Monday 17 June 2024

Book Review - Ash Fall: A Novel of the Knights of Malta (the Siege of Malta Book 3) by Marthese Fenech


Ash Fall

A Novel of the Knights of Malta
(the Siege of Malta Book 3) 
By Marthese Fenech


Publication Date: 8th September 2022
Publisher: BDL Publishing
Page Length: 660 Pages
Genre: Historical Fiction

Fate meets fire. The world ignites.

1565. Malta stands on the precipice of one of the bloodiest battles in history. An elite Ottoman army, 50,000 strong, prepares to depart Istanbul, the seat of the Empire. Deeply conflicted, Demir must sail alongside the host determined to conquer his mother’s homeland and crush the Order of St John once and for all. Testing his loyalty is the knowledge that Angelica, the half-sister he has never met, dwells on the tiny island.

As the Maltese garrison braces for the incoming storm, knights and civilians stand shoulder-to-shoulder on the walls. Domenicus and Robert volunteer for the ramparts of Fort St Elmo, the most precarious position on Malta. Angelica finds herself locked outside the city gates and scrambles to a hilltop citadel, where she helps establish a makeshift infirmary. Katrina takes up a bow and stands a post, shielding her town as the Ottoman tide crashes against it.

For several blood-soaked months, Malta is the stage upon which fierce combat rages. Heads are fired from cannons, field hospitals set ablaze, knights crucified, and soldiers melted where they stand. As the land exhales swirling ash, and narrow streets choke on rubble, no one escapes the fiery currents of war unscathed. The body count surges. Hope scatters with the smoke. Outflanked and outnumbered, can the defence hold out until a much-delayed relief force arrives from Sicily?



Vastly outnumbered, the Knights of Malta, once again come face to face with their adversaries, the Ottoman Empire. Having already suffered the loss of Rhodes four decades earlier, following a lengthy six-month siege, they now find themselves confronted with the same impending danger. They are aware of their significant numerical disadvantage. But they had God on their side, although the question as to where He was at Rhodes they do not linger over.

Malta plays a crucial role in the Ottoman Empire’s strategic plans for European conquest. It is seen as an important link between Sicily and the Kingdom of Naples, enabling further territorial expansion. And after all, they have Allah on their side, like they did in Rhodes. Along with that, they have Dragut, the notorious Ottoman corsair and skilled naval commander with extensive experience battling Christian knights.

Marthese Fenech’s Ash Fall is the thrilling finale of her highly praised The Knights of Malta series.

The depiction of the siege preparation was skilfully done. While the knights order the evacuation of the old and infirm, the wealthy also take their chance to escape. This serves as a reminder of the class divide explored in previous books. The plight of those left behind made for a very sobering read.

Just like the previous novels in this series, Ash Fall has undergone meticulous research. From the clothes they wore to the weapons at their disposal, Fenech has brought the era back to life. Fenech has stayed true to the historical context and depicted it with her expected writing prowess. The siege’s brutality, the immense loss of lives, the torture, and the crucifixions make for a difficult read. The reader experiences the chaos and brutality of siege warfare, witnessing the complete disregard for both life and death. This book is dominated by intense battles, with no relief, as even when the reader is removed from the front line, the makeshift hospitals and the unbearable suffering of the injured and dying persist. 

There is a prevailing sense of fear among the general population, and the islanders are genuinely concerned about depleting their supplies, weapons, and manpower. Amongst all this chaos, all this bloodshed, there are the characters that have made the first two books so very memorable. In the first two books of the series, Augustine and Angelica, along with the rest, encounter immense hardships including slavery and persecution. However, in this instalment, there’s a chilling sense that they’re bound together and they would prefer death over separation. Consequently, this amplifies the significance of the narrative. As a reader, we can only hold our breath as the Ottoman Empire strikes at the very heart of the land that the protagonists call home.

Unlike the previous two novels, this book features a significantly larger cast of characters. Fenech has incorporated into her story, and rightly so, the leading historical figures associated with this siege. This gave the story a strong sense of realism. But for the most part, the story is centred around the novel's principal players, namely the Montesa family. The Montesa family are devoted to their homeland almost as much as they are devoted to each other. As a reader, I have come to know this family very well, and it was like witnessing old friends having to go through a seemingly unrelenting traumatic experience. As expected, their bravery matched their unwavering devotion to one another.

Several of the characters suffer life-changing injuries, which sometimes left me questioning the narrative. Even though Robert has a horrific injury, he loses an eye, and he briefly experiences psychosis from the pain, he recovers and resumes fighting rapidly. Remarkably, he was still the best marksman they had, despite the challenge of his one eye needing time to compensate for the loss of the other. I was left somewhat confused by this, and it momentarily disrupted my immersion in the story. Although I acknowledge the necessity of utilizing all available resources for defence, I question the feasibility of Robert’s quick recovery from a medical standpoint.

The concepts of duty and love were both brilliantly explored. At times it was difficult to tell the two apart. Not only are the main characters fighting for Malta, but they are also fighting for the people they hold dear, such as their family and friends. These two deep-rooted emotions are the most challenging for Demir. His reluctance to participate in a war against Malta stems from having family there, even if they are unaware of his existence. However, his obligation and loyalty to his sultan compel him to serve. He faces death several times, and yet always he is conflicted but what he has seen and what he knows. He frequently finds himself pondering over who holds more significance - an unknown sister or the country he was born to serve. As with the other novels, Demir continues to hold a special place in my heart. His depiction was truly wonderful.

The conclusion of Ash Falls can only be understood by those who have read the beginning of the series. There’s a sense of closure and fulfilment as if everything that occurred in the story was meant to culminate in this ending. The way this series concluded was beautifully portrayed. Marthese Fenech is an incredibly talented writer and one I do not hesitate to recommend, especially if you love quality historical fiction.


Pick up your copy of 
Ash Fall
HERE!

Marthese Fenech

Marthese Fenech was born the youngest of five to Maltese parents in Toronto. She has traveled extensively across five continents, visiting sixty-five countries. Her research for her novels has taken her on numerous trips to Malta, Turkey, Italy, France, and Spain--a wealth of fascinating places that introduced her to her characters and their cultures in a most authentic way. She also spent time writing the trilogy while living in Singapore.

When she was twelve and on a six-month stay in Malta, she enrolled in an all-girls private school run by nuns. She lasted three days before getting kicked out for talking too much. Back in Toronto, she started her own business recording, editing, and selling bootleg heavy metal concerts. She later worked with special needs children and adults, where witnessing small miracles on a daily basis was part of the job.

A former kickboxing instructor, Marthese has a Masters in Education and currently teaches high school English and history. She speaks fluent Maltese and French. As part of her research for Eight-Pointed Cross, she took up archery, and ended up accidentally becoming a certified instructor. She has a passion for adventure, photography, running, snowboarding, surfing, scuba-diving, climbing, and yoga.





Friday 14 June 2024

When the two secret lives collide, it has far-reaching and fatal consequences that will change Mia's life forever.

 


The Fortune Keeper 
By Deborah Swift


Publication Date: 24th November 2022
Publisher: Quire Books
Pages: 412 Pages
Genre: Historical Fiction 

Count your nights by stars, not shadows ~ Italian Proverb

Winter in Renaissance Venice

Mia Caiozzi is determined to discover her destiny by studying the science of astronomy. But her stepmother Giulia forbids her to engage in this occupation, fearing it will lead her into danger. The ideas of Galileo are banned by the Inquisition, so Mia must study in secret.

Giulia's real name is Giulia Tofana, renowned for her poison Aqua Tofana, and she is in hiding from the Duke de Verdi's family who are intent on revenge for the death of their brother. Giulia insists Mia should live quietly out of public view. If not, it could threaten them all. But Mia doesn't understand this, and rebels against Giulia, determined to go her own way.

When the two secret lives collide, it has far-reaching and fatal consequences that will change Mia's life forever.

Set amongst opulent palazzos and shimmering canals, The Fortune Keeper is the third novel of adventure and romance based on the life and legend of Giulia Tofana, the famous poisoner.

'Her characters are so real they linger in the mind long after the book is back on the shelf'
~ Historical Novel Society


NB This is the third in a series but can stand alone as it features a new protagonist. Other two books are available if reviewers want them.

Trigger Warnings:
Murder and violence in keeping with the era.

Excerpt

From Chapter 7

Venice, December 1643

Brother Mario walked through the Mercerie towards the Piazza San Marco, a light snow dusting the shoulders and hood of his black habit. As he went, he frowned at the number of hawkers accosting passers-by with their Pulchinello masks and disguises ready for the Christmas festivities. Christendom here had turned into the work of the Devil.
Perhaps he should send for the Town Guard again. It had worked well on that bunch of heretics at the Palazzo d’Ambrosi. Venetians thought they had the power, with their riches, and their titles, but Mario knew only God had the power. And He had given it to the Inquisition.
Gingerly, Mario tottered up the slippery narrow passage between the grand frontages of two palazzi, his feet raw and red in his monk’s sandals. He was at war with the city of Venice. Partly because there was too much water and the damp got into his bones, and partly because there was no solid foundation to stand on, either physically or spiritually. It was a place that thought it was a law unto itself. There were plenty of religious men in Venice, but all seemed oblivious to the heathen state of their sinking city. 
He pulled his black cowl further down over his forehead, the feeling of it giving him security – he kept his face well-hidden as he went about God’s business in this city of masks. His sandals slid as he climbed up the icy steps to the colonnade of San Marco, and he let out a yelp and almost fell. A man put out an arm to steady him.
Mario gave him a thin, ‘Bless you’. 
His saviour was a nobleman in a mink-trimmed doublet, and a hat with a garnet brooch as big as a knuckle. Mario eyed the man sourly. Not even an attempt to obey the sumptuary laws! So much wealth on open display had the power to hurt him with a twisting pain in the pit of his gut. 
Two decades a friar. That rich aristocrat should have been him – before his elder brother Domenico had been duped out of their money by his second wife, Agnese. After his death she’d siphoned it off to feed a convent in Rome. Bad enough that now, as the youngest son, he was condemned to a life of penury in the Church, without the added humiliation of the de Verdi fortune being dribbled away on a few miserable nuns. Still, he’d have his revenge now.
He limped onward. Winter was terrible for his chilblains and his feet throbbed.
Once in the Piazza he gave a wide berth to the dark-skinned Arab pressing jars of oil of Attar onto two painted courtesans. How did they stand it? They were far too scantily-clad for the cold. He cheered himself with the thought he could afford to buy the whole stall with the bag of coin that hung from his belt and clanked under his surplice. 
He kept his head bowed against the too-sharp winter wind as he spied the clock tower where he was to meet with Signor Imbroglio, the assassin. He was nervous, but consoled himself by muttering, the words of Exodus 21; ‘Eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot,’ as he played his rosary.
His brother, Luca, who had employed Imbroglio before, had sent a message by courier instructing Mario where to wait, and even now the bells were resounding, striking twelve. He propped himself against the stone wall under the archway by the clock and waited, anxiously scanning the hurrying crowds. 
Domenico had been a brute, of course, but neither of them had forgiven Agnese, not just for the suddenness of his death, surely by an inheritance powder, but for the fact his entire fortune had all gone to her. So as soon as he’d seen her treacherous face, he’d written to Luca and told him she was in Venice. Luca was a lazy dog. His answer was to pay someone else to deal with it, and he, Mario, had fallen foul of it. Luca had instructed Mario to meet Luca’s man Imbroglio. The man who’d helped Luca in Naples with one of his troublesome tenants. 
Needless to say, the tenant was no trouble now. 
Grateful to enjoy the warmth of the wall, Brother Mario scanned the Piazza again. He didn’t know what Imbroglio looked like, but Imbroglio would no doubt know him, from his habit and the fact he was loitering there obviously waiting for someone. After the bells had died away a cough from behind him made him turn, startled. He hadn’t expected the man to come from behind.
He was looking up into a pair of dark glittering eyes under a stark white half-mask. The mouth visible beneath it curled upwards, though in a smile more of terse politeness than pleasure.
“Brother Mario.’ It was a statement. ‘Let us walk.’
Imbroglio set off in the direction of the newly completed arcade of the Procuratie Nuove on the south side of the Piazza, and Brother Mario hurried to keep up, following the man in the flapping faded cloak and the ancient sun-scorched tricorn hat that barely hid his collar-length hair. There was something familiar about the man, but he couldn’t place him. Of course many men wore masks in public. It was de rigeur in the times leading up to Christmas. But he couldn’t help wishing he’d seen his face. He wracked his brains, but nothing would come.
Once they were away from the merchants and shoppers Imbroglio paused for Brother Mario to catch up and walk beside him past the Campanile, and on down another darkened arcade away from the salt stink of the sea. Puddles of ice cracked beneath his feet.
‘So, you have a task for me, I hear,’ Imbroglio said, above the whistle of the wind. He was thin, the jawbones of his face jutting under the edge of his mask. It made Mario feel like a lumbering bear.
‘It’s delicate,’ Mario lowered his voice. ‘There’s a woman, Agnese de Verdi, calls herself di Napoli—’ 
‘Yes, yes.’ Imbroglio cut him off. ‘Your brother told me. I made some enquiries. She is the woman he says bought poison from Giulia Tofana. Though nothing could be proved. Agnese de Verdi is living above the lantern-maker in the Giudecca.’ His mouth grimaced in distaste. ‘Not a good area.’
Brother Mario baulked. How did the man know so much? ‘She’s far better provisioned than you might suppose from her lodgings,’ Mario said defensively. ‘Appearances are deceptive.’
‘And you have brought the sum I asked for?’ Imbroglio asked. ‘Half now, half when the deed is done.’
Mario drew out the pouch of coins and Imbroglio stretched out a bony hand for it.
‘It’s not so simple,’ Mario said, refusing to let the bag go and clutching it to his chest. ‘A woman of such wealth – I suspect she has made a will. She donates to the Convent of Maria Assumpta in Rome. That will, and any documents relating to the de Verdi family must be found, and destroyed.’ 
Imbroglio raised his chin. ‘So you want to hire a thief too, do you?’

Pick up your copy of
The Fortune Keeper 

Deborah Swift


Deborah Swift is a USA TODAY bestselling author who is passionate about the past. Deborah used to be a costume designer for the BBC, before becoming a writer. Now she lives in an old English school house in a village full of 17th Century houses, near the glorious Lake District. Deborah has an award-winning historical fiction blog at her website www.deborahswift.com.

Deborah loves to write about how extraordinary events in history have transformed the lives of ordinary people, and how the events of the past can live on in her books and still resonate today. 

The first in her series about the Renaissance poisoner Giulia Tofana, The Poison Keeper, was a winner of the Wishing Shelf Book of the Decade, and a Coffee Pot Book Club Gold Medal, and the latest in her WW2 Secret Agent series, Operation Tulip, is coming soon.

Connect with Deborah:




#FortuneKeeper #HistoricalFiction #BlogTour #TheCoffeePotBookClub


Thursday 13 June 2024

Read for FREE on NetGalley, courtesy of BooksGoSocial - Everything’s Got Soul by Brian Thomas




 Everything’s Got Soul: A Philosophical Adventure
 by Brian Thomas


Publication Date: 8th May 2024
Publisher: Shaving in the Rain 
Page Length: 48 Pages
Genre: Young Adult / Historical Fiction

Why is the Earth beautiful?

In Victorian London, teenagers and scientists join forces to keep the leading tycoon of the industrial age from poisoning the planet and selling slaves. This steampunk adventure will change the way you look at science … and teenagers.

When Jack, a young pneumatic messenger, crosses paths with the enigmatic Dido, a Black aristocrat, it turns out to be more than a recruitment into a resistance group. Dido and Jack will fall in love as they find out why the world is beautiful.

Everything's Got Soul is a Young Adult novella written for adults who are young-at-heart.

Read  Everything’s Got Soul: A Philosophical Adventure for FREE at BooksGoSocial on NetGalley

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Wednesday 12 June 2024

Read for FREE on NetGalley, courtesy of BooksGoSocial - A Farewell To Imperial Istanbul The Ottomans : Story Of A Family (The Ottoman Dynasty Chronicles) by Ayşe Osmanoğlu



A Farewell To Imperial Istanbul
The Ottomans: Story Of A Family 
(The Ottoman Dynasty Chronicles)
By Ayşe Osmanoğlu


Publication Date: 29th May 2024
Publisher: Hanedan Press
Page Length: 351 Pages
Genre: Historical Middle Eastern Fiction

Set against the majestic backdrop of Imperial Istanbul in the aftermath of the First World War, A Farewell To Imperial Istanbul is a captivating tale of family, duty and the resilience of the human spirit.

İstanbul, 1922: As the Ottoman Empire crumbles in the wake of the Great War, the fate of the Imperial capital and the House of Osman come under threat.

Emboldened following their victory in the Turkish War of Independence, the Turkish Nationalist Government in Ankara abolishes the Ottoman Sultanate, marking the end of over six centuries of Ottoman rule. The Ottoman Caliphate endures for now, but Istanbul, stripped of its Imperial mantle, mourns its lost glory. Prince Nihad fears for the nation and the fate of the Imperial family, while his son, Prince Vâsıb, envisions a hopeful future defined by peace following the signing of the Treaty of Lausanne.

As the new Republic of Türkiye emerges from the ashes of the once-mighty Ottoman Empire, Istanbul and the Ottoman Dynasty confront the crossroads of history, their destinies entwined with the shifting tides of the Bosphorus. Yet, amidst these perilous currents that separate East and West, where the deep waters threaten to engulf the city’s Imperial past and sweep away its soul embodied by the Imperial family, the Ottoman Dynasty must navigate a new and uncertain course.

The history of the Turks and their vast and powerful Empire has been intertwined with the Ottoman Dynasty for over six hundred years. But can the Imperial family survive the tempest of change as the world enters a new era?

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Ayşe Osmanoğlu 


Ayşe Osmanoğlu was born and raised in England. She is a member of the Ottoman Imperial family, descended from Sultan Murad V through her grandfather and Sultan Mehmed V (Mehmed Reşad) through her grandmother. After reading History and Politics at the University of Exeter, she obtained an M.A. in Turkish Studies from SOAS, University of London, where she specialised in Ottoman History. 

Ayşe lives between Türkiye, France and the United Kingdom with her husband, five children and mischievous cat. Her research and literary works concentrate on the late Ottoman period, exploring narratives embedded in her imperial heritage.

Her debut novel, 'The Gilded Cage on the Bosphorus,' was published in May 2020, and 'A Farewell To Imperial Istanbul' was published in spring 2024 to commemorate the centenary of the Ottoman family's exile.

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Tuesday 11 June 2024

Book Review - Between the Clouds and the River by Dave Mason



 Between the Clouds and the River
By Dave Mason
1942: Twenty-four year old Bernhardt Lang is swept along by the currents of war, until an unexpected ally helps him live a life of his own making, in a place he could never have imagined himself existing.

1965: Twelve year old Joseph Holliman is drowning in a life no one should have to endure. When he crosses paths with Frank Gardner, everything he thinks he knows about the meaning of family is changed.

Between the Clouds and the River is a journey from the burning sands of war-torn North Africa to the forested, snow-capped mountains of Montana and British Columbia, a compelling and emotional tale of deception, revelation, identity, and belonging that reminds us all that love is the only truth.



Germany was the superior country, and victory was assured - that is what Bernhardt Lang had been led to believe. Bernhardt had no desire to participate in the war; he was tired of others dictating his actions. However, upon his capture by the Allied forces, he was taken aback by the respectful treatment the Americans showed towards their German prisoners.

Even though he was just twelve, Joseph Holliman had a much tougher time than the other children in his class. With the strike of a match, and the help of an old, falling down, shed, Joseph finds himself indebted to Frank Gardner – after all, he had burnt down his shed. It was arranged that Joseph would go with Frank every Saturday, and help him rebuild the shed.

The search for identity in Between the Clouds and the River by Dave Mason is beautifully portrayed through the captivating journeys of Joseph and Bernhardt.

While the conditions are better than expected, Bernhardt still faces difficulties as a prisoner of war. While they were given adequate nourishment and medical care, they were still assigned work tasks, and Bernhardt soon became proficient in logging and chopping down trees. Although he admired the efficient management of the American prisoner-of-war camps, he couldn’t escape the fact that he was still a captive, under someone else’s command. The only thing Bernhardt desired in life was the ability to determine his own path and have full autonomy over his choices. Upon the announcement of the war’s conclusion and the release of all POWs, Bernhardt was overcome with panic. He had spent years trying to escape his home, and who knew what was left of it to go back to. Remaining in America appeared more beneficial, as it offered the chance to start anew and have control over one’s mind and actions.  

Following Bernhardt as he attempted to blend into the world around him was fascinating. Thankfully, he had some knowledge of English but had a significant journey ahead to completely hide his past and true identity. He worked diligently to mimic others, suppressing his German words and accent. With the help of Helen, who escaped the confines of the camp with him, Bernhardt became John, and together they drew a line between their old and new lives. Bernhardt’s ability to adapt to a new life while fearing recapture and deportation to Germany, after the war, was truly inspiring. Although Bernhardt faced challenging situations that made it appear he was not capable of convincingly posing as an American, his perseverance and resolve consistently helped him overcome the most difficult circumstances.

Contrary to the common portrayal of Germans as villains in World War Two stories, this novel challenges readers to consider different perspectives on history. Historians tend to present one side of the story more favourably than the other, shaping the perspective. It is a welcome change to read a WWII novel that presents a German soldier’s perspective of wanting to distance himself from the Nazi ideology and simply lead a quiet existence. Bernhardt’s admirable kindness and intelligence make it impossible not to sympathize with him, as he is reluctantly drawn into a world of violence. 

Despite his initial apprehension, Joseph soon discovered that his time at Frank’s was enjoyable and allowed him to acquire practical expertise. The shed was being fixed almost too quickly, and Joseph found himself desperately trying to hold onto those Saturdays, wishing that they would last for longer and that he didn’t have to go back home. The atmosphere at home was far from enjoyable, as Joseph’s father enforced strict discipline through both harsh words and physical reprimands, while his mother had departed many years ago. At home, Joseph lived in constant fear of his father’s wrath, knowing that one small mistake could trigger his anger, and he had no choice but to endure it until it passed. However, Frank’s house presented a contrasting atmosphere. Joseph had the opportunity to acquire valuable skills from Frank, such as building and mastering the art of hammering nails. Frank also encouraged his creativity. Joseph loved to read, and so Frank provided him with books to read, and stories to escape into, setting his imagination free to come up with worlds of his own. 

Joseph and Bernhardt’s narratives intertwine beautifully. Initially, it’s hard to grasp the connection between two people leading completely different lives, but as the story unfolds, similarities emerge, revealing that they share a common struggle. Although leading different lives, at different ages, and in different years, both of them find themselves caught in circumstances they long to break free from. They must fight to discover their own paths and remain steadfast before others intervene. 

A fight for survival, spanning through the ages, Between the Clouds and the River by Dave Mason is a deep-felt story of identity, whether trying to find and display it, or hide it deep down to stay alive. Carefully crafted, this novel delves into the journey of self-discovery and finding one’s true place in the world. This is the type of novel that you’ll want to savour while reading, one that you won’t want to rush through, as you won’t want to reach the end and have nothing left to read. The story is exquisitely told and the characters are unforgettable. I highly recommend it. 




Coming Soon...

Dave Mason


Born in England and raised in Canada, Dave Mason is an internationally recognized graphic designer and a cofounder of a number of software companies. His first novel, EO-N, is the recipient of twenty-one literary awards including the Hemingway Award for 20th Century Wartime Fiction, and has been acquired for film and television. He divides his time between Chicago, Illinois, and Lunenburg, Nova Scotia. 

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Read for FREE on NetGalley, courtesy of BooksGoSocial - EYE CONTACT OVER TRUK by Stephanie Woodman


EYE CONTACT OVER TRUK
By Stephanie Woodman 


Publication Date: 14th May 2024
Publisher: Vortex Press
Page Length: 328 Pages
Genre: Historical Fiction

A forgotten battle. A live-aboard dive vessel. Will exploring what lies under the coral tear these men apart? 

America, 1985. Nick Mitchel is wracked by grief.

Destroyed by his beloved wife’s death, the retiree is fighting to keep his flashbacks from disturbing long-buried truths. And a diving expedition in the Pacific Ocean he’d hoped would heal old wounds only reopens dark memories of the war… Japan.

Junichi Takahashi is brimming with indignation. After surviving the WWII firebombing of Tokyo as a child, he resents his dying father’s request to explore a sunken graveyard. And with the location now a tourist mecca for scuba divers, he’s furious that one of his nation’s most tragic losses has turned into an underwater playground.

As Nick struggles with nightmarish visions, his anger awakens when a saboteur starts tampering with his equipment. And as Junichi battles to make peace with his grim history, he confronts Nick in a dangerous collision of perspectives.

Can the two men salvage anything from the wreckage of a bitter conflict?

Eye Contact Over Truk is a heartrending work of historical fiction.

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Stephanie Woodman


Stephanie Woodman is an avid collector of experiences and a perpetual student of life. Despite her analytical background with a long engineering career and a short tenure as a high school math teacher, Stephanie has a powerful creative side which has manifested itself in her debut novel, Eye Contact Over Truk.

The inspiration for Stephanie's literary endeavors springs from a diverse array of influences. From the adventurous exploits of Clive Cussler's underwater thrillers, the poignant writing of Robert James Waller, to the captivating biographies of Aline, Countess of Romanones, Stephanie finds influence in stories that transport her to new places, times, and cultures. She also draws from her own life experiences, infusing her writing with authenticity and emotional depth.

The idea for Eye Contact Over Truk came to her in 1996 during a scuba trip to Truk Lagoon. She put the project on pause during her career and finished it in earnest after her retirement in 2021. With the additional two decades of life experience, her writing transformed to explore themes of perseverance, forgiveness, grief, loss, life, love, and adventure. This evolution of her story is captured best by Mark Twain's timeless adage that "history often rhymes," blending youthful vigor with seasoned introspection.

Outside the realm of literature, Stephanie is an avid pickleball player and golfer, finding joy in friendly competition. She loves scuba diving, sailing, traveling the world to explore new cultures and meet new people, and spending time with her son, who is now starting his own adventure in college. Stephanie is an active member in her community, volunteering her time to help students in robotics programs and is also known for her past role as a clown, bringing laughter and joy to those in need.

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Monday 10 June 2024

Read for FREE on NetGalley, courtesy of BooksGoSocial - The Relentless Sun by Robert Walton

 


The Relentless Sun 
By Robert Walton


Publication Date: 27th February 2024
Publisher: Robert Walton Books
Page Length: 299 Pages
Genre: Historical Thriller

In Harry Thursday's fourth outing, the intrepid archaeologist is drawn away from his peaceful home on the Greek Island of Seprios to Flagstaff Arizona, and finds he has stepped from the plane into the intrigue of human greed, political corruption, and murder.

While searching for the things to use in her homemade jewelry, Hok'ee, a young Navajo woman, stumbles onto a hidden deposit of rare Burmese rubies - known as Pigeon's blood - scattered at the foot of the O'Leary Peak north of Flagstaff. This seemingly innocuous discovery unleashes a series of events more cataclysmic than anyone involved could have imagined.

With the help of Sun, his beautiful Hopi guide, Harry sorts through the various factions who may or may not be involved with the rubies or the mounting murders. As Harry uncovers Flagstaff's secrets, the clues become more and more obscure, but "truth will out."

What promises to be a short and simple job for the BAR, Harry soon discovers that, when confronted with a choice, making the correct one can make the difference between life and death.

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Robert Walton


Robert Walton grew up in the small village of Narberth along the main line of Philadelphia Pennsylvania. With a degree in archaeology from Penn State University, he has worked tirelessly over the years to live up to his father’s expectations. Still, this did not stop him from pursuing his interest in writing. 

Bob is the creator and owner – retired – of the award-winning Bob’s Bagels in Lemoyne Pennsylvania, and when he is not writing, he can be found drinking coffee in local cafes and discussing the fate of mankind.

He lives and writes in New Cumberland, Pennsylvania. The Relentless Sun is the fourth book in the Harry Thursday thriller series. Harry Thursday travels to Flagstaff, Arizona at the request of his long-time, on and off again girlfriend Sara Webster from the BAR, the Bureau of Audits and Reclamation, to find out why rubies are turning up on the local market, where rubies just don't come naturally.



Sunday 9 June 2024

Book Review - Luminous: The Story of a Radium Girl by Samantha Wilcoxson


Luminous: The Story of a Radium Girl
By Samantha Wilcoxson


Publication Date: 2nd June 2020
Publisher: Independently published
Page Length: 319 Pages
Genre: Biographical Fiction / Historical Fiction

A story of female friendship and strength set against corporate corruption.

Catherine's life is set on an unexpected course when she accepts a job at Radium Dial. She soon finds out that the excellent pay is no recompense for the evil secret that lurks in the magical glow-in-the-dark paint. Catherine Donohoe takes on the might of a big corporation and becomes an early pioneer of social justice in the era between world wars.

Emotive and inspiring - this book will touch you like no other as you witness the devastating impact of radium poisoning on young women's lives.

It’s too late for me, but maybe it will help some of the others.
~ Catherine Wolfe Donohue


Everyone knew that Radium Dial paid well, so when Catherine saw a job advertisement in the paper, she knew it was an opportunity too good to miss.

Catherine soon settles into her new job at Radium Dial, and she finds herself in a position where she can begin saving some money for the future. Moreover, she has finally found companionship, a bustling social life, and regularly attends parties. So, when she begins to feel pain in her hip, she doesn’t take that much notice, even when the pain becomes so bad she begins limping. Her life is going splendidly, and she has nothing to complain about. Apart from that persistent pain that isn’t easing.

A tremendous story of a fight against a large corporation, society, and life itself, Luminous: The Story of a Radium Girl by Samantha Wilcoxson brings to light what it was to live as a sufferer of radium poisoning, brushed aside with no compensation in sight, and the ever-glowing light at the end of the tunnel shining brighter each day.

As Catherine starts her job, meticulously applying radium paint to watch dials and causing the numbers to illuminate in darkness, she feels a sense of fulfilment. As she immerses herself in the repetitive motions of dipping the brush in paint, bringing it to her lips to create a fine point, and applying the paint to the watch face, Catherine realizes how much she enjoys her job, especially the camaraderie she shares with the other girls. She finds satisfaction in her work, aware that she has a job that is highly sought after by other girls. However, Catherine’s confidence in the safety of her job wavers as newspaper articles emerge, reporting lawsuits against Radium Dial for the deaths of young girls due to ‘radium poisoning’. Doubts about the safety of working with radium paint start to arise, challenging the narrative presented by her employers. She would leave her workplace every day, her body coated in a shimmering layer of radiant dust. The young women surrounding her enthusiastically adorned their nails with the mesmerizing substance, revelling in the magical luminescence it bestowed upon their fingertips. Nonetheless, was it wise to be in such intimate proximity to the substance without questioning its safety? Besides taking her bosses’ word for it, what evidence existed to prove it wasn’t dangerous?

Though not a household name, Catherine Donohue captured the attention of newspapers in the 1930s. She was one of the women who applied radium-laced paint to watches, clocks, and instrument dials, making them glow. Catherine and many women like her were exposed to deadly levels of radium poison. As she neared death, weakened by radium, she mustered the energy for a long-delayed legal battle against Radium Dial. Initially, she was in a fortunate position, living in a house without any mortgage or rent, as she had inherited it from her aunt and uncle. She also had a substantial amount of savings from her time at Radium Dial. But Catherine’s funds had long since run out. Catherine exhausted her resources on medical tests, experimental treatments, doctor fees, and countless appointments, with nothing to show for it. She showed no signs of improvement, her condition worsened daily, and no new doctor had any more effective approaches. Her condition had no known cure, and many doubted the existence of radium poisoning. At a time when the disease was not widely acknowledged, there was no sign of any treatment. To spare future dial painters from the same agony, a legal fight against Radium Dial appeared to be the necessary path. And a settlement that could cover the cost of her medical bills would go a long way. Catherine was truly a beacon of hope for those who were suffering in silence. Her legal battle was highly publicized as she made numerous appearances in the papers, despite her physical limitations, she courageously fought against a powerful company and made her voice heard. The retelling of Catherine’s life by Ms. Wilcoxson truly captures her incredible determination and unbelievable strength. 

Catherine, of course, could not have done everything by herself and was lucky to have an incredible support system in place. Her husband, Tom, was an absolute saint. He stood by her every step of the way, marrying her despite her limp, and making sure she was as comfortable as physically possible when her illness progressed. Ms Wilcoxson has written an outstanding novel that evokes genuine emotions. While reading, you experience the fear, pain, and despair and the realisation that countless women were deceived and suffered irreversible consequences, even losing their lives, all for the sake of a company’s greed that showed no concern for its employees, it was only focused on meeting quotas. The realistic portrayal of Catherine in the book intensifies its emotional impact. With knowledge of radium’s perils, reading through a contemporary lens brings a sense of impending doom. And as the story progresses the reader feels nothing but empathy for Catherine’s plight and anger at her employers' seeming inability to maintain the health, safety and well-being of their employees. It’s a genuinely impactful and thought-provoking read.

Samantha Wilcoxson’s Luminous: The Story of a Radium Girl is an emotional masterpiece. This book leaves a lasting impact on readers, with its incredible story and unforgettable characters that stay with you long after the final page. 



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Luminous: The Story of a Radium Girl


Samantha Wilcoxson


Samantha Wilcoxson is an author of emotive biographical fiction and strives to help readers connect with history's unsung heroes. She also writes nonfiction for Pen & Sword History. Samantha loves sharing trips to historic places with her family and spending time by the lake with a glass of wine. Her most recent work is Women of the American Revolution, which explores the lives of 18th century women, and she is currently working on a biography of James Alexander Hamilton.

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