Search This Blog

Thursday, April 30, 2020

Saving Lucia by Anna Vaught

Saving Lucia by Anna Vaught.
Published 30th April 2020 by Bluemoose Books.
Read April 2020.

Four women, some of the most interesting in the history of psychology, go on a fictional adventure, taking control of their own stories - stories that have been laid bare by men quick to label them as mad.

Who are these women?

Lady Violet Gibson (1876-1956), who attempted to assassinate Mussolini in 1926, imprisoned and then incarcerated at the institution St Andrew's Hospital for the rest of her life.

Lucia Joyce (1907-1982), dancer and daughter of the celebrated Irish author, James Joyce, sometime inpatient at St Andrew's, and finally admitted there in 1951, where she then remained for the rest of her days.

'Anna O', real name Bertha Pappenheim (1859-1936), the first psychoanalysis patient, famous subject of Josef Breuer's Studies on Hysteria, written in collaboration with Sigmund Freud.

Blanche Wittman (1859-1913), termed the Queen of the Hysterics in 19th Century Paris, who was made famous by a series of photographs by Dr Jean-Martin Charcot.

Anna Vaught brings these for women together as lunatic comrades and takes them on a fantastic journey that fills in the gaps in their histories, bringing them to life on the page, and leading us to ask the question "Who is mad here?".

*********************************************************

Saving Lucia is a powerful and heartrending look at the lives of four women labelled as lunatics by the world of psychiatry - a world shaped by the rhetoric of men. In this book, Anna Vaught allows these women to tell their own stories, recreate their own histories, led by the narrative of the fascinating Lady Violet Gibson, and recorded by her institutional companion Lucia Joyce. 

As the stories unfold, it becomes clear that labeling these women as mad, or hysterical, was simply a way of silencing them - and sometimes a vehicle to exploit them for the personal gain of those who were given the task of caring for them.


"My life was all mapped out for me.
I was to be what the patriarchy decreed..."


The word hysteria comes, via Latin, from the Greek hustera, meaning womb, and husterikos 'of the womb'. Hysteria was thought to be a disorder specific to women, with a wide array of symptoms, such as anxiety, shortness of breath, fainting, sexual desire, insomina, and best of all, a "tendency to cause trouble for others". This seems almost comical now, but there is nothing amusing about the treatment meted out to those poor women diagnosed as suffering from this condition.

Were these women really mad, or suffering from symptoms of a physical disorder or were they just women deemed difficult by the patriarchal societies in which they lived and locked away to prevent them causing trouble? As Anna Vaught takes us on a journey into the histories of these women, weaving their stories together, this question becomes ever more pertinent, although our author never asks this question directly  - and in some ways Violet, at least, does seem to take ownership of her own "madness". So speculate as you wish! But in these pages, our women are most definitely taking back control and reshaping their pasts, and we come to understand that Violet's aim is to "save" Lucia from the fate that has become her own.


"I want to tell you: through prayer and through the imagination,
the most extraordinary things can be achieved.
I do believe that.
But do you?
Might I convince you?


Anna Vaught uses the theme of birds, specifically passerines, throughout this book in a most magical way - inspired by Violet's habit of feeding the birds in the grounds of St Andrew's Hospital. This is so evocative of a longing for freedom from the cages that our intelligent women found themselves confined to, as creatures who may be studied and viewed by others for their own amusement, and also wonderfully redolent of the idea of Violet herself having been trapped in a gilded cage as a child.


"You know, we women.
I sense we want to sing aloud of who
and what we are.
Like the birds...."


It's fair to say that this is a rambling sort of text and one which you have to immerse yourself in completely to get the most out of Anna Vaught's words. This is not the kind of book you can pick up and put down, but rather one which is best enjoyed in big wonderful gluts of prose, and this works particularly well with the subject matter. 

There are some difficult and affecting parts to this story in connection with the barbarous history of psychiatric treatment, particularly for women, which grip you viscerally, and this book did make me feel rather sad - especially after looking into the stories of these women myself. But this book is also fascinating, moving, and, sometimes humorous, and I am grateful to Anna Vaught for bringing these amazing women to my attention. 

For 2020, Bluemoose Books  are only publishing novels by women and Saving Lucia is the first of these. I can't wait to see what comes next!

Saving Lucia is available to buy now, from your favourite book retailer!

Thank you to Anna Vaught, Bluemoose Books and Jordan Taylor-Jones for gifting me a copy of Saving Lucia in return for an honest review.

From the cover of the book:


How would it be if four lunatics went on a tremendous adventure, 

reshaping their pasts and futures as they went, including killing Mussolini? 

What if one of those people were a fascinating, forgotten aristocratic assassin and the others a fellow life co-patient, James Joyce's daughter Lucia, another the first psychoanalysis patient, known to history simply as 'Anna O,' and finally 19th Century Paris's Queen of the Hysterics, Blanche Wittmann? 

That would be extraordinary, wouldn't it? How would it all be possible? Because, as the assassin Lady Violet Gibson would tell you, those who are confined have the very best imaginations.

About Bluemoose Books:

Bluemoose Books is an independent publisher based in Hebden Bridge, West Yorkshire. Kevin and Hetha Duffy started Bluemoose in 2006 and as a ‘family’ of readers and writers we’re passionate about the written word and stories.

 Stories are transformative and as publishers we delight in finding great new talent. We don’t have the heft of a London publishing house with the millions of pounds to promote our writers but we do manage through innovative marketing to get our books into high street bookstores and reviewed in the national press.

 If you’re looking for orange headed celebrity books, you’ve probably come to the wrong place. But if you want brilliant stories that have travelled from Hebden Bridge, across the border into Lancashire, down to London across to Moscow, Sofia and Budapest and into the United States, Australia, India, Colombia and Greenland, Iceland and Bosnia Herzevogina then Bluemoose is the publisher for you.

Monday, April 27, 2020

This Is How You Lose The Time War by Amal El-Mohtar and Max Gladstone

This Is How You Lose The Time War by Amal El-Mohtar and Max Gladstone.
Published 18th July 2019 by Jo Fletcher Books.
Read April 2019.

Among the ashes of a dying world, an agent of the Commandant finds a letter. It reads: Burn before reading.

Thus begins an unlikely correspondence between two rival agents hellbent on securing the best possible future for their warring factions. 

Now, what began as a taunt, a battlefield boast, grows into something more. Something epic. Something romantic. Something that could change the past and the future.

Except the discovery of their bond would mean death for each of them. There's still a war going on, after all. And someone has to win that war. That's how war works. Right?

*************************************************************

This Is How You Lose The Time War is an epic love story, co-written by two award-winning science fiction/fantasy authors, Amal El-Mohtar and Max Gladstone.

The story centres on two soldiers from opposing factions - Red from the Agency and Blue from the Garden - who are engaged in a war that spans both space and time. It is their mission to move back and forth between parallel realities in the multi-verse, and up and down different threads of time, manipulating the worlds they find in order to get an edge over the opposing side in the future. Sometimes their interventions are of a bloody nature, but at other times their tamperings are extremely subtle.

Red and Blue are both very skilled at what they do - both highly valued by their own opposing factions - but in the overall scheme of things, neither side seems to be gaining a lasting advantage over the other.

Over time, Red and Blue become aware of each other, among the multitude of other operatives, and this sparks a correspondence of sorts between them. These letters are of an unusual kind, made of the fabric of the realities in which they find themselves, as they have to exist in a form that must endure until they fall into the way of their opposite number, without being discovered by anyone else.

Their messages begin as a way to taunt each other, but they develop into something much deeper, and they end up sharing the most personal details about their lives and desires. In time, Red and Blue come to love each other and rely on their correspondence, even though they have only ever seen each other from afar, but they live in constant fear that their relationship will be discovered - and Red is sure that someone is watching her at every turn. Can two such different beings, who are on opposing sides in an eternal war ever have a future together? Well, I am not one for spoilers, so you will have to read this book to find out!

This Is How You Lose The Time War is a complex many layered novella that manages to pack an awful lot into its 209 pages. It is a lyrical,  and rich journey through time, which draws on myth and history to weave a magical backdrop for an intimate love story between two genetically enhanced agents of war.

I must admit that it is difficult to get your head round what is happening some of the time, as the story bats backwards and forwards between Red and Blue's messages to each other, but this did not actually matter one jot, because the connection between our two players is so utterly compelling - and it has to be said that the ways the messages are crafted between Red and Blue are particularly inventive and original. There is the most beautiful of twists towards the end of the story too, which left me breathless.

It is hard to classify this book as being in a particular genre, but I would say this is much more of a science fiction tale, rather that a fantasy novel, with an epic love story thrown in - and it ended all too soon. I was left wanting more and hope these two eminent authors put their heads together to produce another book soon.

About the authors:

Amal El-Mohtar

Amal El-Mohtar is an author, editor and critic. Her short story 'Seasons of Glass and Iron' won the Hugo, Nebula, and Locus awards and was a finalist for the World Fantasy, Sturgeon, Aurora, and Eugie Foster awards. She is the author of The Honey Month, a collection of poetry and prose written to the taste of twenty-eight different kinds of honey, and contributes criticism to NPR Books and The New York Times. Her fiction has most recently appeared on Tor.com and Uncanny Magazine, and in anthologies such as The Djinn Falls in Love & Other Stories and The Starlit Wood: New Fairy Tales. She is currently pursuing a PhD at Carleton University and teaches Creative Writing at the University of Ottawa.

Max Gladstone

Max Gladstone is the author of the Hugo-nominated Craft Sequence, which Patrick Rothfuss called 'stupefyingly good'. The sixth book, Ruin of Angels, was published in the US last year. His critically acclaimed short fiction has appeared on Tor.com and in Uncanny Magazine, and in anthologies such as XO Orpheus: Fifthy New Myths and The Starlit Wood: New Fairy Tales. John Crowley described Max as 'a true star of twenty-first-century fantasy'. Max has also sung at Carnegie Hall.

Friday, April 24, 2020

The Princess of Felling by Elaine Cusack

The Princess of Felling by Elaine Cusack.
Published April 2019 by Limelight Classics.
Read April 2020.

The Princess of Felling describes Elaine Cusack's childhood and adolescence growing up on Tyneside, in the 1970s and 1980s.

The book pays homage to her home town of Felling on Tyne and is an extended, loving letter to her late parents.

This illustrated poetic memoir features a Foreword by Michael Chaplin, photographs of Felling taken in summer 2018 by Rossena Petcova and unique maps by poet and artist Steve Lancaster.

The book contains reminiscences by Felling folk plus guest appearances by Nick Heyward, David Almond, Tracey Thorn, Sir Kingsley Amis, The Reverend Richard Coles, Lady Elsie Robson, U.A. Fanthorpe, Gyles Brandreth and more.

***********************************************************

Elaine Cusack's The Princess of Felling is such a heartwarming and quirky, quick read of a book, about her childhood and adolescence and I was really looking forward to settling down with this one. Reader, I was not disappointed with this wonderful mix of recollections and poetry!

 What did surprise me though was how nostalgic and personal this book would turn out to be. Although, I am a southern lass to the bone, Elaine and I are much the same age and her reminiscences really touched a chord with me.

Memories came flooding back that made me smile from ear to ear - of my visits to my own nana and granddad's council house; of wandering for miles with my childhood chums; of my dad being my ever faithful taxi driver; of listening to the same music (how "edgy" I felt listening to Everything But The Girl when I went off to Uni!), reading the same books, magazines and comics....Elaine, there are so many similarities - even down to the comments of my parents about my own musical idols! 

The Princess of Felling is magical, touching, humorous, heartwarming and at times, sad. It's a tribute to everything that has made Elaine who she is (except perhaps the controlling boyfriend!), and it made me shed more than a few tears over my own late dear old parents too. 

This is beautiful, honest stuff - it's almost like sitting down for a chat and cup of tea with Elaine herself. Magical!

The Princess of Felling can be bought in person from selected outlets including Hexham’s Cogito Books, Felling Volunteer Library, Newcastle Central Library, Happy Planet Studio and Gallery in Whitley Bay and online from Elaine’s publisher Limelight Classics HERE. 

More about the book and author:

Find out more about Elaine’s writing and forthcoming gigs by visiting her blog HERE.

The Princess of Felling was published in April 2019 by Northumbrian publisher Limelight Classics. The book describes Elaine Cusack's childhood and adolescence growing up on Tyneside in the 1970s and 1980s. 

It features a Foreword by TV, radio and book author Michael Chaplin, photographs of Felling taken in summer 2018 by Bulgarian photographer Rossena Petcova and unique maps inspired by my memories by poet and artist Steve Lancaster. 

Also featured are appearances from David Almond, the Rev Richard Coles, Tracey Thorn, Sir Kingsley Amis, Bloodaxe Books, Nick Heyward and Gyles Brandreth.

The Princess of Felling resonates with readers of all ages in the North East and beyond. As actor and Felling lass Jill Halfpenny says in the book, “Reading Elaine’s stories and poetry takes me back to my childhood in Felling and all of the smells, sounds and tastes of that time. Her words allow me to remember things that I didn’t know I’d forgotten.”

The book has been promoted by differing events every month including a gig in a pie and mash shop in Tynemouth and a London book launch in a Bloomsbury pub. 

The Princess has ruled Elaine's life since 2017 when her Mam died after living with dementia for almost four years. The 2,000 word essay she was working on morphed into a 22,000 word manuscript.

The Princess project includes a prequel, The Princess and the Goose plus a “mini musical” called The Princess and the Piano, which he has written with musician Mike Waller. The vibe is Gilbert and Sullivan meets Rogers and Hammerstein. They have performed it about five times this year and have recorded the songs, which will be released on digital platforms and possibly as a limited edition CD in the spring.



The Book of Longings by Sue Monk Kidd

The Book of Longings by Sue Monk Kidd.
Published 21st April 2020 by Tinder Press.
Read April 2020.

Ana is a very unusual young woman for her time. From a very young age she has been interested in reading, writing and learning - pursuits deemed, not only unnecessary for a female, but most unseemly for a girl who should be thinking just of marriage and motherhood.

But Ana's position as the only child of head scribe to Herod Antipas, tetrarch of Galilee, has put her in the privileged position of being able to study as much as her disapproving mother will allow and she spends the precious moments she devotes to her beloved studies copying the words of the matriarchs of the scriptures onto scrolls that she keeps in a chest in her room.

Ana is rebellious at heart and wants more than the life her parents have marked out for her, and she is encouraged by her aunt Yaltha - herself a woman of learning and unconventional notions. So when she meets the young Jesus, his ideas and passion call to her, and she longs to be free of the marriage contract her parents have arranged to further their ambitions.

Yaltha emboldens Ana to express her inner desires in prayer. Ana wants to be "a voice" and to be free to choose her own fate in this world, and her life is about to change in ways she could never have imagined - for Ana is about to become the wife of Jesus of Nazareth.

**********************************************************************

Where do I even start to try to do justice to the beautifully written and utterly compelling The Book of Longings, by the writer of the sublime The Secret Life of Bees?

In this book, Sue Monk Kidd has taken on the mammoth, and might I say, incredibly brave task of reimagining the life of Jesus as one in which he had a wife - rather than being the celibate and scholarly single man we are used to hearing about. For a number of years now, it has seemed to me to be somewhat of an anachronism that a man of the first century, living the life that Jesus is said to have lived, is always described as being unmarried. So I was looking forward to reading this book enormously and as soon as I read the first line I knew I was going to be in for a treat - it made the hairs stand up on the back of my neck!

I am Ana. I was the wife of Jesus ben Joseph of Nazareth.

I was curious about how Sue Monk Kidd would tackle Jesus himself in her book. I am not a religious person, but can appreciate that there was a difficult path to be walked with this one. But our author takes exactly the right line, from the perspective of a novelist, and not from a religious stance. As such she has produced a book which is full of humanity and tenderness, which I found surprisingly touching. Ana is not married to a paragon, but to an ordinary man - one who is capable of great love as a son, a brother and a husband - albeit one who comes to see himself as a man with a singular purpose. 

She takes just the right amount of what we have read about Jesus from the Bible and works this into her story, in a way which gives The Book of Longings very wide appeal - I particularly enjoyed the way Judas has such a central role to play in this book, and the way his part plays out in these pages gave me real pause for thought.

However, from the very beginning, Sue Monk Kidd's intentions are clear about where she wants to take us with her novel. This is going to be Ana's story. It is obvious that Ana's journey is going to be one fraught with difficulties, as we cannot fail to be aware of the fate of the man she marries, but this is ultimately a book that sings the song of female friendship and power - that gives voice to Ana, and her small group of female companions.

And what a fabulous cast of female characters we have - all of them women of unfathomable inner strength, who support, and transform each other. It is the voices of the women who sing out from these pages. The women who have been silenced and made invisible over time. It is the women who carry this story and their struggle is still relevant today.

The Book of Longings is the most incredible book and one which will stay with me for a very long time. Trust me, it is one you are really going to want to read.

EXTRA TREAT: As part of the Audio Blog Tour for The Book of Longings, I am honoured to be able to bring you the opportunity to listen to Part Four of the first section of the fabulous audio book version HERE. See the poster below for the fabulous bloggers who are hosting the other parts!

Thank you to Caitlin Raynor, Publicity Director of Headline and Tinder Press for gifting me a copy of this fabulous book, in return for an honest review.

From the cover of the book:

'I am Ana. I was the wife of Jesus.'

In her mesmerizing new novel, Sue Monk Kidd brings her acclaimed narrative gifts to imagine the story of a young woman called Ana.

Ana is a rebellious young woman, a gifted writer with a curious, brilliant mind, who writes secret narratives about the neglected and silenced women around her. Raised in a wealthy family in Galilee, she is sheltered from the brutality of Rome's occupation of Israel. Ana is expected to marry an elderly widower to further her father's ambitions, a prospect that horrifies her. A chance encounter with the eighteen-year-old Jesus changes everything: his ideas and his passion are intoxicating.

Taking Ana on a journey she could never have imagined, The Book of Longings is a glorious evocation of a time and a place where astounding events unfolded, and of one woman's fate when she fights to make her voice heard.




Thursday, April 23, 2020

The Book of Koli by M.R. Carey

SPOTLIGHT ON: 

The Book Of Koli
by M.R. Carey

Published 14th April 2020
by Orbit


The first in a gripping new trilogy, 
The Book of Koli charts the journey of one unforgettable young boy
 struggling to find his place in a chilling post-apocalyptic world.
 Perfect for readers of Station Eleven and Annihilation.

Beyond the walls of the small village of Mythen Rood lies an unrecognizable world. 
A world where overgrown forests are filled with choker trees and deadly vines 
and seeds that will kill you where you stand. 
And if they don't get you, one of the dangerous shunned men will.

Koli has lived in Mythen Rood his entire life. 
He knows the first rule of survival is that you don't venture beyond the walls.

What he doesn't know is -- what happens when you aren't given a choice?

The Book of Koli is available to buy now, from your favourite book retailer.

About the author:

M. R. Carey has been making up stories for most of his life. His novel The Girl With All the Gifts was a word-of-mouth bestseller and is now a major motion picture based on his own screenplay.

Under the name Mike Carey he has written for both DC and Marvel, including critically acclaimed runs on Lucifer, Hellblazer and X-Men. His creator-owned series The Unwritten appeared regularly in the New York Times graphic fiction bestseller list. 

He also has several previous novels, games, radio plays, and TV and movie screenplays to his credit.




Midtown Huckster (Alex Cohen Book Three) by Leopold Borstinski. Cover Reveal.

COVER REVEAL

Midtown Huckster
(Alex Cohen Book Three)
by Leopold Borstinski



Can you keep your gelt and freedom when the cops have enough evidence to take you down? 

1930s Jewish gangster, Alex Cohen runs Murder Inc for Lucky Luciano. After the death of Prohibition he must find a new way to make money, just as the cops are baying at his heels. When Luciano goes down for racketeering, Alex loses his protection and is arrested for tax evasion-he must decide between saving his skin and ratting out his friends.

If he chooses prison time then his gang will fall apart and he will end up with nothing. If he squeals then he will have to flee the city he loves and the family he once adored. What would you do in a world where nobody can be trusted and you have everything to lose?

The third book in the Alex Cohen series is an historical noir novel, which plunges you deep into the early days of narcotics trafficking and the Jewish New York mob. Leopold Borstinski's piercing crime fiction delivers a fix to every reader like heroin from a needle.



Pre-order links:

Amazon UK
Amazon US

About the author:

Leopold Borstinski is an independent author whose past careers have included financial journalism, business management of financial software companies, consulting and product sales and marketing, as well as teaching.

There is nothing he likes better so he does as much nothing as he possibly can. He has travelled extensively in Europe and the US and has visited Asia on several occasions. Leopold holds a Philosophy degree and tries not to drop it too often.

He lives near London and is married with one wife, one child and no pets.

Social media links:


Sunday, April 19, 2020

I Am Dust by Louise Beech

I Am Dust by Louise Beech.
Published 16th April 2020 by Orenda Books.
Read April 2020.

The Dean Wilson Theatre is believed to be haunted and some of the staff that work there have definitely seen some ghostly goings on, especially around the dressing room that belonged to Morgan Miller. For Morgan was murdered in that room, during the opening night of the musical Dust, and she lingers there, still waiting for her final cue.

When Dust is set to return to The Dean Wilson, for its first performance in twenty years, speculation is rife about who will be brave enough to take on the role of Esme Black, the part Morgan Miller played - as the play is thought by many to be cursed after what happened to the last leading lady.

Usher at The Dean Wilson, Chloe Dee remembers the first run of Dust, even though she was just a child at the time. As a keen amateur actress in her teenage years, Chloe dreamed of a career on the stage, but her life ended up taking a different path. She has however, been working on a play of her own, inspired by her love of Dust, which she hopes to star in herself.  She can't help but be caught up in all the excitement surrounding the return of her beloved musical after all these years.

But the return of Dust stirs up more than a frenzy of anticipation. One of the new cast turns out to be someone who was very important to Chloe in the past, and seeing her again sparks a flood of long buried memories - recollections of magic, obsession and betrayal that it would have been better not to have remembered.

As the eerie happenings at The Dean Wilson become  more frequent, Chloe knows it is the right time to solve the mystery of who killed Morgan Miller, before the tragic events of the past can be repeated - and she knows she is the only one with the power to do it.

But obsession and betrayal are set to mark Chloe's fate once again - especially when rules are broken...

****************************************************************

I Am Dust is an intoxicating mix of murder mystery, supernatural thriller and passionate love story, and I polished the whole fabulous book off in less than a day.

The story is told with a dual timelines - swinging back and forth between the present (2019) when Chloe is working at The Dean Wilson Theatre, and her time at the youth theatre (2005) when she becomes embroiled in a dangerous "game" with two other young actors. 

The central theme is the infamous musical Dust, specifically the unsolved murder of Morgan Miller,  which fascinates Chloe, and Louise Beech cleverly works her threads in and around this theme with style. Thus acting, the theatre and everything that goes along with this world, form the fitting stage for our drama.

So this is the story of an unsolved murder. An aspect that is brought sharply back into focus when Dust is revived. Morgan Miller has been waiting patiently, quite literally, in the wings for her chance to see her murderer brought to justice and as the investigation is reopened many new little clues come to light - and I really enjoyed putting them all together. I love it when you realise who performed the wicked deed just before they are exposed, as this is the mark of an expert storyteller.

But, we also have some very spicy human elements to throw into the mix! There is the matter of some strong human emotions to drive our story along - passion, frustration, longing, ambition, jealousy and backstabbing betrayal. All very tasty indeed! 

However, I Am Dust gives us rather more to play with than a murder mystery set in a theatre, with some juicy human mischief, and this is what sets is apart for me. We have another element here to pique our interest, and that is an added sprinkling of the supernatural. Chloe it seems is a witch - and has abilities that have been passed down to her from her grandmother. It is these powers of Chloe's that make her the ideal person to help the ghostly Morgan Miller, but they are also the very ones that will bring the heavy hand of destiny crashing down on them all. I would love to say more, but the fear of spoilers prevents me!

Although this is a story with a modern twist, there is something undeniably nostalgic about it and it revolves around the supernatural elements of the story. There is something deliciously teen horror tale about the youth theatre part that really takes me back to my teenage reading and movie years, and I found this irresistible.

I Am Dust is another winner from the Orenda Books stable, which continues to serve up excellent books for ones reading pleasure, so do yourself a favour and get a little Louise Beech into your life!

Please note that self-harm is a big part of this story, so beware if this is a trigger for you.

Available now from your favourite book retailer!

Thank you to Louise Beech and Orenda Books for providing me with a copy of this book in return for an honest review, and to Anne Cater for inviting me to be part of this blog tour.

From the cover of the book:

When iconic musical Dust is revived twenty years after the leading actress was murdered in her dressing room, a series of eerie events haunts the new cast... 

The Dean Wilson Theatre is believed to be haunted by a long-dead actress, singing her last song, waiting for her final cue, looking for her killer... 

Now Dust, the iconic musical, is returning after twenty years. But who will be brave enough to take on the role of ghostly goddess Esme Black, last played by Morgan Miller, who was murdered in her dressing room? 

Theatre usher Chloe Dee is caught up in the spectacle. As the new actors arrive, including an unexpected face from her past, everything changes. Are the eerie sounds and sightings backstage real or just her imagination? Is someone playing games? 

Not all the drama takes place onstage. Sometimes murder, magic, obsession and the biggest of betrayals are real life. When you’re in the theatre shadows, you see everything. 

And Chloe has been watching...


About the author:

Louise Beech is an exceptional literary talent, whose debut novel How To Be Brave was a Guardian Readers’ Choice for 2015. Her second book, The Mountain in My Shoe was shortlisted for Not the Booker Prize.

Both of her previous books Maria in the Moon and The Lion Tamer Who Lost were widely reviewed, critically acclaimed and number-one bestsellers on Kindle. The Lion Tamer Who Lost was shortlisted for the RNA Most Popular Romantic Novel Award in 2019. 

Her short fiction has won the Glass Woman Prize, the Eric Hoffer Award for Prose, and the Aesthetica Creative Works competition, as well as shortlisting for the Bridport Prize twice. 

Louise lives with her husband on the outskirts of Hull, and loves her job as a Front of House Usher at Hull Truck Theatre, where her first play was performed in 2012.



Thursday, April 16, 2020

The Switch by Beth O'Leary

The Switch by Beth O'Leary.
Published 16th April 2020 by Quercus.
Read April 2020.

Leena Cotton is one of those people who gets through life by taking the bull by the horns and throwing herself at a project, so after the tragic death of her beloved younger sister, Carla, it was natural for her to devote her energy to her work - encouraged by her equally workaholic boyfriend, Ethan. But despite this, she has been finding it difficult to cope with the terrible grief that won't go away and after blowing an important presentation at work, she is ordered to take two months off to get herself together.

Two months away from work seems unthinkable to Leena, but she heads off to her grandmother's cottage in Yorkshire to get some rest - despite the fact that this will mean she is more than likely to come face to face with her mother, Marian, who she has been avoiding for months, as she blames her for her sister's decision to stop treatment.

When Leena gets to Yorkshire, she realises how much she has missed out on over the last few months and some things are brought into sharp focus during her long-overdue visit home. It seems her mother has not been coping well since Carla's death and Leena knows they really should try to sort out their differences. Her newly single grandmother, Eileen is also trying to make a fresh start by meeting someone new, but there is little in the way of partner material in the rural hamlet she calls home.

After some thought, Leena comes up with what she feels may be the ideal solution for them both - she and Eileen will "swap" lives for the two months of her sabbatical. Leena will stay in Yorkshire and take on her grandmother's responsibilities, while Eileen moves to London to find love! But trying to contend with tricky neighbours and strained family relationships in Yorkshire, and trendy flatmates and on-line dating in London, both of them find the change of scene more difficult than they thought it would be.

However, Leena and Eileen were never ones to shy away from a challenge. Leena throws herself into village life, getting stuck-in to the various projects Eileen is in charge of and does her best to impress her neighbours - although the annoying and handsome primary school teacher, Jackson, is most distracting. And Eileen finds she can make herself useful in London, while having a steamy romantic interlude.

Both Leena and Eileen learn a lot about themselves and each other during their "swap". What is it they really want out of life, and is this to be found in their old lives or their new?

*******************************************************

I absolutely adored Beth O'Leary's debut story about Tiffy and Leon, The Flatshare, which I have been recommending all year as "like your favourite Christmans movie.....but without the Christmas bit"! If you have read it, you will know exactly what I mean, and if you have not read it then I strongly suggest you do so as soon as possible - it is quite simply fabulous.

So, The Flatshare was going to be a hard act to follow and I will admit to being a little nervous about reading Beth O'Leary's much anticipated follow-up. Would I....could I....love it as much as her debut novel? Well, I really should not have worried, because The Switch is absolutely gorgeous - in fact, it is "like two of your favourite Christmas movies combined...without the Christmas"!!!

This time around, we are treated to not one, but two beautiful storylines - those of Leena and Eileen - women in completely different stages of life, but who are nonetheless more like each other than they realise.

Leena has always been so sure of herself and the direction her life is heading, so it comes as a bit of a shock to her when she cannot get over the death of her sister by throwing herself into the things that she has always taken in her stride. This time, work is not the answer and she is forced to acknowledge that she she has not been happy for quite a while. Moving to her grandmother's village, taking different responsibilities and connecting with new people make her recognise that she has lost herself over the last few months and she needs to confront the grief she has pushed deep inside her if she is going to move forward - and a big part of this is coming to terms with the anger she feels towards her mother.

Eileen has always been a force to be reckoned with, and yet, she allowed herself to stay in a loveless marriage that was well past its sell-by-date. She has been feeling for sometime that she needs a new man in her life, but the local choices are limited, and she is unable to go too far as leaving Marian in her fragile state seems quite out of the question. But Leena's swap idea gives her a chance to really make a difference to not only her own life, but to the lives of others too.

Both women find out such a lot about not only themselves, but each other, during their time in the other's shoes. They also both make a big difference to the people they meet in their new environments. There is joy and heartbreak, love and loss, laughter and tears and you find yourself rooting for so many of the people you meet in these pages.

It was so lovely to read a book full of wonderful characters of so many different ages in this book. Beth O'Leary writes them all so beautifully and acknowledges that even the older cast members can be interesting, capable and have a lot to offer in the way of friendship and advice to the younger ones, as well as vice versa, which was so refreshing. There are also a lot of touching moments here that recognise that loneliness can affect more than just the elderly members of society, and that developing a sense of community can be very rewarding for all concerned.

But this is also a book that encompasses so much more to pull the heart strings, along with lots of laughter. It is moving and heartwarming, and the kind of great big hug of a book that we all need at the moment. The Switch has worked its way right into my heart and has definitely earned a place on my for ever shelf - right next to The Flatshare. I can't wait to read whatever Beth O'Leary comes up with next!

The Switch is available to buy now, from your favourite book retailer, and I guarantee is it going to be every bit as big of a hit as The Flatshare - so get in there early!

From the cover of the book:

When overachiever Leena Cotton is ordered to take a two-month sabbatical after blowing a big presentation at work, she escapes to her grandmother Eileen's house for some overdue rest. Eileen is newly single and about to turn eighty. She'd like a second chance at love, but her tiny Yorkshire village doesn't offer many eligible gentlemen.


Once Leena learns of Eileen's romantic predicament, she proposes a solution: a two-month swap. Eileen can live in London and look for love. Meanwhile Leena will look after everything in rural Yorkshire. But with gossiping neighbours and difficult family dynamics to navigate up north, and trendy London flatmates and online dating to contend with in the city, stepping into one another's shoes proves more difficult than either of them expected.

Leena learns that a long-distance relationship isn't as romantic as she hoped it would be, and then there is the annoyingly perfect - and distractingly handsome - school teacher, who keeps showing up to outdo her efforts to impress the local villagers. Back in London, Eileen is a huge hit with her new neighbours, but is her perfect match nearer home than she first thought?



Wednesday, April 15, 2020

Beneath The Streets by Adam Macqueen

Beneath The Streets by Adam Macqueen.
Published in ebook format 2nd March 2020 and in paperback 13th April 2020 by Lightning Books.
Read April 2020.

When Jeremy Thorpe hired thugs to kill his ex-lover, they botched it. What if they had succeeded?

It is February 1976, and the naked corpse of a shockingly underage rent boy is fished out of a pond on Hampstead Heath. Since the police don’t seem to care, twenty-year-old Tommy Wildeblood – himself a former ‘Dilly boy’ prostitute – finds himself investigating.

Dodging murderous Soho hoodlums and the agents of a more sinister power, Tommy uncovers another, even more shocking crime: the Liberal leader and likely next Home Secretary, Jeremy Thorpe, has had his former male lover executed on Exmoor and got clean away with it. Now the trail of guilt seems to lead higher still, and a ruthless Establishment will stop at nothing to cover its tracks.

In a gripping thriller whose cast of real-life characters includes Prime Minister Harold Wilson, his senior adviser Lady Falkender, gay Labour peer Tom Driberg and the investigative journalist Paul Foot, Adam Macqueen plays ‘what if’ with Seventies political history – with a sting in the tail that reminds us that the truth can be just as chilling as fiction.

********************************************************************

What a cracking book! I absolutely flew through this alternate history of Seventies political history and thoroughly enjoyed it.

Adam Macqueen takes the whole Jeremy Thorpe affair and skillfully reworks it into an alternate reality in which the assassination attempt against his ex-lover, Norman Scott, actually succeeded - rather than resulting in the accidental shooting of his dog, Rinka.

At the beginning of the story, we meet our would be hero, Alex (aka Tommy Wildeblood), a down on his luck ex-rent boy who is scraping together an existence by helping a private detective snap pictures of in-the-closet gay men in compromising situations for the purpose of divorce proceedings. The rather extravagant nom de plume Alex uses, Tommy Wildeblood, is in fact taken from his favourite book, Against the Law, which he credits as being the one book that saved him during his difficult adolescent years, when he was struggling with his sexuality - a book that has now become his constant companion and a kind of talisman.

Tommy finds himself accidentally involved in an investigation into the death of an under-age rent boy called Stephen, whose body has been pulled out of a pond on Hampstead Heath. The police seem determined to put this death down to misadventure, but Stephen was clearly beaten before he died and Tommy finds it very suspicious when Special Branch seem to be keen to play down any talk of murder.

As the plot thickens, Tommy stumbles across what seems to be an enormous cover-up of the private goings on of the leader of the Liberal Party, Jeremy Thorpe - who it appears has somewhat of a double life as a respectable family man and MP during the day and as a flamboyant gay man about town at night. When he finds out that Jeremy Thorpe's ex-lover, Norman Scott has also been murdered and the death again covered up, Tommy knows that he must carry on with his quest for justice to the bitter end.

What follows is a web of intrigue worthy of a political spy novel, with abductions, threats of violence, suspicious deaths and deep dark conspiracies that take us to the very heart of the corridors of power of the Seventies! The tension is palpable and you do not know how Tommy is going to survive in this arena of heavyweights. It's addictive, thrilling and utterly delicious and has the most chilling of twists at the end. But enough of that...no spoilers will pass my lips...

One of the things I most enjoyed about this book is the care Adam Macqueen has taken with setting the scene for Beneath The Streets

This is a country which is still findings its way in the aftermath of the legalisation of homosexuality for men over 21 in 1967. Society in general is not comfortable with the idea of men or women being openly gay and prejudice is still rife - although we are starting to see some hopeful signs of change. It is not surprising then that Tommy and his friends are very careful about how they live their lives, even when on the right side of the law - and the threat of violence is palpable. This really adds to the feeling of danger surrounding Tommy's quest.

The way Adam Macqueen describes 1970s London, especially around Soho, is so beautifully done that you can almost feel yourself walking among those sleazy streets, full of sex shops, topless bars and the like. It's grimy, raw, open in its intentions, and feels completely authentic, but is also makes a wonderful contrast to the environs Tommy finds himself in later in the book - even the clean, salubrious and apparently upstanding streets of London hide a shady side that is every bit as sordid - and I loved this.

I must also say that Adam Macqueen has done an absolutely stellar job with the way he uses the references to popular culture in this book - it was just like being back in the 1970s! And drop in a well done for the title of the book - I always love a clever title!

Although I vaguely remember the infamous Jeremy Thorpe trial in 1979, being only 12 and much more interested in the popular culture side of the time that Adam Macqueen refers to so well in this book, I admit I could not remember many of the details. So before I embarked on my adventure with Tommy Wildblood I made sure to have a quick refresh of what actually happened, and I highly recommend that you do the same - by the way, the history reads like a novel in itself, so be prepared. Doing this research certainly enhanced my enjoyment of this book and my admiration for the excellent job Adam Macqueen has done here. Very impressive indeed, Mr Macqueen.

I heartily recommend this book, and can't wait to read Tommy's next adventure, The Enemy Within

Thank you to Adam Macqueen and Lightning Books for providing me with a copy of this book, in return for an honest review. 

Beneath The Streets is available to buy now from your favourite book retailer.

Monday, April 13, 2020

Sister by Kjell Ola Dahl

Sister (Oslo Detectives)  by Kjell Ola Dahl. Translated by Don Bartlett.
Published in ebook 29th February 2020 and in paperback on 30th April 2020 by Orenda Books.
Read April 2020.

Suspended police detective Frank Frolich, now working as private detective in Olso, finds himself involved in the case of the missing sister of an illegal immigrant - as a favour to a friend of his new girlfriend, Mathilde.

Although reluctant to take on a case on behalf of a client who is unlikely to be able to pay for his services, Frolich soon discovers that there is something very fishy going on here.

Before long he is mysteriously contacted by the author of an infamous book about a suspicious ferry disaster, who tells him things are not all they appear to be - that the woman he is searching for does not even have a younger sister and that he will be putting her in terrible danger if he continues with this case.

As the plot thickens, Frolich finds himself chasing several lines of inquiry around the fate of illegal immigrants in Norway and to do with the ferry accident, and bodies are starting to pile up.

Can Frolich get to the bottom of this strange case before it is too late?

***************************************************************

Sister is the most complex and devilishly plotted contemporary Nordic Noir murder mystery that I have read for a very long time and it kept me turning the pages until well into the night!

Our Norwegian protagonist, former police detective Frank Frolich, finds himself accidentally involved in a case that appears to be a simple one about a missing person - albeit one which he thinks has no chance of success, when his normal lines of inquiry draw a total blank on the whereabouts of an Iraqi immigrant called Sheyma, who apparently came to Norway some years ago.

But it is not long before Frolich finds he has stirred up a hornets' nest that brings him into contact with a host of would be clients who want him to perform jobs which confusingly conflict with each other and promise to drag him into the mire surrounding, not only the current sate of illegal asylum cases in Norway, but also the mystery surrounding a ferry disaster from 1988. 

A case Frolich took only as a favour to his new girlfriend takes him into dangerous territory, as people he comes into contact start turning up dead and he is under suspicion of being involved in their deaths by the police - including his former colleague Gunnarstranda. What is really going on here? How do the threads of seemingly unconnected cases appear to be tangled together?

I can't give too much away here, for fear of giving spoliers, but this is edge-of-your-seat stuff and I found myself racing through the chapters in pursuit of the thrilling conclusions to all the wonderful threads Kjell Ola Dahl has wrought in this book. We are treated to a highly appropriate Nordic smorgasbord of subjects under the microscope, from of the treatment of asylum seekers, honour killings, conspiracy theories, corruption, mishandled investigations, and even the fallout from human relationships and loneliness, all of which make for an incredibly absorbing story.

This is the first contemporary thriller I have read from the pen of Kjell Ola Dahl, having previously only read his outstanding historical novel The Courier, but yet again he has managed to write a marvelous book with oodles of plot to keep you entertained and gobsmacked in equal measure - you do have to concentrate on this one ladies and gentlemen, but the result is certainly worth it. I should add that Don Bartlett has done another fabulous job with the translation of Kjell Ola Dahl's work here.

If you like your Nordic Noir pacy, complex and intelligent, with mysteries that will challenge your deductive powers - and quite frankly, who doesn't - then Kjell Ola Dahl is certainly the man for you.
I will definitely be seeking out one of his other Oslo Detectives books the next time I need to fire up my brain cells!

Sister is another winner from the quite simply amazing Orenda Books and is available to buy now in ebook format. It will alos be available in paperback from 30th April 2020.

Thank you to Kjell Ola Dahl and Orenda Books for providing me with a copy of this book in return for an honest review and to Anne Cater for inviting me to be part of this blog tour.

From the cover of the book: 

Oslo detective Frølich searches for the mysterious sister of a young female asylum seeker, 
but when people start to die, everything points to an old case 
and a series of events that someone will do anything to hide... 

Suspended from duty, Detective Frølich is working as a private investigator, 
when his girlfriend’s colleague asks for his help with a female asylum seeker, 
who the authorities are about to deport. 
She claims to have a sister in Norway, and fears that returning to her home country 
will mean instant death. 

Frølich quickly discovers the whereabouts of the young woman’s sister, 
but things become increasingly complex when she denies having a sibling, 
and Frølich is threatened off the case by the police. 

As the body count rises, it becomes clear that the answers lie in an old investigation, 
and the mysterious sister, who is now on the run... 

A dark, chilling and up-to-the-minute Nordic Noir thriller, Sister is also a tense 
and well-plotted murder mystery with a moving tragedy at its heart, 
cementing Kjell Ola Dahl as one of the greatest crime writers of our generation.

About the author: 


One of the fathers of the Nordic Noir genre, Kjell Ola Dahl was born in 1958 in Gjøvik. He made his debut in 1993, and has since published eleven novels, the most prominent of which is a series of police procedurals cum psychological thrillers featuring investigators Gunnarstranda and Frølich.

In 2000 he won the Riverton Prize for The Last Fix and he won both the prestigious Brage and Riverton Prizes for The Courier in 2015. 

His work has been published in 14 countries, and he lives in Oslo.




About Orenda Books:

Orenda Books is a small independent publishing company specialising in literary fiction with a heavy emphasis on crime/thrillers, and approximately half the list in translation. They’ve been twice shortlisted for the Nick Robinson Best Newcomer Award at the IPG awards, and publisher and owner Karen Sullivan was a Bookseller Rising Star in 2016.

In 2018, they were awarded a prestigious Creative Europe grant for their translated books programme. Three authors, including Agnes Ravatn, Matt Wesolowski and Amanda Jennings have been WHSmith Fresh Talent picks, and Ravatn’s The Bird Tribunal was shortlisted for the Dublin Literary Award, won an English PEN Translation Award, and adapted for BBC Radio Four’s Book at Bedtime. Six titles have been short- or long-listed for the CWA Daggers.

Launched in 2014 with a mission to bring more international literature to the UK market, Orenda Books publishes a host of debuts, many of which have gone on to sell millions worldwide, and looks for fresh, exciting new voices that push the genre in new directions. Bestselling authors include Ragnar Jonasson, Antti Tuomainen, Gunnar Staalesen, Michael J. Malone, Kjell Ola Dahl, Louise Beech, Johana Gustawsson, Lilja Sigurðardóttir and Sarah Stovell.



Thursday, April 9, 2020

Nowhere To Hide (Inspector Drake Book 7) by Stephen Puleston (Audio Book)

Nowhere To Hide (Inspector Drake Book 7) by Stephen Puleston.
Released 6th March 2020.

A murdered mother. A failing police force. A detective looking for justice...

When drug addict Dawn Piper is found dead in her own home, her neighbours are far from surprised. Dawn's habit led her to mix with some dangerous people. But this quiet mother of one was small fry. Why would anyone want Dawn dead?

Inspector Drake knows that there is more to Dawn's murder than a simple drug deal gone wrong. As he digs deeper, he discovers that Dawn hoped to clean up the streets of her community that are being overrun by drugs and the dangerous County Lines gangs that sell them. And it cost her her life.

Have the police force failed the community they serve?

Drake is used to the murky world of organized crime groups. He knows the dirty games they play to evade arrest. But in his toughest case to date, Drake is determined to make the guilty pay.

This time, they will have nowhere to hide...

**************************************************************

I am a huge audio book fan, but Nowhere To Hide is actually the first time I have listened to one which is a police procedural - and what a fabulous place to start!

Although this book is actually the seventh one in the Stephen Puleston's Inspector Drake series, it works extremely well as a stand-alone, which is good because I have not read any others in the series....yet!

The story concentrates on the death of a small time drug addict, whose murder turns out to be much more of a complex affair that it first appears. As Inspector Drake and his trusty team investigate Dawn's death, some rather worrying facts come to light that seem to link it to the rise in the County Lines drug trafficking problem and despite their efforts, more bodies appear before they can get to the bottom of whoever is behind the crimes - and the violence comes much too close to home for Inspector Drake's liking.

The audio book is narrated by Richard Elfyn, who manages all the accents rather well and pronounces the Welsh place names oh so beautifully. I did find the narration  a bit too monotone at times and would have liked to have heard a bit more passion expressed in the parts where the story affected DI Drake personally, but in all other ways the dispassionate way the story is told fits in quite well with the nature of a police investigation - cool and fact driven.

I thoroughly enjoyed the story itself, which builds tension nicely and has a lovely twist at the end - one which works well. I particularly liked the realistic way Drake and his team went about their painstaking investigation - each of them having a part in the more mundane aspects of police work that are necessary to gather the evidence needed for a successful prosecution.

In fact I enjoyed it so much that I suspect I will be delving into the past episodes of Stephen Puleston's DI Drake books before too long - I am already aching to get to the next one now I know all the characters!

Nowhere To Hide is out now in paperback, ebook and audio formats.

Thank you to The Book Club Audible Listeners Group and Stephen Puleston for my copy of Nowhere To Hide, which was gifted in return for an honest review.


The Last Crossing by Brian McGilloway

The Last Crossing by Brian McGilloway.
Published 2nd April 2020 by The Dome Press.
Read April 2020.

Many years ago, when Tony, Hugh and Karen walked away from each other after taking part in a killing, undertaken in the name of revenge, they did not think they would see each other again.

But 30 years later, they have been gathered together to help rest the ghosts of the past and apparently lay the foundations for a more peaceful future for their homeland.

They have spent the intervening years trying to forget what happened that night in a forest near Glasgow, but they have little choice but to agree to the reunion.

As they take the ferry journey from Northern Ireland to Scotland, the past is brought into clear focus and secrets that should have stayed buried are brought to the surface, stirring up uncomfortable truths.

Why have they really been brought back together and what do they each hope to achieve with this journey into the past?

**************************************************************

The blurb for The Last Crossing does not really give much away in terms of where this story goes, so it was a bit of a voyage into the unknown - much like Tony, Hugh and Karen's ferry journey back to the scene of their crime.

The book runs in dual timelines, with chapters alternating between 30 years ago and the here and now - ever so slowly revealing what our characters have done and why they are now being called on to make amends. 

In this case, the 30 year old part of the story revolves around the Troubles in Northern Ireland and attempts to get revenge for the killing of Tony's brother, which embroils our characters in a murder plot in Scotland - under the orders of (we assume) the IRA. 

The present concerns itself with the reason why our players have been brought back together, and as they speculate about why they are really there and what they have been asked to do, all their little secrets come spilling out. 

Brian McGilloway seamlessly works the threads of this story, from the past and present, into the most compelling of storylines, dropping little clues along the way to the shocking truths that will be revealed. But knowing the truths are coming does very little to soften the blows when they eventually hit you full on in the face. 

The writing is quite simply superb and the author uses some delicious devices to keep you engrossed from start to finish. I particularly enjoyed the way he creates such a tense and claustrophobic atmosphere around the interactions between Tony, Hugh and Karen, especially when aboard the ferry, and the way the characters have such unreliable and conflicting accounts of what happened all those years ago. 

In addition, Brian McGilloway skillfully describes how Tony and Karen were manipulated into becoming unwitting co-conspirators through the grief and anger they felt over the loss of their family members - until they found themselves in way too deep to back out - and uses the two timelines to examine the differences between the politics of Northern Ireland pre/ post the peace talks.

One of my favourite little tricks was the use of similar words and phrases at the beginning and ends of consecutive chapters to link them together - this was so subtly done that I was not even aware of it to start with, but then began to look out for them as I went on. 

This book completely bowled me over. This is addictive writing that draws you  into a complex and character driven cracker of a novel that leaves you with plenty to think about when you are done. 

Mr McGilloway, you are a class act and I will be searching out more of your books in the future!

The Last Crossing is available to buy from your favourite book retailer now.

Thank you to Brian McGilloway and to Emily Glenister at The Dome Press for providing me with a copy of this book in return for an honest review, and inviting me to be part of this blog tour.

From the cover of the book:

Tony, Hugh and Karen thought they’d seen the last of each other thirty years ago. 

Half a lifetime has passed and memories have been buried. 

But when they are asked to reunite - to lay ghosts to rest for the good of the future 

- they all have their own reasons to agree. 

As they take the ferry from Northern Ireland to Scotland 

the past is brought in to terrible focus 

- some things are impossible to leave behind. 

In The Last Crossing memory is unreliable, truth shifts 

and slips and the lingering legacy of the Troubles 

threatens the present once again.

About the author:

Brian McGilloway is the New York Times bestselling author of the critically acclaimed Inspector Benedict Devlin and DS Lucy Black series.

He was born in Derry, Northern Ireland in 1974. After studying English at Queen's University, Belfast, he took up a teaching position in St Colomb's College in Derry, where he was Head of Eglish until 2013. He currently teaches in Holy Cross College, Strabane.

Brian’s work has been nominated for, and won, many awards, including Borderlands (shortlisted for the CWA New Blood Dagger), Gallows Lane (shortlisted for both the 2009 Irish Book Awards / Ireland AM Crime Novel of the Year and Theakston’s Old Peculier Crime Novel of the Year Award 2010), and Little Girl Lost (winner of the University of Ulster’s McCrea Literary Award 2011).

In 2014, Brian won BBC NI’s Tony Doyle Award for his screenplay, Little Emperors, an award which saw him become Writer In Residence with BBC NI.

Brian lives near the Irish Borderlands with his wife, daughter and three sons.


 


Tuesday, April 7, 2020

The Philosopher's Daughters by Alison Booth

The Philosopher's Daughters by Alison Booth.
 Published 2nd April 2020 by Red Door Press.
Read April 2020.

London, 1891: Sarah and Harriet Cameron are two sisters, who lost their mother at a young age, and have been raised by their philosopher father to be free thinkers and independent minded young women.

Harriet is a talented artist and content to help her father with his work. She sees no reason to tie herself to a man by marriage.

Sarah's first love is music and she is an accomplished pianist, but she is more romantic than her sister. When she meets the dashing Henry Vincent, fresh from his travels in Australia, at a women's suffrage meeting, love comes calling.

After Sarah and Henry marry and set off for a new life in Australia, Harriet feels the break-up of her small family unit deeply - especially when her sister's departure is closely followed by the unexpected death of their father.

With her sister so far away, and her father now gone, Harriet's grief causes her to lose her purpose. There is now little to tie her to London and she longs to see the new country Sarah describes so vividly in her letters. So she embarks on a journey that takes her to the other side of the world.

Harriet finds that the uncompromising raw beauty of the Australian outback and the friendship she develops with an Aboriginal stockman have the power to change her life in ways that she could never have imagined back in smoky London.

But there is violence and danger in this new land too, and someone is out dash Harriet's hopes and to get his revenge upon her. Can Harriet finally find the happiness she deserves?


***********************************************************

Where do I even start with trying to do justice to Alison Booth's beautiful book The Philosopher's Daughters? I guess the first thing to say is that this is a fine example of the best in historical fiction writing, and undoubtedly one of my favourite reads so far this year. 

This is a book that will completely immerse you in the lives of Harriet and Sarah Cameron - two young women with the benefit of the kind of education and freedom denied to the majority of females at the time. Two extraordinary, gutsy women who are nevertheless quite different from each other.

Harriet is the logical sister, who sees her life set out before her as one devoted to her painting and assisting her father with his academic work. She is a keen campaigner for change, and is not afraid to speak out against injustice. She has no need of a husband, and indeed feels that marriage would not be conducive to her happiness - and she is at liberty to follow this path, because of her unconventional upbringing.

Sarah is the more vivacious and impulsive of the sisters. Her prodigious musical talent. although just as creative as Harriet's, allows her to express her more emotional nature perfectly. She is much more sensitive to the feelings of others than her sister, and is less inclined to express opinions she thinks may cause upset - although her heart is firmly in the right place and she feels just as strongly about righting injustice as Harriet, albeit in a more gentle way.

Yet, when our story moves from cold, conventional London, to the heat and intensity of Australia, we see a change in our sisters as they learn more about themselves. Sarah finds her mettle, and Harriet discovers she does have a need for love in her life after all. And all the while, our author draws the most wonderful backdrop that engulfs us and brings to life the wild beauty and casual violence of a country still finding its way.

I loved that this book takes us to two very different environments - Victorian London and the Australian Outback - and despite the obvious differences between the two, Alison Booth manages to link them beautifully through the themes of suffrage and social justice, and she does this with aplomb. I learnt plenty about Australian history that I did not know before and it was absolutely fascinating.

But this is also a book full of romance and love - both in the relationships our characters have with each other, and it terms of their relationships with their environment. A love of Australia - its rugged beauty and its mythology - shines out from these pages and works its way into your own heart too.

This is an absolute beaut of a book, so don't miss out!

The Philosopher's Daughters is available to buy from your favourite book retailer now.

Thank you to Alison Booth and Red Door Press for providing me with a copy of this book in return for an honest review, and to Anne Cater for inviting me to be part of this blog tour.

From the cover of the book:

London in 1891: 

Harriet Cameron is a talented young artist 
whose mother died when she was barely five. 

She and her beloved sister Sarah were brought up by their father, 
radical thinker James Cameron. 

After adventurer Henry Vincent arrives on the scene, 
the sisters' lives are changed forever. 
Sarah, the beauty of the family, marries Henry 
and embarks on a voyage to Australia. 
Harriet, intensely missing Sarah, must decide whether 
to help her father with his life's work or devote herself to painting. 

When James Cameron dies unexpectedly, Harriet is overwhelmed by grief. 
Seeking distraction, she follows Sarah to Australia, and afterwards into the 
Northern Territory outback, where she is alienated by the casual violence 
and great injustices of outback life. 

Her rejuvenation begins with her friendship with an Aboriginal stockman 
and her growing love for the landscape. But this fragile happiness is soon 
threatened by murders at a nearby cattle station 
and by a menacing station hand seeking revenge. 


About the author:

Born in Melbourne and brought up in Sydney, Alison spent over two decades studying, living and working in the UK before returning to Australia some fifteen years ago.

Her ancestors came to Australia from England and Scotland at the end of the 1800s, before Federation in 1901. Indeed, in 1891, when the novel starts, 32% of the Australian population were born overseas, mostly in the UK. Alison grew up fascinated by the thought that Australia once comprised small colonies, teetering on the edge of the vast continent, and wanted in this new novel to travel back in time to view it through the eyes of two strong young women. The tales of Alison’s late father, Norman Booth, about his years in the Northern Territory also awakened her interest in the Northern Territory.

Her debut novel, Stillwater Creek, was Highly Commended in the 2011 ACT Book of the Year Award, and afterwards published in Reader’s Digest Select Editions in Asia and in Europe. Alison’s other novels are The Indigo Sky (2011), A Distant Land (2012), and A Perfect Marriage (2018).

Alison is Emeritus Professor of Economics at the Australian National University. 
In November 2019, Alison was made Fellow of the Econometric Society, a prestigious international society for the advancement of economic theory in its relation to statistics and mathematics.