Rosie’s Book Review Challenge – A Review from Barb

Continuing with the posting of reviews written by readers who took up The Book Review Challenge, today our review is from Barb. She blogs at

Rosie's Book Review Challengers 1

Barb chose to read “The Black Hours” by Alison Williams.

The Black Hours - Alison Williams

The Black Hours – Alison Williams

Here is Barb’s review.

In the three years of his short career as Witchfinder General from 1644 to 1647, young Matthew Hopkins was directly responsible for the deaths of over three hundred women. What author Alison Williams wants to know is not what happened or even how or why. What she sets out to examine in The Black Hours is who. Who were the murdered women, who were their accusers, and even who was the young man who became the Witchfinder?


She introduces us to a tiny English village, Coggeshall, where seventeen-year-old Alice Pendle lives with her Grandmother Maggie—Margaret Prentice, the village healer. Against the polarizing backdrop of religious and political divisions of the Civil War, witch-hunters claiming to have grants of safe conduct travel the Puritan and Parliamentarian strongholds. They are accompanied by women who administer witch tests such as “pricks” —needle piercings, often faked—to “prove” accusations of witchcraft, an often lucrative career financed by frightened local officials.


When Maggie and Alice are suspected of witchcraft, we see the proceedings from several points of view. Their neighbors—by turns vindictive, bullied, righteous, or frightened—are the accusers. Witchfinder Matthew Hopkins is secure in his belief that he is fulfilling his religious duty, contemptuous of the simple villagers who don’t immediately follow his commands, and self-righteously determined to fight the devil he sees in basically everyone except himself. He has no hesitation in ordering their arrest, torture, and trial. But there are others who don’t give up, who are willing to fight against what they believe is unjust.


What makes The Black Hours so interesting to me is the unusual choice to alternate point of view between the victims and their accuser. Alice’s story is difficult to read in places, as she’s subjected to assault, torture, deprivation, and loss. But it is also one of triumph, a quiet individual victory. With the perfect hindsight vision of history, we want to see the Witchfinder as a monster, his victims as powerless pawns, his allies as weakminded minions. But what we get instead are strong women who fight what they see as the sin of false confession. We see a weak, increasingly sick young man who has no real grasp of the events he thinks he’s orchestrating. And most interesting of all, we see the neighbors. Not only are there the malicious or easily manipulated accusers, but there are those who become increasingly infuriated by the abomination perpetrated against their families and friends. If there are victors or triumphs in this story, and if there is a message, it is that these everyday people are inherently good, and eventually victorious.


There is so much I found fascinating in this story. Alison Williams gave us an amazingly detailed description of everyday seventeenth century lives, with meticulous research and beautiful descriptions of people and places. But more than that, she made me think about so many other witch hunts throughout history. Like Arthur Miller’s play, The Crucible, it serves as a parable for political witch hunts such as McCarthyism and the House Un-American Activities Committee’s infamous hearings that led to the blacklisting of the anti-Communist purge of the American film and media industry.


Seeing the way the Witchfinder is eventually discredited by those he confidently bullied reminds me of CBS news anchor Edward R. Murrow’s challenge to McCarthyism. “We will not walk in fear, one of another. We will not be driven by fear into an age of unreason if we dig deep in our history and our doctrines and remember that we are not descended from fearful men, not from men who feared to write, to speak, to associate and to defend causes which were for the moment unpopular.”


Because she made me think, because she wrote a challenging and entertaining book, and because she succeeded in bringing a difficult historical page to life, I would give five out of five stars to The Black Hours

Find a copy here from or

Letter V on The A to Z April Challenge 2014

Today we bring you letter V on the A to Z challenge. My book today is called “Victoria” and is written by Stephanie Hurt. Genre: Romance

Victoria – 1st book in the Women Of Magnolia Hill Saga


Victoria Slaughter was a strong willed young woman. She knew what she wanted in a husband and it wasn’t going to be a prearranged marriage as her parents had. When the Civil War looms near, her father has to take matters into his own hands. In comes Zane Camden, a hard-working, handsome shipping magnate from Boston. Victoria immediately turned her back on him. Could he win her over? Would her father force her hand? Would the Civil War change things forever at Magnolia Hill Plantation?

Stephanie  Hurt

Places to find me:

Twitter:  @StephanieHurt4

All of my books are available on Amazon, Smashwords,, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Diesel, Oyster Ebooks, Apple iTunes, and CreateSpace.

Here are some randomly selected links to other bloggers who are blogging through April, please find time to visit their blogs too.


During the challenge we are asking people to leave as many comments as possible on blogs, all supportive comments are very much appreciated thank you.

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Guest Author Alison Williams

Today our guest is local author Alison Williams, writer of yesterday’s book “The Black Hours”. Here is a link to the book review.

Alison Williams

1) Where is your home town?

I live in Basingstoke, in Hampshire. I moved here when I was seven, moved away at 21, and then came back twelve years ago.

2) How long have you been writing?

I have always loved writing stories. I trained as a journalist, but then worked in education after my children were born and after a brief stint as a freelance writer. When I hit forty I decided to give up work, go back to freelance writing and also started a Masters in Creative Writing. It was as part of the course that I wrote ‘The Black Hours’.

3) What key factor made you want to write “The Black Hours”?

I’ve always been extremely interested in history and, in particular, women’s history. I find it rather sad that a man like Matthew Hopkins actually existed and did the awful things that he did, but that he is not really that well-known. In fact a lot of people that have read ‘The Black Hours’ think that I made him up! He was responsible for hundreds of deaths in England yet is hardly mentioned in our history books. Consequently, I really feel his victims have largely been forgotten – all too often they are just names on a list in a book or in a museum. We tend to forget that they were real people, with real lives, families, dreams, hopes and fears. What they suffered was dreadful and I really felt compelled to give them a voice. Although ‘The Black Hours’ is fiction and Alice never existed, the methods Matthew Hopkins uses in the novel are all methods actually used on real victims. I hope, in some small way, the novel pays tribute to those real victims.

4) Can you tell the readers a bit about Matthew Hopkins?

He is certainly a man shrouded in mystery. No-one knows exactly when he was born, but it is thought to be around 1620, making him only 24 when he began his witch hunting campaign. There is no information relating to Matthew’s childhood and adolescence, although it has been variously suggested that he attended school, spent his formative years on the continent and that he trained as a lawyer.  His performances in court may give some credence to this claim, but again, there is no evidence to support the assumption.  What is known is that, along with his colleague John Sterne, he was responsible for over 200 executions of suspected witches – more in that short space of time than all the other witch hunters managed during 160 years!

5) Why do you think Hopkins was successful in gaining support for his Witch hunts?

He operated during a time when Civil war had brought great unrest to the country. In times like this people are afraid and uncertain of their future and are perhaps more likely to blame other people for their misfortunes. I think also that Hopkins used fear extremely well – if you didn’t join in with the accusations, you may well have ended up being on the receiving end of them yourself! Also, life was short and cheap and hard and bad things happened all the time. People didn’t have the knowledge to always explain why someone was ill and dying, or why crops failed or why a woman suffered miscarriage after miscarriage. It was easy, and perhaps understandable, that they looked to others to take the blame.

6) Alice’s surname was Pendle, what do you know of the stories of the Pendle Witches from Lancaster?

I chose ‘Pendle’ as Alice’s surname as a small tribute to those executed in Pendle in 1612. I recently published an article about them on my blog. The story certainly has similarities, although it happened more than thirty years before Matthew Hopkins began his witch hunts. Again,  a woman was accused of cursing someone, and, in turn and probably under extreme duress, implicated others, who then implicated more, until nine women and two  men were executed, and one woman, in her eighties, died in prison. It is a familiar pattern, seen in many of these cases both in England and in many other countries around the world.

7) Were the English Witch Trials similar to the American Salem Witch Trials?

They were similar in that a kind of mass hysteria overtook reason and in that more women than men were accused and subsequently executed. Hopkins wrote a book ‘The Discovery of Witches’ in which he outlined his methods – the following year, trials and executions for witchcraft began in the New England colonies. In one of these cases, that of Margaret Jones, Hopkins’ methods of watching and searching were used.  And some of his methods were used in the Salem Witch Trials – so the two are actually closely connected.

8) What do you think was the most shocking torture that Hopkins administered?

Torture was actually unlawful in England, so Hopkins as very careful to use methods that were not regarded as such, however shocking they may seem to us today. Sleep deprivation was one such method that caused terrible suffering. But I think that ‘pricking’ was the worst, particularly as Hopkins cheated. It was believed that witches had marks on their bodies that would not bleed. So ‘prickers’ pricked the flesh with knives and pins until they found a spot that did not bleed. Hopkins had a retractable pin made so that, of course, his victims, when ‘pricked’ with this pin would not bleed.

9) What role did wise women have in the everyday life of poor villagers?

Wise women (and sometimes men) provided a service to those who could not afford to pay for a doctor or apothecary, using herbal remedies for ailments suffered by people and livestock. Some were also midwives, as Alice and Maggie are. Although wise women were accused of witchcraft, it was also often the case that wise women or other midwives were those that did the accusing – I wanted to show this through the role of Annie Everard.

10) I know you enjoy writing about the everyday lives of people in times gone by, what are you working on next?

Since publishing ‘The Black Hours’ I have had a lot of requests from readers wanting to know the story behind Maggie. So I have written a prequel to ‘The Black Hours’ called ‘Blackwater’, a novella that will be available as an eBook in March. I am also working on my next full length novel, ‘Remember, Remember’. I was researching an article and came across some interesting information about Guy Fawkes and the Gunpowder Plot. There was one source (and only one) that suggested Guy Fawkes may have had a wife. This got me thinking – what would it have been like to be married to a man willing to give up everything for his beliefs? If he was married, then his wife was a woman caught up in events she couldn’t control – something that interests me immensely. So ‘Remember, Remember’ imagines the plot from her point of view. I’m hoping to release the novel in November!

The Black Hours

Find a copy here on or

Thank you Alison and Good luck with your next books. I am currently reading Blackwater and a review will appear on the blog in May.

The Gilded Mirror: Corfe Castle by Jocelyn Murray

The Gilded Mirror: Corfe Castle (#1)The Gilded Mirror: Corfe Castle by Jocelyn Murray

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This book is a great read for the teenage market and upwards. It is the first book in a series of historical fantasy travel writing. I chose this book because I have had several holidays in Dorset and in particular the Isle of Purbeck where Corfe and it’s castle are built. Most roads on the Isle lead through Corfe and it is a magnificent sight high up on the hill. Parts of Dorset today make me feel like I’m stepping through to a different world particularly the rural hideaways, so the descriptive scenes in the book worked well for me. Anna is a 15 year old girl who steps through a magical mirror that she finds in her Grandmother’s house and has a wonderful adventure in Corfe Castle during the English Civil War. Roundheads battled Royalists and Anna’s adventure is a good historical lesson for any young reader. This book is the first in the series with more adventures for Anna to be had in Vesuvius and Constantinople in the second and third books.

Find a copy here on or

View all my reviews on Goodreads