The Girl I Used To Know is women’s fiction set in Dublin. It tells the stories of Tess and Amanda through triple time lines. Tess is a sitting tenant in the basement flat of Amanda’s Georgian house.
At sixty-six, Tess is grumpy, rude and lonely. She loathes Amanda and her rich banker husband Richard. Forty-eight years ago Tess moved to Dublin to follow her singing dreams; what happened to that talented girl?
Amanda is also unhappy. The artist she used to be has been lost under the model homemaker and corporate wife image that Richard has urged her to assume. But everything is about to change after a New Year’s Eve party.
Using the triple time lines, the author builds the back story to where Tess and Amanda are today. Circumstances in present time transform them from sworn enemies to supportive friends. There’s a little romance, too.
The use of alternating time lines can work well in a novel, but I did find the triple ones a bit too much, they pulled me away from building empathy with any one character. Overall, this is a book about forgiveness and moving on with life, ideal for those enjoy family saga style stories.
A beautiful, emotive and spell-binding story of two women who find friendship and second chances when they least expect it. Perfect for the fans of Patricia Scanlan.
Amanda King and Tess Cuffe are strangers who share the same Georgian house, but their lives couldn’t be more different.
Amanda seems to have it all, absolute perfection. She projects all the accouterments of a lady who lunches. Sadly, the reality is a soulless home, an unfaithful husband and a very lonely heart.
By comparison, in the basement flat, unwanted tenant Tess Cuffe has spent a lifetime hiding and shutting her heart to love.
It takes a bossy doctor, a handsome gardener, a pushy teenager and an abandoned cat to show these two women that sometimes letting go is the first step to moving forward and new friendships can come from the most unlikely situations.
Faith Hogan is an original voice in women’s fiction. Her stories are warm and rooted in a contemporary Irish landscape which has lost none of its wit, charm or emotion thanks to its modern vibe.
Faith was born in Ireland. She gained an Honours Degree in English Literature and Psychology from Dublin City University and a Postgraduate Degree from University College, Galway. She was a winner in the 2014 Irish Writers Centre Novel Fair – an international competition for emerging writers.
Her debut novel ‘My Husbands Wives’ is a contemporary women’s fiction novel set in Dublin, published by Aria Fiction in 2016. Her second novel, ‘Secrets We Keep,’ is published in February 2017 – it has been included on the Netgalley ‘Hot List 2017.’ Her third novel – ‘The Girl I Used To Know’ is out in December 2017.
She is currently working on her next novel. She lives in the west of Ireland with her husband, four children and a rather busy chocolate Labrador. She’s a writer, reader, enthusiastic dog walker and reluctant jogger – except of course when it is raining!
The Single Girl’s Calendar is a romantic comedy set in Birmingham.
Twenty-nine year old Esmé is planning a weekend anniversary with her boyfriend of seven years. She’s hoping her romantic surprise will lead to a marriage proposal and the next step in fulfilling her dreams. Instead, she discovers something about Andrew that she cannot forgive. She leaves their shared apartment and rashly agrees to move in with four of her brother’s friends.
Esmé’s best friend Carys is sympathetic to her troubles and gives Esmé a single girl’s calendar which is designed to cure a broken-hearted women. Each day, for one month, the calendar provides Esmé with a comforting piece of chocolate and a daily task to complete. She had assignments like: get a new haircut, spring-clean your wardrobe and smile at ten strangers. These ideas may all be found in common self-help advice columns, but the timing was significant for Esmé.
Andrew is not prepared to let Esmé go, but as Esmé’s eyes open to new opportunities her outlook changes. Can Andrew prove to be the man she wants? Or will Esmé’s life head in a new direction?
This is a light fun read. Esmé’s new housemates challenge her ideals and support her in a variety of ways. The calendar was entertaining and Esmé’s results were often very amusing. This book would suit anyone looking for a quick read to brighten their day.
Esmé Peel is approaching thirty with some trepidation, but hope in her heart. If she can just get her long-term boyfriend Andrew to propose, she will have ticked everything off her ‘things to do by the time you’re 30’ list. She didn’t reckon on finding another woman’s earring in her bed however, and soon she finds herself single, homeless and in need of a new plan. Her best friend Carys gives her the perfect present – The Single Girl’s Calendar – which has a different cure for heartbreak every day:
Day 1: Look and feel fabulous with a new hair style.
Day 2: Step out of your comfort zone and try something new.
Day 3: Reconnect with friends and enjoy!
Despite thinking it’s a bit of a gimmick, Esmé hasn’t got any better ideas, so she puts the plan into action. By the end of week one she has four new male housemates, and despite a broken heart she is determined to show Andrew she can do more than survive, she can thrive.
Erin was born and raised in Warwickshire, where she resides with her husband. An avid reader since childhood, her imagination was instinctively drawn to creative writing as she grew older. Erin has two Hons degrees: BA English literature and another BSc Psychology – her previous careers have ranged from part-time waitress, the retail industry, fitness industry and education. She has an obsession about time, owns several tortoises and an infectious laugh!
Erin’s writes contemporary novels focusing on love, life and laughter. Erin is an active member of the Romantic Novelists’ Association and was delighted to be awarded The Katie Fforde Bursary in 2017. An ideal day for Erin involves writing, people watching and drinking copious amounts of tea.
Whales And Strange Stars is historical fiction, set in Kent in the late half of the 18th century.
In the sleepy waterside hamlet of Wych Ferry, fifteen-year-old Rosamund Euden lives in the Tradewinds Inn with her two uncles, Burto and Joss, and a guardian. Burto is a ferryman taking passengers across the waterway, while Joss transports goods along the river in his boat the Belle Isle.
Most of the uncles’ business comes from transporting goods for the mysterious Mr Antonius. The book opens with Joss transporting a sea captain up the river; this captain stops at the inn and fills Rosamund’s head with tales of adventure. She dreams of a world outside of Wych Ferry, so when she overhears confusing whispered words of magic and the devil her mind works overtime. She finds a useful confidante in Mr Littlebourne, the local Squire, but little does she know that the snippets of information she diligently writes down for him will put her uncles in grave danger.
I loved the way in which the author made the period and the setting come so alive in this book. Joss’ almost human connection to the Belle Isle was a delight; they sailed hand-in-hand up and down the river, knowing every curve and mud bank, in tune with the river’s flow. At this time, smuggling was a constant way of life for many, as the king continued to raise taxes to fund wars in the Americas. The narrative alludes to dubious business dealings by the Euden brothers, supported by more than one skirmish, but it isn’t until the very end that Rosamund and the reader are given confirmation of the trouble her uncles had got themselves into.
This novel is an interesting snippet of life in a quiet English river setting, with some lovely descriptive passages about the life of ordinary people during this century; I was absorbed into the period. The title made me think the book might be about adventure on the high seas (something about the whales!), but I believe it is more a symbol of adventure instead. Even though I was surprised by the content I still enjoyed it very much.
A sea captain passes through the forgotten port of Wych Ferry, and whiles away an hour relating his traveller’s tales to young Rosamund Euden. He tells her that the stars are different, if you sail far enough, that the horizon isn’t quite real, not when you get there; he speaks of sea serpents and whales, and mysterious islands.
To an impressionable girl who has never left her home, the whales and strange stars of his stories come to symbolise the great outside world she longs to see. The sea captain moves on, unaware of the dramatic events he has set in action as Rosamund’s search for adventure leads her into a world of dangerous secrets in the marshlands of eighteenth century Kent.
Torn between loyalty to her uncles, and her desire to discover what lies beyond the marshes, Rosamund seeks help from an unexpected source. But who can she really trust?
Kathy Sharp was born and brought up by the sea in Kent. Life took her inland, and she worked for many years as a desktop publisher for Surrey County Council, and as a tutor in adult education.
And then, one day, she visited a friend who had just moved to the Isle of Portland, Dorset, and fell in love with the place. She has now lived by the sea in the Weymouth and Portland area for more than ten years, and still loves it. The wonderful Jurassic Coast, and Portland in particular, were the inspiration for her Larus Trilogy of novels.
Kathy also sings with, and writes lyrics for, the Island Voices Choir on Portland, and is a keen member of local writing groups, as well as enjoying studying the local flora.
Heart Of Stone by John Jackson is a historical romance based on the author’s ancestors. It’s set in Ireland between the years 1735-1752.
Robert Rochfort is the eldest of three brothers; a cold hearted and jealous man by nature, he is also a peer and member of Parliament. He is recruited by Stafford, a King’s man, to keep the peace in County Westmeath whilst mustering troops for the British army.
When Robert’s father dies, he feels the pressure to remarry (his first wife died) so that he may produce a legitimate heir. Spurred on by the fact his brother George already has a son, Robert pursues Mary Molesworth. Mary’s generous dowry would also help Robert to build a residence to rival George’s new household.
To Robert, Mary is a means to an end and an item he owns. He shows her no affection and leaves her alone for long periods, using his work for the army as an excuse. He keeps a series of mistresses, returning to the marriage bed only to produce the longed-for heir.
Robert’s younger brother Arthur is also an army man. He meets Mary at her wedding and instantly feels affection for her. For years his love smoulders until he can hold back no longer. Mary’s loveless marriage has her eager for attention, but when Robert discovers the lovers, his anger and jealousy have no bounds.
I was very interested to read about the years that covered the famine in Ireland and its repercussions; the plight of the people and the devastation was terrible. I also thought the sections featuring the court case between Robert and Arthur showed so well the few rights that many individuals had at the time. Arthur’s time in prison was also very enlightening.
The author’s style of writing did feel rather clinical and passionless, tending towards ‘telling’ rather than ‘showing’; perhaps it was intentional, reflecting the book title? The information was all there, it just did little to excite my reading experience.
When young and beautiful Mary Molesworth is forced to marry Robert Rochford, widowed heir to the earldom of Belfield, she finds that her idea of love is not returned. Jealous, cruel and manipulative, Robert ignores her after she has provided him with a male heir, preferring to spend his nights with his mistress. Power-hungry, Robert builds up a reputation that sees him reach for the highest positions in Ireland.
Caught in an unhappy marriage, Mary begins to grow closer to Robert’s younger brother, Arthur. Acknowledging their love for each other, they will risk everything to be together. But Robert’s revenge threatens their lives and tears them apart.
Will Mary and Arthur find a way to escape Robert’s clutches?
Based on real events, Heart of Stone is a tale of power, jealousy, imprisonment, and love, set in 1740s Ireland.
Following a lifetime at sea, John Jackson has now retired and lives in York and has now turned his hand to writing fiction.
An avid genealogist, he found a rich vein of ancestors. They included Irish peers, country parsons, and army and navy officers. They opened up Canada and Australia and fought at Waterloo.
John is a keen member of the Romantic Novelists Association and graduated through their New Writers Scheme. He is also a member of the Historic Novel Society and an enthusiastic conference-goer for both.
He describes himself as being “Brought up on Georgette Heyer from an early age, and, like many of my age devoured R L Stevenson, Jane Austen, Edgar Allen Poe and the like.”
His modern favorite authors include Bernard Cornwell, Simon Scarrow, Lindsey Davis, Liz Fenwick and Kate Mosse.
Watch For Me By Moonlight is a Choclit mystery romance.
The book opens with a torrential rain storm and a lightning strike on the church of English stately home Hartsford Hall. The strike is a direct hit on the tomb of Georgiana Kerridge.
Elodie Bright currently works at the Hall; she grew up with Alex, the current Earl, her first love and the man who broke her heart. Elodie always loved the effigy on Georgiana’s tomb, fantasising a friendship between herself and the 18th century girl who died so young.
When Alex and Elodie discover the damaged tomb they find it empty except for a key, bible, pistol and locket. Where could the body be? Elodie has always seen ghosts and the mystery begins to unravel in a series of visions especially when she touches items they’ve found.
A handsome highwayman, a forbidden love, jealously, denial and a cover -up all make up the story of Hartsford Hall’s ancestors. Alex and Elodie find themselves tied to the past as it draws them closer in the modern world.
I liked the idea of the storyline; a mystery highwayman sounded very romantic and I’ve long been a fan of the Robin Hood tale. I was also intrigued, at first, with the ghostly sightings and visions. But the plot was weakened by wordy sentences and information dumping, particularly via dialogue. I found the narrative clichéd in parts, rather than unique to the author. Overall an okay read and one which might suit fans of ghostly happenings in English country houses.
“It was the first full moon since that night. She waited and watched by moonlight, as she had promised …”
When her life in London falls apart, Elodie Bright returns to Suffolk and to Hartsford Hall, the home of her childhood friend Alexander Aldrich, now the Earl of Hartsford. There, she throws herself into helping Alex bring a new lease of life to the old house and its grounds.
After a freak storm damages the Hall chapel and destroys the tomb of Georgiana Kerridge, one of Alex’s eighteenth-century relatives, Elodie and Alex find a reconnection in the shocking discovery brought to light by the damaged tomb.
Through a series of strange flashbacks and uncanny incidents, they begin to piece together Georgiana’s secret past involving a highwayman, a sister’s betrayal and a forbidden love so strong that it echoes through the ages …
Kirsty is from the North East of England and won the English Heritage/Belsay Hall National Creative Writing competition in 2009 with the ghostly tale ‘Enchantment’.
Her timeslip novel, ‘Some Veil Did Fall’, a paranormal romance set in Whitby, was published by Choc Lit in Autumn 2014. This was followed by another Choc Lit timeslip, ‘The Girl in the Painting’ in February 2016 and ‘The Girl in the Photograph’ in March 2017. The experience of signing ‘Some Veil Did Fall’ in a quirky bookshop in the midst of Goth Weekend in Whitby, dressed as a recently undead person was one of the highlights of her writing career so far!
Kirsty’s day-job involves sharing a Georgian building with an eclectic collection of ghosts – which can sometimes prove rather interesting.
Murder At The Mystery Bay Hotel is a light hearted, fast paced, amateur sleuth story and Book One in the Mystery Bay series. Set on a small Florida island, Delphie Beauchamp has been asked to help Mystery Bay police chief Em Lander solve a double murder.
Delphie and her red Dachshund, Huckleberry, return to the bay from their home in Texas. Em reveals that she has recently been named as the murderer by an anonymous caller; unfortunately, her alibi is weak, especially when the murder weapon shows up with Em’s fingerprints all over it.
There is damage to several graves in the local cemetery and Delphie’s skills in historical research are called to solve the case. But she’s made to feel unwelcome by several long standing locals, and is attacked whilst out on a late night walk. Salvage diver Josh Porter comes to her rescue, and ends up helping Delphie with her case, especially after the police chief is kidnapped.
Delphie is a reluctant psychic, and finds herself listening to several ghosts who provide clues and help to solve the mystery.
Recommended for those who really like their cosy mysteries to be lightweight and fun.
Genre: Cozy/Amateur Sleuth Mystery
Series: Mystery Bay Series #1
Release Date: January 18, 2017
Can Delphie Beauchamp, a Texas born research librarian fresh from a break-up with her two-timing boyfriend, help best friend and newly elected Chief of Police Em Landry, solve a double homicide in the old Mystery Bay Cemetery? Chief Landry needs Delphie’s help in solving the murders, along with determining why specific graves from the early eighteen-hundreds have been vandalized. Her canine best friend in tow, a twenty-two-pound dachshund named Huckleberry, Delphie heads for the tropical island of Mystery Bay, Florida where she begins a journey that includes a pinch of gold, a touch or romance, and a wallop of ghosts, in a race to solve the mystery, of the Mystery Bay Hotel.
The smell of the ocean, crisp and briny like a jar of pickles, held just a hint of murder in the air. I picked up my luggage from the small carousel inside the terminal and opened the glass door of the Mystery Bay International Airport. The sultry, mid-October sunshine hit me all at once, along with the sweet fragrance of the red, frangipani trees that bordered the edges of the sidewalk. Amazing how paradise was just a plane ride away.
“God, what a beautiful day.” I dropped my suitcase on the pink-hued coral sidewalk and pulled out my sunglasses. Before I could slip them on, Huckleberry, my twenty-two pound, red Dachshund whined for me to take off his winter sweater. Poor little guy. The outfit worked great for the chilly October weather in central Texas but not the south Florida humidity.
“Sorry, Huck.” I unhooked his leash and pulled off the sweater. Stretching out his long body, Huckleberry trotted over to the nearest hibiscus bush and hunched over. Seconds later he sighed in relief.
I coughed and fanned the air. Guess he wasn’t that hot in his sweater after all.
Marcia Spillers has been a Librarian/Archivist for more than twenty years. Currently a school librarian, she lives in Austin, Texas with her two chows, Bella and Susie Bear. Marcia spent seventeen years in south Florida perfecting her writing skills, along with completing the Writer’s Program at UCLA.
The Cold Room is a murder mystery set in Toronto, book #3 of the D.I. Eleanor Raven police series.
It opens with Eleanor reliving a past case and her subsequent psychiatric treatment. Dr Seb Blackmore concludes that Eleanor is now ready to be signed off from his care.
The action moves quickly to a domestic violence call, which turns nasty as two police officers are gunned down, and serving Canadian Lieutenant Myles kills himself. Both the crime scene and the autopsy reveal some gruesome finds. Eleanor and her partner are hampered in their investigation by the army, but not before they discover signs of cannibalism at his old married quarters. But what did tip Myles over the edge?
In a separate case, reports of decomposing bodies have the police searching for someone who strung up bodies of dogs in a boiler room. Caught up with a body search in the local park, a suicide at a prison and the earlier investigation, the dog case gets neglected until the body of a missing women is also found.
It’s down to Eleanor to solve the cases before heads roll and reports are filed that she’s not fit for the job.
This is a fast paced mystery with a lot of characters and several cases crossing over to complicate the story. Recommended for those who enjoy police dramas.
Publication Date: 8th May 2017
Series: Eleanor Raven – Book 3
Genre: Crime / Thriller
The brand new thriller that will keep you on the edge of your seat from the author of The Safe Word and The Vault.
Winter is settling on Toronto and a series of seemingly unconnected murders are weighing heavily on DI Eleanor Raven. When an army veteran holds his family hostage, leaving chaos and an unidentifiable skeletal human hand in his wake, Raven is left tangled in a web of leads, lies and secrets, with each thread leading her closer to the all too terrifying truth.
But with time running out, Raven needs to re-connect with her past life – the one she thought she’d finally escaped from – if she’s to find out who the killer is before they strike again . . .
Karen Long was born and raised in the English midlands, educated at Bangor University and taught English and Drama for fifteen years. During her teaching years she studied biology and neurology with the Open University and this interest in medicine, forensics and forensic psychology is reflected in her writing. She is an enthusiastic traveller and has spent time in Toronto, which became the backdrop and inspiration for The Safe Word.
She is a keen amateur naturalist with a deep and abiding love for the crow family. She has dedicated time, love and several fingers in an effort to rehabilitate crows, magpies, rooks and ravens.
Karen is happy to correspond with readers and can be contacted through her website KarenLongWriter.com, where she posts regular blogs.
The Safe Word is Karen’s first novel and was an Amazon bestseller, later joined by the second in the Eleanor Raven series, The Vault.
The Other Side is contemporary women’s fiction set in the UK.
Lauren and Rick are together after their first marriages fell apart. Now they are married and living with Lauren’s two daughters. A family friend left them a space in a local allotment which they decide to embrace, although it becomes Rick’s project, with Lauren slower to become enthusiastic about the cold, mud and weeds.
The children who play in the garden behind the wall at the end of the allotment remind Rick of his own children, from whom he is now estranged, and the young voices make him think more and more about the family he hasn’t seen for seven years.
Lauren is busy; she runs a boutique with her sister, is helping a friend whose marriage is in trouble, and she’s concerned that Rick is keeping secrets. Stress, strain and mistrust begin to drive Lauren and Rick apart. Rick stalks the family behind the wall for glimpse of a family he thought he’d lost, while Lauren follows a women she thinks is having an affair with Rick.
An easy read in a popular genre, there’s plenty to keep readers of women’s fiction entertained with an added dash of suspense as the book draws to a close, giving an interesting ending.
Genre: Contemporary Fiction
(Jodi Picoult meets Clare Makintosh)
Release Date: 14th May 2017
Publisher: Parker Press Publishing
Lauren is locked in a cell. She knows she shouldn’t be there.
When Lauren and Rick are left an allotment they embark on a lifestyle change that is supposed to bring their step-family closer together. They embrace the chance for a slice of the good life, fresh air and family times together. Lauren and Rick are in love and happy but sometimes their past issues surface. For Lauren it’s the affair that her first husband had before he left her. For Rick it’s the children he was alienated from and forced to leave behind seven years ago.
One day a new family move into a cottage behind the allotment. That day changes everything. That day they start falling apart.
Praise for The Other Side
‘A wonderful new voice in cross-genre women’s fiction that will keep you spellbound’ Best-selling author, Catrin Collier
‘A thoroughly enjoyable, bittersweet read’ Helen Carey
The door shut with a cold, hard slam sending harsh metallic echoes around her. Her eyes shot warily from left to right as she raked her fingers through her hair and tried to make sense of her situation. She was in a cell. She had asked them not to lock her in, but they hadn’t paid her any attention. Where there had been a face a few seconds ago, there was now a slammed metal door with peeling grey paint showing the cracking blue paint beneath. She hated confined spaces. They told her there was a buzzer if she needed anything. Needed anything?
Panic welled in her chest, her throat and her brain as the grey walls and the naked single white light closed around her. Breathe…breathe…slow…down… This was not the place for a panic attack. Not here, not today. She was alone. She had to get through this. Focus…focus… Think yourself somewhere else.
She thought of her daughters, their smiles and their joy. She lay on the hard thin plastic mattress on the concrete bed, and pulled a thin blue blanket over her head to block out the light, to block out the room, and to block out now.
Kaylor Ward, originally from London, now lives in South Wales. She worked for many years as a management consultant and trainer, writing part-time until her first book was published under the name, Michaela Weaver (Manic Mondays). She has studied creative writing at Masters level, and in addition to her writing she is a qualified Writing Coach. Michaela is a member of the Romantic Novelists’ Association, and a reader for their New Writers’ Scheme. Michaela writes cross genre contemporary fiction with psychological twists often about the darker side of family and domestic life.
Blood Detective is a British police murder mystery with a genealogy theme, set in London.
Detective Chief Inspector Grant Foster is called to the crime scene of a gruesome murder. The victim had been stabbed through the heart and had his hands severed. During the autopsy a mark on the victim’s chest appeared to be a genealogy search reference number. The police call in Nigel Barnes, genealogist, to help trawl through ancestry data in search of clues.
Barnes uncovers historical evidence in old newspapers of a triple murder trail which mirrors today’s victims, as body number three is found. With the media demanding answers, a suspect is arrested, but Foster believes they have the wrong man, as Barnes digs deeper into the case and the clock counts down for the next victim.
This was a well written and thought out plot. I enjoyed reading about the places you can search for ancestry information, such as the National Archives, the Family Records Centre and the London Metropolitan Archives. The story had plenty of twists and turns to keep it flowing well and I didn’t guess the ending, which was an added bonus. The only downside was that my copy of the book had several glaring typos, particularly towards the end; I would suggest the author gets these corrected for the benefit of future readers.
Nominated for the CWA New Blood Dagger in the UK and Macavity First Book award in the USA, and winner of the Prix Cezam Littéraire.
As dawn breaks over London, the body of a young man is discovered in a Notting Hill churchyard. The killer has left DCI Grant Foster and his team a grisly, cryptic clue. It’s not until the clue is handed to Nigel Barnes, a specialist in compiling family trees, that the full message becomes spine-chillingly clear. It leads Barnes back more than one hundred years – to the victim of a demented Victorian serial killer. When a second body is discovered Foster needs Barnes’s skills more than ever. The murderer’s clues appear to run along the tangled bloodlines that lie between 1879 and now. And if Barnes is right, the killing spree has only just begun
The Blood Detective is a haunting crime novel of blood-stained family histories and gruesome secrets.
‘Expertly plotted and with great attention to detail, this is the start of a series that has already put down substantial roots of its own’ – Mark Billingham.
‘A fascinating and original investigation into the dark roots of our family trees’ – Val McDermid
‘There’s panache aplenty in this intriguing tale. Sharp plotting, elegant writing, engaging characters, a cracking climax. A series is promised. Bring it on!’ Reginald Hill
Dan Waddell is the award-winning author of more than 20 works of fiction and non-fiction, among them the bestselling book which accompanied the BBC TV series Who Do You Think You Are? His first crime novel, the critically-acclaimed The Blood Detective, won the prestigious Prix Cezam Littéraire in France and was nominated for debut awards in the UK and USA. He lives in London with his family.
Fortune’s Wheel is a historical novel set in Hampshire in 1349. I chose to read this because Hampshire is my county, so I was delighted that many of the place names were familiar. The story revolves around a year in the life of the villagers of Meonbridge.
So what was life like in 1349? Bubonic plague had just swept through Britain, and Meonbridge lost at least half of its residents. The village was overseen by Lord and Lady de Bohun of the manor, who owned lands rented to tenants. I was very interested to learn that the village consisted of a mix of villeins (peasant farmers legally tied to the manor), cottars (lowest form of peasant) and freemen and women. There was also the miller and blacksmith. The author showed us how the villagers were expected to pay the manor rents for land, businesses and death duties. They were also expected to work for the manor; boon work, giving time freely to bring in the harvest. During the week they would do ploughing, hedging etc. The manor in turn provided housing, a court to oversee disputes, and elected men to carry out duties within the village: a reeve, a bailiff and constables.
There was a large cast of characters which at times were hard to keep track of. However, the main story weaving its way back and forth is about the mysterious disappearance of Agnes atte Wode. Agnes is the daughter of Alice, a villein friend of Lady Margaret de Bohun and well respected village woman. Her son, John, is held back from searching for Agnes by his new appointment of village reeve. Both John and Alice are sure the Lord’s children knew more about the disappearance of Agnes that was first thought.
A second strong theme runs through the story, that of the potential for a peasants’ revolt. There were now fewer people to work the land, the workers were needed for longer hours to fulfil the jobs. There were calls for higher wages and or land offered to the cottars to farm. Both the bailiff and the Lord were against this, quoting laws from the King to cap wages, but with few “free” farmers in the country to invite to the manor lands, a stalemate occurred. Unlike today, when most of us can change our jobs as and when we please, in medieval times peasants were “tied” to the manor of the village they were born into, the law forbidding them to leave.
I liked this story, as it covered a time period where less is known about the everyday life of ordinary people; it created a picture in a way a modern reader could understand. There was a fair bit of medieval terminology, most of which I could make a reasonable guess at and, because I was interested, I didn’t mind confirming the definitions later. There is also a list of characters at the beginning of the book to help with the large cast. The storyline does have drama and a satisfactory ending, but for me the interest was more in the everyday life of the characters and the way they lived in this period of history.
Plague-widow Alice atte Wode is desperate to find her missing daughter, but her neighbours are rebelling against their masters and their mutiny is hindering the search.
June 1349. In a Hampshire village, the worst plague in England’s history has wiped out half its population, including Alice atte Wode’s husband and eldest son. The plague arrived only days after Alice’s daughter Agnes mysteriously disappeared and it prevented the search for her.
Now the plague is over, the village is trying to return to normal life, but it’s hard, with so much to do and so few left to do it. Conflict is growing between the manor and its tenants, as the workers realise their very scarceness means they’re more valuable than before: they can demand higher wages, take on spare land, have a better life. This is the chance they’ve all been waiting for!
Although she understands their demands, Alice is disheartened that the search for Agnes is once more put on hold. But when one of the rebels is killed, and then the lord’s son is found murdered, it seems the two deaths may be connected, both to each other and to Agnes’s disappearance.
Alice atte Wode, the Millers’ closest neighbour, was feeding her hens when she heard Joan’s first terrible anguished cries. Dropping her basket of seed, she ran to the Millers’ cottage. She wanted to cry out too at what she found there: Thomas and Joan both on their knees, clasped together, with Peter’s twisted body between them, sobbing as if the dam of their long pent-up emotions had burst. Alice breathed deeply to steady her nerves, for she didn’t know how to offer any solace for the Millers’ loss.
Not this time.
It was common enough for parents to lose children. It didn’t mean you ever got used to their loss, or that you loved them any less than if they’d lived. Few lost five children in as many months. But the Millers had. The prosperous family Alice knew only six months ago, with its noisy brood of six happy, healthy children, had been swiftly and brutally slaughtered by the great mortality.
Every family in Meonbridge had lost someone to the plague’s vile grip – a father, a mother, a child – but no other family had lost five.
The great mortality, sent by God, it was said, to punish the world for its sins, had torn the village apart. It had struck at random, at the old and the young, the rich and the poor, the innocent and the guilty. Some of its victims died coughing up blood, some with suppurating boils under their arms or next to their privy parts, some covered in dark, blackish pustules. A few recovered, but most did not and, after two or three days of fear and suffering, died in agony and despair, often alone and unshriven for the lack of a priest, when their loved ones abandoned them. After five months of terror, half of Meonbridge’s people were dead.
When the foul sickness at last moved on, leaving the villagers to pick up the pieces of their shattered lives, Thomas and Joan Miller went to church daily, to pray for their five dead children’s souls, and give thanks to God for sparing Peter. Then the arrival of baby Maud just a few days ago had brought the Millers a bright ray of hope in the long-drawn-out darkness of their despair.
But Peter hadn’t been spared after all.
ABOUT CAROLYN HUGHES
Carolyn Hughes was born in London, but has lived most of her life in Hampshire. After a first degree in Classics and English, she started her working life as a computer programmer, in those days a very new profession. It was fun for a few years, but she left to become a school careers officer in Dorset. But it was when she discovered technical authoring that she knew she had found her vocation. She spent the next few decades writing and editing all sorts of material, some fascinating, some dull, for a wide variety of clients, including an international hotel group, medical instrument manufacturers and the Government. She has written creatively for most of her adult life, but it was not until her children grew up and flew the nest, several years ago, that creative writing and, especially, writing historical fiction, took centre stage in her life. She has a Masters in Creative Writing from Portsmouth University and a PhD from the University of Southampton.
Fortune’s Wheel is her first published novel, and a sequel is under way.