blog tour, books, reviews

Blog Tour: Drums of War – Michael Ward

London 1642.

The King has fled London with the drums of war ringing in his ears. Across the country, lines are being drawn and armies raised.

Influential royalist Lady Carlisle switches sides and presses spice trader Thomas Tallant and his partner Elizabeth Seymour into Parliament’s service.

Soon Thomas faces double-dealing in his hunt for a lethal hoard of gunpowder hidden on the river, while Elizabeth engages in a race against time to locate a hidden sniper picking off Parliamentary officers at will in the city.

The capital also witnesses a vicious gang of jewel thieves take advantage of the city’s chaos to go on the rampage, smashing homes and shops, leaving a trail of destruction in their wake. They hand pick their targets but refrain from selling any of their loot. There are more questions than answers.

When war finally erupts, Elizabeth is caught in the brutalising carnage of Edgehill while Thomas joins the Trained Bands in their defence of the city. As he mans the barricades at Brentford, in a desperate rearguard action to repel Prince Rupert’s surprise attack, he realises the future of London rests in the hands of him and a few hundred troopers.

Meanwhile, Elizabeth believes she has identified the jewel thief and goes underground to trace his hoard.

But all is not as it seems.

Writing has been central to Mike Ward’s professional life. On graduating from university he became a journalist, working in newspapers and for the BBC. He then went into journalism education, teaching and researching journalism practice before becoming head of the UK’s prestigious Journalism School at UCLan. For the last eight years he has run his own content creation company.

My thoughts: we return to Thomas Tallant’s London, in the grips of the English Civil War (Charles I vs. Parliament). London is for Parliament and the King is in Oxford (which he named his capital) with his Royalist soldiers.

Thomas is hired by Parliament to find out where some stolen black powder is being smuggled out of London from, which he does. Getting himself involved with turncoats and conspirators. Can’t see any of today’s MPs on the frontline of a battle wielding a musket somehow!

Meanwhile Elizabeth, Thomas’ friend, has been asked by the King’s physician to assist him in his field hospital. Sickened and saddened by the chaos and death she returns to London angry and traumatised. She’s been tasked to find a jewel thief and us poking around the Goldsmith’s Guild, despite having been warned off. Will this help soothe her after witnessing the brutality of the battlefield?

It was interesting to read about the fighting in Brentford and the taking of Syon House – places I know, and battles that aren’t as well known as Edgehill. The Civil War was a time that saw families divided and brothers on opposite sides. Thomas’ father wants to remain neutral, in the hope that his trading won’t be interrupted, but that’s probably not going to work for long.

The historical facts (the war, the jewel thefts) are real, which adds depth to the story and allows the author to bring things to life that are usually just a list in a textbook. Another enjoyable outing for Thomas and Co.

*I was kindly gifted a copy of this book in exchange for taking part in the blog tour but all opinions remain my own.

blog tour, books, reviews

Blog Tour: The Velvet Badge – Bob Mantel

Forty years in the making, Bob Mantel’s thrilling debut novel challenges today’s social standards with compelling characters while infusing the Big Apple’s unmistakable presence.

In The Velvet Badge: A New York Noir a tasteless nightclub run by a failed JFK assassination co-conspirator brings out the worst in 1970s New York. Songbird Sadasia Trayne runs into a disco-era buzz saw of wine, women, and murder when she hooks up with the Brooklyn-based creator of a notorious TV sitcom. Her frantic SOS to a long-lost love, the Big Apple’s closeted lesbian Chief of Police Detectives, drives this tale of memory and regret, compromise and topiary, politics and a corrupt press, Kris Kringle and twisted acts of love. Will the headline-grabbing sex crime she sets out to solve max out the Chief’s investigative skills or deep-six her career?

The Velvet Badge combines edge-of-your-seat storytelling with stone-cold hilarity and just a touch of holiday ho-ho-ho. A fast-paced novel embedded with elements of suspense and dark humor, The Velvet Badge is perfect for readers who enjoyed Meatpacking by Michael Heslin, The Burn by Kathleen Kent, or Cold Evidence by Robin James.

Mantel creates a world of mystery while infusing dark comedy in a fresh way. “The novel’s New York episodes were inspired by the 1970s city I lived in during my Columbia College days…I was a classic hick, struggling with classes and discovering the highs and lows of the city. Many of these stories found their way into The Velvet Badge,” he said.

Authentically reflecting the sights and sounds of the city he loves, Mantel’s talent for bringing the diversity of New York to life on the page may seem effortless, but it wasn’t always easy. “Like many other writers, I knew what I wanted to accomplish in my first book but didn’t know how to pull it off,” he said. “I worked on The Velvet Badge, off and on for many years, and even completed several drafts, but never to my satisfaction. I took it up again after I retired in 2017 and, this time, all the missing pieces seemed to fall into place–including an ending that I’d previously been unable to conjure.”

Bob Mantel was educated at Columbia College, where he won the Cornell Woolrich Award for Fiction, and the University of Chicago. He lives in New York and enjoys visiting cities that have ballparks and concert halls. The Velvet Badge is his first novel. Learn more at bobmantel.wordpress.com and follow him on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook.


Bob Mantel Blogger Q&A

How long did it take you to complete The Velvet Badge?

An embarrassingly long time–more than 40 years–although I didn’t work on it steadily and often left it untouched for years. One of my problems was taking Ulysses too much to heart and spending nearly a decade badly imitating Joyce’s prose. I’m sure I’m not alone in this, which is why I call that magnificent book “the great crippler of young adults.” Long story short: you may know what you want to write but have no idea how to bring it off. I completed any number of drafts until I finally figured out a decent ending for the book. After that, everything else finally fell into place.

Have you ever experienced writer’s/creator’s block? How do you get out of it?

Writer’s block for me turns out being a function of not having thought through my material to the point where it’s ready to work on. Whenever one crops up, I make a backup copy of the chapter I’m working on, save it as Chapter X-GARBAGE, then write away as well as I can, not expecting to keep much of what I’m producing. If I keep at it, I eventually understand how I need to shape my material and I can get back to my original draft, revise as needed and move forward.

How much of your work is autobiographical?

All of it, just like every first novel is autobiography. I’ve been inspired and stimulated by the places I’ve lived and the people I’ve known and loved. But I’m not out to draw their portraits “from life.” Instead, I’m interested in drawing on the autobiography of the emotions I felt about them to create unique places and characters that I’m free to work with as I choose.

You use a lot of what used to be called “hard jokes” in your fiction. Are you concerned about offending your readers?

No. The Velvet Badge is a hard-edge black comedy/murder mystery set largely in the 1970s. Much of the book’s humor derives from its describing characters in two ways: first, as they’d be seen in the 1970s and then authorially commenting from the present day. There’s shock value in the first and, hopefully, laughter and healing balm in the second. If any of my readers are looking for hate speech, they should track down the TV channels and websites offering plenty of that these days.

The Velvet Badge seems to contain quite a few references to operas and old movies. Could you mention just a few?

Name-dropping like that isn’t surprising when you consider what was going on in New York back when I first knew it. Take the book’s Oscar Wilde/Richard Strauss “Salome” reference. Back in the day, standing room at the Met was three bucks–and didn’t come with subtitles! More importantly, you could get into any number of revival movie house double features up and down Broadway for only $2.50. There’s a big scene in “Badge” that riffs on “The Pride of The Yankees,” after the book previously sang the praises of the talented, ever-lovely Teresa Wright. Of course, a major plot point in “The Velvet Badge” is a direct homage to Orson Welles’ “Citizen Kane.” And the book closes with a bit of dialogue straight-up stolen from Alida Valli in Carol Reed’s “The Third Man.”

What’s your favorite book-movie adaptation?

I’d have to say it’s a three-way tie between Raymond Chandler and Robert Altman’s “The Long Goodbye,” Thomas Pynchon and Paul Thomas Anderson’s “Inherent Vice” and Larry McMurtry and Peter Bogdanovich’s “The Last Picture Show.” By the way, if anybody wants to buy “The Velvet Badge” movies rights, please give me a call. I’m in the book.


Extract from The Velvet Badge

Faced with life’s deep dish pie of pain, Donny Damon always ordered his slices á la mode. It was a habit he’d acquired from his old man Harry, who’d been born in a land where the streets were paved with gold, days before the Blizzard of ’88 paralyzed the East Coast, and who did little to hang his hat on until 1923, when Harding’s sudden death out west landed brine-faced Coolidge in the Oval Office.

Silent Cal’s pronouncement that “the chief business of the American people is business” was a turning point for Harry Damon, inspiring the colorless street pug to scrape together whatever cash he could, marry the first woman he could fast-talk in front of an altar and make a go of “Damon Truss & Convalescent Supply” on New York’s Lower East Side. The driving force behind this enterprise’s success was the 35-year-old’s decision to have his child bride strut her fine, precocious stuff behind the shop’s plate-glass window, wearing little beyond a leg cast, neck brace and strategically placed Ace bandages. Since such a display was an insult to community standards, it drew the smutty-minded, bogus lame and halt to his establishment from a twelve-block radius and kept its cash register ringing for as long as Olivia Damon continued her risqué showcase.

Harry’s missus gave the act the hook during FDR’s first administration and would eventually divorce her husband claiming alienation of affection. But by then the small business owner hardly even remembered being married and had gone all in on racketeering practices that expanded Damon Truss ten-fold during the Great Depression. By the time the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor, he was piloting a regional wheelchair powerhouse while also heading a body bag monopoly in New York, Connecticut, and New Jersey. Damon’s stranglehold on these markets, however, couldn’t and didn’t last. America’s entry into World War II gave Feds the excuse they’d been waiting for to nationalize his enterprises rather than let Harry spend the next several years dodging profiteering charges. 

Being put out to early pasture may have caught the wheelchair king off guard, but it couldn’t keep him and his enormous wad of buyout cash down for long. Within a few months, Mr. Damon was steering his Studebaker President north along the mighty Hudson to a sleepy river town founded by the Dutch and re-christened by the Brits to honor the neatly trimmed juniper bushes surrounding its village green. Or so the story went. 

The actual name change to “Carvéd Hedge” dated only from the 1920s, when those eponymous hedges were first planted. Back then, local politicians and the chamber of commerce decided that a little fudged history would attract new business, along with a better class of people, and make the dusty old place a village to be proud of instead of the shoulder-shrug whistlestop it had been sliding into for decades. This effort hadn’t made much of a difference. But every once in a while, a resident would surprise the neighbors, show some talent or initiative and put the community’s general mediocrity to shame.

Sharpie Bev Boslegovich, for example, parleyed her ability to recognize a born patsy when she saw one into a thriving local real-estate business. So when Harry Damon turned his big sedan onto Main Street in 1942, he couldn’t even put the damn thing in park before “Hiya, handsome! Lookin’ to settle down?” came winging his way from under a mop of Shirley Temple curls. 

Since sparkplug Bev believed in telling people what they wanted to hear, she gave a twist to her town’s Jazz Age creation myth that a mark like Damon would be powerless to resist. Namely (“Turn left at this corner!”) that an eyesore property, sitting idle on her books for months, had once been the home of a profligate Tory (“You know, before the Revolution.”) who spent the bulk of his fortune developing a topiary wonderland of trees, bushes and shrubs that a small army of gardeners had stripped, clipped, bent, and chiseled into a stunning array of geometric and animal-shaped confections.

Not a word of this was true, of course, but Bev understood Damon had journeyed to her little piece of heaven on earth because he was in the market for prestige as much as a home. To hear her tell it, the property she was hawking was the true inspiration behind the name of the village that tripped so lightly off her tongue. “Why else would they call it Carvéd Hedge?” Bev demanded as much as wondered.

Moved by the realtor’s aggressive eloquence, Damon’s gullibility made him believe wholeheartedly that the unruly mess he was looking at was precisely the spot where a vital, breathing, European artform had jumped species and taken root in Colonial America. This despite the fact that the “estate,” as Bev called it, was nothing more than a derelict saltbox with a sagging catslide roof, centered on a half-acre lot and thick with oversized, misfit verdure that, if you wanted to believe in it hard enough, at one time might conceivably have served some decorative function. Boslegovich sealed the deal when she told him, “There are some things you just can’t put a price on.” Damon barely flinched when she quoted a ridiculously high ask and bought the place for cash. “None of that buying-on-time crap for me,” he crowed. It was the maraschino cherry topping a forced retirement that had already started to melt. 


My thoughts: this was a crazy, black humoured book taking in JFK’s assassination, a nightclub decorated in homage (?) to that event, a singer who might be amazing but who would ever know when she gets involved in the horrific murder of a lesbian TV producer, and turns to her ex – the Velvet Badge of the title – female chief of detectives, Ellia, who grew up in a house with Christmas obsessed parents and is still scarred by her younger brother’s death.

The murder seems fairly straightforward – the laundry delivery man fits the detective’s motive and suspicions very well, maybe a little too well. But as long as there’s no murder similar to this, he’ll do. There are other bodies, but if you can’t find them, are they there?

A local “businessman” has an interesting story to tell, tying up a few loose ends, but the damage is done and various people (like the mayor) just want this all to go away. A wandering, freewheeling format, slowly connecting the characters together is a bit confusing at first but then brings it all together at The Umbrella Man.

*I was kindly gifted a copy of this book in exchange for taking part in the blog tour but all opinions remain my own.

blog tour, books, reviews

Blog Tour: Deuce – Gail Meath

One for sorrow, two for spice triggers a game of three blind mice.

While vacationing in New England, PI Jax Diamond and his courageous canine partner, Ace, bite off more than they can chew when two small town deaths reveal two big time killers, and the locals don’t take too kindly to strangers.

Laura Graystone, Broadway star, auto expert, and Jax’s heartthrob, is once again front and center digging for clues while trying to ditch an old boyfriend. That is, until her brother becomes Jax’s prime suspect. Then all hell breaks loose, and Ace is left in the lurch, tracking down leads with his new sidekick, Susie.

A crazy duet of crimes sends Jax, Laura and Ace into a tailspin in small-town USA during the Roaring Twenties. Where no one is above the law, everyone is a suspect, and time is running out before the clock strikes one.

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Award-winning author Gail Meath writes historical romance novels that will whisk you away to another time and place in history where you will meet fascinating characters, both fictional and real, who will capture your heart and soul. Meath loves writing about little or unknown people, places and events in history, rather than relying on the typical stories and settings.

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My thoughts: another cracking case for Jax and Co, most importantly Ace, always the best canine PI the Roaring Twenties has. Things are going great till they’re very much not and Jax and Laura find themselves on opposite sides of the case. Ace is helping new pal Susie, while the lovebirds are at odds and the clock is ticking.

I love this team, obviously Ace makes them extra good at crime solving. This was another corker and the historic setting is a bonus as I’m a history nerd!

*I was kindly gifted a copy of this book in exchange for taking part in the blog tour but all opinions remain my own.

blog tour, books, reviews

Blog Blitz: The Automobile Assassination – M.J. Porter


Erdington, September 1944
As events in Europe begin to turn in favour of the Allies, Chief Inspector Mason of Erdington Police Station is once more prevailed upon to solve a seemingly impossible case.
Called to the local mortuary where a man’s body lies, shockingly bent double and lacking any form of identification, Mason and O’Rourke find themselves at Castle Bromwich aerodrome seeking answers
that seem out of reach to them. The men and women of the royal air force stationed there are their prime suspects. Or are they? Was the man a spy, killed on the orders of some higher authority, or is
the place his body was found irrelevant? And why do none of the men and women at the aerodrome recognise the dead man?
Mason, fearing a repeat of the cold case that dogged his career for two decades and that he’s only just solved, is determined to do all he can to uncover the identity of the dead man, and to find out why he was killed and abandoned in such a bizarre way, even as Smythe demands he spends his time solving the counterfeiting case that is leaving local shopkeepers out of pocket.
Join Mason and O’Rourke as they once more attempt to solve the impossible in 1940s Erdington.
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MJ Porter is the author of many historical novels set predominantly in Seventh
to Eleventh-Century England, as well as three twentieth-century mysteries. Raised in the shadow of a building that was believed to house the bones of long-dead Kings of Mercia, meant that the
author’s writing destiny was set.

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My thoughts: this was a good old-fashioned whodunnit, with an intriguing victim – a man with no identifying documents or even clothes, found bent double near the airfield in wartime. Easy to see why Mason and O’Rourke look closely at the RAF stationed there.

Theres other strange goings on too, someone is tampering with the AA’s road side boxes, and there’s still a case Mason doesn’t even want to be investigating to be resolved – Jones would love the counterfeiting case.

But there’s more crime than coppers, so Mason, aided by the very resourceful O’Rourke (not limited to filing and tea making as sadly female police officers really were for a long time) to solve all of these cases and identify the mysterious dead man in order to return him to his family and find his killer. Highly enjoyable.

*I was kindly gifted a copy of this book in exchange for taking part in the blog tour but all opinions remain my own.

blog tour, books, reviews

Blog Tour: Chaos at Carnegie Hall – Kelly Oliver

New York, 1917. Notorious spy, Fredrick Fredricks, has invited Fiona to Carnegie Hall to hear a famous soprano. It’s an
opportunity the War Office can’t turn down. Fiona and Clifford are soon on their way, but not before Fiona is saddled with chaperon duties for Captain Hall’s niece. Is Fiona a spy or a glorified babysitter?
From the minute Fiona meets the soprano aboard the RMS Adriatic it’s treble on the high C’s. Fiona sees something—or someone—thrown overboard, and then she overhears a chemist plotting in
German with one of her own countrymen!
And the trouble doesn’t stop when they disembark. Soon Fiona is doing time with a group of suffragettes and investigating America’s most impressive inventor Thomas Edison.
When her number one suspect turns up dead at the opera and Fredrick Fredricks is caught red-handed, it looks like it’s finally curtains for the notorious spy.
But all the evidence points to his innocence. Will Fiona change her tune and clear her nemesis’ name? Or will she do her duty? And just what is she going to do with the pesky Kitty Lane? Not to mention swoon-worthy Archie Somersby . . .
If Fiona’s going to come out on top, she’s going to have to make the most difficult decision of her life: the choice between her head and her heart.
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Kelly Oliver is the award-winning, bestselling author of three mysteries series: The Jessica James Mysteries, The Pet Detective Mysteries, and the historical cozies The Fiona Figg Mysteries, set in
WW1. She is also the Distinguished Professor of Philosophy at Vanderbilt University and lives in Nashville, Tennessee. She is bringing new titles in the Fiona Figg series to Boldwood, the first of
which, Chaos in Carnegie Hall, will be published in November 2022.

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My thoughts: I hadn’t read the previous books in this series, but it doesn’t matter, it works just fine as a standalone or as the beginning of Fiona’s collaboration with Kitty Lane.

Sent to New York on the trail of a German spy, Fiona becomes embroiled in several murders, a different potential spy, Thomas Edison, suffragettes, Dorothy Parker’s Algonquin set and escorting her boss’ annoying neice to college. She’s accompanied by the devoted, if long suffering, Clifford, rather against her will. And her beloved Archie keeps popping up everywhere – is he a double agent?

With a wardrobe full of disguises, some subterfuge, a cute but not fully toilet trained dog, Poppy, and some help from a crinkly concierge, Fiona decides to untangle all the various threads, solve the murders, and of course find out what Frederick Fredericks is up to. She might even get to enjoy the sights of the Big Apple.

Lots of fun, and a bit silly, full of real famous names, and some artistic licence, this was an enjoyable historical crime caper.

*I was kindly gifted a copy of this book in exchange for taking part in the blog tour but all opinions remain my own.

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Blog Tour: Daughters of Teutobod – Kurt Hansen

Daughters of Teutobod is a story of love triumphing over hate, of persistence in the face of domination, and of the strength of women in the face of adversity.

Gudrun is the stolen wife of Teutobod, the leader of the Teutons in Gaul in 102 BCE. Her story culminates in a historic battle with the Roman army.

Susanna is a German American farm wife in Pennsylvania whose husband, Karl, has strong affinity for the Nazi party in Germany. Susanna’s story revolves around raising her three daughters and one son as World War II unfolds.

Finally, Gretel is the infant child of Susanna, now seventy-nine years old and a professor of women’s studies, a US senator and Nobel laureate for her World Women’s Initiative. She is heading to France to represent the United States at the seventy-fifth anniversary of the liberation of southern France, at the commemoration site where her older brother, who was killed in action nearby, is buried. The site is very near the location where the Romans defeated the Teutons.

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Kurt Hansen is from Racine, Wisconsin, and has lived in Kansas, Texas, and Iowa. He has experience in mental health and family systems as well as in parish ministry and administration. He holds degrees in psychology, social work and divinity. Kurt now lives in Dubuque, Iowa with his wife of 44 years, Dr. Susan Hansen, a professor emerita of international business. Kurt is the author of Gathered (2019). Daughters of Teutobod is his second novel.

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Interview:

On writing:

How did you do research for your book?

Online searches for everything about the Teutons  to pre-war Pennsylvania and the earliest training of American Rangers, Northern Ireland, Scotland, and modern-day sites in Paris and Southern France.

Which was the hardest character to write? The easiest?

Hardest? Ada.

Easiest? Gretel.

Where do you get inspiration for your stories?

From reading, from people, and from the news.

What advice would you give budding writers? 

Read widely. Attend a well-established writer’s conference. 

Do you have another profession besides writing?

Retired pastor.

How long have you been writing?

After heart disease forced early retirement, I began attending the Iowa Summer Writer’s Festival in 2014. I began writing poetry, but soon began writing novels.

What is your next project?

A book entitled Chameleon, about a man in treatment for Borderline personality disorder. 

What genre do you write and why?

I write character driven stories and historical fiction because those are what interest me.

What is the last great book you’ve read?

Chances Are by Richard Russo 

What is a favorite compliment you have received on your writing?

A reader wrote that my book connected with her on an emotional level, bringing her to tears at times.

If your book were made into a movie, who would star in the leading roles?

The only one I’ve had an instant intuition for is the elder Gretel, who would surely be portrayed nicely by Meryl Streep.

If your book were made into a movie, what songs would be on the soundtrack?

Not sure, but during closing credits, I could suggest Respect by Aretha Franklin.

What were the biggest rewards and challenges with writing your book?

Greatest reward is the coming together of the various story elements. Greatest challenge is slogging through the research and persisting through the dialogues.

In one sentence, what was the road to publishing like?

It was painful and frustrating.

What is one piece of advice you would give to an aspiring author?

Be open to criticism. Write about what you know. 

Which authors inspired you to write?

Philip Roth, Harper Lee, Richard Russo, Flannery O’Connor, Charles Dickens, Michael Crighton, Dan Brown, Kurt Vonnegut, Amy Hassinger 

On rituals:

Where do you write?

Either in my office at home or in a coffee shop.

Do you write every day?

No. But I’ve heard many authors say that I should.

What is your writing schedule?

It tends to be manicky. I may go weeks without writing anything, and then a sudden spurt of energy possesses me and I write furiously for days.

In today’s tech savvy world, most writers use a computer or laptop. Have you ever written parts of your book on paper?

Only notes.

Fun stuff:

Favorite travel spot?

Toledo, Spain.

Favorite dessert?

Sour cream raisin pie

If you were stuck on a deserted island, which 3 books would you want with you? 

To Kill a Mockingbird, A Tale of Two Cities, and the Bible.

Any hobbies? or Name a quirky thing you like to do.

I collect rock-n-roll memorabilia. Signed record albums and photos and so forth. 

If there is one thing you want readers to remember about you, what would it be?

That I care about relationships and helping people.

What TV series are you currently binge watching?

Silent Witness and Cheers

What is your theme song?

“You’ve Got a Friend” by James Taylor

What is your go-to breakfast item?

Low-carb wraps

Tell us about your longest friendship.

I’ve been going on an annual retreat with six colleagues for over thirty years.


Chapter One

The smoke of the grist fires rose incessantly, grey black against the cloudy blue sky as the day meandered toward its middle hours. It was the season of harvest, and those konas who were able were out among the plantings, gleaning grain or digging turnips, carrots, or beets out of the black, loamy soil. Some ground grain into flour and some baked bread, while others tended the fires and the fleshpots. Still others were about the business of tanning hides, mostly of deer, raccoons, rabbits, or fox, occasionally from a bear. The smells of death intermingled with the breathing life and beating heart of the sveit.

Gudrun liked this time of day best. She grabbed another handful of golden wheatstalks, slicing off the grain heads with a strong whisking motion and dropping the grain into her tightly woven flaxen gathering bag. She paused for a moment, wiping the sweat from her brow with the back of her hand. The sun was bright today, making the air steamy. Gudrun looked out across the hills, down the valley, past the wooded glades where she could see dozens of other kǫngulls like her own, and she knew there were even more beyond the reach of her eyes. Most of the kǫngulls contained about 100 persons, but some had more. As she fixed her gaze closer, to the kǫngull where she lived, she could see the jungen, chasing one another, some wielding sticks or branches, others seeking to escape the assaults of their aggressors. The jungmädchen were variously helping their mothers with cooking or cleaning vegetables or sewing hides; the kinder simply hid in corners or clung to their mothers’ legs.

Several hours passed, and now the sun was receding, thankfully, because its blazing, yellow glare kept breaking through the billowing clouds all day, intensifying the laborers’ fatigue. Gudrun emptied her grain bag into the large, woven basket at the edge of the planting. The basket was filled to the brim, and as she plunged both hands into the basket, letting the harvested grain sift between her fingers, a smile of satisfaction softened her face. Filling up her basket all the way to the top was for her, a measure of the goodness of the day. She hoisted the heavy basket, glad for the leather strap she had fashioned to carry it. Before she designed the strap, two women were needed to carry the woven baskets—one on either side—especially when full. But Gudrun decided to cut a long strip from the edge of a tanned deer hide and, with a sharp bone needle she affixed the strap to her basket, allowing her to shoulder the entire weight by herself.

When she first showed her invention, one of the men—Torolf—chastised her for taking the piece of deer hide. He pushed her to the ground and threatened worse, but Teutobod intervened, bashing Torolf on the head with his club and sending him reeling. Teutobod, Gudrun’s mann, was the undisputed leader of their sveit, and he had been their leader long before he took her for his wife, ever since the sveit’s earliest days in Jutland. He ordered that all the grain baskets be fashioned with straps for carrying, and Gudrun won the admiration of all the konas (and even some men). Torolf avoided her from then on.

As evening approached, it was time to prepare for the return of the männer. Most hunting excursions were a one-day affair, bringing in meat for perhaps a few days at best. But as the harvest season proceeded, the männer would leave for days at a time, seeking to increase supplies for the long winter to come. This foray had lasted nearly a week, but Gudrun was told by Teutobod to expect their return before seven suns had passed, and she shared this information with the some of the other konas. By now all the kongulls were preparing for the männer coming home.

As the sun began to set, the konas started pulling out skins from their bærs, unfolding them and laying them on the ground about the fire pits. The flesh pots were stirred and stoked, and a hearty stew was prepared with deer meats, mushrooms, yellow beans, potatoes, turnips and carrots, seasoned with salt and fennel and black peppercorns. Flasks of beer that had been cooling in the stream all day were brought to each firepit and hung on a stake which had been plunged in the ground for that purpose. Various dinner ware made from carved bone or fashioned out of wood or clay were laid out. All was in readiness.

An aura of anticipation and anxiety tumbled around the kǫngull, shortening tempers as the waiting lengthened. Finally, about an hour after the sun had fully set, the sound of the ram’s horn distantly blasted out its announcement: Die männer komme! The jungen were hustled away to the kinderbærs. One never knew the mood that might accompany the hunters when they returned, and things could and often did get ugly. The konas sat or knelt respectfully beside the firepits, twitching, nervously swatting insects away from the food, inhaling excitement and breathing out fear. 

Soon the rustling of leaves and the snap of twigs underfoot grew louder and closer until the shadows brought forth the whole troop of men, bustling in to the kǫngull, carrying or dragging the meat they had procured, pounding their chests, howling, pulling on their scraggly hair or beards, banging the ground with clubs or spears and smelling of the hunt and of the forest. Similar sounds of triumph and dominion could be heard resonating throughout all the kǫngulls below as the männer clamored in across the entire sveit.

Here in Gudrun’s kǫngull, the konas kept their gaze to the ground, their eyes fixed on the fire, and as the hunters’ swagger slowly abated, one by one the konas silently lifted their plates above their heads, each looking up to her mann as they all found their respective places. Once the providers were all reclining on skins beside the firepits, the konas stood and began to prepare plates of food for them. The men ate loudly, hungrily, slurping the stew from the lips of the bowls and using hunks of bread to grasp chunks of meat and vegetables.

The food having been consumed, skinflasks of beer soon followed, and before long the sated belches and grunts of the eaters gave way to boisterous banter, the proud providers reliving the thrill of killing a stag or the bravery of facing a bear. The konas scraped up the leftovers to take to the huts for themselves and the children, after which the cleanup tasks commenced. The women worked in groups of three or four, tending two large boiling pots to soak the dinnerware until all remnants of the food floated up to the top and were skimmed off. A little more soaking, then all the dinnerware was stacked and stored for the next use. Gudrun, along with two other konas, took the job of drying the cleaned dishes, swinging a dish in each hand to move the air. They playfully swung the wet plates or cups at one another, spritzing each other in the process and giggling like little meyas.

This being the end of a prolonged hunting venture, the children were tucked in early in the kinderhäusen, and the konas prepared to receive their husbands. For those unlucky enough to have brutish men, their wifely duties were not at all pleasant. Others were more fortunate. Gudrun was happy to be among the latter, hoping only that the beer ran out before Teutobod’s love lust. She retreated to the bær she shared with her husband, glad for the privacy his role as leader provided. This entire kǫngull was comprised of the sveit’s leadership and their skuldaliðs, and as such it claimed luxuries not generally known throughout the sveit by underlings. The leaders camped furthest upstream, and therefore got the cleanest water for drinking, cooking, and bathing. The leaders claimed individual space for themselves and their vifs, while others down below had to share living space with two or three other skuldaliðs. 

Gudrun removed her garments and lay nude on the soft deerskins in her bær to prepare herself for her husband. Covering herself with another skin, she began to move her hands over her thighs and abdomen, softly, back and forth, her rough-skinned fingertips adapting to their more delicate uses. She moved a hand upward, swirling around her breasts and throat, teasing each nipple at the edges, holding back from contacting the most delicate flesh.

Her stroking and probing continued, a bit more urgently as she felt her breath rise and grow more heated. The muscles in her abdomen began to pulse, and as her hands found the sensitive spot between her legs, she felt the moisture beginning to flow inside her. When she was young Gudrun had learned from the older konas how to help her husband in this way, to ease his entrance and hasten his joy. Along the way, over the years, she also learned to enjoy herself more in the process. As the instinctive rocking motion in her pelvis began, she eased her manipulations, not wanting to be prematurely excited. Breathlessly, she looked toward the bær’s entrance, hoping Teutobod would hurry.


You never know where researching a book might take you! While researching the WWII portion of Daughters of Teutobod, I learned about the earliest training of the Army Rangers. After gathering at Carrickfergus in Northern Ireland, the group headed off to the highlands of Scotland for intensive combat training, after which they returned to Carrickfergus to await deployment. A fascinating sidenote for me related to the treatment of Black soldiers, many of whom related how wonderfully they were treated by the Irish people. They were welcomed into homes and pubs and treated as equals among their lighter-skinned compatriots. When some of the White soldiers complained to their commanding officers, the officers addressed the “morale” problem by attempting to force local business owners to impose race restrictions on the soldiers they served. The locals would have none of it! They all stood up to the American officers and reminded them they were guests in Ireland, and that they (pub and restaurant owners, mostly) would not be told whom they could serve in their own country! 

For me, the experience of the Black soldiers intersects with the experiences of women in history. Being called to serve (for women, in roles such as mother, wife, nurse, schoolteacher, etc., and for Blacks in roles of servant or even soldier) has come with a tacit exclusion from full participation in the world of those they served. The message has been, “be a good little (fill in the blank), but don’t bother the men. You don’t really belong here.” 

*I was kindly gifted a copy of this book in exchange for taking part in the blog tour but all opinions remain my own.

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Blog Tour: Death & Mr Fould – Alan Derosby

A stunning gothic historical hybrid genre story perfect for Halloween!

Max Fould, an aristocrat from the Fould banking family, goes off to war under the leadership of Napoleon.

While stranded in Russia, he encounters a creature that sets his life on an unimaginable path based on Russian folklore.

Follow Max Fould from post-revolutionary France to the First World War, where his past and present come full circle. Buy Link

Alan Derosby, a Maine native, has spent the past several years focusing on his passion: writing.  Alan has created original and spooky short stories, having several published in a variety of anthologies. MAN OF CLAY is his debut novel. 

When not writing, Alan is teaching history at Messalonskee High School in Oakland, Maine, spending time with his wife and daughter, or watching the New York Mets suffer through another disappointing season.

My thoughts: Maximilian Fould makes a Faustian pact with the devilish immortal bird Katkh, a creature that sows chaos and destruction. Linked together forever, Max attempts to outwit the creature and die – thus ending its power. His only friend through the centuries is Death.

From revolutionary France, to post Industrial Revolution Britain, the freezing fields of Russia to the First World War, Max lives a life far longer than he should and encounters terrible losses in his attempt to stop the raven of chaos destroying everything.

A clever and interesting exploration of history – from Napoleon to the First World War, via the palaces of Russia. Max can’t predict the bird’s next terrible plot (hint: it involves creepy monk Rasputin) and what monstrous things it will do but he knows it must end.

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*I was kindly gifted a copy of this book in exchange for taking part in the blog tour but all opinions remain my own.

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Blog Tour: The Cursed Heir – Heather Atkinson

Edinburgh 1896. At Alardyce House, the family are gathered to celebrate the engagement of the heir to the estate, Robert, to his childhood sweetheart. But what should be a precious memory for his
mother Amy, is marred by darkness. For Robert’s biological father was a demon and a criminal, and now Robert is coming-of-age, disturbing reports are beginning to emerge about his behaviour.
Amy is torn between her love and loyalty to her son, her hope that she can save his soul, and her growing sense of dread that the streets of Edinburgh aren’t safe when Robert is in town. Meanwhile the increasing distance between Robert and his stepfather Henry threatens the peace of her loving marriage.
The Alardyce family is riven by secrets and scandal, but will this most cursed heir of all, be the one to ruin their reputation forever, or can the power of a mother’s love save them all?
If you love Emily Organ, Kate Saunders and Ann Granger, you’ll love The Cursed Heir. Discover bestselling author Heather Atkinson and you’ll never look back…
Please note this book was previously published as Corruption of the Son.
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Heather Atkinson is the author of over fifty books – predominantly in the crime fiction genre.
Although Lancashire born and bred she now lives with her family, including twin teenage daughters, on the beautiful west coast of Scotland. Her gangland series for Boldwood, set on the fictional Gallowburn estate in Glasgow begins with the title Blood Brothers.

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My thoughts: terrified her son has inherited the dark traits of his biological father Matthew and her cousin Edward, both rapists and murderers, Amy Alardyce and her husband Sir Henry will do anything to stop Robert from marrying sweet, innocent Jane, and keep him from harming any more maidservants. But nothing seems to be able to stop Robert from his path.

Amy is haunted by her past (The Lost Girls of Alardyce House, currently 99p for the ebook, tells her story) and especially by the terrible Matthew. Henry is desperate to save his wife and stepson from the past that threatens to destroy the family they’ve built.

Robert is a repulsive creature, beating servants, raping women and carousing and whoring with his friends. Violence flows through him. Jane, completely unaware of who he really is and refusing to hear her family’s concerns, is basically an idiot. Nothing penetrates her romantic imaginings and since Robert is sweetness and light to her, she never will.

The lengths his parents go to to stop him are extreme – from sending him to stern Uncle Abel and hiring his own huge minder, to cutting him off. But he just won’t listen. Which culminates in a chase to Gretna Green – where you can still elope to and get married over an old anvil (I saw it on a travel show!).

Poor deluded Jane has a terrible time ahead of her if Amy and Esther’s experiences are anything to go by. Amy and Henry can do nothing more. And Robert’s super creepy pal Andrew is still loitering around too. I can’t imagine the horrors those two will get up to in the next book.

*I was kindly gifted a copy of this book in exchange for taking part in the blog tour but all opinions remain my own.

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Blog Tour: The Fifth Daughter of Thorn Ranch – Julia Brewer Daily

For Fans of Yellowstone & Outlander!

Welcome to the book tour for Julia Brewer Daily’s upcoming novel, The Fifth Daughter of Thorn Ranch: A Modern Ranch with an ancient secret!

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The Fifth Daughter of Thorn Ranch

Expected Publication Date: November 1st, 2022

Genre: Modern Western/ Family Saga

Emma Rosales is the heiress to the largest ranch in Texas-The Thorn. All of the responsibilities of managing a million acres now fall into her fifth-generation hands.

A task Emma could handle with her eyes closed… if The Thorn was any ordinary property.

The Thorn is home to many things. Clear, cloudless skies. Miles of desert scrub and craggy mountains. A quiet disrupted only by whispers of the wind. And an ancient web of secrets that won’t let Emma out alive without a fight.

The Fifth Daughter of Thorn Ranch is a family saga as large as the state of Texas.

Pre-Order Now!

About the Author

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Julia Brewer Daily is a Texan with a southern accent. She holds a B.S. in English and a M.S. degree in Education from the University of Southern Mississippi.

She has been a Communications adjunct professor at Belhaven University, Jackson, Mississippi, and Public Relations Director of the Mississippi Department of Education and Millsaps College, a liberal arts college in Jackson, Mississippi.

She was the founding director of the Greater Belhaven Market, a producers’ only market in a historic neighborhood in Jackson, and even shadowed Martha Stewart.

As the executive director of the Craftsmen’s Guild of Mississippi (three hundred artisans from nineteen states) which operates the Mississippi Craft Center, she wrote their stories to introduce them to the public.

Daily is an adopted child from a maternity home hospital in New Orleans. She searched and found her birth mother and through a DNA test, her birth father’s family, as well.  A lifelong southerner, she now resides on a ranch in Fredericksburg, Texas, with her husband Emmerson and Labrador Retrievers, Memphis Belle and Texas Star.

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Blog Blast: The Winter Dress – Lauren Chater

Two women separated by centuries, the threads of their lives drawn together by one beautiful silk dress

Textiles historian Jo Baaker is drawn back to the Dutch island where she was born to investigate the provenance of a valuable seventeenth-century silk dress retrieved from a sunken shipwreck. Her research leads her to Anna Tesseltje, a poor Amsterdam laundress who served on the fringes of the Dutch court.

But how did Anna come to possess such a precious dress? Jo is determined to trace the threads and find out, all while battling with professional egos and personal demons.

My thoughts: I studied material culture as part of my MA so this really appealed to me academically as well as a reader of historical fiction. The things people leave behind them can tell us so much. The beautiful dress found in a shipwreck off Texel tells the story of Anna.

Once a merchant’s daughter, she’s reduced to doing other people’s laundry when the opportunity comes to be companion to a female artist – Catherina. And to love, a freedom she didn’t know she could have and then to tragedy. Her mother’s dress, silk with intricate embroidery outlives her and textile historian Jo carefully teases out Anna’s life story.

Both Anna and Jo are determined women in world’s dominated by men – for Anna the obnoxious Maarten, for Jo her so-called colleague Liam. But both are clever and capable and use all their resources (and in Anna’s case, a storm) to prove their worth.

I really enjoyed this book with its slip back and forth between the two narratives, hundreds of years apart, the insight into the Dutch court that Anna gets was interesting and the lives of the modern islanders was too. A fascinating and informative story of two women, ordinary but in their own way extremely remarkable too.

*I was kindly gifted a copy of this book in exchange for taking part in the blog tour but all opinions remain my own.