blog tour, books, reviews

Blog Tour: The Improbable Adventures of Miss Emily Soldene – Helen Batten

The fascinating biography of an almost forgotten star of the Victorian stage brought back to life by the Sunday Times bestselling author of Sisters of the East End.
Emily Soldene was a courageous actor-manager whose life spanned the entire Victorian period. She challenged the stereotype of Victorian women and showed just what women
could achieve with enough determination. From in humble working-class beginnings born
as the daughter of a Clerkenwell milliner in 1838, she rose to become a celebrated leading lady, director and formidable impresario creating one of the era’s most celebrated opera
companies. Her career took her to theatres across America and Australia, as well as throughout Great Britain, before reinventing herself as a journalist and writer in her fifties.
She wrote a weekly column for the Sydney Evening News, as well as a novel and a memoir, and scandalised the capital with her revelations. Emily Soldene died in 1912.
A darling of London’s music halls and theatre land, Emily counted Charles Dickens and the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood as friends and mingled with the Rothschilds, Oscar Wilde and
aristocrats. Charting her international triumphs and calamitous disasters, from taking Broadway by storm, to befriending cowboys in the Wild West and touring the Australian outback, Helen Batten vividly recreates the era and a riotous life that has faded from the limelight.
Putting Emily Soldene firmly back in centre stage, The Improbable Adventures of Miss Emily Soldene is a portrait of an irrepressible character who trod the boards, travelled the globe and tore up the Victorian rule book.

HELEN BATTEN is the Sunday Times bestselling author of Sisters of the East End, and of The Scarlet Sisters which told the story of her grandmother’s life. She is also the co-author of Confessions of a Showman: My Life in the Circus, Gerry Cottle’s autobiography.
After reading history at Cambridge, Helen studied journalism at
Cardiff University. She went on to become a producer and director at the BBC. She now works as a writer and psychotherapist. She lives in West London with her three daughters.

My thoughts: the author is a distant relative of Emily Soldene so this added a nice extra dimension to the story of one of history’s forgotten women. Emily was a brilliant woman, reinventing herself from illegitimate daughter to darling of music halls and opera houses. Her talent and sheer determination saw her battle back from failure time and again, eventually becoming a writer and journalist.

She was feted across the UK, America and Australia, blazing a trail, which saw her, her sister Clara and her niece Katie all spend time on stage. But Emily was the star. An incredible biography of a truly remarkable woman.

*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: Black Reed Bay – Rod Reynolds

When a young woman makes a distressing middle-of-the-night call to 911, apparently running for her life in a quiet, exclusive beachside neighbourhood, miles from her home, everything suggests a domestic incident. Except no one has seen her since, and something doesn’t sit right with the officers at Hampstead County PD. With multiple suspects and witnesses throwing up startling inconsistencies, and interference from the top threatening the integrity of the investigation, lead detective Casey Wray is thrust into an increasingly puzzling case that looks like it can have only one ending. And then the first body appears, and Casey’s investigation plunges her into a darkness she could never have imagined…

Black Reed Bay introduces a breathtaking, powerful and addictive new series, fronted by the fantastic Detective Casey Wray, from the CWA-nominated author of Blood Red City and The Dark Inside.

Rod Reynolds is the author of four novels, including the Charlie Yates series. His 2015 debut, The Dark Inside, was longlisted for the CWA New Blood Dagger, and was followed by Black Night Falling (2016) and Cold Desert Sky (2018); the Guardian has called the books ‘pitch-perfect American noir’. A lifelong Londoner, Rod’s first novel set in his hometown, entitled Blood Red City, was published by Orenda Books in 2020. Rod previously worked in advertising as a media buyer, and holds an MA in novel writing from City University London. He lives with his wife and family and spends most of his time trying to keep up with his two young daughters. Follow him on Twitter @Rod_WR.

My thoughts: this was an excellent crime thriller, set in a sleepy oceanside neighbourhood where things aren’t all they seem. Detective Casey Wray is determined to find out what happened to Tina Grace, and won’t buy the DA’s decision to close the case. If Tina’s dead, where’s her body?

Pursuing the truth despite threats and death, pushing the tiniest scrap of evidence into the light, Casey won’t stop and as it seems that one young woman’s disappearance is linked to something much bigger that will alter everything Casey believes in, her relentless hunt for justice could destroy the department as she knows it.

Clever, gripping and full of red herrings, dodgy dealings and suspects who die rather too conveniently, this is crime writing at it’s best. I could not put it down.

*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 Wisdom of Crowds – Joe Abercrombie

The conclusion to The Age of Madness

CHOAS. FURY. DESTRUCTION.
THE GREAT CHANGE IS UPON US . . .

Some say that to change the world you must first burn it down. Now that belief will be tested in the crucible of revolution: the Breakers and Burners have seized the levers of power, the smoke of riots has replaced the smog of industry, and all must submit to the wisdom of crowds.

With nothing left to lose, Citizen Brock is determined to become a new hero for the new age, while Citizeness Savine must turn her talents from profit to survival before she can claw her way to redemption. Orso will find that when the world is turned upside down, no one is lower than a monarch. And in the bloody North, Rikke and her fragile Protectorate are running out of allies . . . while Black Calder gathers his forces and plots his vengeance.

The banks have fallen, the sun of the Union has been torn down, and in the darkness behind the scenes, the threads of the Weaver’s ruthless plan are slowly being drawn together . . .

Capping off the AGE OF MADNESS trilogy, THE WISDOM OF CROWDS brings the series which is revolutionising fantasy to its stunning conclusion . . .

Read my reviews of the previous volumes; A Little Hatred and The Trouble With Peace

My thoughts: I was looking forward to this and I was not disappointed. With elements of the American Revolution and lashings of the French (especially the Terror and Robespierre – a bloody time had by all) as well as a good dose of Abercrombie’s straight talking Northmen and chaos all around.

As the Burners and Breakers take the Agriont, King Orso finds himself on the wrong side, again. I do enjoy his dry sense of humour as everything around him falls apart.

Savine is of course plotting like mad to stay afloat and not end up being chucked off a tower or anything, Leo is making his mark in politics and learning to live with one leg and only one working arm. Less Young Lion than Limping Lion perhaps.

Meanwhile in the North, Rikke’s planning to finally return Black Calder to the mud with an audacious plan that will either unite the North or end up with everyone dead. So business as usual.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book. As I’ve enjoyed the whole series (and the ones before it set in the same world). It’s dark and twisted and funny. The characters are boldly written and thoroughly awful, all of them, but in a way that somehow makes them likeable. I cannot wait to see what Abercrombie does next. I mean, peace can’t last for long, can it?

*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 Kingswater Summer – Jo Lambert

KIERA
Newly returned from backpacking around Europe, Kiera Merrick has landed a dream job – working
for actress Stella Wynter, helping set up a memory room at Penmarra, her beautiful riverside home just outside Kingswater.

JAKE
Jake Paterson is currently staying with Stella after filming the final series of his popular TV drama. He
is trying to work out how to get his co-star and long-term girlfriend Rachel Tyler back after she
walked out on him. But Jake soon finds himself drawn to Kiera, developing feelings for her that have
no place in his life. He realises painful choices will eventually have to be made. And someone is going
to get hurt.

TOM
Stella’s godson, hapless Tom Armytage is also staying at Penmarra along with girlfriend Chantal. He
dreams of becoming a successful property developer and hopes Chantal’s dynamic presence will
boost his ambitions. To impress her he boasts that he is heir to all of Stella’s wealth.

CHANTAL
Chantal Porter is a woman used to getting her own way. Tom is her ideal partner; weak and easily manipulated. Listening to him talk about his inheritance, she likes the idea of being Penmarra’s next
mistress. But Stella and Jake’s close relationship gives her cause for concern. Who is he? And could
he be a threat to her future ambitions?

As Jake comes to a difficult decision and sets off for London to sort things out with Rachel, a heart broken Kiera is left to watch helplessly as Chantal puts in place a plan to secure Tom’s inheritance.
One that will change Stella’s life for ever.
Set on the south coast of Cornwall, A Kingswater Summer is a story of love, deception, and family secrets…

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Jo Lambert lives on the eastern edge of the city of Bath. She is a member of the Romantic Novelists Association and the Society of Authors. She has been writing since 2008. Her
first five books, a set of linked romantic sagas following the lives of several families in rural West
Somerset, were followed in 2015 by Summer Moved On, a contemporary romance set in South Devon. A sequel, Watercolours in the Rain was published 2017.
In June 2018 Jo signed to Choc Lit and her debut A Cornish Affair, set in North Cornwall was published in 2019 under their Ruby Fiction imprint.

Her latest novel A Kingswater Summer is the second of a three-book series. The first, Shadows on
the Water, was published in 2020. Both books can be read as standalone stories.
When she isn’t writing she reads and reviews. She also has an active blog. Jo loves travel, red wine and music and long as it has a great melody and lyrics. Oh, and she often takes the odd photograph or two…

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My thoughts: my grandmother was from Devon and I have an abiding love for the West Country, and especially the wild beauty of Cornwall. So I was excited to read a book set in that part of the world.

This started out as a conventional ‘woman finding her place in the world’ book, but as Kiera becomes involved with retired actor Stella Wynter and her family at Penmarra, she’s drawn into a plot that could have terrible consequences.

This was really enjoyable and I liked Kiera a lot – she was clever and realistic. I could easily imagine her among the locals of Padstow or St Ives, working several jobs and wondering whether she should move away. I have friends from Cornwall and that’s something they go back and forth on a lot, so I recognised the dilemma.

I really liked Stella, and would love a prequel with more of her glamorous showbiz life, all those objects Kiera is cataloguing could tell some fantastic stories I imagine. And lovely little Erik (what? You didn’t think I’d forget to mention the canine character did you?) who knows which people are not to be trusted. Smart dog.

I even liked Jake – a much more complex figure that he first appears. I don’t think he actually enjoyed acting, he seems very conflicted about his career, so moving to Cornwall might just be what he needs.

A really enjoyable, smart thriller and rom com (all those misunderstandings) rolled into one.

*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 Family Lie – P.L. Kane

A scream cut through the night as they watched flames engulf the woodland. Fire ripped through the trees, leaving only charred branches behind. And then they saw it… on the ashen forest floor… was a body.

Police officer, Mitchel Prescott answered the phone with a shaking hand. It was the one call he had been dreading. It was the hospital at Green Acres… his father Thomas, had died in the night.

Returning to the small town he had been avoiding since he was a child, Mitch must lay his father to rest.

When he arrives, the close-knit residents refuse to speak about Thomas’ death, other to explain he was found burnt to death in the woods and his dementia was the likely cause.

But when Mitch discovers traces of accelerant on his father’s body, he’s certain it wasn’t an accident. Then his childhood home is broken into, his father’s study ransacked, and a rock thrown through the window warning him to leave.

Mitch is convinced Thomas had discovered something that had got him into trouble… something that would threaten his entire family.

But what secret is worth killing for?

An utterly gripping thriller that will have you reading long into the night. Fans of Shari Lapena and Helen Phifer will love The Family Lie!

P L KANE is the pseudonym of a number one bestselling and award-winning author and editor, who has over a hundred books published in the fields of SF, YA and Horror/Dark Fantasy. In terms of crime fiction, previous books include the novel Her Last Secret, the collection Nailbiters and the anthology Exit Wounds, which contains stories by the likes of Lee Child, Dean Koontz, Val McDermid and Dennis Lehane. Kane has been a guest at many events and conventions, and has had work optioned and adapted for film and television. Several of Kane’s stories have been turned into short movies and Loose Canon Films/Hydra Films have just adapted ‘Men of the Cloth’ into a feature, The Colour of Madness. Kane’s audio drama work for places such as Bafflegab and Spiteful Puppet/ITV features the acting talents of people like Tom Meeten (The Ghoul), Neve McIntosh (Doctor Who/Shetland), Alice Lowe (Prevenge) and Ian Ogilvy (Return of the Saint).

My thoughts: this gave me definite Hot Fuzz vibes – small towns give me the creeps. So insular and sinister – which this small rural town definitely is. Mitch has no idea what’s going on when he returns to Green Acres to put his late father’s affairs in order. The fact his father may have been murdered, the utterly useless local police, his weird aunt and uncle. He needs answers but getting them proves deadly. Thank goodness for his psychic sister Bella, the true hero of the book – Cat the cat, and Bella’s copper pal, Mitch is out of his depth.

Gripping and sinister, this is a really clever, enjoyable thriller about insidious evil and why you need a cat. Also, cults, small town strangeness and secrets.

*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: Blasted Things – Lesley Glaister

1920: Britain is trying to forget the Great War. Clementine, who nursed at the front and suffered losses, must bury the past. Then she meets Vincent, an opportunistic veteran whose damage goes much deeper than the painted tin mask he wears. Their deadly relationship will career towards a dark and haunting resolution.

Lesley Glaister is a fiction writer, poet, playwright and teacher of writing. She has published fourteen adult novels, the first of a YA trilogy and numerous short stories. She received both a Somerset Maugham and a Betty Trask award for Honour Thy Father (1990), and has won or been listed for several literary prizes for her other work. She has three adult sons and lives in Edinburgh (with frequent sojourns to Orkney) with husband Andrew Greig. She teaches creative writing at the University of St Andrews and is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature.

My thoughts: my great-grandmother didn’t leave a lot of her personal history to us – she had a stroke when my mum was very young and couldn’t speak, and when she died Pop (my great-grandfather) burnt all her photos and documents. But from what little we do know, she, Eliza Jane Redhead, was a WWI nurse, like Clementine in this book. It formed an instant connection for me. I have no idea what she saw or experienced, but I can’t imagine any of it was pleasant and like Clementine, she had to live with those terrible memories forever.

My mum is a nurse, it seems caring for people runs in the blood. She joined the Junior Red Cross and then went off at 17 to train in the NHS, where she’s worked for over 40 years. But Clem was expected to get married and have babies and leave the medicine to her doctor husband, the stuffed shirt Dennis (I hated him, I wish she’d escaped to Canada with the lovely Powell, I bet he wouldn’t be so controlling and annoying).

But she meets Vince, and he’s a chancer and a half. He wants so much more than his small life. The recipient of one of the tin masks made and painted to hide facial injuries – in his case a lost eye as well, it made me think of Pat Barker’s Toby’s Room where art students from the Slade are painting these faces.

Indeed that’s what Clem wants to do – paint him. But he sees in her an opportunity and it all leads down a dark path to tragedy. This book totally gripped me and pulled me along with it, much as Vince takes Clem along with him. I found myself muttering “don’t do it Clem, don’t do it” at times and was furious at Vince’s audacity and casual cruelty, but he didn’t deserve his end, despite what he did. Beautifully written, this is a book that will be hanging out in my mind for a while.

*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 Couple Upstairs – Shalini Boland

Our new home was supposed to be a chance to leave our past behind. But was moving here the worst mistake of our lives?

All our friends and family were gathered, glasses raised to toast our fresh start. It should have been a night for happiness and celebration. Zac and I had worked so hard for this: our first home together, just minutes from the sea. But the dream quickly turned into a nightmare…

We’d invited our neighbours too. I wanted to make a good impression – to show them we’re exactly the sort of people they want living on their street.

I hadn’t thought about who they might be, the strangers I was letting in.

It was going so well. There was laughter in the air and the wine was flowing. But then I noticed the narrowed eyes, the whispers.

And then the lights went out.

As my heart thumped in my chest, all the little things that had been going wrong since we moved here flashed through my mind: the food poisoning, the arguments, the flood of nasty reviews shaking my business.

Am I going crazy? Or is someone trying to destroy us?

From the USA Today bestselling author Shalini Boland comes an absolutely heart-thumping psychological thriller with a twist you won’t see coming. Perfect for fans of The Girl on the TrainGone Girl and The Wife Between Us.

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Shalini lives in Dorset, England with her husband, two children and Jess their cheeky terrier cross. Before kids, she was signed to Universal Music Publishing as a singer songwriter, but now she spends her days writing suspense thrillers (in between school runs and hanging out endless baskets of laundry).

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My thoughts: I’ve never been so glad my upstairs neighbours are happy to keep to themselves. Chris and Vanessa seem friendly at first but then they’re wrecking havoc in Nina and Zac’s life. And Nina can’t figure out why 2 strangers are so determined to make her life hell.

Creepy and weird, totally obsessive. All things no one wants to find out about the people they live closest to. Time to call in the anti-social behaviour team and get them warned! I couldn’t figure out what they were up to or why, the mysterious flashbacks between each chapter carefully avoided any clues, I was completely thrown by the reveal. A nicely nasty little thriller about the dangers of neighbours. I’m off to live on a deserted island!

*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 Royal Game – Anne O’Brien

England, 1444. Three women challenge the course of history…

King Henry VI’s grip on the crown hangs by a thread as the Wars of the Roses starts to tear England apart. And from the ashes of war, the House of Paston begins its rise to power.

Led by three visionary women, the Pastons are a family from humble peasant beginnings who rely upon cunning, raw ambition, and good fortune in order to survive.

Their ability to plot and scheme sees them overcome imprisonment, violence and betrayal, to eventually secure for their family a castle and a place at the heart of the Yorkist Court. But success breeds jealousy and brings them dangerous enemies…

An inspirational story of courage and resilience, The Royal Game, charts the rise of three remarkable women from obscurity to the very heart of Court politics and intrigue.

My thoughts: I really enjoyed this, exploring a family a few rungs down the social ladder from the nobles most books set during this period (the War of the Roses or the Cousins’ War) are written about.

Based on real letters written by members of of Paston family, it charts their almost constant legal battles as they struggle to hold onto the many houses and parcels of land they’ve acquired. They’re not actually very good at it and spend a lot of time in court and at war with their neighbours and other claimants. I can’t imagine any of them were particularly happy, but at the time success was measured in land and wealth – some things never change.

By focusing on the women of the family, we see more of the domestic side of life – Meg in particular spends a lot of time on running her household – managing servants, ordering new clothes for her children, planning menus and trying to balance the books while her husband spends his time in court, trying to keep enough land in the family to pay for everything.

A fascinating look at a different aspect of medieval life and an intriguing start to a new series about the ups and downs of the Paston family.

*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 Babysitter – Gemma Rogers

It’s every mother’s worst nightmare…

All NEW from Gemma Rogers

Ali and Christopher Tolfrey’s one year old daughter Eden is abducted whilst in the care of Ali’s best- friend.
Snatched in broad daylight from Bushy Park on a trip to the swings, Eden disappears without a trace.
Brooke Simmons, regains consciousness, dazed from a blow to the head, to find Eden, her best friends’ child is missing.
Someone has taken Eden and Brooke knows who.
But it’s a secret she can’t share with Ali or the Police without revealing the web of deceit she’s spun.
Can Brooke get Eden home before her lies come back to haunt her? Or is the net closing in on her? Amazon

Gemma Rogers was inspired to write gritty thrillers by a traumatic event in her own life nearly twenty years ago. Her debut novel Stalker was published in September 2019 and marked the beginning of a new writing career. Gemma lives in West Sussex with her husband, two daughters and bulldog, Buster.

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My thoughts: this was a clever, twisted thriller. As you realise what has happened and how badly wrong things have gone, there’s a mounting horror at what could happen next.

I know Bushy Park well having played there as a kid and picnicked as an adult too, I can easily imagine someone nabbing a child and just disappearing, it’s a big place.

Clever and tense writing, the characters are interesting, especially Brooke, who is not quite who she seems.

*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 Lost Wisdom of the Magi – Susie Helme

This engaging, meticulously researched novel tells the story of Sophia, a first-century Babylonian Jew who learns ancient languages at the royal archives of the Parthians and secretly studies the magic on cuneiform tablets. Sophia runs away from home, joining a Nabataean incense caravan, studies with the Essenes on the Dead Sea and joins with the militants of Qumran. As the Zealots battle to defend revolutionary Jerusalem against Titus, she falls in love with a Greek freedman, Athanasios, a comrade in arms. Jews and Christians briefly unite with Samaritans and the People of the Land. But messiahs can prove false.

Susie Helme is an American from Nashville, Tennessee, living in London, after sojourns in Tokyo, Paris and Geneva with a passion for ancient history, politics and magic, mythology and religion. 

She is a political activist and a socialist. 

Once editor of Mobile Communications Asia and other mobile communications magazines, she co-authored the Jan 2000 Future Mobile Handsets. 

She published with the Conrad Press in December 2020 her first novel, The Lost Wisdom of the Magi 

She is founder member of the Bounds Green Book Writers writers’ circle, which published in Autumn 2020 an anthology of coronavirus-inspired fiction, Lockdown Lit—Inspiration in Isolation. 

She now subedits Dignity magazine, writes historical novels and grows organic vegetables. 

She offers freelance services proofreading or developmental editing for authors needing help with their novels and is open to offers of review-swapping and mutual beta-reading.

TWITTER @susiehelme

My thoughts: this was a fascinating and thoroughly interesting read. Chronicling the life of Sophia, a Babylonian Jew, a mystic, scholar and traveller. Sophia leaves her home and traverses across the lands beyond, eventually to Alexandria – the famous city built by Alexander the Great.

Along the way she learns languages and stories, constantly seeking knowledge and magic. She finds friendship and love. Her memoirs are full of fascinating detail and delightful stories. I was enchanted and transported to a world of camel caravans, ancient languages and peoples.

This is a beautiful and intelligent novel, bringing to life the period and people.

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