Thursday, July 21, 2011

"Bring It Close" by Helen Hollick

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  • Paperback: 386 pages
  • Publisher: Silverwood Books (June 22, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-13: 978-1906236625
In the third volume in the 'Sea Witch' series we learn that pirate Captain Jesamiah Acorn  has accepted  amnesty from the Governor but finds that the amnesty has not allowed old rifts to mend. He still has enemies - among them the infamous, sadistic pirate Edward Teach - better known as Blackbeard - who has an issue to settle with Jesamiah.  After a misdirected and impulsive tryst with a female acquaintance  Jesamiah returns home only to discover that, Tiola, now his fiancĂ©e, has  traveled to  North Carolina to assist with an imminent, likely difficult, birth. Jesamiah wants to go to Tiola but has one large problem - Edward Teach lives in North Carolina and going to find Tiola might mean a serious wrangle with the vindictive pirate. 

Teach must not discover that Tiola is pledged to Jesamiah and she must cloak her identity and her 'gift'. In a deal made long ago -Teach's soul belongs to the devil and Tiola must hide her powers in order to survive her chance meetings with Teach and to protect Jesamiah who has been wounded by Teach and has taken refuge at his family's home in Virgina. The plot twists and turns as it winds it's way through this story of love, a family's dark history, treachery and, ultimately some peace - before the seas of life turn wild once again.

To quote from Ms. Hollick's website - for who can say it better than she?
"....How is Jesamiah Acorne to clear his name, overturn a sentence of hanging, keep Tiola safe, put an end to Blackbeard and deal with being haunted by the ghost of his father? Bring It Close moves from the Bahamas to North Carolina and Colonial Williamsburg in Virginia at a swashbuckling pace. There is intrigue, misunderstandings, romance and adventure all wrapped up in a delightful blend of mystical fantasy....."

Oh did I not mention the fantasy?! It's one one of the things I like best about this series - and this volume in particular. The classic battle between good and evil is played out through the powers of Tiola - the 'white witch" and healer and the dark, dominating, malevolence of Blackbeard's diabolical mind. The whole series is filled with a hint of magic...and that's one of the elements that I love the best about this series: the fanciful aspect that, understated as it is, is a palpable element that runs throughout the series.

I can't speak highly enough of Helen Hollick's work. She is a master story teller - whose plots are well paced, filled with action, adventure, romance and yes, a bit of magic too. You will find yourself wanting to read more of her work and you will, most assuredly, be sad when this book ends. A sequel is in the works though - so we may not be sad for too long!

Now - leave a comment and I'll have a drawing - the prize is a signed copy of "Sea Witch"  from the author to you - just to whet your reading whistle!

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

"Pirate Code" by Helen Hollick

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  • Paperback: 302 pages
  • Publisher: Silverwood Books (June 15, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-13: 978-1906236632

"Pirate Code" is the second volume in Helen Hollick's "Sea Witch" series. The rollicking, riveting action continues as Jesamiah Acorn, Captain of the 'Sea Witch', continues his pursuit of the woman he loves, Tiola Oldstaugh. Tiola, now married to the wealthy, obdurate Dutchman Stefan Van Overstreet, knows that  Jesamiah is her true love but gaining her freedom is rife with peril.  Jesamiah has  renounced the pirate's life and has been trying to find his way in a world without it. He wants Tiloa divorced from the overbearing Van Overstreet, but Stefan has imposed a condition of his release of Tiola. The terms of Tiola's freedom are that Jesamiah goes to Spanish held Hispaniola and smuggle out barrels of indigo that are hidden on the island. The Governor wants Jesamiah to go to Hispaniola as well - but his reasons are  completely different - he wants to incite rebellion and dictates that Jesamiah search for a spy who's headquartered in Hispaniola.

The 'top dog' in Hispaniola is a dictator- a man who wants nothing more than to hang, draw and quarter Captain Jesamiah Acorn. War with Spain looms on the horizon and the search for the barrels of precious Indigo is perilous - and fraught with not only treachery and potential death but also with the amourous cravings of a lovely widow - Francesca Escudero.

Historically accurate details surround the adventures of the book. This volume is so much more than a mere love story -  treachery, skullduggery, action, adventure, warfare and plunder abound. You'll be  on the edge of seat all the way through this rollicking great adventure.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

" Sea Witch" by Helen Hollick Blog Tour Special

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  • Paperback: 316 pages
  • Publisher: Silverwood Books (June 20, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-13: 978-1906236601
For the next three days I am honored to be reviewing the Sea Witch series by Helen Hollick. Today I review the first book in this wonderful series "Sea Witch" along with a fascinating author interview. On Wednesday I will be reviewing the second book, "Pirate Code" and on Thursday I will present "Bring It Close". Follow along, leave a comment and on Thursday I will be picking one name from the proverbial hat to win a copy of "Sea Witch" sent to you by the author herself!

I have to admit that I was never much of a pirate fan. Johnny Depp changed my feelings with his colorful portrayal of the swashbuckling, slightly swashed pirate ,Captain Jack Sparrow in the Pirates Of The Caribbean series. The movie series sufficed to fill my pirate cravings - until a chance meeting with Helen Hollick's dauntless character Captain Jesamiah Acorn.

First - I must correct an error in my initial 'teaser' post - this is more than a trilogy really because a fourth title in the series will soon be published - so it is, in actuality, a quad series.... and who knows, maybe the adventures will continue! That would be a good thing  because once you start to read the series you won't want the story to end! Trust me on this !

The action of this series is rooted in the 'golden age' of piracy - around 1716 - and the action extends from the infamous 'horn of Africa' to the beaches of the well known pirate haunts in the Caribbean. If you can, for a moment, consider what Johnny Depp would be like if he was 100 per cent more charismatic you would have an idea of how good the main protagonist of the series, Captain Jesamiah Acorn, is. His command of the sailing vessel "Sea Witch" give series it's name. The main female character, Tiola Oldstaugh is a white witch and healer who saves Jesamiah from a murderous attack perpetrated by a band of pirate hunters. Ms. Hollick used an anagram of "all that is good" to fashion Tiola's name. Brilliant ! I think that Tethys - the soul of the seas who is portrayed as a living entity - (which I'm sure some seafarers would swear is true!) is one of my favorite elements of the series. Tethys has sworn that the handsome, invincible Captain Acorn will be hers. Tiola's task is to use the forces of her will and her love to prevent the sea from laying claim to her proud pirate, Jesamiah.

In this volume we are also introduced to the characters of Philippe Moreno, Jesamiah's bullying, vindictive, grasping brother and Stefan Van Overstreet, the wealthy and domineering Cape Town Dutchman who also wants Tiola as his wife - for all the wrong reasons. These main characters set the stage for what becomes a love story, a history of the pirate culture and a thoroughly engrossing story that you simply will not want to put down. I would advise that you have the entire series in your hands because as soon as one book ends you will feel the need to begin reading the next.

In reading the series I had so many questions about how Helen Hollick became enamored of the pirate culture and how that fascination led her to pen this most enjoyable, well researched series. What follows is my interview with the author.
MZJ:  What about the history inspired you to pen this series?
The first Pirates of the Caribbean movie – The Curse of the Black Pearl, was such a fun movie to watch, and parts of it had an authentic “feel” (sadly, unlike the following two movies in the series) The nautical terms, for instance, were correct – and while this was a fantasy movie made for entertainment not history, I enjoyed the “intent” of its nature. I wanted to learn more though. How much of it was ‘real’ – how much made up? I bought a couple of non fiction books to read while on vacation and settled down to read. And was hooked. The reality of pirates is far better than any fiction novel! What a raggedy lot of rogues they were! 

Being a writer, of course, all the information I was taking in just bubbled over into the realm of imagination – and before I knew it, I had the entire plot of Sea Witch, the first Voyage in the series, in my head. And within three month, down on paper (well on the computer!)

MZJ: What is it about pirate culture that inspired you?

Real pirates were not the pleasant, charming rogues of Treasure Island, Frenchman’s Creek – or Johnny Depp’s Jack Sparrow. They were mean, vicious, rapists, thieves, thugs and murderers. But then, so were most of the men of the army and navy in the eighteenth century! For some reason readers, especially us ladies of (ahem) a mature age, love the excitement of an adventurous rogue and the romantic adventures of daring-do. 

The reality of historical events – shipwrecks, treasure galleons, escaping (or not) the gallows. Smuggling, fights, duels – sex – well, who can resist the romantic lure of a fictional scallywag of a pirate?

MZJ: Did you base the characters of Jesamiah and Tiola on anyone who lived at that time? 

Captain Jesamiah Acorne is a made-up character, but he is a composite of the many famous pirates, the nearest, I suppose, being Jack Sparrow and Calico Jack – Jack Rackham. I liken him more, though, as a blend of Hornblower, Richard Sharpe, James Bond and Indiana Jones. A larger than life heroic figure, capable, brave, handsome – quick to laugh, formidable when angry. A man with two sides, the romantic lover, but the unrepentant killer. 

Tiola is even more made up. Her name, Tiola Oldstagh (say it as Teo-la Oldstaff) is an anagram of ‘all that is good’. She is a white witch, a healer and a midwife. A Wise Woman of the Light, her soul the reincarnation of her ancestors, her gift of Craft passed from grandmother to granddaughter down through the generations from the Dawn of Time. Her task – to protect human life from the Force of Evil - from the Dark Malevolents.

Although I call her a White Witch, she cannot do “spells” – her gift is more the ability to harness the energy that surrounds and binds us – more akin to the Force in Star Wars than the magic of Harry Potter

I suppose part of the reason why I wanted to create her character was to move away from the belief that witches are evil crones, bent on doing harm. Tiola can not commit harm to anyone, unless it is the only way to save herself. A fact that Jesamiah cannot always understand!

MZJ:  Did a specific ship inspire you to develop the  Sea Witch

While writing the first novel of the series, Sea Witch, I was not expecting to write an entire series – the subsequent adventures just sprang from the moderate success of the first book. Initially, I based the ship herself – the Sea Witch – on the Whydah and Queen Anne’s Revenge, both famous ships that have been extensively archaeologically explored and recorded. By the time I had decided to write the second Voyage – Pirate Code, however, I had gathered more information about Tall Ships and had discovered the love of my life – the Rose, better known as HMS Surprise from the movie Master & Commander. The love for this beautiful vessel was compounded when I met – by chance encounter – with the man who built the replica ship. I just had to use her as a template for Sea Witch, even though, technically, Rose/Surprise was built about 50 years after my stories are set. But these are adventure yarns, and are not meant to be historically accurate novels.

MZJ: Did you travel for research? How did you become so familiar with the terminology and flavor of the golden age of piracy?

I think sailing and tall ships must be in my genetic make-up, for many of the things I just “know.” My father was in the Marines for a while, he loved the sea (although he served in the Kings Royal Rifles during World War II)  I also know that many of my ancestors, on his side, came from Bristol – which back in the 17th and 18th centuries was the main sailing port in England. 

I research my sailing detail thoroughly, and a good friend, acclaimed maritime author James L. Nelson kindly edits and corrects for me. I suppose most of it I have gleaned as an avid reader –  a hefty chunk is pure imagination, and some of it is…. intuition maybe?

I have been, twice, to Colonial Williamsburg in Virginia where I have several scenes set in Bring It Close (the third Voyage) and because I have been to San Francisco, I may well set a future adventure on the Pacific Coast. (San Francisco Bay was not discovered until quite late, because the early sailors had no idea of what lay beyond that persistent, shrouding mist!) Book four – Ripples in the Sand is set in Devon, England, where I go quite often as my freelance editor, Jo, lives there. And of course early Georgian London will have to make an appearance at some point.

As for the rest… I have never been to Cape Town, the Caribbean – and come to that, I have never sailed on a Tall Ship….Not in this life anyway…

MZJ:  What do you consider to be the main cause for the elimination of the pirate culture? Do you think that the actions of the famous pirate, Blackbeard, figure into the demise?

Blackbeard – real name Edward Teach - was a nasty character. As mad as a hatter and probably riddled with syphilis, as most pirates (and sailors) were in those days. The only reason why we know so much about Blackbeard, and Jack Rackham (Calico Jack) with his fellow partners, the two women, Mary Reed and Anne Bonney – plus others such as Henry Morgan, Stede Bonnet, Charles Vane and William Kidd, is because they were caught, tried and hanged – or killed while attempting to be caught. 

The details of Blackbeard are in the Colonial Williamsburg records because Governor Spotswood of Virginia ordered the Navy under his command to put an end to Piracy along the Carolina and Virginia coast. Blackbeard was killed in the ensuing fight off the Ocracoke, but his surviving crew were taken for trial in Williamsburg, and were hanged there.

The same for Rackham and the two women, who were caught and tried in Port Royal. Rackham hanged, but “pleading their belly” (pregnant) the women were reprieved. Mary Reed died in jail, we do not know what happened to Anne Bonney (the subject of another Voyage – could Jesamiah have rescued her?) There were many more pirates whose deeds and exploits are ,lost to us because they were never caught (and I bet you those two above were not the only female pirates!)

Piracy, of course, still exists (off the Somalia coast for instance) but in its day, the Golden Age, piracy was a lucrative business for some of the more successful pirates. It was a short-lived phase, from around 1690 to about 1725. The cotton, sugar and tobacco trades were just starting to become profitable. There were no serious wars between England / France / Spain / Holland (though there were smaller ones in various combinations between these countries) Because there was no serious fighting there was a surplus of sailors, all without anything to do. Rumour spread of the treasure ships in the Arabian Ocean and then the Caribbean – the gold being transported by Spain, and the money to be made from tobacco and rum. 

There were several thousand pirates in the Caribbean in the early eighteenth century, Port Royal, Tortuga, Nassau were notorious pirate dens. At first there were only a handful of Royal Navy ships to counter the pirates – and even these few had no idea of Caribbean waters, weather, or sailing conditions. They could only careen (clean the ship’s hull of barnacles etc) in official Navy ports – could only provision there as well, while a pirate ship could go anywhere the crew wanted. The pirates ran rings around the Navy – until their actions started having a detrimental effect on trade. The English and Colonial merchants back in Philadelphia and London were losing money and demanded to have something done about it. Governors such as Alexander Spotswood and William Dampier did just that – and with better equipped and more capable Navy Captains. The tobacco ship convoys from Virginia became better organized and then there came the American War of Independence, followed almost immediately by the Napoleonic Wars when the Navies of America and England became the elite service we are familiar with. No match for a pirate.

MZJ: Did a particular plantation figure in your presentation of Jesamiah's family home? Was Philippe based on anyone who actually lived?

No Phillipe is entirely made up – I had to have a thoroughly bad character to balance Jesamiah – although the story of the relationship between the two “brothers” developed of its own accord. When I set out to write Sea Witch, I had no idea of the events that unravel in the third Voyage, Bring It Close.

I have researched the plantations of Virginia, and along the Rappahannock, but no, la Sorenta is not a real place.

MZJ :  How did you first become interested in writing historical fiction? Are you a history buff in general?

I hated history at school – it was taught in such a dull, boring manner. I only discovered history in my early twenties when I realized that King Arthur may have been a real person who lived in Post Roman Britain – I wanted to find out more abut him, and got hooked. And once bitten by the events of the past, it is not easy to lose the bug. After all, we are all a part of history – our ancestors, the mothers of our mothers, and fathers of our fathers, lived in the past. And how much of their DNA genetic memory has been passed down to us I wonder, for us to rekindle by revisiting the past – whether in fact or fiction?

For more about Helen Hollick and her truly amazing work you can her at:  

Facebook :
The Sea Witch page:


Saturday, July 16, 2011

The Pirate's Are Coming ! Gearing Up For Helen Hollick

click here : for more information about the author, the book tour and all of Ms. Hollick's wonderful books

I am thrilled to be a part of Helen Hollick's 2011 blog tour!  This will be my very first blog tour and I could not be any more thrilled that I was asked to participate. Helen Hollick is one of those writers who makes you want to know her better. Her attention to historical detail, well woven plots and full, rich characters all add up to books that you just never want to end.

The "Sea Witch" trilogy is the best that a pirate series can be. I may be a bit prejudiced, but I honestly believe that it has more plot depth than the ubiquitous "Pirates of The Caribbean" --- well Johnny Depp is good at whatever he does ! This is a wonderful series that I read with zest and thorough enjoyment.  

Helen Hollick is a very well know author who has written other books that are equally enjoyable. I predict that very soon she will be as well known on this side of the big pond as she is in her native UK.

I'll be reviewing each book in the "Sea Witch" trilogy and will be interviewing Helen as well. We'll get to have some insight into her pirate-ological interests. Additionally, one lucky person will have a chance to win a copy of  the first book in the series sent to them by Helen Hollick herself!

My reviews and interview will be on July 19,20 and 21.  The tour is already underway though - and here is the lineup of reviewers who get to join in the fun.

Hope to see you here in a couple of days for your introduction to Helen Hollick and to this wonderful trilogy !

July 2…………………..Passages to the Past with Amy Bruno

July 4…………………..Scribbles!  with Pauline Barclay
July 6…………………..Katzenhaus Books with Carolyn Schriber
July 7…………………..the Red Room with Christopher Gortner
July 8…………………..Deb’s Book Bag  with Debbie Lester
(stop here also on the 15th and 22nd)
July 9……………………VVB32 Reads  with Velvet
(stop here also on the 14th, 20th, and 27th)
July 11……………The Long and the Short of It  with Marianne and Judy
(stop here also on the 18th and 25th)
July 12……….. …..Richard’s Ramblings with Richard Denning
July 14…………………..VVB32 Reads  with Velvet
July 15……………………Deb’s Book Bag  with Debbie Lester
July 16……………………Mrs Q Book Addict  with Jennifer Robinson Quirion
(stop here also on the 23rd and 30th)
and…………………………Laura’s Reviews  with Laura Gerold
(stop here also tomorrow, the 17th)
July 17…………………..Shelf and Stuff  with Daphne
July 17…………………. Laura’s Reviews  with Laura Gerold
July 18…………………..Rundpinne  with Jennifer Higgins
July 18……………The Long and the Short of It  with Marianne and Judy
July 19……………………Books by the Willow Tree with Marie Z. Johansen
(stop here also on the 20th and 21st)
July 20……………………VVB32 Reads  with Velvet
July 20………….Books by the Willow Tree with Marie Z. Johansen
July 21………….Books by the Willow Tree with Marie Z. Johansen 
July 22……………………Laugh, Love, Write  with Jessica Hastings
(stop here also on the 29th)
July 22…………………….Deb’s Book Bag  with Debbie Lester
July 23………….Mrs Q Book Addict  with Jennifer Robinson Quirion
July 24……………………..Books for Life with Linda Akerman
(stop here also on the 25th, 26th, and 27th)
July 25………………The Long and the Short of It  with Marianne and Judy
July 25……………………..Books for Life with Linda Akerman
July 26……………………..Bibliophilic Book Blog  with Monica Schroeder
July 26………………………Books for Life with Linda Akerman
July 27………………………VVB32 Reads  with Velvet
July 27………………………Books for Life with Linda Akerman
July 28 ….Helen Hollick’s Guests - Bronwen Harrison, music for a Sea Witch
July 29……………………….Laugh, Love, Write  with Jessica Hastings
July 30……………Mrs Q Book Addict  with Jennifer Robinson Quirion
July 31……………………….Historical Fiction with Carla Nayland
Unspecified…………………Bookworm’s Dinner with Wisteria Leigh
Unspecified…………………  Floor to Ceiling  with Amanda Rutter
Unspecified………………….A Writer’s Life with Christy English

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

45 Quilt Blocks Animals & 45 Quilt Blocks Flowers by Patrice Boerens

These two new titles from Trice Boerens provide quilters with some unique, fresh options for adding flowers and animals to their quilt designs.

45 Quilt Blocks Animals introduce us to Deer, Fox, a new Scotty Dog, and Grizzly Bear plus 41 other fun, easy to make patterns. The patterns themselves are offered in two sizes to make using them in a variety of projects easier. Each pattern includes a full color photograph of the completed block along with well written instructions and piecing diagrams.The cutting templates are included in the back of the book and are easy to find as they are all number coded: block one = block one in the template pages.

45 Quilt Blocks Flowers offers some unique flower patters such as Blue Aster, Rose of Sharon, Blue Bonnets and Dutch Iris. Once again the color photos and well written instructions make completing the patterns a snap.
Holly Hocks !
These two entrancing books should hold wide appeal for quilters as well as for stitchers and mixed media artists who want ideas for adding flowers and animals to their work. Modestly priced and a lot of fun!
Ah! Jasmine!
One very cute cat patter for those of us who lives are run by fabulous felines!
The pattern pieces from the back of the book
Elephants and Monkeys join in the fun


Note: These titles were provided to me by the publisher for the purpose of an honest review. No other remuneration was provided

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Quilt National 2011

I always look forward to the release of Quilt National.This volume marks the collection in the 17th biennial exhibit that highlights the best of the best on contemporary textile art.

This edition doesn’t disappoint! The art work is truly the best of the best and each page is worthy of time for appreciation. I had to add some photos of the pages – of course! Each one is "clickable" for a better view. The photography is brilliant. No one does photography better than Lark and this book is no exception to that rule. If you love textile art this is one of those "must have" books for your collection. Any stitcher, quilter, art quilter, or mixed media artist will find something to say "wow!" about. This book is a bargain and really is a keeper.

Two beautiful flowers interpreted in cloth and stitch. The dandelion on the right is incredible. I love dandelions and think they are highly underrated!
Apologies for the slight blue cast in these photos. I wait for sunny days and then still have issues ! What can I say?!
A seasonal interpretation that I find to be breath taking

This entry is from mypersonal favorite textile artists - Steen and Hough

This book was provided to me by the publisher for the purpose of an honest review. No other remuneration was received.