Tuesday, February 19, 2019

The God of All Small Boys

The God of all Small Boys is a the story of eleven year old James. It is 1917 and when his father goes away to war James is sent to live with his relatives in Dundee. At first it is a shock; the house is noisy and full, he  has to share a bed with his cousins and even use an outside loo. His cousin Billy is mean at first; calling him posh and ignoring him in the playground but when James stands up to the playground bully Billy and his friends accept him as one of their own. With good friends and a great den to play in, the summer seems to last forever; until the realities of war intrude into the young boys' lives. Joseph Lamb has written a wonderful book about the joy and wonder of childhood, the hardship of poverty and war and the pain of loss. I raced through this book and found it utterly enchanting. The God of all Small Boys is published by Pokey Hat, an imprint of Cranachan Publishing. Thanks so much to Kelly at Cranachan who sent me a copy to review.  I asked Joseph Lamb about his writing journey

* Joseph Lamb on his journey to getting published*

If ever there was an example of how frustrating, and annoying and ultimately rewarding this writing lark is, I suppose this is it.

(Turns clock back to 1974) I used to write things all the time. I was reading almost before I could speak properly, and was always surrounded with books and magazines while growing up. My Primary Teacher (Mr Gudmunsen) was a great support in my silly little scribblings - but, when I moved to secondary school and became more interested in Science Fiction (my Father and I LOVED Ray Bradbury, Isaac Asimov, Harlan Ellison, and others) I began to write more along those lines. Then, in 1977, as I entered Second Year, a little movie called Star Wars came out. And my writing became almost solely Sci-Fi based. One day, in a school essay, a teacher wrote “You have the makings of a decent writer... if you could get your head out of the clouds.”

That single line devastated me. And I hardly wrote another word for years. I began work on a novel in 1984, which I had written the bones of, and only had to ‘stitch it all together’ - which meant, it sat in a box for over 20 years.
‘Real life’ got in the way.

And then, the internet became a thing...

I ENVY writers coming up in this day and age. When I was younger there was nowhere to get the kind of instant feedback and support that the net can provide. Publishing was something that seemed secretive and unknown to the ‘man in the street’ – I.E. someone like myself, who hadn’t the first idea of what to do to become published. Which is why I turned away from solely writing and instead moved towards drama and acting/directing/writing for a living!

But – in 2009, a friend of mine mentioned Nanowrimo to me, (if you don’t know it - look it up) and that was enough for me to dig out “the box” and my old ‘word-processor’ floppy disks (which I was lucky enough to find a PC reader for!) and my first attempt at a novel was finally finished. It was rough, unpolished and very, VERY adult in content, but, thanks to Nanowrimo, I was able to see it up for sale on Amazon. (Maybe one day I’ll finish it properly...)

Then, along came The Great War Dundee Children’s Book Prize.
I began writing the novel ‘The God of All Small Boys’, based on a short story of mine of the same name, in December 2014. And to my huge surprise and delight it was one of only three shortlisted for the prize. (The other two being John K. Fulton and Lindsay Littleson - both of whom have also been published by Cranachan Books!)

To me, the shortlisting was a justification, that perhaps I could be legitimately published. And through various Facebook pages and websites I began to learn more about how ‘modern’ publishing works. I was determined that, if at all possible, and I were ever to find a publisher, it’d prefer it to be a Scottish one.

And one day, I found a website called Cranachan... which had a big banner on it stating that they would be opening for business “soon...”

I watched that site until it finally opened for submissions and I sent TGoASB off... and after a couple of years of back and forth and a TON of revision and editing work - the rest, as they say, is Historical Fiction!

Cranachan have been responsible for my first real steps on this path... and I’d certainly like to hope it’s their road I continue along.

Monday, February 18, 2019

Monsters by Sharon Dogar

As 2018 marked the two hundredth anniversary of the publication of Frankenstein there were a number of books published about Mary Shelley's remarkable life and work. Sharon Dogar's book stands out not least because it is a detailed and closely researched novelisation of the short and frenetic years of Mary's life that led to the creation of Frankenstein but also because it is a tender and intimate portrait of the three sisters; Mary, Claire and Fanny who grew up together in the Godwin household. Sharon Dogar's book is aimed at the young adult audience; the two sisters Mary and Jane (later Claire) who elope with Shelley are after all only sixteen, Shelley himself is just twenty one, though I have no doubt that this novel will appeal far beyond it's target audience. The author brings alive the tangled relationships of the Shelley set, their loves, rivalries, heartbreaks and loss. Death is an ever present spectre at the feast in these shining, intelligent and talented young people's lives. If you don't know the life story of Mary Shelley then this book will be an eye opener but even if you are already familiar with the pain and loss that spurred her creation of an epic novel then this book still has much to offer in bringing to light the other players in this story and in fleshing out the personality of the immensely talented creator of Frankenstein.
Monsters is published by Andersen Press who kindly sent me a copy.

The Revenant Express by George Mann

The Revenant Express is the fifth novel in the Newbury and Hobbes series. Sir Maurice Newbury must race across Europe as his assistant Veronica lies close to death, her heart severely wounded. He has commissioned a clockwork heart from Faberge and must travel to St Petersburg accompanied by Veronica's sister Amelia to collect it. However things do not run smoothly, the pair find a dead body in their compartment and it becomes clear that there is someone murderous aboard. I'm a big fan of George Mann and having read his contemporary supernatural mystery books Wychwood and Hallowdene I am now catching up on his backlist so I haven't read all of the previous instalments of Sir Maurice and Veronica's adventures, however although I didn't know all of the details leading up to the events of this book I had no trouble dropping into the story and appreciating the fast paced plot and the engaging characters. If you enjoy historical crime and mystery infused with steampunk and horror then you will certainly enjoy this series. The Revenant Express is available now from Titan Books who kindly sent me a copy to review.

Titan have also offered a copy to be won today over on my twitter page. Check it out below.

Monday, February 11, 2019

The Familiars by Stacey Halls

Stacey Halls debut novel is not only a visual feast, it is an utterly enveloping tale of two intriguing women from opposite ends of the social spectrum. Fleetwood Shuttleworth is just seventeen but she's already been married for four years. She's had three pregnancies end in stillbirth and is pregnant again, determined that this time she will deliver a healthy child, however she finds a letter from the doctor to her husband which states that she is unlikely to survive another pregnancy. She fears for her life and her child's and she begins to mistrust her husband. Fleetwood meets a young midwife called Alice Grey who promises to help her deliver a healthy child but when women begin to be accused of witchcraft in the local area and Alice is named by the accuser it seems both women's lives are at stake. The story takes place against the backdrop of the infamous Pendle witchtrials and both Alice and Fleetwood were real women who lived in the area. Stacey Halls has done some meticulous research to bring the era and the atmosphere of fear and betrayal alive but it is her storytelling and brilliant characterisation that makes this book a pulse pounding and utterly breathtaking read. I was completely engrossed. This is a truly spellbinding debut.
Available now in hardback from Zaffre books who kindly sent me a review copy. 

The Binding by Bridget Collins

The Binding is a spellbinding tale of love, loss, memory and betrayal. Emmett Farmer is summoned by the bookbinder to train as her apprentice. In Emmett's world books arouse fear and superstition. The bookbinders create beautiful bindings by hand but the books don't just contain stories, they capture people's memories. Emmett learns that binding is a mysterious art as he watches those who come to be bound; the grieving, the broken hearted, those who want to forget. He is desperate to do more than carve and glue and organise but the bookbinder tells him to wait, that his time will come.
Until one day another bookbinder comes and Emmett's world is turned upside down as he discovers a book with his own name on the cover. Why wonders Emmett, what did he want to forget?
Blending fable, fairy tale, fantasy and historical fiction The Binding will appeal across genres and age groups, it's a book about growing up, about loss and first love, about the pain of being human. A truly enchanting novel, definitely one to seek out. The Binding is available now from Borough Press, a division of Harper Collins who kindly sent me a copy to review.  

Criminally Good Reads

I was lucky enough to win a copy of Will Dean's debut novel Dark Pines; the first in a series featuring Tuva Moodyson and then I was offered a copy of the second in the series by the publisher Point Blank (Thank you Margot) so I read both books in quick succession and I loved them. Tuva works as a reporter on a small local paper in the far North of Sweden. She moved back from London as her mother is very ill and she's desperate for a big story she can really get her teeth into. When two bodies are discovered in the Elk forest outside of town with their eyes removed everyone in the quiet and peaceful community of Gavrik is frightened and as Tuva begins to investigate, the connection to a murder from twenty years ago become obvious. In Red Snow the apparent suicide of the owner of the Liquorice Factory; the towns major employer and a cold blooded murder on the factory grounds might seem unconnected but Tuva is determined to find out what the eccentric family who have run the factory for generations are hiding. I found both books to be haunting, atmospheric and really unputdownable. The small town, the eccentric characters and especially Tuva herself, make this compelling reading, highly recommended. 

Over Christmas and new year I caught up on some of the books I had on my kindle. Claire Allan's Apple of my Eye is a fantastic thriller. Nurse Eliana is pregnant and looking forward to her maternity leave when she begins to receive strange anonymous notes that imply that her husband has been having an affair. Feeling she can trusts no-one Eliana questions her marriage, her friendships and her sanity. But Eliana is being watched by someone who is desperate to become a mother. I just couldn't put it down. So thrilling and twisty. If you like books by Fiona Barton or C. L. Taylor then this is for you. Apple of my Eye is out now from Avon.

Elly Griffiths' newest Ruth Galloway mystery is out now. The Stone Circle is the eleventh book in the series and once again the author leads the reader on a wonderful fast paced twisty adventure in which the characters are as stand out and as sharp as the plotting. DI Nelson is receiving threatening letters that are uncannily similar to those he received years before during the case in which he first met Ruth. The letters warn him about the Stone Circle and the child buried there. The links between the two cases are hard to ignore especially as a new dig on the beach reveals another henge and the archaeological team who uncover it are led by a very familiar face. The Ruth Galloway mysteries are top notch and I love them. The Stone Circle is out now from Quercus.

Blood & Sugar by Laura Shepherd Robinson

Laura Shepherd Robinson's debut novel is one of the most brilliant, intricate and page turning books I have read in a long time. It's set in London in the 1780s and follows Captain Harry Corsham as he investigates the death of his close friend the anti-slavery agitator Tad Archer. As Harry tries to retrace his friend's steps he stumbles upon a secret that has been covered up at the highest levels of British Society. I found this book utterly enthralling. I read it in one sitting and felt completely transported to 18th Century London as the author built a wonderful atmosphere; the sights, sounds, smells and the casual violence and brutality. An absolute must read for anyone who enjoys historical fiction. Thanks so much to Rosie at Mantle boks who sent me a copy. Blood and Sugar is available now. 

Monday, February 4, 2019

A Class Apart and A Class Entwined by Susie Murphy Blog Tour

Susie Murphy has written two books so far in her A Matter of Class series which features Cormac and Bridget who grew up as best friends on the Oakleigh estate. Bridget's father had a passion for Irish history, language and culture, a love he passed on to his daughter. However with the death of her father Bridget's life changes dramatically, her mother takes her to Dublin and it is several years before she returns to her beloved country home. While she wishes to rekindle old friendships, Cormac is now a servant while she is a lady and not only that, she is engaged. However when Cormac rescues Bridget after a life threatening accident they realise that they feel more than friendship for each other. Set against the backdrop of growing tension between landlords and tenants, A Class Apart is a wonderful sweeping historical romance perfect for fans of A O'Connor, Nicola Cassidy or Kathleen McGurl.

*****Spoiler Alert****

If you haven't read A Class Apart I would advise that you stop reading at this point.

Ok? Are you sure?

Alright then, read on

The second book in Susie Murphy's A Matter of Class series A Class Entwined has just been published and continues the story of Cormac and Bridget. Cast out from Oakleigh and with Garrett having blackened his name throughout Irish society Cormac is unable to find work at any stables in Carlow or nearby counties so he makes his way to Dublin; starving and desperate he finds himself involved with a vicious moneylender. Caught up in this violent world, Cormac despises the person he has become until a chance to change his life completely comes along.  Bridget has moved to London having had no choice but to marry Garrett. When she realises that she is pregnant, it is her child that she lives for, though Cormac is never far from her thoughts and she throws herself into charity work finding a purpose that had been absent from her life previously. Susie Murphy is a fantastic storyteller who has really done her research on 19th Century Britain and Ireland. She has created wonderfully memorable characters, a page turning plot and a brilliant atmosphere. I really felt invested in the story and I'm eager to find out what happens next.

Thanks so much to Susie for the chance to read an early copy of the book and be involved in the blog tour.

UK Kindle edition of A Class Apart

UK Kindle edition of A Class Entwined

Friday, February 1, 2019

The Escape by Clare Harvey Blog Tour and Q&A

The Escape is Clare Harvey's fourth book and features a dual timeline with a young German woman; Detta in 1945 as the Russian tanks and the red army begin to march from the east and a young English woman; Miranda in 1989 who is working as a photographer as the Berlin Wall comes down. I loved the parallels that the author drew between the two women both caught up in the huge events of history and both desperate to escape their own personal situations. Miranda is desperate to leave an abusive relationship while Detta helps a British prisoner of war and risks her own safety. This was an utterly riveting page turner, which I finished in just two or three sittings. The author brilliantly captures the atmosphere and intensity of both time periods. This was the first Clare Harvey novel I have read but it won't be the last as I'm eager to now read her previous books. Clare kindly answered a few questions I asked her about her research and writing methods.

Q1. Some of your previous books have been inspired by real people and events. Tell me about the research for The Escape, was it a different or similar experience to researching previous books?

I had to do a lot more research for The Escape than for my previous novels, because it’s a two-timeline book, so there was double the amount of information to digest before launching myself into the creative process. It also involved two research trips, to Poland and Germany.
For the WW2 storyline I needed to find a small village in what used to be Germany, which was overrun by the Russian Red Army in the winter of 1945. The Escape is inspired by a true story of a young German woman who falls in love with an escaping British POW. The research trip took place in February, and was very, very cold, and not at all as glamorous as you’d expect a foreign research trip to be. However, I did discover the site of where I knew two young people had fallen in love, and escaped to freedom together, some seventy-five years ago, and I gleaned lots of vital information for the book. Then, after I’d written the bulk of the 1945 storyline, I visited Berlin to research the 1989 timeline, which takes place just as the Berlin Wall is broached and the Eastern Bloc begins to crumble.
For me it’s really important to do my so-called ‘optical research’ on each location, as well as reading lots of non-fiction books about the era. Finding out about WW2 and the Cold War, from a German perspective as well as a British one, was absolutely fascinating – sometimes it’s a wrench to end the research process and actually begin writing!

Q2. What draws you to writing about WW2 and in particular women and their experience of war?

I initially fell into writing about wartime when I discovered that my mother-in-law had served in the British Army in WW2, and that revelation planted the seed that eventually became my debut novel, The Gunner Girl. I think the experience of researching and writing The Gunner Girl made me fall in love a little with the era, not least because it was a time where women – out of necessity due to men of fighting age being called up - really began to break free of the bounds of domesticity. For example my second book, The English Agent, I write about a Secret Operations Executive (SOE) agent who is parachuted in behind enemy lines in Occupied France (there’s been a big palaver recently about women being able to join the British Special Forces, but women took on just those sort of roles in WW2, albeit in a voluntary capacity). In my book, The Night Raid, I write about a real-life war artist, Laura Knight – again, a woman working in a male dominated arena.
Someone recently described my books as ‘quietly feminist’, which I take as a real compliment – I like to think my books portray strong women who feel real to the reader, and deal with the challenges and chaos of wartime in a believable way.

Q3. Who are your favourite authors of historical fiction? and why?

I always say Kate Atkinson, because I think she’s an incredible writer, who manages to write books that are brilliantly plotted, intelligent, poignant and witty. My favourite is Life After Life, but I love all of her books.
I think Elizabeth Jane Howard and Mary Wesley both wrote brilliantly about WW2, too. Not only were they both wonderful writers, theythey were drawing on their own experiences as young women in wartime, which means their work has a wonderful feeling of authenticity.
I also love reading fiction from the 1930s and 1940s that would have been contemporary. Last summer I read all of Dorothy Whipple’s novels (she’s overlooked these days, but was a bestseller in the mid twentieth century), which I blogged about for the Nottingham UNESCO City of Literature site: https://nottinghamcityofliterature.com/blog/my-summer-with-dorothy
And at the moment I’m rediscovering Elizabeth Bowen’s short stories from WW2.

Q4. If you could have a dinner party with some extraordinary women from the past, who would you choose and why?

I would have to choose some of the real women who have appeared in my books, just to see what they think of their fictitious portrayal. From The Gunner Girl it would be Mary Churchill (Winston Churchill’s daughter), who served as a soldier on the anti-aircraft guns in Hyde Park. From The English Agent I’d have the formidable Vera Atkins, who was the SOE’s agent handler for operatives dropped behind enemy lines in France. From The Night Raid I’d have Dame Laura Knight, the charismatic and enormously talented war artist who famously painted the Nuremburg Trials. And from The Escape, I’d choose a minor character, Mariya Oktyabrskaya, a female tank commander in the Russian Red Army.
What a dinner party that would be – I’m sure the wine would flow, and I wouldn’t get a word in!

Q5. Any words of wisdom for those who would like to write historical fiction?

As I feel I’m still learning the craft myself, I’m afraid I can’t offer many wise words, except to do as much research as you can, especially visiting the locations you’re writing about. All the tiny details you pick up through the process will feed into your work, and help make your story feel real for your readers.

You can catch up with Clare, and find out more about her and her books here:
Facebook: @clareharvey13
Twitter: @ClareHarveyauth
Instagram: @clareharvey13
Website: clareharvey.net

Thanks so much to Clare and to Jess at Simon and Schuster for sending me a copy of the book.
The Escape is out now in paperback.

Saturday, January 26, 2019

The Lost Girls by Sarah Painter

If you have visited this blog before then you probably already know that I am a big fan of Sarah Painter. You can read my reviews of Sarah's previous books at this link Sarah Painter
Sarah has written some wonderful magical and romantic books in the past but more recently she has delved into the urban fantasy genre with a fantastic series called Crow Investigations which begins with The Night Raven; you can find my review at the link above and with the new book The Lost Girls which is a page turning supernatural thriller. Rose a student at Edinburgh University keeps losing chunks of time, blacking out only to resurface hours or even days later and if that wasn't bad enough she is experiencing strange visions of terrible violence. Meanwhile Mal Ferguson who used to hunt demons finds himself working for one. He is tasked with finding out about the strange disappearances of young girls and he's been told to track down one very special girl, who has abilities that even demons covet. With a supernatural gang war about to erupt and creatures hunting them both Mal and Rose's paths cross with explosive consequences. A thrilling tale that compelled me throughout. A perfect read for all of Sarah's fans old and new but also for fans of Helen Slavin, Anna McKerrow, Neil Gaiman, Ben Aaronovitch and Laura Laakso.

Sarah kindly sent me an early copy to review. 

Friday, January 11, 2019

The Murder Pit by Mick Finlay

The Murder Pit is the second book in Mick Finlay's fantastic Arrowood series. The series is narrated by Barnett, assistant to Arrowood; a detective based in South London in the mid 1890s. Arrowood sees himself as a rival to Sherlock Holmes, so Holmes and Watson are referred to in passing in the stories. Holmes even sends a haughty letter to Arrowood in this novel but they move in very different worlds.While Holmes and Watson might solve mysteries for the wealthy and the titled Arrowood and Barnett are brought cases that will see them visit the backstreet pubs, the workhouses and the asylums. The author has a background in psychology and his insight and research into the history of the treatment of those suffering from mental illness and learning disabilities serves to create some fascinating and heartbreaking detail. Arrowood, despite his habits and temperament making him less than likable on occasion is at heart desperate to help those less fortunate then himself and Barnett's observations on the ups and downs of his employer's character make him a compelling narrator. In this instalment the men are tasked with finding out what has happened to a young woman who has recently married and cut off contact with her parents. The parents are very worried and eager to reconnect with their daughter. The detectives are tasked with visiting the farm where young Birdie now lives with her husband, but they soon discover all is not as it seems. These books are a must for fans of Sherlock Holmes but will also appeal to anyone who has an interest in stories set in Victorian London. You can check out my review of the first book in the series HERE

The Murder Pit is available in paperback, e-book and audio book from HQ now.

Thanks to Joe at HQ stories for a copy of the book and a chance to take part in the blog tour.

Friday, January 4, 2019

The Missing Pieces of Sophie McCarthy

I am delighted to be part of the blog tour for B. M. Carroll's The Missing Pieces of Sophie McCarthy. This is the author's first psychological thriller having previously written contemporary fiction as Ber Carroll. The story revolves around Sophie who following a horrific car crash which caused multiple injuries and left her in excruciating pain, is slowly trying to rebuild her life; at work for a major insurance firm and at home with her boyfriend. The story is told through multiple viewpoints, Sophie herself, her father Richard who will do anything to help his beloved daughter, her mother who fears that Sophie has an unhealthy hold over her father, her partner Aidan, his ex Chloe and daughter Jasmin and Hannah who works for Sophie and knows a secret about her past. The varying viewpoints help to build a picture of who Sophie really is and as various secrets, past actions, thoughts and behaviours are slowly revealed the reader will begin to question just how much of a victim Sophie really is. Hannah a single Mum who desperately needs her job to pay the many bills that are mounting up is finding that new boss Sophie is very demanding, but having always been timid she is afraid to accuse her of bullying. Chloe is struggling with daughter Jasmin's sleep problems especially since husband Aidan and she have split. Aidan is determined to make things work with new partner Sophie especially as he was the one who caused her accident. Richard wants to see Aidan pay for what he's done. Jasmin is convinced that her Dad's new girlfriend really doesn't like her. This is a fantastically page turning book, which kept me awake late into the night as I read on desperate to know what the next chapter would reveal. It's a fantastic study in character and emotional manipulation. Perfect for fans of Claire Allan, Catherine Ryan Howard or Liane Moriarty.