Thursday, July 29, 2021

The Briton and the Dane by Mary Ann Bernal - hardcover edition now available


…With a sweeping elegance, I soon found myself utterly enchanted with The Briton and the Dane by Mary Ann Bernal. Gwyneth was a character that I immediately loved. She is young, feisty, and something of a free spirit. She cannot be tamed. Her wilfulness, often bordering on defiance made her a fascinating protagonist and one I enjoyed reading about, although I did feel sorry for the monks, whose patience Gwyneth put to the test on more than one occasion! Gwyneth’s story was also a lovely reminder of the joyful experience of first love.

The Briton and the Dane has a large cast of characters. There is not one but three romance stories within the cover of this book. Gwyneth’s brothers, the lovable David and the serious Stephen all have rather complicated love interests David in particular! I thoroughly enjoyed learning about these supporting characters, and they helped to give the story depth. I especially enjoyed Stephen and Elizabeth’s story.

Bernal has a very engaging narrative and style, which held my attention throughout the course of this book. The political intrigue and the threat of war between King Guthrum and King Alfred (later to be known as The Great) gave this novel a sense of urgency. Peace was fragile, and war was on the horizon, add to that the complicated romance plot of our young intrepid protagonists, made The Briton and the Dane unputdownable.

I have read three books in The Briton and the Dane saga, and I have enjoyed them all. Bernal is a natural storyteller and writes fabulous escapism fiction.  — Mary Anne Yarde The Coffee Pot Book Club Book Award

Wednesday, July 28, 2021

Spotlight on Meredith Allard, author of Down Salem Way ,The Loving Husband Series

How would you deal with the madness of the Salem witch hunts?

In 1690, James Wentworth arrives in Salem in the Massachusetts Bay Colony with his father, John, hoping to continue the success of John’s mercantile business. While in Salem, James falls in love with Elizabeth Jones, a farmer’s daughter. Though they are virtually strangers when they marry, the love between James and Elizabeth grows quickly into a passion that will transcend time.

But something evil lurks down Salem way. Soon many in Salem, town and village, are accused of practicing witchcraft and sending their shapes to harm others. Despite the madness surrounding them, James and Elizabeth are determined to continue the peaceful, loving life they have created together. Will their love for one another carry them through the most difficult challenge of all?


Buy Links

Universal links

 Down Salem Way    Her Dear and Loving Husband

Her Loving Husband's Curse   Her Loving Husband's Return

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Meredith Allard

Fun Facts

(Stuff you may or may not already know!)

I live in Sin City

Yes, people actually live in Las Vegas! Once you’re past the world-famous Las Vegas Strip, the town is actually very normal with homes, schools, and grocery stores. From where I live in the hills I can see the Strip, and if you can survive the heat in the summer Vegas can be a nice place to live. Of course, as I write this it’s 111 degrees Fahrenheit outside.

I love coffee

I mean, I really love coffee. My favorite thing to do when I have time is to explore new coffee shops around town. Luckily, Vegas has a lot of cool coffee places. I love tea too, but if I had to choose I’d go for coffee.

I like cats

Readers of my blog already know about Poppy, my five-year-old gray tortie who is a rescue cat and very cute. Many of my cats have ended up in my books. My cat Tillie was in Her Dear and Loving Husband and my cat Molly was in Victory Garden. Poppy will appear in my current project, the next book in the Loving Husband Series.

I’m the executive editor of a literary journal

Since 2000, I’ve been the executive editor of The Copperfield Review, a journal for readers and writers of historical fiction. I’ve had the privilege of reading and publishing some amazing works of historical fiction and poetry over the last 20 years.

I love to cook

When I’m not teaching, writing, or talking to Poppy, I’m likely in the kitchen cooking. Since I write historical fiction, I like to make recipes from the era that I’m writing about. Next on my list of recipes to make is one for Johnnycake, a popular dish on the Oregon Trail, which is the historical background for the next book in the Loving Husband Series.

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Meredith Allard

Meredith Allard is the author of the bestselling paranormal historical Loving Husband Trilogy. Her sweet Victorian romance, When It Rained at Hembry Castle, was named a best historical novel by IndieReader. Her nonfiction book, Painting the Past: A Guide for Writing Historical Fiction, was named a #1 New Release in Authorship and Creativity Self-Help by Amazon. When she isn’t writing she’s teaching writing, and she has taught writing to students ages five to 75. She loves books, cats, and coffee, though not always in that order. She lives in Las Vegas, Nevada. Visit Meredith online at

 Connect with Meredith

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Tuesday, July 27, 2021

Book spotlight and excerpt: The Curse of Conchobar―A Prequel to the Adirondack Spirit Series By David Fitz-Gerald


Banished by one tribe. Condemned by another. Will an outcast's supernatural strengths be enough to keep him alive?

549 AD. Raised by monks, Conchobar is committed to a life of obedience and peace. But when his fishing vessel is blown off-course, the young man's relief over surviving the sea's storms is swamped by the terrors of harsh new shores. And after capture by violent natives puts him at death's door, he's stunned when he develops strange telepathic abilities.

Learning his new family's language through the mind of his mentor, Conchobar soon falls for the war chief's ferocious daughter. But when she trains him to follow in her path as a fighter, he's horrified when his uncanny misfortune twists reality, causing more disastrous deaths and making him a pariah.

Can Conchobar defeat the darkness painting his steps with blood?

The Curse of Conchobar is the richly detailed prequel to the mystical Adirondack Spirit Series of historical fiction. If you like inspiring heroes, unsettling powers, and lasting legacies, then you'll love David Fitz-Gerald's captivating tale.

Buy The Curse of Conchobar to break free from the fates today!

Trigger Warnings:  Violence


Buy Links

 Universal Link

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From Chapter 25

I’m standing in a clearing on a hillside with a nice view of the river. It is a short distance from our home. I’m overwhelmed by a strange and unfamiliar feeling. I don’t know what compels me to step from the game path into the clearing. I feel a surge of energy, yet I feel dizzy at the same time.

I take another step and I walk through shimmering air. Abruptly, instead of a winter morning, it’s a balmy autumn day. I’m standing in freshly fallen colorful leaves, and I feel as though I have been moved from one place to another. Only, it is the same exact place. How can it be fall instead of winter?

I wander up the path in the opposite direction of my stone house, though I don’t know why. What compels me to walk in this direction? The path has quickly turned from a narrow game trail to a wide lane that only humans could have made. That turns into a thick flat surface that feels like stone beneath my feet, but looks too uniform to be natural stone. A pair of strange yellow lines divide the road beneath my feet.

A short distance down this path, I see a building. It is set a short distance from the stone road with the yellow lines. It’s a handsome cabin. Its log walls look perfectly uniform. I wonder at the uniformity of the logs. There are no signs of the woodsman’s axe on the surface of the logs. No two trees are the same and yet each log in the cabin appears identical. The door to the cabin stands open.

I step up to the door, peek around, and look for people. I don’t see anyone anywhere. I tentatively step into the cabin. The furnishings remind me of the kinds of tables and chairs used by the monks at Skellig Michael, but this cabin has some strange items that I don’t recall from the monastery.

There is but one room in this cabin, and a loft up some stairs overlooks the room. Everything in the cabin is tidy. Someone has cleaned it recently. Some sort of baked good sits on a ledge by an open window. I walk to the window and breathe in the delicious, fruity smell that reminds me of berries. I hold my hand above it and I can feel its heat. It’s been so long since I’ve eaten. I reach for the dish and my hands pass through it, unable to grasp it. I’m surprised and I try again.

In this strange place, I am a spirit. That means I must be dead. Such a realization is hard to accept. I find the need to grieve my own passing, but that sentiment is short-lived. Perhaps that’s the way it is when you are a spirit.

As I investigate further, I find a painting of a man and a woman on the wall. Only, in this painting, the subjects appear lifelike. I can’t discern any brush strokes. The man has bright white teeth and thick blond hair that looks unnaturally neat and tidy. The woman has a strange pile of hair on her head, bright yellow and white clothing, and some strange contraption perched on her nose so that you can’t see her eyes. I place my face even closer, and I can see the image of an older man. He appears to be wearing the robe of a monk. He has a thin, weathered face, and a long grey beard. He doesn’t look the same as the man and the woman, and he looks strangely out of place. His image is opaque, like he has been drawn from fog. I feel like I’m looking at myself as an old man. Then I’m startled at the realization that it is me in the painting. How can it be? I wonder whether this man or this woman in the picture are somehow related to me, only in the future.

I see a small, box-shaped object sitting on a long table. It has numbers on it. As I’m looking at it, one of the numbers flips. Instead of 2:31, it now says 2:32. The plastic box is connected by some kind of thick string to the wall.

Next to the object with the flipping numbers, I see a yellow booklet. I bend to look at it closely. In big black letters, it says, “The Old Farmer’s Almanac.” A four-digit number appears in the middle of the cover: 1984. At the top of the booklet it says, “192nd Anniversary Edition” and at the side where the book is bound it reads, “Published Every Year Since 1792.” I do some quick figuring. If my numbers are correct, it is 1434 years in the future. It is no wonder that I’m a spirit.

I hear music in the distance. I follow the sound and find it coming from within another small box that is connected to the wall. A singing woman’s voice repeatedly asks the question, “What’s love got to do with it?” I marvel at the notion that music can come from a box. There’s nobody in this cabin singing, and nobody is here listening either, and yet there is music.

Next to the music box is another strange-looking object. There’s a small string of dots hanging from a shiny cylinder, under a conical covering of some sort. I concentrate on the shiny beads until the string is pulled. It snaps back into the cylinder and light floods the room. I jump in surprise. I’ve seen enough of such objects, and I rush back through the open door.

Outside, I wander around the cabin. I notice that the cabin is surrounded by very short grass that is uniformly sized, perhaps a couple of inches thick. There is more of this grass behind the cabin. Beyond that, I see trees at the edge of a forest.

A slight movement catches my attention. It appears that there is a man near one of the trees. He is wearing a red shirt with overlapping dark squares on it. His legs are blue; perhaps it is some kind of fabric that he’s wearing on his legs. He also wears blue shoes on his feet. I wander closer to get a better look. He lowers himself to a sitting position beneath the maple tree, his arms resting on his knees and his head in his hands. He seems sad, or distressed.

I step a little closer. The man has a long length of rope in his lap. I see him make a loop at one end of it. Then he wraps one side of the rope around the other, fashioning the rope into a noose. I’m overwhelmed by sadness and angst. What could cause a young man like that to do such a thing? I wonder if stopping him is the reason that I’m here. But how can I stop him? How long do I have? What can I possibly do to prevent what I can plainly see is just about to happen?

I hear a knocking behind me. It startles me, and I can’t find the source of the knocking. Whatever it is will have to wait. I turn back to look at the man under the tree. He is standing now, and he is tying a knot around a stone at the end of the rope, opposite the noose.

Then he throws the rock up and over a thick branch of the maple tree, eighteen feet above the ground. The rope follows the rock, and the rock lands on the ground a short distance away. The man unties the rock from the rope and pulls the rope behind him. There is a large boulder ten feet away. He ties the rope securely to the big rock and returns to the tree. I feel his sense of hopelessness as he looks up into the tree and sees the noose hanging. It would seem that the rope is the perfect length for what he has in mind.

I have a hunch that this man is related to the people in the painting on the cabin wall. Maybe he is their son. Somehow, I can’t help but think that he is related to me as well.

It looks like he is drinking from some manner of container that is wrapped in a bark-colored sack. After a while, I see him toss the sack into the woods and it makes a clinking sound as the contents of the container break upon impact. The man doesn’t flinch at the sound.

He climbs until he’s sitting on the branch that the noose hangs from. Slowly he pulls the rope until he’s holding the knot in his hands. I look back and forth quickly, trying to figure out what I can do. When I look back at the man, he’s placing the noose over his head and pushing the knot against his neck. I run around the tree like a crazy man. Why am I here? What can I do?

I look up and see that the man is rising to his feet. This is it. He is preparing to jump. His legs bend, and I’m sure that he is about to leap from the branch.

In a fraction of an instant, I remember that I can enter the tree. I consider it a miracle that somehow this healthy tree drops its living limb. I hear it crash to the ground as my spirit separates from the tree.

A hundredth of a second later, I levitate the big rock with my open palms toward the sky. It turns out that it isn’t necessary.

He has landed heavily on the ground. His breath has been knocked from his lungs, and he gasps for air like he has a will to live. I can see that he is scraped up, but he appears to be unharmed. I move the boulder so that it is directly above his head.

He looks up at the rock that hangs over him, and he shields his head with his arm. Then he rolls away so that the rock no longer hovers above him.

I lower the rock slowly and I see the look of astonishment on his face. From where I stand, he no longer looks like a man. Perhaps he’s in his late teens. With one upward-facing palm, I maintain the rock directly in front of him. With my other arm, I direct small stones to levitate from beneath the leaves on the forest floor. They gather, swirling around us under the maple tree. Their movement reminds me of the slow swirl of Tends Hearth’s spoon in her cook pot. The young man’s mouth hangs open and his body shivers in fear.

It strikes me that I should speak to him. What can I say? I set the boulder on the ground and gather the flying stones into a pile as he watches. I approach him so that I’m inches in front of his face. I cite Lector Beccán’s favorite prayer. The man turns his head slightly, innocently, like he’s listening to a distant voice that he can’t quite hear. It doesn’t matter. He doesn’t need to hear the prayer for it to have power.

I place my hand on his shoulder. He shrinks from my touch at first, then his face fills with an expression that I would describe as wonder, or maybe it is hopefulness. Touching his shoulder isn’t like touching the plate of food by the window in the cabin. It is more like the sensation that I got when I passed through the shimmering air. I place my other hand on his opposite shoulder. His eyes widen further. He crosses his arms over his chest, placing his hands on top of mine. Then I kiss him, on one cheek and then the other. I withdraw my hands from his shoulders and step back.

The man touches his cheeks gently with the tips of his fingers, then he looks at the tips of his fingers. I hear him say, “I’ve been kissed by God. God loves me. Oh, how can it be?” Then he cries into his hands, asking, “Oh, what have I done?”

I place my hand on his shoulder. I tell him not to worry about the past, and then I tell him to share God’s love with the world. He nods like he understands me. I back away from him, and I can see his gaze follow my departure. I turn my back to him and return along the path that led me here. I laugh at the thought that this young man thinks that he encountered God. It was only me in front of him, not God, but without God, such moments would never be possible.

As an afterthought, I turn back toward the man. I raise my palms and summon the boulder. I set the big rock on the ground just outside the door of the cabin. Then I call the stones and pile them on the other side of the cabin door. I’m taking a chance that the young man lives in this cabin. I want to give him something to remember, something that he can wonder about, and something that he will never forget.

I hope that I did what I was supposed to do. I think of my little family―my wife and the healer. I hope that I’m able to find my way back to them. I’m supposed to be hunting so that we can eat.

When I return to the magical spot on the hill overlooking the river, I’m grateful to find that the air still shimmers. What’s love got to do with it? Everything, I suppose.

As I pass through the shimmering air, I return from autumn in the distant future to the cold winter day of the present. As I hurry home, I wonder: am I able to break the curse? Is that poor man by the tree suffering from the wretched curse that was placed upon me? What can I do to end such misery? How will I ever know?

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David Fitz-Gerald

David Fitz-Gerald writes fiction that is grounded in history and soars with the spirits. Dave enjoys getting lost in the settings he imagines and spending time with the characters he creates. Writing historical fiction is like making paintings of the past. He loves to weave fact and fiction together, stirring in action, adventure, romance, and a heavy dose of the supernatural with the hope of transporting the reader to another time and place. He is an Adirondack 46-er, which means he has hiked all of the highest peaks in New York State, so it should not be surprising when Dave attempts to glorify hikers as swashbuckling superheroes in his writing.

 Connect with David

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The Curse of Conchobar is available for free in exchange for signing up for David’s email list via  BookFunnel


Monday, July 26, 2021

Spotlight on Heather Miller, author of Tho I Be Mute


Home. Heritage. Legacy. Legend.

In 1818, Cherokee John Ridge seeks a young man’s education at the Foreign Mission School in Cornwall, Connecticut. While there, he is overcome with sickness yet finds solace and love with Sarah, the steward’s quiet daughter. Despite a two-year separation, family disapproval, defamatory editorials, and angry mobs, the couple marries in 1824.

Sarah reconciles her new family’s spirituality and her foundational Christianity. Although, Sarah’s nature defies her new family’s indifference to slavery. She befriends Honey, half-Cherokee and half-African, who becomes Sarah’s voice during John’s extended absences.

Once arriving on Cherokee land, John argues to hold the land of the Cherokees and that of his Creek neighbors from encroaching Georgian settlers. His success hinges upon his ability to temper his Cherokee pride with his knowledge of American law. Justice is not guaranteed.

Rich with allusions to Cherokee legends, ‘Tho I Be Mute speaks aloud; some voices are heard, some are ignored, some do not speak at all, compelling readers to listen to the story of a couple who heard the pleas of the Cherokee.


Buy Links

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(Stuff you may or may not know!) 

Heather Miller
 teacher and author
‘Tho I Be Mute: Based on the lives of John and Sarah Ridge

A Fireman’s Family I married my firefighter in 1995 with a Victorian ceremony at a turn of the century bed and breakfast in Marietta, Georgia. We celebrated our 25th wedding anniversary last year. We have three children: Jacob, 23, Emma, 21, and Wyatt, 17, none of which inherited my love of history and literature. All three are science-minded young people. I’m so proud of them.

“All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players: they have their exits and their entrances; and one man in his time plays many parts, his acts being seven ages.”-William Shakespeare. I earned my bachelor’s degree in Theatre. Directing is one of my passions. I’m most proud of my teen production of Of Mice and Men, Godspell and Blood Brothers, and adult cast productions of Annie Get Your Gun, Big River, and Spamalot. Directing is a lot like writing, except the story comes from the play/musical’s scriptwriter. Directing is in the light, the focus, the subtleties of set and costumes, of an actor’s gesture and inflection. If theatre and English were to have a love child, it would be the novel.

Just like the “Griswolds” When I was young, no matter the expense, my parents believed in teaching my younger brother and me a “living history” by visiting National Parks and historical landmarks. My family would load the back of our green and wood-paneled station wagon and hit the interstates. My favorite trip was to Mammoth Cave, Monticello (Thomas Jefferson’s home), Mount Vernon (George Washington’s home), Jamestown and Williamsburg, Virginia, and Washington D.C. My mother would say, “Life’s a school.”

Can you recite them from memory? I also have a master’s degree in English Education. Each year of a twenty-four year teaching career, mostly spent in American Literature, I’ve read aloud the Gettysburg Address and the Declaration of Independence to my students. With five classes each school year, that makes 120 recitations of each American foundational piece. How many people can say that? And yes, I can quote a great deal by heart.

Generation X My husband and I love a good road trip, listening to the 80’s rock of our youth: Bon Jovi, Aerosmith, and Def Leppard. My husband speeds when we listen to Metallica. When we were dating, if a cassette tape quit working, he would open the sliding window on his beat-up Ford Ranger and toss the thing in the bed of his truck, perhaps never to be seen again.

We are road-tripping from Georgia to Oklahoma in June, which we postponed last year due to Covid. 


Heather Miller

As an English educator, Heather Miller has spent twenty-three years teaching her students the authors craft. Now, she is writing it herself, hearing voices from the past.

Millers foundation began in the theatre, through performance storytelling. She can tap dance, stage-slap someone, and sing every note from Les Misérables. Her favorite role is that of a firemans wife and mom to three: a trumpet player, a future civil engineer, and a future RN. There is only one English major in her house.

While researching, writing, and teaching, she is also working towards her M FA in Creative Writing. Heathers corndog-shaped dachshund, Sadie, deserves an honorary degree.

 Connect with Heather

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Friday, July 23, 2021

Scribbler Tales Presents: Escape from Berlin by Mary Ann Bernal - hardcover edition now available.


Lose yourself in five tantalizingly 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.
Mary Anne Yarde
The Coffee Pot Book Club.

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Tuesday, July 20, 2021

Spotlight on Siobhan Daiko, author of The Girl from Venice


Lidia De Angelis has kept a low profile since Mussolini's racial laws wrenched her from her childhood sweetheart. But when the Germans occupy Venice in 1943, she must flee the city to save her life.

Lidia joins the partisans in the Venetian mountains, where she meets David, an English soldier fighting for the same cause. As she grows closer to him, harsh Nazi reprisals and Lidia’s own ardent anti-fascist activities threaten to tear them apart.

Decades later in London, while sorting through her grandmother’s belongings after her death, Charlotte discovers a Jewish prayer book, unopened letters written in Italian, and a fading photograph of a group of young people in front of the Doge’s Palace.

Intrigued by her grandmother’s refusal to talk about her life in Italy before and during the war, Charlotte travels to Venice in search of her roots. There, she learns not only the devastating truth about her grandmother’s past, but also some surprising truths about herself.

A heart-breaking page-turner, based on actual events in Italy during World War II

Trigger Warnings: Death, Miscarriage, PTSD, Rape


Buy Links:
Available on Kindle Unlimited.

 Universal Link

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 Siobhan Daiko

Fun Facts
(Stuff you may or may not already know!)


The first time I visited Italy, I was six years old. My parents rented a house in Positano on the Amalfi coast for the summer. I remember swimming in the sea, the hundreds of steps down to the beach, and picking figs from the tree in our garden. 


When I lived in Hong Kong, I was privileged to be able to ride ex-racehorses at the Jockey Club’s Bees River stables and take part in show jumping competitions. I fell off on more than one occasion as the horses could be a handful; but I always got back on as riding was my passion. 


I love to dance and, for my 50th birthday, friends and family got together for a Salsa disco after a meal in a restaurant near where we live in Italy. Here I am, “strutting my stuff”. 


I wore a cat mask and a tricorn hat at the Venice Carnival a few years ago just for a laugh.


When I need inspiration for my writing, all I need to do is look out of the window in my study. On the horizon, if it’s a clear day, I can see the Euganean Hills near Padova, the Berici Hills near Vicenza, and, in the middle, very distant, the start of the Apennines behind Bologna. 

¸.•*´¨) ¸.•*¨)  ( ¸.•´

Siobhan Daiko

Siobhan Daiko is an international bestselling historical romantic fiction author. A lover of all things Italian, she lives in the Veneto region of northern Italy with her husband, a Havanese puppy, and two rescue cats. After a life of romance and adventure in Hong Kong, Australia and the UK, Siobhan now spends her time, when she isn't writing, enjoying the sweet life near Venice.

 Connect with Siobhan

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Thursday, July 15, 2021

Readers' Favorite Book Review - Crusader's Path by Mary Ann Bernal



In my ongoing interest in the human psyche and why people behave the way they do, I discovered most individuals react in the same way when coming in contact with a person who may or may not have a communicable disease.

What immediately came to mind was how people with infectious diseases had been treated throughout the centuries. Over the years, many movies were made about the Crusades and leper warriors, such as King Baldwin IV of Jerusalem. The Order of Saint Lazarus of Jerusalem, a military order, was established to care for the hospitalized lepers around 1119 AD.

However, in recent years, the atrocities of warfare have been articulated with documentaries and dramatic television series where the brutality of the age is showcased and not swept into the background. In Knightfall, we see a leper knight whose face is covered by a mask. Yes, there were warriors affected by the disease who fought valiantly during every campaign to free the Holy Land from the infidel.

But I wanted to go back to the beginning, to the First Crusade, to understand what drove the warriors of Christ to leave their homes, enduring untold hardships for a holy cause. It took years to reach the Holy Land, a feat not everyone accomplished, dying en route from disease, starvation, and in battle.

Creating a narrative set during the First Crusade satisfied a two-fold desire to discern the truth about life in such a turbulent era.


Reviewed by Grant Leishman for Readers' Favorite

Crusader’s Path by Mary Ann Bernal takes us back to the days of Christendom’s First Crusade against the Muslim invaders of Constantinople, Jerusalem, and lands in between. Avielle, a minstrel’s daughter, is doing God’s work, healing and caring for the most rejected of society’s cast-offs, the lepers. Having lost her father to the disease, Avielle is well aware she may succumb to leprosy’s ravages one day, but she is determined to commit her life to serve her God and community. That is until she meets and falls in love with a merchant, Gideon, who steals her heart. Already betrothed, Gideon is also a Jew, and Avielle realizes her love affair with him is doomed, so she rededicates her life to following her God and healing the sick. In the meantime, Etienne, a close confidant of Duke Robert of Normandy, follows Lord Robert as he heeds the call of Pope Urban II to free the Holy Land of the accursed Muslim hordes. Inspired by Peter, a visiting priest, Avielle joins the holy crusade to seek personal redemption from her God for her transgressions against Him with Gideon. Crossing paths on their journey to the Holy Land, Avielle and Etienne realize they have found the direction and purpose in their lives with each other. Avielle and Etienne forge a strong bond as they head into the unknown and the extreme danger of battle against the Muslim hordes.

Crusader’s Path is the very type of historical fiction I enjoy. Centered around actual historical events and real characters, it is character-driven and, at its core, a beautiful, romantic, and tragic story. In Avielle, author Mary Ann Bernal has created a wonderful character; strong, driven, passionate, and quite unusual for a woman of the era. I particularly enjoyed the pull and tug of the torment between her desires, her duty, and the passionate love she felt for both Gideon and Etienne. Etienne equally was a complex character torn between his love for his wife and his vineyard and the excitement that Duke Robert offered him on the road as a fighting, active knight. That both Avielle and Etienne, with their worldly demons and differing motivations, could find the peace and happiness they both desperately sought in each other’s arms was the highlight of this story for me. There is enough battling and action in this story to keep the adrenaline-junkie glued to the pages, but for me, it is a romance, pure and simple and a beautiful one at that. I appreciated the time the author spent detailing the ridiculous disparity between those who led the crusades; the dukes, the nobles, the knights, and those poor peasant farmers who fought and died for their God and the afterlife. I love how the author sums it up when she suggests that, encouraged by Pope Urban II, peasants trading their pitiful subsistence for the brief excitement of travel and battle, followed by life in heaven and the forgiveness of all sins, was a simple choice to make. This book is a fantastic read and one I can highly recommend.

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Wednesday, July 14, 2021

Book Spotlight and Excerpt: Ariadne Unraveled: A Mythic Retelling by Zenobia Neil


Ariadne, high priestess of Crete, grew up duty-bound to the goddess Artemis. If she takes a husband, she must sacrifice him to her goddess after no more than three years of marriage. For this reason, she refuses to love any man, until a mysterious stranger arrives on her island.

The stranger is Dionysus, the new god of wine who empowers women and breaks the rules of the old gods. He came to Crete seeking vengeance against Artemis. He never expected to fall in love.

Furious that Dionysus would dare meddle with her high priestess, Artemis threatens to kill Ariadne if Dionysus doesn’t abandon her. Heartbroken, the new god leaves Crete, vowing to become better than the Olympians.

From the bloody labyrinth and the shadows of Hades to the halls of Olympus, Dionysus must find a way to defy Artemis and unite with his true love. Forced to betray her people, Ariadne discovers her own power to choose between the goddess she pledged herself to and the god she loves.

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“Little Liber,” Silenus said, embracing Dionysus. The old satyr smelled of sheep and weak beer.


“It has been too long, Silenus. Come, let’s go to the market. I’ll buy you a cup of beer and a skewer of octopus fresh from the sea. Everything I’ve eaten here is delicious. Can you feel the magic of this place?”


Silenus cupped Dionysus’s cheek. “It is so good to see you, Little Liber. I meant to come back to you on Nysa. When I returned, you were gone, and every place I went, I heard tales of your deeds—and misdeeds. How you have grown.” He took in Dionysus’s purple robe, the thyrsus clutched in his hand, the small wineskin on his belt, and the crown of myrtle in his hair. “You no longer doubt your divinity, do you?”


“Not the way I did before.” He led Silenus out of the port town. They followed the road next to the river full of smaller boats laden with cargo. “This is how they transport the oil and grain to the storehouse under the great palace-temple of Knossos. One day, they will export wine.”


“Of course, Little Liber, of course.” Silenus noticed his first woman then and became transfixed, watching her walk toward them and then past them.


“It is not considered polite to stare. You are in their land now,” Dionysus said.


“The women here do not cover their breasts.”


“No. They reveal them proudly, for they are part of their power.”


Silenus glanced about, taking in the Minoans around them. “The men don’t wear much either. What fine forms they have.”


“They are a skillful, artistic people. This place is full of acrobats, dancers, divers, and bull leapers. I’m glad you got my message to meet here.”


“Oh, yes.” Silenus started to stare at an older woman walking toward them. He caught himself and turned his attention back to Dionysus. “I looked for you in Brauron. I heard nothing of you when I asked. What occurred there?”


It was hard for Dionysus not to be truthful, but he was not ready to tell his foster father the whole story yet. “Let’s get something to eat first.”


“And drink,” Silenus added.


Having been in Crete a few days, Dionysus had sampled several of the food stalls and found a favorite. He ordered skewered octopus, which was deliciously salted and paired perfectly with a cup of beer. They took the stools the place offered for an extra price and sat in the half shade.


“What an amazing city,” Silenus said, taking in the grand buildings and squinting up at Knossos. “What is that on top of the building?”


“The horns of consecration. They’re both crescent moons and bull horns. Both are sacred here.”


“Ah, this is delicious.” Silenus sucked the octopus from his skewer. “Tell me all, Little Liber. What adventures have you had?”


“After you left Nysa, I waited for you or Hermes to return. The nymphs said I should stay, that they had been instructed to hide me from Hera. You know I never really believed them, and I grew tired of being in the same place for so long.


“I went to Thebes, to meet my mother’s sister. She didn’t believe I was her nephew at first, but she saw a resemblance in my eyes, so she offered to take me in. It was intriguing to live with them, and all was well until her husband went mad and began to whip us all. We had done nothing to rouse his anger. He had been god-struck. In a panic, we ran toward the sea.” He didn’t tell Silenus how terrified he had been, how he regretted not listening to the nymphs, how he wished he had worn girls’ clothes and never left Mount Nysa. He didn’t ask Silenus where he had been.


“I jumped off a cliff, wondering whether I was going to die.”


“But I’ve always said you are the son of Zeus and immortal.”


“Isn’t every bastard told the same?” Dionysus had finished the beer and needed a better drink for this discussion. He pulled out the small wineskin on his waist and poured some wine into his empty cup, doing the same for Silenus.


“Ah, yes. How I’ve missed this divine brew. Little Liber, how can you doubt your divinity after a single sip of this?”


“The moment I truly believed that Zeus was my father was the moment I didn’t die in the depths of the Ionian Sea. The nereid Thetis rescued me. She hid me in her grotto where she shared many secrets. In her depths, with her blue-black hair swirling around us, she told me about the other gods and suggested I meet Hephaestus. She had rescued the Smith God when Hera threw him down from Olympus. The God of the Forge was not at first friendly, but after I gave him some wine, he became vivacious and jolly. He said if I ever needed to seek him on Lemnos, I would always be welcomed there.”


Silenus’s attention was drawn away from Dionysus by the farmers who had come from the villages to inspect the livestock from Attica. “I spent all my time on the boat with those sheep. I do hope they go to good homes.”


“I’m sure they will. Where have you been all this time, Silenus?”


“Ah.” Silenus glanced down into his empty clay cup. “I’ve had women and raised families. How long has it been, Little Liber?”


“I don’t know, generations, centuries? Who’s to say?”


“Yes, I buried three wives and outlived all my children. After that, I just traveled. Sometimes it’s easier to live with the animals.”


Grief washed over Silenus’s face. Dionysus had forgotten this sorrow that overcame his foster father after drinking.


“Little Liber, I was not a good father to you. I never meant to leave Mount Nysa. You know how easily I lose my way. I never forgot you, and I kept trying to return, but there was always a beautiful woman in the way and then children.” He passed his hand over his face, wiping away tears.


“You were a better father to me than my own,” Dionysus said, trying to keep the bitterness from his voice. Two women sitting nearby were staring at Silenus, and Dionysus did not want to draw attention.


“Come,” Dionysus said.


“I’m sorry.” Silenus stood up, upending his stool.


Dionysus wrapped his arm around Silenus’s shoulder and led him away from the marketplace, away from the city. The old satyr needed to be in nature. Once among the trees, he would recover his spirits.


Without thinking, Dionysus returned to the meadow where he had encountered Ariadne. He smiled at the memory of her pleasure and how her strength had surprised him. He had not expected to be so drawn to a high priestess. Never had he met one so powerful.


“Ah, this place smells lovely,” Silenus sniffed, inhaling the scent of wild rosemary, sage, and thyme.


On the edge of the meadow, a grove of trees beckoned. While on Crete, Dionysus had spied finely tended olive groves and vast fields of organized farmland, but here, the trees grew as they wished. Once beneath the shade of the branches, Silenus sighed, as if the large oak leaves would take all his cares away. The wind blew gently through the branches.


 “I did not mean to leave you, Little Liber, and am so glad to see you again.”


“You as well, Silenus. I need your help here teaching the people how to make wine and…”


 “I am weary from my journey. A nap is what I need, and there is the perfect spot.” He staggered to the shade of a plane tree, made his cloak into a pillow, and lay down.


Dionysus stared at his already sleeping foster father.


 He wanted to tell Silenus what had happened in Brauron and the real reason he had initially come to Crete. Perhaps he should keep the shame to himself.



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Zenobia Neil

Zenobia Neil was named after an ancient warrior queen who fought against the Romans. She writes historical romance about the mythic past and Greek and Roman gods having too much fun. Visit her at

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