Book Review: Eadric the Grasper: Sons of Mercia, Vol. 1 by Jayden Woods

Hey there…

Historical fiction is not one of those areas I usually dabble in when looking for a book to read. Quite honestly, I’m more apt to find an actual history book than read fiction based on a historical figure or period. But I have to admit that Jayden Woods’ debut novel – Eadric the Grasper: Sons of Mercia, Vol. 1 – puts an interesting spin on a figure I had never heard of.

Apparently Eadric (or Edric, depending on the source) Streona was a Saxon who gained the ear of King Ethelred II early in the 11th century. Though a commoner by birth, it is claimed that he worked his way up the noble tree by assassinating the King’s opponents. Beyond that, he may have also acted as a go-between between the Saxons and the Danes, who had been attacking the Saxon coast. Eadric supported paying off the invading forces, while others supported attacking them outright.

The upshot of all of this was that Eadric was suspected of many crimes during his time… from suggesting the assassination of a group of Danes peacefully living in England to murdering several other nobles in Ethelred’s court.

Woods proposes a different view of this vilified character in English history. Instead of acting with truly villainous intent, she paints Eadric as a person trying to do what he thought was right to keep the peace between the Danes and his countrymen. He goes from a swineherd to an advisor to King Ethelred after a chance meeting and things snowball from there as the King began to rely more and more on his counsel.

Eventually he marries the King’s daughter, Eadgyth, which further aids his rise to power. She turns out to have secrets of her own and seems to be tied somehow to The Golden Cross, a mysterious figure providing battle plans to Saxon leaders to aid in fighting back against the continual Danish invasions.

Though this is her first book, I have to admit that it worked really well. Her style involves the use of a great amount of detail, which bogged me down a bit, but the story is engrossing enough to keep things moving along fairly quickly. The constant political intrigue, backstabbing, and mixing of people of both noble and common birth kept me going to the end.

The other thing that I really enjoyed was her attention to the little crunchy details about medieval life. Describing the conditions of a desperate famine early in the book, she says “Men and women from across the land came to Eadric and bowed thei rheads, offering their loyalty and servitude in exchange for a loaf of bread. When the grain stocks were low, Eadric ordered that acors, peas, bark, and beans be ground into subsidiary flour. He saw that the hedgerows were well tended, so that if all else failed, his servants could pick off herbs, roots, grasses, and nettles to cushion their empty bellies…” In the modern world, I can hardly imagine such a thing happening today in the United States, but suspect that it’s still happening far too often in the Third World or even in severely depressed areas.

I think Woods has a bright future in historical or fantasy fiction and she’s already been hard at work on two sequels – volume 2 is Godric the Kingslayer and volume 3 looks like it will be Edric the Wild. And if that’s not enough, she also has a book of short stories set in the world of the Sons of Mercia called Lost Tales of Mercia.

If you’re a fan of historically-based fiction, I’d definitely recommend that you give Eadric the Grasper: Sons of Mercia, Vol. 1 a read. Also be sure to check out Jayden Woods’ website for additional details!

This article first appeared at BlogCritics.org here.

–Fitz

p.s. Pick up these books from Barnes & Noble below:

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Book Review: Esperanza by Trish J MacGregor

Hi there!

It’s been quite a while since I’ve been caught off guard by a book. Usually I know from the jacket or the first few pages what I’m getting into, but not this time. I couldn’t put it down until I figured out what happened next and even then I couldn’t stop reading until I found out how it ended…

To say the least, Esperanza by Trish J. MacGregor blindsided me. It’s like the recipe for a great meal. The plot intertwines a bit of romance with some horror, adds little history and some fantasy for good measure, and leaves you wanting more at the end. If I was to compare it to other stories, I found a bit of Quantum Leap in it, a little bit of Somewhere In Time, and a bit of the The Time Traveler’s Wife.

The story resolves around two tourists – FBI agent Tess Livingston and professor Ian Ritter – traveling through South America and find themselves visiting a strange town high in the Andes called Esperanza. On the journey to the town, they encounter their fair share of strange events and danger, but somewhere along the way they find themselves in love. We’re talking a “soul mate” kind of love connection here.

Once they got past the Rio Palo, they began learning more about the weirdness surrounding them. The town’s inhabitants never seem to age. And if that wasn’t strange enough, the hungry spirits of the dead called “brujos” hide in the fog and seek new bodies to experience life and love again in the physical world. Unfortunately, that sometimes causes death in the people they choose to possess.

If that was all there was to the story, I probably wouldn’t have made it too far through the book before I set it down. That wasn’t the case. There were hints at deeper mysteries dropped throughout the story and once I figured out MacGregor was playing with not only the boundaries between life and death, but time as well, I was hooked.

But throughout it all, the book never seems forced. It never strays too far from the main characters – Tess and Ian – but the writing weaves all of these various threads together with enough breathing room that even though I figured out where it was going, I really enjoyed the ride. And I still can’t figure out how she managed to smoothly transition from place to place, decade to decade, without being jarred out of the moment like a 4×4 bouncing along a Jeep trail.

If you’ve been looking for a great book that blurs the genre boundaries but still tells a compelling story, I’d strongly encourage you to check out Esperanza by Trish J. MacGregor. It’s worth the ride. Also, be sure to check out her website at TrishJMacGregor.com for more about this book and her other works.

This article first appeared at BlogCritics.org here.

–Fitz

p.s. Pick up Esperanza and some of these other items below at Barnes & Noble!

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Book Review: The Mental Floss History of the United States by Erik Sass

Hi there,

Do you ever think back on your history classes in high school and college and wonder what exactly it was they were teaching? Or do you ever wonder if some of those dry, boring facts we learned have changed over the years as more information is uncovered? I for one was bored stiff in most of my US history classes in junior high and high school. I would have much preferred to have learned more about European history or the ancient world than more about the effect of cotton on the US economy in the 1800s.

Well, if you were as bored as I was,  there may be a way to refresh your memory on US history and learn a few new things at the same time. Erik Sass from Mental Floss (along with Will Pearson and Mangesth Hattikudur) has created a history book that not only lays out all of those names, dates, and places we probably should remember, but offers some fascinating details about the things our teachers probably didn’t know.

This book starts a long time ago and works its way up to the present – some 23,000+ years of history from “Chapter 1: Prehistory, Puritans, Plantations, and Pirates” starting at roughly 23,000 BCE (Before Current Era) to “Chapter 10: America, the Decider” ending in 2010. And they do it all in a little more than 400 pages.

You may be thinking to yourself “History is boring, why would I want to read this book?” It’s a fair enough question, and if the book covered every single year in that 23,000 year span I would probably still be reading when the apocalypse hits and need the paper for toiletries, kindling, or dinner. Somehow I think the problems we currently have with our shrinking forests and jungles would probably be exacerbated by the thousands of pages worth of useless information the book would cover.

Thankfully, the bright folks from Mental Floss don’t do that.

Each chapter works about the same way. It starts with an introduction, moves to a “What Happened When” list of important dates and events, and then hits the high points of each era covered. They cover a lot of ground in a fairly short amount of pages. My favorite sections are the “Lies Your Teacher Told You” that goes over what you probably learned and then why some of that was untrue. Also included along the way are fascinating little tidbits of facts or figures.

I have to admit that for not being a fan of US history, I learned and relearned quite a bit. For example, though Benedict Arnold is labeled as one of the biggest traitors in American history, I never knew more than the fact that he switched sides from the American side to the British during the Revolutionary War. Turns out there were reasons for why he flipped. Though he fought well in several key battles and was wounded in the line of duty, he didn’t actually win the battles he led and never really got credit for his accomplishments. While he recovered, he grew more and more bitter and eventually wanted what was coming to him. Though he is still a traitor, at least now I understand more about what his motivations were behind his acts.

All the major highlights are covered, albeit in a more lively way than all the history books I ever read in school. If I’d had sections like “Quick’n'easy World War II” in my AP American History class, I might remember a bit more. In less than three pages, including a map and a chart, it sums up the high points from the American reluctance to join in the war up to Pearl Harbor, trade policies with the U.K. and the Soviets that caused many merchant ships to be sunk by German U-boats in the Atlantic, along with many of the big battles and dropping the atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Tight, factual, and informative.

As the book works its way forward in time, I had to wonder about the misinformation I learned in school. Was it deliberate? I don’t think so. Most teachers are given a curriculum and don’t have much leeway to add much to the schedule. The end result can amount to a lot of bored students. Perhaps if they used more entertaining textbooks like The Mental Floss History of the United States or America (The Book): A Citizen’s Guide to Democracy Inaction by Jon Stewart, classrooms would encourage free thought and inspire [gasp] a love of learning?

If you’ve been considering some non-fiction to supplement your fiction habit (or maybe that’s just me), I highly recommend The Mental Floss History of the United States from Erik Sass and the folks at Mental Floss. The quotes, dates, interesting facts, and straightforward writing coupled with a sense of humor makes this a history resource I will keep and refer back to for years to come. It manages to educate and entertain simultaneously, which is a win-win for everybody!

This article first appeared at BlogCritics.org here (in its earlier form – this version has a few edits).

–Fitz

p.s. Pick up this and other great books below!

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