blog awards, books, reviews

Blog Tour: Imperfect Alchemist – Naomi Miller*

In Tudor England, two women dare to be different …

Two women. One bond that will unite them across years and social divides.

England, 1575. Mary Sidney, who will go on to claim a spot at the heart of Elizabethan court life and culture, is a fourteen-year-old navigating grief and her first awareness of love and desire. Her sharp mind is less interested in the dynastic alliances and marriages that concern her father, but will she be able to forge a place for herself and her writing in the years to come?

Rose Commin, a young country girl with a surprising talent for drawing, is desperate to shrug off the slurs of witchcraft which have tarnished life at home. The opportunity to work at Wilton House, the Earl of Pembroke’s Wiltshire residence, is her chance.

Defying the conventions of their time, these two women, mistress and maid, will find themselves facing the triumphs, revelations and dangers that lie ahead together.

Naomi Miller is professor of English at Smith College, Massachusetts. She is author or editor of nine books in early modern studies and Imperfect Alchemist is her first novel.

My thoughts:

This was very good, I enjoyed it a lot. One of my favourite types of historical fiction is bringing back to public consciousness amazing women about whom we know very little, as they weren’t the ones writing the records or histories.

Duchess Mary Sidney Herbert was a pioneering writer and alchemist, a woman way ahead of her time. She knew many of the notable figures of her time, including Elizabeth I and William Shakespeare. As well as her interest in alchemy, she wrote a play about Cleopatra and gathered a Circle of engaging minds around her, both men and women to discuss art, literature, science and other topics.

Naomi Miller adds flesh to the bones of Mary’s life, illuminating this fascinating woman and bringing her brilliantly to life. By adding in the fictional Rose, her maid and companion, she adds heart and friendship to what may well have been a quiet household under the Duke, who is uncomfortable with his younger wife’s friendships with men like Walter Raleigh.

Rose is another interesting figure, despite being fictional, she bridges the gap between the herbal remedies of many a midwife or wise woman and the “alchemy” of the upper classes, where science met wishful thinking (the Philosopher’s Stone, the Elixir of Life).

Rose is all too aware that for a woman of her class to dabble in healing can bring a charge of witchcraft, while women like Mary were encouraged to keep a still room and make home remedies.

Looking at class through these two women is interesting too, Rose’s father was a cloth merchant, albeit not a very successful one, but she’s not of the mercantile class, and can’t read and write to begin with.

I found this intriguing, that while Mary dreams of being a literary sensation and taken seriously by the male dominated world she lives in, all Rose wants is a cottage of her own and to maybe make and sell her herbal cures. Rose is more of a realist, enforcing the sense of Mary as a woman far ahead of her time.

Overall this is an incredibly engaging and intelligent book, it brought the late Elizabethan age vividly to life, with its Enlightenment ideals, but deeply ingrained misogyny, despite the gender of the monarch. I would love to learn more about Mary and the other women she encouraged to write and think for themselves. These women have too long been footnotes in history and deserve books of their 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.

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Blog Tour: The Last Blast of the Trumpet – Marie Macpherson*

Conflict, Chaos and Corruption in Reformation Scotland

He wants to reform Scotland, but his enemies will stop at nothing to prevent him.

Scotland 1559: Fiery reformer John Knox returns to a Scotland on the brink of civil war. Victorious, he feels confident of his place leading the reform until the charismatic young widow, Mary Queen of Scots returns to claim her throne. She challenges his position and initiates a ferocious battle of wills as they strive to win the hearts and minds of the Scots. But the treachery and jealousy that surrounds them both as they make critical choices in their public and private lives has dangerous consequences that neither of them can imagine.

In this final instalment of the trilogy of the fiery reformer John Knox, Macpherson tells the story of a man and a queen at one of the most critical phases of Scottish history.

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Scottish writer Marie Macpherson grew up in Musselburgh on the site of the Battle of Pinkie and within sight of Fa’side Castle where tales and legends haunted her imagination. She left the Honest Toun to study Russian at Strathclyde University and spent a year in the former Soviet Union to research her PhD thesis on the 19th century Russian writer Mikhail Lermontov, said to be descended from the Scottish poet and seer, Thomas the Rhymer. Though travelled widely, teaching languages and literature from Madrid to Moscow, she has never lost her enthusiasm for the rich history and culture of her native Scotland.

Writing historical fiction combines her academic’s love of research with a passion for storytelling. Exploring the personal relationships and often hidden motivations of historical characters drives her curiosity.

The Knox Trilogy is a fictional biography of the fiery reformer, John Knox, set during the 16th century Scottish Reformation. Prizes and awards include the Martha Hamilton Prize for Creative Writing from Edinburgh University and Writer of the Year 2011 awarded by Tyne & Esk Writers. She is a member of the Historical Writers’ Association (HWA), the Historical Novel Society (HNS) and the Society of Authors (SoA).

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My thoughts:

I initially struggled to get into this, I think it might have been the language but once I did it was fascinating stuff. The 16th century was one of extreme changes and violence, including in Scotland, where the same rows about religion raged as they did in England (somehow the only thing we learnt about Scotland at this time in school was that Mary, Queen of Scots, was Elizabeth I’s cousin).

John Knox wanted reformation – to put the Bible into a language the ordinary person could understand and take power away from priests and bishops of the Catholic faith.

Cue a battle of wills and faith that still has implications today. Of course we know what happened next to Mary, and how her son became James I and VI, uniting England and Scotland, but reading about what happened before then, within Scotland, was really interesting.

*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: Mine – Alison Knight*

“What’s mine, I keep.”

London, 1968.
Lily’s dreams of a better life for her family are shattered when her teenage daughter refuses to give
up her illegitimate child. It doesn’t help that Lily’s husband, Jack, takes their daughter’s side.

Taking refuge in her work at a law firm in the City, Lily’s growing feelings for her married boss soon
provides a dangerous distraction.

Will Lily be able to resist temptation? Or will the decisions made by these ordinary people lead them
down an extraordinary path thatcould destroy them all?

Mine – a powerful story of class, ambition and sexual politics.

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INVITATION TO AN ONLINE BOOK LAUNCH: On Saturday 28th November 2020, Alison will be joining
four other authors for a joint event via Zoom called Darkstroke Defined: The five writers will talk about their new books, read extracts and answer questions. For your free ticket, click here.

Alison has been a legal executive, a registered childminder, a professional fund-raiser and a teacher.

She has travelled the world – from spending a year as an exchange student in the US in the 1970s
and trekking the Great Wall of China to celebrate her fortieth year and lots of other interesting places in between.

In her mid-forties Alison went to university part-time and gained a first-class degree in Creative Writing at Bath Spa University and an MA in the same subject from Oxford Brookes University, both while still working full-time. Her first book was published a year after she completed her master’s degree.

Mine is a domestic drama set in 1960s London based on real events in her family. She is the only person who can tell this particular story. Exploring themes of class, ambition and sexual
politics, Mine shows how ordinary people can make choices that lead them into extraordinary situations.

Alison teaches creative and life-writing, runs workshops and retreats with Imagine Creative Writing Workshops as well as working as a freelance editor. She is a
member of the Society of Authors and the Romantic Novelists’ Association.

She lives in Somerset, within sight of Glastonbury Tor.

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My thoughts:

This was a shocking and gripping story, made even more so by being based on the author’s own family.

The story of Jack, Lily and Leo is tragic and painful – not exactly how you imagine a love story to go but it does happen. Lily and Leo want to spare others from pain but love is hard to ignore.

Written with love and the characters are brought vividly to life, as is 60s London, I could picture the houses and businesses perfectly.


*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: Turncoat – Anthony J Quinn*

The sole survivor of a murderous ambush, a Belfast police detective is forced into a desperate search for a mysterious informer that takes him to a holy islandon Lough Derg, a place shrouded in strange mists and hazy rain, where nothing is as it first appears to be.

A keeper of secrets and a purveyor of lies, the detective finds himself surrounded by enemies disguised as pilgrims, and is drawn deeper into the mysteries of the purgatorial island, where he is forced to confront a series of disturbing secrets and ghosts in his own life.

Haunting and unsettling, Turncoat probes the legacy of the Troubles, the loss of collective memories and the moral consequences for the individual.

It is a story of guilt, survival and the terrible price of self-knowledge, told through the voice of a detective with a double life. Descending into paranoia, he uncovers a sinister panorama of cover-ups and conspiracies.

The closer he edges to the truth, the deeper he is drawn into the currents of power, violence and guilt engulfing his country…

Anthony J Quinn’s nine novels have received critical acclaim from The Sunday Times, The Guardian, The Independent, The Financial Times, The Daily Mail, TheDaily Telegraph, The Sunday Telegraph, The Sunday Express, The Sunday Herald,The Literary Review, The Good Book Guide, The Sydney Morning Herald, Books Ireland, Der Spiegel, The Irish Times, the Irish Independent and other newspapers.

His debut Disappeared was picked as one of the Best Books of the Year by theSunday Times and was a Daily Mail Crime Novel of the Year. It was shortlisted by thebook critics of the Washington Post, the LA Times, and the San Francisco Chroniclefor a Strand Literary Award in the US. It was also selected as one of the top ten thrillers of 2012 by Kirkus Reviews and long listed for the Theakstons Crime Novel ofthe Year.

He teaches creative writing at Queen’s University Belfast and is currently writer-in-residence for County Cavan in Ireland.

My thoughts:

Set during the Troubles in Northern Ireland, following a police detective, who as the sole survivor of a shootout becomes the focus of suspicion and investigation.

Hiding out on an island sacred to pilgrims, he wrestles with his conscience and the events that led him to this point. His fear and paranoia have him believing that many of the pilgrims are spying on him for various factions.

This is a fascinating and involving book, exploring ideas of collective guilt, memory and conspiracy in those supposed to serve and protect the people.

You’re drawn into the web of secrets and lies within the agencies watching as well as the claustrophobic atmosphere of the holy Isle, where pilgrims walk the stations of the cross in prayer all day long, barefoot and fasting.

*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 Haunting at Bonaventure Circus – Jaime Jo Wright*

1928

The Bonaventure Circus is a refuge for many, but Pippa Ripley was rejected from its inner circle as a baby. When she receives mysterious messages from someone called the “Watchman,” she is determined to find him and the connection to her birth. As Pippa’s search leads her to a man seeking justice for his murdered sister and evidence that a serial killer has been haunting the circus train, she must decide if uncovering her roots is worth putting herself directly in the path of the killer.

Present Day

The old circus train depot will either be torn down or preserved for historical importance, and its future rests on real estate project manager Chandler Faulk’s shoulders. As she dives deep into the depot’s history, she’s also balancing a newly diagnosed autoimmune disease and the pressures of single motherhood. When she discovers clues to the unsolved murders of the past, Chandler is pulled into a story far darker and more haunting than even an abandoned train depot could portend.

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Jaime Jo Wright is the author of five novels, including Christy Award winner The House on Foster Hill and Carol Award winner The Reckoning at Gossamer Pond. She’s also the Publishers Weekly and ECPA bestselling author of two novellas. Jaime lives in Wisconsin with her cat named Foo, her husband Cap’n Hook, and their littles, Peter Pan, and CoCo. Website

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My thoughts:

This was an interesting and thought provoking thriller, linking events at the home ground of Bonaventure Circus in 1928 and the present day – proving that the past is never as far away as we think.

A serial killer stalked the travelling circus and now haunts its winter home, where a newborn elephant fights for life and the adopted daughter of the circus’ owner delves into the secrets of her own past.

In the present day, Chandler has plans to develop the abandoned circus depot into a trendy mix of shops and apartments, but strange goings on and rumours of ghosts dog her efforts. When her young son is kidnapped, she’s thrust into the swirling mysteries that still linger around the empty buildings.

Powerful and shocking, moving and heartwarming by turn, this is an engaging and evocative thriller about the secrets in families and the people who will do anything to keep them.

*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: Poleaxed – Peter Tyrer*

It is 1967. A mysterious disease appears in an English town. People fall down suddenly, poleaxed, and many die. Is it caused by a bacterium, a virus, a poison? Nobody knows, and top doctors squabble over its cause. But then two junior doctors and a young anthropology student, who has recovered from the disease, join together.

The three investigators continue their work to find out the cause of the disease, a virus whose worst effects are only shown in those who are very anxious. They think they have found the cause and the solution. But will they be in time?

This is a gripping dystopian tale, very much relevant to events unfolding today and written by Emeritus Professor of Community Psychiatry at Imperial College, London, Peter Tyrer whose long-standing interest in the connections between mental and physical health informed the novel.

My thoughts:

I seem to have read a lot of books recently about pandemics and diseases, real and imaginary, which considering this year’s stellar performance of These Are The End Times, seems to make some sense.

This book, written in 2018/19, is very interesting in that the infection is highly localised and the town takes the decision to close its borders and see if they can wait out the virus, while also continuing to look for both the origin and a treatment. This isn’t a new idea, famously a village in Derbyshire, Eyam, chose to completely cut itself off during an outbreak of plague in 1665, rather than risk spreading the Black Death beyond its borders.

What’s most interesting, and for me somewhat unnerving, is the idea that this virus, Poleaxe, affects people with underlying anxiety disorders far more seriously than anyone else. I have anxiety disorder and panic disorder, as well as depression, so were Poleaxe a real disease I’d be struck down very quickly and struggle to recover.

Luckily the protagonist of this novel, the very clever anthropology student Barbara, does recover and indeed identifies the origin of the virus and the link between anxiety and the more serious symptoms. This allows the health authorities to lift the quarantine and treat the afflicted.

Written by an expert psychiatrist lends a certain air of knowledge and expertise to the novel – if this was a real disease I know who I’d want working alongside the other doctors, someone who has a great understanding of the link between mental and physical health, a fact that has been thrown into sharp focus by the current pandemic and lockdown, but is often overlooked when treating medical conditions.

This book is both timely and also, thankfully, very much science fiction as opposed to fact, I hope.

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

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Blog Tour: The Forgotten Gift – Kathleen McGurl*

What would you do to protect the ones you love?

1861. George’s life changes forever the day he meets Lucy. She’s beautiful and charming, and he sees a future with her that his position as the second son in a wealthy family has never offered him. But when Lucy dies in a suspected poisoning days after rejecting George, he finds himself swept up into a murder investigation. George loved Lucy; he would never have harmed her. So who did?

Now. On the surface Cassie is happy with her life: a secure job, good friends, and a loving family. When a mysterious gift in long-forgotten will leads her to a dark secret in her family’s history she’s desperate to learn more. But the secrets in Cassie’s family aren’t all hidden in the past, and her research will soon lead her to a revelation much closer to home – and which will turn everything she
knows on its head…

Discover a family’s darkest secrets today. Perfect for fans of The Girl in the Letter, The Beekeeper’s Promise and The Forgotten Village!

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Kathleen McGurl lives in Bournemouth with her husband. She has two sons who have both now left
home. She always wanted to write, and for many years was waiting until she had the time.

Eventually she came to the bitter realisation that no one would pay her for a year off work to write a book, so she sat down and started to write one anyway. Since then she has published several novels with HQ and self-published another. She has also sold dozens of short stories to women’s magazines, and written three How To books for writers.

After a long career in the IT industry she became a full time writer in 2019.

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My thoughts:

Families are complicated creatures and this story of adoption and finding your family struck a real chord with me. My Grandad is not biologically related to me, he married my Nan and adopted my mum and aunt after her first husband, my biological grandfather, died of cancer really young. He is however absolutely my Grandad and my hero, regardless of blood.

Cassie has to wrestle with similar issues, after finding out a few things about her father and indeed about his ancestor, George. Her own biological daughter, who she gave up for adoption, gets in touch as well. Cassie and George both learn that what makes a family is a bit more complicated than it first appears.

This was moving and insightful, well written and I enjoyed the way it moved between Cassie’s life and that of George, 200 hundred years ago.

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

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Blog Tour: The Running Wolf – Helen Steadman*

When a Prussian smuggler is imprisoned in Morpeth Gaol in the winter of 1703, why does Queen Anne’s powerful right-hand man, The Earl of Nottingham, take such a keen interest?

At the end of the turbulent 17th century, the ties that bind men are fraying, turning neighbour against neighbour, friend against friend and brother against brother. Beneath a seething layer of religious intolerance, community suspicion and political intrigue, The Running Wolf takes us deep into the heart of rebel country in the run-up to the 1715 Jacobite uprising.
Hermann Mohll is a master sword maker from Solingen in Prussia who risks his life by breaking his guild oaths and settling in England. While trying to save his family and neighbours from poverty, he is caught smuggling swords and finds himself in Morpeth Gaol facing charges of High Treason.

Determined to hold his tongue and his nerve, Mohll finds himself at the mercy of the corrupt keeper, Robert Tipstaff. The keeper fancies he can persuade the truth out of Mohll and make him face the ultimate justice: hanging, drawing and quartering. But in this tangled web of secrets and lies, just who is telling the truth?

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About the Author

Helen Steadman lives in the foothills of the North Pennines, and she particularly enjoys researching and writing about the history of the north east of England. Following her MA in creative writing at Manchester Met, Helen is now completing a PhD in English at the University of Aberdeen to determine whether a writer can use psycho-physical techniques to create authentic fictional characters.

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My thoughts:

This was really interesting, I don’t know a huge amount about this period of history and this book, based on real people and events, was enjoyable and engaging.

The characters are well rounded and skillfully brought to life, Hermann in particular is vivid and realistic. His family felt like people you might know and their struggles are familiar to anyone who knows someone who has moved countries for work.

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

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Blog Tour: The Silent Stars Go By – Sally Nicholls*

Seventeen-year-old Margot Allan was a respectable vicar’s daughter and madly in love with her fiancé Harry. But when Harry was reported Missing in Action from the Western Front, and Margot realised she was expecting his child, there was only one solution she and her family could think of in order to keep that respectability. She gave up James, her baby son, to be adopted by her parents and brought up as her younger brother.
Now two years later the whole family is gathering at the vicarage for Christmas. It’s heartbreaking for Margot being so close to James but unable to tell him who he really is. But on top of that, Harry is also back in the village. Released from captivity in Germany and recuperated from illness, he’s come home and wants answers. Why has Margot seemingly broken off their engagement and not replied to his letters? Margot knows she owes him an explanation. But can she really tell him the truth about James?My thoughts:This is a lovely, bittersweet story of young love, war, family, hope and redemption. Having given her son James to be raised by her parents as theirs, Margot’s heart is breaking. Her fiancé Harry has somehow survived the war, despite being reported as missing, and now she must decide whether to tell him the truth about James.Margot returns home for Christmas, seeing James happily ensconced as the baby of the family and coming face to face with Harry for the first time.She wrestles with her decision, spends time with her siblings, parents and friends, trying to decide what the right thing to do is.This was a truly lovely book, the story was moving and a little heartbreaking, it was also educational – I didn’t know adoption was legal until the 1926 Adoption Act – and the thought of all those young women forced into giving away their babies before then were wronged.Although James is one of the lucky ones, his grandparents love him and treat him as they do the rest of their children, which makes Margot worry even more – will this destroy his happiness, if she and Harry married and took him with them?I was gifted a copy of this book by the publisher and if you’d like to see the special edition I received, I’ve shared it over on Instagram.

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Blog Tour: Freedom is a Land I Cannot See – Peter Cunningham*

1924. In the dangerous first years of the Irish Free State, beautiful Rose Raven, having lost her sight and her first love, is living quietly with her brother. But Ultan is involved in anti-government propaganda. As the net tightens, Rose is the only person who knows where the shameful truth is hidden – a truth so incendiary, it threatens the new Ireland itself.

Peter Cunningham is from Waterford in the south east of Ireland. He is the author of the Monument series, widely acclaimed novels set in a fictional version of his home town. His novel, The Taoiseach was a controversial best seller; The Sea and the Silence won the prestigious Prix de l’Europe.

He is a member of Aosdána, the Irish academy of arts and letters, and lives with his wife, not far from Dublin.His novel, The Taoiseach was a controversial best seller; The Sea and the Silence won the prestigious Prix de l’Europe.He is a member of Aosdána, the Irish academy of arts and letters, and lives with his wife, not far from Dublin.

My thoughts:

One of the many things that frustrates me about the UK’s education system is the erasure of the cruel and terrible things the British Empire did. Ireland is our closest neighbour, but I have to rely on stories from my friend’s Granny and brilliantly written books like this to even scratch the surface of its rich and complicated history.

Powerful, moving and haunting, this book is a body blow, especially in the second act as Rose reveals what happened to her and her father, the terrible love story and tragic ending of her sight.

I didn’t like the epilogue as it seemed a little heavy handed but the two sections before it, Rose’s ‘now’ and ‘then’ were intense and absorbing, leaving me reeling.

This book needs to be on your to-be-read piles, its power and characters lingering on long after the last page, for such a slim volume it packs an emotive punch.

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