Monthly Archives: July 2017

Jane Johnson: Court of Lions (Extract + Review)

AUTHOR

Jane Johnson is from Cornwall and has worked in the book industry for over 20 years, as a bookseller, publisher and writer. She is responsible for the publishing of many major authors, including George RR Martin.

In 2005 she was in Morocco researching the story of a distant family member who was abducted from a Cornish church in 1625 by Barbary pirates and sold into slavery in North Africa, when a near-fatal climbing incident caused her to rethink her future. She returned home, gave up her office job in London, and moved to Morocco. She married her own ‘Berber pirate’ and now they split their time between Cornwall and a village in the Anti-Atlas Mountains. She still works, remotely, as Fiction Publishing Director for HarperCollins.

book cover of Court of Lions

COURT OF LIONS

JANE JOHNSON 

Publication Date: 6th July 2017    Price £18.99

An epic saga of romance and redemption. Court of Lions brings one of the great turning points in history to life, through the stories of a modern woman and the last Moorish sultan of Granada.

 Kate Fordham, escaping terrible trauma, has fled to the beautiful sunlit city of Granada, the ancient capital of the Moors in Spain, where she is scraping by with an unfulfilling job in a busy bar. One day in the glorious gardens of the Alhambra, once home to Sultan Abu Abdullah Mohammed, also known as Boabdil, Kate finds a scrap of paper hidden in one of the ancient walls. Upon it, in strange symbols, has been inscribed a message from another age. It has lain undiscovered since before the Fall of Granada in 1492, when the city was surrendered to Queen Isabella and King Ferdinand. Born of love, in a time of danger and desperation, the fragment will be the catalyst that changes Kate’s life forever.

Court of Lions brings one of the great turning-points in history to life, telling the stories of a modern woman and the last Moorish sultan of Granada, as they both move towards their cataclysmic destinies.

Extract:

It was approaching eleven by the time she’d walked up to the Calle Charca to drop her laundry off with Rosita, a cheerful, tubby Spanish woman whose husband made the deliveries to the bodega and who washed three times a week for those with no machines, like Kate. Picking up fresh laundry a day later was one of Kate’s pleasures. Nothing smelled as nice as sheets that had been dried in the Albayzín sun: it seemed to imbue them with a whiff of the incense of ages past, with bitter oranges and spiced brandy. Then it was on to the little supermarket on the Calle Panaderos and the market in the square for beautifully organic fruit and veg. And still Jess hadn’t rung!

As Kate was making her way back home with her groceries, she thought she heard the muezzin at the mosque, the Mezquita Mayor, just a few streets away, starting to call the Muslim faithful to prayer. She strained her ears toward the fragile sound, but a truck came rattling along the narrow street, making her flatten herself against the rough wall, and by the time its roar had passed, the muezzin had fallen silent. The mosque had been constructed less than twenty years ago, the city finally bowing to the pressure to provide its significant North African population with somewhere to worship other than out of sight in garages and private houses. Catholic Spain might have expelled its Moors at the end of the fifteenth century, but it seemed they had been allowed to return more than half a millennium later, and be woven back into the rich warp and weft of the country they had done so much to civilize. Even if they hadn’t been permitted to give the muezzin a loudspeaker.

She dropped into the Internet café to send Jess an email. Hicham, not Saïd, was on duty, and he did not meet her eyes when she greeted him, or hold his hand out for the money, but instead waited for her to put the coins down on the counter, as if her touch might contaminate him. The place was usually stuffed with young men, but when Saïd was here, she never felt uncomfortable coming in on her own. The way Hicham treated her, though, made her clumsy. Trying to fiddle her change back into her bag, she dislodged a slip of paper, which spun across the melamine countertop toward him. Hicham stopped its progress with a stab of his finger.

“Sorry,” she said automatically. Then added, “Perdón.” She reached out to take it back, but he put his hand flat over it. His black eyes challenged her.

“Why you have this?”

“What?”

He repeated the question. Flummoxed, she shrugged. “Sorry, it’s just a bit of rubbish. I should have put it in a bin. But there’s never one around when you need one, is there?” She laughed awkwardly. Had she unleashed some sort of obscure insult: dropping a bit of waste paper in front of a Muslim man? She had no idea.

“If it just rubbish, why you want it back?”

There was no answer to this. She watched Hicham pick up the paper to scrutinize it. Then she realized what it was. The scrap of paper that she’d winkled out of the wall in the palace gardens yesterday. “Oh. Please, I do want that back.”

Hicham’s lip curled. “I don’t think so. It not yours.”

For a brief, embarrassing moment Kate thought she might burst into tears. What on earth was the matter with her? When had she become so pathetic? He was only a local café worker playing a game with her. A rather nasty, dour little game, exercising a bit of power over a woman: she should recognize that sort of thing by now. And really, did it matter so much? All this fuss over a scrap of rubbish. She rallied herself. “Keep it, then.”

For a moment he looked confused. Then he shoved the paper back across the counter at her. “You don’t trick me like that.” He turned and made for the back room, his mobile phone already to his ear.

She slid the scrap back into her bag. Hicham had truly rattled her; how dare he be so rude? Saïd was always so nice, so easy to talk to, even a bit flirty. He had a Spanish girlfriend, though, a handsome woman called Pilar, who worked at a museum. At least, she thought Pilar was his girlfriend. Did men from his culture even have girlfriends, or were they expected to marry to have a relationship? Really, what she knew about Muslim men—indeed, any sort of men—she could fit on the back of that sweet wrapper, or whatever it was.

She found an unoccupied monitor along the back wall between a group of giggling teenagers and a quiet young man who swiftly angled his body to shield the screen of his monitor from her. As if she cared that he was looking at pornography at midday on a Friday. Except … it seemed she did care. Unwelcome images swam up from the depths of her memory, cutting through dark wate

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Review

I have been wanting to review a book for Jane Johnson for quite a long time, i make no secret of the fact that she is just the most helpful, kind and talented person i have met in the world of books, and has always helped out this woeful reviewer. But all that said i would do an injustice if i didn’t give the book a fully fair review at the same time (and i think she would tell me off)….. so phew… its brilliant. I’m not normally one for the mushy books…. and to be honest this isn’t. While its a romantic book, essentially a love letter to the city of Granada, it is also and more importantly a deeply insightful well researched passionate piece about the the Granada War of the 1400’s , its culture and the people who existed there.

The author expands the story further using multiple perspectives, differing opinions and understanding. The main perspective being a young woman (Kate) a lady who finds herself immersed in a mystery that allows her to escape her own life and her counter part, Blessings who loves the young Sultan.

Jane Johnson weaves her tale with exceptional skill and such a delicate touch, providing some exceedingly real and complex characters. The author uses a real talent for knowing people to push the plot back and forth between past and present taking the reader through a roller coaster of emotions.

As i suspected and hoped Jane Johnson has written something wonderful, handling a delicate cultural plot-line, doing so with such passion for all areas of the book and its people.

Very Highly Recommended

(Parm)

Series
Eidolon Chronicles
1. The Secret Country (2005)
2. The Shadow World (2006)
3. Dragon’s Fire (2007)
Legends of the Shadow World (omnibus) (2010)
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Moroccan
1. Crossed Bones (2008)
aka The Tenth Gift
2. The Salt Road (2010)
3. The Sultan’s Wife (2012)
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Novels
Maskmaker (2010)
Goldseekers (2011)
Pillars of Light (2016)
Court of Lions (2017)
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Simon Scarrow: Playing with Death (Review)

Simon Scarrow

Simon Scarrow is a Sunday Times No. 1 bestselling author. After a childhood spent travelling the world, he pursued his great love of history as a teacher, before becoming a full-time writer. His Roman soldier heroes Cato and Macro made their debut in 2000 in UNDER THE EAGLE, and have subsequently appeared in many bestsellers in the Eagles of the Empire series, including CENTURION, THE GLADIATOR and most recently INVICTUS.

Simon is also the author of the novels YOUNG BLOODS, THE GENERALS, FIRE AND SWORD and THE FIELDS OF DEATH, chronicling the lives of the Duke of Wellington and Napoleon Bonaparte, and of SWORD & SCIMITAR, the epic tale of the 1565 Siege of Malta, and HEARTS OF STONE, set in Greece during the Second World War.

Simon has also co-written two bestselling novel with T.J. Andrews, ARENA and INVADER.

He lives in the historic city of Norwich.

For the most up to date info and news on Simon, visit his Facebook page

Author web site

Lee Francis worked for several years in the world of film, TV and advertising as a script reader and assistant director. PLAYING WITH DEATH, written with his former lecturer Simon Scarrow, is his first novel.

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Playing With Death

PLAYING WITH DEATH is a gripping, edge-of-your seat contemporary thriller that marks a new direction for legendary historical novelist Simon Scarrow, writing with exciting new talent Lee Francis. Not to be missed by readers of David Baldacci and Michael Crichton.

FBI Special Agent Rose Blake has faced evil and survived.

Haunted by a failed undercover mission, Rose is finding it hard to shake the memories of her close encounter with a ruthless serial killer – one who is still free, and could strike again without warning.

The call to investigate a suspected arson attack that’s left a man dead is a welcome distraction. It’s not the kind of case usually assigned to the FBI, but nothing about this crime is usual. As Rose digs deeper, she finds herself confronting the sort of imagination her son might see in the fantasy worlds of his video games.

But when your opponent is a killer, nothing feels like a game. . .

Review

I approach every Scarrow book with caution, Not because of the quality but because I’ve been fortunate enough to know both brothers for quite a few years and have really enjoyed their books. Simon’s books were among my introductory books into Historical Fiction and as such they have to have a special place in my reading and has helped define the reader i am now. So every new book has the potential as a voracious reader of the genre to find a fault, to pick holes and its never something i feel totally comfortable with. Fortunately Simon rarely offers me the opportunity.

So when something new comes along, Simon Scarrow doing Crime Fiction, i have to think, Hmmmm? ok! lets give it a go. Also a collaboration, and something adapted from a TV series idea…. this could have car crash all over it, and how do i review that?

Starting the book i have to say i was concerned, the writing didn’t have the feel of Simon’s usual work, the writing felt a little clunky and simplistic. But i think as much as anything that was the building of the concept, how to explain it to the reader, and so it came over as talking to the reader, and me projecting my concern onto the concept a little, also reading in bite sized morsels where this book needs to be read in large chunks to really absorb the concept.

In Playing with Death,  Simon and Lee tackle some really interesting concepts around modern society, social media and gaming.  Simon surprises and uses a female as his central figure (not something you would expect from the writer of Macro and Cato, but integral to this plot) and it works very well, if a little male in thinking occasionally, which can fit with the male orientated profession. But the concept of the books criminal and the “Skin” soon takes flight in the book, mixed with the backdrop of the chase for a deadly serial killer with a personal dislike for the lead FBI agent Rose Blake and the misdirection for the crimes happening. The chase gets more and more twisted, the concept of the tech and mix of social media more and more real and uncomfortable building to a thrilling conclusion. Wrapped around this is the family life of Agent Rose Blake, a family that gets drawn into the mix as inextricably as we all do to the world of the internet, caught up in the social media world and all its pit falls.

Simon and Lee shine an uncomfortable family light on our personal dependence on Social media and gadgets, that urge, desire to pull out your smart phone to check facebook, to check your email. The drug that is the internet has changed the world and we need to remember to turn it off, to disconnect and be part of a more realistic world, because the fake news, fake world and impossible world of photo shopped celebs and everything of its ilk on the internet all impact and shape our children and ourselves. Its that message that makes this book stand out, makes it a book that i really recommend and helps make this a very good crime thriller.

(Parm)

Other work from Simon Scarrow

Series
Eagles of the Empire
1. Under the Eagle (2000)
2. The Eagle’s Conquest (2001)
3. When the Eagle Hunts (2002)
4. The Eagle and the Wolves (2003)
5. The Eagle’s Prey (2004)
6. The Eagle’s Prophecy (2005)
7. The Eagle in the Sand (2006)
aka The Zealot
8. Centurion (2007)
9. The Gladiator (2009)
10. The Legion (2010)
11. Praetorian (2011)
12. The Blood Crows (2013)
13. Brothers in Blood (2014)
14. Britannia (2015)
15. Invictus (2016)
16. Day of the Caesars (2017)
Eagles of the Empire Series Book 1-5 (omnibus) (2017)
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Wellington and Napoleon
1. Young Bloods (2006)
2. The Generals (2007)
3. Fire and Sword (2007)
4. The Fields of Death (2010)
The Wellington and Napoleon Quartet (omnibus) (2015)
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Gladiator
1. Fight for Freedom (2011)
2. Street Fighter (2012)
3. Son of Spartacus (2013)
4. Vengeance (2014)
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Roman Arena (with T J Andrews)
1. Barbarian (2012)
2. Challenger (2012)
3. First Sword (2013)
4. Revenge (2013)
5. Champion (2013)
Arena (omnibus) (2013)
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Invader (with T J Andrews)
1. Death Beach (2014)
2. Blood Enemy (2014)
3. Dark Blade (2014)
4. Imperial Agent (2015)
5. Sacrifice (2015)
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Novels
The Sword and the Scimitar (2012)
Hearts of Stone (2015)
Invader (2016) (with T J Andrews)
Playing With Death (2017) (with Lee Francis)
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Novellas
Red Christmas (2014)
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HWA Endeavour Ink Gold Crown 2017 Longlist

Several Months ago i was shocked to be asked to be involved in the HWA Endeavour Ink Gold Crown 2017 as a Judge, it was without doubt an honor and i instantly started to suffer imposter syndrome….

The fellow judges are all …. well look at the list: Antonia Senior, Imogen Robertson, Amy Durant, Nick Rennison, Kate Atherton and Richard Foreman, all of these people are either industry professionals, writers or top reviewers for print publications… now you see while i felt like the token odd  bod in the room. Yet they all made me feel a big part of the day, my opinion mattered and well it was a fantastic day spent discussing our fav books after so long spent reading a veritable mountain of entries.

The result of the day is our longlist of 12…. I do hope you will read all of them, they all have earned the right to sit here.

Here in alphabetical order is the longlist. Congratulations to all twelve authors!

From the below we have also produced a fine short list that will be out in a couple of weeks…… how on earth we get a winner…..thats a hill yet to climb.

thank you to all my fellow Judges for making me feel so much a part of this.

You can find all 3 Lnog Lists here: You can see all three of the longlists here on the HWA website.

 

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