Category Archives: Historical Fiction

All Historical Fiction Reviews

Conn Iggulden: Protector (Review)

book cover of Protector

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The Battle of Salamis: Persian King Xerxes stands over the smoking ruins of Athens, an army of slaves at his back. Come to destroy, once and for all, everything that the city stands for, he stares pitilessly at the hopelessly outnumbered Greeks.

Veteran soldier Themistocles cannot push the Persians back by force on land, and so he so does so by stealth, at sea. Over three long days, the greatest naval battle of the ancient world will unfold, a bloody war between the democracy of Athens and the tyranny of Persia.

The Battle of Plataea: Less than a year later, the Persians return to reconquer the Greeks. Tens of thousands of soldiers on both sides ready themselves for war. For the Spartans, Plataea is chance to avenge their defeat at Thermopylae.

For the people of Athens, threatened on all sides, nothing less than the survival of democracy is at stake. And once again Themistocles, the hero of Salamis, will risk everything—his honor, his friendships, even his life—to protect his country.

(Review)

I Still can’t believe that last year I mildly criticized Conn and the Gates of Athens (book one in this series), but I’m very happy to say that this book puts (for me) that blip well in the rear view mirror, maybe its because I became more invested in the characters than I previously thought…. what ever the reason, Protector is brilliant, its a time period I know well and love through the writing of Christian Cameron, so much so I kept waiting for Arimnestos of Plataea to appear.

Protector takes the the story to the battle of Salamis and ultimately the Battle of Plataea, possible the most important Land and sea battles in the history of Europe, if the Persians had won, there would more than likely have been no Roman empire, changing the whole future landscape of Europe and beyond. At this turning point of history our main characters really do come to life Themistocles the wily old veteran and schemer, Xanthippus another veteran and strategos of Marathon whom was recalled from exile and Aristides “the Just” the ideal of Athenian integrity. Its these three strategos who must save Athens, who must devise a plan for victory, and its for them to keep the Spartans involved, because without the Spartan Army all is lost. In Sparta all is a little opaque, the death of Leonidas the battle king at Thermopylae has hit them hard, coupled with their insular society and no love lost between them and athens, a combined greek force is not a forgone conclusion.

Conn  Iggulden teases out the story in a hugely entertaining way, condensing time periods as needed, pulling in obscure facts and providing a story that no matter how many times i hear it, never fails to astound me how close to tragedy they became, and how heroic those men, women and children were to have endured and ultimately won against huge odds.

This is a stunning story told brilliantly, and we still have more to come when Cimon and Pericles come to the fore in book 3.

Highly reccomended

(Parm)

 

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Ben Kane: Crusader

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1189. Richard the Lionheart’s long-awaited goal comes true as he is crowned King of England. Setting his own kingdom in order, he prepares to embark on a gruelling crusade to reclaim Jerusalem.

With him on every step of the journey is Ferdia, his loyal Irish follower. Together they travel from southern France to Italy, to the kingdom of Sicily and beyond.

Finally poised to sail to the Holy Land, Richard finds a bitter two-year-long siege awaiting him. And with it, the iconic Saracen leader responsible for the loss of Jerusalem, Saladin.

No one can agree who should fill the empty throne of the Kingdom of Jerusalem and Saladin’s huge army shadows Richard’s every move. Conditions are brutal, the temperatures boiling, and on the dusty field of Arsuf, the Lionheart and his soldiers face their ultimate test…

Review

Book one of this series was one of my favorite books last year, so it was a given that Crusader would be high up on my TBR list, one i would start the min it landed. As always with me i have the feeling before it arrives that the second book in a series that has started with such a bang may disappoint, but i think i’m starting to lose that old concern, because Ben like lots of the other regular authors i read are now smashing it out of the park with every book, never resting on the praise already received they strive for bigger and better things.  Crusader is another absolute triumph, in many ways better than Lionheart, where Lionheart was introducing us to characters , those characters in Crusader are now much loved and well known, every action and danger is keenly felt with the authors brilliant writing style.

Crusader now takes our main character (Rufus) and the royal court on crusade, but mixed in before they leave is the politics and back stabbing of nobility, Richard must leave things well cared for and he must block as many potential moves by his devious brother and the French King. The Journey to Acre is also fraught with danger, battles and love as the royal court makes it way to the holy Land… that Journey and the eventual battles against Saladin may have the reader shaking their head and saying…. No Way…. that’s too far fetched…. Its not !! Ben Kane is meticulous in his research and the more far fetched sounding the battle or the outcome, the more real it actually is…. Wait until the battle outside Joppa… its just astounding, and no wonder he was called Richard the Lionheart, the man was an amazing leader… and often bonkers in his bravery!

All of this is written in a brilliant character driven style that anyone who has read Ben Kane will know well… and if you are new to his work… you will love.

Ben has taken the crown of Best book in 2021 (so far)…. and it will take something amazing to knock him off that top spot…. especially as Rufus is now one of my all time fav Historical Fiction Characters.

Very Very highly recommended

(Parm)

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Alex Rutherford Fortune’s Soldier (Review)

Alex Rutherford is the pen name of Diana Preston and her husband Michael. Both studied at Oxford University reading History and English respectively. They are keen travellers and have now clocked up visits to over 140 of the world’s countries.

book cover of Fortune\'s Soldier

A new type of empire is rising

It is 1744, and Nicholas Ballantyne, a young Scotsman dreaming of a life as laird of his ancestral estate finds himself quite unexpectedly on the Winchester, a ship bound for Hindustan, seeking to begin a new life as a ‘writer’ on the rolls of the British East India Company. On board, he meets the spirited and mercurial Robert Clive, determined – at whatever cost – to make a fortune in a land of opportunity.

Over the years, their friendship sees many twists and turns as Clive’s restless hunger for wealth and power takes him from being a clerk to a commander in the Company forces, masterminding plans to snuff out rival French interests in Hindustan, and eventually leading his men to victory at Plassey – the prelude to nearly two centuries of foreign rule in Hindustan.

Review:

The last 2 months have seen me read 4 books from Canelo Books, and each time they have been some of the best reading of 2020. So when I was sent Fortune’s Soldier it went to the top of the reading pile.

Soldiers Fortune in some respects allows me to correct a failing going back 11 years, if I miss a publication date i tend to not have time to go back and read a book, so it gets consigned to my “One day hopefully, TBR pile”… this was the case with the whole Empire of the Moghul series, so This new book finally allows me to experience a book from Alex Rutherford, and i was not let down.

The book is linked by family to the Empire of the Moghul series, but stands on its own. We start in the now with the discovery of papers showing fragments of the life and history of Nicholas Ballantyne, his adventures in Hindustan with Robert Clive and their rise through the ranks of the East India Company. While Nicholas is fictional and used to show the times and action of the (Infamous??) Robert Clive, he is also used to show what may have been if a less corrupt regime/company had flourished, the culture seen from without, but by a person very much in tune and integrating with it, wanting to embrace it and be part of it, not riven by the greed of the average company man aloof from what they deemed a barbarian culture.

The story takes the reader through many battles, many courts and shows the perilous nature of the land and the time and how easily India could have become part of a French empire, also the fragility of life from disease and political maneuvers . I absolutely loved the book, the main characters are fantastically and sympathetically  portrayed especially my favorite character Tuchin Singh, Nicholas’s guide and friend through his time in Hiundustan. While this pair pull off some heroic feats the writer never strains the bounds of realism, setting the peril and the sounds smell and atmosphere beautifully and providing an action packed beautifully written adventure.

Highly recommended (i’m off to fit the previous series into my reading pile)

(Parm)

Where to Buy

Previous Books

Empire of the Moghul
   1. Raiders from the North (2009)
   2. Brothers at War (2010)
aka A Kingdom Divided
   3. Ruler of the World (2011)
   4. The Tainted Throne (2012)
   5. The Serpent’s Tooth (2013)
   6. Traitors in the Shadows (2015)

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David Gilman : Shadow of the Hawk

book cover of Shadow of the Hawk

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Winter, 1364.

The King is dead.

Defeated on the field of Poitiers, Jean Le Bon, King of France, honoured his treaty with England until his death. His son and heir, Charles V, has no intention of doing the same. War is coming and the predators are circling.

Sir Thomas Blackstone, Edward III’s Master of War, has been tasked with securing Brittany for England. In the throes of battle, he rescues a young boy, sole witness to the final living breaths of the Queen of Castile. The secret the boy carries is a spark deadly enough to ignite conflict on a new front – a front the English cannot afford to fight on.

So Blackstone is ordered south to Castile, across the mountains to shepherd Don Pedro, King of Castile, to safety. Accompanied only by a small detachment of his men and a band of Moorish cavalrymen loyal to the king, every step takes Blackstone further into uncertain territory, deeper into an unyielding snare.

For the Master of War, the shadow of death is always present.

Review:

Reading this series is often a treat I reserve for when i’m struggling to read historical fiction, because the writing of Thomas Blackstone is so immersive, its very easy to get sucked into the life of him and his men, the brutality, the comradeship and the rich tapestry of action that is the war raging across Europe… It would be very easy with the characters and material for the author to get too bloody, and too action adventure, but David Gilman balances this with Machiavellian politics and a world so richly drawn that you can feel the pomp, and the poverty which brings the whole book to life.

This series remains one of the really exceptional ongoing Historical fiction character driven stories out there, and is surely set to be a genre classic.

Highly recommended

(Parm)

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AJ Mackenzie: A Flight or Arrows

A.J. MacKenzie is the pseudonym of Marilyn Livingstone and Morgen Witzel, a collaborative Anglo-Canadian husband-and-wife duo. Between them they have written more than twenty non-fiction and academic titles, with specialisms including management, medieval economic history and medieval warfare. THE BODY ON THE DOORSTEP (2016) was their first novel.

book cover of A Flight of Arrows

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1328. After years of civil unrest between England and France, Charles IV dies, leaving no apparent heir. His closest heir to the throne is Edward III of England, but it passes instead to Charles’ cousin, Phillip, spurring both countries on to war.

1346. Landing at Normandy, Edward’s immense army makes inroads into French territory, burning everything in their path. But the mysterious assassination of an English knight reveals a terrible truth: there is a traitor in their midst. The king charges Simon Merrivale, the Prince of Wales’ herald, with solving the case.

As the army marches on towards its destiny, at the awesome scenes of the Battle of Crécy, Simon will uncover a conspiracy that goes to the heart of the warring nations. Among the ashes and the rubble, their fate will be decided: on the battlefield… and in the shadows.

Review

A Flight of Arrows continues the magnificent year of releases from Canelo books who kindly sent me a copy to review. As a fan of both historical fiction and also archery it was a given that i would need to read this book, but also because i’m an archer there was a risk i could pull apart the books inaccuracies, i’m so glad to say i didn’t find any issues, and if there were any i missed it was because i was so utterly absorbed in the book.

At its core this book is a crime thriller, set amongst knights, men at arms, soldiers, archers and battles. Merrivale is the Herald of the prince, essentially an ambassador with the same protections, to attack and or kill him is an affront to Honour and God, which gives him a level of arrogance and assurance that is often amusing,  but its also a shield for his own fears and a front for the fact that he is so much more than he seems. There is so much touched on in the book about his past, and already before this series has hit its stride id love to read a prequel about his life.

In A Flight of Arrows Merrivale takes on the task of finding the murderer of a new Knight, the investigation soon uncovers much more, past crimes, and new treachery, theft, violence and old enmities. All the while following  and involving the reader in the life of the the army and its battles as the king looks to break out of a trap carefully laid for him, betrayal and murder dogs the army’s steps.

I had hoped for a good book, what i got was a great book, at just under 400 pages this is no light bed time read, but it is fast paced action packed and full of adventure, the characters are brilliantly drawn for the reader and so easy to become invested in. I went through the book at a frenetic pace and polished it off in a day, I just couldn’t put it down. Fantastic Historical Accuracy which it wears lightly to keep the pace fast and action packed.

Very highly recommend this book, one of the best reads this year so far, and a new author for my personal must read list (when a book is released).

(Parm)

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Simon Turney & Gordon Doherty : Masters of Rome

book cover of Masters of Rome

Masters of Rome (2021)
(The second book in the Rise of Emperors series)

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As competition for the imperial throne intensifies, Constantine and Maxentius realise their childhood friendship cannot last. Each man struggles to control their respective quadrant of empire, battered by currents of politics, religion and personal tragedy, threatened by barbarian forces and enemies within.

With their positions becoming at once stronger and more troubled, the strained threads of their friendship begin to unravel. Unfortunate words and misunderstandings finally sever their ties, leaving them as bitter opponents in the greatest game of all, with the throne of Rome the prize.

It is a matter that can only be settled by outright war…

Review

Book 2 in a series that sees two excellent authors combine their talents and tell the spellbinding story or warring emperors, the back and forth style where each takes one emperor and writes from that perspective was breathtaking in book one, and the pace continues in book 2 with every chapter crafted with immersive skill.

In book 2 we see the continuation of the enmity of Maxentius and Constantine, both still hoping for lost friendship but seeing it swept away by politics and circumstance. Both men hemmed in on all sides by enemies, they must attempt to consolidate their positions and build their armies, they must resolve the internal strife’s of their regions political, religious and personal, to give themselves scope to then try to conquer all and be Emperor of an whole Empire.

This book is the middle book in a trilogy and it does feel like that, all trilogies are a journey and the middle book is the journeyman, the one that takes you from the shocking start to the dramatic conclusion…. that said, both Doherty and Turney manage to add action, thrills, emotion, political and personal turmoil and so much more into this journey, meaning that you the reader are left both satisfied and wanting more by the end.

This like book one is a total triumph of collaboration with both writers bringing their A game to every page.

Highly recommend this book and series (and for book 3 we only have to wait until September)

pre-order Book 3 Gods of Rome in Hardback

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(Parm)

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Simon Scarrow : Blackout (Review)

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Publication Date:18/03/2021

Berlin, December 1939

As Germany goes to war, the Nazis tighten their terrifying grip. Paranoia in the capital is intensified by a rigidly enforced blackout that plunges the city into oppressive darkness every night, as the bleak winter sun sets.

When a young woman is found brutally murdered, Criminal Inspector Horst Schenke is under immense pressure to solve the case, swiftly. Treated with suspicion by his superiors for his failure to join the Nazi Party, Schenke walks a perilous line – for disloyalty is a death sentence.

The discovery of a second victim confirms Schenke’s worst fears. He must uncover the truth before evil strikes again.

As the investigation takes him closer to the sinister heart of the regime, Schenke realises there is danger everywhere – and the warring factions of the Reich can be as deadly as a killer stalking the streets . . .

Review

I’m not usually a big fan of thrillers set in the pre or early war, they always seem to be a little depressing and dark and i read for escapism. But its a Simon Scarrow book so how could i not be intrigued! Even if its a massive departure from his trademark ancient Rome, Simon has such an engaging writing style i hoped that it would remove that dark depressing element for me.

As usual with Simon Scarrows work its very character driven, which is perfect for me, you engage with the characters as much as the story and you become invested in them, their safety and they choices.

Blackout is in essence a crime thriller, that happens to be set in the winter of 1939 Berlin, yes its is dark, depressing and cold. Yet at the same time Simon makes it atmospheric, ethereal so full of danger and forbidding. His Lead character reminded me a little of the older Cato to begin with and Hauser (his second in command) a little of Macro, the initial interplay between them very reminiscent of the way they bounced off each other. But soon the new characters and story took flight and you get drawn into the dark dangers of Berlin, the power shifts between the different parts of the growing, expanding Nazi war machine, the political maneuvering that is beginning to underpin and control everything , even the facts of a murder case.

Our main character Schenke is a detective, driven by the love of the law and finding the truth, his approach sits at odds with the climate of follow the party line, and so he tries to walk the middle ground, stick to the facts have no political opinion…. and almost impossible task in this new Berlin.

I did find at times that the book freaked me out, you’re sat there reading about the political situation in the months before WW2 had begun, the control of the media, the fear of the masses, the dissemination of  the “new” facts that the Nazis want you to believe, the twisted view and approach to life, and you cant help but think of Brexit, Covid and the current UK regime, it really sent chills down my spine how close we really are to repeating old mistakes.

The plot of the book brings in all of the investigation, the hunt for a psychotic rapist and killer, a man who could be mixed in with the highest powers of the Nazi party, the scary view that the message of who and how even when the case is solved, that what becomes the facts depends on Muller, the Gestapo and even higher to the very top of the Nazi regime. We experience the irrational view towards Jews, and at the same time we see that much of the German view is controlled by fear, that many like Schenke just want life to be fair, just and normal for all, to carry on with family at Christmas and to fall in love.

As my first read of 2021 it was really excellent, you feel the cold, the fear and the sudden violence, and you pull together the facts as they are presented, who the murderer is keeps you guessing right to the very end. I’m really looking forward to more of Schenke and Liebwitz (The Gestapo agent assigned to watch over him)

Highly reccomended

(Parm)

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Angus Donald: The Last Berserker (Review)

book cover of The Last Berserker

 

The Last Berserker

 (2021)
(The first book in the Fire Born series)

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The greatest warriors are forged in the flames

771AD, Northern Europe

Two pagan fighters

Bjarki Bloodhand and Tor Hildarsdottir are journeying south into Saxony. Their destination is the Irminsul, the One Tree that links the Nine Worlds of the Middle-Realm. In this most holy place, they hope to learn how to summon their animal spirits so they can enter the ranks of the legendary berserkir: the elite frenzied fighters of the North.

One Christian king

Karolus, newly crowned King of the Franks, has a thorn in his side: the warlike Saxon tribes on his northern borders who shun the teachings of Jesus Christ, blasphemously continuing to worship their pagan gods.

An epic battle for the soul of the North

The West’s greatest warlord vows to stamp out his neighbours’ superstitions and bring the light of the True Faith to the Northmen – at the point of a sword. It will fall to Bjarki, Tor and the men and women of Saxony to resist him in a struggle for the fate of all Europe.

 

Review:

Vikings… The north, the cold… and blood soaked battles… what more could you want? … Angus Donalds new series does contain all those elements, but its also a lot more. This is a story about the growth and youth of Bjarki and Tor, and their submersion into the mysteries of the north.

The Story begins with a bloodsoaked madman single handedly destroying a village, before dropping back in time to Bjarki’s neck in the hangmans noose, saved at the last by a wandering trader, and taken to the heart of the northern world to learn the ways of the warrior, His companions on this Journey Valtyr far Wanderer and Tor Hildarsdottir teaching him weapons, fighting, but more than that, they teach him about family something he knows little about having been a foundling, his parents dead, raised by the villager who lost the lottery, he has been seen as a nuisance all his life. Now someone can see something else in him, the potential, even if that potential is death and destruction.

Angus Donald is best known for his stunning Robin Hood Series, so this is a departure to something new but retaining his wonderful character driven plots, his unique style and humour comes across in the tale, and the adventure he imbues into all his tales shines through.

I personally love a book filled with blood soaked battles, and this book has that, but it has so much more, it explores the root of the Northman’s religion, the blossoming of the Christian faith through that Northman’s eye and we see the growth of friendship and family when experienced by someone who has never know it. From the simplistic rustic life in a poor Northman’s village to the dazzling wealth of the Royal Frankish court, this story is both broad in scope and intimate in emotion, I devoured the book, and have been left wanting more and more.

highly recommended

(Parm)

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Anthony Riches: Nemesis (Review)

Nemesis by [Anthony Riches]They killed his sister. Now he’ll kill them all.

Mickey Bale is an elite close protection officer. That’s why the Met police has given him the toughest job of all: guarding the Minister of Defence at a moment when Chinese-British relations have hit a deadly boiling point.

And when Mickey’s life isn’t on the line for his work, he’s taking his chances waging war on a powerful London gang family. Their dealer supplied a lethal ecstasy pill to his sister, and Mickey is determined to take them down, one at a time.

But will he get away with it – or will his colleagues in the force realise that the man on an underworld killing spree is one of their own?

 

(Review)

Anthony Riches is one of my favourite authors, he is well known for his (Roman) Empire series and its band of soldiers who pull off impossible missions with humour, flair and bloody skill. So when I heard that he had branched out into thrillers I was desperate to read it, and emails flew off to the publisher begging for a copy, if anyone could inject something new and exciting into the genre its Anthony Riches.

Nemesis is set around the life of Mickey Bale an elite protection officer for the Met, this set off a small red flag for me because my girlfriend works for the police and gets very irate if there are “mistakes” in police procedure… she has dismissed many a good read based on basic errors, but reading the first few chapters you could soon see that the author had done plenty of research (not a surprise) and made sure that the authenticity shines through. Mickey Bale is at the top of his game as a protection officer, but he has a past that includes the loss of a family member, and he wants payback.

What I wanted from the book was something, that felt real and totally new, not a new Jack Reacher or Win Lockwood, and I’m glad to say that what we get is new enthralling and pure Anthony Riches, a dark gritty action  thriller with the authors own blend of sardonic irreverent  humour, which works so well in his books and his characters, for me better and more readable and relatable than Jack Reacher.

There are so many thrillers out there that have American / Hollywood action and humour, but this book is pure Brit, in style, humour and action, action that is exciting but in no way over the top, if I had to find any comparison it would be Guy Richie meets the bodyguard (that’s the Richard Madden one… not Kevin Costner), and this book has brilliant TV series written all over it. This is my favorite thriller of this year and the last few years. There is so much more to come from Mickey Bale, and I hope we get to see it soon.

Very Highly Recommended

(Parm)

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Jonathan Spencer : Lords of The Nile (review)

book cover of Lords of the Nile

 

Lords of the Nile

 (2020)
(The second book in the William John Hazzard series)

 

The battle for Empire rages across Egypt

The thrilling second novel in the William John Hazzard series, following Napoleon’s Run.

Malta, June 1798. Captured by the French after hurling himself into the enemy ranks, Hazzard is now a prisoner of Bonaparte and his nemesis, the spy-catcher Derrien. He has, however, uncovered the deadly purpose of Napoleon’s fleet: the conquest of Egypt.

Their bold plan is to cut open the ancient Suez Canal and then sail through the Red Sea to attack India, the jewel in England’s crown.

As Napoleon’s great armada prepares to sail, Nelson’s fleet, still scouring the Mediterranean in vain for the French, is nowhere to be seen. If Hazzard can’t find a way to stop this – no-one will.

But help comes from an unexpected quarter – the missing Admiralty agent…

From the shores of Malta to the truly epic encounter of the Battle of the Nile – this is the explosive beginning of the French invasion of Egypt. Never give up the boat.

 

Review

This is the second book in this stupendous new series and in some ways the harder book, Napoleon’s Run the first book in the series was such blockbusting start that repeating that impact is extremely difficult, beating it almost impossible… but he did!!

Lords of the Nile is a such breathtaking frenetic plot that it truly does exhaust the reader, I found myself getting faster and faster in my reading, tearing through the pages, only to realise that i was trying to match the pace of  the characters and the plot, it is so immersive you can’t help but be sucked into it, swept away by it, pushed to tears by it and utterly enthralled by it.

In the last few years I’ve picked up a few new authors that have stunned me with the impact of their books and dazzled me with the skill and pace of their stories… Jonathan Spencer is one of the best of these, in two books he now resides as one.. of my “Must read” authors, a drop what you’re doing, or what ever else you are reading and read it now writer.

Hazzard will give Sharpe a run for his money any day, and im sure Jack Lark would be happy to serve with him… my favourite book this year and i’ve read some great ones.

Highest recommendation

(Parm)

(Excuse the brevity of review…. i have a broken hand … this took ages… 😉

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