Saturday, 26 October 2019

#BookReview — Whispers in the Canyon by Gifford MacShane #HistoricalRomance

Whispers in the Canyon
By Gifford MacShane

When Jesse Travers' father dies, he leaves her with a bankrupt ranch and a deep well of distrust.

Shunned by the village for her outlaw brother's deeds, Jesse is not sorry to hear he's been killed while robbing a bank. Strangely enough, it's the man who shot him who brings her the news. Even more strange is this latecomer's willingness to help her put her ranch back on solid footing. Lacking any other options and loving her canyon home, Jesse overcomes her trepidation and accepts his help.

Irish immigrant Adam Donovan inherited the gift of empathy from his Celtic forebears, and it's not long before he ferrets out Jesse's secret: she's been deeply traumatized by abuse.

As they work together to improve her ranch, Jesse begins to trust Adam and feels the first stirrings of love―an experience she's never known before. Then, as if to tell her she is unworthy of happiness, her past rises up with a vengeance and she is left with a terrible choice: retreat to a life of solitude and shame, or reveal her tragic secret in the minuscule hope of saving her relationship with Adam Donovan.

"I didn't want to kill him..."

But Russell Travers had already shot one man while he attempted to rob The White's Station Bank, how many more would he have shot if Adam Donovan had not stopped him? Nevertheless, it does not take anything away from the fact that Adam killed a man, and now he has to break the news to Russell's ailing father and wayward sister.

The dilapidated state of the Travers' ranch comes as a surprise to Adam, as does the scrap of the girl who threatens him with a dirty Whitworth rifle. Adam had been led to believe that Jesse was a violent woman, but the reality in front of him, even if she did hold onto that rifle, negated the rumours. Jesse was not what he had expected, and that rifle looked so old and abused that he doubted it could even fire. No, Jesse was not what others said of her.

Jesse had cried when Adam told her that her brother was dead. But they were not tears of grief. They were tears of relief. For years, Jesse had suffered at the hands of her brother. At last, she was free of him, but his death hastened that of her ailing father, and Jesse finds herself all alone in a cold and unforgiving world, with a ranch that was falling down around her.

Adam cannot stand by and do nothing in the face of Jesse's dire needs. His family rally around Jesse and help her to not only rebuild the ranch but make it profitable. And the more time Adam spends with Jesse, the more his heart tells him that this is the woman he was destined to be with. 

Jesse had learnt long ago how futile hope was. She fears that as soon as Adam discovers what had befallen her by the hand of her brother, then he would leave, and she would be all alone again, and that she could not survive...

Whispers in the Canyon by Gifford MacShane is the emotionally evocative story of a young woman who learns how to trust and how to love after years of insufferable abuse at the hands of her brother.

Set during the 19th Century in Arizona, Whisper in the Canyon appals, impresses and makes a reader swoon at the romance in equal measures. It has everything one could want from a historical romance and then some.

Adam is instantly drawn to Jesse. He admires her bravery, but he also sees past the gossip and the rumours. He is a man who is confident enough to come to his own conclusions, and he has been taught to listen to his heart. I thought Adam was a wonderful hero. His patience and understanding were precisely what Jesse needed. Adam becomes Jesse's constant in a confusing and terrifying world. I thought Adam was really rather wonderful.

Jesse is as broken as any soul can be, and yet her strength of character, her determination to rebuild her life, makes her one of the strongest heroines that I have ever encountered. The stigma that Jesse may have come across is tempered by the protective shield that the Donovan household wrap around her. Slowly, but inevitably, Jesse learns to trust her feelings, and to trust Adam. Adam is nothing like her brother, and often Jesse finds the difference staggering and somewhat confusing, as anyone would coming out of a very unhealthy and abusive relationship. Jesse and Adam's story is a sweet and slow romance, with Adam ever mindful of what she had suffered. It was an enthralling love story that made this book wholly unforgettable and next to impossible to put down. Kudos, Ms MacShane.

Another character that deserves a mention is Katie. While Adam shows Jesse what real love is, his grandmother Katie helps to heal the scars that Adam cannot. I adored Katie, she is this wonderfully knowledgable lady who has a tremendously large heart. She takes Jesse under her wing, and along with Adam and the rest of the Donovans', helps Jesse to heal. I thought Katie's portrayal was marvellous.

The historical detailing of this story has to be commended. MacShane has taken considerable care to research the history of this era, and it shows through in her writing. MacShane has captured the very essence of 19th Century Arizona. Brilliantly written and fabulously executed.

Whispers in the Canyon by Gifford MacShane is one of the most compelling and moving historical western romance novels that I have ever read.

I Highly Recommend.

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

Pick up your copy of
Whispers in the Canyon

Gifford MacShane

Gifford MacShane has always had a passion for all kinds of folk music, an interest in Celtic mysticism, and a love for stories about the Old West, so it's no surprise that she's blended all of these avocations into her debut novel about a family of Irish immigrants who settled in the Arizona Territory in the late 1800s. Her self-professed obsession with all things grammar has molded their stories into a lyrical masterpiece, celebrating the flaws and strengths of a diverse cast of characters.

Giff is an #OwnVoices writer who currently lives in Pennsylvania with her husband Richard, the Pied Piper of stray cats. An avid gardener, she cultivates pollinator plants and grows tomatoes (not enough) and zucchini (too much). 

Connect with Gifford: Website • Twitter • Amazon Author Page.

#BookReview — Auschwitz Syndrome: a Holocaust novel based on a true story (Women and the Holocaust Book 3) by Ellie Midwood #HistoricalFiction #WW2

Auschwitz Syndrome:
a Holocaust novel based on a true story
(Women and the Holocaust Book 3)
By Ellie Midwood

Germany, 1947.

A strange case scheduled for the Denazification Court lands on the desk of an American psychiatrist currently serving in Germany, Dr. Hoffman.

A former Auschwitz guard, Franz Dahler, is set to appear in court, and he has requested to bring the most unexpected witness to testify in his defense - one of his former inmates and current wife, Helena.

As soon as one of the newly emerging Nazi hunters and former Auschwitz inmate, Andrej Novák, recognizes the officer’s name, he demands a full investigation of Dahler’s crimes, claiming that the former SS man was not only abusing Helena in the camp but is also using her as a ploy to escape prosecution.

Silent, subdued, and seemingly dependent on her husband’s every word, Helena appears to be a classic victim of abuse, and possibly more of an aid to the prosecution instead of the defense.

As she begins giving her testimony, Dr. Hoffman finds himself more and more confused at the picture that gradually emerges before his eyes; a perpetrator is claimed to be the savior and the accuser, the criminal.

The better Dr. Hoffman gets to know each participant, the more he begins to question himself; whether he’s facing a most unimaginable love story, or a new and still-nameless psychological disorder affecting the very manner in which Helena sees the events of the past.

Partially based on a true story, this deeply psychological, haunting novel will take you back in time to the heart of Auschwitz and post-war Germany, and will keep you guessing the true motive of each side

"I so wish to wake up and realize that I only dreamed it all. The whole... But not you. I would have died if I woke up and didn't have you."

It was impossible. Forbidden. Austrian SS-Unterscharführer Franz Dahler has no right to even think of Helena Kleinová let alone fall in love with her. For his beloved is a Jewish Slovakian prisoner, and they are in Auschwitz which so happens to be the largest of the Nazi concentration camps and extermination centres. And yet... Dahler can not help himself.

How dare he mention love in this place. How dare he. Helena Kleinová would *rather be dead than be involved with an SS man. There was only hatred in her heart for Dahler, or so she had thought. But in a place such as Auschwitz, where there is no sanctuary, no way out, some unexpected tenderness can, over time, change one's opinion. Love, it seems can be surprising as much as it is unwanted. It can be for the enemy. What love cannot be is contained and nor can it be controlled.

However, if anyone ever found out about their love, then the consequences... The consequences, like some tragic play, would end in death for them both.

But time marches carelessly on. The war is over. The Nuremberg Trials are over. American psychiatrist, Dr Hoffman, has been asked to attend a rather unusual case scheduled for the Denazification Court. Franz Dahler has been summoned to appear in court and Nazi hunter, Andrej Novák, wants a full investigation, for he and Dahler, know each other, for Novák was also at Auschwitz. Dahler is guilty of horrendous crimes against humanity, Novák is so sure of that.

But, to everyones surprise, Dahler requests to bring a witness to testify in his defence. This witness is a woman. This witness was, like Novák, at Auschwitz. This witness is his wife — Helena Dahler.

Auschwitz Syndrome: a Holocaust novel based on a true story (Women and the Holocaust Book 3) by Ellie Midwood is the deeply haunting novel that tells the intimate yet harrowing story of Helena Kleinová. Helena was spared from the gas chambers because she was pulled from the crowd of women assembled and forced to sing for Franz Dahler's birthday. It could have been any of the women who were waiting in line to be led to their death, but it wasn't. It had been her. Auschwitz Syndrome is very much Helena's story. And what a story it is.

Through Helena's eyes, we witness the horror, the fear, the struggle to survive, but also her unforgettable first love, who just so happened to be her sworn enemy. Words cannot express how deeply moving Helena's story is. Auschwitz Syndrome demands every emotion conceivable from the reader. I felt Helena's fear, her anguish, her total despair. But also, I experienced her conflicted emotions when it came to Dahler. She hates everything about him. His kind have murdered her people, and yet she is drawn to him in an unexplainable way until he becomes the very centre of her world. She could survive anything but losing him. This book had me in tears on more than one occasion not just because of the horrors that is Auschwitz, but because of the emotional vulnerability of Helena.

Midwood demonstrates through Helena, the grave emotional consequences of being a survivor. Helena is a broken young woman and one who will never completely recover from her ordeal. I was thoroughly moved by how Dahler takes care of her while they are in court. He is the most loving of men. Dahler will do absolutely anything for his Helena. Dahler is an anti-hero in one sense. He is who he is. He has used a whip on the inmates, he has done things that he is ashamed of, but he is no murderer. Dahler is as disturbed by what he witnesses as Helena is, but he was as trapped. He could not speak out. He could not do anything other than small acts of defiance — letting the women who were under his charge eat what food they find in the clothes they were sorting. He is in an impossible situation. He would prefer fighting at the front to this. However, when he falls in love with Helena, and he realises how dependent she becomes on him, Dahler is even more entangled in Auschwitz. He cannot leave this terrible place because if he does, who will protect her? I thought his portrayal was masterful. He really changes his outlook. Dahler allows himself the dangerous luxury of thinking, of seeing things through eyes that are no longer influenced by Nazi doctrine. He takes great personal risk to keep Helena safe, and I cannot help but admire him for that. I think Midwood has done Franz Wunsch justice in this portrayal. He was only 20 years old when he came to Auschwitz. It must have been truly horrendous to witness and be forced to partake in something so inhuman, and so devoid of compassion. There are no words to describe Auschwitz adequately or what it was like to have been an inmate there or, for that matter, a guard — for sometimes history forgets that not all Nazis were monsters.

Auschwitz and its renowned five smoking chimneys is not the place where one would expect to discover a tender and unforgettable romance, least of all between a SS guard and a Jewish inmate. But... Helena Kleinová (Helena Citrónová) and Kommandoführer Franz Dahler (Franz Wunsch) did find love in amongst the despair and the death of the most notorious Nazi extermination camps. Midwood has taken considerable care to stick to the historical facts of this remarkable and wholly unforgettable love story. Drawing on personal testimonials from Auschwitz, Midwood has penned a story that is as rich in historical accuracy as it is in emotional intensity. Auschwitz Syndrome, like Thomas Keneally's Schindlers Ark, does not gloss over the horrific realities of what went on in this camp. With regards to the court case, Midwood has for the sake of the story used a little poetic license and brought it forward in time. I can understand why she did this, and I do believe she made the right choice. If Midwood had stuck with the history of this case, then I fear the book might have become a little disjointed.

Midwood is a writer that I admire very much for her ability to bring her characters to life, to make them breathe, and grow, and develop. But this... This book, these characters, this story is without a doubt Midwood’s best work yet. Midwood has set the bar very high. This is what historical fiction is all about. You cannot get better than this. 

Auschwitz Syndrome — a play on words, perhaps, or maybe not. Maybe in the darkest of hours, in the least likely of places, love could indeed be found between a young Jewish woman and an SS guard. If ever a book deserved to be adapted for the big screen then it is this one. I, for one, would pay to see it.

I Highly Recommend.

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

Pick up your copy of
Auschwitz Syndrome

Ellie Midwood

Ellie Midwood is an award-winning, best-selling historical fiction writer. She's a health-obsessed yoga enthusiast, a neat freak, an adventurer, Nazi Germany history expert, polyglot, philosopher, a proud Jew, and a doggie mama.

Ellie lives in New York with her fiancé and their Chihuahua named Shark Bait.


Readers' Favorite - winner in the Historical fiction category (2016) - "The Girl from Berlin: Standartenführer's Wife"

Readers' Favorite - winner in the Historical fiction category (2016) - "The Austrian"(honorable mention)

New Apple - 2016 Award for Excellence in Independent Publishing - "The Austrian"(official selection)

Readers' Favorite - winner in the Historical fiction category (2017) - "Emilia"

Readers' Favorite - winner in the Historical fiction category (2018) - "A Motherland's Daughter, A Fatherland's Son"

Connect with Ellie: 

Website • Amazon • Goodreads  • BookBub • Facebook.

Friday, 18 October 2019

#BookReview — The Muse of Fire by Carol M. Cram #Shakespearean #HistoricalFiction

The Muse of Fire
By Carol M. Cram

Abandoned at birth, the grandly christened Edward Plantagenet rises from London’s Foundling Hospital to take charge back stage at the Theatre Royal, Covent Garden, only to be blind-sided when he rescues Grace—a young woman escaping an abusive father.

Grace finds an outlet for her passions as a Shakespearean actress, becoming ensnared by intrigues and setbacks that mar the pathway to stardom she craves.

Set against the tumultuous backdrop of the Old Price Riots of 1809, Grace and Ned find common purpose in a quest that threatens to tear both their worlds apart.

Grace’s mother used to say that London was the centre of the world—sanctuary for the very best and worst of humanity.
How wrong she had been.

When Grace flees into the night, she has no thought as to where she would go, only that she could not stay where she was. Since her mother’s death, Grace’s father had become a stranger — the *invisible spirit of wine has seduced him and, like that devil, he hits out with his fists only to later deny it. The streets of London seemed like a better place than staying at home. But London during the night was different than London during the day. For when the inconsistent moon takes flight, the worst of humanity skulks out of the shadows.

It was by chance that Ned stumbled upon Grace. He may talk rough and live in poverty-stricken surroundings, but he is honest. And, above everything else, kind. Ned will not leave Grace, broken and bleeding as she is, to face a cold and dangerous night on London’s streets.

Under Ned’s watchful care, Grace recovers from her ordeal. To her delight, Grace discovers that she and Ned share a common passion — the theatre. And while Grace has only ever dreamt of being an actress, Ned works at the illustrious Theatre Royal, in Covent Garden. Grace would give up everything to walk the boards and perform in a play by her favourite playwright — William Shakespeare. Perhaps destiny was at work, or perhaps, at last, Grace was the master of her fate...

From a desperate escape into the night to the end of the Old Price Riots of 1809, The Muse of Fire by Carol M. Cram is the unforgettable story of a young woman who takes her destiny into her own hands and becomes an actress.

Cram takes us behind the scenes of the Theatre Royal, and what goes on is far more sensational and entertaining than any play —even one of Master Shakespeare’s! The Muse of Fire is a nuanced portrait of life and theatre in the Georgian era. It has everything Shakespearian enthusiasts could want — there is the absurdity of a Shakespeare comedy, but also the poignancy of his tragedies. This book does not gloss over the poverty of the thespians, nor does it take anything away from what it must have been like for those who lived during this time.

With a careful eye on the opulence of the era, and at the other end of the scale, the poverty, Cram has written a fabulous backdrop for her characters, and she has breathed life back into the Theatre Royal. I adored the characterisation of both Grace and Ned. Grace is all alone in the world since her mother died, and it isn’t until Ned stumbles upon her that she realises that all this time she has been living half a life, and although she has only been to the theatre once, her mother had installed a love of Shakespeare in her, and now that Grace has trodden the boards, there is a fire within her that refuses to be quenched. Grace really came into her own through the course of this book. She is a likeable heroine, but also a courageous one who is determined to live her life how she wants to live it. I thoroughly enjoyed watching her journey unfold. However, it was Ned that closed the deal on this book for me.

Ned grew up at the Foundling Hospital in London, but inauspicious beginnings did not hamper his success, and he is now the stage manager at the Theatre Royal. Ned loves the theatre, he loves his job, and he is secretly in love with Olympia, a young and talented actress. Ned cares for Grace as he does with everyone. He is a wonderful protagonist and one I enjoyed reading about very much.

Although Grace and Ned are fictional characters, there are a host of historical figures in this book. I thought Cram’s portrayal of Mr John Philip Kemble was sublime. Kemble is larger-than-life in this story. He certainly is a force to be reckoned with. Likewise, I thought Cram’s depiction of the Old Price Riots of 1809 captured the very essence of this time. Wonderfully written and masterfully portrayed.

Cram is certainly a vivacious storyteller and her fast-paced narrative made this book not only utterly irresistible but next to impossible to put down. When I thought I knew where Cram was heading with the story, there would be a sudden plot-twist, and the story headed in another direction. This is a book that will keep you guessing. I absolutely loved it! 

I Highly Recommend.

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

*“O thou invisible spirit of wine, if thou hast no name to be known by, let us call thee devil.”
 Shakespeare, William — Othello Act 2, sc. 3 (first performed 1604, published 1622).

Pick up your copy of
The Muse of Fire

Carol M. Cram

Carol M. Cram is an award-wining author of historical fiction including The Towers of Tuscany (Lake Union Publishing 2014), A Woman of Note (Lake Union Publishing, 2015) and The Muse of Fire (Kindle Press and New Arcadia Publishing, 2018). Both The Towers of Tuscany and A Woman of Note were designated Editor's Choice by the Historical Novel Society. The Towers of Tuscany received the Chaucer Award for Best Historical Fiction pre-1750 and both A Woman of Note and The Muse of Fire were named Best in Category for the Goethe Award for Best Historical Fiction post-1750. The Muse of Fire also received a Bronze for Best Historical Fiction from the Independent Publishers' Awards.

Connect with Carol: Website • Blog • Art in Fiction • Twitter.

#BookReview — A Newfound Land (The Graham Saga, Book 4) by Anna Belfrage #timetravel #HistoricalFiction

A Newfound Land
(The Graham Saga, Book 4)
By Anna Belfrage

It’s 1672, and Matthew Graham and his family have left Scotland. Having taken the drastic decision to leave their homeland due to religious conflicts, Alexandra and Matthew hope for a simpler, if harsher, life in the wilds of the Colony of Maryland.

Unfortunately, things don’t always turn out as you want them to, and the past has a nasty tendency to resurface at the most inappropriate moments. Both Matthew and Alex are forced to cope with the unexpected reappearance of people they had never thought to meet again, and the screw is turned that much tighter when the four rogue Burley brothers enter their lives.

Matters are further complicated by the strained relations between colonists and the Susquehannock Indians. When Matthew intercedes to stop the Burleys from abducting Indian women into slavery he makes lifelong – and deadly – enemies of them all.

Once again Alex is plunged into an existence where death seems to threaten her man wherever he goes.

Will Matthew see himself – and his family – safe in these new circumstances? And will the past finally be laid to rest?

"I sit here at times and remember the life that was. Before..." His low voice cut through the silence.
"Before we came," she filled in...

Scotland was no longer Matthew Graham's home. Forced to flee because of a wave of unparalleled persecution, Matthew has sailed with his family across the Atlantic Ocean, hoping for a new life with new opportunities in the Colony of Maryland.

But this is a harsh land, a wild one. It is nothing like Scotland. However, Matthew and his wife, Alex, are determined to prosper. And although life is vastly different from the one they left behind, at least here they are safe from religious persecution. Although that is not true for everyone. The land that they farm once belonged to the Susquehannock people, and although Matthew and Alex have good relations with the Indians, others do not.

To make matters worse, ghosts from both Matthew's and Alex's past threaten to destroy the new life that they have worked so hard to create. And with a war with the Indians becoming more and more probable, it seems that only time will tell who will be the losers and who will write the history...

Anna Belfrage continues to surprise me. When I don't think her writing can get any better, Belfrage pulls another mesmerising story out of the hat. A Newfound Land (The Graham Saga, Book 4) is another enthralling story in The Graham Saga series.  

I love these characters so much, and once again, Alex and Matthew find themselves in the thick of things. They try so desperately to get on with their lives and live it peacefully, but life keeps getting in the way. Old enemies threaten their lives and their sense of security. Matthew is drawn into a war which he doesn't agree with. And Alex, well... She wants to live her life surrounded by her children and the man she loves, but Alex is no push-over, and she will stand her ground if anyone threatens what is hers, and she does not care who it is, be it a vile slave trader or a conceited minister. If they dare to cross her, then she will give them a piece of her mind!

We are reintroduced to Magnus in this book. Magnus is Alex's father and comes from the modern-day. He is a very ill man and has not long to live, and he wants to see Alex one more time before he dies. Magnus' reunion with Alex is very bittersweet and very emotional. I adored Magnus, more so in this book than the others. Like Alex, Magnus is a product of his times, and he is not adverse to speaking his mind. However, he is like a fish out of water, and he knows it. The 17th century is so vastly different compared to his time. He initially views his daughter's marriage as one being subservient. He cannot understand why Alex would want to stay in a time where women were considered less than a man and had no say in anything. I thought Magnus' take on the 17th century was very telling, and although the idea that travelling back in time has become romanticised in recent fiction, Belfrage shows that actually, it isn't an era that screams romance. Yes, The Graham Saga is above all things a love story, but it is also brutally realistic in its depiction of the 17th century. Magnus has forsaken modern medicine, modern conveniences for a world that is alien to him. I thought his portrayal was fabulous.

A Newfound Land explores what life was like for not only the colonists but also the indigenous people whose lives were so brutally destroyed by those who promised treaties of peace but delivered disease, devastation and death. I thought Belfrage's portrayal of the Susquehannock tribe was fabulous. Belfrage has described their insufferable plight with sensitivity and care, and although their story is a secondary plot, I thought it was masterfully portrayed.

There are several terrible antagonists in this tale, one of which we met in Book 2, and I had hoped never to meet again. Dominic Jones is as vile in this book as he was in Like Chaff in the Wind (The Graham Saga Book 2). His hatred for Matthew is born of fear, for Matthew knows the truth of his character. Jones is a worthy adversary to put against Matthew. Matthew is no saint, but he isn't intentionally cruel, whereas Jones is. Jones pretends to be a man of standing and wealth, but underneath it all, he is just a brutal murderer and desperate man who cares nothing for anyone but himself.

Having read the first four books in The Graham Saga, it is very clear that this series is staggeringly ambitious in the telling. To keep such momentum going can only be achieved by a writer who not only documents the recorded history with scrupulous care but one who can give fictional characters a sense of realism. Belfrage is that writer. I haven't enjoyed a time-slip book so much since Diana Gabaldon's fabulous Outlander series.  

A Newfound Land (The Graham Saga, Book 4) stands very firmly on its own feet. So if you so desired, you can jump right in at Book 4 and not feel lost as to what was going on. However, I recommend you start with Book 1 just because it is brilliant!

I Highly Recommend.

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

Pick up your copy of
A Newfound Land

Anna Belfrage

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

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

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

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