Saturday, 28 July 2018

"The Folded Notes" Historical Fiction set in India on the Indian Railways, by Mandz Singh



Blurb of The Folded Notes by Mandz Singh


Inspired by true events

Bath, 1898: Catherine embarks on a trip with her mother to Lahore in India to meet her father, who is posted at the Punjab University.

There, her path crosses with Kharak, a recently qualified engineer from Lahore who works for the Indian Railways, and a mutual friendship blossoms.

In disapproval, her father, with the help of Ivan, a colonial engineer, conceives a plan to keep Catherine from falling in love with Kharak by getting him sent away to work in another British colony.

He manages to leave two notes for Catherine before departing.

Realising that her feelings for him are overwhelming, she leaves Lahore, following him to Mombasa without her parents’ knowledge.

Little does she know that not only will Ivan be there as Kharak’s supervisor, but as her pursuer.

With everything to lose, hope is all Catherine has to enable her to triumph in expressing her enduring love for Kharak.


“The book’s cross-cultural relationship is refreshing, and its peek into sites around Lahore is delightful.”

- Kirkus reviews




Buy link: https://www.troubador.co.uk/bookshop/historical/the-folded-notes/ 






Excerpt from The Folded Notes by Mandz Singh



The chirps of the native rock buntings were a poetic harmony to wake to. The golden rays of the morning sun trickled through the glass window and hit the bed. Catherine’s eyes slowly adjusted to the bright morning sun as she gradually woke up. Her body felt weightless, relaxed, and her mind addled.
A knock on the door finally awakened her senses, and she realised where she was.
“Come in,” she answered, befuddled.
The door creaked open and Sana, the lady’s maid, wearing a peach sari and holding a tray with a teapot and teacup on it, walked in.
“Good morning, memsahib,” she said softly. “Your bed tea is here. I shall leave it by the bedside.”
“That will be lovely, thank you,” Catherine replied as she leaned up and backwards, resting on satiny cotton pillows in front of the cushioned headboard.
The aroma of the Darjeeling tea brewing in the teapot beside the bed was invigorating.
“Is there anything else you need, memsahib?”
“No, thank you.”
The woman bowed and effortlessly walked backwards in her sari, closing the door behind her.
Without hesitating, Catherine made a cup of tea and took her first sip; it was different to the tea she was accustomed to. It had a refined taste that she immediately liked. She placed her cup on the tray, got up and walked towards the curved armchair next to her bed and collected her bath gown to wear over her nightdress.
Picking up her cup of tea, she walked towards the window and twisted the brass handle to open it. Lavender-flowered jacaranda trees intertwined with red-flowered sumbul trees greeted her eyes. The lawn was lush green and finely manicured. The air was filled with a fragrant scent that was appealing and fresh.
Seeing the garden reminded her of the dream she’d had the night before. She scanned the garden, looking for those yellow flowers she had plucked, but there were none. After all, it was a dream.
It then came to her where she had seen the yellow flowers, and she remembered Kharak’s face.
She smiled to herself as she sipped her tea.

Kharak woke with a jolt. His heart was pounding as beads of sweat rolled down his forehead. He was breathless and hollow. It took him a few seconds to realise where he was and it was the biggest relief he had ever had.
It was just a nightmare. Mighty soul-destroying and numbing it was.
He should have held her hand; never let it go; perhaps he should have stopped her before she ran across the wooden bridge. It was disturbing to hear the cracking of the wooden planks and to see Catherine drop through the gap. He had held her hand, but it slipped through his. She screamed as she fell into the raging, brackish water of the river and disappeared. He yelled for her.
That’s when he woke up. It was just a bad dream, he reassured himself, wiping the sweat from his forehead as he allowed his pulse to come back to its normal rhythm.
He sat up on the edge of his bed with his feet on the floor and his forehead resting between the palms of his hands, and gradually the images of his dream drifted into the background as his reality overcame his sleepy thoughts.

Monday, 16 July 2018

Guest post - "The Lamorna Reach" by Joy V Sheridan. A dark historical romance

The Lamorna Reach presents a Zola-esque tableau of raw, elemental life in Cornwall at the time of the Napoleonic wars. Issy Penhalligan, the heroine, is incredibly beautiful and talented, but these qualities do not secure her a happy, comfortable life. She enters the world as a foundling, under the most brutal circumstances; she is fostered. Issy undergoes rape and abuse, and is pressurised into a prestigious but oppressive marriage. There is a saga of mutual obsession between her and the fascinating but totally dark and menacing Tobias Carmichael, who seduces but does not finally control her. There are brief glimpses of euphoria and romance. Issy is a fiercely independent spirit; true to form, she disguises herself as a man and goes on a maritime expedition. Eventually, jealousy and prejudice conspire against her. She leaves the world, but her spirit lives on.
This novel has the added bonus of multiple perspective, alternating between first and third person narration.
https://www.amazon.co.uk/Lamorna-Reach-Cornish-Saga-ebook/dp/B079T4QYGB


From The Lamorna Reach
(I can only compare the two of us to be some kind of immortal duellists, twinned in love and in hatred, with a thread running betwixt us that neither man, God, time nor space could alter.)
Tobias came towards me, his face light and shadowed; only his eyes were fixed, hard as serpents, or like stars in some mysterious galaxy – to my face. His hands were very steady as they reached out towards me. I noticed how pale he looked. Those hands – they seemed like birds winging their way all up and down me, fluttering. He made them seem to pass over me, moving from my shoulders to the tip of my head, then swooping them down to my ankles. I thought ’twas all most odd, but I was fascinated by his every movement: indeed, I got a rare measure of delight from this eccentric behaviour. Then, seeming satisfied, he moved away and sat in a chair. He looked down once, then up and straight into my face; he spoke clearly and slowly.
“Undress for me Issy, undress.”
I suppose he guessed my nervousness, or thought I needed more brandy. I know there was a sheen of sweat about my brow. I began to tremble very mildly. He handed me a glass of brandy, nodded at me solemnly as though he were some lawyer or judge. I drank a hefty amount, rather too quickly. I coughed as the flames of that molten potion burned my throat. He continued staring at me, sitting in the chair bolt upright, with his fingers stretched out along the arms. He moved one hand so that it supported his chin, his head being thrown slightly to one side. He moved his head again, his lips forming the unspoken command “U N D R E S S”.
I began to obey his wishes; the brandy had given life to my fingertips, which had suddenly numbed on me, from fear or chill. I began to ease the buttons undone from the side fastening of my blouse; then I shook my head – watching his reactions – trying, I dare say, to adopt his almost insolent attitude. I began to ease the garment over my head The underclothing I had was delicate but worn thin in places. My stitching, never first class, would – I was sure – give him the clue to my impoverished state. I had to pretend to be strong, so almost involuntarily I tightened the muscles in my chest, so that my breasts poked out, springy and firm.
He moved from the chair and began, very quickly, to undo his own garments – throwing off the jacket in a trice, then the waistcoat. With speeding fingers he had the breeches unbuttoned, till he was left wearing only his flannel undershirt. I could see his passion throbbing like a small ghost under the edge of the garment. But (and in imitation of him) I pushed the flattened palm of my upraised right hand at him. I was not ready yet and – if this was the game he contrived to play, then I could play it (I thought) as well as he.
Slowly I began to undo the fastening to my skirt, holding the blouse before my breasts. I let the garment flutter to the ground, then applied both hands to the skirt. I made sure to adopt some mightily provocative poses, for I had to occupy my time somehow at Whitehays and I was really quite a performer in this area. I shook my breasts towards him – the nipples hard and pointed. Sensuality was most assuredly in the air, so that the invisible musk of what was inevitable, seemed to be spicing the atmosphere. My hair was down and tumbling about my shoulders; it tickled a little and I suppressed the urge to laugh. It was a game in deadly earnest after all!
There was hunger in Tobias Carmichael’s face now. Again, I stopped him from moving in on me. I ran my fingers over my Mount of Venus, moving to a sideways position and pressing the fabric taut upon myself, so that he could see the better what was his principle design for conquest. Then – off with the skirt; the petticoat wriggled down to my hips, bending from the knees to pull at the waist, which was snagging over my heel, till at length I stood bolt upright before him, stark naked.
I recall saying to him that this was, on my part, planned adultery and on his seduction and ravishment – if not out-and-out stealing. He all but threw himself at me, but I was determined to play the game well and squirmed from his grasp – meanwhile giggling and attempting to hoist the shirt off of him. He got my drift and it was removed in a flash. The air was pressingly over-charged with our mutual longings – and in a pant, with an almighty gasp, he was in me – his tool actually seeming to hurt as though I were that same virgin girl he had taken three years before.
I began to relax, enjoying the sensations as they swept over me; I had all but forgotten what it was like to feel a man’s hardest and most intimate part moving within me. He was groaning and sighing, his lips devouring mine. I could feel the crescendo building up in his phallus, which was now so hard and big, that I wondered how I could take it. I stopped moving, for I wanted to prolong the ecstasy. He grasped my unspoken meaning and we lay still for a few minutes – both our loins throbbing, veins of pleasure sweeping about us, so that it seemed we were mutually bound by some exquisite electricity. I began to rise to a crescendo; our juices were flowing now and I could detect that rooting smell as it pervaded the air about us. He began to sense my moment – faster, faster – our antics were surely singeing the sheets. Then the ultimate: our outburst of joy was mutually matched. We lay quiet, sated to our first point – for that moment exhausted.
So the night continued, and ’twas as though the ardour increased with the coming dawn. Not that we hadn’t taken time to sup and drink, and to see that my poor little puppy had his eats. We left the inn, but I cannot truthfully say if what had passed between us had proved to quieten our mutual selves. Tobias rode with me to the outskirts of the estate. We barely communicated for the greater part, though I urged Carmichael to pick up Happy and let him ride on the steed in some fashion, for the poor little creature was all but beat. Carmichael pulled me down from my mount as we were nearing the entrance to the estate. His lips were all tenderness, his hands weaving delicate patterns about my cheeks and hair.
“Issy,” he murmured, “to the Gods: I believe it was not a ghost we’ve laid at all, but we have to raise a multitude of unearthly beings.” There was despair in his voice. I was mute: what could I say? Feelings of guilt and remorse were washing over me now that I was back on home terrain. He pushed me gently from him, surveying me; then he was down on one knee, looking up at me beseechingly. I gestured him up with an impatient wave; I felt foolish to be so approached.
Then I was all ruthlessness and was back upon Soda, flying up the drive towards Whitehays. I did not cast a glance to where Tobias stood. Panic – and a wild, exultant abandon were mixing in me like some illicit concoction, mixing perhaps like grape and grain.
I determined to leave Whitehays. I would find Morgan. Or Tom. Or anyone. Or no-one. For I could not let Carmichael have the possession over my being – as he had done three years earlier – and indeed had all but succeeded in doing once more, in the past ten or fifteen hours.

Wednesday, 27 June 2018

Medieval Jugglers and Others

In the Middle Ages, professional musicians and minstrels were highly thought of and ranked in royal and noble households as the equals to huntsmen and falconers. Dancers, too, were well regarded - in 1306, the only woman paid as a musician in the royal household was an acrobatic dancer (saltatrix, 'tumbler') with the 'stage name’ of Matilda Makejoy. She possibly danced by bending backwards and touching her head with her feet, or on her hands, or on knives - in medieval stained glass Salome was shown dancing on knives.

Such dancers could be athletic and graceful or tumble in a jesting manner, playing for laughter. They could also be well paid and respected - Richard II paid John Katerine, a dancer from Venice, over £6 for playing and dancing before him, a sum not far short of £3,000 today.

Amongst the minstrels themselves there was a kind of ranking, with professional musicians at the top and jugglers and puppeteers at the bottom. Jugglers especially were considered at the time to be coarse, especially those who made a living wandering from fair to fair or village to village. Jugglers were felt to have few morals and to be able to do their tricks through magic - always a dangerous idea in the Middle Ages.

However jugglers were also held in affection, even by the church, and many illuminated manuscripts show jugglers. From the time of William the Conqueror, a 'King of the Jugglers' appeared at the court and would continue to appear through the Middle Ages. Whoever held this title had many rights to go with it. There is also a medieval legend of a juggler who, having nothing else to give, made an 'offering' of his juggling skills before a statue of the Virgin and Child in church. According to some variations of this story, the Madonna or Jesus caught one of the balls.

Juggling using different objects is more difficult than using the same objects. Bouncing objects off a floor is easier than tossing them in the air, and throwing all the objects in the air - called multiplexing in modern juggling - is easier than one after another.

Balls were commonly used for juggling but other things could also be used. In the Irish story of Cuchulainn, the hero juggles nine apples. The later Viking sagas also mention juggling and sometimes with weapons - Snorri Sturluson writes in one saga, "In the doorway of the hall, Gylfi saw a man juggling with knives, keeping seven in the air at a time.", a trick also mastered by Sunniva in "A Knight's Captive"  (99cents or 99p on Amazon, free to read with Kindle Unlimited)


Excerpt
She glided out into the hall, blue and gold, her hair uncovered, unbound and falling halfway down her back, as soft and wild as a mermaid's tresses. Marc put down his plate and cup to stare, lust hardening his loins in an instant.
She was Sunniva, yet not. Instead of her usual loose, long-sleeved gown she now wore a robe with sleeves that came only to her elbows, revealing her slim shapely arms. Such skin she had, smooth and flawless, pale and glimmering in the fire-light. He thought of bracelets to place on her narrow wrists, rings to adorn her graceful fingers, and yet in truth she needed none: she was a jewel in herself.
"Her feet are bare!" Alde hissed, kicking off her own shoes, while Marc could only nod, his eyes busy. The light blue robe Sunniva had changed into skimmed her lithe figure, fitting snugly about her breasts and narrow waist, then gently flaring at her hips, its skirt made in two colours, blue and red, that flickered and tumbled together as she walked.
  With a tense, painful pleasure he revelled in her approach, in the lush, spectacular beauty that was enhanced by movement. He thought of moving with her, the ancient dance of woman and man, and only the presence of the three girls stopped him from taking her now! On the table. Over the table. By the table. His body and head ablaze, he joined in Alde's furious applause.
Cool and gold as a mermaid, her sea-green eyes flicked over him and then she smiled, bowed from the waist like some saucy page and came up grinning.
It was impossible not to smile back, not to gasp, like Alde and Isabella, as she rippled her empty fingers through the waves of her red-gold hair, clapped her hands twice and held them up, showing the five glinting daggers that had not been there before.
Thrice, she whirled them about her head and around her body, so close that Marc found himself clenching his teeth lest she cut herself. Up her arms flew and the daggers flew higher, spinning, flashing in the fire-light, coming down, point-first -
She caught them point-first, flipped them again, high and this time they soared in a curving arch, dropping like tired birds, bouncing handle-first on her wrists, then her elbows, then her wrists, then swooping off and aloft again.
"How does she do it?" howled Judith, her square jaw working in frustration as her eyes widened and narrowed.
Laughing, Sunniva threw what seemed to be a tiny bolt of lightning, and now Judith was giggling as she found her head-square pinned to the beam at her back and before she could free it, another bolt issued from Sunniva's nimble fingers and the small dagger was knocked from the beam by a second, heavier blade and Judith's head-rail was free again and she had a small dagger lying, flat and harmless, in her lap.
"I want —” Isabella began, and then she and Alde were both bemused, touching shiny blades that had just appeared and fallen safely onto their knees, a dagger for each girl.
From the very edge of his sight, Marc glimpsed a falling gleam of light, like a shooting star, and jerked backwards. The small dagger bounced flatly off his knee to land under the table, and by the time he had retrieved it, Sunniva was moving again.
Smiling still, Sunniva raced forward, running, juggling three more blades, turning a cartwheel that flashed her skirts suddenly from blue to red and back again. Bouncing lightly on her bare feet, her ankles kicked up slight puffs of dust and ash from the fire as she made a handstand — on top of two stout knives.
"King Christ!" Marc was hollering and on his feet but the slippery mermaid was already down again and demure, showing no sign of pink toes or shapely calves as her skirt swished into quietness down her thighs. Smiling, she hefted the two daggers again, high over the central cross-beam, caught them and then showed her bloodless palms.
Before he could draw breath to praise or reprove her she sank into another low bow, tucked her knives somewhere into her gown and said breathlessly,
"Now, who will fetch me a drink, pray?"
As one, all three girls rose from their bench and scampered off.

A moment later she was sitting across from Marc, pouring herself another ale, while Isabella nagged to see the daggers again. Prudently, Sunniva had retrieved all of them while the girls were distracted finding her a cup.
"They are gone, child, that is part of the magic," Sunniva replied, as Marc scowled at his youngest. "Is that not so, Marc?"
Feeling himself relax at her careless use of his name, he answered at once, "For sure it is and I for one am dazzled by it. Well done!" He applauded her again, clapping harder as her flush of pretty colour deepened.
"Will you show me how to do it?" Alde asked, tugging nervously on the sleeves of her own gown.
"For sure when you are older."
"And you will show me, too?" demanded Judith.
"None of you will grow to be older unless you get to bed," Marc broke in, pointing to the three pallets ranged at the other side of the fire. He was eager to have Sunniva to himself.



Geraint, my Welsh hero, is a tumbler and juggler. To read more about him and the medieval exorcist Yolande, please take a look at "Dark Maiden"


Excerpt

The abbot and Yolande both had long legs and Geraint was glad he was supple as they stalked away, serious and tall together. Then, before he felt reduced to no more than a sideshow, Yolande glanced round at him, haunted and anxious, and he swore again to protect her.
Good, said a new voice in his mind, a woman’ s. I like that in a man.
Geraint knew there was only one person it could be.   “I carried your cross here,” he whispered in Welsh. The abbot and Yolande gave no signs of hearing his latest companion. 
I know. No tests for me, juggler? Should I say the Creed to prove who I am?
“No, Magdalene.” The presence of her, the risk of it, exhilarated him. There was a challenge in her that reminded him of Yolande. She was still a little ahead of him, tilting her head up like a flower seeking the sun as they emerged into the twilight.
A prickle at the base of his neck recalled him to the other presence inside his skull. Even saints hate being kept waiting for an answer. “No, I know you Marys have a soft spot for jugglers.”
Very good, Geraint. Indeed, I am Mary the Magdalene and this is in part my church. Now fall back a little as those two holy warriors rush on to the tower. Michael can speak to them, if he chooses.”
He sighed. “Tempting as your offer is, I cannot accept it. Speak to all of us, or none.”
The presence within his mind withdrew. One instant it was there, the next he was alone and lonely inside his skull.
Yolande turned. “I can smell violets.”
Geraint groaned—he could smell them too. The saint had truly been with him and he had spurned her.

Outside, strolling to the tower by way of the abbey orchard, Yolande felt less oppressed. Abbot Simon was also less haughty. He even approved when Geraint recounted an amazing story concerning the female saint of the monastery. The Magdalene had spoken directly to him.
“‘Tis true, jugglers have held a special place in the favors of the Virgin and the Magdalene,” Abbot Simon said, looking the wiry Welshman up and down as if seeing him afresh. “Let us pray she will return to guide us.”
“Or Saint Michael,” remarked Yolande. She did not want to meet Geraint’s knowing eye. I am not jealous, not really, and if I were, I would never admit it. He already thinks a good deal of himself.
“Why those two saints?” Geraint seized the mood as he so often did as a performer.
The abbot cupped a green apple on one of the trees. “No one knows. Our founder left no record, only the instruction that both should be honored.”
“I have one thought,” Yolande began softly, unwilling to tell the holy father his business.
Abbot Simon nodded encouragement and Geraint said, “So have I.”
“You first,” said Yolande instantly, curious and exasperated together.
“One a warrior for fighting, one a redeemer, for sinners. Both apt, I would say, in a place that needs more guarding than most against the rise of evil.” He cocked a black eyebrow at her as if to say, I have shared, now it is your turn.
“They are both beloved,” Yolande said at once,  stung into explaining and no longer reticent. “Saint Michael is beloved of God. Mary Magdalene is beloved of Christ.” She knew she was blushing and hoped it did not show too much.
Geraint smacked his thighs with a noisy, eye-catching slap. “I think you have something there, my girl, to be sure. Two favorites, working together, to protect.”

And perhaps that is a sign for me, too, that Geraint and I should work together, Yolande thought.


[Illustrations from Wikimedia Commons.]

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Sunday, 22 April 2018

Uvi Poznansky: Bargain&Free

Uvi Poznansky: Bargain&Free: ��   Please double-check prices before downloading  ��   Apollo’s Raven By ...

Monday, 26 March 2018

VIKING SUMMER BY JEN BLACK




A Scottish-Irish flavour for a tale set in 1036 AD ~ a great read!

"The next day Domnal, Leod and half a dozen men left Bundalloch without telling me of their plans. A day and a half after that, a huge Viking longship arrived, frightening the women. A tall, attractive man stalked ashore as if he owned Bundalloch, and when I saw the gold circlet of kingship at his brow I realised that he did indeed own it. I also knew that my brother was in grave trouble.
The King of Alba’s self-confidence and the size of his entourage initially unnerved me, but pride came to my rescue. My gown might be plain, my apron spattered with milk and my hair tied back and unadorned, but until Domnall married, I was the lady of Bundalloch and knew my duties. Hurrying forward, I stuttered a welcome. He smiled, dispersed his men around Bundalloch, and walked into the hearth-hall without waiting for an invitation.
Late in the afternoon of the fourth day I waited with anxiety churning my stomach as my brother tore off his cap and strode toward me. His brown curls flattened, his homely face reddened by rough weather, he noted Bundalloch men loitering around the hall when they should have been at work in the fields and barns. His frowning gaze came to me, and it was only then that he noticed the stranger beside me.
His stride slowed and his frown deepened.
My hands gripped together beneath my breastbone as I saw the storm clouds gather on my brother’s face. Then he took a quick breath, bent his head and forced out a sentence of stilted politeness. “I trust my sister has offered food and drink, Your Grace?”
My nails dug into my palms. Of course I had. Did he think I was stupid?
“We heard you’ve been away on business,” the king said in his surprisingly deep voice. “To do with cattle, I believe?”
My stomach turned over. Oh, Domnall! He had been raiding after all, and now he would suffer for it.
Stiff as a pine, his fists clenched hard against his thighs, my brother’s teeth showed briefly before he spoke. “The beasts wander too far and must be brought back.”
The king raised mocking brows, but before he could speak, the double doors burst open to admit a flood of sunlight and a vibrant young man with dressed in dark leather. “You've been raiding, Domnall.” He strode across the rough earthen floor in long strides. “We've seen the beasts and watched you at work.” His men trailed through the open doors behind him.
“We've been working with the beasts for the last couple of days,” Domnall said stiffly. “It's hard work, mac Enna.”
I knew the name. According to Leod, Hareth mac Enna was the newly appointed Mormaer of Moray as well as the king's oldest friend. Domnall, thirsty after a hard ride, beckoned a servant who held a tray bearing several wooden beakers.
Mac Enna calmly intercepted the servant. With his hand heavy on the man’s shoulder, he steered him toward his followers, then turned mockingly to my brother. “They're not your beasts. We've checked the markings, and they come from the western edge of Moray.”
Thirsty and furious in his own hearth-hall, Domnall flushed with temper and embarrassment. I caught the eye of another servant, who grasped an ale jug and a beaker from the table and hurried forward. Domnall snatched both from him before they too vanished into other hands.
Domnall gulped ale, and wiped his moustache with the back of one hand and shoved the jug back into the servant’s hands. “They're our beasts, mac Enna.”
“We've had men watching the hill passes for days,” Hareth countered. “We can tell to a head how many beasts you've stolen.”
“Count them all you like,” Domnall growled, “but they're mine! Every man here will agree with me!”
A ripple of movement went through the Bundalloch men. Well-muscled hill farmers who did not take insults lightly, the air around them shimmered with dark glances and brewing violence. Someone snarled an insult deep in his throat, at which Hareth's men closed the main door, and stood in front of it with spears at the ready. Women caught hold of their children and backed away into the dim recesses of the hall.
Domnall was trapped, unless he remembered the servants’ door. I checked over my shoulder. No guard stood before the small, unobtrusive exit used by servants and children. I caught my brother's gaze and indicated his escape route with a jerk of my head. His bright, angry gaze roamed past me, and lingered on the forgotten exit. He emptied the contents of the mug down his throat.
Hareth mac Enna pulled a scrap of fine leather from his belt-purse, and dangled it at arm's length so Domnall could see the dark squiggles and circles burned into the surface.
“We have a copy of the marks the Moray farmers use. All we have to do is check this against the exhausted beasts you left in the Glennan valley and we'll know for certain that you have stolen Moray cattle. More than that, you left one of their men dead.”
It was worse than I feared. As the echo of the words died away, Domnall spun on his heel, raced passed me to the rear of the hall and vanished through the overlooked door. The men of Bundalloch met the king's men chest to chest with a growling roar of aggression.
I dithered, unable to decide if I should run after my brother or stay where I was, then started as a strong hand grasped my elbow. The king yanked me to his side, his attention on the mêlée in front of him.
My teeth dug into my lip as Hareth’s troop overpowered the hill-farmers. The encounter was short and sharp, and several Bundalloch men sat and nursed sore heads. At least no one had chased Domnall, for which I was thankful.
The king surveyed each dirty, unkempt Bundalloch face in turn. “Your lord will be fined, and the animals returned to their rightful owners. Some of you will help, and in doing so will avoid fines yourselves. I tell you now,” he went on in the voice that was peculiarly his, “thievery will not be tolerated under my rule. There are fish in the sea and deer on the hills and birds in the air. Grain will be delivered to you from my stores, if and when you need it. No man need starve, for the sake of a little effort.”
Sullen, battered faces glared back at him. “If an offence of this kind happens again, whatever the provocation, the penalty will be death.”
My knees trembled beneath my long skirts. Still, I comforted myself with the thought that he had not, so far, threatened my brother. At that moment the king turned his head in my direction.
“Domnall of Bundalloch should come to us at Inverness and pay his fine within the month of June. The Lady Eilidh will be our hostage against his good behaviour and swift appearance.”
I gasped. Slowly at first, warmth swarmed into my face.
“That's hardly fair on the lady.” Leod’s voice came from the crowd.
“Life is rarely fair,” Finlay of Alba said. “When the Lord Domnall pays his dues, the lady will be free to return home.”

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.


Excerpt

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.
          

CHAPTER 2

            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

Links

Blurb

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.


Excerpt

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.
“J—F—K!
“J—F—K!
“J—F—K!
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!)
Cheers.
“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.”
Laughter.
“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.