blog tour, books, reviews

Blog Tour: Talland House – Maggie Humm*

Royal Academy, London 1919: Lily has put her student days in St. Ives, Cornwall, behind her―a time when her substitute mother, Mrs. Ramsay, seemingly disliked Lily’s portrait of her and Louis Grier, her tutor, never seduced her as she hoped he would. In the years since, she’s been a suffragette and a nurse in WWI, and now she’s a successful artist with a painting displayed at the Royal Academy. Then Louis appears at the exhibition with the news that Mrs. Ramsay has died under suspicious circumstances. Talking to Louis, Lily realizes two things: 1) she must find out more about her beloved Mrs. Ramsay’s death (and her sometimes-violent husband, Mr. Ramsay), and 2) She still loves Louis.
Set between 1900 and 1919 in picturesque Cornwall and war-blasted London, Talland House takes Lily Briscoe from the pages of Virginia Woolf’s To the Lighthouse and tells her story outside the confines of Woolf’s novel―as a student in 1900, as a young woman becoming a professional artist, her loves and friendships, mourning her dead mother, and solving the mystery of her friend Mrs. Ramsay’s sudden death. Talland House is both a story for our present time, exploring the tensions women experience between their public careers and private loves, and a story of a specific moment in our past―a time when women first began to be truly independent.

My thoughts:

Inspired by Virginia Woolf’s To The Lighthouse, and partly set at Talland House, which Woolf’s family rented when she was a child, this story fleshes out the details Woolf left out of her own narrative – primarily the death of Mrs Ramsey.

A beautifully written, lyrical meditation on art, the particular light of St Ives, families, women, war and love.

Following Lily Briscoe from her days as an art student, then as a Queen Alexandra’s nurse in WWI (as was my own great-grandmother), we encounter the seismic changes in society in the early years of the 20th century. Lily is present when a suffragette slashes a painting in protest of the government’s treatment of Emmeline Pankhurst.

Her fascination with Mrs Ramsey never really wains, she thinks of her often, even though years pass by without them meeting. I was reminded of the similar relationship in Howards End, where Margaret is fascinated by Mrs Wilcox.

The novel evolves in its final third into a investigation of Mrs Ramsey’s death. Lily suspects foul play, the suddenness of it seems suspicious, and she enlists her pharmacist friend after the cleaner and cook give her a small bottle found among Mrs Ramsey’s things. Shades of Agatha Christie, herself a pharmacist in the war.

I found this book deeply fascinating and strangely moving. St Ives is a place I’ve visited and I could picture it in my mind as Lily painted on the quayside and strode around the town with her friends.

Even if you’re not a fan of Woolf, this is very enjoyable and readable, Woolf isn’t present in the pages and the author really makes the characters her own.

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

books, reviews

Book Review – Skelton’s Guide to Domestic Poisons

I was gifted a copy of this book by the publisher via Netgalley with no requirement to review.

Mary Dutton is accused of killing her husband by poison, though there aren’t many who dispute her involvement in his death. The police see it as an open-and-shut case, and even those protesting for her freedom believe she committed the act, but is innocent of wrongdoing after suffering years of domestic abuse.

Since his recent success in the high-profile Dryden case catapulted him to the front pages of the national press, unassuming Yorkshireman Arthur Skelton is now one of the most celebrated and recognisable barristers in the land. His services are much in demand and, despite the odds, he agrees to represent Mary Dutton.

Yet with a general election on the horizon and both sides of the political divide keen to turn the Dutton case to their advantage, as well as long-held secrets within the Dutton family itself, can Skelton ever really expose the truth?

My thoughts:

This is a tremendously fun read. The humour is black and the plot is a murder that might have never been discovered.
Skelton’s cousins make excellent detectives with their travelling ministry and ear for details.
I thoroughly enjoyed this and really hope there will be more to come as I’m out of Christie and this harks back to the Golden Age of detective novels while also being refreshingly modern.
books, reviews

Book Review: Mexican Gothic – Silvia Moreno-Garcia

I was gifted a copy of this book by the publisher via Netgalley with no requirement to review.

The acclaimed author of Gods of Jade and Shadow returns with a mesmerising feminist re-imagining of Gothic fantasy, in which a young socialite discovers the haunting secrets of a beautiful old mansion in 1950s Mexico.

He is trying to poison me. You must come for me, Noemí. You have to save me.

When glamorous socialite Noemí Taboada receives a frantic letter from her newlywed cousin begging to be rescued from a mysterious doom, it’s clear something is desperately amiss. Catalina has always had a flair for the dramatic, but her claims that her husband is poisoning her and her visions of restless ghosts seem remarkable, even for her.

Noemí’s chic gowns and perfect lipstick are more suited to cocktail parties than amateur sleuthing, but she immediately heads to High Place, a remote mansion in the Mexican countryside, determined to discover what is so affecting her cousin.

Tough and smart, she possesses an indomitable will, and she is not afraid: not of her cousin’s new husband, who is both menacing and alluring; not of his father, the ancient patriarch who seems to be fascinated by Noemí; and not of the house itself, which begins to invade Noemi’s dreams with visions of blood and doom.

Her only ally in this inhospitable abode is the family’s youngest son. Shy and gentle, he seems to want to help, but might also be hiding dark knowledge of his family’s past. For there are many secrets behind the walls of High Place. The family’s once colossal wealth and faded mining empire kept them from prying eyes, but as Noemí digs deeper she unearths stories of violence and madness.

And Noemí, mesmerised by the terrifying yet seductive world of High Place, may soon find it impossible to leave this enigmatic house behind . . .

My thoughts:

What seems like a stereotypical Gothic novel, complete with large remote house and creepy occupants becomes something far more disturbing and sinister, worthy of a horror film or my nightmares.
The house is menacing and malevolent, the servants mute, the family vicious in their manner, with unbreakable rules that fashionable, fun Noemi breaks with no regard, finding them stuffy and backward.
Uncle Howard’s obsession with eugenics is creepy too, and the reason behind it all was honestly so sinister and sent shivers down my spine.
This was a book that made me wonder how the author could dream up such a nightmarish plot. But at the same time it was a brilliant read, expertly plotted and delivered.

blog tour, books, reviews

Blog Tour: The Mountains Sing – Nguyên Phan Quê Mai*

Born in 1920, Tran Dieu Lan and her family lost everything when the Communist government came to power in North Việt Nam.

Forced to flee with her six children, she knows she must do whatever it takes to keep her family alive.

Fifty years later, her country is again at war, and her young granddaughter Huong grieves the loss of her parents, who have disappeared to the South along the Ho Chi Minh Trail.

Vivid, compelling and deeply moving, THE MOUNTAINS SING introduces a Vietnamese voice to the post-war literary canon.

Drawing on her family history, and the stories of other survivors, Nguyễn Phan Quế Mai’s debut novel in English, brings to life the true human cost of a devastating war, and the improbable power of hope to sustain us when all seems lost.

With echoes of Homegoing and Pachinko, this is a standout new novel from a celebrated Vietnamese poet.

‘The Mountains Sing is my search for lost Vietnamese history. I researched for it my whole life and wrote it when I was 39 years old. I wrote it with everything I had…’

BORN IN VIETNAM in 1973, Nguyễn Phan Quế Mai grew up in the aftermath of the war and witnessed its devastation on her country. She worked as a street seller and rice farmer before winning a scholarship to attend university in Australia.

She is the author of eight books of poetry, fiction and non-fiction published in Vietnamese, and her writing has been translated and published in more than 10 countries, most recently in Norton’s Inheriting the War anthology.

Her work has received the Hanoi Writers Association ‘Poetry of the Year’ Award (2010). She lives with her family in Jakarta.

My thoughts:

This is an incredibly moving and compelling read, I’m the first to admit I know very little about Vietnam and its history, so this family saga is very fascinating and interesting.

You can see the author’s poetic roots in some of the lines, which read so beautifully on the page, conjuring full colour images in the mind.

Moving back and forth between Duen Lan’s past and her granddaughter’s present in the aftermath of the American invasion of Vietnam and the ensuing war, unites the two generations in their family’s long fight to survive against what often seem like insurmountable odds.

I was reminded of Jung Chan’s Wild Swans, the family memoir, even fictionalised as here, is powerful and emotive, drawing you into the lives of these unforgettable characters.

*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: A Dangerous Goodbye – Fliss Chester*

Your lost love never came home after the war. Would you risk everything to find out what happened to him?

1944. While war rages in Europe, Fenella Churche is doing her bit in the green fields of England. But when she finds a letter addressed to her on the scrubbed farmhouse table, she knows the news won’t be good. She hasn’t heard from her fiancé Arthur since he was posted to France on a dangerous undercover mission, and from his very first words she knows he may not be coming back.

I fear this may be my last letter to you, my darling, Arthur writes. Fen won’t give up hope and calls the war office, wanting to know if Arthur is still alive; they refuse to tell her anything. Searching for answers, she returns to his letter, but parts of it just don’t make sense. Through her tears Fen realises that her darling Arthur is giving her all the clues she needs to find out what happened to him.

1945. With the war behind them and nothing left for her in England, Fen travels to the deceptively pretty French village where she thinks Arthur might be, but there’s no sign of him. She’s close to giving up when she finds his silver cigarette case and another letter full of clues. But when the local priest is killed, it’s clear someone wants to keep wartime secrets buried. If Arthur, a brilliant spy, was outwitted and betrayed, can Fen stay alive long enough to find out what happened to the man she loves?

A gripping story of war, mystery, espionage and murder. Fans of Jacqueline Winspear, Charles Todd and Rhys Bowen will absolutely adore this unputdownable World War Two murder mystery.

Fliss Chester lives in Surrey with her husband and writes historical cozy crime. When she is not killing people off in her 1940s whodunnits, she helps her husband, who is a wine merchant, run their business. Never far from a decent glass of something, Fliss also loves cooking (and writing up her favourite recipes on her blog), enjoying the beautiful Surrey and West Sussex countryside and having a good natter.

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My thoughts:

I really enjoyed this post-WW2 mystery, following Fen to rural France to discover what became of her fiance Arthur, and in the process solving a conspiracy and a string of terrible murders.

Fen is a likeable and engaging protagonist and the world building is simple but effective, bringing the vineyard and chateau to life.

*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 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.


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.

blog awards, books, reviews

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.