The Figurehead by Bill Kirton #FridayReads #BookReview


ABERDEEN, Scotland – 1840

Return to an age where sail was being challenged by steam, new continents were opening, and the world was full of opportunities for people to be as good—or as evil—as they chose. When the body of a local shipwright is found on the beach, neither the customers and suppliers he cheated nor the women he molested are surprised. But the mystery intrigues woodcarver John Grant, who determines to seek out the truth of the killing. His work and his investigations bring him into contact with William Anderson, a rich merchant—and his daughter Elizabeth. Commissioned to create a figurehead that combines the features of two women, John eventually uncovers a sordid tale of blackmail and death as, simultaneously, he struggles to resist the pangs of unexpected love.

Poor old Bessie Rennie found herself in great trouble as a result of stealing a watch from the dead body of Jimmie Crombie, the shipwright, on the Aberdeen beach. Had she murdered him, or did he drown? The local Watch are useless, but John Grant, figurehead maker and ship carver, is determined to find the murderer even if Jimmie deserved his fate.

William Anderson, wealthy ship owner and trader, had commissioned Crombie to build him a new ship, so he is concerned about completing the build, while his independently minded daughter, Helen, not a typical rich young lady of 1840, wants to help her father in his business as well as solve the murder. Inevitably, Helen and John Grant are drawn together as she models for the figurehead for her father’s ship and they begin to share their investigations.

Events slowly reveal which of Jimmie’s enemies might have wished him dead, as the author shows the comfortable gentrified life of the Anderson family contrasting with extreme poverty among the fisherman, thieves and prostitutes. While John is able to span the lives of both communities, Helen takes dangerous risks in seeking out the company of Jimmie’s widow, Jessie. The picture of 19th century Aberdeen is vivid and convincing, while John’s strong, calm personality is a good foil for the impetuous determination of Helen Anderson.

This is a story full of realistic characters, whom we grow to care for and a lifestyle full of passion and suffering. After an unpredictable twist, the mystery draws to a satisfactory, logical conclusion, but the relationship of Helen and John is still uncertain, leading us on to the following book. The well-researched background story of this busy port raises questions to be answered about the business practices of William Anderson and his provision of passages to the colonies so I look forward to reading “The Likeness.”

The Figurehead is available at Amazon UK



Mary Tudor – Princess by Tony Riches #TuesdayBookBlog #BookRevue

MARY paperback (002)

From the author of the international best-selling Tudor Trilogy, the true story of the Tudor dynasty continues with the daughter of King Henry VII, sister to King Henry VIII. Mary Tudor watches her elder brother become King of England and wonders what the future holds for her.

Born into great privilege, Mary has beauty and intelligence beyond her years and is the most marriageable princess in Europe. Henry plans to use her marriage to build a powerful alliance against his enemies. Will she dare risk his anger by marrying for love?

Meticulously researched and based on actual events, this ‘sequel’ follows Mary’s story from book three of the Tudor Trilogy and is set during the reign of King Henry VIII.


My Revue

Unlike other readers I tend to avoid selecting Tudor history, perhaps because of a surfeit of them in earlier years, but Mary – Tudor Princess appealed because she was so little known to me; not Bloody Mary, Henry’s eldest surviving child, not Mary Queen of Scots but Henry’s sister Mary.  Though written in the third person, this Mary speaks to us of her life of duty and compromise and the happiness she found by guile and diplomacy in finally achieving the marriage she desired.


Wise beyond her years, 13-year-old Mary accepts her betrothal to 9 year old Charles, a future Emperor and prepares herself by keeping his picture at her bedside, but suddenly her capricious brother, King Henry VIII, sees more profit in marrying her to the much older King Louis of France.  Rather than being filled with horror, as a young woman of this century would be, she faces her new life bravely, realising that the King’s age and poor health open the possibility of another husband when she is widowed.  To this end she extracts a promise from her brother that her next marriage will be of her choice though she was to find this was not quite as straightforward as she hoped.


The story also deals with the purchase of wardships, where an astute gentleman, such as Charles Brandon, Mary’s second husband, acquired a young ward so that he could gain access to her fortune by arranging her marriage either to himself or to a useful ally. And here too, we see young girls happily agreeing to this state of affairs, just as Mary’s grand-daughter, Lady Jane Grey would, 40 years later. The complex life of a noble lady in 16th century Europe is both fascinating and disturbing.


Tony Riches has given us a likeable, clever Mary who becomes a good mother and step-mother, who eventually marries the love of her life but quickly learns that she and her friend Queen Catherine are tools in a man’s world.  I thoroughly enjoyed entering the French court, watching Henry’s tournaments and experiencing Mary’s joys and sorrows.

Mary Tudor Queen is available at Amazon UK and at Amazon US

Tony Riches Author (002)

About the Author
Tony Riches is a full-time author of best-selling historical fiction. He lives in Pembrokeshire, West Wales and is a specialist in the fifteenth century, with a particular interest in the Wars of the Roses and the lives of the early Tudors.
For more information about Tony’s other books please visit his website and his popular blog, The Writing Desk and find him on Goodreads as well as Facebook and Twitter @tonyriches.

An Interview with Miriam from “No More Mulberries” by Mary Smith

Set in rural Afghanistan during the 1990s, we quickly realise that Scottish-born midwife, Miriam loves her work at a health clinic and the warmth and humour of her women friends in the village, but she has personal problems which she can no longer ignore.  I am grateful that she has agreed to share some of her feelings with us.


Miriam, when you first settled in Afghanistan in 1986, did you have difficulty coping in a house where there was no running water, a latrine outside and no electricity?

Oh, god, yes. Although I’d tried to prepare myself for it, the reality was difficult. It was ages before I stopped reaching for a light switch when it became dark in the evening. I didn’t try turning on a tap for water – there was no sink. It all had to be brought from a spring. Fine in summer but not much fun in winter. Cooking was a nightmare. We stayed at first with Usma, who became one of my closest friends, and her family. I was amazed at how she could cook several dishes at once in such primitive conditions. The kitchen was always full of smoke which was supposed to go up and out of a hole in the ceiling but didn’t. It just swirled around. It’s no wonder so many village women have eye problems.

The worst was the latrine: the 100-yard -walk to reach it so everyone knew where you were going, no flush and the lack of privacy. At Usma’s there wasn’t even a latrine. People just said they were going ‘outside’ and everyone knew what they meant. Jawad built a latrine at the clinic but I soon discovered while Afghan women may be modest in front of menfolk they have no such modesty amongst other women and think nothing of following you into the latrine to continue a chat. When we came to Sang-i-Sia, I insisted we had a proper door (rather than a bit of sacking) with a bolt on our latrine. I became used to everything except having an audience when I went to the loo.

Why do you feel closer to your friends in Afghanistan then you did to your friends in Scotland?

My mother was incredibly strict when I was growing up, and terribly worried about appearances and what the neighbours might say. When I was a young teenager I wasn’t often allowed to hang out with my friends and missed out on all the giggly, flirty stuff. I was actually quite scared of my mother – she could make like difficult for me and my dad if challenged. Unless you’ve witnessed a Scottish ‘humph’ you’ve no idea. By the time I was older I didn’t seem to fit in. I felt I was being judged – not able to flirt, lack of make-up skills, the wrong clothes and wrong taste in music. In Afghanistan I felt free to be me and it was wonderful.

If you had returned to Scotland after the death of your first husband, wouldn’t you have given your son, Farid more opportunities and a better education?

You ask tough questions! It makes me feel I am a terrible mother to think I was denying my son a better education in Scotland than he’d receive in Afghanistan. At the time, though, I couldn’t think of anything other than the loss of his father, my husband. I was utterly devastated. It seemed – still does – to be so important Farid was not completely cut off from his father’s country and culture and family connections. Besides, it could have been quite tough for him in Scotland dealing with everything, including racism. I’d have hated him to feel he didn’t fit in.

What are your hopes and fears for the women of Afghanistan?

While Taliban controls the country I have only fear for the women of Afghanistan, no hope. Before they came I felt that things were changing for the better, however slowly, for women. Schools were opening for girls, giving them opportunities their mothers never had. Health services, including ante-natal care was becoming more available. There was never peace, always fighting somewhere, but in Sang-i-Sia and Zardgul life went on in its own way. People were poor, work was hard and we all hoped peace would come to Afghanistan. Instead the Taliban came and swept everything good away.

How would you describe your husband, Iqbal, to someone who had not yet met him?

If you mean physically, then I’d say he was quite handsome: tall, broad, a lovely smile. Like most Hazara people he has a small nose and slanting eyes. He is self-conscious about his lack of eyebrows from when he had leprosy. I never notice but I’ve learned how important eyebrows are in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Funny isn’t it, my friend Janet in Scotland has hers waxed almost into oblivion and Iqbal would give anything to have bushy eyebrows.

He’s a good man with a strong sense of fairness and doing what’s right, but he’s also a complex person carrying, as we all do, a certain amount of baggage from his past. I didn’t understand for a long time that he struggles with wanting to change things but not wanting to go against his culture. It almost always comes down to our fear of not belonging, doesn’t it?

You can find No More Mulberries on Amazon UK

My review of the book is here


With thanks to Mary Smith for allowing me to interview Miriam.


Woman at the Front: Memoirs of an ATS Girl by Sylvia Wild #TuesdayBookBlog



I chose this autobiography because Sylvia’s experiences during the second world war mirrored those of my mother, but the story of those years in France, Belgium and Germany is fascinating for anyone interested in 20th century history.

Sylvia joined the ATS, as the women’s section of the British Army was called, in 1943. She decided to volunteer for overseas service and as a shorthand typist was sent over to France as one of the few women soon after D-day. Her time billeted with French families was a revelation to her, but despite their initial resistance, she made friends. In Brussels she was reunited with friends and found more luxury and entertainment. Returning to London on her very first flight was alarming, and she was shocked to discover that her family were still suffering from the effects of the wartime bombardment.

The women of the ATS were given little credit, being dismissed by Montgomery as nuisances but their role was essential in the establishment of the British Army Over the Rhine bringing peace to Europe. Anyone who enjoys reading the minutiae of social history of a time almost still in living memory would enjoy this book.


The paperback version, including illustrations is available at Amazon UK


No Way Back by Kelly Florentia #bookreview #FridayReads

No Way Back

Audrey Fox’s Life has become a rollercoaster.  At 41, her long term boyfriend, Nick, has jilted her shortly before their wedding, but a holiday in Cyprus with her parents has not restored her confidence or taken away the pain.  Still haunted by dreams of Nick, she is certainly not ready for any new relationship.

But fate and her mother have other ideas and soon Audrey is falling for the charms of Daniel, a handsome, successful divorcee.  Still unable to cut herself off from Nick who has been involved in an accident, she begins to care for Daniel, but soon it is evident that both men have been keeping secrets from her.

Relying on her friends, Louise and Tina, while trying to help her sister-in-law, Vicky, with her post-natal depression, Audrey careers from one emotional scene to another.  It is refreshing to read a novel about a modern woman in her early forties dealing with relationship, job and health issues and Audrey is a charismatic, eccentric heroine.  This ingenious plot never ceases to surprise right up to the final page and I was delighted to read that there will be a sequel.

Book Link:  Amazon UK


Kelly Florentia

Kelly Florentia was born and bred in north London, where she continues to live with her husband Joe. Her second novel NO WAY BACK was published on 21st September 2017.

Kelly has always enjoyed writing and was a bit of a poet when she was younger. Before penning her first novel, The Magic Touch (2016), she wrote short stories for women’s magazines. TO TELL A TALE OR TWO… is a collection of her short tales.

Kelly has a keen interest in health and fitness and has written many articles on this subject. Smooth Operator (published in January 2017) is a collection of twenty of her favourite smoothie recipes.

As well as writing, Kelly enjoys reading, running, drinking coffee and scoffing cakes. She is currently working on the sequel to NO WAY BACK.



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


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



The Malice of Angels by Wendy Percival


We meet Esme Quentin, at the beginning of this third mystery, packing up to move to the Devon coast where she has friends and fond memories. But first she is disturbed by the appearance of Max Rainsford, an investigative journalist and ex-colleague of her deceased husband, Tim. Max wants information from notes left by Tim and he believes that Esme’s genealogy skills will also be of assistance.

Esme is reluctant to become involved and she is soon researching the mysterious wartime disappearance of her friend Ruth’s aunt, a nurse called Vivienne. The frustrating lack of any record about Vivienne leads Esme to think about Max’s interest in the murder of old soldier, Gerald Gallimore, in 1981 and the possibility of a link to the death of her husband. Soon Esme is making connections which lead her into danger, but she is determined to discover the truth about Tim and Vivienne.

Like the earlier stories in this series, there is a complicated but logical plot and fascinating information about past times, in this case undercover work during the second world war. Esme’s bravery and calm approach, make for a thrilling story which appeal to all readers, not just those interested in family history. It is good to finally discover the traumatic event which caused Esme’s face to be scarred and reinforces the quality of this compulsive series of books.


Wendy Percival was born in the West Midlands and grew up in rural Worcestershire. She moved to North Devon in the 1980s to start her teaching career.

An impulse buy of Writing Magazine prompted her to start writing seriously and after winning a short story competition and having another story published she turned to full length fiction.

The time-honoured ‘box of old documents in the attic’ stirred her interest in genealogy and it was while researching her Shropshire roots that she was inspired to write the first Esme Quentin mystery, Blood-Tied.

Genealogy continues to intrigue her and its mysteries provide fodder for her family history blog ( as well as ideas for further novels.

Wendy’s website is

The Malice of Angels is available at Ancestry UK