Friday, 22 November 2019

#BookReview — Written in their Stars: A Novel The Lydiard Chronicles Book 3) by Elizabeth St.John #HistoricalFiction #CivilWar

Written in their Stars: A Novel
(The Lydiard Chronicles Book 3)
By Elizabeth St.John

London, 1649.

Horrified eyewitnesses to King Charles’s bloody execution, Royalists Nan Wilmot and Frances Apsley plot to return the king’s exiled son to England’s throne, while their radical cousin Luce, the wife of king-killer John Hutchinson, rejoices in the new republic’s triumph. Nan exploits her high-ranking position as Countess of Rochester to manipulate England’s great divide, flouting Cromwell and establishing a Royalist spy network; while Frances and her husband Allen join the destitute prince in Paris’s Louvre Palace to support his restoration. As the women work from the shadows to topple Cromwell’s regime, their husbands fight openly for the throne on England’s bloody battlefields.

But will the return of the king be a victory, or destroy them all? Separated by loyalty and bound by love, Luce, Nan and Frances hold the fate of England—and their family—in their hands.\

A true story based on surviving memoirs of Elizabeth St.John's family, Written in their Stars is the third novel in the Lydiard Chronicles series.

"—and tonight we have attained the destiny foretold by the stars." John held her at arm's length, and a knife-blade of cold air sliced between them. "I signed the warrant to execute Charles Stuart, once King of England."

This is what they had fought for. This is what they had died for. The King was dead. Parliament had won. With Charles' blood comes rebirth. A nation born again.

But, to sign the death warrant of a king is no small thing. But the dream... The dream is too intoxicating, too great to heed the whispered warning that even Cromwell with his army could not silence. The King is dead, but his son is not.

Women, they may be, but they are not weak, nor helpless. Staunch Royalists, Nan Wilmot, Countess of Rochester, and Frances Apsley are dedicated to their cause and their new king. They may not be able to fight in Charles' army as their husbands can and would do again, but when it comes to espionage, well, that is something else entirely. 

Luce Hutchinson had rejoiced when they had taken the King's head from his shoulders, even if it meant driving a deeper wedge between herself and her brother, Allen Apsley. But when Cromwell is named Lord Protector, she and her husband John  — the king-killer— realise that they have swapped a king for something much worse. This was not the republic they had spilt their blood for. This was not what they had wanted at all.

From a cold January morning outside Banqueting House in Whitehall, to the filth and stench of the Parisian streets, and the quite tranquil graveyard at St Margaret's Church, Owthorpe, Written in their Stars: A Novel (The Lydiard Chronicles Book 3) by Elizabeth St.John is the profoundly moving true story of one family who fought on opposite sides of the English Civil War, but somehow, against all the odds, found their way back to each other.

When I read that last sentence, the last word, and noted the final full stop, I closed my eyes and as if in prayer, and I took a moment for myself in which I quietly contemplated the journey I had just been on. With tears still glistening in my eyes, and a sigh on my lips, I closed the book, sat back and allowed the poetic, the almost lyrical narrative to embrace me once again. The characters, their journey, their triumphs and their failures caught my imagination and captured my heart. I had come to not only care about these men and women who had lived so long ago but a part of me, a rather large part of me, fell hopelessly in love with them and their story — a story that was not lost to history but one that has certainly been overlooked by authors of historical fiction. I have never encountered a series that captures the essences of the English Civil War as well as St.John's The Lydiard Chronicles does. There is something intensely personal about the way St.John writes her ancestors story. I think if Lucy Hutchinson, author of Order and Disorder — the first epic poem by an Englishwoman — was alive today and read this book, this series, that depicts her family so elegantly and so unforgettably then she would feel a moment of profound gratitude and pride. Lucy's story, her families story, has been waiting all these years for St.John to put pen to paper and write it. This series was what St.John was born to write.

You know you are in the hands of a master when the unfamiliar world of the 17th Century becomes familiar. The Lydiard Chronicles is a gripping account of war, betrayal, love, hate and loss. Written in their Stars, an aptly named book indeed, begins with a death, and it ends with one too, and such stories, especially when based on true events and people tend to threaten to mesmerise the readers. St.John has gone one step further. She does not threaten to mesmerise — she does. This is a vivid account of one family as they navigate the new republic. The disillusionment of John Hutchinson and his wife, who were so excited, so relieved that the republic would bring long-lasting peace and fairness became something worse than the monarchy they had worked so hard to overthrow. Luce's passion, her intelligence which rivalled her husband and at times completely outshone him made this terrible realisation that perhaps they had made a mistake and that they had put their faith in an idea that had become corrupted made this book compulsively readable. Luce's journey throughout this series, but particularly in this book, is one I don't think anyone would willingly want to go on — it is utterly heartbreaking. Luce sees everything they had worked for destroyed. Her despair and pain became my own — a wonderful depiction of this incredible woman who saw and experienced so very much. Kudos, Ms St.John.

From cyphers to plots and failed rebellions, this book has more than enough action to keep a reader forgoing sleep. Sleep, indeed, was not necessary to me as I lost myself in this monumental work of scholarship. St.John has painted this story on a huge canvas, but the writing is effortless, there was never any confusion as to who everyone was and what role they played in this story of kings and politicians. 

The historical detailing in this book is staggering. I can only imagine how many hours St.John has dedicated to researching this era and these people. The sacrifice has undoubtedly paid off. There are no two ways about it — this book is brilliant. It is like watching a movie or a TV series. It asks nothing of the reader other than the commitment to keep reading, and you will want to read on. This book is astonishingly epic and yet beautiful to behold.

Written in their Stars is the third book in this series, but it stands very firmly on its own two feet. But for the love of everything historical, start at Book 1 — this is a series not to be missed. I am now a devoted fan of Elizabeth St.John's books. Historical fiction does not get any better than this. St.John has made history come alive and WOW, what a journey. What a story. This is a book that will break your heart, but at the same time, mend it. It is exceptional. When historical fiction is written this way, there is no such thing as too much.

I Highly Recommend.

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

Pick up your copy of
Written in their Stars

Elizabeth St.John

Elizabeth St.John was brought up in England and lives in California. To inform her writing, she has tracked down family papers and residences from Nottingham Castle, Lydiard Park, and Castle Fonmon to the Tower of London. Although the family sold a few castles and country homes along the way (it's hard to keep a good castle going these days), Elizabeth's family still occupy them - in the form of portraits, memoirs, and gardens that carry their imprint. And the occasional ghost.

Elizabeth’s debut novel, The Lady of the Tower, has been an Amazon best seller since its release in 2016, and has won numerous awards for historical fiction. By Love Divided, the second in The Lydiard Chronicles series, follows the fortunes of the St.John family during the English Civil War,  and was featured a the 2018 Swindon Festival of Literature as well as recognized with an “Editors’ Choice” by the Historical Novel Society.  Elizabeth’s currently working on the next in the series, telling of the lives of the St.John women after the Civil War and into the Restoration.

Elizabeth loves to hear from readers, you can find her: Website • Amazon Author Page • Twitter • Facebook

Friday, 15 November 2019

#BookReview — Allegiance of Blood by Mark Turnball #HistoricalFiction #CivilWar

Allegiance of Blood
By Mark Turnball

Sir Francis Berkeley strives to protect his wife and family from the brutal effects of the British Civil War. But aside from the struggle between king and parliament, the allegiances of family, friendship and honour entangle him at every turn and prove to be just as bloody.

As a witness to treason on the field of Edgehill, Francis is drawn into a fast-moving world of espionage and politics. Against a backdrop of some of the major battles and sieges, Francis’s fight to reunite his family opens up very different conflicts with which to contend.

Everything is at stake when the war comes to a little church one December morning. Can the family survive the parliamentarian onslaught as well as their own feud?

“Who speaks of peace at a time like this?”

The lèse-majesté of Parliament has led to this, or so says the King. The King’s rejection of the Nineteen Propositions led to this, the Roundheads counter. Regardless of whose fault it is, the die has been cast, and that tiny spark of defiance has lit an inferno. The fields are now soaked with English blood. The wounded and dying cry out for mercy. This is what Civil War looks like. Pym was right, who can speak of peace at a time like this?

Staunch Royalist, Sir Francis Berkeley, awakened to high-pitched shrieks and low tormented moans, but that was not all he heard as he lay wounded on the battleground of Edgehill. There is a traitor in their midst. A man who is intent on leaking information to the enemy. This man must be stopped. But what if that man turns out to be a friend? What then?

From the bloody aftermath of the Battle of Edgehill to the Church of St Lawrence at Alton, Allegiance of Blood by Mark Turnbull is the eloquent retelling of one of the darkest eras in English history.

Told from the viewpoint of both the Royalists and the parliamentarians, Allegiance of Blood is a monumental work of scholarship. The depth and scope of this book is not only impressive but vivid, compelling, and tautly gripping. The canvas is vast, but Turnbull has full control of his characters. Allegiance in Blood is an exhilarating adventure from start to finish.

Sir Francis Berkeley, the hero in this unforgettable tale, is a man of deep understanding and loyalty. He is the King's man, and yet there are times, especially when dealing with friends and family, where his conscience demands a more human touch than that of a hardened soldier. Through Francis' eyes, Turnbull has captured the very essence of what it must have been like to fight against your fellow countryman, to watch as your family is torn apart by conflicting allegiances and selfish ambition. Not only does Francis have to fight a war, but he is also ever mindful of the influence of his spiteful and poisonous mother-in-law who is determined to turn his wife against him. Turnbull has given his readers a character in Francis, whose realism is almost tangible. Brilliant!

There are many historical characters in this book. Turnbull has given as much care and attention to their detailing as he does to his protagonist — Francis. Amongst the horror and the filth of war, several characters captured my attention. Turnbull's portrayal of Prince Rupert of the Rhine was utterly sublime. Rupert's obstinate and sometimes arrogant nature counters his sharp intelligence and his military mind, which made this portrayal not only compelling but absolutely irresistible.

Another portrayal of a historical character that deserves my praise is that of John Pym. Turnbull has penned Pym exactly how I imagined him to be. Pym is steadfast in his beliefs, and his responsibilities lie heavy on his shoulders, especially when his own body is failing him. A wonderful depiction of one of the key figures of the English Civil War.

Likewise, Turnbull's portrayal of King Charles and Henrietta Maria, Queen consort of England, Scotland and Ireland was written with diligence and care. I thought they were masterfully portrayed, as was the young Prince James, Duke of York.

The historical detailing of this book has to be commended. Turnbull has very obviously devoted many hours to researching this era, the people who shaped this history, and the battles that saturated England's fields with the blood of her sons and daughters. But not only does Turnbull write about the war and the matters of state, he also depicts what the war was like for the ordinary citizens — how their world too was turned upside down by this war. The attention to detail and the very short chapters, certainly made this book an enthralling epic. Kudos, Mr Turnbull, your hard work has certainly paid off.

There are several famous battles in this book, but the one that stood out for me was the Storming of Bristol. Not only did Turnbull recount this battle with a historian's attention to detail, but he also described it with a novelist eye for the entertaining. Turnbull certainly knows how to keep his readers hooked.

If you are looking for your next great English Civil War Historical Fiction book, then look no further than Allegiance of Blood by Mark Turnbull. Fans of battle heavy fiction will undoubtedly love this book.

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

Pick up your copy of
Allegiance of Blood

Mark Turnball

After a visit to Helmsley Castle at the age of ten, Mark Turnbull bought a pack of 'top trump' cards featuring the monarchs of England. The card portraying King Charles I fascinated him.
Van Dyck's regal portrait of the King and the fact that he was executed by his own people were the beginnings of Mark's passionate interest in the English Civil War that has lasted ever since.
In the absence of time travel, he thoroughly enjoys bringing this period to life through writing. He has written articles for magazines, local newspapers and online educational sites. He has also re-enacted battles with The Sealed Knot and for several years edited the Historical Novel Society's online newsletter.

Connect with Mark: Website • Facebook.

Friday, 8 November 2019

#BookReview — Far Away Bird by Douglas A. Burton #HistoricalFiction #ByzantineEmpire

Far Away Bird
By Douglas A. Burton

Inspired by true events, Far Away Bird delves into the complex mind of Byzantine Empress Theodora. This intimate account deftly follows her rise from actress-prostitute in Constantinople's red-light district to the throne of the Byzantine Empire.

Her salacious past has left historians blushing and uncomfortable. Tales of her shamelessness have survived for centuries, and yet her accomplishments as an empress are unparalleled. Theodora goes on to influence sweeping reforms that result in some of the first ever Western laws granting women freedom and protection. More than a millennium before the women's rights movement, Theodora, alone, took on the world's greatest superpower and succeeded. Far Away Bird goes where history classrooms fear to tread in hopes that Theodora can finally take her seat among the greatest women in history.

Theodora seems impossible--yet her transcendence teaches us that society can't tell us who we are deep down. Before there was a legendary empress, there was a conflicted young woman from the lower classes.

And her name was Theodora.

"So rapid the slide to destitution..."

So very rapid... Theodora would never forget the night her pata died. How foolish he had been. He should have stayed at home instead of joining the rebellion against the Emperor. If it had not been for Magister Origen then Theodora, her mother and two sisters would have ended up destitute.

Magister Origen had been so kind. So very thoughtful. He had even arranged for Theodora and her sister, Comito, to attend a dance school. This was not the time to look back and lament on all they had lost. The future, thanks to Magister Origen, was bright and promising.

However, underneath the painted faces and the gruelling dance lessons, there was another much darker world to the one that Theodora had been so excited to embrace. It would only be a matter of time before the real reason why Magister Origen had been so supportive, so diligent in his care, came to light. For Theodora, this terrible truth would change the course of her life forever...

From the dark days of rebellion to the awakening and cleansing of the spirit in His High Holiness, the Patriarch, Pope Timothy the Third's private chamber. Far Away Bird by Douglas A. Burton is the unforgettable story about the early and very humble life of the most influential and powerful of the Eastern Roman empresses — Theodora.

Far Away Bird is astoundingly ambitious, for Theodora's life is surrounded by historical controversy. She was a nobody, a notorious prostitute — a woman without morals or shame who somehow stole the heart of a man who would one day become an Emperor (Justinian I). Burton has taken this controversy and with a keen novelist eye for human fragility has penned a story that is not only tautly gripping but one that is utterly irresistible and impossible to put down. This book is, in all ways, an absolute triumph.

We meet Theodora as a child whose life is turned upside down by the death of her pata. Through Theodora's eyes, we watch as her life spirals out of control. The men who she meets, the things that she sees, the life that she seems to have no choice but to embrace has been diligently narrated. At times this makes for difficult reading — things happen to Theodora that is despicable, and disgusting, and vile. She is used, abused, and her spirit is crushed. Theodora becomes what these men wanted her to be. But Burton is the ideal commentator for Theodora’s tale. He takes this woman and the events that so marred her life and has given us this wonderfully brave protagonist who somehow finds the strength to claw her way out of a world of drunkenness, brothels, and promiscuity. Burton shows his readers the kind of woman Theodora was destined to become.

Theodora struggles greatly in this book, not only physically, but mentally as well. By the time this chapter, of what promises to be a rather wonderful series, closes, Theodora is only in her early twenties. So much happens to her that sometimes I found myself forgetting just how young she was. Theodora is a woman in an era where there were no women's rights, which Burton clearly demonstrates in this book. Once a fallen woman, it seemed nigh on impossible to leave that life. This is a desperate story, but the impressive narrative kept me turning those pages.

Theodora is an incredible protagonist who wears many masks to get through yet another day. Above everything else, this book is about a woman finding her way back to who she really is.

Although the world that Theodora inhabits is a bleak one, there is one shining beacon of light. From the moment he saved her family in the Hippodrome, Theodora has been in love, although she does not recognise the feeling, with Justinian. In a world where corruption and politics walk hand in hand, and everything wants something for nothing, Justinian is a breath of fresh air. Their feelings, once recognised, cannot be denied. He loves as fiercely as she does, and I am looking forward to reading more about Justinian in the upcoming books.

We meet many historical figures as the story progresses, but for me, the most memorable after Theodora is His High Holiness, the Patriarch, Pope Timothy the Third. His portrayal was absolutely sublime. Pope Timothy is a secondary character and is part of Theodora’s journey only very briefly. However, how he reacts to Theodora demonstrates how even for those who have fallen into a life of immorality, there is always hope for a better future. 

Burton stays close to the historical events of this time — the politics as well as the people that grace the pages of this remarkable novel. I must commend the historical detailing in this book. Burton has brought, not only 6th Century Constantinople back to life but also the city of Alexandria. Burton has diligently explored the poverty, the deprivation, and the desperation of those whose life revolved around the brothels, theatre, and the hippodrome. Nothing is beyond the telling. Likewise, Burton gives his readers a real understanding of time and place, and he embraces all the senses to do this. The taste, the smell, the sights of Constantinople and Alexandria have been diligently weaved into this riveting tale. I lost track of time while I read this book, and also place. I was in Constantinople with Theodora. I could see it, taste it, smell it. I felt like I was witnessing the events rather than reading about them. Far Away Bird reads like a portal through time.

Far Away Bird is a monumental work of scholarship. Burton writes with tremendous grace and authority, but above else, he has an intuitive understanding of what makes history worth reading. I cannot wait to read book two of what promises to be a shamelessly compelling series.

I Highly Recommend.

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

*Pre-order your copy of
Fly Away Bird
*This title will be released on February 6, 2020.

Douglas A. Burton

Douglas Alan Burton is a speaker, author, and expert storyteller whose work depicts heroic figures and their deeper connection to the human experience. Doug blogs about heroes, heroines, and villains in pop culture with some unexpected and refreshing perspective. He grew up in what he describes as “the heroic boyhood culture of late Generation X” that has gone mainstream around the world. He also shares strategies with fellow writers for writing compelling heroic characters in fiction.

Douglas recently began outlining a breakthrough storytelling model that reveals a fascinating “heroine-centric” model for story structure he calls The Heroine’s Labyrinth. He believes a powerful new archetype is emerging for women in fiction. His forthcoming novel, Far Away Bird, which centers on the early life of Byzantine Empress Theodora, won the 2019 Manuscript Content for Historical Fiction from the Writers’ League of Texas.

Connect with Douglas: Website • Blog • Twitter.

#BookReview — A Necessary Killing (William Constable Spy Thriller Series, Book 2) by Paul Walker #HistoricalFiction #Thriller #Tudor

A Necessary Killing
 (William Constable Spy Thriller Series, Book 2)
By Paul Walker

William Constable - physician and unwilling spy - is in Plymouth waiting to sail to the New World. The expedition, led by renowned explorers and traders, John Hawkins and Sir Humphrey Gilbert, has already suffered birth pangs.
William's friend, Captain Charles Wicken, is accused of killing the son of a wealthy merchant, but the testimonies appear suspect. When William learns that Wicken is one of Walsingham’s agents he uncovers evidence to suggest the murder and Wicken’s naming are designed to conceal a plot of invasion - backed by Rome and Spain.
The sailing of the expedition's fleet is delayed while this threat is examined. William is despatched to St Malo, the lawless haunt of corsairs, to investigate. His betrothed, Helen Morton, together with the fleet, wait for his return.
Malign forces conspire to prevent William from carrying vital intelligence back to Plymouth.
William must evade enemy agents and unravel a tangle of duplicity if he is to survive - and prevent the invasion.

"Gentlemen, a plot, more devious and broader in scope than we suspected, has been uncovered..."

William Constable is a scholar of astrology and physics, he is not an adventurer, a sailor, or a soldier, but here he is in Plymouth, waiting to sail to the New World. It will be William's new instrument of navigation — The Shadow-Staff — that the fleet will be using. But since a storm ravaged the fleet during the passage from Sandwich, this grand adventure has been plagued with one delay after another. And the longer they remain in Plymouth, the more likely it is that the sailors will grow increasingly unruly due to idleness. However, there is an even darker threat than a crew of impatient and bored sailors.

William, unbeknown to most, is also a somewhat reluctant spy for Sir Francis Walsingham, spymaster and the principle Secretary to Queen Elizabeth I. But, William isn't the only one. His dear friend Captain Charles Wicken also works for Walsington and Wicken has uncovered a plot in which it seems that Spain and Papist Rome back an invasion of England.

William must discover if the plot has substance and, until he does, the grand adventure will have to wait.

From attempted murder to a daring escape, A Necessary Killing (William Constable Spy Thriller series Book 2) is the exciting new thriller by Historical Fiction author, Paul Walker.

Having been entirely captivated by Walker's debut novel, State of Treason, I was looking forward with eager anticipation to reading the second book, in what promised to be a fabulous series. A Necessary Killing was everything I had hoped it to be and then some.

As before with Book 1, William captured my attention from the very first sentence and Walker's compelling narrative seduced me and enticed me to keep turning those pages. The story is incredibly fast-paced with a whodunnit? mentality that made this book next to impossible to put down. This novel certainly has enough adrenaline to keep you up all night. A Necessary Killing does not threaten to mesmerise — it does.

In book 1, William is a somewhat reluctant spy for Spymaster Walsingham, and on the face of it, he isn't the obvious choice. William isn't a soldier, but perhaps that is what makes him so good at being a spy. He is out of his depth on more than one occasion, and yet, somehow, he gets results that others do not, and maybe that is down to his sincere personality — he is, for the most part, liked, and he is approachable. I think this makes him more useful to Walsingham than a hardened and competent soldier. 

By telling the story in the first person, Walker has made the characterisation of William all the more real in the telling. William is a man of learning, but he is also a very loyal friend, and he considers Wicken a friend — the man did, after all, save his life. William will go to any length, keeping within the parameters of the law, to return the favour. He is committed to seeing an acquittal and spends many hours trying to prove that Wicken did not kill a local man. However, sometimes, this almost blinkered determination to get the results he desires means that occasionally he misses the evidence that is right before his eyes. I thought these flaws in William's character made him all the more believable and extremely likeable. This is a hero that a reader can really get behind, and one whose journey is an absolute pleasure to read about.

Walker has penned not only an enthralling story that captures the history of the era but one that does not shy away from the darker side of Tudor life. Justice, if you can call it that, was harsh, often corrupt and lacking compassion. Through William's eyes, we experience this justice first hand when he takes it upon himself to try to help Wicken escape the hangman's noose. William is a learned man, but as he discovers, that is not always to an advantage when faced with a court full of angry men seeking justice. I thought Walker's depiction of what it was like to find yourself in front of a jury during this time was masterfully portrayed and penned with a sense of realism. Life was cheap, and Walker demonstrates this most admirably.

Which leads me on to Captain Charles Wicken's characterisation. Wicken helps to drive this story forward. He is, however, a man of two sides — there is the one that he shows William, and another much darker one. From the beginning, Walker drops subtle hints as to Wicken's true character, but as we experience this story through William's eyes, it is very easy to get caught up in the momentum of William's eagerness to see his friend walk free. I thought this was exceptionally well done.

Although William is a fictional character, we are introduced to some historical characters from this time. I thought Walker's portrayal of Admiral Sir John Hawkins was fabulous. Hawkins is a stickler for discipline and not the kind of man who William warms to, and it's certainly not one that I warmed to, but I think his depiction was very well crafted and believable — after all, you are not meant to like all of the characters! 

From ciphers to murders to plots thwarted, this book is a historical thriller reader's dream. I cannot get enough of this series or these characters. Walker is, without a doubt, a master at his craft. Historical Thrillers do not get better than this.

I Highly Recommend.

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

Pick up your copy of
A Necessary Killing

Paul Walker

Paul Walker inherited his love of British history and historical fiction from his mother who was an active member of the Richard III Society.
State of Treason is the first in a planned series of Elizabethan spy thrillers. The plot is based around real characters and events in London of the 1570’s. The hero, William Constable, is an astrologer and also a sceptic. He is also a mathematician, astronomer and inventor of a navigational aid for ships. The distinction between astrology and astronomy was blurred in the sixteenth century.
The second book in the series will be published in October 2019.
Paul is married and lives in a village 30 miles north of London. His writing is regularly disrupted by children and a growing number of grandchildren and dogs.
Connect with Paul: Twitter.

#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 ...