angeles with her husband and son where she can be found at the keyboard working on her next novel. The Memory Painter is her first novel.

For more information visit Gwendolyn’s website. You can also connect with her on FacebookTwitter, and Goodreads.

Giveaway

To win a $25 Barnes & Noble Gift Card & Vegvisir decal and Eye of Horus Necklace, please enter via the GLEAM form below.

Enter HERE

Rules

– Giveaway ends at 11:59 pm EST on July 12th. You must be 18 or older to enter.
– Giveaway is open to US & Canada addresses only.
– Only one entry per household.
– All giveaway entrants agree to be honest and not cheat the systems; any suspect of fraud is decided upon by blog/site owner and the sponsor, and entrants may be disqualified at our discretion.
– Winner has 48 hours to claim prize or new winner is chosen.

04_The Memory Painter_Blog Tour Banner_FINAL

Follow the Tour Schedule: http://hfvirtualbooktours.com/thememorypainterblogtour/

Hasht ags: #TheMemoryPainterBlogTour #Historical #Fiction #Romance #Mystery

Twitter Tags: @hfvbt @Gwen_Womack @PicadorUSA

 

Leave a comment

Filed under Book Reviews

Garden of Madness by Tracy L. Higley Shines Light into World of Hanging Gardens of Babylon

Reading Garden of Madness by Tracy L. Higley was like going on an amazing expedition to the past, circa Babylon 563 BC, during the reign of King Nebuchadnezzar.  Through Tracy’s writing, I can imagine what it might have been like to have actually lived during this time, whether a poor captive Jew living in the dry dirt and heat in a land they were forced to live in, or the royal family of Babylon living out their days in luxury in a palace with a beautiful, lush seven-tiered garden.  I was totally hooked on this book from the first day!!

The book takes place a year before the King’s death and in the last year of his seven year period of being lost. It weaves historical fact from this time period dealing with Nebuchadnezzar and his struggle to accept God (and that there is just one God) and turn away from the pagan gods of Babylon, as well as creating a fictional story based on the connection between a member of the Royal Family (a fictional daughter Tia) and the captive Jews of that period, specifically Daniel (who we all know), Pedaiah, and Shealtiel.  One of the latter two brothers would become the father of the boy who comes to carry his people out of Babylon. 

Tracy has an amazingly clear writing voice that is smooth and decadent, yet strong and emotional. As a reader, you’ll find yourself immersing into each characters personality and feeling what they feel along each step in their journey.  These characters, many based on historical people from history and The Bible, were so life-like that I became, for example, both endeared to the strength, loyalty and determination of the main character Tia, while also being reviled by the evil ways of some other characters in the book who were trying to usurp the throne (yep, court politics and intrigue never dies no matter what century, culture, country, etc.!).

Ultimately, I would have loved more detail surrounding these Hanging Gardens, once touted as a Seven Wonder of the Ancient World. Yet, hardly any detail is actually known about these gardens in order for them to be written about at length.  Supposedly, the gardens were able to exist in a desert country of total dryness due to a hydraulic system, or maybe a way of loading buckets and watering from top terrace to bottom terrace, that irrigated the foliage with water from the major water source of that area ~ the river Euphrates. Sadly, historians can’t even say with ultimate accuracy that these gardens even existed. However, Tracy gave just enough structural detail in her book that my mind filled in the rest of the visual scenery of the trees, flowers, bushes, and so on itself.  Furthermore, I’m left feeling as I should after reading a good historical fiction book. I’m now feeling as if I want to read and learn more about the ancient civilization of Babylon. I see some research into a good archeology episode on History Channel in my near future!

As a major history buff myself, this historical period is one I haven’t read much on; however, I am a huge fan of history from the Biblical times. This is why I love reading Christian historical fiction especially, because the writers delve into the ancient history of cultures that came before the time period of Christ to give us a glimpse into societies that seemed to have so much intelligence in education, science, nature, construction, writing and more.  I like that Tracy, as most other Christian writers, incorporate romance and magic into their books in a clean manner so that I can just get into the drama of the story. It allows me to feel better recommending it as well. My 73-year-old parents, both avid Christian readers, also enjoyed the book in record fashion.

Tracy did a wonderful job of showing how a culture based on paganism started to lean on the promises of God. She showed in one circumstance, though there are others in ancient history, how Jews have been held captive in a country without riches or political claim and came to quietly show their captors through gentle word, deed, and action how to live life through God.

I recommend this book to anyone who likes Christian fiction, but also to anyone who enjoys a good story wrapped around an ancient civilization. I loved how determined and independent her female character, Tia, was portrayed. History plus strong characters, mixed with superb writing make for a book I can’t put down until I read the last page. I also really enjoyed her after pages full of historical references beyond the story.

About the Book~

The Untold Story of King Nebuchadnezzar’s Daughter…
For seven years the Babylonian princess Tiamat has waited for the mad king Nebuchadnezzar to return to his family and to his kingdom. Driven from his throne to live as a beast, he prowls his luxurious Hanging Gardens, secreted away from the world.Since her treaty marriage at a young age, Tia has lived an indulgent palace life.But when her husband dies and a nobleman is found murdered in the palace, Tia must discover who is responsible for the macabre death, even if her own newfound freedom is threatened.As the queen plans to wed Tia to yet another prince, the powerful mage Shadir plots to expose the family’s secret and set his own man on the throne. Tia enlists the help of a reluctant Jewish captive, her late husband’s brother Pedaiah, who challenges her notions of the gods even as he opens her heart to both truth and love.In a time when few gave their hearts to Yahweh, one woman must decide if she is willing to risk everything—her possessions, her gods, and her very life—for the Israelite’s one God. Madness, sorcery and sinister plots mingle like an alchemist’s deadly potion, and Tia must dare to risk all – to save the kingdom, and to save herself.

Connect with Tracy Higley~

Tracy also has some great information on her website pertaining to this time period and all the others she writes about. Visit her at www.tracyhigley.com.

***********************************************************************************************************

Tracy Higley, Author Bio

A fiction aficionado since grade school, T.L. Higley started her first novel at the age of eight.  Now the author of nine historical fiction novels, including the popular Seven Wonders series, Higley isn’t just transporting readers: She’s transporting herself, too.

“My Iifelong interest in history and mythology has taken me to Italy, Greece, Egypt, Rome, Turkey, Jordan and Israel, where I’ve gotten to study those ancient cultures in rich detail,” says Higley.  “It’s my desire to shine the light of the gospel into the cultures of the past, and I figure what better way to do that than to visit the cultures themselves?”

In addition to her accomplished novelist career, Higley is a business entrepreneur and a mother. In fact, for Pompeii, she brought her daughter along with her to Italy for the research trip.

“We gave it to her as a graduation present, not only because Italy is terrific, but because I believe in exposing children to global cultures,” says Higley, who became a student herself again this year. She’s now a graduate student at American Public University, earning her master’s degree in Ancient and Classical Studies.

 When Higley isn’t traveling on research trips, writing her novels, or studying for class, she operates four
online retail companies, including KoolStuff4Kids.com – a family run business that began as a way for her oldest daughter to make some extra money for camp. Today, it is a go-to site for parents, children and teachers all over the country, looking for beads and other kid-friendly craft supplies.

Higley lives with her husband and her three other children (aforementioned daughter now in college) just outside Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. For more information or to read “Tracy’s Travel’s” blog, please visit www.tlhigley.com.

***********************************************************************************************************

I received a copy of Garden of Madness from Thomas Nelson Publishers in exchange for an honest review of the book.

2 Comments

Filed under Book Reviews