Monday, April 24, 2017

Books to Watch out for in 2017 Part Two

There are always many more books that I want to read than I can afford or even have time to read. So here's another post about the books that are just out or coming soon and why you will want them too.

Just Published

The international bestselling author of The Historian returns with an intriguing new book published by Text Publishing in April. A young American woman Alexandra Boyd arrives in Sofia and has a mix up with a bag after helping an elderly couple to find a taxi, so she finds herself trying to track down the Lasarov family and thus begins an epic tale of Bulgaria; it's people, it's history, it's tragedy. Also what a stunning cover. 

This is a dark YA fantasy ideal for fans of Leigh Bradugo and Sarah J Maas. Tea comes from a family of witches but her abilities are different; so when she accidently raises her brother from the dead she is rejected by her own community. She is taken in by an older, wiser bone witch who trains her in elemental magic but dark forces are rising. Released in March by Sourcebooks in hardback this debut has had rave reviews.

Antonia Senior returns to the mid Seventeenth Century for her third novel which features Patience Johnson who believes she has a great destiny to fulfill. Her brother Will meanwhile has been appointed as lawyer to Oliver Cromwell. The Tyrant's Shadow blends romance, drama and political intrigue in an exciting and dangerous era. Published in April by Corvus.

Daniela Sacerdoti's new series sees her move to a new publisher; Headline, and it features another beautiful and atmospheric Scottish location. The first book in The Seal Island series is winning rave reviews and throngs of readers and I hope will bring this brilliant author to a wider audience. Out now in hardback with a paperback due in September.

Tanya Landman travels back to Roman Britain for her latest YA novel about runaway slave girl Cassia who does the unthinkable; crosses Hadrian's Wall to seek freedom. If you are a fan of Manda Scott's Boudica series or N. M. Browne's YA fiction then this is essential reading. Published in April by Walker Books.

Having enjoyed their previous adventures I am keen to discover what Frey and McGray get up to next. This latest instalment of the Edinburgh set detective series sees guest appearances by Ellen Terry and Henry Irving as a new production of the Scottish play comes to town.  Published in April by Penguin.

Set in 1361 as a new wave of plague visits England, this is dark, mysterious, historical fantasy. Perfect for me then. The paperback was just published in April by Headline.  

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

The Wolf Road by Beth Lewis

The Wolf Road by Beth Lewis is a powerful debut from a talented new writer. A blend of dystopia, western, mystery and a coming of age saga. Set in a post apocalyptic Canadian wilderness, this is the story of Elka an intriguing character with a powerful voice and a dark story to tell. Lost in the woods at the age of seven after losing her grandmother to a powerful storm she is found and taken in by a man she calls Trapper and occasionally Daddy. Over the next ten years she survives in the wild with this man; learning to shoot, hunt and kill. Finally she visits a nearby town and sees Trapper’s face on a wanted poster and realises that she has been raised by a murderer. Setting off through the wilderness and through the seasons Elka explores the new realities of North America in the shadow of a nuclear war. Life is held cheaply and people are desperate for food, money and gold.  Elka finds deception, betrayal, friendship and family and comes face to face not only with the darkness of the man she now knows as Kreager Hallet but with the darkness inside herself. A powerful coming of age tale with a number of strong and interesting female characters at its heart, this book has echoes of The Road and Station Eleven but while it deals with dark and often bleak events The Wolf Road has a powerful friendship at its core, giving it a greater sense of hope.
Thanks to Borough Press and LoveReading for a review copy.
Out now in paperback. 

Friday, March 10, 2017

The Little Theatre by the Sea by Rosanna Ley

Reading a new book by Rosanna Ley is like revisting old friends, because within minutes you feel warm, comfortable and completely relaxed. I'm not normally a fan of contemporary fiction but I make an exception for Rosanna Ley and to be fair she often includes references to the past in her books. In her latest novel The Little Theatre in question is a faded and dilapidated building full of charm and secrets. Faye having completed a degree in interior design but lost a boyfriend is wondering what to do with herself when she is contacted by old friend Charlotte. Charlotte and Faye had travelled through Italy and Sardinia in their twenties and Charlotte had settled in Sardinia and married Fabio a local hotelier. Charlotte invites Faye to come and house sit and to give some advise to her friends Marisa and Alessandro who have inherited the theatre and wish to restore it. 
Faye is rather taken with the idea, though she is quick to point out her lack of experience. Arriving in Sardinia, Faye is soon enchanted by the Little Theatre, the town and the local people not to mention the arrogant but very handsome Alessandro Rinaldi. However it soon becomes apparent that the theatre is in fact a source of discontent amongst the local people. Many are worried about an outsider being involved in the restoration, others are worried that the character will be lost. There is bad blood between the Rinaldis and the Volti family and in fact some even dispute the Rinaldi's ownership of the theatre. Faye is soon wondering what she has let herself in for. The narrative is also interspersed with the stories of Molly and Ade; Faye's parents who are navigating retirement and each other in beautiful West Dorset. 
A wonderful read full of the sights, sounds and experiences of the sultry island of Sardinia. Rosanna Ley is a delight. Perfect for fans of Dinah Jeffries and Victoria Hislop. 

Thanks so much to Imogen at Midas PR for a copy. 
Published by Quercus in hardback 9th March 2017.

Monday, March 6, 2017

Madwoman in the Attic #5 Marguerite Power, Countess of Blessington

Marguerite Power was born at Knockbrit, Clonmel, Co Tipperary in 1789. She was the daughter of Ellen Sheehy and Edmund Power who owned a small amount of land. According to her first biographer her father known as 'Buck' Power was a gambler and drinker and Maguerite had an unhappy childhood as the family were constantly in debt. Her father traded Marguerite in payment for gambling debts to Captain Maurice St Leger Farmer, so at 15 Marguerite went from unhappy child to unhappy bride. Her husband starved, beat and imprisoned his wife. The law at the time would offer her no protection and Marguerite's only option was to separate from her husband. When he was posted to India by the army she refused to go with him and instead  moved to London. She was immediately a cause for scandal as she was a 'separated woman' but still a teenager. However her good looks and sparking wit made her extremely popular as a society hostess. Marguerite began an affair with Charles John Gardiner, First Earl of Blessington while both of them were still married but his wife died in 1814 and Farmer died in debtor's prison in 1817 so the pair married in 1818. Blessington was a wealthy and indulgent husband and Marguerite was generous to a fault insisting on helping out a number of relatives in Ireland and England. In 1822 the Blessingtons set out on a Grand Tour. Marguerite was well known in literary circles and struck up a friendship with Byron at Genoa. She later wrote Conversations with Lord Byron. (1834) At Naples she met Irish writer Richard Robert Madden who later wrote her biography (1855). While they were travelling on the continent John invited the dashing Count D'Orsay who had been part of their London circle to join them. With all of them living together and indulging in a life of extravagance it was probably inevitable that D'Orsay and Marguerite began an affair but with a young and healthy husband Marguerite knew that it could be years before they could be together so she devised a plan. She persuaded her husband to arrange a match between his daughter Harriet from his first marriage to D'Orsay so that they could continue to spend time together without any gossip. Ironically just a few months after the marriage in 1829 Blessington suffered a sudden stroke and died  in Paris. He left Marguerite plenty of money, jewels and estates and she establishment her household back in London persuading D'Orsay and Harriet to live with her, after just three years though Harriet walked out exposing her husband and step mother to scandal. Typically D'Orsay was accepted quickly back into society but Marguerite was not. Marguerite turned to writing to support herself and her literary salons were revived. Her home Gore House is now the site of the Albert Hall and writers who visited her included Charles Dickens and Benjamin Disraeli. Marguerite wrote novels; The Repealers or Grace Cassidy (1834), The Governess (1839),  Strathern (1845), The Fatal Error (1847) and travel books The Idler in France (1839) The Idler in Italy (1841) as well as contributing to newspapers and periodicals, she was one of the first writers to have her work serialised in The Sunday Times. Astute in her own business dealings but not in her private life Marguerite and D'Orsay had to leave London to escape their creditors in 1849. Just a few weeks later Marguerite was dead, like her husband before her she suffered a massive stroke in Paris. She is buried at St Germain. 

Thursday, March 2, 2017

My Name is Victoria by Lucy Worsley

Lucy Worsley’s second book for young readers is the story of Miss V. Conroy who is brought to Kensington Palace to act as a companion to the young Princess Victoria. Her father John Conroy is the architect of the Kensington system of which Miss V. is expected to become a part, because Miss V. is very good at keeping secrets. Her father calls her his mouse because she is so calm and quiet in contrast to the wild and wilful Princess. The system is meant to protect the Princess from those who would do her harm and to keep her away from the bad influences including her mother the Duchess of Kent. Miss V. is very soon torn between loyalty to her father and her growing friendship with Victoria as she begins to see how the system keeps Victoria locked away from the world and might even be damaging to her health.

This book is an absolute delight and will appeal of course to fans of Lucy’s television work and her previous novel for young adults Eliza Rose but I believe My Name is Victoria will have even broader appeal, with a successful first series of Victoria and a second series confirmed the interest in the younger years of Queen Victoria has never been so intense. With this book I believe Lucy Worsley has really found her voice as a writer of historical fiction for children. Ideal for fans of Katherine Woodfine and Emma Carroll.  

Thanks so much to Shelley and Louise at Love Reading and the publisher for sending me a copy to review.
My Name is Victoria will be published on the 9th March in the UK and Ireland by Bloomsbury. 

The Chalk Pit by Elly Griffiths Blog Tour

I am delighted to be part of the blog tour for The Chalk Pit by Elly Griffiths the latest in the Ruth Galloway series of mysteries. I actually cannot believe that this is the ninth book in the series. It seems like no time since I started reading about Ruth and Nelson and Cathbad and all the other wonderful characters that people these novels. I can confirm that you can read any of the series as a stand alone since I choose Elly's last book The Woman in Blue for my book club a few months ago and I sneakily didn't tell them that it was part of a series. However it did lead to a number of new Elly Griffiths fans. In the latest instalment of the series a mysterious sinkhole appears on one of the main roads out of Norwich and Ruth has discovered human bones in one of the many underground tunnels beneath the city. The bones however turn out to be not part of a medieval burial but much more recent so DI Nelson is soon involved. Judy is investigating the disappearances of local homeless people and an academic at Ruth's university is talking about secret underground societies so what is the connecting thread? Then a local woman goes missing and a mystery becomes a manhunt. As usual it takes a group effort to unravel. The thing that makes the Ruth Galloway mysteries so appealing is that as well as an intriguing and involving plot the characters are so wonderful that you really want to know what they will do next. Their private lives are as detailed, as interesting and as messy as anything they investigate and it really is a joy to spend time with them. Elly Griffiths is one of my favourite writers and other writers love her too. Val McDermid and Kate Mosse are both big fans. Elly weaves superstition and local knowledge into her fiction so if you are a fan of James Oswald then you will enjoy her work. You could read The Chalk Pit as a stand alone novel but I can assure you that once you discover the world of Ruth Galloway and DI Nelson you will want to read the whole series.

The Chalk Pit is out in hardback and e-book now from Quercus. Thanks to Olivia Mead for inviting me to take part in the blog tour. The Reading Agency in England are currently running a Discover Elly Griffiths Challenge through local libraries and Elly herself is currently touring the UK to promote her new book.

The Blog Tour Continues for another few stops, details below.

In the Name of the Family by Sarah Dunant

I am delighted to be kicking off the blog tour for Sarah Dunant's latest novel. With In the Name of the Family Sarah Dunant continues the saga of the notorious Borgia family begun in Blood and Beauty. The new novel however can easily be read as a stand alone. The book presents the voices of Lucrezia, Cesare, Rodrigo; the Borgia pope and Niccolo Machiavelli.  The year is 1502. Rodrigo Borgia is Pope Alexander VI. He is inordinately wealthy, calculating and powerful. His son Cesare is a military strategist intent on becoming the most powerful man in Italy and Lucrezia is once again betrothed; this time to Alfonso heir to the Dukedom of Ferrara . Following the family through the eyes of Florentine diplomat Machiavelli and through their own accounts In the Name of the Family recounts the last year and a half of the rule of the Borgia Pope and the daring attacks carried out by Cesare in his attempts to conquer Italy while Lucrezia contends with an indifferent husband, a penny pinching father-in-law and a jealous sister-in-law. What Machiavelli learns as he watches the unfolding saga of the Borgias will inform his masterwork on politics and power The Prince.
It is a testament to the skill of Sarah Dunant's storytelling that the characters are alive and vivid as people not as the evil caricatures handed down through history. Although despite this the author doesn't hold back at portraying the cruel acts carried out in their names; by Cesare and his henchmen in particular. However their weaknesses and the dangers of illness and disease are also an integral part of the story. This is an intriguing look at one of the most powerful, cruel, ambitious and interesting families of the Renaissance. It is also a fascinating look at the history of syphilis which had begun to spread just a few years before and was known as the 'French pox', Cesare was a noted sufferer and was subjected to a number of treatments during this period. Sarah Dunant has clearly done intensive research on the period. Through a number of books she has presented a variety of portraits of Renaissance Italy and it is her power to bring the period vividly to life that makes her stand out as an author of historical fiction.
Perfect for fans of Alison Weir, Marina Fiorato and Elizabeth Fremantle.

In the Name of the Family is out now in hardback and e-book from Virago. Thanks so much to Hayley Camis for an e-book copy for review. You can learn more about Sarah and her books by checking out her excellent website.

The blog tour continues see banner for details

Monday, February 27, 2017

The Killing Bay By Chris Ould Blog Tour

Chris Ould's latest novel continues his Faroes Series which began with The Blood Strand. I'm new to this series so diving straight in to book two I was aware that there was a continuing narrative from book one but it wasn't too difficult to catch up. The book has two main protaganists local detective Hjalti Hentze and English policeman Jan Reyna. Jan is visiting the islands for his father's funeral and to try to learn more about his mother who died when he was a child and to try to reconnect with his birthplace. Jan and Hjalti have already been through an ordeal in the first book and now Jan is spending his time walking the hills and learning more about the islands and his family. Hjalti meanwhile is dealing with a murder. In the wake of a protest against the traditional Faroese whale hunt or grind, a female photographer working with the protest group is found dead, while the initial  signs seem to indicate a sexually motivated attack, Hjalti is not so sure and as he digs deeper it seems perhaps the killer may be dangerously close to home. I found Chris Ould's characters incredibly likeable and interesting and this book is a genuine page turner set in a stunning part of the world. There is a clash of cultures between the whale hunters and the protesters and within many of the characters Jan and Erla particularly. If you enjoy Anne Cleeves Shetland series or the Scandi Noir of Anne Holt then add Chris Ould and the Faroes series to your must read list.

The Killing Bay is out now from Titan Books. Thanks to Philippa at Titan for a review copy of the book.

I asked Chris to tell me about his typical writing day. Here's what he said.

How I Write - Chris Ould

Asking a writer how they write is like asking a juggler how they keep six oranges in the air at the same time. The juggler could probably break it down into the size, texture and aerodynamic properties of the oranges, but I'm still not sure he'd really be able to describe how he does it.

That said, I think the biggest challenge in writing is to just show up, by which I mean to sit down at the desk ready to work. Generally I'm in the office – read shed – at just after 7:30 when my son goes off to catch the school bus. I'm always more productive during school term time because I can't sleep late. That's something I don't like to do these days, anyway.

My shed/office was a toilet and shower block for a caravan site on the fields next to our house in the 1960s. The name "Steve" is neatly carved into the plaster near my right elbow and I rather like the notion that I'm carrying on Steve's labours in the same place. I refurbished the shed myself when we first moved here so it's custom built for diversion. I like having stuff to look at and fiddle with if I get stuck on a line, so the desk is littered with knick-knacks, toys, puzzles, marbles... basically anything that I find interesting. I share the shed with a few mice who find their way in under the floor or behind the cladding on the walls. By and large we get on all right, although I do have to use a stick to bang on the walls when they're really noisy. The cat kills a few of them when he can be bothered. Most of the time he keeps me company by sleeping.

My rule is to write at least a thousand words a day, every day. If I get to a thousand by mid morning I sometimes give myself the rest of the day off, but usually if it's going that well I just want to keep writing until I run out of steam. On a very good day I'll more than double the word target and then I'm rewarded with gin. I worked for a long time as a TV scriptwriter and doing that was a good way of learning to be disciplined and professional. With a shooting schedule to keep to there's no time to have writer's block or wait for the muse to strike. If you can't deliver a good script and on time you don't get another commission, it's as simple as that.

The only time I relax the thousand-words-a-day rule is when I'm working on the plot of a book, which is probably harder work than the actual writing. Because I write crime novels, which are basically exercises in deception, the plot is essential. Getting motives and means all figured out before I start writing is absolutely key. It also helps to know where you want to end up, so often I'll have a good idea of the ending before I even know exactly who, what and why.

Plotting can take a couple of months to get right. A simple idea like, "he could be killed with a flick knife and it's revealed by the post mortem" can mean days of research, either online, talking to an expert, or going to look at something myself. The browsing history on my Mac would be distinctly suspicious if I was ever a suspect for murder, but really the best way to get information (and great story details) is to talk to coppers, doctors and lawyers. I'm very lucky in knowing great people in those fields and by now they're pretty used to weird questions, followed by days of silence while I try and work their advice into the plot, and then a load more supplementary questions. I do like to get things right if I possibly can.

The plotting stage is also where characters start to take shape. What a character does in the story should be governed by what type of person they are. So if I know I need someone to steal a child from a nursery, say, I work out what sort of person would do that and why, and then I write them accordingly from the start. It might sound obvious to do it that way round, but I think one of the most common mistakes writers make is to have a character do something that is out of character for the person they've created, just because that's what the plot calls for. I suspect that the main reason that happens is poor planning, whether it's in a crime novel or not. I don't believe a good novel is ever really written as a product of pure stream of consciousness without the author knowing where it's going.

By the end of the research/plotting period I usually have a 20-30 page document – a storyline – which is a road map of the entire book. It's usually full of shorthand notes to myself and reminders of logic and character, and that's what I follow to the end. Occasionally, once I get some way into a book, I realise something's not working or is pulling the plot off course. If so I stop writing and reassess and then change the plot, or go back and find out where I took a wrong turn and delete stuff.

The worst advice I've ever come across about writing was to "just carry on to the end, even if you think you've got a problem." That's utter rubbish, to put it politely. If you've got a problem it's not going to go away by ignoring it: things will only get worse. You have to diagnose what's causing the problem and put it right, otherwise you'll just end up with a badly flawed story which will have to be substantially rewritten to make it decent. That's just a waste of time and energy. The best advice I ever heard was "be prepared to kill your babies". In other words, no matter how well written something is, no matter how much you love it, if it doesn't help the story, press delete.

I usually write well until lunch time, but afterwards getting back into it can be hard so I tend to potter around and do admin and other things for a while. Anything physical or that uses a different part of the brain is good. I keep a few sheep so they have to be checked and looked after, and I can usually find wood to cut or something else to do outside for an hour or so, and then by mid afternoon I'm ready to go again. If I'm really on a roll I'll sometimes work after dinner as well, but generally I've had enough by then so I'll watch something on TV, although it often ends up being a documentary that might have interesting (ie useful) information in it for a book idea.

I'm not sure that writers ever really switch off. If the work's going well you're thinking about the next page, and if it's not you're thinking about the section you wrote and how to fix it. I don't remember my dreams, so I don't know if I dream about writing, but I often wake up thinking about it in the morning.

 Thanks so much Chris. Some great writing tips there.

The first novel in Chris Ould's Faroes trilogy, The Blood Strand, was published last year by Titan Books. The second book in the series, The Killing Bay, is published on 21 February 2017.

Monday, February 20, 2017

Ambulance Girls Blog Tour

I am delighted to be kicking off the blog tour for Ambulance Girls by Deborah Burrows. Deborah Burrows is a bestselling Australian author of fiction set during the Second World War. Although her previous books were set in wartime Australia, Ambulance Girls is the first in a new trilogy set during the London Blitz. Lily Brennan is an Australian girl who came to Europe looking for adventure. She was working as a nanny in Prague when the German occupation of Czechoslovakia began. Having witnessed brutal attacks on the streets particularly of Jewish citizens Lily makes her way to London and before long she is working as an ambulance driver. The work was not without risk and at times Lily puts her own life in danger to help others. Lily becomes close friends with her colleague; Jewish ambulance attendant David Levy and feels aggrieved when some of her other colleagues make racist and anti-semitic remarks. When David disappears Lily is worried and asks his old school friend the dashing RAF pilot Jim for help to find out what happened to their friend. Ambulance Girls is a fantastic book, it's a mystery, a romance and a wonderful insight into war time life with excellent detail about how difficult it was dealing with food shortages and the genuine dangers faced by those who searched for bodies and survivors in the rubble of bombed out buildings. The casual racism and the snobbery and class division are also brilliantly highlighted. I am particularly intrigued by Lily's story because my great-aunt May was an ambulance girl during the Second World War who married her own dashing RAF man, so for me this book held extra special charm. I am delighted that it's the first of a series and I can't wait to read more. Ambulance Girls will make ideal reading for fans of Call the Midwife and the books of Donna Douglas and Nancy Revell or anyone with an interest in women's history and life on the home front during WW2. The blog tour continues tomorrow. Check the poster below for more details. Ambulance Girls is published in paperback by Ebury on 23rd February. Thanks to Josie Turner at Penguin Random House.

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Arrowood by Mick Finlay

Arrowood is the debut novel from Mick Finlay. It's set in South London in 1895 and it features a consulting detective, but this is not Sherlock Holmes. The tagline for this story is "London Society takes their problems to Sherlock Holmes everyone else goes to Arrowood." Arrowood is fat, balding, often drunk. He's a terrible brother an even worse employer and friend and he hates Sherlock Holmes with a burning passion. The police generally aren't interested in his help so he has to use unconventional or even illegal methods to find information but somehow he and his partner Barnett seem to get the job done. When a young French woman seeks their help in locating her missing brother Barnett and Arrowood soon find themselves embroiled in a mystery that includes a dangerous criminal gang, Irish American revolutionaries and corruption at the highest levels of power. The writing is furious and fast paced Finlay knows his way around Victorian London and like Arrowood he knows people; from the drunks at the bar to the kind hearted women like Arrowood's sister who nurse the sick and the destitute, to the servants quarters and flop houses this is a Victorian London that's richly peopled and beautifully drawn. If you a fan of Sarah Pinborough's Mayhem or if love the camaraderie of Frey and McGray in Oscar de Muriel's books then Arrowood is for you. If you are fan of Sherlock Holmes you will probably love it all the more. All the familiar Sherlockian tropes are there but they are subtle and carefully used and the whole story is also shaded with political ideas and a darker and grittier tone than Conan Doyle ever used. This is a fantastic start to what I hope will be a longer series.
Thanks very much to the team at LoveReading and to the publishers HQ (Harper Collins) for the chance to read and review this novel before release.
Arrowood will be out on 23rd March 2017 in hardcover

The Moonstone's Curse by Sam Siciliano

The Moonstone's Curse is the latest title in Titan Books Further Adventures of Sherlock Holmes series. I am always happy to read anything set in the Sherlock universe and this book was a fine addition to that world neatly blending plot and characters from Wilkie Collins The Moonstone with Sherlock's London society. Well to do aristocrat Charles Bromley seeks the help of Holmes and his cousin Dr Henry Vernier because he believes his wife is in imminent danger. His wife Alice has inherited the priceless diamond known as the Moonstone from her father Neville who inherited it from his mother Rachel Verinder the original recipient of the diamond in Wilkie Collins novel of 1868. Bromley goes on to explain the diamond's bloody history and the belief that Alice's ancestor had stolen the diamond during the siege of Srirangaptana and murdered the man tasked with guarding it. Alice is convinced that because of this bloody history the Moonstone is cursed. She believes that it killed her parents and she wants to get rid of it. However Alice is prevented from selling the diamond by a clause in her inheritance which means the diamond must pass intact to her surviving kin. Alice has recently begun to see faces at the window and is convinced that someone has come from India to take the diamond back. Sherlock Holmes is of course intrigued and the game is indeed afoot. Following on the trail of a murdered jeweller Holmes and Vernier are soon entangled in the mystery of The Moonstone and under its sinister spell. Tying Sherlock Holmes to what most would consider the first detective or mystery novel is a smart move on the part of the author and one that Siciliano has pulled off before; his previous Sherlock Holmes novels include The White Worm inspired by one of Bram Stoker's less successful outings. The Moonstone's Curse is however a twisty mystery full of intriguing characters especially Vernier and his wife Michelle Doudet-Vernier  also a doctor. The contrast between the frightened and laudanum addicted Alice and the redoubtable Michelle offers a marked commentary on Victorian feminity.
I really enjoyed this novel and look forward to reading more of the adventures of Holmes and the Verniers.

The Moonstone's Curse is published today 14th February and is available in paperback and ebook from Titan Books. Thanks so much to Phillipa Ward for sending me a copy.

What you Don't Know Blog tour

Joann Chaney's debut novel is a dark and addictive literary thriller which looks at the aftermath of a serial killer and the impact on those who survived. Three people are forever linked by their connection to Jacky Seever a notorious serial killer who was arrested and sentenced to death 7 years earlier after 33 bodies were found buried under his house. There's Paul Hoskins one of the officers who arrested Seever and exposed him as a killer but Hoskins has never been able to get Seever out of his head and it's impacted every part of his life, his marriage is over, his father is loosing his memory and he's been kicked out of the homicide unit to work in the basement on the cold cases. Sammie Peterson reported on the case when Seever was arrested, her name was splashed all over the papers alongside his, but seven years later she can't get a story accepted and she's working at a make up counter at the mall wondering where it all went wrong. Gloria Seever should have known her husband better than anyone. People are still convinced that she knew and she has to deal with being shouted at in the grocery store and washing graffiti off her house but still she tells herself she knew nothing. And then people connected to Seever start to turn up dead; brutally murdered in a strikingly similar way to Seever's original victims. Is the killer a copycat? a partner? or one of those closest to him?

There are shades of Gillian Flynn in this scalpel sharp tale of the dark underbelly of Midwesten life and in the lies the characters tell themselves. Chaney looks deep into the heart of each character and poses the question are there really such things as good and evil or do we carry the possibility of both inside us? This is a disturbing and unsettling book. If you are ready for a psychological thriller than offers real and chilling psychological insight this is it.

For an interview with the author and some insight into her inspiration and her writing days Follow the link below to JaffaReadsToo which was yesterday's stop on the blog tour. I am excited to see what Joann does next.

Romance in Fiction

As it is Valentine's Day I felt I should write a little about romance especially as I will be writing about serial killers later. Generally I'm in favour of romance in novels but I'm not a fan of novels which are just 'will they won't they' stories and I can't stand romance that feels unconvincing. I prefer when the romance seems to happen amongst the chaos of everything else in the story. Obviously the writer knows what they are doing but it's much more enjoyable for the me if the romance is part of the story not the purpose of the story. A good example of this is one of my favourite book series Outlander in which 20th Century nurse Claire Randall accidently travels back to the 18th Century and is forced to seek protection from an English Army Captain by allying herself with a Scottish highlander James Fraser and she finds herself falling in love with him.
However I specifically wanted to talk about Romance in Young Adult fiction. Firstly because it's especially important that Young Adult fiction is more than just romance and because it's important for readers to see romance portrayed realistically and sensitively.
I was asked my thoughts on this very topic by Irish writer Claire Hennessy for an article which appears in today's Irish Times online. You can check it out HERE

I mentioned Eleanor and Park as a good example of Young Adult romance and My good friend Maera Black of mentioned Graceling and the relationship between Katsa and Po, which is a real favourite of mine. I would also like to mention Resonance by Celine Kiernan as there are a number of beautifully portrayed relationships but Tina and Joe are particularly well done as they are tested to their absolute limits and not found wanting.

"The title characters in Rowell’s Eleanor and Park similarly work well for readers. Children’s bookseller Lisa Redmond describes them as “a wonderful couple: awkward and embarrassed at first but you really root for them. Their shared interest in music gives them a connection and a way of communicating without words.”

Monday, February 13, 2017

Madwomen in the Attic #4 Elizabeth Griffith

Elizabeth Griffith was born in Wales in 1727 to Thomas Griffith a well known Dublin actor-manager and his Yorkshire wife Jane Foxcroft, however she was raised in Ireland and educated by her father. She read both English and French and her father encouraged her to recite verse, no doubt anticipating a life on the stage. Her father died in 1744 and by 1749 Elizabeth is listed as an actress in Thomas Sheridan's company (husband of Frances Sheridan) Sometime in the early 1750s Elizabeth secretly married Richard Griffith and in 1753 they moved to London and she began performing at Covent Garden. When her husband's business failed Elizabeth turned to writing; publishing her courtship letters and following those with poetry and drama. She also translated a number of works from French. She achieved enough success that she could seek employment with the famed David Garrick for whom she wrote The School for Rakes in 1769 and though other plays followed they were less successful. Elizabeth soon turned to novel writing and the fashionable epistolary novel. She toned down her characters in her novels as she received criticism for her forthright female characters in her plays and conscious of the need to provide for her family she tailored her work to the market. She published her first novel in the same year as her husband The Delicate Distress (1769) was followed by The History of Lady Barton (1771) and The Story of Lady Juliana Harley (1776) These novels feature characters who are preyed upon by violent men conforming to the trend for sentimental novels at the time, the tone is quite moralistic and as a consequence her books dated very quickly and rapidly went out of fashion. Griffith however continued what she saw as her more serious work editing works by women dramatists such as Aphra Behn and Eliza Haywood and translating French work such as Voltaire and the Princess of Cleeves by Marie-Madeleine, Comtesse de La Fayette. She also wrote Literary Criticism and her The Morality of Shakespeare's Drama Illustrated (1775) is especially significant as she was one of the first scholars to discuss Shakespeare's legacy and importance.

Although she often received a harsh critical reception Elizabeth Griffith was widely respected in the literary circles of her day, her admirers included Fanny Burney, Joshua Reynolds, James Boswell and Edmund Burke. Griffith has often been dismissed as a sentimental novelist but she made a sizeable contribution to the literary world of her day. She was a member of the Blue Stocking Society; an intellectual salon consisting of mostly female members and organised by Elizabeth Montagu.

Elizabeth Griffith is pictured here (seated right) with other Bluestockings in this 1778 painting by Richard Samuel. Elizabeth Griffith's son joined the East India Company and became a wealthy man,  in 1786 Elizabeth and her husband settled at Millicent House at Clane in County Kildare with their son and Elizabeth died there in 1793. 

Friday, February 10, 2017

The Witches of New York by Ami McKay

The Witches of New York is the third novel from bestselling author Ami McKay. While the new novel sees the return of Moth from her previous novel The Virgin Cure it can be read as a stand alone. The story opens in New York in September 1880 with Moth; now Adelaide and her dear friend Eleanor who have opened Tea & Sympathy a tea shop where they offer spells, remedies and advice to the well heeled ladies of Manhattan. While Eleanor is the expert on remedies and tea, Adelaide is a talented seer and happy to proclaim herself a witch. Having lost an eye to an acid attack from a jealous rival she revels in her witchy appearance. The ladies workload has increased and so Adelaide places an advert seeking an apprentice and Beatrice comes into their lives. Beatrice has travelled from small town upstate New York seeking adventure and magic and she is a wonderful addition to the store but it soon becomes obvious that she has incredible magical abilities. While Eleanor wants to help the girl to develop at her own pace Adelaide wants to test out Beatrice’s abilities and before long Beatrice disappears. Has she run away? Or has she been taken? Because in a society that condemns women is it ever safe to be a witch? The growth of Beatrice’s character is skillfully woven throughout the novel as she turns from country girl to a young woman in charge of her own destiny. This is a beautiful novel, impeccably researched, powerfully plotted and packed with intriguing characters. Carefully blending fantasy, crime and historical fiction this is a charming and atmospheric read. Perfect for fans of Sophia Tobin, Susan Hill and Essie Fox.

Available now from Orion Books

This review originally appeared in Historical Novel Review 79 (Feb 2017) as an Editor's Choice. 

The Vanishing by Sophia Tobin

Sophia Tobin’s third novel is a gothic thriller with shades of Jane Eyre, Jamaica Inn and Sarah Waters’ Fingersmith.
Annaleigh has accepted the position of Housekeeper at White Windows in Yorkshire. Determined to begin anew, Annaleigh is shocked to discover that White Windows is much more remote than she had anticipated, that the servants are truculent and the owners mysterious. Brought up in bustling London Annaleigh was a foundling brought up by a painter and his wife she had anticipated a different life believing herself to be part of Mr. Calvert’s family but when love seemed to blossom between his stepson and adopted daughter Mr. Calvert is happy to have Annaleigh move away. Broken hearted and apparently without family Annaleigh quickly becomes fascinated by her darkly mysterious new employer Mr. Twentyman. The parallels between The Vanishing and Jane Eyre are obvious; the educated young woman fallen on hard times, the brooding hero, the gothic setting of the big house and the remoteness of the Yorkshire Moors but what could easily be a pastiche becomes in the careful hands of a skillful writer a wonderful homage and a clever reworking.
Also and perhaps more importantly Sophia Tobin has addressed the issue of women’s lack of rights in the period and the power and manipulation that men wielded to control them. Either as daughters, wives or servants women were essentially property without rights to their own bodies, their belongings or their children. A fast paced and wonderfully written gothic thriller which will appeal to Brontë fans and lovers of Victorian mysteries. This clever and insightful book should bring Sophia Tobin widely deserved critical and popular acclaim.

First published in The Historical Novel Review issue 79  (Feb 2017) as an Editor's Choice. 

Friday, February 3, 2017

Madwomen in the Attic #3 Sydney Owenson (Lady Morgan)

Sydney Owenson (Lady Morgan) was born on December 25th in Dublin in the early 1780s. She was always rather elusive about the exact year of her birth. Her father was actor-manager Robert Mac Owen who changed his name to Owenson. although he was Irish, Owenson spent much of his youth in London and so he met and married an English girl Jane Hill before the two travelled to Dublin to settle permanently. Robert Owenson set up a theatrical company in Dublin and Sydney and her sister Olivia spent a great deal of time there. Sydney was mostly educated at home with her sister, they lived on Dame Street in her early childhood but after her mother's death in 1789 her and her sister were sent to private schools around Dublin and then moved to Sligo were their father was working as an actor. There was some financial problems for the family and when Sydney was in her teens she had to accept work as a governess with the Featherstone family of Bracklyn Castle. Sydney blossomed at this point as she had an opportunity to show off her skills; she could sing, dance and play the harp. It was there that Sydney began to write. She published a volume of poetry and a collection of verses for Irish melodies in the early 1800s. She then decided to write a novel, she was an admirer of Fanny Burney and she published St Clair (1804) and The Novice of St Dominick (1806) with much success. It was her third novel however The Wild Irish Girl (1806)  which made her a household name. This book displayed Sydney's passion for Ireland and her patriotic fervour. She used her celebrity to extoll the virtues of Ireland's traditions and history. The Missionary; An Indian Tale followed and numbered Percy Bysshe Shelley amongst its admirers. She also wrote an opera and some proposals on Women's education. Sydney joined the household of John Hamilton 1st Marquess Abercorn and married the family's surgeon Sir Thomas Charles Morgan in 1812. O'Donnell (1814) is widely considered her best work and was praised by Sir Walter Scott. Books on France and Italy were praised by Byron for their authenticity but harshly reviewed elsewhere. Sydney was adept at capturing the ordinary life of the poor and she returned to examining Irish life with Absenteeism (1825) and The O'Briens and The O'Flahertys(1827).
Sydney was awarded a pension by Lord Melbourne for her services to literature, the first women ever to receive such an award. She again asserted her feminist views in Woman and her Master (1840). She began work on her memoirs with Geraldine Jewsbury but they were unfinished at her death in 1859. In 1839 the Morgan's moved to London and Sydney was buried in Brompton Cemetery.
A prolific writer, as well as novels, poetry and non fiction she produced numerous tracts and pamphlets.
A lively and entertaining member of numerous literary circles she was never afraid to poke fun and many of those who reviewed her harshly were caricatured in her fiction.
There is a bust of Sydney in The Victoria and Albert Museum and there is a plaque on Kildare Street in Dublin marking one of her homes.

Before You Go Blog tour

I am delighted to be involved in the blog tour for Clare Swatman's debut novel Before You Go. This is the story of Zoe and Ed. Just a few pages into the book Ed is the victim of a traffic accident and Zoe is left alone and devastated. Before You Go is the story of how Zoe gets the chance to revisit all the significant moments of their lives; university, friendship, jealousy, travel and marriage and second time around Zoe tries to say and do all the things she wished she's said the first time. This is a cleverly structured book which delves back into the protagonists shared past and lets Zoe examine every step they took together or apart as she attempts to prevent fate from intervening. A perfect escapist read and ideal for fans of One Day, Me Before You or The Time Traveller's Wife.

I asked Clare some questions about her inspiration for the book and about writing in general. This is what she said. Clare also has some great writing advice especially for parents and TV watchers!

Q1. What was the inspiration for Before You Go?

Most of my ideas for anything I write come from real people and their real stories. I spent many years working as a journalist on real life magazines and have interviewed lots of people over that time and honestly, people's real stories are far more amazing, heartbreaking and fascinating than anything you could make up! The idea for Before You Go was sparked from a story I read many years ago about a woman who had an accident and hit her head and when she woke up she had forgotten the last 20 years of her life and thought she was still 17. She didn't know who her husband and kids were. Although my story ended up being very different to this, it was the spark to make me think about what it would be like to wake up and be your younger self again. Before You Go grew from that seed. 

Q2. Who are your favourite authors? Tell us about your favourite books?

There are so many but if I had to narrow it down I'd say Margaret Atwood, Maggie O'Farrell, Kate Atkinson and JK Rowling- writing as herself and as Robert Galbraith. They all have different styles of writing and write very different kinds of books, but they're all masters at plotting, characterisation and words. You won't be surprised to hear that most of my favourite books feature some by them! Cat's Eye by Margaret Atwood- I haven't read it for a long time but it's always stuck with me. I also adore everything Maggie O'Farrell has ever written but if I had to choose I'd say The Hand That First Held Mine or Instructions for a Heatwave which are both very different. I adored The Time Traveller's Wife by Audrey Niffenagger and also Before I go to Sleep by SJ Watson. Pride and Prejudice is my go-to classic, although Wuthering Heights comes a close second. 

Q3. What is your writing routine?

It depends on what part of the process I'm at. If I'm deep in the middle of the first draft then I'll try and get to my desk straight after dropping the kids to school and stay there until pick-up at 3pm.  I start by getting emails, facebook, twitter and online shopping out of the way and then I try and stay away for the duration. (I don't always manage it!) I start by reading over what I wrote the day before and then try and write a minimum of 1000 words. It's usually more but sometimes it can be a struggle. If I'm editing it's fairly similar, but when I researching  or plotting or writing characters, there's a lot more staring into space and brow-furrowing.

Q4. Has writing the book changed your perspective on spending time with loved ones?

Yes to some extent, although I've always been very aware that you need to make the most of every day because you don't know what the future holds. I think it starts to come home to you more when you have children and as you start to get older. I make sure I always give mu children a kiss and cuddle before they go to bed or in to school, just in case and I'd never let my husband go to work on an argument. Like Zoe you wouldn't want angry words to be the last ones you heard would you?

Q5. Any advice for aspiring writers? Tell us a bit about your journey to publication. 

Make sure you ring fence some writing time and stick to it. It has to be a time when you know you WILL actually write though. I was freelance and stopped taking on  any extra work so I could put Thursdays aside to work on Before You Go. It was a financial hit, especially as I was paying for childcare at the time, but i knew I'd stick to it that way. It's no good saying you'll work on your novel every evening, if you're like me and you just want to sit and watch TV. Your precious novel will become a chore and just not get written. So be realistic. 
My journey to publication was great. I never actually thought anyone would want to read this book I'd written, but after a writer friend read it and encouraged me, i sent it out to some agents. It was less than a week afterwards that Judith Murray from Greene and Heaton agreed to represent me. I was beyond thrilled, and went away and made the changes  to the manuscript that we'd discussed . That was in August 2015 and by October it was ready to send out to publishers. In the end I had two publishers interested in the book but I went with the wonderful Pan Macmillan who offered me a two book deal. Since then it's all been gearing up to the release of Before You Go and I've been learning how it all works. To keep my mind off it I've also been writing book two and I'm currently deep into the editing stage which I love. You just need to have faith in yourself and not be afraid to put yourself out there. It's scary but it pays off. So worth it. 

Thanks Clare.

Before You Go is available in hardback and trade paperback from 9th February.

The blog continues next week (details below) with stops at Jaffa Reads Too, Random Things through my letter box  and Shaz's Book Blog, all great blogs you should check out. 

Thanks to Jess Duffy at Pan Macmillan for a copy of the book.

Thursday, January 26, 2017

Books to watch out for in 2017, Recent and soon to be Released

Out now in Paperback

Hallie Rubenhold's second novel continues the tale of Henrietta Lightfoot and sees our heroine caught up in the dangerous and bloodthirsty events in Paris in 1792. It is a dark, compelling romp through a fascinating period of history. Hallie Rubenhold is a historian and an expert on the Eighteenth Century. Well worth seeking out. Just published in paperback by Transworld

Already being hailed as a major rival to C. J. Sansom's Shardlake this is the first in a series from bestselling crime writer Andrew Taylor. Set amongst the chaos of the Great Fire of London, this looks set to be one of the big books of the year. Published by Harper Collins.

Recent Releases

Sophia Tobin's third novel has just been released in hardback from Simon & Schuster. It's gothic, dark and Bronte-esque. I'll have a full review for this one next month after it appears in the Historical Novel Review Magazine.

This tale of three witches in 1880s New York was published in October 2016 with very little fanfare on this side of the Atlantic but don't underestimate this author. I'll have a full review of this in February.

The second volume in the Veronica Speedwell mysteries, the follow up to A Curious Beginning has just been published by Titan Books and out eponymous heroine is asked to save a man from the gallows. A wonderful adventure for fans of Victoriana and mystery.

Another book two in a series is published today, Dark Days Pact is the follow up to Dark Days Cub and features an intrepid YA heroine battling demons and monsters in Regency England.

Coming Soon

Andrew Hughes second novel will be out next month. It features a tough and resourceful young investigator in Regency Dublin and a powerful religious sect determined to keep their secrets. This is fantastic historical fiction. I'll have a full review next month. Published by Doubleday Ireland on 23rd February.

UK and Ireland readers can finally get their hands on Sophie Jordan's lush and romantic YA fantasy when Harper Teen release this in paperback this February.

A supernatural thriller from a debut author. Edie works for the Elysian society helping grieving partners channel their lost loved ones but when she meets Patrick who is seeking his wife Sylvia, Edie begins to find herself caught up in Sylvia's life and death. published by Scribe Books in the UK and Harper in the US in March.

Beth Underdown's first book examines the notorious Witchfinder General Matthew Hopkins through the eyes of his sister. Published in March by Viking in the UK and by Ballantine in the US.

The long awaited new novel from Laini Taylor will be high on many reader's wishlists. It's publishing in March (Hodder UK)

Another long awaited release is Wendy Higgins Brothers Grimm inspired The Great Hunt which will be available in paperback from Harper Teen this March.

Natalie Haynes second novel tackles the Oedipus myth, retelling the tale through the eyes of Jocasta. This looks fascinating and it will be published in May by Mantle.

Emily Hauser's follow up to the enchanting For the Most Beautiful is out in hardback in June and it retells the story of Jason and the Argonauts. I can't wait for this.