23 June 2017

The Sisters of St Croix by Diney Costloe

Amazon UK £3.85 / £15.90
Amazon US $4.70 / $5.96
Amazon CA $0.99 / $4.27

family drama 

Occupied France. A group of nuns assist the resistance to smuggle Jews and British Airmen out of France, mindful of the power and menace of the Nazis.

There is a background of secrets and spies running through this tale of wartime good v evil. There is tension and excitement, deceptions and collaborations – perhaps not a unique plot, certainly not a new idea but so what? This is a gripping story of courage and determination in the face of adversity and cruelty. A story to become engrossed in while on that long holiday flight, or sunning on the beach.

© Ellen Hill

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22 June 2017

Fire and Sword by Harry Sidebottom

Throne of the Caesars: Book 3

Amazon UK £5.99 / £5.99 /£14.03
Amazon US $6.05 / $18.27
Amazon CA $20.69

238 AD
Ancient Rome


The Roman Empire has fallen into chaos. The Emperor and his son are dead, and former Emperor, Maximinus Thrax, hopes to reclaim his rightful position, but the Senators are more interested in saving their own skins should Maximus succeed.

This was a violent and bloody period of Rome’s history, a period and situation which is reflected in this novel, which is impeccably researched. 

As the third in a series, although a stand-alone novel, I would suggest you start at the beginning to maximise enjoyment of this author’s wonderful talent as a writer, and involvement as a reader with the well portrayed characters and events.

A definite for Roman History lovers!

© Anne Holt

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21 June 2017

The Body in the Ice by A J MacKenzie

Amazon UK £6.47 / £18.95
Amazon US $8.31 / $23.95
Amazon CA $9.99 / $31.95

Mystery / Thriller
Romney Marsh, Kent

(A Hardcastle and Chaytor Mystery)

The marsh village of Hope had once been a thriving community, but plague has devastated its existence. All that is left is a ruined church – and now at Christrmas-tide, a dead body found in the frozen ice - murdered by a blow to the head. Flickering lanterns illuminate a pool of blood, the jewelled buttons on the corpse’s waistcoat and his expensive watch fob. Found by a boy, was the corpse killed at the old church, or does his death have something to do with the Romney Marsh smugglers?

Justice of the peace for St Mary in the Marsh, the Reverend Hardcastle, has to investigate what is obviously a callous murder, but it seems he has an impossible task ahead of him. His friend, Amelia Chaytor, is there to help him solve the riddle, and along with a new arrival, Captain Edward Austen, it soon becomes apparent that there is more here to solve than was first thought...

The plot of this gripping tale thickens with an American family desperate to take possession of their ancestral home, a French spy, and secrets and revenge all adding to this intriguing and page-turning mystery.
To say more will spoil a riveting and most exciting read - but be warned, this promises to be an excellent series... I promptly whizzed over to Amazon and added the first one to the top of my T.B.R.list.

© Anne Holt

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20 June 2017

The Shadow Queen by Anne O'Brien

Amazon UK £6.99 / £8.16
Amazon US $9.81 / $14.39
Amazon CA $19.59

Biographical fiction
14th century

This is a story of love, loyalty, and of families grasping at anything for the gain of power, no matter what stands in the way. It is also the story, so very well written, of the mother of Richard II, a beautiful girl who pays the price of high ambition.

Joan of Kent, a minor royal, is little known outside of those who study this period of history, I had no idea of anything about her. Her love for a minor knight was doomed from the outset – for the reader, a train-crash waiting to happen. Her life in this excellent novel is beautifully written with impeccable research and true feeling. The story and the characters come vividly alive as a romance, as an adventure and as the plotting and scheming that enshrined nearly every era of royal intrigue.

Joan, here, knows her own mind. She is the feisty heroine, the shrewd woman who refuses to be controlled.

The book is hard to put down, it takes you to the world of knights and jousts and to a woman who really ought to be far more well known in history and historical fiction!

Highly recommended

© Ellen Hill

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19 June 2017

Eva's Secret by Emily Cotton

Amazon UK £11.85
Amazon US $3.12
Amazon CA $3.94

Family Drama (slight fantasy element)
16th Century

I must admit that initially, I was somewhat hesitant to this book – having a cat as a POV character was not something I felt entirely comfortable with. Likewise, the formatting and editing could do with a brush-up and in the first few chapters the here and now was interrupted by flashbacks that could have been woven more seamlessly into the narrative.

But by then, of course, I was already hooked by the story of Eva de Paiza, her cat Tabita and the complexities of surviving in early 16th century Granada when your father has just been dragged off by the Inquisition.

Rarely have I read a book that so utterly transports me back to the time depicted. Clothes, furnishings, food, medicinal treatments – all has been so meticulously researched, all is so elegantly inserted in the narrative. Granada is just a few decades away from its recent Moorish past, and the city is a polyglot mix of Saracens and Jews (albeit that all of them officially are Catholic), good loyal Spanish Christians and the odd smattering of others. Arabic is still spoken, those that work in trade are generally bilingual, and even the various faiths have rubbed along—albeit uneasily—until the Inquisition decides enough is enough: false converts must be punished. 

Add to this Eva’s own sad story: her father is a brute, her mother fled the home when Eva was eight or so, and now, as a consequence of her father’s imprisonment, Eva is lured into a house where she finds herself reduced to being a slave, a chattel for sale. 

All of this drama could have resulted in a sturm-unt-drang pastiche, but Eva’s own personality—mild, meek and somewhat na├»ve—keeps the narrative firmly on the ground. Eva is no feisty heroine intent on kicking off the traces of her slavery. No, Eva is a very young woman who bears things and makes the best of what she has, praying that God will see her safe. 

Eva’s Secret is a love story, and accordingly there is not one protagonist, but two (plus the cat). Baseel is the Saracen in charge of managing the day-to-day business of the merchant who has enslaved Eva. He is a devout Muslim, disfigured by childhood disease, and alternates between being harsh and aloof and warm and caring—although this latter side he reserves for Eva only. Not that Eva notices—at least not initially. Her childhood experiences have made her wary of all men, and besides, Baseel is a Muslim, while Eva’s dream has always been to become a nun. Not the most auspicious of circumstances, one could say…

Two wonderfully depicted characters in a vibrant historical setting makes Eva’s Secret a delightful read. Even Tabita the cat grows on me, albeit that I did have some problems with this feline’s spiritual experiences. No matter: all in all, Ms Cotton has delivered an engaging story set in a tumultuous time and a somewhat exotic setting. 
Warmly recommended!

© Anna Belfrage

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16 June 2017

Red Horse by M J Logue

Red Horse by M J Logue 

Amazon UK  £2.40  £7.99
Amazon US $2.95 / $12.99
Amazon CA $3.98 / $16.79

English Civil War

It is 1642, and England is hovering on the brink of civil war. As yet, no major battles have been fought, but the armies are drawn up, the King has raised his colours and called to arms. The Parliamentarian Army under the Earl of Essex is a motley lot, an uneasy partnering of men who burn for the cause and a rabble of mercenaries, most of them veterans of the Thirty Years' War.

Hollie Babbitt is one such veteran. Uncouth and bedraggled, this red-haired captain does not at all live up to Lucifer Petitt's expectations of an officer, and this young man can't help but wonder why his uncle the Earl of Essex has chosen to place him under Babbitt’s command. Some sort of punishment?

Babbitt wonders the same: why has he been saddled with Luce and what exactly is that prat Essex playing at?

So opens a story of soldiers and war, of understated bravery and loyalty among friends. All of this against the murky political waters of the times, at times utterly incomprehensible to those taxed with navigating through them. 

After the battle of Edgehill, things change. Where before the men in the Parliamentarian Army were there just as much by chance as by conviction, the carnage of Edgehill hardens them. Babbitt loses his best friend at Edgehill. From that moment on, the war becomes personal – on the surface, Captain Babbitt fights for money, but within he screams for vengeance. 

On the surface of things, Red Horse is a novel about the dirty and sordid matter of war. Men die, men are wounded; the rain pours down in buckets leaving everyone dirtier and muddier and sick and with festering wounds and with holes in their stockings and lice in their hair – in general, not the chirpiest of settings. The men are often cold and hungry, just as often scared and angry, and more or less constantly confused. 

Not only does M J Logue present us with a detailed and tangible setting, she also parades quite the cast of characters before the reader, first and foremost Hollie Babbitt and his troop of scruffy, battle-hardened men, troopers who mostly don’t care who wins as long as they survive.

Many people have written books about war, about comrades-in-arms who stick together through thick and thin. What makes Red Horse so universally appealing is the other story, the one hidden within, so to say. That story is about loneliness, about the abject despair of having no family, no home, no-one who truly cares if you live or die. It is about being utterly alone despite the press of men around you, of living in an emotional vacuum that is so unbearable you no longer feel as if you exist. Hollie Babbitt is one such damaged man, and the way in which M J Logue depicts his situation is all the more effective for being so unsentimental. As I turn the pages, Hollie Babbitt not only takes on shape and colour, but he also becomes a person I develop strong protective feelings for – which he hates, just as he has problems accepting Luce’s compassion and genuine concern for him. 

My only gripe with this book is the recurring head-hopping – it distracts from the story and is an unnecessary beauty spot on this otherwise excellent read. Still, M J Logue’s writing is somewhat addictive, which is why the next books in the series are already on my Kindle! 

© Anna Belfrage

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