Friday, 23 February 2018

Cozy Mystery Series set in 1950s - Girls Weekend Murder by Lynn McPherson

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Izzy Walsh Mystery Series, published by Black Opal Books. 

The story is set along the New England shoreline, not far from New York City, in 1953. It follows Isabelle Walsh and her close-knit group of friends as they gather to celebrate their annual girls’ weekend. While off to a promising start, the weekend quickly goes awry as murder interrupts the fun.

In Izzy Walsh, McPherson has created a character who’s fun, witty, and loyal to a fault, with a fierce determination to prove her friend is innocent of murder—the perfect combination for an amateur sleuth. Told with a unique and refreshing voice, this is one you will want to keep on your shelf to read again whenever you’re feeling nostalgic. A really fun read!

~Pepper O’Neal, author of the award-winning Black Ops Chronicles series.


It was the summer of 1953 and I was feeling good. In fact, I was feeling great. Getting all dolled up was a treat I rarely got to experience these days. This morning my husband and children refrained from knocking on the bathroom door for a full half hour in exchange for a pancake breakfast usually reserved for birthdays. That provided me with just enough time to get ready. I put on my favorite corset with a full blue skirt and crisp, white blouse. Then I applied matching indigo eyeshadow. Finally, I tackled my limp, straight hair. This would take a little extra effort. I carefully took the pin curlers out and tried to arrange it just like the picture I had in front of me from Enchanted magazine. I unleashed half a can of Aqua Net over it and neatly tucked a violet pansy behind my ear to match my eyes. I took a final peek in the mirror and was pleasantly surprised. I was ready to go cruising on the open road. That's how I felt, anyways. More accurately I would be driving responsibly through the suburban town of Twin Oaks. But it was en route to a weekend I looked forward to all year.
It had been a long time since I'd been out on my own. Every time I went out solo, I told myself I must do it more often. But it doesn't happen. My husband, Frank, was extra sweet today by surprising me with the keys to his fixed-up convertible. A bonus of having a mechanic for a husband, I supposed. I had this grin on my face so wide I looked like I was trying to sell toothpaste. Okay, I need to rein this in. My excitement would land me in bed sleeping by nine o'clock if I kept it up. But I couldn't help it. Our girls' weekends had been reduced to a once-a-year event and I was giddy with anticipation. I still saw the girls regularly but it was usually for a quick coffee or playtime with our children.  There simply wasn't time to unwind and pal around. This was important to me because I needed to remember who I was other than the roles I had in life, such as wife and mother. These were my greatest joys, but I still delighted in occasionally reviving the immature young woman who loved silly antics and laughing until her face hurt. I could hear her calling to come out as I turned onto Ava's street.
Ava Russell, my best friend, could make anyone laugh. Her amusing observations and sarcastic tone made her hard to ignore. But it was her big heart that solidified my affection for her. She was a loyal, caring friend, in addition to—or maybe in spite of—her biting wit. I pulled into her driveway and turned off the car. No sooner had I done this than Ava's front door swung open and she was waving madly at me, making her gorgeous brunette locks bounce up and down on her shoulders. I could see a brilliant yet fiendish smile on her face highlighted by her signature red lipstick, which she swore never to leave home without.
            "Izzy, what did you have to do to get Frank to take this beauty for the whole weekend? Or is it better I don't ask?"
She winked at me and I rolled my eyes.
"Ava, I believe proper etiquette is to start with a simple greeting, such as good afternoon, before giving me a hard time," I remarked.
            "Oh darling, you know I'm just jealous.  Frank is such a prince. Bruce barely lets me use our car to go get groceries. If I didn't promise to bring him back some of those damn potato chips every time I went, I think it would be real battle."
            I laughed. "Bruce is a sweetheart. You make him sound like a brute."
            "Izzy, please. I didn't say I'd lose the battle. He's just not as generous with his precious car. Never mind if he had a car like this!"
            "I like to think Frank is simply that sweet but, in truth, I think in the back of his mind he reassures himself that if anything happens to the car, he can easily fix it in the shop," I admitted.
            Frank had opened a mechanic shop following his return from the war. I would say he loved cars, but that wasn’t quite accurate. In fact, he loved engines. He was a hands-on problem solver and enjoyed figuring out how any engine worked and making it run smoothly. During the war, Frank joined the Air Force and became a proficient airplane mechanic. Since he joined as a skilled car mechanic to begin with, he mastered the craft and then taught it to others. Frank trained recruits on the Avro Anson airplane.  Later in the war, upon his request, he went overseas to serve. That was a dark time for me, one I didn't like to think of often.


            We put Ava's bags in the trunk and headed out. As we drove away from Ava's home, the wind made her crinoline-lined floral skirt float up revealing a scandalous look at her long lean legs. I'm not even sure if Ava was wearing stockings.
She let out a loud and joyous holler, "Izzy, I have been looking forward to this weekend for months."
            "Me too," I declared, pushing away a sea of flowers from her encroaching skirt, "I wish we could do it more often."
            "Izzy." Ava composed her outfit and gave me a stern look. "We are not the irresponsible young women we once were. We have children who would miss us and besides, I have to leave such detailed instructions on how to survive one weekend without me, I mean honestly, it takes weeks of planning—” She broke off in a giggle. "—I'll admit that I do add in a few extra chores I wouldn't normally bother with myself, just to make sure Bruce and the kids appreciate all the hard work I do."
            I shook my head, "You have a terrible yet brilliant mind."
            We drove through town and I suddenly felt nostalgic. I glanced over at Ava and felt thankful she was such a big part of my life.
            She looked back at me, "Are they too much?"
            "What?" She lifted her polka dot kitten-framed sunglasses off her face and squinted. I could barely see her warm brown eyes behind the thick mascara, "The glasses—are they over-the-top?"
            "They suit you perfectly," I answered, not trying to hide a smirk.
She had much more adventurous style than I did, as I rarely strayed from my plethora of pleated skirts and plain blouses.
            She placed her sunglasses back over her eyes then glared at me through the dark lenses. "You know, the sarcastic tone you repeatedly berate me with will probably affect my self-confidence long-term, if it hasn't already."
            I glanced at her and repressed a laugh. Ava had the kind of looks that could take a little bit of friendly teasing. I turned on the radio and was happy to hear Tony Bennett singing "Rags To Riches". It was one of my favorite songs.

Monday, 19 February 2018

Coming of Age in the 1960s. "Bronxland" by Paul Thaler

 We may be connected to the mainland, but to the rest of the world our home borough of the Bronx is to this day undiscovered territory.  On that note Bronxland hits a Yankee home run. Paul Thaler draws a brutally-accurate portrayal of Bronx life for any kid who came of age in the early sixties, replete with a Bronx tour on a red Schwinn bike: the Grand Concourse and Tremont, Jahn’s, Krum’s, and the Loew’s Paradise, Woodlawn Cemetery, Freedomland, and of course the Stadium that was home to Mickey, Roger, Yogi, and Whitey.  Along with the childhood joys of stickball, stoopball, and hoops, and the wonder of pubescent sexual discovery, Thaler’s Bronx is not always pleasant as Bronxland delves deep into the pain of coming of age in an often unforgiving place.  But most of all, you’ll be thrilled with the detail, the sights, the sounds, and even the smells of our own, one-of-a-kind home. Bronxland indeed.
Gary Axelbank, host of BronxTalk on BronxNet and publisher of thisistheBronx



The top-rated novel on Goodreads' listopia of "Best Historical Coming of Age Books"!

Paul Wolfenthal is a peculiar 13-year-old kid grappling with the absurdities of his young Bronx life circa 1960. He visits the dead, hears voices in his head, despises Richard Nixon, is infatuated with his Marilyn Monroe look-alike math teacher, and is a choice victim for the neighborhood’s sadistic bully. And then Paul really starts running into trouble.

Paul is, in fact, a kid in search of heroes, alive and otherwise, and finds them in John Kennedy and Harry Houdini, both of whom cross into his life. But these are strange and even dangerous times. Hovering in the shadows are “the demons” that haunt Paul’s young childhood dreams, only to come alive and shatter his world. One steals away a neighborhood child. And then his president.

Set against the turbulent history of the times, this uproarious and heartending coming of age historical novel tugs on a kaleidoscope of emotions. Bronxland is place of the heart known to all of us, with our own story to tell of growing up, of trying to make sense of our life, with everything that comes along.


Chapter 13

John, Rosie, and Me

Saturday afternoon. A brisk day in early November. Earlier, the guys had given me a call to shoot some hoops at the schoolyard. Instead here I was with Mom on a bus to Fordham Road and on my way to buy a suit for Robby Rosenfeld’s bar mitzvah. No one had bothered to ask me before we began our trip: “Paul, would you rather play basketball with your friends today, or go shopping with your mother?”
That would have been the polite thing to do. And certainly I would have weighed each choice carefully. And who knows what decision I would have reached. I mean basketball was my favorite sport, loved the game, but what kid could pass up the chance to go shopping—on a Saturday—with his mother—to Alexander’s department store no less.
When I get angry, I get sarcastic, and that afternoon I was really pissed. Giving up my Saturday afternoon to shop at Alexander’s was extreme child abuse as far as I was concerned. I hated clothes shopping in general, and especially at Alexander’s with its store matrons, who told me how cute I was, measuring me with their eyes, and then loudly declaring to anyone within shouting distance, “So, you look like a husky!”
Okay, so I could have lost a few pounds. But did the entire world need to know about it? At Alexander’s they did. In fact, the store had invented a new clothing size for Jewish boys from the Bronx. It was called a “husky.” I guess Alexander’s was trying to be diplomatic when they found a word to tell Mrs. Wolfenthal that her somewhat chunky son waiting to get fitted for a suit was not really fat at all. He was only “husky.” How nice. They should have just gone ahead and named the oversized garment “fat boy.” Small, medium, large, and fat boy. At least that would have been honest.
I hated the store. But I didn’t count.

Fordham Road was the Mecca for shopping and Alexander’s rose from its center. Most shoppers thought of the place as sort of a house of worship at the corner of the Grand Concourse and Fordham Road, answering their prayers for bargain-priced stuff. Saturday was a particularly popular service with lots of mothers and kids in tow.
Something was obviously very different about this trip though. A swirl of street activity surrounded Rosie and me as we approached the store. Men, women, and even small kids, all looking keyed up, were beginning to pack around the Concourse.
I doubted whether these folks were part of the Saturday shopping crowd out to buy a suit for Robby Rosenfeld’s bar mitzvah. Some other happening was about to go on, though it took me a minute to figure it out.
I could see that an outdoor platform had been set up next to a yellow-brick building with a bald eagle over its entrance. The stage was decorated with American flags and red-white-and-blue streamers.
Some kind of political big deal was in the works to get this crowd to show up. I wondered if the mayor himself was coming. Elections were now three days away, and politics was definitely in the air. I was starting to get revved up myself walking through the crush of people.
“Mom, can’t we hang here to see what’s going on?” I asked.
“Honey, we can’t,” Rosie said. “Sel, Ettie and the kids are coming over later and I’m making a brisket. We need to buy you your suit and get home.”
I didn’t think a visit by my aunts and cousins was enough of a reason to miss the big event. And certainly Mom’s brisket was no incentive—I loved Rosie, but, honestly, cooking was simply not her strong suit.
“C’mon, Mom,” I pleaded, but by then she was taking me by the hand into the hellhole that was Alexander’s. . . .

We left Alexander’s with my dark blue suit covered in a black plastic bag. Mission accomplished, and I guess I should have been relieved knowing that I wasn’t going naked to Robby Rosenfeld’s bar mitzvah. But heading out the store exit, we suddenly found ourselves wedged into a gigantic crowd, and trapped. The streets outside Alexander’s, had become a forest of humanity. It was if the entire Bronx had shown up, filling every inch of sidewalk on both sides of the Concourse.
“Mom, what is this?” I said excitedly, caught up in the street energy.
I could see that all eyes in the crowd were focused on the speakers’ platform. That included mom’s.
Rosie seemed spellbound—someone had gripped her attention from the stage. “Let’s find out,” she replied, suddenly determined.
Rosie tugged at my arm as we pushed our way through the crowd, finally squeezing into a spot close to the platform.
“Look!” I called out to Mom, pointing up to the stage.
I had recognized the gray-haired man standing at the microphone. He was our governor, Abraham Ribicoff.
“And there’s the mayor too!” I shouted, eyeing Robert Wagner standing among the group of politicians.
Amazing. I had never been this close to anyone nearly as famous as these guys.
Rosie stood next to me without a word, strangely quiet, also staring at the men on the platform.
I could see that the governor was having a hard time being heard over the crowd noise. More than twenty-thousand people, I found out later. A number more suited for a Yankee game than a political rally outside of Alexander’s.
“This is incredible, Mom!” I called out to Rosie.
She nodded, but I had the feeling she hadn’t heard a word. Her eyes were still locked on the stage.
Then the crowd began some loud chant, something I couldn’t pick up at first. The governor seemed to understand the message though, stepping away from the microphone. He then turned to the political guys standing in back of him. To one guy in particular.
I glanced across the platform and then saw him. And I understood just who had caught Rosie’s eye. And everyone else’s.
Shouts from the packed crowd now resounded as one and boomed along the Concourse—everyone calling out to the man on stage who had just stepped forward.
John F. Kennedy was in the Bronx. And he was standing fifteen feet in front of Rosie and me.
The explosion of noise followed John, now making his way to the microphone. I couldn’t take my eyes off of him. I had only seen the guy in shades of gray on my small black-and-white television. In person, he was so full of color, full of life. He looked tan and relaxed, his smile radiating across the Concourse.
Everyone in the crowd was bundled up in our warm coats and hats that brisk day. All except John, who shrugged off the weather in his light overcoat. No surprise there. Every kid could tell you the story of PT 109. John saving the life of one of his crewman after his boat was rammed by a Jap destroyer. Swimming miles to safety in enemy waters, towing a wounded shipmate by a belt buckle clamped in his teeth. I mean, what was a little cold weather for this guy.
I glanced back at Rosie, still in a hypnotic state, as we pressed closer to the platform.
And then John started to speak, accented words that I had grown familiar with over the campaign. The crowd settled down to listen.
“I come to the Bronx as an old Bronx boy. I used to live in the Bronx.”
(I knew that! I knew that!)
“I agree it was the Riverdale end of the Bronx, but it was the Bronx. No other candidate for the presidency can make that statement.”
“I do not know the last time that a candidate from the Bronx ran for the presidency, but I am here to ask your help. . .
Cheers, only louder, then wild applause.             
John had barely mentioned his opponent, Richard Nixon. Instead, he spoke about “the future of America” and “the time of revolution and change.”
I hung onto his every word. It was if he was talking directly to me, and it would not have surprised me if every person there felt the same.
John finished with waves of love coming his way from the huge crowd. He finally turned from the microphone to rejoin the mayor, governor, and the other pols, all seeming very pleased. And, slowly, the crowd started to break up, holding onto the moment before getting back to their lives. I wasn’t going anywhere, planted in my spot, awestruck at the sight of the man still standing in front of me.
“Mom, he’s talking to those other guys. Can’t we go over there and say hello?”
Before Rosie could say a word, I bolted past some policemen and over to the edge of the platform. The politicians continued to chat as they climbed down a few steps to make their way to a waiting Lincoln convertible.
Mr. Kennedy,” I called out, unsteadily. “Mr. Kennedy.”
John F. Kennedy turned his head, eyes on me. Then he came over.
“How are you, son?” he said, smiling that bright toothy smile of his.
Up close he looked much younger than he did on television. I remembered his school picture, the kid he once was. That Bronx boy. And now he was here. With me.
I could barely utter a word, shaking badly. When I finally spoke, I think it was something like, “You know, I’m from the Bronx, too.”
“Is that right? And how do you like it here?” And that smile again.
“Yeah, uh, great,” I sputtered, my head nodding as if it was caught on a broken spring.
I don’t know if I was pleased or not when Mom came by, my bar mitzvah suit slung over her arm, and introduced herself. I mean, she had interrupted our man-to-man talk. But then something amazing happened. Rosie and John started to chat, easily. Shooting the breeze. They seemed relaxed, as if they had been lifelong neighbors.
The talk was about kids—I heard my name. Another name, Caroline. It was family talk. I was half expecting Rosie to invite John—I was sure they were on a first name basis by now—over to our apartment for a little chopped liver and some white fish. Maybe Jackie could play Mah Jongg with the girls on Wednesday night.
I was in some fantastic dream world here on the Concourse with Mom schmoozing with John Kennedy. Could this possibly be?
Mom and John’s talk finally broke up with John reaching out to take Rosie’s hand. They stood there like that for a few seconds before letting go. I could see Rosie’s eyes glowing, face shining. I had never seen that little girl look in her before.
Then John turned and reached out his hand to me, and I shook it. His hand was surprisingly soft, a comforting touch.
I found my voice and wished him good luck with the election. He smiled and nodded. “I’m counting on your vote, Paul,” he said, eyes twinkling. I nodded back, and decided not to remind him that I couldn’t vote. I was pretty sure he knew that already.
John gave me an “attaboy” tap on my shoulder, a sign, maybe, that we were pals. At least that’s how I took it. And then he was off, making his way back to the Lincoln.
I could not move until I saw his car disappear down the Concourse. Rosie also was not ready to let go of the moment. There we were, a mother-son statue, frozen in our tracks, gazing at a car, and a man, now out of sight.
We slowly came back to ourselves and began to stroll along the avenue, both of us lost in thought. I knew that we would never go to Alexander’s again without looking across the way and thinking of this November day.
I was in no mood to rush home, a decision made easy as we passed my favorite ice cream parlor.
“Mom, how about Jahn’s?” I asked, pointing to the store window filled with faces deep into huge bowls of the creamy stuff.
“Yes, great idea!” Rosie bubbled, her smile ear to ear. “But no Kitchen Sink.”
We both laughed. The infamous Sink, filled with a mountain of every ice cream imaginable, was uneatable. Anyone finishing the monster dish was promised another free one by Jahn’s. Legend had it though that many a teen almost died trying, but no one had ever gone the distance with the Kitchen Sink.
“Maybe we can toast our next president with the Banana Split,” I happily replied.
“Perfect,” Mom giggled, and I also laughed, the glow of the afternoon still in us.

Friday, 5 January 2018

Retro Brit: Two Queens of Roman Britain.

Retro Brit: Two Queens of Roman Britain.: Boudicca and Cartimandua Two Queens of Roman Britain. There were two queens of Roman Britain. One was infamous and became ...

Thursday, 4 January 2018

Medieval Romance -THE SNOW BRIDE by Lindsay Townsend. New Excerpt

The Snow Bride
She is Beauty, but is he the Beast?
Elfrida, spirited, caring, and beautiful, is also alone. She is the "witch of the woods," and no man dares to ask for her hand in marriage until a beast comes stalking brides and steals away her sister. Desperate, the lovely Elfrida offers herself as a sacrifice, as bridal bait, and she is seized by a man with fearful scars. Is he the beast?
In the depths of a frozen midwinter, in the heart of the woodland, Sir Magnus, battle-hardened knight of the Crusades, searches ceaselessly for three missing brides, pitting his wits and weapons against a nameless stalker of the snowy forest. Disfigured and hideously scarred, Magnus has finished with love, he thinks, until he rescues a fourth "bride," the beautiful, red-haired Elfrida, whose innocent touch ignites in him a fierce passion that satisfies his deepest yearnings and darkest desires.
Genre: Historical
Length: 92,037 words

Chapter 5

As they rode within sight of the thatched roofs of Lower Yarr, Magnus squeezed Elfrida’s waist. “You know what to do?” he whispered against her ear.
“We have been over this plan a score of times,” Elfrida replied, quelling the waspish tone in her voice so that Mark, riding alongside, could not accuse her of scolding. “You are right, it should work.”
She and Magnus had talked at length at first light, over a breakfast of thick porridge that even now sat in her stomach like a stone. Magnus had seemed shy then, looking at the monster’s blue cup instead of her, but during the long ride over, he had put her before him on his horse and then clamped his body behind her like moss on a boulder.
Riding for her was strange and new, but she sensed that even with a missing hand and foot Magnus was an excellent horseman. Once she had asked if they need sit so closely, but he had merely grunted and said the saddle made it so. After that he had urged the bay to a burst of speed, plowing through the fresh snow and scattering great clouds of white chill flakes everywhere so that speech became impossible.
Now they were here, at a village she knew but had rarely visited. Those seeking her cures or help came to her, instead. Elfrida pulled the hood of her cloak over her hair so she could stare unchallenged, and she looked about.
It was not as pretty as Top Yarr, she decided, satisfied that the village’s great house, wells, homes and snow-covered gardens were no better than those of her village. As they galloped down the track, a few faces she knew peered out from window shutters, and several old men hobbled on sticks out of doors.
She and Magnus and a troop of other horsemen swept on to the village’s meeting house, home of the headman Adam de Shaghe, whose wife she had once helped in a matter of love magic.
And I have other spells and charms to set, other villagers to help, if not here, then at Selton and Great Yarr. But they must wait. Christina comes first.
“You understand their speech?” Magnus asked for the sixth time.
“Very well. And you know to back me, whatever I demand?”
His long thighs stroked briefly against hers as he hugged her. “To the hilts.”
Warmed by his vow, she touched his hand in return, then gave her full attention to Adam de Shaghe and his council, who were gathering by the village cross to meet them.
As they had agreed, Magnus and his men dismounted, but Elfrida remained on horseback. Sitting straight and proudly in the saddle, she tossed back the hood of her cloak. Her red hair was the brightest thing in the village clearing, and her itching spots had faded to red blemishes so that she seemed a thing of fury. She sounded it, too, her clear voice ringing to the treetops.

* * * *


Also in print, nook, and Audio

Monday, 27 November 2017

"Whippoorwill" by R.L. Bartram. Thriller set in the American Civil War

R. L. Bartram brings us a thrilling tale of espionage set in the American Civil War

Barely fourteen, Ceci Prejean is a tomboy running wild in the hot Louisiana summer. After breaking the nose of a local boy, her father decides to enlist the aid of Hecubah, a beautiful Creole woman, with a secret past, who takes Ceci in hand and turns her into a lady.
Now, eighteen-year-old Ceci meets and falls passionately in love with a handsome young northerner, Trent Sinclaire. Trent is a cadet at the West Point military academy. He acts as if he knows Ceci. They begin a torrid affair, even as the southern states begin to secede from the Union.
Only weeks before their wedding, the Confederate army attacks Fort Sumter and the civil war begins. Trent is called to active service in the north, leaving Ceci heartbroken in the south.

Swearing vengeance on the union, after the untimely death of her family at the fall of New Orleans, Ceci meets with infamous spy master, Henry Doucet. He initiates her into the shadowy world of espionage.
After her failure to avert the catastrophe at Gettysburg, Ceci infiltrates the White House. There, she comes face to face with Abraham Lincoln, a man she’s sworn to kill. Forming a reckless alliance with the actor, John Wilkes Booth, she is drawn deeper into the plot to assassinate the President of the United States.

A Confederate spy in love with a Union officer, her next decision will determine whether she lives or dies...

Although a great deal has been written about the American Civil War, hardly anything has been written about female spies,” observes R. L. Bartram. “Whippoorwill brings a fresh new perspective on this fascinating period.”


Trent was lucky. The Confederate musket ball that was intended to kill him merely grazed his brow. He lurched violently back in his saddle. His horse reared wildly, throwing him, unconscious to the ground, directly into the path of his own cavalry advancing only yards behind him. At the far end of the field, Sergeant Nathanial Pike and his men, engaged in the hasty formation of a skirmish line, watched helplessly as the scene unfolded. 
As Trent hit the ground, a Confederate soldier appeared out of the shadows. Small and slight, little more than a boy, he lunged forwards, grabbed the officer by the lapels of his coat and dragged him out of the path of the galloping horses. Throwing himself across the man’s prone body, he shielded him from the pounding hooves. The cavalry thundered past oblivious, in the half-light, to the fate of their captain.

As the danger passed, the rebel rose to his knees and appeared to search the unconscious man. 
“God damn thieving rebs.” Pike snatched his pistol from its holster, his thumb wrenching back the hammer. 
Before he could take aim, the rebel stopped searching. He leaned forwards and, cradling the officer’s face in his hands, bent down and kissed him, full on the lips, long and hard. Pike’s pistol, arm and jaw dropped simultaneously. 
Something, some noise, some movement, made the rebel look up and glance furtively around. He jumped to his feet and, with a final backwards glance at the fallen man, melted into the shadows, like a wraith. It was some moments before Pike’s jaw snapped shut, his teeth meeting with an audible click. He rounded on his men. 
“Did you see what I just saw?” he demanded. 
His question was answered with shrugs and scowls. Not one man there could swear he hadn’t dreamed it. Then suddenly, they heard it, far off, plaintive and eerie, the cry of a whippoorwill.

PUBLICATION DATE 28th November 2017
ISBN: 9781788035781 Price: £8.99

Amazon UK  Amazon Com  Nook

About the Author.
With Historical Romance as his preferred genre, Robert has continued to write for several years. Many of his short stories have appeared in various national periodicals and magazines.
His debut novel “Dance the Moon Down”, a story of love against adversity during the First World War, gained him considerable critical praise, being voted book of the month by “Wall to Wall books”
His second novel “Whippoorwill” tells of a passionate affair between a young southern woman and a northern man at the beginning of the American Civil War.
He is single and lives and works in Hertfordshire.

Tuesday, 21 November 2017

"Sir Constantine and the Changeling" Novella by Lindsay Townsend in "One Yuletide Knight"

I wrote my Yule/Christmas story, "Sir Constantine and the Changeling" after reading Medieval beliefs about Changelings and also when I came across the wonderful Yule Goat in Northern European customs.

Note: I took the Medieval Yule Goat from Yule Customs from Medievalist Net.

It’s a northern custom, one which I think would have been part of northern england, since the Scandinavian custom of Mumming had survived in the region right up to my mother’s time. Lindsay 

Here's the blurb and the opening of my novella:


He had hurt and betrayed her in the worst way possible. Could Kari and Constantine save their marriage?

In a medieval world that believed in God, saints, spirits and the fey, there were also darker forces to be feared. Malicious fairies could steal human babies away or substitue their own children—changelings.

Kari and Constantine have been apart for two years, he on crusade in the Holy Land, she left behind in his lands to raise their unborn child alone. When her husband returns with his Templar brother Hadrian in tow, the separation she and Constantine have endured, plus Hadrian’s evil influence, leads to terrible accusations between them. Her husband thinks now that her beloved baby son Valentine might be a changeling.

In the face of such a charge, and remembering an older tragedy, Kari feels she has no choice but to flee Constantine’s homeland and retreat to her own country of the high waterlands.  

Constantine follows her. Realising what he has done, he begs his wife to return with him, but can Kari trust him again? And will he ever accept Valentine as his true son?

At the time of Yule, many things are possible, and as Kari and Constantine strive to rebuild their relationship, the snows, an old hut and the Yule Goat will all play vital parts.


Sir Constantine and the Changeling

                                                              Lindsay Townsend

December,  the High Water Country, Northern England, 1194

“Climb one finger-width closer and I will send you arse-first back over the waterfall.”
Sir Constantine stared up into the unblinking eyes of his wife, his pregnant wife, and froze, motionless, on the cold rock-face.
“Da, Da—” The babe strapped to her back, cause of all our troubles, reached out to him with chubby hands.
“No, dear one, daddy must pass me first.” And he will not, her glinting eyes promised.
A staff loomed into view, aimed at his face. It was long and sturdy enough to poke him off the rock and flick him like a skidding stone down into the icy pools at the base of the waterfall, and he knew that one wrong move, one word amiss and she would strike.
Why should she not? A long, too-silent part of his conscience sneered. You did not believe her when it mattered. 
“Kari.” He easily pitched his voice above the early winter trickle of the fall, though his mouth was dry. “Please, Kari.” Let me come up. Let us speak together.
Those last words remained trapped like dead leaves in his throat as an unknown feeling, a dropping, sticky sensation that oozed in his chest, overtook him.
“You have no right to speak my name, husband.” Her scorn burned brighter and more clean than dragon fire. “You lost all rights to me and mine when you denied my son, our son, you imperial bastard.”
She had once been proud of his old name, even called him “Emperor” in their bed. Now she took that pet name and refashioned it into a spear for his heart. The sweeping sickness grew stronger than the scorching ache in his arms and legs. This is shame. I am ashamed.
“Da, Da, Da.” The little boy on her back chanted, waving his arms.
“You are well?” Constantine asked, as if he and his wife were not estranged, that she had not fled his house almost a month ago at All Hallows Eve, slipping away while he was visiting his brother.
His icy, tingling fingers tightened on the rock-face as he considered his sibling. As was his habit, Hadrian had secreted himself away from others to pray in the church. I thought it holy, then, and did not see his act for what it was, a denial of fellowship. Constantine shook his head. I have to break free of my older brother. He has already cost me too much. He cleared his throat and tried again. “Kari?”
“As you see.” She gave him nothing but a final verbal smack. “We are thriving.”
“But you cannot stay here much longer. Not through the winter.” He tried to fashion his dry voice into a coax. “It will be Yule soon, and Christmas.”
“Expect me to return for a Church festival, the three masses and more?” Her threatening staff  jerked closer. “You know nothing. Get back to your own lands, Sir Constantine, and leave me in mine.”
“Daddeee!” The infant on her shoulder wailed, tiny face reddening as his fists beat impotently against his mother’s shoulder.
“Please,” he begged. “For the child.”
“Which one?” she rejoindered at once, but the hovering timber vanished and Kari whirled about, as dainty on top of the waterfall as she was in a great hall, dancing. He tracked her rapidly departing figure and only when she had disappeared behind a screen of wild roses full of bright red hips did Constantine think to move. Stiff and shaken, by the time he had reached the summit and any kind of safety, his wife was long gone.
She had left him a trail of snapped twigs and crushed grass to follow, too obvious not to be deliberate. And I have found her only because she wished it. Again, he was reminded that these were her lands. Crouching by a spring with a rough X scratched into the mud beside it—his wife’s doing, and the rune for Gebo, good fortune, meaning the water was safe to drink—Constantine cupped his hands into the clear cold liquid.
As he quenched his thirst, he thought of Kari and their history together, his mind replaying the past in sharp and acute detail.
He had first met Kari at a summer three-day joust and country fair when she was sixteen and he a fresh-knighted nineteen. Even as she was then, eel-skinny and a little clumsy, he saw her kindness to servants, her haste to protect those she cared for, her love of infants, and her skill with basket weaving. A younger daughter of a lord of the highwaterlands, Constantine had treated her as an indulged little sister, taking her hawking whenever he had free time and listening with real interest as she spoke of old springs and ancient magicks.
The second time he saw her at a distance, with fresh graves between them. A deadly fever had taken her parents and older siblings. She had survived only because she had been sent to an aunt’s house to learn the ways of a formal court. Watching her pale, stricken face, her blank, beautiful eyes, Constantine had wanted to do something, anything, to bring back her vital smile. That evening after the funerals he had sent her a letter, wanting Kari to know she was not alone, that others thought of her. From then, they had written to each other for two years and life went on.
So matters might have remained, but his father had taken him aside during a melee where, after that day’s fighting, Karin had been one of the damsels reading to the injured knights in the largest tourney tent. Constantine had been close to bellowing a greeting across the great tent, he was so glad to see her.
Of course his father had noticed. “You like the wench?” Lord Lucian asked bluntly.
Aching from battle and imagining Kari’s cool hands on his sore shoulders and her low voice telling him stories of King Arthur, Constantine managed a grunt of assent.
Lord Lucian stroked his ginger beard. “A good match for you, a third son with a newly-won tiny manor,” he stated, making no bones in being straightforward. “Her demesne is but five miles from your own. She is an heiress now but her lands are mainly woods and water and pasture, rank with springs and old magic, and there is no large castle. They live in tents,  I do believe.”
“Only in the summers.” Constantine had learned this from his letters to Kari. “Kari’s folk live out in their wild lands in the good weather. Winters see them indoors. Kari’s kin have a stone and turf keep with stables larger than their quarters.”
“Our beasts are important to us,” Kari had explained, in a note, when Constantine exclaimed—by letter—over that particular living arrangement. After that, Constantine had let the matter go, merely vowing in secret that he would be in no great hurry to visit Kari’s keep for Yule.
Listening and understanding more, Lord Lucian fixed his lad with a piercing look. “Herbs and baskets and fish are the dues owed by her family, nothing more. Even the king does not dispute it. Still, some of the springs in those wild lands will cure troubles of the mind and heart, so long as the family are respected. She will need a light hand, my son.”
“And space, at times, for her to be alone,” Constantine added, recognizing that aspect of Kari from the way she would slip away from the twittering of giggling damsels, from her walking alone, at dawn and dusk.  She likes her solitude, but always has a smile of welcome for me. He grinned, despite his sore head. “She suits me,” he admitted, glad that fate had worked it so his newly-gained portion of lands and hers were so close. We are neighbors and soon will be more.
They had married that spring and he had been stunned with joy—doubly so when Kari became pregnant. All that blazing summer he had lived a heaven on earth.
And then, with the falling of the leaves, a summons had come to him from his overlord. Ordered to accompany King Richard on crusade, Constantine had reluctantly bid Kari farewell and set out for Outremer.
He had been gone two years, with no word from his wife. He sent letters and was certain Kari did the same, but none of hers reached him, nor, he learned later, did his to her.
Into the aching gap in his life, his elder brother Hadrian came and filled a tiny part.
Constantine scowled as he now thought of Hadrian, brother and knight Templar. I was blind to my brother’s prejudices, so relieved to have close-kin near that I never questioned what he told me. Looking back, Constantine could see his older brother’s whole battle array. In Outremer, fighting together, guarding each other’s backs, he had never understood. Hadrian’s slingshot comments were part of a cunning strategy, intended to drive a fatal wedge between Constantine and Kari.
Hadrian had started his evil campaign small. “We warriors are God’s chosen,” he said, often by the camp fire of an evening, then, “Others not so much, especially those daughters of Eve.”
Over the months Hadrian told tales of valiant crusader knights and the less-than-true, stay-at-home daughters of Eve. He never called them womenfolk and never praised them.
Why did I not notice that?
Hadrian never asked after Kari, even when he saw Constantine writing to her. “You do God’s work here, what could be finer?” he scolded, whenever Constantine sighed for his wife and home.
Why did I never understand the ruthless danger of Hadrian’s dislike?       
Constantine often mentioned hay-making or wool-shearing or other tasks of home, glad and proud to share them aloud, for it seemed then that he and Kari were close again. Hadrian would simply remark, “You allow your wife to rule?”
“Her own lands and portion, yes,” Constantine had answered each time, feeling aggrieved when the other warriors ranged about the fire-camp laughed at his “softness”.
By the time he returned to England, burned by eastern suns and quietly sickened by the slaughter he had seen, the waste of life, he had stared at the green woodland and luxuriant meadows of his lands and thought them wonderful, but strange.
Kari, his wife, the one he had once called mate, was stranger still. She moved differently to what he remembered, smelled differently, and she had a child. From the instant Constantine met the babe Kari called their son, he had been jealous. This interloper had taken his place on Kari’s breast, had first claim on her attention, was even in their bed at night.
“Why is that child not in a crib?” he demanded, after their second night bundled together. Hadrian had asked him that, down in the tilt yard that morning, and Constantine decided he wanted an answer.
“His name is Valentine.” Kari spoke through a clenched jaw. “We agreed on that, my lord, a Roman, imperial name, before you went off on crusade and left me.”
He hated her tone and her narrowed eyes and the way he instantly wondered what name for the brat she might have otherwise preferred. “My question remains.”
Kari did not answer, merely swooped like a hawk over the bed and lifted the squirming toddler onto her breast, where the boy turned and looked cool, smug eyes of possession at him. Hating his own pettiness, Constantine kept staring back even when the little boy was gently laid into a soft, moss-lined cradle.
Only when he was settled and given a soft rag doll to hug and a woolen blanket to keep him warm did Kari turn. When she did, Constantine almost flinched.
“He kept me company,” she said in a quiet voice, ignoring the wide-eyed maid and page who scurried about their sleeping space in their small, private solar off the main hall. “As you did not.”

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