Wednesday, September 16, 2020

Book Spotlight and Excerpt: The Queen's Devil (A William Constable Spy Thriller) by Paul Walker


1583.

William Constable, recently married astrologer and mathematician, has settled into routine work as a physician when he is requested to attend two prisoners in the Tower of London. Both are accused of separate acts treason, but their backgrounds suggest there may be a connection.

Sir Francis Walsingham and Lord Burghley urge William to discover further intelligence from the prisoners while tending their injuries from torture.

The agent's investigations lead him to the French Embassy, which lies at the heart of a conspiracy which threatens the nation.

Through his enquiries, an unsuspecting William becomes entangled in a perilous web of politicking and religious fervour.

The threat comes from one the most powerful men in the English court – one referred to as the Queen’s Devil.

William faces a race against time to unpick these ties, climaxing in a daring raid on the Embassy.


Excerpt

William Constable is at the Tower of London to tend the injuries from torture of the alleged conspirator, John Somerville
 
A manservant opens the door, and a short, round woman exits. She is wrapped in a heavy grey cloak, and her shoulders shiver at the sudden loss of warmth. I hazard she is no more than twenty-five, and the cover is a fine wool, so this may be the lady mentioned by Burghley.

She says, ‘Doctor Constable, I am Mary Brydges. I will take you to Master Somerville.’ She meets my gaze with an air of self-assurance and hands my note back.

‘Good day to you, Lady Brydges. I am grateful for your consideration in leaving the comfort of your chamber to guide me.’

She smiles and dismisses my escort with a wave of her hand. ‘We have moved him to a chamber in this tower.’ She points ahead. ‘We saw no reason to subject you to the dismal conditions of his examination cell. I have placed bowls of clean water and linen wraps on a table there for your use.’

I dip my head to show appreciation of her kindness. We climb wooden steps to the tower door, which is locked and barred. She gestures with a gloved hand, and I answer by pounding the door with my fist. It is opened by a thickset man with a bushy beard, who wipes his hands down a leather jerkin before bowing deeply and making way for our entrance. This will be the guard room. Two men are sat at a table spread with the pickings from carcasses of boiled fowl. It seems our entry is unexpected. After a moment of uncertainty, they stand and bow stiffly. The first guard takes a ring of keys and leads us up a stone stairway to the next storey. He unlocks a door and leaves us. I want to reach for the handle, but she places her hand on my arm and watches as the guard descends. When he is gone, she says, ‘Do you wish me to enter with you and introduce Master Somerville? I should warn that his body has suffered cruel handling, and his mind is insecure. He has been informed that I have summoned a physician to tend his wounds, but my telling may be already forgotten.’

‘Thank you, Lady Mary, an introduction and repeated explanation may be helpful in his acceptance of my presence.’ She has a pleasant aspect and has been thoughtful in her preparation. It is a wonder that a young woman of her disposition should be charged with the care of a tortured man in a place of grisly reputation.

I follow her into the chamber. It is a fair size, but with poor light. Only one window is unshuttered, and the flame of a single candle on a table sputters and protests at a waft from the open door. The walls are bare stone. A small fire takes some of the nip from the air. As my eyes become accustomed to the gloom, a bed appears in the far corner, and I surmise that the dark hunched figure under the covers is Somerville. Mary explains that only one of the three windows is glazed, and she assumed we would favour comfort over light. She takes the candle, lights another, and carries it to the bed.

‘Master Somerville, I have brought Doctor Constable to ease your discomfort.’ She speaks in a low soothing voice, as a mother to her babe.

The bundle of covers stirs as Lady Mary touches my arm, hands me the candle, and signals she will leave us. I pull up a stool, sit by the bed, and remove my bag of medicines from a shoulder. There is grunting and huffing as he struggles to rise, then a sigh as his body collapses. I hold the candle close, see his head, and… lurch back at the grotesque disfigurement of a face. Beneath a straggle of long fair hair emerges a swollen misshape with a deep cut to the forehead and scabbed holes in each cheek; one with a flap of raw pink flesh exposed.

I say, ‘I am Doctor William Constable. Lady Mary has asked me to tend your wounds. To begin, I will bathe your face.’

I make to rise and go to the table, but he moans and levers himself up on an elbow. He mutters a word I do not understand. He tries again. It is as though he speaks through a mouthful of pebbles. I move my ear to his mouth. I think I understand; he says ‘feet’. Does he wish me to examine them? I put the candle on the floor, hook my hands under his shoulders, and help him to sit. A big man, but weak with loose flesh around his bones, signifying he has been starved of food. He squeaks and groans pitifully until he is upright. He draws a breath and utters more words. Is one… ‘angel’?

Mystified at first, then I say, ‘Do I understand you refer to the Lady Mary as an angel?’

He nods his head slowly in confirmation. In his situation, it may be that any who show sympathy are regarded as extraordinary in their kindness. I lower the candle to his feet, which dangle over the edge of the bed. They are an ugly sight; bent, broken, and bruised. It appears his tormentors have taken a hammer or other weight to them. I hesitate to touch as I am sure the pain will be terrible. Instead, I delve into my satchel and remove a jug of Brandywine. There is a cup on the table. I hand him a full cup, saying he should drink to deaden the pain.

I pose questions about his injuries. Has he been racked? No. More broken bones? He grunts and points with difficulty to his loose arm. I loosen the sleeve of his blouse and gently press my fingers until he winces. His wrist is broken or disjointed. Through further questioning, I find he has burn marks on his chest and buttocks, with some blistered and weeping. The stench from his mouth causes me to blink and hold my breath. His tongue is crusted with dried blood and badly swollen, but I get no sense from him of how his facial injuries were made. The poor man is wrecked. I shake my head to dismiss thoughts of the men who took delight in the ingenuity of their cruelty. It will take some time to dress his wounds and ease his hurt.

He drinks four cups of Brandywine before I bathe his wounds, apply ointments, and wrap with cloth. It is a slow process and past noon before I have finished. I enlist Lady Mary’s help in the preparation of a hot soother of comfrey and willow bark, which he should take three or more times each day. I also leave him with a small jar of oil of cloves to apply to the tender areas of his mouth. There will be no profit in attempting conversation today. I must return tomorrow.



Praise for Paul Walker:

“Walker skilfully creates a treacherous world of half-truths, plots and duplicity... simmering with impending danger.” Michael Ward, author of Rags of Time.

"A gripping and evocative page-turner that vibrantly brings Elizabeth's London to life." Steven Veerapen, author of A Dangerous Trade.

"Full of convincing characters both historical and imagined." Peter Tonkin

Purchase Link

Pick up your copy for free with Kindle Unlimited subscription.




About the Author


Paul Walker

Paul is married and lives in a village 30 miles north of London. Having worked in universities and run his own business, he is now a full-time writer of fiction and part-time director of an education trust. His writing in a garden shed is regularly disrupted by children and a growing number of grandchildren and dogs.

Paul writes historical fiction. He inherited his love of British history and historical fiction from his mother, who was an avid member of the Richard III Society. The William Constable series of historical thrillers is based around real characters and events in the late sixteenth century. The first two books in the series - State of Treason and A Necessary Killing - were published in 2019. The third book, titled The Queen's Devil, was published in the summer of 2020.

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Thursday, September 3, 2020

The Coffee Pot Book Club: #BookReview: Scribbler Tales Presents: Escape from Berlin by Mary Ann Bernal

The Coffee Pot Book Club: #BookReview: Scribbler Tales Presents: Escape from...: Scribbler Tales Presents: Escape from Berlin By Mary Ann Bernal   Escape from Berlin Mark Dresdner’s cover is blown, forcing him to flee Eas...



Lose yourself in five tantalisingly delicious bite-size short stories that are filled with action, drama, crime and broken promises — Scribbler Tales Presents: Escape from Berlin by Mary Ann Bernal is as enthralling as it is addictive.

Bernal is an author who always delivers, and I was really looking forward to diving into this anthology of short stories. All of the stories in this collection are rich in detail and highly entertaining. Not only are the stories immensely readable, but they are also impressively narrated. This is an anthology that is not only bold in its delivery but immensely successful as well.

 Each of the stories in this collection read like a snap-shot in time. What happened before, and what happens after, we are not always told, but I think that is what makes this collection so exciting. Bernal is an author who is fabulous at creating tension and anticipation in her writing. Bernal is also very gifted at creating believable characters and situations. I thought this collection was absolutely sublime, and I enjoyed every word, every sentence, every syllable.
  
Escape from Berlin was a wonderful story to start this collection. It is a desperate, heart-rending tale about war, loss, and betrayal. This story really tugged at my heartstrings. The protagonist is so brave and kind, which makes this story all the more heart-breaking. But it is also a reminder that nothing is fair in love and war.
  
The second book in this collection, aptly named Betrayal, tells the story of a woman who trusts her husband with her deepest darkest secret. This story had me reaching for the tissues — it is such an emotional story filled with fear, pain and a terrible sense of injustice. Bernal has penned a story that is not only rich in content but also in historical detail. I thought this story was simply brilliant.
  
Deadly Secrets is a story that is bursting with tension and drama. This crime thriller is filled with mystery and plot twists. I enjoyed this story very much, and I thought it was an excellent addition to the collection.
  
I found myself swept away by the narrative as Murder in the First hurtled towards its dramatic ending. I thought this story was tautly gripping and incredibly engaging.
  
The final story in the collection is called The Ritual. The Ritual was a fascinating story about a pagan cult. It is a desperate tragedy, and it was one of the stories that really impressed me with its ingenuity. I thought The Ritual was a fabulous story to end this collection with.
  
If you are a fan of thrillers, then I think you will find Scribbler Tales Presents: Escape from Berlin by Mary Ann Bernal extremely agreeable. I really did enjoy all of the stories in this collection, and I cannot wait to read more from this very talented author.
  
I Highly Recommend.

Review by Mary Anne Yarde.

The Coffee Pot Book Club.





Pick up your copy of
Scribbler Tales Presents: 
Escape from Berlin

Wednesday, September 2, 2020

The Coffee Pot Book Club: #BookReview — Scribbler Tales Volumes One - Five by Mary Ann Bernal

The Coffee Pot Book Club: #BookReview — Scribbler Tales Volumes One - Five b...: Scribbler Tales Volumes One - Five By Mary Ann Bernal Volume One Desperate Measures; Forbidden Lore; Forever Lost; The Hourglass; Sail with ...



Scribbler Tales Volume One – Five by Mary Ann Bernal is a collection of 25 fabulous short-stories that will entice, enthrall, and utterly enchant the reader. This is a book that you can dip into as time allows — it is absolutely perfect for a coffee break.

This collection opens with a mesmerizing industrial espionage thriller, which is tangled with a love story that is built on a web of lies. And thus, Bernal sets the tone for this collection. Each story is unique, but they are all equally gripping. Bernal lets her readers glimpse into some very troubled minds, so prepare yourself!

Sometimes the protagonists of these stories walk away unscathed, other times the antagonists are the victors. There are appalling acts of revenge, as well as desperate discoveries. This is a collection that really keeps a reader entertained, for the dramatic plot twists is enough to satisfy any lover of quality thrillers.

Bernal certainly has a novelist eye for the human detail, which gives these stories a real sense of authenticity as well as authority. These stories, as short as they may be, are tautly gripping from start to finish. They are also immensely readable and next to impossible to put down.

Revenge was one of my favorite stories in this book. In this quick read, we meet Angela Westin, a woman who seemingly has it all — a perfect marriage, money, and position. But under this happy facade is a woman who is trapped with a man whose illicit dealings destroyed their marriage. Driven to despair, Angela has no choice but to take matters into her own hands. The question is, does she have the courage to see it through to the bitter end? This story was written with such a gripping and compelling style that I completely forgot all about my coffee as I lost myself within the story.

Another story that I really enjoyed was Abducted. This cleverly crafted story is masterly executed. There are enough plot twists to cause a reader whip-lash, but it is also written in an easy prose style. The fast-paced narrative and the unexpected ending made this short-story incredibly entertaining.

In The Night Stalker, we follow the obsessive journey of a killer, while in Safeguard, we meet an antagonist whose clever manipulation of the medical professionals means she gets away with murder.

In Turning Point, we follow the work of an arsonist. While Brandi fears for her firefighter husband’s safety, she is completely unaware of how close the arsonist is. This short-story saw me sitting on the edge of my seat.

Bernal explores the devastating consequences of being falsely accused of rape in her short-story called Malice. This story was incredibly real in the telling, and also very realistic. To be accused of rape by a woman whom you had only met the once in a professional capacity nearly destroys Andrew’s life. I thought this story was exceptionally well written.

In The Hourglass, young Flair makes a covenant with Death. This story was engrossing and one that I simply could not read quickly enough as I was desperate to know if Flair would be set free from her obligation.

There are so many fabulous stories in Scribbler Tales Volumes One to Five that it was difficult to choose which ones to include in this review.  But be assured all the stories in this collection are wonderfully written and a real joy to any reader.

If you are a lover of thrillers, psychological murder mysteries, and paranormal adventures, then you will adore Scribbler Tales Volumes One to Five by Mary Ann Bernal. I cannot wait to get my hands-on Volume Two of what promises to be an equally enjoyable read. Bernal is the indisputable queen of short-stories.

I Highly Recommend.

Review by Mary Anne Yarde.

The Coffee Pot Book Club.



 Pick up your copy of

Scribbler Tales 
Volumes One - Five

Tuesday, September 1, 2020

The Inspiration behind The Last King: The First Viking Age (The Ninth Century Book 1) by MJ Porter



An Author's Inspiration 
The Last King
England: The First Viking Age
The Ninth Century Book 1

MJ Porter

The Last King is set in the AD870’s in Mercia, one of the ancient kingdoms of England. If you’ve watched or read Bernard Cornwell’s The Last Kingdom books, then it’s just about where the first book starts.

I’ve long avoided trampling on the toes of the literary creation that is Uhtred of Bebbanburg. I’ve written about the seventh century, the tenth and the eleventh, but I had left the ninth well alone. But no more.

I was amused, while recently watching The Last Kingdom, to find a character called Coelwulf, no doubt ‘my’ Coelwulf, keel over dead during a feast in Wessex. This made me chuckle, and also made me appreciate that the archaeological find that inspired me to write about him is recent (2015) and has called into question just what was happening in Mercia (and Wessex) in the 870s. (For information on the coin find, please have a look here, https://www.ashmolean.org/watlington-hoard).

And so, The Last King. It’s very much an action thriller with a historical setting. There’s a lot of blood, sweat, and gore (and swearing), but it is an attempt to explore this ‘other’ scenario, contrary to that in the Uhtred books, and contrary to much that has been written about Coelwulf in the past. He has been seen as a puppet of the Vikings. But, what if he wasn’t, as seems increasingly likely.

First and foremost, I approach my books from a historical perspective. But what I love, (and I really do love), is reading between the lines, toying with the might-have-beens, and the what-ifs. And Coelwulf, forgotten ‘hero’ that he might be, is a perfect vehicle for such an exploration of Mercia. And as a ‘Mercian’ by birth myself, it feels right to not let her get overshadowed by the might of Wessex, under what could just be, a perfectly written piece of political propaganda – The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle – that has plunged Coelwulf into historical obscurity, and from which he can only emerge thanks to the ‘Two Emperor Coins.’ These hint that Coelwulf was not a Viking puppet-king. Was he perhaps someone who overshadowed even Alfred himself, and who, Alfred, in a fit of pique branded as a traitor in his chronicle of the times.

What if, indeed.

***



They sent three hundred warriors to kill one man. It wasn’t enough.


Mercia lies broken but not beaten, her alliance with Wessex in tatters.

Coelwulf, a fierce and bloody warrior, hears whispers that Mercia has been betrayed from his home in the west. He fears no man, especially not the Vikings sent to hunt him down.

To discover the truth of the rumours he hears, Coelwulf must travel to the heart of Mercia, and what he finds there will determine the fate of Mercia, as well as his own.

Purchase Links




***


About the Author

I'm an author of fantasy (Viking age/dragon-themed) and historical fiction (Early English, Vikings, and the British Isles as a whole before the Norman Conquest), born in the old Mercian kingdom at some point since AD1066. I write A LOT. You've been warned!

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Friday, August 28, 2020

Book Spotlight and Excerpt: The Smallest Crack by Roberta Kagan



1933 Berlin, Germany.

The son of a rebbe, Eli Kaetzel, and his beautiful but timid wife, Rebecca, find themselves in danger as Hitler rises to power. Eli knows that their only chance for survival may lie in the hands of Gretchen, a spirited Aryan girl. However, the forbidden and dangerous friendship between Eli and Gretchen has been a secret until now. Because, for Eli, if it is discovered that he has been keeping company with a woman other than his wife, it will bring shame to him and his family. For Gretchen, her friendship with a Jew is forbidden by law and could cost her, her life.



Excerpt


Berlin, Germany
Spring 1932

Eli Kaetzel paced on the stone steps outside the yeshiva and took a deep breath. He loved the freshness in the spring air as it filled his lungs. Everything about spring made him feel as if the world around him was born anew. The tiny blades of new grass, the flower buds, the crystal-blue cloudless sky. He sighed and looked around. He felt a sense of well-being wash over him. And to make things even better, it was Tuesday, his favorite day of the week. On Tuesday afternoons, when the weather permitted, he and his best friend, Yousef Schwartz, went to the park to study. Instead of being cramped up inside the yeshiva until late afternoon, they sat on a park bench where they ate potato knishes that Eli’s mother packed for them and had stimulating discussions about Talmud stories. But that was not the real reason that Eli was so elated and anxious to get to the park today.  The real reason was her, the girl in the park. Since the first time he saw her, three weeks ago, he’d thought of little else. She was playing ball with a group of her friends, and when he saw her for the first time, he thought that she might be the most beautiful girl he’d ever seen. All that week he’d hoped to see her on the following Tuesday, and then he thought his heart would burst with joy when he and Yousef went to the park the following week, and she was there: then, again, the week after. He was mesmerized by her. And even though he knew for certain, by her clothing, that she was not Hasidic, he hoped that at least she was Jewish. Not that his family would have been pleased with him for being attracted to a girl who was not Hasidic. But in his mind, he began creating all kinds of possible scenarios. Perhaps, she is Jewish, assimilated, but Jewish. He thought. And, if by some wonderful miracle I met her and she decided she liked me, she might be willing to join the Hasidic community.
Today, Yousef was late, but that was nothing new. Yousef could easily get caught up in a heated conversation with his teacher about a story in the Talmud and a half-hour might pass before he realized he’d left Eli waiting. Eli smiled and shook his head thinking about how absentminded his good friend could be.

“Eli!” Yousef called out as he was coming out of the building. “Were you waiting long? I’m sorry. I got tied up discussing today’s lesson with the teacher. And you know how intense he can be. Oy! He gets on a subject, and there is just no stopping him. I am so sorry I kept you waiting.”

“Don’t worry. I wasn’t waiting long.  And besides, it’s so beautiful outside today that I didn’t mind at all,” Eli said, but he wasn’t telling the truth.  Inside he was a trembling nervous wreck. He tried to appear calm in order to hide his deepest secret, his attraction to the girl in the park, from Yousef.
Eli had known Yousef since they were young boys, and he knew his friend’s shortcomings. If he had to place a bet, he would have wagered it was probably Yousef who had been the one who kept the conversation going with the teacher, which made him late. Yousef loved having discussions about Torah.

“Come on, let’s go” Eli said.

“Oy, I forgot one of my books. ” Yousef looked down at the pile of books in his hands.

“Leave it, you’ll get it tomorrow. Let’s get going, We want to have time to study don’t we? At this rate, we won’t get there until it’s dark.”

“I’m sorry Eli. But, I want to read you an important story from this book. I was hoping we could take some time to discuss it.  So, I  can’t leave without my book. I’ll be right back. I promise not to get involved in any long conversations with anyone. If anyone tries to stop me to talk I will tell him that Eli Kaetzel the son of the rebbe is waiting and I can’t keep him waiting any longer” Yousef winked.

“Stop joking and go and get the book already,” Eli said
 “Come on, let’s go,” Eli said when he saw Yousef strolling casually out of the building.

“All right, I’m coming.”  Yousef said, straightening his kippah, the little head covering he wore out of respect for God, and although he pinned it, was always sliding around on his fine hair. He put on his customary black hat and twisted his long payot around his finger, forming curls.

The two boys walked together toward the park, each carrying a pile of books, their identical, long black coats flapping in the warm breeze. The park was on the outskirts of their neighborhood. Dressed as they were, anyone could easily see they were very religious and came from the Jewish side of town. As they entered the park, a scrappy, young man with blond hair and a strong jawline, wearing a brown leather jacket, was leaning against a tree. He sneered at Eli and Yousef. Then he said loudly, “Dirty Jews.”

Yousef and Eli shot each other a quick glance but kept walking. They were not permitted to start a fight even if someone insulted them. The Hasidic way was one of nonviolence. Since he was a child, Eli was taught that even if he were attacked, he was not to fight back. Eli’s father would have been furious if Eli came home with evidence that he’d been fighting.

“Eli, perhaps we should leave. It’s been getting more and more dangerous at this park for us. They used to whisper the insults about Jews under their breath. They are not hiding their hatred of our people anymore.  Maybe we should just go home and stop coming here.”

Eli’s heart sank. Leave, now? He couldn’t leave.  He had to see her. He’d waited all week to see her. A wave of guilt came over him. He knew Yousef was right. They should probably go but he couldn’t. 

“Yousef, don’t worry so much. It will be all right. Come,” Eli said smiling. “Sit down; it will be fine. You’ll see. Now, let’s eat.”

Yousef gave Eli a look of concern, but he nodded and followed his friend. The two boys sat on the bench under the tree and took off their coats. Underneath, they wore white shirts and black pants. They lay their piles of books on the bench beside them.  Eli took out the grease-stained paper bag that held the knishes and handed it to Yousef. Yousef took one then gave the bag back to Eli. Eli bit into the knish and closed his eyes. It was delicious—the crispy dough, the soft potato insides. Taking a deep breath, he opened his eyes and glanced across the park and saw a group of girls playing kickball. Eli quickly lost interest in the food as his eyes searched frantically for the girl.  Yousef was speaking to him, but he couldn’t hear what Yousef was saying. Where is she? Is she here? And then he saw her.  She was tall and slender with hair the color of rose gold that was blowing in the wind like the mane of a wild lion.  As she was running after the ball, he felt dizzy with desire as he caught a glimpse of her thigh. It was as white as his mother’s porcelain china, and in that instant, his heart skipped a beat. She laughed, and he heard her laughter twinkle in the spring air. He thought if the stars in the sky could talk that is how they would sound.

Eli’s heart was beating loudly in his throat. He felt had never seen such a free-spirited creature, and her natural beauty left him breathless. Her body was slender and agile, not womanly. She had very small breasts, and her hips were straight rather than curvy. As he watched her playing kickball, he realized that she could run faster and kick harder than any of her teammates.

“What are you looking at?” Yousef asked. “You haven’t heard a word I've said since we sat down.”

“Nothing.”

“Good, and make sure you are not looking over there.” Yousef indicated toward the girls playing ball. “You know better than to be looking at them. That is forbidden.”

Eli nodded as Yousef handed him his book on Talmud. “Come on, open your book, and let’s do some studying,” Yousef insisted.

Eli opened his book halfheartedly, then when he was sure Yousef was busy turning pages, he glanced back up at the girl.

“She’s pretty, don’t you think?” Eli asked. He hadn’t meant to say it. Somehow he just blurted it out.
“It’s getting late. We should be going home,” Yousef said.

Eli nodded in agreement. But he didn’t want to leave. He wanted to stay and watch the girl for as long as possible. But he got up and gathered his books together, thinking about the girl as he did so. He heard her laugh and turned to look. When he did, one of his books fell behind the bench.  Yousef was already halfway across the park heading toward the exit. Eli was in a hurry to catch up with him, so he never noticed the book that had fallen.
Gretchen, the girl in the park with the strawberry-blonde hair, was walking with her friends toward the exit of the park. They weren’t good friends, just girls she knew from school who had asked her to play kickball with them when they were short a team member. She hardly had time for friendships; she was too busy studying and taking care of things around the house. Her mother had passed away, and her father was working, so she had a lot of responsibilities at home. As the girls headed toward the exit they passed the bench where Eli and Yousef had been studying.  Gretchen glanced over and saw the book.  She didn’t want to mention it to the others. So as they left the park she turned to them and said, “I am going to go back and run to the washroom. You girls go on.”

“Are you sure? I can go with you?” One of the others said.

“Of course, I’m sure. I’ll be fine. You head on home.”

“All right, then”

Gretchen went into the bathroom and waited until she was sure the others were long gone. Then she walked toward the bench where she had spotted the book. She’d been watching the two boys for the last three Tuesdays as they sat on the bench. She knew one of them had been staring at her the entire time she was playing kickball, and she was intrigued because this was the third time she’d seen them.  They were Hasidic Jews, she thought, with their long, black coats and tall, black hats. From their clothing, she knew they were a part of the religious Jewish community, which, for Gretchen and her friends, had always been shrouded in mystery.
She picked up the book, knowing that one of the two Jewish boys had left it there. All of her friends had left the park. She was alone and knew she should get home, but she took a moment to sit down and look inside the book. The book was not written in German. In fact, the letters didn’t look like any she’d ever seen before. She scanned through the pages until she got to the back where written in large black letters it said in German, "If found, please return this book to Eli Kaetzel at 1627 Augsburger Strabe. You will receive a reward for your kindness."

A reward? Well, Papa and I could use any extra money we can get our hands on. If we had a little extra, I might be able to buy something nice for Papa. Some cake perhaps. Gretchen tucked the book under her arm and headed for the address written inside.
Gretchen mustered her courage and knocked on the door. It opened. There he stood, the boy from the park. He wore no hat; only a small, round skullcap covered his thick, black, wavy hair. He was beardless, but his sideburns were a single, long curl that looked strange to her. Still, even with the sideburns, there was no denying that he was handsome. More handsome than any man she knew, with his deep- coal-black eyes in which she was sure she saw both wisdom and tenderness.

Purchase Link 





Roberta Kagan

I am an USA Today Best Selling Author of Historical Jewish Fiction mainly set during World War 2. My father was Romany and my mother was Jewish, When I was very young I learned about the Holocaust. I couldn't understand how something like this could happen. So, I began to research and learn more. I met with survivors. I even met with children and grandchildren of SS officers. But I still had no answers. I cannot say that I have all of the answers to all of my questions even now. But what I do know is that soon all of the survivors will be gone. Their message must be remembered, the sacrifices that they made must not be forgotten. And so I humbly and with the utmost humility, I try to tell their stories. It is painful, but I must convey the darkness and horror of the time. However, I also want the world to know and celebrate the unsung heroes. Because there were many ordinary people who acted in heroic ways. I realize that writing these books is a great responsibility. I pray every day that I am able to do this correctly. I am trying to reach out and touch many people, not with the message of the horrors but with the promise of hope. I thank you from the bottom of my heart for considering my work. It is an honor that I never take lightly.

Connect with Roberta




Sunday, August 23, 2020

Spotlight on Artist Barbara Chen



Barbara Chen

My painting and drawing style evolved in college as I was studying the new classics - Van Gogh, Matisse, and Picasso. You could say that at my age I've straddled three centuries. Over time I added mosaics and ceramics to my repertoire.



                                                 
Perfect for birthday presents and cards.



Are you a cat person or a dog person? Perhaps you prefer cows or monkeys?



Do you find yourself in a city, countryside or communing with nature? Home or Abroad?


Flowers, still life, and musical instruments. 

¸.•*´¨) ¸.*¨) ( ¸.•´

Find out more about Barbara Chen on her WEBPAGE

Commissions accepted
Price information available upon request

Contact Barbara at 
babschenski@yahoo.com

Tuesday, August 18, 2020

Book Spotlight and Excerpt: The Devil's Crossing by Hana Cole




1212. The Chartrain, France.

Gui is a troubled priest who has been shielding his secret family for years. Agnes, his beloved, is a falsely-accused heretic he rescued from the Inquisition’s pyre. Their son Etienne, unaware of his father’s true identity, is coming of age. Tired of his lowly shepherd’s life, he seeks adventure. The Crusade is the perfect opportunity to prove himself to the world.  He has no reason to suspect the men offering him passage overseas are not what they seem.

Discovering that Etienne has been sold into slavery, Gui and Agnes set off to find him. If Gui is ever to tell his son the truth, he must give up his comfortable compromises and fight the battle of his life against the institution he has served devoutly.

Meanwhile, Agnes guards a secret of her own; she must face her past in a confrontation with the venal Amaury, Lord of Maintenon, that will either set her free or claim her life.

If they are to save their son and expose the slave trade, they must risk everything to overcome the powerful enemies who will stop at nothing to protect their positions and silence them. 



Excerpt

Prologue

 That evening, drawn by the noise from the streets below, Gui laid aside his manuscript and peered over the balcony. Three men shuffled in irons behind a plough horse. The prisoners had been sentenced to suffer for their own good. The purifying flame would cleanse their souls, and bestow a last chance of salvation before the fires of Hell. Although he had been clerk to the inquisitor for weeks now, this was the first time that he had witnessed a blood punishment and seen the faces of the convicts; faces just like any other. Among them, he knew, was Estève Le Coudray. A salt merchant from the Languedoc with a kind face and a hearty laugh who had been condemned by a testimony the Inquisition had paid for. 

As the procession drew level with the balcony, someone in the crowd threw a chunk of masonry. It struck Le Coudray with such force that Gui heard the man’s jaw crack. Large crimson gobs spilled from his mouth. Gui felt his legs yield beneath him. A fist squeezed inside his stomach, releasing a wave of nausea - I did this.  Staggering backwards onto his bench, he sat, heart racing, as the jeers of the crowd built to a crescendo. Any moment now, he would smell the smoke.

Transcription scattered at his feet, Gui ran his fingers through his hair, trying to chase out the images from the morning’s trial. But all he could think of was the girl as they took her away, eyes locked onto his as though there was no other living soul in the world. He jumped up and closed the shutter. The noise of the crowd dulled. Gui paced the cell. The day after next, Agnes Le Coudray would be in shackles, stumbling along the cobbles below to her final agony. So whoever knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, for him it is a sin. The words of St James had his heart pumping hard against his better judgement.

The wooden shutters muffled the din, but they did not impede the vapours of oak moss, garlanded by spectators to veil the stench of burning flesh.  It was the same perfume that his mother used on her deathbed to disguise her decay.  Gui felt his gorge rise. He reached for the rosary attached to his belt. It was his mother’s gift to him just months before he entered the Cathedral.  On his twelfth birthday, he had sat at her bedside, her icy hand in his, as death made its mask of her face.

‘Deliver the weak and needy from the hands of the wicked.’ She pressed the rosary into his palm. ‘For the love of God, may you never falter in your devotion to His mercy.’

Her last words told him of her pride at his calling. He wondered now, as he recalled that beautiful girl blinking back her tears, if his mother would still be proud.

Outside, the crowd exalted. Plumes of smoke curled over the rooftops. Blood thrummed urgently in his ears. He pressed his palms together and drew a deep breath. Deliver the weak and needy. Fist clenched tight over the coral beads, he fled the room before the screams began. Sandals slapping on the stone, he hurried to the chapel, and he prayed. First, for those poor souls who burned for denying Rome, then, head lifted to the Heavens, he remembered his mother.

Gui crossed the courtyard hooded in the cloak of a cathedral canon. He knew the corridors well enough to walk them blind. Palms slick with sweat, he stole into the scriptorium, a jumble of standing desks, loose parchments, and ribbon-bound ledgers. He tugged at a locked drawer of the Abbot’s desk until it yielded, rummaging through the seals and scrolls to find the key to the Cathedral’s prison. Then, fingers moving light, he thumbed through his documents until he found the pages he had transcribed from Agnes Le Coudray’s interrogation. The urgency of his endeavour pressed the air from his chest. Still, he paused to tear them up before stuffing them into his cloak. He peered out into the empty hallway. Quickening his pace, he glided over the cold quarry tiles to the courtroom and the cell that lay below.

There was an hour to go before the Canons roused for Lauds - the noose of time was tightening around his neck. In a matter of hours, her bones would be ash. He tasted bile at the thought. Before him, narrow steps spiralled down to blackness. Rust from the stolen key scratched at his damp palm. Barely breathing, he placed one foot on the stone, as though he were testing its solidity. Then he squeezed his eyes shut in prayer to a merciful God, and, heart in free fall, stepped down into the abyss.

Gui squinted through the door’s grille. Agnes was hugged into the corner of the cell, a shadowy outline in the near dark. She started at his presence, inching back further against the wall, as though there were succour to be found against the wet stone. A word of reassurance pressed at the base of his throat, but it would not come. Not in this place, with the Devil at his back.

One hand steadying the other, Gui weaved the crudely-cut key into the keyhole and hunted for the lock. Voices from outside echoed above.  A moment of panic: if I fail, we will both die here. It summoned brute force and clunk, the door yielded. Agnes inched forward until she was close enough for him to hear her breath. In a moment that seemed to stall the world, he felt her searching his intention. Then, bobbing her head, she pushed at the door. He reached for her hand.

‘Quick,’ he managed. ‘Come with me.’

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Hana Cole is a novelist and historian. Born in Essex to an Anglo-Italian family, she studied economics at the London School of Economics and History at Oxford, where she gained her Masters. After living in Italy for several years, she travelled widely in the Middle East and India before returning to the UK. She has worked as a film subtitle translator, financial analyst, and a yoga teacher. She now lives in Manningtree, Essex in the UK with her husband, daughter, and two cats.

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Sunday, July 26, 2020

Spotlight on actress Dawna Lee Heising



Dawna Lee Heising has acted in over 60 feature films and is the vice president of her mentor Aki Aleong’s Mustard Seed Media Group. Dawna is trained in Tang Soo Do martial arts, weapons (Jo-staff, kali sticks, guns), kickboxing, ballet, and pole dancing. She is a former Miss Los Angeles Chinatown, Ms. World, Ms. Universe, Miss San Francisco Universe, Miss Orange County Universe, Miss California Hemisphere, and Mrs. California United States, among many other titles.  She has a B.S. Degree in Business Management and an MBA from Pepperdine University. Her uncle is legendary director Tak Fujimoto, and her cousins George Daugherty and David Wong won a Primetime Emmy Award for “Peter and the Wolf on Broadway.”



You can follow Dawna Lee on:



Dawna can be found playing Skye Kayhill in the award-winning feature film 
“Finding Purpose: Road to Redemption”



“Finding Purpose: The Road to Redemption” is the story of John Kayhill, a U.S. Army veteran of the Bosnian War, who is trying to overcome the effects of the PTSD he suffered.  His wife Skye, his mentally disabled brother Rod and he journey on an old sidecar motorcycle that was given to John by a close war buddy, who had recently passed away from a heart attack.  John decides to travel to the family of one of his fallen veteran brothers in an attempt to bring closure for them, but also for him. The film follows the trio through an inspirational journey of trials and triumphs, which enables John to find his road to redemption. 


Trailer

“Finding Purpose: Road to Redemption” earned the Best Feature Film Award at the 2019 Hollywood Silver Screen Film Festival, and was slated to be shown at the 2020 Tribeca Film Festival and nationally through AMC Theaters, before the pandemic hit. 
The film is available on Amazon Prime Video



Scene from John Reign's "Finding Purpose: Road to Redemption"


John Reign's "Finding Purpose: The Road to Redemption"
Wins Best Feature Film
2019 Hollywood Silver Screen Film Festival


Monday, July 6, 2020

Award-winning actor and director, John Reign, will star in and direct a new horror movie project, Evergreen is the Blood


EVERGREEN IS THE BLOOD from Polestar Studios Stars Dawna Lee Heising, John Reign, and Aki Aleong



The feature film “Evergreen Is the Blood” from Polestar Studios will be shot in western Pennsylvania from July 10 through July 20, 2020. The screenplay is written by award-winning filmmaker John Reign and William Long. Reign will direct and star, and the director of photography is Tom Stoops. Dawna Lee Heising (“Finding Purpose: The Road to Redemption,” “Bad President”) is Countess Ivory Dragnea, the Queen of the Vampires, and Reign (“Finding Purpose,” “Finding Purpose: Road to Redemption”) is John Wolf. The legendary Aki Aleong (“Braddock: Missing in Action,” “Finding Purpose: The Road to Redemption”) is Khunbish Uldin (Not Human), and Carl Bailey (“The Pineville Heist,” “Blood Woods”) is a vampire hunter. Ross Carlo (“Finding Purpose”) is Alec Barclay, and Lisa Dapprich (“A Jury of His Peers,” “Finding Purpose”) is Willow Halpain. The film also features A.J. Santillo, Aaron McCrumb, Bionca Dioblo, April Love, Christopher Goff, William Long, April Evans, John Catheline, Jimmy Barber, Jim Kuhn, Heidi Wiodarski, Paul Worley, Stella Blair, Dionne Bidois and Brad Mahon. Original music is by Dionne Bidois (The Artist Red), Tony DiPofi, and Jimmy Gerovac (Craving Strange).


The Plot:

John Wolf, a former esteemed anthropologist, lives as a recluse, after the tragic deaths of his wife and young son. Once highly sought for his insight on ancient cultures, he now lives as a hermit in the country house once owned by his parents. He spends his days in solitude, except for the occasional visit of his good friends Edward Haims and Father Shore. Forces of good and evil have been lurking in the forest behind his home. Alec Barclay, a vampire killer, is on the prowl. He and his team have discovered a lair of vampires, descendants of the original undead King in the woods surrounding John’s home. A confrontation ensues and during the fight, one of the vampires gets seriously injured and takes flight. The sun has already begun to rise, forcing her to stay protected in the shadows, for the sun is her destroyer. She is now trapped and wounded, finding refuge in a sliver of shade behind an old shed in John’s yard.



John happens upon her, immediately fascinated and smitten by the vampire’s beauty. She’s now too weak and damaged to do anything, except succumb to the stranger’s help. John takes the unholy being into his home. What will happen when a mere mortal gives shelter to a creature of the night? Still being hunted by humans, she is also pursued by others of her own kind… including the father vampire, Khunbish Uldin, who wants her as his very own.



“Evergreen Is the Blood” is a film fueled by a unique, but familiar, look at vampire folklore, and has all the elements of action, drama, and a full-blown creepy as hell storyline. Just as the term “evergreen” means everlasting…this story delves deep into the evergreen blood of these mythological creatures.





About John Reign:

John Reign is the founder and CEO of Polestar Studios, a full-scale independent film production company, and has 40 years of experience in almost every aspect of the entertainment industry. He’s one of those visionaries that can take a small budget and still manifest it into a well-orchestrated and credible piece of cinematography.  His film “Finding Purpose” is now available on Amazon Prime. The sequel “Finding Purpose: Road to Redemption” earned the Best Feature Film Award at the 2019 Hollywood Silver Screen Film Festival, and was slated to be shown at the 2020 Tribeca Film Festival, before the pandemic hit. The sequel is available on Reveel.com and will soon be available through Amazon Prime. Both films are also available through the Polestar website at www.polestarprod.com



John is a former professional magician who quit when he almost drowned in a water torture escape. He was discovered by MCA Records and became a highly successful Elvis impersonator. From there, he went on to own a string of nightclubs and to become an event organizer. He is also the author of a children’s book, “Grimmets Magic Forest.”  He has been married to his beautiful wife Rowena Ermini Reign for over 30 years, and they have 13 children between them. He founded Polestar Productions LLC when he and Winnie moved to Pennsylvania in 2012 from New York, and he and Winnie have been making films ever since. Reign is signed with the Roger Paul Agency, and he and his Polestar Studios investors are currently constructing a feature film, TV production and music events studio in Hermitage, Pennsylvania.

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