Friday, 11 October 2019

#BookReview — The Prodigal Son (The Graham Saga, Book #3) by Anna Belfrage #timetravel #HistoricalFiction

The Prodigal Son
(The Graham Saga, Book #3)
By Anna Belfrage

Matthew's continued and stubborn religious support places his entire family in danger, causing quite the strain on his marriage. After all, Alex was born in 1976 and raised in an extremely secular environment (prior to being flung three centuries backwards in time) so she finds all these faith related conflicts very difficult to comprehend.

"Come, come, mistress, all of you know that the king requires all men to swear oaths of fealty to him and his church. A most necessary measure here, where Covenanters stand as thick on the ground as common daisies..."

Matthew Graham feared that if he signed the oath, if he renounced his faith, then he would risk his very soul and a chance at life everlasting, but if he did not, if he continued to aid the likes of Alexander "Sandy" Peden, then he put his wife and his children in mortal danger.

For Alex Graham, it is a simple choice. Family must come first, and if her foolish husband cannot see that then... Things had been so different in her own time. More tolerant. Less intimidation. But Alex had made her choice to stay with Matthew in the 17th Century many years ago, and she does not regret that choice. But, if Matthew continues to play this dangerous game of cat and mouse, then she can foresee only death and despair. 

However, the greater the persecution, the stronger the convictions of the Covenanters become. But such religious zeal is a two-edged sword, and while God watches on with apparent disinterest, Matthew risks losing everything and everyone he has ever loved.

Set during a time of religious persecution and civil unrest, The Prodigal Son (The Graham Saga, Book 3) by Anna Belfrage is the unforgettable story of one man's fight to defend his faith against insurmountable odds and one woman's determination to save her husband from himself.

Oh, my. I don't think words can express how much I loved The Prodigal Son. I was already invested in the characters of Matthew and Alex after the first two books, but what I did not expect was to fall in love with them all over again. I was swept totally off my feet by this novel.

Belfrage has written a book that not only evokes the mood of this era, and the hardship and uncertainty, but she has also penned a story about love and loss, heartache and joy. All of which has a sense of realism about it. These characters are profoundly affected by what they see, what they have experienced, and indeed their own decisions. This story, above everything else, explores the human condition — from birth to death, with everything in between, set in a backdrop of violence and repression. At times this book was deeply moving, at other times joyfully amusing. The Prodigal Son is a truly extraordinary story.

Any historical reviewer worth their salt has to praise Belfrage for her attention to the historical detail. Not only has Belfrage a firm grip on the event, most notably the Scottish Presbyterian movement during this time, but she also has a great understanding of what life might have been like concerning the management of a successful farm — if they got the timing of the harvest wrong, if the harvest failed, then that became a life or death situation. It brought home how difficult life was back then. This vast difference between then and now was demonstrated rather beautifully by Alex's perspective. Alex occasionally has moments wishing for modern healthcare, fast-food and television, which reminds the reader of that differences between the two periods. Alex also cannot understand why anyone would put their faith before their children's welfare, and this gives rise to some rather interesting exchanges between herself and her husband. Alex is also not afraid to tell Sandy Peden what she thinks of him — much to Sandy's mortification. Alex often finds herself very close to the boundaries of propriety when she has moments where she forgets what era she is in, which was sometimes cringeworthy and other times extremely entertaining — her husband and her children will eat their greens because they are good for you and so is taking a bath! Alex is a fabulous protagonist because as a modern reader, you can put yourself in Alex's shoes and wonder if you would do anything different to what she does. Alex is a character that I absolutely adored, she is truly wonderful and a pleasure to read about.

Matthew, on the other hand... Oh, my days. Poor Alex — she might as well have banged her head against the wall, for he would not listen to reason. His stubbornness, his loyalty to his faith, could be commended if it didn't put himself and those he loves in danger — and it wasn't even one-off, he did it again and again. Of course, I can understand his principles, and why he was so determined throughout this book to aid and abet Sandy, but at the same time, he is risking his children's lives — saying that however, I love Matthew. He had been through hell in Book 2, but he kept on walking, and he continues to do so. His spirit is not one that can be easily broken. However, Matthew feels very deeply — perhaps too deeply, and everything he has been through and witnesses leaves a mark. Despite Matthew's dalliance with the law, he has a beautiful relationship with his children, and, when they are not disagreeing, his wife! Matthew's relationship with Ian was particularly poignant in this story, and I enjoyed reading about that.

Ian's story is one of abandonment and heartbreak. He is a child who thought he knew who he was and where he came from, but in this book, he learns a truth that changes the course of his life forever. I thought Ian was masterfully portrayed. He is such a likeable young man, and I look forward to reading more about him as this series progresses.

The narrative is incredibly compelling, and it is next to impossible to put down. This book is definitely a keeper and one I will come back to again.

The Graham Saga is addictive to the extreme — not only because of the realism in Belfrage's writing, her attention to historical detailing, and of course, not forgetting, the evocative Scottish landscape — what brings a reader back to this saga is the characters themselves. I cannot wait to get my hands on Book 4!

I Highly Recommend.

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

Pick up your copy of
The Prodigal Son

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 Lost Seed of the Pomegranate (The Victorian Journals of a Mother and Daughter) by Gillie Bowen

The Lost Seed of the Pomegranate
(The Victorian Journals of a
Mother and Daughter)
By Gillie Bowen

New Year's Day 1879.  In a carriage, Emily is on her way to her wedding.

She and Ernest could not be more opposite. An orphan, she was educated at boarding school, courtesy of her wealthy grandfather. Now twenty-one, she is a confident and independent thinker.
Her beloved Ernest grew up surrounded by a dense family of London Quakers, whose beliefs dominate their lifestyle.

Emily faces her new life with apprehension.  Will she adapt to the confines of Ernest’s tight-knit family?  Or will Ernest fulfil his dream to emigrate to Australia, where she will face the unknowns of colonial life?

What will be the future of the child she carries?  A daughter who will break her mother’s heart, but will go on to face tragedy herself?
‘The Lost Seed of the Pomegranate’ is based on the true story of two Victorian women faced with heart-wrenching decisions which will have life-long consequences.

“Australia... That’s where dreams come true.”

Dreams. Emily Saunders had plenty of those, although she had never countered on Australia being one. But now she shares Ernest’s dreams. They could do it. They could really do it. They could leave old England behind and start a new life, far away.

However, the birth of Emily and Ernest's so desperately wanted first child had been traumatic and dangerous. Emily had not had the energy or the health to look after her precious little girl, nor did she feel the great emotional wave of love that other mothers felt because unfortunately, she was never given a chance to. Living in the same house as her husband’s family, Emily finds herself pushed to the background of young Lilian’s life. Ernest’s sisters will not let Emily be the baby’s mother, and her young daughter has been turned against her. But once they were in Australia, and Lilian was under her care, then Emily would be able to become the mother she knows she can be. But first, they have to get there.

Determined not to see their dreams go up in ashes, Emily and Ernest make their plans and buy their tickets, but will fate and Ernest’s overbearing and obnoxious sisters stop this dream from becoming a reality?

From the ringing bells of St. Botolph-without-Bishopsgate Church to the temperate air of Adelaide, Australia, The Lost Seed of the Pomegranate by Gillie Bowen is the poignant and unforgettable account of Emily and Lilian Saunders' lives.

What an emotional rollercoaster, The Lost Seed of the Pomegranate takes you on, and the fact that it is based on actual people made it all the more heartbreaking. 

I instantly connected with Emily. Emily is a wonderfully warm and caring woman who Bowen has portrayed with a graceful sensitivity and a vivid sense of realism. Bowen has with great care and diligence, told her ancestor’s story, and what a story it is. I was swept away by this tautly gripping and fast-moving narrative. Time ceased to matter as I became immersed in this rich tale of complicated family dynamics, and the hopes and dreams of a young family. Believe me, the pages of this book practically turn themselves.

Bowen has captured the very essence of life during this era. Not only is this book rich in historical detailing and authentic to the period that it is set in, but it also captures the attitudes and perceptions of people during this time. There is a hierarchy to the family dynamics where one must respect their elders no matter what, which I thought came across as very real in the telling and very factual as to how things were. I thought the Saunders' family was fabulously portrayed. 

I was particularly interested in Bowen’s depiction of Twining Tea, and she allows us to catch a glimpse of what it was like at Twining’s during this era. I thought Bowen’s depiction of Mr Richard Twining was masterfully portrayed. I enjoyed reading about him and his company.

As with all good stories, there is a villain in the tale, someone who makes your skin crawl. I despised Ernest’s sisters, Annie and Alice. Their cruel and vicious psychological manipulation of Lilian was absolutely deplorable. My heart bled for Emily as she desperately tried to form a relationship with her daughter despite the sisters unwanted and cruel interference. I did try to feel compassion for Annie and Alice, and I tried to understand the reasoning behind their actions, but to use a child in such a dreadfully selfish way made this very hard. I was fearful for Lilian’s future but also for Emily’s mental health. It was absolutely heart-wrenching. 

I enjoyed The Lost Seed of the Pomegranate very much. I think fans of Colleen McCullough's beloved Thorn Birds will find something highly appealing about The Lost Seed of the Pomegranate.  

I Highly Recommend.

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

Pick up your copy of

 The Lost Seed of the Pomegranate


Gillie Bowen 

I am the author of 'Beneath African Skies', a novel based on the true story of the Hudson family whose forebears, John Hougham and Elizabeth Hudson, were amongst a band of brave young people known as the 1820 White Settlers. They left their Kentish home in England over 190 years ago to make a new life for themselves in South Africa. Four generations later, in 1918, George Hudson was born in Benoni, near Johannesburg. His sister, Molly, was born fifteen months later - she was my mother. Aged 11 and 9, they moved with their mother from South Africa to Kenya, where they grew up.

In the sequel, 'Breaking African Ties', George & Molly return to their homeland, Kenya, after the conclusion of the Second World War. They now face the 'Winds of Change' as Kenya seeks independence under Jomo Kenyatta. They will live through the horrors of the Mau-Mau Rebellion as their children grow up in a new Black Africa. They must decide if their futures lie in a new Kenya after the fight for African Freedom - or will they retrace their ancestor's footsteps back to England?

I am also the author of 'Forged Exit', a romantic thriller. In 1968 Russian tanks rolled into Czechoslovakia, ending the brief 'Prague Spring'. Czech student Daniela, who has fallen in love with a Yorkshire man during her stay in London, is trapped when the Iron Curtain slams down...

'Towering Expectations' is the first novel in 'The Ville Rose Series' a contemporary romantic drama. Based in London and Toulouse, France, the story follows the love affair between Patricia and Freddy, and its devastating repercussions for them and for those that follow. 'Scandalous Revelations' is book two in the trilogy. We fast forward to 2035 when Patricia's daughter, Juliette, discovers she has a half-sister. The sisters' entangled lives are to face a minefield of scandalous revelations. Will their love and friendship survive their father's infamous and immoral past?

I am the co-author of the best-selling cookbook 'amuse-bouche', a collection of French recipes and photographs adapted for the British and American market. An amuse-bouche, roughly translated, is a 'taste tantalizer' or an 'appetite teaser'. Its purpose is to introduce exciting, unusual flavours in tiny quantities at the onset or in the middle of a meal. 'amuse-bouche goes Latin' was published in 2015 and introduces spicy flavours to these French treats.

 I was born in Nakuru in Kenya and have travelled the world extensively over the years. I am a retired British journalist, now living with my husband in the Loire Valley in France. I love to write, to cook, to entertain and to travel.

Connect with Gillie: Website • Facebook • Twitter

#BookReview — Citizen Armies (The Jackson Family Saga, #2) by Beryl Kingston #HistoricalFiction #WW2

Citizen Armies
 (The Jackson Family Saga, #2)
By Beryl Kingston

A heartening tale of unity and courage.

The Jackson family’s peaceful south London life is shattered when World War Two breaks out.

Sixteen-year-old Mary is immediately evacuated, and the rest of the family sets about combining daily life with wartime duties in the nation’s capital.

The war is gruelling and heart-breaking for Londoners, and Rosie and Jim Jackson are no exception. But their close family bonds and the warmth of friends and neighbours see them through, as the ups and downs of family life – marriages, births and deaths – continue as they always have, despite the conflict that rampages around them.

Until one day, a tragedy that nobody had dared to consider, strikes a devastating blow. And as the war gradually comes to a close, the Jacksons find themselves facing the future with a family – and a country – that have been irrevocably changed.

Citizen Armies combines the qualities of an absorbing family saga with acutely observed and beautifully written social history, and is bound to please lovers of fiction and history alike.

"I must warn you that being an ambulance driver is not a glamorous job. It will be dangerous and dirty and exhausting."

Rosie Jackson was under no illusion how difficult her job might be if London was indeed bombed, but she felt compelled to help in any way she could. Her beloved husband, Jim, was a Chief Warden and if he were out there, risking his life for his fellow Londoners, then so would she.

But despite the training, despite the imagined expectation, nothing had prepared Rosie for this. War was cruel and brutal. She knew that. But why...? Why target innocent people? It was beyond comprehension.

As Rosie struggles with war fatigue, her family rally around her. With their love and encouragement, Rosie continues to do her bit to show Hitler and his Nazis that they cannot break the British Spirit. But, oh, what she would give for this war to be over...

From the Miracle of Dunkirk to the London Victory Celebrations of 1946, Citizen Armies (The Jackson Family Saga, #2) by Beryl Kingston is the heart-wrenching tale of one family as they navigated the horrors of the Blitz on London during World War II.

Citizen Armies is a compelling account of an ordinary family in an extraordinary and unprecedented time of war. I was captivated by the first sentence and by the end of the first chapter, I felt like I had known these characters forever. Kingston has such a wonderfully compelling narrative and realism to her writing that makes this book not only utterly irresistible but next to impossible to put down.

Citizen Armies maps the course of the war from the perspective of the Johnson family. Through them, we get a real sense of how those at home followed the events of the war. We are with them during the Dunkirk evacuation, and we experience the Blitz of London, which climaxes with the terrifying V-1 and V-2 flying bombs, or the buzz bombs and doodlebugs as Londoners called them. The book ends with victory and celebrations. Kingston has brought this era back to life and has captured the very essence of what it was like to live in London during this time.

There are moments in this story where everything seems very bleak as the worst of humanity has the advantage, but it also demonstrates the determination, the utter stubbornness of the British to withstand whatever the Nazis threw at them. The "we will pull through in the end," mentality is alive-and-kicking in this story.

As a history tutor who specialises in this period of history, I am always in awe of the British spirit of defiance. When I think about how many countries surrendered to the Germans because of Blitzkrieg (Lightning War) tactics, it always amazes me how Britain did not, even at the darkest of hours, contemplate surrender. Instead, they rallied together, made a cup of tea and got on with it. Maybe this was because of Churchill's ability to inspire patriotism and to be able to turn a disaster such as Dunkirk into a successful operative, or perhaps it was the government's careful use of propaganda which brought the British populous together. Or maybe, it was because the people of Britain realised the significance of defeat and what that would mean. Perhaps it was all of the reasons and then some. Nevertheless, this mood, this sense that no matter what the Germans threw at them, the British would be victorious was firmly embedded in the mindset of the population — blindly optimistic it may seem to modern eyes, but very pragmatic nonetheless. This is what Kingston has captured with so much elegance and authority in this story. Never once, do her characters dwell on the fact that they could lose. They would win. It might take a while. But they would win — one way or another.

Kingston's depiction of the horrors of the Blitz and the emotional consequences of those who risked their own lives every day in a bid to help save others has to be commended. I have read many historical fiction books that focus on the devastation of the Blitz, whether that be in London or other UK cities and ports, but I have never read one written by an author who experienced it first hand. This knowledge gave a very dramatic sense of realism. The relentlessness of the bombing and the devastation and loss of life is staggering, and in Citizen Armies, we witness this terrible destruction primarily through the eyes of Rosie Jackson. Rosie is a very loving and compassionate woman, who adores her husband and her children, and is quite content with her life. When war is declared, Rosie doesn't think twice about her own safety, she wants to help, and she does so by learning to drive an ambulance.  

Kingston demonstrates what life was like for an ambulance driver during World War II in great detail — from the long gruelling shifts to the horrors that they witnessed on a daily basis. As the war progresses, Rosie struggles with her mental health. The end of the war seems so far away, and Rosie feels trapped in a nightmare which won't end. However, with help Rosie continues to help others, and like Britain, Rosie would not surrender. It did strike me, though, through the course of this novel, how the bombing became almost a normal part of everyday life, much like the weather. There is almost a desensitising of what was going on — Kingston demonstrated this beautifully with Rosie, who after her shift would fall into an exhausted sleep in the shelter, regardless of the bombs dropping on her city.  

This is a really wonderful book. Not only is it rich in historical detail, but it is also like taking a step back through time with Kingston as the very competent tour guide. I thoroughly enjoyed every minute of Citizen Armies (The Jackson Family Saga, #2). Not only is the story fabulous, the characters wonderfully human, and the setting brilliant depicted, but the writing is fabulous too. There is nothing in this book that is not to be liked — a real treat for lovers of quality historical fiction.

I Highly Recommend.

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

Pick up your copy of
Citizen Armies

Beryl Kingston 

Bestselling  Beryl Kingston was born in 1931 in Tooting, where she spent the first four months of the Blitz. She was evacuated twice during WWII, the first time to Felpham and the second to Harpenden in Hertfordshire.

Connect with Beryl: Website • Blog • Twitter.

Saturday, 5 October 2019

#BookReview — Burn Marks: A strange time for letters By Robert D. Rice II #HistoricalFiction #Ameri

Burn Marks
A strange time for letters
By Robert D. Rice II

Here are five fast-moving short stories that offer a delightfully humorous and insightful view of famous events in American history.

The letters in this book were never meant to be read…

Burn Marks by Robert D. Rice II is a collection of five short-read historical fiction stories. All the stories are based on factual events — from Harriet Tubman's Underground Railroads to a gruesome murder of a fourteen-year-old boy and the assassination of President Kennedy.

I was familiar with the history behind several of the stories, and I have to commend Rice for giving these well-documented cases fresh eyes. The narrative is incredibly fast-paced, and the stories certainly entertained. Rice does have a wonderful turn of phrase, and there is some rather excellent writing to be found within the pages of this collection.

The first book in this collection is Deja’ Blue. This story is about the murder of fourteen-year-old school boy, Bobby Franks. Based on true events, Deja’ Blue follows the murder of Bobby and the subsequent trial of Nathan Leopold and Richard Loeb. Rice also adds a third suspect to this hideous murder. Rice has carefully reconstructed this story without being overly graphic or complicated. The narrative is fresh, fast, and fascinating, but like the case itself, there are a lot of unanswered questions — who did it? And more importantly, why? I thought Deja’ Blue was a great story to start this collection with.

I was equally intrigued by the second book, Ethel—letters of innocence, which follows the case of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg. Ethel is a young woman with so much promise when we first meet her in this story. Rice documents Ethel's life through snapshots and letters to Santa. It ended with her death at Sing Sing Prison in 1953. This was certainly an interesting story and one that I would have liked to have had a little more depth. But as the author had intended, these stories are quick reads, that pique the curiosity and leave you asking for more. 

In The Jumper, Rice propels us back to 1971. The Governor’s plane has been hijacked — the question is, by who? Siobhan Mello finds herself a suspect as this frightening event plays out. Again, this is a wonderfully captivating story. There is enough tension and action to keep a reader gripped. There is also good use of word-building and the narrative flowed nicely.

Southern air just feels better in The Conductor. I think this was my favourite book in the collection. It is filled with drama and intrigue. Miles is a drunk, a disappointment, and an adulterer. He has no seemingly redeemable characteristics. Miles has no intention of serving in the Confederate Army but instead takes a job as a bounty hunter — capturing runaway slaves. But a chance encounter in the street changes his life and his perception forever. Miles is in all ways deplorable, but despite appearance, he becomes a hero. As a character, Miles seemed to grow throughout this short-story.

We are pushed forward in time to 1963 in The Fort Worth Star. This time the letters are addressed to Rose Kennedy. The Fort Worth Star takes a look at Marguerite Frances Claverie Oswald reaction and subsequent actions on the day when JFK was assassinated. This short read held my fascination throughout and once again asks the question — who really killed JFK?

The stories within this book are told by various viewpoints. There is a certain amount of head-hopping in this book which was at times a little distracting, but it took nothing away from the stories themselves.  

Rice has a skill for crafting very intriguing characters and asking what-if questions, which I found rather refreshing. Burn Marks is one of those books that is perfect for pulling out on a quick coffee break. The stories are short enough to enjoy in one sitting. 

I Highly Recommend.

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

Pick up your copy of
Burn Marks

#BookReview — Whirligig by Richard Buxton #HistoricalFiction #civilwar

By Richard Buxton

Shire leaves his home and his life in Victorian England for the sake of a childhood promise, a promise that pulls him into the bleeding heart of the American Civil War. Lost in the bloody battlefields of the West, he discovers a second home for his loyalty.

Clara believes she has escaped from a predictable future of obligation and privilege, but her new life in the Appalachian Hills of Tennessee is decaying around her. In the mansion of Comrie, long hidden secrets are being slowly exhumed by a war that creeps ever closer.

The first novel from multi-award winning short-story writer Richard Buxton, Whirligig is at once an outsider’s odyssey through the battle for Tennessee, a touching story of impossible love, and a portrait of America at war with itself. Self-interest and conflict, betrayal and passion, all fuse into a fateful climax.

"Bet you wish you'd stayed at home now, don't ya?"

This wasn't Owen "Shire" Stanton's war, but he had made a promise a long, long time ago, and if nothing else, he was a man of his word. 

Taylor Spenser-Ridgmont was handsome and charming. It was a good match. So Clara had packed her bags and followed her betrothed home to Comrie, Tennessee. But it was only after she married him that Taylor's true nature became apparent and Clara realised what a terrible, terrible mistake she had made. But alas, this was a mistake that could never be rectified. She was on her own, and no one could help her escape this dreadful marriage.

Shire knew what kind of man Taylor was before his childhood friend sailed across the sea to marry him. But who was he to question the choices of a Duke's daughter? Shire was only a school-teacher and a part-time farm labourer. He and Clara had no business being friends, let alone anything else.

However, a shocking discovery sees Shire set sail across the ocean to save Clara from the biggest mistake of her life. However, when he arrives in America, he finds a country on the brink of civil war. The only way Shire can navigate the South and reach his destination was to join the Union Army. Shire must reach Clara before it is too late, and if he has to fight every Confederacy soldier along the way, he will do so. But time is not his friend, and if the army does not get a move on, then it may be too late.

From the desolate graveyard that is holding so tightly to her secrets in Ridgmont, Bedfordshire, England to the horror of the Battle of Chickamauga, Whirligig by Richard Buxton is the mesmerising and wholly unforgettable story of one man's commitment to a promise that would take him on a journey through war-torn America.

Not since John Jakes fabulous North and South Trilogy has a story about the American Civil War captured my attention and left me breathless. Not only is Whirligig a wonderfully fresh take on the American Civil War, but it is also a story of courage, honour, friendship, and love.

From the opening sentence, I was enchanted. Buxton gives a masterful account of the lead up to the war and the war itself. Whirligig is a book that commands your attention, and it certainly deserves your admiration.

Buxton has lavishly evoked the land in which his story is set in. The canvas is a large one, from Victorian England to the war-torn South of the United States, and it is at all times luxuriantly detailed.

Buxton has captured the very essence of what life would have been like for a Unionist Soldier during the war. Within these pages, I found myself walking with soldiers, sharing their fear, their frustration, and in some cases, their utter boredom — for a soldier’s life is not just a single battle. The war and the Battle of Chickamauga, in particular, was wonderfully portrayed — a fitting monument one might say, to those who fought and died there. And through all of this is Shire's desire to reach Clara.

Buxton has a penned two highly appealing characters in Shire and Clara. Shire's devotion to his childhood friend is heartwarming and absorbing. Shire is a man who feels deeply and is compelled to act when he sees a grave injustice served to those he cares about. Shire risks everything, including his own life, to reach Clara. This devotion to a promise made Shire a truly unforgettable character.

Clara knows her place. She knows she cannot follow her heart and so Clara marries where she thinks she is most likely to find happiness. But when she reaches Tennessee and settles into life in Taylor's household, life is not quite what she dreamt it would be. This house hides some terrible secrets, and with time Clara learns these secrets and the role Taylor had in creating them, with dire consequences to herself.

Although Comrie is not a cotton-plantation there are still slaves, and slowly over a considerable time, Clara learns about these people who are forced to serve her, and she strikes a beautiful friendship with several of them. Through her actions, Clara also commands their loyalty, although not with a whip but with her heart. Clara is genuine in her respect for the slaves, and the feeling is eventually reciprocated. It was also fascinating to witness the effect the war had on the South and the fear of what the Unionist Army would do when they reached them. I thought this balance between the North and the South was very carefully drawn. 

Buxton shows his ability as a writer with the depiction of Taylor. Taylor is manipulative, cruel, and above everything else, a compulsive liar. He is the kind of antagonist that sends shivers down one's spine. As often is the case, Taylor is also a terrible coward who cares nothing about the lives he destroys as long as he gets what he wants, and in the case of this story, he wants to destroy all evidence of the truth. His single-minded determination to hunt Shire down and kill him reminded me very much of Elkanah Bent in North and South. He is a vile man, but he certainly drove this story forward.

The historical detailing in this book has to be commended. Not only does Buxton have an almost intimate knowledge of the history of this era in America, but he has also captured the mood of England as she watched the events unfold. Buxton is a true historian with a novelist’s heart. Kudos, Mr Buxton.

This book and this story was what Buxton was born to write. Whirligig is a fabulous addition to any bookshelf.

I Highly Recommend.

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

Pick up your copy of

Richard Buxton

Richard Buxton grew up in Wales but has lived in Sussex for the last thirty years. He is a 2015 graduate of the Creative Writing Masters programme at Chichester University. He studied in America during his twenties and tries to return there as often as he can for research and inspiration. His writing successes include winning the Exeter Story Prize, the Bedford International Writing Competition and the Nivalis Short Story award. His US Civil War novel, Whirligig, released this spring, was shortlisted for the 2017 Rubery International Book Award.

Connect with Richard: Website  • Facebook • Twitter.