Coronation by Justin Newlands

It is a great pleasure to be part of the blog tour run by Love Books Group for the fabulous new novel Coronation by Justin Newlands and published by Matador Books. The author has kindly supplied an excerpt from the book.


This extract is from Chapter 12. It’s from the point of view of Marion, Countess von Adler. It features a seminal moment in the story. Marion is with her brother, Dieter von Bernstein, when the King’s Chamberlain pays a visit and makes an unusual request.

There was a knock at the front door, followed by a flurry of activity at the entrance.

Philip announced to a room full of excited anticipation, “Heinrich Graf von Lehndorff.”

Marion asked, “The King’s chamberlain is here?”

“Apparently,” Aunt Charlotte said, as if it was a common occurrence to be visited by a close confidant of the Prussian royal family. “Show him in.”

Von Lehndorff had a high, wide brow and prominent chin. A tall man with a strong, personal presence, he gave a well-practised bow and greeted them. “Ah, the lovely Marion Gräfin von Adler. We meet again, so soon after the cathedral. I am fortunate indeed,” he added, kissing the back of her hand with charm aplenty.

She blushed appropriately.

“Kammerherr, to what do we owe this honour?” Dieter asked.

“Herr von Bernstein,” he said. “I believe you are the owner of the Anna Amber Mine.”

“Yes, I am,” Dieter replied with a note of pride.

“Good, because yesterday I received this correspondence from the King,” von Lehndorff replied, fingering an envelope with his white silken gloves. “He wishes me to inquire about a large supply of amber.”

Dieter’s eyes lit up. “In what regard?”

“I will explain,” von Lehndorff said. “You will be aware that, at the opening of the century, the King’s father, Frederick I, built an Amber Room and donated it to Emperor Peter the Great of Russia.”

“It’s well known throughout Europe,” Dieter agreed. “Lothar, my father, supplied the amber for it from the Anna Mine and helped with its construction.”

“The King wishes to design and build a new Amber Room, one that is both more elaborate and greater in artistic pedigree than the original.”

“This is wonderful news,” Marion exclaimed.

Von Lehndorff stuck his chin in the air and said, “The King wishes to know whether you can supply the quantities required to build such an Amber Room?”

“I could, without doubt,” Dieter said. “Though there are several problems. Since the beginning of the war, my experienced miners have been conscripted, the shafts have caved in, the tunnels are flooded, and the Newcomen engines that pump them out have broken down.”

“Mere trifles,” von Lehndorff replied, flicking his ’kerchief dismissively. “Like every son, the King wishes to leave a greater legacy than his father’s. And he refuses to be outdone by the Russians! Miners we can find. What about the repair to the Newcoming pump?”

“Newcomen pump, Kammerherr,” Dieter corrected him.


It is 1761. Prussia is at war with Russia and Austria. As the Russian army occupies East Prussia, King Frederick the Great and his men fight hard to win back their homeland.

In Ludwigshain, a Junker estate in East Prussia, Countess Marion von Adler celebrates an exceptional harvest. But this is soon requisitioned by Russian troops. When Marion tries to stop them, a Russian Captain strikes her. His Lieutenant, Ian Fermor, defends Marion’s honour, but is stabbed for his insubordination. Abandoned by the Russians, Fermor becomes a divisive figure on the estate.

Close to death, Fermor dreams of the Adler, a numinous eagle entity, whose territory extends across the lands of Northern Europe and which is mysteriously connected to the Enlightenment. What happens next will change the course of human history…


Justin Newland writes history with a supernatural bent. His novels are The Genes of Isis, an epic fantasy set under Ancient Egyptian skies, and The Old Dragon’s Head, a historical fantasy played out in the shadows of the Great Wall of China. He lives with his partner in Somerset, England.


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The Saracen Storm by J.M. Nunez

I am so grateful to Love Book Group Tors for bringing this new book The Saracen Storm by J.M.Nunez to my attention. It sounds excellent.

The Blurb

Based on historical figures and events, The Saracen Storm is the sweeping saga of one of Spain’s best-loved heroes and the role he played in the nation’s darkest period: the Moorish invasion of its lands in 711 AD.

“An intense, action-packed story that will have you hooked from the moment you start reading it.”   Readers’ Favorite

When nineteen-year-old Pelayo, the illegitimate son of the Duke of Asturias, is asked to lead a cohort of soldiers to hunt down a party of Saracen raiders, he seizes on the chance to escape the city and the scandals that have swirled around him for years. Trained in combat since he was a youth, and taught the dark arts of war by a brilliant ex-monk, he is determined to prove wrong those who say he is unfit for command. As he follows the trail of devastation left by the raiders, he discovers that Valentina, his half-brother’s betrothed, has been taken captive. The mission that he has viewed merely as an adventure now turns into a personal quest to save the headstrong daughter of his father’s closest ally from the slave markets of Arabia.

In the capital of Toledo, the sudden death of the monarch unravels old alliances, sparking a fierce competition for the throne. As the country descends into civil war, Musa ibn Nosseyr, Caliph al-Walid’s ambitious governor in Carthage, sees the Iberian nation’s troubles as an opportunity to expand the reach of the caliphate into Europe.

The Toymakers by Robert Dinsdale

My daughter gave me three books for Christmas. They are books she has enjoyed and thought I would too. What a thoughtful present! The first of the books that I read was The Toymakers by Robert Dinsdale.

The Toymakers opens in 1917, and London has spent years in the shadow of the First World War. In the heart of Mayfair, though, there is a place of hope. A place where children’s dreams can come true, where the impossible becomes possible – that place is Papa Jack’s Toy Emporium. The story takes place in the toy emporium. The Emporium opens with the first frost of winter. It is the same every year. Across the city, when children wake to see ferns of white stretched across their windows, or walk to school to hear ice crackling underfoot, their whispers begin because the Emporium is open!

For years Papa Jack has created and sold his famous magical toys: hobby horses, patchwork dogs and bears that seem alive, toy boxes bigger on the inside than out, ‘instant trees’ that sprout from boxes, tin soldiers that can fight battles on their own. Now his sons, Kaspar and Emil, are just old enough to join the family trade. Into this family comes a young Cathy Wray – homeless and vulnerable. Cathy who at 16 and pregnant answers a newspaper add to work in Papa Jack’s Emporium, she sees it as her chance to escape from entering the home for young mothers. The Emporium takes her in, makes her one of its own. But Cathy is about to discover that while all toy shops are places of wonder, this one is truly magical. The Emporium is more than just a shop it is a place where children dreams come true and adults are transported back to a time of ease and innocence.

In The Toymakers, the author allows you to marvel at the wonderfully magical sounding toys and then suddenly we are brought tragically to the raging War that is going on and how it effects the employees. So whilst we have magical realism we experience a dark shift with the tale and the way war affects the young men who live through it, and the Emporium itself but The Toymakers still leaves you completely spellbound.

The Author

Robert Dinsdale was born in Northallerton, North Yorkshire in 1981 and went on to study at the University of Leeds.

The Fifth Child by Doris Lessing

The Fifth Child by Doris Lessing was a recent book at our village book group. I had never read anything by this author, but recognised her name as a respected author.

The book is very short, a novella, rather than a novel. It tells the story of Harriet and David Lovatt, and their family. As parents of four children, they have created an idyll of domestic bliss in defiance of the social trends of late 1960s England. So much so that I found the first part of the book rather dull.

The reader is told how, around them, crime and unrest surge, the Lovatts are certain that their old-fashioned contentment can protect them from the world outside all this changes at the birth of their fifth baby, Ben. He is gruesome and goblin-like in appearance, insatiably hungry, abnormally strong and violent, Ben has nothing innocent or infant-like about him. As he grows older and more terrifying, Harriet finds she cannot love him, David cannot bring himself to touch him, and their four older children are afraid of him. 

The plot is simple and told chronologically by an omniscient narrator: Harriet and David want to fill their enormous house with a huge family. They have four beautiful blond, blue-eyed, rosy cheeked children in quick succession, in between hosting popular house parties at Christmas, Easter, and the summer holidays. Then Ben is born. This is a horror story exploring what happens when a monstrous child is born to a perfect family. When there is no way for everyone to be happy and safe, who must sacrifice what, and observing how the parents make decisions and choices.

I found The Fifth Child increasingly interesting as the story progressed. I did not accept that everything the reader was told about Ben could have been unnoticed by the doctors Harriet saw and the teachers at his school. That made me increasingly question the accuracy of Harriet’s fears and observations, whilst also feeling bad about not believing her, when she already felt so judged. I didn’t believe Ben is a subhuman “throwback”, changeling, troll, or even an alien as Harriet often says. Although he’s hyperactive and shares some traits with autistic people, his issues are not actually defined.

This is not a book that will suit everybody, but it is interesting and quite different from anything else I have read. It made for good discussion in our book group.

The Author

Both of her parents were British: her father, who had been crippled in World War I, was a clerk in the Imperial Bank of Persia; her mother had been a nurse. In 1925, lured by the promise of getting rich through maize farming, the family moved to the British colony in Southern Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe). 

In 1937 she moved to Salisbury, where she worked as a telephone operator for a year. At nineteen, she married Frank Wisdom, and later had two children. A few years later, feeling trapped in a persona that she feared would destroy her, she left her family, remaining in Salisbury. Soon she was drawn to the like-minded members of the Left Book Club, a group of Communists “who read everything, and who did not think it remarkable to read.” Gottfried Lessing was a central member of the group; shortly after she joined, they married and had a son.

Val Penny

Never Somewhere Else by Alex Gray

I have found a few of Alex Gray’s more recent books a bit disappointing. However, I know she can write excellent novels, so when I found this earlier book, Never Somewhere Else, on sale, I picked it up, only to discover that this is the first book in the author’s DCI Lorimer series and I enjoyed it.

DCI William Lorimer has been tasked with the unenviable job of unmasking a vicious killer who has mutilated and scalped three women leaving their bodies to be discovered in St Mungo’s park, Glasgow, Scotland. These are gruesome murders, with the antagonist keeping the scalps as trophies, reminiscent of the 1800 battles of the Native Americans.

To help him understand the mind of the perpetrator he requests the services of psychologist Sol Brightman. Lorimer is a detemined DCI who instils trust in the officers under his command. His wife, Maggie, is an English teacher. She finds his routine annoyingly unpredictable and she never knows what time to expect his presence at home…if at all. 

Ultimately, it takes a homeless man to find the connections among the victims, and Dr. Brightman finds himself lucky to have survived an assault with his hair intact. When a news reporter and his photographer start turning up and releasing confidential information, DCI Lorimer goes ballistic and more people die.

This is a gripping debut to the series and I am really glad to have caught up with it, all be it belatedly. If you enjoy tartan noir and good crime fiction, Never Somewhere Else is well worth a read.

The Author

Alex Gray was born and educated in Glasgow. She worked as a folk singer, a visiting officer in the DSS and an English teacher. She has been awarded the Scottish Association of Writers Constable and Pitlochry trophies for her crime writing.

Val Penny

The House at Ettrick Bay by Myra Duffy

I have met Myra Duffy on several occasions and always enjoyed her company but somehow had never read any of her novels, so when my friend Chris gave me The House at Ettrick Bay as a gift, I was delighted to be able to put that right.

As expected the story is set in and around Ettrick Bay on the Isle of Bute. Bute, is an island in the Firth of Clyde in Scotland, United Kingdom. It is divided into highland and lowland areas by the Highland Boundary Fault. Formerly a constituent island of the larger County of Bute, it is now part of the council area of Argyll and Bute. It is a beautiful part of the world and the vivid descriptions do it justice.

The story is a cosy crime about a teacher, Susie, who inherits a large house on the island of Bute but as she is working in the USA her close friends, Alison and Simon agree to look over the property for her.

However, after several unexplained ‘accidents’ Alison realises someone is not happy Susie is the new owner of Ettrick House. An archaeological dig near the house leads to an unexpected discovery and it appears Susie is not the only claimant to Ettrick House. When the next ‘accident’ turns out to be murder, Alison knows she and Susie are in danger. Other people on the island have an interest in Ettrick House -and one of them is prepared to kill.

The House at Ettrick Bay falls nicely into the cosy crime category, It is quite tense in places and the voices of the different characters are well distinguished. So much so that I took an active dislike to Simon whom I found belittled Alison regularly. This is an excellent read and would suit book groups well as there are many issues that could make for lively discussion.

The Author

Myra Duffy started writing at a very early age, both fiction and non-fiction. She now concentrates on fiction and although she still writes short stories and poetry, prefers to focus on novels, mainly cosy crime. ‘When Old Ghosts Meet’ was published in 2009, ‘The House at Ettrick Bay’ in 2010 and ‘Last Ferry to Bute’ in 2011.

Val Penny

Mixing reality and imagination by Angela Wren

It is a treat to have my friend and fellow author, Angela Wren visit my blog today to discuss Marseille, the setting for the fourth novel in her bestselling series of novels featuring Jacques Foret. Thank you for visiting today, Angela. Tell us all about Marseille, please.

A vast sprawling conurbation, Marseille, is the second city of France.  With a population of just under 900,000, it outstrips Lyon easily.  It also has a fascinating history, is renowned for its independence and can claim to be the oldest city in France.

This city is also one of the most multi-cultural that I have ever come across in France.  As you meander through the streets, for every five people you pass speaking French there are another five following speaking an entirely different tongue and you can eat in any one of a hundred different languages!

The very first settlers here were the Phocaeans (ancient Greeks), arriving around 600BC.  They settled on one side of what is now the Vieux Port, the sound being then little more than a creek.  But it was an essential supply of water and an opportunity for trade – something the ancient Greeks were very good at.  Of course, those first settlers weren’t allowed to keep everything to themselves, and about 60 years later the Persians arrived.  The original settlement expanded as trade and ancient commerce grew, and the reach inland expanded to the sites of modern cities such as Arles, Nice, Avignon and elsewhere.  The Romans finally turned up around 125BC, and after years of war, established Transalpine Gaul.  The port of Marseille (then referred to as Massalia) became an independent republic allied to Rome.  Maybe that’s why it has a reputation for independence and a very distinctive local character, not to mention it’s own very particular local dialect.

It was hard to ignore a city with such a pedigree and, having spent some time there, I decided that it would be location for one of Jacques’ cases and I used the name of the city as the title.

Of course, using a real place as a location means you have to get the details right.  In the scene when Jacques and his associate, Didier Duclos, are meeting a possible witness at the Vieux Port, creating the sound and feel of the bustling city was quite a task.  The bench where they wait is in front of a real bar, but I used a fictitious name for the bar.  The street where Jacques and Didier are sent by the witness is real but I’ve renamed it, so checking a map of the city will be fruitless.  But, if you’re a good enough detective and know the city well, you can probably work out the exact location I chose to keep in my mind’s eye as I was writing the various scenes that take place there.

In another scene, the criminals that Jacques is pursuing are crossing the city in a vehicle.  It was my time spent in Marseille walking the streets in the sunshine that helped me recreate the actual sights and sounds.  With a detailed street map and all my photos, I could actually work out a precise journey for my characters to take. Again, someone who knows the city well could probably work out exactly which streets they drove through!

Thanks very much for inviting me to your blog, Val, and I hope your readers enjoy the post.


A spate of abductions and subsequent deaths in nearby départements have Investigator, Jacques Forêt, perplexed. Returning from extended leave to the news of a local kidnapping, Jacques is on the case immediately. And this time it’s personal.

But the case isn’t Jacques’ only worry. He has become more and more concerned about Beth, but what can he do if she doesn’t let him help her?

The investigation into the murders takes him and his trusted assistant, Didier Duclos, to Marseille. Can Jacques find the kidnappers and release their captive before another body is added to the list of unexplained murders?

It’s a race against time.

Marseille is the fourth instalment in the bestselling Jacques Forêt Mystery series.


Having followed a career in Project and Business Change Management, I now work as an Actor and Director at a local theatre.  I’ve been writing, in a serious way, since 2010.  My work in project management has always involved drafting, so writing, in its various forms, has been a significant feature throughout my adult life.

I particularly enjoy the challenge of plotting and planning different genres of work.  My short stories vary between contemporary romance, memoir, mystery and historical.  I also write comic flash-fiction and have drafted two one-act plays that have been recorded for local radio.  The majority of my stories are set in France where I like to spend as much time as possible each year.

Marseille Jacques Forêt Mystery #04Montbel Jacques Forêt Mystery #03
Merle Jacques Forêt Mystery #02Messandrierre Jacques Forêt Mystery #01Miss Moonshine’s Emporium of Happy Endings An anthology of feel-good stories
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The Lewis Man by Peter May

The Lewis Man is the second book in Peter May’s acclaimed Lewis Trilogy. I found it for sale in a charity booksale and chose it because I enjoyed the first book in the series, The Blackhouse, so much.

The story finds Fin return to Lewis after the death of his son and the collapse of his marriage. He has left the police force and returns to the place with which he feels the strongest connection.

The local force investigate when a body is recovered from a peat bog on the Isle of Lewis. The male Caucasian corpse is initially believed by its finders to be over 2000 years old, until they spot the Elvis tattoo on his right arm. The body, it transpires, is not evidence of an ancient ritual killing, but of a murder committed during the latter half of the 20th century.

The reader follows the investigations and also the rambling thoughts of a local man, Tormod Macdonald, who is suffering from dementia. The juxtaposition of the two is brilliant and affords the author many occasions to misdirect the reader.

Peter May is a clever author who well commands his place in the proponants of tartan noir. He must never be unerestimated. This would be an excellent book group read. I thoroughly enjoyed this novel and look forward to reading the third novel in the trilogy in due course.

Val Penny

The Greatcoat by Helen Dunmore

The ghost story, The Greatcoat by Helen Dunmore was book of the month in my book group. We had not read a ghost story for a while so everybody was looking forward to this one.

The Greatcoat is set just after World War II, in the summer of 1954, newly wed Isabel Carey arrives in a Yorkshire town with her husband Philip. As a GP he spends much of his time working, while Isabel tries hard to adjust to the realities of married life. Life is not easy: she feels out-of-place and constantly judged by the people around her, so she spends much of her time alone.
One cold winter night, Isabel finds an old RAF greatcoat in the back of a cupboard that she uses to help keep warm. Once wrapped in the coat she is beset by dreams. And not long afterwards, while her husband is out, she is startled to hear a knock at her window, and to meet for the first time the intense gaze of a young Air Force pilot, handsome, blond and blue-eyed, staring in at her from outside.
His name is Alec, and his powerfully haunting presence both disturbs and excites Isabel. Her initial alarm soon fades, and they begin a delicious affair. But nothing could have prepared her for the truth about Alec’s life, nor the impact it will have on her own marriage. 

Although it is a ghost story, The Greatcoat is not in the slightest bit scary and this was a disappointment. Also Dunmore writes so simplisticly, it was almost as if this were a crossover novel. I also felt a little disappointed with the ending it just felt a bit abrupt and sudden for me.

I was disappointed in The Greatcoat and would not look out for another book by this author, but neither would I avoid it.

Val Penny

Keep the Midnight Out by Alex Gray

Few Scottish authors have matched the quality and quantity of novels produced by Alex Gray over the years. I have read many of the books in her DCI Lorimer series, but rarely in order. This rarely matters because most of her novels work well as stand alones. Keep the Midnight Out is no exception.

Keep the Midnight Out is the twelfth novel in Gray’s long running DCI Lorimer series and it is, unsurprisingly, beautifully written. The book starts with an exciting and gruesome scene when poachers gather more than they expect when the body of a red-headed young man is caught in their nets.

Lorimer and his wife are on vacation on the Isle of Mull. Therefore the readers get a taste of a different part of Scotland. And since Lorimer is on vacation, someone else is in charge of the investigation. DI Stevie Crozier is a woman with a chip on her shoulder.

Gray has the ability to weave much about Lorimer and his wife, Maggie, into the ongoing police investigation. That results in a good balance of character development and plot progression. Gray also includes a good amount of description, characteristic of Scottish crime thrillers.

The mystery is a good one too, dealing with sexual preferences and how parents deal with something they don’t understand. There are several red herrings that make trying to figure out the villain a good challenge.

The only point I found difficulty with are flashbacks to a twenty year old case, an early one of Lorimer’s and how the author explains that this may have relevance to the current case. The flash backs are well done and includes how Lorimer and Rosie Fergusson came to know each other but some of the co-incidences, for me, were a bit of a stretch. However, on the plus side the reader gets to know Lorimer and his wife better in Keep the Midnight Out.

I recommend this book to thriller and mystery readers who enjoy a well crafted novel with a good balance of description, character development, and plot progression. It would make a good read for a book club. My reservations are far outweighed by the quality of Gray’s story telling.

The Author

Alex Gray is a Scottish crime writer who was born and educated in Glasgow. She worked as a folk singer, a visiting officer in the DSS and an English teacher. She has been awarded the Scottish Association of Writers Constable and Pitlochry trophies for her crime writing.

Val Penny