Wednesday, 27 June 2012

Review - The Crown by Nancy Bilyeau

Author’s name:  Nancy Bilyeau
Publisher: Orion Books
Year:  2012
Price in sterling:  £12.99
405 pages
ISBN:  978-14091-3307-0

Joanna Stafford is a member of a family distrusted by King Henry VII because of their refusal to accept his Reformation of the Church.  A novice nun, she escapes enclosure at Dartford Priory to attend the execution of her cousin who has been found guilty of heresy.  She is found out and imprisoned for months, until a meeting with Bishop Stephen Gardiner throws her into the full maelstrom of the religious and political turmoil of the Reformation.


Stories surrounding King Henry VIII, his wives and the Reformation are plentiful but what makes Nancy Bilyeau’s debut novel so different, is that it is just that – different!

You are instantly shown the sheer horror of the time of the Reformation when the Church of England was usurping the Catholic faith that had been the dominant religion for five hundred years.  The fear that Catholics felt for wishing to practise their faith is demonstrated so clearly in the first few pages that you are instantly connected to the heroine, Joanna Stafford.  The descriptions and prose are eloquent and tight; not a spare word appears in the whole novel, making it a hugely satisfying read.

I understand the fascination many historical fiction enthusiasts have with the Tudor period, but Nancy Bilyeau writes with a grace that sets this novel far above many I have read.  Her research is impeccable, but the addition of a folklore element to the plot brings a perilous dimension to this period of religious fear.  Bilyeau’s characters are fully formed and you root for the goodies and hope evil things happen to the baddies.  The whole product is created to the highest standard; the plot creation, the characters, the editing, the research, everything is immaculately polished.

I have given “The Crown” 5 Crosses as this debut novel is a refreshing addition to the saturated "Henry VIII" genre and I cannot wait for the next instalment in Joanna Stafford’s adventures. 

Monday, 25 June 2012

Coming up this week!

This Thursday, the 28th June I will be honoured to have a special guest here.  Nancy Bilyeau’s debut novel “The Crown” has been attracting critical acclaim and has been nominated for the CWA 2012 Ellis Peters Historical Dagger Award.  I am sure you will all join with me as I wish her all the very best for the announcement, which is on July 5th.

Also, Nancy has been kind enough to be interrogated – I mean interviewed - about her eclectic writing career and passion for Tudor England.  I will be publishing my review of “The Crown” and running a competition where you can win your very own copy!  

My first ever blog “Writing Bristol’s History”, has been attracting some amazing attention.  Due to illness and personal circumstances, I hadn’t posted anything for around three years.  But since I began writing as Sir Read-A-Lot, it has had nearly 300 page views!!  I could not believe that so many people had found it and read the content, even though I had not contributed anything new since 2009.

So, it is with great pleasure that from Monday, July 2nd “Writing Bristol’s History” will be re-launched!  My aim is to provide interesting and informative content that compliments my writing and my passion for history.  I do hope you will find time in your busy schedule to take a look at it and support it in the same way you have generously followed Sir Read-A-Lot.

Have a superb week and don’t forget to put Thursday 28th June & Monday 2nd July in your diaries.

Thursday, 14 June 2012

Review - "Wild Rose" by Pauline Donaldson

Publisher: Self (Xlibris)
Year:  2010
Price in sterling:  £13.99
348 pages
ISBN:  978-14568-0918-8

Set in 15th century, “Wild Rose” tells the story of a young woman named Alice who lives a lonely existence in the wilds of the Yorkshire, far away from the “War of the Roses” which has turned families against families.  Her life changes forever when, one day at the side of a country track, she finds a baby beside the dead body of her mother.  Alice takes the baby to save it from death, naming her Cissy.  She takes the child on as her own, but confides in a local clergyman and he begins to make discreet enquiries to determine if anyone has been searching for a missing child.

A Baron visits Skipton and comes to the attention of a clergyman who is an acquaintance of Alice.  The child, Cissy, is confirmed as the daughter of the nobleman and so begins a period of upheaval and change which will affect both their lives, forever.


“Wild Rose” is a decent story, but I have to admit that it was not to my taste.  The tale is aimed at a female market, so the reading experience was a challenge.  However, I can be objective about it and I believe my female followers would thoroughly enjoy the book.

Donaldson manages to create characters with a strong moral foundation and her knowledge of Yorkshire and the time period is exceptional.  The plot is evenly-paced and it is quite an easy read, so you can pick it up and jump straight back in without really having to try and remember what has happened before.  I do, however, have one criticism.  In my opinion, all the characters were too nice.  There didn’t seem to be an overhanging sense of drama but instead the emotions and intricacies of the characters drove the story along.  It is not often that such a bold step is taken and, even though it did not appeal to me personally, I can appreciate the skill of the writer and her reasons for doing so.

The only negative point I would make, would be to suggest the author engages the services of a copy-editor.  I found several typos and, in parts, passages were over-written.  Of course, many readers will agree that this can happen in books released by mainstream publishers.  I only make the point to encourage the author to improve the book and I have no doubt that she has the skill to do so.

I have given “Wild Rose” 4 Crosses and congratulate Pauline Donaldson for producing a unique and extremely engaging novel. 

Monday, 11 June 2012

Coming up this week & current book competitions

This week I will be posting a review of "Wild Rose", an independently published work by Pauline Donaldson, this Thursday.

There are some great book competitions running at the moment, if you like history, reading and reading my blog then why not enter?  I will be running a giveaway competition myself in the next few weeks, and it is one you will not want to miss!

Ben Kane is giving away 6 signed copies of Spartacus.
All you need to do to be in with a chance to win one is to answer this simple question:

What is the Latin word for a legion's eagle?

Reply in an email to

OR in a comment on his website:

OR on Twitter @benkaneauthor

OR on his Facebook page:

ONE entry per person.

The competition ends at 8.30 p.m. (UK Time) on Thursday, 14th June.

Betrayal Giveaway on Layered Pages

Stephanie Moore recently interviewed Michele Kallio, the author of "Betrayal" recently and you could win a copy of the book, just by leaving a comment on her blog.  It runs until 23rd June, so you have time to enter and spread the word too!

Thanks for supporting Sir Read-A-Lot, don't forget my review of "Wild Rose" on Thursday 14th June!

Saturday, 2 June 2012

A Lady of Literature – an interview with Stephanie Moore

Stephanie Moore is a lady with a passion.  As one of the most hard-working and accommodating reviewers in the world of Historical Fiction, she promotes and showcases some of the most up to date and exciting releases on her blog Layered Pages.  Anyone who follows her on any of her social media platforms will be fully aware of her voracious appetite for reading.  According to her Goodreads stats, so far this year she has read 43 books, totaling 13,881 pages!  She very kindly put her latest tome on the bedside table and spent some time answering some questions.

Stephanie, thank you so much for your time and welcome to the Court of Sir Read-A-Lot, can you tell me what inspired you to begin blogging about Historical Fiction?
Several friends had started to blog about books they enjoyed reading and reviewed and it sparked my interest. I always wanted to find a better way of sharing my love of reading to the world and creating my blog, Layered Pages, was a great way to do so. Plus, I find it an excellent way to journal my thoughts of books I’ve read and to talk with authors I like.

Your blog is extremely informative and showcases not only the novels, but also their authors.  How do you decide which books to review and who to interview?
Thank you Stuart! I’m really pleased with the layout of my blog and how it has evolved. I choose books to review that I’m interested in reading or curious about. Recently, I’ve been consciously choosing books from authors who self-publish. Frequently I’m asked by authors to review their books. For example, Michele Kallio, Elisabeth Storrs and Donna Russo Morin have approached me and asked to review their books.

What is the best thing about blogging on the subject of Historical Fiction?
I love the fact I can really explore history and visualize how the stories could have happened in real life. The great thing about blogging is that I’m free to write my opinions which can influence what my followers read. I take that responsibility very seriously. I do not write what I think people wish to read about a particular book,
One thing I will always do is give an honest assessment and I refuse to hide behind the anonymity of a computer screen!  So yes, it is a big responsibility, but one I feel I can handle and do well.  For example, today I have published my Layered Pages Summer 2012 Recommended Reads, which contains 14 (10 Historical, 4 Contemporary) of the 43 books I have read so far this year!  These are stories that I feel my readers would enjoy whether they will be going to holiday, or sitting in the garden, or lounging by a pool. 

You are a reviewer for the American Chapter of the Historical Novel Society, has being a part of this changed the way you review books? Has it made you more selective?
Yes, being involved with the HNS has really changed the way I review. It has taught me to be more selective in choosing which books are good enough to be reviewed. I was originally extended an invitation to join by Helen Hollick, the Editor of the UK Review Team.  To know that my opinions were valued by people involved with the HNS was a huge confidence boost but as I am in the US it was not possible for me to join her. 
However, she passed my details onto Andrea Connell, the Editor for the US team.  Andrea has been instrumental in teaching me the techniques of writing reviews.  She has also helped me use words more effectively, making my reviews more concise.  I consider it a privilege to write reviews for the HNS and I know my work will continue to grow through this wonderful experience.

What are the main things you look for when reviewing a book you are considering to review.
I pretty much adhere to the standards laid down by the HNS has when reviewing a book. The things I consider include assessments on the characters, the plot, the author’s writing style and, in the case of self-published or independently published works, if a sufficiently adequate copy-edit has been carried out.  Examples of the questions I ask are; is the character interesting?  Do they fulfill their purpose?  Are they believable?  Is the story creative and interesting?  How does the story flow?  Does the story end properly?   I look at the mechanics of writing as well; the dialogue, the descriptive language and, very importantly in the realm of HF, is the story is true to its time and place?  I look at the overall professional layout and the cover design. I think examining the work in this detail, is what makes a good, fair and consistent reviewer.

How does reviewing a book differ from reading for pleasure?

That is a tough question!   For the most part, I have really enjoyed reading the books I have reviewed. But, if I am reading for a review I use the techniques and assessment criteria I spoke about in my last question and try to remain slightly more detached.  When I’m reading for pleasure, I just sit back and relax and enjoy the story!

Bloggers, like you, are playing an important role in promoting works of Historical Fiction. How do you see the future of blogs? Do you see them acting as a quality control mechanism that can influence the quality of books being written, in this increasing age of immediate publication?
I see wonderful things in the future for book blogs. I do see them as a sort-of quality control, especially for books that are poorly written. I think that both amateur and professional reviewers will play an increasingly prominent role in weeding out the sub-standard works that do nothing to enhance the reputation of the genre;  of any genre, in fact.  In order for this to be successful, book bloggers and reviewers need to be very selective and choose only quality books to review and promote.  
I must add, I’m very concerned about this age of immediate publication for many reasons. I believe this has lowered the standards of writing and story-telling and will continue to do so unless some form of quality control is in place. As a book reviewer and an avid reader, I feel that I have a responsibility to ensure the standards for independent publishing remains on a par with their mainstream counterparts.  If not, what does this say to our readers? It could lower the reading ability of future generations, maybe even turn people off from reading altogether!  There has to be a line in the sand, because if things continue the way they are going, there will be a glut in the market of mediocre, inferior books.

Fun question- which three characters, real or fictional, would you have as dinner quests?

Thomas Jefferson. Eleanor of Aquitaine and Blanche de Castille of France.

Fun question-If you could be a fly on the wall at a specific event in history, which one would it be?
Gosh, there are several but if I must choose one it would be The Battle of Hastings. There are so many unanswered questions I have about that event in history and what really happen.

Stephanie is an avid reader of Historical Fiction and a book reviewer for The Historical Novel Society and IndieBRAG LLC. She is also, Co-Founder of the Goodreads  book club, “Ladies & Literature”, which has over 1,300 members globally.

Co-Founder of Ladies & Literature:
Book Reviewer for Historical Novel Society (on-line):
Book Reviewer for IndieBrag LLC:
Contact Stephanie: