Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Interview with Author Ben Kane & Giveaway of Spartacus Rebellion

I'm excited to share this interview with Ben Kane, the author of the Spartacus series.  I'd previously read and reviewed the first three books in the series.  The latest book, Spartacus Rebellion, has just come out.  

Publication Date: May 14, 2013
St. Martin's Press
Hardcover; 464p
ISBN-10: 1250012775

Spartacus has already done the impossible—not only has he escaped from slavery, he and his seconds have created a mighty slave army that has challenged Rome and defeated the armies of three praetors, two consuls, and one proconsul. On the plain of the River Po, in modern Northern Italy, Spartacus has defeated Gaius Cassius Longinus, proconsul and general of an army of two legions. Now the road home lies before them—to Thrace for Spartacus, and to Gaul for his seconds-in-command, Castus and Gannicus.

But storm clouds are gathering on the horizon. One of Spartacus's most powerful generals has defected, taking his men with him. Back in Rome, the immensely rich Marcus Licinius Crassus is gathering an unheard-of Army. The Senate has given Crassus an army made up of ten legions and the authority to do whatever it takes to end the slave rebellion once and for all.

Meanwhile, Spartacus wants to lead his men over the Alps and home, but his two seconds have a different plan. They want to march on Rome itself and bring the Republic to its knees. Rebellion has become war. War to the death. 

I thought that it would be a great time to touch base with the author.  He's been kind enough to spend time to talk about his writing.  Please welcome Ben Kane!

(1)  Your first Spartacus novel developed into a whole second book. Was this something that you'd planned when you wrote the first book?

(Please can the question be rephrased as above or similar? Otherwise it implies that there are more than two books. Thank you.)

Initially, I sold the idea of one Spartacus novel to my UK publishers. Once I had begun it, I found that the story itself was bigger than I had imagined. I realised at about 100,000 words of the first book that there was no way on this earth that I could finish Spartacus’ story within 30-40,000 (the amount that was left if my novel was to come in at normal length) – without having to cut loads of wonderful detail about what he’d done. I rang my editor and asked her if I could write a second book, to finish the story. I’m happy to say that she gave me the green light, which freed me up to pen the second volume. I wrote both books in a frenzied twelve month period.

(2) How have you adjusted to expand the adventures and keep the main characters and relationships throughout?

It was easy, I am glad to say. Spartacus did so many amazing things in the two years of his rebellion that I had no trouble keeping him and his fellow characters very busy indeed. Having two novels to write also meant that I had more time to develop the character of Ariadne, his wife, which I really enjoyed doing. It’s unusual for ancient texts even to tell that he had a wife, let alone that she was a priestess of Dionysus, the god of wine and ritual mania. he moment that I read those details, I knew that Ariadne also had a great story to tell.

(3) What are you currently working on?  Would you like to tell us a bit about projects that you have brewing?

Currently, I am writing Clouds of War, the third in my Hannibal series. Enemy of Rome, the first book in this series will be published in the USA next year. It’s a series that opened a year before the outbreak of the Second Punic War (218-201 BC), which details the stories of characters from both sides of the conflict. Originally, I just planned to write a trilogy, but the sheer scale of the war and my publishers’ backing means that I’ll write at least five if not more books about it. Before I write the fourth one, however, I plan to start a new series, set during the Hundred Years’ War, which took place between England and France from 1337 – 1453. After that, I have plans to return to Spartacus’ boyhood, as well as to write about other time periods that I won’t mention just yet.

About the Author

Ben Kane was born in Kenya and raised there and in Ireland. He qualified as a veterinary surgeon from University College Dublin, and worked in Ireland and the UK for several years. After that he travelled the world extensively, indulging his passion for seeing the world and learning more about ancient history. Seven continents and more than 65 countries later, he decided to settle down, for a while at least.

While working in Northumberland in 2001/2, his love of ancient history was fuelled by visits to Hadrian's Wall. He na├»vely decided to write bestselling Roman novels, a plan which came to fruition after several years of working full time at two jobs - being a vet and writing. Retrospectively, this was an unsurprising development, because since his childhood, Ben has been fascinated by Rome, and particularly, its armies. He now lives in North Somerset with his wife and family, where he has sensibly given up veterinary medicine to write full time.

To find out more about Ben and his books visit

 To celebrate Spartacus Rebellion's release, the publisher and Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tours have sponsored this giveaway of 1 copy of Spartacus Rebellion.  Enter the giveaway below - the giveaway ends on June 15, 2013.

To enter the giveaway, please comment below and share what book you're looking forward to reading this summer.  For an extra entry, tell us about a book that you loved recently and why.  Contest ends on June 15, 2013.

(1) You must be a follower of the blog to enter.
(2) Limited to U.S. residents only.  
(3) Maximum of two entries per household.

Want to learn more about Ben Kane, Spartacus and the latest book in the series?  Want more chances to win your personal copy of Spartacus Rebellion?  Check out the tour schedule and/or follow #SpartacusRebellionTour

Link to Tour Schedule:
Twitter Hashtag: #SpartacusRebellionTour

Ghana Must Go by Taiye Selasi

The blurb:

Kweku Sai is dead. A renowned surgeon and failed husband, he succumbs suddenly at dawn outside his home in suburban Accra. The news of Kweku’s death sends a ripple around the world, bringing together the family he abandoned years before. Ghana Must Go is their story. Electric, exhilarating, beautifully crafted, Ghana Must Go is a testament to the transformative power of unconditional love, from a debut novelist of extraordinary talent.  

Moving with great elegance through time and place, Ghana Must Go charts the Sais’ circuitous journey to one another. In the wake of Kweku’s death, his children gather in Ghana at their enigmatic mother’s new home. The eldest son and his wife; the mysterious, beautiful twins; the baby sister, now a young woman: each carries secrets of his own. What is revealed in their coming together is the story of how they came apart: the hearts broken, the lies told, the crimes committed in the name of love. Splintered, alone, each navigates his pain, believing that what has been lost can never be recovered—until, in Ghana, a new way forward, a new family, begins to emerge.

Ghana Must Go is at once a portrait of a modern family, and an exploration of the importance of where we come from to who we are. In a sweeping narrative that takes us from Accra to Lagos to London to New York, Ghana Must Go teaches that the truths we speak can heal the wounds we hide.

Ghana Must Go is an unusual read.  Taiye Selasi tells the complicated story of a family from the perspective of each of the members.  Beginning with the father, Kweku Sai, a brilliant surgeon who left Ghana to train in Johns Hopkins and Harvard.  We learn about Kweku's life as an impoverished student in Africa, as a displaced, brilliant, and hardworking student and doctor, as a devoted husband and adoring father, and as a gifted doctor in one of the top hospitals in the world.  When Kweku's   brilliant career is somehow implodes through no fault of his own, he is devastated devastated by the change and the damage impacts his family deeply.  

As Taiye Selasi introduces Fola, the wife and mother,  and the children  (Olu, the eldest and surgeon, the gifted and beautiful twins Taiwo and Kehinde, and Sadie, the baby of the family) we discover more about the family, about each person's struggle for acceptance and love, and about the worlds  that they inhabit in Brookline, in New York, in New Haven, and in Africa.

There is Fola, a legendary beauty whose mother died in childbirth and whose father was tragically murdered during a violent attack when she was still a young girl.  Fola escapes to Ghana and then to the West to study.  When she meets Kweku in the US, she has locked her story deep inside.  Her eldest child, Olu, has followed in his father's footsteps and has established himself as a brilliant surgeon.  Olu has not remained unscathed by the troubles in his life despite the fact that he appears to lead a "charmed life" and learning more about Olu makes him complicated and deeply sympathetic.  Olu's twin siblings have inherited the strikingly gorgeous looks of his mother's family.  For as long as anyone can remember, the twins have drawn people to them with their unusual looks and their independence - they seem to live in a world of their own.  Kehinde doesn't have the tension, the drive, that characterizes Olu's life but Kehinde has become a world renowned artist.   Taiwo is brilliant and gorgeous, but her gifts and successes haven't  brought her the contentment that we'd expect but Taiwo carries a dark secret that explains her isolation.   Sadie, the cherished youngest child, has had it much easier than her siblings but still longs for a life like those of their wealthy Brookline neighbors and her WASP best friend - it takes a life changing trip to bring the family back together.

Ghana Must Go is an amazing read.   It's a story about Africa,   about immigration, about building a life  and the sacrifices and joys that this entails.

ISBN-10: 1594204497 - Hardcover $25.95
Publisher: Penguin Press HC, The (March 5, 2013), 336 pages.
Review copy courtesy of the publisher and the Amazon Vine Reviewers program.

About the Author:
TAIYE SELASI was born in London and raised in Massachusetts. She holds a B.A. in American studies from Yale and an M.Phil. in international relations from Oxford. “The Sex Lives of African Girls” (Granta, 2011), Selasi’s fiction debut, will appear in Best American Short Stories 2012. She lives in Rome.

Monday, May 20, 2013

How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia by Mohsin Hamid

The blurb:

His first two novels established Mohsin Hamid as a radically inventive storyteller with his finger on the world's pulse.  How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia meets that reputation - and exceeds it.  The astonishing and riveting tale of a man's journey from impoverished rural boy to corporate tycoon, it steals its shape from the business self-help books devoured all over "rising Asia."  The novel follows its nameless hero to the sprawling metropolis where he begins to amass an empire built on the most fluid, and increasingly scarce, of goods: water.  Yet his heart remains set on something else, on the pretty girl whose star rises along with his, their paths crossing and recrossing, a lifelong affair sparked and snuffed and sparked again by the forces that careen their fates along.

An astonishing slice of contemporary life at a time of crushing upheaval,  How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia is romantic without being sentimental, political without being didactic, and spiritual without being religious.  It brings an unflinching gaze to the violence and hope it depicts, and creates two unforgettable characters who find moments of transcendent intimacy in the midst of shattering change.

Mohsin Hamid's How To Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia is an unexpected treat.  I was drawn to the title and had somehow expected it to be set in China or Korea.  My fault - I should have realized that it would be in South Asia. 

The book is unusual in that it's written in the second person with such skill. We follow the story of a young rural boy whose luck and skill enable him to make fortunate choices.  It starts from his gender and birth order.   His less fortunate elder brother is pulled out of school to work as a house painter and his older sister is married instead of able to return to school.  The boy makes full use of his education.  He studies full time, works part time, learns how to sell, and with each new phase, he advances.  Written as a self help book of sorts, the book captures a detached and humorous tone - keeps 

The boy falls in love with a beautiful, spirited and ambitious young girl.   The young girl leads an equally charmed life  where her beauty, sacrifices, and skills bring her unexpected rewards. 

While I enjoyed reading about the rise in their respective fortunes, what I most enjoyed about How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia was seeing how the lives of the young girl and boy would intertwine.  

ISBN  1594487294 Hardcover $26
Riverhead Hardcover, 1st edition.
Review copy courtesy of the Amazon Vine Reviewers Program and the publisher.

About the Author:
Moshin Hamid's first novel, Moth Smoke, won the Betty Trask Award and was a finalist for the PEN/Hemingway Award.  His second, The Reluctant Fundamentalist, a bestseller in the United States and abroad, was short-listed for the Man Booker Prize.  Hamid, who contributes to Time, The New York Times, and The Washington Post, among others, lives in Lahore, Pakistan.