Sunday, 31 July 2016

Emma's Keeper Corner

Hello and welcome to the first Keeper’s Corner article on The Review Blog. Please feel free to 
interact on here and on the Facebook page - Review Blog Facebook Page 

Today, I will be starting with a reference book - well, it’s actually a Local History Pamphlet by The 
Bristol Branch of The Historical Association but nevertheless, it’s on my shelf for a reason.  It is Bristol Castle: A Political History by Dr Peter Fleming, a Principal Lecturer in History at the University of the West of England (2004). 

I picked up this book in Bristol Library due to my fascination with Bristol Castle and maybe a teeny-eeny crush on Robert, Earl of Gloucester - illegitimate but trusted son of Henry I and who played 
such a pivotal role in the Civil War between Matilda and Stephen in the 12th century. 

Illustration: The Keep, after Millerd's plan of Bristol, 1673 (J. F. Nicholls and J. Taylor, Bristol Past & Present, Arrowsmith, Bristol, 1881), vol 1, p.75. 

The attraction of this book is its simplicity in fact; key points in the castle’s history explained 
professionally and fully enough if one needed to use the facts in writing.  There is no fussiness, just pawn and political history and some sketches based on 19th & 20th century views of what buildings 
remained.  This can give the reader some comparison, especially if one lives near the site or can visit  (or any sites written about in this fashion). 

An early 20th century view of a surviving castle tower (S. J. Loxton, in G. F. Stone, 'Bristol As It Was And As It Is', Walter Reid, Bristol, 1909), p.99

For me, it was being new to the area and finding that some remains of the castle survive, quite near 
the site of Bristol Cathedral and Library. Finding references to the castle were quite easy, both online and in library but this particular book gave me details of the political usage, be it baron or royalty over the Castle's varied history.

What is now Castle Park with some old remains in a corner that not many people appear to 
notice, was once a true powerhouse (or perhaps not many get excited by touching stonework that 
played such a vital role in British history!).  Even the atmosphere around Castle Park seems to give nothing away of its' past ...

And thus, it is on my Keeper Shelf as a reminder of what a magnificent building it once was but also what that represented - hard facts that weren’t pretty.   

Emma Powell

Tuesday, 26 July 2016

Diana Milne reviews Twilight of Memory by Julia Faye Smith. The author has offered a reader's choice of ebook or paper copy as a giveaway to one lucky winner. To be in with a chance of winning this fabulous novel, simply leave a comment below or on our Facebook page. The winner will be drawn on 2nd August 2016. Good luck!

At twenty-two Henry Townsend had the world in his hands; his cherished Lilly by his side; a bright future planned in his beloved valley home. Life promised him happiness. America’s entrance into WWII turned that promise to dust. Desperately, Henry sought to find a way to serve his country while remaining by Lilly’s side. On the night he found his solution, Lilly disappeared. Months later only one thing promised a shattered Henry survival… a band of brothers: skiers and outdoor enthusiasts like himself. Together they formed the 10th Mountain Division. America's Ski Troops of the U.S. Army. Together they trained for war, made their way to Italy, and fought desperately against the Germans. The same war that shattered Henry’s dreams, now threatened to shatter Henry’s life. Could this same war, somehow save him? Could the peace he had known in his Colorado valley be found in a war-torn valley in Italy? Could salvation be found in the arms of a war-scarred nurse? Twilight of Memory explores the power of memory and love: to hurt, to haunt, and possibly to heal. Get to know Henry, Lilly, Daisy, and the 10th Mountain Ski Troops in this gentle historical fiction love story.

Henry and fellow members of the 10th Alpine division trained here. Henry helped build the camp. Soldiers training at Camp Hale Photo: Aspen Historical Society

It was a genuine pleasure to read this exceptionally well researched book.  It is told from the points of view of both American Henry and Japanese American Lilly and encompasses their lives during World War Two, the lives of their extended families and the Italian and English families that Henry gets to know and love. The book could comfortably fit into several genres; historical fiction, war, romance, maybe others and would appeal to anyone who enjoys a good story well told.
The book encompasses many fascinating and little known aspects of WW2 and I learnt a lot without feeling I was being taught. Contemporary news items add immensely to the scene, as do the vivid, but not tedious, descriptions of places. I could actually see the vibrant pots of geraniums so well were they described.
I found the way that the training of the men for the Alpine Division was exceptionally well written coming in the form of a series of letters, which made a subject that could have been quite tedious to some, flow and become fascinating with ‘Henry’s’ chatty missives. The letter he writes to his best mate and new brother-in-law Walt is fascinating and full of detail about the appallingly horrific conditions endured on the first manoeuvre.

General George Hayes, Commander of the Alpine Division.

Dialogue flows easily and naturally...
Henry jumped in, trying to think and answer at the same time. “Well, no, not construction exactly. Just helping to keep the buildings in good repair on our farm. I can swing a hammer and hit the nail as well as most, I guess.”
“Drafting? Engineering?” Donny asked.
“Okay, kid, what do you do in your spare time? We need hands here but you gotta help me out.”
“Well, I work the orchards, ride the trails on the western slope, ski, hike, backpack, camp out, fish, white water rafting,” he paused to think and Donny jumped in.
“Okay, I got it.” He turned to a man at a table in the back. “ Say, Sam, don’t you still need help laying some trails?”
I don’t think I am giving too much of a spoiler here when I mention that at some point during the story Henry’s father dies.  The letter written by his sister is so very moving that I felt tears prickling the back of my eyes.
The author has thoughtfully put a section at the end covering the factual aspects of the story. More information about General George Hays, commander of the Mountain Division, can be found here

Ms Smith is a born story teller with an amazing grasp of history and human emotion. I look forward to reading more of her work.

About the Author
Julia Faye Dockery Smith, a native of Alabama, now resides in Tallahassee, FL with her husband of 50 years. She is the proud mother of three and grandmother of five. In her retirement she enjoys reading, reviewing, supporting other authors, and of course, writing. She also enjoys research and spent many months enthusiastically researching and ‘getting to know’ the 10th Division. When doing none of the above, she loves travel. She is the author of children's books and a childhood biography of President Thomas Woodrow Wilson. She is now revising her latest project, a biography of Ann Cole Lowe, the granddaughter of a slave who became society's darling designer.
Twilight of memory is available from in the US and the UK.

About the reviewer:
 Diana Milne is an avid amateur historian, future best-selling author and is better known as ‘d.arcadian, letterpress seller extraordinaire.’

Tuesday, 19 July 2016


Following on from my review of Mr Collard's novel, THE LAST LEGIONNAIRE, I manage to catch up with himself to ask him a few questions about his writing and whats next for Jack Lark. Please follow this Link if you'd like to win a copy of the book and to read my review

1) I’d just like to say Hi Paul and welcome to the Review Blog. Thank you for agreeing to be our guest and answer a few questions. I’ve recently read the 5th in your Jack Lark series, and I have to say, I was very impressed by your knowledge of the era, the various armies and the battles in Europe in 1859. You must have done a lot of research. Can you tell us how long you studied the period before you started writing the series and have you had to research more as you write each book?

I thoroughly enjoy researching each of the Jack Lark novels. I generally spend a couple of months researching each novel before I start planning the plot, but to be honest, the process never really stops and I will still be researching all the way up to the time the proofs are finalised. A lot of that is fact checking, but you never know when you will come across something fascinating that can add even more flavour to the story. What is interesting is that the amount of research really does change with each book. I am always very pleased when there is a good amount of carry over between novels. For example, I had to research a lot for Jack Lark 6 which is set at the start of the American Civil War, but happily a lot of that research will support the storyline of book 7 which means I can get plotting and writing a lot quicker. 

2) What was your favourite aspect of research or what was the most interesting feature of the Victorian period to investigate?

For me, it is always the first hand accounts that fascinate me the most. I am much more interested to know what it was like to be a soldier on the battlefield than I am to find out which regiment carried out which manoeuvre at what exact time, or what the generals were thinking when they flung their troops at the enemy. I try to convey that in Jack’s stories and I concentrate on his small part of the battle rather than try to convey an epic portrayal of the battle as a whole. 

3) What were your earliest influences that you can remember and what books do you like to read for your own pleasure? Do you have a favourite author?

Anyone who knows me, or has read any of my books, will have an idea how much the novels by Bernard Cornwell have influenced me. For me he is the master of the craft and I can still recall the feeling of being utterly captivated when I sat down and read my first Sharpe novel when I was eleven. Sadly, I struggle to find time to read much fiction as all my free time is spent researching. I do love post-apocalyptic fiction and thoroughly enjoyed the Dust series by Hugh Howey. I do occasionally indulge in reading historical fiction, but I am careful to avoid anything written in a similar period to my own as I think that may well make me feel horribly inadequate. Right now I am both reading and collecting all the books written by Christian Cameron as I think he really is one of the very best writers working today.

4) I know that you have a full-time job. How do you manage to find the time to write and fit in family life as well?

I try to be very disciplined in finding time to write. I always use my commute to and from work as this gives me the best part of two hours a day I can dedicate to my writing. The rest I fit in when I can, using weekends and time off to get the rest of it done. So far I have found this works pretty well and I can write one to two books a year plus all the other associated work that comes with being a writer. It also helps that I love writing. I never had a great ambition to become a writer, I just thought I would give it a try and I am still amazed to have got so far. Except for a few, rare occasions (usually when I have foolishly started to catch up on a box set like Game of Thrones) I thoroughly enjoy escaping into Jack’s world. It is a treat at the start and the end of the day that I really look forward to.

5) How did you come to develop Jack’s character, did you base him on anyone in particular and how has his character changed in the years that you have been writing his story?

When I started to try to write a series, I knew I would need a character who could stand out and make a name for himself. The idea of an imposter was actually my wife’s and I love the freedom it gives me to keep moving him into new settings and new campaigns. It is this ability to set each novel in a new setting and with a new cast of characters that really is at the heart of the Jack Lark series. Writing a series also gives me a great chance to develop Jack’s character. He starts out as a very na├»ve, and impressionable young man who is driven to better himself and to seize an opportunity for a life that he could not hope to achieve in any other way. The experiences he endures will change this ambition greatly. Through the novels we can see how Jack hardens and the doubts he has about himself slowly disappear as he understands who he is and what he has become. My editor, Frankie Edwards, helps me a great deal with this and she offers a very different perspective when it comes to developing Jack as a character. I think this is one of the best parts of writing a series and I hope that my readers will be able to see how, and more importantly why, Jack has changed into the man he is in each of the novels.

6) Discounting Jack himself, who is, or who are your favourite characters to write and why?

I have a huge amount of fun creating Jack’s supporting cast. Apart from one or two exceptions, each character will only feature in a single novel and, although this gives me a bit of a headache as I need to keep creating new characters, it gives me a great deal of freedom to bring in all sorts of different types of character without being forced to bring along a whole ton of back-story baggage. I am currently planning and writing book 7 and I am having a blast creating this book’s cast.

7) I understand that Jack is going to be joining the American civil war is his next adventure. The American Civil War has always been a fascination for me, though I don’t know that much about it. What made you decide to send him there and what’s been the most exciting aspect of the civil war that you have found in your studies?

I always knew I wanted Jack to go to America and I thought that, with five books done, it was time to reinvigorate the series and have him arrive in Boston just as the American Civil War begins. I am hoping that featuring the ACW will broaden the appeal of the series and I was very keen to avoid it getting “stuck” in the British Empire. I didn’t really know very much about the civil war apart from having watched a few war films at some point. The research has been fascinating, especially as I set the book at the very start. The book features the First Battle of Bull Run which really is a unique battle with neither side really knowing what they were about – making it the perfect place for an experienced soldier like Jack to play an important role.I have especially enjoyed reading the first hand accounts of the soldiers who fought at the start of the war. Their voices really do echo through the years and there has been quite a few occasions when all ideas of research are forgotten as I get swept away in one man’s account of his experience of that battle.

8) How many much more of Jack’s story will you be giving us, before you decide to retire him and will we be seeing any more of his old love Mary?

I have no plans for Jack to retire! The poor fellow has a lot more adventures left in him and I think it will be a long time until I put him to rest (in one way or another). I do have the idea that the very last Jack Lark novel will have a cover image that shows Jack facing the reader for the very first time!
Mary’s return is quite possible, although I think it might be more interesting to see her son Billy feature again at some point. I really enjoyed bringing Mary back into Jack’s life in The Last Legionnaire along with Major Ballard, “the devil” and his ne’er do well enforcer, Palmer. I am not sure I’ll try that trick again, at least not for a while.

9) Have you thought about anything else you’d like to write about that doesn’t include Mr Lark? If so what era or genre would it be?

Funny you should ask that! I have written the first novel in what could be new series. It is set in WW2 and features a new lead character. My agent has seen it and wants me to re-write it. So as soon as I get time I will get that done and who knows, perhaps I can have two series running at the same. It is still very much historical fiction but the character could not be more different. Let’s see where this one goes!

Well, many thanks to you, Paul, and good luck with your writing, and I look forward to reading Jack’s adventures in America, but first I might just have to go to book one and read about his story from the beginning.

You can read my review of The Last Legionnaire here

Learn more about Paul and his upcoming projects at his Website 

Purchase his books here

Monday, 18 July 2016


Please note that the author has graciously agreed to a signed copy for one lucky winner.
All you have to do is leave a comment here on the blog or on our Facebook Page.
The draw will take place 1st of August

He was going back to what he had always been.
He had returned to the one place he had thought of as home in
an attempt to build a new life on the foundations of the past.
He had been wrong.
He was no longer a boy who had worked at his mother's 
beck and call. He was a soldier, a redcoat. He did not 
belong in a gin palace. He belonged on the battlefield,
where his talents had a rightful place.
He had tried to deny who he was.
He would not do so again.

This is the fifth book in the Jack Lark series, and I must confess to not having ever read any of the others before I accepted a review copy. I'm not well-read on the European wars of the mid 1800's, although I have some knowledge of the earlier wars of the 19thc covered in Bernard Cornwell's Sharpe series. To be honest, it would not be fair to compare the two series, because, although there are some similarities, there are a lot of differences too. Collard's character, Lark, is a very different kettle of fish to Cornwell's Sharpe. Lark is as dark and as morose as a 'dark' character can be. He rarely laughs, or shares a joke, and he has extreme difficulty in containing his anger. He also keeps his cards close to his chest. He is the archetypal soldier suffering from combat stress, the horror of war is etched deeply into his psyche, and he struggles with his own sense of self. He doesn't seem to have quite worked out whether he is a good person or not.

Gin Palace in Shoreditch London

The tale of The Last Legionnaire begins in 1859 and Jack Lark returns home to his mother's gin palace after years of fighting in the Queen's army. He is a mysterious character, and as he tries to rebuild his life, he soon realises that people have changed whilst he's been away, and he no longer feels an affinity with the old place. In the meantime, we learn that Jack once had a girl, her name is Mary and she works in the gin palace alongside his mother. At first we think she might still hold a candle for him, and she probably does, she blows hot and cold, but it seems that Jack can't do anything right in Mary's eyes and it soon the heat is turned permanently to off.

It soon becomes apparent that God is laughing at all of Jack's plans for a new life and he realises that not everybody wants to go along with his ideas. When he tries to fight off the protection gang, who come demanding money from his poor old ma, it is evident his knight in shining armour act is not appreciated especially when it worsens the situation, rather than solves it. When Jack refuses to give in to the gang, a tragic event forces him to accept an offer from his old intelligence officer, Major John Ballard, known to Jack as 'The Devil'  who has a mission for him.

After the tragic event, Jack realises that he has no choice but to go on Ballard's mission, taking Mary and her son Billy with them, seeing as she has no where else to go. Ballard, seeing Mary's predicament, who that the girl and her boy go with them, she to cook and clean for them, and the boy to act as a lookout and general helping hand. Throughout the book, we see two sides to Ballard. With Mary, he is kind and a gentleman, with Jack, we sometimes get a glimmer of concern, and at others, it is quite clear, that Ballard views him as a mere pawn in his game. Ballard is a shadowy character and we only get to the bottom of his intentions at the end of the book. One thing for sure, is that he holds the key to Jack's future, and without him, Jack will never regain his identity.

Ballard's party includes another character, a man called Palmer who is also in the pay of Ballard. Palmer is an old war veteran, down to earth and not the sort that stands for any belligerence. He and Jack don't hit it off straightaway, but later, they are thrown together in circumstances that will leave them relying on each other for their lives. Palmer's character adds another dimension to the dynamics of Ballard's party and offers Jack a kind of ally of sorts.

Jack tries to make things better with Mary, he knows he has ruined her's and Billy's life and is desperate to try and do the right thing. He takes an interest in Billy, but Mary is not happy with the influence he has over her boy and rages against him. Poor Jack, this left me feeling sorry for the poor bloke every time he goes near her, and I was struggling to understand how he managed to keep his explosive temper at bay during her constant berating. I wanted to shout, "just give the poor bloke a chance, why don't you?" But, you have to have empathy for Mary, because she has lost everything, because of Jack. She had all that she needed working at the gin palace, but now, here she was, some where in France, on her way to Italy, forced to march alongside a great French army. Not the kind of life she'd had in mind.

The heart of Ballard's mission lies in a battle, the Battle of Solferino. This was the decisive engagement in the Second Italian War of Independence, a crucial step in the Italian Risorgimento. The nationalists struggle to unite Italy, divided amongst France, Austria, Spain and a variety of independent Italian states. The battle took place near the villages of Solferino and San Martino, Italy, south of Lake Garda between Milan and Verona. Until this book, I had no idea about this bloody, devastating battle which took place on the 23rd of June 1859 in the Italian summer heat.

The confrontation was between the Austrians, on one side, and the French and North West Italian Piedmontese forces, who opposed their advance. In the morning of 23 June, after the arrival of emperor Franz Joseph, the Austrian army changed direction to counterattack along the river Chiese. At the same time, Napoleon III ordered his troops to advance, causing the battle to occur in an unpredicted location. While the Piedmontese fought the Austrian right wing near San Martino, the French battled to the south of them near Solferino against the main Austrian corps.

It is into this chaos that Jack, Palmer and poor little Billy is thrust. Jack and Palmer are given their assignment and the guises of French Foreign Legion soldiers, in which lies their quarry. Their task is to find a nameless soldier with blonde hair, aged about 22 amongst thousands of men. It seems like an impossible task. This nameless soldier is the key to all their lives, and Palmer and Jack must succeed, or die. It is here that the talent for battle writing shines from the author's pen. As Jack and Palmer, and a variety of other characters fight their way through a blood-soaked field, laden with gore and dead humanity, we see what they see, feel what they feel, and hear what they hear. If you ever want to know what 19thc soldiers went through, read this book. Its all there.

As the story reaches its climax and its penultimate scenes, the reader is left wondering how things are going to turn out for Jack. The balance of everyone's lives and plans are left hanging in the air, but resolution comes in the end, and not the way everyone might have planned it, but the way is left for the next book. 

For me, this was a step outside my usual comfort zone and I enjoyed the trip immensely. I particularly enjoyed the first few chapters in Victorian London, and wading through the bloody battle grounds and having the French Foreign Legion involved was also an interesting dimension. Paul Collard is a fabulous writer and I wish him luck with the next in the series and highly recommend this book to those who enjoy this era and anyone who loves reading historical fiction.

About the Author

Paul's love of military history started at an early age. A childhood spent watching films like Waterloo and Zulu whilst reading Sharpe, Flashman and the occasional Commando comic, gave him a desire to know more of the men who fought in the great wars of the Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries. 
At school, Paul was determined to become an officer in the British army and he succeeded in winning an Army Scholarship. However, Paul chose to give up his boyhood ambition and instead went into the finance industry. Paul stills works in the City, and lives with his wife and three children in Kent.
You can read more about Paul on his
Amazon Author Page

Paula Lofting is the author of Sons of the Wolf  set in the 11thc. She is currently working on the soon to be published sequel, The Wolf Banner 
Sons of the Wolf can be purchased at this amazon link below

Friday, 15 July 2016

Diana reviews The Lost Girl by Liz Harris

The author has very kindly offered an e-book as a giveaway with this book. To be in with a chance of winning, simply leave a comment below or on our Facebook page. The winner will be drawn on Friday 22nd July. Good luck!

What if you were trapped between two cultures?
Life is tough in 1870s Wyoming. But it’s tougher still when you’re a girl who looks Chinese but speaks like an American.
Orphaned as a baby and taken in by an American family, Charity Walker knows this only too well. The mounting tensions between the new Chinese immigrants and the locals in the mining town of Carter see her shunned by both communities.
When Charity’s one friend, Joe, leaves town, she finds herself isolated. However, in his absence, a new friendship with the only other Chinese girl in Carter makes her feel like she finally belongs somewhere.

But, for a lost girl like Charity, finding a place to call home was never going to be that easy. The book opens in 1868 with the protagonist Joe Carter panning for gold to help his impoverished family and to enable them to move away from the mining town in Wyoming in which they find themselves. The descriptive narrative over the next few pages, indeed throughout the book, is so brilliantly and yet subtly told that I could see an image of the scene in my mind and be able to live it seemingly first hand along with Joe. Joe hears a cry and finds a baby, a baby of a China woman. Reluctantly his mother agrees to keeping the child, who is a girl and calls her Charity but the rift and hostility of Martha the mother to this foreign child immediately becomes apparent. Despite his older brother Sam wanting Joe to work down the mine, Joe remains adamant that he wants fresh air and sun and a compromise is reached when he accepts work in a livery stable. As Charity and Joe grow the growing tension between the Chinese workmen and the miners is wonderfully described and one can sense Charity's growing alienation from both communities, made worse when Joe follows his dream to move away.


Dialogue between Sam and Joe. I love the natural way they talk:
‘You know, Joe,’ Sam said. ‘Instead of doin’ whatever it is you do all day, you’re old enough now to be out workin’. After all you’re nearly eleven now. You could be earnin’ fifty or sixty cents a day, and Ma could use the money. With a second mine openin’, they’ll need lads to work the breakers. All you’d have to do is pick out pieces of slate from the coal that goes by on the chute, and at the end of your shift, they’d pay you.’ ‘Oh, yeah – bein’ under the ground all day would be grand. What could be better than bein’ in the dark for ten hours, with coal dust all around, listenin’ to loud machinery and the sound of blastin’? And never seein’ the sun? I’m not gonna do it and you can’t make me.’ Joe’s mouth set in a stubborn line.

Sam shrugged. ‘You’d get used to it. Me, I wouldn’t wanna work out in the sun all day. At least down the mine, you’re working in your own room, you and your partner, and you’re with a group of men you know. And you can bend an elbow with the boys at night. It’s a good life for a man.’

Harris’ research has been impeccable and her clever, skillful use of words transports you back in time to another part of the world and another life. The characters are so finely drawn that it makes the reader feel that they could be recognised walking down the street, whilst the inter-relationships show a thorough knowledge of people and what makes them ‘tick’. I learned a lot about mining, the areas that the book encompasses and livery without feeling I was being taught!

This is a very strong book, sensitively written by a major new name to me in Historical Fiction. It carries an important message for us some 150 years later. In addition it is a very interesting and compelling study of belonging and also not belonging; of looking one thing but being another; of love in all of its forms and hatred for what you are, not who you are. The love between Charity and Joe is beautiful, heartbreaking and so sensitively portrayed that on occasion it brought tears prickling the backs of my eyelids.

Background to the novel: Although Carter Town is a fictional town, it is based on a real town and it depicts the events that took place in that town in the 1870s and early 1880s. The discovery of gold at South Pass in 1867 encouraged many to come to Western Wyoming, but it was the building of America’s first transcontinental railroad that brought most immigrants there. From 1863, Central Pacific began working east on the railroad from Sacramento, California, employing Irish immigrants, Mexican labourers and Civil War veterans to build the track. After two years, when progress was so slow that they’d laid only fifty miles of track, one of the four owners, Crocker, decided that it would be cheaper to bring in Chinese workers from Canton by boat than recruit labourers west of the Mississippi, and on an experimental basis, the company brought in fifty Chinese labourers, experienced in drills and explosives, to level roadbeds, bore tunnels and blast mountainsides.
 © June 2016 Diana Milne

About the author:

After graduating in Law in the UK, Liz moved to California where she led a very varied life - from cocktail waitressing on Sunset Strip to CEO of a large Japanese trading company. Upon returning to England, she completed a degree in English and then taught for a number of years before developing her writing career. She is published by Choc Lit.
Her debut novel, THE ROAD BACK, was voted Book of the Year 2012 by US Coffee Time & Romance, and in the same year, EVIE UNDERCOVER was published, first on kindle, and recently in paperback. A BARGAIN STRUCK, published in September 2013, was shortlisted for the RoNA for Best Romantic Historical, and later in the year, THE ART OF DECEPTION, a contemporary novel set in Italy, was published digitally. A WESTERN HEART, a novella set in Wyoming 1880, was published digitally in spring 2014. THE LOST GIRL, her most recent full-length novel, was brought out in 2015.
Liz has a story in each of Choc Lit's anthologies: ANGEL CAKE in Choc Lit Love Match, and CUPCAKE in Kisses & Cupcakes. Each anthology is a collection of short stories by Choc Lit authors, with a recipe accompanying each story.

About the reviewer:
 Diana Milne is an avid amateur historian, future best-selling author and is better known as ‘d.arcadian, letterpress seller extraordinaire.’

Friday, 8 July 2016

Richard reviews Dr Margaret in Delhi, by Waheed Rabbani

The author of this book has kindly offered one e-copy (Kindle or epub) each of ‘Doctor Margaret's Sea Chest’ and ‘Doctor Margaret in Delhi’ - so there will be two lucky readers this time. To be in with a chance to win, just leave a comment below or on our Facebook page.
The draw will be announced about a week after this post.

Cover image (Goodreads)
Dr Margaret in Delhi is the second book in Waheed Rabbani's series (the first being Dr Margaret's Sea Chest). It continues her journey from Canada via the Crimea to India, and presents a colourful and varied picture of Indian life of that time, mostly in the Delhi area. I had not read the first book, so had some initial anxiety as to whether I would be able to follow this one. It is clear that there will be at least one more book to follow. It is a lengthy book (nearly 400 pages in the print equivalent) and a lengthy series to become absorbed in.

This story is almost entirely set in India of the 1850s. It follows Dr Margaret of the title (Margaret Wallace) as she travels from Calcutta - modern Kolkata - to Delhi, and experiences life in Delhi itself. This part of the book is easily read with no prior knowledge, as the circumstances of Margaret's earlier life are well explained in various stages. However, there is a short frame story set in present-day Canada, and I found this harder to make sense of. I assume that the first story gave some context for the various actions going on there.

But with so much of the story set in mid nineteenth century India, this is where I shall focus. At this time, the British presence in India was changing from its original mercantile base, claimed by the East India company, towards direct rule as a colony, enforced militarily. It was also expanding from a few major entry ports towards assimilating the whole nation. At this time, British leaders were largely acquiring territory by playing off one local ruler against another, and negotiating settlements which appeared fair, but actually favoured British interests and the rapidly growing ambition for empire. India, divided into a dense network of local principalities, alliances, and rivalries, was proving highly vulnerable to this divide-and-conquer strategy, and was beginning, far too late, to realise the inevitable outcome. The political situation leading up to this state of affairs is explained in considerable detail through the book.

Shipping at Calcutta (Kolkata), 1860s
So Margaret Wallace arrives into this setting, the child of missionary parents, and medically skilled by training. She is also recently widowed, carrying her husband's unborn child as the story opens. Waheed Rabbani has avoided the stereotype of a strident fundamentalist; Margaret's family are liberal in their faith and keenly interested in the diversity of religious expression in India, which allows her to interact successfully with many different people. She comes over as a caring and compassionate person, eager to practice both her medical skills and her ability to teach in all manner of situations. However, she is also lonely, rather naive, and often seems to have no real moral compass to guide her in difficult situations. Her responses to personal or sexual threats are driven more by social convention and personal likes and dislikes, rather than a clear assertion of right and wrong. She is quite luke-warm in her reaction to both pleasant and unpleasant turns of events, and the difficulties of being a single woman in a male dominated culture are in the foreground.

The fascination of the book comes, I think, from its focus. Rather than write an action story describing the military actions of this era, or a political drama looking at the equally fierce deals and betrayals, we are led to walk alongside Margaret as she pursues her own course. With lavish attention to detail of culture, language, custom, religion, food, and so on, the turbulence of the Indian setting is kept for the most part in the background. We have a personal view, not a national one.

Chandni Chowk from the Palace, Delhi, 1850s
However, try as she does to keep away from the conflicts of the rulers, new and old, this proves impossible, and Margaret is caught up in a web of betrayal and false accusation. It is not always clear why some people are so doggedly intent on blocking her progress - perhaps explained more in the first book - but there is something rather insanely determined about the antipathy of her adversaries.

This brings me to what I think is a central theme of the story - the playing out of karmic relationships between people, resulting in constant attraction or antipathy. In terms of Margaret's own Christian perspective, this would be described as reaping what you sow. Certainly her consistent and generous actions towards Indian communities, regardless of wealth or poverty, stand her in good stead in her own hour of need. But whatever the underlying explanation, the dogged way in which those who dislike her seek to ruin her life and reputation is a source of constant distress. Perhaps she will find resolution in book 3, but as reader, you will have to wait a while before you can find out about that.

Definitely a book to read if you like to be immersed in the details of a past society.  The book is set in a time of major transition for India, but the book focuses away from those, in order to explore the transformation of individual lives.

About the author:
Waheed Rabbani
Waheed Rabbani's The Azadi Series:Book I Doctor Margaret's Sea Chest won an Honorable Mention Award in the 2012 Global eBooks Awards Competition.

Waheed Rabbani was born in India, near Delhi, and was introduced to Victorian and other English novels, at a very young age, in his father's library. Most of the large number of volumes, had been purchased by his father at 'garage sales' held, by departing British civil service officers and their families, in the last days of the Raj.

Waheed graduated from Loughborough University, Leicestershire, England, and received a Master's degree from Concordia University, Montreal, Canada. While an engineer by profession, Waheed's other love is reading and writing English literature that prompted him to obtain a Certificate in Creative Writing from McMaster University, Hamilton, Canada and embark on his writing journey.

Waheed's historical fiction The Azadi Series, Book I: Doctor Margaret's Sea Chest, and Book II: Doctor Margaret in Delhi, are available at all Amazon, and other Bookstores.

Waheed and his wife, Alexandra, are now settled on the shores of Lake Ontario in the historic town of Grimsby. More information is available on his website:

About the reviewer:
Richard Abbott lives in London, England. He writes science fiction about our solar system in the fairly near future, and also historical fiction set in the ancient Middle East - Egypt, Syria, Canaan and Israel.

When not writing words or computer code, he enjoys spending time with family, walking, and wildlife, ideally combining all three pursuits in the English Lake District. He is the author of In a Milk and Honeyed LandScenes From a LifeThe Flame Before Us - and most recently Far from the Spaceports. He can be found at his website or blog, on Google+GoodreadsFacebook and Twitter.