A Fiction Reading Year in Review – 2020

I know I won’t have been the only one to have struggled to find books engaging throughout 2020but there are two trends that have mainly characterised my reading throughout the year. I’ve either found myself in Early England (before 1066), or in the loving embrace of cosy 1920s murder mysteries. I don’t think it’s possible to get further apart.

But there are some books that have fallen outside of those two trends, and two of these books, have been my standout books of the year.

Anne O’Brien’s The Queen’s Rival was a true treat.

I was lucky enough to get an advanced copy from Netgalley so didn’t have to wait until the summer to enjoy it.

Here’s the blurb:

One family united by blood. Torn apart by war…

England, 1459: Cecily, Duchess of York, is embroiled in a plot to topple the weak-minded King Henry VI from the throne. But when the Yorkists are defeated at the Battle of Ludford Bridge, Cecily’s family flee and abandon her to face a marauding Lancastrian army on her own.

Cecily can only watch as her lands are torn apart and divided up by the ruthless Queen Marguerite. From the towers of her prison in Tonbridge Castle, the Duchess begins to spin a web of deceit – one that will eventually lead to treason, to the fall of King Henry VI, and to her eldest son being crowned King of England.

This is a story of heartbreak, ambition and treachery, of one woman’s quest to claim the throne during the violence and tragedy of the Wars of the Roses.”

I loved this book, and more than that, O’Brien’s choice to tell her story almost exclusively through letters inspired me when I was struggling to write Lady Estrid, and gave me a means to tell a complex family story. But, even without that, I highly recommend this book. Anne O’Brien tells engaging and captivating stories of England’s forgotten women, and that is just the sort of book that appeals to me.

It’s available now in ebook, audiobook and hardback, and when I wrote this, the ebook was only 99p, an absolute steal.

Next up on my list of excellent reads is Camelot by Giles Kristian.

Here’s the blurb:

Britain is a land riven by anarchy, slaughter, famine, filth and darkness. Its armies are destroyed, its heroes dead, or missing. Arthur and Lancelot fell in the last great battle and Merlin has not been these past ten years. But in a small, isolated monastery in the west of England, a young boy is suddenly plucked from his simple existence by the ageing warrior, Gawain. It seems he must come to terms with his legacy and fate as the son of the most celebrated yet most infamous of Arthur’s warriors: Lancelot. For this is the story of Galahad, Lancelot’s son – the reluctant warrior who dared to keep the dream of Camelot alive 

Camelot had a wonderful feel to it, and while, I wasn’t quite as enamoured of it as I was Lancelot, the sort-of prequel, I still can’t recommend it enough. The way Kristian evoked the Arthurian legend was amazing. No matter how much I ‘knew’ what was going to happen, I still wanted the characters to triumph, and that, was a little piece of genius.

Camelot is available now in hardback, ebook and audio book.

One thing I’ve noticed is that I really didn’t read a lot of fantasy this year, which is strange for me. When I did read, I found solace in some tried and tested favourites, Mark Lawrence’s The Girl and the Stars, Katharine Kerr’s return to Deverry with the wonderful Sword of Fire and Terry Pratchett – I’ve been trying to listen to some audiobooks, and although I’m still not sure I like it, I have found the Terry Pratchett audiobooks to be great entertainment, especially as I’ve read all the books in the past. I have the last book in Peter Newman’s Deathless Trilogy to read as well, but I’ve been saving it up because it’s going to be a real treat.

(I’ve just noticed that Mark Lawrence wrote a review for Sword of Fire on the cover. How funny. But, I’ve been a fan of Katharine Kerr for well over twenty years – maybe that’s why I like Mark Lawrence as he clearly is as well.)

But to return to historical fiction, I have stepped, just once or twice, further back in time than the Early English period to the Romans and the Greeks.

Sons of Rome by Turney and Doherty was a fantastic read, each author taking the part of one of two characters, interchanging their lives in a format that worked so well. I have book 2 to read now and I’m excited about that. And also The Gates of Rome by Conn Iggulden was a stellar read, and I’m still quite cross about the ending! He better put that right if there’s a sequel. I’m also going to give an honourable mention to Derek Birk’s Britannia World’s End. I really, really loved the first book. The second book was not quite as stellar but was still a welcome return to the characters from Book 1.

I’ve also taken on some beta reading projects this year, and have been really impressed by the quality of fiction that people are writing. I’ve been taken to Australia and New Zealand at the time of the gold rush, to Ancient Egypt, to Tudor England, 17th century Paris, 19th century Italy and now I find myself in 19th Century America. I hope these books are released and then I can share my reviews. I read books listed on Netgalley and also on The History Quill. If you love getting your mitts on books before they’re released, I highly recommend both of them, and The History Quill especially if you’re after fresh new voices in historical fiction.

But finally, I will mention the books I’ve read from the Early English period. I’ve not read as widely as I might have liked, but it can be hard to read what you’re writing about at the same time. I’ve spent some time with Matthew Harffy’s creations with Fortress of Fury and A Time For Swords. I’ve also returned to the world of Christine Hancock’s Bright Helm and I can assure that she has a new book, hopefully next year, which readers are going to really, really enjoy – a slight diversion from Byrhtnoth but still very much mentioning him. I’ve been lucky to read a really early copy of it, and I love it already. Bring it on!

I have the last Uhtred book to read, War Lord, but I’ve been saving it up for the holidays.

But, the thing that has really got me through the year has been a vast selection of murder mystery books. The majority have been set in the 1920s in the UK, but I have just discovered E M Powell’s Stanton and Barling mysteries set in the 1100s. These are so entertaining, if quite gory, and what I enjoy most about them, is I’ve never yet guessed who actually committed the murders! The same could be said for the Posey Parker mystery books by L B Hathaway which elevate the 1920s murder mystery to a whole new level. The Verity Kent murder mysteries are also excellent, and have a theme that runs through them all.

So, what I can take away from this is that much of the year has been spent reading cosy murder mysteries, although not many of them have been that cosy. It seems that I need a good mystery to help me unwind and one that’s not too gritty, and one that’s certainly set in the past.

Thank you to the authors who’ve kept me entertained this year, and happy reading everyone. I’m looking forward to more in 2021.

(This post contains Amazon Affiliate links.)

Welcome back to The Danish King’s Enemy – The Earls of Mercia Book II.

It’s taken a while, and the completely edited and slightly re-worked second book in The Earls of Mercia series has been available in paperback for about a year, but finally, I’ve had the ebook rights restored to me, and I’m able to share it with you all.

Now, I’ve changed the name again (I know, sorry) but it needed something to mark it as different from its two previous editions (Ealdormen and Viking Enemy) as it’s not quite the same book it used to be. It’s better – infinitely better – and more importantly for me, and hopefully for my readers, it now ‘fits’ much better with the stories I’ve written about Lady Elfrida. I’d made brief mention of her when I initially wrote the book, but I needed to bring her into it more, and indeed, I’ve done just that.

So, a new cover, a new title, and some additional bits and a few bits taken out, but still, Ealdorman Leofwine and his trusty allies, taking on King Æthelred, King Swein of Denmark and the rest of the ealdormen in England.

I hope you enjoy, and if you happen to fancy popping a review on the new edition, that would help me hugely. Thank you. Happy reading.

Here’s the blurb;

“Every story has a beginning.

Leofwine has convinced his king to finally face his enemies in battle and won a great victory, but in the meantime, events have spiralled out of control elsewhere.

With the death of Olaf Tryggvason of Norway, England has lost an ally, and Leofwine has gained an enemy. And not just any enemy. Swein is the king of Denmark, and he has powerful resources at his fingertips.

In a unique position with the king, Leofwine is either honoured or disrespected. Yet, it is to Leofwine that the king turns to when an audacious attack is launched against the king’s mother and his children. But Leofwine’s successes only bring him more under the scrutiny of King Swein of Denmark, and his own enemies at the king’s court.

With an increase in Raider attacks, it is to Leofwine that the king turns once more. However, the king has grown impatient with his ealdorman, blaming him for Swein’s close scrutiny of the whole of England. Can Leofwine win another victory for his king, or does he risk losing all that he’s gained?

The Danish King’s Enemy is the second book in the epic Earls of Mercia series charting the last century of Early England, as seen through the eyes of Ealdorman Leofwine, the father of Earl Leofric, later the Earl of Mercia, and ally of Lady Elfrida, England’s first queen.”

The reworked and edited book 1 – The Earl of Mercia’s Father is available in paperback. Hopefully, I’ll get the ebook rights restored to me in 2021.

And book X, The English King, will release on 28th January 2021.

Until them, I am running lots of promotions on the Earls of Mercia books so have a look each week.

(This blog post contains Amazon Affiliate links).

To celebrate the release of The Last Enemy, my interviewer unexpectedly caught up with Rudolf, a member of the king’s warband.

Ere, what you up to?

Oh, hello, I’m here to interview King Coelwulf about his latest book.

Really, I wouldn’t think he’d do that. He’s make some excuse about having no time, or some such. Oh wait, did Lady Cyneswith set this up?

Yes, she did, and I’ve already spoken to her. But tell me, do you know the king? You seem to know who everyone is.

Of course I do. I’m Rudolf. His old squire, and now member of his warband. Why?

Would you like to talk to us about his latest book?

Well, I suppose I have the time. If you’re quick, and I don’t get caught. I’m supposed to be showing young Hiltiberht the ropes, and Haden can be a real handful.

Tell me, what’s King Coelwulf like? As a warrior?

Bloody lethal. You don’t want to be facing off against him. I’ve never seen anyone kill so quickly. And the moves he can do? I wish I had even half of his skill. I mean, he says I’m a good warrior and all, but I make up for my lack of skill with speed. And he doesn’t have that because he’s so bloody …. Um, because he doesn’t need to do that. Sometimes, I swear the enemy make it look so easy it’s as though they’re falling onto his seax or sword.

He’s quite good then?

Better than good. I’ve never seen anyone fight the way he does. Well, apart from Icel, and Edmund, and maybe Hereman. But, certainly, the Raiders stand no chance against him.

I hear he even camps in the woodlands and forests? It’s not really the sort of thing a king should do, is it?

Now, you see here. He was a warrior long before he was king. King Coelwulf only has one aim, to kill all the Raiders. To drive them from Mercia and make sure they don’t come back. He’s not into all that fancy clothes, and court etiquette, or sleeping in a bed of silk sheets. They’d be too damn cold, anyway. He’s told me. No, the king of Mercia is a damn warrior, and the only man capable of defeating the Raiders, and the Welsh, if it comes to it. 

And, have you read the new book?

Got no time for reading. I’m sure King Coelwulf told you that, and he’s right. I’d like a good night’s sleep without interruption more than I’d like to read a book. Maybe a scop could tell the tale. But, that would be Edmund and I’d have to listen to him tell the tale. He’s good, of course he’s good, but he probably wouldn’t mention me as much as I might like.

To all the young lads who do read the book, what would your advice be? How could they get into King Coelwulf’s warband?

Well, they should probably have joined it a while ago, and at the moment, there’s a few squires that need training up, so there’s no room, not for a while. So, I’d tell them to wait, and while they’re waiting, learn a few things, like how to clean saddles and seaxs. It’s a mucky job, but someone’s got to do it. And with King Coelwulf, you’ve got to earn his respect first. And then, well, once you’ve got it, you’ve got to keep it. A hard man, but a great man. Mercians should be pleased with their king. He’ll keep them safe, or he’ll die trying. You didn’t find the old king doing that. Far from it in fact. He’s scuttled off to Rome, or somewhere like that. Gone to pray for his soul. He’s got a lot to need forgiveness for, abandoning his kingdom like that.

Oh, sorry, I’ve got to go. 

And there you have it. A few words from Rudolf, King Coelwulf’s old squire. I hear he fights incredibly well, and offers some important advice for any would be members of the king’s warband.

If you haven’t read my earlier interview with King Coelwulf, then you can find it here. And I also interviewed his Aunt, which can be found here.

The Last Enemy is available now in ebook and paperback from Amazon.

Connect with me on twitter, or join my mailing list.

(This blog post contains Amazon affiliate links)

Welcome to the blog tour for Matthew Harffy’s new release, A Time for Swords

Here’s the blurb;

“Lindisfarne, AD793. The life of a novice monk will be changed forever when the Vikings attack in a new historical adventure from Matthew Harffy.

There had been portents – famine, whirlwinds, lightning from clear skies, serpents seen flying through the air. But when the raiders came, no one was prepared.

They came from the North, their dragon-prowed longships gliding out of the dawn mist as they descended on the kingdom’s most sacred site.

It is 8th June AD793, and with the pillage of the monastery on Lindisfarne, the Viking Age has begun.

While his fellow monks flee before the Norse onslaught, one young novice stands his ground. He has been taught to turn the other cheek, but faced with the slaughter of his brothers and the pagan desecration of his church, forgiveness is impossible.

Hunlaf soon learns that there is a time for faith and prayer… and there is a time for swords.”

REVIEW

A Time for Swords is an attempt to retell the story of England’s first recorded Raider (Viking) attack on Lindisfarne which is confidently dated to AD793.

It is an event that demands to be written about, and the beginning of A Time For Swords, which recounts the attack, is thrilling. Our young hero, Hunlaf, is caught up in the attack, but lives to see another day. Others are not as fortunate.

The story progresses at a steady pace, as the shock waves of the attack begin to be felt throughout the kingdom of Northumbria, and people react to the news in different ways. The addition of a captured Norse Raider, Runolf, with his strict code of honour, adds an intriguing dimension to the story, allowing the author to confidently state that the attack on Lindisfarne will not be a singular occurrence, and that the people of Northumbria need to be prepared for such.

Much of the action takes place not at Lindisfarne, but rather at Werceworthe, (Warkworth) which happens to be about 5 miles down the road from where I live. This made the story feel immediate, perhaps helped by a long-ago Sunday afternoon row down the Cocueda (Coquet) River.

I thoroughly enjoyed A Time For Swords. The opening scenes are particularly well told, and the eventual battle, when it comes, makes clever use of the physical landscape of Warkworth.

Thank you to Netgalley and the publisher for my review copy.

A Time for Swords is now available in ebook format, and is available from here. (Isn’t the cover fantastic?)

About the author

Matthew Harffy grew up in Northumberland where the rugged terrain, ruined castles and rocky coastline had a huge impact on him. He now lives in Wiltshire, England, with his wife and their two daughters. 

Connect with Matthew here: Twitter, Website

And check out reviews of previous books by Matthew Harffy here.

The Wolf of Wessex

Fortress of Fury

Follow Aries

Twitter: @AriesFiction

Facebook: Aries Fiction

Website: http://www.headofzeus.com

Lady Estrid is on ‘tour’ with the Coffee Pot Book Club – check out the posts so far

Lady Estrid has taken herself on tour with the fabulous Coffee Pot Book Club. She what she’s been up to, and thank you to everyone for hosting her, and the Coffee Pot Book Club for arranging.

November 2nd Mary’s Tavern (Excerpt)

November 9th Gwendalyn’s Books (Review)

November 16th Judith Arnopp’s Official Blog (Excerpt)

November 23rd Brook Allen’s Official Blog (All about the historical Lady Estrid)

November 30th Sylv.Net (Excerpt)

December 7th Madwoman in the Attic (Review)

December 14th Elizabeth St John’s Official Blog (Interview)

December 21st Let the Words Shine (Five facts you didn’t know about me)

December 28th Candlelight Reading (Excerpt)

January 4th The Writing Desk (Letter writing in the eleventh century)

Lady Estrid is available now in ebook and paperback.

Thank you to all the hosts for allowing Lady Estrid onto their blogs, and to The Coffee Pot Book Club for being so, so, so good at organising everything. Thank you.

(This post contains Amazon affiliate links, which means that at no cost to you, Amazon rewards me.)

Welcome to today’s stop on the ‘Fire and Ash’ blog tour by Thomas J Berry

Today, I’m delighted to be hosting the Fire and Ash blog tour by Thomas J Berry, and I’ll be sharing an exciting excerpt from the book. But first, the details.

Here’s the blurb:

“Five men and women in Ancient Greece are set on a dangerous journey of self-discovery during the bitter conflict of the Peloponnesian War.

While mighty Athens struggles to rebuild after a devastating campaign abroad, the feared warriors of Sparta prepare to deliver the final blow in a decades long war. No one is safe anymore as the conflict shifts across the Aegean to the shores of wealthy Persia. Old colonies, once loyal to Athens, are eager to rebel and the Great King is willing to pay anything to regain his control over them. These coastal plains set the stage for massive battles and heartbreaking defeats. This time there will be only one true victor.

The news coming out of Sicily ripples across the cities of Ancient Greece like a thunderbolt and it is left to the poor and desperate to pick up the pieces of their shattered lives. One young mother is suddenly faced with a horrible tragedy and struggles against all odds to make a new life for her family. An eager boy looking for adventure enlists in the new Athenian ranks but finds life on campaign a lot more than he bargained for. A Spartan officer in the twilight of his years struggles to adapt to a young man’s army and an exiled Athenian strives to earn his way back into the graces of his beloved city. The harem girls in a Persian court meet a handsome foreigner and one risks everything for a chance at love.

As the conflict between Athens and Sparta builds to a final showdown, five men and women struggle to come to terms with their changing world. What will they find in the ashes when peace finally comes?”

But enough of that. Here’s the excerpt,

“A few moments later, the tent flap opened, and two figures entered. Memo looked up and smiled at the newcomers. Doro and Three-Fingers stood before him looking a bit anxious. 

“What’s wrong, fellas? You look like death warmed over.”

“We saw Alcibiades this morning, but he left before we could talk to him,” Fingers stated simply. “Hadn’t heard from the man in years.”

“I spoke with him briefly,” Memo admitted. “But I had to practically throw myself in his path.”

“We noticed you bent his ear a bit,” Doro said enviously. “What did he say? How does he account for himself these days?”

“He and Timandra keep to themselves at Pactye,” Memo explained. “The Thracians are his only friends up in that region.”

“Is that all he said?” Doro asked, sounding a little disappointed. 

“Well, he did mention something, but it’s probably not important.”

“Spill it,” Fingers said. “Where Alcibiades is concerned, nothing should be overlooked. He’s a military genius and you know it.”

Memo looked at his friends. “He thinks the Spartans are playing us. Last night, after we retired from the straits, he spotted a pair of their ships lagging behind their main body. They weren’t aggressive, just…hanging out, watching us. He thinks they were spying on our movements for some reason.”

“Lysander doesn’t want to do anything but watch these days! It’s driving me crazy,” Fingers retorted in disgust. 

“They can look at us all they want as long as they keep their distance,” Doro muttered. Then he laughed loudly. “Perhaps they wanted to join us for supper!” 

“Did he mention this to the Generals?” Three-Fingers inquired. 

“I don’t think so. I was close enough to hear much of their exchange and I wrote it down so the Council will receive a report on his surprise visit. I’m sure they’d be interested in hearing what he’s been doing.”

They talked for a little longer but soon Doro and Three-Fingers departed, ready to board Twisted River, a newer trireme captured from the Chians a few months ago. He knew their attitude toward the Spartan leadership was common among the crews. Lysander had developed a reputation as a skilled commander, yet he had turned passive since the Athenians arrived on the scene. 

Konon was due back today and perhaps he’d bring some good news with him. Perhaps even a letter from home if my wife was able to get a note off. He had last seen Alexandra when he returned to state his case at the trial of the Generals a year ago. It had been a quick visit, but he had tried to make the most of it. She was 37, nine years his junior, and had spent much of the last decade raising their three children without him. He told himself he was simply doing his part for the war effort. Such excuses rang hollow, however, when he finally saw his 21 year-old-son or his two daughters and wondered where the time had gone.

Julius had matured in many ways, he noticed, especially his height. The young man stood just over six feet tall and could wield a sword and shield if he was pressed into service but preferred more skilled vocations. On his last visit, Memo learned about his legal appointment in the capital. His son was crafting bills and helping to defend poor folk in drafty, marble courtrooms. He was proud of the young man Julius had become and was chagrined at not being there to see him grow up.

Life had changed little for his two youngest. Eurynome was 11 this year and Rhea nine. They spent most days helping their mother and the two family slaves with household chores. Nomy enjoyed working the loom but hated the smell of fresh dye while the little one was being tutored in herbal remedies and poultices by an old practitioner. When this blasted war is over, he thought, I’ll be able to return home and become a father to them once more.

Despite the hardships, he knew his family fared better than most. His own father had been a respected diplomat in the city and accumulated a substantial house, servants, and investments before he passed away years ago. Alexandra now lived frugally off the interest his estate provided and the funds Memo send her from his pay. Somehow, she made it all work, but he knew it wasn’t easy.

He rose from his table and walked outside to a lonely camp. Most of the men were now at sea in one of the 180 warships lined up against their Spartan adversaries. Tydeus was a conservative type but that wasn’t surprising. Most of the democrats had lost their lives on the tympanon boards. There weren’t many to choose from when the city finally cooled off and started looking for replacements.

It seemed ironic how quickly the Assembly had a change of heart after the executions. With their bloodlust satiated for the moment, they realized they needed new leadership for the large fleet still in Persian waters. Konon was the obvious choice but he couldn’t, and shouldn’t, do it alone. Tydeus was sent forth, together with Menandros, Philokles, and Adeimantos. In true democratic fashion, the five generals were instructed to alternate command between themselves daily to avoid a concentration of power. It was an interesting experiment, Memo thought, but it had its drawbacks.

Tydeus possessed a calm, steady demeanor while Philokles had earned an ignoble reputation with both friend and foe. At the beginning of the summer, he had captured two Chian vessels and threw the crews overboard, drowning hundreds of men. A few years earlier, he made a motion before the Council that all prisoners of war should have their right thumb cut off so they will never pick up a sword against Athens again. Fortunately, the resolution was not passed for it could have led to similar retribution against their own soldiers captured in the field. 

As the ships returned that evening with nothing to show for their efforts but empty bellies, Memo met his companions as they disembarked along the sandy beaches. The Twisted River had backed into its position and was lifted onto four logs to dry out overnight. The constant patrol on the water this week had further aggravated some warping along the starboard side and the Captain wanted to add more tar to its hull after the men took their meal. As thousands of sailors started up the narrow paths leading towards distant towns and markets, the work remained unfinished. It would be well after dark before they returned.

The following morning, Memo greeted Konon as he emerged from the officer’s pavilion. His flagship, the Equinox, was being prepped for a day at sea and would join the rest of the armada as they faced off once more against the Spartans. The men were growing hungrier by the day, with little to find away from camp and few provisions coming down from Sestos. He asked the General when things were going to change but he only got a non-committal response.

“Philokles is in command today and I will leave that decision to him,” Konon replied casually. He had eaten his fill at Sestos the night before, so hunger was not a paramount issue at the moment. If Lysander wanted to delay battle, Konon had no objection. He had all the time in the world.

Memo spent the day writing formal letters to the city governor at Byzantium, two island towns bordering on revolution, and a daily report of the fleet’s activities, or lack thereof, in the Hellespont. The Council would soon tire of the General’s patient attitude and force Konon to use his superior numbers for what they were intended. Crush the Spartans and force them to retreat from the region. He added one last letter to the pile as well, a personal note to Alexandra. He smiled as he sat back in his chair. Regular correspondence with family back home was just one of the perks of his job. 

The sun was falling from the sky at a slow but steady rate. Helios was guiding his golden chariot towards the western horizon and soon Doro and Three-Fingers would meet him for their evening walk into Sestos. He hated the journey. It was ten miles overland and it took them almost three hours to cross through the deep streams, grassy plains, and thick underbrush to reach the markets before they closed for the day. 

He looked out across the water and saw the vessels approaching at a leisurely rate. There were 180 triremes on the water today, including the state ship, Paralus, which had arrived from the capital two days before. It was meant to ferry important dignitaries around and serve as the official ambassador of the empire. Its presence here meant only one thing. Athens was watching Konon’s activities with great interest.

Memo crossed his arms and gazed across the waters, but shadows obscured the distant port of Lampsacus on the opposite coast. He wondered if the two ships Alcibiades had reported were still watching them. Maybe there was a simple answer for it. As the Twisted River was pulled up along the beach next to dozens of other warships, Memo put it out of his mind. His friends disembarked and they headed off through the brush towards the markets at Sestos.

Ten minutes later, he heard a distant shout and turned his head back towards the camp for a second. As he did so, his eyes widened in abject terror. The horizon was full of warships, rowing like the very demon dog of Hades was chasing them. And they were heading straight for the Athenian beach!”

Curious? Then you’ll be pleased to know that the book is available now, using the links below.

Amazon UK • Amazon US • Amazon CA • Amazon AU • BookLocker

Meet the Author

Thomas Berry received a Bachelor of Arts degree in Philosophy from St. Bonaventure University.  He takes pleasure in extensively researching both historical fiction and non-fiction stories.  In his spare time, he enjoys long distance running and has completed several marathons.  He currently lives with his wife and children in New Jersey.  You can learn more about Thomas and his historical novels at his website, www.thomas-berry.com.

Connect with Thomas Berry

Twitter • Instagram • Goodreads

(Thank you to Coffee Pot Book Club Tours @maryanneyarde)

Book Review – The Canterbury Murders by E.M.Powell – historical murder mystery

Here’s the blurb;

Easter, 1177. Canterbury Cathedral, home to the tomb of martyr Saint Thomas Becket, bears the wounds of a terrible fire. Benedict, prior of the great church, leads its rebuilding. But horror interrupts the work. One of the stonemasons is found viciously murdered, the dead man’s face disfigured by a shocking wound.

When King’s clerk Aelred Barling and his assistant, Hugo Stanton, arrive on pilgrimage to the tomb, the prior orders them to investigate the unholy crime.

But the killer soon claims another victim–and another. As turmoil embroils the congregation, the pair of sleuths face urgent pressure to find a connection between the killings.

With panic on the rise, can Barling and Stanton catch the culprit before evil prevails again—and stop it before it comes for them?

THE CANTERBURY MURDERS is the third book in E.M. Powell’s Stanton and Barling medieval murder mystery series. Combining intricate plots, shocking twists and a winning–if unlikely–pair of investigators, this series is perfect for fans of Ellis Peters’ Brother Cadfael or C. J. Sansom’s Shardlake.

This is the first of the Stanton and Barling Mysteries that I’ve read, and I will certainly be going back to the first two books.

The Canterbury Murders is a well constructed and intriguing murder-mystery. The main characters of Stanton and Barling are as unlike as chalk and cheese, and I really enjoyed how they clashed with one another, even though they were working towards the same outcome, of solving the mystery.

The peripheral characters are well sketched, and there were times when I was convinced I knew who the murderer was only to discover I was wrong, and when the big reveal came, it was satisfying, and more importantly, made perfect sense.

This was a very well executed and thoroughly entertaining tale and I look forward to more of the same in the future. I’ve already ordered books 1 and 2.

Thank you to Netgalley and the Publisher for my review copy.

The Canterbury Murders is available now;

Connect with E M Powell here. Twitter Website

To celebrate the release of The Last Enemy, my interviewer caught up with Lady Cyneswith.

I’m very honoured to have caught a few moments with Lady Cyneswith, the aunt of King Coelwulf. Thank you for finding the time to speak to me.

“Well, I’m sure you’ve discovered that my nephew is a very busy man, a bit rough around the edges some times, and so I’m delighted to speak with you on his behalf, smooth away any ruffles he might have caused.

Yes, I confess, I had noticed that he was short on time when I tried to speak with him earlier.

Short on time, and economical with his words. He is the king, you know, but of course, his priorities are with defeating the Raiders. I think there are those who don’t quite appreciate the persistence of the enemy. It takes a strong and decisive leader to defeat them, and we should be pleased to have one. Much better than our previous king, who gave up Mercia in exchange for his life. Shocking.

I speak for the whole of Mercia when I say we are so pleased to have such a man leading us. Some new, vigourous, blood was needed to ensure Mercia stayed together.

Our previous king, Burgred, was not blessed with the military requirements for the post. But then, I won’t be alone in believing that Burgred should never have been king. He only achieved what he did because of the manipulation of the natural right of succession.

So, you believe that all the kings since King Coelwulf, first of his name, were usurpers?

I make no bones about that. Mercia wouldn’t be in such peril if my family line had retained their hold on power, as they should have done. But, now is not the time to dwell on that. It’s important to think of the future, and of what is yet to be achieved, but which will be, and soon.

I asked King Coelwulf if had a few words to explain why people should read the latest book.

I imagine he said something along the lines of, ‘I don’t have time for reading, so I wouldn’t.’ And, of course, he means that, but it is difficult for him to appreciate the fascination others have with what he’s trying to achieve. So, I would say, read it and discover just what risks your king, and his warriors and ealdormen are making to ensure Mercia’s freedom. Read it, and understand the peril and take steps to ensure your freedom as well. 

And, have you read the latest book?

I have yes, and I’m pleased to say there’s a slightly bigger part for me in, than usual. Of course, it’s difficult with all the fighting to find room for the women of Mercia, but I’m sure that one day, in the not too distant future, Mercia will have female warriors to keep her safe. After all, anyone can learn to chop off someone’s head, or slice them through the neck, the skill, of course, is in staying alive afterwards.

Um, yes, quite. Thank you for that. I wondered if I could get a few words from you about King Alfred of Wessex.

No, not really. I don’t speak about neighbouring kings, and I’ve never met the man. Now, if you asked me about the king of Gwent, then I might have something to say about him, but you haven’t, and so, I don’t.

Could I ask you about the language used in the book? It’s quite strong in places.

While I have no particular need to hear such words, I can well appreciate that, on occasion, they might be warranted. After all, our king and his warriors are risking their lives every time they enter a battle against our enemy. I put it down to the rush of adrenaline, and hope everyone else does the same.

I asked King Coelwulf about his warriors, do you have any particular favourite amongst them?

I take pride in teaching all of the men some simple techniques to treat wounds received in battle. It’s important to know how to heal as well as to maim. My favourites are obviously those who listen carefully and learn what I teach them. 

Thank you for taking the time to speak with me.

It is of course, my pleasure, and my duty, as the king’s sole surviving relative. Under his leadership, Mercia will once more be great again.

And there you have it. An interesting interview with Lady Cyneswith, a most formidable woman. I should think she’d be as lethal on the battlefield as her nephew is proving to be.  If you haven’t read my earlier interview with King Coelwulf, then you can find it here.

The Last Enemy is available now in ebook and paperback from Amazon.

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Today is the release day for The Last Enemy, and my interviewer caught up with King Coelwulf to talk about it.

A few weeks ago, I was granted exclusive access to King Coelwulf, to talk about his new book, The Last Enemy. Here’s what the enigmatic king of Mercia had to say.

King Coelwulf, thanks for allowing me entry into your stronghold at Northampton. It’s quite interesting to be at the heart of the Mercian defence against the Raiders. Now, can you tell me why people should want to read the fourth book about you, The Last Enemy?

“Well, I’m not saying that they will. I mean, if they’re like me, then they probably don’t have time to be reading a story. I’ve got bodies to bury, Raiders to hunt down, and a kingdom to rule. I would tell anyone to spend their time more wisely than reading a book. That sort of thing is for the monks and the clerics, not warriors trying to defend a kingdom.”

Ah, well, in that case, thank you for finding the time to speak to me.

“I didn’t have much choice. Or rather, I was advised it would be a good use of my time, by my Aunt, Lady Cyneswith.”

Well, Lady Cyneswith is a wise woman, and I’m grateful that she’s encouraged you to speak to me.

“She is a highly intelligent woman. Braver than many men when it comes to the Raiders, and skilled when it comes to healing injuries of the body, as well as the mind.”

And her dogs have very interesting names, what was it again? Wiglaf and Berhtwulf, surely the names of old Mercian kings? Men who usurped the ruling line from your family?

“Oh really. I’d never realised. Funny, that.”

Ah, well, moving on, could you tell me about your new book? I’m sure my readers would love to hear about it.

“Nothing to say really. Same old, same old. Raiders to evade, Raiders to find, Raiders to kill, a kingdom to keep whole. It’s a grand old bloody mess. I swear, I’ve barely managed to scrub the grime and body fluids from my sword and seax. Or rather, Wulfhere has. He’s a good lad. Quick on his feet. He’s one of my squires. Couldn’t do it without him.

That’s interesting that you should mention your squire, did you say? I wouldn’t have expected you to even know the lad’s name. After all, you are the king of Mercia, surely your squire is beneath you. Are there any more of your warriors you’d like to mention by name?

“Of course there are. I’d name them all if I had the time, which I don’t, just to make you aware. I’ve got to go to a crown-wearing ceremony shortly. But, I’ll mention a few, just to keep you happy. And you should know that no man is ever above knowing the names of those who serve him. Remember that. 

But, I’ll mention some of my warriors by name. If only because it’ll infuriate some of them. Edmund, he’s my right-hand man, a skilled warrior, missing an eye these days, but it’s not stopped him, not at all. His brother, Hereman. Well, where do I start? Hereman does things no one would consider, in the heat of battle, and he’s a lucky b……. man, sorry, he’s a lucky man. And then there’s Icel. He’s lived through more battles than any of the rest of my warriors. I almost pity the Raiders who come against him. None of them live for much longer. 

And Pybba. You know, he fights one handed now, and the Raiders seem to think he’s easy picking, but he’s not. Not at all. And, I can’t not mention Rudolf. He’s the youngest of my warriors, but his skill is phenomenal, not that you can tell him that. Cheeky b……, sorry cheeky young man. But, all of my warriors are good men, and we mourn them when they fall in battle, but more importantly, we avenge them all. All of them. No Raider should take the life of a Mercian without realising they’ve just ensured their own death.

Yes, I’ve heard that you avenge your men, with quite bloody means. And Edmund, there’s a suggestion that he’s a scop, a man who commits the deeds of the fallen to words? That fascinates me, as someone who also makes a living from using words.

“Well, Edmund has some small skills with words, but he honours our fallen warriors by weaving them into the song of my warriors. In fifty years, when we’re all dead and gone, our legend will live on, thanks to Edmund, and his words.

Can I ask you about Alfred, in Wessex? Have you met him? Do you think he’s doing a good job in keeping the Raiders out of Wessex?

“I’ve never met him. Couldn’t say either way. It’s not for me to comment on a fellow king. We’re all after the same thing. Kill the f……, sorry, kill the b……., sorry, kill the enemy. All of them, until Mercia is safe once more. And Wessex, if you’re from there.”

Well, it looks like you’re needed. Is that your crown?

“Yes, and now I need to go and perform some ceremonial task. It’ll take a long time, no doubt. Make sure you have an escort when you leave here. I wouldn’t put it passed the f……, sorry, the Raiders, to be keeping a keen eye on the bridge over the Nene. 

Thank you for your concern, and yes, I’ll make sure I do. Good luck with the new book.

“I don’t need luck. I just need to kill all the b……., sorry, Raiders. 

As you can tell, King Coelwulf was a very busy man. But his new book, The Last Enemy, is well worth a read. Bloody, brutal, just like the man himself, but I found him to be honourable and worthy of leading the Mercians against our persistent enemy. Long live the king.

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Book Review – A Lady’s Guide to Mischief and Mayhem by Manda Collins – historical who-done-it

Here’s the blurb;

An intrepid female reporter matches wits with a serious, sexy detective in award-winning author Manda Collins’ fun and flirty historical romcom, perfect for readers of Evie Dunmore, Julia Quinn Tessa Dare and Netflix’s Enola Holmes!

Of all the crime scenes in all the world, she walks into his. Twice.

England, 1865: Notorious newspaper columnist Lady Katherine Bascomb is determined to educate the ladies of London on the nefarious criminals who are praying on the fairer sex. But when her reporting leads to the arrest of an infamous killer, Katherine flees to a country house party to escape her doubts about the case – only to become witness to a murder herself! When the lead detective accuses Katherine of inflaming – rather than informing – the public with her column, she vows to prove him wrong.

Detective Inspector Andrew Eversham’s refusal to compromise his investigations nearly cost him his career, and he blames Katherine. When he discovers she’s the key witness in a new crime, he’s determined to prevent the beautiful widow from once again wreaking havoc on his case. Yet as Katherine proves surprisingly insightful and Andrew impresses Katherine with his lethal competency, both are forced to admit the fire between them is more flirtatious than furious. But to explore the passion between them, they’ll need to catch a killer . . 

A Lady’s Guide to Mischief and Mayhem grabbed my attention due to the title and the cover. It sounded like a light-hearted, fun read, and in many respects, it was.

Lady Katherine is an engaging character, and with much of the story told from her perspective, we get to know her quite well, although some of her true nature is hidden behind the Victorian facade of never showing emotions. The addition of the story-line being told from the perspective of Inspector Eversham adds an entirely different dimension to the story – that of a more disciplined police officer, although it slips quite quickly.

The beginning of the book takes place in London, and I fully expected the action to remain there, but we are abruptly whisked away to the Lake District where the crimes take on an even more sinister nature, and become somewhat more personal.

The author excels here at producing quite a complex case for the main characters to unravel and it did hook me. There were points where I was convinced I had worked out what was happening, only to be wrong. The budding romance between Lady Katherine and Inspector Eversham does feel a little rushed and there were moments where I might have liked more plot development, but overall, it was a fun and reasonably light-hearted read, not because of the content, but because of the way Lady Katherine insists on solving the mystery of who the murderer is.

Thank you to the publisher and Netgalley for my review copy.

A Lady’s Guide to Mischief and Mayhem is available now.