blog tour, books, reviews

Blog Tour: The Silence – Susan Allott*

It is 1997, and in a basement flat in Hackney Isla Green is awakened by a call in the middle of the night: her father, phoning from Sydney. 30 years ago, in the suffocating heat of summer 1967, the Greens’ next-door neighbour Mandy disappeared.

At the time, it was thought she had gone to start a new life; but now Mandy’s family is trying to reconnect, and there is no trace of her. Isla’s father Joe was allegedly the last person to see her alive, and now he’s under suspicion of murder.

Reluctantly, Isla goes back to Australia for the first time in a decade. The return to Sydney will plunge her deep into the past, to a quiet street by the sea where two couples live side by side.

Isla’s parents, Louisa and Joe, have recently emigrated from England — a move that has left Louisa miserably homesick while Joe embraces this new life. Next door, Steve and Mandy are equally troubled. Mandy doesn’t want a baby, even though Steve — a cop trying to hold it together under the pressures of the job — is desperate to become a father.

The more Isla asks about the past, the more she learns: about both young couples and the secrets each marriage bore. Could her father be capable of doing something terrible? How much does her mother know? And is there another secret in this community, one which goes deeper into Australia’s colonial past, which has held them in a conspiracy of silence?

Susan Allott is from the UK but spent part of her twenties in Australia, desperately homesick but trying to make Sydney her home. In 2016 she completed the Faber Academy course, during which she started writing this novel. She now lives in south London with her two children and her very Australian husband.

My thoughts:

This was really interesting, what seemed to be a crime novel about a missing woman turned into an exploration of a dark chapter in Australia’s (and Britain’s) history – the forcible removal of Aboriginal children from their families.

A moving and fascinating look into the personal and political and how those can entwine. Timely and powerful, this lingers in the mind long after the final page.

*I was kindly gifted a copy of this book in exchange for taking part in this blog tour but all opinions remain my own.

blog tour, books, reviews

Blog Tour: Miss Benson’s Beetle – Rachael Joyce*

“The differences between them – all those things she’d once found so infuriating she now accepted. Being Enid’s friend meant there were always going to be surprises. However close they were it didn’t entitle her to Enid’s memories and neither did it allow her to be part of Enid’s life before they met. Being a friend meant accepting those unknowable things. It was by placing herself side by side with Enid that Margery had finally begun to see the true out­line of herself. And she knew it now: Enid was her friend.”

It is 1950, two unlikely women set off on a hare-brained adventure to the other side of the w orld to try and find a beetle, and in doing so discover friendship and how to be their best of themselves. This is quintessential Joyce: at once poignant and playful, with huge heart and the same resonance, truth and lightness of touch as her phenomenally succcesful debut, The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry.

Britain, post Second World War. In a moment of madness Margery Benson abandons her sensible job and advertises for an assistant to accompany her on an expedition. She is going to travel to the other side of the world to search for a beetle that may or may not exist.

Enid Pretty, in pink hat and pompom sandals, is not the companion she had in mind. But together they will find themselves drawn into an ad­venture that exceeds all expectations. They must risk everything, break all the rules, but at the top of a red mountain they will discover who they truly are, and how to be the best of themselves.

This is a novel that is less about what can be found than the belief it might be found; it is an intoxicating adventure story but it is also about what it means to be a woman and a tender exploration of a friendship that defies all boundaries.

Rachel Joyce is the author of the Sunday Times and international bestsellers The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry, Perfect, The Love Song of Miss Queenie Hennessy, The Music Shop and a collection of interlinked short stories, A Snow Garden & Other Stories. Her books have been translated into thirty -six languages and two are in development for film.

The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry was shortlisted for the CommonwealthBook prize and longlisted for the Man Booker Prize. Rachelwas awarded the SpecsaversNational Book Awards NewWriter ofthe Yearin December 201 2 and shortlisted for the UK Author of the Year201 4. Rachel was a Costa prize judge and University Big Read author in 2019.

She has also written over twenty original afternoon plays and adaptations of the classics for BBC Radio 4, including all the Bronte novels. She moved to writing after a long career as an actor, performing leading roles for the RSC, the National Theatre and Cheek by Jowl. She lives with her family in Gloucestershire.

My thoughts:

This book was a delight. Margery and Enid are such an entertaining odd couple as they travel across the world to find a beetle most people don’t believe exists in the rainforest of New Caledonia.

Their adventures are bittersweet and I am with the author’s sister on this – I don’t like the ending!

The two women are such characters, I could so easily picture them, Margery with her old fashioned suits and eternal spinster air and flighty Enid, all baby pink and hair dye. But underneath these exteriors are two remarkable souls searching for something more than just beetles – connection.

There are some genuine laugh out loud funny moments, and ones of sudden sadness, balancing the levity.

Beautifully written and one of those stories you’d really rather didn’t end.

*I was kindly gifted a copy of this book in exchange for taking part in this blog tour but all opinions remain my own.

blog tour, books, reviews

Blog Tour: Paris Savages – Katherine Johnson*

Fraser Island, Australia 1882. The population of the Badtjala people is in sharp decline following a run of brutal massacres. When German scientist Louis Müller offers to sail three Badtjala people – Bonny, Jurano and Dorondera – to Europe to perform to huge crowds, the proud and headstrong Bonny agrees, hoping to bring his people’s plight to the Queen of England.

Accompanied by Müller’s bright daughter, Hilda, the group begins their journey to belle-époque Europe to perform in Hamburg, Berlin, Paris and eventually London. While crowds in Europe are enthusiastic to see the unique dances, singing, fights and pole climbing from the oldest culture in the world, the attention is relentless, and the fascination of scientists intrusive. When disaster strikes, Bonny must find a way to return home.

KATHERINE JOHNSON lives in Tasmania with her husband and two children. She is the author of three previous novels and her manuscripts have won Varuna Awards and the Tasmanian Premier’s Literary Prizes. She recently completed a PhD, which forms the basis of her latest novel, Paris Savages.

Website

My thoughts:

A moving and at times shocking portrait of the experiences of three Aboriginal people, brought to Europe to be exhibited in “human zoos” alongside other ethnic peoples from around the world.

Treated as animals or objects by scientists and onlookers alike, the dignity and courage of Bonny, Jurano and Dorondera is impressive.

We’d like to think we live in more enlightened times but the continued “othering” of people of colour around the globe suggests we’re no better than the gawking crowds of the 19th century.

This is a timely and powerful novel, reminding us of the humanity of others and that we are all the same, regardless of our skin colour and origins.

K’gari, the island homeland of the Badtjala, was only officially returned to its people in 2014, the author’s note tells us, I hope that the ancestors of the real Bonny, Jurano and Dorondera still live there, among their families and friends, free from the kind of exploitation and trauma their ancestors suffered at the hands of so-called scientists, the real savages.

This is a book I imagine that will linger long after the reader finishes it, as it has with me.

*I was kindly gifted a copy of this book in exchange for taking part in the blog tour but all opinions remain my own.

blog tour, books, reviews

Blog Tour: The Mechanical Maestro – Emily Owen*

London, 1857. Brothers George and Douglas Abernathy are clockmakers who are barely scraping a living in their family’s shop. They are also brilliant inventors with a sideline building custombuilt androids and other technology ahead of its time. Their sixteen-year-old sister, Molly, is also a genius, specialising in transformative plant biology, but earns her keep by sewing.

The Abernathys’ fortunes improve dramatically when the brothers invent a clockwork automaton composer named Maestro, whose musical artistry takes London by storm. But there are those who believe Maestro is a fake, and others who think him a monstrosity. As Maestro tries to make sense of the world of London’s highsociety which he is thrown into, he incites the interest of sinister figures who would go to any lengths to discover what makes him tick.

My thoughts:

A delightful steampunk tinged tale of a machine that can think and feel, a musical genius made of pistons and clockwork.

Maestro and the Abernathys are tremendously fun characters and the story is a real romp through Victorian London, with dodgy professors, dastardly villains, an Earl with more money than sense (though he turns out to be kind) and mad inventors.

Molly is easily the best Abernathy, with her weird and wonderful plants and dangerous fruit, flying Spuggy and saving the day, because obviously everyone underestimates the girl!

I hope this evolves into a serious as there’s definitely scope for more hijinks and magical machines. I also want more clockwork mice nibbling things and little machines tidying up – it was marvellous.

*I was kindly gifted a copy of this book in exchange for taking part in this blog tour but all opinions remain my own.

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Blog Tour: Blackwatertown – Paul Waters*

When maverick police sergeant Jolly Macken is banished to a sleepy 1950s Irish border village, he vows to find the killer of his brother – even if the murderer is in the police. But a lot can happen in a week. Over seven days Macken falls in love, uncovers dark family secrets, accidentally starts a war, and is hailed a hero and branded a traitor. When Blackwatertown explodes into violence, who can he trust? And is betrayal the only way to survive?

Paul Waters is an award-winning BBC producer and co-presenter of the We’d Like A Word books and authors podcast, shortlisted for 2020 Books Podcast of the Year. Paul grew up in Belfast during ‘the Troubles’ and went on to report and produce for BBC TV and radio.

His claim to fame is making Pelé his dinner. Paul has covered US politics, created a G8 Summit in a South African township, gone undercover in Zimbabwe, conducted football crowds, reported from Swiss drug shooting-up rooms, smuggled a satellite dish into Cuba and produced the World Service’s first live coverage of the 9/11 attacks on America.

He also taught in Poland, drove a cab in England, busked in Wales, was a night club cook in New York, designed computer systems in Dublin, presented podcasts for Germans and organised music festivals for beer drinkers. He lives in Buckinghamshire and has two children.

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My thoughts:

This is a blackly comic tale of an unfortunate Catholic cop in hotly contested Protestant country close to the Northern Irish border. Macken is sent to Blackwatertown as punishment, and to replace another police officer who has died in a tragic accident; he also happens to have been Macken’s brother.

Unfortunately for Macken, his investigation into Danny’s death is derailed by a flare up of Republican violence, dragging the small barracks into chaos.

He’s also distracted by romantic entanglements and local politics.

Macken is a sympathetic figure, a man just trying to do his best in a world gone mad.

The twists towards the end are absolutely shocking and totally unexpected, spinning the story off in another direction entirely.

A lot of research has clearly gone into the 1950s setting and it makes it feel more real – these conflicts were real and affected many people.

A really interesting addition to the genre of historical crime fiction.

*I was kindly gifted a copy of this book in exchange for taking part in this blog tour but all opinions remain my own.

blog tour, books, reviews

Blog Tour: The Uncommon Life of Alfred Warner in Six Days – Juliet Conlin*

Approaching 80, frail and alone, a remarkable man makes the journey from his sheltered home in England to Berlin to meet his granddaughter. He has six days left to live and must relate his life story before he dies…

His life has been rich and full. He has witnessed firsthand the rise of the Nazis, experienced heartrending family tragedy, fought in the German army, been interred in a POW camp in Scotland and faced violent persecution in peacetime Britain. But he has also touched many lives, fallen deeply in love, raised a family and survived triumphantly at the limits of human endurance. He carries within him an astonishing family secret that he must share before he dies… a story that will mean someone else’s salvation.

Welcome to the moving, heart-warming and uncommon life of Alfred Warner.

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Juliet Conlin was born in London and grew up in England and Germany. She has an MA in Creative Writing from Lancaster University and a PhD in Psychology from the University of Durham. She works as a writer and translator and lives with her family in Berlin. Her novels include The Fractured Man (Cargo, 2013), The Uncommon Life of Alfred Warner in Six Days (Black & White, 2017), The Lives Before Us (Black & White, 2019).

My thoughts:

This was a sad and moving story, covering the life of Alfred Warner née Werner, recounted to a kind stranger turned friend as his grandaughter lies in a hospital bed.

Alfred’s life has been full of tragedy and hardship, but also love and kindness, from his early days as an orphan in Berlin, to a POW in Scotland, eventually becoming a British citizen and building a family with his wife.

The writing is warm and inviting, pulling you along with Alfred as he grows, into his present. He desperately wants to impart the family secret to his comatose granddaughter but is running out of time, but Julia, his new friend, provides the means to do so.

This is a lovely, life affirming read and worth spending six days with Alfred.

*I was kindly gifted a copy of this book in exchange for taking part in this blog tour but all opinions remain my own.

blog tour, books, reviews

Blog Tour: Rags of Time – Michael Ward*

‘Rags of Time’ is set in London in 1639. It tells the story of spice merchant Thomas Tallant, accused of murder and fighting to clear his name, and the enigmatic Elizabeth Seymour whose passion for astronomy and mathematics is only matched by her addiction to tobacco and the gaming tables.

Can Elizabeth’s brilliance untangle the web of deceit that threatens to drag Tom under, as England slides into civil war?

‘Rags’ is a murder mystery but not just a procedural thriller. Tom’s hunt for the real killer takes him on a journey through the ferment of new thinking that’s sweeping London in the 1640s. Change is everywhere – science, street politics, commerce and religion – and this shapes the plot, action, characters and outcome.

UK Amazon

US Amazon

Writing has been central to Mike Ward’s professional life. On graduating from university he became a journalist, working in newspapers and for the BBC. He then went into journalism education, teaching and researching journalism practice before becoming head of the UK’s prestigious Journalism School at UCLan. For the last eight years he has run his own content creation company.

‘Rags of Time’ is Mike’s debut novel. Its sequel is due to be published late in 2020.

My thoughts:

This was a fun and intelligent historical crime novel, with an engaging protagonist in Thomas Tallent and plenty of period detail.

A suitably knotty plot, replete with conspiracies, religious conflicts and grim murders in squalid Stewart London in the lead up to Civil War.

The reveal at the end was a twist indeed and the plot far more fiendish that it first appeared. An excellent debut that holds it’s own in a growing field.

*I was kindly gifted a copy of this book in exchange for taking part in this blog tour but all opinions remain my own.

blog tour, books, reviews

Blog Tour: Storms Gather Between Us – Clare Flynn*

Life can change in a single moment…

Living under the watchful eye of her controlling and abusive father, Hannah Dawson’s hopes for freedom and happiness seem a distant dream. Her mother, passive and ashamed of her self-preservation, refuses to challenge her husband. It is the mysterious circumstances of her long-lost Aunt Lizzie’s disappearance in the 1920s that inspires Hannah to seek a better life.

Since escaping his family’s notoriety in Australia Will Kidd has spent a decade sailing the seas, never looking back. Content to live the life of a wanderer, everything changes in a single moment when he comes face to face with a ghost from his past on a cloudy beach in Liverpool.

Hannah and Will are thrown together by fate and bonded by secrets from long ago. Now, they discover a love like no other. But with Hannah’s father determined to see her wed to a man of his choosing they must fight against a tyrant who has ruined many lives. Even if they succeed, can they escape the chains of their histories? And will their plans for a future be possible when the whole world is changing forever…?

A compelling tale of family secrets and undeniable love against the odds, perfect for fans of Susanne Goldring and Fiona Valpy.

Amazon

Historical novelist Clare Flynn is a former global marketing director and business owner. She now lives in Eastbourne on the south coast of England and most of her time these days is spent writing her novels – when she’s not gazing out of her windows at the sea. Clare is the author of eight novels and a short story collection. Her books deal with displacement -her characters are wrenched away from their comfortable existences and forced to face new challenges – often in outposts of an empire which largely disappeared after WW2. Clare is an active member of the Historical Novel Society, the Romantic Novelists Association, The Society of Authors and the Alliance of Independent Authors.

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My thoughts:

I found this an enjoyable and interesting book, for various reasons. I used to work for an agency that supports merchant seafarers like Will so I was interested in the historical aspect of his job (my father-in-law was a captain in the merchant navy) and I enjoy history, especially when it’s as well researched as this.

I also really liked Hannah, she was a strong, intelligent woman with a huge heart who loves books, I think we would be friends.

Their disparate lives and tragedies bring them together in a surprising way and with the Second World War looming, there’s a lot to fight against, not just Hannah’s horrific, brutal, Bible misquoting, misogynist father.

*I was kindly gifted a copy of this book in exchange for taking part in this blog tour but all opinions remain my own.

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Blog Tour: The Short Knife – Elen Caldwell*

Today I’m hosting a Bookstagram tour stop for The Short Knife – follow along on #TheShortKnife and #DarkroomTours

It is the year 454AD. The Roman Empire has withdrawn from Britain, throwing it into the chaos of the Dark Ages. Mai has been kept safe by her father and her sister, Haf. But when Saxon warriors arrive at their farm, the family is forced to flee to the hills where British warlords lie in wait. Can Mai survive in a dangerous world where speaking her mother tongue might be deadly, and where even the people she loves the most can’t be trusted?

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Elen Caldecott graduated with an MA in Writing for Young People from Bath Spa University and was highly commended in the PFD Prize for Most Promising Writer for Young People. Before becoming a writer, she was an archaeologist, a nurse, a theatre usher and a museum security guard. Elen’s debut novel, How Kirsty Jenkins Stole the Elephant, was shortlisted for the Waterstone’s Children’s Prize and longlisted for the 2010 Carnegie Medal.

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My thoughts:

This short and clever piece of historical fiction takes you to post Roman Britain and the struggle to stay alive in the face of invading Saxons and increased isolation. Gripping and moving, with a strong sense of time and place.

*I was kindly gifted a copy of this book in exchange for taking part in this blog tour but all opinions remain my own.

books, reviews

Book Review: The Devil’s Blade – Mark Alder

The story of Julie D’Aubigny is well known. Her tumultuous childhood, her powerful lovers, her celebrated voice. Connected to most of the nobility of 17th century Paris, feted for her performance, unwilling to live by the rules of her society, she took female lovers, fought duels with noblemen and fled from city to country and back again.

But now the real truth can be told. She also made a deal with the devil. He gave her no powers or help, but he kept her alive for only one reason. To take revenge…

My thoughts:

This was such a fun read, spinning the real events of Julie D’Aubigny’s life into a fantasy featuring the Devil, the Duc D’Orleans and the Royal Court, all with sword fights, love affairs, ghosts and dripping with vengeance and blood.