Book Review: Veil of Lies by Jeri Westerson

Veil of Lies  
A Crispin Guest Novel #1
Jeri Westerson
Minotaur Books, October 2008
ISBN 978-0-312-37977-3

Not being a fan of medieval crime fiction, I approached this story with a small amount of trepidation. By the time I reached page fifteen, I was hooked. The author invites us back in time to the late Fourteenth Century in England, specifically, London. A young Richard is on the throne and our protagonist, who backed the wrong horse in a recent scrum over ascension to the English throne, is making a new life for himself.

Crispin Guest is a defrocked knight who escaped his mistake at court by the merest margin of luck and the backing of his patron, the Duke of Lancaster. Without that support Crispin Guest would be dead. But here he is stripped of everything, struggling to make his way on the mean and cold and rainy streets of the city.

Now called the Tracker, Guest is tasked by a wealthy merchant to prove whether or not his wife is unfaithful. It’s a small task and Crispin is quick to the task. But the mystery explodes in his face when he returns to report to the merchant and discovers him dead. In a room locked from the inside with no key.

If one can find fault with this steady intriguing narrative which is full of interesting and unusual characters, it is the bad weather, the extensive descriptions and the length of the narrative. But if readers are even slightly interested in the life and times of the English people, as different from the royals and the gentry, the vivid tasty narrative will take them deep into the mean and dangerous streets of ancient London. Crispin, with help from various street people and even the Lord High Sheriff of London, solves the mystery and expands his lower class reach and influence. Recommended.

Reviewed by Carl Brookins, March 2019.
The Case of the Purloined Painting, The Case of the Great Train Robbery, Reunion, Red Sky.

Book Review: The Letter for the King by Tonke Dragt

The Letter for the KingThe Letter for the King
Tonke Dragt
David Fickling Books, September 2015
ISBN 978-0-545-81978-7

Upon discovering a character I admire and adore, I often aspire to become that character.  Emulate a new role model, envision greater goals and dream of different worlds to conquer.  In this case, though, I would never set myself up for that fall.  Merely a human being, a perfectly plausible person; Tiuri is genuinely good.  And kind.  I believe that Tiuri is truly and actually, altruistic.

His epic journey to deliver a message of monumental importance took place many years ago.  A mission that today could be as simple as “send”, was an adventure only for the courageous and strong then.  Traveling alone, on horseback at best; stumbling through the forest by sheer will, hiding from the knights who considered him a murderer and a thief, at worst.

Tiuri is brave.  No.  Make that, bold—often foolishly so.  Although, to be fair, no fault can ever be found.  If ever there was a quintessential example of will power (aside from Frog & Toad “Cookies”, that is), Tiuri conveys it.  Wise beyond his years he is also, oddly, naïve.  A sincere listener, Tiuri ponders then proceeds.  Complexly concurrent, he has an uncanny ability to act instinctively.

But I’ve buried the lead.

Tiuri should not even be embarking on this endeavor.  Moments before he fled his kingdom, fleet on a stolen horse, with the furious owner following; Tiuri had been locked inside a silent chapel, reflecting upon the duties he would perform as knight to his beloved king; beginning at sunrise.

Tiuri’s abrupt departure meant sacrificing what he had worked towards his whole life (all sixteen years of it).  His decision seems reckless and a bit ridiculous.  But things aren’t always as they seem, and this cunning theme cuts through narrative cleverly guiding Tiuri as he encounters a plethora of peculiar people during his travels.

The Letter for the King reads like an instant classic.  While the fiction is fresh, the feel is familiar.  Mystery and intrigue magnificently merge with action and adventure, appealing to all senses.  The colorful characters encountered keep loneliness at bay and Tiuri on his toes.  11-year-old-me would have read this book over and over and over.

Reviewed by jv poore, March 2016.

Book Reviews: Fatal Feast by Jay Ruud and The Iron Sickle by Martin Limon

Fatal FeastFatal Feast
A Merlin Mystery
Jay Ruud
Five Star, January 2015
ISBN 978-1-4328-2987-2

Author Jay Rudd gives the reader a different twist in this tale of murder and revenge. Set in Camelot, at King Arthur’s court, Queen Guenivere appears to have poisoned one of her dinner guests. But why would the queen do such a thing? How did she manage it? It doesn’t make sense, yet with the accusation made Guenivere faces death by burning if found guilty.

King Arthur hands Gildas, the queen’s young page, the job of rousting Merlin the magician out of his cave to get to the bottom of things. “Prove the queen’s innocence,” he says.

Together, Merlin and Gildas have their work cut out for them in clearing the queen’s name before it’s too late. You see, finding a champion to defend Guenivere’s honor is a thankless task indeed. Ruthless retribution hides under the guise of courtly manners and false loyalties as the two detectives suspect everyone at the table at one time or another.

A fine twist towards the end makes sense of a plot that sometimes seems a little confusing. Many of the characters have similar names, making it hard to keep track of how they all figure in the case. A welcome dash of humor brings the characters, especially Gildas, to life. Anachronisms scattered here and there actually add to the story.

The queen? Well, Guenivere is the stuff of legend, is she not?

Reviewed by Carol Crigger, July 2015.
Author of Three Seconds to Thunder.


The Iron SickleThe Iron Sickle
A Sueno and Bascom Investigation #9
Martin Limon
Soho Crime, June 2015
ISBN: 978-1-61695-568-7
Trade Paperback

Twenty years after the truce brought hostilities to an end on the Korean peninsula, the head of the 8th United States Army Claims Office in Seoul is murdered when a Korean man slices his throat with a small iron sickle, bringing in CID agents George Sueno and Ernie Bascom to investigate.  The two have demonstrated in previous novels that they irreverently disobey orders but somehow achieve results.

In this case, they are stonewalled by both the Americans and Koreans, both of whom apparently do not wish the two to solve it.  It seems there is a dirty secret buried and the agents have to steal clues to guide their investigation.

The author’s novels ring with authenticity gained from firsthand knowledge.  He served 20 years in the Army, ten of them in Korea.  As a result, the sights and sounds provide the reader with the real flavor of the city, the taste of foods, the nights filled with bars, drinks and sex.  And, more important, the rigidness of the Army bureaucracy.


Reviewed by Ted Feit, June 2015.

Book Review: The Spoils of Avalon by Mary F. Burns

The Spoils of Avalon Tour Banner


Title: The Spoils of Avalon
Series: A John Singer Sargent/Violet Paget Mystery Book One
Author: Mary F. Burns
Publisher: Sand Hill Review Press
Publication Date: November 1, 2014
Genre: Historical Mystery


“An artist, a writer, a murder, a mysterious tome, a dissolving time, a crime,
Arthurian legends, ancient saints books and bones. Burns’ prose drives and
is sublime, with characters and settings that live on in your mind. This is an
original historical mystery connecting the Age of Industry with the Age of Miracles.”
– Stephanie Renée dos Santos, forthcoming novel: Cut From The Earth



Amazon Buy Button


The Spoils of AvalonThe Spoils of Avalon
A John Singer Sargent/Violet Paget Mystery Book One
Mary F. Burns
Sand Hill Review Press, November 2014
ISBN 978-1-937818-28-9
Trade Paperback

From the publisher—

The death of a humble clergyman in 1877 leads amateur sleuths Violet Paget and John Singer Sargent into a medieval world of saints and kings—including the legendary Arthur—as they follow a trail of relics and antiquities lost since the destruction of Glastonbury Abbey in 1539. Written in alternating chapters between the two time periods, The Spoils of Avalon creates a sparkling, magical mystery that bridges the gap between two worlds that could hardly be more different—the industrialized, Darwinian, materialistic Victorian Age and the agricultural, faith-infused life of a medieval abbey on the brink of violent change at the hands of Henry VIII and Thomas Cromwell.

First in a new series of historical mysteries, The Spoils of Avalon introduces two unlikely detectives and life-long friends—beginning as young people on the verge of making their names famous for the next several decades throughout Europe and America: the brilliant and brittle Violet Paget, known as the writer Vernon Lee, and the talented, genial portrait painter John Singer Sargent.

Writing a novel in two different time periods is nothing new but doing it really well is not so easy. The Spoils of Avalon is, to my way of thinking, a prime example of doing it oh, so very well. I was intrigued when offered the chance to read and review this because I’m fond of both the Arthurian legend and its time and the Victorian period for historical fiction and historical mysteries (not to mention pure historical nonfiction). Ms. Burns not only didn’t fail me, she gave me one of the best reads I’ve had all year.

The first thing I have to mention is the tone of the alternating chapters. By that, I mean there is no mistaking whether it’s 1539 or 1877 because the author has such a fine sense of the language and the syntax of each time and the events that were occurring, historically speaking. Henry VIII and Thomas Cromwell were in the midst of destroying the monasteries in 1539 and the fear and disillusionment felt by the Abbot, the young monk, Arthur, and other abbey monks who gave their loyalty to the Church is palpable. Looking back from today, we know how Henry and Cromwell rampaged through all the church holdings, taking their wealth for the Crown and leaving the English Church in ruins. Contrasted with that time is the Victorian era and it’s industrialization and the beginnings of women’s freedoms. Violet and John speak in the mode of language you would anticipate and show the signs of modernity that would have certainly been evident in 1877 England.

The characters, primarily Arthur, John and Violet, all came to life for me. I felt the Abbot’s distress and Arthur’s devotion to the man while he was having doubts about his own future as a monk. Seeing Arthur in a teenaged role was interesting, lending a new facet to the king he was to become. John’s love of art, in this time before he gained fame, runs throughout the story and it’s his eye for detail that makes him such a good sleuth. Then there’s Violet, a woman I had not heard of before who made a name for herself as a writer in a man’s world. In Ms. Burns’ hands, Violet is incredibly engaging and intelligent with a wit that enlivens her conversations. She has joined the small group of Victorian sleuths I call my favorites.

Getting to the bottom of how Reverend Crickley met his untimely end is, of course, the core of the tale and it’s a very pleasing bit of sleuthing that John and Violet take on. Is the less-than-totally-charming Lord Parke somehow involved? The housekeeper, Mrs. Barnstable? The lawyer Wattendall? And what is the motive behind the death?

Anyone in search of a truly engaging mystery with depth of character and plot and interesting historical settings would do well to pick up The Spoils of Avalon, first in what I hope will be a very long series.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, November 2014.

About the Author

Mary F. BurnsMary F. Burns is the author of PORTRAITS OF AN ARTIST (Sand Hill Review Press, February 2013), a member of and book reviewer for the Historical Novel Society and a former member of the HNS Conference board of directors. A novella-length book, ISAAC AND ISHMAEL, is also being published by Sand Hill Review Press in 2014. Ms. Burns’ debut historical novel J-THE WOMAN WHO WROTE THE BIBLE was published in July 2010 by O-Books (John Hunt Publishers, UK). She has also written two cozy-village mysteries in a series titled The West Portal Mysteries (The Lucky Dog Lottery and The Tarot Card Murders).

Ms. Burns was born in Chicago, Illinois and attended Northern Illinois University in DeKalb, where she earned both Bachelors and Masters degrees in English, along with a high school teaching certificate. She relocated to San Francisco in 1976 where she now lives with her husband Stuart in the West Portal neighborhood. Ms. Burns has a law degree from Golden Gate University, has been president of her neighborhood association and is active in citywide issues. During most of her working career she was employed as a director of employee communications, public relations and issues management at various San Francisco Bay Area corporations, was an editor and manager of the Books on Tape department for Ignatius Press, and has managed her own communications/PR consulting business, producing written communications, websites and video productions for numerous corporate and non-profit clients.

Ms. Burns may be contacted by email at For more information please visit Mary Burns’s website. You can also connect with Mary on Facebook, Twitter, and Goodreads, or read her blog posts at:


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Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tours

Book Reviews: The False Prince by Jennifer A. Nielsen and Don’t Breathe a Word by Jennifer McMahon

The False PrinceThe False Prince
The Ascendance Trilogy, Book One
Jennifer A. Nielsen
Scholastic Press, March 2013
ISBN 978-0-545-28414-1
Trade Paperback

The King of Carthya has many enemies.  Some dislike his way of ruling, while others simply want the chance to push their own agendas.  Many in his court detest him for sending away his youngest son, Prince Jaron. No one would argue with the fact that the 10-year old was strong-willed, mischievous, opinionated and completely improper; but he was adored for his spirit.  Immediately upon being sent away, it was said that pirates attacked his ship, Prince Jaron had been killed.  While all of the evidence was there, the boy’s body had not been found in the five years that have passed.

Bevin Conner, serving as one of the king’s twenty regents, wants the king ousted because he believes that the king will not be strong enough to defend the country, and war is imminent.   He learns of the rumour that the King, his Queen, and Jaron’s older brother, the Crown Prince, have been murdered.  Upon gaining this information, he sets out to several orphanages looking for boys that may resemble Jaron as he would look today.  Conner chooses four boys he plans to groom to impersonate the Prince, who will later serve as his puppet in gratitude for being removed from the orphanage.  Obviously, only one boy will be chosen at the end of the two-week training.

The False Prince is intended for the Middle Grade genre (ages 10 – 14).  I can’t imagine a more enticing book for that age group.  The tale is filled with entertaining characters and tons of twists and turns.  It is quite suspenseful and engaging.  While it tells a fascinating and captivating story, there is another layer.  There are characters that are evil to the core, but appear to be looking out for the best interest of the kingdom.    The orphans are unique, and their interactions compelling.  It is clear that they are in a competition, the reader is challenged in determining when, if at all, there is sincerity or camaraderie among them.  Truth and lies are intertwined, promises are made and broken, trickery and sabotage occur frequently; making this a fast-paced story that this reader could not put down (despite being well outside of the intended audience).  It is written in both first and third person, giving the reader different views of each character.  For me, it shows by example, that no matter how insubordinate, flippant and arrogant a person may appear, there could be a heart of gold that can be seen when looking past the apparent character flaws.

This is the first book in the Ascendance Trilogy.  While I have tons more praise to share, I also have the second book in the series, The Runaway King, sitting in front of me begging to be read.

Reviewed by jv poore, April 2013.


Don't Breathe a WordDon’t Breathe a Word
Jennifer McMahon
Harper, May 2011
ISBN 978-0-06-168937-6
Trade Paperback

I don’t always know what I want when searching for a creepy, scary book.  Two things terrify me, faeries and psychotic minds.  Naturally, I love Don’t Breathe a Word, because this book features both.  Well, at least ONE of those things.  Maybe the two aren’t mutually exclusive.  Maybe they are so intertwined that it is nearly impossible to know which came first.

In many a review, I have used the word “haunting”.  I always meant it.  At the time, whatever I was referring to (the entire book or a passage), indeed felt “haunting” to me.  This book, however, epitomizes the true definition of the word.  The story didn’t pull me in, rather it catapulted into me.  I was captured.  I became invested.  The tale stayed in my mind, like a catchy tune…..admittedly a creepy, terrifying tune; but unshakeable nonetheless.

Ms. McMahon has done amazing things here.  I can give you a Book Review in the rawest sense, I don’t even have to delve into a summary or allude to the plot in order to entice you.

For starters, if this book should ever be made into a film, I will not see it.  The depth and richness of the characters is such that I feel as if I know Bee, Sam and Evie.  I sympathize, support and struggle to understand them.  I accept the flaws that Ms. McMahon has given them and embrace the goodness, even when buried deeply inside of someone.  I won’t have my images spoiled.

The intricacies of the characters’ pasts create and support the strong, unique personalities in this novel.  Of course, spectacular characters can’t carry a book, and there is certainly no attempt to do so here.  Instead, as Bee’s drama unfolds, the reader is kept guessing.  There is more than one mystery to be solved here, but the book won’t be categorized that simply.  Life lessons are learned, heart-wrenching decisions need to be made and loyalties are forcibly tested.  Trust is established and broken.   Inexplicable events in the past become decipherable, yet they become no easier to understand or accept.  Supposed answers only lead to more questions, until there is really only one question remaining.  What is real, and what is not.

Rarely do I find a book that, to me, has everything.  Don’t Breathe a Word does have everything I hope for in an amazing book, yet I’ve read nothing like it before.

Reviewed by jv poore, July 2013.

Book Review: Defiance by C. J. Redwine

C. J. Redwine
Balzer + Bray, August 2012
ISBN 978-0-06-211718-2

From the publisher—

Within the walls of Baalboden, beneath the shadow of the city’s brutal leader, Rachel Adams has a secret. While other girls sew dresses and obey their male Protectors, Rachel knows how to survive in the wilderness and deftly wield a sword. When her father, Jared, fails to return from a courier mission and is declared dead, the Commander assigns Rachel a new Protector, her father’s apprentice, Logan—the same boy Rachel declared her love for two years ago, and the same one who handed her heart right back to her. Left with nothing but a fierce belief in her father’s survival, Rachel decides to escape and find him herself. But treason against the Commander carries a heavy price, and what awaits her in the Wasteland could destroy her.

At nineteen, Logan McEntire is many things. Orphan. Outcast. Inventor. As apprentice to the city’s top courier, Logan is focused on learning his trade so he can escape the tyranny of Baalboden. But his plan never included being responsible for his mentor’s impulsive daughter. Logan is determined to protect her, but when his escape plan goes wrong and Rachel pays the price, he realizes he has more at stake than disappointing Jared.

As Rachel and Logan battle their way through the Wasteland, stalked by a monster that can’t be killed and an army of assassins out for blood, they discover romance, heartbreak, and a truth that will incite a war decades in the making.

Sometimes, it’s a little difficult to separate our expectations of fictional characters versus real people and that had some effect on me as I was reading Defiance. Rachel, the heroine of the story, is brave, smart, purpose-driven and, well, defiant. Rachel is also foolhardy, overly impulsive, overly dramatic and frequently irrational.There were many times when I wanted to scream at her and shake her till she’d go cross-eyed and then something would happen to remind me.

Rachel is a teenager. She lives in a terrible world and has suffered unimaginable losses yet still wants to fight the good fight…but she is still a teenager.  A girl who is a few months shy of her 17th birthday cannot fairly be required to always act with reason and forethought, even in a fictional world.

Then there’s Logan, only two years older than Rachel but her polar opposite in personality and demeanour. Logan actually verges on being way too perfect but his redeeming quality, if you can call it that, is that he becomes so focused that he’s oblivious to what’s going on around him. That makes him human and likeable even while the reader wants to tell him, “Hey, dimwit, pay attention to what she’s about to do!”

So, yes, these two are often annoying past description and yet their story draws the reader in and it’s impossible to just walk away, at least it was for me. I needed to know more about them and about Jared and his secret. The secondary characters are just as compelling, especially Melkin, Commander Chase and the brother and sister team of Quinn and Willow and how could anyone not want to find out the truth about the Cursed One?

If there is a shortfall, it’s in Ms. Redwine‘s worldbuilding. Baalboden appears to be very medieval but is it really or has humanity regressed to that period? Why are there separate city-states? What happened to throw society into such disarray? Is the Protector system and the related Claiming ceremony based on current treatment of women in certain parts of our world or something else entirely? Is the Cursed One rooted in magic, related to dragons, or something much more horrific?

Alas, we’ll have to wait for the next book to see if some of these questions will be answered. I thoroughly enjoyed Defiance and will look forward to the continuation of Rachel’s and Logan’s tale.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, September 2012.