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Tuesday 28 September 2021

Beneath the Veil of Smoke and Ash by Tammy Pasterick my Coffee Pot Book Club guest

Welcome to my Blog!
Wander through wonderful worlds
real and fictional,
meet interesting people,
visit exciting places
and find a few good books
to enjoy along the way!

City of Smoke and Ash

Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. The city conjures a variety of images, not all of them pleasant. Football and hockey fans will immediately think of the Steelers and the Penguins, while the retired set may remember images from the 1970s when the city was shrouded in smog, and its citizens were choking on fumes. Pittsburgh has been called the “Steel City” due to the region’s once robust steel industry and the “City of Bridges” because there are more bridges in Pittsburgh than Venice, Italy. However, the description I find most fascinating is the one provided by Mark Twain—though there is debate he may have borrowed his phrasing from Boston writer James Parton.  

When Mark Twain visited Pittsburgh in December 1884 to promote The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, he made a stop in Mount Washington to get a bird’s eye view of the city by moonlight. As he peered down on the "lake of fire and flame," he famously said that the city "looked like a miniature hell with the lid off." Twain's grim description of Pittsburgh was so vivid that it stuck for decades. And no wonder! There was truth to it.

Pittsburgh was destined to became a bustling industrial city largely because of its favorable geography and geology. Two navigable rivers—the Monongahela and the Allegheny—met in the middle of a forest and combined to form the Ohio River. This was a logical meeting point for settlement, trade, and industry. The existence of an impressive coal seam near the center of this confluence proved to be particularly advantageous. It was this bituminous coal that would later fuel the region's hundreds of steel mills and darken its skies.

Between 1870 and 1920, the population of Pittsburgh grew almost sevenfold as European immigrants poured into the city. Many came from Great Britain, Ireland, and Germany as in previous decades, but the most common sources after 1870 were poor, rural areas in Eastern and Southern Europe. Immigrants from the Austro-Hungarian Empire, the Russian Empire, Italy, and the Balkans left their homelands to find work in Pittsburgh's steel mills, coal mines, and factories. Carrying only the bare essentials, they journeyed across the Atlantic in search of prosperity and settled in a region smothered in smoke. 

As the Steel City boomed through the late 19th and early 20th centuries, it became known for its grime, filth, and smoke. Its perpetually dark sky often necessitated the use of street lamps during the day. But for many of the city’s workers, smoke was a sign of progress. In fact, by 1900, Carnegie Steel was the country’s largest steel company with three million tons of capacity. When J.P Morgan formed the U.S. Steel Corporation the following year by financing the merger of Andrew Carnegie's steel company with seven others, it became the largest private company in the world, controlling the majority of U.S. steel production. 

By 1910, Pittsburgh produced 25 million tons of steel—more than 60 percent of the nation’s total. It was the height of the city's golden age of steel. But working conditions in the steel mills of Pittsburgh were brutal, and company owners were largely unsympathetic. Men worked twelve-hour shifts, seven days per week, in front of furnaces heated to over 2500°F. Persistent noise, stifling air filled with mineral dust and furnace exhaust, and unsafe equipment made the mills especially hazardous. According to a profile of Andrew Carnegie in The Economist, fatal accidents in the steel mills accounted for 20% of all male deaths in Pittsburgh in the 1880s. Injured workers were often let go and forced to pay their own medical bills, while the dead were easily replaced by the countless immigrants arriving to the region every day. 

Despite the harsh working conditions in Pittsburgh's steel mills, immigrants continued to write to their families and friends in Europe about the opportunities in America. The promise of prosperity enticed many young, healthy workers to trade a life of poverty in their homeland for a chance at the American dream. And while some immigrants were satisfied with their new lives within a few years of their arrival, others suffered disappointment, unthinkable hardships, and even death. But no matter their fates, all of Pittsburgh's immigrants learned to live under an oppressive, smoky sky—in a city that looked like a miniature hell with the lid off. 

Beneath the Veil of Smoke and Ash 
By Tammy Pasterick

It’s Pittsburgh, 1910—the golden age of steel in the land of opportunity. Eastern European immigrants Janos and Karina Kovac should be prospering, but their American dream is fading faster than the colors on the sun-drenched flag of their adopted country. Janos is exhausted from a decade of twelve-hour shifts, seven days per week, at the local mill. Karina, meanwhile, thinks she has found an escape from their run-down ethnic neighborhood in the modern home of a mill manager—until she discovers she is expected to perform the duties of both housekeeper and mistress. Though she resents her employer’s advances, they are more tolerable than being groped by drunks at the town’s boarding house.

When Janos witnesses a gruesome accident at his furnace on the same day Karina learns she will lose her job, the Kovac family begins to unravel. Janos learns there are people at the mill who pose a greater risk to his life than the work itself, while Karina—panicked by the thought of returning to work at the boarding house—becomes unhinged and wreaks a path of destruction so wide that her children are swept up in the storm. In the aftermath, Janos must rebuild his shattered family—with the help of an unlikely ally.

Impeccably researched and deeply human, Beneath the Veil of Smoke and Ash delivers a timeless message about mental illness while paying tribute to the sacrifices America's im-migrant ancestors made.

Buy Links:

About the author: 

A native of Western Pennsylvania, Tammy Pasterick grew up in a family of steelworkers, coal miners, and Eastern European immigrants. She began her career as an investigator with the National Labor Relations Board and later worked as a paralegal and German teacher. She holds degrees in labor and industrial relations from Penn State University and German language and literature from the University of Delaware. She currently lives on Maryland's Eastern Shore with her husband, two children, and chocolate Labrador retriev-er.

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You might Also like

Books By Helen Hollick 


Amazon Author Page: 

A Mirror Murder
#1 in the Jan Christopher 
Cosy Mystery Series
set in a 1970s London library 

and now... Episode 2!

A Mystery of Murder
 1971 Jan and her boyfriend DS Laurie Walker
spend Christmas in Devon
(featuring an owl, a teddy bear, some pigs
- and a murder to solve!) 

A new edition with new additional scenes

Tuesday 21 September 2021

Nick Macklin and his novel Bloody Dominions my Coffee Pot

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Bloody Dominions
 (The Conquest Trilogy, Book 1)

When I began planning the story that would ultimately become Bloody Dominions, I knew that I wanted to set it against a significant period in Roman History. I eventually settled on Caesar’s tumultuous occupation of Gaul. In part this was because the prolonged clash of cultures and violent conflict provided a wealth of opportunities to explore the changing fortunes of war and its impact at a personal level, from the perspective of protagonists on both sides. As my research unfolded however, I was struck by just how heavily the Roman psyche was influenced during this period by the scare they had received 50 years earlier when invading Germanic tribes defeated their legions. Seeing references to the veterans of that war watching their sons and grandsons enlist for a similar campaign, I began to think about the potential for developing that link, on both sides of the conflict. And so, the idea for the Conquest Trilogy was born.

In 113 BC and again in 109/108 BC a Germanic tribe, the Cimbri clashed with and defeated armies of Rome, having crossed into the Roman Province of Gaul. In 105 BC they again threatened Roman territories and two huge armies were dispatched to confront them. Bitter differences between the commanders prevented the Roman armies from co-operating effectively, with devastating results. In October 105 BC at the Battle of Arausio (modern day Vauclause in south east France) the Cimbri inflicted a catastrophic defeat on the Roman armies. Roman losses are described as being up to 80,000 troops, as well as another 40,000 auxiliary troops (allies) and servants and camp followers — almost all of their participants in the battle. The defeat left Rome with a critical shortage of manpower but also with a terrifying enemy camped on the other side of the now-undefended Alpine passes, engendering great fear in Rome about the prospect of invasion. 

Fortunately for the citizens of Rome the Cimbri elected to raid Gaul and Hispania before later deciding to attempt an invasion of Italy. This gave the Romans time to re-organise and elect as Consul, Gaius Marius, the man who would become known as the saviour of Rome. Radically reforming the organisation of the legions, Marius had time to raise, equip and train a ‘new army,’ implementing reforms that helped to establish the Roman army as the dominant military force of the age. At Aquae Sexitae in 102 BC and at Vercellae in 101 BC, Marius inflicted crushing defeats on the Cimbri and their allies the Teutones, re-establishing the pre-eminence of Rome in the region. The battles are also material in shaping the destinies of the protagonists in Bloody Dominions. 

On route through the province the Cimbri had established a settlement where they deposited their baggage before continuing their journey south. The warriors left to guard these possessions and the families that remained with them, together with any survivors from Vercellae eventually emerged, in the guise of the Aduatuci, as one of the pre-eminent tribes amongst the Belgae. The precise location of this settlement has been a matter of debate although recent archaeological evidence suggests that it was near the modern-day city of Thuin in Belgium. The settlement was never named in Caesar’s famous first-hand account of his invasion, 'Commentarii de Bello Gallico', so I took the liberty of creating the fictional settlement of Aduatuca, home of Allerix and Epona, from where they will venture forth to challenge the might of Rome and encounter Atticus and his comrades in the XIIth legion. 

Journey with those at the heart of the conflict as Caesar embarks on the tumultuous conquest of Gaul 58-51 BC. Book One 58-56 BC.

As Caesar’s campaign begins, tests of courage and belief will confront the three protagonists, shaping them as individuals and challenging their views of the world and each other:

Atticus – an impetuous but naturally gifted soldier, whose grandfather served with distinction in the legions;

Allerix – a Chieftain of the Aduatuci, who finds himself fighting both for and against Caesar; and

Epona – a fierce warrior and Allerixs’ adopted sister.

Experiencing the brutalities of conflict and the repercussions of both victory and defeat, Atticus, Allerix and Epona will cross paths repeatedly, their destinies bound together across time, the vast and hostile territories of Gaul and the barriers of fate that have defined them as enemies. In a twist of fate, Atticus and Allerix discover that they share a bond, a secret that nobody could ever foresee…

Trigger Warnings:
Violence, attempted rape.

Buy Links:

Amazon UK     Amazon US      Amazon CA
Kobo     iBooks     Google Play   WHSmith

Nick Macklin

A history graduate, Nick enjoyed developing the skills that would stand him in good stead during the extensive research he conducted prior to writing his novel. Whilst the ancient world unfortunately didn’t feature to any extent in his history degree, (the result of failing miserably to secure the A level grades that would have permitted greater choice) he maintained a lifelong and profound interest in ancient history and especially the Roman Empire, continuing to read avidly as he embarked on a career in HR. Over the next 30 years or so Nick occupied a variety of Senior/Director roles, most recently in the NHS. Unsurprisingly, writing in these roles was largely confined to the prosaic demands of Board papers but Nick never lost the long-harboured belief, motivated by the works of writers such as Robert Fabbri, Robyn Young, Anthony Riches, Simon Scarrow, Matthew Harffy and Giles Kristian, that he too had a story to tell. When he was presented with a window of opportunity c3 years ago he took the decision to place his career on hold and see if he could convert that belief into reality. 

Nick always knew that he wanted to set the novel against the backdrop of a significant event/period in Roman history. Looking to narrow that down to something offering the potential for meaningful character and plot development, but that hadn’t already received exhaustive coverage, he settled on Caesars tumultuous occupation of Gaul. Spanning 8 years, the prolonged clash of cultures offered ample opportunity for the kind of dual perspective from which he was hoping to tell the story, whilst the violent conflict provided a wealth of exciting material to explore the changing fortunes of war and its impact at a personal level. The switching of allegiances, nations fighting for and against Rome also provided the potential for some intriguing plot lines. As his research unfolded, he was also struck by just how heavily the Roman psyche during this period was influenced by the scare they had received 50 years earlier when Germanic tribes invaded their territories and defeated their legions. Seeing references to the veterans of that war watching their sons and grandsons enlist for a similar campaign, he started to think about developing that link on both sides of the conflict. And so, the idea for the Conquest Trilogy was born.

In Bloody Dominions Nick has sought to produce a novel in which unfolding events are experienced and described from the perspective of protagonists on both sides of Caesar’s incursion into Gaul.  Conscious that the role of women in Roman fiction, Boudica aside, is largely confined to spouse, prostitute or slave, Nick wanted to ensure that one of his lead characters was female and a prominent member of the warrior clan of her tribe. The novel is driven by these characters but the framework against which their stories unfold is historically accurate, featuring actual participants in Caesar’s campaign and drawing on real events as they occurred. As such Nick is genuinely excited about his characters and the story they have to tell.

Nick lives in Exeter with his two daughters and is currently juggling work as an Independent HR Consultant with writing the second novel in the Conquest Trilogy, Battle Scars. 

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Twitter Handles: @NMacklinAuthor @maryanneyarde
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Books By Helen Hollick 


Amazon Author Page: 

A post-Roman warlord and the story
of King Arthur
The boy who became a man
The Man who became a King
The King who became a legend
Book One of the Pendragon's Banner Trilogy
The Kingmaking (UK/world edition - US/Canada edition)

Visit my website to view all my - varied genre - books

Wednesday 15 September 2021

Wednesday Wanderings: To Paris - with Steve M. Gnatz my Coffee Pot Book Club Guest

Welcome to my Blog!
Wander through wonderful worlds
real and fictional,
meet interesting people,
visit exciting places
and find a few good books
to enjoy!

The Wisdom of the Flock: Franklin and Mesmer in Paris

The setting for The Wisdom of the Flock: Franklin and Mesmer in Paris – is in Paris, of course!

But what was Paris like in the late 1700’s?

Paris was a European hub of commerce and culture in 1776 when Benjamin Franklin arrived to enlist the aid of the French government in the upcoming war effort against Britain for American independence. It has been estimated that over half a million people lived in Paris near the end of the 1700’s. Some streets were cobblestoned like the one illustrated above, but many were not. There were no sewers yet. Wealthier people had access to private toilets and bathing facilities while the masses used public baths. 

Paris was home to many artists, musicians, and craftspeople. Grand statues and fountains were abundant. Many schools and universities attracted students from afar. Health care – while in its infancy as we think of it today – was state-of-art for the time. Specialty foods were brought in from distant lands – including coffee and spices from the east and tobacco from America. One could find almost anything in Paris.

Paris was the height of fashion then as now with Marie Antoinette as the Queen. Hair and dresses tended to be spectacular. Franklin once mused he expected that someday an unfortunate woman would topple over from the weight of her hairdo. The public gardens had been laid out in intricate detail over the prior century. Lovers strolled along the river Seine under lamplight at night. Sciences and arts flourished in the “enlightenment” of the late 1700’s.

Franklin was already well known to the French aristocracy from his published experiments with electricity. He was quickly adopted into Parisian high society and scientific circles. 

In early 1777 Ben took up residence in the stately home of an American sympathizer (Jacques Leray) and his wife in Passy (a suburb of Paris) where he had easy access to both the city and the royal palace at Versailles.

John Adams was reportedly aghast that Franklin “acted like a Parisian” in terms of his behaviors in France, but Franklin just seemed to fit right in. Franklin was a natural hedonist. He dined out often, socialized in all the right circles, drank plenty of excellent French wine, and openly flirted with the French ladies. It is a matter of historical debate as to whether his activities with these ladies ever actually resulted in a consummated relationship. But Franklin surely did like to flirt, and the French ladies reciprocated. He even asked at least one to marry him.

In the scene depicted above, described in more detail in The Wisdom of the Flock, Ben is crowned with a laurel wreath by Queen Marie Antoinette to celebrate the American war victories. Franklin, in return, presented the King and Queen with a commemorative gold medallion of his own design called Libertas Americana. It was clearly a time of grand gestures and elaborate hairstyles – other than Ben!

The location and setting of late 1700’s Paris can only be surpassed by the cast of historical characters present in The Wisdom of the Flock. In addition to Ben Franklin and Marie Antoinette, we have Dr Franz Mesmer (of mesmerism fame), Casanova, and naval hero John Paul Jones.  Even Amadeus Mozart makes a cameo appearance in the book.

I hope that you will enjoy the setting of Franklin’s time in Paris as illuminated in The Wisdom of the Flock.

Book Trailer:


1776: Benjamin Franklin sails to Paris, carrying a copy of the Declaration of Independence, freshly signed. His charge: gain the support of France for the unfolding American Revolution. Yet Paris is a city of distractions. Ben’s lover, Marianne Davies, will soon arrive, and he yearns to rekindle his affair with the beautiful musician. 

Dr. Franz Mesmer has plans for Marianne too. He has taken Parisian nobility by storm with his discovery of magnétisme animale, a mysterious force claimed to heal the sick. Marianne’s ability to channel Mesmer’s phenomena is key to his success.

A skeptical King Louis XVI appoints Ben to head a commission investigating the astonishing magnétisme animale. By nature, Ben requires proof. Can he scientifically prove that it does not exist? Mesmer will stop at nothing to protect his profitable claim. 

The Wisdom of The Flock explores the conflict between science and mysticism in a time rife with revolution, love, spies, and passion.

(Mild sexual content)

Buy Links: 

Available on Kindle Unlimited.

About the Author

Steve Gnatz is a writer, physician, bicyclist, photographer, traveler, and aspiring ukulele player. The son of a history professor and a nurse, it seems that both medicine and history are in his blood. Writing historical fiction came naturally. An undergraduate degree in biology was complemented by a minor in classics. After completing medical school, he embarked on an academic medical career specializing in Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation. There was little time for writing during those years, other than research papers and a technical primer on electromyography. Now retired from the practice of medicine, he devotes himself to the craft of fiction. The history of science is of particular interest, but also the dynamics of human relationships. People want to be good scientists, but sometimes human nature gets in the way. That makes for interesting stories. When not writing or traveling, he enjoys restoring Italian racing bicycles at home in Chicago with his wife and daughters.

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Twitter Handle: @maryanneyarde
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 * * *  * * *

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Recent Books By Helen Hollick 


Amazon Author Page: 

A Mirror Murder
#1 in the Jan Christopher 
Cosy Mystery Series
set in a 1970s London library 

Liked Pirates Of The Caribbean?
then you'll love the Sea Witch Voyages!

Tuesday 14 September 2021

Tuesday Talk: Amy Maroney - my Coffee Pot Guest Today

where guests can have their say about...
anything they want

Thank you for hosting me on your blog, Helen! 
[my pleasure Amy!]

Island of Gold, the first book in my Sea and Stone Chronicles series, takes place on and around the islands of Rhodes and Cyprus during the medieval rule of the Knights Hospitaller. The novel was inspired by a three-week visit to the island of Rhodes with my family ten years ago. During that visit, I marveled at the ancient temples and crumbling statues of goddesses that existed alongside massive stone walls and forts built by the Knights Hospitaller. Inside the rebuilt palace of the knights, I peeked into dim corridors where stone tablets carved with European knights’ coats-of-arms leaned haphazardly against the walls.

Staring at those forgotten slabs of stone, I found myself wondering who the knights had been, where they had come from, and how they had died. I imagined them on horseback, clad in metal armor, heading out from the thick walls of Rhodes Town to protect all Christendom from Muslim forces in the East. Once I delved into the research for Island of Gold, I learned how wrong my imaginings had been. The knights’ power lay not on land, but in the seas. Their naval superiority was what kept their attackers at bay. At their core, I discovered, the Knights Hospitaller were pirates.

Breydenbach’s Rhodes Town woodcut, 1486,
public domain image from Wikimedia commons

The Order of St. John of the Knights Hospitaller began in Jerusalem during the 1100s as a hospice for sick pilgrims. After gaining papal protection a century later, it expanded its operations to become both a religious and military organization, defending the crusader states in the Holy Land. As Muslims took over the crusader states, the Knights Hospitaller withdrew first to the Greek island of Rhodes and—after their expulsion by the Ottoman Turks in 1522—eventually regrouped in Malta.

The organization’s lifeblood was in Western Europe. Wealthy donors infused the Hospitallers with land, rights and revenues; their sons became knights of the Order and travelled to the Holy Land, Rhodes, and Malta to defend Christendom. Each European region or kingdom with ties to the Order was called a ‘tongue.’ France had three tongues: Ile-de-France, Auvergne, and Provence. During the era of Island of Gold, the Grand Master of the Knights Hospitaller was Jacques de Milly, a seasoned knight from Auvergne and a pivotal character in the novel.

Jacques de Milly
public domain image via Wikipedia Commons

One thing that surprised me in the course of my research was how few knights lived in Rhodes during the mid-fifteenth century. Rhodes Town (the largest community in Rhodes and the headquarters of the Order for two hundred years) housed about three hundred knights at that time. The bulk of their fighting force was made up of mercenaries, some of whom were recruited from overseas, while others known as ‘turcopoles’ were local men conscripted into service. 

Most knights were wealthy second or third sons of noble families. Sending a son on a “tour” with the knights was both fashionable and a demonstration of piety. It was not glamorous, though. I found evidence of a young French knight who arrived in Rhodes only to be horrified by the brutality he witnessed. He wrote a letter home begging his parents not to send his younger brother to join him. They ignored his pleas and the boy was sent to Rhodes as a page and later killed.

That poor Frenchman had discovered what I learned in my research: the knights were pirates, like most seafaring societies in the medieval Mediterranean. They raided Muslim villages in Turkey, Syria, and Egypt. They took captives and sold them as slaves (or kept them to build fortifications in Rhodes Town and work their sugar plantations). Mercenaries employed by the Order were allowed to keep much of what they stole. The Order was constantly engaged in negotiations with the Ottoman Turks and the Mamluks (the rulers of Egypt at the time), dealing with exchanges of prisoners and attempts to mitigate violence at sea. But both sides routinely broke their fragile agreements. 

Street of the Knights, Rhodes Town.
Unsplash photo

How did all of this affect Greeks in Rhodes? The knights were feared by the people of Rhodes, but they were also respected. As Christians, Rhodians were terrified of a Muslim takeover of their island, and the knights were a bulwark against that possibility. The knights were a source of employment and occasionally great fortunes. Mercenaries who showed exceptional courage or brought back the best booty were sometimes rewarded with homes and lands. The Order needed Greeks to help them communicate with Turks, Middle Easterners, and Africans. They also relied on the Greeks’ excellent ship-building, sailing, and navigational skills to ensure their naval prowess was unmatched.

Of the dozens of academic papers I studied during the research for Island of Gold, there are some illuminating standouts. One of them discusses the archaeological find of wrecked Renaissance-era ships in the sea between Rhodes and Turkey. At that time, piracy was so commonplace that even merchant ships were outfitted with crossbows and iron or bronze swivel guns. Another paper, by noted Hospitaller scholar Anthony Lutrell, delves into the complex world of piracy around Rhodes and Cyprus during this era. His evidence shows that Catalans were the most successful pirates. A character in Island of Gold is modelled after a real-life Catalan pirate named Baldaia.

Another paper, by scholar Terrance Dugan, shows the discrepancy between an assumption that no one sailed the Mediterranean during winter back then and the reality (based on historical records such as insurance policies) that people actually did. The historical record is full of assertions that shipping was closed during the winter in the medieval Mediterranean. And yet Dugan’s findings show it’s not true. This discovery was helpful when I wrote scenes involving winter seafaring.

I never imagined when I first stepped foot in Rhodes Town a decade ago that I would one day write a novel about the place and its history. But it cast a spell on me that only grew stronger over the years. There was just too much dazzling adventure bottled up in all those layers of history, struggling to be set free. Stories of knights, and pirates, and the ordinary women and men who struggled to prosper in their medieval world. With each book in the Sea and Stone Chronicles, I aim to bring those forgotten voices into the light.

medieval hospital in Rhodes Town
Unsplash photo

Island of Gold (Sea and Stone Chronicles)
By Amy Maroney

1454. A noble French falconer. A spirited merchant’s daughter. And a fateful decision that changes their destiny forever.
When Cédric is recruited by the Knights Hospitaller to the Greek island of Rhodes, his wife Sophie jumps at the chance to improve their fortunes. After a harrowing journey to Rhodes, Cédric plunges into the world of the knights—while Sophie is tempted by the endless riches that flow into the bustling harbor. But their dazzling new home has a dark side. 

Slaves toil endlessly to fortify the city walls, and rumors of a coming attack by the Ottoman Turks swirl in the streets. Desperate to gain favor with the knights and secure his position, Cédric navigates a treacherous world of shadowy alliances. Meanwhile, Sophie secretly engineers a bold plan to keep their children safe. As the trust between them frays, enemies close in—and when disaster strikes the island, the dangers of their new world become terrifyingly real. 
With this richly-told story of adventure, treachery, and the redeeming power of love, Amy Maroney brings a mesmerizing and forgotten world to vivid life.

Buy Links:
This novel is available on #KindleUnlimited

Universal Link:

Amy Maroney lives in the Pacific Northwest with her family, and spent many years as a writer and editor of nonfiction before turning her hand to historical fiction. When she's not diving down research rabbit holes, she enjoys hiking, dancing, traveling, and reading. Amy is the author of the Miramonde Series, a trilogy about a Renaissance-era female artist and the modern-day scholar on her trail. To receive a free prequel novella to the Miramonde Series, join Amy's readers' group at (Just copy and paste into your browser.)

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Twitter Handle: @wilaroney @maryanneyarde
Hashtags: #IslandOfGold #HistoricalAdventure #Rhodes #KnightsHospitaller #BlogTour #CoffeePotBookClub

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Wednesday 8 September 2021

Wednesday Wanderings... Memories of Chingford Library by Helen Hollick

visiting around and about,
wandering here and there...

For quite a while during the 2020 lockdown I was contemplating what to write. My Sea Witch pirate adventures were on hold (because I wasn't happy with the company publishing them [less than acceptable standard] - an issue now sorted, but that's another story) I also wanted to write something different

Stuck for ideas I turned to reading instead, and came across the entertaining Sophie Sayers cosy mystery series by the wonderful writer, Debbie Young

I loved them. Bright, cheery, engaging characters - and yes a murder or two, but nothing gory or frightening, and limited 'police procedure' - these were stories about the main characters and their friends who lived in the imaginary Cotswold village of Wendlebury Barrow. I say imaginary: the village is based on Debbie's own village which one day I'll get to visit when Covid enables outings again. (I was supposed to have attended the annual Book Festival in 2020.)

Sophie and Hector at Wendlebury Barrow

But Sophie set me thinking. I could write something similar. A cosy mystery ('cozy' in the US). But what? 

"Write what you know" is oft given sage advice. Well, I knew about working in a public library. I'd done that from 1969 to 1981. I had a mine of anecdotes and experiences. I know nothing about police procedure though... but wait, neither does Sophie Sayers!

The germ grew, flourished and blossomed. My character popped into my mind. Jan. Jan Christopher. She gets fed up with people asking her what 'Jan' is short for - Janet, Janice?*

* read the book to find out!

Her parents are dead (the plot of a future story) she was adopted by her Aunt Madge and Uncle Toby - he is her dad's brother. And he's a Detective Chief Inspector. Then Detective Constable Laurie Walker walked into my mind... and I remembered an old lady who used to come into the library every day to surreptitiously cut out the food coupons from the tabloid newspapers...

So A Mirror Murder was born. A story set in 1971 in and around South Chingford Library where I used to work. I published it myself under my own Taw River Press, and thoroughly enjoyed the whole process.

The one regret: I had no decent photographs of the library. The building is still there, but it is now offices. Waltham Forest, the administrative London Borough having the lack of foresight (OK, stupidity!) to keep their libraries open at all cost. From what I gather the building is due to be pulled down to make way for housing. So I jumped on the assistance of another good friend author of mine, Alison Morton helping me out.

She was visiting in the area. "Any chance of a few photos, Alison?" She obliged tenfold with some wonderful photos which will appear as the series progresses in various marketing graphics. Thank you Alison - you're a star of supergiant magnitude. Betelgeuse status!

Here's a couple...

BUT here's what those of you who have read A Mirror Murder are waiting for! Episode 2 of Jan's Cosy Mystery adventures!

It is to be released in November (e-book available for pre-order in October) It is called A Mystery Of Murder and is set in Devon, Christmas 1971:

‘Had I known what was to happen soon after we arrived at Mr and Mrs Walker’s lovely old West Country house, my apprehension about spending Christmas in Devon would have dwindled to nothing.’ 

Library Assistant Jan Christopher is to spend Christmas with her boyfriend, DS Laurie Walker and his family, but when a murder is discovered, followed by a not very accidental accident, the traditional Christmas spirit is somewhat marred... 

What happened to Laurie’s ex-girlfriend? Where is the vicar’s wife? Who took those old photographs? And will the farmer up the lane ever mend those broken fences?

Set in 1971, this is the second Jan Christopher Cosy Mystery. Join her (and an owl and a teddy bear) in Devon for a Christmas to remember.

Will the discovery of a murder spoil Christmas for Jan Christopher and her boyfriend DS Laurie Walker – or will it bring them closer together?

 And here for the first time in public is the cover!!!

pre-order links coming soon!

the first in the series, A Mirror Murder is available  now 
from an Amazon near you