3 Jun 2023

The Scots of Dalriada by Rowena Kinread: A Coffee and Thorn Blog Tour

Genre: Historical Fiction (5th Century, Scotland and Ireland)
250 Pages, Print and Ebook


Fergus, Loarn and Angus, Princes of the Dalriada, are forced into exile by their scheming half-brother and the druidess Birga One-tooth.


Fergus conceals himself as a stable lad on Aran and falls helplessly in love with a Scottish princess, already promised to someone else. Loarn crosses swords against the Picts. Angus designs longboats.


Always on the run the brothers must attempt to outride their adversaries by gaining power themselves. Together they achieve more than they could possibly dream of.

Fergus Mór (The Great) is widely recognised as the first King of Scotland, giving Scotland its name and its language. Rulers of Scotland and England from Kenneth mac Alpín until the present time claim descent from Fergus Mór.

Full of unexpected twists and turns, this is a tale of heart-breaking love amidst treachery, deceit and murder.


 My Review: ⭐⭐⭐

It took me a while to get into this book, but by the end it was an interesting fictionalized account of the very early Irish settlements in Scotland. The Kingdom of Dalriada which spanned the Irish Sea consisted of such settlements.

I think "The Scots of Dalriada" is a better title than Fergus McNair, because it isn't really about one character, but Fergus and his brothers and the political forces which drove them to Scotland. I did find the personal/romantic parts of the story a little slower and hard going.
It ranged between narrative accounts (this happened then this happened) and a more detailed portrayal of everyday life. I wasn’t 100% sure it was accurate for the time period either, but that isn’t necessarily a big deal because it was more about the story of the characters.

It wasn’t my favourite book, I think I prefer M.N. Stroh’s Tales of the Clans Series, but that is about Ireland instead of Scotland. It was good for people interested in Historical Fiction and especially an under-appreciated figure from Scottish History.

One point worth noting is that this is *not* Inspirational/Religious Fiction. For my followers who typically read this I will add a content warning for

  • Graphic/Semi-detailed sex scenes, including one in the first chapter. -
  • Character Deaths, incl. violent deaths 

About the Author: 

Rowena Kinread grew up in Ripon, Yorkshire with her large family and a horde of pets.

She began writing in the nineties. Her special area of interest is history. After researching her ancestry and finding family roots in Ireland with the Dalriada clan, particularly this era. Her debut fiction novel titled The Missionary is a historical novel about the dramatic life of St. Patrick. It was published by Pegasus Publishers in April 2021 and has been highly appraised by The Scotsman, The Yorkshire Post and the Irish Times.

Her second novel The Scots of Dalriada centres around Fergus Mór, the founder father of Scotland and takes place in 5th century Ireland and Scotland. It was published by Pegasus in January 2023.

24 Apr 2023

Suppression and Suspicion by Mel Starr

Genre: Crime/Mystery- Historical
Period: Medieval- 14th Century

Edmund Harkins has gone missing.

Few in Bampton liked him, knowing him to be a wife-beater and distinctly unsavoury character, so when some hungry pigs unearth his corpse from a shallow grave, there is hardly an outpouring of grief.

As bailiff, it is Hugh de Singleton’s duty to bring Edmund’s killer to justice. But where is he to start investigating when almost everyone in the village has a motive? And when everyone is pleased to see the scoundrel dead, who knows how far they might go to help someone get away with murder?

To further complicate Hugh's life, the Bishop of Exeter has appointed his nephew as Bampton’s new vicar. But as well as an obsession with discovering any heretical views Hugh might hold, he could not be more unpriestly – he not only acts appallingly with Lady Katherine’s maid, but is contributing to the unhealthy atmosphere of suppression and suspicion that has come to pervade the village . . .

 Mel Starr paints an immersive and atmospheric picture of fourteenth-century England, and weaves a compelling mystery that will keep you on the edge of your seat until the last page.

My Rating:⭐⭐⭐⭐


I (usually) love my Hugh de Singleton books. This one was interesting and involved a lot more in terms of social attitudes and domestic issues than some of the other stories in the series. Towards the end I was rather concerned that it was going to be a rehash of an earlier story, Unhallowed Ground. There were similarities, but it wasn’t entirely the same.

I’m not sure I agreed with everything Hugh did and all the decisions he made in this one, but I could understand his motivation if not he justification. One thing I did find interesting was the idea of community justice in Medieval England, and the idea that people in villages might well deal with disputes in their own way, without any recourse to the central legal authorities who were seen as out of touch at best, and openly corrupt at worst.

I hope to continue reading more Hugh de Singleton books, moving forward as I do enjoy the series and I just hope the author doesn’t run out of ideas.

Thanks to Lion Fiction for approving my request for this title. I also pre-ordered the book for myself.
(The only thing which didn’t impress me with that was the number of pages stuck together because the book hadn’t been cut and finished properly, but this isn’t’ review of the book’s condition.)
Neither of these influenced my review and all opinions expressed are my own.

12 Apr 2023

In Love's Time by Kate Breslin


Genre: Historical Fiction
Period: WW1 Britain and Russia

In the summer of 1918, Captain Marcus Weatherford arrives in Russia on a secret mission, with a beautiful ballerina posing as his fiancée. Marcus searches for the Romanov Tsarina and her son--who both allegedly survived the murdering Bolsheviks--and the information behind an allied plot to assassinate Lenin. But Marcus's sense of duty battles his desire to return home to Clare--his actual love.

Hospital orderly Clare Danner still suffers from Marcus's betrayal and now fears losing her daughter to the heartless family who took Daisy away from Clare once before, but only Marcus can provide the critical proof needed to save her daughter.

Faced with danger and unexpected circumstances, can Clare trust Marcus, or will he shatter her world yet again?


                                                    Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐


 This novel got off to a strong start, kind of lagged towards the middle, and ended very well. My main problem was that I could not remember all the characters: which is my bad. Marcus Weatherford has been in several of them, but it has been years since I read Not By Sight, which I understand this is the Follow Up to. I need to re-read that, and then this.

There's plenty of romance and intrigue, and some interesting details about woman working as nurses during WW1, as well as the way battlefield injuries were being dealt with. Not just physical, but also mental injuries: Marcus is suffering from amnesia as well as what we would probably now recognize as PTSD. Understanding of this condition was in its infancy in 1918: which is to say almost non-existent.

The details about spying and the political situation worked well in the background took me ages to realize the copy of Pride and Prejudice was being used as a sort of signal.

I really liked Marcus, Clare, and Marcus’ sister, Frannie. This was a lovely story of second chance romance, love, and forgiveness. I would recommend this to those who like WW1 novels and historical fiction but would recommend starting with the first book as this one doesn't work so well as a standalone since there is a lot of background for the protagonists which the first book explores.

Thanks to Bethany House for approving my request for this title. All opinions are freely given and entirely my own.


10 Apr 2023

Merlin's Blade by Robert Treskillard


Merlin's Spiral #1 

Genre: Fantasy/Arthurian Legend

April  16th 2013, Zondervan  

A strange meteorite.
A deadly enchantment.
And only Merlin can destroy it.

A meteorite brings a mysterious black stone whose sinister power ensnares everyone except Merlin, the blind son of a swordsmith. Soon, all of Britain will be under its power, and he must destroy the stone—or die trying.


 My Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐

Wow! I was not expecting to love this book as much as I did. One thing that I find with a lot of novels is that I don't really get immersed in the setting: there are often too many things that pull me out of it, or that the worldbuilding isn't that great.

Merlin's Blade though was a welcome change. It was so immersive & kept me hooked almost from the outset. I don’t know if it was totally historically accurate, but the story has that mythic and slightly mystical feel that I want from Arthurian Legends. Also the geographical setting: I really thought it was set in Wales, but its actually set in 5th century Cornwall.
To me, it just felt like Post-Roman Britain should, with local Kings and warlords, people clinging onto the last remnants of “civilization” even if that was just to keep told of power as petty tyrants and monks clinging onto scholarship and learning at the edge of a culture breaking down. There’s treacherous warbands and bards, druids and ancient treasures, miracles and magic.

The prose was well-written, consistent and even the twists made sense. The poetic parts also worked well. It is really some of the best writing I have encountered in a YA book. Some of the songs reminded me of Welsh war poems and The Gododdin: a 6th century War Poem I recently read.

The beginning felt like the old Sword in the Stone movie, but the story soon took on a more serious tone: with prophecies a battle against an evil druid threatening everything and everyone Merlin loved, and sinister powers at work behind the scenes. I liked how this author wasn’t afraid of incorporating some of the supernatural elements into the story: but he’s also unashamedly Christian. Some writers try to remove all religious or Christian elements from the Arthurian Legends, but Robert Treskillard put’s Merlin’s faith at the centre.

He is not a druid or a wizard, but rather a prophet-like figure as some of the Medieval Romances cast him: a foretold sage and wise person who will save his people through becoming a guide and mentor to the future King.

Of course, he has to grow into that role: for most of this story he is a blind blacksmith’s son who is quite insignificant. I now want to read the next two parts of this story.

26 Jan 2023

2022 Catchup: The Premonition at Withers Farm by Jaime Jo Wright

 Catching up on posting reviews I read last year, but did not post. 

Genre: Crossover/Duel Timeline
Pyschological Thriller/Mystery

In 1910 Michigan, Perliett VanHilton is a self-proclaimed rural healer, leaving the local doctor, George Wasziak, convinced she practices quackery. It doesn't help that her mother, Maribeth VanHilton, is a Spiritualist who regularly offers her services to help others speak to their dearly departed. But when Perliett is targeted by a superstitious killer, she relies on both George and an intriguing newcomer for help.

In the present day, life has not developed the way Molly Wasziak dreamed. Facing depression after multiple miscarriages, Molly is adapting to her husband's purchase of a new farm. A search for a family tree pulls Molly deep into a vintage web of deceptions, made more mysterious by the disturbing shadows and sounds in the old farmhouse.

Perliett fights for her life, and Molly seeks renewed purpose for hers as she uncovers the records of the dead. Will their voices be heard, or will time silence their truths forever?

My rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐

The Premonition at Withers Farm is probably the first title by this author which has not been made into an audiobook. I can, in part understand why. It covers some very controversial content most notably Spiritualism, which was rising in popularity in the early 20th century.
The protagonist’s mother holds seances in her house for money and publicity. I will say that this content, although explored, isn’t glorified, or encouraged: it’s treated from a biblical standpoint as something people shouldn’t dabble with. The novel also goes into the reasons why many people were drawn to spiritualism, and how the inability to deal with grief and loss in a healthy way could be exploited.

The modern protagonist, Molly, was struggling with postpartum depression after several miscarriages. Except, she didn’t really understand what was happening to her or how the condition could impact her when she had lost her children before birth.
I was compelled by the central mystery of this story (Jaime Jo Wright’s books are always thrillers) which wasn’t predictable at all and the exploration of life, death, guilt, shame, and the secrets within families.

I did think some of the romantic elements felt a bit contrived or inappropriate at times, though. I’ve felt that about some of the other books by this author and I sometimes wonder if the romance is even necessary since her books are good enough as dual timeline thrillers.
That said, the modern protagonist is already married, so it’s not a traditional “romance” in that regard.

This novel also covers matters relating to mental health, in this case the complex and controversial subject of psychopathy. Some have complained that mental illness is used as an “excuse” for behaviour of characters, but I think this represents a misunderstanding of mental illness as whole. In the case of this book the idea that psychopaths are born not made comes into play: this is something which has been explored by psychologists, as psychopathy seems to be the only psychological condition which has no identifiable cause and may be genetic.

I’d recommend this title for all fans of the author and thrillers. I had some major issues with her last book which thankfully are not present here. It managed to be spooky and gripping without resort to graphic violence or descriptions of violence and returns to being more of a psychological thriller.

Thanks to Bethany House for approving my request for this title. I wasn’t required to write a review, and all opinions are my own and given freely.

View all my reviews

2022 Catchup: The Lost Melody by Joanna Davidson Politano

Posting some of my reviews for books I read last year, because I have got so behind in updating my blog. 

When concert pianist Vivienne Mourdant's father dies, he leaves to her the care of an adult ward she knew nothing about. The woman is supposedly a patient at Hurstwell Asylum. The woman's portrait is shockingly familiar to Vivienne, so when the asylum claims she was never a patient there, Vivienne is compelled to discover what happened to the figure she remembers from childhood dreams.

The longer she lingers in the deep shadows and forgotten towers at Hurstwell, the fuzzier the line between sanity and madness becomes. She hears music no one else does, receives strange missives with rose petals between the pages, and untangles far more than is safe for her to know. But can she uncover the truth about the mysterious woman she seeks? And is there anyone at Hurstwell she can trust with her suspicions?

Fan-favorite Joanna Davidson Politano casts a delightful spell with this lyrical look into the nature of women's independence and artistic expression during the Victorian era--and now.

My rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐

The Lost Melody was a book which could have been very dark, like a Thomas Hardy novel. His books always leave me depressed. There were certainly Gothic notes, but this book had enough undertones of hope and courage to leave the reader satisfied. It is about a young woman who is convinced she is mad and committed to an Asylum under a false name. Vivienne doesn’t even realize she has been sent there at first, and in the first chapters she is merely searching for someone who was sent to the asylum until it turns out she is, in fact, a patient.

Vivienne knows she’s not mad, but someone wants to make out she is. The longer she stays, the more she finds out there is something strange going on in the asylum. There are “secret” patients they deny the existence of someone is lying about the background of mysterious female patient, and one of the doctors seems to have a connection with her. A connection which he denies, and which he and others will apparently do anything to keep a secret.

Apart from being about the healing and encouraging impact of music, I think I would suggest the other theme of this book is judging by appearances. Vivienne (and others) dismisses many of those in the Hurstwell Asylum as mad or dangerous when they’re not. Many are just struggling with trauma or disability and don’t know how to express themselves. The author’s note also suggests that Victorian Ayslums were not what we think either: the majority of patients were male, not female. It seems like then, as now, mental illness was more common among men.

As Vivienne uncovers the secrets in Hurstwell, she learns that her light can shine even in the darkest of places, and her gift for music can make a difference to any lives even when she does not see its purpose. It also provides a valuable exploration of attitudes to disability, mental health, neurodiversity, and artistic expression. Some beliefs, especially about the former, still have not changed. There are still people who believe people with certain conditions such as PTSD are just bad and dangerous or are simply lazy and need to put effort in to “cure” themselves. Disabled people are still being judged and subject to discrimination now.
Why the slightly lower rating? A few of the usual issues with some language and details which weren’t quite right for the setting, but nothing that was too serious.

I would recommend this for everyone interested in Historical Fiction and clean Fiction with Inspirational overtones.

Thanks to Revell for approving my request for this title on Netgalley. This did not influence my review, and all opinions expressed are my own.

View all my reviews
Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...