The Mermaid and the Bear by Ailish Sinclair #BookReview #RBRT #NewRelease

The Mermaid

Isobell needs to escape. She has to. Her life depends on it.

She has a plan and it’s a well thought-out, well observed plan, to flee her privileged life in London and the cruel man who would marry her, and ruin her, and make a fresh start in Scotland.

She dreams of faery castles, surrounded by ancient woodlands and misty lochs… and maybe even romance, in the dark and haunted eyes of a mysterious Laird.

Despite the superstitious nature of the time and place, her dreams seem to be coming true, as she finds friendship and warmth, love and safety. And the chance for a new beginning…

Until the past catches up with her.

Set in the late sixteenth century, at the height of the Scottish witchcraft accusations, The Mermaid and The Bear is a story of triumph over evil, hope through adversity, faith in humankind and – above all – love.

My Review

Scotland in 1597 was not a place to be a woman, especially a woman of faith, opinions or healing gifts.  But Isobell has fled from her London home to avoid marriage to a cruel Englishman and has found kindness and friendship in a Scottish castle.  Hiding her wealthy background, she starts work as a kitchen maid but her clumsy mistakes reveal her lack of experience.  While Bessie, the housekeeper guards her secrets, Isobell must be more cautious with Agnes, the spiteful governess and Christen, the aristocratic lady of the house.

Soon Isobell is captivated by the impressive castle and its fairy tale setting and she finds meeting the Laird is an overwhelming experience. It is a pleasure to read of their growing romance despite misunderstandings but as they grow closer, others gather to cause pain and suffering.

This carefully researched story is based on true events in Aberdeen when cruel men gained power over innocent women by accusing them of witchcraft.  It is a horrifying story from our history, mirrored in other parts of the United Kingdom.  Thankfully in The Mermaid and the Bear the sadness is tempered by love and kinship in a believable and satisfying conclusion.  An enchanting novel.

The Mermaid and the Bear can be pre-ordered for release on Oct. 18th at Amazon UK

Ailish

Ailish Sinclair

Ailish Sinclair trained as a dancer and taught dance for many years, before working in schools to help children with special needs. A short stint as a housekeeper in a castle fired her already keen interest in untold stories of the past and she sat down to research and write.

She now lives beside a loch with her husband and two children where she still dances and writes and eats rather a lot of chocolate.

To learn more about the beautiful Scottish countryside, castles and the Standing Stones please go to  Ailishsinclair.com

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The Spider and the Stone: A Novel of Scotland’s Black Douglas by Glen Craney

Spider

As the 14th century dawns, Scotland’s survival hangs by a spider’s thread. While the clans fight among themselves for the empty throne, Edward Longshanks of England schemes to annex the ancient northern kingdom to his Plantagenet realm.

But one frail, dark-skinned lad stands in the brutal monarch’s path.  James Douglas is cherished by his fellow Scots as the Good Sir James. Yet his daring raids across the border inflict such havoc that the English brand him the Black Douglas and nearly bankrupt their treasury to capture him.

As a boy, James falls in love with the ravishing Isabelle MacDuff, whose clan for centuries has inaugurated Scottish monarchs on the hallowed Stone of Destiny. Yet their world is upturned when James befriends Robert Bruce, a bitter enemy of the MacDuffs. Forced to choose between love and clan loyalty, James and Isabelle make a fateful decision that draws the armies to the bloody field of Bannockburn.

Isabelle MacDuff will crown a king.

James Douglas will carry a king’s heart.

Both will pay an unthinkable price for Scotland.

Here is the little-known story of Scotland’s War of Independence and the remarkable events that followed the execution of William Wallace, whose legend was portrayed in the movie Braveheart. At last, James Douglas takes his rightful place with Wallace and Bruce in the pantheon of Scottish heroes. This thrilling epic leads us to the miraculous Stone of Destiny, to the famous Spider in the Cave, to the excommunicated Knights Templar and Freemasons, to the suppressed Culdee Church, to the initiation of Christ in Britain, and to the unprecedented Declaration of Arbroath, which inspired the American Declaration of Independence four hundred years later.

My Review

I have always been intrigued by the story of Robert the Bruce and yet he seemed a shadowy figure, but the Black Douglas, or James Douglas the Good, as the Scots called him, is an even more mysterious character. In this saga, Glen Craney interweaves, known facts with imagination and mysticism to play out the tortuous life of love and devotion of James Douglas. Ever loyal to his friend and later King, Robert, he suspends his own happiness for the sake of Scotland.  In Isabelle Macduff he has found his one true love, but she also puts her country before her own desires.

This is a story of guerrilla warfare, skirmishes and bloody battle.  The cruelty of the English Kings and disloyal Scots is met by brotherhood, sacrifice and persistence.  The intensity of the plot is lightened by fascinating historical figures such as the She-Wolf, Isabella of France, who married an unworthy English King, and humour is provided by Ned Sweeney, the lively and faithful monk.

The intense suffering of the women is matched by the heroism and violent death of so many of the soldiers.  Every scene rings true as if you were there struggling through the mud or shivering in a castle too, and I wanted James and Belle to find a way to free Scotland and themselves.  A recommended read for those who wish to know more about early Scottish history and the hand of fate.

The Spider and the Stone can be found at Amazon UK

My Review of The Virgin and the Wind Rose by Glen Craney

The Prodigal Son by Anna Belfrage (The Graham Saga Book 3) #BookReview

Prodigal

Safely returned from an involuntary stay in Virginia, Matthew Graham finds the Scottish Lowlands torn asunder by religious strife. His Restored Majesty, Charles II, requires all his subjects to swear fealty to him and the Church of England, riding roughshod over any opposition.

In Ayrshire, people close ranks around their evicted Presbyterian ministers. But disobedience comes at a high price, and Alex becomes increasingly nervous as to what her Matthew is risking by his support of the clandestine ministers – foremost amongst them the charismatic Sandy Peden.

Privately, Alex considers Sandy an enervating fanatic and all this religious fervour is incomprehensible to her. So when Matthew repeatedly sets his faith and ministers before his own safety, he puts their marriage under severe strain.
The situation is further complicated by the presence of Ian, the son Matthew was cruelly duped into disowning several years ago. Now Matthew wants Ian back and Alex isn’t entirely sure this is a good thing.

Things are brought to a head when Matthew places all their lives in the balance to save his dear preacher from the dragoons.
How much is Matthew willing to risk? How much will he ultimately lose?

My Review

I have intended to read a book from The Graham Saga for some time but I chose this particular book because of its inclusion of the story of the Scottish Covenanters who risked death and persecution to maintain their Presbyterian faith, especially as this included my own ancestors.

Although it would be best to read this saga from Book One, I was quickly able to enter into the storyline by the author’s reference to relevant parts of the backstory.  Essentially this is an alternative Outlander story; in 2002 Alexandra has been thrown back into 17th century Scotland where she meets handsome, brave Matthew Graham.  In The Prodigal Son we find Alex struggling with the physical demands of life as a mother on a Scottish farm, passionately in love with her husband Matthew but increasingly worried by his reckless support of Alexander Peden, “the Prophet,” who is sought by the English soldiers of Charles II.

This complex plot highlights the clash of opinions about the behaviour of men and women in a marriage between a 21st century woman and a 17th century man but it also shows the power of love and understanding.  There are interesting discussions about beliefs between Alex and her husband and sister-in-law, and her difficulty in coping with mistreatment by the soldiers is accentuated by her modern background.

I found this timeslip story fascinating and now wish to read the first book in the series to discover some of the mysterious events which brought Matthew and Alex together.

The Prodigal Son on Amazon UK

Anna

Introducing Anna Belfrage

The Lewis Man: Book Two of the Lewis Trilogy by Peter May #BookReview

Lewis Man

 

 AN INGENIOUS CRIME THRILLER ABOUT MEMORY AND MURDER.

 
A MAN WITH NO NAME
An unidentified corpse is recovered from a Lewis peat bog; the only clue to its identity being a DNA sibling match to a local farmer.
A MAN WITH NO MEMORY
But this islander, Tormod Macdonald – now an elderly man suffering from dementia – has always claimed to be an only child.

A MAN WITH NO CHOICE

When Tormod’s family approach Fin Macleod for help, Fin feels duty-bound to solve the mystery.

 

This second volume in the Lewis Chronicle can easily be read in isolation. We soon become well acquainted with Fin MacLeod who after personal tragedy has left his job as an Edinburgh police Inspector to return to his birthplace on the Isle of Lewis. Sleeping in a tent is not ideal in an inclement climate, but Fin intends to restore his old family home while building a relationship with the teenage son, Fionnlagh, whom he only discovered 9 months earlier. Meanwhile the local police have unearthed a “peat man” hidden in the bog which may not be as ancient as it appears.

What makes this story unique, is that we can enter the mind of Fionnlagh’s grandfather, Tormod MacDonald, as he rapidly descends into the fog of dementia. Thus, he is our unreliable witness to events many years earlier. He takes us into the realm of Catholic orphans in the 1940s and 50s. In a less formal way than the British Home Children sent to Canada and Australia, these boys and girls were labelled and put on ferries to the Hebrides where they would live and work for subsistence farmers.

Fin investigates Tormod’s background in an attempt to discover the link between him and the body in the peat bog. He travels south giving the reader superb descriptions of the scenery and geography of the islands and with a touch of serendipity makes the link, but in so doing he brings danger to his extended family. There is drama, pathos and a real understanding of complex family structures. Another superb book by Peter May.

The Lewis Man on Amazon UK

 

The Black House (Lewis Trilogy #1) by Peter May #FridayReads

blackhouse

I have recently discovered the delights of Tartan Noir and more specifically the mystery of unexplained deaths on the sparse vegetation of the windswept northern Isles.

In The Black House the preface shows us the body of an unpleasant murder victim hanging on the island of Lewis. DI Fin MacLeod is sent over from Edinburgh to liaise with the locals as he was brought up on Lewis, but there are reasons why he left the island as soon as he left school and some of his reunions bring back distressing memories.

While the present-day investigation continues in the 3rd person, Fin tells his own story from the past in alternate chapters.  There is a mystery to be solved which may link to a similar murder in Edinburgh, but the increasingly tortured Fin begins to realise that he is still part of the community and he must open up old wounds.

This is a beautifully written novel, with striking descriptive passages, of the beauty of Lewis in the sunshine, of the terrifying voyages out to the island of Ag Sgeir and the despair of young people who give up hope.  The description of the Guga hunters, men who risk danger to take gannet chicks from the rock once year, is not pleasant but is essential to the plot.

This exceptional book is a compelling read and I shall certainly be moving on to the sequel.

The Black House on Amazon UK

Girl in the Castle by Lizzie Lamb #BookReview #Scotland #Highlands

Castle

Having discovered when I read Scotch on the Rocks what a talented writer Lizzie Lamb is, I was happy to begin reading about Dr Henriette Bruar, the Girl in the Castle.  Leaving behind a disastrous event at St Guthlac’s University, which has ruined her academic reputation, Henri is travelling to a remote Highland castle to catalogue and value the Laird’s books and begin writing her thesis on the Highland clearances.

But Henri is not welcomed.  Almost abandoned by the side of the loch in the gathering Autumn dusk by Lachlan, a small old retainer who wants no “wee lassie going over” to the castle, it appears that even Alice Dougal, the housekeeper wants her to leave the next day.  But the Laird, Sir Malcolm MacKenzie is hoping she will find valuable books to restore his dwindling funds and Henri is determined to prove her worth.  Unfortunately, she makes a bad impression on Keir, the handsome son and heir, who believes she is one of his father’s lady-friends.

As Henriette becomes accepted as part of the unhappy household, she begins to bring light into their sad lives, never recovered from a tragedy during Keir’s childhood.  But when she meets Ciorstaidh, Keir’s cousin, she is told in no uncertain terms that Keir is already promised to her.

But like Lizzie’s other books this is a complex story of magic, mystery and fascinating history.  An exciting team game of shinty is described in detail and on October 31st, the Celtic customs of Samhain are re-enacted.  The social repercussions of arranged marriages and debt and the need for an heir and a spare make fascinating reading, contrasting with the beliefs of a 21st century woman.

This convincing romance, beginning in conflict and distrust, is set in stunning scenery which comes to life through Henri’s experiences and Keir’s enthusiasm for his birthright.   A great read!

You can find Girl in the Castle on Amazon UK

and on Amazon US