blog tour, books, reviews

Blog tour: Goose Road – Rowena House

In 1916, in France, Angelique is making Hay on her family’s farm when the postman delivers news – her father is dead. Angelique is not sorry – he was a cruel, drunkard of a man – but she is deeply relieved her brother, Pascal, is still alive. She makes a promise – then and there – that the farm will remain exactly the same until he beloved brother returns home. She hopes, desperately, that if nothing changes at home, he won’t either.

Of course, nothing goes to plan. The harvest is ruined by a storm, her mother falls ill and the bailiffs arrive, ready to repossess the farm after her father has gambled it away. Angelique sets off with her treasured flock of Toulouse geese to sell them to make enough money to save her family home and await her brother’s return…….

About the author;

Rowena studied journalism at LSE and spent several years on Fleet Street, reporting for various news agencies. She has lived and worked in France, Africa and Belgium as a Reuter’s foreign correspondent and covered the fall of Addis Ababa at the end of Ethiopia’s 30-year civil war. She now lives in Devon and works as a freelance journalist. In 2013, Rowena won a competition run by Andersen Press, which published her winning entry, “The Marshalling of Angélique’s Geese” in War Girls, a collection of short stories about WWI as seen through the eyes of young women. The Goose Road is her novelization of that story.

Here Rowena shares her thoughts on historical fiction:

Why I love (some) historical fiction

As a reader, when I say that I love historical fiction what I mostly mean is that of all the novels I’ve ever read, my favourites tend to be set in the past.

That doesn’t mean I only read historical fiction. I like detective stories as well. Sherlock Holmes and Raymond Chandler, especially, which just happen to be set in the past.

I like some Sci-Fi and fantasy writers, too: Larry Niven, Tolkien, Terry Pratchett.

So I find it odd when someone assures me they don’t like historical fiction as if it’s all one and the same. How do they know beforehand what book will capture their imagination or speak to something in their souls?

Personally, I won’t ever say ‘I like this’ if it carries the implication ‘I don’t like that’.

As a writer, however, I can say with a hand on my heart that I absolutely love historical fiction. I love the research, and the honest attempt at resurrecting the past by uniting insight and imagination with that research.

Historians when faced with gaps in their knowledge must rely on evidence that meets defined standards of academic rigour, ‘facts’ which they then sift and prioritize, and speculate upon, and rearrange to suit their own logic and reason – and prejudices. In that way, all histories are constructed. Fiction is just further along that line.

In particular, storytellers aren’t restricted by written records from their chosen period, with all the limitations that typically implies about the wealth, power and gender of those who did the writing.

For The Goose Road I read many books about rich, powerful men in the First World War, but I was free to write about a poor, semi-literate girl from a peasant underclass, even though I never once found a first-hand account from such a person despite months of research.

Instead I made up her life from snatches and scraps I found here and there, fleshed out with practical, personal experiments with scything hay and watching the behaviour of geese, combined with memories from my time as a journalist when I meet African girl farmers, working the hard soil by main strength with crude, manual tools.

So one thing I loved most about writing the book was giving my protagonist her strong, independent voice.

Another thing I love about historical research is the way it primes the mind for time travel. The heat and dirt, strange towns, exotic scents, hungry crowds, the fear and excitement. The ‘other’. Let me give you an example of what I mean.

When I went with my family to the labyrinthine medinas of the ancient Moroccan city of Fez, donkey trains shoved us aside in narrow streets crowded with shoppers and hawkers with their baskets of wares.

Cages of ducks, chickens and pigeons spilt out from the butcher’s shops. There were spices on stalls, fabrics, and leather goods from the stinking tanneries, their dye-pits gaudy with reds, yellows, orange and green.

The noise was constant, the faces fascinating.

Squint, and the occasional wrist watch or smart phone would disappear. Stop for sweet mint tea or mud-thick coffee, and it took no effort at all to imagine a slight alteration in clothing, a sword or a dagger worn at the belt…

Stories of the crusades sprang to mind and the tales of Scheherazade. The place felt familiar, but also more confident than I’d ever imagined: busier, buzzing, and entirely caught up with itself. The place belonged to the people. But their time was also ours, and what felt old and distant was suddenly here and now.

I experienced a similar sensation of time collapsing when exploring the muddy back-streets of the French Channel port of Étaples for The Goose Road.

A 1913 map I found in the local library showed that the old town’s layout – even the names of its twisting lanes – hadn’t changed from the days when British Empire troops and nurses walked there, and veiled widows slipped by in the shadows, and the great military trains of the First World War rattled past, carrying infantrymen to the Western Front, and the wounded to hospital.

Only ghosts from that war walk there now, but I felt them brush past me all the same.

I found the book really interesting, I’m fascinated by stories about ordinary people during extraordinary times, like this. Angelique is a farmer’s daughter who defies the odds to do something unusual and quite unprecedented.

This book has a lot of sad moments, some really tragic points, but Angelique is a strong heroine and one filled with determination, like my childhood literary hero Anne of Green Gables, stubborn and headstrong. Wartime France is not a safe place for a teenage girl and a flock of geese, including her pet gosling Armandine, travelling at times alone on trains with dodgy men or through encampments of striking munitions workers.

The writing is good, it keeps you interested and the characters are well defined. I know this isn’t written for young adult readers but I think it would appeal to any teens interested in history, especially if you enjoyed Michelle Magorian’s war books like Goodnight Mister Tom and A Little Love Song.

books, fun stuff, Illumicrate, lifestyle boxes, reviews

Illumicrate #10 Rise Up!

My lovely local Hermes courier braved the freezing weather and snow to deliver my Illumicrate, bless her.

This is a big box, so big it doesn’t have the usual logo on it – but it is packed full of books and bookish treats.

The theme is Rise Up! and the items are all about rebellion.

The book is Blood and Sand by C.V. Wyck – a female centred retelling of Spartacus, which really intrigues me as a premise. I look forward to reading this and sharing my thoughts later. There’s also an exclusive bookmark, pin and temporary tattoo.

There’s also an ARC of Sally Green’s The Smoke Thieves. I read Half Bad and thought it was interesting so I’m curious about her new series, of which this is the first book.

Now we have the box exclusives.

Fight the Darkness cushion cover by @stellabookishart – my copy of Ember in the Ashes is somewhere in my flat – until it turns up I will console myself with this bright and cheerful cover.

A Rebel’s Command List by @howstoreofficial – handy for making my lists of what books to read next.

Inimitable mug by @abbieimagine – I haven’t read the box this is inspired by but I like the design.

Daggermark by @rdashjackdotcom – this is a nice quirky bookmark but too bulky for my preferred bookmark so I’ll add it to my collection. Yes, I collect bookmarks and have done for years (I have the Brownie badge to prove it 😁).

Lunar Lip Balm by @lovely_lip_balm – a minty pot of lip balm, perfect for the current cold snap’s effect on my lips.

Phoenix magnet by @hannahhitchmanart – as I’m not a Potter fan I’ll be passing this on but it’s nice and colourful.

Bonus items are from Shatter Me, The Truth and Lies of Ella Black, Strange the Dreamer, Witchsign, Clean, The Hazel Wood – all either recently published or upcoming books.

I think that this was a nice mix of items from different rebellion themed novels/fandoms. Nothing really leaped out at me this time.

The books both look interesting but I might not have picked them up in a bookshop.

A solid box but not the best one I’ve had so far.

books, reviews

Book Review: Driven – Dane Cobain

This is the first book about private detective James Leipfold and his tech savvy assistant Maile O’Hara.

A young woman is killed by a car, a car that doesn’t appear to have had a driver. So who killed her?

Leipfold is a down at heel gumshoe, picking up this case on a whim, no client needed. Along the way he recruits an “intern” to complement his old school methods with newer ones. But is he going to solve the case or end up a casualty of it?

I wasn’t sure about this at first, while the initial set up was intriguing, it wasn’t until the plot picked up pace and the case began to unravel that I really got into it.

The characters are interesting – I am looking forward to book 2 and hopefully more back story about the team that now comprises Leipfold Detectives, especially computer genius but enigma Maile.

I love the little details like the way Maile and Leipfold complete crosswords without speaking, and Leipfold’s relationship with police detective Jack Cholmondley (pronounced Chumley fyi).

The London setting is of course familiar to me – from the run down cafe, endless miles of Underground and leafy suburbs around its edges.

The author, Dane Cobain, is something of a literary polymath, having written novels, poetry, non-fiction and edited anthologies, although this seems to be his first detective novel.

Driven is available now.

blog tour, books, reviews

Blog Tour: The Devil’s Poetry – Louise Cole

Today I’m hosting a review stop on the blog tour for Louise Cole’s The Devil’s Poetry.

Questions are dangerous but answers can be deadly.

Callie’s world will be lost to war – unless she can unlock the magic of an ancient manuscript. She and her friends will be sent to the front line. Many of them won’t come back.

When a secret order tells her she can bring peace by reading from a book, it seems an easy solution – too easy. Callie soon finds herself hunted, trapped between desperate allies and diabolical enemies.

The Order is every bit as ruthless as the paranormal Cadaveri.Callie can only trust two people – her best friend and her ex-marine bodyguard. And they are on different sides.

She must decide: how far will she go to stop a war?Dare she read this book? What’s the price – and who pays it?

Commended in the Yeovil Prize 2016, this is an action-packed blend of adventure, fantasy and love story.

Goodreads

Amazon

Louise Cole has spent her life reading and writing. And very occasionally gardening. Sometimes she reads as she gardens. She can be seen walking her dogs around North Yorkshire – she’s the one with a couple of cocker spaniels and a Kindle. She read English at Oxford – read being the operative word – and hasn’t stopped reading since.

In her day-job she is an award-winning journalist, a former business magazine editor and director of a media agency. She writes about business but mainly the business of moving things around: transport, logistics, trucks, ships, and people.

Her fiction includes short stories, young adult thrillers, and other stuff which is still cooking.

Her YA and kids’ fiction is represented by Greenhouse Literary Agency and she is also published on Amazon as one of the Marisa Hayworth triumvirate.

My thoughts: I wasn’t too sure about this book when I started it, ending wars with poetry is something I can get behind but also know it doesn’t work (see the WW1 poetry and the almost non-existent effect it had).

But this book ramps up the action from the moment two teenage girls blow up a barn to escape the creepy Cadavari.

A lot happens very quickly and the writing is pacy and plotting neat.

I liked the routing the more fantastical elements in reality, from the North Yorkshire setting of much of the story to the pop culture references. It made it much more relatable and easier to connect to the characters, especially Callie and Amber.

The sequel On Holy Ground is also out now, which hopefully will explain a bit more about the background of the Order and the sinister Cadavari.

blog tour, books, giveaway

Blog Tour: Something Changed – Matthew Williams

Today I’m hosting a stop on the blog tour for Matthew Williams’ Something Changed, his debut novel.

Life can change forever in a moment…

In the aftermath of marriage breakdown how do we pick ourselves up and start again?

In August 2014 Matthew Williams was forced to do just that. In Something Changed he navigates us through his journey with wit and wisdom, taking in divorce, dating and self-discovery while facing the dark spectre of depression.

Hopes and fears, laughter and tears – all are encountered along the way to learning some important lessons about love, loss and life.

‘Have you ever noticed how life’s biggest lessons are also the most painful? Maybe that’s just life’s way of making sure we don’t forget them…’

Needle in a Haystack – Dating for the Divorced

Who’d have thought dating could seem so much like, well, hard work?
Now, the obvious point to highlight from the off is that I can only speak for myself; if Brad Pitt or, errrrrrr, Harry Styles somehow found themselves on Tinder or Plenty of Fish, chances are it might not be much of a chore. But, for this forty-something from Middlesbrough, it ain’t easy, I can tell you. Even for a Brian Cox lookalike.
In the first flush of single life entering the brave new world of online dating (well, new to someone that has been in a relationship for nineteen years anyway), the overriding sense was one of excitement and possibility. And, in spite of an odd detour (dating, bloody hell…) my first experience of online dating – where I met a wonderful woman very quickly – turned out to be far from representative of the reality of seeking your perfect partner online.
Cards on the table time – I’m a bit weird. Although I’m not detecting many sharp intakes of breath here, let me explain what I mean by that: I’m not really designed for casual relationships and one night stands. I know, I know, I’m a bloke but what can I say, faulty wiring, I guess. I’ve always been the same, I prefer to get to know somebody and want to meet somebody that I can really connect with, someone that I can laugh with as we navigate life’s ups and downs together. Someone whose presence in my life makes me a better person and brings out the best that I have to offer. So you see, basically I’m soft as shite.
Anyway, so far she’s not on Tinder. Or Plenty Of Fish. Or OK Cupid… Hell, I’m getting depressed just typing those out. And really, I haven’t done too badly, I suppose. I’ve met eight or nine women for dates. One week I had dates with three woman planned (separately I might add). To many that might sound great, but you know what? It isn’t. Well, not for me anyway, because it’s not about numbers, it’s about meeting somebody that’s right. And that’s harder than I guess I thought it would be. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve met plenty of nice people. I don’t really have any dating disasters to speak of (sorry to disappoint you) and I’m glad for the experiences that I’ve had – in the end you learn from them and when one day in the future I am with that special person I expect I will appreciate her all the more. But when you are looking for that special someone, especially at a relatively advanced age and after nearly nine years of marriage, it can all get… dispiriting. The dating treadmill has tired me out, many times. And not in THAT way.
There are only so many times that you can get to know somebody new, only so many times you can go on a first date, only so many times you can have the same conversation with different people, and there are only so many photos of forty-something women pouting (or suffering the effects of drinking vinegar?) that I care to see.

Goodreads

Amazon

Matthew Williams is an author, blogger, speaker and coach. He lives in the North East of England with his two young children. Matthew is passionate about positive change and turning life’s challenges into lessons for creating a better future. He hopes that by writing about his own experiences he will be able to inspire others to make positive changes in their lives.

Something Changed is Matthew’s first book. More of his writing can be found at his blog, Love, Laughter & Truth.

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To win a copy of Something Changed and a £10 Amazon voucher (two prizes available) click here and follow the instructions.

books, reviews

Book Review: Death in Shetland Waters by

Signed on to a tall ship Cass Lynch is sailing from Norway to Ireland as part of a race. Things are about to take a nasty turn and Cass will need to keep her wits about her as there’s a stowaway on board and it could turn deadly.

I didn’t realise this was number 6 in a series but I think you can read it as a stand alone without too much trouble, although there are a few references to previous books.

My favourite characters were easily Cat and Rat, I loved the idea of these two buddies hanging out amidst the human drama.

The setting was also intriguing, the Scottish islands, including Shetland, are fascinating and in my day job I have to know a bit about ships (although not so much tall ships).

I think if you’re after a crime thriller that isn’t Scandi noir but still has clever twists, and is a fairly easy going read, then this book and its predecessors will do the trick.

books, reviews

Book Review: Woman Enters Left – Jessica Brockman

With her acting career on the wane Louise Wilde heads off to Las Vegas to make a film that will keep the wolf from the door.

She gets diverted by memories of her past and the notebooks she inherited from her mother’s old friend Florrie Daniels.

Instead of Vegas she takes off on a road trip from the past.

Alternating from Louise’s drive to the one her mother Ethel took years before this book offers a glimpse into the past and the people who live there.

I found this really interesting, with Ethel and Florrie’s story being told in the form of notebooks and a rough film script, which gives you the thoughts of two women driving from New Jersey to California via Nevada, the camp grounds, the meals and the friendship laid out in pen and ink.

I actually found their journey far more interesting than the one being made by Louise I struggled with her as a character, mostly because I felt she was acting all the time. Being someone else and I couldn’t connect with her.