Friday, 27 March 2020

#BookReview — Across the Great Divide: Book 1 The Clouds of War by Michael L. Ross #HistoricalFiction # AmericanCivilWar

Across the Great Divide:
Book 1 The Clouds of War
By Michael L. Ross

Lexington, Kentucky, 1859. After saving John Hunt Morgan from a puma attack, fifteen-year-old farm boy Will Crump joins Hunt’s militia, the Lexington Rifles. Morgan mentors Will and enrolls him in the local university, where he hopes to study law. As tensions rise between the North and South, Will is torn between his loyalty to Morgan and his love for his family. Will’s father, sisters, and sweetheart follow the Union, while Morgan and Will commit to the South. As part of Morgan’s band, Will participates in ambushes and unconventional warfare until his first real battle at Shiloh. He fights bravely, but increasingly questions what the war is accomplishing, and whether his devotion to honor has led him astray. And where is God in all this killing?

Will’s sister Albinia, friend of the Clay family, becomes increasingly aware of the plight of the slaves. When she finds Luther, a slave she knows, trying to escape, she must decide between her conscience, and her friends. She becomes involved in the Underground Railroad, helping slaves to freedom – but will it cost her love and her freedom?

Will’s other sister, Julia, is approaching spinster status and despairs of ever meeting a man who can give her more than life on a farm until she meets Hiram Johannsen, a son of immigrants who owns a steamship company. They marry and she makes a new life in the North. When Hiram answers the call to fight for the North, Julia runs the steamboat company in her husband’s absence and uses her boats to help Albinia ferry escaped slaves to freedom. Her business relations put her in the perfect position to spy for the North. When the Confederates capture her, will she survive?

Luther is one of the first slaves Albinia helps flee the South after his master cruelly abuses his mother and sister. He escapes with his family, and when war breaks out, he fights for the North as an auxiliary of the Third Ohio Cavalry, alongside Julia’s husband, Hiram, and against Morgan and Will. Luther has to confront the demons of his past, an abusive master, and a slave catcher that kills his little sister. Will the desire for revenge destroy him?

Throughout the war, Will is forced to examine and question everything he believes in—his faith in God, his love for his family, his loyalty to Morgan, and his worth as a human being.

Will and his family must somehow mend the torn fabric of relationships to find peace, and reach Across the Great Divide.

"Perhaps, one day, the color of a man's skin and the money in his pocket will not matter so much as the character in his heart. I pray that day comes quickly. In the meantime, sir, I have met many former slaves with better manners than yourself. Perhaps you could learn from them!"

Fifteen-year-old Will Crump had no idea of what the future would entail for him. After saving John Hunt Morgan from a puma attack, Will is given a chance to fulfil his dreams and become an educated man. There is one catch. If he accepts Morgan's proposition, he has to join the Lexington Rifles.

It is hard to close your eyes once they have been opened. Albinia Crump can no longer remain silent. Her views may be in the minority, but that did not mean that they were wrong, and she would not stand by and allow Luther to be tortured and executed because he dared to try and rescue his family from the brutalisation of their plantation owners. However, this is not something Albinia can fight alone. She needs help, and she needs it now.

Julia Crump is fast approaching spinsterhood, and it is time she settled down and found a husband. However, Julia wants more from life than that of a farmer's wife. Perhaps the handsome Hiram Johannsen will make all of her dreams come true?

From a young man's dream of a golden future to the horrors of Camp Douglas in Chicago, Across the Great Divide: Book 1 The Clouds of War by Michael L. Ross is the story of one family that is torn apart by war, pride, beliefs, and ambition.

Ross has composed a book that is astoundingly ambitious but, in all ways, absolutely triumphant. This story begins at the first muttering of unrest in a country that was not only politically divided but morally divided as well, and it ends with the Confederate surrender in 1865 and the subsequent release of the prisoners of war. In between the pages of this remarkable book is a story of one family who finds themselves on opposite sides during the war between the North and the South of America. It is a tear-jerking story of heroism and tragedy. It is a tale of survival, of fear, hate, and the insufferable torment of the soul that comes from opening fire on your fellow countryman. But this is also a book about forgiveness, mercy, and above everything else, love. Ross has penned an extraordinarily compelling and unforgettable account of one family as they navigated the American Civil War (1861 – 1865).

With astonishing attention to the historical detail, Ross, it seems, has a visceral understanding of the era this book is set in. He also has a novelist's skill to breathe life into people who have long since died. The hours of research that has gone into this book is self-evident — no one can write such crystalline prose without such dedicated devotion to the period. The battle scenes in this book are exceptionally well drawn and were brought vividly back to life — I could smell the blood, and feel the abject terror of the soldiers. I also must mention the depiction of Camp Douglas. — the horrors and the poverty the prisoners of war endured was portrayed with a great deal of skill and diligence to the historical facts. This book is, without a shadow of a doubt, a monumental work of scholarship. It is utterly splendid and a reward for any fan of quality Historical Fiction.

With an almost tangible realism, Ross has given us a protagonist that feels deeply, who is torn by his sense of honour, and who suffers terribly because of his choices. Ross introduces us to a young and to an extent idealistic William Dorsey Crump (1844–1940). Ross has stayed as close to the document history of Crump as he can, but he has also used a little creative licence to resurrect this fascinating character who served under Confederate General John H. Morgan (1825 – 1864). Will is immensely likeable, and like many soldiers on both sides, he doesn't really have much of an opinion on emancipation. He believes he is fighting for his home, and for Morgan. He follows Morgan into Hell on more than one occasion and continues to do so throughout the length of this novel. Will suffers greatly in this book, and he witnesses things, and he does things that haunt his days and torture his nights. Ross has not glossed over the horrors of war, for we see them through Will's eyes, and nor has he neglected the mental toll that such terrible circumstances can have on a person. I was fascinated by Will's journey. It is one of youthful enthusiasm which slowly becomes disenchantment when he loses friends to a brutal and seemingly pointless conflict. Ross has captured the very essence of what life must have been like for a Confederate soldier during this time. Kudos, Mr Ross. Kudos, indeed.

Albinia Crump is a reckless, rash young woman who cannot abide to witness the wickedness of slavery. Many may well justify their rights to own slaves with passages from the Bible, but Albinia knows in her heart that it is wrong and so she must risk everything and she must be prepared to lose everything if she is to stay true to herself. Ross' depiction of Albinia is utterly sublime. Not only has he given his readers a morally good character, but also one that is willing to make many sacrifices because she knows that what she sees is wrong and she cannot stand by and do nothing. Albinia faces many challenges and terrible hardships in this novel, and it would have been very easy for her to retreat into herself and give-up, but her tenacious determination to see this through to the end made her story not only compelling but utterly irresistible. 

Julia Crump's story is one that is almost eclipsed by her brother's war and her sister's work with The Underground Railroad, but it still emphasised the lack of empathy that people felt towards slaves and those who had escaped bondage when it came down to economics. There is a genuinely heartbreaking scene in this book where a slave is being beaten very cruelly, but everyone ignores her plight. When Julia questions her mother-in-law why someone is not stopping it, her mother-in-law simply answers that it is "…not our business." Julia may not be as skilled as her sister, but she does try to do her part in undermining the South — although with no formal training as a spy, Julia is a walking disaster, but again this strong sense of doing the right thing makes her a protagonist that a reader can really get behind.

I have to also quickly mention the portrayals of General John H. Morgan and General Basil W. Duke. I thought the depiction of both of these men was marvellous, and once again it showed how much research has gone into writing this book. One more character that deserves recognition as well is Luther. Luther is an escaped slave, and oh my goodness what a terrible journey he finds himself on. Luther's story is utterly heart-rendering, but it also demonstrates the difference one person can make. I thought Luther's depiction was majestic and very real in the telling.

I cannot praise this book enough. Across the Great Divide: Book 1 The Clouds of War by Michael L. Ross is fabulous from start to finish, and I cannot wait to get my hands on Book 2 of what promises to be an unforgettable series.

Fans of John Jakes', North and South trilogy, will find something endlessly fascinating about this novel.

I Highly Recommend. 

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

Pick up your copy of

Across the Great Divide

Amazon UK • Amazon US

Michael L. Ross

Amazon bestseller Michael Ross is a lover of history and great stories. He’s a retired software engineer turned author, with three children, and five grandchildren, living in Newton, Kansas with his wife of 39 years. Michael graduated from Rice University and Portland State University. He was born in Lubbock, Texas, and still loves Texas. He’s written short stories and technical articles in the past. “Across the Great Divide: Book 1 The Clouds of War” is his first novel

Connect with Michael: Website • Twitter • Goodreads.

Tuesday, 24 March 2020

#BookReview — Victorine by Drēma Drudge #HistoricalFiction #Art

By Drēma Drudge

In 1863, Civil War is raging in the United States. Victorine Meurent is posing nude, in Paris, for paintings that will be heralded as the beginning of modern art:

Manet's Olympia and Picnic on the Grass.

However, Victorine's persistent desire is not to be a model but to be a painter herself. In order to live authentically, she finds the strength to flout the expectations of her parents, bourgeois society, and the dominant male artists (whom she knows personally) while never losing her capacity for affection, kindness, and loyalty. Possessing both the incisive mind of a critic and the intuitive and unconventional impulses of an artist, Victorine and her survival instincts are tested in 1870, when the Prussian army lays siege to Paris and rat becomes a culinary delicacy.

Drema Drudge's powerful first novel Victorine not only gives this determined and gifted artist back to us but also recreates an era of important transition into the modern world.

"Is there no way to stop the decay, the inevitable death of all but art? Good, solid, great art. I want to create it because I want to live forever."

She was born into a family of artisans and had a secret ambition to become an artist. He was rich, but had rejected the future initially envisaged for him and instead immersed himself in the world of art. But on one auspicious day, Victorine Meurent and Édouard Manet crossed paths. What was to follow would seemingly mock the tradition of the Royal Academy and shock and scandalise the Parisian public.

But what Victorine had not expected was that she would be forever cast in the role of a courtesan or a demi-mondaine, while Manet would later be referred to as the Father of Impressionism. 

From a young girl's dreams and ambitions to the heart-breaking funeral of a friend who was taken far too soon, Victorine by Drēma Drudge is the riveting, at times shocking, story of Victorine Meurent — artist, model, musician, lover, and friend.

With a daring but bold stroke of the brush, Drudge has penned an evocative and utterly enthralling story about an artist that history has, for some reason, overlooked. Lovers of Manet's work will instantly recognise Victorine Meurent's face however, as she mockingly stares at them from The Luncheon on the Grass and Olympia. Still, her art which was hung in the Académie des Beaux-Arts and The Salon is all but forgotten. Drudge sheds new light onto the artist that took of her clothes and scandalised a nation.

Written with a keen sense of time and place, Drudge has given her readers a book which is as rich in historical detail as it is in historical controversy. We meet the child Victorine, who is abused by her father — an abuse that is ignored by her mother. We watch as she grows up and begins to explore her sexuality. She is assertive, at times immoral, but always determined to do her own things in her own way. Victorine's ambition to become an artist is thwarted only by her situation and her sex. And while the notion of being a penniless artist is considered, for some reason, romantic, the realities left little time for romance. Coming from an artisan family, Victorine did not have the luxury of falling back on her family’s wealth to support her — for most of this story, it is Victorine who is supporting her ageing parents. Drudge clearly demonstrates the lack of opportunity for women, such as Victorine. This was an era where an independent woman was in itself a scandalous notion. However, that does not explain why Victorine Meurent's art has not stood the test of time the way Berthe Morisot's has. Perhaps the reason is simply that Victorine's life was too vulgar for the era that she lived in. She may have moved in the same circles as the Impressionists, but her behaviour sets her somewhat apart from them as well. 

Drudge portrays Victorine as a woman who is comfortable in her sexuality, so at times this book is verging on explicit. Victorine is promiscuous and has many lovers, and she is also not opposed to violence in her relationships, which, for some, may make for difficult reading. Drudge also gives us a woman who is prepared, from quite a young age, to take off her clothes to model in the nude, not necessarily because of her need for money but because she seemingly enjoys it, or more likely because when she was naked it was the only time her father seemed to notice her. Drudge has, however,  given her readers a stubborn woman, whose single-minded determination drives this story forward.

In this story, Manet's wealth and position in society doesn't intimidate Victorine in the slightest. She treats him like an equal, and they spend many hours talking about art, and she learns a great deal from him, but she also learns how to play the game — how to produce art that The Salon will accept, and in fact, history tells us that in 1876 Victorine's self-portrait was displayed in The Salon whereas Manet's work was not accepted. Victorine did not have the luxury of being a man in a man's world, but her shameful behaviour also did her no favours, and this Drudge depicts beautifully. I thought Drudge's depiction of Victorine was fabulous.

The historical detailing of this book has to be commended. Drudge has obviously spent many long hours researching not only the life of Victorine Meurent and Édouard Manet but also the era in which this book is set in. The Siege of Paris (1870-1871) was particularly well-drawn and incredibly realistic as was Victorine's relationship with the Belgian painter, Alfred Stevens. This attention to detail, this attentiveness to the documented history of this time gave this book a tremendous sense of authenticity. 

Victorine by Drema Drudge is a fascinating insight into the life of Victorine Meurent. It is an absolute treat for anyone who loves to read quality Historical Fiction.

I Highly Recommend.

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

Pick up your copy of

Drēma Drudge

Drēma Drudge suffers from Stendhal’s Syndrome, the condition in which one becomes overwhelmed in the presence of great art. She attended Spalding University’s MFA in Creative Writing Program where she learned to transform that intensity into fiction.

Drēma has been writing in one capacity or another since she was nine, starting with terrible poems and graduating to melodramatic stories in junior high that her classmates passed around literature class.

She and her husband, musician and writer Barry Drudge, live in Indiana where they record their biweekly podcast, Writing All the Things, when not traveling. Her first novel, Victorine, was literally written in five countries while she and her husband wandered the globe. The pair has two grown children.

In addition to writing fiction, Drēma has served as a writing coach, freelance writer, and educator. She’s represented by literary agent Lisa Gallagher of Defiore and Company.

Connect with Drēma: Website • Twitter • Instagram • The Painted Word Salon.

Monday, 23 March 2020

#BookReview — Ordinary Suicide by Robert D. Rice II #HistoricalFiction #HistoricalThriller

Ordinary Suicide
By Robert D. Rice II

Jack Dillon arrested Deja’ for first degree murder, then married her. After failing to kill him, she left town. Now he’s searching for her needing answers, wanting her love.

"Being a detective was my life. My whole life. It wasn't a vocation. It was an advocation."

But then Jack Dillon made a near-fatal mistake — he fell in love with the woman he had arrested for Murder One. After that, his life spiralled out of control, and now he is tracking down a dangerous jewellery thief who has killed once and could kill again.

Jack has no idea where this journey is going to take him, but he is determined to find out the truth, or die trying.

From the theft of a fei tsui jade necklace on the idyllic Phú Quốc Island to a last yet dangerouliaison in a motel room in Hawaii. Ordinary Suicide by Robert D. Rice II is one of the most magnificently opulent and engaging Historical Thrillers that I have read this year.

Written with a seemingly boundless supply of energy, Rice has presented his readers with a book that is utterly addictive from start to finish. The super-fast narrative and the roller-coaster plot twists made this novel next to impossible to put down.

The attention to the historical detail has to be commended. Rice has researched this era with a great deal of skill and diligence. Through the narrative of Jack, Rice explores in passing some of the most notorious criminals of the 20th Century in America. He also has his protagonist become an unlikely suspect in the murder of two police officers in the British Pavilion at the New York World Fair. Rice's dedicated hours to research has certainly paid off. His depiction of 1940s America was simply marvellous.

I have to applaud Rice's tenacious determination to find his own unique voice, and I think he has done so admirably. In doing this, Rice has penned something extraordinary. From shark attacks to murder, this is a story that will keep you sitting on the edge of your seat and asking, no begging, for more. It is a fun, thrilling, exciting read where the characters are captivating, and the plot is a tangled web of lies and interlocking stories.

There are so many twists and turns in this book that there was no time to catch one's breath. Rice throws his readers straight into the action. If this were a car, you would definitely be advised to buckle up for this is a white-knuckled ride. To keep up this kind of momentum is incredibly hard to pull off, but Rice nailed it — not once does he let his readers pause for breath. The pages seem to fly by while I lost myself in a book that is a cross between a historical fiction thriller and a domestic family saga — the family is, of course, involved in criminal activity!

Jack Dillon is an unlikely hero. He is a washed-up ex-detective who finds himself embroiled in a dangerous criminal underworld that involves war, theft, and murder. Despite Jack's sometimes felonious tendencies and his unquenchable love for a woman who tried to kill him, I liked him. Rice's depiction of Jack is sublime. Brilliantly executed and masterfully delivered.

There is quite a large cast of full-bodied yet fallible characters in this book. All of the supporting characters have intriguing backstories, and they each bring something fabulously unique to the story. I was particularly enthralled with Winnie's characterisation.

If you love Historical Thrillers that are super-fast-paced, and plot-twists that happen so suddenly that you could end up with whiplash, then Ordinary Suicide by Robert Rice II is the book for you. I loved every minute of it.

I Highly Recommend.

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

Pick up your copy of
Ordinary Suicide

Friday, 20 March 2020

#BookReview — The Devil Take Tomorrow by Gretchen Jeannette #HistoricalFiction #HistoricalRomance

The Devil Take Tomorrow
By Gretchen Jeannette

George Washington has been marked for death. British agents embedded in the Continental Army wait only for the order to strike. Racing against time, rebel spy Ethan Matlock sets out to protect the one man who can save the Revolution. Without General Washington, the whole American enterprise might easily collapse, for no one else has demonstrated the ability to keep together an army that constantly threatens to fall apart.

Boldly Ethan infiltrates the heart of the British military, occupiers of grand old Philadelphia, where elegant officers posture in drawing rooms and frolic in the bedrooms of the rich. Surrounded by twenty thousand redcoats, aware that the slightest misstep could lead to the gallows, Ethan resorts to vicious measures to unravel a conspiracy of power-hungry men. Against his better judgment, he becomes entangled with the provocative Miss Maddie Graves, whose fierce devotion to the American cause ironically threatens his mission.


"Captain Parker's orders are to assassinate you by any available means…"

The letter may be anonymous, but the threat was real enough to send rebel spy, Ethan Matlock, behind enemy lines to foil such an attempt, for if George Washington, Commander-in-Chief of the Continental Army were to succumb to an assassin's bullet or blade, then that might bring an end to the revolution for independence.

All Ethan has to do is infiltrate the British military, and what better way to do that than by rescuing the honourable Robert Sinclair, a prominent merchant and a descendant of the British aristocracy, and his family from some pistol brandishing, rebel demons.

What Ethan had not prepared for was his sudden romantic feelings towards Sinclair's niece, Miss Maddie Graves. This was not the time nor the place for a passionate liaison, and it was certainly not wise to fall in love with such an impetuous and stubborn woman. The fate of a nation was in Ethan's hands. He must not lose sight of that.

The Devil Take Tomorrow by Gretchen Jeannette is a richly detailed and emotionally charged story from beginning to end. With a compelling narrative and the most eloquent of prose, this is a book that a reader can lose themselves in. 

Jeannette evokes a strong sense of time and place in her writing — 18th Century Philadelphia has never been more alive to me. The historical world is fresh. It is vibrant. It is a richly coloured canvas of lobster red and navy along with lashings of taffeta, gilt lace, and silk. A richly woven tapestry indeed, where the senses come alive as the story envelops the reader in all of its splendidness. The characters walk a fine line between the truth and oh so glorious lies. Who is for the King? Who is for independence? Who can be trusted? And who can not? It is a story of war, of heroism, of adventure and desperate tragedy, but above everything else, it is a sprawling, stirringly passionate love story that swept me off my feet and left me breathless.

Jeannette's attention to the historical detail, her commitment to depicting the tragedy as well as the heroism which occurred during the American Revolution, has to be commended. Jeannette shows her readers the sacrifice that war demanded of the people of America and Britain during this turbulent time in American history. Jeannette is the kind of author that makes history come alive. There is a realism to this book that is tangible. Add to this an understanding of her audience and what makes a book entertaining means that The Devil Take Tomorrow is utterly triumphant.

I adored the characterisation of Miss Maddie Graves. Maddie has suffered terribly because of this war, and she is now under the guardianship of the last man her father would have wanted to look out for her interests. Maddie, who is resolute in carrying on where her father left off, made this book immensely compelling. Maddie is a very strong woman, who is steadfast in her decisions and will not be bullied into submission — despite, her uncle's best efforts. At times her inability to not get involved lands her in a whole heap of trouble and there were several times when I really feared for her safety because of her foolhardiness. However, Maddie was a wonderful heroine whose story is vastly entertaining. 

The hero of this illustrious tale of love and war is Ethan Matlock. Ethan has his fair share of ghosts to vanquish in this book, but he is also a man on a mission. He is a spy behind enemy lines. Ethan uses his wit and charm to earn himself a trusted position within the British military in Philadelphia. Men admire him, and women fall over themselves to be with him, all of which he uses to his advantage. Ethan is, however, a ruthless man when it comes to his enemies, and there are some scenes in this book where Ethan calls upon that ruthlessness, which made for some challenging reading. However, underneath the facade is a man who feels very deeply and has to make some terribly difficult choices which really broke my heart. Ethan's relationship with Maddie was a welcomed relief from the horrors of war. However, Maddie is not the kind of woman to listen to reason. She is ruled entirely by her emotions and is a constant source of worry for Ethan. I thought Ethan's depiction was brilliant.

There are several secondary characters in this book, and they each have their role to play in this story, but one character that stood out for me was Captain Paul Loxley. Loxley has more reason to hate General Howe than anyone, but still he serves in the British Army. Loxley is a complex character who often acts before thinking and is never really sure of himself. He is a protagonist one moment and antagonist the next before becoming a protagonist again. He is a very richly drawn character who brings an awful lot to this story and helps to drive it forward. 

The Devil Take Tomorrow by Gretchen Jeannette is enchanting, engrossing, and exhilarating. Jeannette is an incredibly gifted author who is fast becoming one of my favourites.

I Highly Recommend.

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

Pick up your copy of
The Devil Take Tomorrow

Gretchen Jeannette

Gretchen Jeannette was born in 1955 in Wilmington, Delaware. She lives and works in Chester County, Pennsylvania, an area rich in Revolutionary War and Colonial American history. Her enduring interest in 18th Century America began at a young age, inspired by the novels of Dale Van Every and Allan Eckert, whose timeless tales of adventure and romance capture the essence of early American lore. Eager to read more such stories, to her disappointment she had trouble finding them on bookshelves, so she decided to write one of her own. Thus began a journey fueled by her passion for breathing life into history through believable characters, authentic historical details, and plots woven with adventure, romance and suspense.

Connect with Gretchen: 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 ...