I’m absolutely delighted to share a fabulous post about dressing for success in the 17th century by author, Anna Belfrage, who had to find out all sorts of undergarment related information for A Rip in The Veil #HistoricalFiction #TimeTravelRomance #BlogTour #TheCoffeePotBookClub

Today, I’m absolutely delighted to share a fabulous post from Anna Belfrage about dressing in the seventeenth century. It will make you giggle, I promise.

Dressing for success in the seventeenth century

In a A Rip in the Veil—the first book in The Graham Saga—the unfortunate (or not, depending how one sees it) Alex Lind has the misfortune of falling three centuries backwards in time to land at the feet of Matthew Graham. Matthew Graham is a devout Presbyterian who has fought in the Commonwealth armies in the Civil War. To Alex, he is initially very strange. Heck, the entire situation is strange: no, wait—it’s impossible! 

Matthew is as taken aback as Alex is—perhaps even more, as the only explanation to her sudden appearance in his life must be magic. Or? Besides, what is the woman wearing? Those tight, tight breeches she calls ‘djeens” showcase her every curve, as do her other garments. No, had she been his woman, he’d never have allowed her to set a foot outside dressed like that, all of her exposed, like. 

Alex quickly realises that in this new time she has to adapt. ASAP. And one of the first things she must embrace is an entire new wardrobe. “Yay me,” she mutters as she shakes out shift and petticoats and heavy skirts and bodice and. . .

I must admit that I wasn’t entirely thrilled when Alex landed in 1658. The seventeenth century is not my sartorial favourite – especially when it comes to male fashion. 

This period dress thing is difficult.

First of all, as the writer of historical fiction it is important to understand what people wore, who wore what and how it was worn. In some cases it’s straightforward: stockings cover your feet and the nether part of your legs no matter if you live in the twentieth century or the fifteenth. But take that rather ugly male adornment that Henry VIII was so proud of flaunting – the codpiece – and I am somewhat stumped. How did it work? ( Okay, so I’ve looked this up; strings, buttons or hooks kept this decorative little (hmm) flap of fabric in place.)

Secondly, it helps if the writer in question finds the period attire alluring in some way or other. It’s difficult to write convincingly about handsome men in codpieces and padded breeches when all you see in your head is something resembling a man in a huge diaper.

Finally, there must be a familiarity with how people dress and undress. “He told her to turn around and zipped up her gown,” is not a good description of the intimacy between man and wife in the fourteenth century. (BTW, the modern zipper owes a lot to Swedish inventor Gideon Sundback. It’s nice to know us Swedes have contributed to human development: dynamite, zippers, gauge blocks, the AGA cooker.) Having exploring male fingers encountering panties in the sixteenth century is also something of an anachronism, and should the dashing regency rake pulls down his boxers you’re not reading historical fiction, you’re reading about a masquerade.

To avoid such gaffes, I’ve spent a lot of time researching the period and have accordingly done my fair share of staring at what few clothes survive from the seventeenth century—like James II’s elegant attire exhibited in the Victoria & Albert museum. Okay, so that is later in the century, but all that lace, all those embroideries, and that gigantic wig! Plus, the high heels on the shoes. . . Nope, not at all my cup of tea. 

Earlier in the 1600s, men wore wide breeches, sashes, lace, ribbons—like these young and elegant Stuart brothers in Van Dyke’s portrait. 

To the seventeenth century young girl, they were likely delectable. To Alex, not so much. She’d be hard put not to laugh her head off. So it is fortunate that when she first meets Matthew, he is in a ragged shirt and equally ragged breeches, fleeing from pursuing soldiers. It is also fortunate that Matthew would no more adorn himself with ribbons than he would dance attendance on the king—he is a man of Parliamentarian convictions. No, Matthew wears plain and well-made clothes, now and then adorned with a ruffled cuff or an elegant collar.  

Obviously, Matthew expects this new female companion of his to dress sedately, which is how Alex finds herself obliged to re-learn just how to dress.

In the seventeenth century, there were no bras, no panties. Instead, the undergarment is a shapeless elongated linen shirt that comes to just below the knees. This shift is worn over stockings that come to just above the knee and are fastened by garters.
“I can help you with those,” Matthew suggests, and there is a twinkle in his eyes as he helps Alex fasten the stockings with pink ribbons. Just because he doesn’t wear ribbons, it doesn’t mean she can’t, he says. In fact, he rather likes the fact that she is wearing them—and that he tied them into place. 
Over the shift—which also doubles as nightgown—Alex now dons a corset. 
“Ugh!” she groans as she tightens into place. The corset she has ties in front—only people who can afford a ladies maid have corsets that tie in the back. She has to struggle a bit to get it to sit right, and then there are the petticoats, tied into place at her waist and falling to mid-calf. Only the very, very rich have garments that fall all the way to the floor. Most women have skirts high enough to allow them to work and walk without dragging the hem in the dirt. 

“Here.” Matthew hands her the heavy skirts. And yes, they are heavy, making it hard to, for example, run. Or jump a fence. Once Alex has stepped into them, he helps her tighten them into place. A bodice, a shawl to cover what may remain exposed of her chest and then Matthew holds out a cap.
“No way!” She backs away, staring at the embroidered linen coif. 
“You must cover your hair,” he says.
She refuses. 
There is a slight. . . er . . . argument. Things end in a compromise: she will not cover her hair indoors, but otherwise she will either wear a coif or a hat. Matthew would prefer both, but he is pragmatic enough to realise this isn’t a battle he will win. Besides, Alex is having to handle a lot of change as it is.
“Tell me about it,” she mutters. She isn’t overly impressed with the food. Or the lack of chocolate. Or of tea. “I thought they had tea in the seventeenth century,” she groans. 
“They do,” I tell her, “but it is very, very expensive.” 
“Oh.” She gnaws her lip, her shoulders slumping. Which is probably why Matthew expends a ridiculous amount on a ridiculous small quantity of tea next time he goes to Edinburgh, pleased by the way she lights up from within when he hands the precious package over. 

Over time, Alex will become accustomed to her new clothes, even if she will quite often think longingly of jeans and sweatshirts, of Converse and shop-bought socks. (She hates to knit) 

But while she adapts to her new life on the outside, she remains a woman of modern conviction and outlook, which will now and then cause her quite some problems in her new time. It is fortunate that she has Matthew to guide her. On the other hand, there will be countless of occasions when Matthew will owe his life and sanity to her, the strange lass he found concussed and burned on an empty Scottish moor. Two halves made whole are my Alex and Matthew, no matter such details as sartorial arguments!

Thank you so much for such a fabulous post. I just can’t imagine all the lace:)

Here’s the blurb

On a muggy August day in 2002 Alex Lind disappears. On an equally stifling August day in 1658, Matthew Graham finds her on a Scottish moor.  Life will never be the same for Alex – or for Matthew. 

Alexandra Lind is thrown three centuries backwards in time to land at the feet of escaped convict Matthew Graham. 

Matthew doesn’t know what to make of this strange woman who has seemingly fallen from the skies—what is she, a witch? 

Alex is convinced the tall, gaunt man is some sort of hermit, an oddball, but she quickly realises the odd one out is she, not he. 

Catapulted from a life of modern comfort, Alex grapples with her new existence, further complicated by the dawning realization that someone from her time has followed her here—and not exactly to extend a helping hand. 

Potential compensation for this brutal shift in fate comes in the shape of Matthew, a man she should never have met, not when she was born three centuries after him. But Matthew comes with baggage of his own and on occasion his past threatens them both. At times Alex finds it all excessively exciting, longing for the structured life she used to have. 

How will she ever get back? And more importantly, does she really want to?

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Meet the author

Had Anna been allowed to choose, she’d have become a time-traveller. As this was impossible, she became a financial professional with two absorbing interests: history and writing. Anna has authored the acclaimed time travelling series The Graham Saga, set in 17th century Scotland and Maryland, as well as the equally acclaimed medieval series The King’s Greatest Enemy which is set in 14th century England.  

Anna has also published The Wanderer, a fast-paced contemporary romantic suspense trilogy with paranormal and time-slip ingredients. 

Her Castilian Heart is the third in her “Castilian” series, a stand-alone sequel to her September 2020 release, His Castilian Hawk. Set against the complications of Edward I’s invasion of Wales, His Castilian Hawk is a story of loyalty, integrity—and love. In the second instalment, The Castilian Pomegranate, we travel with the protagonists to the complex political world of medieval Spain. This latest release finds our protagonists back in England—not necessarily any safer than the wilds of Spain!

Anna has also authored The Whirlpools of Time in which she returns to the world of time travel. Join Duncan and the somewhat reluctant time-traveller Erin on their adventures through the Scottish Highlands just as the first Jacobite rebellion is about to explode! 

All of Anna’s books have been awarded the IndieBRAG Medallion, she has several Historical Novel Society Editor’s Choices, and one of her books won the HNS Indie Award in 2015. She is also the proud recipient of various Reader’s Favorite medals as well as having won various Gold, Silver and Bronze Coffee Pot Book Club awards.

Find out more about Anna, her books and enjoy her eclectic historical blog on her website, www.annabelfrage.com  

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Follow the A Rip in The Veil blog tour with The Coffee Pot Book Club

I’m delighted to welcome The Adventures of Ruby Pi and the Geometry Girls by Tom Durwood to the blog YAadventure #ScienceGirls #BlogTour #TheCoffeePotBookClub

I’m delighted to feature an excerpt from The Adventures of Ruby Pi and the Geometry Girls by Tom Durwood.


The Great Famine remains a taboo in China, 

where it is referred to euphemistically as 

the ‘Three Years of Natural Disasters’ or the 

‘Three Years of Difficulties.’     

— Tani Branigan, The Guardian                           

Freckles, well-earned from working long days in the sun, sprinkled the bridge of the nose and spilled over onto the cheeks of the face of the farm girl, Yan Li. 

A badge of honor in her home region, the freckles were looked on as a relic of the agrarian past in certain sectors of modern China. The New China. Industrial China. 

“Don’t do this!” whispered Ming Jun, seated beside her. “The bridge bombing has everyone on edge. What if they –”

“Someone has to say something.” 

Yan Li’s eyes were clear, her jaw firm, her expression determined. She straightened the barrette holding her hair back.  

Yan Li stood up. 

“Sit down!” hissed Ming Jun, 

“These mathematics are wrong! All wrong!”

Yan Li announced this to the room full of working clerks and book-keeps on the expansive counting floor of Building Two. 

Her voice was too loud to be ignored.    

Faces turned towards her. 

“It’s all bad,” she continued. “Completely phony. The assumptions are fabricated. You know this!” 

The calm murmur of adding and multiplying, of calculations and quiet consultations, of pens scratching on paper, the soft clanking of typewriters in the half-walled stations which ringed the floor of low desks offices – all sounds on the counting floor subsided.     

“A thousand times ridiculous is still ridiculous. I can’t be the only one who thinks so.”  

Two of the red-kerchiefed floor proctors hustled towards Ya Li. After all, she was disrupting the entire society’s forward progress. 

“Sit back down, farm girl,” commented one of her tallying peers. But the lone jibe froze in the air. None others joined.  

“Look,” said Yan Li evenly. “If anyone believes these so-called forecasts we are producing … well then, their deaths will be on our heads, comrades. It will be our fault if we do not speak up”

By now, even the soft plucking of stringed instruments in the background had fallen silent.  

“We-cannot-possibly-endorse-this-charade!” concluded Yan Li.

“It’s the millet,” called out a second fellow scribe, a boy near the middle. “The winter wheat numbers are higher –” 

“A FACTOR of FOUR higher?” demanded Yan Li. “The families who sit and wait for those phantom grains will be sorely disappointed, my friend. Empty bowls! They will starve and it will be horrible — ” 

“Her work has been strenuous, Shi’lang,” implored Ming Jun to the first proctor, “the hours long. Just let her sit back down.”

“All right,” said the proctor Shi’lang, a handsome older boy dressed in white with a red kerchief around his neck. “That’s quite enough!”

“Who will join me in a new and honest set of calculations?” demanded Yan Li. 

A loud knock on the glass walls.

A trio of the skinny soldiers, buck-toothed boys in green suits, rifles slung over shoulders, had paused in their campus patrol. Were they needed, to restore order? 

Shi’lang waved them away. 

Shi’lang draped an arm around Yan Li’s shoulder and laughed in a most friendly fashion.    

“Ah! Yes! Now I see the error you mention, Yan Li. I had noticed it, too. You are a prankster! Charming.” He chuckled.

A little bell was ringing. It emanated from the corner office, raised above the counting floor. The Supervisor’s office.

A second floor-proctor joined Shi’lang and together they ushered Yan Li off the floor. 

“‘Charade,’” laughed handsome Shi’lang, shaking his head wryly. 

The members of the counting floor disliked this show of force. 

Rumblings started up in the back rows …

Across the big open room, another red-bandana youth clapped his hands.  

“Back to work, please.”

The morning fruit and cheese platters were quickly circulated, an hour earlier than usual.  

The soft plucking of lutes rose once again.  

Gradually, unevenly, the Chairman’s work continued. 


By the end of the first millennium A.D., China

possessed a sophistication in the technology

of traditional agriculture that has never been surpassed …

the basic contours of this spectacular agricultural system

were laid during the Classical period.   

– Agriculture in Ancient China 

The Chairman’s summer villa compound in Mei Ling is most pleasant. 

Dappled sunlight graces the secluded retreat, a well-manicured place most conducive to quiet contemplation and deep thoughts.  Burbling streams and winding paths run through the sylvan grounds of the lakeshore campus. Mountain goats roam the cliffs and munch on grass at the forested margins. Staircases and antique cable cars bring visitors down the sharp inclines leading to Lake Wuhan at the compound’s western edge.  Deer stoop to drink from still ponds by Building Four. 

Red drapes frame tableaus of blond furniture and upholstered chairs of the lobbies within the glass walls of Building Three. An assembly hall could be glimpsed beyond the plum carpeting. 

Among the tall pine and bamboo trees, the young soldiers with their guard dogs walked the paths winding up to bulky Building One. A swimming pool was hidden behind its tinted windows.  Building Two, where the agricultural forecasts in support of the coming Great Leap Forward – the bold initiative which would establish and a new China — were taking place, where Yan Li had created such a commotion, was lower and sleeker. 

* * *

The star-splashed freckles sprinkled across Yan Li’s nose and cheeks stood out now. Her blood was rising, and the skin of her face was flushed with anger. 

The Supervisor, Miss Wang Na, paced the striped rug of the corner office. She paused to look out over the clerks working on their calculations o forecast the coming harvests. 

Yan Li stood, defiant. Her hands had been tied.   

Cushions in primary colors decorated the white sofas in the glass-walled office. Ivory rugs offset a row of wood-paneled bookshelves behind the large desk.      

“We have summoned the Director,” said Miss Wang Na. 

“He left for Xinhua an hour ago, but we can get him back.”   

She paced behind metal standing lamps.   

“Summon Empress Lu Zhi and the Seven Hoardes of Han for all I care,” commented Yan Li.       

“This is most serious,” said Shi’lang

Miss Wang Na paused to consider the lake. 

The glass corner office was perched on and above sparkling blue Lake Wuhan’s shoreline. Splashing paddle-boats and brightly colored lanterns strung along the lakeside walkways gave no hint as to what might lay beneath the deep waters’ surface. 

Miss Wang Na turned, cursing bitterly. 

“First the bombing! Then the Yunhe rebels attack our supply lines. Now this! Treason from within!”

“You’re the traitor!” spat Yan Li. “You are complicit in what will be a famine of colossal proportions! Death by starvation.  In the millions — ” 

“Why are you trying to make me look bad, farm girl?” demanded Miss Wang Na. 

“To save tens of thousands of lives,” answered Yan Li.

“The Director will be presenting our tables to the Bureau, in Beijing, in less than a week. If the net present values do not align — ”

“Oh, that part is easy enough,” refuted the girl. “The net present value of next year’s famine is ‘Famine.’ Also known as ‘Zero.’”

“Yes, well, your barn-yard stubbornness, your backward ways, your slavery to tradition, your LACK of VISION are exactly what the Chairman fears most. I was present during his address at the Beijing Palace, and he predicted that these epochal events woul — ”


The net present value of next year’s famine is ‘Famine.’ Also known as ‘Zero.’ 


“Setting bad mathematics in historical context doesn’t change anything,” said Yan Li. 

“Reactionary.” Shi’lang shook his head. “Confucian.”

“’Confucian’? It’s not Confucian. The calculations need to be exact. Based on reality. It all must beintentional. Not some empty exercise. If the numbers are compromised even slightly, it’s all worthless. No forecast. How can you not see that?”

“Oh, I see,” said the Supervisor, Miss Wang Na.   

“I see, all right.” 

“What’s this? Eh?” asked the Supervisor sharply. 

She pointed to the equation at the top of one of Yan Li’s pages.

“What is the meaning of this formula?”

Yield in t/ha = (220 × 24 × 3.4) / 10,000 = 1.79

“It’s not a formula,” answered Yan Li, shaking her head. “It’s an equation. 

“It shows the crop yield in any given harvest. Every forecaster follows this same model.” 

“And why is it incomplete?” demanded the Supervisor. 

“It’s waiting for a proper numerator. What you gave me is garbage. Worse than garbage.”

Shi’lang moved as if to strike her. Miss Wang Na stepped between them.

“Let X equal X,” challenged Yan Li, stepping forward —  

Here’s the blurb

Young adult fiction featuring gambling, bandits, swordplay, probability and Bayes’ Theorem. An English teacher hopes to engage students with colorful STEM adventures. 

“In this outstanding collection, Tom addresses the chronic problem of our young women dropping out of STEM studies. His stories lend adventure to scientific thinking.” 

(~ Tanzeela Siddique, Math Instructor)

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Meet the author

Tom Durwood is a teacher, writer and editor with an interest in history. Tom most recently taught English Composition and Empire and Literature at Valley Forge Military College, where he won the Teacher of the Year Award five times. Tom has taught Public Speaking and Basic Communications as guest lecturer for the Naval Special Warfare Development Group at the Dam’s Neck Annex of the Naval War College.

Tom’s ebook Empire and Literature matches global works of film and fiction to specific quadrants of empire, finding surprising parallels. Literature, film, art and architecture are viewed against the rise and fall of empire. In a foreword to Empire and Literature, postcolonial scholar Dipesh Chakrabarty of the University of Chicago calls it “imaginative and innovative.” Prof. Chakrabarty writes that “Durwood has given us a thought-provoking introduction to the humanities.” His subsequent book “Kid Lit: An Introduction to Literary Criticism” has been well-reviewed. “My favorite nonfiction book of the year,” writes The Literary Apothecary (Goodreads).

Early reader response to Tom’s historical fiction adventures has been promising. “A true pleasure … the richness of the layers of Tom’s novel is compelling,” writes Fatima Sharrafedine in her foreword to “The Illustrated Boatman’s Daughter.” The Midwest Book Review calls that same adventure “uniformly gripping and educational … pairing action and adventure with social issues.” Adds Prairie Review, “A deeply intriguing, ambitious historical fiction series.”

Tom briefly ran his own children’s book imprint, Calico Books (Contemporary Books, Chicago). Tom’s newspaper column “Shelter” appeared in the North County Times for seven years. Tom earned a Masters in English Literature in San Diego, where he also served as Executive Director of San Diego Habitat for Humanity.

Two of Tom’s books, “Kid Lit” and “The Illustrated Boatman’s Daughter,” were selected “Best of the New” by Julie Sara Porter’s Bookworm  Book Alert

Connect with Tom



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Follow The Adventures of Ruby Pi and The Geometry Girls blog tour with The Coffee Pot Book Club

I’m welcoming Jessie Mills and her novel, Rosalind: DNA’s Invisible Woman to the blog today #rosalindfranklin #invisiblewomen #BlogTour #TheCoffeePotBookClub

I’m delighted to welcome Jessie Mills to the blog, with an extract from her novel, Rosalind: DNA’s Invisible Woman

Extract from ROSALIND: DNA’s INVISIBLE WOMAN, Part I, chapter 1 (Exodus | Shemot)

Norway, August 1939

As I stand in line with the other passengers, a dour-faced policeman snatches my passport from my hands. He looks up to examine me from beneath a deeply etched brow.

‘English?’ he asks.

His menacing eyes follow me as I walk past him and up the steps to board the ocean liner. The port town of Bergen is dotted with wooden houses in vivid hues of red and yellow. It is a different sight from the sleepy fishing village on our inbound journey when the Sheriff’s office was closed. I wished then that we could have flown from Gressholmen Airport, in one of the new metallic Imperial Airways planes. They were as big and shiny as the Zeppelins on the banners in Paris. But Father insisted that we couldn’t get the family Austin on one.

On our return, queues into the port stretch for several miles. The jetty is crawling with uniformed police in visor caps, which shield their faces from the stark Norwegian sun. The police are checking passengers’ papers before boarding the boat.

The ship has cast a deep and foreboding shadow over the steps.

As my feet navigate each rung, the iron staircase creaks and yawns. The structure is gnawing at the bolts on the side of the ship.

The staircase sways in unison with the waves as they lap with force against the steel stern. My feet move in time with the structure, back and forth like a pendulum. I vault two steps at a time, levering my body from every other step until the sun’s rays warm the cloth on my back.

Standing on the ship’s bow, I long to stay there forever. The last of August’s sun is twinkling softly on the water’s peaks. The waves are undulating gently against the hull as the boat crosses the water.

The journey out of the port is smooth. With each ripple and swell of the water, my mind drifts, first to home and then to college. I am due to return to Cambridge in less than a month. Suddenly, a thought grips me. At first, it is fleeting, but the more I try to suppress it, the harder it resurfaces, with agonising intensity. I may never return.

Seconds later, a pummelling sensation rams my stomach. The ship swings to one side, and the rail jolts against my ribs.

‘Navy ships?’ my mother asks.

A Cimmerian mist quickly settles on the water’s surface. Through the haze, a large vessel is visible.

My father’s response is inaudible.

As we descend the poorly lit stairwell at the side of the ship, a tide of panic sweeps over me. My parents and brothers spend the rest of the journey in silence.

Perhaps it is selfish to want the bourgeois life of a scientist, a gentleman’s profession. I like Maths too, as well as Chemistry. Yet while the rest of the world is upended by ideology, science is the last bastion deserving of my faith. From the tiniest molecule to the whole of the universe, science pervades every inch. It is the only language we have to make sense of it.

When you lose everything you ever knew to be true, all you can do is drive forwards to keep the ghosts at bay. Our family holiday to Norway began much like our trip two years before. There were few signs of what would transpire, or how it would change the course of our lives. Sometimes it only takes one event, one meeting, one person, or one kiss, for a life to change forever. That August was to be one of those events.

Here’s the blurb

‘A luminous, pin-sharp portrait of a true trailblazer. Mills’s writing simply glows.’ Zoë Howe, Author, Artist and RLF Writing Fellow at Newnham College, University of Cambridge

Rosalind: DNA’s Invisible Woman tells the true story of the woman who discovered the structure of DNA, whose work was co-opted by three men who won a Nobel prize for the discovery.

Her story is one of hope, perseverance, love and betrayal. 

Driven by her faith in science, Rosalind Franklin persisted with her education in the face of formidable obstacles, including the de-reservation of women from war science. 

In Norway at the start of World War II, her place at Cambridge’s first women’s college was thrown into jeopardy.

A decade later, she fled Paris upon the news that the research director at the State Chemicals Lab was having an affair. They continued to write to each other in secret.  

Rosalind knew when embarking on science, a gentleman’s profession, that the odds would be stacked against a woman’s success. But she did not foresee that her pay would later be cut on account of her age and gender, that she would be burned by the plagiarism rife among her male contemporaries or face her own battle with cancer. 

When she took a research post at King’s College London, the head of the physics department switched her subject to DNA at the last minute. 

She was tasked with discovering its structure using X-ray crystallography. Could she become the first scientist to map the DNA molecule and would the discovery ultimately be worth it? 

When two researchers at Cambridge University, her alma mater, built a three-chain model of DNA weeks after seeing her lecture, she knew that it was wrong. 

Scientists at each of the three labs competing in the race to find DNA’s structure had guessed that the molecule had three chains. Her evidence proved them wrong. But would anybody listen?

This is the story of DNA that you won’t find in the history books…   

The woman behind science’s greatest discovery has been variously referred to as ‘an obsessive woman’, ‘difficult’, and ‘the dark lady of DNA’. Why was she called these names, and were they justified? 

Written by journalist and former Wall Street Journal (PRO) editor Jessica Mills Davies, following nearly three years of intensive archival research, the novel aims to give Rosalind Franklin a voice for the first time in history. Her story is the most well-documented account of ‘the Matilda effect’ and its corollary ‘the Matthew Effect’, whereby women’s contributions to science and other professions are often ignored or misappropriated. 

The Exeter Novel Prize-longlisted novel is peppered with copies of original correspondence between her and her contemporaries, illustrating how three men got away with the biggest heist in scientific history. 

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(Also available on APPLE BOOKS)

Meet the author

Jessica is a journalist and author. She has written for publications such as The Independent, The Wall Street Journal and Business Insider, where she investigated the use of flammable cladding in hospital intensive care units in 2020.

Before that she was a member of the steering committee for Women at Dow Jones, where she spent several years as an editor and led the team that uncovered the misuse of funds at Abraaj.

Her debut novel tells the true story of Rosalind Franklin, the invisible woman behind the discovery of DNA’s double helix. It was longlisted for the Exeter Novel Prize 2020.

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Follow the Rosalind: DNAs Invisible Woman Blog Tour with The Coffee Pot Book Club

I’m delighted to welcome The Adventures of Ruby Pi and the Math Girls by Tom Durwood to the blog YAadventure #ScienceGirls #BlogTour #TheCoffeePotBookClub

I’m delighted to feature an excerpt from The Adventures of Ruby Pi and the Math Girls by Tom Durwood.

Gunfight in the Mogollons 

“These Colorado coaches,” lectured the solicitor, Aynsley, “are a larger, more rugged version of the Kinnear design. Wells Fargo uses them widely.

“This is a Concorde model, if I’m not mistaken,” he added. “Capacious.”

Johnny glared at the talkative lawyer. 

“More useless information,” snorted the militia man, Morgan. He rubbed his bandaged hand sullenly.    

The stagecoach’s constant motion cast a bad mood within its large interior, but it was more than just the motion. The day had turned to dusk. Only an hour further to Folsom. The mountain trail was clear, the horses making good time. 

“Leather-strap suspension,” offered Aynsley to his captive audience, “is what gives the carriage its swinging movemen– ” 

It happened so fast. 

All in the same moment–   

They heard a thunderous crash, followed by three loud gunshots.

The horses whined their objection in a panic – 

One of the brake levers snapped. 

The stagecoach screeched to a halt.

The stagecoach passengers heard a hard, painful scream from the driver’s seat – 

“I’m hit! I’m hit!”

The stage door flew open and half of the passengers spilled falling out onto the trial – 

Shut up,” came a woman’s voice. A pause, and then, “Morgan! You there?” 

The passengers stood.  Now they could see that a great, bulky deadfall had been placed across the trail to block the stage. 

Angie and Drew, from the saloon in Silver City, sat astride two horses, guns drawn.

“Hands up! All of you!” proclaimed Drew. “This here’s a robbery!”

He held his pistol on the stage driver, who had his hands up.  Beside him, the rifleman clutched at his arm, where had been shot.

Now Morgan smirked as he trained a gun on Johnny’s stomach.

“What the devil — ” sputtered Aynsley.

“You- you’re bandits?” demanded the startled Mrs. Aynsley.

“The money belts,” commanded Morgan. “That deed! Now!”

One of the drivers groaned for mercy.   

Angie stopped placing the saddle on the lead horse, turned and shot him 

“Money belts,” spat Drew.  

“But you’re such a nice boy — ”

“I’ll shoot you, hey,” shouted Drew, trembling. 

“You’ll never get away with it,” warned the lawyer. 

“Easy …” said Johnny.

“Sorry, bub,” Morgan said, half-smiling, to Johnny as he raised the weapon.  “We can’t leave witnesses now, can we?”

Ma yelled ‘No!’ and lunged for the militia man — 

“Hey. Morgan,” said Casey. 

Morgan turned in time to see Casey’s hand sweep to her side and emerge with a gleaming pistol, one of the Colt Rainmaker’s, nickel-plated and deadly fast.   

In a liquid motion, she raised the Colt and fanned the hammer —  


Three rounds sunk deep into Morgan’s chest, all at once.

Casey swiveled and sent three more rounds slamming into anxious young Drew, jerking him clean from his saddle — 

With a curse, Angie jammed her spurs into her horse and rode off —  

Casey dropped the Colt and ran to grab the Enfield rifle from the passenger racks. 

She shucked the rifle sheath and ran to the edge of the trail. 

She stood on an outcrop facing northeast. She could see the sweep of the basin and range, to her right, where Angie was escaping — 

She was galloping unseen, along the high-walled Mogollon limestone.

But there was a break in the wall, very distant … 

It was that opening to which Casey devoted her attention.  

They could hear the horse’s canter, moving away … 

Casey thumbed in three big, heavy cartridges.           

“Eleven hundred meters … ” said Johnny. 

Johnny held the rangefinder like binoculars.

He counted off a sequence of numbers. 

Casey scribbled the calculations. 

Distance … curvature  … target point … origin point

Now she watched through the Enfield’s telescopic sight, following the horse-and-rider trajectory, as she imagined it.  

John called out a second sequence of numbers, distance in meters.  

“Twenty …” said Johnny. 

“Fifteen,,, ten .. five …”

The Enfield let go a sharp crack — 

The firearm echoed in the great solemn quiet along the southern section of the Mogollons …

Angie’s body slumped and fell from the saddle. 

What we see are objects in refracted light. A thing itself does not change, just the ways in which we experience it.  It is the light which changes.   

A blue moon looks blue because of shifts in light, the suspended volcano dust in the air. The way that light refracts can make everything look new, and not as we thought it to be.   

It alters how things appear to us, does the immense cloud of fine dust and ash from the Krakatoa Volcano, supplemented by forest fires in Sweden and Canada. When the quality of the air changes, so does the quality of light. On a Blue Moon night, the thing itself does not change, just the ways we experience it. 

Casey turned to Ma. 

“Why don’t you take the money back to Mister Torgeson, Ma?”

She indicated the currency that had spilled from the lawyer’s satchel onto the trail, when Johnny had shot Morgan.  

“Back to Silver City.”  

Ma looked long and still at her daughter.

“I’m sure he’d appreciate it,” said Casey. 

She slung the Enfield over her shoulder, like it had always been there, like it belonged attached to her.   

“Johnny and me can run the clinic in Folsom. Then we’ll head straight for Albuquerque. 

“You come join us, soon as you can.”  

The horses fell quiet. A silence vast and deep seemed to descend, all along the southeastern section of the Mogollon Rim. The little grouping around the stagecoach listened, as though they could all feel, or somehow hear, the rotation of the earth.

No man or woman could put an adjective to the look that appeared on Ma’s face. It was sad and accepting, almost relieved and almost embarrassed, and several more emotions as well, all at the same time.

“And so the child,” intoned Aynsley, “is father to the man.” 

“What, are you the effing chorus now?” Johnny raised his pistol to shoot the lawyer. “You two-faced shill — ”

“No! Please!” Mrs. Aynsley began to cry —   

“They were robbing us, too,” she reminded Johnny.

Now Mrs. Aysnley’s cry turned into a scream, a hideous, feral sound, for such a cultured woman — 

Johnny lowered the gun. “Just as soon,” he murmured. 

“All right, Case,” said Ma. “All good.” 

Ma’s face had gone white. She gripped the hem of her skirt tightly   

“You two …take …” Ma choked. “Ah! Me! Take good care, Johnny –”

“The Fort Stanton stage should be by here in an hour or so,” said Casey. “That about right, Whip?” she called to the driver. 

“Yup,” came the reply.

Casey looked out over the basin lowlands. She closed eyes, for a moment.

“I don’t know what we’ll find in Albuquerque,” Casey said to her brother as she swung into the saddle of the horse Drew had been riding. 

“But we got a real-life deed to some damn thing.” 

“We got two hundred bucks.”

She patted the horse’s neck.

“And we can make an honest living fixin’ guns.”

“We should be all right,” Johnny nodded.   

He finished cinching the saddle of the lead stage horse and checked the horse’s underbelly. The bay was ready to trade all this gunplay and confusion among the humans for an open run along a clear path.   

“Let’s light a shuck — “

Here’s the blurb

A collection of adventure stories featuring young heroines at turning points in history who use math to solve colossal problems. Smart girls take on buried secrets, villains, tanks, mysteries, codes, and economics to save their people “Stories, mystery and math go well together… a welcome addition.” 
(~ Jeannine Atkins, author of “Grasping Mysteries: Girls Who Loved Math”) 

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Meet the author

Tom Durwood is a teacher, writer and editor with an interest in history. Tom most recently taught English Composition and Empire and Literature at Valley Forge Military College, where he won the Teacher of the Year Award five times. Tom has taught Public Speaking and Basic Communications as guest lecturer for the Naval Special Warfare Development Group at the Dam’s Neck Annex of the Naval War College.

Tom’s ebook Empire and Literature matches global works of film and fiction to specific quadrants of empire, finding surprising parallels. Literature, film, art and architecture are viewed against the rise and fall of empire. In a foreword to Empire and Literature, postcolonial scholar Dipesh Chakrabarty of the University of Chicago calls it “imaginative and innovative.” Prof. Chakrabarty writes that “Durwood has given us a thought-provoking introduction to the humanities.” His subsequent book “Kid Lit: An Introduction to Literary Criticism” has been well-reviewed. “My favorite nonfiction book of the year,” writes The Literary Apothecary (Goodreads).

Early reader response to Tom’s historical fiction adventures has been promising. “A true pleasure … the richness of the layers of Tom’s novel is compelling,” writes Fatima Sharrafedine in her foreword to “The Illustrated Boatman’s Daughter.” The Midwest Book Review calls that same adventure “uniformly gripping and educational … pairing action and adventure with social issues.” Adds Prairie Review, “A deeply intriguing, ambitious historical fiction series.”

Tom briefly ran his own children’s book imprint, Calico Books (Contemporary Books, Chicago). Tom’s newspaper column “Shelter” appeared in the North County Times for seven years. Tom earned a Masters in English Literature in San Diego, where he also served as Executive Director of San Diego Habitat for Humanity.

Two of Tom’s books, “Kid Lit” and “The Illustrated Boatman’s Daughter,” were selected “Best of the New” by Julie Sara Porter’s Bookworm  Book Alert

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Follow The Adventures of Ruby Pi and the Math Girls blog tour with The Coffee Pot Book Club

I’m delighted to feature The Flame Tree by Siobhan Daiko on the blog  #HistoricalFiction #WomensFiction #BlogTour #TheCoffeePotBookClub

Here’s the blurb:

In the spring of 1939, dashing young William Burton and the beautiful Constance Han set sail from London on the same ocean liner to Hong Kong.

Romance blossoms while they enjoy games of deck quoits and spend sultry tropical evenings dancing under the stars. Connie is intrigued by Will’s talent for writing poetry, and she offers to give him Cantonese lessons to help him with his new job— a cadet in the colonial service.

But once in Hong Kong, Connie is constrained by filial duty towards her Eurasian parents, and their wish for her to marry someone from her own background. She can’t forget Will however and arranges to meet him in secret under the magnificent canopy of a flame of the forest tree—where she fulfils her promise to teach him to speak Chinese.

Before too long, trouble looms as Japanese forces gather on the border between Hong Kong and mainland China. Will joins a commando group tasked with operating behind enemy lines, and Connie becomes involved in the fight against local fifth columnists.

When war breaks out, they find themselves drawn into a wider conflict than their battle against prejudice. Can they survive and achieve a future together? Or do forces beyond their control keep them forever apart?

Based on a little-known true story, The Flame Tree is a tale of love and survival against all the odds.


“Siobhan Daiko will tug at your heartstrings, and leave you desperate for more…” 

~ Ellie Yarde, The Coffee Pot Book Club.

“Daiko is an author you’ll want to add to your historical fiction favourites.” 

Netgalley Reviewer

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Meet the author

Siobhan Daiko is a British historical fiction author. A lover of all things Italian, she lives in the Veneto region of northern Italy with her husband, a Havanese dog and a rescued cat. Siobhan was born of English parents in Hong Kong, attended boarding school in Australia, and then moved to the UK—where she taught modern foreign languages in a Welsh comprehensive school. She now spends her time writing page-turners and enjoying her life near Venice. 

Her novels are compelling, poignant, and deeply moving, with strong characters and evocative settings, but always with romance at their heart. You can find more about her books on her website http://www.siobhandaiko.org

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Today, I’m delighted to welcome NL Holmes and her new book, Pilot Who Knows the Waters to the blog #HistoricalMystery #AncientEgypt #BlogTour #TheCoffeePotBookClub

Here’s the blurb

Hani must secretly obtain a Hittite bridegroom for Queen Meryet-amen, but Ay and the faction behind Prince Tut-ankh-aten are opposed–to the point of violence. Does the death of an artisan have anything to do with Ay’s determination to see his grandson on the throne? Then, another death brings Egypt to the brink of war… Hani’s diplomatic skills will be pushed to the limit in this final book in The Lord Hani Mysteries.

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My Review

Pilot Who Knows the Waters is a really well-written novel, stuffed full of historical detail and with a charming main character, Hani.

I have a real fascination with ancient Egypt, (some might blame Stargate but I actually think it’s more to do with Paul Doherty’s mystery books, the Amerotke Mysteries), and I love it when authors manage to recreate so much of the detail. It also perhaps helps that I’ve just read Simon Turney’s new Egypt-based Roman stories, The Capsarius and Bellatrix. It’s fabulous to find all the little connections between these stories.

The writing style is very engaging, and I don’t think many authors manage to recreate the omnipresent, but character specific point of views in the main narrative well, but NL Holmes certainly does so. With the point of view switching from Hani to his son in law, and also his father, the audience are treated to a number of different thoughts and feelings.

I also really enjoyed the fact that the author provided enough detail for the long journeys but without making it a day by day account of what was happening. Again, I think this is a real skill.

I’m so glad I decided to read Pilot Who Knows the Water, and yes, it might be book 6 in a series, but that just means I get to go back to the beginning now and read the stories that have led to this moment.

A wonderful novel, rich in historical detail, but incredibly readable and with a lovely pacing. So enjoyable.

Meet the author

N.L. Holmes is the pen name of a professional archaeologist who received her doctorate from Bryn Mawr College. She has excavated in Greece and in Israel, and taught ancient history and humanities at the university level for many years. She has always had a passion for books, and in childhood, she and her cousin (also a writer today) used to write stories for fun. Today, she and her husband live in France with their chickens and cats, where she weaves, plays the violin, gardens, and dances.

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Today, I’m delighted to share an excerpt from Holly Bush’s new book, The Captain’s Woman #HistoricalRomance #BlogTour #TheCoffeePotBookClub

Today, I’m sharing an excerpt from Holly Bush’s new book, The Captain’s Woman.

The Captain’s Woman – Excerpt

“I promise, Mrs. Phillips. I will not forget to stop and see you,” Anthony said to his landlady as the last of his things were loaded into a closed wagon sent by his stableman, Mr. Reynolds, to Devlin Street. His stableman! It was still hard to believe that the changes in his life were real. That they’d actually happened. 

“I’m so happy for you and that dear child of yours,” she said as she wiped tears from her eyes.

“And do not hesitate to call on John Pennyknoll. He’s a good all-around carpenter and won’t gouge you. And the veterans, especially the wounded ones, need work.”

“Mr. Pennyknoll seems to know his way around a hammer, but it won’t be you.” 

“You are too kind. Now please get out of this wind. I carried down all the extra coal I had in my rooms for you to use.”

He looked over her shoulder and saw Ann trudging through the snow holding the hand of Sister Ann Marie. She was not chattering or smiling. In fact, her head was hanging. Strange to see his girl less than happy, especially as of late, after he’d told her about having her own room and a school nearby her new home for her to attend. She looked up, saw him, and ran straight to him. Her face was tear streaked. 

“Papa,” she said softly against his neck as he held her. “I will miss the sisters and all the children. I want to take them all with us to our new home so they will have a home too, but I know I can’t.”

He kissed her forehead. “I’ve promised Mrs. Phillips we will visit occasionally. We’ll make time to visit the orphanage too.”

“Maybe Miss Thompson will bring me with her when she comes.”

“We will see.”

“I’m excited about all the changes and scared too, Papa.”

“I know exactly what you mean. It is a bit overwhelming.”

She shimmied down from his arms and hurried over to hug Mrs. Phillips, who was drying her tears with the corner of her white apron. Anthony glanced up at the windows of his room, his former room, and felt a little melancholy too. Not for the worry that he wouldn’t be able to pay Mrs. Phillips what was owed or if he would be able to replace Ann’s clothes as she grew out of them, but for the community that he’d found in the orphanage, at the grocer and other businesses, and with his landlady. 

He would not be sad long, however, and he did not think Ann would be either. Not once they’d settled into their new home on Spruce and 33rd Street. The street bordered the wealthiest section of the city and was only a few blocks from the Vermeal mansion and their headquarters nearby. He’d been to see it already, accompanied by Mr. Critchfeld and the housekeeper, Mrs. Smithy, who was to see to the redecorating or updating that would need to be done. He’d been overwhelmed at the time and said very little. The house held fifteen rooms, not counting staff quarters. There was a small ballroom, a large library, a formal dining room, and a casual parlor on the second floor where he imagined he and Ann would spend much of their time. There was indoor plumbing, including hot water and a bathing room near his suite and one on the top floor for the staff. The kitchen, which the cook informed him she would prefer he stay out of, had every modern appliance available recently installed. 

He took Ann’s hand as she waved with the other to Mrs. Phillips and led her to the small carriage, where Reynolds was holding open the door for he and Ann to climb in. He turned to her when they were settled and she’d shouted her last good-bye to Mrs. Phillips. Reynolds climbed in his seat in front of them, flicking the reins for the horse to begin moving. 

“We are on our way, Papa,” she said. “There are so many things to think about!”

“We are on our way, but we are not going to hurry any of our decisions. We are going to take our time and allow ourselves to be accustomed to our new home. Other than new clothes I’ve ordered and the new clothes to be made for you, we need not worry about anything.”

“Yes, Papa.”

Twenty minutes later, she was latched on to his arm as they pulled up to the brick house, the snow swept from the stone walkway and steps. They both sat still, looking at the bright red front door and peering up at the three stories of windows, even after Reynolds had opened the door of the carriage. 

“Come along now, dear,” he said. “Let us see our new lodgings.”

She glanced at him. “It seems every bit as nice as Mrs. Phillips’s house.”

It took him a moment to realize she was teasing him, trying to lighten their mood. “I will miss the steps that creaked so loudly I worried I was about to fall through them.”

“I will miss running to the water closet in the middle of a cold night,” she said with a smile. 

“Perhaps we will tell the housekeeper to light no fires in our sleeping rooms so we will be comfortably cold.”

She laughed then and looked back at the house through the open carriage door. “Oh, Papa! It is so beautiful! And we are keeping poor Mr. Reynolds out in the cold.”

She held his hand as they went up the brick walk. The door was opened by Mrs. Smithy. “Come in out of this weather, young lady,” the woman said.

“It is very cold out,” Ann said and held out her hand. “Good morning. I am Ann Marcus.”

The housekeeper smiled and took her hand. “And I am Mrs. Smithy. I am so glad to be managing a household with such a lovely young lady in residence.” She looked up at him. “Welcome home, sir.”

Here’s the blurb

Meet the Thompsons of Locust Street, an unconventional family taking Philadelphia high society by storm…

1870 ~ Muireall Thompson has taken her duties seriously since her parents died on the family’s crossing from Scotland to America in 1854. As the eldest sibling, their death made her responsible for her family and left little time for a life of her own. But now her brothers and sisters are adults; even the youngest is nearly ready to face the world on his own. What will she do when she is alone, other than care for an elderly aunt and volunteer at the Sisters of Charity orphanage? Has the chance for a husband and children of her own passed her by?

Widower Anthony Marcus, formerly a captain in the Union Army, is a man scraping the bottom of his dignity and hanging on to his honor by the barest thread. Reduced to doing odd jobs to keep a roof over his dear daughter Ann’s head, he often leaves her with the Sisters of Charity while he is out seeking steady work with a decent salary that will allow him to move from their single-room living quarters.

After an initial meeting that finds Muireall and Anthony at odds, a tentative friendship forms as they bond over their mutual affection for Ann. As friendship leads to passion, can a wealthy spinster and a poor soldier overcome their differences in station to forge a future together? Just as Muireall finds the courage to reach for her own happiness, Anthony’s past rises up between them and an old enemy reemerges to bring the Thompson family down once and for all. Will the divide between them be insurmountable, or can they put aside pride and doubt for a love worth fighting for?

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Meet the Author

Holly Bush writes historical romance set in the U.S.in the late 1800’s, in Victorian England, and an occasional Women’s Fiction title. Her books are described as emotional, with heartfelt, sexy romance. She makes her home with her husband in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania.  Connect with Holly at www.hollybushbooks.com and on Twitter @hollybushbooks and on Facebook at Holly Bush.

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I’m delighted to share an excerpt from Joan Koster’s new book, That Dickinson Girl #ThatDickinsonGirl #HistoricalFiction #BlogTour #TheCoffeePotBookClub

Today, I’m sharing an excerpt from That Dickinson Girl by Joan Koster.


“Let me.” Lucretia Mott took hold of both Anna’s hands. “I know how you feel, my dear. I am seventy-eight years old, and I have spoken at thousands of meetings, often with little preparation. I am as shy and nervous before I speak. All speakers are. Always, the Divine spirit has filled me and given me the words.” 

Lucretia reached up and pushed a lock of hair behind Anna’s ear. “When our message is righteous, we need fear not. You are so very young. Yet, so was Lucy Stone, who burned brighter than any of us in the beginning. I know your convictions. You will be a powerful voice for women, Friend Anna. Don’t fret about finding the words. Gather your faith and open yourself to your inner light. Speak as the spirit guides you. The words will come as tears, because your heart is full of the truth. Now to our places. It is time.” 

Anna grasped the elderly woman’s hand and followed her on to the platform. As Lucretia stood center stage and introduced her, Anna kept her eyes cast down and hid her white-fisted hands in her skirt. Below the ringing in her ears, the audience growled in the darkness. 

Then Lucretia turned to her, smiling broadly. “Tell the truth about woman’s rights. Stand strong against those who ridicule women’s intelligence.” She seized her hand and drew her forward to the podium. “Make noise enough to wake men’s hearts.”

Anna found herself standing alone above the crowd. Only the rigid corset prevented her from crumpling to the floor. The scrap of paper that she had written her notes on, sweaty and wrinkled, dangled from her hand. The topics she had chosen so rigorously and the statistics she had gleaned no longer mattered. 

Her dream of success tasted like soot on her tongue. What gave her the right to speak for all women? To make noise? She closed her eyes and bent her head while eight hundred people held their breath and waited. 

Julia. Julia Pennington of the flaming hair and pitiful eyes. Had she come tonight? Would a tired mill girl be in the audience, looking up at her with that perfect face? Would her lips twist and her hands clench when she heard her rail for fair pay for working girls like her? Or would she think her an unruly child? A fribble who spoke without thinking? 

A vision floated before her of Julia shivering in the cold in her threadbare coat and worn-out shoes. Her heart swelled with fury. The world had to change. 

Anna raised her head and swept her gaze over the faces arrayed before her. In the front row sat her mother, as prim and contained as at Meeting. Alongside her were her brothers, Sam and Edwin, hopeful but expecting her to fail, loving her, anyway. Beside them, her sister, pouting. 

Behind them were the elders from Arch Street Meeting, faces stern, waiting for her to sin. And on the other side of the aisle, the Anti-Slavery Society and Hicksites from Race Street Meeting, with James, Lucretia Mott’s husband of fifty years, peering kindly at her. Behind him, spectacles glittering in the gaslight, sat the renowned speaker Reverend William Furness of the Unitarians. 

Friends. She had friends. Supporters. And somewhere in the audience, Julia would be listening. She had given her the tickets, worth half a day’s pay. Surely Julia and her sister had come. 

Anna straightened her spine and threw back her shoulders. She began, “I am here today to talk about women and the righteousness of their cause.”

Way in the back, the black-coated newsmen fluttered and stilled like crows settling on fresh carrion. 

Here’s the blurb


Eighteen-year-old Anna Dickinson is nothing like the women around her, and she knows it. Gifted with a powerful voice, a razor-sharp wit, and unbounded energy, the diminutive curlyhead sets out to surpass the men of her day as she rails against slavery and pushes for women’s rights. Only two things can bring her downfall—the entangling love she has for her devoted companion, Julia, and an assassin’s bullet. 

Forced to accompany the fiery young orator on her speaking tour of New England, Julia Pennington fights her growing attraction to the ever more popular celebrity. When a traitor sets out to assassinate Anna, Julia must risk her life to save her.

Loosely based on the life of forgotten orator, feminist, and lesbian, Anna Dickinson, That Dickinson Girl is the story of one woman’s rise to fame and fortune at the expense of love during the political and social turmoil of the American Civil War.

An earlier version of That Dickinson Girl was a finalist in the Mslexia Novel Competition.

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Meet the author

When she is not writing in her studio by the sea, Joan Koster lives with her historian husband and a coon cat named Cleo in an 1860s farmhouse stacked to the ceiling with books. In a life full of adventures, she has scaled mountains, chased sheep, and been abandoned on an island for longer than she wants to remember.

An award-winning author who loves mentoring writers, Joan blends her love of history, and romance, into historical novels about women who shouldn’t be forgotten and into romantic thrillers under the pen name, Zara West. She is the author of the award-winning romantic suspense series The Skin Quartet and the top-selling Write for Success series.

Joan blogs at JoanKoster.comWomen Words and WisdomAmerican Civil War VoiceZara West Romance, and Zara West’s Journal and teaches numerous online writing courses. 

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Today, I’m delighted to share a blog post by Elizabeth Hutchison Bernard about her new book, Sisters of Castle Leod #HistoricalFiction #SistersOfCastleLeod #BlogTour #TheCoffeePotBookClub

I’m delighted to share a fascinating blog post by Elizabeth Hutchison Bernard about her new novel, Sisters of Castle Leod.


Thanks so much for inviting me to talk about the research for my latest historical novel, Sisters of Castle Leod (release date: January 19, 2023).

I always do quite a bit of reading before deciding for certain what I want to write about, though I generally have a theme in mind. In this instance, I was very interested in exploring the subject of spiritualism—communication with the dead—especially as it was practiced in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. I soon ran across the name Sibell Lilian Mackenzie, 3rd Countess of Cromartie. Shortly after the turn of the 20th century, Sibell was becoming known as a spiritualist and a writer of mystical romance novels. Her younger sister, Constance, was an unusual young woman who became equally famous as a champion swimmer and for scandalizing British society with her public displays of Isadora Duncan-style barefoot dancing. The sisters were opposites in every way, which suggested to me the possibility of a story full of conflict and drama. In the historical record, I discovered plenty of both. 

There was a great deal of information available about the Mackenzie sisters, mostly through archived newspaper articles. At the time, they were among Great Britain’s most talked-about women. The press was fascinated with them. Because I enjoyed these old articles so much, I incorporated portions of a few into the book. They serve to give readers a wonderfully authentic taste of the social mores of the time. For example, here is part of an 1897 newspaper account describing Sibell’s “coming out,” over which Queen Victoria herself presided:

Nowadays you observe that the run of debutantes presented consists of every upstart whose family has rigged up for itself a compound surname. For every two-penny-half-penny nobody who has made a little money in trade to fancy he confers a sort of patent of nobility upon himself and his offspring by inserting a hyphen between his surname and his middle name is simply grotesque. But instead of these nobodies with whom recent drawing-rooms have reeked, there were no end of real swells at this one. The most interesting of all the presentations was that of the youthful Sibell Mackenzie Leveson-Gower, Countess of Cromartie.

I should mention that Sibell was a good deal more modest and down-to-earth than the writer of that article! Throughout my research, almost everything I read about the countess, who was a peeress in her own right and one of the wealthiest landowners in Scotland, portrayed her as a thoughtful, introspective young woman—a dreamer and philosopher. She wrote many short stories, most with a mystical bent, that were published in the popular women’s magazine The Lady’s Realm. By reading these stories, and several of her full-length romantic novels, I came to feel quite comfortable assuming her voice as my novel’s narrator. I also read Constance’s single book, Dancing, Beauty and Games, published in 1913, which gave me important insight into her very original ideologies as well as her motivations for some of the outrageous things she did. Authors of biographical historical fiction who have access to the actual writings of their characters enjoy a tremendous resource. I studied these books and stories with a careful eye to what they could tell me about the Mackenzie sisters—their public image, personal beliefs, and their innermost desires. 

The folklore of the Highlands was one of the things that attracted me to the sisters’ story. Here is an authentic newspaper snippet that led my plot in a surprising and rather spooky direction (for this preview, I’ve redacted any “spoilers”):

Lady Constance Mackenzie is sister and heir presumptive to the Countess of Cromartie, who also holds the titles Viscountess Tarbat, Baroness Castlehaven, and Baroness MacLeod. Lady Constance’s succession to all these titles, as well as the large family estates, depends upon the fulfillment of an old family legend whose truth in part has been demonstrated already, in a manner to arouse the awe of the superstitious, by a family tragedy that occurred last December. … [the legend states that] when a certain stream on the estates should be turned from its course, the succession would pass from the direct line. Only a few weeks before the [tragedy occurred], in making alterations on the estates, the course of the stream had been changed.

In the three years it took to research and write Sisters of Castle Leod, I did not confine myself to “armchair research.” Early in the process, my trip to the Scottish Highlands afforded me the opportunity to meet with Sibell’s grandson, 5thEarl of Cromartie and current chief of the Mackenzie clan. He graciously provided me with a private tour of Castle Leod and told me many interesting stories. Among them was that of the castle’s ghost, known as the Night Watchman—a 15th century sentry who, on occasion, emerges from behind the grandfather clock in the castle’s Great Hall. Though I would not call my novel a “ghost story,” the Night Watchman does have a role in the drama. 

On that same trip, I made a stop in London and visited the Spiritualist Association of Great Britain where, I had been told, Sibell once served as president. (I could find no proof of this in the Society’s records. However, at that time, there were many such societies, and she may have been involved in a different group with a similar name.) On two occasions, I met with psychics who attempted to contact Sibell on my behalf. Though results were inconclusive, it was nonetheless an interesting foray into the modern-day world of spiritualism.

As you can tell, my novel not only is about the difficult relationship between two very different sisters but also delves deeply into spiritual issues. Have you ever visited a psychic or attended a séance? How did you feel about the experience? 

Thank you for sharing your research with my readers. It really sounds as though you went above and beyond to ‘find’ your characters voices. Good luck with the new release.

Here’s the blurb

**Finalist in the 2022 American Writing Awards**

Millions are fans of Diana Gabaldon’s popular Outlander books and television series, but few know that Gabaldon’s fictional Castle Leoch was inspired by a real Scottish castle, Castle Leod. The two sisters who lived there at the turn of the twentieth century were among the most fascinating and talked-about women of their era. 

Lady Sibell Mackenzie is a spiritualist, a believer in reincarnation, and a popular author of mystical romances. Petite and proper, she values tradition and duty. Her younger sister Lady Constance, swimming champion and big game hunter, is a statuesque beauty who scandalizes British society with her public displays of Greek-style barefoot dancing. The differences between the sisters escalate into conflict after Sibell inherits their late father’s vast estates and the title 3rd Countess of Cromartie. But it is the birth of Sibell’s daughter that sets in motion a series of bizarre and tragic events, pitting sister against sister and propelling Sibell on a desperate mission to challenge the power of fate. 

Sisters of Castle Leod, by award-winning author Elizabeth Hutchison Bernard, is the emotionally charged story of two sisters torn apart by jealousy and superstition, and the impossible leap of faith that could finally bring them together.

Cover Art:  oil on glass painting, © Alison Hale, https://alisonhale.co.nz/ 

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Meet the Author

A former touring musician/songwriter and public relations professional, Elizabeth Hutchison Bernard is the author of two Amazon bestsellers: THE BEAUTY DOCTOR, “a compelling historical novel steeped in mystery with strong elements of a medical thriller” (Readers’ Favorite, 5 stars), and TEMPTATION RAG: A NOVEL, a “resonant novel … about the birth and demise of ragtime … luxuriously crafted” (Publishers Weekly). Her books have been finalists for the Eric Hoffer Book Award, National Indie Excellence Awards, and Arizona Literary Contest; they have received 5-star ratings from Readers” Favorite, Book Readers Appreciation Group, and historical fiction Discovered Diamonds. Elizabeth and her family live near Phoenix, Arizona.

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Follow the Sisters of Castle Leod tour with The Coffee Pot Book Club

2022 – A Reading Year in Review

Wow! I think 2022 has been the year that I read (and listened) to the most books EVER! As I write this, I’m up to 99 titles. I have some ‘holiday’ reading I’m keen to do as well – fingers crossed I make it to the magic 100 for the year (I am including audiobooks in this, and also my own books as I have to read them A LOT, and I’ve also been refreshing a few throughout the year as well.) Even so, I’ve read many, many books, across a number of different genres, but the predominant one has certainly been historical mysteries/cozy crime. I’ve found that this is my ‘happy’ place when trying not to think about my own books. And luckily, Boldwood Books (who publish the Eagle of Mercia Chronicles) have a huge collection of mystery writers, and they’ve autoapproved me on Netgalley, so I’ll never struggle to find something to read in my favourite genre.

As has been pointed out to me by a fellow author, I don’t often award a five star review to books. Indeed, while I do rate and review on Amazon and Goodreads, on the blog, I don’t tend to give a rating – I’m just quirky like that. Those books that I have given a five star to, I’ve given a shout out in the Aspects of History Books of 2022. You can find the link here – (of course, these are all historical fiction books) and The Capsarius, Valentia, Twelve Nights and The Maids of Biddenden made it onto that list (and yes, these are all books I was lucky enough to be asked to review on the blog – but I never automatically give a 5 star review just because of that). I also want to add Domitian by SJA Turney as well. I couldn’t include two of his books on Aspecs of History but Domitian is wonderful, just my sort of Roman story with plenty of politics, intrigue, and some fabulous characters.

Three of these books are indie-published, and I can assure you all, that there’s a huge amount of amazing indie stuff out there. Don’t believe me, try one of these titles:)

I’ve also treated myself to a bit of comedy this year. I’ve been listening to the Terry Pratchett Discworld audio books (the new and the original recordings – but not the abridged versions) and it’s reminded me of how much I love a funny book, and so, here are my favourite comedies of the year. Simon Whaley’s Foraging for Murder, Dead in Tune by Stephanie Dagg and Crazy for You by Domhnall O’Donoghue and Unseen Academicals by Terry Pratchett, which I’ve listened to twice!

In terms of cozy crime, I’ve found a few new series of which I’m certainly going to read more. Catherine Coles new 1940s historical mystery series, TA Williams‘ Armstrong and Oscar cosy series, Debbie Young’s St Brides Series, and Helen Golden’s Right Royal Cozy Investigations.

In terms of books set in ‘my’ time period, I’ve been reading Matthew Harffy, SJA Turney or maybe it’s a Simon Turney one (it’s the same author, in case you were confused), Peter Gibbons, Christopher Cervasco, Donovan Cook, Eric Schumacher, Paula De Fougerolles, Richard Cullen, and still historical but a little before and after, Robert M Kidd, Elizabeth R Andersen, Mark Knowles, Dan Jones and Kate Shanahan.

I’ve also dipped my toe into a few dual-timeline novels. As you might expect, my interest is always much more in the historical aspect of the story and not the modern settings, but they were a bit of fun when I was on holiday. The Witches Tree and The Storm Girl.

I’ve only read one fantasy book in 2022, which surprises me (aside from Discworld), but Mark Lawrence is one of my all-time favourite authors, and I will always read his books. The sneaky toad has a theme running through them all and I love it.

I’ve also read surprisingly few non-fiction books, in their entirety. I’ve been working on my non-fiction book and that’s meant a lot of dipping in and out of books I’ve already read. But, the non-fiction books I’ve read have been excellent, Michael Wood’s 40th anniversary of In Search of The Dark Ages, reviews for Aspects of History, Winter in the World by Eleanor Parker, also reviewed for Aspects of History and I also read my first ever writing guide.

And an entirely new genre for me, but one I was strangely drawn to for the location, which is close to where I grew up – a bit of Gangland.

I hope you’ve enjoyed reading my reviews on the blog. And I’d like to that the publishers that let me read advanced copies, and also, all the writers I’ve mentioned who’ve taken the time to craft these novels so that I can devour them. Now, I need to get back to my reading to make sure I hit that magic 100!