Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Book Review/Giveaway: The Tudor Vendetta by C.W. Gortner


Winter, 1558: Elizabeth I has ascended the throne but the first days of her reign are already fraught with turmoil, the kingdom weakened by strife and her ability to rule uncertain.

Summoned from exile abroad at the new queen’s behest, Brendan Prescott arrives in London to face his shattered past. He soon finds himself pitted in deadly rivalry with his life-long foe, Robert Dudley, but when a poison attempt overshadows the queen’s coronation, Elizabeth privately dispatches Brendan on a far more dangerous assignation: to find her favored lady-in-waiting, Lady Parry, who has vanished in Yorkshire.

Upon his arrival at the crumbling sea-side manor that may hold the key to Lady Parry’s disappearance, he encounters a strange, impoverished family beset by grief, as well as mounting evidence that they hide a secret from him. The mystery surrounding Lady Parry deepens as Brendan begins to realize there is far more going on at the manor than meets the eye, but the closer he gets to the heart of the mystery, the more he becomes the quarry of an elusive stranger with a vendetta— one that could expose both his own buried identity and a long-hidden revelation that will bring about Elizabeth’s doom.

From the intrigue-laden passages of Whitehall to a foreboding Catholic manor and the prisons of the Tower, Brendan must risk everything to unravel a vendetta that strikes at the very core of his world, including his loyalty to his queen.

The Tudor Vendetta is the third book in Gortner’s Elizabeth I Spymaster Trilogy.



The Tudor period in England is one of my favorites in history.  So when I saw this book up for review, my heart said, "I.  MUST. READ."  And having done so, my heart is saying, "I. LOVED. IT!"

Elizabeth I was one of three legitimate children of Henry VIII, all three of whom had a turn at being a monarch after their father's passing.  First was Edward, son of Henry and his third wife, Jane Seymour.  He got to go first.  But he died after a few years, still being rather young.  Then Lady Jane Grey, whom Protestant Edward nominated as successor to keep his Catholic Sister Mary (daughter of Henry and his first wife, Catherine of Aragon) off the throne.  That worked for 9 days, before Mary's army overcame Jane's and had her sent to the Tower and later beheaded.  Mary made life very difficult for Protestants during her reign, which earned her the nickname "Bloody Mary".

But she eventually died too, and the throne went to her sister, Elizabeth (daughter of Henry and his second wife, Anne Boleyn).  Some say she was as ruthless, or more so, to the Catholics as her sister Mary had been to the Protestants.

I feel Mr. Gortner has captured the period well - the intrigue, the rivalries, the shifting loyalties and the differences between the experiences of the upper and lower classes.  Even people you considered your friends could turn on you if defending you meant a lessening of their station.  If I had lived at the court of the time, I'd either have played the game with the best of them, or shortly after arrival, start haunting the Tower.

At the start of The Tudor Vendetta, the MC Brendan is in Basel, Switzerland, in exile.  He is learning to be an 'intelligencer' in the service of the then-Princess Elizabeth.  When she becomes Queen, he and his mentor are recalled to court at Whitehall.  Much talk is dedicated to getting The Virgin Queen married and to produce an heir.  Mary, Queen of Scots would be next in line for the throne of England if Elizabeth failed to produce an heir, and Mary was Catholic.

I enjoyed the flow of the story and the language used - in my words, formal yet very readable.  (OK.  There were a couple of words starting with 'c', used to describe women, that I didn't care for, and that might offend some people.) Some people shy away from Shakespeare's plays because of the language and expressions.  The Tudor Vendetta could make the late Medieval and Renaissance years available to a wider audience and that is wonderful!

Even all those 'alphabet agencies' dealing with our national security with computers, satellites and other types of electronic surveillance would have trouble keeping up with the intrigue at and around a Tudor court.  Mr. Gortner has made it understandable and exciting for us in the comfort of our favorite reading environments.  Well done!



C.W. GORTNER holds an MFA in Writing with an emphasis in Renaissance Studies from the New College of California, as well as an AA from the Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising in San Francisco.

After an eleven year-long career in fashion, during which he worked as a vintage retail buyer, freelance publicist, and fashion show coordinator, C.W. devoted the next twelve years to the public health sector. In 2012, he became a full-time writer following the international success of his novels.

In his extensive travels to research his books, he has danced a galliard at Hampton Court, learned about organic gardening at Chenoceaux, and spent a chilly night in a ruined Spanish castle. His books have garnered widespread acclaim and been translated into twenty-one languages to date, with over 400,000 copies sold. A sought-after public speaker. C.W. has given keynote addresses at writer conferences in the US and abroad. He is also a dedicated advocate for animal rights, in particular companion animal rescue to reduce shelter overcrowding.

C.W. recently completed his fourth novel for Ballantine Books, about Lucrezia Borgia; the third novel in his Tudor Spymaster series for St Martin’s Press; and a new novel about the dramatic, glamorous life of Coco Chanel, scheduled for lead title publication by William Morrow, Harper Collins, in the spring of 2015.

Half-Spanish by birth and raised in southern Spain, C.W. now lives in Northern California with his partner and two very spoiled rescue cats.


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(Disclosure:  I received a copy of "The Tudor Vendetta" from the author and publisher via Historial Fiction Virtual Book Tours in exchange for my honest and unbiased opinion.)

Friday, October 17, 2014

BOOK REVIEW: The Village of Secrets by Caroline Moorehead


From the author of the runaway bestseller A Train in Wintercomes the extraordinary story of a French village that helped save thousands, including many Jewish children, who were pursued by the Gestapo during World War II.

Le Chambon-sur-Lignon is a small village of scattered houses high in the mountains of the Ardèche. Surrounded by pastures and thick forests of oak and pine, the plateau Vivarais lies in one of the most remote and inaccessible parts of Eastern France, cut off for long stretches of the winter by snow.

During the Second World War, the inhabitants of the area saved thousands wanted by the Gestapo: resisters, freemasons, communists, downed Allied airmen and above all Jews. Many of these were children and babies, whose parents had been deported to the death camps in Poland. After the war, Le Chambon became the only village to be listed in its entirety in Yad Vashem's Dictionary of the Just

Just why and how Le Chambon and its outlying parishes came to save so many people has never been fully told. Acclaimed biographer and historian Caroline Moorehead brings to life a story of outstanding courage and determination, and of what could be done when even a small group of people came together to oppose German rule. It is an extraordinary tale of silence and complicity. In a country infamous throughout the four years of occupation for the number of denunciations to the Gestapo of Jews, resisters and escaping prisoners of war, not one single inhabitant of Le Chambon ever broke silence. The story of Le Chambon is one of a village, bound together by a code of honour, born of centuries of religious oppression. And, though it took a conspiracy of silence by the entire population, it happened because of a small number of heroic individuals, many of them women, for whom saving those hunted by the Nazis became more important than their own lives.



The Village of Secrets is not a book that you can sit down and read in an afternoon.  It is a recounting of courage and hope in the face of danger and evil in one of the darkest periods of history

I am amazed at the amount of research that Ms. Moorehead had to do for this book.  Of course, the underlying story is interesting, but when it first breaks into widespread attention, fond memories have a tendency to color the truthfulness of reports.  I appreciate that Ms. Moorehead acknowledges this fact, and seeks to give us a fuller picture.

Certainly, an amazing enterprise was undertaken in Le Chambon during the years in question.  And I would not discount the individuals', or the village's contributions towards saving people fleeing Nazi terror.  But there were other villages in the area doing the same things, and Ms. Moorehead gives them props for their contributions to the resistance.

Anyone interested in this era in general, and in the persecution of the Jews in particular, needs (!) to read The Village of Secrets.  Ms. Moorehead's book would do quite well as assigned reading in college courses in history.

As a mother and a human being, the scenes depicting families torn apart, literally and figuratively, the descriptions of emaciated detainees, and children arriving at the plateau with barely the clothes on their backs were heart-rending.  My children have gotten many extra hugs while I was reading this book.

The Village of Secrets is at once a recounting of history and a call to action.  Get it.  Read it.  Do it.



From Wikipedia:

Caroline Moorehead, OBE (born 28 October 1944) is a human rights journalist and biographer.

Born in London, England, Moorehead received a BA from the University of London in 1965.

Moorehead has written six biographies, of Bertrand Russell, Heinrich Schliemann, Freya Stark, Iris Origo, Martha Gellhorn, and most recently, the life of Lucie de la Tour du Pin (the daughter in law of Jean-Frédéric de la Tour du Pin), who experienced the French Revolution and left a rich collection of letters as well as a memoir that cover the decades from the fall of the Ancien Regime up to the rise of Napoleon III.

Moorehead has also written a number of non-fiction pieces centered on human rights including a history of the International Committee of the Red Cross, Dunant's Dream, based on previously unseen archives in Geneva, Troublesome People, a book on pacifists, and a work on terrorism, Hostages to Fortune. Her most recent work in this category is on refugees in the modern world named Human Cargo, published in 2004. Moorehead has also published A Train in Winter, a book which focuses on 230 French women of the Resistance who were sent to Auschwitz, and of whom only forty-nine survived.

She has written many book reviews for assorted papers and reviews, including the TLS, Literary Review, Telegraph, Independent, Spectator, and New York Review of Books. She specialized in human rights as a journalist, contributing a column first to the Times and then the Independent, and co-producing and writing a series of programs on human rights for BBC television.

She is a trustee and director of Index on Censorship and a governor of the British Institute of Human Rights. She has served on the committees of the Royal Society of Literature, of which she is a Fellow; the Society of Authors; English PEN; and the London Library. She also helped start a legal advice centre for asylum seekers from the Horn of Africa in Cairo, where she helps run a number of educational projects.

She was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature in 1993. She was awarded an OBE in 2005 for services to literature.

(Disclosure:  I received a copy of "The Village of Secrets: Defying the Nazis in Vichy France" from the author and publisher via TLC Book Tours in exchange for my honest and unbiased opinion.)

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

AUTHOR INTERVIEW: Piers Alexander of The Bitter Trade

I am honored to have Piers Alexander, author of The Bitter Trade (reviewed on Monday) on the Back Porch today for a little Q & A!

From GoodReads:

In 1688, torn by rebellions, England lives under the threat of a Dutch invasion. Redheaded Calumny Spinks is the lowliest man in an Essex backwater: half-French and still unapprenticed at seventeen, yet he dreams of wealth and title.

When his father’s violent past resurfaces, Cal’s desperation leads him to become a coffee racketeer. He has just three months to pay off a blackmailer and save his father’s life - but his ambition and talent for mimicry pull him into a conspiracy against the King himself.  Cal’s journey takes him from the tough life of Huguenot silk weavers to the vicious intrigues at Court. As the illicit trader Benjamin de Corvis and his controlling daughter Emilia pull him into their plots, and his lover Violet Fintry is threatened by impending war, Cal is forced to choose between his conscience and his dream of becoming Mister Calumny Spinks.


About the Author

Piers Alexander is an author and serial entrepreneur. After a successful career as CEO of media and events companies he became a Co-Founder and Chairman of three start-up businesses. In 2013 he was awarded the PEN Factor Prize for The Bitter Trade. He is currently working on the sequel, Scatterwood, set in Jamaica in 1692.

For more information visit Piers Alexander’s website. You can also find him on Facebook, Twitter, and Goodreads.


The Interview

1.  How did you get the story idea for The Bitter Trade?

My wife had come up with an idea for a futuristic conspiracy involving coffee, which had been swirling round my mind before it reappeared when I was writing my diary one day. I found I was describing a rebellious redheaded character called Calumny Spinks, who was watching the hustle and bustle of Restoration London from a rooftop when he fell through the tiles and into a stash of contraband spices...

I didn't have an exact year to set it in until I happened to take a break outside the wonderful London Library. There's a statue of William of Orange in St James's Square: I saw it and took out my smartphone, and realised that the Glorious Revolution made the perfect backdrop for a tale of conspiracy, racketeering and lusty adventures!

2.  Having lived in more than one country, how many languages do you speak?

English, bullishly
French, fluently
German, stumbling
Italian, delightfully (grammar and vocabulary limited; hand gestures perfect)

3.  What draws you to the book's time period?

The exuberant, breathtaking pace of social, scientific, philosophical and political change. 1688 was the start of the Long Eighteenth Century in England, and to me it's when our modern way of thinking and living emerged, so it's fascinating to me. Most importantly, I think it would have been an amazing time to live: you could walk into a coffeehouse and match wits with great minds; and an ambitious person could make something of themselves, crossing social boundaries. Plus there were pirates.

4.  What are your views on the institutionalized religious intolerance of the time?

The same as my views of today's religious intolerance! I think there have always been people who want to make others belong to their organisations and power structures, and there have always been free thinkers - who are generally persecuted and killed even more than followers of rival religions. In The Bitter Trade, I make it pretty clear that I am with the free thinkers.

One thing that's fascinating about the Restoration and the Glorious Revolution is that acts of toleration (including James II's Declaration of Indulgence) were enacted in order to shore up support on one side or another: political instability had the effect of decreasing religious intolerance and putting toleration on a legal basis. That's something that is fundamental to English civil society, and I hope it never goes away.

5.  If you could be friends with one of your characters, whom would you choose and why?

The leprous coffee-woman, Mistress John Hollow. She's strong and wise, but unafraid to insult and challenge, and would make great company on a cold and muggy London evening.

6.  Do you drink coffee?  If so, how do you take it?

Oh yes. I take too much of it, usually in the form of a flat white, which is an Australian/NZ innovation that has taken London by storm. Bitter as experience, milky as innocence,  with rich chocolatey depths!

7.  What is a 'hunt saboteur mature student'?

He was a fellow student with sincere left-wing views who used to go out into Yorkshire of a weekend and disrupt people's fox-hunting. Quite a dangerous occupation, and he was arrested more than once for it.

8.  Is Lulu your only pet?

She is. I do tend to monopolise other people's animals though...

9.  What do you hope readers take away from The Bitter Trade?

I love it when readers say they lost themselves in seventeenth century London. To me that's the best thing about writing and reading historical fiction: you get into a time machine and lose yourself in history.

I do also have some quite fierce things to say about women and outsiders and how our habit of medicating ourselves (legally or not) tends to leave a destructive wake. So perhaps a little of that might linger in a reader's mind.

Most of all, I hope they enjoy the adventure, and Calumny's sheer cheekiness.

10.  Which writer from history (including the present) would you most like to meet?

From history: The emperor Marcus Aurelius. To be the most powerful man in the world, and take the time to muse on life, death and the temporariness of experience: I'd buy him a flat white for sure.

From the present: I'm lucky enough to have married my favourite contemporary author!


Thank you for visiting today, Piers, and for your time in answering the questions.  Best of success with this tour and I'm looking forward to "Scatterwood"!

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

BOOK REVIEW/EXCERPT - Crazy is Normal by Lloyd Lofthouse


Multi award winning author, Lloyd Lofthouse kept a daily journal for one-full school year and that journal became the primary source of this teacher’s memoir.

“Readers who envision eager students lapping up learning led by a Tiger Teacher will be disappointed. Lofthouse presents us with grungy classrooms, kids who don’t want to be in school, and the consequences of growing up in a hardscrabble world. While some parents support his efforts, many sabotage them—and isolated administrators make the work of Lofthouse and his peers even more difficult.

Throughout this memoir, though, Lofthouse seems able to keep the hope alive that there’s a future for each student that doesn’t include jail—thanks in large part to his sixth period journalism class and its incredible editor, Amanda.” – Bruce Reeves



Lloyd Lofthouse has hit upon the perfect training program for public teachers in the US today - active duty deployment as a US Marine.

Crazy is Normal is a journal kept by the author covering one school year, showing the good, the bad and the ugly about being a public school teacher in the US.  The good includes the occasional student who is actually eager to learn.  The bad includes parents calling the teacher to find out why their baby is failing.  (Maybe it has to do with not turning in ANY assignments?)  The ugly includes the lack of support from some administrations (at the school or *ahem* with the federal government).  Each student is different; attempting to cram them into a Common Core cookie cutter will just give them suspicious-looking indentation marks all over their bodies.

Lofthouse's book shows how bat-cookie cray-cray has become the norm in public schools today.  I almost feel physical pain when I think about it for too long.  I don't know how or why teachers do what they do for as long as they do it.  There are two choices.  They are either crazy - but that's normal today.  (In our house, we take pride in our crazy.)  Or they have a 'calling'.

If you expect little from people or a lot, they will usually live up to your expectations.  Teachers have a LOT of pressure on them.  Considering they are preparing our children and other young people to take over our world someday, they are not paid nearly enough.

Crazy is an amazing look into the year of one teacher's life.  Now, I'm sure there are as many different experiences as there are teachers.  This is not propaganda put out by the Department of Education.  Lofthouse gives us his journal from the front lines of the battle on the school front.

After you read Crazy is Normal, DO something!  Volunteer at your child's school, or with an adult literacy program.  The possibilities are endless.  Give of yourself.  Get involved.  Change the future.



Little did Lloyd Lofthouse know in 1999, when he married Anchee Min, that he was beginning a journey of discovery. His first trip to The Middle Kingdom was on the honeymoon with his bride, who introduced him to China and Robert Hart (1835-1911), the main characters in Lloyd’s first two novels,My Splendid Concubine and Our Hart. The next decade was a journey of discovery. Lloyd now lives near San Francisco with his wife–with a second home in Shanghai, China.

Lloyd earned a BA in journalism in 1973 after fighting in Vietnam as a U.S. Marine. While working days as an English teacher, he enjoyed a second job as a maitre d’ in a multimillion-dollar nightclub. His short story, A Night at the ‘Well of Purity’ was named as a finalist for the 2007 Chicago Literary Awards.

Lloyd has won 15 awards for My Splendid Concubine and 5 awards for Running With the Enemy.




Thursday was parent conference day for the first semester, and we were on a shortened schedule. I hated short days. There was no lunch break; the classes weren’t long enough to accomplish much of anything—twenty-eight minutes instead of fifty-nine—and the school day ended at 11:40. I also had duty that afternoon at a game. It was going to be another thirteen-hour day before I drove home.

Passing through the office on the way to my classroom, I heard that four hundred fifty students had stayed home and called in sick Wednesday as an alternative way to protest Proposition 187.

Scroll never ran a story about it, and I never asked the editors why. The paper was theirs.

Before my first class, I sat down with a calculator to figure out how much the protest cost the school. After taking roll in each class, I said, “Some of you were absent yesterday to protest Proposition 187. I want you to know that the schools are paid only when you’re in school, and that the high school probably lost eleven thousand dollars yesterday. It doesn’t seem smart to hurt the very school you say you want to stay in.

“If you’re really interested in protesting 187, you should join an organized, peaceful demonstration over the weekend. Walking out of school or staying home doesn’t help.”

Mildred stayed after 11:40, calling possible advertisers for the school paper. She also wrote two follow-up letters she planned to mail to businesses interested in buying ads.

I corrected papers until I left for water polo game duty. By then, Mildred was gone. I reached the pool only to discover that the other school had forfeited the game. Even with the cold weather, the Nogales team decided to get in the water and play against each other. I stayed and watched while correcting papers.

That evening, parent conferences took place in the gym. Tables were set up in rows, and, when parents entered the gym, they were given a map that helped them find their child’s teachers. I talked to about thirty parents that night, and most of them only wanted to know what they could do to help their sons or daughters earn a better grade. Most of their children were already passing. Few parents came for the failing students.

But Alexis’s dad was different. “Alexis says she did all the work, and it was at home in her folder because you didn’t tell her when it was due,” he said. “And when she explained, you refused to let her turn that work in late. I don’t like your rigid, unyielding policy of not accepting late work.”
Alexis was lying, but that wasn’t new—too many students lied to gullible parents. She had come with her dad, and I turned to her. “Why is it that so many of the other students know when assignments are due?” I asked.

“That’s not true,” she replied. “Everyone is confused, and almost everyone is failing because you’re so hard.”

“How can they be confused when the due dates are written on the board for every assignment a week or more before an assignment is due, and I read that information to each class every day, right after I take roll?”

“I don’t remember anything being written on the board,” she said.

I studied her dad and could see that he believed every word his daughter was saying. My grade book said Alexis had an eighteen percent average.

“I understand that a lot of your students are failing,” he said. “That doesn’t say much for you as a teacher. I’ve heard some of your students say you’re boring.”

Now I was angry and leaned across the table. “I’m sure there are times when all classes are boring—but in your line of work, do you ever let boredom stop you from getting the work done? I do my job, which I can’t say about a lot of the students in my classes. If you have a complaint, you can take it to the principal or one of the vice principals.” I pointed at one of the VPs, who was talking to another parent on the other side of the gym. “That blond lady over there is one of the vice principals. I want you to know that I work hard to do the best job I can, but that can never make up for students who don’t cooperate or work.”

“Why are you being so hard and demanding when all of her teachers since kindergarten have been easy?” he asked. “It isn’t fair, that after all of these years, she has to get a teacher like you.”
I didn’t believe all of her teachers had been easy, but they may have been pressured by their principals to lower the failure rate. “In three and a half years,” I said, “Alexis is going to leave high school and enter a society that won’t accept the kind of excuses she’s using. And I couldn’t live with myself if I didn’t do the best I could to prepare every student who passes through my classroom for that outside world.”

“Then I want to know why you haven’t called me about Alexis not turning in her work!” He demanded.

“I’ve tried, but either no one answers at home or at work, or the line is busy. I can prove that I’ve already made more than a hundred phone calls to other parents.”

“I want to see that proof!” He snapped.

“I log everything, but that documentation is in my classroom. You can also see copies of my phone calls through the ninth-grade counselor. She gets a copy of each one.”

This was such waste of time, and I wanted him to leave. Other parents stood in line behind him, waiting to see me. I hoped he’d demand that Alexis be transferred to another teacher, who’d give her a passing grade for not working. With a father like him, she deserved to leave high school uneducated.

Every morning on the drive to work, I reminded myself there were good kids in every class who cooperated, worked, and learned. They were the reason I stayed in teaching. I couldn’t blame teachers who were burned out and had lost their edge in the classroom. I understood why.

It was almost 10:00 when I got home.


(Disclosure:  I received a copy of this book from the author and publisher via Virtual Author Book Tours in exchange for my honest and unbiased review.)

Click the above logo link to see the rest of the tour

Monday, October 13, 2014

BOOK REVIEW: The Bitter Trade by Piers Alexander


In 1688, torn by rebellions, England lives under the threat of a Dutch invasion. Redheaded Calumny Spinks is the lowliest man in an Essex backwater: half-French and still unapprenticed at seventeen, yet he dreams of wealth and title.

When his father’s violent past resurfaces, Calumny’s desperation leads him to flee to London and become a coffee racketeer. He has just three months to pay off a blackmailer and save his father’s life – but his ambition and talent for mimicry pull him into a conspiracy against the King himself. Cal’s journey takes him from the tough life of Huguenot silk weavers to the vicious intrigues at Court. As the illicit trader Benjamin de Corvis and his controlling daughter Emilia pull him into their plots, and his lover Violet Fintry is threatened by impending war, Cal is forced to choose between his conscience and his dream of becoming Mister Calumny Spinks.



calumny  - a false and malicious statement designed to injure the reputation of someone or something

I like Calumny Spinks.  He occasionally has a filthy mouth and way too many hormones for one teenage boy, but part of me understands him.

His father, Peter, has not allowed Calumny to be schooled or to enter into an apprenticeship, whereby he might be able to support himself one day in a trade.  He has scant time left before that option will be closed to him forever.  Assuming, of course, that no one would like to make him seem still eligible.

But few things in England of the time are what they seem.  Since Scottish kings came to power in England after the death of Elizabeth I, Catholics were once again in power, and lording it over Protestants.  But then, the situation had been reversed on at least two occasions since Henry VIII started the Church of England in order to be able to divorce Catherine of Aragon to marry Anne Boleyn.

In spite of the fact Calumny had a home and a mother and father still living, he reminds me a lot of children who grow up in the streets, either having run away, or because it's easier for them to find food there than at their 'homes'.  Street kids learn hard and fast, and so did Calumny.

The rhythm of the language Mr. Alexander uses in The Bitter Trade is high up on my list of favorites.  It conveys the difference in language between then and now well, while remaining accessible to most readers.

I am excited (already) to read the sequel when it comes out.



Piers Alexander is an author and serial entrepreneur. After a successful career as CEO of media and events companies he became a Co-Founder and Chairman of three start-up businesses. In 2013 he was awarded the PEN Factor Prize for The Bitter Trade. He is currently working on the sequel, Scatterwood, set in Jamaica in 1692.

For more information visit Piers Alexander’s website. You can also find him on Facebook, Twitter, and Goodreads.


(Disclosure:  I received a print copy of The Bitter Trade from the author and publisher via Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tours in exchange for my honest and unbiased review.)

Click the button above to see the rest of the tour, which includes more reviews, interviews (including my own - so come back this Wednesday!), guest posts and a giveaway!

Friday, October 10, 2014

BOOK REVIEW: A Tangled Web by Sandra Schwab


Publication Date: July 14, 2014
Series: Allan’s Miscellany
Genre: Historical Romance

Lawrence Pelham works as a comic artist for Allan’s Miscellany. A chance meeting with a young woman dressed in mourning changes Pel’s whole life, and without his even knowing, he is thrown into a world of mystery and intrigue, where nothing is as it seems to be—especially not the woman he has given his heart to.

Her whole life Sarah Browne has been told how plain she is, how nondescript, destined to become an old maid. For years she has been her family’s dutiful nursing maid and caretaker, but now a secret inheritance and an encounter with the charming Mr. Pelham seem to offer her a chance to break out of her life of duty and drudgery—if she dares to take it. Yet how could such an interesting, witty man like Mr. Pelham be possibly interested in her boring self?

And so, Sarah soon finds herself entangled in a web of lies and deceit, which might even cost her the love of her life.



I had quite a start when I sat down to write this review.  I had read an e-book, Allan's Miscellany 1846, and found my draft post saying I should have read A Tangled Web!  After a few minutes I indeed discovered that the proper title of the book was A Tangled Web: Allan's Miscellany 1846!

But my momentary discomfort was far less than the situation in which Sarah Browne found herself.  Being an unmarried woman in her late 20's, Sarah was expected to take care of aging family members.  Then, she is taken in by a brother and his family, who demand she serve them as a tutor to their children, in the same breath as telling her what a (financial) burden she is on her family.  Polite society has a lot for which to answer.

Sarah thought herself unlovely and unloved.  So when a handsome man speaks to her outside a shop, she tells him she is the widow Mrs. Edwards.  (I wonder if she got that name from her cousin Edward.)  An as yet unmarried woman speaking to a man alone on the street just wasn't done.  But a widow was a different story.  Still, she couldn't risk him picking her up from her brother's house.

But luck was once in her favor and she had recently come into a secret inheritance from a recently deceased aunt.  She had GBP10 cash and a annuity of 200 or so, which was enough to allow her to live independently, should she choose so to do.  She keeps her home with her brother, but rents a house in which to have twice-weekly meetings with her Mr. Pelham.

Of course, she is found out.  Pel feels used (rather rightly - she did lie).  Not only did her relatives make it impossible for her to continue living with them, they made sure Pel was made to leave his employment.

I understand Sarah's past colored her abilities in her present.  Many women, even today, suffer from a lack of self-esteem.  I understand her telling Pel she was a widow, what with the morality of appearances of the day.  Her lack of esteem was wearing a little thin, but then I look at the situation through the glasses of women's rights and abilities in the 21st century.  I was glad when Sarah undertook to fight for her man and her relationship by tracking him down and by explaining herself through a series of cartoons in Allan's Miscellany.

I did not see much by way of mystery in the story, but it is a delicious romance.  It's a period 'Cinderella' story with a lifetime of trials and tribulations for the hero (or heroine) until a final happy resolution.  A Tangled Web is a light, quick, romantic read that will go well with your tea service in the afternoon.



I started writing my first novel when I was seven years old: a heart-wrenching story about the friendship between a puppy and a little cat, probably inspired by Disney's Fox & Hound. I filled page after page with pink ink from my pink, heart-dotted fountain pen, inserted illustrations and even wrote a sequel! Twenty-odd years later, telling stories is still my greatest passion, even though by now I have exchanged my pink fountain pen for a computer keyboard (black, no hearts).

In my late teens I wrote melodramatic poetry (heck, what can you expect from someone in the throes of late puberty?), before I returned once more to fantasy stories and started to think seriously about publication. Yet several rejection letters later - by then I was becoming something of an expert on rejection letters, and let me tell you, several of these people knew nothing about putting together a rejection letter and got the phrasing all wrong! - it seemed as if my wished-for writing career was over before it had ever started. As can be expected, this was not the most jolly moment of my life! But, alas, I had one last chance: in the early months of the year 2000 I switched not only genres (from fantasy to romance), but also languages (from German to English). The latter was definitely the more daunting endeavour, but I was lucky enough to find a wonderful writers' group on the net, and these awesome ladies supported my first stumbling steps in the new language. So here's three BIG cheers for you, my friends, because without you I would have never managed it!

A few years later I joined RWA and entered the first chapter of my second English novel, Straight to the Heart, in the Opening Gambit Contest of the Northeast Indiana Romance Authors. All I hoped for was that nobody would make disparaging remarks about my English. So imagine my surprise when I not only got into the final round, but actually won that contest! Now I finally had my proof that the decision to start writing in a second language had been a sound one - and for days, I was walking around on clouds! Several months later, after getting a first place in the Winning Beginnings Contest of the Valley Forge Romance Authors with the same manuscript and blubbering into the year of the poor contest coordinator when she called to tell me the good news, it finally happened: I got The Call! (Thank God, I got an e-mail first, else I would have blubbered into my poor editor's ear as well. *g*) And thus, Straight to the Heart eventually became The Lily Brand (at this point, feel free to head over to the bookshelf and drool over ... er ... admire the lovely cover pic some more!) (Be advised, though, that I won't be held responsible if you ruin your keyboard! *ggg*).

These days I live in a small town near Frankfurt on the Main, Germany, with altogether too many books (have you ever heard of books procreating? I believe mine do!) and a neurotic cat. In my "other life" I hold a PhD from Mainz University, where I teach English Literature. When not writing, preparing class, or correcting student papers, I work on my next academic book project about the famous British magazine Punch.

To find out more about my academic work, go to


(Disclosure:  I received an ecopy of "A Tangled Web" from the author and publisher via Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tours, in exchange for my honest and unbiased opinion.)

REVIEW/INTERVIEW: Captain Shelby by Jesse Giles Christiansen


There are places even the sea cannot go…

In coastal Denmark, a young man named Nereus builds a longship and leaves at age eighteen to discover a new, enigmatic land. Faced with unimaginable obstacles, he crosses the North Atlantic, only to be captured by the Skraelings, the Inuit indigenous people who seek revenge on all settlers because of a "Great Red Man" who murdered many of their family members.

A few years later, Nereus is hired by a group of Irish settlers who are fleeing the tyranny of King Henry VIII and he takes them across the North Atlantic to the Newfound Land. A fierce battle ensues against the sea, the Little Ice Age, and the vicious Skraelings.

When Nereus falls in love with Laura Hodges, fiancée to the group’s leader, William Brockelby, he becomes embroiled in a dangerous love triangle…until the formidable mystery surrounding Captain Nereus H. Shelby is finally revealed.