I’m delighted to welcome a returning Helen Hollick and her new mystery, A Mistake of Murder #CosyMystery #MurderMysterySeries #BlogTour #TheCoffeePotBookClub

Here’s the blurb

The third Jan Christopher Cosy Mystery

Was murder deliberate – or a tragic mistake?

January 1972. The Christmas and New Year holiday is over and it is time to go back to work. Newly engaged to Detective Sergeant Laurence Walker, library assistant Jan Christopher is eager to show everyone her diamond ring, and goes off on her scheduled round to deliver library books to the housebound – some of whom she likes; some, she doesn’t.

She encounters a cat in a cupboard, drinks several cups of tea… and loses her ring.
When two murders are committed, can Jan help her policeman uncle, DCI Toby Christopher and her fiancé, Laurie, discover whether murder was a deliberate deed – or a tragic mistake?

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Meet Helen Hollick

First accepted for traditional publication in 1993, Helen became a USA Today Bestseller with her historical novel, The Forever Queen (titled A Hollow Crown in the UK) with the sequel, Harold the King (US: I Am The Chosen King) being novels that explore the events that led to the Battle of Hastings in 1066. 

Her Pendragon’s Banner Trilogy is a fifth-century version of the Arthurian legend, and she writes a nautical adventure/fantasy series, The Sea Witch Voyages. She has also branched out into the quick read novella, ‘Cosy Mystery’ genre with her Jan Christopher Murder Mysteries, set in the 1970s, with the first in the series, A Mirror Murderincorporating her, often hilarious, memories of working as a library assistant.

Her non-fiction books are Pirates: Truth and Tales and Life of A Smuggler. She lives with her family in an eighteenth-century farmhouse in North Devon, England, and occasionally gets time to write…

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Check out Helen’s previous post.

Today, I’m delighted to welcome Trish MacEnulty and her The Whispering Women to the blog #historicalfiction #historicalmysteries #BlogTour #TheCoffeePotBookClub

I’m delighted to welcome Trish MacEnulty to the blog with a guest post about her books.

Lesbians in the Early 20th Century — Branded as Deviants and Sometimes Jailed!

In my series, the Delafield & Malloy Investigations, one of my main characters — Ellen Malloy, an Irish immigrant — is a lesbian. As soon as she appeared on the page, she let me know in no uncertain terms that the expectation of marriage was the main reason she had left Ireland to become a servant for a wealthy family in Manhattan. Well, that didn’t work out either, but eventually she found her way and fell in love with a suffragist. 

What would life be like for a lesbian in New York in 1913? I had no idea. The lives of gay men and the indignities they suffered in the late 19th and early 20th centuries has been widely documented — Oscar Wilde made sure of that! All the while, lesbians unobtrusively managed to find love and companionship in spite of the fact that their existence was rarely acknowledged. 

In her fascinating academic tome, A Novel Approach to Lesbian History, Linda Garber writes “The historical records, if they exist at all, frustrate as often as they inform. Spotty, written by men, open to multiple interpretations—traces of a recognizably lesbian past run aground on the rocky shoals of the history of sexuality itself.” (3)

Fortunately, in the early 20th Century, the Bohemians of Greenwich Village had the freedom to live ‘unconventional’ lifestyles somewhat openly. In the Village, tea rooms provided space for women to meet each other away from the disapproving eye of society. On a recent tour of Greenwich Village with the Bowery Boys, I was shown one of the basement entrances for a former tea room. In those days, according to legend, it bore a sign that read, “Men are admitted but not welcome.”

Picture of basement, photo by me

Of course, the police knew about these places. In her autobiography, Mary Sullivan, one of the first police matrons to do actual police work, wrote, “A few tearooms run by women with a fondness for college girl patronage really were a menace…”

She added, “One of the most difficult types of degenerate with whom we have to deal is the woman with homosexual tendencies.” The police department received a complaint about “indecent literature” on sale in one of the tea rooms and a proprietess who “tried to entice girl students from a nearby college.” So Sullivan and one of her female colleagues set out to entrap the proprietess.

They visited the tea room, and the other police woman accepted a date from the proprietess, a woman named Billie. After trying to kiss the woman while on their date, Billie was arrested and then convicted of “disorderly conduct and distributing obscene literature.” She was sentenced to six months in the workhouse. Her tea room was closed. (Interestingly, this is the same scenario which happened later to activist Eve Adams; it may be the stories are conflated.)

Sullivan didn’t think jailing women with “homosexual tendencies” was the solution, however. “There is no doubt in my mind that they should be treated primarily as medical and psychiatric cases, though we still have to learn about the method of treatment.” Well, we all know where that eventually led: the horrors of conversion therapy!

picture of Sullivan’s book, photo by me

Not all lesbians kept quiet or hid their preferences. Polish-born Eve Adams arrived in New York in 1912 when she was twenty years old. In 1925, she wrote and published a book called Lesbian Love “for private circulation only.” Two years later she was arrested for obscenity and disorderly conduct and deported. 

There’s an excellent book about Adams, titled The Daring Life and Dangerous Times of Eve Adams by Jonathan Ned Katz. In 1912, according to Katz, the term lesbian did not always signify a sexual relationship between women. It could simply refer to a community of women. For example, a women’s college newspaper in Maryland was called the Lesbian Herald. From everything I’ve read, the common term, at the time, for gays and lesbians was “invert.” 

With this and other research in hand, I felt I could do justice to Ellen’s story in her quest for love and fulfillment. This scene is the moment Ellen first sees the women with whom she later falls in love in The Whispering Women as she is looking through the window of a teahouse in Greenwich Village: 

“The tables were occupied by women of various ages and classes who seemed engrossed in conversations. One woman in particular caught her eye. She looked to be in her late twenties, big boned with a narrow face, an affable smile, and big brown eyes under thick eyebrows. Ellen could tell by her tailored gray jacket she had money, but she wasn’t showy. A strand of pearls hung carelessly around her neck. A feeling swept over Ellen like a dull ache — the kind of ache you don’t want to stop. The woman laughed at something her companion said. Ellen swiveled her head to look at the companion. Small, blond, and delicately holding her tea cup. When the woman with the pearls got up to get some more tea, Ellen saw the blond woman glance out the window and wave a handkerchief. Curiously, Ellen looked around. Two men stood across the street, smoking cigarettes with their eyes fixed on the window of the tea shop. Police, Ellen knew immediately.”

Thank you for sharing such a fascinating post. Good luck with your series.


“Richly drawn characters, the vibrant historical setting, and a suspenseful mystery create a strong current that pulls readers into this delightful novel. But it’s the women’s issues—as relevant today as they were in the early 1900s—that will linger long after the last page.”

— Donna S. Meredith, The Southern Literary Review

Can two women get the lowdown on high society?

“Two powerless young women must navigate a soul-crushing class system and find the levers of power they wield when they combine their strengths. These women may have been taught to whisper, but when their time comes, they will roar.”

– 5 Star Amazon Review

Louisa Delafield and Ellen Malloy didn’t ask to be thrown together to bring the truth to light. But after Ellen witnesses the death of a fellow servant during an illegal abortion, Louisa, a society columnist, vows to help her find the truth and turn her journalistic talent to a greater purpose.

Together, these unlikely allies battle to get the truth out, and to avenge the wrongful death of a friend.

What will our heroes do when their closest allies and those they trust turn out to be the very forces working to keep their story in the dark? They’ll face an abortionist, a sex trafficking ring, and a corrupt system determined to keep the truth at bay.

“If you like historical fiction and if you like mysteries, this one is for you!”

– 5 Star Amazon Review

Was change possible in 1913?

To find out, read THE WHISPERING WOMEN today!

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Meet the author

Trish MacEnulty is a bestselling novelist. In addition to her historical fiction, she has published novels, a short story collection, and a memoir. A former Professor of English, she currently lives in Florida with her husband, two dogs, and one cat. She writes book reviews and feature articles for the Historical Novel Review. She loves reading, writing, walking with her dogs, streaming historical series, cooking, and dancing. 

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Today, I’m delighted to be reviewing Ascent by Cathie Dunn, and there’s a competition to enter too #histfic #BookReview #Normandy

Here’s the blurb

A brutal Viking raid heralds the dawn of a new, powerful dynasty – the House of Normandy

Neustria, Kingdom of the West Franks
AD 890

Fourteen-year-old Poppa’s life changes when Northmen land near Bayeux. Count Bérengar, her father, submits to them, and she is handfasted to Hrólfr, the Northmen’s heathen leader, as part of their agreement.

To her relief, Hrólfr leaves immediately in search of further conquest, only returning to claim her years later. In the face of retaliating Franks, they flee to East Anglia, where she gives birth to their son and daughter.

When Hrólfr and Poppa return to reclaim Bayeux, his new campaign strikes at the heart of Frankish power, and King Charles of the West Franks offers him a pact he cannot refuse. In exchange for vast tracts of land in Neustria, Hrólfr must convert to Christianity and accept marriage to Gisela, the king’s illegitimate daughter.

Poppa’s world shatters. She remains in Bayeux, with her daughter, Adela. When Gisela arrives one day, demanding she hand over Adela, to be raised in Rouen, Poppa’s patience is at an end. But Gisela makes for a dangerous enemy, and only one woman will survive their confrontation high up on the cliffs.

Will Poppa live to witness the dawn of a new era?

ASCENT is the first in a new series about the early women of the House of Normandy – women whose stories have been forgotten through time.

Until now!

Readers of Viking and medieval fiction will enjoy ASCENT, a fictional account of the life of Poppa of Bayeux, handfasted wife of Rollo the Viking.

Trigger warning: Loss of a child. Some battle and fighting scenes.

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My Review

Ascent tells the story of how the Duchy of Normandy formed, through the eyes of both Poppa, wed to the man many of us will know as Rollo and Rollo himself.

This is a fascinating period, at the end of the ninth century and the beginning of the tenth, when the focus of the Viking raiders had shifted from just trying to plunder, kill and steal to wanting to find new homes for themselves. While some of the story takes places in England, the focus is on the West Frankish lands, and there are familiar names here, Charles III, the king of the West Franks, the most well-known of them all.

Poppa is a strong-willed woman, but her life isn’t without hardship and suffering. Rollo, or Hrolfr, is a Viking raider, but with an eye to the future and ambition to match it. The evolving story is well portrayed, focusing on several life-changing moments as the tale progresses as it covers their entire lives after meeting.

I feel the book really comes into its own from about halfway through, and I powered through the remainder of the story. Poppa and Hrolfr are both ambitious and strong-willed, with an eye to the future, and such ambition is well portrayed without us disliking either of them. Their friends and allies also provide moments of intense sorrow and triumph as Dunn weaves a tale of the era, bringing in far-flung places, such as Orkney, which were all closely interconnected to men and women of the sea.

Constructed using incredibly scarce surviving sources (I know, I’ve studied this period, and it is mind-glowingly confusing), Ascent, the first book in the stories of Normandy, is sure to appeal to those interested in tales of historically strong women, in the formation of Normandy and also in this turbulent period when the Viking raiders – or the Normans as they came to be known – claimed a toe-hold on Frankish soil which was to have far-reaching consequences. I look forward to book 2.

Meet the author 

Cathie Dunn is an award-winning author of historical fiction, mystery, and romance. The focus of her historical fiction novels is on strong women through time.

Cathie has been writing for over twenty years. She studied Creative Writing online, with a focus on novel writing, which she also taught in the south of France. She loves researching for her novels, delving into history books, and visiting castles and historic sites. A voracious reader, primarily of historical fiction / romance, she often reviews books on her blog, Ruins & Reading.

Cathie is a member of the Historical Novel Society, the Richard III Society, and the Alliance of Independent Authors.

After many years in Scotland, Cathie now lives in south of France with her husband, and rescued Charlie Cat and Ellie Dog. Discover more about Cathie at http://www.cathiedunn.com!

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Giveaway to Win a signed paperback copy of Ascent by Cathie Dunn (Open INT)

*Terms and Conditions –Worldwide entries welcome.  Please enter using the Rafflecopter box below.  The winner will be selected at random via Rafflecopter from all valid entries and will be notified by Twitter and/or email. If no response is received within 7 days then Rachel’s Random Resources reserves the right to select an alternative winner. Open to all entrants aged 18 or over.  Any personal data given as part of the competition entry is used for this purpose only and will not be shared with third parties, with the exception of the winners’ information. This will passed to the giveaway organiser and used only for fulfilment of the prize, after which time Rachel’s Random Resources will delete the data.  I am not responsible for despatch or delivery of the prize.


I’m delighted to feature, Hammer by Micheál Cladáin to the blog #Hammer #BlogTour #TheCoffeePotBookClub

I’m delighted to welcome Micheál Cladáin to the blog, to share his historical research with us, no matter how strange.

I wouldn’t consider my research processes particularly strange. I have a mountain of reference books (see the picture for a small sample), which I read from cover to cover and refer to continually.

Of course, there are many more – including those in my Kindle library. I took classical studies at UNI, so it is understandable. After editing, I find research to be the most time-consuming aspect of writing, however enjoyable. I would say that three-fifths of my time spent producing a novel is on research, two-fifths on writing, and half on editing. I am not sure if this division is typical of other writers.

An aspect of my research that does not involve reading is visiting sites of ancient monuments or reconstructions thereof. Something that might be considered strange is I take loads of photos that I use to sketch mood boards. It might be classed as quirky behaviour, but it helps me set the scene when I write. Often I will create a sketch for a particular piece I am about to write.

Let me throw out some examples. I took the following photo at the Irish Heritage Centre in Wexford. It shows the interior of an Ancient Irish roundhouse.

I used the photo to create the following sketch.

That was a general mood graphic on my mood board, whereas the following two pictures represent a specific event. Genonn and Oengus at the hostel. Again, the photo was taken at the Wexford Heritage Centre.

I used the photo to sketch the following.

For something more relevant, I took the following photo in Drombeg, West Cork.

I used the photo to create a sketch of Genonn at the sacred circle outside Caer Leb on the Isle of Anglesey. Some might say it is not an authentic mood setter because I would need to have taken a photo of a stone circle on Anglesey, preferably near Afon Briant, where Caer Leb is located. However, one stone circle is much like another.

The picture gives me a sense of place and time.

Some might ask why I create sketches. Why not just use the photos as a mood board? Aside from my general quirkiness, adding characters to the pictures gives them context. I sketch them in black and white because it creates a sense of distance in time. I don’t know why, because it is nonsense, but I feel that the ancient world was much less colourful than our world today.

And finally, I took the following photo from inside a stone fort near Waterville in Kerry, which was ideal for creating an image of Luchar. Again, Luchar’s stone fortress was in Wales, but I currently have no access. Perhaps next year, I will make a point of visiting Tre’r Cieri to take some photos.

The next book in the series, Iron, has quite a few scenes in Rome, so needless to say, I will be in the Eternal City next week snapping pickies of the Forum and the Colosseum.

Thank you so much for sharing. Enjoy your trip to Rome.

Here’s the blurb

Genonn’s tired and dreams of a remote roundhouse in the Cuala Mountains.

However, sudden rebellion in Roman Britain destroys that dream because the Elder Council task him with delivering Lorg Mór, the hammer of the Gods, to the tribes across the straits of Pwll Ceris. Despite being torn between a waning sense of duty and his desire to become a hermit, Genonn finally agrees to help.

When his daughter follows him into danger, it tests his resolve. He wants to do everything he can to see her back to Druid Island and her mother. This new test of will means he is once again conflicted between duty and desire. Ultimately, his sense of duty wins; is it the right decision? Has he done the right thing by relegating his daughter’s safety below his commitment to the clans?

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Meet Micheál

Micheál has been an author for many years. He studied Classics and developed a love of Greek and Roman culture through those studies. In particular, he loved their mythologies. As well as a classical education, bedtime stories consisted of tales read from a great tome of Greek Mythology, and Micheál was destined to become a storyteller from those times.

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Today I’m delighted to welcome fellow author of Saxon stories, Mercedes Rochelle to the blog, to answer my questions about the family of Earl Godwine

I can never miss an opportunity to ask a fellow Saxon author questions about why they write about the same period as me. My thanks to Mercedes for answering them.

What drew you to the character of Godwine and his wife and children?

While I was writing my first book, Heir To A Prophecy, I introduced my protagonist Walter into London on the day Godwine came back from exile. It was a plot device to introduce him to Harold Godwineson (Walter took out one of the Normans fleeing through the crowd). I didn’t know who Godwine was, but I couldn’t shake him loose! I went back fifty years and discovered a great story.

Naturally, very little is known about these historical characters, and I had two challenges that dovetailed nicely. Both had to do with not wanting to fall into that old predictable trap concerning characters. First of all, the love interest. There are so many love stories that seem formulaic. I didn’t want that same old theme: disliking each other first, then falling in love (and all the variations thereof). On the other hand, I understand that there needs to be some kind of stress in the romance to make a good story. It was obvious that Godwine had a happy marriage (or at least a productive one) since they had so many children. I was really intrigued by the discrepancy of their social status. Godwine was a commoner, and Gytha was a noble (or the Danish equivalent). At the same time, I had a hard time figuring out why Swegn, the firstborn, turned into such a bad egg. I don’t believe a character should be all good or all bad. People just aren’t like that. Even wicked characters act that way for a reason; sometimes they have good qualities that get buried under their more powerful bad qualities. Finally I had an inspiration: if Godwine’s marriage started out in anger, or stress (Gytha was given to him in marriage, but she didn’t have to go willingly), perhaps the firstborn would be neglected and unloved. That would explain his subsequent behaviour. It took some doing to make that work, but I’m happy with the result.

What part of your research did you enjoy the most? 

I love research; I actually prefer the research to the writing. I knew I was going to like Godwine. What surprised me was how fascinated I was with Canute. He was an incredibly complicated character. From the angry king-to-be that cut the noses off his 200 hostages after England rejected him in favour of Aethelred the Unready, he eventually became a very successful monarch. Most of all, I loved the single combat between him and Edmund Ironside, where he cleverly talked himself out of getting flattened by convincing Edmund to split the kingdom between them. This may well be apocryphal, but that’s the challenge of writing about events 1000 years ago. We have more legends than “history” to work with, and the legends are so good they stick.

Was there a resource that was invaluable?

I hate to admit this because it makes me sound so old, but when I was writing Godwine Kingmaker there was no internet. Back then, I was living in St. Louis, MO—a very nice town but far from the libraries I needed. If the book wasn’t in the card catalogue, it might as well not even exist. So, like any warm-blooded researcher who didn’t have a family to take care of, I pulled up stakes and moved to New York. The day I discovered the New York Public Library my life changed forever. I found authors I never knew about, and finally got my hands on my first copy of Edward A. Freeman’s “History of the Norman Conquest of England”. I thought I had gone to heaven! In six volumes he wrote about every aspect of Anglo-Saxon England I could possibly think of. (These days Freeman is somewhat out of fashion, but he’s still my go-to when I need to look something up; he has never failed me yet.) Copy machines were available for ten cents a page, but as much as I needed to copy, I’d be better off buying the books—if I could find them. No such luck until a couple of years later, when I went on a book-buying trip to England and discovered Hay-on-Wye. A breakthrough! Those were the days (the late ’80s) when old used hardbacks were still easy to find, and I discovered my very own set of Freeman which I gleefully brought home. That was the original basis of all my research. Those books are still my most precious possession, though now you can find them online (scanned, of course).

Did you learn anything that surprised you while writing the trilogy?

Back to Canute again. While delving into Harold’s relationship with Edith Swan-neck in THE SONS OF GODWINE, again I wanted to avoid the usual romantic formulas. First of all, I had to decide whether Edith was a luscious young thing or an attractive widow; both possibilities were referred to in the histories. By lucky chance, I stumbled across Canute’s Law Code of 1020, designed to smooth relations between the Danes and the Saxons. One section dealt with heriot (essentially an inheritance tax), not a new concept. But I found a reference to protecting widows. Canute gave a widow twelve months to pay her husband’s heriot. But she had to remain unmarried or she would lose both her morning-gift and all possessions from her former husband. If some unscrupulous man coveted her inheritance and forced her to marry him, all the possessions would pass on to the nearest kinsman. The king would lose the heriot tax if this were to happen, so it was also written into Canute’s law that a widow should never be forced to marry a man she dislikes. After all, the Crown had much to lose. So I decided to make Edith a recent widow trying to evade the attentions of an unwelcome suitor, while she and Harold conducted their relationship. 

What is your personal opinion? Do you believe that William the Conqueror was justified in claiming England? Do you believe he had been promised it?

Apparently the whole justification came down to King Edward the Confessor’s promise to William when the duke visited England during Godwine’s exile. I think we can negate the assertion that Edward felt some sort of gratitude for having been sheltered there during his exile. When Edward left Normandy in 1041, William was only 13 years old and Edward was 38. With that age gap, it seems unlikely that the two of them would have developed a close relationship, so any alleged gratitude Edward might have owed probably belonged to William’s father Robert, dead by 1035. 

Now, during Godwine’s exile in 1051, it’s far from certain that William even visited England. Some historians thought he would have been too busy putting down rebellions to leave his country even for a short time. If William did visit England and if Edward offered him the crown at this point, it’s curious why he would have done so. The king knew that it was up to the Witan to decide the succession. However, considering his antagonism toward the Godwines (he even put the queen in a nunnery while Godwine was in exile), perhaps he made this alleged promise out of spite. 

However, it’s my belief that the blame can be placed upon Robert of Jumièges, former Archbishop of Canterbury and arch-enemy of Earl Godwine. Robert is one of the Normans who fled from London once it was clear that Godwine was back in control. He’s almost certainly the one who kidnapped the hostages, Godwine’s son Wulfnoth and grandson Hakon, and brought them to Normandy. In my interpretation, Jumièges acted on his own when he told William that Edward declared him heir to the English throne, and here are the hostages to guarantee his promise. What a great revenge on Godwine and all of England for kicking him out! Why wouldn’t William believe such an opportune offer?

Who is your personal favourite member of the House of Godwine?

When all is said and done, Earl Godwine still holds his place as my favourite. If it weren’t for him, there would be no Harold Godwineson Last Anglo-Saxon King. I think he helped smooth the relations between the conquering Danish king and his unhappy countrymen, then moved on to staunchly defend the Saxons against the hated Normans. His rise to power was unprecedented, and I think his fall was tragic, though not in the way we usually think of as a tragedy. Having sacrificed so much for the wrong son, he had nothing left to live for as he watched Harold take his place in the hearts of his people.

As you know, I write about the Earls of Mercia. What opinion did you form of the rivals to the House of Godwine while researching and writing your books?

I wondered if you’d ask that question! Of course, by the late Anglo-Saxon period, I think the Mercian earls had lost much of their lustre. Old Earl Leofric certainly held his own against Earl Godwine (with the help of Earl Siward of Northumbria). It seems the odds were against Leofric as Godwine’s sons were granted their own earldoms, shifting the balance of power in Godwine’s favour. At this stage, I always thought of them as bitter, unhappy competitors who could never regain their former glory. After King Edward died, Harold tried to join forces with the grandsons of Leofric, Edwin and Morcar, but I don’t think their association was ever successful. William the Conqueror certainly put an end to that. 

Thank you for answering my questions with such insight. I hope you enjoy the blog tour.

Here’s the blurb:

They showed so much promise. What happened to the Godwines? How did they lose their grip? Who was this Godwine anyway, first Earl of Wessex and known as the Kingmaker? Was he an unscrupulous schemer, using King and Witan to gain power? Or was he the greatest of all Saxon Earls, protector of the English against the hated Normans? The answer depends on who you ask. 

He was befriended by the Danes, raised up by Canute the Great, given an Earldom and a wife from the highest Danish ranks. He sired nine children, among them four Earls, a Queen and a future King. Along with his power came a struggle to keep his enemies at bay, and Godwine’s best efforts were brought down by the misdeeds of his eldest son Swegn. 

Although he became father-in-law to a reluctant Edward the Confessor, his fortunes dwindled as the Normans gained prominence at court. Driven into exile, Godwine regathered his forces and came back even stronger, only to discover that his second son Harold was destined to surpass him in renown and glory.

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Meet Mercedes

Mercedes Rochelle is an ardent lover of medieval history, and has channeled this interest into fiction writing. She believes that good Historical Fiction, or Faction as it’s coming to be known, is an excellent way to introduce the subject to curious readers. She also writes a blog: HistoricalBritainBlog.com to explore the history behind the story. 

Born in St. Louis, MO, she received by BA in Literature at the Univ. of Missouri St.Louis in 1979 then moved to New York in 1982 while in her mid-20s to “see the world”. The search hasn’t ended! 

Today she lives in Sergeantsville, NJ with her husband in a log home they had built themselves.

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I’m delighted to welcome Stella Riley and her book, The Black Madonna, to the blog, where I’m sharing an excerpt TheBlackMadonna #EnglishCivilWar #Blog Tour #TheCoffeePotBookClub

Today, I’m sharing an excerpt from The Black Madonna, an English Civil War, historical romance.

Kate and Eden visit Luciano del Santi … trailed by their younger brother who makes an  unexpected discovery

Giacomo beamed.  ‘I tell Signor Luciano you are ’ere. ’E is in ’is workshop but for you ’e will come out.  Scusi – momento!’  

‘Workshop?’ said Toby, on just the right note of appeal.

Giacomo stopped and regarded the boy with benevolence.

Si.  You ’ave interest?  You like to see?’

‘Well,’ said Toby in the tone of one reluctant to give trouble but willing to be persuaded, ‘it’s just that I’ve never – ow!’

Having discreetly trodden on his brother’s foot, Eden smiled at Giacomo and said, ‘Another time, if Signor del Santi permits.  We’ve no wish to inconvenience him.’

‘Is not inconvenience – is pleasure!’ cried Giacomo, expansively.  ‘Please – you come.  The signor will be so ’appy.  You come.’

There was no help for it.  They went, Toby clattering on in front at Giacomo’s heels.

‘Damn,’ said Eden softly to Kate.  ‘Why didn’t I drop him overboard while I had the chance?’

‘No resolution,’ she replied.  ‘But don’t worry.  You heard what the man said.  The signor will be so ’appy.’

‘You think?’

She rolled expressive eyes and said nothing.

Ahead of them, Giacomo opened a door and embarked on a vivacious flow of Italian which was immediately stemmed by a brief, pungently delivered sentence in the same language.  Kate and Eden exchanged glances and then, arriving in the doorway, looked past Giacomo to the scene within.

His face still marked by fading bruises, Luciano del Santi was in his shirt-sleeves, sitting at a large trestle on which reposed an impressive array of small tools.  His concentrated gaze was wholly taken up with the gleaming object held in one long-fingered hand.  In shape and size it resembled a chalice, being set upon a delicately slender stem; but the bowl was composed of intricately pierced lattice-work … a spider’s web spun in gold.

The clever hands stilled and, without haste, the Italian looked up at his visitors.  The impassive eyes held Kate’s gaze for a couple of seconds and then he said, ‘In a few minutes you will be welcome … but, until then, I would appreciate silence.’  And he turned coolly back to his work.

Somewhere at the back of her mind, Kate discovered the first twinges of respect.  If the lovely thing in his hands was of his own creating, then there was more to this man than malicious wit.  It did not, she told herself firmly, make him any easier to like; and, with equal firmness, squashed the sneaking suspicion that it added another dimension to the signor’s inexplicable fascination.

Toby, meanwhile, had approached the table so stealthily that no one had noticed him doing it. And when Luciano del Santi finally set the piece down, it was Toby said, ‘Did you make all of that?  Yourself, I mean?’

The Italian looked at him thoughtfully. ‘Yes.’

‘How long did it take?’

‘In hours of work?  I don’t know.  It isn’t important.  These things are finished in their own time.’

Toby nodded, apparently understanding this.

‘And is it finished now?’

‘Not quite. There are still some slightly roughened edges here – and here.’  He lifted the goblet for the boy’s inspection and pointed to it in various places.  ‘You see?  These must be smoothed and polished.  And then I shall engrave the base along this curvature here.’

‘And then?’ asked Toby.  ‘What is it?’

‘What does it look like?’

‘A wine-cup.  But you couldn’t drink out of it.  It’s got holes in it.’

Luciano del Santi reached to his left and picked up an object wrapped in a soft cloth. Then, opening it, he placed its contents gently inside the golden web of the chalice.

‘So,’ he said, apparently unaware of the faint breathiness that had suddenly afflicted Kate.  ‘The finest amber … I carved it myself.  And the gold, you see, is no more than a shell.’

For probably the first time in his life, Toby took at least two minutes to decide what to say.  The amber was beautiful and so thin that the light shone through it; and, set in its fragile tracery of gold, it glowed with almost uncanny life.  And Toby, looking at it, was consumed by a sudden thirst for knowledge. Drawing a long breath, he stared the Italian straight in the eye and said, ‘Can … can anyone learn to do that?’

‘No.’ The word was bland and unequivocal.

‘Could I?’

There was a long pause.  Then, ‘If you mean, could you learn to work gold – yes.  Perhaps.  It is a skill and can therefore be taught.  If, however, you are asking if you can become a master … then the answer is no.  Master-goldsmiths are born, not made.  And if you don’t already have the ingredients within you, no one can put them there.’

Again and much to the surprise of Kate and Eden, Toby seemed to accept this without question.  He just nodded slowly and said, ‘Will you teach me?’

Luciano del Santi leaned his elbows on the trestle and regarded Toby steadily over his hands.  ‘No.’

‘Why not?’

‘That’s enough, Toby.’  Eden stepped forward and dropped a hand on his young brother’s shoulder.  ‘Signor del Santi has been more than patient – so just take no for an answer and stop haranguing him.’

Toby shook off Eden’s hand and stood his ground.

‘Why not?’ he said again.

For the first time since they had come in, a vagrant smile touched the sculpted face.

‘Because I don’t know anything about you. In the last five minutes, you’ve decided you want to be a goldsmith.  For all I know to the contrary, yesterday you may have yearned to be a blacksmith and tomorrow, a pastry-cook.  I’m not inclined to waste my time.’

‘All right.’  The boy shoved back an unruly lock of dark brown hair from his face and thought about it.  ‘I suppose that’s fair. But if I prove I really mean it – then will you teach me?’

‘Toby.’ Eden was beginning to see a chasm yawning ahead.  The Italian had been amazingly tolerant so far but it couldn’t last.  ‘Toby … for God’s sake, stop arguing.’

‘I’m not arguing,’ said Toby.  ‘I’m enquiring.’

Kate stared hard at the floor and tried to straighten out her face.

Luciano del Santi startled them all by laughing.

‘I don’t see what’s so funny,’ Toby objected.  ‘I just want to know whether you’ll ever agree to teach me – or whether you’re just making excuses.  Because if you won’t teach me, I’ll just have to find someone who will.’

Something in his voice broke through Kate’s amusement and caused her to unlock her tongue.  She said, ‘Stop and think what you’re saying, Toby.  If you’re serious about this, you’ll need Father’s permission and a formal apprenticeship.  You’d have to live away from home and sign away your life for years to – to someone like Signor del Santi.  It’s not something to be decided on a moment’s impulse.’

‘I don’t care,’ came the stubborn reply. ‘I want to know how to make things like that … and I shan’t change my mind, no matter what you think.’

Giacomo chuckled and said something in his own language.  His master replied with what appeared to be dry humour and then relapsed into silence.  Kate decided that a basic grasp of Italian might come in useful.

‘Very well,’ said Luciano del Santi crisply. ‘I’ll make you no promises.  Perhaps I’ll teach you – perhaps not.  We’ll see.  In the meantime, I’ll allow you the freedom of my workshop.  You may come here when you wish and pick up what knowledge you can by watching.  I am not always here; but my assistant, Gino, will answer your questions.  If you wait for half an hour or so, you can meet him.  But what you will not do is to touch anything at all without either his permission or mine. Break that rule even once and there will be no second chance.  And if, in the end, I refuse to take you as a pupil, you must accept that I mean it and will not change my mind.  Do I make myself quite clear?’

‘Yes.’  Toby flushed and grinned widely.  ‘Yes.  Thank you.’

Laying his fingers on the table-edge, the Italian rose from his stool and replaced his coat with a caution which reminded Kate that the attack had done more than mark his face.  Strangely, she was conscious of a twinge of sympathy that hadn’t been there when Eden had first told her of it. 

‘Don’t thank me. Just remember that I’ve promised you nothing.  Yet.  And now, Giacomo will introduce you to Gino when he comes, while I take your brother and sister upstairs for some refreshment.’  And without waiting for a reply, he crossed a little stiffly to Kate’s side and offered his arm.

She took it, felt herself colouring and was annoyed.  It was this, more than anything, that made her say abruptly, ‘Why are you doing this for Toby?’

‘Because he reminds Giacomo of someone.’

Kate shot him a suspicious glance. ‘Who?’

He sighed and, for a moment, she thought he wasn’t going to answer.

Then, ‘Me,’ he said.

Here’s the blurb

As England slides into Civil War, master-goldsmith and money-lender, Luciano Falcieri del Santi embarks on his own hidden agenda. A chance meeting one dark night results in an unlikely friendship with Member of Parliament, Richard Maxwell. Richard’s daughter, Kate – a spirited girl who vows to hold their home against both Cavalier and Roundhead – soon finds herself fighting an involuntary attraction to the clever, magnetic and diabolically beautiful Italian. 

Hampered by the warring English, his quest growing daily more dangerous, Luciano begins to realise that his own life and that of everyone close to him rests on the knife-edge of success … for only success will permit him to reclaim the Black Madonna and offer his heart to the girl he loves. 

From the machinations within Parliament to the last days of the King’s cause, The Black Madonna is an epic saga of passion and intrigue at a time when England was lost in a dark and bloody conflict.

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Audio:  (Audiobook narrated by Alex Wyndham)

Connect with Stella

Winner of three gold medals for historical romance (Readers’ Favourite in 2019, Book Excellence Awards in 2020, Global Book Awards in 2022) and fourteen B.R.A.G. Medallions, Stella Riley lives in the beautiful medieval town of Sandwich in Kent.

She is fascinated by the English Civil Wars and has written six books set in that period. These, like the seven-book Rockliffe series (recommended in The Times newspaper!) and the Brandon Brothers trilogy, are all available in audio, narrated by Alex Wyndham.

Stella enjoys travel, reading, theatre, Baroque music and playing the harpsichord. She also has a fondness for men with long hair – hence her 17th and 18th century heroes.

Connect with Stella Riley



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Happy release day to King of Kings #histfic

I’m so excited about the release today of King of Kings. This story, the first part in the retelling of the greatest battle on British soil that many have never heard of, Brunanburh, has been long in the making. Building on the original series, begun in 2014, King of Kings is entirely reworked, and it’s so much better:) (I honestly can’t believe how much better it is.)

Here’s the blurb

‘An epic tale of the birth of a nation. Truly mesmerising. Game of Thrones meets The Last Kingdom’ – Gordon Doherty

In the battle for power, there can be only one ruler.


Athelstan is the king of the English, uniting the petty kingdoms of Wessex, Mercia, the Danish-held Five Boroughs and York following the sudden death of his father, King Edward. 

His vision is to unite the realms of the Scots and the Welsh in a peace accord that will protect their borders from the marauding threat of the Norse Vikings.

Whilst seemingly craving peace and demanding loyalty with an imperium over every kingdom, Athelstan could dream of a much bigger prize.

But danger and betrayal surround his best intentions, namely from his overlooked stepbrother, Edwin, who conspires and vies for what he deems is his rightful place as England’s king. 

As ever, powerful men who wish to rule do not wish to be ruled, and Constantin of the Scots, Owain of Strathclyde, and Ealdred of Bamburgh plot their revenge against the upstart English king, using any means necessary.

An epic story of kingsmanship that will set in motion the pivotal, bloody Battle of Brunanburh where allies have to be chosen wisely…


(available in ebook, paperback, hardback and audio, narrated by the wonderful Matt Coles).

King of Kings. with its five kingdoms, and one alliance, might need some explanation. To help my readers understand who everyone is, and importantly, where everyone is, King of Kings has a map and a genealogical table, as well as a cast of characters.

Map designed by Shaun at Flintlock Covers

And because the family of King Alfred is so important to the story, I also have a genealogical table to share with my readers.

Design by Boldwood Books

I’ve written some brief introductions for the main cast of characters.

King Athelstan of the English

King Constantin of the Scots

King Hywel of the West Welsh

King Owain of Strathclyde

King Ealdred of Bamburgh

Lady Eadgifu of Wessex

Follow the blog tour with Rachel’s Random Resources

Bookish Jottings

Amy McElroy

David’s Book Blurg

Colin Garrow Blog

Beyond the Books

Ruins and Reading

Diary of a Wannabe Writer

The Magic of War(l)ds

Nerd Girl Loves Books

And for those who are falling in love with the period as much as I am, I wanted to share some non-fiction recommendations, and cautions.

There is no one book that will adequately cover this period (that was one of the reasons that I fictionalised it) but these books (see photos below), along with Dr. Kari Maund’s The Welsh Kings, which I have in ebook, will give you a good grounding of events in Britain and Ireland. So, these are

Alfred’s Britain by Max Adams

Athelstan by Sarah Foot

The Anglo-Saxon Chronicles ed and trans. Michael Swanton (other versions available – I like the formatting of this one -with the different recensions)

The Welsh Kings by Kari Maund

An Atlas of Anglo-Saxon England by David Hill (don’t be put off by the fact this book is from the 1970s – it is invaluable)

From Pictland to Alba 789-1070 by Alex Woolf

Viking Kings of Britain and Ireland by Claire Downham

English Historical Documents ed and trans by Dorothy Whitelock

The Frankish Kingdom under the Carolingians by R McKitterick

Edward the Elder ed. Higham and Hill (not a narrative account, but historians writing papers about their area of interest and expertise).

There are also two very important online resources.

PASE (The Prospography of Anglo-Saxon England)

Electronic Sawyer

Happy release day for Murder Lost and Found by Debbie Young #cozycrime #SophieSayers

Here’s the blurb

Sophie Sayers is ready for a glorious summer, but when a dead body is found in the village school’s lost property cupboard the summer holidays take an unexpected turn.

Even more shocking is when the body goes missing. Without a body, the police refuse to investigate. That’s just not good enough.

Sophie is determined to get to the bottom of the mystery. She needs to find out who has died and nab the culprit if she’s going to save the village school from the threat of closure.

My Review

Murder Lost and Found continues the Sophie Sayers Cosy Mysteries.

It’s the summer holidays, the school is empty of children, but while the caretaker and office manager try to ensure the school is prepared for the start of term, strange happenings take place.

I really enjoy this collection of stories. They’re light-hearted and a quick, pacy read, and I felt this one was particularly strong with the mystery of the lost property cupboard and the strange notes, making poor Sophie doubt herself, even while she contends with change at Horace’s bookshop.

A fun and entertaining read. Bring on book 8.

My thanks to Netgalley and the publisher for my review copy.

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Meet the Author

Debbie Young is the much-loved author of the Sophie Sayers and St Brides cosy crime mysteries. She lives in a Cotswold village where she runs the local literary festival, and has worked at Westonbirt School, both of which provide inspiration for her writing. She is bringing both her series to Boldwood in a 13-book contract. They will be publishing several new titles in each series and republishing the backlist, starting in September 2022.

Debbie Young

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(This review contains an Amazon affiliate link)

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

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

Dressing for success in the seventeenth century

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

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

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

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

This period dress thing is difficult.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here’s the blurb

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Meet the author

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

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

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

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

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

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

Connect with Anna:


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

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


The Great Famine remains a taboo in China, 

where it is referred to euphemistically as 

the ‘Three Years of Natural Disasters’ or the 

‘Three Years of Difficulties.’     

— Tani Branigan, The Guardian                           

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

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

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

“Someone has to say something.” 

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

Yan Li stood up. 

“Sit down!” hissed Ming Jun, 

“These mathematics are wrong! All wrong!”

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

Her voice was too loud to be ignored.    

Faces turned towards her. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A loud knock on the glass walls.

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

Shi’lang waved them away. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rumblings started up in the back rows …

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

“Back to work, please.”

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

The soft plucking of lutes rose once again.  

Gradually, unevenly, the Chairman’s work continued. 


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

possessed a sophistication in the technology

of traditional agriculture that has never been surpassed …

the basic contours of this spectacular agricultural system

were laid during the Classical period.   

– Agriculture in Ancient China 

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

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

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

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

* * *

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

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

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

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

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

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

She paced behind metal standing lamps.   

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

“This is most serious,” said Shi’lang

Miss Wang Na paused to consider the lake. 

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

Miss Wang Na turned, cursing bitterly. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


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

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

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

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

“I see, all right.” 

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

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

“What is the meaning of this formula?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here’s the blurb

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

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

(~ Tanzeela Siddique, Math Instructor)

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Meet the author

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

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

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

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

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

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