6 May 2017

It's the First Weekend in May

No reviews on a weekend but...
Today we Reveal our Selected Cover of the Past Month

To see APRIL'S Cover Winner 
click here

Our Head Judge is
Cathy Helms of

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5 May 2017

SUGAR HALL by Tiffany Murray

Amazon UK £4.79 £9.35
Amazon US $5.93 $12.70
Amazon CA $30.99

Ghost /  Fantasy
Welsh Marches

Easter 1955. As Lilia Sugar scrapes the ice from the inside of the windows and the rust from the locks in Sugar Hall, she knows there are pasts she cannot erase. On the very edge of the English/Welsh border, the red gardens of Sugar Hall hold a secret, and as Britain prepares for its last hanging, Lilia and her children must confront a history that has been buried but not forgotten.
Based on the stories of the slave boy that surround Littledean Hall in the Forest of Dean.”

This is a ghost story with some dark tones and some amazing psychological writing. When a boy reports he can see a different boy with a collar around his neck, his mother doesn't know how to respond other than to shrug it off as a childish notion.

Yet, as the story progresses, it isn't just her son who gets affected by the ghost's appearance.

Murray tells also the story of this mother, not an uninteresting one at that, namely that of a girl coming to Britain from Germany via the Kindertransports of 1938.

There is a stark contrast between the innocence and naivety of the young with the chilling darkness of the ghost story. I'm not usually one for books with such dark undertones but I found it very engaging, not least because of the historical component.

There are small snippets of newspaper articles and other short material separating the chapters that add to the richness and the layered texture of the novel. While not all of them made perfect sense to me, some stayed with me for a long time, regardless. Very engaging and gripping.

© Christoph Fischer

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4 May 2017

DAUGHTER of DESTINY by Nicole Evelina

AMAZON UK £3.20 / £8.60
AMAZON US $3.99  / $12.99
AMAZON CA $5.22 / $17.31

Arthurian / Family Drama / Fantasy
6th Century
Guinevere’s Tale Book One

I confess - I have a major weakness for Arthurian literature. I’ll read just about any Arthurian story you put in my hands, whether it is told from a fantasy perspective, full of magic and dragons and ladies in the lake, or whether it is told from a quasi-historical perspective, full of soldiers and politics and battles and not a whiff of magic anywhere. I’ll read it if it is feminist. I’ll read it if it is thoroughly masculine. I’ll read it if it is painted purple polka dotted and wearing feathers.

That said, I am also highly selective in what I consider to be good Arthurian stories. Those are very few and far between. So I was delighted to discover that Daughter of Destiny is a fantastic, feminist, political story with just the right sprinkling of magic added in as well.

This novel begins with an 11-year-old Guinevere going off to the Isle of Avalon. She is unable to control the Sight, and it is for that reason she is sent to Avalon. There, she is tutored in the ways of the Goddess, her Druid training burning away the soft and pampered noblewoman she had been to reveal a strong young woman.

Over the years, she learns about herself as she struggles to understand her place in a world that is changing from the old ways to the new religion of Christianity. Readers are given a glimpse into her world, learn about her conflicts and bitter feud with Morgan le Fey, and get to know her as her own person, separate from Arthur’s Queen.

I really loved how this Guinevere had her own story and history. Of course she would - she is a person as much as Arthur or Lancelot or Morgan, and yet she is often relegated to the role of merely queen or mistress. Daughter of Destiny shows readers that she had a whole life and love separate from the roles thrust upon her in much of literature. The settings are vividly described and believable as well, and I can easily see a woman with her background making similar choices under the same circumstances. The characters all are well developed and complex, even relatively minor ones, and I found myself caring about them all. Even Morgan, who was odious in this version. I loved this book so much that I went out and bought the second book in the trilogy. I eagerly await the completion of the series. Highly recommended.

© Kristen McQuinn, M.A.

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3 May 2017

The FLAME EATER by Barbara Gaskell Denvil

Amazon UK £11.99 £3.99
Amazon US $5.91 $15.03
Amazon CA $24.02

Mystery / Espionage

A fire-starter is at the heart of this medieval tale of murder, mystery, treason and spies.

Emeline was about to marry the earl’s eldest son, Peter Chetwynd, but following his death in a fire, she finds herself betrothed to his younger brother Nicholas instead. He is a cowardly wastrel and no one has a good word to say about him. Then fire rages again on their wedding night with the marriage looking doomed almost before it has started. Nicholas is rude and aggressive to his wife and prone to unexplained disappearances. Having been brought up by a tyrannical father, Emma is aware she must just 'do her duty' to her husband but is he quite all he seems? She learns to think better of him, but then her father is killed in the arms of an unknown mistress, their bodies burned in yet another fire.

At last the family comes to realise that these deaths are connected with Nicholas becoming a prime suspect. Then more suspects emerge with one in particular rising to the fore. Meanwhile, Nicholas is off on another of his 'missions'…

Set in Richard III’s brief kingship this entertaining tale rattles along, with dangers and revelations throughout, punctuated by very likeable (and very dislikeable) characters. As with most mysteries, whether novels or TV, the plot does rely upon coincidences and appearances at just the right moment, a common formula for this genre, but knowing this the trick is for the reader to spot the red-herrings which in a good novel is often not easy to do. And for this novel the ending has enough of a surprise to be a very satisfying climax.

© Richard Tearle

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2 May 2017

The FAIR MAID of KENT by Caroline Newark

Amazon UK £3.99 £9.98
Amazon US $4.98 $9.23
Amazon CA $9.93

Biographical Fiction
14th century
England and France

'What a tangled web we weave, when we practice to deceive' this famous quotation would certainly suit the story of Joan the Fair Maid of Kent.

At the age of fourteen, Joan enters into a secret marriage with a soldier of no account, Thomas Holand. He promptly goes off to the Holy Land to make his fortune but promises he will return. But her family have arranged a marriage with William Montagu, heir to Earl of Salisbury and he keeps her secret from everybody but her mother who convinces Joanne that the marriage was not valid as no priest was present.

The marriage is a cold one but begins to improve – until Thomas returns with, not exactly a fortune, but enough to appeal to Rome to restore his wife to him. To complicate matters, Joanne is cousin to King Edward III and she not only has an affair with him, but also with his son, Edward, the Black Prince.

Wanton, or innocent victim of men's manipulation and desires in an age when women were exploited? The reader will doubtless form their own opinion.

Ms Newark handles this situation very well indeed and follows the true story faithfully with just one piece of speculation regarding the fate of a former king. Well written, with convincing dialogue and backed up with solid research.

There were about four very minor typos in my copy and one unfortunate case of 'eyes being dropped'. This, and similar ‘eyes ran round the room’ cliché is a turn of phrase which sounds fine when spoken but somewhat absurd when written, but a common occurrence among writers, indie or established. The only reason I mention it is for the benefit of other writers and would-be writers to take note.

© Richard Tearle

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1 May 2017

SCATTERWOOD by Piers Alexander

 Amazon UK £3.99    £8.99
Amazon US $4.95  $8.69
Amazon CA  $4.37

Fictional Saga / Coming of Age
17th century
London /Jamaica

I first made the acquaintance of Calumny Spinks in The Bitter Trade, a book set in the late 17th century London. At the time, Calumny was a redheaded, somewhat ugly and unloved adolescent, who couldn’t quite understand why his father was so secretive about his past — or why his own father seemed determined to set Calumny up to fail. While I would warmly recommend that the prospective reader starts with The Bitter Trade – if nothing else because it’s a great read – Scatterwood stands perfectly well on its own, with enough of the relevant backstory presented.

This time round, Calumny is no longer an adolescent. Yes, he is still very young, yes he is still as redheaded as ever, but his experiences have made him wise beyond his years, and he is doing his best to keep himself and his little family afloat in a London defined by religious intolerance and the constant fear of a Jacobite counterrevolution, thereby toppling Dutch William from the throne.

Calumny has made some mistakes in his previous life, and this time round it is payback time, which is why Calumny is tricked by people whom he trusts into undertaking a dangerous undercover mission in Jamaica. Mind you, no one tells him just how dangerous his mission is, or that it will involve huge amounts of physical pain and humiliation. Or that his best friend will be an active participant in inflicting said pain, thereby proving that some friends are far worse than your enemies. 

His new taskmasters have Calumny over a barrel. Unless he delivers, his Irish woman and her little daughter will be separated from each other and transported to the New World as indentures, there work and die. For now, they languish in the Tower, and only if Calumny delivers do they go free.

And there, dear readers, is the background to this fast-paced adventure through the heat-infested landscape of 17th century Jamaica, all the way from decadent Port Royal, through endless fields of sugarcane to the jungles that clamber up Jamaica’s Blue Mountains. Mr Alexander delivers a vivid description of his setting and complements this with a colourful set of characters, all the way from escaped slaves to world-weary whores who can’t be bothered to advertise their wares beyond hitching up their skirts to reveal their privates to the blasé passer-bys.

Jamaica is home to many a determined Jacobite, some of whom are rich enough to pose a real threat to William, and Mr Alexander skilfully guides the readers through this tangled web of loyalties and treachery, where it becomes more and more apparent that almost everyone, no matter whose side they’re on, is there to look after number one. Well, with the exception of Calumny, who has no choice but to try and finish his mission as otherwise his woman and stepchild will suffer for it.

Calumny Spinks is a wonderful creation: he is young, he is brave, he stays true to those he loves—and has a heart big enough to add to that little group as he tumbles through life. There are several occasions when said tumbles come close to costing Calumny his life, which makes it difficult to put this book down. Add to Calumny a diverse and well-developed set of supporting characters, and this is a novel that pulsates with life. And blood. And death.

In Scatterwood, Mr Alexander has wrought an intricate tale. With an effortless prose, crisp dialogue and beautiful descriptive writing, he has created a window into the turbulent world of 17th century Jamaica, complete with everything from the stench of rotting carcasses to the sheer joie-de-vivre that once defined Port Royal. Bravo, Mr Alexander. Bravo!

© Anna Belfrage

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30 April 2017

The last Sunday in April, which means:

No reviews on a Sunday 
but today is your day for our

Reader's Voice Page
where you, the reader can have your 3pennyworth of views

Click HERE to be redirected to the correct Page 
(on THIS blog)

Topic title:
Where are all the Women?
did you know only a small % of statues are women 
- and even less are of literary women?