New book alert! The Thieftaker’s Trek by Joan Sumner

Congratulations to author Joan Sumner on her debut historical novel The Thieftaker’s Trek!, published today by Bastei Entertainment. I first met Joan at a Historical Novel Society conference and can’t wait to read her book. It arrived on my kindle this morning!

Here is the story:

Screen Shot 2018-07-10 at 7.27.24 AMRevenge   Abduction   Blackmail   Murder

It’s 1810. The industrial revolution in Britain is at its height. Enormous profits in the British cotton mills and factories are made, working around the illicit black slave trade, using white child slaves.

Frobisher, a London catcher of thieves is a widowed father with a dark past. He’s hired to find Harry, the young son of an impoverished army widow. The child is enticed from home to earn a penny. The trail leads the thief-taker out of the city onto the English canal network and beyond to Derbyshire.

Simultaneously, a murder takes Goldziher, a Bow Street detective and friend of Frobisher, into London’s Spitalfield slums. The involvement of minor nobility introduces political dimensions and concerns.

In both cases the witnesses are children which complicates matters for the investigators…

The crime novel is based on historical fact.

About the Author

joanJoan Sumner, MBA (Dundee)and Fellow of Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development, has a working background across the private, public and voluntary sectors. Semi-retired, she has settled in Midlothian, Scotland to write, closer to family and friends.

An award winning historical novelist, Joan formerly contributed self-help articles to a national weekly. Her travel abroad articles and occasional BBC radio contributions mostly starred her vintage MGB car.

Joan’s small garden hosts a family of hedgehogs, giving enjoyment to everyone she knows!

She is a member of the Society of Authors, the Edinburgh Writers’ Club and the National Trust for Scotland. She paints, plays tennis and golf, and loves to travel – particularly by car.

But her passion is weaving mystery stories around little known historical facts. You can follow her on linkedin/in/joan-s-sumner-144332a0/ and Facebook.

Two Journey’s Home by Kevin O’Connell

Updated For Kevins Tour

It’s 1767. As the eagerly anticipated sequel to Beyond Derrynane begins, Eileen O’Connell avails herself of a fortuitous opportunity to travel back to Ireland. In Two Journeys Home, the O’Connells encounter old faces and new—and their lives change forever.

Her vivacious personality matched only by her arresting physical presence, Eileen returns to Derrynane this time not as a teen aged widow but as one of the most recognised figures at the Habsburg court. Before returning to Vienna she experiences a whirlwind romance, leading to a tumult of betrayal and conflict with the O’Connell clan.

Abigail lives not in the shadow of her sister but instead becomes the principal lady-in-waiting to Empress Maria Theresa.

Hugh O’Connell leaves behind waning adolescence and a fleeting attraction to the youngest archduchess when he begins a military career in the Irish Brigade under Louis XV. But more royal entanglement awaits him in France…


Today I’m excited to share news of a new historical novel from author Kevin O’Connell, and tempt readers with this excerpt from Two Journey’s Home

Having served at the court of the Empress Maria Theresa for almost six years, Eileen O’Connell is returning to her home in County Kerry, Ireland for a brief visit. Though she had last departed the O’Connells’ sanctuary at Derrynane as a teenage widow, she returns as one of the most recognised figures at the glittering Habsburg court. As the family’s ship, the Will o’ the Wisp, approaches the secure harbour at Iskeroon, Eileen experiences a strong sense of place – and reflects on some of the events of her years in Vienna:

Within moments, it was the whistling trill that heralded the sudden leaping arrival of a pair of dolphins, their joyful presence—especially as they would remain on the port side of the vessel for the duration of the passage to Derrynane—reminding Eileen that no dolphins had been in evidence at the time of her most recent departures and arrivals. So perhaps the smiling dears herald something special, she reflected. As she watched them cavorting even as they swam, she could not help but smile, returning, she felt, the warm gestures the animals seemed to be directing to her.

Leaning against the ship’s rail, noticing the sun’s orb as it continued its struggle to make itself more fully evident in the still-dull heavens, recalling briefly her gentle awakening, Eileen spoke aloud to the wind, and to herself, “These years, these not-quite six years . . . They could have all been a dream . . . could they not have? Yet to me, all of it has actually happened . . .” A panoply of places and events—and people, so many people! —raced vividly through her mind, as if it were all unfolding as a moving panorama before her.

With the coming of the spring of 1761, General O’Connell’s skilful orchestration of arranging opportunities at the court of the Empress Maria Theresa in Vienna for Eileen, now twenty-three, and her ebullient, slightly older sister, Abigail, having borne fruit, it was the Countess Maria von Graffenreit, at the time and for a number of years prior the primary lady-in-waiting to the empress, with whom Eileen and Abby had corresponded, in preparation for their journey to Vienna.

It was also the countess who had greeted them warmly on their arrival at court in October of the same year, following their five-weeklong journey from Derrynane, seeing to it that Eileen was presented to her new charges—Their Imperial Highnesses, the Archduchesses Maria Carolina and Maria Antonia of Austria and Lorraine—and Abigail to her own new mistress, the Empress Maria Theresa herself, as well as choreographing a lengthy series of both formal and informal introductions to key persons at court.

In the years that quickly followed, as the sisters flourished at the apex of the glittering Habsburg court and society, Maria von Graffenreit was daily, quietly in their lives. More so, during the same period, the attractive, quietly elegant widow had grown ever closer to the never married general, such that the two had wed quietly, early in the current year.

It was with, or so it seemed to Eileen, an almost-dizzying speed that immediately following their marriage, the countess had yielded her lofty position as head of the empress’s household to Abigail O’Connell O’Sullivan, herself wed less than a year to Major Denis O’Sullivan, an officer in the Hungarian Hussars.

During the ensuing bitterly cold, unusually snowy Vienna winter of the current year, Eileen had experienced what she had come to refer to as the winter of my own discontent, marked significantly by the departure from Vienna of her dear friend and lover, Major Wolfgang von Klaus, for an extended tour of duty at the Imperial Russian court at St. Petersburg, an event that had resulted in Eileen unexpectedly sensing herself unsettled, uncertain.

Though in the interim she had become less disconcerted, her state of mind remained such that when in early June the general and the countess announced a late-summer trip to Ireland, Eileen had met the news with an unexpected but profound desire to return to Derrynane herself, if only for a time. Whilst she indicated to the couple that her motivation lay in a simple desire to see the rest of her family, Eileen acknowledged to herself that seeing the O’Sullivans and, more recently, the general and the countess all well-wed—and, she somewhat reluctantly admitted, von Klaus’s departure for Russia—had left her feeling to some not insignificant degree uncertain as to what life might next hold in store for her. She felt that some time spent at what she had always felt the powerful sanctuary that was Derrynane might help her clarify her life’s future direction.

Though she realised it might be awkward for the newlyweds, Eileen quietly inquired of them if she might accompany them to Ireland, phrasing it lightly, “With the dragoons I shall gladly ride.” The general had no doubt that she was, in fact, more than willing to make the trip on horseback rather than intrude on the couple’s privacy in a coach. They immediately and graciously acceded to her request, and Eileen rode in the coach.


Kevin O'ConnellKevin O’Connell is a native of New York City and the descendant of a young officer of what had—from 1690 to 1792—been the Irish Brigade of the French Army, believed to have arrived in French Canada following the execution of Queen Marie Antoinette in October of 1793. He holds both Irish and American citizenship.

An international business attorney, Mr. O’Connell is an alumnus of Providence College and Georgetown University Law Centre.

A lifelong personal and scholarly interest in the history of eighteenth-century Ireland, as well as that of his extended family, led O’Connell to create his first book, Beyond Derrynane, which will, together with Two Journeys Home and the two books to follow, comprise the Derrynane Saga.

The father of five children and grandfather of ten, he and his wife, Laurette, live with their golden retriever, Katie, near Annapolis, Maryland.

Connect with Kevin on Facebook, through his website or on Amazon



Two Journeys HomeO’Connell is a fantastic storyteller. His prose is so rich and beautiful it is a joy to read. The story is compelling and the characters memorable – all the more so because they are based on real people. . . I am Irish but I did not know about this piece of Irish history. It is fascinating but historical fiction at the same time . . . Highly recommended for historical fiction lovers! (c) Beth Nolan, Beth’s Book Nook

I enjoyed the first part of the Saga awhile back . . . (and) couldn’t wait to continue the story of Eileen and her family . . . this author really does have a way with words. The world and the characters are so vivid . . . Overall, I was hooked from page one. I honestly think that (Two Journeys Home) was better than (Beyond Derrynane) – which is rare. The characters and world-building was done in such a beautiful manner . . . I can’t wait for the next one . . . (c) Carole Rae, Carole’s Sunday Review, Book Girl of Mur-y-Castell

Two Journeys Home: A Novel of Eighteenth Century Europe . . . is a gripping story that will transport the reader back in time, a story with a strong setting and compelling characters . . . a sensational romance, betrayal, family drama and intrigue . . . The plot is so complex that I find it hard to offer a summary in a few lines, but it is intriguing and it holds many surprises . . .  great writing. Kevin O’Connell’s prose is crisp and highly descriptive. I was delighted (by) . . . how he builds the setting, offering . . . powerful images of places, exploring cultural traits and unveiling the political climate of the time . . . The conflict is (as well-developed as the characters) and it is a powerful ingredient that moves the plot forward . . . an absorbing and intelligently-crafted historical novel . . . . (c) Divine Zapa for Readers’ Favourite

New book reviews

With a new edition of the Historical Novel Review out, I can share the three books I reviewed this quarter, plus the feature I wrote for the print magazine. Here they are:

My reviews are available from the Historical Novel Society, but in brief…

Sword of Destiny by Justin Hill. This is a must-read for all the fans of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. Shulien is back with some new friends to fight beside. I was so impressed by how Justin Hill made those crazy fight scenes work on the page. For the interview in the latest print edition of the Historical Novel Review, it was really interesting to hear how turning a screenplay into a novel (rather than the other way round) worked for him.

Lazaretto by Diane McKinney-Whetstone. Loved this story which is set in Philadelphia – so local history for me! – and starts on the night that Lincoln was assassinated. Both the story and the writing put me in mind of Toni Morrison and I was sorry not to be able to go the Free Library and hear McKinney-Whetstone talk about the book, as I did last year go and hear and see Morrison. This one is definitely on the literary end of the historical fiction spectrum – I so enjoyed the way the point of view shifted in this story – but there are also great characters and it’s a dramatic and engrossing story.

Three-Martini Lunch by Susanne Rindell. For me this would be the perfect thinking woman’s beach read. It evokes a great sense of time and place, reads easily and is full of incident, but also doesn’t shy away from showing that actions have consequences and that the world can be a dark place. There is a great plagarism storyline, lots of love and loss and I particularly liked the bitchy office politics that Eden has to contend with. Susanne Rindell is definitely someone whose books I would look out for. I also really enjoyed her earlier novel, The Other Typist.

The Empress of Bright Moon by Weina Dai Randel. I came to this book (and its precursor, The Moon in the Palace) with no knowledge of 6th Century China and the history of the Empress Consort Wu. What a treat reading these two has been! I can hardly think of any other historical fiction where so much historical detail has been so seamlessly woven into a page-turning story. I’d definitely recommend reading these novels in order. Prepare to escape to another time and place and root for Mei as she battles to make a life at the Imperial court.

Q&A with Cynthia Bond

I recently had the opportunity to ask Cynthia Bond some questions about her novel Ruby which I had the pleasure of reading and reviewing for the Historical Novel Society. I loved the book so I had lots of questions for Cynthia and, consequently,  a hard time picking and choosing which of her responses to use in the resulting article. Here is a link to the piece on the HNS website, but I’m also posting the whole Q&A here.



Ruby is your debut novel, but it reads like the accomplished work of an established novelist – I’m thinking particularly of your language and the way the story weaves across time and different points of views so seamlessly. Can you describe your journey as a writer to reach this point?

Cynthia Bond: First, thank you so very much. Both of my parents were academicians. My mother has been the base note, throughout my life, for the importance of reading, of acquiring, gathering knowledge as one might accrue a collection of stamps. My father, who passed away fourteen years ago, taught speech, theater and literature. Some of my fondest memories are of sitting with my sister doing homework in the back of a theater at Kansas University where he taught. I would peek up from the pages of third grade English or Math and watch him cast actors, direct plays, and discuss scenes. I saw the scripts he was working on, dog-eared, curled at the edges, carried under his arm. My dad had a love of words, and he knew theater like the back of his hand. Ibsen, Chekov, Shakespeare…I grew up in a house where my father quoted Shylock from The Merchant of Venice or any number of characters constantly.

Because Dad was one of the few Black professors at KU, he and my mother also hosted many famous writers and activists of the day who influenced me. Between the ages of seven and ten, I met Gwendolyn Brooks, Nikki Giovanni, my cousin, Julian Bond and many others. I also picked through adult books at that time as well. When Maya Angelou visited our house on Oak Street, I leapt into her lap and asked, “Why did the caged bird sing?” Although Ms. Angelou may not remember this, she did her best to explain this titular line from the Paul Lawrence Dunbar poem to an eight-year-old. It is a story my family has retold many times. It still gets a chuckle around the dinner table.

I received a full scholarship to the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University. I had a brilliant teacher my first year, Henry Kisor, who was deaf, yet taught me to love language. I began to write all the time, short stories, journals, essays, along with the “feature” stories we were asked to produce. I had never been happier but in an act of rebellion, I veered away from my prescribed career path until I began to grapple with my own past.

Ruby actually began in a tiny writing class many years ago taught by Ayofemi Folayan. We were given a prompt to write about someone receiving a surprise. No laptops, only lined paper and pens (I’m dating myself!) I looked around the room, everyone was writing away furiously—it felt a bit like a quilting bee, each person sewing, attaching their own swatch of fabric. Then I had an image of a woman in a gray dress. It wasn’t a far-fetched image—I was wearing an oversized gray cotton shirt. I had been wearing it for days, driving around Los Angeles in a very old yellow Ford Fiesta, in a state of abject loss.I had just started piecing together scraps of my own forgotten childhood, and had great difficulty going about the business of everyday life. I sat down in that class and wrote: “She wore gray like rainclouds.” It helped. I believe writing is its own medicine. You present the problem, and if you follow the words, follow where the story leads, answers emerge. That day, sitting there in my gray voluminous shirt, an angel cake materialized, and a kind man to carry it and tend to great sorrow. I wrote, basically, the first arc of the novel—Ephram bringing Ruby a cake, in that 30-minute writing exercise. Then of course, it took many, many years to take those four pages and fill in the rest of the story! The amount of work was like scaling the north face of a behemoth mountain. But the seed for the novel began in that class.


Can you explain what the Dybou is? Is he/it your own creation?

Cynthia Bond: Ruby is set in the Piney Woods of East Texas near the Sabine River—a stone’s throw away from Louisiana. The people of the town are steeped in many of the beliefs that echoed from New Orleans. Haints, spirits, spells, and curses…a knowledge, in their bones that there is magic in the world. It is the air they breathe. It is the roots winding under the topsoil that they walk upon. It is the atmosphere of Liberty and all life and death and pain and joy happens within that weighted, yet unseen substance. The Dybou is a part of that…One character tells Ruby that she can tell that the Dybou is coming because he smells like a candle that has just been snuffed out. He is the pain and anger and fear of Liberty whittled to a sharp point. He had been a part of the book since it’s inception, but kept growing and winding across the floor of the Big Thicket. Soon he needed a name. A name from the Bayou…a French Creole name. I consulted friends and family who spoke French, researched and eventually crafted this name. I tried to imagine the etymology of several combined words. It’s funny because I’d forgotten that I’d done this until this moment. I’ve even said, when asked by someone at a reading that it was a translatable word! This is why I write fiction! Images, characters come to life and become real to me.


The small town of Liberty is sometimes a source of humor in the book and at other times, it’s the scene of unbearably cruel. What research and real-life experience did you bring to creating Liberty?

Cynthia Bond: Some of my first memories are of listening to my mother tell stories about her childhood home, the small, all-black East Texas town of Liberty Community. Although a stunningly beautiful and nationally recognized,academician today, my mother grew up on a little farm in the piney woods. I believe that it is from my mother that I learned the true music of language and storytelling. She has a collection of tiny scars on her body that illustrate her journey…stepping on a rusty nail and having to wear a slab of salt pork wrapped around her foot for an entire summer. The elbow where a teacup was hurled at her as she bolted out of a door. As children, my sister and I would point to each of these scars, these “chapters” in her young life. In many ways, this is how Ruby began. I grew up with this town, this time, being infused into my spirit.

As my sister and I grew older, my mother shared more of her story. Of her beloved sister being murdered by the Sheriff and his deputies for her relationship with a white man, of so many other siblings who, because of their skin color and the dehumanization of racism, made the decision to flee up North and pass for white. My mother told us tales of being picked on for being “yellow,” having light skin and straight hair. She told us how, for survival, she learned to fight to protect herself. How she became legendary, beating boys and girls three times her size. Maggie, in my novel, is this part of my mother’s life.

When I began working on Ruby, my mother and I took a trip to her hometown. There I saw how the red clay roads threaded through the town, how they became golden at sunset. I spoke to the people and learned even more.

But I do want to be clear that many of the things that happen in Liberty Township in the novel have never happened in Liberty Community. Ruby is a work of fiction, woven from many, many different elements and stories I have heard in my life. Working with homeless youth in Hollywood and the stories I heard. grappling with my own past and the ephemeral elements of fiction. Ruby is a bit like a pot of gumbo…Liberty Community is the roux, the heart of the stew.


This is story that confronts the terrible things people do to each other but at the same time includes moments of great tenderness – I’m thinking of Ephram combing out Ruby’s hair. What was the inspiration for Ephram’s character?

 Cynthia Bond: Ephram is a compilation of many good men I have known and loved in my life. However, in large part, he reminds me of my Uncle R.H, who indeed would go to milk the cow and come back with half of a pail. He was meticulous in his dress and appearance and lived part of his life with my grandmother, Mother Gatson, a strict, yet ultimately loving woman, who inspired Celia. I pay homage to my uncle in Ruby. His name is changed only a bit, spoken of from time to time, never actually seen…Rupert in the novel, Rueben Hamp Shankle in real life. He was a kind, gentle man, who loved a woman named Belle. A woman his mother disapproved of. He faced many, many obstacles in trying to win her and passed away without her by his side. He had the biggest heart of any man I have ever met.


Although the story mainly belongs to Ruby and Ephram, you give the back story to both Ephram’s parents and his sister’s knowledge of their father. How important is it that Ephram does not know about his family’s connection to Ruby?

Cynthia Bond: It’s incredibly important. I also must reveal that Ruby was initially a 900-page novel that my wise agent, Nicole Aragi, suggested I break into three separate books. Ruby is the first. The story of Ruby and Ephram continues and there are many elements that are revealed, including this connection and how it has played out in their lives.


“If you brave enough to live it, the least I can do is listen.” This is one of Ephram’s lines in the novel and I read that you asked that of yourself as you wrote. Did you also want to challenge your reader not to hide away from the truths about child abuse in these pages but to read them and try and learn from them?

Cynthia Bond: What an amazing question. Yes, I did. There are some very difficult scenes in Ruby. But the reality is that whether we see it or not in our daily lives, there is an undertow, a reality in the world that pulls children beneath the surface. Some make it through, some do not. We can live our entire lives not knowing, yet it is still happening. Ruby is not a story of abuse, it is a story of healing and hope, yet it also asks its readers to bear the weight of seeing for a moment what over 2 million children live every breath, every heartbeat of their young lives. It asks its readers to bare witness…and through doing so, to know that it is possible to survive anything.


Ruby feels tremendous guilt even though she has been a victim of abuse since she was six to the point where she is compared to a fox that “can’t stop chewing at his own leg after it been in a trap.” How important was it to you to convey that aspect of her character and life experience?

Cynthia Bond: Incredibly important. Ruby is haunted—by the forest, by the Dybou, by the spirits that roam the woods, but mostly by her past. She doesn’t know that she is free. She is caught by her past…imprisoned by it. One of the things Ephram tries to show her, through his love, is that there is no longer a chain about her ankle…she is no longer a victim of the horror of her past. The challenge for Ruby is to shatter her memories, to not let them destroy her present life.


Some of the most harrowing scenes in the novel take place in the house run by Miss Barbara. Were they (or others) as difficult to write as they are to read??

Cynthia Bond: Oh my God, yes. I love writing, and of course, I fear it as well…because it is difficult to write about such tragic events. In addition to being a carpenter, my grandfather was a douser. He would take his diving rod and start walking. The rod would just point down, begin to shake, and then he’d tell the farmer how deep the water was and start to dig. He was uncanny in his accuracy regarding depth. Sometimes he would take my mother, put her in a bucket and wheel her down, to collect rocks, and dig earth. Once, when she was down at the bottom of the well, water starting rushing in. It quickly reached her shoulders, she pulled on the rope and shouted and he quickly pulled up the bucket. Sometimes writing feels a bit like being lowered into the bottom of a great well. Sometimes it is fascinating to observe the minerals and roots, and at other times the water rushes in so quickly that I must scramble, leap to freedom. Because for me, writing is something I experience viscerally. Then I rewrite…then rewrite it…then rewrite it again! One of the reasons that I list three baristas in my acknowledgements is that, for a period of time, it was difficult for me to work alone, and I needed people around me—not talking, or distracting me, just there. The folks at a coffee shop named Swork in Los Angeles let me park in a corner with my laptop for at least two years, quietly weeping at times into my cappuccino—the foam artfully crafted into a swirled heart.


The crow and the chinaberry tree are the only things Ruby believes in. How would you describe their importance to the story?

Cynthia Bond: The chinaberry is the anchor of Ruby’s life. She has watched it since she was a child…the changing of seasons, the way it flowers, grows into hard green and then dark beads. The way the birds and animals feed on the fermented berries and grow drunk, swaying away from the tree. She hid in that tree when she was being harmed as a child and buries the spirits of children there. It is holy ground…it is her only peace. The ghost of her cousin and beaux, Maggie has curled within it’s body, it’s hollow wings and becomes the creature. The crow protects and loves Ruby. It can do little about the harm that is inflicted upon her, but it can caw softly in the twilight. It can purr and click and let her know that she is loved.


I’ve already seen your writing compared to Toni Morrison and William Faulkner. When reading it I was reminded of Sugar by Bernice McFadden. Which writers do you admire and feel have been influential for you?

Cynthia Bond: Yes, that is a little overwhelming because I have been immensely impacted by those astounding writers. I’m not familiar with Sugar, but I will go out and buy it! I’m always looking for a good book. I admire so many writers. Although she has been discovered, then discovered again and again, Zora Neale Hurston’s Their Eyes were Watching God remains one of my favorite novels. It is hard to believe that it was drafted in six weeks. I’m such a slow writer, that fact alone in nearly incomprehensible…but the gentle breath and pace of each word enters and changes me with each reading. Victor Frankl’s, Man’s Search for Meaning is a book I have also read and reread. Oddly enough, I was signing books after a reading and a man came up and gave me a gift. It was that very book! Somehow, the things I’d spoken of that evening, brought that memoir (if it can be called that) to mind. Frankl likens pain to gas being turned on in a closed room. Whether the gas is turned on for an instant, or for an hour, it still fills up the room. He reminds me that we have all experienced pain, and that, while difficult, it is possible to heal.

Other writers who I admire are of course: Toni Morrison, Alice Walker, Janet Fitch, Edwidge Danticatt, James Baldwin, Octavia Butler, Juno Diaz, Barbara Kingsolver, Anthony Mara, John Rechy, Coleson Whitehead, and so many, many more. It would honestly be difficult to mention all of the magnificent writers I’ve read who have shifted the course of my life.