Tag Archives: historical fiction

Daughters of Teutobod by Kurt Hansen Review and Blog Tour

I received a free copy of this book in exchange for a fair and honest review. All opinions are my own.

The lives and struggles of three different women through different eras of history are revealed in author Kurt Hansen’s historical fiction novel, “Daughters of Teutobod”. 

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The Synopsis 

Daughters of Teutobod is a story of love triumphing over hate, of persistence in the face of domination, and of the strength of women in the face of adversity.

Gudrun is the stolen wife of Teutobod, the leader of the Teutons in Gaul in 102 BCE. Her story culminates in a historic battle with the Roman army.

Susanna is a German American farm wife in Pennsylvania whose husband, Karl, has strong affinity for the Nazi party in Germany. Susanna’s story revolves around raising her three daughters and one son as World War II unfolds.

Finally, Gretel is the infant child of Susanna, now seventy-nine years old and a professor of women’s studies, a US senator and Nobel laureate for her World Women’s Initiative. She is heading to France to represent the United States at the seventy-fifth anniversary of the liberation of southern France, at the commemoration site where her older brother, who was killed in action nearby, is buried. The site is very near the location where the Romans defeated the Teutons.

The Review

As a history buff and advocate for feminism and equality in life, I loved this narrative. The balance of emotional storytelling and captivating and engaging character development was so great to see unfold in this story, and the vivid imagery the author deployed in this novel expertly brought the reader into these various periods of time.

Yet to me, what stood out the most was how immersive and adrenaline-fueled the narrative itself was as well as the settings of these different eras of time. The author did an incredible job of bringing these chaotic, violent, and brutal periods of history to life in a natural way, and yet honed in on the personal and quiet yet profound strength of the women that each era focused on. From the fight against enslavement against the Roman warriors to the staunch battle brewing within a German-American family at the height of WWII and how these two eras come weaving together in the more modern-day made this story shine so brightly.

The Verdict

Thoughtful, entertaining, and mesmerizing, author Kurt Hansen’s “Daughters of Teutobod” is a must-read historical fiction novel of 2022. The twists and turns these characters and their arcs take meld perfectly with the striking imagery the author’s writing utilizes and the strength and impactful journey of these women made this one story I didn’t want to put down. If you haven’t yet, be sure to grab your copy today!

Rating: 10/10

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About the Author

Kurt Hansen is from Racine, Wisconsin, and has lived in Kansas, Texas, and Iowa. He has experience in mental health and family systems as well as in parish ministry and administration. He holds degrees in psychology, social work and divinity. Kurt now lives in Dubuque, Iowa with his wife of 44 years, Dr. Susan Hansen, a professor emerita of international business. Kurt is the author of Gathered (2019). Daughters of Teutobod is his second novel.

Website: https://www.authorkurthansen.com/

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/revkurthansen

https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B0BG6HJT7P/ref=x_gr_w_glide_sin?caller=Goodreads&callerLink=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.goodreads.com%2Fbook%2Fshow%2F62795806-daughters-of-teutobod%3Fac%3D1%26from_search%3Dtrue%26qid%3D0s2lfn0dQ6%26rank%3D1&tag=x_gr_w_glide_sin-20

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Enjoy this Excerpt from Kurt Hansen’s “Daughters of Teutobod”

Chapter One

The smoke of the grist fires rose incessantly, grey black against the cloudy blue sky as the day meandered toward its middle hours. It was the season of harvest, and those konas who were able were out among the plantings, gleaning grain or digging turnips, carrots, or beets out of the black, loamy soil. Some ground grain into flour and some baked bread, while others tended the fires and the fleshpots. Still others were about the business of tanning hides, mostly of deer, raccoons, rabbits, or fox, occasionally from a bear. The smells of death intermingled with the breathing life and beating heart of the sveit.

Gudrun liked this time of day best. She grabbed another handful of golden wheatstalks, slicing off the grain heads with a strong whisking motion and dropping the grain into her tightly woven flaxen gathering bag. She paused for a moment, wiping the sweat from her brow with the back of her hand. The sun was bright today, making the air steamy. Gudrun looked out across the hills, down the valley, past the wooded glades where she could see dozens of other kǫngulls like her own, and she knew there were even more beyond the reach of her eyes. Most of the kǫngulls contained about 100 persons, but some had more. As she fixed her gaze closer, to the kǫngull where she lived, she could see the jungen, chasing one another, some wielding sticks or branches, others seeking to escape the assaults of their aggressors. The jungmädchen were variously helping their mothers with cooking or cleaning vegetables or sewing hides; the kinder simply hid in corners or clung to their mothers’ legs.

Several hours passed, and now the sun was receding, thankfully, because its blazing, yellow glare kept breaking through the billowing clouds all day, intensifying the laborers’ fatigue. Gudrun emptied her grain bag into the large, woven basket at the edge of the planting. The basket was filled to the brim, and as she plunged both hands into the basket, letting the harvested grain sift between her fingers, a smile of satisfaction softened her face. Filling up her basket all the way to the top was for her, a measure of the goodness of the day. She hoisted the heavy basket, glad for the leather strap she had fashioned to carry it. Before she designed the strap, two women were needed to carry the woven baskets—one on either side—especially when full. But Gudrun decided to cut a long strip from the edge of a tanned deer hide and, with a sharp bone needle she affixed the strap to her basket, allowing her to shoulder the entire weight by herself.

When she first showed her invention, one of the men—Torolf—chastised her for taking the piece of deer hide. He pushed her to the ground and threatened worse, but Teutobod intervened, bashing Torolf on the head with his club and sending him reeling. Teutobod, Gudrun’s mann, was the undisputed leader of their sveit, and he had been their leader long before he took her for his wife, ever since the sveit’s earliest days in Jutland. He ordered that all the grain baskets be fashioned with straps for carrying, and Gudrun won the admiration of all the konas (and even some men). Torolf avoided her from then on.

As evening approached, it was time to prepare for the return of the männer. Most hunting excursions were a one-day affair, bringing in meat for perhaps a few days at best. But as the harvest season proceeded, the männer would leave for days at a time, seeking to increase supplies for the long winter to come. This foray had lasted nearly a week, but Gudrun was told by Teutobod to expect their return before seven suns had passed, and she shared this information with the some of the other konas. By now all the kongulls were preparing for the männer coming home.

As the sun began to set, the konas started pulling out skins from their bærs, unfolding them and laying them on the ground about the fire pits. The flesh pots were stirred and stoked, and a hearty stew was prepared with deer meats, mushrooms, yellow beans, potatoes, turnips and carrots, seasoned with salt and fennel and black peppercorns. Flasks of beer that had been cooling in the stream all day were brought to each firepit and hung on a stake which had been plunged in the ground for that purpose. Various dinner ware made from carved bone or fashioned out of wood or clay were laid out. All was in readiness.

An aura of anticipation and anxiety tumbled around the kǫngull, shortening tempers as the waiting lengthened. Finally, about an hour after the sun had fully set, the sound of the ram’s horn distantly blasted out its announcement: Die männer komme! The jungen were hustled away to the kinderbærs. One never knew the mood that might accompany the hunters when they returned, and things could and often did get ugly. The konas sat or knelt respectfully beside the firepits, twitching, nervously swatting insects away from the food, inhaling excitement and breathing out fear. 

Soon the rustling of leaves and the snap of twigs underfoot grew louder and closer until the shadows brought forth the whole troop of men, bustling in to the kǫngull, carrying or dragging the meat they had procured, pounding their chests, howling, pulling on their scraggly hair or beards, banging the ground with clubs or spears and smelling of the hunt and of the forest. Similar sounds of triumph and dominion could be heard resonating throughout all the kǫngulls below as the männer clamored in across the entire sveit.

Here in Gudrun’s kǫngull, the konas kept their gaze to the ground, their eyes fixed on the fire, and as the hunters’ swagger slowly abated, one by one the konas silently lifted their plates above their heads, each looking up to her mann as they all found their respective places. Once the providers were all reclining on skins beside the firepits, the konas stood and began to prepare plates of food for them. The men ate loudly, hungrily, slurping the stew from the lips of the bowls and using hunks of bread to grasp chunks of meat and vegetables.

The food having been consumed, skinflasks of beer soon followed, and before long the sated belches and grunts of the eaters gave way to boisterous banter, the proud providers reliving the thrill of killing a stag or the bravery of facing a bear. The konas scraped up the leftovers to take to the huts for themselves and the children, after which the cleanup tasks commenced. The women worked in groups of three or four, tending two large boiling pots to soak the dinnerware until all remnants of the food floated up to the top and were skimmed off. A little more soaking, then all the dinnerware was stacked and stored for the next use. Gudrun, along with two other konas, took the job of drying the cleaned dishes, swinging a dish in each hand to move the air. They playfully swung the wet plates or cups at one another, spritzing each other in the process and giggling like little meyas.

This being the end of a prolonged hunting venture, the children were tucked in early in the kinderhäusen, and the konas prepared to receive their husbands. For those unlucky enough to have brutish men, their wifely duties were not at all pleasant. Others were more fortunate. Gudrun was happy to be among the latter, hoping only that the beer ran out before Teutobod’s love lust. She retreated to the bær she shared with her husband, glad for the privacy his role as leader provided. This entire kǫngull was comprised of the sveit’s leadership and their skuldaliðs, and as such it claimed luxuries not generally known throughout the sveit by underlings. The leaders camped furthest upstream, and therefore got the cleanest water for drinking, cooking, and bathing. The leaders claimed individual space for themselves and their vifs, while others down below had to share living space with two or three other skuldaliðs. 

Gudrun removed her garments and lay nude on the soft deerskins in her bær to prepare herself for her husband. Covering herself with another skin, she began to move her hands over her thighs and abdomen, softly, back and forth, her rough-skinned fingertips adapting to their more delicate uses. She moved a hand upward, swirling around her breasts and throat, teasing each nipple at the edges, holding back from contacting the most delicate flesh.

Her stroking and probing continued, a bit more urgently as she felt her breath rise and grow more heated. The muscles in her abdomen began to pulse, and as her hands found the sensitive spot between her legs, she felt the moisture beginning to flow inside her. When she was young Gudrun had learned from the older konas how to help her husband in this way, to ease his entrance and hasten his joy. Along the way, over the years, she also learned to enjoy herself more in the process. As the instinctive rocking motion in her pelvis began, she eased her manipulations, not wanting to be prematurely excited. Breathlessly, she looked toward the bær’s entrance, hoping Teutobod would hurry.

Interview with Author Deborah Kaminski 

1) Tell us a little bit about yourself. How did you get into writing?

About ten years ago, I came down with a strange malady. I was exhausted and had to spend most of the time in bed. No doctor could help. While I was slowly recovering, I thought “Wouldn’t it be interesting if you could see the past through the eyes of an ancestor.” I played around with story ideas and settled on a satisfying ending, which I will not reveal for obvious reasons. Once I knew the ending, I crafted the plot to get there. Sometimes, all a writer needs is time to think. 

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2) What inspired you to write your book?

I love stories with adventure where characters travel to exotic places and make great discoveries. My lead character, Brooke, is a young scientist who has to battle not only at her present-day university, but also in the rather uncomfortable middle ages. I love history, and I researched diligently before writing. Don’t worry, though, I only used the most interesting bits of what I learned.

3) What theme or message do you hope readers will take away from your book?

Brooke faces many obstacles on her long quest, but she persists. Perseverance even against established authority (maybe especially against them) is a major theme. 

4) What drew you into this particular genre?

I’ve been reading science fiction and doing research since the age of eight. Science is my first love and my lifelong passion. By profession, I am a professor of mechanical engineering. Write what you know is the old adage for writers. I’m following that.

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5) If you could sit down with any character in your book, what would you ask them and why?

I would like to know more about Prof. Hunter, Brooke’s thesis adviser. Hunter reveals nothing personal about herself, yet she is a key person in Brooke’s life. College students do sometimes wonder who that “sage on the stage” is who has been assigned to teach them. Hunter is also the most unpredictable character during the novel. Who is she, anyway? Does she have a family, a dog, a secret life??

6) What social media site has been the most helpful in developing your readership?

I’ve gotten some traction on Facebook, that lumbering giant. I started with family and friends and then used their advertising platform. Goodreads has been helpful as well. I just did an interview on Narrated, a podcast about audio books. I listen to podcasts every day, and I’m not alone.

7) What advice would you give to aspiring or just starting authors out there?

I’ve spent time (before COVID) at writer’s conventions getting the lay of the land. Other writers are very helpful in sharing their stories and giving you hints. I liked some advice and not others, but I was always enriched by it. When I was just starting, I was reluctant to share my ideas with anyone before I had everything written out. That was a mistake. Feedback is key. I am now brave enough to share first drafts with my writer’s group.

8) What does the future hold in store for you? Any new books/projects on the horizon?

I’m working on the second draft of my fourth novel, a tale about colonizing Mars. As usual, the story has a twist. While the astronauts are heading on the first trip to Mars, a blockbuster asteroid strikes Earth. Who’s in more trouble – the astronauts or the ones left behind? Well… I’m still writing!

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About the Author

I am a traveler, an explorer, and a dreamer. My fiction takes you to exotic places that I love and treats you to new ideas to chew on. Before my writing career, I was immersed in scientific research, working at General Electric, RPI, and the National Science Foundation, so it may not surprise you that my science fiction is of the hard variety – striving for internal consistency and (more or less) realistic possibilities. You can count on me for an adventure with a satisfying ending.

Lost and Found in the 60s by Paul Justison Review

I received a free copy of this book in exchange for a fair and honest review. All opinions are my own.

A young man stuck in a conservative high school seeks a life of carefree aloofness and finds himself thrust into the center of the psychedelic movement of the 60s in author Paul Justison’s “Lost and Found in the 60s”. 

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The Synopsis

Holden Caulfield from Catcher in the Rye returns as Mark Stenrud to bring the psychedelic era vividly life in Lost and Found in the 60s. Alienated from a toxic mother, and in constant conflict at his conservative high school because of his radical politics, Mark Stenrud escapes for Haight-Ashbury, where he takes a job in the post office and settles into a carefree existence in the psychedelic center of the universe. LSD chemists notice his organizational skills and calmness in the face of danger and recruit him to join their enterprise. He accepts and has free time for romance, adventures, and street justice. After months of success, he loses his touch, leading to narrow escapes, bad decisions, and his own downfall. Along the way, he learns about loss, forgiveness, and the meaning of self-respect.

The Review

This was such an incredibly powerful and captivating historical fiction meets genre fiction read. The author does an amazing job of building the atmosphere and setting through some stunning uses of imagery in the writing. The way the author was able to layer in these deep themes of accountability, finding one’s place in the world, and the anti-war sentiments of the 60s, made this narrative feel alive on the page and did an incredible job of making the story capture the era so effortlessly. 

Yet for me, the novel itself was the perfect character study that truly did embrace the Holden Caulfield vibe of J.D. Salinger’s Catcher in the Rye. The breathtaking and emotional journey that Mark goes on in this novel showcases the highs and lows of the psychedelic era. The atmosphere of the decade and the setting itself (San Francisco) made the story perfectly set up the protagonist’s rise and fall and mirrored the events of the era seamlessly. 

The Verdict

Heartfelt, captivating, and engaging, author Paul Justison’s “Lost and Found in the 60s” is a must-read historical fiction and genre fiction read. The twists and turns in the character’s arc and the profoundly moving experiences the protagonist underwent that defined his character evolution kept me invested until the book’s final pages. If you haven’t yet, be sure to grab your copy today!

Rating: 10/10

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About the Author

Paul Justison dropped out of high school in 1966 and fled to Haight-Ashbury, spending most of the next two years there and in Marin County engaging in all the pleasures and follies that magical time had to offer. After the sixties ended, he went to college, started a career, and raised a family. He has been published in The Rumpus, The Gambler Mag, Flash Fiction Magazine, and Fiction on the Web. Lost and Found in the 60s is his first novel.

https://www.pauljustison.com/

Thickwood by Gayle M. Smith Review

I received a free copy of this book in exchange for a fair and honest review. All opinions are my own.

A former player for the All-American Girls Baseball League finds herself facing a new battle as she works to save the land her family held and the horses that live within it in author Gayle M. Smith’s “Thickwood”. 

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The Synopsis

Raised on a ranch in Saskatchewan’s rugged Thickwood Hills, where the prairie transitions to the forest, Willomena Swift, home from playing for the Rockford Peaches of the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League, finds a precious foal killed by a rogue stallion.

The stallion’s owner, once Willo’s baseball coach, now chairs the committee heading up the new cooperative pasture—a pasture that is set to swallow her family lease, where she grew up, learned to love and understand horses and dreamed of returning to raise them.

Facing numerous challenges with both the stallion and his owner, Willo remembers her past years playing professional baseball as she struggles to realize her dreams in the present.

Amid romance and tragedy, Willo must find a way to stand on her own and assert her rightful place in her beloved Thickwood.

The Review

This was a truly engaging and richly developed period drama meets genre fiction read. The author expertly wove a special story of facing adversity head-on and overcoming the tragedies we are hit with in life in an effort to move forward, pursue our dreams and maybe even find love. The atmosphere and tone helped elevate the novel’s deep-seated themes and powerful character development, and the rich setting of the late 1940s, early 1950s era middle America kept me invested in these characters with some fantastic history.

Yet as I mentioned before, the character growth and themes that this novel explored really made it something special. The ways in which the protagonist not only grew into the role of the independent and secure land owner but also used this growth to highlight the themes of empowerment, the struggle through adversity, and the will to find our passions in life, made this novel such a stunning work of art. The history and culture of middle America during this period of time were so rich to see come to life on the page, as it highlighted the struggle many independent women had as our nation came out of the war and women were found to be running the lives that these men had left behind during the war. 

The Verdict

Captivating, thought-provoking, and entertaining, author Gayle M. Smith’s “Thickwood” is a must-read genre fiction novel. The period piece does an excellent job of showcasing both sides of Willo’s life, from her past as a star player to her desire to run her family’s livelihood and care for the horses that brought her so much joy as a child. If you haven’t yet, be sure to grab your copy today!

Rating: 10/10

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About the Author

Gayle M. Smith, author of Thickwood, grew up in Alberta. She distinctly remembers her family life on a mixed subsistence farm in central Alberta where, as a young child, she developed a love for animals, especially horses, and a love for reading and writing illustrated stories.In 1989, Gayle married a Saskatchewan farmer and settled into rural life to raise three children, numerous crops, purebred and commercial cattle, and horses. Gayle and her husband used the local PFRA (Prairie Farm Rehabilitation Administration) Federal pasture program for their commercial cattle. They also used their horses to gather and trail their cattle to various home pastures. Gayle was accepted into the 2011 Saskatchewan Writers’ Guild Mentorship program, where she drafted her first novel. Gayle has also been a member of a writer’s group for over ten years. In 2015, Gayle graduated from the University of Saskatchewan with a Master of Fine Arts in Writing.Yearly wilderness pack trips in Northern Saskatchewan with her horses inspire her writing. She also rides in the mountains, competes in numerous equestrian events, and owns and operates a horse boarding facility. Gayle’s love of the environment, history, and adventure shines in her writing. She daily interacts with her beloved partner, her family, her horses, and her rural home, while contemplating and exploring through her writing the struggle and dilemma of being human.

https://gaylesmith.wordpress.com/

Damian’s Workshop by Deborah Kaminski Review 

I received a free copy of this book in exchange for a fair and honest review. All opinions are my own.

A young woman finds herself thrown into a maelstrom when an accidental invention of the time machine sends her hurdling backward in time to the 4th Crusades, living in the body of an ancient ancestor in medieval Constantinople in author Deborah Kaminski’s “Damian’s Workshop”.

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The Synopsis

Brooke didn’t expect to invent a time machine. But when she is cast into the body of a distant ancestor, she sees every scene, hears every sound, and feels every pleasure…. and pain. She should be finishing her college degree, but the distant past calls to her. Bit by bit, she learns about medieval life, until she realizes her new family is directly in the path of the Fourth Crusade. Set alternately in a modern day university and medieval Constantinople, Brooke’s struggle is filled with adventure, romance, science, history, and a touch of deception. It all comes together in the finale, where past and present collide.

The Review

This was a brilliant display of multi-genre mashups coming together in the most natural and exciting way possible. The blend of historical fiction and sci-fi brought similar feelings and emotions that fans of Assassin’s Creed feel, getting the rich culture and history of the past with the more modern science fiction and cutting-edge tech that brings our ancestors to the contemporary world in a unique way. 

The author’s use of imagery and atmosphere really drove the narrative forward. The rich settings and unique displays of both past and present cultures and behaviors amongst the cast of characters really highlighted the evolution of this family line and the human race overall. Yet at the end of the day,  the narrative shined best when the character development was focused on. Between Brooke’s modern-day outlook on life clashing with her exploration of the past and Damian’s struggles in the past, the intimacy, and heart of this narrative were found in human relationships more than anything else, allowing the more spectacular elements of the story to shine brightly.

The Verdict

Thrilling, engaging, and heartfelt, author Deborah Kaminski’s “Damian’s Workshop” is a must-read sci-fi and historical fiction thriller novel. The historical accuracy and settings did a great job of balancing the rich character dynamics and relationships that made the story feel relatable and entertaining. The twists and turns will keep readers hooked on this developing narrative until the book’s final page. If you haven’t yet, be sure to grab your copy today!

Rating: 10/10

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About the Author

I am a traveler, an explorer, and a dreamer. My fiction takes you to exotic places that I love and treats you to new ideas to chew on. Before my writing career, I was immersed in scientific research, working at General Electric, RPI, and the National Science Foundation, so it may not surprise you that my science fiction is of the hard variety – striving for internal consistency and (more or less) realistic possibilities. You can count on me for an adventure with a satisfying ending.

The New Empire by Alison McBain Review

I received a free copy of this book in exchange for a fair and honest review. All opinions are my own.

The youngest son of a Chinese emperor finds himself captured and purchased by an Elder of two Native American tribes and must find the truth behind the idea of freedom in the historical fiction novel “The New Empire” by Alison McBain.

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The Synopsis

In the alternate history novel The New Empire, the world undergoes a drastic change in the 14th century when Chinese ships land on the west coast of what we know as the Bay Area of California. Fast forward four hundred years to a much different America than we’ve read about in the history books, a land dominated by a cross-continental tribal confederacy grown out of a strong alliance with Beijing. This new empire has been built on the backs of enslaved Chinese political prisoners and a profitable trading partnership overseas. Into the mix comes Jiangxi, youngest son of the last Chinese Emperor. When he arrives from across the ocean as a boy, he is purchased by Onas, a renowned tribal Elder of both the Haudenosaunee and Mutsun tribes. As Jiangxi grows up, he’s caught between the two worlds of his past and present, forced into choosing between opposing ideas of freedom. Told from the main perspective of a Chinese slave in a Native American world, The New Empire paints a vibrant picture that draws strongly on a non-Eurocentric worldview.

The Review

This was such a powerful and engaging read. The world-building and culture that embedded itself into the narrative were mesmerizing, and the way the author was able to capture an 18th-century North American continent that featured a Non-Eurocentric worldview was incredible to behold. The brutality and chilling imagery the author was able to infuse into the narrative really painted a grim picture of the horrors of slavery and the cost of freedom overall to so many throughout human history, as well as the importance of a person’s heritage and culture when it conflicts with the life that has been thrust onto them.

Yet for me, the underlying themes of family, betrayal, and freedom really captivated me throughout this story. The haunting nature of how Jiangxi came to be enslaved in the first place as the result of a chilling uprising and power grab by his older brother made the protagonist feel the sting of betrayal and loss. The relationship he develops with Onas and Daiyu throughout the narrative was so compelling and spoke to the dual reality of his life as he becomes an apprentice in a land of laws yet struggles with the identity of the slave he was made into all those years ago and recognizes that struggle in his newfound allies. The fight for freedom takes a heavy toll throughout the narrative, and the morality that the protagonist faces is incredibly compelling. 

The Verdict

Captivating, engaging, and brilliantly written, author Alison McBain’s “The New Empire” is a must-read historical fiction novel of 2022. An incredible and highly creative book that highlights the realities of what our world’s trajectory could have looked like if an Eastern exploration had led to a more Eastern-led American continent was fascinating to see come to fruition, and the rich character dynamics and emotional storytelling will keep readers invested in this amazing author’s work. If you haven’t yet, be sure to grab your copy today!

Rating: 10/10

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About the Author

Alison McBain is a Pushcart Prize-nominated author with over two hundred short stories, poems, and articles published worldwideHer books have been honored with gold in the Literary Classics International Book Awards, as well as being finalists in The Wishing Shelf Book Awards and IAN Book of the Year. Her forthcoming novel, The New Empire, won gold in the When Words Count Pitch Week contest and will be published in October 2022. When not writing, Ms. McBain is the associate editor for the literary magazine Scribes*MICRO*Fiction, co-editor of Morning Musings Magazine, and pens an award-winning webcomic called Toddler Times. She lives in Alberta, Canada.

https://www.facebook.com/alison.mcbain.9

http://www.alisonmcbain.com/

http://www.fairfieldscribes.com/

Interview with Author Sharifullah Dorani

1) Tell us a little bit about yourself. How did you get into writing?

Before I start, I would like to thank you for the interview and your review of The Lone Leopard

I was born and brought up in Kabul, Afghanistan, and claimed asylum alongside my parents in the UK in 1999. I finished all my higher education in the UK. I am married and live with my wife and three children in a quiet town in England. 

How did I get into writing? I love writing, especially about my country Afghanistan. Therefore, I did my PhD on Afghanistan and subsequently published some two dozen articles and a book (more below) on my native land. 

The idea for writing The Lone Leopard, however, was actually conceived in 1992 when the ‘pro-Communist’ Najibullah regime collapsed and the mujahideen took over Kabul. Turning Shia against Sunni and vice versa, setting Afghanistan’s main ethnic groups of Pashtun, Tajik, Hazara and Uzbek against each other, and accusing each other of uniting with the remnants of pro-Communist members and thus not being Islamic enough, the 15 or so mujahideen groups fought each other in the streets of Kabul, killing tens of thousands of innocent Kabulis, displacing hundreds of thousands, and turning half of Kabul into mudbrick rubble with bombs, rockets and cannon fire.

Taking refuge in the basements of our blocks while the gunfire, shelling and fighting continued, I decided (if I made it alive) to write about what we ordinary Afghans went through. Unlike thousands of Kabulis, I was fortunate enough to live, and 18 years later, in 2010, I started writing about the experience: after 12 years of writing/rewriting (and extensive research, including consulting nearly a thousand sources), The Lone Leopard is the result.

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2) What inspired you to write your book?

I’ve partly answered this question above. I’d also like to add that my only inspiration is my people and country. I wanted to tell the contemporary Afghan and Afghanistan story from an Afghan perspective. Ahmad, the protagonist of my novel, therefore, gives a first-hand account of what I (and most Afghans) have experienced over the past four decades in Afghanistan (and in exile). My previous book, America in Afghanistan, published in 2019 by IB Tauris/Bloomsbury, was praised by reviewers for its Afghan perspectives, and is found at, among other institutions, Oxford and Harvard.

3) What theme or message do you hope readers will take away from your book?

The reader will get to know a great deal about the principles of Afghan culture, particularly independence, courage, loyalty, justice, revenge, righteousness, pride, honour, chastity, hospitality, love, forgiveness, faith (Islam) and respect of elders (parents in particular), among others, and some of these themes, in addition to jealousy, prejudice, betrayal, guilt and atonement, the book explores.

The Lone Leopard is a historical war drama. Once the reader reads it, I hope they will see how things have been in Afghanistan; they will understand the history and politics of the past four decades in Afghanistan; and they will see the real Afghan and Afghanistan. 

The Lone Leopard is a work of contemporary literary fiction, too, as it is solely based on human relations. The focus of the novel is primarily on the lives of Ahmad (15, a conservatively traditional Pashtun, dutiful child, gifted student, thoughtful but faint-hearted) and Frishta (16, progressive, Tajik, women’s rights activist, compassionate, outspoken and brave): will the faint-hearted Ahmad learn from Frishta to fight his cowardly side and stand up for himself and for what is right, even if his stance opposes traditions/his controlling mother; will the fearless Frishta journey from a middle-class girl to ‘the president of Afghanistan’; will Ahmad and Frishta with conflicting personalities/backgrounds fall in love; will the middle-class Wazir (15, Ahmad’s best friend/classmate: Pashtun, fearless, the school gangster, pro-mujahideen) ever fulfil his dreams of killing a Communist and joining jihad; and will the loveable Baktash (15, Ahmad’s best friend/classmate: Tajik/Hazara, timid but lovable, pro-Communism) live a normal life without getting bullied for being different. So, the reader will get drawn into a time (the 1980s-2010s) when historical events – several invasions of Afghanistan over the past four decades in particular – give rise to nationalistic and religious conflicts and impact the lives of the four characters and their families. 

 Moreover, The Lone Leopard is a mother-son relationship story, as familial aspects constitute a significant part of the narrative, especially (the importance of) parental respect, which you have highlighted (and liked) in your review. 

Incidentally, in addition to the Western reader, when writing the novel, I had the future Afghan generations in mind, especially for them to see what mistakes their ancestors committed and how they should avoid repeating them. One of them is how discrimination, alienation and division can destroy a country; and how unity, inclusion and empowerment of people – regardless of their sex, tribe, ethnic origin, religion, etc. – can help build a better country and, by extension, a better world.

4) What drew you into this particular genre?

The Lone Leopard can fit into several genres: literary fiction, women’s fiction, young adult fiction, coming-of-age, family drama, war drama, and romance. For me, however, it will always remain historical fiction drama, the story of contemporary Afghanistan. I chose the historical genre because I have a PhD in IR/history, have taught the history of Afghanistan and have lived through the historical periods The Lone Leopard covers. As a creative writing teacher may say, ‘write what you know’. 

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5) What social media site has been the most helpful in developing your readership?

I am not very good at social media and only use Twitter. I also have a LinkedIn account, but I have not made much use of it. 

6) What advice would you give to aspiring or just starting authors out there?

Read more, research a lot, and get a good command of creative writing techniques before starting your book. And keep it consistent: make sure you write/research/read every day, even if it is for half an hour. Oh, one more thing: start today; don’t wait for tomorrow. 

7) What does the future hold in store for you? Any new books/projects on the horizon?

My next book will focus on why the Doha Peace Agreement between the Taliban and America failed and the possible consequences of the failure for Afghanistan, the region and the international community.

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About the Author

SHARIFULLAH DORANI was born and raised in Kabul, Afghanistan, and claimed asylum in the UK in 1999. He has undergraduate and master’s degrees in Law from The University of Northampton and UCL, respectively. He completed his PhD on the US War in Afghanistan at Durham University and authored the acclaimed America in Afghanistan. Sharifullah frequently returns to Afghanistan to carry out research. He is currently South Asia and the Middle Eastern Editor at The Centre for Strategic Research and Analysis (CESRAN International) and has written nearly two dozen articles on Afghanistan (and the broader region), international relations and law. He lives with his family in Bedford, England.

Bravely by Maggie Stiefvater Review

I received a free copy of this book in exchange for a fair and honest review. All opinions are my own. 

A young woman responsible for the protection of her kingdom and family must find a way of changing her family’s ways and saving her world from utter destruction in author Maggie Stiefvater’s “Bravely”. 

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The Synopsis

Merida goes on an all-new, life-changing adventure in this original YA novel set several years after the close of Brave!

What if you had one year to save everything you loved?

ONE PRINCESS. Merida of DunBroch needs a change. She loves her family—jovial King Fergus, proper Queen Elinor, the mischievous triplets— and her peaceful kingdom. But she’s frustrated by its sluggishness; each day, the same. Merida longs for adventure, purpose, challenge – maybe even, someday, love.

TWO GODS. But the fiery Princess never expects her disquiet to manifest by way of Feradach, an uncanny supernatural being tasked with rooting out rot and stagnation, who appears in DunBroch on Christmas Eve with the intent to demolish the realm – and everyone within. Only the intervention of the Cailleach, an ancient entity of creation, gives Merida a shred of hope: convince her family to change within the year – or suffer the eternal consequences.

THREE VOYAGES. Under the watchful eyes of the gods, Merida leads a series of epic journeys to kingdoms near and far in an attempt to inspire revolution within her family. But in her efforts to save those she loves from ruin, has Merida lost sight of the Clan member grown most stagnant of all – herself?

FOUR SEASONS TO SAVE DUNBROCH – OR SEE IT DESTROYED, FOREVER. 

The Review

This was a great read. The author excelled at continuously building an atmosphere and tone that reflected both the magic and historic nature of the narrative. The world-building was excellent here, as the author built upon the storied setting of Castle Dunbroch and the kingdom that Disney established in the film Brave and managed to craft enough new narrative to make the world feel even bigger and more alive. 

The mythos, history, and imagery are all that really drove this narrative forward and elevated the characters to the heights that they reached. The way Scottish mythology and mythological figures played into the story, as well as the emotional storyline that was brought to life through Merida and her family, made for a brilliant story overall. Yet despite instances of magical action and adventure featuring ancient gods and mythological figures, the real emphasis on history that this story brought to life allowed for a really well-balanced novel that kept readers invested in this world.

The Verdict

Rich in world-building, heartfelt character growth, and entertaining mythology, author Maggie Stiefvater’s “Bravely” is a must-read YA Historical Fiction and Fantasy novel of 2022. The deep dive into Scottish mythology and history blended so well with the established Disney storylines and characters that Brave introduced, and yet the author’s unique twist on the character’s new story and the atmospheric world that the author brought to life through imagery and tone made this one of the year’s best YA reads. If you haven’t yet, be sure to grab your copy today!

Rating: 10/10

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About the Author

New York Times bestselling author of The Shiver Trilogy, The Raven Cycle, and The Scorpio Races. Artist. Driver of things with wheels. Avid reader.

Maggie Stiefvater plays several musical instruments (most infamously, the bagpipes) and makes art in several media (most generally, colored pencils).

She lives in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia with her husband, their two children, many dogs, a bunch of fainting goats, and a mating pair of growly tuner cars.

https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B09D8RJX93/ref=x_gr_w_glide_sin?caller=Goodreads&callerLink=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.goodreads.com%2Fbook%2Fshow%2F58854953-bravely&tag=x_gr_w_glide_sin-20

A Death in Berlin (The Simon Sampson Mysteries Book Two) by David C. Dawson Review

I received a free copy of this book in exchange for a fair and honest review. All opinions are my own.

In the 1930’s Berlin, a city that once stood for liberation is about to become the capital of one of the world’s largest waves of oppression, and one man must fight to save the lives of several gay men as the Nazi party rises in author David C. Dawson’s “A Death in Berlin”, the second book in The Simon Sampson Mysteries series.

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The Synopsis

Berlin 1933: When the parties stop…the dying begins

The city that’s been a beacon of liberation during the 1920s is about to become a city of deadly oppression. BBC foreign correspondent Simon Sampson risks his life in a bid to save thousands of gay men from the growing Nazi threat.

This is the second in the Simon Sampson mystery series. The first, A Death in Bloomsbury, was hailed as ‘a good old-fashioned John Buchan-esque mystery reworked for the twenty-first century’.

Simon moves to Berlin where he meets British author Christopher Isherwood and his lover Heinz. He’s also reunited with his banter-partner Florence Miles, better known to her friends as Bill. She’s recruited him into the British intelligence services and he’s got the task of hunting down communist spies.

But when Simon is ordered to spy on an old college friend, his loyalties are brought into question. Who are his real enemies? And how much can he trust his masters?

The Review

This was such a well-developed and engaging historical fiction meets mystery thriller. The atmosphere and intrigue the author was able to infuse into the story really elevated the historical time period the narrative took place in, and the gripping story kept me on the edge of my seat as the author’s balance of fast-paced action and slow-build character growth kept the novel moving at an even pace. The LGBTQ aspect of the narrative and the character growth felt refreshingly natural and insightful, as it played into the history itself quite well.

The rich character dynamics and the unique setting are what really made this story stand out. The chaos and sadness that became such a part of everyday life at the beginning of the Nazi occupation were felt strongly in this novel. The harmonious way the author was able to weave these emotions and facts from our world’s history into the actions and experiences of this cast of characters made this novel so gripping. It allowed the mystery itself felt elevated as the narrative dipped into the espionage spy genre with ease.

The Verdict

Entertaining, thought-provoking, and uniquely pertinent to many of the recurring struggles so many around the world face today, author David C. Dawson’s “A Death in Berlin” is a must-read historical fiction meets suspense thriller and a great addition to The Simon Sampson Mysteries series. With the adrenaline rush and mind-bending twists and turns, this narrative will resonate with readers who enjoy an almost pulpy noir-style storytelling with an LGBTQ-driven cast of characters and a heavy dose of historical research and accuracy. If you haven’t yet, be sure to grab your copy today! 

Rating: 10/10

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About the Author

Men in love, men in jeopardy.

David C. Dawson is an award-winning writer of page-turner thrillers with a gay theme and the occasional romance.

His latest novel A Death in Bloomsbury was published in November 2021.

His debut novel, The Necessary Deaths, won bronze for Best Mystery & Suspense in the FAPA chairman’s award. It became the first in the Dominic Delingpole series. The other two books are The Deadly Lies and A Foreign Affair.

His first mystery romance For the Love of Luke was published in October 2018 followed by Heroes in Love.

David lives in London with his boyfriend and ageing motorbike.

You can read his blog here: http://bit.ly/DavidCDawsonblog

In his spare time, David tours Europe on his ageing Triumph motorbike and sings with the London Gay Men’s Chorus.

https://www.davidcdawson.co.uk/

https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B0BB7WHR4N/ref=x_gr_w_glide_sin?caller=Goodreads&callerLink=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.goodreads.com%2Fbook%2Fshow%2F62071459-a-death-in-berlin%3Fac%3D1%26from_search%3Dtrue%26qid%3D8mAMg3tNGM%26rank%3D3&tag=x_gr_w_glide_sin-20