Wednesday, 26 June 2019

#BookReview — A Tapestry of Treason by Anne O’Brien #Medieval #HistoricalFiction

A Tapestry of Treason
By Anne O’Brien

Her actions could make history – but at what price?

1399: Constance of York, Lady Despenser, proves herself more than a mere observer in the devious intrigues of her magnificently dysfunctional family, The House of York.

Surrounded by power-hungry men, including her aggressively self-centred husband Thomas and ruthless siblings Edward and Richard, Constance places herself at the heart of two treasonous plots against King Henry IV.  Will it be possible for this Plantagenet family to safeguard its own political power by restoring either King Richard II to the throne, or the precarious Mortimer claimant?

Although the execution of these conspiracies will place them all in jeopardy, Constance is not deterred, even when the cost of her ambition threatens to overwhelm her.  Even when it endangers her new-found happiness.

With treason, tragedy, heartbreak and betrayal, this is the story of a woman ahead of her time, fighting for herself and what she believes to be right in a world of men.

“When two overcomes three, all is lost…”

But it doesn’t really mean anything. Dice cannot possibly predict the future. It was just the confused ramblings of a cheap fortune-teller. No, there was nothing to be concerned about. Nothing at all. The House of York had it all, power, land, and the ear of the King. What could possibly go wrong?

Power, when one has tasted it, is very difficult to relinquish. Constance of York, Lady Despenser, and her family rose to the greatest of heights under the reign of Richard II. But Richard’s throne has been stolen by that undeserving usurper, Henry Bolingbroke, 2nd Duke of Lancaster.

The fate of the House of York now rests in Henry’s hands. Many of the nobles would love to see the House of York stripped of all her power, and her lands given to those who are more deserving. When two overcomes three… This cannot be allowed to happen. Constance will not let it happen. They will grovel if they have to, pledge allegiance to the new Lancastrian King if that will secure their immediate future. But, once a York always a York. United, the House of York is a formidable foe, and they will topple that usurper from his throne one way or another.

However, Henry is no boy at his books. If the House of York wants to pick a fight, then he will be ready for them. All of them. Even Constance.

From lofty heights to the pits of despair, A Tapestry of Treason by Anne O’Brien is the unforgettable story of Constance of York, Lady Despenser.

While other royal ladies sat with their embroidery, Constance plotted her revenge. Born to power, she was not a woman who would be happy playing the subservient cousin to Henry IV. Initially, I found it very difficult to like Constance. She is a manipulative and cruel woman. She thinks of nothing other than power, position and of course, wealth. Constance claims to be for York, but she is more for herself than any cause. Constance breathes sedition. That is how history records her life, and that is how O’Brien introduces her. Constance is a devious woman. She has a heart so black that no amount of light could ever penetrate her soul. But, and this is what I love about O’Brien’s books, Constance is not a one-dimensional villain in this tale, far from it. As the story progresses, O’Brien weaves a somewhat different and unexplored Constance to the one that history paints so darkly, and it is this Constance that I found myself weeping for.

Told from Constance’s perspective, O’Brien explores what it was like to be a woman during a time of great upheaval and political change, and what was to be the prelude to the War of the Roses. Constance is a very strong, driven character, but there is another story to her tale, and this was what made this interpretation of Constance so wonderfully enthralling. Love, hate, birth, death, what an incredible story that those who penned history has hidden from us. O’Brien has very carefully put the jigsaw of Constance’s life back together, and with a few educated guesses, she has presented her readers with a story that is tautly gripping and so exceedingly engaging. The hours seemed to fly by as I lost myself in this book. I became enthralled in Constance’s life, the people she loves, and the terrible betrayal that she endures by the hand of one of her closest relatives. The death of her husband and her child, and again another betrayal, but this time by a man she loved with every fibre of her being, made her story unforgettable. This is not a happy story, for how can it be when her life was anything but?

O’Brien has captured the very essence of what life may well have been like in the court of Henry IV. Henry knows that he needs to be lenient when dealing with his enemies. Henry is incredibly forgiving to his York cousins. O’Brien has portrayed Henry as a just king. However, Henry is very much aware that those who profess their undying loyalty one minute would stab him in the back the next. O’Brien has certainly portrayed Henry’s court as a pit of vipers. Constance and her Yorkist kin for all their pedigree, are the venom in the snake’s bite. Henry is well aware that they could bring him down if he dares lower his guard for even one moment.

There are many men in Constance’s life. The treatment of Constance by her brother, Edward of Norwich, 2nd Duke of York, is, on the face of it, appalling. Edward is seemingly more concerned about his own neck than his sister’s, but I could not help but wonder if he knew that Constance was more likely to come away with her life, than he would if he confessed to the charges laid before him. Was Edward a shrewd politician, or a coward? I am not sure. Whatever he was, he certainly knew how to play this Medieval Game of Thrones to his advantage.

There is one other secondary character that has to be mentioned, and that is Edmund Holland, 4th Earl of Kent.  Edmund was something of a paradox. I don’t think I have ever adored and disliked a character quite so much as Edmund. I thought he was wonderfully portrayed. He and Constance are the victims of their time. And their story was particularly heartrending.

The historical detailing of this book has to be commended. O’Brien has brought Lancastrian England back to life. The history is so rich in the telling and so very vibrant. O’Brien is a master at writing compelling Historical Fiction.

A Tapestry of Treason was everything I hoped it would be and then some. It is undoubtedly a very emotional story, so do keep a box of Kleenex handy if you are of a tearful disposition!

I Highly Recommended.

Review by Mary Anne Yarde.
The Coffee Pot Book Club.

Pre-order your copy of
A Tapestry of Treason
Released on Kindle August 22nd 2019

Anne O’Brien

Anne O’Brien was born in West Yorkshire. After gaining a BA Honours degree in History at Manchester University and a Master’s in Education at Hull, she lived in East Yorkshire for many years as a teacher of history.

She now lives with her husband in an eighteenth-century timber-framed cottage in the depths of the Welsh Marches in Herefordshire, on the borders between England and Wales, where she writes historical novels. The perfect place in which to bring medieval women back to life.

Anne loves to hear from readers, you can find her: Website  Facebook Twitter

Monday, 24 June 2019

#BookReview — State of Treason by Paul Walker #HistoricalFiction #Tudors

State of Treason
By Paul Walker

London 1578
A cauldron of conspiracy, intrigue and torture.

The might of Spain and the growing influence of the Catholic League in France all threaten the stability of Queen Elizabeth and her state.
William Constable, a physician and astrologer, is summoned to the presence of the Queen’s spymaster, Sir Francis Walsingham. He is charged to assist a renowned Puritan, John Foxe, in uncovering the secrets of a mysterious cabinet containing an astrological chart and coded message. Together, these claim Elizabeth has a hidden, illegitimate child (an “unknowing maid”) who will be declared to the masses and serve as the focus for an invasion.

Constable must uncover the identity of the plotters, unaware that he is also under suspicion.

A connection to his estranged mentor, Doctor Dee, comes under scrutiny.

Pressured into taking up a position as a court physician, Constable becomes a reluctant spy.

Do the stars and cipher speak true, or is there some other malign intent in the complex web of scheming?

Constable becomes an unwitting pawn, in a complex game of thrones and power.

State of Treason is the first in a series of Elizabethan thrillers featuring William Constable.

“The thought that our Queen may have hidden a child is disturbing and I understand why enemies of our state would wish to spread such ideas...”

A Virgin Queen? Rumour has it that Elizabeth’s reputation is not so white as she would have her subjects believe. Behind closed doors, there is talk of a bastard child — a maid. Such talk is dangerous, but if it were to be proven true, then Elizabeth’s position as Supreme Governor of the English Protestant Church would be undermined. But worse than that, Elizabeth could lose her throne and all that she had worked so hard to achieve.

Sir Francis Walsingham, spymaster and the principle Secretary to Queen Elizabeth I, has been watching the rise of the Catholic League in France and the growing influence of Spain with trepidation. Walsingham had witnessed the atrocities against Protestants during theMassacre de la Saint-Barthélemy in France. His greatest fear was that the same would happen in England. Walsingham is single-minded in his determination that such a calamity would never stain the soil of England red.

When the spymaster summons you, it is in your best interest to answer his call. Physician and astrologer, William Constable, finds himself in an unprecedented situation. Walsingham has requested that William and the renowned Puritan, John Foxe, discover the secrets of a mysterious cabinet. What they discover is shocking. Could the whispered rumours of an illegitimate child be true? Walsingham suggests that it is a plot to discredit the Queen and to divide the nation. He wants to know who is behind this latest conspiracy so that he can stop them.

Drawn into a world of espionage, treason and sedition, William must use his wits and skill if he is to discover those responsible for the conspiracy before it is too late.

With an exceptional eye to historical detail and a sweepingly impressive narrative, State of Treason by Paul Walker is the powerfully compulsive story of William Constable as he tries to unravel and thwart a plot against Elizabeth’s throne.

Between the pages of this remarkable novel, is an exploration of the world of espionage and the dangers that such a life brings. Walsingham was a man who sanctioned the torture of Catholic priests and suspected conspirators. He is not a man that William would have chosen to spend time with. William finds himself thrust into a world that he does not want to be a part of, and he is very mindful of the responsibility that has been placed upon his shoulders. He wants to serve his Queen, and he will do everything within his power to help Walsingham do this, but at the same time, he is always heedful of the treatment of those who Walsingham suspects of wrongdoings. Walsingham is feared by many and for a good reason. He is unmerciful. William wants to be absolutely sure that the information he gathers and gives to Walsingham is correct. William is a man of deep integrity and has a compassionate heart which made him, in one way, wholly unsuitable for espionage. However, his hesitation and his determination to handle the situation with incredible care and conscious thought made him precisely the right man for this delicate and secretive task. Walker has presented his readers with a character who is wonderfully human and extremely likeable.

This book is not all about espionage and danger. There are some lighter, tender moments as well. William’s relationship with his mother made him incredibly appealing. He is a gentle man who loves deeply and shoulders a great responsibility for the people who depend on him. That, notwithstanding, he is also prepared to fight, to the death if necessary, to keep those he loves safe. Alongside this, there is also a beautiful love story which made me hope for the best, but at the same time, fearful for the worst. William is torn between his duty and keeping the woman he loves safe. I simply adored William. Such a wonderfully rounded protagonist that I could not help but want the best outcome for him.

Walker deserves the highest of praise for not only does he write highly appealing characters, but he has also brought back to life the danger and the intrigue of the glittering Tudor court. Walker has a wonderful novelist eye for historical detail. Nothing is beyond the telling. The streets of Tudor London came alive under Walker’s masterful depiction. One could almost smell the stench coming from the animal waste on the roads and the sickening smell of the blood of so-called papist as they hang from the scaffold. Likewise, I fancied I could taste the sweetness of the plums and the bitterness of cheap wine. Kudo’s, Mr Walker for breathing life back into Tudor England.

The difference between the richness of court life and the abject poverty of the Queen’s subjects was also drawn with extraordinary care and skill. There is no doubt in my mind that Walker has a visceral understanding of what makes history worth reading.

As the blurb suggests and as I have stated, this story is about a plot to overthrow the Queen. There was a hint of Arthur Conan Doyles, who is best known for his fabulous Sherlock Holmes series, style of writing in this book. So many questions came to mind as I tried to, along with William, put the pieces together. Walker kept me guessing right up until the very end of the novel, which is what I would expect from an exceptionally well written historical thriller. I thought it was absolutely brilliant and skilfully executed.

State of Treason is a book that has been penned with a great deal of energy and imagination, while at the same time staying true to the historical era that it is set in. Fans of C. J. Sansom’s The Shardlake Series will love this book. I look forward to reading book 2 in what promises to be a fabulous series.

I Highly Recommend.

Review by Mary Anne Yarde.
The Coffee Pot Book Club.

Pick up your copy of
State of Treason

Paul Walker

Connect with Paul: Twitter.

Saturday, 22 June 2019

#BookReview — The Briton and the Dane: Legacy by Mary Ann Bernal #HistoricalFiction

The Briton and the Dane: Legacy
(The Briton and the Dane #3)
By Mary Ann Bernal

Whispered by the wise and the learned. Talked of in hushed tones round luminous firesides. Engraved by awestruck scribes in the scriptoria of the Chronicles. Against all the odds, great King Alfred defeated a vastly superior Danish army outside Chippenham. 

This victory, the sages prophesied, would guarantee peace throughout the land. Or so they thought.

Two years later, Rigr the Bastard, vengeful and seeking to claim his birthright, was defeated in the wilds of East Anglia. His blood smeared berserker warriors vanquished; no quarter asked for - no quarter given.

Now, a further two years later, the Vikings return. Noble Prince Sven instigates a seaborne invasion, fuelled partly by blind rage when he discovers that his brother, Prince Erik, has sworn fealty to the Anglo-Saxon king. 

His own brother: A traitor and a fool.

Erik’s love, Lady Gwyneth, attempts to stop the invasion before it starts by uniting the two estranged brothers, but her scheming only succeeds in making matters worse. Indeed, her interference guarantees the death of thousands of warriors in the freezing, tumultuous North Sea. 

So when the horns of Sven’s monumental fleet of warships are heard off the fogbound coast of Britannia, King Alfred – outnumbered, outshipped and weary of the fray - must rouse his jaded Saxon warriors and lead them to sea, to repel his most formidable enemy yet.

For a host motivated by the spilled blood of the fallen, the spirit of black vengeance, and the delights of a warrior’s reward in Valhalla, is the most fearsome opponent of all. 

Alfred. Sven. Erik. Gwyneth. Amidst the ferrous reverberation of a battle royale - one or all must die, and the fate of a nation hangs in the balance, one final time.

“Why must she be forced to choose between a husband and her son…?”

God against Gods. King against King. Brother against Brother.

Years of fighting. Years of bloodshed. How many more husbands, sons, and lovers must die? However, the men from the North keep on coming to the shores of Briton. Their numbers are as seemly endless as the tide. There is no peace for Alfred of Wessex, no matter how badly he may long for it.

One more battle and perhaps the future of a nation may be decided. Alfred and his men are formidable warriors — have they not already proven that? However, this time, the battle will not be on dry land. This time Alfred must meet the invaders where they are most formidable — amongst the waves.

Only time will tell if Alfred will be victorious. May God keep them safe and have mercy on their souls.

Filled with intrigue, betrayal, hate and love, The Briton and the Dane: Legacy by Mary Ann Bernal is as breathtakingly poetic, as it is sweepingly elegant in its brilliance. This story left me so breathless with anticipation that I could not turn the pages fast enough. I was utterly enthralled from start to finish.

I simply adored this book. So much happens that at times it left my head spinning! There is a cast of very colourful and memorable characters. Some of these characters I have come to adore over the course of the series, others not so much! One thing that can never be said is that Bernal’s characters are dull. They are so unpredictable, and many times during the course of this novel, I found myself shaking my head and whispering, “What are you doing? No. Don’t do that! Please… No, you did it!” The impulsiveness of the characters and the fact that their hearts and not their heads rule many, made their stories not only believable but wonderfully human in the telling.

Like before, with the first two books in this fabulous series, Bernal has captured the very essence of the era in which she writes about. Her compelling narrative and her decision to show every possible side to the story made this book not only exceedingly engaging, but it is also one that was next to impossible to put down.

What I liked about this series the most was the way Bernal has portrayed women. The majority of authors who write their fictional stories about Alfred the Great and this era in history concentrate their efforts on the men of this time, and the women take a more sedate secondary role. Not so with Bernal’s books. The women are centre stage, which I found exceedingly refreshing.

As with the first two books in the series, I was drawn to Elizabeth. She is such a warm and wonderful woman who will do anything for her family, even if it is sometimes a little misguided. Another character who I particularly enjoyed reading about was Dalla. It has been two years since Dalla’s husband, Rigr, was killed, but her love for him has not diminished. I had high hopes that she would find happiness with Loki, but Bernal was not about to make things easy for her!

As I have already touched upon, the historical detailing of this book has to be commended. Bernal has chosen to paint a vast canvas in which to set her story. Within this canvas, Bernal allows us to walk with Kings and members of the clergy— including the Pope, Norseman and Saxons. Rich or poor, you can discover them all between these pages. This rich tapestry of life gave this story an incredible sense of depth. The depiction of the sea battle was particularly well drawn. This was undoubtedly a violent time, and Bernal has not shied away from the brutalities of the era, but at the same time, she has an author’s intuitive understanding of when to stop and change the scene, therefore, giving her readers a moment to catch their breath.

As with the other books in this series, Bernal has presented her readers with a vast and wondrous cast of characters and, for this reason alone, The Briton and the Dane: Legacy is not, in my opinion, a standalone read. This series thrives on political intrigue and complicated sub-plots, so it is imperative that you start this fantastic reading adventure with Book 1.

Having read all of the books in The Briton and the Dane series, I now feel slightly bereft that this wonderful story has come to an end. I have thoroughly enjoyed not only Bernal’s interpretation of Alfred the Great but also of the women who are so often overshadowed by the men in this era. I look forward to reading more books by this author in the future. Kudos, Ms Bernal.

I Highly Recommend.

Review by Mary Anne Yarde.
The Coffee Pot Book Club.

Pick up your copy of
The Briton and the Dane: Legacy

Mary Ann Bernal

Mary Ann Bernal attended Mercy College, Dobbs Ferry, NY, where she received a degree in Business Administration.  Her literary aspirations were ultimately realized when the first book of The Briton and the Dane novels was published in 2009.  In addition to writing historical fiction, Mary Ann has also authored a collection of contemporary short stories in the Scribbler Tales series. Her latest endeavor is a science fiction/fantasy novel entitled Planetary Wars  Rise of an Empire. Originally hailing from New York, Mary Ann now resides in Elkhorn, Nebraska.

Connect with Mary Ann: Website • Whispering Legends Press • Twitter.

BookReview — A Torch In His Heart (The Wanderer #1) by Anna Belfrage #timeslip #paranormal #romance

A Torch In His Heart
 (The Wanderer #1)
By Anna Belfrage

In the long lost ancient past, two men fought over the girl with eyes like the Bosporus under a summer sky. It ended badly. She died. They died. 

Since then, they have all tumbled through time, reborn over and over again. Now they are all here, in the same place, the same time and what began so long ago must finally come to an end. 

Ask Helle Madsen what she thinks about reincarnation and she’ll laugh in your face. Besides, Helle has other stuff to handle, what with her new, exciting job in London and her drop-dead but seriously sinister boss, Sam Woolf. And then one day Jason Morris walks into her life and despite never having clapped eyes on him before, she recognises him immediately. Very weird. Even more weird is the fact that Sam and Jason clearly hate each other’s guts. Helle’s life is about to become extremely complicated and far too exciting.

“You know why I’m here,” Jason said. “I’m here for her...”

Three thousand years ago, Jason Morris lost the only woman he had ever loved. It was an agony like none he had ever experienced, it had torn at his soul and irrevocably broken his heart. He longed for death so the pain would stop. But for Jason, death was no escape. By the cruel hand of fate, he is on an endless loop of birth and death as he searches for his lost love through the ages.

However, Jason is not the only one who is on this endless cycle. The man who raped, tortured and murdered his beloved all those years ago is also on the same seemingly infinite journey. Sam Woolf has never forgotten, nor has he forgiven Jason. Time has not diminished his hatred. It has instead fanned the fire into a raging inferno. Helle was supposed to be his. She had deserved everything he had done to her and more for daring to choose a Wanderer over him.

Helle is determined to make a good impression on her first day working at Woolf & Partners. However, when she meets Sam Woolf her every instinct screams to run and never look back. Woolf looks at her as if she is something to eat and paralyses her with fear every time she looks into his eyes. However, she needs this job and the opportunities it could bring.

Jason has spent too many years and too many lives looking for Helle. Now that he has found her, he will do everything in his power to vanquish Woolf once and for all. This time he and Helle will have the life that was so cruelly snatched from them three thousand years ago.

Helle Madsen did not know why she knew Jason’s name or why he seemed so very familiar. But with him, she feels safe. With him, she feels loved. Moreover, as she comes to the shocking realisation that the dreams that haunt her nights are, in fact, memories, Helle cannot rebuke the truth that is standing right in front of her. If she wants to live, then Sam Woolf must die. It is time to stop running from the past. It is time to embrace it…

When the book slipped from my hand as I read the last sentence, only one word came to mind. “Wow!” A Torch In His Heart (The Wanderer #1) by Anna Belfrage is not only an intensely gripping story that spans over three thousand years, but it is also profoundly moving, wonderfully evocative and totally absorbing. The hours flew by as I lost myself in one of the greatest time-slip romantic journeys that I think I have been on this year. From the opening sentence, I was utterly enchanted, and by the end of the book, I was reaching for the Kleenex and crying out in anguish.

Belfrage presents her reader with two highly appealing protagonists. Jason’s story is utterly heartbreaking. In each life, by the age of 12 years old, he remembers who he was and all of the experiences that he has lived. He dedicates each life to finding Helle in the hope that he can protect her from Samion, Prince of Kolchis (Sam Woolf). However, each life brings a different set of challenges and yet, many times, Jason wanders the world without ever finding her. However, this time, it is different. Jason can sense her presence, and he is determined to do everything in his power to keep her safe. I absolutely adored Jason. He is genuine, loving and very human in the telling. In fact, that is a trait throughout this book. Belfrage creates incredibly believable characters, and they react to situations in a very human way. Jason’s nervousness at introducing himself to Helle, was incredibly sweet, his determination to keep her safe melted my heart. His character is beautifully drawn and so very compelling that I found it very difficult to put down this book. Never has a novel begged so much to be read in one sitting as A Torch In His Heart.

Like Jason, Helle is a fabulous protagonist. Her confusion as to what on earth was going on, kept me turning those pages well into the night. Unlike Jason and Woolf, Helle thinks that the dreams she has are just that, dreams. It is only later that she realises that these dreams are memories, and because of this, she does not listen to her gut-instinct with regards to Woolf. Woolf is highly unappealing and scares the life out of her. However, she is blind to the real danger of the man, and it isn’t until she meets Jason that things start to fall into place, although she has a terrible time accepting the truth of her situation, and even when she does she has moments of doubts, as would anyone in her situation.

The antagonist of this tale is, of course, Sam Woolf. He is vile, both in thought and mind. This book is very much a darkness and light story with him portrayed in the darkest of terms. Woolf is incredibly powerful, manipulative, and cruel. He is determined to get his own way, and he does not care what he has to do to achieve his aims. Woolf is exceedingly dangerous but also very intelligent and devious. To defeat such a foe will not be without considerable challenges, and Belfrage certainly does not make it easy for her protagonists. They live in constant fear of him. I loathed him from the beginning, but his obsessive determination certainly drove this story forward.

A Torch In His Heart is very much a time-slip novel. Although the majority of the story is set in the modern world, all of the back story is set in the ancient one. Both are rich and vibrant in the telling. The historical detailing of the ancient world has to be commended. It is wonderfully portrayed and rich in historical accuracy. It was interesting to witness the change the different eras had on all of the characters, but especially with regards to Woolf. Woolf’s ability to adapt and to embrace the dark underworld of modern life drove home how deplorable his character truly is. He is just awful, which I should imagine is precisely what Belfrage intended her readers to feel about him.

Despite the danger and the immediate threat to life, A Torch in His Heart is romantic and oh so sensual. The level of sensuality really suited this story. It is filled with passion, whether that be love or hate and the fact that both protagonists know that each hour could be their last together made their desperation for each other understandable. I think Belfrage got the balance between this compelling story and the love scenes just right.

A lot happens in this book, and there are many twists and turns — enough to keep a reader up all night! I thoroughly enjoyed every minute of it, and I cannot wait to get my hands on book #2 of what promises to be an unforgettable series.

If you are looking for a passionate, enthralling and unforgettable love story filled with danger and heat, then A Torch In His Heart by Anna Belfrage is the book for you.

I Highly Recommend.

Review by Mary Anne Yarde.
The Coffee Pot Book Club

Pick up your copy of
A Torch in His Heart
 (The Wanderer #1)

Anna Belfrage

Had Anna been allowed to choose, she’d have become a time-traveller. As this was impossible, she became a financial professional with two absorbing interests: history and writing. Anna has authored the acclaimed time travelling series The Graham Saga, set in 17th century Scotland and Maryland, as well as the equally acclaimed medieval series The King’s Greatest Enemy which is set in 14th century England.  She has recently released the first in a new series, The Wanderer. This time, she steps out of her normal historical context and A Torch in His Heart is with a fast-paced contemporary romantic suspense with paranormal and time-slip ingredients.

Find out more about Anna by visiting her website, or herAmazon page.

#BookReview — The Potential For Love by Catherine Kullmann #RegencyRomance

The Potential For Love By Catherine Kullmann When Arabella Malvin sees the figure of an officer silhouetted against the sun, for ...