Wednesday, November 14, 2018

The Body in the Boat Review and Giveaway

The Body in the Boat is the final book in the Hardcastle and Chaytor mystery series from A. J. McKenzie; the pen name of writing duo and husband and wife team Marilyn Livingstone and Morgan Witzel. The book opens with Reverend Hardcastle and Mrs Chaytor attending a birthday party thrown by Mr Munro; a respected local banker for his wife. Just days later Mr. Munro is found dead. Of course the Reverend in his position as magistrate must investigate and as always he is assisted by the very capable and unflappable Mrs Chaytor. The mystery involves links to a band of local smugglers as well as rumours that the East Weald and Ashford Bank where Mr. Munro was a partner might be in trouble. This is an intriguing mystery with plenty of twists and turns. The series takes place at the end of the 18th Century during a period of almost constant conflict with France, as well as fears of French invasion. While the Reverend Hardcastle and Mrs. Chaytor may be firm members of the middle class their investigations take them to a wide variety of places and because of this the authors are able to paint a broad picture of Georgain life. There is a wonderful cast of characters from the Reverend's novel writing sister Calpurnia to the laudanum addicted business woman Mrs Redcliffe to the fishermen, smugglers and thugs and the local gentry protected in their grand houses. The Kent landscape is beautifully described and I felt the writing really brought the historical and rural setting to life. This is a thoroughly enjoyable historical mystery. If you have yet to discover this series I highly recommend it particularly for fans of Antonia Hodgson, Andrew Hughes or Andrew Taylor.
The Body in the Boat is available in paperback from today published by Bonnier Books UK. Thanks to Ellen Turner for a copy. Bonnier Books are also providing one copy to give away to readers of this blog.

To enter simply contact me on twitter @LisaReadsBooks and tell me the name of Reverend Hardcastle's sister. This giveaway is UK and Ireland only.

Saturday, November 10, 2018

The Night Raven by Sarah Painter

I have read several of Sarah's previous books and she very kindly sent me a copy of her latest novel The Night Raven which is a bit of a new direction for the author. Sarah's previous work has included magical realism, dual time fiction and romance. The Night Raven is the first book in a brand new urban fantasy series. The setting is much more urban than Sarah's previous novels and helps to give the book a gritty realism. Lydia Crow has taken a break from her job as a Private Investigator in Scotland and returned to London where her family history stretches back generations. Her uncle has given her the use of a flat he owns and asked for her help in finding her teenage cousin; Maddie, who has gone missing. Lydia has always believed that unlike the rest of her family she has no magical ability but when she discovers that she is sharing her new flat with a ghost it becomes obvious that she has some talent. Lydia feels wary of her powers. She knows that The Crow family are one of the four magical families of London but her parents have always kept her out of that world. Lydia knows that her family are a bit dodgy and she tells her uncle that she doesn't want to know or be involved with that side of things. She is determined to just find her missing cousin and get back to her old life. It's just not that easy though because the pull of magic and of her family is strong and though there has been a truce between the magical families it soon becomes clear that the truce is strained to it's limits. I raced through this book, it's thrilling, fast paced and  full of adventure and intriguing characters. I cannot wait to read more about Lydia so I'm delighted that this will be a series and that there will be more stories about the Crow family. The Night Raven is perfect for fans of Anna McKerrow, Laura Laakso, Ben Aaronovitch and V. E. Schwab. The Night Raven is available in paperback and e-book. 

The Curious Crime by Julia Golding Blog Tour and Q&A

Julia Golding's latest novel for children is a wonderful fantasy set in an alternative 19th Century in which Science reigns supreme and curiosity is a crime. Philosophy and religion are outlawed and life is rigidly structured. Ree and Henri are both curious children; Ree is a talented sculptor and Henri a scholar and amateur detective. Both children face discrimination and set backs but they must work together to solve a mystery. The setting for their adventures is Museum Island home to a vast museum and school of learning where science is celebrated but questioning authority is a punishable offence. Ree's father is sent away for allowing his daughter to become an apprentice stonemason, Henri's progress as a scientist is hampered by those prejudiced against his dark skin. This is a tale of adventure and mystery with a host of brilliant characters including a number of animals, some of which are sadly now extinct, the story is full of intriguing detail about the museum and the animals that live in the menagerie there. The science that is revered is rooted in 19th Century beliefs of female inferiority and disciplines such as phrenology which espoused the idea that the shape of the head was an indicator of intelligence and temperament. There are big questions asked here about whether science and faith can coexist and the danger of being over reliant on one way of thinking. A really intelligent and exciting book which will get young minds thinking and questioning. A must for fans of Julia Golding's Cat Royal mystery series or fans of Robin Stevens and Emma Carroll. 

I had a chance to ask the author some questions about the book and her writing in general:

Q1. Although Museum Island and the setting of your book is your own invention you must have done a huge amount of research into the history of science. Are you a science buff? Are there any discoveries you made while researching that particularly fascinated you?

Gosh, I'd like to be known as a science buff! I'm almost tempted to pretend... OK, OK, I confess! The truth is that, as a writer, I'm used to getting to grips with new areas of knowledge and going to experts for help. Actually, that's part of the fun of being a fiction writer - I've gone up in biplanes, visited theatres, gone to a Tudor banquet... The background knowledge for this novel came out of a non-fiction series for children called The Curious Science Quest which I've written with the help of Andrew Briggs, Professor of Nanomaterials at Oxford University, and Roger Wagner, artist. In six books we look at the history of science as two time-travelling guides, Darwin's tortoise Harriet, and Schrödinger's cat, Milton, visit all the key moments from the cave dwellers to 2018. The style is adventure with illustrations, cartoons and really bad jokes.
I made many discoveries while studying for this but I do have some favourites, such as Aristotle being the first to do a capture and release biological experiment to investigate dolphin snoring. You couldn't make it up! So when you see those statues of bearded Aristotle you can think of him as the 4th century BC David Attenborough.

Q2. The book is set in an alternate 19th Century - do you think there are lessons to be learned to prevent us becoming a society that places science far above faith? Are we turning into that society?

The setting is fantastical, a wonderful, magical natural history museum that maps out the story of science through its open rooms, dusty corners and abandoned chambers of old ideas. It does, however, have a firm grounding in 19th century thought. I imagined what might've happened to society if a fundamental kind of Darwinism took over - not a version of his thought Darwin would recognise but one that pushed his ideas to an extreme. Scientists in the book become like a ruling religious authority, a high priesthood only allowing scientific questions, not ones of meaning and purpose, the realm of philosophy and religion. It makes for great drama as you can be a thought criminal! 
And yes, I think there is a danger we elevate scientific knowledge above other kinds of wisdom, mixing our categories. Take for example the recent last publication by Stephen Hawking 'Brief Answers to Big Questions'. The press made much of him saying that there is no God or afterlife, as if his view was definitive, a bit like the ruling authorities in my novel. Hawkings isn't giving a scientific answer though, because you can't use scientific method to prove the existence of God or an afterlife either way. It's a category error of knowledge. Think about it a little. Hawking might be saying that he can't see the need for God in what he observed in the universe - or what is traditionally known as the 'God of the gaps' theory (I happen to agree with him under those terms). When we find something we don't understand we shouldn't say 'Ah-ha, that's God's work' but instead we should try to be better scientists and look for an explanation. It might take a while to come. Most religions, though, don't now think of God as popping in to tinker with the machinery; we think of him as the Creator, so rather than say 'Where is God in the universe? I can't see him.' I prefer a question that says 'What kind of God would make this kind of universe? What does that tell us about him? Why can we understand it in the first place? And what does understanding mean?' That's one part of the battle of ideas I'm trying to dramatise in the book: the argument about who gets to say what kind of questions we can ask.

Q3. Do you have any favourite scientists? Especially women scientists who perhaps don't have the fame they deserve?

One of the joys of writing the novel was to learn more about the women in scientific history. If you remember that education for women is an extreme exception for much of recorded history, their achievements are remarkable. Among my heroes is Hypatia, head of the school in Alexandria in around 400 AD (this was the leading place of scientific learning in her era). She was a great mathematician and earned her position through talent. She also lost her life to a mob in a religious riot, showing the particular danger to women taking such a prominent role. I've put her in my book, or at least there's a character who honours her memory. Then there's Caroline Herschel, a survivor of domestic abuse and bullying, who in the late 18th century discovered her own comets and helped her brother, William, in his groundbreaking stargazing work (he discovered Uranus among other things). She was the first woman to be awarded the Gold Medal of the Royal Astronomical Society and was only denied full membership because of her gender. There are many more women to discover, but that's just a taster.

Q4. Your inclusion of various animals that are now extinct is a reminder of how destructive humans have been in their pursuit of knowledge and resources. Do you have a favourite animal that no longer exists? 

I had great fun making a dodo a main character. He's called Phil and gets into a lot of trouble - in fact, he is one of the reasons Ree, my main female character, starts the book with a major disaster on her hands. But we all know the dodo, so maybe I should mention Ziggy? She is a Tasmanian wolf, a doglike striped creature. This species only went extinct last century so there are photographs of them if you want to look up this largest meat-eating marsupial. She is aggressive and uppity, quite a handful, but that's in part because she is guarding her joey, her baby, Zag, in her pouch.

Q5.What is your writing process like? Are you very organised and plan in detail or do you like to just write and see what happens? 

I wouldn't say I'm organised, but I am efficient. I have a set time of day for writing (morning) and make myself 'go to work' at a cafe to do this. If I stay at home I waste time. I think about what I'm going to write the afternoon and evening before, so that's when the planning happens. If there's something particular I want to include, I'll note it in my notebook, but usually it's just in my head. I've only done very detailed planning for an adult psychological novel I wrote under my pen name Joss Stirling (it's called Don't Trust Me). I had to produce a spreadsheet to make sure the drip-feed of information happened in the right order - very complicated!

Available now Lion Children's Book in paperback and e-book. Thank you to Anna at Midas PR who kindly provided me with a copy. 

Sunday, November 4, 2018

Fallible Justice by Laura Laakso

I loved this book from the moment I heard about it. For starters it has a gorgeous cover, which gives an intriguing hint about the story (cover design by Jennie Rawlings) and I was also excited because the book was being published by an amazing small publisher Louise Walters Books. Fallible Justice is the first book in the paranormal crime series Wilde Investigations. Yannia Wilde takes on the task of investigating a murder, Ilana Marsh wants Yannia's help to prove her father's innocence, although her father Jonathan has been found guilty by the Heralds who are said to be infallible. With only a few days to find out what really happened Yannia and her assistant Karrion have to work hard travelling through the paranormal world of Old London and beyond. The plot revolves around the investigation and is itself compelling and rewarding but it is the character development that makes this book a truly fascinating read. Yannia suffers from a chronic illness which can leave her tired and in a great deal of pain and the day to day of struggle of dealing with pain while trying to work, sleep and exercise is very skillfully outlined. Having a chronic illness myself I loved seeing this representation. I also loved the setting, The book straddles the paranormal and urban fantasy genres comfortably and the magic system intrigued me. I am really excited to read more from Laura Laakso and discover more about Yannia's world. Thanks so much to Louise for sending me a proof copy. Fallible Justice is out on November 8th.

Thursday, November 1, 2018

Miss Marley by Vanessa Lafaye with Rebecca Mascull Blog Tour

I am delighted to be part of the blog tour for Miss Marley, a charming prequel to A Christmas Carol and the final work by Vanessa Lafaye who sadly passed away earlier this year. The book was completed by Vanessa's dear friend and fellow historical novelist Rebecca Mascull. Miss Marley is true to the spirit of Dickens original; opening with the childhood of Jacob and Clara who live in direst poverty scavenging and begging in the streets of London having lost their parents and comfortable home when their uncle forced them out. Jacob is determined to get them out of poverty especially as Clara's health is suffering and when the opportunity comes he seizes it but Jacob's determination to get ahead and to put only himself and Clara's well being above all else will have devastating consequences for them both. This a heartfelt tale which brings alive a truly memorable character that Dickens would have been proud of. Written with the same heart and hope that Vanessa brought to her previous books and her powerful blog Living While Dying and seamlessly completed by Rebecca Mascull, Miss Marley brings a powerful and hopeful message while revitalising a seasonal favourite. Published by HQ stories in hardback/e-book/audio download on November 1st, Miss Marley is a perfect gift.

Thanks to Joe Thomas at HQ for a proof copy 

The Stranger Diaries by Elly Griffiths

I am a big fan of Elly Griffiths and I've read every one of her Ruth Galloway series set on the Norfolk coast. Although that series is crime fiction there is in every book a hint of the supernatural so when I  learned that Elly had written a stand alone Gothic mystery novel, I knew I had to get my hands on it. Clare Cassidy teaches literature and she specialises in the work of the Victorian Gothic writer R.M. Holland. The school she teaches in was once R. M. Holland's home. There are rumours that Holland's wife died in the building and that she haunts it still. Clare may be happy to read and to teach thrilling stories but she is shocked to find herself in the middle of one when her friend and colleague Ella is murdered and a note with a quote from one of Holland's stories found by her body. The police seek Clare's help to find the killer as Clare tries to puzzle things out writing in her diary. However she soon feels the killer may be someone she knows far too well when she discovers someone else has written in her diary. The narrative shifts between Clare, her teenage daughter Georgia and Harbinder the detective investigating the murder and R. M. Holland's story is weaved throughout as the modern narrative starts to echo the older one. A cleverly told story featuring a cast of intriguing characters and a mystery that will have you racing through the pages. A thoroughly dark and engrossing read perfect for dark evenings. If you are fan of books that blend crime with the supernatural; as I am, then you will love this. Perfect for fans of Carol Goodman, Alison Littlewood or Anna Mazzola. Thanks to the kind people at Quercus for sending me an early copy. The Stranger Diaries is available in hardback from today.

Wednesday, October 31, 2018

Some Favourite Witches in Fiction

The Pagan celebration of Samhain or Halloween is a perfect time to celebrate some of the best witchy fiction that I have encountered recently. Witches seem to be an ever popular subject for TV and film but so often they are badly portrayed, presented as worshipers of Satan or actively anti-christian, lumped in with demonic forces, full of lust and sin and evil.  For any followers of the Pagan path this can be very frustrating, so finding a book that presents witches in a more truthful and more flattering light is always a great moment.

One of my most recent witchy reads was Daughter of Light and Shadows by Anna Mckerrow, which is about three young witches who cast a love spell which opens them up to the world of the Fae. Read my review here

Louisa Morgan's tale of a family of hereditary witches moves from Brittany to Cornwall and London to Wales. It's a wonderful story of family and women supporting each other and also the pain that family secrets can inflict. Read my review here.

Slow Poison is the second book in Helen Slavin's Witch Ways Series it features three sisters who have inherited their grandmother's place as Game Keepers of Havoc Wood. Blending magical realism and dark fairy tale as the sisters struggle to come to terms with their magical abilities. Review here

This is a charming tale set in 1880s New York where the surge of interest in the Supernatural and the Occult means that witches Adelaide and Eleanor can practice their craft openly from their shop Tea and Sympathy offering remedies and spells to the upper class ladies of Manhattan. Review

Widdershins is set in the mid Seventeenth Century and features a mother and daughter who practice traditional healing. Set around the Newcastle witch trials this is a wonderfully researched book full of the detail about nature, herbs and their healing properties that many women would have learned at their mother's knee. Review

There were not a huge number of witch trials carried out in Ireland in comparison to the rest of Europe. But one famous or rather infamous case was that of the Islandmagee witches. The tale is retold and fictionalised beautifully by Martina Devlin in this fascinating historical novel. Review