Saturday, 23 February 2019

#BookReview — The Proposition by Jan Selbourne #HistoricalFiction #WWI @JanSelbourne

The Proposition
By Jan Selbourne

They met on the eve of a battle. One enlisted to avoid prison, the other enlisted to avoid the money lenders. On the bloodied fields of France, Harry Connelly collapses beside the corpse of Andrew Conroy. It’s a risk, a hanging offence, it’s his only hope for a future. Harry swaps identity discs. 

Now known as Andrew, he is just another face in post war London until a letter arrives with a proposition. Accepting will plunge him into a nightmare of murder, family jealousy and greed. 

To survive he must live this lie without a mistake, until he falls in love with Lacey. To keep her he must tell the truth and face the consequences.

“Oh, what a tangled web we weave, when first we practice to deceive!”
Marmion: A Tale of Flodden Field, by Sir Walter Scott

It had seemed like a good idea at the time, isn’t that what they all say? It would be an adventure to fight for your country. A chance to see the world. And anyway, it would all be over by Christmas. However, Harry Connelly had not enlisted because he was particularly patriotic, or because he wanted to travel to new places and have an adventure. Oh, no, that was not the reason at all. And yet, here he was in France, waiting for the bullet with his name on it to end his life. He was just another piece of useless fodder for the enemy’s artillery fire.

If, by some miracle, he managed to dodge the bullets, what then? Harry couldn’t go home. He was a wanted man, and besides, he didn’t have a home, not anymore. Harry could see no way out of the situation he found himself in — that was until he met Andrew Conroy on the eve of a battle that would change the course of Harry’s life forever. For Andrew, this bloody battle was to be his last, but for Harry, this was the opportunity he had not known he had been waiting for. All he had to do was swap his identity discs for Andrew’s. If he had the courage, then Harry Connelly could die here, today, on this battlefield, with a thousand other poor souls. If he had the courage, he could start again, with a new name, a new identity, and a new life. If, he had the courage…

However, Andrew had enlisted because of a substantial gambling debt. Those he owed had run out of patience. They wanted their money, and they wanted it now. Also unbeknownst to Harry, Andrew was also the illegitimate son of the successful and influential, Lester Haines. By taking on Andrew’s identity, Harry finds himself drawn into a world of money, greed, and murder. If he is to survive, then he must keep his wits, for Andrew’s family will do anything and everything to keep their secrets from the police and, more importantly, from the papers.

From the horrors of the Western Front to a barrister’s office in Arisaig, Scotland — The Proposition, by Jan Selbourne is a gripping murder mystery thriller with a hint of romance, set in the backdrop of post-war Britain.

Selbourne has crafted a vastly entertaining story that has enough subplots and twists to keep even the most hardened historical murder mystery fan enchanted. The story follows Harry Connelly as he tries desperately to forge a new life with someone else’s identity. It is said that what goes around comes around and therefore it could be said that Harry got what he deserved when he swapped Andrew Conroy’s identity discs with his own. Instead of a chance to start again, Harry is plunged into a world of intrigue and danger. Andrew’s aristocratic family certainly have more than their share of skeletons in their closets, and Harry finds himself drawn into this dysfunctional family who will do absolutely anything to stop the truth from getting out. A scandal would ruin them all.

Despite his lies and subterfuges, Harry is a likeable character. The story of why he took Andrews identity is not explained straight away, so I must admit, I did find his motives a little confusing, and initially, I didn’t take to him because of this. However, when Harry eventually explains why he did what he did, I could appreciate his situation and his reasoning, although I did not agree so much with his methods! Nevertheless, his story is an intriguing one and as he became more entangled with the very troubled Haines family, I found myself sympathising with him.

I adored the characterisation of Lacey Haines. Lacey is from the disowned and impoverished, side of the family. However, out of all the Haines, she is the only one who has a scrap of integrity and decency. Lacey is a strong and courageous woman, who nevertheless comes to breaking point on several occasions, which made her character incredibly believable. I thought her relationship with her late sister’s four-year-old daughter was wonderful to behold. Lacey is the true hero of this story.

As with all good murder mysteries, I found myself trying to figure out who the murderer was, but it turns out my detective skills are not very good. It pains me to admit that who I thought was the murderer, wasn’t!

If you are looking for your next historical murder mystery, then The Proposition is the book for you.

I Highly Recommend.

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

Jan Selbourne

Jan Selbourne was born and educated in Melbourne, Australia and her love of literature and history began as soon as she learned to read and hold a pen. After graduating from a Melbourne Business College her career began in the dusty world of ledgers and accounting, working in Victoria, Queensland and the United Kingdom. On the point of retiring, she changed course to work as secretary of a large NSW historical society. Now retired Jan is enjoying her love of travelling and literature. She has two children, a stray live in cat and lives near Maitland, New South Wales

Connect with Jan: Website • Facebook • Twitter • Linkedin

#BookReview — The King of Dunkirk: The King’s Germans Book #2, by Dominic Fielder #Military #HistoricalFiction @Kings_Germans

The King of Dunkirk
The King’s Germans Book #2
By Dominic Fielder

May 1793: The French border.

Valenciennes, Paris then home! Every common soldier knows the popular 
refrain so why can’t the commanders see sense? 

The protracted siege of Valenciennes exposes the mistrust between the 
allies. National interests triumph over military logic. The King’s Germans 
find themselves marching north to the coast, not east to Paris. Dunkirk has 
become a royal prize, an open secret smuggled to the French, who set a trap 
for the Duke of York’s army. 

Lieutenant Erich von Bomm and Captain Werner Brandt find themselves in 
the thick of the action as the 14th Nationals, the Black Lions, seek their 
revenge. In the chaos of battle, Sebastian Krombach, working alongside 
Major Trevethan, the engineer tasked with capturing Dunkirk, must make a 
dreadful choice: to guide a battalion of Foot Guards to safety across the 
Great Moor or carry a message that might save the life of a friend. 

The King’s Germans and the Black Lions do battle to determine who shall 

be crowned the King of Dunkirk.

“Now we have an Admiral with no fleet to keep good company with the artillery officer with no guns.”

Together they may stand but united they are not. As the smoke settled over Valenciennes and voices rang out in praise of the Duke of York, one thing became abundantly clear, this war was nothing more than a complicated game of politics and seemingly selfish national interest. If the Allies cannot overcome their differences and work towards defeating the French then what use was a victory? It made a mockery of the lives sacrificed by the soldiers who had fought for their king and their respective countries.

This war was nothing but a bureaucratic headache, and every soldiers' worst nightmare. How can they fight, how can they win, when desperately needed supplies were so late in coming? For the common soldier, the army was swiftly becoming something that resembled a farce. But who were they to question their superiors? 

Major Stephen Trevethan, an engineer adviser to the Duke of York, is in need of maps. Lots of maps. For how can a successful campaign be planned without them? But his plea for a skilled cartographer goes unanswered. It is a dire situation and one that he must resolve, for lives depend upon it.

Sergeant Gauner sees nothing special in Sebastian Krombach, a soldier of the 2nd Battalion of the 10th Hanoverian Regiment. But by chance, Major Trevethan has seen one of Kronbach’s sketches. Whether Sergeant Gauner likes it or not, Trevethan will borrow Kronbach — the war demands it, and Trevethan commands it.

Kronbach now finds himself under Major Trevethan’s command, but as he plays the game of cat and mouse with the enemy as he maps their defences, he cannot help but wish he was back with his friends in the regiment. If only they knew the danger Kronbach was in everyday, then they would not be so eager to listen to Sergeant Gauner as he criticises his absence.

From the siege of Valenciennes to the Battle on the beaches of Dunkirk, The King of Dunkirk: The King’s Germans Book #2, by Dominic Fielder is the suspenseful military tale about the war between the First Coalition and the French First Republic.

Well, Fielder has done it again. His brilliantly executed narrative complimented by an impressive historical backdrop makes for compulsive reading. This book is full of non-stop military action, as well as very colourful and gripping characterisation. I thought the portrayal of Sebastian Krombach was sublime. Here is a regular soldier whose skill is by chance discovered by Major Treventhan. Krombach’s humility and his respect for the Major make Krombach one of those characters who you really root for. I wanted him to have a good war — if, there is such a thing. Likewise, the Cornish Major Trevethan continued to fascinate.

Like before, with book #1 of the King’s Germans, Fielder shows the war from both sides. I thought the portrayal of Maurice Caillat, a stable boy, turned investigator, was magnificent. At times, he seemed completely out of his depth, but he shows remarkable courage in the face of an impossible situation. His life, like that of Captain Julien Beauvais of the 3rd Dragoons, is not assured.

The attention to historical detail has to be commended. Fielder writes with a great deal of elegance and authority. He skilfully maps the disorganised chaos of the Allies — Admiral Macbride really did arrive without any ships, and the British did not possess the siege artillery that they needed to lay siege. Fielder has captured the utter frustration of the officers who were trying to win this war without the means to do so. In fact, Fielder’s prose is so real in the telling that I fancied I could hear the sound of the cavalry charging into battle, the clash of the bayonets, and, of course, the deafening reverberation of the field artillery and the rifles as they fired upon the enemy. His observation of everyday detail is also worthy of note — the menace of the flies, the terrible heat of the day, the desperate need of the soldiers for new boots… Fielder has a real eye for knowing what makes history worth reading while staying true to the documented history, as well as what captures his readers’ attention. 

If you are looking for your next action-packed historical military series, then this is it. The King of Dunkirk: The King’s Germans Book #2 will undoubtedly appeal to anyone who loves Bernard Cornwell’s bestselling Sharp series.

I Highly Recommend.

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

Dominic Fielder

Dominic Fielder (1968-present) was born in Plymouth to parents of families from Roman Catholic and Protestant backgrounds. Then such things mattered to others but not to a first-born son who knew only love and a stable happy family. Two brothers made for a warm and somewhat idyllic childhood. He was bright but a disengaged student preferring instead to spend time with his dad at the family book business (the Bookstall) where a love of literacy flourished. Having finished sixth-form at Devonport High School for Boys, he passed opportunities to join first, the Tank Regiment, then the Royal Air Force, settling instead on a career in banking. Three years later, fed up with counting other people’s money, he travelled to Australia for a year, working for a time in the Outback and thoroughly enjoying life!

On returning to the UK, he drifted into work at his family’s Comic Shop (Kathies Comics). Despite fifteen years of hard work, the business failed and so did his marriage. Working a series of odd jobs, with odd hours, he finished a degree course in History, gaining a First and drifted into the world of education. Now he divides his time unequally between private tuition, running the family book business which has survived for sixty years and writing. More important than all of these, is spending time with his son. With what free time he has, he enjoys cycling, walking and horse-riding on the moors that surround his home in Mary Tavy, Devon.

His passion and interest for as many years as he can care to remember has been ‘little model soldiers’, painting them, researching facts about the regiments and playing wargames with them. For a dozen years or more, Dominic ran a series of ‘Megagames’ where people would arrive from all corners of the globe to game out World War Two scenarios for a week. Such events needed a strong narrative and his first attempts at writing were contained within the pre-game intelligence and the post-action reports. His writing project, ‘The King’s Germans’ is a few steps further down that road. For the person who drifted from one task to another, it’s a commitment to write twenty-two years of the history of Hanoverian soldiers in the service of King George III.    

Connect with Dominic on:  Facebook • Twitter.

Saturday, 16 February 2019

#BookReview — The Vogels: On All Fronts (The Half-Bloods Book 2), by Jana Petken #HistoricalFiction #WWII @AuthoJana

The Vogels: On All Fronts
 (The Half-Bloods Book 2)
By Jana Petken

“The Vogels are fighting on all fronts in this compelling story of intrigue and betrayal in a world at war.” 
European citizens feel the full force of German injustice, but not all are willing to bend the knee. From France to Poland, Resistance groups fight from the shadows to thwart Nazi rule and hinder their goal to exterminate Jews. 

In Russia, Wilmot Vogel struggles to survive the ravages of a frigid winter, compounded by the German army’s lack of progress. Hit by a surprise Russian attack on the front lines, however, he finds himself facing an even greater challenge than the freezing weather and Soviet bullets. 

In Łódź, Poland, an idealistic doctor is resolved to oppose the Third Reich, but is he willing to betray his country? Will a Gestapo major find the answers he’s looking for? Can a ghetto Jew avoid transportation to a Nazi extermination camp? 

Can two spies rekindle their friendship, or will past betrayals become hurdles too great to surmount? Can Britain’s MI6 maintain the upper hand in a contest against the German Abwehr? Who wins when one man fights for British interests whilst the other seeks to undermine them? 

In the darkest days of war, love flourishes. Two women with very different paths are led to one man who changes the course of their lives forever – but only one will win his heart.

 I’m still trying to wrap my head around Paul being married to a Gestapo Major’s daughter, Wilmot spending time in a prison camp, and your father being a British spy. What sort of family have I married into?”

There are no winners in war, or so it is said. For the Vogel family, the war has brought division and mistrust. They are a household divided. While two sons fight for the Third Reich, the other, along with his father, is a British Intelligence Officer.

Max Vogel will not fight for a government, a country, that had so fundamentally lost its way. He will do everything in his power to thwart the Nazi Regime and help the Allies win this war.

Wilmot Vogel did not think his life could get any worse than the time he had spent as a prisoner in Dachau concentration camp, but that was before he experienced winter on the Eastern Front. Supplies are slow in coming, and the winter seems as never-ending as the war. However, Wilmot, unlike Max, believes in the Führer and the Party. He dreams of committing an act of true heroism. It is his ardent desire to one day have an Iron Cross pinned to his uniform.

With small acts of heroism, Paul Vogel finds himself fighting injustice from the right side of wrong. A doctor for the Third Reich and son-in-law to the Gestapo Major, Kriminaldirektor Biermann, Paul plays a dangerous game of cat and mouse. He isnt the person his father-in-law, and the Third Reich wants him to be, but if he refuses to conform, then he risks everything.

From the dangers of occupied France to the adversity of life on the Eastern Front, The Vogels: On All Fronts (The Half-Bloods Book 2) by Jana Petken is the compelling account of one family as it navigates the horrors of World War II from opposing battle lines. 

Petken’s narrative is flawless. This is a story which appals, impresses, and fascinates in almost equal measures. However, what makes Petken a master bard is that she knows when to pull back and change the scene, which gives her readers a chance to catch their breath. Petken can do this because the story is told by several points of view, which I found exceedingly compelling and utterly riveting.

Petken has a novelist eye for detail, not only with regard to the history of this era in which it is very obvious that she has spent many hours researching, but also in the study of human fallibility. Petken has created characters that are very real in the telling. I thought the portrayal of Paul’s wife, Valentina, showed how easily some German citizens believed fabricated and colossal untruths. Valentina is so blindly loyal to the Führer and her father that she cannot see the truth even when it is looking right at her. Valentina believes that she is part of the “master race,” and yet, as a mother to be, she cannot place herself in the shoes of her Jewish counterparts. She has been told the Jews are vermin and that is that. She has ceased to think of them as humans. They are an annoyance — and she wishes they would all disappear. Valentina is a stark contrast to her husband. Paul is loyal to his country, but he isn’t as devoted to the Führer and the Nazi Party as he has led everyone to believe. As a doctor, Paul deplores the things he has seen and the things that he has been forced to do, but on the other hand, he isn’t the victim in this story. There are decisions that he makes which have profound consequences on innocent people. Paul is, I guess, an ordinary man, who has been thrown into Hell without a map to guide him. Therefore, his story is one of utter heartbreak.

At times the tension in this book was so unbearable that I found myself holding my breath as I daringly turned another page. It is well documented that the German Army failed to supply their soldiers with equipment and clothing for the tempestuous winter weather on the Eastern Front. However, to read about a character whom I have come to care for made this knowledge all the more poignant and upsetting. Wilmot’s struggle to not only stay alive but to keep his wits was, at times, tremendously hard to read, and I did find myself in tears on more than one occasion as he faced one unimaginable horror after another. Petken’s portrayal of the terrible conditions on the Eastern Front was masterful. There is a realism that comes with Petken’s writing that is almost tangible. She has a visceral understanding of what makes history worth reading.

I thought Petken’s portrayal of MI6, and the very secret Special Operations Executive (SOE), was fabulous and a direct contrast to the Gestapo, especially when it came to interrogation tactics. Like his father, Max is involved at one time or another with both organisations. Max is a very experienced intelligence officer, but he is also a son and a brother. Max cannot understand why Paul chooses Germany and the Nazis over, what is so obvious to Max, the right path. Max is the only brother who sees the Nazi Party for what it really is, and he will do everything in his power to bring them down. Max lives in a shadowy underworld. He faces a different type of war to his brothers. I thought his story was tautly gripping.

The Vogels: On All Front (The Half-Bloods Book 2) is a wonderfully magnificent book that was so enthralling that I simply could not put it down once I had started. I cannot wait to get my hands on Book 3 and find out what happens to this extraordinary family.

If you are looking for your next great World War II, historical fiction read, then look no further than The Half-Blood series. You will not be disappointed. This series has everything you could want, and then a bit more.

I Highly Recommend.

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

Jana Petken 

Jana Petken is a bestselling historical fiction novelist and screenwriter. 

She is critically acclaimed as a bestselling, gritty, author who produces bold, colourful characters and riveting storylines. She is the recipient of numerous major international awards for her works of historical fiction and is presently in talks with film producers regarding one of her titles.

Before life as an author, she served in the British Royal Navy. During her service, she studied Naval Law and history. After the Navy, she worked for British Airways and turned to writing after an accident on board an aircraft forced her to retire prematurely.

Connect with Jana: Website • Twitter  • Goodreads

#BookReview — Pit of Vipers: Sons of Kings #2 by Millie Thom #HistoricalFiction #Vikings #AngloSaxon @MillieThom

Pit of Vipers
(Sons of Kings #2)
By Millie Thom

In Pit of Vipers, the second book in the Sons of Kings trilogy, the lives of Alfred of Wessex and Eadwulf of Mercia continue to unfold against the ever increasing threat of Danish raids. 

Now back in his homeland, Eadwulf sets out on his determined quest for revenge, whilst Alfred’s leadership skills develop at the courts of his successive brothers. Before long, those skills will be put to the test . . . 

The Danish invasion of the Anglo-Saxon kingdoms in 865 is merciless and relentless. Every year more Norse ships come to join their comrades in a quest to plunder for wealth and gain domination over the people. 

The Wessex king is now Aethelred, Alfred’s last surviving brother, and Alfred becomes his trusted second-in-command. Whilst the Danes take kingdom after kingdom, the brothers wait with baited breath for them to set their sights on Wessex. 

By 869 their worst fear is realised. 

In the meantime, Eadwulf pursues the objects of his revenge.

“How those great leaders would grieve to see their kingdom so assailed…”

Some men die with a weapon in their hands and such deaths are to be celebrated for those warriors will sit in Oden’s Great Hall in Valhalla. For Ragnar Lothbrok there was no sword, no axe, just a pit filled with venomous vipers. As the venom seeped into his veins, Ragnar yelled these words:

“How the little pigs would grunt if they knew how the old boar suffered.”

King Aelle and his men laughed at Ragnar’s words, but Eadwulf did not. Eadwulf knew that the sons of Ragnar would seek their revenge and when they did, they would wipe that smile from King Aelle’s face. The sons of Ragnar would turn Aelles kingdom into something that resembled the Christian Hell. King Aelle had not conquered an enemy. He had started a war.

It was said that God favoured the younger son of the late King Aethelwulf. Alfred of Wessex wasn’t so sure because if God truly favoured him then why was he so inflicted by excruciating pain? Moreover, why had God chosen to make the reign of his brothers so short? Now everyone looked to Alfred’s beloved brother, Aethelred, to lead and protect the Kingdom of Wessex. However, there were rumours of a great Danish army led by Ivar, son of Ragnar, marching on Northumbria. Alfred can only hope and pray that once Ivar has had his revenge, he will leave the rest of the Anglo-Saxon kingdoms in peace. But, if Ivar chooses to stay, then may the Lord have mercy on their souls.

From the cold and harrowing death of a Norse hero in a Northumbrian pit of snakes to the desperate battle on the plains of Salisbury, Pit of Vipers: Sons of Kings #2 by Millie Thom is an exemplary work of historical fiction.

Thom certainly deserves praise for her enthralling narrative and her authentic historical background. Thom has skilfully embroidered together the known history of this time along with the Old Norse poetry and sagas, which makes Pit of Vipers not only an incredibly powerful tale but also a compellingly epic adventure.

There is a little of everything in this book — heroes, villains, hate, love, wit and a good dose of irony — which keeps the reader not only engaged but enthralled. Thom is a born storyteller, and her masterful style pulls you right in. I found myself back in the Dark Ages with these fascinating characters during which can only be described as a very turbulent and uncertain time.

Pit of Vipers is the story of the almost desperate but incredibly heroic Prince Alfred (who would later become known as Alfred the Great) against the seemingly invincible Ivar and his Great Army. Running alongside Alfred’s tale is the equally mesmerising story of Eadwulf, who seeks vengeance for the murder of his parents, in particular, his mother. I adored Alfred. He is such a gentle soul. However, he is not afraid to fight for his kingdom, and there are hints of the King that he will become. Likewise, Eadwulf has come a long way from his desperate situation in Shadow of the Raven: Sons of Kings #1. Eadwulf has his freedom, and now he is a husband and a father, and yet, his desire for revenge will not be quashed. His relationship with Bjorn Ironside continued to fascinate, and his story was utterly compelling. 

Set in this harsh landscape of betrayal and mistrust, our heroes have to fight to stay alive. However, it is not all bloody battles and retribution. Thom paints a vivid portrait of what it was like to live during these times. The roles of women were explored in this book, along with the perils of childbirth. The suffering of the peasants under a Viking warlord was represented in all its terrible agony. All of which helps to gives Pit of Vipers legitimacy. This is a very believable presentation of this period in history.

There were times when I was left wondering who the real antagonist was — King Aelle, or Ivar the Boneless. If King Aelle had not executed Ragnar, then Ivar would not have brought his army across the sea seeking revenge. It is King Aelle’s actions which lead to terrible consequences for all, so does that make him an antagonist or just terribly naïve? It is quite a conundrum. Aelle’s treatment of Ragnar is deplorable, but then Ragnar was no hero to the Northumbrians. If only hindsight were a king, history, no doubt, would be very different! Ivar, in comparison, is a fierce and ruthless man, but he is also a shrewd strategist, and everything he does has a coldly calculated purpose, which makes his character all the more chilling to read about. I thought Ivar’s portrayal was wonderful.

I was fascinated by Ivar’s relationship with Halfdan. Halfdan is a warrior in his own right, but like everyone else, he lives in fear of his brother. It is only later on in the story that Halfdan comes into his own. Likewise, Bjorn’s relationship with his brothers is equally intriguing, as is his continuous relationship with Eadwulf. Of all the sons of Ragnar, it is Bjorn who comes across as the most honourable and certainly the most likeable! 

Pit of Vipers: Sons of Kings #2 is an absolute must-read for fans of Michael Hirst’s fabulous Vikings series. This book hooks you in and leaves you wanting more. The pages practically turn themselves.

I Highly Recommend.

Review by Mary Anne Yarde.
The Coffee Pot Book Club

Millie Thom

Millie Thom is a former geography and history teacher with a degree in geology and a particular passion for the Anglo-Saxon and Viking period. Originally from Lancashire she is a mother of six grown up children and now lives with her husband in a small village in Nottinghamshire, midway between the town of Newark and the lovely old city of Lincoln. When not writing, Millie enjoys long walks and is a serious fossil hunter. She is also an avid traveller, swimmer and baker of cakes!

Connect with Millie : Website • Twitter • Goodreads.

#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 ...