Author Archives: tometraveller

About tometraveller

Carey lives in New Hampshire with her husband of fifteen years. She has been an avid reader all of her life and loves to travel to the places she reads about.

Rogues and Rebels by Jo Field

 Book One of the Tawford Chronicles: A story of intrigue, passion and betrayal in the English Civil War”

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 In the autumn of 1642, Southwest England is ripped apart by civil war. Parliament has revolted against King Charles I and the populace is divided. Brothers and cousins, fathers and sons find themselves on opposing sides. Alexander Dynam leads a band of men in the service of the king. He is resourceful and courageous, an accomplished spy and a master of disguise. His men love him, he has earned their respect and they are loyal to the core. As the book opens, Alexander has been caught by Roundheads (as the forces of the Parliament are called) and is being held in a cellar. With MacGyver-like ingenuity, he escapes and in so doing makes a serious enemy of Captain James Dewett, the man held responsible for the loss of such a valuable prisoner. The consequences of his enmity will be far-reaching.

Alexander has always believed himself to be the bastard son of his guardian, Viscount Robert Westley. When he discovers that he is not Robert’s son and Robert refuses to tell him the truth of his parentage it causes a bitter rift between the two. The rift is deepened by the loss of Robert’s actual son, who is killed when thrown from Alexander’s horse. Robert can’t help but blame Alexander, who blames himself just as much. Their division is heartbreaking for Robert’s sister Ellen who loves both men fiercely and can’t bear to see them at odds.
Plots and intrigues hatched and carried out, skirmishes and battles, heroes and heroines who use all of their brains and courage in defense of themselves and their loved ones, cunning and sneaky villains, even a mystery satisfactorily sleuthed and solved. Jo Field brings all these and more together in this wonderful historical novel that brings alive the English past and a host of interesting and well developed characters.
I really enjoyed this engaging story. The plot was intricate and satisfying. If you are like me, you draw conclusions about a book based on the cover (Yes, I know I’m not supposed to!) But don’t let the cover of this one fool you, though set against the background of war, it is far from the heart of the narrative.
The author is currently working on Book Two in this series, Secrets and Ciphers. Write faster, Jo, I can’t wait to read it!
Rogues and Rebels is published by Discovered Authors. ISBN 978-1-905108-61-9
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The Heretic Queen by Michelle Moran

Some would call the Pharaoh Akhenaten and his wife Nefertiti visionaries. They ended the polytheistic religion of Egypt and destroyed the greedy and corrupt temples of Amun. They instituted a revolutionary monotheistic system, worshipping one God, the Aten. Unfortunately, thousands of years of religious belief could not be erased so easily. Their reign ended in disaster and the old religious order was restored, ending a line of kings stretching back over a hundred years.

Michelle Moran starts this novel several years after the events of her first novel, Nefertiti. The sole survivor from the previous royal line is Princess Nefertari, niece of Nefertiti. She has been raised at the court of the current Pharaoh, Seti I, and alongside the royal heir, Ramesses. They are fast friends. In fact, he is one of her only friends and the only reason the other children tolerate her. She is the victim of the backlash of hatred against her deceased family. She is called ‘heretic’ and worse and is blamed for the actions of her relatives.

As they grow up, the close friendship of Nefertari and Ramesses blossoms into love. But few at court want Nefertari as Egypt’s queen and her enemies try to turn the people against her, too. Fortunately for Nefertari, she is a gifted woman. She has an affinity for language and is able to learn the political intricacies of the court. She has brains and courage. Her journey to the throne of Egypt is breathtaking.

The author has vividly recreated the stunning courts and palaces of Ancient Egypt. Her imagining of the life of Queen Nefertari and the Pharaoh who will be known to history as Ramesses the Great makes for an engrossing and fascinating historical novel. I particularly liked the inclusion of the Egyptian calendar at the end of the book, the first of these that I have seen. I have read quite a lot of historical fiction set in Ancient Egypt and have always wondered how their calendar of seasons corresponds to our own.

I loved The Heretic Queen and impatiently await Ms. Moran’s next book, Cleopatra’s Daughter. Visit her wonderful website!

The Heretic Queen is published by Crown. ISBN 978-0-307-38175-0.

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Nox Dormienda (A Long Night For Sleeping): An Arcturus Mystery by Kelli Stanley

This new mystery series is set in Roman occupied Britain. The governor, Agricola, has subdued the Britons and built a fragile peace after the terrible destruction of the Druids’ sacred isle of Mona and the defeat of Boudicca. But the balance is precarious, the Romans and the natives barely tolerate each other.

Arcturus is caught with a foot in both worlds. His mother was a Briton but his father and step-father were both Roman. He has managed to become a successful physician, officially he is Agricola’s physician, but he manages to hover in the middle. He feels the tug of divided loyalties.One night, after a busy day treating patients, a beautiful woman comes to see him. Her name is Gwyna and she claims that the Governor is in danger. Arcturus has a knack for solving problems and a bit of a reputation for it, too. Perhaps because of his knowledge of both nationalities, he is able to win trust on both sides. He is a little distracted, though, by Gwyna, and the other interesting members of his household are both a hindrance and a help.

Before you know it a murder has taken place, and then another. The Romans blame the native community, particularly one young Druid who is conveniently in their path. Can Arcturus unravel the mystery in time to find the real killer, save the young man and avoid the civil war that is sure to erupt if the Romans execute the wrong man?

This mystery novel is full of well developed characters and has an intriguing plot. The setting of Roman Britain is so masterfully crafted that it is obvious the author has immersed herself in it. You can feel the mud and the dreary rain and see the gray mist that covers the Londinium of the time. I loved the inclusion of the excellent glossary in the back which included every Latin and Celtic word used in the book.

In her author’s note, Ms. Stanley explains that she is a fan of Noir films and the classic private eye stories of Raymond Chandler. That is certainly apparent in this engrossing mystery. Some of the snappy language was hilarious and the whole time I was reading it I kept seeing Humphrey Bogart in his overcoat (make that a toga) and hearing Dick Tracy in my ear. It was a vivid, exciting, hard-boiled mystery with a bit of fun thrown in!

I hope I will be able to review the next book in the series, Maledictus. I have to know what happens to Arcturus & the rest of the lively characters that live in Ms. Stanley’s world of Roman Noir.

Nox Dormienda is published by Five Star. ISBN 978-1-59414-666-4

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The Lost Diary of Don Juan by Douglas Carlton Abrams

Seville, Spain in the year 1593 is a wealthy city.  The gold and riches pouring in from the New World have led to prosperity for Spain but unfortunately the country has lost many of its men to recent wars and the colonization of the New World.  There are more widows and lonely wives than ever before.  The result of the low male population is the rise of the Galanteador, a gallant or seducer.  The most successful and famous of these was Don Juan Tenorio.

Don Juan was abandoned as an infant at a convent in Seville.  He was raised by the nuns who were thrilled to have a child in their care.  Growing up amidst a group of women has great advantages for Don Juan.  He learns to understand and love them in a way that many men do not.   At the age of fifteen he falls in love with a young novice but their affair is found out and he is expelled from the convent.   He briefly lives in a nearby monastery where he is mistreated by the monks, so he leaves to make his own way in the world. 

After several years as a burglar Juan is befriended by a Marquis who trains him to be a spy and Galanteador.   Juan learns quickly and soon exceeds the Marquis in talent.  He becomes famous for his exploits with women.  He worships women and he believes that he could never be happy with just one.  His happiness lies in showing each different woman how beautiful she is, regardless of her age, race or station in life.  Then one day Don Juan meets the beautiful Ana and she has an unexpected effect on him.

The narrative will leave you breathless.  It has amazing sword fights, frantic escapes, a fantastic bull fight, the horrors and torture of the Inquisition and steamy love scenes.   It is full of action and excitement and I couldn’t put it down!   The characters run the gamut from charming and endearing to dastardly and evil.   I was rooting for Don Juan as he grew from his experiences and finally learned the truth about love.

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The Black Tower by Louis Bayard

 

Restoration Paris, 1818. It has been over twenty years since the Revolution, Napoleon is in exile and the Bourbon kings are back on the throne of France. But the past still echoes…
Hector Carpentier is an ordinary medical student living at home with his mother, where she takes in boarders to help make ends meet. He is suddenly thrust into a murder investigation when detective Eugene Francois Vidocq turns up on his doorstep. It seems Hector’s name has been found on a piece of paper that was concealed on a dead body. Hector has never seen or heard of the victim before. He is at a loss to explain why the man might have had his name and been at pains to hide it.
Before he knows what’s happening, he is swept along with Vidocq and into a case that has the potential to shake France to its core. The evidence points to a conspiracy to kill a simple, quiet young man who lives in the country and who just might be the heir to the throne of France, Louis-Charles.
During the Revolution, Marie Antoinette and Louis XVI were both killed. Their two children, Marie-Therese-Charlotte and Louis-Charles were imprisoned in the Black Tower. Marie was eventually released but Louis-Charles died in prison. Or did he? The rumors have always circulated that he might have escaped and impostors have turned up before. But this young man has no memory of his early life and does not claim to be the lost prince. Someone believes he is, though, and they are intent on his death. It is up to Vidocq and Hector to unravel the mystery and protect the unassuming, fragile young man.
Louis Bayard paints a fascinating picture of the little-known real life detective, Vidocq. The world’s first real police detective, he had a background in crime and had been imprisoned in his youth. He knew the criminal mind from personal experience and was able to use his knowledge to become an extremely successful detective. To me he seemed to be a cross between Sherlock Holmes and Columbo because of his flair for disguise and his gruff demeanor. Restoration Paris is likewise brought to life brilliantly. This book is a wonderful historical adventure.
The Black Tower is published by William Morrow. ISBN 978-0-06-117350-9
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Midwife of the Blue Ridge by Christine Blevins

In 1746 the battle of Culloden in the Scottish Highlands nearly wiped out the Highland Clans. This is the story of Maggie Duncan. At seven years old she was the sole survivor when her village was destroyed by the English army because the villagers had aided the Highlanders. She is able to escape and then helps a mortally wounded soldier find his way home. Luckily for Maggie the soldier’s wife is a midwife and she adopts Maggie, raises and educates her while passing along her healing skills.
When she is twenty-one Maggie’s foster mother dies and with her goes Maggie’s protection from the neighbors. They look on her as cursed since she survived when everyone else in her village perished in the attack. They are cruel and narrow minded, so she is unable to make a living for herself since the locals will not accept her as a healer. Eventually she decides to start fresh in America and sells herself as an indentured servant in order to obtain passage on a ship.
Upon arrival in Virginia, the ship’s captain sells at auction the four year bonds for each passenger he has brought over. Maggie narrowly avoids being bought by an arrogant, drunken nobleman who has made the passage on the same boat. She is bought by a frontiersman, Seth, who lives in the Blue Ridge Mountains with his wife and children. He desperately needs help as his wife is ill and pregnant and physically unable to cope with frontier life. For Seth, Maggie is the answer to a prayer.
Maggie fits in well with Seth’s family and the other settlers in that area of the Blue Ridge Mountains. She is smart and skilled and she quickly starts to learn the medical uses of the local plants. But just when everything seems to be going well, disaster strikes and she must use all of her wits to survive.
This is a terrific, enthralling story of frontier life in colonial Virginia. The characters were compelling (or repulsive, as the case may be) and the settings were wonderfully described. I loved the balanced depiction of the Native Americans of the time, showing them from their own point of view as well as an outsider’s. I also loved that the author peppered the text with Scottish words. They were easily defined by the context but I had a great time looking up their meanings (ie: sclim=climb, swither=to be uncertain or hesitate). A really well done historical novel. I’m looking forward to future books by this author!
Midwife of the Blue Ridge is published by Berkley, ISBN 9780425221686

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The Various Flavors of Coffee by Anthony Capella

“A well made cup of coffee is the proper beginning to an idle day. Its aroma is beguiling, its taste is sweet; yet it leaves behind only bitterness and regret. In that it resembles, surely, the pleasures of love…..Although in this case, it seems to taste of nothing much except mud. With, perhaps, a faint aftertaste of rotten apricots.”

 

With these words Robert Wallis seals his fate. Not that it didn’t need to be sealed. After having been expelled from Oxford (too much partying, no studying) and cut off by his father, Robert is living in London on credit from various tradesmen. He is the very picture of a dandy, dressing in the most fashionable manner, writing marginal poetry by day and visiting local brothels by night. A dissolute young man who is nevertheless endearing from the very first page.

While sitting in a cafe one morning his remark is overheard by coffee merchant Samuel Pinker. Mr. Pinker wants to develop a reference manual to describe the tastes & smells in the various coffee beans that he imports. He needs someone with a discerning palate and the vocabulary necessary to complete the task. He offers Robert the very last thing that he wants, employment. But even Robert realizes that he will not be able to maintain his lifestyle with no income, so he reluctantly accepts.

The dreadful dullness of employment is greatly reduced when Robert meets his assistant. Mr. Pinker’s lovely daughter, Emily, serves as secretary and partner in the task. Robert, of course, is attracted to her (and her father’s wealth). He feels that he is a wonderful catch, a view not shared by Mr. Pinker. In order to win her hand he is given a mission. A five year trek to Africa, to plant and grow a crop of the best kind of coffee available. Obviously this kind of job is not to Robert’s taste but again, he sees that his life has left him few options and he agrees to go.
Africa will profoundly change Robert in ways that he cannot begin to imagine. The man who returns to London has learned hard lessons and survived harrowing experiences. The years have changed London and its inhabitants, as well. When he returns he will have to rebuild his life and try create a future for himself.
Mr. Capella has written a fantastic historical novel. He brilliantly describes London at the end of the nineteenth century with all of its wonderful depth, from the glamorous upper class drawing rooms to the seedy, poverty stricken streets. Then he takes us to the dusty plains and steamy jungles of Africa and introduces us to the native people, showing us their struggle to maintain their way of life in the face of outsiders in search of wealth and land. It is a rich, evocative, compelling story and I loved it.
The Various Flavors of Coffee will be published by Bantam on September 2, 2008

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The Triumph of Deborah by Eva Etzioni-Halevy

The twelve tribes of ancient Israel have been in the promised land for nearly a hundred years, but theirs is not a peaceful existence. The Canaanites have never ceased to harass the tribes, attacking small villages, stealing livestock and killing any Israelite they come across. The only safety is in numbers and the Israelites have retreated behind the walls of their towns.

The prophetess Deborah, a mother in her thirties, has been a powerful voice for the Israelites for years. She is known far and wide for her fair judgement and is a respected leader. She has received a vision that she must bring peace with the Canaanites. When her diplomatic efforts fail, she is forced to call the tribes together under a warrior who will lead them to victory. If the Canaanites will not agree to a truce, Israel must subdue them by force.

Barak is a young warrior who has been very successful in retaliatory raids against the Canaanites. He has built up quite a bit of wealth, is strong and a natural leader of men. He is Deborah’s choice to lead the Israelites. Unfortunately Barak has a reputation that precedes him. He is a lover of women, many women. This does not sit well with Lapidoth, Deborah’s husband. He does not trust Barak and does not want Deborah anywhere near him. They have a huge fight and Lapidoth’s anger and jealousy get the better of him, he divorces Deborah on the spot, after sixteen years of marriage.

Despite the problems in her personal life, Deborah agrees to accompany the army to the battle against the Canaanites. While the war is a resounding success, it creates further problems for Deborah, who has developed a bit of a crush on Barak. He demands sexual favors of her in return for his participation in the war and she surprises herself by enjoying their encounter. Then he manages to capture two of the Canaanite king’s daughters, Asherah and Nogah. Thus a love triangle (rectangle?) is born. Untangling the motivations and emotions of everyone involved will have a great impact on future events.

What a great premise for a novel, to take biblical women who have little known background information and breathe life into their stories. The author does it beautifully, creating the landscape of ancient Israel so that the reader can experience it. She then brings her characters to life with human needs and emotions so that they shake off the dust of history and can be related to as people, just as if they were living today. It’s the best kind of historical fiction and I recommend it!

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The Matchmaker of Perigord by Julia Stuart

Poor Guillaume Ladoucette. He has been an excellent barber for his small French town for twenty years. But now he has a problem. Well, two problems, really. The population of the town has not changed much over the years. It stands, in fact, at thirty-three. (That includes the pharmacist who has been missing since the mini-tornado of 1999.) The population’s hair is aging. You know what happens to aging hair. That’s right, it falls out. Some of Guillaume’s customers are going bald!
To make matters worse, a new snazzy barber has set up shop in a neighboring town and some folks have been lured away by the fashionable haircuts that he is offering. Guillaume feels that he must remain true to conventional barbering wisdom and not be swayed by popular attitudes. But the fact remains, he has almost no customers left. What is he to do?
He decides to make a clean break. Start over in an entirely new profession. Despite his own bachelor status and his inability to proclaim his feelings to the woman he has been in love with his entire life, he decides what the town needs most is a matchmaker. And he’s the man for the job. He tears the sink out of his shop and, after a quick makeover, re-opens his shop as “Heart’s Desire”.
Unfortunately, business is a bit slow at the start. Prospective clients looking for love are matched up with people that they are already VERY familiar with. It is a small town, people have already formed opinions about each other, getting them to change is difficult. Things aren’t going so well for Guillaume. Then, suddenly, he seems to have a success! The postman has found someone he really likes! Poor Guillaume, the woman in question turns out to be the same one he has been in love with his whole life. Now it looks like he will lose her forever, to the postman. Will he ever muster up the courage to admit his feelings?
What a fun book this is. It is witty and warm, filled with eccentric, endearing characters and fantastic descriptions of French food and pastries. It is a wonderful ‘cassoulet’ of a novel. Enjoy!
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The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows

 I just want to start out by saying that this book is going right to the top of my Favorite-Books-Of-All-Time list, I loved it!

It is 1946 London. The war is finally over and Juliet Ashton is in the midst of her first book tour. She is a journalist and during the war she wrote a cheery newspaper column under the pen name Izzy Bickerstaff. Those columns have been collected into a book and, though it’s selling well, Juliet more than ready to say goodbye to Izzy and start on a new writing project.

While she is casting about for ideas she receives a letter from Dawsey Adams, a farmer on Guernsey Island in the English Channel. He has found her name and address written in a secondhand book that he owns and asks for her help. Since Guernsey was occupied by the Nazis during the war, they have no bookseller in residence and he is unable to expand his reading. Would she have the name and address of a London bookseller who might be able to help?

The resulting letters they exchange introduce her to other residents of Guernsey, mostly friends of Mr. Adams and fellow members of The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society. One of the residents made up the Society on the spur of the moment one night when several of them were caught out by Nazi soldiers after curfew. And what a blessing it turned out to be, giving them something to think about and reasons to go on during the worst of the deprivation and starvation that the five years of occupation brought.

Eventually Juliet decides on the theme for her next book and goes to Guernsey to start writing and meet her new friends. What she finds when she gets there surprises her and changes her life.

I loved everything about this book. The post WWII England setting, the epistolary form, the realistic characters, the fact that much of it is about books, reading and love of literature. But most of all I loved the writer’s wit and style that had me laughing out loud in places and broke my heart and brought me to tears in others. I read it very quickly and I kept telling myself to slow down because at the rate I was going it would be over far too soon. But I couldn’t. So I’ll just have to read it again and again, like going back to an old friend.

It is a shame that there won’t be any more books by Mary Ann Shaffer, but what a gift she has given us. I can’t recommend this book highly enough.

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society will be published on August 5, 2008 by The Dial Press.

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