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.

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Madwomen in the Attic #2 Regina Maria Roche

Regina Maria Roche (née Dalton) was born in Waterford in 1764 before the family moved to Dublin where she grew up. Little is known about her early life other than that she was the daughter of Captain Blundel Dalton and she is quoted as claiming that books were a passion from a young age and that she had begun to write stories as soon as she could hold a pen. Her first two novels were published in her twenties The Vicar of Landsdowne (1789) and The Maid of Hamlet (1793). Her marriage in 1794 to Ambrose Roche led to a move to England and although her previous books had had some success it was the next book that made her a household name. Children of the Abbey a Gothic Romance published in 1796 was an instant hit. The book went through several editions and was translated into French and Spanish. The book appeared at the height of the Gothic novel trend and Roche quickly followed up with Clermont (1798) a novel with a much darker tone and containing all the trappings we have come to associate with Gothic fiction; a mysterious Countess, an attack by ruffians, a gloomy crypt, a forced marriage. Another huge hit Clermont was one of the seven Gothic novels that the heroine of Northanger Abbey Catherine Morland is told to read by Isabella Thorpe. Another novel followed in 1800 The Nocturnal Visit  but after this the Roches suffered serious financial setback as they were cheated out of an inheritance in Ireland by a dishonest solicitor; an unfortunate mirror of events in Children of the Abbey in which siblings Amanda and Oscar Fitzalan are cheated out of their inheritance Dunreath Abbey by a scheming relative. Regina Maria Roche returned to Ireland in the 1820s after her husband's death. She wrote another eleven novels most of them were picturesque tales of the Irish countryside but none of them reached the heights of success of Clermont and Children of the Abbey. She died in 1845 at the age of 81 in relative obscurity but was remembered fondly in a number of obituaries.

Clemont and  Children of the Abbey are available from Valancourt Books.

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Netflix Binges

The Crown
The Crown is beautifully shot, beautifully acted and beautifully written. It is absolutely as good as everyone says it is. Don't miss out on this gem. I can't wait to see more of this. If you haven't already heard about this one it follows Elizabeth in the last years of her father's reign and the early years of her own as she struggles with being a public figure and being a devoted wife and mother. It stars Claire Foy and Matt Smith. If you have any interest in character development and even a passing interest in twentieth century history this is a must see.

Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency
The BBC made a pretty good mini series from Douglas Adams' books just a few years ago so I was sceptical about this American version which is inspired by the characters and the world of the books rather than a straight remake. However it is very, very funny and well worth a look. If you are a fan of wacky screwball sci-fi comedy, like You, Me and the Apocolypse then this is right up up your street. It stars Elijah Wood as Todd a penniless former musician now working as a bell hop who seems to lurch from one disaster to another. On the same day he discovers a grizzly murder at the hotel where he works he also meets eccentric English 'holistic' detective Dirk Gently played by Samuel Barnett, much confusion, adventure, hilarity and casual violence ensues. Despite the laughs there are some disturbing scenes of violence in this series so it's not suitable for youngsters. However I found it thoroughly enjoyable and I hope there'll be more to come.

The OA
The OA is a strange show, which arrived on Netflix with little or no promotion in December last year A young woman who has been missing for seven years suddenly returns home; Prairie Johnson was a young blind girl adopted by an older childless couple, she disappeared on her 21st birthday and arrives back 7 years later with her sight restored. Refusing to tell her parents or the FBI anything about her ordeal instead she gathers together a group of misfit teenage boys and a female teacher and tells her story bit by bit each night. To say much more than this would give away too much about the plot. I almost gave up on this one because I expected it to be something dark and harrowing about captivity and rape. Thankfully I was wrong. this is one for fans of science fiction that will probably leave you with more questions than answers. Its hard to find anything to compare to except to say it's a kind of adult Stranger Things. Definitely worth a watch but it won't be for everyone.

The Expanse

This was addictive viewing combining space opera, mystery, science fiction and drama. Set 200 years in the future the solar system has been colonised and humans live on Mars and across the asteroid belt in a number of space stations. Mars has broken away from Earth and the two planets are now in a 'cold war' state competing for the resources of the asteroid belt where 'belters' toil to provide air and water. The ship The Canterbury is an ice hauler due to dock at Ceres station when it responds to a distress call and finds an empty ship. Meanwhile on Ceres, Miller is a detective tasked with finding a missing girl Julie Mao, daughter of one of the richest men on Earth and on Earth we meet Chrisjen Avasarala a United Nations executive who is working to prevent a war between Earth, Mars and a terrorist group called the OPA. I loved this show it's full of interesting characters, great writing and brilliant plot twists, it's based on a series of novels by James S. A. Corey so with plenty of material available lets hope this show runs and runs. One of the best things about the show is that there are a number of interesting women in the cast including Chrisjen who is a powerful and at times dark character and it's refreshing to see an older woman with a central and powerful role to play. Top Notch stuff and I can't wait for series 2. 

Writing competitions and Book News

This is a short post full of links to other things around the interwebs that may be of interest to writers and readers. 

First up can you believe that The Crow Road by Iain Banks is 25 years old? No neither can I.
Scottish Book Trust have collected a list of influential books that turn 25 this year and there are some absolute gems in there. Check out the list below.

Brain Pickings is a fantastic website for writers and readers and this recent interview with Jennifer Egan is full of fantastic advice 

If you are looking for submissions opportunities for short stories then there is £1000 up for grabs from Jane Austen 200 who are seeking stories of 2017 words or fewer inspired by the following quote from Mansfield Park 'Selfishness must always be forgiven you know, because there is no hope of a cure.' Find out more through the link below.

Finally Nephele Tempest is a literary agent with the Knight Agency in Los Angeles and her Writing and Rambling blog is one of the best I've found for the perfect mix of writing encouragement and books info. You can sign up to her newsletter and get a weekly roundup of links to competitions, lists and interesting articles and her comments are always witty and timely. Recent links have included insider tips on writing from a top editor, an article on why women are writing the best crime novels and a round up of Barack Obama's reading during his time in the White House. Nephele's website is a great shortcut to the best of what's out there each week in books and writing news so I highly recommend you sign up. Her most recent Friday post is below.

When the Sky Fell Apart by Caroline Lea

Caroline Lea's beautiful debut is set on the island of Jersey during the brutal period of Nazi occupation. A group of people are brought together by circumstances during this time of hunger, fear and violence. There is ten year old Claudine, Edith the so called witch, fisherman Maurice, English doctor Carter and Gregor a German soldier. As each story is revealed, overlaps and comes together the characters come to rely on each other and to gain strength from their friendship, strength enough to stand up to the terrifying regime they live under. So little is written about the Channel Islands during the war and this book though peopled by fictional characters is a stark reminder of the harsh realities that Channel Islanders endured during the Second World War. At times heartbreaking at times uplifting this is a beautifully written book with vivid characters and a tense and nerve wracking atmosphere. The descriptions are poetic and the plotting superb. This is a perfect choice for book clubs everywhere.

Available now from Text books.
Thanks to the publishers and the team at Love Reading for sending me a copy to review.

Sunday, January 22, 2017

The Silk Weaver Blog Tour

The Silk Weaver is Liz Trenow's fourth novel and it draws on her family's history in the silk trade. Set in a time of scientific discovery and social upheaval the novel features a heroine with a passion for art and nature. The daughter of a country vicar Anna has had a peaceful, quiet life in Suffolk but as the book opens she is bound for London to begin a new life with her aunt, uncle and cousins; a family of London silk merchants. Anna knows that the purpose of her coming to London is so that she can make a successful marriage to support her aging father and younger sister. However it is the young French silk weaver she meets on her first day in London that interests Anna. Soon Anna is thrust into a world of beautiful dresses and strict social rules but it is a world which is rapidly changing as workers riot and protest and fashions and fortunes change. However Anna also discovers that in this changing world she can make her own way using her artistic talent, with her friend Charlotte as an inspiration and a guide. Liz Trenow's novel is a wonderful window into the past full of detail, passion and great storytelling. Inspired by real people such as the silk designer Anna Maria Garthwaite and real events such as the successive waves of French Hugenot immigrants arriving in London and the 'cutters riots' of the 1760s. This is a book not to be missed particularly for fans of Daisy Goodwin, Debra Daley, Laurie Graham, Lucinda Riley and Kate Riordan.

I asked Liz to share some details about her inspiration and research. This is what she told me

"When I was researching the history of my family’s silk weaving business, which started in Spitalfields, East London, in the early 1700s (and is still weaving today in Sudbury, Suffolk) I discovered that the first address was in Wilkes Street. Just a few yards away is the house where the eminent silk designer Anna Maria Garthwaite lived at around the same time. It was so exciting to imagine that she would have known and worked with my ancestors.

Anna Maria was one of the most celebrated textile designers of the eighteenth century, her silks were worn by royalty and nearly a thousand of her designs are in the Victoria & Albert Museum in London. Yet no-one knows how she learned her craft or how an unmarried middle-aged woman managed to develop such a successful business in a male dominated industry. It is this mystery that sparked the idea for the novel."

Find out more about Liz and her books at her website

The Silk Weaver is published on January 26th by Pan Macmillan priced £7.99 and the blog tour continues until January 29th. See Details below. Thanks so much to Alice Dewing at Pan Macmillan for a copy of the book.

Friday, January 20, 2017

Madwomen in the Attic #1 Frances Sheridan

Most of what we know about the early life of  Frances Sheridan (née Chamberlaine) comes from Memoirs of the Life and writings of Mrs Frances Sheridan which was written by her granddaughter Alicia LeFanu and published in 1824. Frances was born in Dublin in 1724, her mother died when she was a baby and she was raised by her father; an Anglican minister under a strict and repressive regime. Her father did not believe in educating girls, but luckily Frances had some liberal minded brothers who taught her Latin, Botany and Literature and by her mid teens Frances had begun writing fiction herself, 'Eugenia and Adelaide' was written on paper stolen from the housekeeper's account books. Frances also attended the theatre with her brothers and it was there that she met actor and manager of the Smock-Alley theatre Thomas Sheridan. They married in 1747. Soon she was writing plays of her own. Marriage to Thomas brought Frances into literary circles including Dr Johnson, Sarah Fielding and Samuel Richardson whom Frances greatly admired and they became good friends. Frances showed him the manuscript of 'Eugenia and Adelaide'  he encouraged her to seek publication and although it was rejected Frances continued to write. During the 1750s Frances gave birth to six children and grew increasingly frail while her husband's theatre suffered terrible financial blows and eventually failed,  they were left with an enormous debt and Thomas sought work in London, money was still incredibly tight and Frances hoped that Memoirs of Miss Sidney Bidulph would help to support the family financially. Published in 1761 Memoirs of Miss Sidney Bidulph was a huge success, praised by the critics and soon after it was translated into French and German. Frances followed the success of her novel with a play The Discovery staged at Drury Lane, starring her husband and David Garrick but financial problems dogged them and they fled their creditors settling in Blois in France were Frances wrote A Trip to Bath and Nourjahad the first of a planned series. The Sheridans were planning to return to Ireland  in 1766 when Frances became suddenly ill and died, aged just 42. The two completed novels were published posthumously the following year. Frances' son Richard Brinsley Sheridan became a celebrated playwright but a careful study of his work and his mother's will show that he was not only inspired by her but in some cases transposed ideas and characters unchanged from her work. There were other writers in the family; daughters Elizabeth and Alicia, granddaughter Alicia and of course great-grandson Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu the popular Victorian gothic novelist. Frances was both critically acclaimed and and a popular bestseller in her day and her books were a huge influence on the generation that followed; including Fanny Burney, Maria Edgeworth and Jane Austen but as fashions in fiction changed as the 19th Century approached her work fell into obscurity.

Memoirs of Miss Sidney Bidulph is published by Oxford Classics.

Find out more about Frances and many other forgotten women writers in Mothers of the Novel by Dale Spender.

Picture credit National Library of Ireland

Upcoming Blog Tour

I'm delighted to be taking part in the Blog tour for The Silk Weaver by Liz Trenow, thanks to her publishers Pan Macmillan. My review will be live on Sunday 22nd January along with some comments from Liz herself on her research and inspiration. You can check out the rest of the blog tour online through the sites listed below. The Silk Weaver is published next Thursday 26th January.

Friday, January 13, 2017

Passenger by Alexandra Bracken

An enchanting story of a young violin prodigy sent violently hurtling back in time to 1776 at the whim of a cruel and controlling family of time travellers. Etta must find a coveted astrolabe while her mother is held prisoner by the Ironwood family. She is aided in her frantic race against time by Nicholas Carter, a young sailor also entangled with the Ironwood family. This is a romantic, action packed page turner perfect for fans of fantasy and historical fiction.
This is the first in a series and I can't wait for the second book. 
Perfect for fans of Outlander and Sarah J Maas.

I reviewed this book for the Inis Reading Guide 2016 published by Children's Books Ireland 

A Closed and Common Orbit by Becky Chambers

Becky Chambers first book A Long way to a Small Angry Planet was one of my favourite books of 2015. In fact probably one of my favourite books of all time. So I was very eager to read a copy of her follow up A Closed and Common Orbit. It isn't exactly a sequel as it doesn't continue the story of the crew of the Wayfarer however it is a companion novel as it is the story of Lovelace formerly the artificial intelligence system of the Wayfarer who in the final moments of the events of A Long Way... was transfered into a new body. In the new book Lovelace wakes up in her new body travelling with Pepper to her home planet. Pepper worked hard to reinstall Lovelace who renames herself Sidra and she helps her to adjust to her new life. In tandem with this is the story of Jane who escapes a cruel childhood and as you will no doubt quickly work out grows up to become gutsy mechanic Pepper. As in the previous book the writing is full of character development moments and wonderful learning experiences as various diverse species come into contact with each other, although with little space travel involved there is less of the Space Opera feel but the book is no less enjoyable because of this in fact Sidra's story is if anything even more compelling than A Long Way...
Those looking for pulse pounding action, war and explosions will be disappointed, but this book offers something much better than that, it's a masterclass in writing characters and in world building through a character's eyes.
Available now in hardback from Hodder.

Thanks to Hodder for a reading copy of this book. 

Coffin Road by Peter May

I am a huge fan of Peter May having devoured The Lewis Trilogy last year in just a few days. Coffin Road is a stand alone novel that sees the author return to the Hebrides. I love anything set in Scotland especially the Highlands and Islands so I was sold on this book within seconds and I love the fact that the name reminds me of another great Scottish novel Iain Banks' The Crow Road. The book opens with a man stumbling around a beach having been apparently washed ashore. He has no memory of how he got there or even of who he is. The first part of the novel sees our mystery man trying to figure out what on earth is going on as he fakes knowing neighbours, friends and even lovers and the reader is right there with him. I found myself flying through the pages desperate to know, what next?
The other major characters in the novel are a rebellious Edinburgh teenager desperate to find out what happened to her father and a seasick detective determined to unravel it all.
I can't say too much about the plot as it will spoil any potential readers enjoyment all I will say is that this is the perfect introduction to May if you haven't read him before and if like me you've only read The Lewis Trilogy then go now immediately and buy this book, you won't be disappointed.
This was one of the first books I choose when I was asked to pick my favourites for a radio interview I did recently in my capacity as a bookseller. I wholeheartedly recommend it.
Perfect for fans of James Oswald, S K Tremayne and Elly Griffiths.

Relativity by Antonia Hayes

Antonia Hayes is an Australian novelist now living in San Francisco and Relativity is her debut novel. It's a book that explores, love, forgiveness, family and physics. It's a departure from my usual type of book as it's contemporary although there is an attempt at time travel. The book is about Ethan; an incredibly bright twelve year old boy with a passion for physics, his mum Claire a former ballerina and devoted single mum and his dad Mark who has reentered their lives for the first time since Ethan was a baby.
We learn early on that Ethan is a special child and that his brain works differently to other children, it seems he can see physics all around him, while Ethan is overjoyed at his savant abilities Claire knows that Ethan's brain is different because it's damaged and gradually it is revealed that Mark is no longer part of their lives because when Ethan was a baby he hurt him and Ethan's seizures and unusual brain activity are a result of shaken baby syndrome. Relativity is a powerful, compelling and emotional novel. All the more so because it is based on the author's own experiences. Antonia Hayes was just nineteen when she became a mum and when her baby was six weeks old he was a victim of shaken baby syndrome at the hands of his own father. There followed years of developmental delay and tests and Antonia's own struggles with PTSD before a move to Paris to live near her own mother saw Antonia address her literary ambitions. She took a workshop with Jeannette Winterson who advised her students to "write from the wound" and the result of that was a story and a meeting with a literary agent and once the book was ready there was a bidding war among all the major publishers. This book is deserving of any hype you may have heard it is beautifully written and incredibly compassionate. Perfect for fans of Matt Haig and Maggie O'Farrell.
Relativity is published by Corsair in paperback in the UK and Ireland on January 19th.
Thanks to Clara Diaz for a copy. 

Wednesday, January 11, 2017


Herstory is a cultural movement aiming to bring into the public focus amazing Irish women from the past; scientists, writers, artists, activists, sportswomen, rebels and much more to rescue them from the dusty forgotten corners and restore them to the forefront of history where they belong. The mission of all involved is that no longer will people say "I've never heard of her." You can find out more about this project at the herstory website and you too can get involved. There will be events all over the country and the project will tour internationally in 2018.

I am interested in learning more about the pioneering women writers of Ireland and so I have planned a project of my own to rediscover the female Irish writers from the past with a new blog post each week.  I aim to collect a whole series of Madwomen in the Attic.

The Shogun's Queen

The Shogun's Queen is the latest novel from the amazing Lesley Downer and it serves as both a stand alone novel and as a prequel to the previous trilogy of The Last Concubine, The Courtesan and the Samurai and the Samurai's Daughter. The book is a masterly study of the Japanese court and culture in the mid nineteenth century just as the American's were making their aggressive overtures to Japan and forcing a trading relationship. Okatsu is a defiant, confident and strong young woman trained in the arts of the samurai she knows how to fight and to ride an horse and carries a dagger at all times. Okatsu is well versed in court intrigue and it is her intelligence as well as her beauty that sees her raised up from her relatively provincial life in Satsuma province and adopted first by Lord Nariakira and then by Prince Konoé before becoming the bride of the weak and ineffectual Shogun Iesada Tokugawa. The arrival of the Americans was known as the time of the Black Ships. Lord Nariakira asked Okatsu to act as a spy and a political ally and to use her influence over the Shogun during this dangerous era. The book is bursting with characters and rich in detail but it is an immersive and all encompassing read that doesn't overwhelm. At 470 pages this is a book that takes time but the effort is well worth it. As Okatsu strives to assert herself as Queen she faces daily battles with the ghosts of past Queens and with her formidable mother in law. Much of the detail in the book is factual and based on Lesley Downer's impeccable research. I absolutely loved being immersed in this beautiful and detailed novel and came away feeling I had a much greater understanding and knowledge of Shogun-era Japan.
Read this if you love Lian Hearn or Christina Courtenay.
Out now in hardback from Bantam Press. Thanks to Hannah Bright at Penguin Random House for a copy.