Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Kings of the Boyne by Nicola Pierce

Nicola Pierce's latest novel follows the story of the Battle of the Boyne in 1690 through the eyes of a variety of characters. The book can be read as a stand alone tale or as a sequel to her previous book Behind the Walls which dealt with the siege of Derry in 1689, as two characters from Behind the Walls also feature in the new book; brothers Robert and Daniel Sherrard. Also featured in the book are a young cavalry man Gerald O'Connor, his Parisien friend Jacques, their companions Michael and Joseph and a County Down farmer Jean Watson as well as King James and King William and their various advisors. Through the winter and spring of 1690 we see the young friends camping out and travelling wherever they are sent by the leaders of their armies as the day of battle draws ever closer, we learn of their fears and worries as they talk and write letters home and we see how they are changed by army life as they are forced to make decisions they never thought they would have to make including taking horses and livestock from hungry families and turning their backs on loved ones.
Finally the day of battle approaches and we learn the fate of all the characters we have grown close to. Nicola Pierce is a fantastic storyteller and here she condenses a number of complicated political and military events and makes them brilliantly readable and enjoyable. Her gift for bringing characters to life through their dialogue, interactions and quirks is uncanny and in a fantastic scene with Jacques, his girl Nancy and our young hero Gerald the three youngsters visit a bookshop in Drogheda. Gerald is a great lover of books and determined to purchase a gift for his sister but short of money he fears he will have to leave his chosen book behind, his friends however insist on helping him out. It's a wonderful little aside which beautifully demonstrates the author's skill at building characters that readers cannot help but root for. However that said there are also scenes which depict the ordinary soldiers on the other side of the battle lines. Throughout the author remains completely impartial in her storytelling. Even when it comes to describing the blunders and misjudgement of the leaders the story unfolds without judgement. This book is published by O'Brien Press for children aged 9 and upwards but I would recommend it to anyone with an interest in Irish and British history.
Thanks very much to O'Brien Press for sending me a copy to review.

The Hidden People by Alison Littlewood

Alison Littlewood's latest novel is a bit of a departure. The author is well known for her thrilling horror fiction and with her new book she continues to feature haunted houses and people, but with this novel there is the added element of historical fiction. Because of this I know this book will be a must read for anyone who like me devours tales of the Victorian gothic.
Inspired by a real life killing in the Irish countryside in the 1890s Littlewood relocates the action to her home county of Yorkshire in the 1860s. Albie is a London man, working his way up in his father's business. He first meets his young Yorkshire cousin Lizzie at The Great Exhibition in 1851, that great symbol of industry and technology. Eleven years later he is newly married and devastated to hear that not only is his cousin dead but her husband is accused of killing her; believing her to be a fairy changeling. Albie travels to the village of Halfoak to bury his cousin and discover what led to her death. In Halfoak he discovers a village that has remained almost unchanged for centuries where superstition holds sway and the villagers are reluctant to talk to an outsider. Alison Littlewood is fantastic at evoking a powerful almost claustrophobic atmosphere and a wonderful sense of clashing cultures as the old ways meet the new. This is a brilliant murder mystery full of gothic suspense and elements of magical realism. You will be entranced by the story as Albie questions what is real or not and wonders if the house is haunted, if his cousin was murdered or was she really a fairy. Perfect for fans of Wuthering Heights or The Woman in Black.
Thanks so much to Olivia Mead for sending me a copy to review.
Published by Jo Flethcher Books. 

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

November means Nanowrimo

National Novel Writing Month is a challenge which millions of people across the globe take part in every November, aiming to complete a first draft of a novel; 50,000 words,  in the 30 days of November. This means writing 1667 words everyday and not stopping to edit, revise or research. It's not for everyone. For one thing it requires a great deal of planning, not just of your ideas but perhaps more importantly of your time. It's all very well deciding to write nearly 2000 words every day but how do you actually fit it in to your day?
That has always been my biggest problem when November approaches each year. I have attempted Nanowrimo every year since 2010 but I've never achieved 50,000 words in the month. I know there are some writers for whom 50,000 would be more than achievable while to others it is never going to happen. I've spoken to writers who regularly churn out more than 2000 words a day comfortably and others for whom 500 is a productive day and I know that circumstances play a big part in this.I don't have a lot of spare time or willing/available babysitters so I know that while I may not achieve 50,000 words this month I would like to get back into the writing flow. I had established a habit of writing approx 750 words a day and I would certainly be happy with that. So let's see how it goes.

For inspiration here is an article about 8 best selling books that all began life as Nanowrimo projects

Ordeal by Fire Sarah Hawkswood

Sarah Hawkswood’s second outing for the detecting duo of Bradecote and Catchpoll means a change of publisher, but readers shouldn’t worry about having to read the books in order as this story works just as well as a standalone. The setting is Worcester in 1143 during the anarchy of the reign of King Stephen and features undersheriff Hugh Bradecote and Serjeant Catchpoll investigating a series of fires in the town. While the first fire could have been an accident, the Serjeant’s suspicions are raised when a second fire results in a death. Catchpoll is fearful and enraged that a killer seems to be attacking his neighbours while Bradecote is more pragmatic.
The pairing is an enjoyable one for the reader, as we see the experienced Catchpoll bristle at the restraint of the recently appointed undersheriff, while Bradecote struggles to assert his authority and also deals with a family tragedy. This book also sees the appointment of Walkelin; a bright if at times overly enthusiastic young man, whom Catchpoll raises up as his apprentice. The author’s detailed research is obvious without ever overwhelming the narrative, and the details of everyday life in medieval Worcester provide fascinating background and the hint of many future outings for the duo.  Ordeal by Fire is an ideal choice for fans of Ariana Franklin, Peter Tremayne and S.D. Sykes.
Reviewed for HNR 78

The Secret Wife by Gill Paul

Gill Paul’s latest novel is an intriguing blend of two stories in two different eras. A young woman hides away at a cabin inherited from her great-grandfather in upstate New York; Kitty is reeling after discovering her husband’s infidelity and still mourning her parents’ sudden death. The cabin offers her a place to think, and she determines to learn more about the man she inherited it from.
Dmitri Malama is a Russian soldier recovering from an injury in 1914 at Tsarskoe Selo, where he is looked after by Grand Duchess Tatiana who, along with her mother and her sister Olga, is training as a nurse to help the war effort. Dmitri and Tatiana grow close and begin to exchange letters, and gradually we come to understand the connection between Kitty’s family and the Russian royal family.
The Secret Wife is an enthralling and page-turning story linking two intriguing women and the very different lives they lead. This book follows the characters’ journeys across the century from the horror of the First World War and the terrors of the Russian Revolution, to the émigré community of Berlin between the wars, and the hustle and bustle of the mid-century New York publishing scene. It is wonderfully researched and beautifully written. This novel will appeal to fans of Rachel Hore and Lucinda Riley and offers readers a perfect blend of romance and history.

Editor's Choice HNR 78

The Last Hoseman by David Gilman

David Gilman’s new novel is packed full of intrigue, adventure and excitement. The tale opens in Dublin in 1899 with American Joseph Radcliffe; a lawyer and former soldier. Unafraid to represent radical young men who face the noose as a result of their Fenian beliefs Radcliffe is a thorn in the side of the British establishment. When his young son runs away from boarding school Radcliffe gets information that he has followed some of his friends in the Irish Regiments to the war in South Africa, so he sets off after him along with his old friend and army comrade Benjamin Pierce and they will need every skill they learned in the “Indian Wars” in order to track Edward down. Unfolding alongside this story is sixteen year old Edward’s tale of what he hopes will be a grand adventure and the story of Sheenagh a prostitute on the run for passing information from the Fenian Brotherhood to the British Army. The writing here is skillful and while the story is a page turner full of adventure there are a number of moments in which we are reminded that though most of the characters are fictional the horror of this war was not. Gilman remains neutral in his opinions while still managing to get under the skin of his characters and like all the best historical fiction it is the characters and how they play off each other that really makes the story come alive. A perfect read for fans of Bernard Cornwell.
Reviewed for HNS 78

The Strange Case of Madeleine Seguin

A striking blend of fiction and fact William Rose’s novel focuses on a patient at the famous Salpêtrière Hospital in Paris as the 19th Century draws to a close. The author presents us with a series of reports, case notes and letters written by the various characters who each for their own reason has a particular interest in Madeleine and her development. Through the letters we are given a glimpse into the decadent world of the fin de siècle and the various groups and salons; the experimental young artists and poets, those dabbling in magic and the occult and the scientists and psychiatrists who both help and experiment on the people they treat. There is a gothic undercurrent to the narrative which makes it darkly compelling and sinister. There is a sense of hedonism and thrill seeking amongst a number of the protagonists which intensifies the decadent and gothic atmosphere of the story.
The book places the mad girl at the centre of the story but as in life it is not her voice we hear, instead we only learn about her through others. The author presents a fascinating insight into a particular place and time; The Countess fascinated by the devil, the young artist seeking an introduction into society, the young doctor and his rejection of religion in favour of science and the professor as a kind of impresario using his patients as props to impress. The author’s interest in psychoanalysis and art is apparent and makes for an intriguing combination. A recommended read for fans of Diana Bretherick.

Reviewed for HNR Issue 78