I’d like to welcome Clare Flynn to the blog today on her blog tour for “Sisters At War”, a heart-tugging tale of the sisterly bond between Judith and Hannah amidst the chaos of war.
BLOG TOURBOOK REVIEW
This book is proof that you can take the simple relationship of two ordinary young women, two sisters, and turn a spotlight on them in the midst of the incredible chaos around them, and the result? Simply great story-telling.
This family living together at the Laurels, a modest home in Liverpool, during WWII is simple and stunning in the way you are a fly-on-the-wall into their lives. Every conversation is filled with emotion, despair, survival, disappointment, fear, and ultimately, love. I was particularly moved by the next door neighbor who at one point loses his cat, and his grief morphs into other losses in his life. I can relate to this in so many ways and I think anyone else who reads this will get the sense of why characters like this are vital in books. A character on the fringes of these two sisters lives, but so very necessary.
This book also deals with the racial cruelties during the war, and not just those thrust upon the Jewish community by the Germans. I was quite taken back in reading of the treatment of British citizens of Italian descent when Mussolini joined Hitler in the fight. And then I was thrilled with the sudden journey to Australia, a land which must have felt like a peaceful haven while the rest of the world was on fire, even for those prisoners who were sent there.
I definitely hope there is another book to come along. I want to know more about these two sisters and where life takes them after the war.
I give this book five-stars and I received this book through Netgalley.
Book Title: Sisters at War
Author: Clare Flynn
Publication Date: 1st May 2021
Publisher: Cranbrook Press
Page Length: 314 Pages
Genre: Historical Fiction
Sisters at War
By Clare Flynn
1940 Liverpool. The pressures of war threaten to tear apart two sisters traumatised by their father’s murder of their mother.
With her new husband, Will, a merchant seaman, deployed on dangerous Atlantic convoy missions, Hannah needs her younger sister Judith more than ever. But when Mussolini declares war on Britain, Judith’s Italian sweetheart, Paolo is imprisoned as an enemy alien, and Judith’s loyalties are divided.
Each sister wants only to be with the man she loves but, as the war progresses, tensions between them boil over, and they face an impossible decision.
A heart-wrenching page-turner about the everyday bravery of ordinary people during wartime. From heavily blitzed Liverpool to the terrors of the North Atlantic and the scorched plains of Australia, Sisters at War will bring tears to your eyes and joy to your heart.
Clare Flynn is the author of thirteen historical novels and a collection of short stories. A former International Marketing Director and strategic management consultant, she is now a full-time writer.
Having lived and worked in London, Paris, Brussels, Milan and Sydney, home is now on the coast, in Sussex, England, where she can watch the sea from her windows. An avid traveler, her books are often set in exotic locations.
Clare is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts, a member of The Society of Authors, ALLi, and the Romantic Novelists Association. When not writing, she loves to read, quilt, paint and play the piano.
There are moments when, as a reader, you know the second a book impacts you. And when that impact comes at the very beginning, well, you know you are about to take an exquisite journey. I have felt this many times throughout the years and when it happens, the books become dear to me, and a must-have for my own personal library. This is one of those times.
Reading the blurb, one might think this is just another retelling of the infamous story of Anne Boleyn and Henry VIII, but I am here to say that this book transcends anything I have read to date on this popular subject. When you read lines such as: “…The king’s eyes fly open and his eyeballs swivel from side to side, his disintegrating ego peering as if through the slits in a mummer’s mask.” or “Henry and I are the most powerful couple in all of England and yet, in the face of death, we are powerless,” you are compelled to soak in every last detail. And last, I have to share this… “It is a dead sort of day, the type of day where the sky is white, and there is not even the hint of a breeze. Clouds muffle the horizon and I want to push them away, thrust back the oppression and the fear, and revel for one more day beneath blue skies, feel the wind on my cheeks, the scent of Hever in the air. Instead I am here, in my palatial prison, with no future, no next week to look forward to, perhaps not even a tomorrow.”
Oh, there are so many many more for you to enjoy on this heavenly journey of words. This is just a small sampling.
The immense beauty of Judith Arnopp’s selection of words and phrases is a lesson on how to write a historical novel. She takes what we already know of Anne and Henry to another level, a rare personal glimpse into their personalities, their fears, their hopes, and their love that turned England upside-down in terms of religion. In this book, Anne draws a reader’s sympathy, as she is portrayed as a young naïve girl thrust down a path that ultimately brings her ruin. The delicate way the author shows Anne’s love for her family home, Hever Castle, and the simplicities of that ‘other life’, the life before Henry, fleshes out her character and makes her tremendously relatable; as does the bond she shares with her brother, George, that is taken completely out of context by those wishing to destroy her.
The Kiss of the Concubine is now among my ‘go-to’ books that I will read again and again. Even this review does not do it justice. Simply put… get this book. It is stunning. A must-read!!
In conjunction with The Historical Fiction Club on Facebook, I welcome to the blog, Jim Metzner, during his author takeover on Monday, June 7th. If you would like to join the takeover, please join the club here: The Historical Fiction Club
Jim studied acting at Yale Drama School and enjoyed a brief career working as a singer-songwriter in London, opening for TRex, Free, and Pink Floyd! He has been producing sound-rich audio programs since 1977, including Pulse of the Planet, which has been on the air since 1988 and is now heard widely as a podcast.
For many years, Jim produced features and commentaries for All Things Considered, Marketplace, Weekend Edition, and other public radio programs. He has recorded all over the world and received major grants from the National Science Foundation, NASA, the National Endowment for the Humanities, and the Grammy Foundation. Stories about his work have appeared in Audio Magazine, The New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Christian Science Monitor, National Geographic, The Today Show, and the CBS Evening News. His forty-year archive of sounds is now reposited in the Library of Congress in Washington, DC.
A bee-keeper and avid fly-fisherman, Jim resides in New York’s Hudson River Valley with his wife Eileen.
“This is a rollicking, thought-provoking, rollercoaster of a novel. It’s time traveling on steroids, but it asks big questions. Bravo!” – Ken Burns, filmmaker
“A rich, complex tale of supernatural heroism. The novel folds ancient traditional wisdom into the seams of its story with the author’s well-honed narrative skills, delivering the tastes and flavors of its mingling times and cultures with ease and aplomb. One ends up feeling not like an onlooker, but an active participant in the events. The book, from this perspective, is hard to put down. It’s a page-turner, but an intelligent one; one that asks more questions than it answers and left, for one, this reader hoping for a sequel.” – Lee Van Laer, Senior Editor, Parabola Magazine
“The tribe’s descent from late prehistoric mound builders connects the Natchez people to one of North America’s most intriguing puzzles. Archaeologists know how the earthworks were built, but excavations cannot reveal what these monuments meant to the native people who built them. With Sacred Mounds, Metzner embraces the mystery to weave a story across time and cultural boundaries.” – Jim Barnett, author of The Natchez Indians: A History to 1735
“Awesome! Jim Metzner has imbued a page-turner of a book with esoteric truth half-revealed behind a somewhat violent drama. There are keys to a meaningful life hidden behind the carnage. A great read. Can’t wait for the movie!” – Lillian Firestone, author, The Forgotten Language of Children
The Earl of Essex. Well, what can I say? I began this book knowing full well the story of this high-spirited ambitious young man fawning after a much older Queen Elizabeth I, but I have to say that Tony Riches has excelled in really giving life to this notorious man in history. There were times I truly felt a sense of compassion and empathy for him, for his vainglorious attempts to prove himself in the eyes of the Queen, and then his failure to learn from his mistakes. Over and over and over, again. He was a man on the brink of glory, but never reached the clouds, ultimately falling into the precipice of his own making.
I loved this book and it is one I could read again and again. This is the first time I have read any of Tony Riches books and I know it won’t be the last. All of his books are on my to-read list and I foresee a binge read in the near future! Tony Riches’ books are a must read for anyone who wants an excellent historical biography about figures in the Tudor era.
I received a copy for an honest review from The Coffee Pot Book Club.
Book Title: Essex – Tudor Rebel
Series: (Elizabethan Series, Book 2)
Author: Tony Riches
Publication Date: 9th April 2021
Publisher: Preseli Press
Page Length: 352 Pages
Genre: Historical Fiction
ESSEX – Tudor Rebel
(Book Two of the Elizabethan Series)
By Tony Riches
Robert Devereux, Earl of Essex, is one of the most intriguing men of the Elizabethan period. Tall and handsome, he soon becomes a ‘favourite’ at court, so close to the queen many wonder if they are lovers.
The truth is far more complex, as each has what the other yearns for. Robert Devereux longs for recognition, wealth and influence. His flamboyant naïveté amuses the ageing Queen Elizabeth, like the son she never had, and his vitality makes her feel young.
Robert Devereux’s remarkable true story continues the epic tale of the rise of the Tudors, which began with the best-selling Tudor trilogy and concludes with the reign of Queen Elizabeth I.
This novel is free to read with #KindleUnlimited subscription.
Tony Riches is a full-time UK author of best-selling Tudor historical fiction. He lives in Pembrokeshire, West Wales and is a specialist in the history of the Wars of the Roses and the lives of the early Tudors. Tony’s other published historical fiction novels include: Owen – Book One Of The Tudor Trilogy, Jasper – Book Two Of The Tudor Trilogy, Henry – Book Three Of The Tudor Trilogy, Mary – Tudor Princess, Brandon – Tudor Knight and The Secret Diary Of Eleanor Cobham.
Today I welcome Sarah Kennedy, author of Queen of Blood to the blog today on her blog tour with The Coffee Pot Book Club. We have the great privilege to read an excerpt of her book, and I hope you enjoy:
Excerpt from Queen of Blood by Sarah Kennedy
On the same day that Mary Tudor was to be crowned Queen of England, a letter arrived at the Davies House in London. Catherine Havens Davies had travelled back from Yorkshire earlier than she had meant to, in order to see the unlikely event—a Catholic placed back on the throne, a woman ruling England—and, still dazed from days on muddy, leaf-smeared roads, she thought the message must be from the court. An invitation to attend a special Mass, maybe, in celebration. The Roman Catholic Church would be the Church of England again, after all. The priests were already poised for reinstatement at their altars. Silver chalices and dusty statues of the Virgin were being dragged out of vaults and false-bottomed chests, and the butchers at various shambles were, no doubt, sifting through their piles of discarded bones, looking for possible relics. The Bishop of Winchester was now the Lord Chancellor, because he had got it from the mouth of God Himself that Mary was the legitimate heir of Henry VIII and must rule their island. They would have a woman at their head; a city of ladies, at last. It was all that Catherine had ever hoped for.
Catherine laid her hand on her lap. Her flat belly felt hollow, but she could still recall, after all these years, the delight, and fear, of knowing a new child swelled there. The last had been a baby conceived out of wedlock and the cause of much shaming, mostly, she had to admit, among other women. But after all these years, Mary had surely forgiven her for marrying the baby’s father and keeping the child. All would be well now. Her past sins and errors were behind her, and Catherine would live in peace with her daughters and her queen and her God, for the rest of her days.
She considered the fine, thick paper and let her fingers slide over its surface. She might have remained chaste and alone, like other former nuns. Chaste and bitter, and old, now. How many convents would be opened again, to welcome them back in? She knew that her first marriage had been approved because money had changed hands, but the slick passage of gold from one hand to another had smoothed the passage of others to the places they wanted to go. Why should she be different? She hadn’t chosen the convent, after all. That had been another’s doing, as was the case for so many women.
Catherine turned over the letter, and in the buttery candlelight of her private chamber, the Wittenberg seal blazed. It was not from the queen. This could only have come from one person. She almost tore the missive itself in breaking the wax. Rubbing the grit from her eyes, she squinted at the familiar, tight script, and she must have called out, because her husband Benjamin, still in his night shirt, appeared in the doorway. “What is it?” he said.
“My son,” said Catherine, still reading. “Robbie says that he will return to England.” She handed it over.
“As soon as this? And at this time? He surely knows that we’ll be Catholic again?” Her husband scanned to the signature and set the letter aside. “Maybe the air of religious reform smells less sweet when it blows through a university instead of a king’s chamber. I hope he’s been studying his Latin.” Benjamin, from behind, wrapped his arms around Catherine’s shoulders and laid his cold palms against her bare chest. She gasped and pushed backward, into his belly. “Let’s back to bed,” he said. “It’s too wintery today for crowning queens.”
“He is coming through Kent. My son, I mean.” Catherine leaned away from her husband and dragged a brush through her hair, letting the long strands settle onto Benjamin’s arm, and when she set it down she saw a white one wound into the bristles. “Look here.” She held it to the window light. “I am almost thirty-nine years old. I grow ancient.” She wrapped the silver thread around her finger and cast it toward the fire, listening for the whisper of a hiss. “Do you think Robbie has really had enough of the Lutherans?”
Benjamin urged her backward. “To bed.”
She shivered and let him pull her up, into his arms. Benjamin had thickened in the ten years of their marriage, but so had Catherine, a little. He swung her around and laid her on the sheets, then lumbered over her and grinned down. “You will never be too old for me.”
She knew his body, and his ways, and they were playful in bed, unhurried and relaxed, Catherine growing giddy in the stomach. They spent themselves without fear or shame, and when Benjamin lay afterward on his back, one arm behind his head, he said, “I will ride to Dover and meet him, if you wish it. He will stay here, with us.”
Catherine turned onto her side and propped her head on her hand. “Will he, do you think?”
“Where else? I promised you I would try to be a father to the boy, and I will.”
“I will send him a welcome from us both. Perhaps they have heard over in Wittenberg how kindly the queen has spoken of her Protestant subjects.”
“Let us hope she maintains that generosity of spirit,” said Benjamin.
“She will. I’m certain of it.” A wet leaf smacked against the pane by Catherine’s side, and stuck to the glass like a dead hand. She yawned and a giggle caught in her throat. “I should dress. Let the girls stay at home this day. The sky threatens rain.”
Benjamin rose and poked at the fire. Then he lifted the letter and looked at it. Set it down. “Let that be the only threat we feel.”
When she was alone again, Catherine put on her clothes herself. The maids were probably all downstairs gossiping about the coronation parties, and she didn’t want to hear it. Few people mentioned the convent to her anymore. She had almost forgotten what it felt like, to be the subject of sideways smirks, the half-finished speculations about fortunate times for a former nun and having two husbands and Jesus as well. She’d only been a novice, after all. And now she would be a good Catholic woman, as she had tried to be in the convent, and if she was married now, who could dare to be her judge?
Her queen. And suddenly, her son. Catherine covered her head and peered into the mirror, stretching back the skin of her cheeks. She had not had so much as a word from Robbie since the summer, when he had sailed off without a backward glance. His Protestant king Edward was dead, and when Guildford Dudley had been hauled to the Tower with Jane Grey, he had fled, claiming that he would never put his neck under the foot of a queen allied to Rome. Or any queen, for that matter.
And yet, he was coming back. And the queen was speaking of mercy and peace. All would be well, and with her son at home, the world would be an Eden again. Catherine took up the letter again. The boy knew no one in Kent. Did he? The leaf at the window lost its grip and fell. Its damp shadow faded, and Catherine rose, rubbing her arms. Her son was coming home. She shuddered in the cold and tried to feel again that fluttering in her stomach. She was happy. She told herself that she was sure of it. Today could hold nothing but good news.
Book Title: Queen of Blood
Series: The Cross and the Crown, Book 4
Author: Sarah Kennedy
Publication Date: 26th March 2021
Publisher: Penmore Press
Page Length: 321 Pages
Genre: Historical Fiction
Queen of Blood
(The Cross and the Crown, Book 4)
By Sarah Kennedy
Queen of Blood, Book Four of the Cross and the Crown series, continues the story of Catherine Havens, a former nun in Tudor England. It is now 1553, and Mary Tudor has just been crowned queen of England. Still a Roman Catholic, Mary seeks to return England to its former religion, and Catherine hopes that the country will be at peace under the daughter of Henry VIII. But rebellion is brewing around Thomas Wyatt, the son of a Tudor courtier, and when Catherine’s estranged son suddenly returns from Wittenberg amid circulating rumours about overthrowing the new monarch, Catherine finds herself having to choose between the queen she has always loved and the son who seems determined to join the Protestants who seek to usurp her throne.
Sarah Kennedy is the author of the Tudor historical series, The Cross and the Crown, including The Altarpiece, City of Ladies, The King’s Sisters, and Queen of Blood. She has also published a stand-alone contemporary novel, Self-Portrait, with Ghost, as well as seven books of poems. A professor of English at Mary Baldwin University in Staunton, Virginia, Sarah Kennedy holds a PhD in Renaissance Literature and an MFA in Creative Writing. She has received grants from both the National Endowment for the Arts, the National Endowment for the Humanities, and the Virginia Commission for the Arts.
Welcome to Barbara Greig, the author of “Discovery” on her blog tour stop today at The Hist Fic Chickie. Today we are featuring a book excerpt, along with a bio about Barbara and her social links; as well as, her link to buy the book! Thanks for stopping by today, Barbara, and to all the followers, enjoy the excerpt:
Ch 10 Extract from DISCOVERY (Greig)
A medley of sounds and smells assaulted Gabriel’s senses as he entered the longhouse, his eyes taking some time to adjust to the dark smoky interior. He followed Matwau’s mother closely as she made her way towards the central hearth, skirting around the other occupants they passed as they slowly progressed. He was aware of, rather than saw, separate living spaces on either side of the fires where the activity of living had recommenced after the excitement of the afternoon.
By the time they halted, after a good twenty paces, Gabriel could see that the central aisle was about three paces wide. He turned slightly and looked over his shoulder, past Matwau. The line of fires behind him was about the same length as that in front of him. Shafts of sunlight pooled onto the beaten earth; the skin coverings drawn back from the ventilation holes to maximise the light. Due to her status, Matwau’s mother occupied the chamber nearest the central hearth. She lifted the hide covering, which would afford them some privacy, and invited Matwau and Gabriel to sit.
Bringing them bowls of thick corn soup, flavoured with fish, the old woman fussed over the two young men with as much care as any devoted mother. They ate heartily, enjoying the novelty of warm food after weeks of being on the move. She watched them avidly for some time, before addressing Gabriel. Leaning over, she prodded his chest with one of her thin fingers and then tapped her own chest. “Sheauga.”
Matwau answered for him. “Gabriel.”
She repeated the name several times, rolling the unfamiliar syllables around her mouth. Speaking her thoughts, she asked, “What does it mean?”
Her son was about to explain that the white man did not use names as they did, when a figure silently slipped into the chamber. Gabriel did not notice, as he had turned his attention to the small loaves of bread Sheauga had placed between them. Freshly baked, the bread appeared to contain a mixture of dried fruit and nuts. He took a loaf, pulled it apart, and was about to take a bite. A voice, soft and musical, cut through his concentration. “Man Unknown.”
Oheo chuckled as the white man’s head jerked up. The piece of bread in his hand forgotten, he bit down on his own tongue and then tried, unsuccessfully, not to wince. Her grandmother’s eyes flashed, a warning even Oheo dared not ignore. She steadied her merriment and appraised the young white man. He appeared to be of a similar age to her uncle, who had miraculously returned after being missing for as long as she could remember. She had missed the clamour of the men’s arrival as she had been bathing in the river following her time in the menstrual hut. Her sister, Aarushi, had sought her out, full of the news, and had urged her to make haste. It was such an unusual occurrence for a new man to be taken into her family unit, even more so as he was to take her grandmother’s husband’s place, that Oheo rushed her ablutions and ran to the longhouse, leaving Aarushi struggling to catch up.
Oheo was disappointed. She had expected the white man to be more fascinating. The man eating her grandmother’s soup bore no resemblance to the white men of her imagination. Iroquois traders, who had travelled further east, had returned with tales of men with eyes the colour of the summer sky, yet the man before her returned her scrutiny with eyes as black as her own. There was also no evidence of the corn-coloured hair as his, under the bear grease, appeared as dark as that of any Mohawk brave. Her disenchantment made her sharp.
“Do not be too comfortable, Man Unknown.”
Gabriel failed to understand but there was no mistaking the hostility of her tone. He turned to Matwau for clarification, who spoke more slowly. “Before the tribe adopts you, you need to prove your valour to the women.”
Gabriel raised an eyebrow, a gesture which did not go unnoticed by Oheo. This white man who was not a white man, for even his skin was darker than she expected, was far too confident, in her opinion. She fixed him with a haughty stare. “You have to endure the trial if you are to be worthy of the Mohawk.”
Book Title: Discovery
Author: Barbara Greig
Publication Date: 28th June 2020
Publisher: Matador (imprint of Troubador Publishing Ltd)
Discovery: An epic tale of love, loss and courage When Elizabeth Gharsia’s headstrong nephew, Gabriel, joins Samuel Champlain’s 1608 expedition to establish a settlement at Quebec, he soon becomes embroiled in a complicated tribal conflict. As months turn into years, Gabriel appears lost to his family.
Meanwhile at home in France the death of her father, Luis, adds to Elizabeth’s anguish. Devastated by her loss, she struggles to make sense of his final words. Could her mother’s journals, found hidden among Luis’s possessions, provide the key to the mystery?
The arrival of Pedro Torres disrupts Elizabeth’s world even further. Rescued from starvation on the streets of Marseille by her brother, Pedro is a victim of the brutal expulsion of his people from Spain. Initially antagonistic, will Elizabeth come to appreciate Pedro’s qualities and to understand the complexity of her family?
Barbara Greig was born in Sunderland and lived in Roker until her family moved to Teesdale. An avid reader, she also discovered the joy of history at an early age. A last-minute change of heart, in the sixth form, caused her to alter her university application form. Instead of English, Barbara read Modern and Ancient History at Sheffield University. It was a decision she never regretted.
Barbara worked for twenty years in sixth form colleges, teaching History and Classical Civilisation. Eventually, although enjoying a role in management, she found there was less time for teaching and historical study. A change of focus was required. With her children having flown the nest, she was able to pursue her love of writing and story-telling. She has a passion for hiking, and dancing, the perfect antidotes to long hours of historical research and writing, as well as for travel and, wherever possible, she walks in the footsteps of her characters.
Discovery is Barbara’s second novel. Her debut novel Secret Lives was published in 2016 (Sacristy Press).
A spoon of Moorcock, a dash of Morrison and a cup of Gibson: inspirations for alternative history in The Sterling Directive
Reading comics and graphic novels as a teenager is where I first came stories where pasts and futures weren’t changed (for example by time travel – something I’d already come across in science fiction) but were blended together, normally in the Victorian era and apparently as something called ‘steampunk’. There are a few theories about when and how this term was coined but, in part, it results from considering the question: what if the Victorians had access to steam-powered computing and technology?
This question has been answered in different ways by a multitude of works including the likes of Michael Moorcock’s The Land Leviathan, Bruce Sterling and William Gibson’s The Difference Engine, Bryan Talbot’s Luther Arkwright comics, Grant Morrison’s Sebastian O graphic novel and, of course, Alan Moore’s The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. (This is by no means intended as a definitive list – that’s a daunting task that I’ll put off for another day – these are just the stories from my own reading led me in this direction).
The first scene of the Sterling Directive that I wrote was the start of the duel on a station platform in Chapter 1. When I wrote this, I didn’t know who the characters were, or why they were duelling, but what I did know was that it was in London, in the 1890s, the hero was an army officer and that he’d bought a ticket to go duelling which was, for some reason, a perfectly legal thing to do in this timeline and that somewhere overhead there was almost certainly an airship.
At which point I had the idea of writing something in an alternative timeline. Once that was decided, the next step was to think about how far to deviate from history. Some alt-history fiction can be very alternative – China Miéville’s Perdito Street Station for example takes place in a completely different world, adds aliens, trans-dimensional beings and magic and still manages to weave it all together as a coherently and excellent recognisably steampunk whole. Other books and series stay in Victorian London but add magic, vampires or other supernatural elements – you can see this in the recent Netflix series Carnival Row for example.
I felt instinctively that I wanted to try and create a recognisable alternative not too far from our own world. A changed setting that supported the story rather than being the story itself, one that was alternative but alternative ‘in the background’, as it were, as part of a believable world that had evolved organically away from actual history rather than something that felt like a completely new world. William Gibson is a big influence here, partly of course because of the Difference Engine but especially his ‘Sprawl’ series which, I think, does such a great job of revealing a dystopian future as a world that seemed as natural to me as a reader as it did to the characters within it.
The point from which the alternative timeline starts in The Sterling Directive is Charles Babbage’s invention of the Difference and Analytical Engines. Babbage had his ideas for these mechanical computers in the first half of the 19th century but, for a range of reasons, not least of which was insufficient financial backing, they never got off the ground. A recurring theme in steampunk storytelling is that the Engines were actually a success and kick-started a Victorian computer age, and that’s also what I took as my starting point.
I reasoned that this would begin around 1850. In my version of history Babbage exhibited a fully functioning prototype of the analytical engine at the Great Exhibition that would play a version of ‘pong’ with visitors, and that by 1896 (when the Sterling Directive is set) computers would be in domestic use. I saw this as broadly analogous to the time elapsed between the use of the Bletchley Park ‘bombes’ in the second world war and the spread of basic personal computers at home in the mid to late 1980s and that’s the benchmark that I took for what was possible and what might be different in terms of technology.
Add this to the telegraph which was already a sort of Victorian internet (see Tom Standage’s excellent book of that name) and you have a technological background that would be familiar to most readers: an ‘on-wire salon’ is a sort of chat room, the character Patience is a ‘tapper’, which is the equivalent of a hacker, and the main character, Sterling, has a long-distance conversation by text with his brother.
With a broad sense of the end point in terms of computing technology in place, I thought about how different aspects of life: society, politics and commerce might be affected along the way and began to sketch out what this alternative world might look like. Some changes would be small (motorised taxis rather than horse-drawn carriages) and some would be bigger (transatlantic airships) and some would be fundamentally different (the Confederate States of America).
I say ‘sketch out’ and, indeed, I started the book with nothing more than some rough ideas about what the world look like. It was only through writing the characters and having them start navigating the world that some of the details came into focus. Over the course of writing, rewriting and editing the book my alternative world gradually evolved as a suitable backdrop to what I hope is an exciting story, something that the younger me would have been delighted to add to his reading list: part historical thriller, part science fiction with a dash of quirky invention.
Book Title: The Sterling Directive
Author: Tim Standish
Publication Date: 20 August 2020
Page Length: 304 pages
Genre: Alt-historical thriller
It is 1896. In an alternative history where Babbage’s difference engines have become commonplace, Captain Charles Maddox, wrongly convicted of a murder and newly arrested for treason, is rescued from execution by a covert agency called the Map Room.
Maddox is given the choice of taking his chances with the authorities or joining the Map Room as an agent and helping them uncover a possible conspiracy surrounding the 1888 Ripper murders. Seeing little choice, Maddox accepts the offer and joins the team of fellow agents Church and Green. With help from the Map Room team, Maddox (now Agent Sterling) and Church investigate the Ripper murders and uncover a closely guarded conspiracy deep within the British Government. Success depends on the two of them quickly forging a successful partnership as agents and following the trail wherever, and to whomever, it leads.
An espionage thriller set in an alternative late 19th-century London.
Tim Standish grew up in England, Scotland and Egypt. Following a degree in Psychology, his career has included teaching English in Spain, working as a researcher on an early computer games project, and working with groups and individuals on business planning, teamworking and personal development. He has travelled extensively throughout his life and has always valued the importance of a good book to get through long flights and long waits in airports. With a personal preference for historical and science fiction as well as the occasional thriller, he had an idea for a book that would blend all three and The Sterling Directive was created.
When not working or writing, Tim enjoys long walks under big skies and is never one to pass up a jaunt across a field in search of an obscure historic site. He has recently discovered the more-exciting-than-you-would-think world of overly-complicated board games.
In conjunction with the author takeover at The Historical Fiction Club, I’d like to welcome to the blog, J. L. Oakley, the author of The Jossing Affair, The Quisling Factor, and so many more!
The author takeover is on May 31st at the Club – JOIN HERE
Janet Oakley, writing as JL Oakley. writes award-winning historical fiction that spans the mid-19th century to WW II. Her characters, who come from all walks of life, stand up for something in their own time and place.
Her writing has been recognized with a 2013 Bellingham Mayor’s Arts Award, the 2013 Chanticleer Grand Prize for TREE SOLDIER, 2015 WILLA Silver Award for TIMBER ROSE and the 2016 Goethe Award Grand Prize for THE JØSSING AFFAIR. MIST-CHI-MAS, set on San Juan Island after the Pig War, is an 2018 IndieBRAG Medallion book, 2018 WILLA Award finalist and won second place in the Will Rogers Medallion Award, Western Romance.
Though she has lived in the Pacific NW for many years, she has also lived in Hawaii, Washington DC and Pittsburgh. She has been a guide at Mission Houses in Honolulu, a museum educator at a small NW county museum, and a Humanities Washington speaker.
When not writing, Janet demonstrate 19th century folkways. She can churn some pretty mean butter.
To view her books, go to her Amazon Author Page here
I am welcoming H. D. Coulter to the blog today on her blog tour for “Saving Grace”! Scroll down for details, for a book excerpt, and my review!
Book Title:Saving Grace: Deception. Obsession. Redemption.
Series:The Ropewalk series, Book 2
Author: H D Coulter
Publication Date: 11th May 2021
Publisher: Independently Published
Page Length: 330 Pages
Genre: Historical Fiction
Beacon Hill, Boston. 1832.
“You are innocent. You are loved. You are mine.”
After surviving the brutal attack and barely escaping death at Lancaster Castle, Beatrice Mason attempts to build a new life with her husband Joshua across the Atlantic in Beacon Hill. But, as Beatrice struggles to cope with the pregnancy and vivid nightmares, she questions whether she is worthy of redemption.
Determined to put the past behind her after the birth of her daughter Grace, Bea embraces her newfound roles of motherhood and being a wife. Nevertheless, when she meets Sarah Bateman, their friendship draws Bea towards the underground railroad and the hidden abolitionist movement, despite the dangerous secrets it poses. Whilst concealed in the shadows, Captain Victor Hanley returns, obsessed with revenge and the desire to lay claim to what is his, exposes deceptions and doubts as he threatens their newly established happiness.
Now, Beatrice must find the strength to fight once more and save Grace, even if it costs her life.
Hayley was born and raised in the lake district and across Cumbria. From a young age, Hayley loved learning about history, visiting castles and discovering local stories from the past. Hayley and her partner lived in Ulverston for three years and spent her weekends walking along the Ropewalk and down by the old harbour. She became inspired by the spirit of the area and stories that had taken place along the historic streets.
As a teacher, Hayley had loved the art of storytelling by studying drama and theatre. The power of the written word, how it can transport the reader to another world or even another time in history. But it wasn’t until living in Ulverston did she discover a story worth telling. From that point, the characters became alive and she fell in love with the story.
The following day, Beth collected the new emerald dress from Miss Julie’s and Sarah helped Bea prepare for the gala. There were so many questions she still had after her experience of the meeting house, but now was not the time. Instead, Bea was more concerned with convincing a group of social-climbers that she was as much one of them as it was possible to be.
“May I come in?” Beth peered around the door.
“Of course, come and sit next to me, and help calm my nerves.” Bea reached out a hand for Beth to take. “I wish we could have secured a place for you to come too. I do not know what I am going to say to these people…”
“You’ll have Joshua there; I am sure he will look after you.”
“We saw it before at the May Day dance, men go off in one corner to talk about work and politics, whilst the women gossip in another.”
She feigned a moustache with one of her curls and pretended to take a puff of a cigar. The three women burst out laughing.
On the other side of the room, Grace stirred from her sleep at the sudden commotion in the room. Instinctively Bea rose from her seat but felt the pressure from Sarah’s hands on her head.
“I’ll get her. You stay and make ready.” Sarah turned her head towards Beth. “Do you mind finishing?”
“It would be my pleasure, like the old days.”
Beth waited for Sarah to exit the room with a now-grumpy Grace in her hands. “I am sure you’ll be fine – you have had time to accustom yourself to things here now, and you are in a better place… in your head. You have a stunning gown which I’m sure Joshua will approve of. Besides: it is just one night, if you find yourself in a huddle of gossipy wives, well – allow them to talk, and simply nod your head like so…” Beth lifted her nose up high and pulled a familiar face, causing Bea to burst out laughing, followed by Beth.
“I have missed that, laughing. It has been like living in a fog, clouding every thought or action. But recently it seems to have been dissipating, finding I can smile once more. Enjoy the small things; laughing and playing with Grace.”
“There, done! I haven’t done your hair since the last dance we had in Ulverston, the night you made Joshua fall in love with you.” Beth gave Bea a wink in the mirror.
“I think we both knew there was something there. But so much has happened since. I wonder sometimes if I am the same woman as I was then.”
“A year ago you were still a girl in many ways. Now you are a woman and have lived through so much more. It would make sense you have changed, how could you not? Now you are stronger; you are a wife, a mother and living in a new world.”
Bea shook her hands, as if ridding herself of a wave of emotions. “You are right, I am just being silly.”
“Bea, are you ready?” Joshua shouted from downstairs.
Beth finished pinning the last braid into the sweeping bun and loose curls. “Yes, all done.” She declared, sealing the hair with a kiss.
Bea stood up, smoothed down her dress and looked at herself in the free-standing mirror. She failed to recognise the woman staring back at her, in a glowing green dress that shone in the candlelight, setting off her warm skin and auburn hair. It gave a curve to her body and an elegance to her frame. “I look like one of them.”
“You look as beautiful as you always do – now go down to your husband.” Beth pushed Bea towards the open door.
Bea could see him standing handsomely at the bottom of the stairs, gazing upwards. He seemed not to have changed since the last dance. How elated she had felt seeing him again there, the daring touch of his hand upon hers – and now they were going together to a gala halfway across the world as husband and wife. Standing at the top of the stairs, she saw his expression change to a delighted smile at the sight of her. One hand on the skirt and the other on the banister. She glided down the stairs towards him. In one move, he grabbed hold of her and pressed her against his body.
“You look radiant. I am a lucky man to be presenting you as my wife this evening,” he whispered into her ear. Something changed in him. Suddenly, they were how they used to be. His mouth met hers as though it were their first kiss all over again, pulling her tight against him, and they both felt a sense of yearning stirring between them that hadn’t been there for a very long while.
Bea skimmed her lips against his. “Do you remember the ball in Ulverston?”
“The night I fell in love with you? How could I forget?” He stole another quick kiss.
“It felt like an unreachable dream – that one day you would be my husband, standing here, holding me. I hope you know how much I love you.” He leaned in and kissed her again. She felt his fingers press into her back, urging their bodies into one. His hands travelled over her. One slid downwards while the other went north. Her skin became hot and flushed under the dress as a new yearning surged inside of her. Reluctantly, he paused.
“I love you too, more that you’ll ever know – and now I almost don’t want to go to the gala.”
Bea felt her cheeks become hotter at his implication. She pulled herself away from his grip.
“We had better say goodnight to Grace.” She lead the way into the sitting room, and with a disappointed sigh, he followed behind her.
They had positioned themselves on a chair, Grace leaning in as Sarah hummed one of her tunes, rocking her back and forth.
Bea quietly crept up and crouched down beside them. “Sweet dreams my darling, I will see you soon.” Grace, on hearing her mama’s voice, turned and smiled at Bea, but her eyes widened in awe at the sight of the magnificent green dress.
“She will be fine. You go and enjoy yourselves. I will keep her in with me tonight.”
“If she needs a feed, bring her in.” Sarah smiled, seeing Bea’s anxiety at leaving her child for the first time.
“Sarah and Beth will take good care of her.” Joshua leaned in a little closer, placed a kiss on his hand, and gently laid it upon Grace’s head. “Good night, my sweetheart.”
Bea could hear Grace moaning as she walked towards Beth, holding out Bea’s cloak.
“If we need you, I will send word to you.” Beth replied, reading Bea’s face, and the question written all over it.
“Now – you go and dance the night away.”
Joshua smiled at Beth as he grabbed hold of Bea’s hand, drawing her towards the carriage waiting outside.
The house was lavish, a real spectacle of Mr Goldstein’s wealth and power within the community, sitting proudly on the northern side of Beacon Hill. Carriages waited their turn to deposit strings of guests in front of the two front pillars, made up of the crème de la crème of the city money-makers, amongst them all, a former Ropemaker’s daughter. But tonight, Bea was not just her Da’s daughter; she was the wife of a successful business manager; she reminded herself. She noticed Joshua tilting his head at certain men as they passed by in the hallway. He strolled into the principal room as though he had always belonged there, tall and proud, comfortable in his own birth-class once more.
“Don’t look so nervous,” he whispered into her ear, “you belong here too.”
Bea nodded. Her throat had become dry and her hands were sweaty as she noticed some women staring at the new arrival in their midst.
Joshua felt her body tense against his and guided her towards the refreshment table. “This should help.” He handed her a glass of champagne and took one for himself.
The bubbles popped in her mouth and caused a fizzy sensation on her tongue. She couldn’t help but giggle. “That’s better.” He lent forward and gave her a kiss on the cheek.
She smiled. As the champagne disappeared, so did the fear.
“Shall we dance, Mrs Mason?”
“I think we shall, Mr Mason.”
Joshua guided her onto the dance floor as the music began. It was a quadrille. Joshua beamed at her, seeing how much of her old self had returned. Then they both remembered: they still didn’t know the steps confidently to a quadrille! A laugh slipped out from Bea, and she tried to cover it with a dainty cough. They watched the other couples do their steps first, and with their turn, in the middle, Joshua took her hand and leaned in close so that no one else could hear: “I love you.”
A passionate happiness surged through her body, and for the first time since their courting days, she wished they were alone. Instead, she waited for their next turn and whispered the same sentiment. She stared at him with wonder. How did she deserve such a man?
“Are you alright?” Joshua whispered, observing a wave of emotions flashing across Bea’s expressions.
“More than, this is wonderful.” She smiled up at him as he placed his arm around her waist, pulling her closer.
“Come with me.” He took her hand in his and weaved them away through the crowd, issuing small nods to anyone he knew.
“Where are we going?” He replied with only a mischievous glance. One of the side doors to the now-empty hall stood ajar, and he pulled her through quickly.
“What- I don’t think they’ll allow us to be in here.” Her eyes darting around the room, making sure they were alone.
It had a musky smell, with a fire crackling in the stuffy air, and worn leather books lining the walls. He let go of her hand and closed the door behind them. Then, in a single movement, he pressed her back against the door and kissed her. It was deep and passionate, reawakening the earlier sensation in her body at the foot of the stairs. She wanted to give in to the moment, to allow all the past inhibitions and trauma behind.
“I’m perfectly happy.” She stroked the side of his face, staring into his sea-blue eyes.
There was a moment of relief and joy reflected in his expression. “I know.”
I received an ARC copy of Saving Grace from the author for an honest review.
Having not read the first installment of this series, which I think is a must for this story, I, at first, felt a little off with the backstory of Bea and all that happened to her in Ropewalk. First and foremost, I do think it is necessary to read Ropewalk first.
That being said, the author does a good job of leading you into the lives of Bea and her husband as they embark on a new life in Boston, away from the former tragedies they left behind in England… or at least, they think. I felt for a long time this was more a story of a husband and wife trying to reconnect after tragedy instead of a story about the little girl, Grace, who lends her name to the title. There was a lot of back and forth, a struggle of reaching out, and of hesitation, between the couple for a long time into the story.
Where I felt the story really really blossomed was the introduction of Sarah’s backstory. I truly wished there was a book all on its own for her voice, and the words leapt from the page with passion and emotion. Her story was necessary to Bea’s story in the end, though, and drew them together in a mutual understanding; all with the goal of saving Grace, literally and figuratively.
What I loved about the story? Everything about Sarah and her struggles. What I didn’t love about the story? I felt a little disconnected to Bea for a long time into the book, but I soon discovered the reasons for her disconnect from those around her and the author skilfully has the reader feeling the same detachment. If that was what she was going for, then bravo!
I give this book four stars and look forward to catching up in reading Ropewalk and finding out what happens next in the third book.