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, 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.

blog tour, books, reviews

Book Review: Traitor – David Hingley*

Today I’m hosting a stop on the blog tour for the excellent historical romp Traitor.

This is the third book in the Mercia Blakewood series – I recommend reading Birthright and Puritan first as the book references characters and events from the previous ones.

Following her adventures in the American colonies, Mercia Blakewood returns to England determined to make the King stand by their agreement and reclaim her family’s home.

However the royal court has other plans for Marcia in this third outing by David Hingley. It’s 1665, war with the Dutch looms and Charles II believes there is a spy in his Court. He needs Mercia’s skills and intelligence to rout the mysterious Virgo and prevent the Dutch from getting information about the fleet and their plans.

I love historical fiction, and Hingley’s blend of real and imagined people and events brings the Restoration vividly to life. Mercia is a fantastic heroine, smart, resourceful and determined.

Hingley has clearly researched the period well, having lived in both the UK and the US (near where the action of his books takes place) which is good as the Restoration isn’t covered in school, so although the plot is an invention, the books really gives you a feel for the late 1600s.

I really enjoyed the first two books but this is definitely the strongest so far (fingers crossed Hingley decides to continue the series).

Book one (Birthright) is currently £5.99 direct from the publisher if you want to get into the series.

Check out the rest of the tour

Today a really interesting and relevant article was published- talk about kismet. Mercia’s adventures start with an attempt to find Charles I’s lost art and now it is finally being reunited in part. Worth a read, just like these books!

*I received this product in exchange for an honest review, all opinions and words are my own.

books, reviews

Review: The Red Thread – Dawn Farnham

I was kindly sent this in exchange for my honest review. 

The Red Thread is book one of the The Straits Quartet – set in colonial era Singapore. 

The author lived in modern Singapore for many years and has written several books sit in the country’s past. 

I found it quite hard to get into this book to begin with – which follows Charlotte McLeod as she travels from Scotland to be with her brother who has been appointed to head up the first police force in the British colony. 

It also tells the story of two young men, Zhen and Qian, who travel at the same time from China in search of success and fortune. 

Their paths will cross with Charlotte’s with explosive personal results. 

There’s some quite raunchy sex scenes so maybe don’t leave this lying around if you’ve got young children who are learning to read (it happened to my friend with a different book). 

Anyway, back to the book. 

Once I got into the plot a bit more it picked up a pace and was really easy and pleasant a read. 

There are some sad moments and as I said some very sexy ones. The story is peppered with real people and sits into a historical narrative, including Raffles, who founded modern Singapore, but has already returned to England as Charlotte arrives. 

I enjoy historical fiction that gives context as the plot unfolds, as this does, rather than giving a history lesson before the story. 

Although one day I am getting a time machine and going back to tell all these daft women living in tropical climates to throw away their petticoats and crinolines asap and swap them for sensible native dress. 

The ending seems quite final – so it would be interesting to see where the story picks up in the next book. 

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Book Preview: Daughters of India – Jill McGivering

I was gifted this book in exchange for an honest review. 

Written by a journalist specialising in Asia, this historic novel tells of Isabel and Asha, two women caught in India’s struggle for independence. 

Isabel is the daughter of British parents, her father a high ranking Raj official. Her life is pampered and privileged,  far removed from that of Asha – whose father swept the streets until he was falsely accused of theft and fired. 

As adults their lives cross paths again, Isabel is a bored housewife trapped in a loveless marriage and Asha a teacher fighting for independence. 

Told from the perspective of the women themselves McGivering presents the fading opulence and extreme poverty of both sides of the independence battle. As the Second World War looms will these women end up on the right side of history? 

I found this utterly enthralling – I’m a massive history geek so that intrigued me right off. India’s struggle to shake off the  British Empire isn’t exactly taught in schools. I also really appreciated the two protagonists being female – women’s voices are so often from the narrative of history. 

It’s also really well written, the story flows and the characters felt real. There’s a lot packed into this book and I will be mulling over it for a while. 

Daughters of India is published in hardback on the 22nd July so if it sounds like something you’d enjoy (and I hope it does) then place an order at your bookseller of choice now. 

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Book Review: Look What I Have Done – Sarah Schmidt 

Lizzie Borden took an axe and gave her mother forty whacks, 

When she saw what she had done, she gave her father forty-one

I can’t remember when I first heard of Lizzie Borden but I was a rather macabre child so probably quite early on. She seems to be having a bit of a moment right now – with this book and two tv shows about her (Netflix currently has one with Christina Ricci as Borden). 

Schmidt researched this book rather thoroughly – including staying in the Borden house. Luckily her writing style means it doesn’t feel like an academic tome. 

In fact it reads like a rather modern thriller – with multiple narrators and flashbacks. The setting is the rather claustrophobic house the Borden family lived in – Mr Andrew Borden, his two adult daughters, Lizzie and Emma, second wife Abby and housemaid Bridget. The doors and windows are always kept locked even in the heat. 

It’s a small cast of characters and Lizzie dominates the household with her childish behaviour and temper tantrums. Sister Emma desperately wants to escape and Lizzie refuses to let go. 

The book is incredibly well written and really draws you in to the tense environment. Opening in the immediate aftermath of the murders, Schmidt spins a tight web of resentment and bitterness. 

I read this in two sittings, breaking for an appointment because it’s so gripping. Even knowing the rough outcome didn’t matter. 

If you like thrillers, historical, biographical books, this is one for you. In fact, even if those genres aren’t your thing, read it anyway. 

books, reviews

Book Review – Frog Music by Emma Donaghue

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Based on a true story about a murder in San Francisco when it was still a new city, Donaghue spins a story involving circus folk, music, measles, baby farms, dancing girls and frog hunting.

Jenny Bonnet (pronounced Bonn-ay) was a teenage tearaway who spent time in a reform school before becoming a trouser-wearing frog hunter in the ponds and swamps around the fledgeling San Francisco, supplying the restaurant trade with that delicacy, frog legs.

When she was 27 she was shot dead in a guesthouse outside the city. No one was ever convicted of the killing.

Using old newspaper articles and court records, Donaghue fleshes out the story of Bonnet’s life and death. Narrated by Blanche Beunon, a French acrobat turned stripper and prostitute, who befriended Jenny shortly before her death, the novel depicts the struggles of immigrants, living hand to mouth in Chinatown.

The details of Bonnet’s life were scarce so this allowed Donaghue, whose last book was the harrowing Room, a lot of scope to write an imaginative, colourful narrative peopled by outrageous characters and a complex tangle of emotions and motives at its centre.

This book is well worth a read, whether historical fiction is your thing or not.

ramblingmads