Friday, April 16, 2021

Forgiving Nero by Mary Ann Bernal - Hardcover edition now available


Rome. The jewel of the civilized world is no longer what it was. Strength has failed the Senate. Her legions are in disarray, and the Empire has fallen into Lucius Domitius Ahenobarbus Nero’s hands. His reign begins under a cloud of scrutiny, for he is the depraved Emperor Caligula’s nephew. Nero is determined to overcome that stigma and carve a name of his own. One worthy of Rome’s illustrious history.

Politics and treachery threatens to end Nero’s reign before it begins, forcing him to turn to unexpected sources for friendship and help. Many of the Praetorian Guard have watched over Nero since he was a small child, and it is in Traian that the young Emperor places his trust, despite the inherent threat of reducing his mother’s influence. Traian is the father he never had and the one man who does not judge him.

When Traian secretly marries the hostage Vena, it sets in motion a collision of values as Traian comes to odds with his former charge. The whirlwind that follows will shake the very foundations of the greatest Empire the world has ever known, and survival is far from guaranteed.

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"This story demanded all of my attention from beginning to end. The narrative was utterly enthralling, and Bernal told Nero's story with a keen understanding of what makes history worth reading. Bernal has brought Nero back to life, and she has explored that life with a profound sweep and brilliance..." The Coffee Pot Book Club.

Thursday, April 15, 2021

Book Spotlight and Excerpt: Thunder on the Moor By Andrea Matthews


Maggie Armstrong grew up enchanted by her father’s tales of blood feuds and border raids. In fact, she could have easily fallen for the man portrayed in one particular image in his portrait collection. Yet when her father reveals he was himself an infamous Border reiver, she finds it a bit far-fetched—to say the least—especially when he announces his plans to return to his sixteenth-century Scottish home with her in tow.
Suspecting it’s just his way of getting her to accompany him on yet another archaeological dig, Maggie agrees to the expedition, only to find herself transported four hundred and fifty years into the past. Though a bit disoriented at first, she discovers her father’s world to be every bit as exciting as his stories, particularly when she’s introduced to Ian Rutherford, the charming son of a neighboring laird. However, when her uncle announces her betrothal to Ian, Maggie’s twentieth-century sensibilities are outraged. She hardly even knows the man. But a refusal of his affections could ignite a blood feud.
Maggie’s worlds are colliding. Though she’s found the family she always wanted, the sixteenth century is a dangerous place. Betrayal, treachery, and a tragic murder have her questioning whether she should remain or try to make her way back to her own time.
To make matters worse, tensions escalate when she stumbles across Bonnie Will Foster, the dashing young man in her father’s portrait collection, only to learn he is a dreaded Englishman. But could he be the hero she’s always dreamed him to be? Or will his need for revenge against Ian shatter more than her heart?

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Maggie’s heart lodged in her throat. No matter what the risk, she needed to get to her uncle’s cottage and retrieve the amulet, and her grandmother’s ring with it. Without another thought, she sped down the dimly lit staircase. Fierce fighting raged all around her, causing such turmoil she doubted anyone would notice one girl slipping amongst the clashing swords. But someone did notice, and Alasdair whirled her around with such force her head spun. 

“Where are ye going, Cousin? Get yerself upstairs; ’tis safest there.”

“No, I can’t—”

Before she could utter another word, a Foster blade came down upon him, and he had all he could do to block it.

Maggie seized the opportunity and hurried outside. She headed for her uncle’s cottage, clusters of burning thatch now lighting its roof in an eerie glow. A filthy arm grabbed her around the waist, but she wiggled out of the scoundrel’s grasp, shoving the rogue so hard he landed on his behind. Another tried to take hold of her skirt, but a swift kick in his privates put him in his place. By the time she’d reached the cottage door, three more scoundrels stood nursing various body parts. 

That’ll teach them to mess with Rabbie Armstrong’s daughter. Giving herself a mental pat on the back, she turned toward the flaming roof and groaned. From the look of things, her troubles were just about to begin.   

Though the dampened moss sizzled and cracked, the underlying layer of reeds and hazel twigs caught easy enough, and the flames threatened to engulf the entire roof. The heat from it burned her cheeks and made her eyes water. She raised her hand to shield herself from it, but she needed something more. Searching the yard in desperation, she spied the bucket Emma kept by the door. Right away, she recalled her fire-safety training. In one swift movement, she pulled the plaid from her shoulders and plunged it into the lukewarm water, soaking it well before wrapping it tight around her face. 

Somehow she found the courage to enter but stopped for a moment to survey the situation. Sparks and patches of burning thatch fell from above, setting parts of the staircase on fire. Here and there, thick wooden support beams buckled while white hazy clouds billowed from the floor above. She swallowed hard, climbing the crumbling steps with care. Her legs trembled, and her heart pounded out a deafening rhythm against the thick linen kirtle, but at last she made her way to the rooms above.  

Smoke filled the upper chambers, smoldering embers dropping from every direction like a fiery spring rain. Only the stone and turf of the walls kept the entire structure from going up in a ball of flames, and yet Maggie would not turn back. Her precious items lay on the bedside table, and she had every intention of retrieving them. Using a great deal of caution, she inched her way toward them. The floor below her creaked and sagged until, with a sudden crack, one of the boards gave way. The jagged wood scraped along her leg, and though she couldn’t suppress a cry, she managed to pull free and crawl away without falling to the ground below. With bile rising in her throat, she pushed herself the last few feet to the table and ran her fingers along its top, groping for her cherished possessions. “Stay low,” she whispered over and over, almost like a mantra, but even so, the dense fog of soot and ash stung her throat. The heat was so intense it penetrated the once-moist cloth, and she began to cough. 

A washbasin sat on the table. Would it be too hot? She stuck her finger in. No, warm but tolerable. She poured the contents over her face, dampening the rag once more, and took a tentative breath. Her coughing eased, and she continued searching the tabletop until she felt the smooth gloss of the amulet’s stone and the delicate curve of the ring she’d left beside it.  Hanging the amulet around her neck, she slipped the ring on her finger and headed back downstairs, careful to dodge the large chunks of fiery debris that fell at her feet.

Her coughing had worsened again, and she tripped over the last three steps, unable to control the movement of her legs any longer. You’re the daughter of Robert Armstrong. Are you going to let a little smoke be the end of you? With a defiant lunge, she grabbed on to the rickety banister and pulled herself up, shoving her body toward the front door.

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Andrea Matthews

Andrea Matthews is the pseudonym for Inez Foster, a historian and librarian who loves to read and write and search around for her roots, genealogical speaking. In fact, it was while doing some genealogical research that she stumbled across the history of the Border reivers. The idea for her first novel came to mind almost at once, gradually growing into the Thunder on the Moor series. And the rest, as they say, is history…

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Tuesday, April 13, 2021

Book Spotlight: The Dark Shadows of Kaysersberg Book Six in The French Orphan Series by Michael Stolle


It’s 1646 and infant King Louis XIV reigns over France; wily Cardinal Mazarin holds the reins of power - but he needs money, desperately.

Armand de Saint Paul, the younger son of a great and rich noble house, is leading a carefree life in Paris, dedicating his time to such pleasures as gambling, hunting, and amorous pursuits.

Unexpectedly, Armand has to defend the honour of his house in a duel that transpires to be a deadly trap, set up by a mighty foe of the house of Saint Paul.

Will Armand be able to escape the deadly net of intrigue that soon threatens to destroy him?

How can a young man deal with love, when it’s no longer a game, but a dream beyond reach?

The leading question is: What is going on behind the fa├žade that is Castle Kaysersberg, where nothing is as it seems to be … until the day when the dark shadows come alive?

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Michael Stolle

 Born in 1957, living and educated in Europe, Michael has always been intrigued by the historical setting and the fact that what makes us human was as true in the 17th century as it is now.

He has been reading and writing about history for longer than he cares to recall...

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Monday, April 12, 2021

Book Spotlight and Excerpt: Pied Piper By Keith Stuart


In September 1939 the British Government launched Operation Pied Piper. To protect them from the perils of German bombing raids, in three days millions of city children were evacuated - separated from their parents.

This story tells of two families: one whose children leave London and the other which takes them in. We share the ups and downs of their lives, their dramas and tragedies, their stoicism, and their optimism. But. unlike many other stories and images about this time, this one unfolds mainly through the eyes of Tom, the father whose children set off, to who knew where, with just a small case and gas mask to see them on their way.


The boss had given me two days compassionate leave so I had today to get there, Monday to get the family ready to travel and Tuesday to get back. I dropped a note through Elsie’s door to let her know what was happening and set off.

The journey took hours. The train stopped for no apparent reason between stations. I ignored the other people in the compartment. I think all eight seats were occupied when we left London and I was glad I’d boarded early enough to get a window seat so that I didn’t have to talk to anyone, look at anyone. I could just let the miles and the hours slide by.

From time to time we stopped at anonymous stations, the signs having been taken down. My attention would be drawn momentarily to someone heaving their case down from the overhead rack, sliding the door open to the corridor, opening the door to the platform, and disappearing through the steam and smoke outside the grimy window.

I must have dozed because eventually, and without me knowing how or when, the other orange, red and brown velvet upholstered seats became empty.

We stopped and started less frequently and I felt I was the only person left aboard as the train rattled, huffed and puffed into the dusk until, finally, it stopped at the little station I just about recognised.

The walk to the farmhouse felt long. It wound its way between the hedgerows I had been able to see over from the bus and it was impossible to know how far I had walked or how far was left. But, at last, the farmhouse came into view.

Smoke billowed from the chimney and soft light glowed from the downstairs rooms I knew to be the kitchen and the front parlour. It looked so welcoming and I had no doubt the children would be sad to say their farewells and leave all this behind.

In the fading light I trod carefully over the cattle grid and headed up the drive to the house. A figure I knew was Joe emerged from the barn to the right. He stopped. He must have seen someone approaching, though I doubt he knew it was me. I had rehearsed in my mind what had to be said and I guessed out there, rather than in front of the women and kids, was best.


“Tom, Is that you? What are you doing here? Why didn’t you tell us, I’d have picked you up? Come on in. Come in.”

I stopped. Kept my distance. “Not yet, Joe. I’ve come to take Mary and the kids home.”

“Micky can’t ….”

“Please don’t tell me what Micky can or can’t do, Joe.” I needed to be angry but I was finding it hard. I needed to make clear how careless I thought Joe had been, how angry I was he’d let my boy get hurt.

“But the doctor says he shouldn’t move too much and he really couldn’t manage the journey to London.”

“And we know why that is. He wouldn’t be hurting if he hadn’t been here, would he? He needs to be home, Joe. I need to have him home.”

Joe didn’t reply. He should have said something but a silence hung between us instead. I waited for his excuse or at least an explanation that I could reject. But neither was offered and we remained as we were, yards apart staring into each other’s eyes through the gloom, like two children weighing the odds before a fight.

I had rehearsed every possible exchange between us during the endless train journey. I hadn’t expected silence. I tried to look deeper into Joe’s thoughts. Could I see guilt or regret? Was he being dismissive, trivialising it all? It wasn’t his boy that was hurt so he was hardly likely to care too much, was he?

I shrugged my shoulders, shook my head, looked away and towards the farmhouse.

His voice slid through the crackling cold. “I’m so sorry, Tom.”

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About the Author

Keith Stuart (Wadsworth) taught English for 36 years in Hertfordshire schools, the county in which he was born and has lived most of his life. Married with two sons, sport, music and, especially when he retired after sixteen years as a headteacher, travel, have been his passions. Apart from his own reading, reading and guiding students in their writing; composing assemblies; writing reports, discussion and analysis papers, left him with a declared intention to write a book. Pied Piper is ‘it’.  Starting life as a warm-up exercise at the Creative Writing Class he joined in Letchworth, it grew into this debut novel.

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Wednesday, April 7, 2021

Book Spotlight: Mindy's Fight: My Destination Called Chaos and the Journey to Stillness by Mindy Dougherty

 Mindy's Fight is the story about one Army female combat medic's PTSD journey from childhood sexual violence to medical neglect at the hands of the VA to finding herself.

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About the Author

Mindy Dougherty

Mindy Dougherty is an Army Veteran, Author & Advocate for CRPS (chronic regional pain syndrome), adept at emergency situations and proficient in caring for patients in pre- & post-operative situations. Deployed to Bosnia, Croatia, and Hungary as a Combat Medic, she suffered an attack of appendicitis & pancreatitis simultaneously. After almost two decades of substandard treatment, she became a medical statistic under the care of the VA & now advocates for Veterans who have had similar experiences. Specialized in the utilization and development of self-care techniques in her own self-healing, Mindy shares her techniques with others, including the efforts of her organization "Feed My City" ( that promotes healing through organic gardening. "Mindy's Fight" is her first book.

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Tuesday, April 6, 2021

Spotlight on Virginia Crow, author of The Year We Lived

It is 1074, 8 years after the fateful Battle of Hastings. Lord Henry De Bois is determined to find the secret community of Robert, an Anglo-Saxon thane. Despite his fervour, all his attempts are met with failure.

When he captures Robert’s young sister, Edith, events are set in motion, affecting everyone involved. Edith is forced into a terrible world of cruelty and deceit, but finds friendship there too.

Will Robert ever learn why Henry hates him so much? Will Edith’s new-found friendships be enough to save her from De Bois? And who is the mysterious stranger in the reedbed who can disappear at will?

A gripping historical fiction with an astonishing twist!

Virginia Crow shares some fun facts
you may or may not know

Stomper McEwan – My website ( comes from my childhood nickname. One of many, as it happens, including Toilet Brush because my hair used to stand up on end! But Stomper McEwan is the one which stuck. This is like my changeling name and started because my big sister told me I was found in a field stomping in wellies. I got really upset about this and – in true Rumpelstiltskin fashion – stomped so hard on my bed, I broke the slats! Stomper by name, stomper by nature!


Vowed never to be a teacher – Both my parents were teachers and I saw the long hours and all the work they did during the holidays. Those people who think a teacher only works 9-3:30 term-time Mondays to Fridays, think again! So, I graduated in theology and had a good look around the job market… But the recession was on the horizon, and jobs were fizzling away. Because there was a shortage of RE teachers the government was offering a training package, so I headed back to university a year later and signed up for the career I vowed never to enter! Now I teach privately, and I absolutely love my job – but I’d never have seen it happen as a child!


Signed up to MLitt so I could graduate – By the time I’d bagged my degree and my postgrad teaching qualification, I should have graduated twice.  But I never managed to get the cap and gown, always doing other things in the summer. Three of my sisters had graduated – some of them more than once – and I was a little bit jealous of the lovely pictures. I’d been doing online history courses and my sister suggested I actually got the qualification. She helped me apply to the local university and I got enrolled in the MLitt History of the Highlands and Islands course. Finally, after my third university qualification, I got to wear the gown!


Bee Pictures – In my free time over spring and summer I photograph bees! I don’t really know how I got into doing this, but I’m frequently found wandering the garden to snap these furry fellers! It gets to the point where I pick up my camera and Orlando (my spaniel) knows we’re going outside.

William the Conqueror  
Public Domain: Wikimedia

William the Conqueror – I’m the 31st Great-Granddaughter of William the Conqueror. When I was writing The Year We Lived, I had a little bit of our family tree research gnawing away at the back of my mind. Although the reader never meets William, he is constantly referred to, and I’m confident I could justify his entire engagement with these fictitious and non-fictitious characters!

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Virginia Crow

Virginia grew up in Orkney, using the breath-taking scenery to fuel her imagination and the writing fire within her. Her favourite genres to write are fantasy and historical fiction, sometimes mixing the two together such as her newly-published book "Caledon". She enjoys swashbuckling stories such as The Three Musketeers by Alexandre Dumas and is still waiting for a screen adaption that lives up to the book!

When she's not writing, Virginia is usually to be found teaching music and obtained her MLitt in "History of the Highlands and Islands" last year. She believes wholeheartedly in the power of music, especially as a tool of inspiration. She also helps out with the John O'Groats Book Festival which is celebrating its 3rd year this April.

She now lives in the far-flung corner of Scotland, soaking in inspiration from the rugged cliffs and miles of sandy beaches. She loves cheese, music, and films, but hates mushrooms.

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