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.