Saturday, 31 August 2019

#BookReview — Thieves' Castle (The Tyburn Folios Book 2) by Dean Hamilton #HistoricalFiction #HistoricalThriller

Thieves' Castle
(The Tyburn Folios Book 2)
By Dean Hamilton

London 1576.

Kit Tyburn, ex-soldier turned play-actor and part-time intelligencer for the Queen’s spymaster Francis Walsingham, is back in London and adrift. Penniless, cut loose from both his playing troupe and his mercurial employer, Tyburn is hired to track down a missing gold-seller who has vanished, along with the monies needed for the completion of London’s first permanent theatre.

But London’s dark and fetid back-alleys hide deadly secrets, as Tyburn uncovers a more treacherous game – a war between two noble houses that pulls him into a murderous conflict on the streets, a deadly Spanish conspiracy and a twisted thief-lord chasing her vengeance.

“I know you have a talent for turning over rocks and setting everything under them running...”

Oh yes, Christopher Tyburn has a talent for making things run. That was why he worked part-time for spymaster Walsingham. In his other life, he is a play-actor for Worcester’s Men, but he has been away for too long, there is no place left for him on the stage.

James Burbage, however, might offer him employment, but not on the stage as Tyburn would prefer. Burbage is building a theatre, but his gold-seller has gone missing, along with Burbage’s money and papers. Without them, Burbage cannot build his theatre — his grand cathedral dedicated to the arts. If Tyburn can find the gold-seller along with the money, then that is worth at least 20 shillings.

However, as Tyburn begins to turn over the stones, he finds himself in the middle of a murderous war between two noble houses and tangled in the latest Spanish conspiracy. But, it is the vengeance of one woman that threatens to destroy them all.

From the capricious Channel wind to the seemingly lawless streets of Southwark, Thieves’ Castle (The Tyburn Folios #2) by Dean Hamilton is the highly anticipated sequel to the widely acclaimed The Jesuit Letter.

It has been a long wait for book #2 in The Tyburn Folios series, but it was certainly worth it. As rich and as vibrant in detail as any of Shakespeare’s plays, Thieves’ Castle has it all — warring houses, intrigues, violence, love, death, a spymaster, and a plot that will keep you up until late into the night while at the same time you sincerely hope that the story will never end. This is the kind of book that reminds me why Historical Fiction is my favourite genre.

I thought the characterisation of Christopher’ Kit’ Tyburn was wonderfully drawn. His story is tense, shamelessly compelling, and utterly captivating. I was not only thoroughly entertained by Hamilton’s depiction of Tyburn, but I was also wholly enchanted. Hamilton writes with imagination and a great sense of energy, which made this book absolutely irresistible from start to finish.

It is clear that Hamilton has painstakingly researched the era that this book is set in. He also seems to have an almost intimate knowledge of the people who lived during this time, and he writes seemingly effortlessly. Hamilton’s portrayal of James Burbage was simply divine, and it was exactly as I imagined him to be. All of the supporting characters, whether real or fictional, are given the same care and attention to detail as Tyburn, and although many come into the story and depart very quickly, we still get a sense of who they are and why they do what they did.

Hamilton's depiction of the backstreets of London and the theatre has to be commended. Hamilton spares no detail at the deprivation of areas such as Southwark. The depravity which seemed to run alongside the players and the theatre is immortalised in Hamilton’s crystalline prose and wonderful narrative.

Although this is the second book in the series, Thieves’ Castle stands very firmly on its own two feet and can be read comfortably as a standalone.

This novel is a real treat for lovers of Elizabethan historical fiction, but it would also appeal to those who like to read a tautly gripping historical thriller. Thieves’ Castle (The Tyburn Folios #2) will undoubtedly appeal to fans of Bernard Cornwell’s fabulous Fools and Mortals. I cannot wait to get my hands on book 3 of this not to be missed series.

I Highly Recommend.

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

Pick up your copy of
Thieves' Castle

Dean Hamilton

Dean Hamilton was born in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada. He spent the first half of his childhood chasing around the prairies and western Canada before relocating to Toronto, Ontario. He has three degrees (BA, MA & MBA), reads an unhealthy amount of history, works as a marketing professional by day and prowls the imaginary alleyways of the Elizabethan era in his off-hours. Much of his winter is spent hanging around hockey arenas and shouting at referees. He is married, with a son, a dog, and a small herd of cats.

He is the author of the gripping Elizabethan era thriller The Jesuit Letter. Thieves’ Castle is the second book in the Tyburn Folios series.

Connect with Dean: Website • Facebook • Twitter.

#BookReview — The Confessor’s Wife by Kelly Evans #AngloSaxon #HistoricalFiction

The Confessor’s Wife
By Kelly Evans

In the 11th Century, when barren wives are customarily cast aside, how does Edith of Wessex not only manage to stay married to King Edward the Confessor, but also become his closest advisor, promote her family to the highest offices in the land, AND help raise her brother to the throne? And why is her story only told in the footnotes of Edward’s history?

Not everyone approves of Edward’s choice of bride. Even the king’s mother, Emma of Normandy, detests her daughter-in-law and Edith is soon on the receiving end of her displeasure. Balancing her sense of family obligation with her duty to her husband, Edith must also prove herself to her detractors.

Edward’s and Edith’s relationship is respectful and caring, but when Edith’s enemies engineer her family’s fall from grace, the king is forced to send her away. She vows to do anything to protect her family’s interests if she returns, at any cost. Can Edith navigate the dangerous path fate has set her, while still remaining loyal to both her husband and her family?

“Sister, you’re to marry Edward, King of England...”

The news could not have been more surprising or unwanted. Edith of Wessex had been brought up by the nuns of Wilton Abbey, and she had no desire to leave her home and face the gauntlet of life at court. And the idea that she would be Queen of England seemed foolish, laughable almost — only it wasn’t. Edith was to marry Edward, and that was the end of it. However, for Edith, it was only the beginning.

Torn from a life of quiet contemplation, Edith finds herself in the very heart of the English court. It is here that Edith discovers an inner strength. A strength that she had not known she possessed, but if she is to survive the gossip-mongering, the curry of favours, and her mother-in-law, Edith must hold her head up high and become the Queen her country needs.

But there are those in court who fear Edith’s power and the rise of the House of Godwin. They will do anything to cast aspersions on her name and her family.

From the tranquillity of Wilton Abbey to the brutal slaying of the last Anglo-Saxon King of England, The Confessor’s Wife by Kelly Evans is the utterly enthralling story of Edith of Wessex’s life.

Meticulously researched, and with a masterful style which pulls you right into the story from the opening sentence, The Confessor’s Wife is a work of monumental scholarship. There is no doubt in my mind — this book is an absolute triumph.

In a time of treachery and war, the women of this era are often overlooked, and although much is known about the piety of Edward the Confessor and the turmoil that was left in his wake after his death, little is known about his wife, Edith. Evans has plucked Edith from obscurity and penned her story — and what a story it is. Filled with intrigue, treachery, scandal, love, and of course, God, The Confessor’s Wife is an example of historical fiction at its very best.

Evans tells Edith’s story with tremendous verse but also a keen sensitivity. Edith is highly accomplished and very intelligent, but she is also a very warm character, full of love for her husband. I thought Edith’s relationship with Edward came across as very plausible — history tells us that she did, after all, become one of Edward’s most trusted advisors. I thought their marriage was wonderfully portrayed and more importantly, believable.

As one would expect with a story about The Confessor, Edward spends a great deal of time away overseeing the building of Westminster Abbey, and while he does this, Edith runs her household with firmness but also fairness. Edith is the epitome of what a Queen should be.

Edith’s relationship with her brothers came across as slightly more complicated. As so often happens, the taste of power makes one crave more, and this is certainly how Evans has portrayed the House of Godwin. Edith is sometimes reckless as she makes sure her brothers advance — of course, the consequence is that other nobles see it as a consolidation of power and they fear where it will all end. I thought the rise of the House of Godwin — from earl to King — was beautifully depicted through the course of this novel.

Edith’s relationship with Tostig is very compelling. Tostig is a very likeable character, especially at the beginning of this story. He is very easy going with a great sense of humour and seemingly very compassionate, but there is a darker side to him. Tostig is very opinionated, and one might say narcissistic in his belief that he knows best — he will take no counsel from his sister. But Edith’s love for Tostig is unconditional, and she risks a great deal to save not only his life but also his reputation. Alas, she can not save Tostig from himself. Evans certainly has a wonderful eye for human frailty, and this especially applies to her portrayal of Tostig.

The desperately heroic struggle of Harold Godwin at the end of this book as he battles to retain his crown is profoundly moving, as is Edith’s grief when she learns that her brothers Tostig, Harold, Leofwine and Gyrth are dead and that the crown of England now belongs to that bastard Norman. But, when given the choice by William, Edith withdraws with honour. An ending that is befitting this worthy Queen of England.

Evans writes with a realism that was almost tangible and has presented her readers with a story that has an impressive sweep and brilliance. In a crowded bookcase, The Confessor’s Wife deserves the highest of acclaim.

I Highly Recommend.

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

Pick up your copy of
The Confessor’s Wife

Kelly Evans

I’ve written for as long as I can remember, and was reading adult books in primary school. Love of stories just doesn’t cover it!
Born in Canada of Scottish extraction, I graduated in History and English from McMaster University in Ontario, Canada. After graduation I moved to the UK where I worked in the financial sector. While in London I continued my studies in history, focussing on Medieval England and the Icelandic Sagas (with a smattering of Old Norse and Old English – tip: swearing in Old Norse is a really effective conversation stopper!).

I now live in Toronto, Canada with my husband Max and two rescue cats (Bear and Wolf). I worked in the financial sector as a trade technology project manager for over 20 years but retired recently to write full time. I’m a voracious reader (I brought over 3,000 books with me when I moved back to Canada from England) and enjoy history, music (I play medieval recorder), and watching really really bad horror and old sci-fi movies.

In my alternate identity as Lady Matilda, I post satirical articles on managing your medieval manor during the Black Death (Read them Here)

I’m currently working on my next novel, The Beggar Queen, set in Merovingian France.

Connect with Kelly: Website • Twitter • Facebook • Goodreads.

Saturday, 24 August 2019

#BookReview — The Center of Gravity by Patricia Brandon #WW2 #HistoricalFiction

The Center of Gravity
By Patricia Brandon

A young woman is tricked into service as a food tester for Adolf Hitler in his secret Wolf's Lair, where she will endure yet another atrocity. A French professor, whose best friend is a Jew fighting in the Alsatian Resistance, is forced to assist in the Nazi reconstruction of the priceless Amber Room in the Konigsberg Castle. All hide dangerous secrets. When their worlds collide, high risk plans for escape are made, with the unlikely help of the anti-Nazi brother of Hermann Goering. But will the darkest of secrets remain hidden, or will lives be forever changed when the truth is finally revealed?

"Evil often initially masquerades as gray, not black and white..."

Germany would be a great nation now that Adolf Hitler was at the helm. Look how successful the Olympische Sommerspiele of '36 had been, and that was only the start.

The signs had been there, of course. Sonne Becker's father had seen them, but even he did not know how far the Nazis were willing to go to achieve their aims.

Rainer von Bauchelle and Josef Taffel had been friends for as long as they could remember. Nothing could change that. Nothing. Not even the Nazis as they marched into Alsace, France and spread their propaganda of hatred and division. But while Josef, a Jew, joins the Alsatian Resistance, Rainer must play a different type of game. He is forced to befriend the enemy, work with them. He does not want to. But, he has no choice.

Hitler had blue eyes. Sonne Becker had always thought them black, like his soul. But no. They were blue. She would never forget the colour of his eyes, or what that chance meeting would mean for her. Sonne's life was no longer her own, and nor it seemed, was her body.

From the early days of Hitler's chancellorship to the devastating consequences of the Second World War and beyond, The Center of Gravity by Patricia Brandon is the gripping yet harrowing account of two lives torn unmercifully apart by the Nazi Regime.

Brandon has penned a deeply moving story of betrayal, deceit, sacrifice, and loss. This emotionally charged story paints a graphic portrait of what life was like for those who found themselves as disposable pawns in a game they never asked to play in the first place. Sonne experiences the horrors of Hitler's Wolf's Lair, whereas Rainer has to pretend to be submissive when he really wants to shout out his hatred. But along the way, both Sonne and Rainer discover that even in the darkest of moments, there is a reason to hope. For help can come from the strangest and most unlikeliest of places — an SS Officer, and the brother of Hermann Göring.

Sonne's struggle for survival haunts me. Brandon has taken a woman with so much promise, with youth on her side, and placed her in a situation where she cannot save herself nor can she fight. Her fears and her struggle for survival was incredibly moving. But her suffering does not end when the war does, nor does it end after the Nuremberg Trials. What happened to her affects her for the rest of her life. I found myself in tears on more than one occasion.

Rainer's war is a little different from Sonne's. He is recruited by the Nazis to recreate the Amber Room in  Konigsberg Castle. His acts of defiance are small — unbeknown to anyone he wears the Star of David, a gift from Josef. But he soon comes to realise that not everyone who raises their hand and greets with a "Heil Hitler" is as loyal to the Party as they seem to be. I thought Rainer's character was masterfully portrayed.

There are several supporting characters in this book, but I thought the portrayal of Albert Göring was sublime. Albert is one of those unsung heroes of World War II. Unlike his brother, Albert was not seduced by the Party — in fact, he despised it. Albert saw through the parades and the banners and the slogans. He saw the Nazi Party for what they were. Albert was vehemently opposed to Nazism, and he did everything he could to help Jews and others who were persecuted escape. Albert has been shoved into obscurity by the depravity of his brother's crimes, so it was wonderful to read a book that celebrated his achievements. Kudos, Ms Brandon.

The historical detailing has to be commended. I have tutored Modern European History for a number of years, and the rise of the National Socialist German Workers' Party has always been somewhat of a speciality. Brandon has paid very close attention to the historical sources and eye witness accounts. I thought her portrayal of Wolf's Lair and the plight of Hitler's food-tasters was fabulous. The story of these 15 women who were forced to test Hitler's food before it was considered safe for him to consume is not something that is often discussed. But these women faced death every day, and the emotional damage must have been horrendous. Brandon has shown this in all its horrific detail.

I thought this was an absolutely fabulous book, and there is a surprising twist at the end, which I didn't see coming. Fans of tautly gripping World War II fiction will undoubtedly enjoy The Center of Gravity.

I Highly Recommend.

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

Pick up your copy of
The Center of Gravity

Patricia Brandon

Patricia Brandon is a winner of a Carrie McCray Memorial Literary Award and the author of In The Valley Of Achor, her poignant, gritty, and inspirational story of her first year after facing sudden paralysis of her legs. She no longer plays tennis (yet!), but is writing, working on guitar and mountain dulcimer skills, and traveling with friends when she can. She hasn’t given up in the fight to regain her ability to walk!

Connect with Patricia: Website • Facebook • Twitter.

#BookReview — The Final Reckoning (The Shadow of the Raven: Book 3) by Chris Bishop #HistoricalFiction #AngloSaxon

The Final Reckoning
The Shadow of the Raven: Book 3
 By Chris Bishop

Despite Alfred's great victory at Edington, Wessex is far from secure.

With the threat of an imminent Viking attack, Matthew, now a warrior, is sent to fortify and defend the ford at Leatherhead. There, hopelessly outnumbered, he faces his sternest test as he and a small band of barely trained Saxon warriors strive to hold out long enough for help to arrive or resolve to die trying.

In a time ravaged by political uncertainty, Matthew is placed in intense personal danger as he is also ordered to investigate the tyranny of the Ealdorman's stepson and dispense justice as he sees fit.

With his life still threatened by the wound to his chest, what is asked of him seems more than any man should endure as he faces . . . The Final Reckoning.

"You once told me you had no plans to invade Wessex, yet here you are..."

Alfred defeated Guthrum at Edington, and a treaty of peace was signed, but such a treaty did not neutralise the threat of another Danish invasion. This was not the time for complacently. The Vikings would try their luck again, Alfred is sure of it.

Alfred sends Matthew, The Warrior With The Pierced Heart, to Leatherhead to fortify the ford against invasion. What Matthew finds is an Earldorman who is controlled by his vile, treacherous and exploitative step-son, Oeric. Matthew must use all his wit, knowledge and skill to make Leatherhead ready despite Oeric. But as the Viking army marches ever closer, Matthew realises that they are hopelessly outnumbered.

Can The Warrior With A Pierced Heart, the man who it is said came back from the dead, win the day, or will the prophecy once told by a Celtic healer come to pass?

Vicious. Violent. Vivid. Victorious. The Final Reckoning: Book #3 in The Shadow of the Raven series by Chris Bishop is the hotly anticipated final chapter of the story of Matthew, the third born son of Lord Edwulf. Not only is this series shamelessly captivating, but the climax of this story was both spectacular and surprising — I should have seen it coming, but I didn't! The ending certainly caught me unawares.

As with the other two books, The Final Reckoning is told in the first person and by Matthew's perspective. The effect of this was, as a reader, we have an intimate knowledge of not only Matthew's thoughts but an understanding of his hopes and dreams, his loyalties and commitments, and his desperate struggle with who he is, what he has seen, and what he has done. He has made mistakes — trusted where he should not — and he is a wiser person because of it. Matthew is undoubtedly more careful in this book with regards to who he trusts and, more importantly, who he doesn't. He understands very well the treachery within other men's hearts, as well as their hopes and dreams. Matthew is a character that started out in this series as a very naive young novice monk, but by the end of this book, he is a man who others will follow willingly into battle. 

There are some wonderful and not so wonderful supporting characters in The Final Reckoning, in particular, Matthew's dear friend, Aelred. I adored Aelred. He says it as it is and he isn't cowed by those of a higher position than himself. He is undoubtedly the kind of man you would want by your side in a fight! In comparison to Aelred is Oeric who is as much of a villain in this tale as Lord Hakon. Bishop is very good at creating larger than life characters, and the narrative simply swept me away. This is a book that you can certainly lose yourself in. If you love Michael Hirst's fabulous Vikings, then I think you will find something very appealing about Bishop's Shadow of the Raven series.

I have to commend Bishop's fascinating interpretation of historical events. Researching the Dark Ages is notoriously tricky, due to an unfortunate lack of primary sources, but Bishop does not let this thwart him. Bishop has obviously spent many hours researching to the best of any historian's abilities the reign of Alfred the Great and indeed Guthrum. The instability, the constant threat, the raids, the slavers, the harshness of this foreign land as well as its beauty has been vividly brought back to life. I loved it!

The Shadow of the Raven series reads like a great Dark Age saga. It is absolutely brilliant. Everything about this book, and this series, is exquisite — a reader's dream come true.

Each book in The Shadow of the Raven series stands alone, yet they also transition nicely — picking up where the last book left off. The Shadow of the Raven is a series a reader can most certainly get excited about reading.

I Highly Recommend.

Review by Mary Anne Yarde.
The Coffee Pot Book Club

Pick up your copy of
The Final Reckoning

Chris Bishop

Chris Bishop was born in London in 1951.  After a successful career as a Chartered Surveyor, he retired to concentrate on writing, combining this with his lifelong interest in history.  His first Novel, Blood and Destiny, was published in 2017 and his second, The Warrior with the Pierced Heart was released in July 2018.  Both form part of a series entitled The Shadow of the Raven.

Chris is a member of the Historical Writers’ Association as well as the Historical Novel Society.

Connect with Chris: Website • Blog • Twitter • Goodreads.

Friday, 16 August 2019

Book Review — The Warrior With The Pierced Heart: The Shadow of the Raven: Book 2 by Chris Bishop #HistoricalFiction #AngloSaxon

The Warrior With The Pierced Heart
The Shadow of the Raven: Book 2
By Chris Bishop

In the second book in the exciting and atmospheric Shadow of the Raven series we rejoin novice monk turned warrior, Matthew as he marches ahead of King Alfred, to Exeter to herald the King's triumphant return to the city, marking his great victory at Edington.
It should have been a journey of just five or perhaps six days but, as Matthew is to find to his cost, in life the road you're given to travel is seldom what you wish for and never what you expect.

In this much-anticipated sequel Chris Bishop again deposits the reader slap-bang into the middle of Saxon Britain, where battles rage and life is cheap. An early confrontation leaves Matthew wounded, but found and tended by a woodland-dwelling healer he survives, albeit with the warning that the damage to his heart will eventually take his life.

Matthew faces many challenges as he battles to make his way back to Chippenham to be reunited with King Alfred and also with the woman he wants to make his wife. This is an epic tale of triumph over adversity as we will the warrior with the pierced heart to make it back to those he loves, before it is too late.

“In life the road you’re given to travel is seldom what you wish for — and never what you expect…”

Matthew was tasked with riding on ahead of King Alfred’s army to announce his imminent arrival in Exeter. Matthew knew the risks of going through the forest, but speed was of the utmost importance, and therefore, the risk, he considered, was worth taking.

But as Matthew lies on the forest floor, with an arrow in his heart, he knows that not only did he make a mistake, but that he will never see Exeter yet alone King Alfred again. There is nothing left for him to do except listen to the desperate battle and the cries of his men as they succumbed to a Viking ambush. He can only pray that the Vikings will allow him to die quickly. However, the Vikings take delight in misery, and they are not known for their mercy.

As bleak as it might be, God, fate, whatever you want to call it, has not finished with Matthew yet. Nursed back to health by a Celtic healer, Matthew must confront an even bigger challenge, one in which new friendships will be forged, and enemies faced.

Will the Warrior With The Pierced Heart, be victorious, or will his enemies vanquish him, once and for all?

Brutal beginnings can only lead to unmerciful ends, and there are those aplenty in The Warrior With The Pierced Heart: The Shadow of the Raven Book #2 by Chris Bishop. This book is not for the faint-hearted. Bishop throws his readers straight back into the action, and the story begins with a slaughter. This fast-paced narrative continues throughout the course of this book. There is hardly a moment to catch one’s breath as the story continues to pick up momentum. The more I read, the more immersed I became in the story and the characters that graced the pages.

Like before, in Book 1 of The Shadow of the Raven, I simply adored Matthew. He has grown spiritually as well as worldly. Matthew has tasted defeat. He has danced with death, and yet through it all, his still-beating heart dares to hope. Matthew is a protagonist that readers can really get behind. He is not only brave and honourable, but he also makes mistakes, and I think that is what makes him so appealing. Matthew finds himself fighting for not only his own life but for those around him. He is appalled by the atrocities he witnesses, and he desperately desires to help, even when there is nothing he can do. Matthew is a character who is continuously conflicted. The things he has done, the things he has seen leave their mark, which I thought made him very human in the telling.

Bishop has introduced several new characters into the story. I thoroughly enjoyed reading about Aelred and Brother Benedict as they try to help Matthew on his journey.

The antagonists are once again the Vikings, in particular, some slavers, who are vile and cruel, but they are not the only ones. The people who Matthew fought at Edington to protect, turn their back on him because of superstition. He has come back from the dead and therefore must be in league with the Devil. This, I thought, was wonderfully insightful. Christianity was the religion of King Alfred and therefore his people, but the religion of their forefathers still had a hold on them, and this made things far more difficult for Matthew than they needed to be, and it makes absolute sense for Bishop to have written these scenes this way.

The breathtaking historical accuracy of this book has to be commended.  Reading The Warrior With The Pierced Heart was like stepping through time. I found myself in this foreign yet strangely familiar world that we call The Dark Ages. I thought the Dark Ages was masterfully portrayed and as historically accurate as the surviving sources allow it to be.

Not only does Bishop excel at writing vivid battle scenes, but he also demonstrates the hardship of everyday life and how dangerous it was to live during this time. If you like your fiction battle-heavy, then The Shadow of the Raven series would undoubtedly appeal.

I Highly Recommend.

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

Pick up your copy of
The Warrior with a Pierced Heart

Chris Bishop

Chris Bishop was born in London in 1951.  After a successful career as a Chartered Surveyor, he retired to concentrate on writing, combining this with his lifelong interest in history.  His first Novel, Blood and Destiny, was published in 2017 and his second, The Warrior with the Pierced Heart was released in July 2018.  Both form part of a series entitled The Shadow of the Raven.

Chris is a member of the Historical Writers’ Association as well as the Historical Novel Society.

Connect with Chris: Website • Blog • 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 ...