Thursday, July 11, 2024

On tour with The Coffee Pot Book Club: Courage of the Conquered by Anna Chant

 



All the wonders of the Mediterranean have not prepared the English for the splendours of Constantinople. As Siward of Gloucester settles into the city, he is grateful to have finally found what he was looking for: A fine, god-fearing lord he is proud to serve and a safe place where he and Oswyth can await the birth of their child.

But as the months pass, doubts creep in. Emperor Michael proves to be a weak ruler, continually threatened with rebellion. Determined to keep the English army close, his promises of reward grow increasingly vague.

With tension in the city rising, Siward and his friends are caught up in the power struggle. While Bridwin maintains his loyalty to the emperor and Siward continues to trust in the friendship of the cunning Alexios Komnenos, Frebern grows close to John Bryennios, a man whose ambitions may include the imperial throne itself. With the friends drawn in different directions, Siward fears they could find themselves fighting on opposing sides.

Desperate to escape, he renews his efforts to find the home the English have so long craved. But the beauty of Constantinople conceals dangers that go far beyond Siward’s fears as sordid secrets and ruthless betrayal stalk the lives of those he holds dear.

As the English prepare for battle yet again, will Siward’s quest for New England end in heart-breaking tragedy?

Book Title: Courage of the Conquered
Series: Quest for New England
Author: Anna Chant
Publication Date: December 28th, 2019
Publisher: Independently published
Pages: 431
Genre: Historical Fiction

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Anna Chant grew up in Essex, with her first home a tiny medieval cottage. Aged 18 she moved to Yorkshire to study history at the University of Sheffield. In 2015, inspired by her love of medieval history and her Scottish ancestry, Anna started writing her first book with Kenneth’s Queen, the tale of the unknown wife of Kenneth Mac Alpin, published the following year. Taking inspiration from both history and legend, she particularly enjoys bringing to life the lesser known people, events and folklore of the past. When not writing, Anna enjoys walking the coast and countryside of Devon where she lives with her husband, three sons (if they’re home) and a rather cheeky bearded dragon.

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Wednesday, June 26, 2024

On tour with The Coffee Pot Book Club: Trouble in Assisi by Heidi Eljarbo

 


Trouble in Assisi 
By Heidi Eljarbo


Assisi, 1973.

On art historian Fabiola Bennett’s first day in Assisi, a local gentleman takes her aside to ask for advice about a painting that has wondrously appeared in the basilica’s bell tower. So much for enjoying relaxing days filled with dining on pasta and gelato.

Soon, Fabiola and her besties, Pippa and Cary, are thrown into a shrouded mystery and caught up in a whirlwind of intrigue, theft, lies, and attempted murder, all of which overshadows the postcard-like charm of the small, historic town.

Rome, 1511.

Life is going well for Teodoro Nicoletti. Since he was a young man in Florence, he has worked and learned alongside the most-favored artist Raphael.

When Pope Julius II commissions Raphael to paint several frescos in the reception rooms of the Vatican Palace, Teodoro follows his master to Rome and discovers firsthand the admiration and rivalry between Raphael and two other reigning artists: Michelangelo and Leonardo da Vinci.

But the prickliest thorn in Teodoro’s side is his beloved Elisabetta’s father. The old man is determined to keep his youngest daughter from becoming Teodoro’s wife.

Book Title: Trouble in Assisi
Series: A Fabiola Bennett Mystery
Author: Heidi Eljarbo
Publication Date: 28th May 2024
Publisher: Independently published
Pages: ~ 225 pages
Genre: Historical Mystery / Dual Timeline Mystery


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Heidi Eljarbo grew up in a home full of books, artwork, and happy creativity. She is the author of historical novels filled with courage, hope, mystery, adventure, and sweet romance during challenging times. She’s been named a master of dual timelines and often writes about strong-willed women of past centuries.

After living in Canada, six US states, Japan, Switzerland, and Austria, Heidi now calls Norway home. She lives with her husband on a charming island and enjoys walking in any kind of weather, hugging her grandchildren, and has a passion for art and history.

Her family’s chosen retreat is a mountain cabin, where they hike in the summer and ski the vast white terrain during winter.

Heidi’s favorites are her family, God's beautiful nature, and the word whimsical.

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Tuesday, June 25, 2024

On tour with The Coffee Pot Book Club: Novice Threads by Nancy Jardine

 It is with the greatest of pleasure that I welcome author, Nancy Jardine, onto The Whispering Bookworm.



A thirst for education.  Shattered dreams. Fragile relations.

1840s Scotland

Being sent to school is the most exhilarating thing that’s ever happened to young Margaret Law. She sharpens her newly-acquired education on her best friend, Jessie Morison, till Jessie is spirited away to become a scullery maid. But how can Margaret fulfil her visions of becoming a schoolteacher when her parents’ tailoring and drapery business suddenly collapses and she must find a job?

Salvation from domestic drudgery – or never-ending seamstress work – comes via Jessie whose employer seeks a tutor for his daughter. Free time exploring Edinburgh with Jessie is great fun, but increasing tension in the household claws at Margaret’s nerves. 

Margaret also worries about her parents' estrangement, and the mystery of Jessie's unknown father.

When tragedy befalls the household in Edinburgh, Margaret must forge a new pathway for the future – though where will that be?

Book Title: Novice Threads
Series: Silver Sampler Series 
Author: Nancy Jardine
Publication Date: 15th May 2024
Publisher: Nancy Jardine with Ocelot Press
Page Length: 356
Genre: Victorian Scotland Saga / Historical Fiction / Women’s Fiction

Join me in a cosy chat with author, Nancy Jardine.

What inspired you to start writing?

My profession was primary teaching and during that time I was asked to volunteer to write some locally-based historical non-fiction projects. During those ventures, I taught myself a lot about researching the material needed to proceed; about selecting what was relevant; about how to use local people as a resource regarding anecdotal materials/ or relevant personal experiences. I learned how to self-edit the material and how to format the books ready for printing/ publishing. When I retired from teaching in 2011, I decided that I should use those skills I’d learned and write fiction. During the last decade I’ve managed to have eleven books published. At first it was with a small independent publisher, then as a hybrid author, and now as a self-publishing author.

What was the hardest part about writing this book?

Continuing once begun! I had just started the earliest draft when a death in the family meant I had to set side writing time and get on with other immediate domestic issues. For many months, I found it difficult to concentrate on my writing. And later, when I was eventually near the end of that earliest draft, I was hesitant about whether it would capture the imagination of readers. I was stepping into new territory in a way since most of my writing has been historical adventure set in 1st Century Roman Scotland, or contemporary mysteries. Writing a saga has meant a different style and purpose to the writing.

Does one of the main characters hold a special place in your heart? If so, why?

A little girl, quite a substantial secondary character, will not appear in Books 2 or 3 except as a memory since she dies in Novice Threads. That was a very difficult scene to build up to and finally write! It still makes me tear-up when I read it again. However, the child will be thought of at times in the later books of the series by my main character Margaret, when memories crop up.

If your book was to be made into a movie, who are the celebrities that would star in it?

Since I rarely watch any movies except historical dramas, I’m rubbish at answering this. My main female character is only sixteen at the end of Book 1, and the only actresses I can think of who might look the part would be Emily Blunt or Rachel Weisz. I can’t think of any young male actors, I’m afraid, though their roles are relatively minor.

What do you hope your readers take away from this book?

That they can be in tune with the different morals of the Victorian era and can appreciate how much less freedom a woman had, especially if they were from a poorer, working class background. Life was really tough for many young women and to get a job that wasn’t domestic drudgery, or mill or factory work, was fairly rare. Daily living threw lots of lemons at young women but being adaptable sometimes meant better survival, both physically and mentally.

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This title is available to read on #KindleUnlimited. 


Nancy writes historical and contemporary fiction. 1st Century Roman Britain is the setting of her Celtic Fervour Series. Victorian and Edwardian history has sneaked into two of her ancestry-based contemporary mysteries, and her current Silver Sampler Series is set in Victorian Scotland.

Her novels have achieved Finalist status in UK book competitions (People's Book Prize; Scottish Association of Writers) and have received prestigious Online Book Awards.

Published with Ocelot Press, writing memberships include – Historical Novel Society; Romantic Novelists Association; Scottish Association of Writers; Federation of Writers Scotland; Alliance of Independent Authors.

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Monday, June 17, 2024

On tour with The Coffee Pot Book Club: Rolling Home by David Fitz-Gerald




Climb aboard! Don't miss the heart-pounding climax of the Ghosts Along the Oregon Trail series. Rolling Home is the final installment.

In the heart of the rolling village, dissent brews as the stubbornest naysayer refuses to continue the journey. With an ominous early snowfall and memories of the ill-fated Donner Party haunting the pioneers, Dorcas Moon faces a new wave of challenges. Just when she believes things can't get worse, a disastrous river crossing claims their wagon and submerges their belongings.

As the rolling village approaches the final leg of the journey, the looming threat of outlaws intensifies. The notorious bandit known as The Viper and his ruthless brothers are determined to rob the greenhorns, sell their stock, and kill every last one of them. The pioneers had heard tales of their brutality, but now, with Dorcas' daughter kidnapped and Dorcas captured, everyone is in danger.

What will become of Dorcas Moon, her family, and their friends? Will anyone survive the perilous journey?

Rejoin the expedition and witness the thrilling end to a gripping saga.

Book Title: Rolling Home
Series: Ghosts Along the Oregon Trail
Author: David Fitz-Gerald
Publication Date:  15th June 2024
Publisher: David Fitz-Gerald
Pages: 254 Pages
Genre: Western, Historical Fiction

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This title is available to read on #KindleUnlimited.



David Fitz-Gerald writes westerns and historical fiction. He is the author of twelve books, including the brand-new series, Ghosts Along the Oregon Trail set in 1850. Dave is a multiple Laramie Award, first place, best in category winner; a Blue Ribbon Chanticleerian; a member of Western Writers of America; and a member of the Historical Novel Society.

Alpine landscapes and flashy horses always catch Dave’s eye and turn his head. He is also an Adirondack 46-er, which means that he has hiked to the summit of the range’s highest peaks. As a mountaineer, he’s happiest at an elevation of over four thousand feet above sea level.

Dave is a lifelong fan of western fiction, landscapes, movies, and music. It should be no surprise that Dave delights in placing memorable characters on treacherous trails, mountain tops, and on the backs of wild horses.

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Tuesday, June 11, 2024

On tour with The Coffee Pot Book Club: Katharine’s Remarkable Road Trip by Gail Ward Olmsted

 



In the fall of 1907, Katharine decides to drive from Newport, Rhode Island, to her home in Jackson, New Hampshire. Despite the concerns of her family and friends, that at the age of 77 she lacks the stamina for the nearly 300-mile journey, Katharine sets out alone. Over the next six days, she receives a marriage proposal, pulls an all-nighter, saves a life or two, crashes a high-society event, meets a kindred spirit, faces a former rival, makes a new friend, takes a stroll with a future movie mogul, advises a troubled newlywed, and reflects upon a life well lived; her own! 

Join her as she embarks upon her remarkable road trip.

Katharine Prescott Wormeley (1830-1908) was born into affluence in England and emigrated to the U. S. at the age of eighteen. Fiercely independent and never married, Kate volunteered as a nurse on a medical ship during the Civil War, before founding a vocational school for underprivileged girls. A lifelong friend and trusted confidante of landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted, she was a philanthropist, a hospital administrator, and the author of The Other Side of War: 1862, as well as the noted translator of dozens of novels written by French authors, including Moliere and Balzac. She is included in History’s Women: The Unsung Heroines; History of American Women: Civil War Women; Who’s Who in America 1908-09; Notable American Women, A Biographical Dictionary: 1607-1950 and A Woman of the 19th Century: Leading American Women in All Walks of Life. 

Book Title: Katharine’s Remarkable Road Trip
Author: Gail Ward Olmsted
Publication Date: 6/13/24
Publisher: Black Rose Writing
Page Length: 226
Genre: Biographical Fiction, Women’s Fiction, Historical Fiction


Excerpt


On her working relationship with Frederick Law Olmsted, Executive Secretary of the United State Sanitary Commission

Working for Mr. Olmsted, as I continued to call him for a time before he insisted that I call him Fred, was never dull, an understatement if ever I’d made one. He was mostly affable and pleasant to deal with, but his rule was absolute and no one dared to question any of his decisions. Some of the staff appeared to walk on eggshells when he was around, but not me. 

Of course, I was always respectful and exceedingly polite, but I’d had no issue with asking for clarification of a direct order, requesting minor changes to policies and procedures, and asking, as needed, for forgiveness instead of permission. He was, to my mind, always fair and courteous. I had no issue with forgiving his occasional lapse into a thorough dressing down of the random worker or two when their behavior had negatively affected one of our patients. I would have liked to give the offender a thorough tongue-lashing of my own, but I knew my role on board and it was not that of an enforcer of the rules nor was I allowed to mete out any punishment. I was there solely for the purpose of assisting the doctors in our efforts to improve the health and lives of the wounded men. And that was fine with me. 

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Gail Ward Olmsted was a marketing executive and a college professor before she began writing fiction on a fulltime basis. A trip to Sedona, AZ inspired her first novel Jeep Tour. Three more novels followed before she began Landscape of a Marriage, a biographical work of fiction featuring landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted, a distant cousin of her husband’s, and his wife Mary. After penning a pair of contemporary novels featuring a disgraced attorney seeking a career comeback (Miranda Writes, Miranda Nights) she is back to writing historical fiction featuring an incredible woman with an amazing story. Watch for Katharine's Remarkable Road Trip on June 13th.


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Thursday, June 6, 2024

On tour with The Coffee Pot Book Club: Shire’s Union series by Richard Buxton

 





Shire leaves his home and his life in Victorian England for the sake of a childhood promise, a promise that pulls him into the bleeding heart of the American Civil War. Lost in the bloody battlefields of the West, he discovers a second home for his loyalty.

Clara believes she has escaped from a predictable future of obligation and privilege, but her new life in the Appalachian Hills of Tennessee is decaying around her. In the mansion of Comrie, long hidden secrets are being slowly exhumed by a war that creeps ever closer.

The Shire’s Union trilogy is at once an outsider’s odyssey through the battle for Tennessee, a touching story of impossible love, and a portrait of America at war with itself. Self-interest and conflict, betrayal and passion, all fuse into a fateful climax.

Written by award winning author Richard Buxton, the Shire’s Union trilogy begins with Whirligig, is continued in The Copper Road, and concludes with Tigers in Blue.

Book Title: Trilogy consisting of:
Whirligig (Book #1)
The Copper Road (Book #2)
Tigers in Blue (Book #3)
Series: Shire’s Union
Author: Richard Buxton
Publication Date: 
WG = 22/3/2017
TCR = 26/7/2020
TIB = 8/12/2023
Publisher: Ocoee Publishing
Page Length: 
WG = 479
TCR = 421
TIB = 424
Genre: Historical Fiction

Join me in a cosy chat with author, Richard Buxton.

What inspired you to start writing?

That sounds a simple question but I’m not sure I’ve ever been asked it in quite that way. I’d written a little in my teens, mostly Tolkien type fantasy, but my academic choices of Geography and International Relations took me away from my creative side as did my eventual IT based career. If I had my time again, I think I’d choose English and History. I’m very jealous of my youngest daughter who is studying English at Cambridge. It sounds a bit cheesy, but all three of my daughters are an inspiration. They were achieving so much academically that it made me think, ‘Heck, some of those genes are mine, get on and do something!’

Coming into my forties I very much felt the need for a creative outlet and the desire to craft a novel was still bubbling away. My father had written when he was young, mostly poetry, and he was always one for trying something new, so he was an inspiration. He passed away in 2010, my mother having left us five years before; there’s nothing quite like mortality to focus your mind. I joined a local evening class, hugely enjoyed it and discovered I had an aptitude for writing. I’m the youngest of five so my inheritance was relatively modest, but enough for me to take eighteen months away from my IT career and complete a Masters Degree in Creative Writing at Chichester University. I absolutely loved it.

Shire, my hero, is not really like my father, except maybe the ability to get on with almost everybody. But Shire’s start at Ridgmont as a sometime farmhand who tends to the shire horses, was based on my father’s work as a boy during WWII as a fifteen-year-old on the Duke of Bedford’s Estate. In his later years he wrote about feeding the horses and putting on their heavy tack. It became a starting point for Shire and christened him. I even kept the names of my dad’s horses.

A further inspiration was the history of the US Civil War. Having studied in New York State aged nineteen and again aged twenty-one, I was already wide-eyed about America. Later in my twenties I discovered the Civil War and was mesmerised by the scale and sweep of the conflict. It’s easy to romanticise the past, as it’s not something you personally have to deal with. Some of my favourite scenes are my fictitious squad talking over a campfire, on a paddle-steamer or, as in the latest book, on the roof of a train. But I hope I’ve done enough to convey how brutal and unforgiving a war it was. It killed more men as a proportion of the population than WWI did in Great Britain.


What was the hardest part about writing this book?

The recently published and final part of the Shire’s Union trilogy is Tigers in Blue. From an emotional standpoint the hardest part was writing the end of the trilogy and the end of some of the characters. Some are fictional and some were real people, either way it wasn’t an easy task. I’d lived with some of these characters for over ten years. Some survive the war and some don’t. I have a special attachment to my fictional characters; they are my creations after all. All their loves, all their friendships, all their traumas are down to me. For the real historical figures their broader story is set, but I’ve read their letters, stood where they stood, visited their graves. I had an obligation to handle any deaths as accurately but as sensitively as possible. I like to think I managed that. They were certainly moving passages to write.


From a more technical perspective, the timeline and the geography gave me some challenges. In books one and two, Whirligig and The Copper Road, the timelines are around fifteen-months and nine months respectively. It’s enough time for the characters to cover some ground, literally and emotionally; to meet each other, to form deep and sometimes troubled relationships. If you don’t count the epilogue-like final two chapters, all the meaningful action in Tigers in Blue takes place over a couple of months. Two of the main protagonists are in opposing armies with their movements prescribed and both need to meet and test the romantic water with Clara. There’s not a lot of elbow room for the plot.

Fortunately, knowing the historical culmination as I did, I’d seen this coming and set up Clara with property interests in Middle Tennessee as far back as Whirligig; she even visits them in The Copper Road. So when it came to Tigers in Blue, she had a ready-made home set alongside the Columbia Pike, the main artery used by the two armies during the campaign. I couldn’t overdo the happenstance meetings or it would have become farcical, but as the relationships were already well established, I didn’t really need to. Tigers in Blue is very much a climactic novel, all the plot lines and characters converging at the end as per the history. Knowing this hugely informed the setting and the point of view characters I employed.


Does one of the main characters hold a special place in your heart? If so, why?

What a lovely question. I think that would have to be Tuck. Tuck is a Kentuckian in an Ohio regiment, but way more at home than Shire. He becomes Shire’s best friend, what was called his pa’rd (or partner) at the time. They would share a dog tent together on the march and rations when they needed to. Tuck’s introduction came when the regiment was being formed in December 1862 at Cleveland, Ohio:

‘The tall man had no rifle and his uniform was too short, an inch of pale skin showed above his boots. He had an odd gait as he walked, rather than marched; his lower legs and forearms appearing to swing past the usual stopping point, as if a vital ligament was missing.’

I based Tuck in part on Lincoln (also born in Kentucky) and tried to give Tuck Lincoln’s wit and horse sense. Tuck and Shire bond because they are both outsiders, but Tuck is much more streetwise and acts almost as a big brother to Shire in the first book, Whirligig, sometimes getting him out of trouble and sometimes into it, as big brothers are wont to do. He’s a fixer and always ready to fleece the unwary with some contraband stashed in his knapsack. Later in the trilogy the dynamic shifts and it’s Tuck, worn down to breaking point by the war and all he’s seen, who needs Shire’s help. Tuck is entirely fictional but hails from Bourbon County, Kentucky, and each Christmas he sends my very good Ohioan friend and pa’rd Jeff Houston (we’ve done the tent thing) a bottle of locally distilled whiskey.


If your book was to be made into a movie, who are the celebrities that would star in it?

I like a good movie but I’m not across all the actors, so my Beta readers helped me out big-time with this, which was fun. My thanks to them. Here we go.

Tom Holland for Shire. Fresh faced and youthful at the start of the trilogy but he’d carry some scars by the end.

Florence Pugh in her Lady MacBeth guise is perfect for Clara. Dark looks, serious demeanour.



Rhys Ifans as Tuck. Nice and tall. He also has Tuck’s mischievous air about him.

Peter Ferdinando for the bruff and worn Sergeant Ocks.

James Norton for blond, blue-eyed Taylor, if James is not too busy playing all the other badies.


What do you hope your readers take away from this book?


Above all, I hope my books transport the reader, that they empathise with the characters and enjoy the story. That’s what all writers want. Shire’s Union is an adventure story wrapped around a love story set against what I hope is a convincing and epic backdrop.

What they take away will likely depend on whether they are at least in part familiar with the US Civil War. I hope those who know it, find the books convincing and well researched. For those who don’t, I hope it makes them aware of the magnitude and the ferocity of the war and what was a crucial struggle in the history of America and the western world. 

I was surprised myself in my twenties to discover the scale of America’s civil war. I sometimes try to explain it this way. Imagine you meet someone in middle-life, maybe through work or a mutual acquaintance. They come into your social group and you become firm friends. In the years that follow, often just the two of you go out for a drink and chew the fat. You think you know them well. Then one day they open up to you about a trauma they suffered earlier in life, something that has shaped them into who they are now, and you realise that you only partially knew them before. The Civil War is America’s great trauma. Without knowing something about it, I don’t believe you can begin to understand the America of today. The low estimate is that the war killed 650,000 people. It ended slavery and preserved the Union, but the echoes of the war shaped America for decades to come, right up to the here and now.

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Richard lives with his family in the South Downs, Sussex, England. He completed an MA in Creative Writing at Chichester University in 2014. He has an abiding relationship with America, having studied at Syracuse University, New York State, in the late eighties. He travels extensively for research, especially in Tennessee, Georgia and Ohio, and is rarely happier than when setting off from a motel to spend the day wandering a battlefield or imagining the past close beside the churning wheel of a paddle steamer.

Richard’s short stories have won the Exeter Story Prize, the Bedford International Writing Competition and the Nivalis Short Story Award. His first novel, Whirligig (2017) was shortlisted for the Rubery International Book Award. It was followed by The Copper Road (2020) and the Shire’s Union trilogy was completed by Tigers in Blue (2023). To learn more about Richard’s writing visit www.richardbuxton.net.


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Sunday, June 2, 2024

On tour with The Coffee Pot Book Club: The Sand Vines by Michèle Callard @cathiedunn



Bordeaux 1870 – Life is hard on the moor.

If Flore, a shepherd’s daughter, is not married by autumn, she must go into service and lose everything she holds dear.

Back form the French army, the dashing Ricar has set her heart and body on fire. Will he propose to her before it is too late?

Martial the viscount’s son adores Flore from afar. Aware that she can never be his. When a betrayal and a forest fire put Flore in danger, Martial seizes his chance, grabs her hand and takes her to safety far away in the north of France, hoping they might start afresh, but war looms. . .

Will it bring them together or tear them apart?


Book Title: The Sand Vines
Series: The Vine Saga
Author: Michèle CALLARD
Publication Date: 01 May 2024
Publisher: Millefeuille Press
Page Length: 400
Genre: Historical fiction


Excerpt


Life on the moor. 

They had reached Noirac. In the shade of the common barn, women were threshing wheat to the slow rhythm of a song, hitting the ears over a cloth spread on the ground. Dripping with sweat under the midday sun, two men held winnowing fans at head height, rhythmically shaking the grain against the wind and pouring it at their feet in a steady trickle while the chaff naturally settled a few feet away. 

‘They never get to eat any of that wheat.’ Martial could not keep the bitterness from his voice. ‘It just goes to us. They stick to rye.’

Hugo shook his head. ‘Father’s right. This world is too harsh for the likes of you.’ 

‘You can’t have it both ways, Hugo. We talk of the future, and yet here in Les Landes we still have serfs.’ Martial reined in his mare. ‘The problem with Father is that he won’t stand dissent. If you’re not with him, you’re against him. He’ll force me to buy plots of common land, and damn me if I refuse.’

‘But why would you refuse? The emperor made the land available by law in 1857, Martial. That was years ago. We’re not actually stealing it.’

They led their mounts to the little church set in a far corner of the airial, its thick walls of whitewashed cob and gingerbread stone a cool refuge. 

Flore stepped out of an outbuilding, slender and proud, an oblong basket resting against her hip. 

Martial’s mouth went dry. 

She curtsied and cast them a shy glance from beneath the sun hat she wore over her bonnet. 

A shower of stars burst inside Martial’s chest. 

Adishatz, Father. Would you like some grapes? They are from our sand vines.’ She tore a piece from a cluster and handed it to him.

‘Thank you.’ He swallowed hard. ‘Flore, meet Hugo, my brother.’

Hugo pointed to her basket. ‘Your family makes the sacramental wine, am I right?’

She nodded and handed him a bunch of grapes. ‘We’ll be harvesting soon.’ 

‘I might come around and help.’ 

Flore blushed, curtsied and walked away, taking Martial’s heart with her. 

Hugo’s gaze remained glued to the basket swaying against her hip. ‘The Esmeralda of Noirac. What a beauty! She has more poise than our empress.’ His eyes crinkled. ‘How do you cope with your vows of chastity?’

‘Some days are easier than others,’ Martial said honestly. ‘Don’t get ideas now; the girl is spoken for.’

‘I’m sure she is.’ Hugo popped a grape into his mouth. ‘Who’s the lucky fellow?’

‘The tallest of the brutes you saw winnowing the wheat. He’s the one our engineer is proposing to take as his assistant.’ Martial said in a growl, ‘I hope he stands by her.’

His brother’s laugh rang out in the morning air. ‘Uncle is right. It’s high time he found you a plush little parish in Bordeaux. We can’t have a Boyer de Pagny siding with the serfs, upsetting the system that has served us so well for centuries.’

‘But that’s just it. We’re in 1870. The Revolution eradicated serfdom eighty years ago, and yet for some reason we have kept it going! I preach poverty and dine on wild boar and white bread, while those people make do with corn gruel every single day of their miserable lives.’ Martial gathered his reins and prepared to dismount. ‘I just can’t understand why Uncle doesn’t abolish the tithe once and for all. He’s a bishop, isn’t he? All he has to do is—’ 

‘Ah, Uncle loves foie gras. Why would he stop his parishioners from giving him fattened geese?’

‘Because—’  

‘A disciple of Epicurus as well as Lord Jesus, our good uncle loves everything life has to offer. He even has a mistress tucked away in Bordeaux.’

‘A mistress!’ Mouth open, Martial slid down from his mare in slow motion.

‘Oh, Martial.’ Hugo chortled. ‘What an innocent you are.’

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Michèle Callard grew up in France. A country girl at heart, she swapped her Paris flat for a cottage in rural England where she lives with her Irish husband and the youngest of her three sons.

She writes fast-paced novels set in different regions of France, bursting with authentic characters, colours, flavours and history.

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On tour with The Coffee Pot Book Club: Courage of the Conquered by Anna Chant

  All the wonders of the Mediterranean have not prepared the English for the splendours of Constantinople. As Siward of Gloucester settles i...