Queen of the North by Anne O’Brien

queenof the northThere are few ways of approaching a story that ventures into historical fiction, stories with the odd bit of history thrown in for good luck or to validate a time period, fiction that imagines a different narrative of history and stories with inaccurate historical facts.

Then you have the authors, who like Anne O’Brien, incorporate their story within the confines of accurate historical narratives, obviously with a wee bit of artistic licence here and there, thereby making it more than just a read. It is an experience of culture, learning and history.

In Queen of the North O’Brien takes the reader to the events in 1399, and although they aren’t given as much attention as the events that unfold a few decades later, they are pivotal to said events. They are the seeds that are sown, which bring about the later catalyst and murderous power struggles between the York and Lancaster cousins of the Plantagenet house.

From the very beginning one thing is clear about Elizabeth, she will never forget the fact she is a Mortimer or the legitimacy of their claim to the throne. Her loyalty to the name comes before any loyalty towards her husband, the Percy family and even her own children.

In fact I would go so far as to claim hypocrisy, because the political power plays and machinations of the men she is surrounded by are no different to her own secret plans and ploys. Fluttering eyelashes, sweet voices and wiles of a woman, all in the name of her own agenda. Elizabeth has to take a step back and consider her own portion of guilt in regards to her husband, his untimely death and the desecration of his corpse.

Along with her propensity for elaborate prose and descriptive writing, O’Brien’s powerful characters are what I enjoy the most about her books. She is in a class of her own, and in my personal opinion belongs up there with the best.

Buy Queen of the North at Amazon Uk or go to Goodreads for any other retailer.

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#BlogTour The Silent Woman by Terry Lynn Thomas

Today is my turn on the BlogTour for The Silent Woman y Terry Lynn Thomas. It is more than just a story about an innocent woman, who accidentally becomes caught up in the pre second World War games of deception, it is about all women and the daily fights they have to endure to survive.

About the Author

Terry Lynn Thomas grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area, which explains her love of foggy beaches, windy dunes, and Gothic mysteries. When her husband promised to buy Terry a horse and the time to write if she moved to Mississippi with him, she jumped at the chance. Although she had written several novels and screenplays prior to 2006, after she relocated to the South she set out to write in earnest and has never looked back.

Now Terry Lynn writes the Sarah Bennett Mysteries, set on the California coast during the 1940s, which feature a misunderstood medium in love with a spy. Neptune’s Daughter is a recipient of the IndieBRAG Medallion.

She also writes the Cat Carlisle Mysteries, set in Britain during World War II. The first book in this series, The Silent Woman, was released in April 2018. When she’s not writing, you can find Terry Lynn riding her horse, walking in the woods with her dogs, or visiting old cemeteries in search of story ideas.

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Buy The Silent Woman

About the book

Would you sell your secrets?

Catherine Carlisle is trapped in a loveless marriage and the threat of World War Two is looming. She sees no way out… that is until a trusted friend asks her to switch her husband’s papers in a desperate bid to confuse the Germans.

Soon Catherine finds herself caught up in a deadly mixture of espionage and murder. Someone is selling secrets to the other side, and the evidence seems to point right at her.

Can she clear her name before it’s too late?

Review

You could say that Catherine is naive and perhaps not completely aware of the implications of her actions. She is most definitely being used by the secret government groups, who decide the outcomes and often the narrative of history. Her simple tasks as a secret courier aren’t doing any harm, it’s just a bit of fun and a way to make money.

Not that she should technically have to make money, because her husband is a rich and powerful man, but he keeps her on a tight financial leash. There you have it, the status quo of the majority of women both then and now, controlled by the sexism in society. Then the fact Catherine is deemed useless by her husband because she can’t fulfil her ‘role’ as a woman.

The story was also about the empowerment of women. I’m not sure it was intentional, but kudos to the author if it was. The message could get lost within the crime element of The Silent Woman. The moments when the women protect each other, save each other and make a stand against the sexual harassment, and sexists in general.

The Silent Woman is a combination of spy thriller, crime, women’s empowerment and emancipation. It is also about the greatest opposition women encounter, aside from men and gender inequality. When women try to undermine other women, keep them submissive and fail to protect them, it is far worse than being oppressed by the opposite gender. In a way Thomas shows us how the silent woman starts to find her own voice, and stand up for herself and others.

If you are looking for a spy infused crime set in the late 1930s, you might get more than you bargained for. You don’t just get a body and a murder mystery, you get a miniature protest and a discovery of self. Thomas delivers more than just a Foyle’s War scenario, or in this case Catherine’s War. The author delivers a dose of reality with a touch of rebellion.

Buy The Silent Woman at Amazon Uk or go to Goodreads for any other retailer.

The Story Keeper by Anna Mazzola

the stry keeperFolklore is a way of passing on the stories of a people and their culture. It is also a way of passing on mythology and fairy-tales to the next generations. Folklore fuels fear, paranoia and mistrust, but it can also be conducive to bonding, feeling safe and a sense of community, especially on an isolated island.

Audrey has taken a job on the remote island of Skye in order to connect with her past and escape from the present. She has been employed to collect the stories of the islanders, the tales of the fae folk. The stories that can compel people to set fire to young girls or bury babies alive, in order to keep the fae happy.

They aren’t the cute tiny magical beings of fairy tales changed to be more kid friendly, they are the creatures of nightmares and shadows of daymares. This is what the islanders believe, and also the reason every single possible crime and odd event is automatically blamed on the fae.

When young girls start going missing and one of them turns up dead the rumours are clear, the fae have reason to be displeased and are taking the girls. Audrey thinks there is a more human element to the situation, but is distracted and blocked at every turn of her attempt to gain clarity. It isn’t long before the fae start to show her the error of her ways.

I really enjoyed the way the author hid a crime story in the middle of this tale of folklore, magic and paranoia. Mazzola hits the nail on the head when it comes to the seclusion of the population and the almost hermit-like behaviour of the majority of the population. She doesn’t neglect the reasons for the hunger, despair and cruelty, which drives many of them into an early grave or on to supposedly greener pastures.

Mazzola gives the reader a combination of an old school classic vibe with a contemporary feel to it. A sort of Jane Eyre meets Christie, and a wee gothic atmosphere mixed in to boot.

Buy The Story Keeper at Amazon Uk or go to Goodreads for any other retailer.

Kindle Pub. Date 31st May 2018, Hardcover 26 July 2018 (Tinder Press)

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#BlogTour The Duchess Deal by Tessa Dare

Today it is my pleasure to take part in the BlogTour for The Duchess Deal by Tessa Dare. It’s an amusing Regency romance that should come with a warning, so bare that in mind if you get a little hot around the collar whilst reading it.

About the Author

Tessa Dare is the New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of fourteen historical romance novels and five novellas. Her books have won numerous accolades, including Romance Writers of America’s prestigious RITA® award (twice) and the RT Book Reviews Seal of Excellence. Booklist magazine named her one of the “new stars of historical romance,” and her books have been contracted for translation in more than a dozen languages.

Mixing wit, sensuality, and emotion, Tessa writes Regency-set romance novels that feel relatable to modern readers. With her bestselling “Spindle Cove” and “Castles Ever After” series, she has had great fun creating heroines who defy the conventions of their time—engaging in “unladylike” pursuits that range from paleontology to beer-making—and dreaming up the strong-willed, sexy heroes who find their hearts ensnared by them.

A librarian by training and a booklover at heart, Tessa makes her home in Southern California, where she lives with her husband, their two children, and a trio of cosmic kitties.

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Buy The Duchess Deal

About the book

‘I am a Duke. I’m not asking you to marry me. I am offering to marry you. It’s a different thing entirely.’

When the Duke of Ashbury returns from war scarred, he realises he needs an heir – which means he needs a wife! When Emma Gladstone, a vicar’s daughter turned seamstress visits wearing a wedding dress, he decides on the spot that she’ll do.

His terms are simple: They will be husband and wife by night only. No lights, no kissing. No questions about his battle scars. Last, and most importantly… Once she’s pregnant with his heir, they need never share a bed again.

But Emma is no pushover. She has secrets and some rules of her own: They will have dinner together every evening. With conversation. And teasing. Last, and most importantly… Once she’s seen the man beneath the scars, he can’t stop her from falling in love…

When a girl meets a Duke, their marriage breaks all the rules…

Review

Ash is convinced no woman will ever want him or love him, who wants to be intimate with a monster? He has convinced himself that his physical scars will repulse everyone, especially any potential love interests. Emma sees the man behind the horrific scars and finds herself falling for the stubborn aristocrat.

Emotional attachment isn’t part of the deal though. Not according to the deal the two of them have agreed to. It includes an heir to the dukedom, a lot of teasing, and definitely under no circumstances shall there be any kissing. Not an easy task when you’re in the throes of passion.

The Duchess Deal has an equal amount of passion and playfulness, including a house full of scheming staff invested in Emma and Ash, and their very peculiar relationship. At the same time the read is hotter than a chilli pepper. An excellent balancing act of charm, wit and desire.

Lovers of Regency romances want to experience the moments of illicit passion, the moments when there is a sharp intake of a breath just before the feisty beautiful woman is kissed passionately by the debonair gentleman. There are some authors who also manage to infuse the wicked and the saucy with a sense of humour, and that is the core essence of a standout Regency novel. Tessa Dare certainly knows how to combine the hot and heavy horizontal tango with a quick witted humorous dialogue.

Instead of relying on all of the usual clichés and the sometimes stuffy repertoire of this genre, the author has fun with the characters and the plot. This sense of adventure and joie de vivre can be felt throughout the book. Tessa Dare elicits amused snorts and accelerated heartbeats in equal measure.

Buy The Duchess Deal at Amazon Uk or go to Goodreads for any other retailer.

The Tattooist of Auschwitz by Heather Morris

tattooistTaking into consideration that this is an eyewitness narrative, which I find preferable when it comes to Holocaust themed books, and an important historical account, I do wonder if Lale Solokov subconsciously or inadvertently romanticized the more uplifting parts of his story.

Memory is a tricky thing at the best of times, recalling memories made under extreme duress and/or trauma can sometimes interfere with the way we interpret memories.

I believe he made life seem simpler and less traumatic than it was. His relationship and encounters with Gita read like a complicated romance novel, and because of that some of the scenarios seem improbable.

When he or rather the author, relates the more brutal and heinous events there seems to be a reluctance to be cruel and honest. There is no such thing as gratuitous when it comes to laying bare the crimes of the Holocaust.

Again I am not sure whether that was Lale or the author changing the narrative just slightly to make the romance pop more or if it was just easier to focus on a more pleasant scenario. To remember the positive of meeting her instead of the negative of fearing she would die.

Like many survivors, Lale sat on his story for many decades. It wasn’t until Gita died that he decided the world needed to know his story. I can imagine he felt terrible survivor’s guilt and guilt in general for perhaps feeling like he contributed to the demise of many victims. I can’t imagine what it must have felt like to see the physical proof of his personal trauma on real people. Being responsible for marking his fellow humans like cattle.To him it would have been irrelevant that he had no choice. Survival is an instinct, and I am glad a lot of survivors lived to tell the world about the heinous crimes of the Holocaust.

As I said before, the stories of survivors need to be told, without them there is more chance we will repeat the past. Morris does that in a sensitive way, and she brings a little lightness to a very dark story.

Buy The Tattooist of Auschwitz at Amazon uk or go to Goodreads for any other retailer.

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Beneath a Scarlet Sky by Mark Sullivan

beneathThere are events in history that tend to take second or third place in importance and narrative, mainly because there are so many atrocious events that tend to take precedence. Understandably so, however it doesn’t make the pain and suffering of others less worthy of retelling. In this case the bombing of Milan and the invasion of Italy by the Germans.

The story of Pino Lella is one of many, there are a lot of forgotten heroes around us. The men and women who have made their niche in history with acts of great bravery, and yet their voices are never heard. The author was inspired to bring this true story of Pino’s courageous actions to others, and I am glad he did.

Pino’s parents insist he join the German military forces in an attempt to keep him safe. As a parent I can understand the convoluted logic, however this choice places him in the awful position of being one of the enemy. At the time there was no way his parents could have known what this association might entail in the years after the war. Any hint of collaboration often meant the difference between life and death, and being shunned by his fellow countrymen. His choice creates a chasm between himself and his best friend, but at the same time Pino has the opportunity to help bring the enemy down.

The chapters on the escape route through the mountains create vivid imagery. I am sure Pino’s description of the climbs were almost blasé, despite the danger and the incredible skill he acquired to help Jewish people flee. This nonchalance is mirrored in the writing.

In a way Sullivan pays tribute to all the unknown Pino’s of the world, and to all the stories we will never get the opportunity to hear. Reminding us of parts of history that slide into obscurity.

Buy Beneath a Scarlet Sky at Amazon Uk or go to Goodreads for any other retailer.

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The Wicked Cometh by Laura Carlin

the wicked comethThere is a lot of waxing lyrical, which leads to the assumption that the story is leading in a completely different direction to the one it actually takes.

The procrastination, albeit very beautiful procrastination, makes the first half of the book appear to be a lot slower and the second half of the book is faster paced, and the plot is focused in another direction.

Not that I think it was Carlin’s intention for the beginning of the book to sound like a ghoulish mystery with a Gothic vibe, which then turns into a Burke and Hare venture with an underlying romantic connection.

I think the intention was for the relationship between Hester and Rebekah to always be at the centre of the story, regardless of what happens around them. Their blossoming friendship, sisterhood and finally the twinkle of something more. The discovery of their feelings, the confusion and acknowledgement of said feelings, and the realisation that society will never accept it, would have been sufficient as a storyline. The second half of the book, which ventures more into the deep dark secrets of Rebekah’s family could have been an entirely new novel.

It felt a little like Holmes battling Moriarty, while Hetty Feather struggles to survive on the streets, with a modern twist on romance thrown in for good measure. I would really like to see Carlin follow through with the relaxed beautiful style of the first half of the book. Both styles have their merits, just not when fused together as one.

Leaving all that aside for a moment, I enjoyed the friendship and emerging romance between the two of them. Neither of them willing to admit the attraction is there and perhaps not even fully comprehending what it is they are feeling, because it goes against all the conventions they know. Carlin also describes the worlds between the classes well and the invisible wall keeping them apart. The stark reality of poverty and the rules of the streets the poor have to abide by to survive.

I certainly wouldn’t be averse to seeing Rebekah and Hester teaming up together again.

Buy The Wicked Cometh at Amazon Uk or go to Goodreads for any other retailer.

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