Review of Cordial Killing (A Backyard Farming Mystery) by Vikki Walton

CKPreLaunch

Cordial Killing (A Backyard Farming Mystery)

Description: Anne is excited for the opening of the Brandywine Inn. Kandi and Hope are her partners in the bed-and-breakfast in Carolan Springs, Colorado, where they also provide homesteading and herbal workshops for guests.
As soon as the guests arrive, it’s plain that the five old college chums have bad blood between them. When Anne finds a threatening note, it’s clear that someone is out for revenge. Then they find a guest dead. At first, the death appears to be natural, but suspicions begin to grow.
When a blizzard threatens the Inn, will it trap them all with a killer and no way out?
Cordial Killing is a classic who-dun-it with a twist. Set in the fictional small town of Carolan Springs, you will enjoy an armchair getaway into beautiful Colorado.

NewReleaseREVIEW: Cordial Killings is the second book in The Backyard Farming series by Vikki Walton. As a cozy mystery set in a bed and breakfast, I was looking forward to reading this book during the colder weather with a warm drink and a fire going. The setting is perfect for a cozy, and Walton doesn’t disappoint with descriptions of the food and drinks that the characters often partake. However, I wanted more description of the setting. A picturesque backdrop of Colorado Rockies in the winter, the blanket of glistening snow, the way freshly fallen snow coats tree branches…these are the beauties of winter that could have been played up. In addition, I would have loved more details on the decor of the rooms in the bed and breakfast. The layout of the house is described, but I feel that more details would have given it even more of that cozy feeling I’m looking for when I dive into this type of book.

The characters who run the bed and breakfast, Anne, Kandi, and Hope, are sweet–the type of ladies you would want for friends. Unfortunately, the same can’t be said for all the guests, a group of middle-aged women who were college friends and are reuniting for a weekend of learning how to make tonics, tinctures, and tisanes. The old friends (or frenemies?) are aptly and cutely called the Elizabeth Taylors, named Taylor, Liz, Lil, and Beth. The weekend is supposed to be for ladies only, but when Beth arrives with husband Edward, a womanizing cardiologist with more than one type of heart trouble, tensions build in the group, and old wounds open and fester.

I kept waiting for the first death, but it wasn’t until I was halfway through the book. I would have liked less banter between the women and for this important action step to occur much sooner, perhaps about twenty percent of the way into the story.  While the bad blood between the group is important backstory and plays into the plot, I think the story needs to move quicker in the beginning to get to the point of a cozy mystery: solving a murder or suspected murder.

Another death follows shortly, and from there, the pace really picks up. I was pleased with how the rest of the story flowed and played out. I admit I suspected the killer and turned out to be right, but as the sheriff and Anne interview the different guests, motives for each are presented and well thought-out. The ending was satisfying.

This was an easy, enjoyable read–a good book if you’re looking for something fun and not too serious.

4 of out 5 stars

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About the author:
Vikki’s first words were “I get it!” This attitude became her life-long mantra to always go after what she wants. It also helped her realize her desire to help others get what they really want out of life.
After spending years as a registered interior designer, Vikki began to write. While writing for periodicals, Vikki found herself on assignment interviewing publishers in Colorado Springs. It wasn’t long before the natural beauty of Colorado captured her heart.
After moving to Colorado, Vikki worked with nonprofits. However, she soon realized she needed more autonomy in her work.

Vikki started her own business as a nonprofit consultant and grant writer. She has helped nonprofits across the U.S. to receive millions of dollars for  their work. Yet, she realized doing one thing wouldn’t satisfy her for long.

Vikki became a Work Quilter™ combining her many passions to create multiple income streams. She started speaking and teaching adults on myriad and diverse topics around her knowledge, skills and passions.   She’s taught and spoken on Creative Writing, Design for Heart and Home, Fundraising Fundamentals , Suburban Homesteading, Permaculture, How to Get What You Really Want, and of course, Work Quilting. Two words that continually appear on instructor and speaker feedback forms are “engaging” and “knowledgeable.”
Born in Chicago, Vikki lived outside of Paris for a few years as a small child. That may account for her love of travel. She moved to Wichita with her parents before going on to live most of her life around the San Antonio, Texas area. She is the founder of #girlswantago and you can connect through Facebook or www.girlswantago.com 
Vikki is also an experienced, professional  global house and pet sitter.  
Vikki’s favorite genre is mystery so it wasn’t long before she had begun her first cozy mystery series.  Incorporating her love of suburban homesteading, or as some call it, backyard farming, Vikki’s first book is Chicken Culprit. 

You’ll most often find Vikki out hiking with her dog, outside gardening, traveling abroad, house or pet sitting, or writing her next book.

FirstinSeries
Marie’s Elderberry Cordial Recipe

Items Needed

  • Quart canning jar with lid
  • Funnel (large mouth)
  • Wooden spoon
  • Label or masking tape
  • Sharpie
  • Cheesecloth (optional)
  • Strainer (optional)
  • Decorative Bottle (optional)
Ingredients Amounts needed Comments
Elderberries 1.25 cup dried or 2 cups fresh For fresh, remove from stems.
Brandy 3 cups Can also use other alcohol but brandy is most commonly used.
Honey ¼ to ½ cup (or to taste) Vegans or those who don’t have access to good local raw honey can substitute maple syrup. Acquiring local honey will provide your cordial with its own unique flavor.
Optional
Cinnamon stick One Flavor along with Antioxidants and Anti-Inflammatory properties
Rosehips ¼ cup Extra Vitamin C
Ginger 1-2 tbsp grated fresh ginger Flavor along with Antioxidants

Instructions

  • Place elderberries (and any optional ingredients, if using) into quart jar.
  • Cover with brandy.
  • Add honey.
  • Stir with wooden spoon or put lid on and shake.
  • Place in dark, cool space (usually a cabinet will do) for three to four weeks.
  • If desired, strain with cheesecloth and using a strainer, put into a decorative bottle.
  • Or you can leave ingredients in jar.
  • In winter take 1-2 tbsp daily for immune-boosting. If ill, take 3-4 tbsp (basically a shot glass) a few times a day until symptoms improve. This cordial can also be used as a base for poor-tasting tinctures such as osha.
  • Can last for a year with fresh berries and longer if made with dried berries—if you have it that long!

Notes

Elderberry is a wonderful plant to have in your yard or on your property. It has many medicinal benefits and uses. The elderberry plant most commonly associated with immune-boosting and flu-fighting properties is the dark berry plant (Elderberry Sambucus Nigra). Elder flower is also used in elixirs, teas and food.  Elder was the International Herb Association’s Herb of the Year in 2013. It’s usually harvested in September.

This Content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.


Character interview:

Hope, can you share with our readers about yourself?AvailableFavBookstore

Certainly. I live above the shop of an herbal apothecary I own in Carolan Springs, Colorado. I’m also a medical doctor.. My mother, Faith, lives with me and I care for her. I’m an only child and I moved back to care for my mother when she started having health issues. I love living in a small town and I love Colorado. I’m in the perfect place for the life I want to live and the work I want to do. I have a new intern, Autumn, so that’s helping me to expand into other areas of interest.

You’ve recently opened a bed-and-breakfast with your friends. Can you tell us about that?

My father, Ralph Rogers, passed away, and I inherited his house. I didn’t know for years that Ralph was my father,  so it surprised me when he left me the home in his will. The house is a huge, old Victorian that probably stood by itself for many years before the other homes went up around it.  Anne, who has become a good friend, and Kandi, another friend, talked about the possibility of opening a bed-and-breakfast in the house. As they live on either side of the house, it works well for them. Anne has written and taught about suburban homesteading while Kandi is a great cook. Plus, I get to do teaching on herbs through workshops we hold there. It’s called the Brandywine Inn as Ralph was a big fan of Brandywine tomatoes. In the summer we open it up primarily for tourists and those who come for the homesteading fair. Then we can hold workshops in the spring and fall.

Tell us about where you live.

I live in the small mountain town of Carolan Springs in Colorado. (Don’t try to find it on a map as it’s only in the author’s imagination). I have to say the weather here in Colorado takes some getting used to. There can be a snowstorm in the morning and by the afternoon, lots of bright sunshine and warm temperatures. The key is to wear layers at any time of the year! I finally learned that after living here for a few years. I’m excited about spring because it’s that shoulder season when it’s normally crisp morning and sunny days. It’s a great time for hiking and seeing all the early wildflowers popping up and sometimes even mushrooms. We’re incorporating hike opportunities for our guests.

Can you tell us a bit more about Carolan Springs and its inhabitants?

It’s a fairly small town—around 3500 people—and just like everywhere else, you have many characters. My shop is along the main street filled with little shops and everyone is usually nice though we have some cranky folks just like any other town. I think Sheriff Carson and Anne should just get on with it and become a couple because they’re both so stubborn that they’d be a perfect match. But don’t tell them I said anything. Problem is they’ll probably end up with others. Oh well, what can you do? I’m sure you’ll find out more about the town’s residents in future stories.

You mentioned the author, what can you tell us about her?

Well, she was born in Chicago but spent most of her life in Texas—around the San Antonio area. But just like me, she loves Colorado’s mountains. She grows and uses herbs and making her own tinctures, tonics, and salves. She loves the basic edible herbs like basil, cilantro, dill, and others. A few of her favorite medicinal herbs are astragalus and osha for tinctures along with comfrey she uses in salves. In addition to writing mysteries, she’s also written nonfiction books. She loves everything about being a suburban homesteader or what some call backyard farming. She’s a certified permaculture designer, has chickens and beehives and gardens of various types.

Hope, can you tell us what’s next for the series?

We’ve all been talking about getting beehives for the property, so we can offer honey to our guests. Having bees on the property will also help with all the gardens we want to install. I wouldn’t be surprised to see one of those being a part of the next book in the series.

Anything else you’d like to share?

I can’t think of anything. Though my mother (Faith) says she has a bad feeling about our opening weekend at the bed-and-breakfast. She has second-sight so that’s a bit disconcerting that she says she has a bad feeling. But I’m sure it’s nothing. I hope.

Excerpt: Opening of A Laughing Matter of Pain (Now Available on Amazon – RELEASE TODAY!)

My new novel, A Laughing Matter of Pain, is now available for purchase here.

 

Chapter 1

Damp. Dank. Dusty. Dirty.

It’s become a kind of game. I’m good at games. How many words that begin with the letter D can I come up with to describe this place?

Disgusting.

There’s another point for me. 1-0, Hank, old boy.

Of course, you never talk much. I’m lucky to get the occasional grunt from you, Hank.

I roll onto my side, the lumpy mattress beneath me protesting as it pushes back in all the wrong places. Hank’s sleeping, if you can call whimpering and moaning while he pisses himself sleeping. Nightmares, of course. Not that Hank ever has much to say about that.

But back to my game. It’s not like I’m going anywhere.

Dank. Yep, that smell of musty, rusty mold growing on mold has attached itself to my nose like a cold that doesn’t leave. It’s my constant companion, whether I want it or not. I suppose it’s like the games I’m so good at. So good, in fact, that when I lost one, boy, did I ever lose.

I don’t know what nightmares plague Hank. Maybe it’s what landed him here that’s got him all caught up in nightly visions of Hell. Rumors say he killed a man in cold blood, but a man who wets himself like that ain’t a cold-blooded killer in my book. Whatever his problems, I’ve got enough of my own.

I damn near laughed when the guard who swung by last week said Prohibition ended. Fourteen years of outlawing alcohol, and now part of the reason I’m here’s legal again? How’s that for justice?

Alcohol’s my problem. Yeah, I admit that, but that’s not my nightmare. Green accusing eyes, cruel laughter falling from a red-lipsticked mouth that kissed me silly too many times to count, and the red hair to match…like flames that burn my insides every time I close my eyes. I don’t have to be sleeping to see her. Red everywhere, from the smashed in windshield, to her smashed in face, decorated with shards of glass as her stunned expression stares back at me with those eyes. Always those damn eyes. Even empty, they accuse.

* * *

Eight years earlier…

It’s late, but the dusk is still dimly lighting the western sky. Overhead, the stars poke out from the black. Most wouldn’t believe I have the calm inside me to stop and notice. When the others aren’t looking, I sneak away into the back yard, that dewy grass tickling my neck as I lie in it and watch the stars.

Footsteps disturb my concentration. I bolt up, my eyes adjusting until a man’s silhouette rests against the freshly painted white siding of our house.

“What’re you doing, Harry?”

“What’s it matter? Is Ma looking for me? Tell her I already put the delivery away.”

“Ma said Mr. Morris was here hours ago and that you didn’t touch the stuff till after dinner.”

I try not to roll my eyes. “Then what’s the problem, Erik?”

My brother plants himself in the grass beside me and sighs. Even in the near darkness, he’s the pretty boy every girl wants. He got all of Pa’s charm and looks: the blond hair, the blue eyes, the smooth-talking way with the girls.

“It’s tomorrow,” Erik says. “Graduation.”

“Yeah? And? You haven’t shut up about it for weeks, even months. What, you scared you won’t be the center of everyone’s attention anymore? No more calls from girls? Hell–”

“Harry, if Ma heard you–”

“Well, Ma’s not here, is she? Virginia Williams called again, didn’t she? I heard you,” I say lightly, jabbing him in the side. “‘Oh, Ginny, honey…’” I raise my voice an octave, but Erik cuffs me roughly. “Jeez, what’s that for?”

“Can you be serious for a second, Harry?”

I raise my hands and eyebrows at the same time. “All right, I surrender. You wanna wrestle it out for old times’ sake? This grass has our names written all over it.”

Erik glares. “This was a mistake. Goodnight, Harry.”

As he retreats, he kitchen light goes off once he clicks the back door shut.

“What’s got his undies in a twist?” I mutter to the stars.

Erik and I were always scrapping in this yard as boys, always inseparable. In a few months, I’m gonna start tenth grade, and he’s off to college. Not only does he have the looks and the ways with girls all right, but he’s got smarts and talent on the field. Star pitcher of Benny Frankie High in Cleveland, Ohio.

Sighing, I stand and brush the grass from my pants. I head inside and find my annoying little sister standing on the landing of the stairs. It’s Hannah, the older little sister. Irma’s the other one, who’s still so young that she really is little.

“Hey, Hannah-panna,” I say, smirking.

“Oh, stop it, Harry. You think you’re so funny.”

“Actually, yeah.”

“Ma was looking for you.”

“Wow, I’m a popular guy. I almost feel like Erik, I’m so popular. Did a pretty doll give me a call?”

Hannah places her hands on her hips in a manner that’s suited her well for years and sticks her tongue out. I laugh as she turns and stomps up the stairs.

“You know, for a young lady, you’re pretty immature,” I call up after her.

I quietly chuckle to myself. Hannah’s always easy to get a rise out of. Sobering, I climb the stairs, and when the third step from the top creaks, I tip my imaginary hat at it.

“Goodnight, old friend.”

I turn for the second door on the right, ready to see my esteemed brother. The door to my parents’ room opens and Ma steps out.

“There you are.”

I stare back at my twin–well, except that Ma is a good thirty-five years older than me and female, but the mousy-brown hair, the square jawline, and the plain face, yeah…thanks, Ma. I got Pa’s baby blues, at least, but I ain’t complaining, I swear.

I pretend to yawn. It’s a convincing act, my mouth all wide and my eyes screwed shut, but Ma doesn’t buy into my cheap acts.

“Tomorrow is an early day. I trust you’re on your way to bed.”

I smile. “Righto. Erik’s big day. ‘Night, Ma.”

I kiss her gently on the top of the head. I’m taller than her now, so she tilts her head up.

“What was that for?” she asks.

The question’s so simple, but it’s not. Deep down, just like the times I seek out the stars by myself, some part of me reaches for my mother. I laugh instead.

“Can’t a son give his old ma a kiss? Maybe I’ll lay it on sloppy next time, like Flossie.”

Ma isn’t buying this, either. She doesn’t seem interested in anything I’m selling these days, but maybe what she’s buying into is more than just cheap tricks and one-liners.

“Harry, are you all right?” Her glistening eyes search me.

This look unnerves me. All the times Ma’s glared at me don’t probe me the way those hazel eyes see me now, like stripping me bare to my soul.

I shrug and smile. That’s what she expects. What they all expect. Why give her anything else? “I’m fine.”

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Review of Happy Couples by Rick Monddarrell

happycouplesDescription (from Amazon): When you hear the words HAPPY COUPLES you naturally think of two people in LOVE. Part of this book is about that kind of couple. But, it’s also about the fact that on this planet there are a COUPLE OF GENDERS, not just one. And it’s about the fact that if all members of this couple enjoyed true equality it would make for a Happier couple – all over the world. Because this would make a better world for all of us.

As I write in the book, in my opinion, the greatest tragedy that we never talk about, is the almost complete suppression of female ability since the beginning of time. When half the human race is suppressed and kept from being all it could be,the entire human race is suppressed and prevented from being all it should be – all over the world. When everyone has equality, and are allowed to be all they can, the result is a better world for all of us. So no, this book isn’t anti my Father’s gender. It’s pro My Mother’s gender. But please remember that because equality makes a better world for all of us, this book is actually pro both my parents gender – all over the world.

THANK YOU

Note: I was given a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Gender inequality still exists today, as hard as that may be for some to believe in 2018, especially in a country like the United States. Just start talking to women, however, and you will quickly discover that women are still paid less than men to do the same types of jobs. Certain kinds of work, especially related to raising children and managing the home, are often referred to as “women’s work.” There are men who still exhibit inappropriate behavior toward women in the workplace and on the street.

Happy Couples is filled with poetry and short stories about gender equality and also about appreciating women. The fact that this book was written by a man is touching to me, a woman, reviewing it. I appreciate a man taking the time to write a book on this important topic. Although the principles behind the stories should be obvious, sadly, there are still many in the world who would disagree or who are ignorant.

The stories are simple and direct, sometimes a bit too direct, as the author explains in clear prose the message he is conveying. I appreciate him working these messages into stories, however.

There are some punctuation and grammatical issues with the book, which could easily be fixed if the book is read by an editor, but they don’t detract from the central message of the book.

Happy Couples is a short, easy read and is food for thought.

4 out of 5 stars

Purchase Happy Couples on Amazon.

Review of Dante’s Garden: Mystery and Magic in Bomarzo by Teresa Culter-Broyles

dantesgardenSummary: Dante’s Garden is the story of what happens when Frank Farnese, a book collector from 2017, falls through Hell’s Mouth, a strange sculpture in Bomarzo, Italy.

In 1570, Lucrezia Romano and famed antiquarian Pyrrho Ligorio welcome him when he awakens in a garden, from what he thinks is a dream but isn’t. Together they must figure out how to put the world right again.

The Inquisition, an extraordinary visit to Venice, and the dreams of Duke Francesco Orsini entwine to pull them all deeper into adventure, danger, love, and the hardest decisions of their lives.

Dante’s Garden weaves fact and fiction, history and imagination, to tell the story of Frank and Lucrezia, and the connection that, finally, may not be strong enough to hold them safe as time splits apart.

Note: I was given a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

As a lover of Italy and history, I was looking forward to reading this book. The moment I began reading, the author’s imagination and intense knowledge of Italian culture and heritage mingled to form a beautiful tapestry of a tale.

In current-day, book collector Frank Farnese boards a plane in New York and travels to Italy to meet Pasquale and Sandra Ciacionne, who have a 16th century Aldine Press copy of Dante’s La Commedia. The book is old but defective, due to two upside-down pages at the back, a burn mark, and a note left in the front…a note that seems like it was written to Frank.

In 16th century Italy, a young and beautiful, well-read lady named Lucrezia Romano has dreams of adventure. She meets the antiquarian Pyrrho Ligorio (based on the real Ligorio), and they become instant friends. He travels to the Duke Vicino Orsini’s palazzo to work on his garden of grotesques and stone monsters and invites Lucrezia and her parents along. Lucrezia will be Ligorio’s model for a statue of Ceres.

Meanwhile, in current-day Italy, Frank visits the Garden of Monsters (the Duke’s garden from the 16th century and a real place). He has the copy of Dante with him as he tours the garden alone and it grows dark. A thunderstorm ensues, and he takes cover in one of the sculptures, the Mouth of Hell, but not before seeing the statue of Ceres. He is drawn to the statue’s face in particular.

In the 16th century, the Duke has a ball. The party guests are in costume and are mingling in the gardens. Lucrezia is among them. A thunderstorm breaks out.

After the storm ends, Frank emerges from the Mouth of Hell, only to find himself surrounded by what he thinks are reenactors. He is imprisoned by the Duke for questioning, as it’s strange that a man just seemed to appear out of nowhere during the storm, while all the guests were taking cover.

Frank is confused and grows angry, as he thinks these reenactors are having him on. In time, however, he understands that he has traveled through time. Vicino, Ligorio, and Lucrezia are among the small group who believe that Frank (Francesco as they call him) is from the future.

Besides Frank’s sudden appearance, other strange things start happening in the garden. Statues seem to be moving. Glowing letters appear at the entrance of the Mouth of Hell at night, saying, “Abandon all thought, you who enter here,” echoing the warning in Dante’s writing.

A story of adventure and love ensues as Lucrezia, Frank, Ligorio, and Lucrezia’s father travel to Venice to visit the Aldine Press to procure another copy of the Dante, which they think is Frank’s ticket back to the future. There is also real concern that word of what’s going on in the garden will get back to the Church, and Vicino, Frank, and Ligorio will be questioned and possibility burn for it.

The relationship between Frank and Lucrezia develops as they travel together. One of my favorite parts of the story was when they were in Venice and were in love in what many consider is the most beautiful city in the world. There are some lovely descriptions of Venice, which echoes a couple torn by circumstance who is in love and just living in the moment. Having visited Venice, I can attest to the fact that you can’t take a bad picture there. I felt like I was right there with Frank and Lucrezia. While I longed for them to somehow find a way to stay together, the larger problem of the Church and the happenings in the garden tugged at my heart, knowing this would be a heart-wrenching decision.

Back at the palazzo, the Duke makes some startling discoveries about his late wife and blood magic. The Church begins to question him and others, and it’s a race to see how everything will pan out.

The more I read the book, the more the momentum grew. The climax is indeed a strong one. The ending made me cry, brought me right there with Frank and Lucrezia. More than the mystical and magical aspects of this wonderful tale is that it’s a love story at heart, and one that will stick with me for a long time to come.

5 out of 5 stars

Purchase Dante’s Garden: Magic & Mystery in Bomarzo on Amazon

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Review of Dark Territory by Jerry Hunter

darkterritorySummary: From the Civil War battlefields of England and Ireland to a mystery lost in the forests of North America, this is both a roaring adventure and a timely commentary on the dangers of religious extremism.

Rhisiart Dafydd is a zealous Roundhead who embraces Oliver Cromwell’s New Model Army and the violence it entails. But can his convictions survive the atrocities of the English Civil Wars and Parliament’s campaign in Ireland? Called upon by his former commander to voyage to America to seek out a missing group of Welsh Puritans, he must first survive the journey, and then – if he can find the community – see whether they really have created the Kingdom of Heaven on Earth.

An epic historical adventure set during one of the most turbulent periods in history, this gripping thriller also poses questions about violence, power, religious extremism and rejection of difference which are chillingly relevant to our world today.

Note: I was given a copy of this novel by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

If history teaches us one thing, it’s that humanity never really changes. We don’t seem to learn from our mistakes. History repeats itself.

Dark Territory is historical fiction and was written in Welsh, originally published under the title Y Fro Dywyll, and was translated by Patrick K. Ford.

The novel opens with a former soldier named Rhisiart Daffyd walking through the noisy, sometimes harrowing, streets of 1656 London. Among the sights and sounds of the living, death stares back through mounted heads on pikes, a stark reminder of where we are all headed. The climate is chilling, despite the children running through the streets, the vendors selling their wares, and life continuing on as a man who has seen his fair share of death walks these cobbled streets. I am right there with Rhisiart, an invisible set of eyes on his shoulder. The description of the streets of London is done so vividly, with such beautiful detailed language, that the reader really gets a sense of what life was like then.

Rhisiart Daffyd served in Oliver Cromwell’s Army of the Saints and has come to London under the summons of his former commanding officer, John Powel. Powel has gotten word of a settlement in America that has drifted from the Calvinist views being upheld in Cromwellian England, and he wishes to send Rhisiart to the new country to investigate and report back to him.

Rhisiart boards the ship Primrose. He is surrounded by Englishmen, the only other Welshman an older man named Owen Lewys. Some of the best dialogue in the book occurs between these two during the voyage. Having witnessed, and taken part in, so much death during the war, Rhisiart questions his beliefs. The faith he once adhered to is no longer true for him. He and Owen, who his a Quaker, discuss passages in the Gospel of John, where the light within every man is written about. Rhisiart dismisses Predestination, believing it ludicrous that God would select some souls for damnation and others for salvation prior to their births. Rather, he believes now that God’s light shines within all people, even though humanity is flawed. He keeps quiet about his views aboard the ship, however, as he and Owen are in the minority.

A storm rages at sea as the ship approaches land. It hits rocks, leaving Rhisiart and a black tom cat named Nicholas the only survivors.

The novel then gives us the backstory of Rhisiart, from the time he was a boy and lost both of his parents, raised by his sister Alys and his uncle, to when he started apprenticing under a blacksmith. There is lovely narrative about Rhisiart working words into the objects he crafts. It is during this time that he develops his belief in what Cromwell professes. He marries the blacksmith’s daughter, Elisabeth, but he soon goes off to war.

When he returns from war a broken man who now questions everything he believed in, having witnessed atrocities, including the Battle of Naseby in 1645, he hopes to settle down. The “little plague” darkens his family’s doorstep, killing Elisabeth and his unborn child.

I was devastated right along with Rhisiart. Despite the atrocities he has participated in, he is still a man who loves and thought he was doing right for his homeland. It’s no wonder he takes on the mission Powel entrusts him with, seeing as he has no one keeping him in England any longer.

The book switches back to 1656. Once Rhisiart comes ashore, he is cared for by some Native Americans. There aren’t many of them at all, and the one who speaks English tells him how many of their tribe died from diseases from the settlers. The kindness of the Native Americans toward Rhisiart shows more of true Christian (or otherwise) charity than any of the characters in the book, despite they aren’t Christian. This truth is resonates with Rhisiart and does with me as well. It is heartbreaking to look back on history and see how the Native Americans were driven from their land, in some cases, and how such things still occurs today, both in America and globally. The refugee crisis in the world today comes to mind. To show kindness and generosity to your fellow person is in the spirit of what is at the heart of Christianity, the whole to do what Jesus did. To show mercy, understanding, love.

I think this is what strikes Rhisiart, both in his discussion aboard the Primrose with Owen Lewys and with the Native Americans. More than ever, he doesn’t believe in the Calvinist doctrine. He sees it for the manmade construct it is, not a divine ordinance…although he still has a mission to see through.

He regains his strength while in the care of the Native Americans. They give him a map to the settlement Powel told him to seek. Rhisiart travels several days through the woods in the dying fall and arrives at New Jerusalem. By the name alone, you can be sure this settlement believes it is God’s kingdom on Earth.

Rhisiart settles there for several months, befriending some (blacksmith Griffith John Griffith and his son, Ifan, and young, pregnant widow Rebecca) and at odds with others (namely the Elder, Rhosier Wyn). He learns some secrets about the corrupted ways the leaders of New Jerusalem carry out what they believe is divine justice. His beliefs are challenged more every passing day, and as Rebecca’s pregnancy nears its end, dread overcomes the reader, wondering how this is all going to end.

We have seen the crimes and wars done in the name of religion over the centuries, including the accurate historical representation in Dark Territory. So much unnecessary violence and death has resulted over disagreements. The whole “I am right, you are wrong” mentality and the pride of believing one’s way is the only true way puts up walls between people, between nations, and it tears down the Golden Rule. In theory, it should be simple to follow the path of love, to treat others as you wish to be treated, even in our human imperfection.

We can look at the serious nature of the English Civil Wars of the seventeenth century and the harsh beliefs of the Puritans in America and believe we have come so far from those ways of thinking, but a quick look around the world today paints a different story.

Dark territory, indeed. This novel shows the journey, the struggle, the life of one man in the midst of religious wars and tyranny. It forces us to look deep within ourselves and examine our hearts, our beliefs, to trod the path today through dark territory.

This novel is one of those rare gems that hooked me from the beginning. The themes are important for anyone to realize and think about. This is one of those masterpieces that will stay with me for the rest of my life.

5 out of 5 stars

Favorite quotes: “He imagined that silence would roll down the corridors like mist on the surface of a river, that quiet would collect in the chambers like water gathers in a fountain’s pool, turning sound to vapour and dulling the ear, keeping secrets secret.”

“He tilts his face to the sun, his eyes closed, and all the sounds of the ship are like a whisper in a dream. This is the world, he thinks, and this is the life I have lived. The heat he feels on his face has the warmth of skin: like another cheek pressing against his own cheek. Living fingers playing with his hair, a hand caressing his skin playfully.”

“Is the way that the most insignificant instincts lead an animal to its death essentially different from the way that most men follow their instincts to the end?”

“‘I do. He knew that I… had lived the life… had believed… had done. And he knew that I now doubt many of the things I used to believe in. And he saw value in that.’”

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Review of Cobwebs of Youth by Rose Auburn

cobswebsofyouthSummary: ‘Cobwebs of Youth’ is a contemporary, romantic novel set in the London suburbs. It tells the story of Lara Cassidy who realises her dream of becoming a children’s book illustrator like her father. Yet her happiness is short-lived and she is plunged into uncertainty as Robert Kennedy, the mysterious stranger she first encountered ten years earlier, comes back into her life. Will Lara finally be able to lay her Father’s ghost to rest and fully embrace what the future holds?

Note: I was given a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Cobwebs of Youth is a lovely book, let me just say. Lovely is the first word that comes to mind and sticks with me as I recount my experience reading this novel.

I am quite familiar with British novels, having recently read The Girl on the Train and The Woman in Cabin 10. I am also a fan of British shows, such as Doctor Who, Downton Abbey, and Sherlock. Being an American, I pick up on the differences in the English language when I step into a British novel. And it’s lovely.

The characters in this book are very realistic and relatable. Their dialogue reads so fluidly, so naturally. That is probably my favorite part of this story, and it’s a character-driven, dialogue-driven story told in third person-limited narrative, so what a pleasure to read Lara Cassidy’s journey of finding herself.

It may sound like another modern mundane romance story, like another journey of self-discovery. I admit, this arch is overdone these days, yet it works so well most of the time. When done right, as it is in Cobwebs of Youth (which is a great title, by the way), these types of stories can resonate with many people.

The book opens with an 18-year-old Lara visiting her father, against her mother’s wishes. Her parents are divorced. When she arrives at her dad’s house, she finds he is with a French woman. She feels betrayed, no longer the first woman in her dad’s life. She is at a vulnerable age. She and her best friend, Jen, go to a local pub to drink away their sorrows. While there, Lara meets an older biker man named Rob, who comforts her. She is both intrigued and put off by him.

A decade passes. Lara’s dad has died, and she moves into his house. She is in a relationship with attorney Ed, a guy who, according to Lara’s mum, has a good job and is a good match for Lara. Lara is an artist, an illustrator like her dad, and has a big project coming up to illustrate a children’s book called Puddle. It may be her big break where her career is concerned, but she finds herself severely unhappy. She attends one of Ed’s work parties, where everyone is only surface-level and rubbing noses. She has felt little affection for Ed for months, and he seems equally distant, more concerned with his job than their relationship. They finally end it.

Lara almost steps back in time by returning to the pub where she met Rob, unable to forget him all these years. As fate would have it, he is there again. They start talking and strike up a relationship. Rob is everything Ed isn’t. Jen and Lara’s mum don’t approve of her dating a biker, but she feels more alive with him than she has in her life. She rides a motorcycle for the first time and feels exhilarated. She meets new people. She is head-over-heels in love with this mysterious guy.

But life is never easy. As much as Lara wants to get away from the past, it’s still part of her. This story is a beautiful exploration of a young woman’s struggle to come into her own.

There are some grammatical errors in the book, but they don’t detract from the story or the great dialogue.

4 out of 5 stars

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Like what you’ve read?  Please subscribe to my blog, where I post a new blog every Friday, including book reviews.

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