Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Book Elves

Yesterday my article about the #bookelves17 featured on writing.ie Wondering what the Book Elves are? Read on..

Book Elves is the brainchild of writer and children's books expert Sarah Webb. Set up initially to boost coverage of books during The Late Late Toy Show. Sarah came up with an idea a few years ago to use the power of social media combined with the knowledge of enthusiastic children's booksellers, publishers, writers and librarians. So using the hashtag #bookelves Sarah and her book elf recruits made recommendations for children's books throughout the Late Late Toy Show. With an increased interest in children's books but a lack of reviews in the mainstream media the idea really took off.

The hashtag and the idea were so popular and so successful that Sarah decided to make the #bookelves active throughout the year. You can find book recommendations for children of all ages using #bookelves17 on twitter and facebook and the campaign involves children's book experts from all over Ireland and many in the UK . You can use the hashtag to search for recommendations or to ask questions. It's a fantastic initiative giving people instant access to a children's books expert and tailor made recommendations. Books make a fantastic gift for children at any time of year. Reading can help children to cope with anxiety and stress and offer a refuge from the pressures of social media and school. You can also make a list of books you might like to borrow from your local library. Your local library staff will also be happy to help you; they can order books from all over Ireland and help you with recommendations.

#bookelves provides a handy place for parents, teachers, aunts, uncles and grandparents to find the perfect books for the children in their lives. I've been a children's bookseller for many years and I've been part of the Book Elves team from the start and yet I have found so many new and wonderful book ideas for my own children from my Book Elves colleagues. So if you want to seek out books for children then I would absolutely encourage you to get involved.

In the meantime here are a few recommendations for this Christmas to get you started. For the under fives I have to begin by recommending The President's Glasses by Peter Donnelly (Gill Books) It's the hilarious story of our own beloved President and a helpful pigeon. It's beautifully illustrated and will undoubtedly be a huge hit with kids and adults alike. Here We Are by Oliver Jeffers (Harper Collins) is a wonderful exploration of our planet by the best selling Irish author and illustrator. Another fantastic addition to the bookshelf of any young child is A Sailor Went to Sea, Sea, Sea by Sarah Webb & Illustrated by Steve McCarthy which is full of traditional rhymes, poems and songs and includes work from classic Irish authors such as W. B. Yeats and Oscar Wilde (O'Brien Press) Malala's Magic Pencil by Malala Yousafzai & illustrated by Kerasco√ęt (Puffin) is the story of the brave and determined young Malala and everything she has overcome. A truly inspirational story.

For independent readers; five to nine years old. I recommend The Clubhouse Mystery by Erika McGann (O'Brien Press) which is the first in a series of adventure stories perfect for budding spies and investigators. There's a Werewolf in my Tent by Pamela Butchart & illustrated by Thomas Flintham (Nosy Crow) is the hilarious tale of the imaginative Izzy and her school camping trip. For this age group Foclóiropedia by John & Fatti Burke (Gill Books) will have huge appeal. Following on the success of their hugely enjoyable Irelandopedia and Historopedia this is sure to be a hit with it's charming style and gorgeous illustrations.

For confident readers aged nine to twelve there are a wonderful array of choices including a fantastic debut A Place called Perfect by Kilkenny author Helena Duggan (Usborne) a fun fantasy tale reminiscent of Roald Dahl. Another hilarious tale for this age group is Who Let the Gods Out by Maz Evans (Chicken House) as young boy Elliot must team up with some Greek Gods to defeat the daemons. I also highly recommend Letters to the Lighthouse by Emma Carroll (Faber) a superb story of a London brother and sister evacuated to Devon, this is wonderful absorbing storytelling with an intriguing mystery. Goodnight Stories for Rebel Girls by Elena Favilli & Francesca Cavallo (Particular Books) is a superb illustrated collection of 100 mini biographies of amazing women in science, the arts, sport and politics. Nevermoor: The Trials of Morrigan Crow by Jessica Townsend (Orion) is the first in a new fantasy adventure series that's tipped for the big screen and with the kind of magical storytelling that Harry Potter fans will adore.

For Teens and Young Adults I recommend Star by Star by Sheena Wilkinson (Little Island) a tale of a young suffragette arriving in Ireland as the Great War is coming to an end, the influenza epidemic has taken hold and the general election means many women will cast their vote for the first time. Tangleweed and Brine by Deirdre Sullivan (Little Island) is a collection of powerful feminist fairy tale retellings full of intrigue and enchantment. Thornhill by Pam Smy (David Fickling Books) is a fully illustrated dark ghost story with Gothic echoes of children's classics like The Secret Garden. Dave Rudden continues his Knights of the Borrowed Dark trilogy with The Forever Court (Puffin) with further thrills and spills for Denizen as he learns to control his new powers and new threats rise. This series is perfect for fans of Eoin Colfer, Shane Hegarty and Cornelia Funke. Finally A Skinful of Shadows (Pan Macmillan) is the latest release from the multi award winning Frances Hardinge which features a girl haunted by spirits sent to live with relatives against the backdrop of the English Civil War.
This is just a taste of the many wonderful books available to children and young adults in bookshops and libraries nationwide. For more recommendations don't be afraid to use the hashtag #bookelves17 and get involved.

Here is the original article at writing,ie

Lisa Redmond is a writer of fiction and non fiction, a bookseller and a head book elf. She writes a blog about books, writing and women in history. 

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Fate of Kings by Mark Stibbe & G.P.Taylor

I am delighted to be taking part in the blog tour for Fate Of Kings by Mark Stibbe & G.P. Taylor. This is the first in a new series centering around Thomas Pryce; an 18th Century reverend based on the Kent coast. it is 1793 and "La Terreur" has France in it's grip. The parents of Pryce's beloved French wife are in danger and determined to save them if he can, he travels to France where he meets his wife's uncle and comes under the suspicion of the agents of a secret society with dark intentions. Pryce soon finds himself caught up in a whirlwind of page turning adventure and derring-do. This is a fine start to a series that will no doubt be hugely popular. If you are a fan of Bernard Cornwell's Sharpe series, or of The Master & Commander series by Patrick O'Brian then you will enjoy this, it's occasionally tongue in cheek, there is action and adventure on every page and it's very, very enjoyable. Although I do think first and foremost the story works as a fun, grown up, boy's own adventure, it is also chock full of interesting women who very often save the hero and save the day. The book features numerous other characters without becoming confusing or feeling weighed down with information. I don't want to give away too much of the plot but the book also features the creation of the first British Secret Service and many of the incidents and characters are based on fact. Great fun for historical fiction fans and hopefully there are plenty more Thomas Pryce adventures to come.

Thanks very much to Rhoda Hardie for a copy of the book.

The Blog tour continues, details here:

The book is available from  Amazon UK   and  Amazon US  and also available in paperback. 

Friday, December 1, 2017

The Tide Between Us by Olive Collins

Olive Collins second novel is divided into two sections with two narrators, one hundred years apart. The first part, set in the nineteenth century is about Art, who leaves Ireland as an indentured servant bound for Jamaica. He is just a young boy and he soon makes friends among the other servants and among the many slaves on the plantation. The differences between the two groups is made immediately apparent in the way that Art is treated, as he becomes a trusted gardener and indoor servant and later an overseer. His relationship with a young slave woman Flora leads to children but Art is painfully aware that the children are not his to keep and heartache awaits him as his children grow up. I don't want to spoil the book so suffice to say that there is a mystery, left unanswered as section one ends and we hear Yseult's tale. It is 1991 and Yseult is growing old and tired. Her daughter Rachel wants to modernise their beautiful estate, Lugdale in Kerry but Yseult wants life to continue as before, but life at the estate is interrupted as a skeleton is discovered when a storm topples a tree, on the edge of the estate. What is the secret that has been hidden? Yseult must search her own past for answers. This is a fantastic page turning historical tale, beautifully written and revealing the sad legacy of a cruel and inhumane trade and it's close connections to the Irish who were often slave traders and owners as well as intermarrying with the African population in Jamaica. Olive Collins has an eye for detail and a real flair for storytelling. Thanks to Poolbeg and the author for a review copy.

If you like this try 

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

The Witch at Wayside Cross

This is the second book in the Jesperson and Lane series, following the brilliant Somnambulist & The Psychic Thief of last year. The duo have just solved their first case when they are immediately plunged into their second. A man hammers at their door in the early hours and once inside he drops dead at at their feet; a look of terror on his face; the last word from his mouth was "Witch" shouted at Miss Lane. Could he really have died from fright? Was he cursed? Engaged to investigate the mysterious death by the dead man's brother, the pair must travel to rural Norfolk to investigate. There they find a mysterious school of Wisdom run by a charismatic man, rumours of witchcraft and strange tales of the shrieking pits. This is a fantastic follow up to the first volume. The characterisation is pitch perfect; while Miss Lane is always portrayed as a modern and forthright woman she is none the less a modern woman of her own era and not ours. Mr Jesperson is similarly forthright and at times their attitudes are met with resistance. The story is full of twists and turns and there is, as in the first volume just enough hints at the supernatural to keep a speculative fiction fan intrigued.
Thanks so much to Olivia at Jo Fletcher Books for sending me a copy.

Read my review of the first in the series HERE

If you like this try

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

News, Reviews and Recommendations from the Ancient World

It seems a long time since Madeline Miller won the Women's Prize for fiction (it was the Orange Prize then) in 2012 for The Song of Achilles but the wait for a second novel from this talented writer is almost over. It is a retelling of the story of Circe; the first Witch in Western literature and a fascinating character to me and I'm sure many others. Circe is released next April. Here is a short video of Madeline Miller introducing the book.


If you have yet to discover Miller's writing and want to know more about her first book here is an interview she did back in 2012 about writing The Song of Achilles. https://www.theguardian.com/books/2012/may/01/madeline-miller-song-of-achilles

and here is a link to the author's own website

If you are interested in Classical Literature then you need to follow Jean's Bookish Thoughts on YouTube. She recommends all sorts of books but as a Classics scholar she has a fascination with books that feature the ancient world and in a sea of samey booktubers all reviewing the exact same thrillers with irritating mid Atlantic accents her book choices and Scottish accent are a delight. Check out Jean's updates at the link HERE

If you are London based or London bound then you should definitely try to check out the newly reconstructed Temple of Mithras which is now open to the public all the details are in this article

The first ever translation of the Odyssey by a woman is now available and you can read an extensive interview with the author in the New York Times HERE

If you aren't already subscribed to Dan Snow's History Hit then you are missing a treat. Dan interviews historians and authors of historical fiction and the podcasts are a fascinating companion while walking or working. Here's a link to a recent interview with classicist Mary Beard about her newest book Women and Power. http://www.historyhitpodcast.com/mary-beard/

I also listened to a fascinating interview earlier today with Catherine Nixey author of The Darkening Age but I cannot find the link for the life of me. However it was a History Hit podcast so it should be available there. Instead I will link you to an article in which Catherine passionately defends the study of Classics at University. I am sure her views will provoke some debate. HERE

Friday, November 10, 2017

Ever This Day by Helen Moorhouse

Having started the previous post talking about the perfect book to curl up with on a gloomy Autumn evening. This is certainly a book that fits that bill. Helen Moorhouse is a favourite of mine. Follow this link Helen Moorhouse to see previous reviews, events and interviews.  Helen was also kind enough to judge a short story competition for me a few years ago. Helen's books are utterly compelling. She is one of the few authors I've read that will make you gasp out loud or shout no, no, no at the characters. Helen's latest novel is about Ria who is haunted by her past at an Irish boarding school; Maria Goretti and the strange and frightening events that occurred there. Gripping and terrifying in equal measure  this is a perfect Autumn read. If you have yet to discover Helen's books, then get thee to a bookshop, library, website etc and gobble them down right now.  Ever this Day is Helen's fourth book following The Dead Summer, The Dark Water and Sing Me to Sleep. If you are a fan of Susan Hill, Sarah Waters or Elly Griffihs these books will be right up your street. I was delighted to be able to ask Helen some questions recently and here's what she had to say about Ever This Day. 

Q1. What draws you to tales of ghosts, the past, the frightening?

I don't think I've ever lost my love of fairy tales from childhood - I adore the idea that anything is possible,  and that events aren't just confined to this mundane world that we know. Loving, and writing ghost stories is an extension of that - the idea that stories are escapism, a little step into a world where there's magic, where there's 'something else'. 
I love stories - being made to feel by the events as they unfold - I adore being drawn in by a story so much that I become completely emotionally invested in it - it's so satisfying. And for me, a ghost story has all of the necessary ingredients for that - firstly, there's fear - the most obvious, and the most discomfiting, and not for everyone. Then there's curiosity, doubt, wonder - what can it be? That's not possible, surely?
But if that's true, then....
And every ghost story needs a backstory - who is the haunted or who is doing the haunting? How did they die? What was their life like? A good ghost story will have a back story that makes you feel even more afraid, or sad for them; make you feel outrage, or pity at what has happened to them. It will make you feel curious, caring, anxious, broken-hearted, terrified. 
A good ghost story will have elements of every single other type of story - crime, romance, tragedy, loss, betrayal, revenge - all seasoned with that most visceral of emotions, which is fear. And there's also that indescribable sense of 'something else' which makes them so appealing. What if there is something else out there? What if there is life after death? And is that a good thing or a bad thing?  

Q2. Have you had any spooky encounters yourself?

Nothing as exciting or terrifying as Ria in Ever This Day. I've never seen an actual ghost, much as I'm intrigued by the idea, but I have had a few unexplained events happen that I often wonder about. When I was growing up in our big, old house, myself and my sisters used to hear banging and thumping noises from the unused attic space above our bedroom. We heard them so often, in fact, and got so used to them, that we actually stopped being perturbed by them. They sounded for all the world like brick or plaster landing on the floor from the walls - sometimes they were like little falls of pebbles, other times like bricks thumping down - so we assumed that's what they were. Until eventually my Dad climbed up to check the space at one point and we all had a look in turn - only to find that there wasn't a thing out of place. No pebbles, no bricks, no animal droppings - nothing. It's still a mystery to this day what those noises were and, although, I haven't slept in that house for years, what I'm sure they still are.
The other events that spring to mind happened when I worked in a radio station in Cork which was housed in a former school, coincidentally enough, considering Ever This Day is set in a boarding school. There was a story that circulated around staff that the building was haunted by the ghost of a former pupil who had died tragically there but I never really paid it a huge amount of attention until I took a part-time position in the newsroom doing evening and weekend shifts, on top of my day job in the S&P department, and began to see all the events for myself that were linked to the alleged haunting. 
Firstly, the lift would travel up and down by itself at nighttime when, for the most part, there were only two people in the building - the on air presenter who couldn't stray too far from the on air studio, and the person covering the newsroom for the evening shift who couldn't stray too far from the newsdesk. Sometimes the lift would ping and the doors would slowly slide open just as you passed it on the way down the stairs to nip to the loo, which was pretty unnerving. 
Secondly, the phone system that we used in the station had handsets where you could see all of the extensions around the building, with a light for each one. At night, the extension lines would often light up - internally, which didn't happen unless a phone handset was physically picked up. All calls for the on air and newsroom came in on phones separate to the main system, with direct dial numbers, after office hours, so it wasn't external calls coming in. But it wasn't calls being made from desk to desk or office to office either - after I left, I remember bumping into a former newsroom staff member who told me that one evening herself - a news editor who worked in facts - and her friend, a sales rep, had watched the lights and decided to walk to the locations of the extensions that were lighting up as they were lit - naturally, there was no one there. 

On another occasion, in the newsroom as I worked the evening shift, various pieces of electrical equipment started to power down and then back up again without any pattern, explanation or reason. The TV turned itself off at one point and wouldn't respond to the remote controls or the physical buttons, only to power back up again minutes later. Then my mini disc machine went down completely while I was reading a bulletin which made for a pretty short nine o'clock news! The building was a pretty eerie place at nighttime alright, and when my shift finished and I tried to get out of there at about 11pm each evening I always fled as if being chased and I  let out a little sigh of relief out when I'd close the front door behind me. 

Q3. What are favourite supernatural books/ films  and why?

I've read a lot of supernatural books - and am painfully aware of how much more there are that I desperately want to read - but the one that always sticks in my mind is James Herbert's 'The Secret of Crickley Hall' - it's such a pure ghost story - unexplained noises, apparitions, the gravestones of children, the well in the cellar, a horrible past and a bleak present. It's about ghosts and haunting in a very old-fashioned, back to basics way. It doesn't try to do anything with the genre other than be a ghost story and I love it for that. Also, the classic Shirley Jackson's 'The Haunting of Hill House', of course. They are both very simple in their form, in that they rely on terror rather than horror to set chills up the spine. There's no gore, no otherworldly creatures - there's nothing in them, to my opinion, which strays very far from what could possibly happen in real life and that, to me, is the scariest thing of all. 
In terms of film, I don't watch a huge amount of conventional horror movies - they just don't appeal to me. But I do love dark stories, and these days there's a ton of excellent stuff available on TV - off the top of my head, I've recently enjoyed The Kettering Incident, Inside No. 9, Les Revenants, Penny Dreadful, Being Human, Misfits, - there's tons of stuff I'm leaving out, but it really is a great time for people who want something that little bit darker, with a supernatural edge to pass an evening.

Q4. Part of the new book is set in the 1980s. Is there anything 1980s you would like to bring back? or banish forever?

I'd like to bring back Andrew McCarthy, Zanzibars, A-ha, and MT USA. 
I'd banish white socks and black slip-on shoes and mullet hairstyles. 80's revivals are only acceptable to a certain level!
I think the older I get, the more nostalgic I feel about the 80's - I'm loving a lot of stuff set in the 80's at the moment like Stranger Things and the Black Mirror episode 'San Junipero' which is the most beautiful love story, and 80's accurate without turning into pastiche. In writing Ever This Day, I've spent a lot of time there in my head and I quite liked it - MTV, John Hughes movies, synthpop - of course the 80's were tremendously bleak too - the Cold War, Thatcherism, recession etc. - but I'll always view the decade through the eyes of a teenager who just longed for John Cusack on the front lawn blaring Peter Gabriel through a boombox. A lot of what is good about the 80's has survived of course, as happens with every decade - classic music and cinema, for example. And a lot of it - like the hairstyles - has remained just where it should, in nostalgia TV shows and hysterical photographs of your schoolmates. If I had a TARDIS, would I go back? Maybe just for a day trip but yes, I'd love to pay the 80's a visit.

Q5. Your book features a boarding school filled with frightening memories and you attended boarding school yourself. Is there any real life inspiration in The Convent of Maria Gorretti? Would you ever see yourself writing spooky-school stories in the future?

I had a message only last night from a schoolfriend who had just finished reading Ever This Day and who said that she couldn't tell where our reality ended and the book's fantasy began with regards to Maria Goretti and our old school, the Brigidine Convent, Mountrath in Co. Laois. Not in terms of ghostly goings-on, and insane nuns, of course, but I've used the setting of the school, apart from the odd flourish here and there, more or less brick for brick. In describing Maria Goretti, I simply walked around the corridors and classrooms in which I spent five formative years, adding things here and there, and taking the odd thing out but for the most part the physical description of the building and also of the daily routine are based on fact. Most of my 'pack' from school have recently read Ever This Day and I get messages on WhatsApp all the time from them remarking on how they had forgotten this and that, and recalling stuff that I didn't put in the book but which they were reminded of in reading it, which has been enormous fun and quite emotional at times. 
It made writing it that little bit more difficult too, however, in that sometimes my descriptions were way too long winded, or too confusing, because the locations and events were completely familiar and clear in my mind and I was either at pains to describe them in as much detail as possible, or so over-familiar with them that they made sense only to me. I re-wrote the physical description sections in the book - when Ria goes there at first - four times and I still didn't fully trust in them until my editor, Gaye, took them apart and worked on them with me which was a real relief. 
It's been lovely to share those memories with old schoolfriends actually, and to re-connect with those girls because the whole five years was an incredible time - and we had a lot of fun, despite how bleak everything sounds in the book. Our fun years, however, of terrible food, giggling and listening to the radio after lights out, wouldn't have made for a very good story however - so that's why Maria Goretti and its residents - both living and dead - are a little darker than it was in real life! 
I'll probably give the spooky school a rest for a bit - but it's the type of location that has such enormous scope that I wouldn't say never to revisiting it. After all, one of my earliest influences was the TV adaptation of Antonia Fraser's 'Quiet as a Nun' which petrified me as a child so there's plenty of life in a veil and wimple, I reckon!

Q6. Finally what are you working on next?

At the moment, I'm taking a little writing break for a couple of months - at least until I've finished promoting Ever This Day. It was a really difficult book for me to write - it's been four years since my last book was released, and in the interim I wrote yet another book that I hated and wasn't prepared to publish, lost my writing mojo a little, and had twins which brings my family to four, all under nine years of age (which also explains where the writing mojo went) so it's been a very demanding time both physically and creatively. Finishing and releasing Ever This Day was a huge personal milestone for me but the process took a lot out of me so I'm letting the field go fallow for a few months, to see what comes out when I sit down to write next. I think I might like to give ghosts a little rest for a while - although I've been saying that for the last two books! - and see what else I can come up with. I'm toying with two ideas at the moment - one is a little bit of Irish mythology and legend with a twist, and the other is a more up to date story about internet support forums - a little lighter in places, but not too much in the long run! As to what will eventually emerge on the page? Probably something completely different altogether - I guess I'll know when I know.

Ever This Day is published by Poolbeg
Thanks to Caroline at Poolbeg for sending me a copy of the book for review. 
Thanks so much to Helen for her brilliant responses. Here is a recent article in which Helen reminds us all how brilliant fantasy, horror and ghost stories can be. 


Wychwood by George Mann

I don't know about you but when the evenings are dark and the air has grown cold I long for a real fire, a comfy chair, a nice hot drink and a book that sends a tingle up your spine. Mysteries, ghost stories, thrillers, dark tales; however you want to categorise them and with George Mann's latest book Wychwood you get all that and more. Wychwood is a bit of a departure for Mann who is famous for the Newbury & Hobbes Series and the The Ghost series which are steampunk adventures and many readers will also know that George Mann is a prolific writer and editor of Sherlock Holmes inspired fiction. So what's different about this book you ask? Well to begin with this book is contemporary and it's set in rural Oxfordshire with the main characters being a journalist and a police officer so there are no airships or secret spy networks but don't worry there is a chilling serial killer mystery and plenty of dark and supernatural scares. I asked the author about Wychwood and here's what he had to say:

Q1. You are well known for writing in the worlds of Sherlock Holmes and Doctor Who and your own Steampunk stories, so why the big change in direction to a contemporary murder mystery novel?

Good question! I think it's very much the culmination of a long journey as a writer. I've always loved crime fiction, and I think that's something that has crept into a lot of my storytelling over the years. My Newbury & Hobbes steampunk novels are essentially crime mysteries at their heart - they often start with a murder, and Newbury and Veronica typically team up with Scotland Yard to investigate. Clearly they're also adventure novels, with a lot of fantastical content, but strip them back and the central mystery often follows the template of a crime novel.
So I think this is something I've been building towards for a long time. I wanted a new challenge, I wanted to write from the perspective of modern day characters, and I wanted to write the sort of story I love reading, or watching on TV on a Sunday evening.
There's a lineage with my previous books too, though, I think - there's still a gentle thread of the supernatural running through the book - but it's a much more traditional murder mystery than I've written before. The start of a new path!

Q2. The murders in Wychwood are inspired by mythical figures and folklore. Is English folklore and mythology in general an important inspiration for you? Will we see further folklore inspired books?

Oh, absolutely. I've had a long fascination with myth and folklore, and in particular the kind of quirky stories that pop up in different regions all over the UK. It's that sort of local mythology that really appeals to me. I think it adds so much character to a place, and it's always the thing I'm most interested to find out when I visit a new place. What are the stories that bring a town or village to life? What does it say about the cultural history of the place? Does it influence the character of the town now? That's something I'm definitely going to explore in future books. I'm working on a second investigation for Elspeth and Peter now, and I'm having a great deal of fun researching a very different type of folklore for that.

Q3. Who are the writers of murder mysteries that inspire you?

Peter Robinson has been a big influence. I adore his DCI Banks books. Ann Cleeves, Peter James, Peter Lovesey, Ian Rankin, Colin Dexter are others. I also collect the old Sexton Blake pulps which were at their height between 1900-1930, and though they've been largely forgotten now, there's some brilliant stories to be found.

Q4. What's next for Elspeth and Peter? Can you reveal anything about what's in store for them?

Well, that would be telling! But I'm working on a second novel now, as I intimated above. Family secrets, a 17th Century witch stone, and an old manor house feature. Elspeth is going to feel the lure of her old life back in London when a friend comes to
visit, and Peter has to decide what his future in the police force might look like. Any more, and I'll give too much away!

Q5. What are you working on now?

Aside from the next Wychwood book, I've got another Newbury & Hobbes book in the works. That'll be the sixth book in the series, and kind of brings things to a head. Beyond that, I'm certainly keen to keep on exploring this new path with more crime fiction, too.

I have to say I really enjoyed reading Wychwood, the first of what I hope will be many adventures for Elspeth and Peter. This is an intriguing murder mystery full of impressive detail, a twisting plot, some spooky encounters and best of all two main characters you will really root for. It's the kind of crime thriller that lovers of ghost stories will enjoy and the kind of horror novel that will appeal to readers of crime. The mythology threading through the story is fascinating and I think this book will have broad appeal; bringing George Mann many readers who might not have read his previous work. Because of the supernatural thread I would also say that this will be a must read for fans of Elly Griffiths, Syd Moore and James Oswald.

Wychwood is published by Titan, thanks so much to Philippa Ward for a copy for review.

Friday, November 3, 2017

Minette Walters The Last Hours marks a triumphant return.

After a gap of ten years Minette Walter's new novel is a game changer for the author once dubbed the “queen of British crime” The Last Hours is an historical novel set in 1348 in rural Dosetshire as The Black Death sweeps across England. I had the chance to put a few questions to the bestselling writer and asked her what drew her to the subject matter. As a story teller, I'm intrigued by everything and the Black Death is a powerfully interesting subject. Six centuries on, it's hard to grasp how devastating it was or how far-reaching its consequences.”
While it might seem an unusual step for a writer to move out of the thriller genre towards historical fiction; the author sees it as a natural progression.The idea for The Last Hours kept knocking at my mind and never to have written it for the sake of remaining in 'genre' would have been frustrating. In any case, I wonder if it is such a big change! The Black Death was the worst killer man has ever known. Which crime author wouldn't want to write about it... and point fingers at the culprits? There are many worse criminals in history than there are in crime fiction. Despite the apparent change of genre Minette Walters talents as a thriller writer are still very much in evidence with a cast of characters trapped in a confined space and growing fears about their own survival the author ramps up the tension and with this novel she has given us some truly memorable characters that will captivate readers.
Walters is a longtime resident of Dorset and the locality and it's history seems to gotten under the author's skin “My husband and I moved to Dorset nearly twenty years ago, and one of the first things we learnt about our village was that it has a plague pit. No one’s entirely sure where it is, but the 12th century church still stands and visitors can still see the mounds that delineate the medieval settlement. The whole site is a scheduled monument and it's hard to rub shoulders with history without becoming fascinated by it.” Living in an area so closely impacted by such a a devastating event it was probably inevitable that Walters' writer's brain would begin to ask what if? While the Black Death has been explored in fiction before the fact that the novel focuses in on the impact felt in a very particular location and a small group of people makes it a unique and intriguing prospect for fans of Medieval fiction. “The Black Death became a particular interest when I discovered that its first port of entry into England was Melcombe (Weymouth) which is 9 miles from where we live. 14th century chroniclers reported barely one in ten being left alive in Dorset by the time the pestilence passed. I wondered what that meant...Had some fled?..who were the ‘bare’ few who managed to survive? And how had they avoided it?”
Walters took a long break from writing, other than a horror novella The Cellar in 2015 she has not published in ten years and while she never gave up wrting she did take a step back and with time to think the idea for The Last Hours began to form “I did indeed spend considerable time on research for The Last Hours but, once the idea crystalised in my head, the writing came easily.” I'm sure her countless fans will be pleased she's back and she is likely to gather many more fans from those who enjoy the books of Sarah Hawkswood, Karen Maitland and S.D. Sykes.

Lisa Redmond is a writer, currently working a novel about 17th-century Scottish witches. She blogs about books, writing and women in history.

Guns in the North by P.F. Chisholm

Guns in the North brings together the first three books of P.F.Chisholm's Sir Robert Carey mystery series first published in the mid 1990s and now available in one volume for the first time. The books detail Sir Robert Carey's appointment as Deputy Warden of the English West March in 1592. These are tales full of adventure, conflict and humour. The locals of Carlisle and the surrounding districts have a variety of reasons for disliking and distrusting the London courtier sent to kep the peace; not least his fine clothes, fine manners and fine way with a sword but the border marches of Elizabethan England are a place of constant conflict, theft, kidnap and murder and Sir Robert Carey soon proves he has the daring the wit and the courage to take on even the most cut throat of villains. Managing to stay just within the law Sir Robert soon makes his name known as one to watch, both to the lawless bands of Scottish and English clans outside the city walls and his supposed colleagues scheming within. Along with the action, adventure and derring-do each book presents a murder and another mystery to be solved.; such as hundreds of stolen horses, stolen and dangerously faulty guns, and the kidnap of his own beloved but married Elizabeth. The books are full of romance and intrigue with a great mix of real and imagined characters. The plots unfold with all the drama of a wild west tale and will have broad appeal to those who enjoy historical adventure and historical mystery alike. Perfect for fans of Diana Gabaldon, Dorothy Dunnett and S. J. Parris.

Sunday, October 29, 2017

December Girl By Nicola Cassidy #BlogTour

I am delighted to be taking part in the Blog Tour for Nicola Cassidy's debut novel December Girl. This is a gritty historical tale of family, heartbreak and secrets set in Ireland and London. The author was inspired by The Boyne Valley area where she grew up and where she still lives. This is an area rich in history and elements of the novel are inspired by real locations and events. The heroine of the novel is Molly Thomas a smart and independent young woman who's life is changed forever when her family is evicted from their home. The loss of her home, her father and her way of life hits Molly hard and following a shocking betrayal she travels to London to start again, but thrust into London's dark underbelly she faces heartbreak once again as her baby boy is snatched from his pram.
The hero of the tale is Henry Brabazon; the landlord's son. Henry and Molly move in different circles, but Henry does not want to to emulate his entitled, spendthrift father; he too faces crisis and must make hard choices, but in Molly he sees a bright and feisty character, someone who could perhaps be a friend. A graceful blend of timelines, mysteries and fine storytelling, December Girl seamlessly straddles the territory between saga and historical mystery, making this a perfect choice for fans of historical fiction and mysteries alike.
I was lucky enough to be a beta reader for this novel while Nicola was writing it and to see and read it in it's finished form is a real thrill. I loved the story from the beginning and in particular the two main characters; each on their separate and difficult journeys as their paths cross again and again. Nicola is an assured and talented writer and I'm delighted to have watched her journey to publication.

You can download the book from Amazon for only 99p right now. December Girl

December Girl is published by Bombshell Books and the Blog Tour continues details below.

Nicola Cassidy blogs at http://ladynicci.com/

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

Death in the Stars by Frances Brody Blog Tour

The latest instalment of Frances Brody's Kate Shackleton mysteries is set in June 1927 and Kate has been invited to view the solar eclipse with singing star Selina Fellini and her friend the comic Billy Moffatt. Selina seems preoccupied and nervous and convinced that something bad will happen so when Billy collapses Kate is not surprised and she suspects that Selina knows more than she is saying. It seems that there have been two other suspicious deaths among the theatre troupe in the recent past. Tasked with investigating the deaths and the strange behaviour of some of those connected with the theatre company Kate makes some new friends and keeps some strange hours. Kate Shackleton is an able and pragmatic heroine and she once again proves herself in the latest book. Frances Brody has created some great characters and brought the 1920s to life in vivid detail. There may be some who seeing the bright, colourful covers might dismiss this series as cosy crime but that would be a mistake. Frances Brody doesn't stint on showing us the mental and physical suffering of men who have returned from war, the alcoholism and drug taking that many have turned to and the impact their distress and behaviour has on their wives and families. Kate also reflects on the way that young men are raised in public schools to become fodder for future wars. This book also gives us an insight into the world of the variety theatre which while remaining popular with many is under threat from the growing popularity of moving pictures. Perfect for fans of Agatha Christie, Jacqueline Winspear and Kerry Greenwood. This is the 9th book in the series put they do not necessarily have to be read in order. Thanks so much to Clara Diaz at Little Brown for a copy.

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

The Red Ribbon by Lucy Adlington

Lucy Adlington is a writer and costume historian. I was aware of her non fiction books about fashion history such as the excellent Stitches in Time but I had not realised that she was also a YA author. Lucy has previously published a number of Young Adult books as L.J Adlington. This is Lucy's first foray into historical fiction and it is a fantastic story, deeply moving and full of intricate detail. The book is the story of Ella who must pretend to be old enough to work if she is to survive and as a talented dressmaker she is determined to work at the sewing workshop at Birchwood. We know it as Auschwitz. It is also the story of the people she meets; Marta, Carla and Rose. If, like me you believe in the importance of historical authenticity in children's fiction then you will really appreciate this book. It is painfully truthful about the horrific conditions that Ella and her friends endure. This is a story about friendship, survival and hope, about what it means to collaborate and to resist and about doing the right thing when everything around you is wrong. The writing is powerful and thought provoking. I found myself re-reading passages constantly and the characters stayed with me long after I finished. This is a book that I urge you to read; eye opening, shocking and inspiring. An incredibly difficult and yet hugely important read. Thanks to the publisher Hot Key Books and Midas PR for a review copy which I will treasure. 

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

The Four Horsemen by Gregory Dowling

The second book from Gregory Dowling to feature secret agent Alvise Marangon in Eighteenth century Venice is as fast paced and unpredictable as the first. The book opens with intense action as Alvise is chased by some casino bruisers after apparently insulting their boss and is promptly arrested as the brawl spills into St Mark’s Square. Brought before the Missier Grande he is asked to investigate the mysterious death of another agent. A seemingly quiet, bookish man Sior Padoan fell from the roof of his home in what was apparently a tragic accident. Alvise however is certain that the man’s missing diary will provide some clues. There is a connection to a secret society known as The Four Horsemen and Alvise once again must seek help from the bookseller Fabrizio and his beautiful daughter Lucia and his gondolier friend Bepi. Though his investigations are blocked at almost every turn by the city’s Inquisitors and he is caught up in the dark and shadowy world of a scandalous noblewoman, Alvise soon begins to unravel the curious threads that led to poor Sior Padoan’s death. This is fast paced historical crime with great writing, smart plotting and a host of interesting characters bringing Venice to vivid life. Really enjoyable and perfect for fans of Diana Bretherick and Andrew Taylor. 

Aphra Behn: A Secret Life

Aphra Behn: A Secret Life by Janet Todd illuminates the life of a fascinating 17th-century woman

Janet Todd’s masterly biography of the first professional lady of letters has been reissued by Fentum Press 21 years after it originally appeared. In the intervening years Behn has become a regular feature of many English degrees. I asked the author how she feels Aphra Behn’s critical reputation has changed and one of the things Janet Todd is wary of is that on many English courses Behn is often examined without sufficient reference to her cultural and historical context. “She is securely taught in many universities now, in women’s and post-colonial studies and where Restoration literature is a course within an English degree. Only in the last is she put firmly within her historical and literary context. Critical work has tended to concentrate on The Rover and Oroonoko, discussing issues of interest to us now and often finding modern ideas of gender, race and class in her work rather than teasing out her meanings within her historical frame.”
Literary biographies are a fascinating read because they give us a new insight into the author’s works; in this case however Todd uses Behn’s works to open a window onto her life. Documentary evidence for Behn is scant but Todd’s research is painstaking.
Born Aphra Johnson in Kent in 1640, very little is known of her early years but Todd teases out family connections to Thomas Colepeper and through him to Lord Strangford and Lady Sunderland, which may account for Behn’s literary education. Certainly she was fluent in French and well versed in the classics.
She served as a spy for the court of Charles II in the 1660s through her connection to Thomas Killigrew: spy master, theatre manager and dramatist, but Todd is meticulous in putting together the puzzle of Behn’s activities throughout these years. She gives us a clearer picture of an adventurous young woman with an eye for detail and a fascination for learning and culture who had enough daring, wit and courage to take the risks necessary for the life of a spy and of course in pursuit of payment as well as excitement. Behn’s most famous novel and certainly the one that is most popular on undergraduate courses, Oroonko contains such a wealth of detail of the colony of Surinam and its inhabitants that she must have visited. Todd puts together the connections that took her there and the timeline of her travels. Using the settings of her fictional works, Todd is able to piece together an astounding tale of a woman who acted as an English agent in a variety of European cities. However spying was not a lucrative profession and Behn soon fell into debt. She returned to London to petition the King for payment to clear the debts she had incurred in his service but with payment not forthcoming she was arrested and spent time in debtor’s prison.

Determined to earn her living by her pen, she worked as a scribe for both The King’s Company and The Duke’s Company, she translated works from French and began to write her own poetry, plays and prose. She had a number of her plays performed throughout the 1670s and 1680s including The Forc’d Marriage and The Rover and they helped to cement her reputation as a wit. Behn used her plays as a channel to attack those whose politics she disagreed with, often lampooning public figures, but they also display her interest in women’s lives and the obstacles they face, in love, marriage and the games that men and women play. In the 1680s Behn began to publish prose pieces and Love Letters Between a Nobleman and his Sister is one of the earliest novels in English. Behn wrote a great deal of erotic fiction and her open and unembarrassed attitude to sex and the female body made her unpopular in the prudish Victorian era. Her reputation was rebuilt by a number of scholars in the 20th century and certainly Janet Todd’s is the most detailed and informative biography we have. I asked Todd if she would change anything were she writing the book today.
“I would apologise less for being speculative than I did then. I made it clear where I was speculating and I grounded my theories on what was already known but I would now make more positive claims for what I was doing. Biography-writing has developed in recent years … When revising the book, I wondered about cutting some historical context, but decided against it. Behn’s life is so rich, so multifaceted and embedded in other lives, that I think she needs to live in quite a fat book.”
Aphra Behn is acknowledged as an important part of the Restoration literary scene but Todd believes that her contribution to the creation of the novel is yet to be widely accepted. “I believe she should be held in as much critical esteem as an innovator and pioneerbut there is a long way to go …” but Todd is confident that scholarly study of Behn is improving. “A recent large British grant supporting study by a group of academics on Aphra Behn is likely to produce detailed scholarly work, especially about sources and historical links. This in turn will undoubtedly lead to further and more illuminating critical assessments. But not yet. For the present I must admit that Aphra Behn hasn’t become quite as famous as I expected. Maybe in another 25 years.”
Aphra Behn lived a life as full, as exciting, and in many ways as scandalous as any heroine, and whether you are in search of a biography of a fascinating woman or one of a hugely influential writer or seek a window onto the political, literary and cultural landscape of Restoration England you will find all three in this page-turning book.

This article was first published by the Historical Novel Society

About the contributor: Lisa Redmond is a reviewer for the HNS. She loves to read and write historical fiction and is currently working on her first novel about 17th-century Scottish witches.