Friday, October 28, 2016

The Counterfeit Detective by Stuart Douglas

The Counterfeit Detective is the latest installment in Titan Books The Further Adventures of Sherlock Holmes and it is Stuart Douglas's second contribution to the series.
The book begins with an anonymous letter which informs Holmes and Watson of another Sherlock Holmes at work in New York, and so the intrepid pair set out to investigate this false Holmes. The year is 1899 and their adventures begins almost immediately as they investigate the murder of a sailor on the ship as they travel across the Atlantic.
Arriving in New York with a letter of introduction from Inspector Gregson they meet a Yorkshireman; Simeon Bullock now an Inspector with the New York City Police and they begin to investigate the counterfeit Sherlock. However almost as soon as they begin the body count of former clients starts to mount.
This is an intriguing mystery full of twists and turns and Douglas does a great job at capturing the essence of everyone's favourite detective duo. The mystery here is sufficiently convoluted as to satisfy even die-hard fans and the introduction of Inspector Bullock; world weary and yet insightful is a welcome addition.
I think this novel is accessible to readers new to the series and to more seasoned readers and it makes a welcome addition to the cannon and to Titan's impressive output of Sherlockiana. With Season 4 of Sherlock due to broadcast on New Year's Day, another outing for the film franchise with Robert Downey Jnr and Jude Law in the works and Elementary with Johhny Lee Miller and Lucy Liu continuing it's popularity Sherlock fever isn't going anywhere.
Thanks very much to Alice Morgan at Titan Books for a review copy of this book. 

The Constant Queen by Joanna Courtney

The Constant Queen is the second in Joanna Courtney's series which examines historical events leading up to the Norman conquest of 1066. This follows The Chosen Queen which I reviewed last year. You can read that review here. The Constant Queen does not follow directly from the previous book in the trilogy because each book tells the story of a different Queen, so they each feature different characters and though the historical events have an impact on each Queen in the series there is no interaction between them. Therefore they can be read in any order. The Constant Queen is Elizaveta who was born into royalty as a Princess of the Rus, growing up with her many brothers and sisters at Kiev. 
This is the story of a fierce and lifelong romance between Elizaveta and  Harald of Norway who comes to be known as Harald Hardrada. Exiled from his own land Harald at first fought for Elizaveta's father and then went on to seek riches and glory in Constantinople before escaping imprisonment to return to Kiev and claim her hand. Travelling victoriously to Norway Harald is able to regain the throne but Elizaveta must contend with Harald's first love and handfasted wife Tora. 
This book is different in many ways from Joanna Courtney's previous novel because there is a greater emphasis on the detail of Elizaveta's domestic life and her frustration at being kept in the dark about events and being kept waiting. Because of this I felt the pace of the book sagged a little in the middle, However once Tora and Elizaveta come to a tacit truce the pace picks up again particularly as Harald prepares to invade England. 
Harald is often called the last of the great Vikings and there is certainly a great deal of detail about Viking life; both domestic and military and overall the book makes for a fascinating read. 
If you are a fan of Carol McGrath or Tracey Warr then you will enjoy this book.
Thanks so much Jess Duffy at Pan Macmillan for a copy of the book. The Constant Queen is out now in paperback. 

An Almond for a Parrot by Wray Delaney

An Almond For a Parrot is the spectacular adult debut from award winning children's author Sally Gardner and be warned it is very much a book for adults. The novel is the tale of the life, loves and romantic and sexual awakening of Tully Truegood.
Following in the footsteps of eighteenth century heroines like Moll Flanders and Fanny Hill, Tully's story begins in 1756 in Newgate Prison where Tully awaits trial for murder. Through a series of recipes and recollections Tully recounts her journey from a neglected childhood with her drunken father to a life of luxury as the mistress of a Lord.
Treated as little more than a servant by her father, who gambled and drank away what little money they had after her mother's death, the only kindness Tully receives is from a indifferent gin-soaked cook. Her father trades Tully like a commodity; at 12 she is a bride in a "Fleet Marriage" at 16 she is the payment for a gambling debt. Tully enjoys fleeting happiness when her father brings home a new wife; as she has the kindness of a mother and a chance at learning, as well as new gowns and shoes but it is all too soon snatched away. When Tully finally makes her escape from her father's house it is the first time she has ever set foot outside and she is dazzled and thus begins her progress through the highs and lows of the decadent London of the eighteenth century.
With a powerful physic ability and a beautiful face Tully is soon the most celebrated courtesan of her age, before a shadowy figure from her past emerges to challenge her safety and position.
This is an incredible page turner full of immaculate period detail and peopled with great characters. A writer to watch.  If you are a fan of Debra Daley, Laurie Graham or Sarah Waters then you will love this book.
Publishing next Thursday; 3rd November and coming from new imprint HQ; part of Harper Collins this is a book that should not be missed. An Almond for a Parrot has already been listed in Buzz Feeds 24 most anticipated books of the Autumn and you can expect to hear a lot more buzz about it as publication approaches.
Thanks so much to Sophie Calder at Harper Collins for a copy of the book.

Thursday, October 13, 2016

As I Descended by Robin Talley

As I Descended is the third novel from Robin Talley; winner of the inaugural Amnesty Honour for her debut novel Lies We Tell Ourselves. The author once again chooses a school as the setting of her story. This time it is exclusive Acheron Academy, which prides itself on being diverse and 21st Century despite its gothic campus and the rumours of numerous hauntings over the years. Lily and Maria are senior students, near the top of their class, room-mates and secretly a couple. Only Maria's best friend Brandon knows their secret. So Brandon is happy to play along when Lily wants the three of them to call up some of the spirits of Acheron's spooky past with a Ouija board. Brandon thinks it'll be a bit of fun but when strange and frightening things happen during the session with the Ouija board and the girls start behaving strangely afterwards he's not so sure. Maria is desperate to win the coveted Cawdor Kingsley Prize which goes to the top senior student every year but there's one problem Delilah Dufrey. Delilah is the most popular girl in school, captain of the girls’ soccer team and just a fraction of a percent ahead of Maria. While Maria has always worked hard and played by the rules Delilah flirts, sleeps and cheats her way to the top and  Maria has had enough; with the spirits of Acheron's gruesome past as a plantation peopled with slaves now unleashed Maria may just get what she wants.

This novel is a modern retelling of Macbeth, a psychological gothic horror with fantastic storytelling and some real twists and turns in the narrative. It highlights the danger of putting teenagers under so much pressure to perform academically and also to be the most popular in the school as well as the stresses that can cause students to buckle when they have to hide a part of themselves because of pressure from friends, teachers, parents etc. The horror and haunting is well done and there some really creepy moments. The back story about the plantation and the cruelty that was inflicted on the slaves is also intriguing. 
A great spooky read in the lead up to Halloween. 

Thanks to Isobel Fenlon at Midas PR for a review copy. As I Descended is out now published by MIRA Ink a division of Harper Collins. 

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Dear Charlie by N. D. Gomes

Dear Charlie is a powerful contemporary debut novel. Set in England in 1996/97, it deals with the aftermath of a school shooting. The book is narrated by Sam; 16 years old and brother of Charlie, the one who carried out the shootings before taking his own life. Sam is desperate to understand Charlie's actions and he is also dealing with the media frenzy, the anger and grief of local people and trying to grieve for the brother he loved but he's not sure if he really knew him. The book is Sam's letter to Charlie and his attempt to work his way through his own grief. 
The book opens with Sam's fear as he starts a new school. He is bullied and harassed but he simply accepts it making no complaint. He soon realises that there are a group who don't attack him and begins to sit with them and eventually make friends. This group of outsiders become Sam's lifeline. He is able to just be a normal teenager; hanging out after school, joking around, going to parties. Somehow Sam is able to pull himself through the tortuous final months of school and try to get his life back on track.
This is a very clever and important book. While the author doesn't try to offer any easy answers to the great question of why school shootings happen she does show us Sam's and his parents struggle with the shock, anger, guilt, grief and recovery. We see Sam slowly make progress in therapy and return to his music and the tentative recovery of a relationship with his parents who had each retreated into their own misery after the killings. 
The author grew up in Scotland and was studying at Stirling University not far from Dunblane when the tragic school massacre took place there. She went on to become a teacher specialising in special needs and she was teaching in the U.S. just a few hours away from the Sandy Hook school when the horrific shootings took place there in 2012. The author's interest in and understanding of vulnerable teenagers really shines through in the writing of this novel and I highly recommend it.

Published by HQ an imprint of Harper Collins on 20th. Thanks to Isobel Fenlon of Midas PR for a review copy of the book.

Friday, October 7, 2016

Death at the Seaside by Frances Brody

I am delighted to be taking part in the blog tour for Frances Brody's latest novel Death at the Seaside; the 8th book in the Kate Shackleton Mystery series. 

Having decided that nothing much happens in August lady detective Kate Shackleton heads off for a relaxing stay at the Royal Hotel in Whitby where she hopes to enjoy the sea view and plenty of fresh air and spend time with old school friend Alma and her daughter Felicity. 

However within hours of her arrival she stumbles upon the dead body of local jeweller Jack Phillips. Kate is particularly shaken as it was at Mr Phillips' shop that she and her beloved husband Gerald had chosen her engagement and wedding rings. So obviously returning to the jewellers alone was especially poignant for Kate. Having contacted the police Kate is perturbed to then become a suspect in Sergeant Garvin's investigation. However she soon discovers that Mr Phillips was a gentleman friend of Alma's and now Alma's daughter Felicity is missing along with Mr Phillips' boat. Kate knows that all the events are connected but she must investigate as discretely as possible to avoid Sergeant Garvin's suspicion but has Alma told her the truth?
This is the first of the Kate Shackleton Mysteries I have read and I have to admit I'm hooked. The books are set in the 1920s and Kate like many resourceful young women of the time has sought to achieve independence and has established herself in what many would see as a man's role as a private detective. Her husband was killed during the First World War and although this book has the genteel and easy feel of a classic cosy crime novel, there is still very much a sense of the visceral wounds of war. The characters, the setting and the era are very well set up, in particular the sense of a hidden world that takes place behind closed doors even in a small town where everybody knows each other's secrets; thus there are illicit affairs, elopements, smuggling and hidden resentments. 
I had no problem delving straight into the story despite not having read the previous books in the series, so I can recommend this book as both a stand alone and a new instalment. If you are a fan of Agatha Christie, MC Beaton or Jacqueline Winspear then this book is for you. I know I will certainly be reading more of this series.  

Thanks so much to Clara Diaz at Little Brown Book Group for a review copy of the book and a chance to be involved in the blog tour.