Thursday, 27 April 2017

Review: Retalio by Alison Morton

I have had the good fortune to review all three of Alison Morton's books featuring Aurelia Mitela and Retalio is a magnificent conclusion to a superb trilogy.

Retalio is the latest in Alison Morton’s alternative history novels, based on the premise that the Roman Empire never totally disappeared but continued as a small but prosperous and influential country called Roma Nova. The country is ruled by twelve houses, all of which are led by women, and adheres to the traditions of a proud and stoical past.
Retalio is set in the 1980s. It is the sixth in the series about Roma Nova and the third in the trilogy that features Aurelia Mitela, head of one of the most powerful houses in Roma Nova. For many years Aurelia has countered the evil deeds of Caius Tellus, a Roma Novan nobleman, who is unscrupulous in his pursuit of power and determined to revenge himself on Aurelia for thwarting his criminal enterprises. A weak Empress has allowed Caius to overthrow the legitimate government, and he has taken power, murdering or sending to labour camps all who stood in his way or offended him and relegating women to staying at home or working in menial jobs.
At the start of this book, Aurelia has managed to escape from Caius and was smuggled out of Roma Nova but she was badly wounded and takes some time to recover. Even living quietly in Vienna with her partner, Miklos, her life is in danger from Caius’ hired assassins. A small number of Roma Novan refugees are scraping a living in Vienna but Caius’ evil manipulations have polluted Aurelia’s reputation and they shun her. Aurelia knows that she must regain their trust and her old position as a leader of the Roma Novan community if she is to have any chance of defeating Caius, bringing the new, young Empress to power and restoring order and prosperity to the country she loves.
Retalio is a stunning book, fast moving and yet detailed. The alternative history scenario that Alison Morton creates is totally convincing and terrifyingly plausible in the light of political events in the past and present. Her knowledge of politics and military strategy is awe-inspiring and yet is displayed with a light touch. Aurelia is a superb heroine. A soldier and a diplomat, she is powerful and yet compassionate, strong and yet vulnerable. She loves her family and Miklos and is loved in return, but true to her Roman upbringing, her deepest loyalty is to her country and she is willing to sacrifice her own happiness for its well-being.
Retalio is a page-turner and I recommend it wholeheartedly. However, if possible, I would also recommend the whole experience by reading the first two books in the trilogy, Aurelia and Insurrectio first.


Sunday, 23 April 2017

Review: Elementary Murder by A.J. Wright

Elementary Murder (A Lancashire Detective Mystery) by [Wright, AJ]

I enjoy historical fiction and have a special interest in crime novels set in Victorian times. This book is excellent. It feels authentic and it's centred around ordinary, working class people. Not an easy read but a compelling one.

Elementary Murder is set in 1894 and centres around George Street Elementary School, a school in one of the poorer, manufacturing districts of Wigan. Many of the pupils and their parents resent that the children are obliged to stay in school until they are twelve, rather than going out to work to augment the family income. The headmaster, Richard Weston, is a harsh disciplinarian and when Dorothea Gadsworth, a young woman who is being interviewed for a teaching post, faints in the staffroom, he informs her that she is unfit for the position and is rejected. Nothing more is heard of Dorothea over the weekend but, on the Monday following this unsuccessful interview, Dorothea is found dead in a classroom of the school. She has drunk poison and beside her lies a note with the single word, ‘Failed.’ At first it seems that the officials in charge will accept that Dorothea committed suicide, but Detective Sergeant Michael Brennan is not convinced that Dorothea died by her own hand, and, as he pursues his investigation, another death connected with the school confirms this.
As Brennan struggles to unravel the circumstances surrounding Dorothea’s strange and cruel death it becomes clear that her murder has its roots in a tragic accident fifteen years earlier when Dorothea was a child. As more assaults and attempted murders occur, it is discovered that a pupil at the school has gone missing and has not been seen since the Friday of Dorothea’s death. Brennan is under increasing pressure to discover the truth that links the past and the present before the killer strikes again.
Elementary Murder is a fascinating book, showing the harsh realities of life in an industrial town during the late Victorian period, and the impoverished, hand-to-mouth lives of the people who live and work there. It describes a culture in which violence is a commonplace occurrence and most working people place no value on education and have no faith in the authorities. Michael Brennan is a thoroughly likeable protagonist, honest, hard-working and devoted to his wife and young son. Throughout the book the characterisation is excellent, the plot is clever and intricately interwoven and the period detail is superb.
I would describe Elementary Murder as a page-turner and thoroughly recommend it.

Published by Allison & Busby
ISBN: 978-0-7490-1949-5

Friday, 14 April 2017

Review: Insurrectio by Alison Morton

This is my review of the second book in Alison Morton's stunning trilogy.
Product Details

The premise behind these books is one of alternative history where the Roman Empire survived as an influential colony. Unlike the surrounding countries, Roma Nova has never fallen under patriarchal rule and is governed by female heads of the foremost houses who advise the over-all ruler, the Imperatrix. The first book featuring Aurelia Mitela is set in the 1960s. Aurelia is a young woman who loves her career as a Praetorian officer but she has to leave the army when her mother, the Head of the Mitela family, falls ill and dies. However Aurelia is called upon to serve her country by investigating the silver smuggling ring that is severely damaging Roma Nova's finances and political standing. At great danger to herself and her young daughter, Aurelia succeeds in defeating the man behind the smuggling. Caius Tellus is a member of another of Roma Nova's ruling families, a charming but vicious psychopath, whom Aurelia has hated and feared since childhood.
Insurrectio opens thirteen years after the conclusion of the story told in the first book. Aurelia is now Assistant Foreign Minister, continually striving to keep her promise to the last Imperatrix and guide and protect her daughter, the weak and foolish Imperatrix Severina, a woman swayed by flattery and persuasion, who resents the powers that her late mother had begged Aurelia to accept and will always act upon the last advice given to her rather than wise and proven counsel. Aurelia's worst fears become reality when Caius Tellus is released from prison, having served his sentence. Soon he manipulates and charms his way into a position of power and, with the terrible speed and unrelenting force of a land-slide, order breaks down in Roma Nova. In one of the first serious mob rampages Aurelia's daughter, Marina, is viciously attacked and Aurelia knows she has been targeted by Caius. Soon the traditional but stable and fair government of Roma Nova is under attack from all sides, and Aurelia is in danger of losing all she cares about: her daughter, her lover, her reputation and her life, and, above all, she fears the destruction of the country that she loves and has pledged herself to defend.
Insurrectio is an exceptionally powerful book. Aurelia is a strong, honourable and engaging character and the desperation of her struggle to save her family and her country is intensely moving. The book is also a fascinating and chilling study of the balance of political power and how a weak ruler and a ruthless would-be dictator, with the backing of mob-rule, can destroy a civilised country.
I would advise readers to read Aurelia first but to then go straight on to Insurrectio. It is a page-turner and I recommend it.

Published by Silverwood Books
ISBN: 978-1781325094

Saturday, 8 April 2017

Death Unscripted by M.K. Graff - Review

Product Details

One of the great things about being a reviewer is the brilliant books you get to read. Another even better thing is the lovely people you get to meet, either on-line or in person. I've enjoyed chatting to Marni Graff for some time and I enjoy all of her books. Death Unscripted is really special, set in a New York film studio, it is warm, funny and has a wonderful protagonist. P.D. James encouraged Marni to write this book: just another thing we have to thank that wonderful lady for.

Trudy Genova thinks that she has the best job possible: a qualified nurse, she is the medical consultant at a movie studio. Instead of having to deal with human suffering and bodily fluids, she gets to teach actors how to mimic credible heart-attacks and supervise the medical details in scripts. The only down-sides of her job are occasionally having to chaperone precocious child actors and, far worse, having to fend off the sleazy advances of Griff Kennedy, the male star of the soap Thornfield Place. It is unfortunate that soon after Trudy fends off Griff’s groping with conspicuous success in the form of a well-aimed slice of coconut pie, the amorous actor should die, on-set, in suspicious circumstances. It is even worse that his last conscious action should be to point at Trudy and utter an accusatory, “You – YOU!”
Rumours and gossip are soon flying round the movie studio and Trudy is certain that people are eyeing her with suspicion. A visit from Detectives Ned O’Malley and Tony Borelli makes her feel both angry and threatened and she is determined to get to the truth. Trudy enlists the help of her best friend, Meg Pitman, who also works at the studio, and the pair of them delve amongst the complicated tangle of relationships amongst the actors and crew in an attempt to find out who was responsible for Griff’s death. Trudy’s sleuthing attempts soon cause her to fall foul of Ned O’Malley, and she has the hideous experience of being taken in for questioning. However she does her best to be useful to O’Malley and, after a while, he feels torn between regarding Trudy as a suspect and fearing for her safety if her attempts to unmask the killer make the murderer regard her as a threat.
Another actor dies a violent death. As O’Malley feared, the murderer has not finished, and it soon becomes clear that Trudy’s life is in imminent danger.
This is the first book in the Trudy Genova series and I hope that the following books will follow very soon. Trudy is a delightful protagonist, funny, warm, good-hearted and efficient but also sensitive, with things in her background that make her vulnerable. The plot is well thought out and convincing, and all the characters are well-drawn – real people not just caricatures – and I lost my heart to Trudy’s cat, Wilkie. The movie studio setting is fascinating and clearly authentic and I was not surprised to discover that the author had worked in a similar job. I particularly liked the technique Trudy invented to tell an actor playing a corpse when he needed to hold his breath.
I read this book in two days. It is a page-turner and great fun and I recommend it.

Published by Bridle Path Press
ISBN: 978-0990828723
ASIN: B0176Y7EA6

Saturday, 1 April 2017

Aurelia by Alison Morton: Review


There are many books that I admire but not many that I think 'that's an absolutely incredible piece of writing!'. Alison Morton is an author whose knowledge of history, politics and military tactics I stand in awe of, and, more important, her skilled use of her knowledge in her alternative history novels. I reviewed Aurelia when it was first published and this seems an excellent time to post this review on my blog. There are two reasons for this decision. The main one is that Alison's third book featuring Aurelia Mitela, Retalio, is published at the end of this month. The other is that Alison recommended me to reinstate my blog and I promised that I'd do it on April Fool's Day - it seemed appropriate.

Aurelia is an alternate history thriller, which is based on the idea that the Roman Empire did not fall and survived into the 20th Century as Roma Nova, a prosperous and influential colony that still maintains many of the traditions and belief structures of Ancient Rome. Because Roma Nova never fell under the paternalistic influences that shaped their neighbours, women have great power and careers that often excel their men. The book is set in the late 1960s, a time when, in most of Roma Nova's neighbouring countries, men had the powerful positions and women were expected to be their secretaries.
Aurelia Mitela is the daughter of Felicia Mitela, head of one of the most powerful houses in Roma Nova. Aurelia has a daughter, Marina, a much-loved, frail child, and Felicia puts pressure on Aurelia to bear more heirs to ensure the succession. However, Aurelia has no desire to abandon her life as a career soldier, which in Roma Novan terms means being an officer in the Praetorian Guards. She certainly has no intention of having any sort of relationship with her mother's choice of suitor, Caius Tellus, a man that most people find charming but whom Aurelia has loathed and despised since childhood.
When Aurelia's mother dies, after being injured in a suspicious hit-and-run car accident, Aurelia has to give up her career in the Praetorian Guards and run her family. However, her special blend of skills are needed to help her country. Somebody is smuggling large amounts of silver, which is Roma Nova's chief means of revenue, and this is threatening the country's livelihood. Aurelia is sent as a Special Delegate to Berlin to investigate, and steps straight into intrigue and danger, which finds her at risk of losing her life, reputation and liberty. Even a brief interlude of pleasure with the mysterious Miklos endangers her, when she is accused of murder and is unable to account for her whereabouts.
Aurelia knows that the person behind both the smuggling and her own danger is her old enemy and  pursues him back to Roma Nova. Soon is is unclear who is the hunter and who is the prey, until a final showdown endangers not just Aurelia's life but that of her beloved daughter.
Aurelia is the fourth book set in Roma Nova but the first featuring Aurelia Mitela. Insurrectio, the second book featuring Aurelia, (Book Five in the Roma Nova series) is soon to be published and is another book to be added to my 'must read' list.
Aurelia is the first alternate history book that I have read and I was uncertain what to expect but within the first two pages I was hooked. The author handles the new slant on history and society with outstanding skill, making the situation clear without over-explaining. Her description of attitudes to women in the 1960s was accurate and full of wry humour. Aurelia is a strong but likeable protagonist: a courageous, clever, determined woman, vulnerable only in her love for her child. This book is a page-turner and I wholeheartedly recommend it.

Published by SilverWood Books
ISBN: 978-1-78132-383-0