blog tour, books, reviews

Blog Tour: The Girl with the Amber Comb – Linda Finley*

Orphaned at birth, Eliza lives with her beloved Grandparents in a waterlogged Somerset cottage surrounded by willow beds where she ekes out a living making laundry baskets and eel traps. Although poor she is content, until childhood friend Clem, regales her with tales of his adventures along the river and she begins to wonder what life is like beyond the Droves.

When fate brings handsome, wealthy Theo to her workshop she is instantly attracted and a rosy future beyond the Droves beckons. Only things don’t go to plan and naive Eliza finds herself in Lavender House where she is expected to care for gentlemen in a way she never imagined. Forced to flee for her life, she ends up in a woollen mill run by a corrupt foreman, working for crumbs and pennies with only her grandmother’s comb in her pocket.

Now she knows what matters in life – but is it too late? And will she ever be able to return home to those who love her?

My thoughts:

This was a different sort of read for me, I don’t generally go for books with covers like these, but I’m glad I took a punt on this.

My grandmother was born in Devon, and so I feel a connection to the West Country of this novel, a place where people work hard and live in beautiful, but sometimes remote landscapes.

Eliza’s life is not easy, and as the book opens she has just lost her grandmother and must take on the role of running the household as well as weaving the willow baskets her family earn their living from.

In a way I quite understood her reasons for running away; a revelation rips her world apart, she finds herself alone and she feels uncertain about her future.

But her experiences in the larger towns she visits all remind of her of how much she misses her small home and the safety of the Droves.

As a love story, it’s more one of Eliza’s love for her home than of any man. Which was somewhat refreshing, no man rescues Eliza from any of her predicaments, she rescues herself.

The title is a bit long and unwieldy and certainly obscures any hint at the plot – Eliza saves herself in this one!

*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 Unreliable Death of Lady Grange – Sue Lawrence*


Edinburgh, January 1732: It’s Lady Grange’s funeral. Her death is a shock: still young, she’d shown no signs of ill health.

But Rachel is, in fact, alive. She’s been brutally kidnapped by the man who has falsified her death – her husband of 25 years, a pillar of society with whom she has raised a family.

Her punishment, perhaps, for railing against his infidelity – or for uncovering evidence of his treasonable plottings against the government.

Whether to conceal his Jacobite leanings, or simply to `replace’ a wife with a long-time mistress, Lord Grange banishes Rachel to the remote Hebridean Monach Isles, until she’s removed again to distant St Kilda, far into the Atlantic – to an isolated life of primitive conditions, with no shared language – somewhere she can never be found.

This is the incredible and gripping story of a woman who has until now been remembered mostly by her husband’s unflattering account. Sue Lawrence reconstructs a remarkable tale of how the real Lady Grange may have coped with such a dramatic fate, with courage and grace.

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As well as writing popular historical thrillers, including Down to the Sea, Sue Lawrence is a leading cookery writer. After winning BBC’s MasterChef in 1991, she became a regular contributor to the Sunday Times, Scotland on Sunday and other leading magazines. Raised in Dundee, she now lives in Edinburgh. She has won two Guild of Food Writers Awards.

My thoughts:

This was a really fascinating read. Having read books like The Scandalous Lady W and Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire, I knew 18th Century women were treated appalling in their unhappy marriages as they had no rights and not even custody of their own children.

But to have your wife kidnapped, not once, not twice, but three times (the third isn’t covered in the book but is mentioned in the author’s afterword) is a new extreme.

Rachel, Lady Grange, may not have always been easy to live with; her fierce temper and fondness for claret saw to that, but she didn’t deserve the punishment her husband and his Jacobite pal Lord Lovet dreamed up for her.

Fleshing out the limited details available about Lady Grange’s life, Sue Lawrence has created a fascinating, enjoyable and eminently readable piece of historical fiction.

blog tour, books, reviews

Blog Tour: This Lovely City – Louise Hare*

The drinks are flowing. The music’s playing. But the party can’t last.

London, 1950. With the Blitz over and London still rebuilding after the war, jazz musician Lawrie Matthews has answered England’s call for help. Arriving from Jamaica aboard the Empire Windrush, he’s taken a tiny room in south London lodgings, and has fallen in love with the girl next door.

Touring Soho’s music halls by night, pacing the streets as a postman by day, Lawrie has poured his heart into his new home — and it’s alive with possibility. Until one morning, while crossing a misty common, he makes a terrible discovery.

As the local community rallies, fingers of blame are pointed at those who had recently been welcomed with open arms. And before long, London’s newest arrivals become the prime suspects in a tragedy which threatens to tear the city apart. Immersive, poignant, and utterly compelling, Louise Hare’s debut examines the complexities of love and belonging, and teaches us that even in the face of anger and fear, there is always hope.

My thoughts:

With the Windrush generation in the news again, for all the wrong reasons, this is a timely novel about those first arrivals and their new lives in London.

They face racism, both institutional and individual, a struggle to find somewhere to live, work, love.

Lawrie is an empathetic protagonist, you really feel for him as he’s scapegoated and railroaded by a biased copper and a suspicious community.

But it’s Evie’s story that really made me sad, the daughter of a mixed race couple, raised by a single parent, surrounded by white faces and ignorance her whole life.

This is at its heart a love story, not just that of Lawrie and Evie, but of mothers and daughters, of friends, community and music.

Moving and well written, I think Louise Hare is definitely going to be one to watch, this debut novel is powerful and much like Pandora’s box, there’s hope under all the darkness.

blog tour, books, reviews

Blog Tour: The Slaughterman’s Daughter – Yaniv Iczkovits*

When Fanny Keismann turns ten, her father, Grodno’s ritual slaughterer, gives her a knife, and she soon develops a talent for her father’s trade. But in nineteenth-century Russia, ritual slaughter does not befit a wife and mother, so when it comes time to marry and raise a family, Fanny abandons her work and devotes herself to raising her five children.

When Fanny’s older sister’s husband disappears, Fanny leaves her own family and sets out for the great city of Minsk in search of her wayward brother-in-law, armed with her old knife and accompanied by Zizek Bershov, who is either a sly rogue or an idiot. Fanny’s mission to help her sister turns into a misadventure that threatens the foundations of the Russian Empire. What began as a family matter in Motol, a peripheral Jewish settlement, breaks the bounds of the shtetl, pits the police against the Czar’s army, and upsets the political and social order they all live in.

My thoughts:

I’m entirely sure what this book is – is it straightforward historical fiction, a family saga, a crime novel?? It’s all of these and more.

The blurb doesn’t do it justice at all. There’s dozens of stories fitted into one over-arching narrative – that of Fanny Keismann looking for her errant brother-in-law in order to help her sister.

Almost every character’s entire life story will be told, battles will be conjured in the air, men and women will die, people will find themselves in strange situations and a very thin man will eat a lot of food.

The writing crackles and sparks, several languages are spoken by the characters and you wonder how they all make themselves understood – although misunderstanding is one of the books many themes.

The power of words is vital, from letters sent from the front, newspaper advertisements, the fact that a mixture of Yiddish, Russian and Polish are spoken, various polemics are written and ignored, the Torah gets quoted a fair bit, and everyone spends all their time exaggerating or not explaining.

For all that the action takes place in about a fortnight, it spans some characters’ lifetimes in explaining who they are and how they became mixed up in all the chaos Fanny is leaving in her wake.

This is an impressive, strong book about a remarkable woman, not just for her time and place, but for every reader who meets her.


*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: Finding Clara – Anika Scott

1946. The ruins of Essen, Germany. A place that can’t quite believe the Second World War has been lost.

There’s Clara. Once a wartime icon and heiress to the Falkenberg iron works, she now finds herself on the run from the Allied authorities, accused by the zealous Allied occupiers of complicity in her father’s war crimes.

There’s Jakob. A charming black marketeer, badly wounded in the war but determined to help what’s left of his family survive the peace.

There’s Willy. A teenage boy diligently guarding a mine full of Wehrmacht supplies, his only friend a canary named Gertrud. Convinced the war isn’t over, he refuses to surrender his post.

When Clara returns to her hometown expecting to find her best friend, she finds everything she once knew in ruins. But in war-ravaged Germany, it’s not just the buildings that are scarred: everyone is changed, everyone lives in the wreckage of their own past.

To survive, Clara must hide who she is. But to live, she must face up to the truth of what she’s done.

My thoughts:

At school we learnt about the Second World War, we learnt about its aftermath, but not what was happening in Germany.

This novel explains some of things that were likely happening.

Clara’s family iron works made things for the Nazi army, her father knew many of the high ranking officials, and while she didn’t directly carry out any specific atrocities, she was complicit in some.

This is what she has been running from and what catches up to her when she finally returns to Essen.

Unlike her English mother she cannot claim she knew nothing and carry on with a semblance of her former life; her father placed her in charge of the factory and she saw some of the things the Allies wish to prosecute her for.

But she has uncovered secrets about her own family, secrets unconnected to the war, things she must set right before she will hand herself in.

With time running out she has to use all the things she has learnt to try to rescue a young boy way out of his depths.

Clara is a brave and resourceful protagonist, preparing to accept responsibility for her actions, but also trying to help others caught up in her family dramas.

The book is well written and very readable, the characters elicit empathy, and the author creates a ruined, bombed out city struggling to get by very vividly.

I was kindly gifted a copy of this book and asked to review it to celebrate the UK publication on March 5th.

blog tour, books

Cover Reveal: The Gossips’ Choice – Sara Read

“Call The Midwife for the 17th Century”

Lucie Smith is a respected midwife who is married to Jacob, the town apothecary. They live happily together at the shop with the sign of the Three Doves. But sixteen-sixty-five proves a troublesome year for the couple. Lucie is called to a birth at the local Manor House and Jacob objects to her involvement with their former opponents in the English Civil Wars. Their only-surviving son Simon flees plague-ridden London for his country hometown, only to argue with his father. Lucie also has to manage her husband’s fury at the news of their loyal housemaid’s unplanned pregnancy and its repercussions.

The year draws to a close with the first-ever accusation of malpractice against Lucie, which could see her lose her midwifery licence, or even face ex-communication.

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Dr Sara Read is a lecturer in English at Loughborough University. Her research is in the cultural representations of women, bodies and health in the early modern era.

She has published widely in this area with her first book Menstruation and the Female Body in Early Modern England being published by Palgrave Macmillan in 2013.

She is a member of the organising committee of the Women’s Studies Group, 1558-1837 and recently co-edited a special collection produced to celebrate the group’s 30th anniversary.

She is also the co-editor of the popular Early Modern Medicine blog. With founding editor Dr Jennifer Evans, Sara wrote a book about health and disease in this era Maladies and Medicine: Exploring Health and Healing, 1540-1740 (Pen and Sword 2017).

Sara regularly writes for history magazines such as Discover Your Ancestors and History Today. In 2017 she published an article ‘My Ancestor was a Midwife’ tracing the history of the midwifery profession for Who Do You Think You Are? magazine in 2017. She has appeared on BBC Radio 3’s Freethinking programme and is often to be heard on BBC Radio Leicester and BBC Radio WM.

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blog tour, books, reviews

Blog Tour: The Dragon Lady – Louise Treger*


Opening with the shooting of Lady Virginia ‘Ginie’ Courtauld in her tranquil garden in 1950s Rhodesia, The Dragon Lady tells Ginie’s extraordinary story, so called for the exotic tattoo snaking up her leg. From the glamorous Italian Riviera before the Great War to the Art Deco glory of Eltham Palace in the thirties, and from the secluded Scottish Highlands to segregated Rhodesia in the fifties, the narrative spans enormous cultural and social change. Lady Virginia Courtauld was a boundary-breaking, colourful and unconventional person who rejected the submissive role women were expected to play.
Ostracised by society for being a foreign divorcée at the time of Edward VIII and Mrs Simpson, Ginie and her second husband ,Stephen Courtauld, leave the confines of post-war Britain to forge a new life in Rhodesia, only to find that being progressive liberals during segregation proves mortally dangerous. Many people had reason to dislike Ginie, but who had reason enough to pull the trigger?
Deeply evocative of time and place, The Dragon Lady subtly blends fact and fiction to paint the portrait of an extraordinary woman in an era of great social and cultural change.

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Born in London, Louisa Treger began her career as a classical violinist. She studied at the Royal College of Music and the Guildhall School of Music, and worked as a freelance orchestral player and teacher.
Louisa subsequently turned to literature, gaining a First Class degree and a PhD in English at University College London, where she focused on early twentieth century women’s writing.
Married with three children, she lives in London.

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My thoughts:

This was such a fascinating read, mainly covering the Courtaulds’ time in Rhodesia, now Zimbabwe, and their contributions to the cultural and political life of the country; a period I know basically nothing about.

Ginie Courtauld is a very interesting person to read about, and this fictionalised account of her life, from daughter of an Italian merchant and his Romanian wife, to member of an old Huguenot family in the upper echelons of British society was riveting.

She entertained Edward VIII and Wallis Simpson, and the future Queen Mother, at their home in the restored Eltham Palace, before moving to Africa after WWII.

Life in La Rochelle, their Rhodesian estate, wasn’t easy and they alienated their white neighbours by being liberal and egalitarian, treating their black employees better than most, building schools and decent housing; even paying them well! How dare they treat people with respect!

It’s hard to understand that mindset from a vantage point in 2020, where we know that colonialism was a bad thing, and where we can see how ahead of their time the Courtaulds were.

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