Friday, December 28, 2012

The Midwife's Revolt by Jodi Daynard


The Midwife’s Revolt takes the reader on a journey to the founding days of America. It follows one woman’s path, Lizzie Boylston, from her grieving days of widowhood after Bunker Hill, to her deepening friendship with Abigail Adams and midwifery, and finally to her dangerous work as a spy for the Cause. Much has been written about our founding men. But The Midwife’s Revolt is unique in that it opens a window onto the lives of our founding women as well.

Author Jody Daynard’s historical novel, The Midwife’s Revolt, takes us deep into the heart of America at the start of the American Revolution. It was a time of turmoil with strong sentiments for independence and freedom from England’s rule. Through the eyes of Lizzie Boylston, a young widow and midwife from an upper class who married a man of lesser means, the politics and emotions of time come alive. By virtue of her role as a midwife and her idealistic support for the revolutionist cause, Lizzie finds herself embroiled with the people and causes that began and organized the revolt.

Although the novel begins slowly, the story soon gains momentum and becomes truly engaging, for it is a beautifully written tale with a compelling narrative. The heroine is compelling, not only because of her struggles and desperate circumstances, but for her boldness, wisdom, honesty, and compassion regardless of who she is aiding. There were periods of humor as well as drama throughout.  This is very much a novel about the women during this tumultuous period in history, an important perspective to gain a well-rounded understanding. 

The White Hawk by David Pilling - A Guest Post


A warm welcome to author David Pilling. He has recently published a novel set in England during the War of the Roses. I'm thrilled to have hm introduce the novel and a brief excerpt to us. 

Back Cover Blurb:

England, 1459: the rival factions of Lancaster and York have plunged the kingdom into civil war. The meek and feeble King Henry VI presides over the chaos, unable to prevent his ambitious, bloodthirsty nobles from tearing each other to pieces. The White Hawk follows the fortunes of a minor gentry family, the Boltons, as they attempt to survive and prosper in this world of brutal warfare and shifting alliances. Surrounded by enemies, their loyalty to the ruling house of Lancaster will be tested to the limit in a series of bloody battles and savage twists of fate...



A Bolton, a Bolton! The White Hawk!


"A Bolton, a Bolton! The White Hawk! God for Lancaster and Saint George!" 


England, 1459: the kingdom stands divided and on the brink of civil war. The factions of Lancaster and York vie for control of the King, while their armies stand poised, ready to tear each other to pieces. 

The White Hawk follows the fortunes of a family of Lancastrian loyalists, the Boltons, as they attempt to survive and prosper in this world of brutal warfare and shifting alliances. Surrounded by enemies, their loyalties will be tested to the limit in a series of bloody battles and savage twists of fate.

This period, with its murderous dynastic feuding between the rival Houses of York and Lancaster, is perhaps the most fascinating of the entire medieval period in England. Having lost the Hundred Years War, the English nobility turned on each other in a bitter struggle for the crown, resulting in a spate of beheadings, battles, murders and Gangland-style politics that lasted some thirty years.

Apart from the savage doings of aristocrats, the wars affected people on the lower rungs of society. One minor gentry family in particular, the Pastons of Norfolk, suffered greatly in their attempts to survive and thrive in the feral environment of the late 15th century. They left an invaluable chronicle in their archive of family correspondence, the famous Paston Letters.

The letters provide us with a snapshot of the trials endured by middle-ranking families like the Pastons, and of the measures they took to defend their property from greedy neighbours. One such extract is a frantic plea from the matriarch of the clan, Margaret Paston, begging her son John to return from London:

"I greet you well, letting you know that your brother and his fellowship stand in great jeopardy at Caister... Daubney and Berney are dead and others badly hurt, and gunpowder and arrows are lacking. The place is badly broken down by the guns of the other party, so that unless they have hasty help, they are likely to lose both their lives and the place, which will be the greatest rebuke to you that ever came to any gentleman. For every man in this country marvels greatly that you suffer them to be for so long in great jeopardy without help or other remedy..."

The Paston Letters, together with my general fascination for the era, were the inspiration for The White Hawk. Planned as a series of three novels, TWH will follow the fortunes of a fictional Staffordshire family, the Boltons, from the beginning to the very end of The Wars of the Roses. Unquenchably loyal to the House of Lancaster, their loyalty will have dire consequences for them as law and order breaks down and the kingdom slides into civil war. The ‘white hawk’ of the title is the sigil of the Boltons, and will fly over many a blood-stained battlefield.

In the following excerpt, one of the protagonists is introduced to his first taste of real combat at the Battle of Northampton:

“The Lancastrians still had their archers, and the unseasonal rain had turned the ground between the two armies into a quagmire. Geoffrey lost a shoe in the soft, sucking mud, and cursed as he was forced to hobble onward with one naked foot.
Then the skies darkened, and the man beside him squealed and went down with an arrow protruding from the eye-piece of his sallet. Geoffrey lowered his head and stumbled on, gagging at the stench of excrement and split gut that filled his nostrils as more arrows strafed Fauconberg’s division, cutting men down and breaking up their carefully ordered ranks. 
Geoffrey was breathing hard, his limbs seized with weariness as he laboured through the mud. His heart rattled like a drum. The Yorkists were being murdered by the arrows, and still had to cross a deep ditch, defended by a wall of stakes and thousands of determined, well-fed and rested Lancastrian infantry. They would surely be repelled, panic would set in, and men would start to run. Then the Lancastrian knights would mount their destriers, and the real killing would begin as they pursued their beaten foes across miles of open ground.
Geoffrey’s courage and desire for vengeance shriveled inside him. He desperately wanted to turn and run, but the press of men forced him on, towards the bristling line of stakes. He glanced ahead, and saw that March’s division had stormed right up to the barricades on the right flank of the Lancastrian position. These were defended by men wearing badges displaying a black ragged staff. He recognised the livery as that of Lord Grey of Ruthin, a powerful Welsh Marcher lord.
He expected March’s advance to grind to a halt as his men came up against the stakes and Grey’s well-armed infantry, but then something extraordinary happened. The men wearing the badge of the ragged staff laid down their weapons and stood aside, allowing the Yorkists to pass through their lines. Some even stooped to help their supposed enemies over the ditch.
Lord Grey had turned traitor. Geoffrey had no idea why or how it had been arranged, being too unimportant to be made privy to such deals, but his heart sang at the result. That one act of treachery would surely reverse the tide of battle. The Lancastrians were doomed, trapped like rats inside their improvised fortress. More to the point, Geoffrey’s chances of survival had just improved dramatically…”

If all this whets your appetite, then please check out the paperback and Kindle versions of Book One below...

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Shieldmaiden by Marianne Whiting


Sigrid is the daughter of a runaway Norwegian princess and a warrior who was once Harald Finehair’s housekarl. She grows up on a farm by Loweswater but her childhood comes to an abrupt end when her father is outlawed and killed, her home is burnt and the rest of her family disappears... 934. Cumbria is in turmoil. The English fight Vikings for political supremacy in the North, whilst the traditional Viking way of life is threatened as Christianity advances against the worship of Norse gods. Against this background, Sigrid embarks on a quest for justice and security for herself and her children. Her only option is to appeal to the King of Norway to reverse his judgement on her father and allow her to inherit the family farm, but Norway is far away and Sigrid is a daughter of an outlaw with only her wits and her sword skills to help her cause.Recruiting a small but gallant force of allies, she sets out to regain her birth-right. During her quest, she encounters kings, warriors and villains. While her fighting skills earn her admiration and rewards, she also begins to understand about duty, honour and loyalty, changing from a headstrong teenager into a respected warrior woman. Shieldmaiden is a well-researched and realistic tale that will appeal to fans of historical fiction, as well as young adult readers. Marianne has been inspired by Nordic sagas and legends and the Icelandic sagas, as well as Frans G. Bengtsson’s The Long Ships, Robert Low’s The Oathsworn series and Manda Scott’s Boudica novels.

Shieldmaiden is set in 10th century Norway. The heroine, Sigrid, is caught in an abundance of turmoil when her father is named an outlaw and killed, her home is destroyed, and her family has fled and disappeared. Her only hope is to present herself to the King of Norway, a relative through marriage, to reverse the judgement against her family and restore her family’s lands to her. Sigrid is no ordinary young woman, however. From the time she was young, she was trained in the skills of a warrior and learned to wield sword and shield as good as any man. On her journey to clear her father’s name, she uses her skills and gains respect and loyalty of the people she encounters along the way especially that of Ragnar, a strong man whom she soon falls in love with.

There is much to keep readers entertained with this adventure story. A courageous, strong heroine, a valiant hero, and plenty of romance and conflict. The 10th century England and Viking setting is unique and interesting. The plot is realistic and believable, drawing on historical detail and the political rise of Christianity against Norse paganism to really make the story come alive. I especially enjoyed the intriguing characters who never do what one expects them to do. A good tale with plenty of twists and troubles. 

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Feud by Derek Birks


In 1459 England stands on the brink of chaos. The most powerful nobleman in the land, Richard of York, and the weak king, Henry of Lancaster, prepare to settle their differences on the battlefield. As the rule of law breaks down all over England old scores are being settled.

For a long time the Elders and the Radcliffes have been, at best, uncomfortable neighbours but when Ned Elder’s father and brother are murdered and his sisters abducted by the Radcliffes, the young knight is forced to flee from his home. His sister Emma is torn from the quiet harmony of her household and forced into marriage. Eleanor, her wild and beautiful younger sister, is condemned to imprisonment in a remote nunnery. However, neither Ned nor his sisters are willing to concede all to the Radcliffes without a fight. And so the feud begins …


Feud is the story of a bitter struggle, a story of fighting back against all odds. 

The fate of the Elders hangs upon more than just Ned's skill with a sword, but on the courage of his sisters and the girl he loves, as the feud is played out amid the blood and misery of the Wars of the Roses.


Feud by Derek Birks is an action novel set in England during the tensions of the War of the Roses. It centers around two fictional families, the Elders and the Radcliffes and the bitter dispute between them over  a kidnapping and murders in a near lawless country politically divided.

This novel, from start to finish, is packed full of action with descriptive fight scenes, an engaging romance, and compelling characters who never cease to surprise, and intense adversities to overcome. The plot moves at a very fast pace with plenty of twists and turns along the way. Derek Birks is an author who has done an enormous amount of research into this era and he truly knows how to bring the era to life. There is something here for everyone. 

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Still Life With Murder by P B Ryan

Description

The first in the Nell Sweeny Mystery Series

Cordelia Sweeney, [Nell] is working under the guidance of Dr Greaves as an apprentice paramedic when she attends the birth of a maid’s child at the home of one of Boston’s high society families.  The year is 1863 and the Hewitt’s have lost two sons to the Civil War, and though their two younger boys are alive and well, Viola Hewitt feels the loss of her firstborn, William and her second son, Robbie, sharply.

When the maid conveys a secret to her employer and rejects her new born daughter, Viola Hewitt resolves to adopt the child and Nell is asked to remain in the household as nanny to the baby.

Nell has a dark past, where poverty and cruelty have left their mark and presented with an opportunity to improve her life even more, and immediately attached to the child, Nell agrees and takes her leave of Dr Greaves. For three years she grows closer to the child, Grace, until a visitor to the Hewitt's informs them that their eldest son, William is not only alive, but he lives as a professional gambler, an opium addict and is now facing trial for murder.

Viola Hewitt, convinced her son is not a murderer, and distraught where her husband is cold and distant, begs Nell to find out where her son is and how she can help him.

Thus Nell embarks on a journey into a world she imagined she had left behind. At first she is sceptical but compassionate, then when William Hewitt appears not only scornful of her help, but resigned to his fate only stubbornness and her tenacious nature keep her looking.

Review

It isn’t often that a novel grabs my attention from the first page, but this one did. Nell is an amazing character who does not dwell on her past but she is clearly determined to overcome it. Being reminded of it by William Hewitt’s current situation is something she does not relish, but her promise to her employer sends her into the stews of Boston in search of evidence.

Nell finds a defeated, addicted and morally bereft man, scarred physically and mentally by his experiences at Andersonville prison during the war. He seems like a lost cause, and worse, he insists he is guilty. However Nell’s tenacity, combined with her refusal to be intimidated by policemen, brothel keepers and villains alike, means she manages to unearth facts that may mean William Hewitt is worth saving after all.

William Hewitt is an exasperating anti-hero, he will not explain, apologise or even try to behave in a conventional manner and has no wish to save himself.  Yet beneath the defeated façade he is quick-witted, gentlemanly and flirtatious, dismissive one minute and intense the next – just enough to keep Nell guessing - and attracted.

The characterisation is masterly and the author’s research of the atrocities of the American Civil War are stark and uncompromising without being sentimental. A definite keeper and I will certainly buy more novels in the Nell Sweeney series.

Anita Davison is a Historical Fiction Author whose latest release, ‘Royalist Rebel’ a biographical novel set in 17th Century England, is being released by Claymore Books in early 2013 under the name Anita Seymour

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Friday, December 14, 2012

Pharaoh's Son by Diana Wilder


Reviewed by Victoria Dixon

Pharaoh’s Son is a murder mystery set in ancient the golden years of Ramesses the Great. That concept alone fascinated me enough to want to pick up this book and I’m glad I did.
The crash of Pharaoh’s colossal statue into a throng of worshippers brings the festival of the good god Ptah of Memphis to a sudden, bloody end. Prince Khaemwaset, (Khay) the High Priest, barely escapes being killed. He finds clues in the wreckage, showing that the collapse was deliberately set. Now he is confronted with questions that grow more alarming with every answer he finds as the great Temple of Ptah is rocked by a chilling series of murders. Increasingly entangled in clues that lead to even more mysteries, convinced that the gods themselves are taking a hand in the disaster, he appeals to Pharaoh for help and is sent a powerful ally in his older brother, Amunhorkhepechef (Hori), Egypt’s Crown Prince, whose courage and resourcefulness are surpassed only by his bluntness.
The brothers fight against time as they try to unravel the mystery, knowing that there is more at stake than treasure, and the forfeit is greater than a man’s life. Something great and terrible is stirring, something they must find, hidden deep within the temple, something they must bring into the light before those who walk in darkness take it and turn it to evil.
There were points when I felt that the Egyptian beliefs and Egyptian gods had been replaced by modern spiritual outlooks, but if I’m right, it was still tactfully and even beautifully done, resulting in one of my favorite passages:
“Is all well with you?” Sarenput asked.
“Very well,” Hori replied, closing his eyes again. “I answered, as you advised…” When Sarenput remained companionably silent he continued, “I don’t know why I was so afraid.”
“I think what we fear is the shadow of what we love,” Sarenput said quietly.
Both the conversation and the language struck me forcibly enough, I wanted to share it. There are moments of pure glory in Pharaoh’s Son, especially if you are a person of faith or a seeker of meaning. In the end, I felt that was the book’s strength, rather than a failing.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Blood Eye (Raven: Book 1) by Giles Kristian


At the dawn of an age of Scandinavian raiding throughout Western Europe, a young man rediscovers a forgotten heritage that links him to a proud band of Norse warriors in Blood Eye, the first of Giles Kristian’s Raven trilogy. Swept up in their quest to find honor and glory in battle, Raven tests the limits of his endurance and finds companionship among these resilient but brutal warriors.
Raven does not know the name his parents might have given him at birth, where he was born or whether he has any living relations. His entire existence revolves around life in the Wessex settlement of Abbottsend, where he serves the old, mute carpenter Ealhstan and finds himself shunned by others who are suspicious of his blood-red eye. While fishing for his master’s breakfast at dawn, two boats come ashore. The crew wields swords, axes and shields. Their words, suddenly easily understood by Raven, promise trade, but the menace surrounding Jarl Sigurd’s men belies the promise of an easy exchange. Just when it seems the visitors will take their riches and go, treachery brings about a violent end to village life. Raven and Ealhstan become captives of the bloodthirsty crew.
Every event that unfolds in this tale is unexpected, from Jarl Sigurd’s arrival and departure from Abbottsend to his tenuous truce with an English lord whose village he almost destroys. Even the bond Raven forges with the men who have taken him from the only life he remembers is as unpredictable as his ability to survive and forge a new identity among them as an equal. There is no assurance of survival for anyone. Would-be enemies can easily change allegiances, while many a man cannot depend on the loyalty of his own compatriots. Blood Eye is a rich story of adventure told in the style of the Norse sagas, revealing much about the harshness of life in the Scandinavian sailing age and the surprising fellowships forged between people.   

Monday, December 10, 2012

The Lady of Secrets by Susan Carroll


This brilliant new installment in bestselling author Susan Carroll’s mesmerizing Dark Queen historical fiction series is perfect for fans of Philippa Gregory.

Queen Catherine de Medici is dead, and for Meg Wolfe—successor in a line of legendary healers and mystics known as “daughters of the earth”—it is a time of new beginnings. She strives to be ordinary, invisible in the mists of Faire Isle, and is determined to put the terrifying days of a wicked mother and turbulent childhood behind her. But soon a summons from King James will rekindle a menacing power from the past, bringing haunting visions of a nightmare already unfolding—and a shattering mystery steeped in magic that will determine a destiny from which she cannot hide.

Meg’s task: Save the king from the most insidious form of treachery, invisible to those who do not possess Meg’s extraordinary gifts. But as Meg discovers, there are more sinister motivations at play in the king’s world. Torn between two very different men whose motives and secrets are tied inexorably to her own fate, Meg learns that she can no longer trust anyone or anything—not even her own heart.

In 16th century Edinburgh, Maidred Brody and Tamsin Rivers are found guilty of being a witches and are scheduled to be burned at the stake. A crowd of people, including King James I, have gathered to witness the executions. Maidred’s brother, Robert, begs the king to save his sister’s life, but the monarch refuses. Robert swears vengeance against the king for the injustice. As flames consume Tamsin Rivers, she curses the king and his family, which both horrifies and terrifies King James.

Many years later, in Brittany, an anti-evil healer named Meg Wolfe is called to break the curse placed upon a young girl by a village witch. In the presence of a sceptical doctor, Meg is successful in freeing the young girl from the evil curse. As news of the cure spreads, Meg is called to London to aid the king who is suffering from ill luck, haunting visions, and the powers of a dark witch he is certain has befallen him because of the witch he had ordered burned at the stake. The men sent to escort Meg believe the spell has been cast by witches who belong to the Silver Rose Coven.

The front cover is this novel is beautiful and drew my attention immediately. The Lady of Secrets is one of a series of novels. Although you do not have to read earlier books in the series to enjoy this one, there were some references made to earlier subplots which made me regret not having read them. There is much to find interesting in this story – murder, vengeance, and dark secrets. A romance blooms between Meg and Blackwood which was charming due to her feisty nature and his tendency to be a bit of a scoundrel at times. And of course, because of Meg’s talents as a healer with a talent towards healing supernatural or paranormal problems, added quite a bit of interest. There was a fabulous plot twist at the end which made the ending more than satisfying!

Friday, December 7, 2012

An Older Evil by Lindsay Townsend


PUBLISHER'S BLURB

Alyson Weaver of Bath has already married five husbands and is still irrepressibly in her prime. When a handsome young stranger is murdered in her meadow overlooking St. Michael’s church, she resents it when her admirer, bailiff Lucas Fletcher, warns her not to interfere. Lucas has been intimidated into not investigating, but by whom? After her maid Bela is killed, Alyson decides to find out.

A group of pilgrims - including Alice Perrers, the notorious former mistress of King Edward III - are preparing to leave for the shrine of the Virgin at Walsingham in Norfolk. Before they set out, one of their number, Brother Martin, a friar, confesses to the manslaughter of the handsome stranger, named as Jehan of Flanders, and joins the pilgrimage as a penance, thus Jehan’s killing is "solved." Alyson is unconvinced, and sees Brother Martin as a pitiful puppet and someone is pulling his strings. Taking her mischievous godson Oliver as her page, Alyson joins the pilgrims to find out.


REVIEW

The story opens with a dramatic event, the murder of a young man, witnessed by Alyson Weaver and committed on her land, but his identity and who wants him dead are a mystery.

From this premise, the story sets off at a run and maintains a cracking pace throughout events which are as confusing  as they are revealing. When Alyson’s own servants are caught up in the tragedy, she is determined to discover the culprit, despite being treated like a half witted child – i.e a woman!  Alyson has outlived five husbands and thus owns a wealth of experience which she enlists to judge the assortment of superior, ambitious and ruthless men she is forced to deal with.

Lindsay Townsend is an accomplished writer, who combines nuance and atmosphere extremely well, but she thinks and thus writes fast, and I had trouble keeping up with who, where why and what of the action. Not because she misses out details, but due to the fact her character’s experience deep introspection, physical reactions and internal reasoning which is all combined with the actual events, so I am left feeling a film is playing on fast forward and I’m not keeping up!

On top of all this are detailed descriptions of the ancient baths of the city, the hierarchy of the local officials who misuse their power against the helpless, plus the fascinating details of cloth weaving which help Alyson determine the dead man’s origins and profession from his clothes. 

Alyson Weaver is a wonderful heroine, older than most, she retains a sharp wit, a justified contempt for men in general, though she also retains a sensual core able to admire a manly figure. She's done and seen just about everything, and uses her experiences to full effect.

Judging by the title, I get the impression Alyson will be the subject of a future novel as not all the mysteries were solved in ‘An Older Evil,’ which I felt was an enjoyable - if breathless – read.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Adele: Wilderness Bride (A Story of New France) by Thora Kerr Illing



Escaping from a bad marriage is challenging in any age. It was fraught with danger in 17th century New France when a runaway bride could expect censure from society and Church, even if she found an honest way of earning a living. Adèle was among the young women sent from France to marry in the young colony along the St. Lawrence River. Unusual because she was literate, Adèle is miserably matched with an abusive farmer. She is helped to escape to Quebec by a coureur-de-bois and rebuilds her life, claiming to be a widow. She has work, friends and a faithful dog but the only man to whom she can speak from the heart is promised to her friend. Adèle’s imagined story of adversity, heartache and eventual happiness unfolds against the background of a seminal period in Canadian history.

For anyone fascinated with France and the history of their role in the new world that came to be known as Quebec Canada, this is a wonderful novel to begin with. Adele, the illegitimate daughter of a high ranking nobleman, is offered as a Filles du Roi (a Daughter of the King) whereby young single women were given a small dowry in exchange for their promise to travel to Colonial Canada to wed and raise a family and children in an effort to populate the new world. But Adele’s hopes are dashed when the man she marries abuses her. What ensues is how Adele managed to escape her abusive husband, struggles to forge herself a new life on her own, and ultimately finds happiness.

The novel is authentic, well-written, and accurately researched, with real secondary characters, and political experiences of the time. I continued reading it with interest into the very end because Adele was such an intriguing heroine.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Greays Hill by Jon Beattiey


Back Cover Description

The Border country - a wild moorland barrier between the Scots and English - had, in the late 18th century started to settle down after years of lawlessness. Reivers, the vagabond thieves who plundered across the Cheviots, had all but disappeared. Jack Charlton is an independent drover, herding cattle across the fells of Northumbria, living largely on his wits with his companion, Phillips, a feisty red haired Scot. On a grim stormy night in an out-of-the way hostelry, he hears of the passing of his Aunt Meg, a spinster owning a hundred acres of rough farmland and a dwelling, Greays Hill - a small fortified farmhouse. Jack accepts the challenge of his inheritance and begins his integration with the local community and the realisation that he needs a wife. Murder, mischief, intrigue and skulduggery abound alongside Jack's conquests, including the flirty and conniving Squire's daughter. Along the way he discovers whose son he really is - and has to deal with the tragic consequences. The narrative flows across the fells, from the Tyne to Jedburgh, explores bygone farming practices and the value of good sandstone, reveals both harsh realities and staunch friendships, brings the colour and flavour of the Northumbrian way of life and tells how the love of a girl can help a drover overcome all.

Review

Author Jon Beattiey has penned a enthralling tale about a young man who struggles to establish his life in the borderlands between Scotland and England. The story starts simply enough, but the plot begins to augment itself with several subplots. First, he must find a wife to help manage his dwelling called Greay’s Hill and three women attract his attention. Alison, Susan, and Tomassina, the squire’s daughter. As he learns more about each woman, and their characters are slowly revealed, he comes across a silver buckle and a set of silver spurs that his dead Aunt Meg had preserved. The land Greay’s Hill sits upon is rich with sandstone setting off greed and skullduggery amongst some of his neighbours.

What is most enjoyable about this novel was the setting and the way the mystery unfolds. The author’s ability to bring to life a lesser known area and culture enriches the tale. Secrets are slowly revealed, subplots become more complex, and the tension increases as the reader turns each page, culminating in an exciting, unpredictable ending. The characters are beautifully developed, especially Jack Charlton who is a likeable ladies man with a sensitive heart and logical decision maker.

My only caveat is that the dialogue in the novel is written in the Scottish vernacular of the borderlands, making reading the novel a bit of challenge, and as I neared the climax of the novel, when I was riding the high tide of excitement and wanted to keep flipping pages because long buried secrets and truths were revealed, the heavy dialect detracted and had me frustrated.

Nevertheless, this novel is definitely an excellent, highly recommended story with enough tension and mystery to keep readers interest from start to finish. Beautiful prose, lovely descriptions, and the realities of the harshness of life in the era and setting make this top-notch historical fiction. 

Monday, November 26, 2012

Detroit Breakdown by D.E. Johnson


Back Cover Blurb

Will Anderson and Elizabeth Hume are called to the vast Eloise Insane Asylum outside of Detroit, where Elizabeth’s cousin Robbie is a patient and now a murder suspect. The victim, like three others before him at the asylum in recent months, was killed with the infamous “Punjab lasso,” the murder weapon of the Phantom of the Opera.


Certain of Robbie’s innocence, they begin an investigation with the help of Detective Riordan. Will has himself committed to the asylum to investigate from the inside, and Elizabeth volunteers at Eloise and questions people outside the asylum. While Will endures horrific conditions in his search for the killer, Elizabeth and Riordan follow the trail of a murder suspect all the way to Kalamazoo, where they realize the killer might still be at Eloise, putting Will in extreme danger. They race back to Detroit, but will they arrive in time to save Will and bring the killer to justice?


Filled with Johnson’s trademark roller-coaster plot, nuanced characters, and brilliant historical research, Detroit Breakdown is a compelling, dark mystery set in the once- flourishing Paris of the West.

Review

Detroit Breakdown is a mystery/suspense novel, the third in a series featuring Elizabeth Hume and Will Anderson. The novel is set in the early 1900’s in the city of Detroit where the two main characters are embroiled in a murder mystery in a notorious mental institution. There are plenty of twists and turns to the story, which held my interest to the very end. Secondary characters are never all that they appear to be when first introduced, adding intrigue and interest. Most fascinating of all however, were the horrible medical practices practiced on mental patients. The author also brought Detroit’s burgeoning motor and transportation industry.

There is much to like about this historical mystery. I loved all the odd and unusual tidbits woven into the story. Due to the fact the author regularly mentions previous history between the two main characters into play, I recommend also reading the previous two books in the trilogy. Otherwise, this is a fast-paced, succinctly written, mystery is unpredictable, creative, well-researched, and definitely keep you on the edge of your seat.  

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Whorticulture by Marie-Anne Mancio


As a girl waits for the return of her disappeared father, the story of four migrant women unravels. In antebellum America: a daydreamer from the country gets an unexpected education on the Mississippi river; a storekeeper falls in love with a thief amid the chaos of Gold Rush San Francisco; a fugitive quadroon re-invents herself in a New York brothel; and a young bride is trapped on a Louisiana sugar plantation. Though they do not know it, their lives are inextricably linked by the men they encounter. Peopled by whores, tricksters, gamblers, do-gooders, liars, and fools, and with allusions to the coded language of flowers, Whorticulture is about prostitution in its myriad forms. Contains a helpful discussion guide for book groups and a flower dictionary.

Whorticulture is an anthology of four historical fiction stories about women who, for one reason or another, were forced to sell themselves physically or spiritually to men in order to overcome adversity in their lives. Each chapter is headed by a reference to a particular flower which provides a link to the individual and different stories.  

The women in the stories were fascinating, victims of their own particular era (albeit all set in the mid 1800’s in different locales). The novel is very well written and researched with plenty of details to really bring each setting to vivid life These four poignant stories are highly entertaining, giving readers a fascinating insight into the plight of women during this period in history.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

The Legendary Adventures of the Pirate Queens by James Grant Goldin

James Grant Goldin’s novel The Legendary Adventures of the Pirate Queens is a rousing, funny, high seas adventure about Anne Bonny and Mary Read, the infamous female pirates who sailed with Calico Jack Rackam. When Mary Read—forced to dress as a man named Martin Read—and Peter Meredith—the man she secretly loves—are captured by Rackam’s crew during a raid on a merchant ship, Mary comes face-to-face with both Calico Jack and the notorious Anne Bonny. That’s where the adventure truly begins.

Anne begins to fall for the person she believes is Martin Read, which naturally incites the jealousy of her current lover Jack Rackam. However, when Anne learns the true identity of Martin, both women are forced to band together to try to save Jack and the crew from Captain Charles Vane, who is hell-bent on revenge against Rackam for a prior mutiny. Anne’s former husband, the takeover of their pirate haven by Governor Woodes Rogers, the attacking Spanish, and just general pirate mayhem only add to the trouble facing Anne and Mary. Will the two pirate women triumph over the insurmountable task before them or fall prey to the hangman’s noose?

Self-published in 2012, The Legendary Adventures of the Pirate Queens is filled with wonderful historical characters who are relatable and a delight to read about. The settings are rich and believable, and the historical details are weaved beautifully throughout the story. Fast-paced and an absolute joy to read, the book is geared toward adults.

Although I’m a pirate historical buff, Goldin surprised me more than once with some of the splendid details and historical events in the story. He is a master storyteller, and I cannot wait to read his next novel, which will hopefully be a sequel to this book. I highly recommend this novel to any pirate lovers, historical buffs, and anyone who wants to read a truly entertaining story.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

The First Apostle by Katherine Pym

Camille Desmoulins, a pamphleteer and journalist, and a man devoted to his wife, Lucile, harbors a malevolent secret. His quill carries poisoned ink. He writes with misdirected passion that leads to the destruction of lives who come in contact with his writings. Impetuous, and filled with satirical wit, Camille runs in the same circles as Robespierre and Danton, but it is not until 1793 that he finally tires of the Terror and pleads for clemency. But will clemency save him and his loved ones from a terrible fate?

The guillotine on the front cover of this novel stands as an ominous reminder of one of the darkest periods of European history – The French Revolution. This novel is particularly interesting because it is told in the vantage point of view of the poor and the revolutionaries instead of the nobles whose lives were at constant risk – an interesting change. At the heart of the story is Camille, a writer and revolutionary, and close friend to Robespierre and other influential political figures of the time. This fascinating character is bold, often outrageous, a risk taker that had me shaking my head at his bold bravado. His written word on the political climate stirs carries might and stirs up public sentiment. He gains fame and notoriety, but his writing often leads to lost lives in the terror. As his actions return to haunt him, he must come to terms with his actions.

Author Katherine Pym has written an intensely gripping novel of a time of true terror, where victims were sentenced to death on the whim of an incomplete and incompetent judicial system. She does not sugar-coat the realities of that terrible time and gives us insight as to the true terror and implications of all those who suffered. Starvation, poverty, greed, power-lust, betrayal, and a good love story garnish the pages of this very poignant novel. One cannot help but be moved. It is an excellent example of historical fiction at its best. 

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Khamsin, The Devil Wind of the Nile by Inge H. Borg


Inge H. Borg’s Khamsin, The Devil Wind of the Nile is a sprawling tale set in ancient Egypt before the epoch of pyramid building began. The heart of the conflict lies between two men, prince-turned-priest Ramose and Ebu al-Saqqara, the ambitious vizier to King Aha. Each knows powerful secrets that could destabilize the regime.

As the novel opens, a clash between Egypt and its neighbors looms. General Ali el-Barum receives word of a gold mine along the disputed border. Barum sends a message to his superior Grand General Makari, via the royal archer Pase. The chief priest Rahetep also learns of the same rich source and dispatches his aide, Tasar to another venerated high priest, Badar. Both couriers accomplish their goal, but their varied paths lead to fateful meetings and intended consequences. The vizier al-Saqqara intercepts Pase, who reaches the capital half-dead. Tasar’s arrival offers a rare glimpse into Aha’s royal household through the heiress Nefret, the king’s headstrong, beautiful daughter. Ramose watches over the young princess, orphaned by her mother in childbirth and by an easily manipulated king. On the pretext of initiating Nefret into her future position, Ramose prepares to confront enemies outside and within Egypt, while al-Saqqara attempts to secure his future. A slew of advisors, retainers and servants, each with their own loyalties and weaknesses, have roles to play in the two men’s schemes.      

In his dual position as vizier and royal quartermaster, the chief minister al-Saqqara’s wants to rule Egypt in Aha’s place. He can dare claim an unwilling Nefret to secure his tenuous hold or extend his influence over her malleable brother and rival, Dubar. Ramose intends to protect the willful Nefret from herself and the vizier’s aims. The intricate maneuvers between the Ramose and al-Saqqara, as each tries to outwit the other, are engrossing. The novel’s other great strength lies is in the details of Egyptian life. The author shows great skill in portraying an ancient time. Every description feels authentic and transports readers to the period. While to her credit, the author provided detailed personalities and full backgrounds for each figure, at times the large cast of characters slowed the pace and generated some distracting POV switches. 

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Fame and Infamy: Adventures of an American Maid in Paris by Iva Polansky


Is it hard to be famous in 1870's Paris? Ask the sharp-shooting contest winner Miss Nelly McKay, formerly of Butte, Montana. She is already walking the thin line between fame and infamy when she is noticed by Chancellor Bismarck and the German Secret Service. Yet all she ever wanted was to marry a gentleman! 

Fame and Infamy is an entertaining blend of comedy, mystery, romance and hard facts. Sarah Bernhardt and Victor Hugo are among the celebrities who share the scene with gritty characters emerging from the bohemian Latin Quarter. Paris, mopping up after the twin calamities of war and. revolution, provides a background for this hearty clash of French and American cultures.


Author Iva Polansky thrusts readers into the heart of Paris in the late 1800’s with her colorful, adventurous heroine, Nelly McKay. Nelly is a sharpshooting, independent woman from the wild mining town of Butte Montana. An invitation to be a ladies maid brings some stability into her life with the added bonus of travelling to Paris. But things do not unfold as planned and soon Nelly finds herself embroiled in a love triangle and plenty of conflict.  


Fame and Infamy is a lushly decadent story, elegantly written, and sure to charm. The historic details pertaining to Paris were beautifully presented and easy to imagine. And of course, one cannot help but fall in love with Nelly, who is courageous and bold and fiercely liberated. It is easy to turn the pages of this novel because the plot keeps building and building in a stunning crescendo until all is revealed at the end. A highly entertaining story!

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Memory of Bones by Alex Connor


 R E L E A S E D   T O D A Y

PUBLISHER'S BLURB

The head of Francisco Goya was stolen from his tomb in the wake of his death. No one has ever known what happened to it. Until now. Leon Golding has always been ignored by the art world he loves, but he's finally going to make his name as the man who found the skull of Goya. But he's asked the wrong people to help him prove he's right. Now everyone wants to own the most prized piece of art history ever to come to light ... And they're ready to kill for it.
The head of Goya has been missing for centuries. The most valuable - and dangerous - relic the world has even known.
When the art historian, Leon Golding, finds Goya's skull his rivals gather: a ruthless female collector in New York; an immoral scion of the notorious Ortega family; and a killer hired by the most dangerous man in London.
All of them are after the skull - and the man who has it.


REVIEW

Like all Alex Connor’s books, the history is so fascinating, and unique, I always rush to look it up and read as much as I can about the background. This was exactly true with Memory of Bones. Goya was interred at the cemetery of the Chartreuse of Bordeaux, in April 1838. However sixty three years later, in 1901 the Spanish Government requested his remains moved to a grave beneath the floor of the church of San Antonio de la Florida in Madrid. When his body was disinterred, the skull was found to be missing, and has not been located since.

Ben Golding finds himself thrown into the murky world of those who seek world recognition in the art world and are willing to pay anything to achieve it. Ben and Leon's parents died when they were young and they were raised in Spain by their nurse, Detita, a woman who instilled in the boys a belief in a voodoo like spiritualism that Ben can take or leave, but Leon takes to heart. When Leon tells his brother he has been handed the lost skull of Goya,  and that he has a theory about why Goya painted his famous and enigmatic ‘Black Paintings,’ Ben is sceptical but agrees to have the skull examined.

The story moves between Leon’s farmhouse in Madrid, to the Whitechapel Hospital in London, and becomes increasingly more sinister when the body count starts mounting and the skull goes missing – again.

Ben would like to walk away and concentrate on his work as a plastic surgeon and taking care of his girlfriend, Abigail, but fate and loyalty to his dead brother won’t allow him to ignore that although everyone believed Leon was disturbed, he was mortally afraid when he died, and his so called girlfriend, Gina, doesn’t appear as heartbroken as she should be either.

However, Ben Golding is not experienced in subterfuge and deceit and although he unearths some startling evidence, he also makes a few near fatal mistakes which make the chase for the skull more dangerous – for him.

Alex Connor is a master at keeping the pace moving and just when you think the story is beginning to take a predictable turn, the plot takes a surprising route that keeps you turning the pages even though you promised yourself to put the light out fifteen minutes ago! I thoroughly enjoy all her work, and even though I wasn’t, enthralled with the personality of Goya himself, the final conclusion was compelling.

Anita Davison is a Historical Fiction Author whose latest release, ‘Royalist Rebel’ a biographical novel set in 17th Century England, is being released by Claymore Books in early 2013 under the name Anita Seymour
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