I’m so excited to share my review for Educating the Tudors by Amy McElroy #newrelease #nonfiction

Here’s the blurb

Education during the Tudor era was a privilege and took many forms including schools, colleges and apprenticeships. Those responsible for delivering education came from a variety of backgrounds from the humble parish priest to the most famed poet-laureates of the day. Curriculums varied according to wealth, gender and geography. The wealthy could afford the very best of tutors and could study as much or as little as they chose whilst the poorer members of society could only grasp at opportunities in the hopes of providing themselves with a better future. 

The Tudors were educated during a time when the Renaissance was sweeping across Europe and Henry VIII became known as a Renaissance Prince but what did his education consist of? Who were his tutors? How did his education differ to that of his elder brother, Prince Arthur and how did Henry’s education change upon the death of his brother? There is no doubt Henry was provided with an excellent education, particularly in comparison to his sisters, Margaret and Mary. Henry’s own education would go on to influence his decisions of tutors for his own children. Who had the privilege of teaching Henry’s children and did they dare to use corporal punishment? 

Educating the Tudors seeks to answer all of these questions, delving into the education of all classes, the subjects they studied, educational establishment and those who taught them.

Purchase Link

Pen and Sword Books

My Review

Educating the Tudors by Amy McElroy is a fascinating and thorough examination of the state of education for all during the Tudor era, following developments due to the Renaissance and the Reformation, as well as the introduction of the printing press. Not content with researching the tutors of the royal children from Arthur to Edward, Amy has also examined education for all levels of society as well as what would have been taught. With an eye for the difference between class, sex and wealth, Amy has examined what education was, and how it was undertaken, as well as the titans who were making use of their interest in learning to advance learning for all, making use of the printing press, even as they sought to catch the eye of the reigning monarch.

And this isn’t just book-learning, but also the paths of apprenticeships, as well as how people became lawyers, and just what effect the Reformation did have on an education system that was so heavily reliant on priests and had to be radically rethought when the monasteries, and later, chantries were closed.

I was fascinated by the subject matter, and learned so much from reading this book – indeed, even things I’ve read about before suddenly made a lot more sense.

An absorbing and well-researched book, which is sure to fascinate all those interested in the Tudors, as well as the development of education in England.

(I found the subject matter absolutely fascinating, especially as I’ve personally been researching the education of the children of King Alfred. I was struck by the similarities, despite the six hundred plus year distance between the two eras. I’m sure I won’t be alone in that – I hope:) And there’s a another link between the Tudors and the Saxons, as it was the renewed interest in learning that is responsible for many of the surviving Saxon text we now have, including the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle.)

My thanks to the author, the publisher and Netgalley for my review copy, but my hardback is in the post as well:)

Meet the Author

Amy my was born and bred in Liverpool before moving to the Midlands to study Criminal Justice eventually becoming a civil servant. She has long been interested in history, reading as much and as often as she could. Her writing journey began with her blog, sharing thoughts on books she had read, before developing to writing reviews for Aspects of History magazine and culminating in her own book.

Connect with Amy



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!

Today, I’m sharing an exciting post by Michael L. Ross about his new book, The Founding, Book 3 in Across the Divide #historicalfiction #biographicalfiction #BlogTour #TheCoffeePotBookClub

I’m delighted to welcome Michael L. Ross to the blog, with a post about his new book, The Founding.

The Founding follows the earthquake changes that the railroad made to American business and society during the latter half of the nineteenth century. Through the eyes of my fictional characters, Julia and Hiram Johannsen, the railroad itself almost becomes another major character. Julia is the sister of the main character, Will Crump. In order to do an effective job with telling the story of the railroad, I had to research and plot the timeline of the many different railroads that pushed south and west across America during the period 1868-1909. 

The figure of robber baron Jason “Jay” Gould looms over the story, as he went from a tannery business to partner in the Erie Railroad to the major force behind the Union Pacific Railroad. The UP swallowed many other lines in its march to the Pacific Ocean. 

Julia was a businesswoman at a time when it was uncommon, and shepherded the Johannsen steamship line through the Civil War, while Hiram fought for the Federal army in book 1 of the series, The Clouds of War. As The Founding opens, Julia and Hiram’s business is in danger from the encroaching railroads, financed from New York and Europe. They must adapt or perish. 

The Atchison, Topeka, Santa Fe promised a new rail line that could save them. For my research, I delved into the railroad’s history, largely through Keith L. Bryant Jr.’s non-fiction account, History of the Atchison, Topeka, and Santa Fe Railway, and local records in the Newton, Kansas historical society. The ATSF and the Kansas Pacific railroads sought to go through Kansas from east to west, and south through Indian Territory (Oklahoma) to Santa Fe, and California. At every turn, Jay Gould bought up lines and pounced on the business, making it very tough indeed to compete. The Life and Legend of Jay Gould by Maury Klein follows Gould’s life in great detail, chronicling the schemes and deals that made Gould famous and feared. 

The railroad story is a complex one, and many managers came and went. The road to success was complicated by the financial panic of 1873, where many railroads went bankrupt in the aftermath of the Franco-Prussian war. European countries had invested heavily in American railroads via bonds, and the end of the war with German victory brought the collapse of the Jay Cook Company, whose bonds financed railroad expansion. 

Two historical tidbits turned up in research that was of great interest and impacted the book. First, the famous joining of the railroads at Promontory Point, Utah to form the transcontinental railroad wasn’t truly transcontinental at first. It was thought that no one could build a bridge across the Missouri River, and at the time the Golden Spike was driven, the Union Pacific stopped at the river, and picked up on the other side. For a period of time, the locomotives had to be ferried across. Then the Kansas Pacific helped to build the Hannibal Bridge, a unique design that swung a bridge section sideways to allow steamboat river traffic, then back into a contiguous bridge across the river. Without electricity, and using only gravity, gears, and river power, it was a major engineering feat, truly uniting the east and western portions of the United States by rail. 

Second, in Chicago, a man named George Hammond filed a patent for a refrigerated railroad car, in 1868. Within two years, Hammond was selling refrigerated meat to the tune of two million dollars annually. Railroad lines that had invested heavily in stockyards in Chicago and elsewhere were reluctant to adopt the new cars, but progress marched forward as demand for beef in the east increased. In The Founding, Hiram and Julia make use of both of these inventions to outsmart Gould, and in real life, Gould was slow to pick up on them. The refrigerated cars spawned a large meat packing business in Fort Worth, Texas, and with the expansion of the railroad, completely eliminated the need for the cattle drives of western movies. Within a decade, Hammond’s new plant in Omaha, Nebraska, was slaughtering over 100,000 cattle a year and moving a fleet of 800 refrigerator cars. Gustavus Swift improved the design of refrigerated cars.1 During the 1850s, when he was still a teenager, Gustavus F. Swift started to work in the beef business in Massachusetts. In 1875, Swift began buying cattle in Chicago to send to his family’s butcher operations back East. He quickly revolutionized the meat industry by using newly developed refrigerated railcars to ship fresh meat from Chicago to Eastern markets. The company soon set up a national network of branch offices, which allowed it to control the distribution of its meat across the country. By 1886, when the company slaughtered more than 400,000 cattle a year, Swift employed about 1,600 people. Between 1887 and 1892, new packing plants were opened in Kansas City, Omaha, and St. Louis. By the time the founder died in 1903, his company grossed $200 million in annual sales and employed about 23,000 people across the country.2[1]

These inventions allowed our fictional characters to gain capital to beat Gould, temporarily, at his own game. 

As railroads advanced, many new towns were founded. Whether the railroad’s route included a particular town could mean the difference between death and survival for the town. Often towns paid handsome sums to the railroads to influence the route. Dallas paid a large cash bounty to gain three railroad lines running through it, cementing it as a center of Texas commerce. In 1860, Dallas only had 261 people. By 1900, it had 82,726.3

Often the town was required to pay for a depot, as well as show that there would be sufficient freight and passenger traffic to warrant choosing a route through the town. In Nicodemus, the citizens raised $16,000 for a depot, with great hopes. There was lots of politics and influence peddling. 

Lubbock, Texas, the other town in this book, was initially unsuccessful in wooing the railroad. However, with persistence, growth, and the fact that it was racially white, the town fathers, including Will Crump, were successful in the end. 

Image: Public Domain

[1] https://www.saddleandsirloinportraitfoundation.org/post/george-henry-hammond-inducted-in-1953-or-1954

2Encyclopedia of Chicago

Dallas population

Thank you so much for sharing such a fascinating post.

Here’s the blurb:

Two men, two dreams, two new towns on the plains, and a railroad that will determine whether the towns—one black, one white—live or die. 

Will Crump has survived the Civil War, Red Cloud’s War, and the loss of his love, but the search for peace and belonging still eludes him. From Colorado, famed Texas Ranger Charlie Goodnight lures Will to Texas, where he finds new love, but can a Civil War sharpshooter and a Quaker find a compromise to let their love survive? When Will has a chance to join in the founding of a new town, he risks everything—his savings, his family, and his life—but it will all be for nothing if the new railroad passes them by.

Luther has escaped slavery in Kentucky through Albinia, Will’s sister, only to find prejudice rearing its ugly head in Indiana. When the Black Codes are passed, he’s forced to leave and begin a new odyssey. Where can he and his family go to be truly free? Can they start a town owned by blacks, run by blacks, with no one to answer to? But their success will be dependent on the almighty railroad and overcoming bigotry to prove their town deserves the chance to thrive.

Will’s eldest sister, Julia, and her husband, Hiram, are watching the demise of their steamboat business and jump into railroads, but there’s a long black shadow in the form of Jay Gould, the robber baron who ruthlessly swallows any business he considers competition. Can Julia fight the rules against women in business, dodge Gould, and hold her marriage together?

The Founding tells the little-known story of the Exodusters and Nicodemus, the black town on the plains of Kansas, and the parallel story of Will’s founding of Lubbock, Texas, against the background of railroad expansion in America. A family reunited, new love discovered, the quest for freedom, the rise of two towns. In the end, can they reach Across the Great Divide? The Founding is the exciting conclusion to the series.

Praise for The Founding:

“Michael is an excellent storyteller and has done a wonderful job depicting Luther, and the other black characters in this book.  He has done his homework and depicts many historical facts about Nicodemus in a most enlightening and creative way.  It has been a pleasure working with someone who has made a concerted effort to get things right.  

~ Angela Bates

Nicodemus Descendant/Historian

Executive Director

The Nicodemus Historical Society and Museum

Watch the book trailer:


Buy Links:

Universal Link

Amazon UK: Amazon USAmazon CAAmazon AU

Meet the author

Michael Ross is a lover of history and great stories.

He’s a retired software engineer turned author, with three children, and five grandchildren, living in Newton, Kansas with his wife of 39 years. Michael graduated from Rice University and Portland State University with degrees in German and software engineering. He was part of an MBA program at Boston University. 

Michael was born in Lubbock, Texas, and still loves Texas. He’s written short stories and technical articles in the past, as well as articles for the Texas Historical Society. 

Across the Great Divide now has three novels in the series, “The Clouds of War”, and “The Search”, and the conclusion, “The Founding”.  “The Clouds of War” was an honorable mention for Coffee Pot Book of the Year in 2019, and an Amazon #1 best seller in three categories, along with making the Amazon top 100 paid, reviewed in Publisher’s Weekly. “The Search” won Coffee Pot Cover of the Year in 2020, and Coffee Pot Silver Medal for Book of the Year in 2020, as well as short listed for the Chanticleer International Book Laramie Award. 

Connect with Michael:



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Follow the Across the Great Divide blog tour with The Coffee Pot Book Club

Today, I’m delighted to share my review for Victoria and Violet by Rachel Brimble #blogtour #historicalfiction #historicalromance

Here’s the blurb:

It should be a dream come true to serve the Queen of England…

When Violet Parker is told she will be Queen Victoria’s personal housemaid, she cannot believe her good fortune. She finally has the chance to escape her overbearing mother, a servant to the Duchess of Kent. 

Violet hopes to explore who she is and what the world has to offer without her mother’s schemes overshadowing her every thought and action.

Then she meets James Greene, assistant to the queen’s chief political adviser, Lord Melbourne. From entirely different backgrounds and social class, Violet and James should have neither need nor desire to speak to one another, yet through their service, their paths cross and their lives merge—as do their feelings.

Only Victoria’s court is not always the place for romance, but rather secrets, scandals, and conspiracies…

Purchase Links 

UK – https://www.amazon.co.uk/Victoria-Violet-Royal-Maids-Book-ebook/dp/B0B6T47ZX5

US – https://www.amazon.com/Victoria-Violet-Royal-Maids-Book-ebook/dp/B0B6T47ZX5

My Review

Victoria and Violet is a beautifully evoked story of Queen Victoria and her court, in the days before and during her marriage to Prince Albert. I won’t be alone in having read other books and watched film adaptations about the young Victoria, and Victoria and Violet really does capture the feel and mood of the royal court.

Violet is that most typical of women of the era, her life revolving around the will of another, only on this occasion, her mother, and her mother’s employer, Victoria’s mother, the Duchess of Kent. And we all know that’s not going to end well. Only, while she might be sent to spy on Queen Victoria, Victoria quickly strikes up a friendship with her maid and together, the two seem to be able to conquer just about anything the Duchess of Kent puts in their way.

James Greene too is not able to do what he wants, an expectant father, who was also a brutal father, expecting him home to run a prosperous estate, whereas James is keen to continue his work with Melbourne, the Prime Minister, and then Prince Albert himself.

This is a story filled with twists and turns. Will James and Violet fall in love? Will they be able to live their lives together? Or will his father, and her mother, force them apart?

This really is a delightful tale, well researched and very well grounded in the era and period. I’m really pleased I decided to read it:)

Meet the author

Rachel lives in a small town near Bath, England. She is the author of 29 published novels including the Ladies of Carson Street trilogy, the Shop Girl series (Aria Fiction) and the Templeton Cove Stories (Harlequin). Her latest novel, Victoria & Violet is the first book in her new Royal Maids series with the Wild Rose Press.

Rachel is a member of the Romantic Novelists Association as well as the Historical Novel Society and has thousands of social media followers all over the world. 

Connect with Rachel

Website: https://bit.ly/3wH7HQs

Twitter: https://bit.ly/3AQvK0A

Facebook: https://bit.ly/3i49GZ3

Instagram: https://bit.ly/3lTQZbF

Follow the Victoria and Violet tour with Rachel’s Random Resources

Today I’m welcoming JULIA PRIMA by Alison Morton to the blog #HistoricalFiction #BlogTour #CoffeePotBookClub

I’m delighted to feature JULIA PRIMA by Alison Morton, and she’s written a fabulous post about her book.

The dangers of travelling in the fourth century

Historical fiction at its best transports the reader into another time and place – the heat, fear and smell of battle, the celebration of a marriage where fire flickers nearby when the bride’s hair is arranged with a sharp spear point, or a voyage across a cold featureless sea where you feared might drop off the edge of the world into oblivion.

Style, tone and construction may be radically different, and the settings may be frightening or fascinating, but all good historical fiction conveys the impression of being an eyewitness to what is happening around them as well as how they are acting in that context.

One immediate way of anchoring a book in the past is thinking about how people travelled. We are so used to leaping into the car or catching a train or plane that we forget how completely different journeys were for pre-industrial people.

The concept of distance has changed radically over time. Over much of human history, it was measured in days or weeks taken rather than in land measurement such as miles. Depending on modes of transport available, whether imperial courier’s horse, an ox cart or simple trudging on foot, the perception of distance depended on the state of tracks, paths or roads. 

JULIA PRIMA features a journey on horseback through mountains, transfer on a coastal barge, a voyage on a trading ship, crossing the Apennines on horseback and finally walking through the city of Rome. Each method presents challenges. Horses must be rested and fed regularly. Roman imperial couriers carrying urgent dispatches would change horses at official way stations every 8-10 miles for this reason. Only in Hollywood films and Netflix series can they gallop on and on all day. Saddles at that time had four horns – two back and two front – which held the rider in securely; there were no stirrups. Then there was the question of whether horses were shod or not . . . 

Not all Roman roads were hard metalled and impeccably paved and drained. Primarily, the roads had been built for military use as a quick and efficient means for overland movement of armies and officials. Altogether there were more than 400,000 kilometres (250,000 miles) of roads, of which over 80,500 km (50,000 miles) were stone paved. Many were gravelled, even in towns with some slabbed surfaces in the most important parts such as the forum. Added to these were private roads, rural roads, tracks and link roads. Much more detail here: https://www.alison-morton.com/2020/12/18/on-the-road-to-rome/

Taken together, they allowed the movement of people and goods, and connected isolated communities, helping them to absorb new ideas and influences, sell surplus goods, and buy what they could not produce locally. This trade resulted in an increase of wealth for everyone to a level not seen before and is suggested as a strong reason why many people strove to adopt the lifestyle of their conquerors. 

But towards the end of the fourth century, there were potholes, missing slabs and invasive vegetation as local authorities could not afford their upkeep. Bridges built earlier, especially in the time of Augustus nearly two hundred years earlier, were failing, with parapets missing, holes in the surface and even collapsing completely.

Sailings, even for short passages such as across the Adriatic from Trieste to Ancona, were subject to season, usually May to October, and in the late fourth century, the most fearful danger: pirates. The imperial navy was mostly based in Constantinople by the time of JULIA PRIMA in AD 370 and the few ships still based in Ravenna would not offer comprehensive protection. Storms could bring all sea transport to a grinding halt as could a complete lack of wind. Nevertheless, traders still crossed the water, usually in convoys, and if fortunate escorted by a naval ship which gave an appearance, if not the reality, of protection.

Ferries today such as the cross-Channel ones offer cushioned seating, restaurants, shops and even cabins with ensuite bathrooms. Julia and her companions travel on the hard deck of a merchant ship with whatever shelter and comfort, such as light mattresses, they brought with them. The galley could provide hot water, but you brought your own washing bowl, cups and eating dishes and your own food. Once it set sail, a ship was a self-contained and vulnerable world that was lost to all human contact until it docked again. No ship’s radio, GPS, satellite tracking and communication meant that it could disappear without trace and nobody would know its fate. And news of events, e.g. death of an emperor, would only be available once the ship docked. 

Many travellers stayed with friends, family or trade colleagues. In larger cities and ports, there was a range of possibilities from well-equipped rooms in top class inns to a bed in a shared dormitory, often also shared with travellers of the insect variety!

At the most simple were private houses offering a room in their property for a fee. They could include stabling for animals and supper for their riders. Perhaps an early form of B&B! Travellers would know these houses by a lamp lit over their entrance door. Often this was the only form of hospitality in rural or remote areas.

mansio gave accommodation to official visitors and feeding, watering and stables for their animals. They had to produce a travel document/official chit to show their entitlement to gain access to these government-funded facilities or they were back on the road again. 

Non-official travellers had a choice, depending on the size of their purse and their inclination. Cauponae were often sited near the mansions and performed the same functions at a lower level of comfort. However, they suffered from a bad reputation as they were frequented by thieves and prostitutes. Tabernae provided hospitality for the more discerning traveller. In early days, they were mere houses along the road, but as Rome grew, so did its tabernae, becoming more luxurious. Of course, some did not, but they were generally above the level of the scruffy cauponae. Many cities of today grew up around a taberna complex, such as Rheinzabern in the Rhineland. 

A third system of way stations serviced vehicles and animals: the mutationes (changing stations). In these complexes, the driver could purchase the services of wheelwrights, cartwrights and equarii medici, or vets.  Some hostelries had elements of each type above, so historical fiction writers can often use generic descriptions such as inns or lodgings and vary the description of the accommodation as it suits their story. 

For travellers in the late imperial period, such as Julia in AD 370, the danger from bandits had increased markedly. Some were dispossessed agricultural workers, some escaped slaves, mercenaries for hire or just criminals. As systems dissolved, the military became less visible and finances to fund them ran out, thereby making travelling increasingly dangerous.

Here’s the blurb:

“You should have trusted me. You should have given me a choice.”

AD 370, Roman frontier province of Noricum. Neither wholly married nor wholly divorced, Julia Bacausa is trapped in the power struggle between the Christian church and her pagan ruler father. 

Tribune Lucius Apulius’s career is blighted by his determination to stay faithful to the Roman gods in a Christian empire. Stripped of his command in Britannia, he’s demoted to the backwater of Noricum – and encounters Julia.

Unwittingly, he takes her for a whore. When confronted by who she is, he is overcome with remorse and fear. Despite this disaster, Julia and Lucius are drawn to one another by an irresistible attraction.

But their intensifying bond is broken when Lucius is banished to Rome. Distraught, Julia gambles everything to join him. But a vengeful presence from the past overshadows her perilous journey. Following her heart’s desire brings danger she could never have envisaged…

Buy Links:

Universal Link: https://books2read.com/JULIAPRIMA

Amazon UK:   Amazon USAmazon CAAmazon AU

Barnes and NobleWaterstonesKoboApple

Meet the author:

Alison Morton writes award-winning thrillers featuring tough but compassionate heroines. Her nine-book Roma Nova series is set in an imaginary European country where a remnant of the ancient Roman Empire has survived into the 21stcentury and is ruled by women who face conspiracy, revolution and heartache but with a sharp line in dialogue. 

She blends her fascination for Ancient Rome with six years’ military service and a life of reading crime, historical and thriller fiction. On the way, she collected a BA in modern languages and an MA in history.  

Alison now lives in Poitou in France, the home of Mélisende, the heroine of her latest two contemporary thrillers, Double Identity and Double Pursuit. Oh, and she’s writing the next Roma Nova story.

Connect with Alison

Alison Morton’s World of Thrillers site

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Alison’s writing blog:  InstagramGoodreads:  

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Follow the JULIA PRIMA blog tour with The Coffee Pot Book Club

I’m welcoming Brushstrokes from the Past by Heidi Eljarbo to the blog #solihansenmysteries #BlogTour #TheCoffeePotBookClub

How to enjoy research for a novel

by Heidi Eljarbo

Ask an avid reader of historical fiction if research is important, and the answer will be an unanimous, “Absolutely!”

Last year I taught a class about research at a writer’s conference in the USA. When preparing the presentation, I placed a survey on two Facebook groups. Yes, I did some research for my research class. I wanted to know how readers felt about research for historical novels.

I wrote, “I’d like to know your opinion. How important is historical research when you pick up a book? Do you enjoy learning new things about the time period of the novel you’re reading?”

Many readers answered that historical facts sparked their interest; they wanted to learn more; they followed up by doing their own research. A common answer was also that research is essential, and they especially don’t like inaccuracies, anachronism, or too many unnecessary descriptions.

Proper world-building will place the reader right in there with the characters. They need to know about the clothes, food, religion, politics, customs, and so much more. An author who chooses historical fiction as his or her genre should have a special interest in history. Because as you research, learn, and become acquainted with the time period you’ve chosen, the story will come alive. Writing historical fiction requires a passion for the craft, and weaving in interesting history without making it read like a textbook or making it obvious adds the attention-grabbing details.

My latest novel, Brushstrokes from the Past, is a historical art mystery. It’s a dual timeline with elements of three things I am particularly interested in: WWII resistance, the seventeenth century, and art history. The research has been fascinating and fun. I’ve studied about brave women during the last days of WWII, delved into the life and times of Amsterdam in the year 1641, and even discussed how to write an airplane scene with a fighter pilot.

Then there’s art. I have a passion for art history…always have…and finding information about master painters, techniques, hues and compositions, and the beautiful renditions they created, has been rewarding. 

The Soli Hansen Mysteries is a dual timeline series. Each book in the series can be read as a standalone, but they are more enjoyable when read in order as both stories progress. A common theme is the baroque artists who perfected the technique of chiaroscuro—the play of light and dark—in their paintings. We meet Caravaggio, Rubens, and Rembrandt van Rijn.

Brushstrokes from the Past is the fourth book in this series. Going deeper into Rembrandt’s personal life has been wonderful. I have moved beyond his work as a master painter and gotten to know him, not only as artistically gifted, but as a husband and father. His love and admiration for his wife Saskia made a deep impression on me. His sorrow for the children they lost was immense. These studies have made this Dutch Golden Age painter even more heroic in my eyes.

Brushstrokes from the Past takes place in 1641. Rembrandt is 32 years old, lives with his beloved Saskia in an expensive canal house, and he is widely celebrated as an extraordinary artist. He is working on an enormous painting we know as the The Night Watch where he implements the use of sunlight and shade (chiaroscuro).

Close to a hundred self-portraits—paintings, etchings, and drawing—made it easy to describe Rembrandt’s looks in book three and four. In Brushstrokes from the Past he is a close friend of fictional French musketeer Claude Beaulieu and his Jewish-Italian wife Annarosa Ruber.

How is Rembrandt’s portrait of his musketeer friend discovered in the spring of 1945? And who wants to get their hands on the precious artwork? You’ll have to read Brushstrokes from the Past to find out. Enjoy the adventure and journey!

Here’s the blurb:

A Historical Art Mystery

WWII and the mid-seventeenth century are entwined in this fourth dual timeline novel about Nazi art theft, bravery, friendship, and romance.

April 1945. Art historian Soli Hansen and her friend Heddy arrive at an excavation site only to find Soli’s old archeology professor deeply engrossed in an extraordinary find in a marsh. The remains of a man have lain undisturbed for three centuries, but there’s more to this discovery…

As Soli tries to understand who the baroque man was and discovers what he carried in a sealed wooden tube, problems arise. A leak reveals the finds to the notorious Lieutenant Colonel Heinz Walter, and soon, both Nazi elite and the Gestapo are after the treasure.
When Heddy and the professor disappear along with the artwork, Soli and her resistance group must find them before it’s too late.

1641. In Amsterdam, French musketeer Claude Beaulieu has had his portrait done by his close friend and artist Rembrandt van Rijn. When a band of thieves steal the precious painting, Claude and his wife Annarosa Ruber pick up their swords and a few belongings and go after the culprits.

Set in Norway during the tumultuous last days of the second world war, as well as the peak of the glorious baroque art period, these two stories are a must for readers who love historical fiction with adventure, suspense, and true love that conquers all.

Perfect for fans of Kate Morton, Lucinda Riley, Kathleen McGurl, Rhys Bowen, and Katherine Neville.

Buy Links:

Available on #KindleUnlimited 

Universal Link

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Meet the author:

Heidi Eljarbo is the bestselling author of historical fiction and mysteries filled with courageous and good characters that are easy to love and others you don’t want to go near.

Heidi grew up in a home filled with books and artwork and she never truly imagined she would do anything other than write and paint. She studied art, languages, and history, all of which have come in handy when working as an author, magazine journalist, and painter.

After living in Canada, six US states, Japan, Switzerland, and Austria, Heidi now calls Norway home. She and her husband have a total of nine children, thirteen grandchildren—so far—in addition to a bouncy Wheaten Terrier.

Their favorite retreat is a mountain cabin, where they hike in the summertime and ski the vast, white terrain during winter.

Heidi’s favorites are family, God’s beautiful nature, and the word whimsical.

Sign up for her newsletter at https://www.heidieljarbo.com/newsletter

Connect with Heidi



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It’s short story week. Coelwulf’s Company and The Mercian Brexit are both 99pUK/99cUS on Kindle

Sometimes, when I’m writing a scene, I just have to write something to go with it, a side story, a prequel, just something that ties up loose ends between one book series, and another, and so, Coelwulf’s Company, a collection of short stories from before the beginning of The Last King. Have you wondered what all our fierce warriors were up to before The Last King? How Coelwulf came to command his warriors? Hopefully, you’ll find some of the answers here in my first collection of short stories featuring the characters from The Last King, and also one character from Son of Mercia!

And, if you’ve read the Chronicles of the English, and are wondering where to go next, then The Mercian Brexit, is an attempt to bridge some of the gap between that trilogy and the Lady Elfrida books. At 15,000 words, The Mercian Brexit is one of my longer short stories, but equally, not as long as some of them have ended up (Cnut was supposed to only ever be 50,000 words but ended up over 100,000 – so not so very short after all.)

Both books are also available to read with a Kindle Unlimited Subscription.

These aren’t my only short stories. You can also find one in The Historical Times magazine from July 2022, and there are also a couple on my author platform with Aspects of History, and I plan on writing many more as well.

Today, I’m incredibly excited to share a guest post by Kate Shanahan about her time-slip historical fantasy book, Tangled Spirits, set in medieval Japan (It’s a fabulous book that I highly recommend).

Hi, I’m Kate Shanahan, author of Tangled Spirits, a time-slip historical fantasy set in medieval Japan before shogun, samurai, and sushi were a thing. I’m blogging today about the cultural environment in 10th-11th centuries Japan that fostered the highest level of female literacy in the world at this time (among the aristocratic elite, that is.)

The world’s first full-length novel is usually considered to be Tale of Genji, written by Murasaki Shikubu, a lady-in-waiting at the imperial court of Japan at the beginning of the 11th century. She wrote this long, complex novel in an era when nearly all women everywhere in the world (and most men too) could neither read nor write. And not only did she write it, but enough people enjoyed reading it to ensure it was copied, shared, sold, borrowed, studied, illustrated, filmed, and gamified over the next 1000+ years.

I read Tale of Genji when I taught English in Japan. That same year, I read The Pillow Book, a journal written by lady-in-waiting Sei Shonagon, a contemporary of Murasaki’s. Sei invented a new form of journal called zuihitsu or ‘miscellany.’ In today’s terms, it’s more like the world’s first blog. 

Both Sei and Murasaki were ladies-in-waiting in the court of Emperor Ichijo, and they both could read and write Chinese as well as Japanese, rare skills for women even in their erudite sphere. How is it that these two women in medieval Japan both managed to create new forms of literature that are still studied today?

In the course of my research, I learned that women held many positions of high rank and even power in Japan’s early history. In fact, eight of Japan’s emperors have been women, six of them before the year 770. The Heian Period (794 to 1185) is known as the ‘golden age of Japan’ for its flowering of the arts and literature, and much of this flowering came from girl-power. 

(Before I go further, let me be clear that I’m only referring to the tiny elite at the top of the food chain who led a life of luxury and leisure far, far removed from the hardships of the unranked.)

I’ve noticed that Westerners are often surprised at some of the rights and privileges women enjoyed in this era in Japan. In the Heian Period, married noblewomen often continued to live with their parents after marriage, with the husband stopping by from time to time to see her. The wife’s father or uncles influenced the education and development of her children. This is called a ‘uxorial’ form of marriage, and it not only gave a woman more control and influence over raising her children, it also meant that if she weren’t happy with her husband’s behavior, she could send him away without seeing him. Women also could initiate a divorce and remarry. Men often had several wives and consorts, and women just one (at a time), but love affairs were not frowned upon as long as discreetly managed. 

The most important element of the environment that eventually produced Tale of Genji and The Pillow Book was the Fujiwara Regency. The emperor’s role was a sacred one with a focus on the rituals and prayers needed to keep divinities happy, so the regent’s role was a political, secular one. There were 21 regents from the Fujiwara clan between 804 and 1238, and the most famous was Michinaga, who was regent during both Sei Shonagon and Murasaki Shikibu’s tenure at court. In the course of my research for Tangled Spirits, I learned this proverb: “if one must have a child, let it be a girl.”  Fujiwara clan members gained power and access to the emperor by marrying their daughters to him. Those daughters produced children who often became Crown Prince and Emperor, and because of the uxorial tradition, Fujiwara regents kept their power by their influence over their imperial grandchildren. And that made daughters more valuable to a Fujiwara regent (or regent wanna-be) than a son. 

And literacy comes into play because it was important for these Fujiwara daughters to be able to entice the emperor with their beautiful calligraphy, their skill with writing poetry, and with reading out loud to him. Beauty and elegance were of utmost importance at court in this era, and calligraphy could make or break a love affair. Thus a high priority was placed on the education of potential imperial consorts.

And then once a Fujiwara daughter was at court, whether as a concubine, an official consort, or a Royal Consort (Empress), it was important for that consort to have women around her with skills in calligraphy, poetry, witty repartee, and story-telling, both to make the salon attractive to the Emperor and to entertain the consort. Women in this elite class lived lives of comparative leisure, and they stayed indoors most of the time. Reading, writing, and story-telling flourished as entertainment. 

And that created a sort of domino effect. Parents might not be of a high-enough rank for their daughters to be selected for the Emperor, but they educated their daughters to make them attractive to the consort’s salon, and that is how both Sei Shonagon and Murasaki Shikibu came to court.

It’s clear from the diaries of Sei Shonagon and Murasaki Shikibu that they both could read Chinese writing as well as the native ‘onnade’ and that such learning was considered masculine. Murasaki wrote that Sei was a show-off for not hiding her knowledge of Chinese, while Sei wrote that male courtiers sent poems in Chinese as a sort of prank, hoping to force her to reveal her knowledge (but she was too clever for that.) However, recent research indicates that a nobleman might teach his daughter to read and write Chinese as well as Japanese to improve her chance to obtain a position as an official in the Imperial Handmaid’s Office. Murasaki Shikibu writes in her diary that she learned Chinese by eavesdropping on her brother’s lessons, but it’s possible that both Murasaki and Sei Shonagon were taught Chinese reading and writing for that reason, as neither family was in the top ranks of nobility. Some high-ranking men even sought to marry women who could read Chinese as a skill that could help their own careers in government bureaucracy.

If you’d like to read more blog posts about Heian Japan or find out more about Tangled Spirits, you can find mine at kvshanahan.com

If you’d like to read more about literacy in this era, here’s an interesting article that I found in jstor.org.

Heldt, G. (2005). Writing like a Man: Poetic Literacy, Textual Property, and Gender in the “Tosa Diary.” The Journal of Asian Studies64(1), 7–34. http://www.jstor.org/stable/25075675

Here’s the blurb for Tangled Spirits.

Journey to the imperial court of Japan as Kate Shanahan skillfully blends fictional and historical figures and events into a time-slip tale of intrigue, personal sacrifice, and a friendship that spans a thousand years. 

Two spirits. One body. It’s harder than it looks.

2019: Anxious and insecure, Mina Cooper wants to change her life, to change herself, but she gets more change than she bargains for when her spirit is pulled into the past and into someone else’ body – in 10th century Japan. And now she has a lot more to be anxious about. Like exorcism. And bandits. And chaotic magic by an inexperienced shaman. 

999: Desperately lonely after her mother and sister die in an epidemic, aspiring shaman Lady Masako attempts to call her mother back from the spirit world, but gets possessed by Mina instead.

After a struggle for control and a failed exorcism, the two spirits agree to cooperate long enough to get help from the Royal Astrologer, the only person powerful enough to send Mina home.

But his help comes at a cost, and Mina’s imperfect knowledge of history offers little to negotiate with. And the longer he waits to help her, the greater the risk her spirit will fuse with Masako’s, and she’ll never get home.

Meet the author

Kate grew up in Massachusetts, but spent 4th, 8th, and 11th grades living in England, and speaks both languages (British and American) fluently. After graduating from University of Michigan with a BA in Political Science (East Asia Concentration), Kate taught English in Sapporo, Japan for two years. She enjoyed the experience so much that she returned to U of M for an MA in Asian Studies (Japan Specialization), and while there, worked part-time for the Center for Japanese Studies. Fortunately for Kate, Honda was expanding operations in Ohio around the time she finished, and she spent an entire career at Honda in project, business, and people management, thrilled to be able to travel to Japan and speak Japanese for work. Then she retired to work on that book about Sei Shonagon that she always had in the back of her mind to write, and that book evolved into Tangled Spirits.
After all those years in northern latitudes, Kate and her husband recently moved to Florida’s Gulf Coast where the sunshine makes it difficult to focus on writing. But she’s determined to do it anyway. After a bike ride.

Kate Shanahan Website

Tangled Spirits on Amazon

Kate Shanahan Instagram

Tangled Spirits is on special offer until 19th July 2022, for 99p/99c on Amazon UK/US and is also included in a Kindle Unlimited Subscription

Good luck with the new book, Kate. Thank you so much for such an interesting post about Japan. I can see why you were drawn to the period.

Here’s my review

I was lucky enough to read an early version of Tangled Spirits, and I flew through it in two days. It’s a fantastic and really intriguing story.

I liked the whole story – the idea of a 21st-century woman’s mind in a 10th-century woman’s body, seeing everything through new eyes, putting both current interpretations on etiquette and prevailing thoughts, as well as the 10th-century justification for it all. It was just tongue in cheek, and court politics enough, to ensure the reader always wants to know what’s going to happen.

Masako and Mina are both intriguing characters. As the story is told through Mina we know more about her thoughts and more about Masako’s actions. I could understand both of their viewpoints well enough, even if like Masako, I found it a bit frustrating that Mina wouldn’t share more of her knowledge of the future. I enjoyed that as time went on, they acted more and more like one another.

A really enjoyable read and one I highly recommend.

Today, I’m reviewing the rather fabulous The Maids of Biddenden by GD Harper as part of the #blogtour #histfic #12thCentury

Here’s the blurb:

‘There is no me; there is no you.

There is only us.’

The Maids of Biddenden is inspired by the real-life story of conjoined twins Mary and Eliza Chulkhurst, born in 1100 into a wealthy family from a small Kent village.

Joined at the hip, the sisters overcome fear and hostility to grow into gifted and much-loved women ­– one a talented musician and song-writer, the other a caring healer and grower of medicinal plants. Entangled in the struggles for power and influence of the great Kent nobles of the time, they achieve much in their lifetimes and leave behind a legacy in Biddenden that survives to this day.

This is the heart-warming and inspirational story of two remarkable women leading one joint life, challenging adversity to become the best they can be.


The Maids of Biddenden is that rare beast which entirely absorbs the reader from page one. Helped by a flowing style of writing, and the immediate and impending danger that the twins find themselves in as six-year-olds, the reader is entirely absorbed in the story, and their fate, so much so that it’s difficult to put the book down. That said, it is not just the twins themselves that drive the story – the people they interact with, those with their best and worst interests at heart – are all believable and well written, and there are occasions when the reader will be left frustrated and angered that some seem to face little punishment for their actions. The story has a number of points of view, and I found that they all worked very well – offering a view of the twins as they think of themselves, and also as others perceived them.

The story is effectively split in two; the first 45% tells the story of the Maids as young children. This element of the story is filled with a deep sense of foreboding that drives the story onward and makes the reader fearful for the future of the Maids. The narrative then moves forward a few years, and we see them as young women, trying to make a name for themselves and use their talents for good. At this point, the immediate landscape that the Maids encounter broadens considerably, and we move away from the nunnery and the settlement of Biddenden, into the politics and events of the early twelfth century, that almost consume the lives of the Maids for the remainder of their years – they lived during the time of the tragedy of the White Ship.

The story doesn’t so much lose focus here, but because the impending danger has passed, the reader is instead absorbed in how the twins accomplish all that they do. There is a great deal of attention to detail here – both medical knowledge and music – and it’s fascinating to see how the Maids’ lives interact with known events from the period.

This is a delightful story. I was entirely engrossed and found myself snatching what time I could to carry on reading it – something that doesn’t happen all that often. I highly, highly recommend The Maids of Biddenden for fans of historical fiction, and also for those who don’t normally read the genre. The challenges that the twins face are well told, and the reaction their appearance sparks are conveyed well, although as the reader you will be offended by the prevailing belief that they are Godless and a monstrosity, and the fact that they were a ‘sight to see’ as opposed to always being appreciated for who they were and what they could accomplish. The historical notes at the back of the novel are also fascinating.

A truly heart-warming story.

Purchase Links

UK – https://www.amazon.co.uk/Maids-Biddenden-heart-warming-inspirational-12th-century-ebook/dp/B09ZBKX9S4/

US – https://www.amazon.com/Maids-Biddenden-heart-warming-inspirational-12th-century-ebook/dp/B09ZBKX9S4/

Meet the author

I became a full-time author in 2016, publishing three novels under the pen name GD Harper. I have been both a Wishing Shelf Book Award finalist and Red Ribbon winner, been shortlisted for the Lightship Prize, longlisted for the UK Novel Writing Award and longlisted for the Page Turner Writer Award. The Maids of Biddenden was a finalist in this year’s Page Turner Book Award for unpublished manuscripts, longlisted for the Exeter Book Prize and the Flash 500 Novel Award, and shortlisted for the Impress Prize. 

Connect with GD Harper

Facebook: @gdharperauthor

Twitter: @harper_author

Website: www.gdharper.com


Follow The Maids of Biddenden blog tour with Rachel’s Random Resources

Today, I’m excited to share a fab post by Tony Riches about his new book, Raleigh – Tudor Adventurer #BlogTour

Inspiration to write Raleigh – Tudor Adventurer.

Tudor adventurer, courtier, explorer and poet, Sir Walter Raleigh has been called the last true Elizabethan.

This journey began when I was researching for an historical novel about Henry Tudor, who like me was born in the town of Pembroke, Wales. I eventually uncovered enough original material to write three books, with Henry being born in the first, coming of age in the second and becoming King of England in the third. 

The result was my best-selling Tudor Trilogy, and I decided to continue the stories of the Tudors in a continuous line. I also made a conscious decision to tell the stories through those surrounding King Henry VIII and Queen Elizabeth I, so we see different facets of these complex rulers through the eyes of others.

For my Elizabethan series I chose three very different favourites of the queen, who each saw different sides of her personality. Sir Francis Drake showered her with gold and jewels, stolen from the Spanish, in return for the status he longed for. The Earl of Essex was like the errant son she never had, but Raleigh became her protector, Captain of the Guard, and lived to see the last days of the Tudor dynasty.

Many of the things I thought I knew about Walter Raleigh proved to be wrong. Raleigh is credited with introducing the potato and tobacco to Britain, but I’ve seen no evidence for either, or for the popular tale of a servant throwing water over him when he mistook the smoke from Raleigh’s pipe for a fire!


I followed Raleigh across the Irish Sea to the sleepy harbour at Youghal, where he had a house and became Mayor, as well as to the bustling city of Cork, where he served in the English Army of occupation. I also visited Raleigh’s house at Sherborne in Dorset, which still has many original features.

Sherborne Castle

My research uncovered a comprehensive collection of original letters and poetry written by Raleigh. As well as helping me understand his motivation, and the timeline of complex events, they also gave me a sense of his ‘voice’, and how he spoke to the queen and others of her court.

I relied on the comprehensive records of the Elizabethan Court, which set out events in fascinating detail.  I was also lucky to read ‘A Woman of Noble Wit’, a new novel by Rosemary Griggs, about Raleigh’s mother. This led me to explore Walter Raleigh’s relationship with his father, as well as his mother, an aspect of him largely ignored by historical biographers.

My hope is that Raleigh – Tudor Adventurer will help readers see beyond the myths and half-truths, and have a better understanding of the man who has been called the last true Elizabethan.

Thank you so much for sharing. Your research sounds fabulous, and I too am reading A Woman of Noble Wit. Good luck with the new release.

Here’s the blurb:

Tudor adventurer, courtier, explorer and poet, Sir Walter Raleigh has been called the last true Elizabethan.

He didn’t dance or joust, didn’t come from a noble family, or marry into one. So how did an impoverished law student become a favourite of the queen, and Captain of the Guard?

The story which began with the best-selling Tudor trilogy follows Walter Raleigh from his first days at the Elizabethan Court to the end of the Tudor dynasty.

Buy Links:

Available on #KindleUnlimited.

Universal Link

Amazon UK

Amazon US

Amazon CA

Amazon AU

Meet the author

Tony Riches is a full-time UK author of best-selling historical fiction. He lives in Pembrokeshire, West Wales and is a specialist in the lives of the Tudors. He also runs the popular ‘Stories of the Tudors’ podcast, and posts book reviews, author interviews and guest posts at his blog, The Writing Desk. For more information about Tony’s books please visit his website tonyriches.com and find him on Facebook and Twitter @tonyriches

Connect with Tony:


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Follow the blog tour for Raleigh: Tudor Adventurer by Tony Riches with The Coffee Pot Book Club