Thursday, 2 December 2021

#BookReview—The Shadows of Versailles (An Affair of the Poisons Book One) by Cathie Dunn #HistoricalFiction #HistoricalMystery @cathiedunn


The Shadows of Versailles
An Affair of the Poisons, Book One
By Cathie Dunn


May 10th – May 21st 2021

Publication Date: November 20th, 2020
Publisher: Ocelot Press
Page Length: 277 pages
Genre: Historical Fiction / Historical Mystery

Dazzled by Versailles. Broken by tragedy. Consumed by revenge.

When Fleur de La Fontaine attends the court of King Louis XIV for the first time, she is soon besotted with handsome courtier, Philippe de Mortain. She dreams of married life away from her uncaring mother, but Philippe keeps a secret from her.

Nine months later, after the boy she has given birth to in a convent is whisked away, she flees to Paris where she mends gowns in the brothel of Madame Claudette, a woman who helps ‘fallen’ girls back on their feet.

Jacques de Montagnac investigates a spate of abducted children when his path crosses Fleur’s. He searches for her son, but the trail leads to a dead end – and a dreadful realisation.

Her boy’s suspected fate too much to bear, Fleur decides to avenge him. She visits the famous midwife, La Voisin, but it’s not the woman’s skills in childbirth that Fleur seeks.

La Voisin dabbles in poisons.

Will Fleur see her plan through? Or can she save herself from a tragic fate?

Delve into The Shadows of Versailles and enter the sinister world of potions, poisoners and black masses during the Affairs of the Poisons, a real event that stunned the court of the Sun King!


“‘Tis not without risk, this.”

Fleur de La Fontaine had led a sheltered life, until now. Her indifferent and coldly calculating mother, Sophie de La Fontaine, is only interested in her daughter now that she is of marriageable age. Sophie is determined to find her daughter a suitable and, more importantly, wealthy husband. Fleur is not opposed to the idea of marriage if it means she can be free from her mother’s influence. But finding a suitable husband turns out to be more challenging than what Fleur had first thought...

From the seduction of an innocent young woman to a scandal that would rock the Court of Louis XIV, The Shadows of Versailles (An Affair of the Poisons, Book 1) by Cathie Dunn is a historical fiction triumph.

With a careful blend of fact and fiction, Dunn has presented her readers with a story that is as compelling as it is harrowing. Forget the glittering grandeur of the Palace of Versailles, this story is gritty, dark and unforgettable.

Fleur, the protagonist in this sordid tale of poison and abductions, is a young woman who falls in love with a scoundrel. He takes her innocence and gives her nothing in return. Desperate for help she turns to her mother, but if she thought she would find a sympathetic ear she was in for a disappointment. The abuse that Fleur is forced to endure is truly horrendous, and it did leave me in tears on more than one occasion. Instead of help, her mother has her confined to a convent where the Mother Superior, Sister Agathe, has more in common with the Devil than with God. There is a deep and embedded cruelty inside the walls of the convent of the Carmelites. These godless women judge, they steal and they condemn, hiding their crimes behind the cross of Christ which is stained by the blood of the innocent that they put there, making a mockery of everything they supposedly believe in.
 
Betrayed by the man she loves, betrayed by her mother and then treated appallingly by those professing God’s love, Fleur’s left traumatised, and the one glimmer of hope, the promise that her baby, which is stolen from her, would be found alive and unharmed becomes less likely as the days roll by. Fleur is left with a choice, she could make a new life for herself with the man who rescued her, Jacques de Montagnac, or she could find the courage to go back to Versailles and seek her revenge on those who have so ruthlessly used and abandoned her. The anger and the understandable bitterness means that Fleur becomes the very opposite of what she was at the beginning of this novel. The dreams of a young woman had been shattered, and there was no going back. But if she is to seek her revenge, she will need to put herself in a position above reproach. She needs to be in the King’s intimate circle. I thought Fleur’s depiction, her story, was beautifully told. She is not the characteristic strong heroine—she endures what is thrown at her because she has no other choice, but her fragility and frailty made her a heroine that a reader can sympathise with. Fleur comes across as very real in the telling.

The other protagonist in this tragic story of abuse, poisons, human sacrifice and murder is La Reynie’s spy, Jacques de Montagnac. Running alongside Fleur’s story is Jacques. Jacques is investigating the alarming spate in abductions of newborn babies, whom he fears are ending up in the hands of the Black Masses—a group of people whose ideological and philosophical beliefs were based around Satan and who, it was rumoured, had infiltrated the Court of the Sun King. Jacques is determined to find out who is behind the abdications and more importantly he is determined to stop them. But this is no easy task, for they cover their tracks and hide behind a cocktail of lies and the Church. The idea that there were members of the Church who were involved in satanic rituals is particularly vile and it is one that Jacques really struggles to understand. It is during his investigation that his path crosses with Fleur’s. And it is then that Fleur must decide her own future and Jacques reluctantly realises that he can have no say in it. I thought Jacques’ depiction was fabulous. He is the light in this tale of darkness and despair.

There are several antagonists in this story but of all of them, I think Sophie is the most despicable. Keeping in mind the era and what was and wasn’t acceptable, I could understand why she sent Fleur away to a convent so that there would be no hint of a scandal. But it is what she does next that sickened me. Sophie is a very angry, very selfish woman whose bitterness has eaten away whatever goodness there once was in her soul. Her lack of empathy, her patronizing manner and her inability to feel any love for her child was deeply disturbing. And yet it is Sophie that controls the narrative of this story. 

With one eye on the historical controversy of this era and the other on what makes an enthralling read, Dunn has presented her readers with an unashamedly impressive novel. Add to this the historical detail and the cast of unforgettable characters means that this book is something very special indeed. The confident use of word building, the crystalline prose, and the vibrant storytelling brought this era to life and shined a glaring light on the Affair of the Poisons. The long hours of research that has gone into this novel is evident throughout. This book is nothing short of a masterpiece.

The Shadows of Versailles (An Affair of the Poisons, Book 1) by Cathie Dunn is an emotionally driven story that is not only bold in its delivery but extremely successful as well. This is a novel that demands to be read in one sitting. I cannot wait to get my hands on Book 2 of what promises to be a tautly gripping series. 

I Highly Recommend.

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




Cathie Dunn writes historical fiction, mystery, and romance.

Cathie has been writing for over twenty years. She studied Creative Writing, with a focus on novel writing, which she now teaches in the south of France. She loves researching for her novels, delving into history books, and visiting castles and historic sites.

Her stories have garnered awards and praise from reviewers and readers for their authentic description of the past.

Cathie is a member of the Historical Novel Society and the Alliance of Independent Authors.

After nearly two decades in Scotland, she now lives in the historic city of Carcassonne in the south of France with her husband, two cats and a rescue dog. 

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Tuesday, 30 November 2021

Read an #excerpt from Rob Samborn's fabulous #NewRelease - The Prisoner of Paradise #HistoricalFiction @RobSamborn


The Prisoner of Paradise 
(The Paradise Series, Book 1)
By Rob Samborn


January 19th – March 23rd 2022

Publication Date: 30th November 2021
Publisher: TouchPoint Press
Page Length: 333 Pages
Genre: Commercial Thriller, Historical Fiction, Magical Realism

The world’s largest oil painting. A 400-year-old murder. A disembodied whisper: “Amore mio.” My love.

Nick and Julia O’Connor’s dream trip to Venice collapses when a haunting voice reaches out to Nick from Tintoretto’s Paradise, a monumental depiction of Heaven. Convinced his delusions are the result of a concussion, Julia insists her husband see a doctor, though Nick is adamant the voice was real.

Blacking out in the museum, Nick flashes back to a life as a 16th century Venetian peasant swordsman. He recalls precisely who the voice belongs to: Isabella Scalfini, a married aristocrat he was tasked to seduce but with whom he instead found true love. A love stolen from them hundreds of years prior.

She implores Nick to liberate her from a powerful order of religious vigilantes who judge and sentence souls to the canvas for eternity. Releasing Isabella also means unleashing thousands of other imprisoned souls, all of which the order claims are evil.

As infatuation with a possible hallucination clouds his commitment to a present-day wife, Nick’s past self takes over. Wracked with guilt, he can no longer allow Isabella to remain tormented, despite the consequences. He must right an age-old wrong – destroy the painting and free his soul mate. But the order will eradicate anyone who threatens their ethereal prison and their control over Venice.


1589 A.D.
Republic of Venice

“Were you followed?”

Angelo Mascari struggled to catch his breath, panting from his twenty-minute sprint through serpentine streets in oppressive summer humidity, not yet able to answer the tall nobleman glaring at him with steady, pale blue eyes. 

Unfamiliar with this district of Venice, Angelo’s nerves demanded his senses be at full attention. They stood on the fondamenta of a narrow canal at a corner outside the Jewish Ghetto. No torches or lanterns lit the footbridge, the wall’s porticos, or a dozen other potential hiding spots on either side of the waterway. Silently, he thanked the moon for its fullness, as its light would provide precious seconds of reaction time should a lurker reveal himself. A black skiff bobbed next to them. Other than retreating the way he’d come, the boat was his only option for escape. 

He was hesitant to trust the nobleman, but with friends in short supply and a warrant on his head, Angelo had little choice. That the man had yet to kill or arrest him was a promising sign. He slowed his breathing and leaned against the wall, the stucco’s mildew finer than wet velvet.

“You spoke the truth,” Angelo said between inhalations. “I should not have gone.” The heavy sea air left a salty tang on his lips.

“Were you followed?” his contact asked with a clipped whisper. Though the windows in the four-story buildings looming over them were shuttered, voices carried in the cramped neighborhood.

“No, impossible.” Angelo scanned the alley and glanced over his shoulder, more concerned with potential pursuers than prying ears. His words betrayed his confidence. No one was aware of his attendance at his beloved’s sentencing—but anything was possible. 

I know that now.

His unnamed collaborator narrowed his eyes, seemingly reading Angelo’s doubt. Six or seven decades of lines etched themselves into the man’s face, framed by chin-length, oyster-gray hair. A snub nose lay in waiting over a trimmed beard of tarnished silver. 

“Your childish endeavor accomplished nothing and nearly ended your life.”

Angelo did not appreciate this near-stranger chastising him, but he held his tongue. During their lone prior meeting, the man declined to disclose how he knew of Angelo’s predicament. He had also refused to divulge his identity, though his precise, modulated diction and distinct, upper-class air exposed his nobility.

“And you ruined your garments.” He scowled at Angelo’s lacerated hemp doublet and bloodstained white wool shirt, a stark contrast from the man’s all-black, posh attire. “That may pose a problem,” he said.

Angelo scratched at the squalid bandage that wrapped his left ear. Having neither bathed nor seen a mirror in many days, grime coated his bruised face and matted his curly, dark hair, but he cared not about his appearance. 

The incredible sight he witnessed less than an hour earlier dominated his thoughts, though he’d yet to process it. He loathed to trust his eyes. From a concealed alcove in perhaps the largest room in Venice, he had watched, helpless. As his enemies concluded their ritual, it appeared as though they had drained Isabella’s very life essence from her body. In the flesh, yet flesh no more. The unimaginable agony she endured. His final vision of the once-beautiful girl, wilted and shackled, would be engraved in his brain for the remainder of his days, however few they may be. 

He blamed himself for the whole of the affair. How could he not? Though only twenty, Angelo strove to live a virtuous life despite the widespread vice in his city. In the end, he succumbed to the greatest addiction of all—love.

Now, with no foreseeable way to rescue her, he felt no justification for standing unscathed. He should have been in her place. With his dreams quashed and his well-being an afterthought, he had two goals: avenge his beloved and—by some means yet known—save her from the torturous fate that befell her.

“Be truthful,” Angelo said, a humble demand. “What has become of Isabella? What? What did I witness?” He hung his head at the hopelessness. 

“Mourn later. She’s not lost forever.”

A breeze skittered moonlight across the canal, bringing with it an acrid, fishy odor, though Angelo found it refreshing on his sweat-drenched skin. Hope swelled within.

From under his gold-embroidered, hip-length linen cloak, the nobleman removed a pouch of coins and a sealed letter, which he offered to Angelo. “Take these and this skiff. Make your way to Palos in Spain and find Sebastiano Cadamosto. Give him the letter. He’ll provide you passage to New Spain.”

New Spain? What about our next move?”

“This is your next move. It’s your only move. At least for some time.”

“It’s the other side of the world.” Angelo abhorred the desperation in his voice, like a punished boy sent away when a man’s work had to be done.

“At present, you’re a liability to the Guild, to the cause at large. You’ll be caught here, anywhere in the Republic, perhaps anywhere in Europe. Go, posthaste. The ceremony has surely ended by now.”

Angelo eyed the boat. He had already been forced to flee danger twice in three days. The mere notion of abandoning Venice without so much as a goodbye to his friends and family grated his core. He’d never set foot on the mainland and was now told to traverse it. A most uncertain future lay beyond the horizon. How could he help Isabella from across the oceans, idling for years with a handful of ducats to his name? 

“No,” Angelo said. “I cannot leave my home.”

“You should have considered that before seducing a married woman.”

Angelo seethed. “She’s the love of my life. Not some wanton mistress. I’ll join your cause and fight them here.” He grasped the rapier at his hip.

“Your prowess with the blade is well known.” The nobleman laid a gentle hand over Angelo’s and guided the sword into its sheath. “But how will you fare against a hundred men?”

“I shall die fighting.”

“Death is but the first consideration. And then your beloved will indeed be lost forever.”




In addition to being a novelist, Rob Samborn is a screenwriter, entrepreneur and avid traveler. He’s been to forty countries, lived in five of them, and studied nine languages. As a restless spirit who can’t remember the last time he was bored, Rob is on a quest to explore the intricacies of our world and try his hand at a multitude of crafts; he’s also an accomplished artist and musician, as well as a budding furniture maker. A native New Yorker who lived in Los Angeles for twenty years, he now makes his home in Denver with his wife, daughter and dog.

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Monday, 29 November 2021

Read an #excerpt from Cheryl A. Hunter's fabulous novel - Glass Ornament Christmas @CherylAHunter4


Glass Ornament Christmas
By Cheryl A. Hunter


Publication Date: 23rd August 2021
Publisher: Grand Owl Publishing
Page Length: 238 Pages
Genre: Historical Fiction

This year, Christmastide will be extra special for glass blower Shayla Toselli who lives in Canterbury Corner, England. The town square will have its first electrically lit tree, and she has been commissioned to create delicate glass ornaments for the new Duke’s Christmas Eve ball. One morning, the Duke’s youngest brother, Adam Preston, finds himself in the Toselli glass factory. He is fascinated with glass blowing and with Shayla. The temperature in the workshop heats up in more ways than one as the unlikely pair work together in the days leading up to the ball. This will certainly be a Christmastide to remember.


“Captain, Shayla tells me that you are learning the glass craft quickly,” Aunt Margaret said with a smile.

“It is entirely due to her excellent teaching,” he replied with a nod and smile to Shayla that made her heart flutter.

“He learns quickly,” Shayla praised him. 

Adam watched as she cut the meat on her plate. He knew her hands were strong, and he wanted to feel those hands pull him close. He closed his eyes for a moment. He needed to keep his mind off such thoughts. He took a large drink of wine to steady himself.

Dinner was a combination of discussion and a great quantity of food, and when they adjourned to the parlor, Shayla relaxed and found herself engaged in conversation with Adam. “Tell me about your first time blowing glass,” he asked her.

Shayla rolled up her sleeve. “See this?” She held out her arm for him to inspect. Adam looked closely and saw a small but distinct scar.

He looked up into her eyes. He hated to see anything mar her skin. Skin that was soft and fragrant. The scent of flowers surrounded her. He leaned down and kissed the scar. He knew his actions would not go unnoticed. Shayla shuttered at his touch which he also knew would be noticed. Why was he being so bold? He wanted Shayla. They knew each other only a short time, but Adam felt so comfortable with her, with the entire Toselli family because they were warm and welcoming. “So, tell me what happened?”

“Everyone was taking a break. I had watched them work so many times that I thought I knew what I was doing. So, I opened the furnace and dipped in the pipe. I blew a small bubble. Nothing big really, but I was thrilled. I detached it from the pipe and reached in the oven to set it on a self and accidently touched my arm to another piece.”

Hal had walked over unnoticed. “And boy did she scream,” he laughed, and Shayla was startled to see him standing beside her. “We realized it was time to teach her the craft. The next day, we got her small gloves and began training her. She learned quickly too.”

Aunt Margaret and Uncle James stood up. “I am afraid we must retire early tonight,” she said. “Henry, thank you for a wonderful evening.” She kissed Henry’s cheek, and he returned the kiss. Hal walked over and kissed her cheek. Shayla embraced her aunt and uncle. Adam watched their exchange. His family was always properly formal when they were out in public or had guests at the estate. He liked the open and warm affection Shayla’s family showed one another whether it was at home or in the shop. 

Adam stood up and kissed Margaret’s hand. “It was a pleasure meeting you, Mrs. Oliver.” He shook hands with James and then held his arm out for Shayla, and they walked out of the parlor. They said their goodbyes, and Aunt Margaret smiled at them which made Shayla flustered under her stare.

Not having a butler, Henry opened the door. “It is snowing,” he called back to the others as Margaret and James stepped out the door.

“It is?” She looked out the door. A very light snow was falling. “I love snow!” Shayla sounded excited.

“Would you like to take a walk?” Adam asked.

“I would. I will get my coat.” She rushed up the stairs.


Amazon UK • Amazon US • Amazon CA • Amazon AU


This novel is free to read with #KindleUnlimited subscription



Cheryl A. Hunter is an author and artist. Her books span multiple genres including historical fiction, contemporary fiction, paranormal fantasy, and nonfiction. Cheryl is also an artist who works in glass, ink and watercolor, and photography. When she is not writing, taking pictures, or creating glass art, she loves to travel. Her interest in Ancient Greek and Roman cultures has taken her to many Archeological sites and museums in several countries.



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Friday, 26 November 2021

Join The Coffee Pot Book Club in conversation with #HistoricalFiction author, Oliver Greeves #Nelson @OliverGreeves

 


Nelson’s Folly

By Oliver Greeves


Publication Date: December 2020
Produced by: Independent Ink
Page Length: 399 Pages
Genre: Historical Fiction

Horatio and Fanny Nelson live, poor but happy, in his father’s damp parsonage in Norfolk.

The French Revolutionary Wars have begun, and as fighting intensifies, Horatio is recalled to sea.

As the years pass and the war rages on, Horatio Nelson becomes a lauded hero, while Fanny loyally manages their affairs back in England. But Horatio’s success in battle has changed him – he’s proud, arrogant, bitter. How can a woman like Fanny, self-reliant but bound by 18th century attitudes, face down the Navy’s superstar without losing everything?

A compelling exploration of duty in all its forms, Nelson’s Folly is a sweeping, historically rich novel based on the true story of Horatio and Fanny Nelson and their lives together – and apart.


“Nelson's Folly is a compelling, vividly portrayed tale that is well grounded in a sense of the changing times… A thoroughly involving Saga rich in psychological, political, and social inspection."
 
Diane Donovan, Senior Reviewer, Midwest Book Review, USA 

Read the full review here!



Vice-Admiral Horatio Nelson is known by many as the giant figure atop Nelson's Column in London’s central Trafalgar Square, and whose death and final battle is still commemorated by many in the UK on Trafalgar Day, October 21. Nelson’s Folly explores the lives of Nelson, his wife Fanny and her young son Josiah, sent to sea at 13 year old, as they play their various roles as Britain battles for naval superiority as the Revolutionary War begins. 

Thoroughly researched and written by one of Fanny’s descendants, it provides new insights into Fanny and Horatio’s characters, their challenges and London society at that tumultuous time. 

The novel begins with Horatio’s return to the sea in 1792 after the ambitious officer was beached for five years. It ends in 1801, when Fanny, the faithful wife, faces a man who is now a naval hero, blatantly flouting society’s rules by returning with both Emma Hamilton, his exotic lover from Naples, and her husband. 



How I came to write my novel, ‘Nelson’s Folly’.


I like to think I began my writing career at the age of ten, when my brother and I wrote an unbelievably exciting – and original - play about a cowboy town. We acted all the main parts and our mothers, were our audience and dutifully applauded us. I never lost that sense of accomplishment and continued on a journey towards being a “proper writer”. 

When I moved to New York I was able to re-engage with my writing by joining the writer’s hub – the New School in Greenwich Village. New York is full of ambitious writers and arguably the literary capital of the United States. I lived in New York for a total of twenty years on three separate assignments and participated in many writers’ workshops. 

When I moved to Australia and settled in Sydney I joined the NSW Writers’ programme: “A novel in a year” – an ambitious title if there ever was - and started work on what was to become Nelson’s Folly.

What does “Folly” mean?

A folly is a stylised ruin usually found on an escarpment in the grounds of an English country house. It is designed to catch the eye and enhance the view with a warm sense of history. We might say that Nelson’s column has elements of this. There is another meaning, rather more obvious. In this drama, I am unashamedly on the side of my ancestor, Viscountess Francis Nelson. 

Nevertheless, I continue to believe that Horatio was also a most courageous sailor and his famous signal: “England expects every man will do his duty” resonates in the hearts of the English. 

Why Fiction not a Biography?

In writing this story, my appreciation of history merged with my love of writing. Family history fascinates me as does the sea and sailing. I have sailed across the China Sea several times and once helped crew a yacht from Singapore to Hong Kong. I love racing on Sydney Harbour.


I had to tread warily because Horatio Nelson is a most durable hero. After he died, he was enshrined and sainted in biographies for qualities the British admire – bravery, duty and loyalty. 

However, in our times, when statues are being taken down and history re-examined in the light of new political theories, people are more open to exploring the stories behind the myths. When the discovery of new letters between Fanny and Davison, Nelson’s prize agent, threw a fresh light on Fanny’s personality and the relationship between Horatio and Fanny, I realised it was time for this famous story to be reimagined.

Although keen to make my novel historically reliable, I wrote it as fiction so I could use the novelist’s licence to “open up” the story, interpret character, paint the scenes, explore passion and pain and a rattling good yarn which I hope my readers will enjoy.



Pick up your copy at your favourite online bookstore:






Oliver’s grandmother, Bertha Eccles, was the great-great-great-granddaughter of Viscountess Francis Nelson. In response to a young Oliver’s curiosity, she would do was sniff in an Edwardian manner and say: “Dreadful Man!” And that was all she would say. The subject of Horatio and Fanny was “off limits” at the family dinner table which only served to wet his appetite for more information about his ancestor and this fascinating era of history.

Oliver has a PhD in history from Bristol University in the United Kingdom and studied creative writing at the New School in Greenwich Village New York. He worked in Wall Street which informed his understanding of institutions and the psychology of those leading them.  

Oliver now lives in Sydney, Australia. When not writing, he spends his time sailing and mentoring executives. He is currently working on a sequel based on the naval adventures of Fanny’s son Josiah, stepson of Lord Admiral Nelson. For further information about Oliver’s work, see his website: www.fannynelsonfan.com.

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Thursday, 25 November 2021

Read an #excerpt from Helen Hollick's fabulous novel - A Mystery of Murder @HelenHollick


A Mystery of Murder
Jan Christopher Mysteries, Episode 2
By Helen Hollick


Publication Date: 14th November 2021
Publisher: Taw River Press
Page Length: 160 Pages
Genre: Cosy Mystery

‘Had I known what was to happen soon after we arrived at Mr and Mrs Walker’s lovely old West Country house, my apprehension about spending Christmas in Devon would have dwindled to nothing.’

Library Assistant Jan Christopher is to spend Christmas with her boyfriend, DS Laurie Walker and his family, but when a murder is discovered, followed by a not very accidental accident, the traditional Christmas spirit is somewhat marred... 

What happened to Laurie’s ex-girlfriend? Where is the vicar’s wife? Who took those old photographs? And will the farmer up the lane ever mend those broken fences? 

Set in 1971, this is the second Jan Christopher Cosy Mystery. Join her (and an owl and a teddy bear) in Devon for a Christmas to remember.

Will the discovery of a murder spoil Christmas for Jan Christopher and her boyfriend DS Laurie Walker – or will it bring them closer together?


Jan Christopher is spending Christmas 1971 with her boyfriend DS Laurie Walker and his parents who live in an old farmhouse in Devon. Her first night there is to have more adventure than she expected:

NOISES IN THE NIGHT

A strip of light squeezed under the door, then that went out. I lay in bed, hugging my teddy, Bee Bear, and listening to the sounds of the house settling for the night – the people within and the old building itself. I heard the grandfather clock prematurely strike midnight. I must have dozed, for a tawny owl hooting, long and loud right outside, woke me up just as the clock downstairs struck one. I smiled, wondered if a mouse had run up and down, as in Hickory-Dickory-Dock. The owl hooted again. I’d seen plenty of pictures of owls, starting when I was little with Little Grey Rabbit and Beatrix Potter’s stories – who could forget Squirrel Nutkin’s mishap with the owl! So I knew exactly what a tawny owl would look like, but I had never actually seen a real one.

As the bedroom was at the end of the house it had three large windows on each outside wall, so, even with the curtains partially closed, I could see quite adequately because of the full moon. I got out of bed and hurried to the middle, biggest window, which had a velvet-padded window seat. I pulled the curtains aside and peered out.

The silvery moonlit view sloped steeply away from the house for about half-a-mile, down towards the River Taw, then rose again on the other side in rounded hills of rich, lush, farmland that was ideal for cattle and sheep. Frost sparkled beneath the star-twinkling sky. The trees, bare of leaf, were stark against the skyline, the hedgerows dark, casting long, black shadows. I heard the owl again coming from one of the oak trees along the lane. Despite the cold, I opened the window, leaned out.

Taw Valley

There was something ethereal about the owl’s call, not scary, but exciting. Maybe because owls encapsulated the world of the night, the topsy-turvy, back-to-front opposite of our own daytime existence? I caught my breath; the bird glided silently across the garden, its body dark against the moonlight, its shadow flickering over the ground beneath. It was bigger than I had expected. I had never seen anything so utterly beautiful before!

Then I saw something else moving between the vegetable plots, large and black... Two crouched shapes, slowly edging along the path. I opened the window wider, shivered against the blast of cold air as I leaned further out, listening. Something was making a sort of wheezing, snuffling sound. A burglar with asthma? Frightened, I closed the window, rushed back to the bed, shoved my feet into my slippers and threw my dressing gown round my shoulders. Mrs Walker had left a torch on the bedside table in case I needed one, so I grabbed it and switched it on.

The floorboards creaked as if a herd of elephants were thundering through the house, but I didn’t care. I ran, as fast as furry mule slippers permitted, so a sort of hobbling, shuffle, down the stairs and along the landing to Laurie’s room, where I barged the door open.

“Laurie!” Not a shout, but definitely not a whisper. “Laurie! There are two burglars in the garden!”

He was up, out of bed and running to my room. Alf appeared at his bedroom door, pulling a tartan woollen dressing gown on over his striped pyjamas. 

Laurie’s mum, her voice muffled from within the room; “What is it? What has happened?”

“Stay there!” Laurie ordered as he disappeared through the doorway of my bedroom. Neither Alf nor myself obeyed, we followed. I turned round as the landing light behind us snapped on, to see Mrs W, her hair in curlers beneath a bright pink hairnet, appear in our wake.

“Turn the light off!” I hissed. “There are burglars outside!” Not that a light mattered, the noise we were making would have alerted them anyway...


Read for free with #KindleUnlimited subscription.


Helen Hollick and her family moved from north-east London in January 2013 after finding an eighteenth-century North Devon farm house through being a ‘victim’ on BBC TV’s popular Escape To The Country show. The thirteen-acre property was the first one she was shown – and it was love at first sight. She enjoys her new rural life, and has a variety of animals on the farm, including Exmoor ponies and her daughter’s string of show jumpers.

First accepted for publication by William Heinemann in 1993 – a week after her fortieth birthday – Helen then became a USA Today Bestseller with her historical novel, The Forever Queen (titled A Hollow Crown in the UK) with the sequel, Harold the King (US: I Am The Chosen King) being novels that explore the events that led to the Battle of Hastings in 1066. Her Pendragon’s Banner Trilogy is a fifth-century version of the Arthurian legend, and she also writes a pirate-based nautical adventure/fantasy series, The Sea Witch Voyages. Despite being impaired by the visual disorder of Glaucoma, she is also branching out into the quick read novella, 'Cosy Mystery' genre with the Jan Christopher Mysteries, set in the 1970s, with the first in the series, A Mirror Murder incorporating her, often hilarious, memories of working for thirteen years as a library assistant.

Her non-fiction books are Pirates: Truth and Tales and Life of A Smuggler. She also runs Discovering Diamonds, a review blog for historical fiction, a news and events blog for her village and the Community Shop, assists as ‘secretary for the day’ at her daughter’s regular showjumping shows – and occasionally gets time to write...

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Tuesday, 23 November 2021

Read an #excerpt from Lies That Blind by E.S. Alexander @ES_Alexander7



Lies That Blind
By E.S. Alexander

Publication Date: 19th October 2021
Publisher: Penguin Random House SEA 
Page Length: 304 Pages
Genre: Historical Fiction

What would you risk to avoid obscurity?
 
Malaya, 1788

Aspiring journalist Jim Lloyd jeopardises his future in ways he never could have imagined. He risks his wealthy father’s wrath to ride the coat-tails of Captain Francis Light, an adventurer governing the East India Company’s new trading settlement on Penang. Once arrived on the island, Jim—as Light’s assistant—hopes that chronicling his employer’s achievements will propel them both to enduring fame. But the na├»ve young man soon discovers that years of deception and double-dealing have strained relations between Light and Penang’s legal owner, Sultan Abdullah of Queda, almost to the point of war. Tensions mount: Pirate activity escalates, traders complain about Light’s monopolies, and inhabitants threaten to flee, fearing a battle the fledgling settlement cannot hope to win against the Malays. Jim realises that a shared obsession with renown has brought him and Light perilously close to infamy: a fate the younger man, at least, fears more than death. Yet Jim will not leave Penang because of his dedication to Light’s young son, William, and his perplexing attraction to a mercurial Dutchman. He must stay and confront his own misguided ambitions as well as help save the legacy of a man he has come to despise.
 
Inspired by true events, Lies That Blind is a story featuring historical character Francis Light (1740-1794) who, in an effort to defy his mortality, was seemingly willing to put the lives and livelihoods of a thousand souls on Penang at risk. 


(Protagonist, Jim Lloyd, imprisoned in the fort for his own safety, has just had a major argument with his employer’s heavily pregnant wife, Martinha, about the forthcoming threat to the island and its inhabitants, caused by her husband.)

I kept out of everyone’s way for the next two days. By Sunday, I had calmed down enough and wanted to apologise to Light for distressing his wife. As I ventured passed the bankshall I heard raised voices inside. Standing close to the door, but far enough away so that no one inside could see me, I could make out Light, James Scott, Captains Glass and Hamilton, and Lieutenants Raban and Mylne. All of them jacketless with rolled up shirtsleeves. 

Light was waving a piece of parchment above his head. “This letter from the native chiefs is nothing short of a declaration of war, despite the flowery language. ‘Our friend’, indeed!” 

Scott removed the document from Light’s shaking hand and, scanning it, began to read aloud in a manner that only exaggerated the Malay habit of writing extremely long, barely punctuated sentences: “Likewise if our friend will not come with us and do homage to the King, the King is not content that our friend should remain any longer on Poolo Pinang therefore our friend will get away about his business quietly for Poolo Pinang is the property of the King of Queda from time immemorial moreover if our friend attempts to stay by force God who knows all things will place the evil upon his head, we are free from blame.” 

“How much is he asking for now?” inquired John Glass.

Scott answered, Light having already sunk into his chair staring off into nowhere. “Five thousand dollars and an agreement to pay ten thousand per annum for the years that have passed.”

“It cannot be done,” murmured Light. “All the specie on this island has been exhausted since the native merchants would not visit us while we were under threat of attack. I have even had to pay the military men from sales of East India Company opium.”

“Something else Bengal won’t be happy about,” added Scott. 

The room remained hushed until John Glass piped up again. “So, gentlemen, what is to be done?”

“Send over more opium,” answered Light wearily.

I became aware of a pain in one of my palms where I had been pressing my fingernails too deep into my skin. Good God man, I wanted to shout, learn a lesson; that will only delay the inevitable.  

I glanced over at Robert Hamilton who was shifting from foot to foot. “I think we should prepare ourselves for war,” he said. “We have a few days at least to get our men ready. The fort can be strengthened if we work on the bulwarks and use the design to our advantage. I suggest supplementing the cannons on the easterly walls and—”

“There are no spare guns to place along the sea-coast,” Captain Glass interrupted.

“But you could purchase three nine pounder iron guns and borrow four six pounders from Captain Billamore,” said Scott to Light. 
            
“We can face this enemy on our turf and win,” declared Hamilton, sounding as excited as a child told to expect a special birthday present. 
            
“No!” The word was out of my mouth before I could stop it. I stepped out of the shadows into the room of military men. 

“What the hell do you want?” Light called across the room when he saw me.
            
“To save this island and your legacy, Captain Light,” I answered, strangely becalmed. “It is madness to allow an armada of at least two hundred and fifty armed vessels and ten thousand men or more to land on our shores. You have a garrison of four hundred. This fort is crumbling around us. A few choice shots and it will be shattered by cannon fire and all your guns with it. You must take the fight to them.”

Hamilton, who apparently had not noticed how much closer I had moved towards him, laughed uproariously. “What kind of madcap military manoeuvre is that? And who are you to suggest—”

With the stealth I had been practising for weeks I now stood behind him, the crook of my arm pressing into his throat, but not too tightly. 

“You think that is enough to overpower me?” he scoffed, looking incredulously at men he believed were his friends.
            
“Certainly not,” I replied, blood pumping. When he saw the keris I held in my other hand he appeared as transfixed as a bird frozen in place by an advancing cobra. I whispered in Hamilton’s ear. “I might first cut out your liver,” I said, prodding the dagger’s tip into his abdomen and watched as a speck of blood stained his otherwise spotless shirt. With lightning speed, I shifted the point to the back of his neck. “Or cut here, which I assure you means you will never need those fancy boots again.” With a final flourish I waved the deadly weapon in front of his face, almost nipping the tip of his nose. “The beauty of a curved and wavy blade is that it is not the dagger going in that causes most damage, but what happens to the internal organs when the attacker draws it out.”
            
“Enough!” shouted Light. “Leave Hamilton be.” 
            
With a gentle push that sent the terrified man flying, I heard sniggers. In soundless unison the other men edged away from the former schoolyard bully. I had surmised correctly that Hamilton was not popular, and I had now earned the others’ respect. I could barely keep the smirk off my face.  

I strode next to the superintendent and addressed the gathering. “Gentlemen, please hear me out. I assure you my suggestion has considerable historical precedent in situations where one army is vastly outnumbered by its foe.” 


Elizabeth Smith Alexander was born in St. Andrews, Scotland in 1954, although her family moved to England a few years later. Her earliest memories include producing a newspaper with the John Bull printing set she was given one Christmas. She wrote and directed her first play, Osiris, at age 16, performed to an audience of parents, teachers, and pupils by the Lower Fifth Drama Society at her school in Bolton, Lancashire. Early on in her writing career, Liz wrote several short stories featuring ‘The Dover Street Sleuth’, Dixon Hawke for a D.C. Thomson newspaper in Scotland. Several of her (undoubtedly cringe-worthy) teenage poems were published in An Anthology of Verse.

Liz combined several decades as a freelance journalist writing for UK magazines and newspapers ranging from British Airway’s Business Life and the Daily Mail, to Marie Claire and Supply Chain Management magazine, with a brief stint as a presenter/reporter for various radio stations and television channels, including the BBC. In 2001 she moved to the United States where she earned her master’s degree and Ph.D. in educational psychology from The University of Texas at Austin.

She has written and co-authored 17 internationally published, award-winning non-fiction books that have been translated into more than 20 languages.

In 2017, Liz relocated to Malaysia. She lives in Tanjung Bungah, Pulau Pinang where she was inspired to embark on one of the few forms of writing left for her to tackle: the novel.