Tag Archives: historical mystery

Breaking Time by Sasha Alsberg Review 

I received a free copy of this book in exchange for a fair and honest review. All opinions are my own. 

A young woman finds her world turned upside down when a handsome stranger enters her life from another time, and together they discover fate’s plans for them when a rogue threat targets her for a power she never knew she had in author Sasha Alsberg’s “Breaking Time”.

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The Synopsis

Romance, Celtic mythology, and adventure swirl together in this time travel fantasy by #1 New York Times bestselling author, booktuber, and popular Outlander social media influencer Sasha Alsberg.

Fate brought them together. Time will tear them apart.

When a mysterious Scotsman suddenly appears in the middle of the road, Klara thinks the biggest problem is whether she hit him with her car. But, as impossible as it sounds, Callum has stepped out of another time, and his arrival marks the beginning of a deadly adventure.

Klara soon learns she is the last Pillar of Time—an anchor point in the timeline of the world. After being unable to protect the previous Pillar, Callum believes he’s fated to protect her. But now a dark force is hunting the Pillars—and Klara and Callum are the only two standing in the way. They’ll have to learn to trust each other and work together…but they’ll need to protect their hearts from one another if they’re going to survive

The Review

This was such a powerful and entertaining new read! The author did such an incredible job of world-building in this narrative. Each scene felt vibrant and alive on the page, thanks to the author’s incredible handle on imagery in her writing and the atmosphere she builds as the narrative progresses. The striking balance the author struck between the rich mythology of the world she created and the intimate and emotional character growth was superb. As a huge fan of mythology in general, I was immediately drawn into this narrative, but what was really fun was being introduced to new mythological figures and stories, and the intricacies of Celtic mythology definitely drew me into the story so much that I’ll be researching the mythos myself, really adding to the author’s ability to draw readers in. 

Yet it was the rich character development that really drew me in further and further into the story. The multiple POVs were great to have, as they added depth to both Callum’s and Klara’s stories. Their backstories and the eras from which they hail and the instant chemistry and discoveries they make about themselves along the way were truly inviting to behold on the page. Even the antagonist, who emerges from the shadows and strikes into the heart of these two protagonists, was chilling and haunting to behold and did a great job of becoming the hero’s foil in the narrative. 

The Verdict

Captivating, engaging, and brilliantly written, author Sasha Alsberg’s “Breaking Time” is a must-read YA Historical Fantasy meets Time Travel story and one of my top picks for best reads of 2022. The author does a great job of traversing the influences of other series such as Outlander and The Mortal Instruments, and yet feels so original and authentic on its own at the same time, bringing magic back into the Historical Fantasy meets Highland genre. With a twist ending that left this reader eager to read more, you guys won’t want to miss out on this spectacular story. Be sure to pick up your copy today!

Rating: 10/10

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About the Author

Sasha Alsberg is the #1 New York Times bestselling coauthor of Zenith, the first book in The Androma Saga. When Sasha is not writing or obsessing over Scotland, she is galavanting across social media with her two dogs, Fraser & Fiona. Sasha lives in London, England.

Social Links:

Author website: https://www.sashaalsberg.com/ 

Twitter: @sashaalsberg

Instagram: @sashaalsberg

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/sasha.alsberg 

Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/15100575.Sasha_Alsberg 

Buy Links:

Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/Breaking-Time-Sasha-Alsberg/dp/1335284893 

Barnes & Noble: https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/breaking-

time-sasha-alsberg/1140332910 

IndieBound: https://www.indiebound.org/book/9781335284891 

Books-A-Million: https://www.booksamillion.com/p/Breaking-Time/Sasha-Alsberg/9781335284891 

AppleBooks: https://books.apple.com/ch/audiobook/breaking-time/id1591477301 

Google Play: https://play.google.com/store/books/details/Sasha_Alsberg_Breaking_Time?id=5TlHEAAAQBAJ 

Please enjoy this excerpt from Author Sasha Alsberg’s “Breaking Time”

Excerpted from BREAKING TIME by Sasha Alsberg, © 2022 by Sasha Alsberg, used with permission from Inkyard Press/HarperCollins.

Callum

1568

“Thomas!” Callum yelled as he left the pub. The wall of crisp night air dizzied him, causing him to stumble over cobblestones that seemed to shift beneath his feet. Drunken laughter muff led as the door slammed shut behind him. 

“Where the hell are ye?” he shouted. His voice echoed through the deserted streets. 

No answer came. 

Lanterns flickered along the main road, setting the heavy fog aglow. In a wee town like Rosemere, the slightest whispers could be heard a mile away. They carried farther than that, Callum knew; the windows around him were shuttered, but candles burned low just inside. How many prying eyes watched from behind the slats? How many would speak of his friend, the disgraced fighter, in hushed voices at tomorrow’s market, over bread bought with the coin they’d won betting on him mere weeks earlier?

Callum clenched his fists. The whole pub had shouted and jeered while Thomas got pummeled that night. Sounds still rang in Callum’s ears: the thud of fist and flesh, the sickening crunch of bone. It was the third time this month that Thomas had lost—only the third time, in two years of fighting.

Brice would be angry.

Master, keeper, devil, father. Brice MacDonald was all of these things to Callum and Thomas. Whatever Brice’s wrath tonight, Callum could not let Thomas face it alone. Not when Thomas had looked after Callum for so long, raised him up from a nipper as well as a real older brother would.

But he would not abandon Thomas like his mother had abandoned him.

The thought sobered Callum. He called again, lowering his voice to a taunt.

“Thomas! You owe me three shillings!” Thomas could usually be drawn out with a jab.

Callum paused, straining his ears for a response but was met with unease instead. An owl watched from its perch atop the baker’s roof, golden eyes unblinking against the dark night sky. The shining orbs fixed on him.

He tore his gaze from the bird and walked on, moving away from the firelight and into shadow.

Even more worrisome than Brice was the fact that Thomas had given Callum his most treasured item earlier that night: his notebook, small sheaths of vellum bound in leather. When he first began carrying it around, Thomas claimed to have stolen it from the apothecary when he went in for a poultice. 

He had kept it on him, always, and had never let Callum lay eyes on what was inside. Yet he had pressed it into Callum’s hand, just before the match tonight. He said something to Callum when he did, but his words were inaudible within the roar of the pub. Then after, he disappeared from the pub without even a goodbye.

Now Callum was wandering the streets, alone.

It was unlike Thomas to behave so strangely, to lose so badly. The Thomas he knew—boyish and rowdy, tough as leather but never mean—had fallen away with the autumn leaves these past months. Instead of spending evenings at The Black Hart Inn, weaving stories he’d learned as a child of selkies and sailors for red-cheeked barmaids until the sun rose, Thomas began to disappear for days, weeks at a time—stretches too long for Callum to explain to Brice. He took a beating or two for it, too. When Thomas returned, he was sullen, sometimes violent, and consumed by a strangeness Callum had no words to describe. His eyes stared but did not see, as distant as stars burning in his skull. If he spoke at all, he told tales of the demons that terrified them as children: like the Sluagh, spirits of the dead who wandered in flocks, flying around the sky like soaring reapers and stealing souls, flesh hanging off them like blackened rags. Or the bean-nighe, banshees, messengers from the Otherworld and omens of death, who lingered in lonely streams, washing the clothes of doomed men. Normally Callum heard of such dark creatures within the stories of heroes, but Thomas’s stories didn’t end in life…but death. He fixated on that fact, as if it were coming for him.

I saw her, he’d said of the bean-nighe. I refuse to die. 

It worried Callum, but just as his worry morphed into confrontation, Thomas would come back to himself. This was enough to comfort Callum as he watched Thomas return to tales of ancient heroes and kings. Maybe he accepted his relief too soon since the nights of those stories were fewer these days, and more often Thomas’s speech would turn dark again. He would speak of strange visions, of men who leaped from one world to the next.

They’re coming, Cal, you’ll see. It’s as simple as stepping through a veil.

Who’s coming, Thomas? What veil? Callum asked, and Thomas would laugh.

It was no tale that Callum knew. He’d warned Thomas not to tell it. He didn’t like the wary looks it earned him. It was one thing to be a bard who told these stories for a living, but it was another thing to speak like a madman of evil spirits and fairies as if they were tangible things away from the lyrics of a song or the pages of a book.

Callum reached the end of the main road—the turn for Kelpie’s Close. If you wanted trouble, you found it in Kelpie’s. The narrow backstreet edged Rosemere like a blade pressed against the town’s throat.

A chill clung to his skin. Here, there were no lanterns to light the way, his only guide sparse slivers of moonlight. The wind picked up suddenly, lifting his hair and reaching under his woolen cloak. He tried to shake off visions of the Sluagh hovering above him, raking their cold fingers down his neck.

“It’s as dark as the Earl of Hell’s waistcoat,” he mumbled.

Callum reached for the dirk tucked under his arm and found the carved handle concealed under layers of wool, feeling a sting of guilt. It was Thomas’s knife. Callum had slipped it away from him before the match, worried about what his friend might do in the crowded pub if he got enough drink in him. He tapped it, drawing enough strength to plunge into the darkness.

“Scunner!” he cursed, meaning it. “Where are you?”

A cry pierced the quiet.

Callum’s heart pounded as he followed the sound farther down the alley. He pulled the dirk from under his arm, certain now that he’d need to use it.

“Thomas?”

Unease, cold and metallic, crept up his spine. The alley appeared empty—strange, for this time of night—but the silence was thick, alive with a feeling Callum couldn’t name. He pushed on, deeper into the gloom. “Thomas?”

Another strangled cry, ahead.

Callum broke into a run.

A single lantern flickered a short distance away, casting a wan glow over a lone figure slumped against the wall. A sweep of red hair, bright even in the dim alley.

“Thomas, ye bastard, do ye ken what—”

The insult lodged in his throat. Thomas lay on the ground, his legs splayed at sickening angles. Blood seeped through his shirt, blooming like ink on paper. Callum rushed to his friend and knelt beside him. He dropped the dirk and pressed his hands against the deep slice that marred his friend’s torso. A knife wound.

“Dinnae fash, Thomas, dinnae fash,” Callum repeated, voice tight and panicked. He glanced up, searching for friend or foe, and found no one. “We’ll be back to the pub before Anderson kens we havna paid our tab.” 

Thomas stared up at him with glassy blue eyes. With each shuddering breath, more blood spilled through Callum’s fingers. He ripped the cloth stock from his neck and pressed the fabric onto the wound. It did little to stem the flow of blood. Within a few heartbeats, the cloth was soaked through, red and dripping.

If he pressed any harder, would it be doing more harm than good? Should he call for help, though it might draw the attacker? Callum hadn’t a clue. He wished suddenly, ferociously, that he’d had a proper mother, one whose wisdom he could call upon to calmly guide his hands. However, Thomas was the only family he had.

His only family was dying.

Thomas opened his mouth, but instead of words, a wet cough came out, splattering red across his pale face.

“Dinnae move, Thomas,” Callum shushed him. His uncertainty gave way to desperation, burst from his throat. “Help! Help us!”

His words dissolved into the night air, leaving behind only a tightness at the center of his chest. If he hadn’t taken Thomas’s dirk, he would have been able to defend himself, he wouldn’t be dying in Callum’s arms—

Thomas gasped, but it seemed as if no air reached his lungs.

Lowering his head, Callum gripped Thomas’s hands, though his own were shaking. “I will find the man who did this, I swear—”

Then the world flipped sideways. A blow had hit Callum like a runaway carriage, throwing him against the alley wall opposite Thomas.

Pain exploded along his ribs. Grasping the mossy wall for purchase, he struggled to his feet and wiped blood from his eyes, scouring the darkness for his attacker—and found no one.

“Show your face,” he growled.

A cruel whisper cut through the quiet. “Are you certain?”

The man emerged from the shadows as if he had been one with them. He wore a dark black cloak, in stark contrast to his unkempt, pale hair. Deep set in his face, a pair of amber eyes seemed to emit their own light. Callum’s gaze was drawn to a glinting shape in the man’s hand.

A dagger, dripping with blood.

Thomas’s blood.

Callum’s heart pounded like a war drum in his ears.

The man sighed. “Move along. Unless you’d like to meet the same fate as your compani—”

Callum lunged forward, cutting off the man’s speech with a guttural cry, striking with the speed of a viper.

The man ducked. He whirled around as Callum charged again. He overreached with the arc of his knife, and Callum used the moment to surge upward with a punch. His fist took the assailant in the chin—

And the force knocked Callum back.

He stared. A blow like that would have laid out the toughest fighter, yet the man stood and smiled, rubbing his chin with a gloved hand.

“I’m going to have fun with you,” the stranger whispered. “I like a man with a bit of fight in him. It’s more fun to play with your prey, don’t you think?”

Callum didn’t see the blow coming, only felt the pain searing across his temple as he was thrown to the ground again. 

He lifted his head, vision blurring. He blinked it clear, took in his friend’s ashen face. The sight flooded Callum with rage.

Whoever said to never fight with anger fueling your fists was a fool. Thomas’s best fights had been powered by emotion. Callum wasn’t fighting for money now. Or for Brice. He was fighting for Thomas. Because Thomas was—

“Stay down, little man,” the attacker’s voice hissed.

Callum dragged himself to his feet. His body, corded with muscle from a lifetime of training, screamed for him to stop. Instead he stood, swaying.

“I dinnae believe I’m going to Heaven,” Callum said, raising his fists once more, drawing strength from the familiar ache that radiated through his arms. “But I cannae wait to bring you to Hell with me.”

Lunging forward again, Callum poured everything he had into a single strike. He swung, landing the punch more out of luck than skill, half blinded by blood and dirt.

The man merely flinched, then caught Callum easily by the throat. A grin curled over his face.

How could that be possible?

“My, my, you are a feisty one,” he hissed.

The man lashed out, and pain flared along Callum’s torso. He released Callum and stepped back, red-tinged silver shining in his fist.

Callum touched his side, and his fingers came away wet with blood. He watched as crimson spread across his shirt. He tried to take a step, only to crumple to the ground beside Thomas, whose head rested limp against his chest.

Callum had never feared death, but now as he looked into its eyes, terror seized him. 

“Many thanks for the entertainment,” the man said.

To Callum’s horror, he bent low, holding a vial to the spreading pool of Thomas’s blood. He was gathering it.

“If you’ll excuse me, there’s one last Pillar I must find.”

Pillar?

The unearthly amber eyes melted into darkness as his opponent backed away and turned, disappearing into the shadows once more. Softly hissed words echoed in the alley. Àiteachan dìomhair, fosgailte dhomh, Àiteachan dìomhair, fosgailte dhomh…

The words the man spoke were Gaelic, but Callum’s fading mind couldn’t make out their meaning. A dark, mist-like substance rose from the ground and curled around the man’s feet, nearly indistinguishable from the dim of night. Like a sudden fog had rolled in.

Callum sputtered a curse, lacking the strength to spit. He tried to lift himself, but with each breath, pain flared in his side like a web of fire.

“I’m sorry, Thomas,” he croaked. Tears fell freely down his face, mingling with blood and sweat. He pressed his forehead against his friend’s. Grief washed over him at the still-warm press of his skin.

Thomas was gone, and Callum would soon follow.

A shiver raked his body. His eyes drifted shut.

Take me already, he pleaded to the darkness.

And the darkness answered.

No, not the darkness—Thomas’s voice, a memory now, though it was solid as stone.

“Get up, scunner.”

The warmth of the words turned electric, spreading through Callum’s body like wildfire. His eyes shot open and he gasped, breathing in a shock of cold air still sharp with the smell of blood. His fingers found the dirk he’d dropped earlier.

Grief and agony and pain and rage lifted Callum onto his feet, thrumming in him as he charged after Thomas’s murderer, knife raised and eager for flesh. He grabbed blindly, finally grasping a handful of fabric—the man’s cloak. Turning, the man’s eyes widened, making two white rings of surprise in the dark. Callum’s hand grabbed the man’s neck and aimed his dirk at the pale slash of his throat.

Suddenly, they froze. Callum could not move. His hand remained around the man’s neck, the tip of the dirk pressed against his vein. Light flowed around them. It’s not time for sunrise, he thought. Dimly, he noticed markings along the man’s collarbone. Knots carved into his skin.

The man cried out—not in pain, but in anger—but then, the cry was stifled by a rush of silence, so thick Callum thought he might drown in it. His stomach turned violently as the ground seemed to drop out from under him, forcing him to squeeze his eyes shut. He was falling, flying, falling.

I must be dead in the alley. The man must have killed me. This must be death.

A bright glow burned against his lids. He closed his eyes tighter and welcomed whatever might follow, only hoping he’d find Thomas there. A wall of light had formed above, descending as if the sun were pulling him through the sky. His body rose into its searing embrace.

He waited for the long drop to the ground, but it never came.

Callum kept soaring.

Not just through the street.

Not to death’s embrace. 

But somewhere else.

Leaping to another world, like the man in Thomas’s story, Callum thought.

So he leaped. 

The Order by John-Patrick Bayle Review

I received a free copy of this book in exchange for a fair and honest review. All opinions are my own. 

The discovery of a mysterious manuscript puts a novice monk into the perilous journey none would have seen coming in author John-Patrick Bayle’s “The Order”.

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The Synopsis

1513, France -An ancient origin. A secret society. A long anticipated birth has come to pass. The news spreads in a hushed wave throughout the world. It has begun.Armies move while nations sleep, and one of human history’s greatest movements teeters on the edge of collapse. The Order is a gripping tale of deception, secrecy, cruelty, and a man whose faith stands firm in the face of it all. 

The Review

The pacing and tone of the narrative were so well balanced. The way author was able to capture the atmosphere and behavior of the monks early into the story while infusing mystery and intrigue to keep the stakes of the mission alive. The tension that the author infused into the narrative was felt heavily in the story, as the brotherhood that the author established early on took some twists that made the protagonist force himself to view the world a bit more warily, while also struggling with his views and trusting nature.

The two biggest things that stood out to me in this narrative were the wealth of character development and the brilliant infusion of history into the story. The way in which the protagonist relates to these characters and must traverse this shadowy world and organization within such a turbulent point in the 16th century was so captivating to read. The emotions that this character underwent on this transformative journey only added more depth to the action and battles that the narrative took later on in the story. 

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The Verdict

Memorable, entertaining, and hauntingly intriguing historical fiction, author John-Patrick Bayle’s “The Order” is a must-read novel! The fantastic blend of mystery and history is always such a plus for me as a reader and the engaging way the author delved into the man underneath the monk’s hood and the hood’s representation as a whole during this chaotic time period while also uncovering the mysteries of the narrative made for a story that could not be put down. If you haven’t yet, be sure to grab your copy today!

Rating: 10/10

Saving Thomas by Scott Kauffman Review

I received a free copy of this book in exchange for a fair and honest review. All opinions are my own. 

A reporter still reeling from his wife’s death finds himself confronted by the past when someone he met in his childhood resurfaces as a war hero from WWII, and he must uncover the mysteries behind the man’s service and his identity in an effort to recover a lost friendship and save his job in the process in author Scott Kauffman’s “Saving Thomas”.

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The Synopsis

After his wife’s death, reporter Jeremy Michaels concentrates on writing news stories that try to bring justice to the underdogs of the world, until an announcement by Buckingham Palace shatters his glass cocoon. The village hermit from the hometown Jeremy fled is to be knighted for still-classified services during World War II, a man Jeremy knows well from a certain childhood adventure.

The editor of the newspaper Jeremy writes for sends him back home to find out why, but he is scooped by the hometown paper’s revelation that the man worked inside the French Resistance. Yet the knighthood is refused, and Jeremy’s chance to save his job—and an old friendship—lies in discovering the truth.

The Review

The balance and engagement the author made with the reader throughout this novel were incredible. The attention to realism when it came to the memories and events of the war and the psychological and emotional impact it left on characters was so eloquently crafted, as was the cruelty and vicious nature of war in general. The imagery played a heavy hand in these scenes, as did the contrast between that dark past and the struggles of the more modern age.

The characters were the true heart of this narrative. The emotional struggles within protagonist Jeremy were so painful yet honest to approach, as his struggles with his wife’s loss mixed with his need to find the truth and the conflict over his childhood events. Thomas’s vision and POV really honed in on the war narrative, and the toll it takes on a person when confronted with that haunting past. Yet it was how these characters found one another, came together, and both the strengths each had and the pitfalls they found as time went on that made this narrative so engrossing. 

The Verdict

Haunting, brilliantly written, and entertaining in its delivery, author Scott Kauffman’s “Saving Thomas” is a must-read novel of 2022 for fans of historical mysteries. The layered path readers had to take to uncover the mystery was well-paced and did a great job of balancing the history with the mystery itself. If you haven’t yet, be sure to grab your copy today!

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About the Author

Scott claims his fiction career began with a in-class book report written in Mrs. Baer’s eighth-grade English class when, due to a conflict of priorities, he failed to read the book. An exercise of imagination was required. Scott snagged a B, better than the C he received on his last report when he actually read the book. Thus began his life-long apprenticeship as a teller of tales and, some would snidely suggest, as a lawyer as well, but they would be cynics, a race Oscar Wilde warned us knew the price of everything and the value of nothing. Scott is the author of the legal-suspense novel, In Deepest Consequences, and a recipient of the 2011 Mighty River Short Story Contest and the 2010 Hackney Literary Award. His short fiction has been appeared in Big Muddy, Adelaide Magazine, and Lascaux Review. He is now at work on two novel manuscripts and a collection of short stories. He is an attorney in Irvine, California, where his practice focuses upon white-collar crime and tax litigation with his clients providing him endless story fodder. He graduated summa cum laude from Ohio University in Athens, Ohio, and in the upper ten percent of his class from Lewis & Clark Law School in Portland, Oregon, where he was a member of the Environmental Law Review and received the American Jurisprudence Award in Conflict of Laws.

Enola Holmes and the Black Barouche (Enola Holmes #7) by Nancy Springer Review

I received a free copy of this book in exchange for a fair and honest review. All opinions are my own. 

Literary heroine Enola Holmes and her iconic brother Sherlock join forces when a young woman believes her sister has mistakenly been identified as deceased, and the hunt to learn what has happened to the young woman’s twin takes them to shocking depths in author Nancy Springer’s “Enola Holmes and the Black Barouche”, the seventh novel in the Enola Holmes series.

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The Synopsis

Enola Holmes is the much younger sister of her more famous brothers, Sherlock and Mycroft. But she has all the wits, skills, and sleuthing inclinations of them both. At fifteen, she’s an independent young woman–after all, her name spelled backwards reads ‘alone’–and living on her own in London. When a young professional woman, Miss Letitia Glover, shows up on Sherlock’s doorstep, desperate to learn more about the fate of her twin sister, it is Enola who steps up. It seems her sister, the former Felicity Glover, married the Earl of Dunhench and per a curt note from the Earl, has died. But Letitia Glover is convinced this isn’t the truth, that she’d know–she’d feel–if her twin had died.

The Earl’s note is suspiciously vague and the death certificate is even more dubious, signed it seems by a John H. Watson, M.D. (who denies any knowledge of such). The only way forward is for Enola to go undercover–or so Enola decides at the vehement objection of her brother. And she soon finds out that this is not the first of the Earl’s wives to die suddenly and vaguely–and that the secret to the fate of the missing Felicity is tied to a mysterious black barouche that arrived at the Earl’s home in the middle of the night. To uncover the secrets held tightly within the Earl’s hall, Enola is going to require help–from Sherlock, from the twin sister of the missing woman, and from an old friend, the young Viscount Tewkesbury, Marquess of Basilwether!

Enola Holmes returns in her first adventure since the hit Netflix movie brought her back on the national bestseller lists, introducing a new generation to this beloved character and series.

The Review

This was such an engrossing and thought-provoking read. The author does an incredible job of capturing the tone and dialect of not only the era but the original Sir Arthur Conan Doyle novels following Sherlock Holmes. Yet despite the large shadow that Sherlock casts, Enola does an incredible job of outshining her brother and standing on her own as a remarkable literary heroine. 

The mystery aspect of the narrative and the setting really did steal the show on this novel. The gripping tale of a twin sister seeking the truth about her other half after rumors of her death fell off was a great hook to grab the readers, and Enola’s, attention. The clash of culture between the high society atmosphere of the missing woman’s estate and the seedy underbelly of London and its countryside as they hunt for the location of the missing woman was interesting to see play out here and really made the narrative feel alive in the reader’s mind.

The Verdict

A masterful, thoughtful, and engaging novel, author Nancy Springer’s “Enola Holmes and the Black Barouche” is a must-read novel of 2021. A great springboard for the heroine to return after finding cinematic success on Netflix thanks to the highly talented Millie Bobbie Brown, the balance of character growth and the mystery was amazing to see, and what felt great was that this novel, while a continuation overall of the character’s personal arcs, was strong enough to stand alone for newcomers like me to the series to get engaged in the narrative. If you haven’t yet, be sure to grab your copy today!

Rating: 10/10

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About the Author

NANCY SPRINGER is the author of the nationally bestselling Enola Holmes novels, including The Case of the Missing Marquess, which was made into the hit Netflix movie, Enola Holmes. She is the author of more than 50 other books for children and adults. She has won many awards, including two Edgar Awards, and has been published in more than thirty countries. She lives in Florida.

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Here is an Excerpt From “Enola Holmes and the Black Barouche”

“Is she fainted?” 

Indignant, I wanted to sit up and say I was not so easily killed and I never fainted, but to my surprise my body would not obey me. I merely stirred and murmured. 

“She’s moving.” 

I saw the clodhopper boots of common men surrounding me and smelled alcohol on the breath of those leaning over me. 

“Let’s get ’er inside.” 

“Somebody go fer the doctor.” 

Strong hands, not ungentle, seized me by the feet and shoulders. I could have kicked and yelled—I felt strong enough now—but my mind had started to function, realizing that I was about to be carried into a pub, for only in a public house, or pub, would workmen be drinking in the daytime. And normally no woman of good repute would enter a pub, or if she did, she would be jeered at until she retreated. But, my avid brain realized, fate in the form of Jezebel had given me opportunity to spend some time inside a pub—no, in the pub, most likely the only pub in Threefinches! So I closed my eyes and pretended to be rather more helpless than I was as the men hauled me inside and laid me down on a high-backed bench by the hearth. 

Someone brought something pungent in lieu of smelling salts, but I shook my head, pushed the malodourous hand away, opened my eyes, and sat up, acting as if it were a great effort for me to do so. A burly, bearded man in an apron, undoubtedly the publican who kept the place, came running with a pillow for my back, and I thanked him with a gracious smile. 

“Will ye have a nip of brandy, lydy?” 

“No, thank you. Water, please.” 

“Jack! Water for the lydy!” he bellowed to some underling, and he remained nearby as I managed, with hands that genuinely trembled, to remove my gloves. Their thin kidskin leather was ruined by the mauling it had taken from Jezebel’s reins, and my hands were red and sore; doubtless they would bruise. Grateful for the cool glass, I held it in both hands and sipped, looking around me. Half of the denizens of the place, like the owner, stood in a semicircle staring at me not unpleasantly, while the rest did the same from seats at the rustic tables—all but one. A tall man with beard stubble on his chin and quite a shock of coarse brownish-grey hair hiding his forehead had withdrawn to a table by the wall, where he devoted his attention to his mug of ale, or stout, or whatever noxious brew he might fancy. I said brightly to the tavern-keeper, “I believe I would like to stand up.” 

“Now, why not wait for the doctor, lydy—” 

But taking hold of his arm, as he stood within my reach, I got to my feet with reasonable steadiness. There were muted cheers from the onlookers. Nodding and simpering at the men all around me, I lilted, “Thank you so much. Do you suppose anyone could go out and fetch my bag, and my hat and parasol? I believe they fell along the—” 

Already half a dozen would-be heroes were stampeding towards the door. Yet, if I had walked in here under my own power, any request for help would have been met with deepest suspicion. Such is life: odd.

Lady Sunshine by Amy Mason Doan Review

I received a free copy of this book in exchange for a fair and honest review. All opinions are my own.

A woman finds herself drawn back to the California Estate of her Uncle after inheriting the property, but as she fulfills his final request to have an artist record his album at the property, memories of her time spent at the property in the summer of 1979, and the shocking mystery of her cousin Willa’s disappearance, come back to haunt her in this thrilling historical fiction from author Amy Mason Doan, “Lady Sunshine”.

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The Synopsis

For Jackie Pierce, everything changed the summer of 1979, when she spent three months of infinite freedom at her bohemian uncle’s sprawling estate on the California coast. As musicians, artists, and free spirits gathered at The Sandcastle for the season in pursuit of inspiration and communal living, Jackie and her cousin Willa fell into a fast friendship, testing their limits along the rocky beach and in the wild woods… until the summer abruptly ended in tragedy, and Willa silently slipped away into the night.

Twenty years later, Jackie unexpectedly inherits The Sandcastle and returns to the iconic estate for a short visit to ready it for sale. But she reluctantly extends her stay when she learns that, before her death, her estranged aunt had promised an up-and-coming producer he could record a tribute album to her late uncle at the property’s studio. As her musical guests bring the place to life again with their sun-drenched beach days and late-night bonfires, Jackie begins to notice startling parallels to that summer long ago. And when a piece of the past resurfaces and sparks new questions about Willa’s disappearance, Jackie must discover if the dark secret she’s kept ever since is even the truth at all.

The Review

A truly heartfelt and enthralling historical fiction and mystery read, author Amy Mason Doan is a master of weaving various genres together in a most natural way. The culture and setting of both the 70’s and 90’s California scene was felt wholeheartedly in this book, becoming a character all its own within the narrative. The pacing as the stories of both the past and the (nearer past) helped elevate not only the mystery and narrative of this book but the character’s interaction with one another. 

The characters and their relationships were the true heart of this novel. The way certain characters embodied the music scene of late 70’s era California was incredible to see unfold, and really informed the development of Jackie as a protagonist to the character’s present day. The addition of the mystery aspect of this family’s legacy and history really showcased the balance the author found within the historical fiction genre, making this a truly remarkable read.

The Verdict

A masterful, engaging, and thought-provoking mystery and historical-fiction novel, author Amy Mason Doan’s “Lady Sunshine” is a must-read story. A great blend of family dynamics, cultural evolution and family secrets and how they influence the development of our futures make this a stand-out narrative, and the perfect historical fiction read for the 2021 summer. If you haven’t yet, be sure to grab your copy today!

Rating: 10/10

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About the Author

Headshots by Sash Photography http://sashphotography.com

AMY MASON DOAN is the author of The Summer List and Summer Hours. She earned a BA in English from UC Berkeley and an MA in journalism from Stanford University, and has written for The Oregonian, San Francisco Chronicle, and Forbes, among other publications. She grew up in Danville, California, and now lives in Portland, Oregon, with her husband and daughter.

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Here is an Excerpt From “LADY SUNSHINE”

1

A Girl, Her Cousin, and a Waterfall

1999

I rattle the padlock on the gate, strum my fingers along the cold chain-link fence.

I own this place.

Maybe if I repeat it often enough I’ll believe it.

All along the base of the fence are tributes: shells, notes, sketches, bunches of flowers. Some still fresh, some so old the petals are crisp as parchment. I follow the fence uphill, along the coast side, and stop at a wooden, waist-high sign marking the path up to the waterfall. It wasn’t here the summer I visited.

The sign is covered in words and drawings, so tattooed-over by fan messages that you can barely read the official one. I run my fingertips over the engravings: initials, peace symbols, Thank you’s, I Love You’s. Fragments of favorite lyrics. After coming so far to visit the legendary estate, people need to do something, leave their mark, if only with a rock on fog-softened wood.

Song titles from my uncle’s final album, Three, are carved everywhere. “Heart, Home, Hope.”

“Leaf, Shell, Raindrop.”

“Angel, Lion, Willow.” Someone has etched that last one in symbols instead of words. The angel refers to Angela, my aunt. The lion is my uncle Graham.

And the willow tree. Willa, my cousin.

I have a pointy metal travel nail file in my suitcase; I could add my message to the rest, my own tribute to this place, to the Kingstons. To try to explain what happened the summer I spent here. I could tell it like one of the campfire tales I used to spin for Willa.

This is the story of a girl, her cousin, and a waterfall…

But there’s no time for that, not with only seven days to clear the house for sale. Back at the gate, where Toby’s asleep in his cat carrier in the shade, I dig in my overnight bag for the keys. They came in a FedEx with a fat stack of documents I must’ve read on the plane from Boston a dozen times—thousands of words, all dressed up in legal jargon. When it’s so simple, really. Everything inside that fence is mine now, whether I want it or not.

I unlock the gate, lift the metal shackle, and walk uphill to the highest point, where the gravel widens into a parking lot, then fades away into grass. The field opens out below me just like I remember. We called it “the bowl,” because of the way the edges curve up all around it. A golden bowl scooped into the hills, rimmed on three sides by dark green woods. The house, a quarter mile ahead of me at the top of the far slope, is a pale smudge in the fir trees.

I stop to take it in, this piece of land I now own. The Sandcastle, everyone called it.

Without the neighbors’ goats and Graham’s guests to keep the grass down, the field has grown wild, many of the yellow weeds high as my belly button.

Willa stood here with me once and showed me how from this angle the estate resembled a sun. The kind a child would draw, with a happy face inside. Once I saw it, it was impossible to un-see:

The round, straw-colored field, trails squiggling off to the woods in every direction, like rays. The left eye—the campfire circle. The right eye—the blue aboveground pool. The nose was the vertical line of picnic benches in the middle of the circle that served as our communal outdoor dining table. The smile was the curving line of parked cars and motorcycles and campers.

All that’s gone now, save for the pool, which is squinting, collapsed, moldy green instead of its old bright blue.

I should go back for my bag and Toby but I can’t resist—I move on, down to the center of the field. Far to my right in the woods, the brown roofline of the biggest A-frame cabin, Kingfisher, pokes through the firs. But no other cabins are visible, the foliage is so thick now. Good. Each alteration from the place of my memories gives me confidence. I can handle this for a week. One peaceful, private week to box things up and send them away.

“Sure you don’t want me to come help?” Paul had asked when he dropped me at the airport this morning. “We could squeeze in a romantic weekend somewhere. I’ve always wanted to go to San Francisco.”

“You have summer school classes, remember? Anyway, it’ll be totally boring, believe me.”

I’d told him—earnest, sweet Paul, who all the sixth-graders at the elementary school where we work hope they get as their teacher and who wants to marry me—that the trip was no big deal. That I’d be away for a week because my aunt in California passed away. That I barely knew her and just had to help pack up her old place to get it ready for sale.

He believed me.

I didn’t tell him that the “old place” is a stunning, sprawling property perched over the Pacific, studded with cabins and outbuildings and a legendary basement recording studio. That the land bubbles with natural hot springs and creeks and waterfalls.

Or that I’ve inherited it. All of it. The fields, the woods, the house, the studio. And my uncle’s music catalog.

I didn’t tell him that I visited here once as a teenager, or that for a little while, a long time ago, I was sure I’d stay forever.

Excerpted from Lady Sunshine @ 2021 by Amy Mason Doan, used with permission by Graydon House.

Marion Lane and the Midnight Murder by T.A. Willberg Review

I received a free copy of this book in exchange for a fair and honest review. All opinions are my own.

A twist on the locked room murder tests a new investigative heroine in author T.A. Willberg’s historical fiction/thriller, “Marion Lane and the Midnight Murder”.

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The Synopsis 

The letter was short. A name, a time, a place.

Marion Lane and the Midnight Murder plunges readers into the heart of London, to the secret tunnels that exist far beneath the city streets. There, a mysterious group of detectives recruited for Miss Brickett’s Investigations & Inquiries use their cunning and gadgets to solve crimes that have stumped Scotland Yard.

Late one night in April 1958, a filing assistant at Miss Brickett’s receives a letter of warning, detailing a name, a time, and a place. She goes to investigate but finds the room empty. At the stroke of midnight, she is murdered by a killer she can’t see―her death the only sign she wasn’t alone. It becomes chillingly clear that the person responsible must also work for Miss Brickett’s, making everyone a suspect.

Marion Lane, a first-year Inquirer-in-training, finds herself drawn ever deeper into the investigation. When her friend and colleague is framed for the crime, to clear his name she must sort through the hidden alliances at Miss Brickett’s and secrets dating back to WWII. Masterful, clever and deliciously suspenseful, Marion Lane and the Midnight Murder is a fresh take on the Agatha Christie-style locked-room murder mystery, with an exciting new heroine detective.

The Review

It’s Sherlock Holmes meets James Bond with a heroine at the center in this explosive historical fiction thriller. The author does a great job of layering the narrative enough to weave together a complex mystery that will have readers analyzing every detail of the case and exploring this fully realized world themselves. 

Marion Lane is such a fantastic new heroine in detective mystery thrillers. The character’s growth over the course of the narrative is as equally exciting as the mystery itself, which delves into the heart of London’s underground scene and the vast mythology of this secret organization. The setting and tone play perfectly with the genre and story, as the city itself becomes as alive and memorable and the cast of characters. 

The Verdict

A gripping, suspenseful, and intriguing read, author T.A. Willberg’s “Marion Lane and the Midnight Murder” is a must-read narrative. The balance of character development, mystery, and setting help to elevate this historical fiction read to new heights and puts a unique spin on the classic whodunit style, closed room murder thriller storyline. With the hope that more stories within this universe will be told, this is not a book to be missed, so be sure to grab your copy today!

Rating: 8/10

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About the Author

T.A. Willberg was born in Johannesburg, South Africa, and holds a chiropractic masters degree from Durban University of Technology. MARION LANE AND THE MIDNIGHT MURDER is her debut novel and launch of her detective series. She currently lives in Malta with her partner.

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The Lost Apothecary by Sarah Penner Review

I received a free copy of this book in exchange for a fair and honest review. All opinions are my own.

A historian discovers an old Apothecary vial, and unravels a centuries old mystery surrounding a series of murders known as the “apothecary murders” in author Sarah Penner’s “The Lost Apothecary”.

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The Synopsis

In this addictive and spectacularly imagined debut, a female apothecary secretly dispenses poisons to liberate women from the men who have wronged them—setting three lives across centuries on a dangerous collision course. Pitched as Kate Morton meets The Miniaturist, The Lost Apothecary is a bold work of historical fiction with a rebellious twist that heralds the coming of an explosive new talent.

A forgotten history. A secret network of women. A legacy of poison and revenge. Welcome to The Lost Apothecary…

Hidden in the depths of eighteenth-century London, a secret apothecary shop caters to an unusual kind of clientele. Women across the city whisper of a mysterious figure named Nella who sells well-disguised poisons to use against the oppressive men in their lives. But the apothecary’s fate is jeopardized when her newest patron, a precocious twelve-year-old, makes a fatal mistake, sparking a string of consequences that echo through the centuries.

Meanwhile in present-day London, aspiring historian Caroline Parcewell spends her tenth wedding anniversary alone, running from her own demons. When she stumbles upon a clue to the unsolved apothecary murders that haunted London two hundred years ago, her life collides with the apothecary’s in a stunning twist of fate—and not everyone will survive.

With crackling suspense, unforgettable characters and searing insight, The Lost Apothecary is a subversive and intoxicating debut novel of secrets, vengeance and the remarkable ways women can save each other despite the barrier of time.

The Review

A hauntingly entertaining and engaging read, author Sarah Penner does a fantastic job of crafting a narrative that speaks to both historical fiction fans and fans of a serial killer-driven thriller, with a focus on the struggles and hardships of women throughout 18th century England. 

The story is perfectly written to explore the past of the apothecary while showcasing how this mystery impacts the life of struggling historian Caroline, who’s dealing with an unfaithful husband and must somehow find her true calling in life. The story does an excellent job of showcasing how this woman in the past became a serial killer, in essence, helping women throughout London either gain vengeance or escape impossible struggles utilizing poisons, while also making her plight sympathetic at the same time. 

The Verdict

A masterfully-thrilling, thought-provoking, and lengthy yet memorable read, author Sarah Penner’s “The Lost Apothecary” is a must-read. The story is inviting and engaging, while the protagonists keep the reader invested. The story is perfect for both fans of history-driven backstories with a modern twist that explores the struggles of women in the world while searching to gain more power and confidence in themselves, making the characters truly remarkable to read. If you haven’t yet, be sure to grab your copy today!

Rating: 10/10

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About the Author

Sarah Penner is the debut author of The Lost Apothecary, to be translated in eleven languages worldwide. She works full-time in finance and is a member of the Historical Novel Society and the Women’s Fiction Writers Association. She and her husband live in St. Petersburg, Florida, with their miniature dachshund, Zoe. To learn more, visit slpenner.com.

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An Exclusive Excerpt From “The Lost Apothecary”

Nella

February 3, 1791

She would come at daybreak—the woman whose letter I held in my hands, the woman whose name I did not yet know.

I knew neither her age nor where she lived. I did not know her rank in society nor the dark things of which she dreamed when night fell. She could be a victim or a transgressor. A new wife or a vengeful widow. A nursemaid or a courtesan.

But despite all that I did not know, I understood this: the woman knew exactly who she wanted dead.

I lifted the blush-colored paper, illuminated by the dying f lame of a single rush wick candle. I ran my fingers over the ink of her words, imagining what despair brought the woman to seek out someone like me. Not just an apothecary, but a murderer. A master of disguise.

Her request was simple and straightforward. For my mistress’s husband, with his breakfast. Daybreak, 4 Feb. At once, I drew to mind a middle-aged housemaid, called to do the bidding of her mistress. And with an instinct perfected over the last two decades, I knew immediately the remedy most suited to this request: a chicken egg laced with nux vomica.

The preparation would take mere minutes; the poison was within reach. But for a reason yet unknown to me, something about the letter left me unsettled. It was not the subtle, woodsy odor of the parchment or the way the lower left corner curled forward slightly, as though once damp with tears. Instead, the disquiet brewed inside of me. An intuitive understanding that something must be avoided.

But what unwritten warning could reside on a single sheet of parchment, shrouded beneath pen strokes? None at all, I assured myself; this letter was no omen. My troubling thoughts were merely the result of my fatigue—the hour was late—and the persistent discomfort in my joints.

I drew my attention to my calfskin register on the table in front of me. My precious register was a record of life and death; an inventory of the many women who sought potions from here, the darkest of apothecary shops.

In the front pages of my register, the ink was soft, written with a lighter hand, void of grief and resistance. These faded, worn entries belonged to my mother. This apothecary shop for women’s maladies, situated at 3 Back Alley, was hers long before it was mine.

On occasion I read her entries—23 Mar 1767, Mrs. R. Ranford, Yarrow Milfoil 15 dr. 3x—and the words evoked memories of her: the way her hair fell against the back of her neck as she ground the yarrow stem with the pestle, or the taut, papery skin of her hand as she plucked seeds from the flower’s head. But my mother had not disguised her shop behind a false wall, and she had not slipped her remedies into vessels of dark red wine. She’d had no need to hide. The tinctures she dispensed were meant only for good: soothing the raw, tender parts of a new mother, or bringing menses upon a barren wife. Thus, she filled her register pages with the most benign of herbal remedies. They would raise no suspicion.

On my register pages, I wrote things such as nettle and hyssop and amaranth, yes, but also remedies more sinister: nightshade and hellebore and arsenic. Beneath the ink strokes of my register hid betrayal, anguish…and dark secrets.

Secrets about the vigorous young man who suffered an ailing heart on the eve of his wedding, or how it came to pass that a healthy new father fell victim to a sudden fever. My register laid it all bare: these were not weak hearts and fevers at all, but thorn apple juice and nightshade slipped into wines and pies by cunning women whose names now stained my register.

Oh, but if only the register told my own secret, the truth about how this all began. For I had documented every victim in these pages, all but one: Frederick. The sharp, black lines of his name defaced only my sullen heart, my scarred womb.

I gently closed the register, for I had no use of it tonight, and returned my attention to the letter. What worried me so? The edge of the parchment continued to catch my eye, as though something crawled beneath it. And the longer I remained at my table, the more my belly ached and my fingers trembled. In the distance, beyond the walls of the shop, the bells on a carriage sounded frighteningly similar to the chains on a constable’s belt. But I assured myself that the bailiffs would not come tonight, just as they had not come for the last two decades. My shop, like my poisons, was too cleverly disguised. No man would find this place; it was buried deep behind a cupboard wall at the base of a twisted alleyway in the darkest depths of London.

I drew my eyes to the soot-stained wall that I had not the heart, nor the strength, to scrub clean. An empty bottle on a shelf caught my reflection. My eyes, once bright green like my mother’s, now held little life within them. My cheeks, too, once flushed with vitality, were sallow and sunken. I had the appearance of a ghost, much older than my forty-one years of age.

Tenderly, I began to rub the round bone in my left wrist, swollen with heat like a stone left in the fire and forgotten. The discomfort in my joints had crawled through my body for years; it had grown so severe, I lived not a waking hour without pain. Every poison I dispensed brought a new wave of it upon me; some evenings, my fingers were so distended and stiff, I felt sure the skin would split open and expose what lay underneath.

Killing and secret-keeping had done this to me. It had begun to rot me from the inside out, and something inside meant to tear me open.

At once, the air grew stagnant, and smoke began to curl into the low stone ceiling of my hidden room. The candle was nearly spent, and soon the laudanum drops would wrap me in their heavy warmth. Night had long ago fallen, and she would arrive in just a few hours: the woman whose name I would add to my register and whose mystery I would begin to unravel, no matter the unease it brewed inside of me.

Excerpted from The Lost Apothecary by Sarah Penner, Copyright © 2021 by Sarah Penner. Published by Park Row Books. 

The Princess Plan (A Royal Wedding #1) by Julia London Review

I received a free copy of this book in exchange for a fair and honest review. All opinions are my own. 

A visit from royalty turns into a tragic mystery as the stubborn Prince of a visiting nation teams up with a driven young woman who runs a local gazette in London society in author Julia London’s novel “The Princess Plan”, the first in the A Royal Wedding Series. 

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The Synopsis 

Princes have pomp and glory—not murdered secretaries and crushes on commoners

Nothing gets London’s high society’s tongues wagging like a good scandal. And when the personal secretary of the visiting Prince Sebastian of Alucia is found murdered, it’s all anyone can talk about, including Eliza Tricklebank. Her unapologetic gossip gazette has benefitted from an anonymous tip about the crime, prompting Sebastian to take an interest in playing detective—and an even greater one in Eliza.

With a trade deal on the line and mounting pressure to secure a noble bride, there’s nothing more salacious than a prince dallying with a commoner. Sebastian finds Eliza’s contrary manner as frustrating as it is seductive, but they’ll have to work together if they’re going to catch the culprit. And when things heat up behind closed doors, it’s the prince who’ll have to decide what comes first—his country or his heart.


The Review

A well written, character driven narrative, author Julia London soars as this novel brings historical fiction, romance and mystery to life. The chemistry between Eliza and Prince Sebastian was the immediate draw of this romance tale, as Sebastian’s temper and Eliza’s independence clashed immediately, but soon led to a friendship and something more as time went on. 

What the author did an excellent job of however was expertly exploring the roles of men and women in society, those that are expected versus the roles we seek to create for ourselves. Also exploring social class and how status can sometimes impede life choices, it was fascinating to see the characters struggle against these roles thrust upon them by others when trying to find their own way themselves. Something quite difficult when caught up in a murder mystery, pending trade agreements and a brewing romance that puts Sebastian in the hot seat as he must choose between love and his duty. 


The Verdict

Engaging, entertaining and explosive, author Julia London has created a smash hit with The Princess Plan. A story of society’s expectations versus our own, love and overcoming the odds to maintain that love, and battling those who conspire against you behind your back, this was a truly tantalizing read that readers will not be able to get enough of. A lengthy read, the book is equal parts mystery, romance and historical fiction, creating a book that many different readers can enjoy. If you haven’t yet, grab your copy of Julia London’s “The Princess Plan (A Royal Wedding #1)” today!

Rating: 10/10

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About the Author

Julia London is a NYT, USA Today and Publishers Weekly bestselling author of historical and contemporary romance. She is a six-time finalist for the RITA Award of excellence in romantic fiction, and the recipient of RT Bookclub’s Best Historical Novel.

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The Princess Plan Excerpt

CHAPTER ONE

London 1845

All of London has been on tenterhooks, desperate for a glimpse of Crown Prince Sebastian of Alucia during his highly anticipated visit. Windsor Castle was the scene of Her Majesty’s banquet to welcome him. Sixty-and-one-hundred guests were on hand, feted in St. George’s Hall beneath the various crests of the Order of the Garter. Two thousand pieces of silver cutlery were used, one thousand crystal glasses and goblets. The first course and main dish of lamb and potatoes were served on silver-gilded plates, followed by delicate fruits on French porcelain.

Prince Sebastian presented a large urn fashioned of green Alucian malachite to our Queen Victoria as a gift from his father the King of Alucia. The urn was festooned with delicate ropes of gold around the mouth and the neck.

The Alucian women were attired in dresses of heavy silk worn close to the body, the trains quite long and brought up and fastened with buttons to facilitate walking. Their hair was fashioned into elaborate knots worn at the nape. The Alucian gentlemen wore formal frock coats of black superfine wool that came to midcalf, as well as heavily embroidered waistcoats worn to the hip. It was reported that Crown Prince Sebastian is “rather tall and broad, with a square face and neatly trimmed beard, a full head of hair the color of tea, and eyes the color of moss,” which the discerning reader might think of as a softer shade of green. It is said he possesses a regal air owing chiefly to the many medallions and ribbons he wore befitting his rank.

Honeycutt’s Gazette of Fashion and Domesticity for Ladies

The Right Honorable Justice William Tricklebank, a widower and justice of the Queen’s Bench in Her Majesty’s service, was very nearly blind, his eyesight having steadily eroded into varying and fuzzy shades of gray with age. He could no longer see so much as his hand, which was why his eldest daughter, Miss Eliza Tricklebank, read his papers to him.

Eliza had enlisted the help of Poppy, their housemaid, who was more family than servant, having come to them as an orphaned girl more than twenty years ago. Together, the two of them had anchored strings and ribbons halfway up the walls of his London townhome, and all the judge had to do was follow them with his hand to move from room to room. Among the hazards he faced was a pair of dogs that were far too enthusiastic in their wish to be of some use to him, and a cat who apparently wished him dead, judging by the number of times he put himself in the judge’s path, or leapt into his lap as he sat, or walked across the knitting the judge liked to do while his daughter read to him, or unravelled his ball of yarn without the judge’s notice.

The only other potential impediments to his health were his daughters—Eliza, a spinster, and her younger sister, Hollis, otherwise known as the Widow Honeycutt. They were often together in his home, and when they were, it seemed to him there was quite a lot of laughing at this and shrieking at that. His daughters disputed that they shrieked, and accused him of being old and easily startled. But the judge’s hearing, unlike his eyesight, was quite acute, and those two shrieked with laughter. Often.

At eight-and-twenty, Eliza was unmarried, a fact that had long baffled the judge. There had been an unfortunate and rather infamous misunderstanding with one Mr. Asher Daughton-Cress, who the judge believed was despicable, but that had been ten years ago. Eliza had once been demure and a politely deferential young lady, but she’d shed any pretense of deference when her heart was broken. In the last few years she had emerged vibrant and carefree. He would think such demeanour would recommend her to gentlemen far and wide, but apparently it did not. She’d had only one suitor since her very public scandal, a gentleman some fifteen years older than Eliza. Mr. Norris had faithfully called every day until one day he did not. When the judge had inquired, Eliza had said, “It was not love that compelled him, Pappa. I prefer my life here with you—the work is more agreeable, and I suspect not as many hours as marriage to him would require.”

His youngest, Hollis, had been tragically widowed after only two years of a marriage without issue. While she maintained her own home, she and her delightful wit were a faithful caller to his house at least once a day without fail, and sometimes as much as two or three times per day. He should like to see her remarried, but Hollis insisted she was in no rush to do so. The judge thought she rather preferred her sister’s company to that of a man.

His daughters were thick as thieves, as the saying went, and were coconspirators in something that the judge did not altogether approve of. But he was blind, and they were determined to do what they pleased no matter what he said, so he’d given up trying to talk any practical sense into them.

That questionable activity was the publication of a ladies’ gazette. Tricklebank didn’t think ladies needed a gazette, much less one having to do with frivolous subjects such as fashion, gossip and beauty. But say what he might, his daughters turned a deaf ear to him. They were unfettered in their enthusiasm for this endeavour, and if the two of them could be believed, so was all of London.

The gazette had been established by Hollis’s husband, Sir Percival Honeycutt. Except that Sir Percival had published an entirely different sort of gazette, obviously— one devoted to the latest political and financial news. Now that was a useful publication to the judge’s way of thinking.

Sir Percival’s death was the most tragic of accidents, the result of his carriage sliding off the road into a swollen river during a rain, which also saw the loss of a fine pair of grays. It was a great shock to them all, and the judge had worried about Hollis and her ability to cope with such a loss. But Hollis proved herself an indomitable spirit, and she had turned her grief into efforts to preserve her husband’s name. But as she was a young woman without a man’s education, and could not possibly comprehend the intricacies of politics or financial matters, she had turned the gazette on its head and dedicated it solely to topics that interested women, which naturally would be limited to the latest fashions and the most tantalizing on dits swirling about London’s high society. It was the judge’s impression that women had very little interest in the important matters of the world.

And yet, interestingly, the judge could not deny that Hollis’s version of the gazette was more actively sought than her husband’s had ever been. So much so that Eliza had been pressed into the service of helping her sister prepare her gazette each week. It was curious to Tricklebank that so many members of the Quality were rather desperate to be mentioned among the gazette’s pages.

Today, his daughters were in an unusually high state of excitement, for they had secured the highly sought-after invitations to the Duke of Marlborough’s masquerade ball in honor of the crown prince of Alucia. One would think the world had stopped spinning on its axis and that the heavens had parted and the seas had receded and this veritable God of All Royal Princes had shined his countenance upon London and blessed them all with his presence.

Hogwash.

Everyone knew the prince was here to strike an important trade deal with the English government in the name of King Karl. Alucia was a small European nation with impressive wealth for her size. It was perhaps best known for an ongoing dispute with the neighboring country of Wesloria—the two had a history of war and distrust as fraught as that between England and France.

The judge had read that it was the crown prince who was pushing for modernization in Alucia, and who was the impetus behind the proposed trade agreement. Prince Sebastian envisioned increasing the prosperity of Alucia by trading cotton and iron ore for manufactured goods. But according to the judge’s daughters, that was not the most important part of the trade negotiations. The important part was that the prince was also in search of a marriage bargain.

“It’s what everyone says,” Hollis had insisted to her father over supper recently “And how is it, my dear, that everyone knows what the prince intends?” the judge asked as he stroked the cat, Pris, on his lap. The cat had been named Princess when the family believed it a female. When the houseman Ben discovered that Princess was, in fact, a male, Eliza said it was too late to change the name. So they’d shortened it to Pris. “Did the prince send a letter? Announce it in the Times?”

Caro says,” Hollis countered, as if that were quite obvious to anyone with half a brain where she got her information. “She knows everything about everyone, Pappa.”

“Aha. If Caro says it, then by all means, it must be true.”

“You must yourself admit she is rarely wrong,” Hollis had said with an indignant sniff.

Caro, or Lady Caroline Hawke, had been a lifelong friend to his daughters, and had been so often underfoot in the Tricklebank house that for many years, it seemed to the judge that he had three daughters.

Caroline was the only sibling of Lord Beckett Hawke and was also his ward. Long ago, a cholera outbreak had swept through London, and both Caro’s mother and his children’s mother had succumbed. Amelia, his wife, and Lady Hawke had been dear friends. They’d sent their children to the Hawke summer estate when Amelia had taken ill. Lady Hawke had insisted on caring for her friend and, well, in the end, they were both lost.

Lord Hawke was an up-and-coming young lord and politician, known for his progressive ideas in the House of Lords. He was rather handsome, Hollis said, a popular figure, and socially in high demand. Which meant that, by association, so was his sister. She, too, was quite comely, which made her presence all the easier to her brother’s many friends, the judge suspected.

But Caroline did seem to know everyone in London, and was constantly calling on the Tricklebank household to spout the gossip she’d gleaned in homes across Mayfair. Here was an industrious young lady—she called on three salons a day if she called on one. The judge supposed her brother scarcely need worry about putting food in their cupboards, for the two of them were dining with this four-and-twenty or that ten-and-six almost every night. It was a wonder Caroline wasn’t a plump little peach.

Perhaps she was. In truth, she was merely another shadow to the judge these days.

“And she was at Windsor and dined with the queen,” Hollis added with superiority.

“You mean Caro was in the same room but one hundred persons away from the queen,” the judge suggested. He knew how these fancy suppers went.

“Well, she was there, Pappa, and she met the Alucians, and she knows a great deal about them now. I am quite determined to discover who the prince intends to offer for and announce it in the gazette before anyone else. Can you imagine? I shall be the talk of London!”

This was precisely what Mr. Tricklebank didn’t like about the gazette. He did not want his daughters to be the talk of London.

But it was not the day for him to make this point, for his daughters were restless, moving about the house with an urgency he was not accustomed to. Today was the day of the Royal Masquerade Ball, and the sound of crisp petticoats and silk rustled around him, and the scent of perfume wafted into his nose when they passed. His daughters were waiting impatiently for Lord Hawke’s brougham to come round and fetch them. Their masks, he was given to understand, had already arrived at the Hawke House, commissioned, Eliza had breathlessly reported, from “Mrs. Cubison herself.”

He did not know who Mrs. Cubison was.

And frankly, he didn’t know how Caro had managed to finagle the invitations to a ball at Kensington Palace for his two daughters—for the good Lord knew the Tricklebanks did not have the necessary connections to achieve such a feat.

He could feel their eagerness, their anxiety in the nervous pitch of their giggling when they spoke to each other. Even Poppy seemed nervous. He supposed this was to be the ball by which all other balls in the history of mankind would forever be judged, but he was quite thankful he was too blind to attend.

When the knock at the door came, he was startled by such squealing and furious activity rushing by him that he could only surmise that the brougham had arrived and the time had come to go to the ball.

Excerpted from The Princess Plan by Julia London, Copyright © 2019 by Dinah Dinwiddle. Published by HQN Books.