Blog Tour: Finding Home by Kate Field #BookReview

Finding Home

I am delighted to be taking part in the blog blitz for the new book by Kate Field, Finding Home, as Kate is one of my favourite authors. My thanks to Rachel Gilbey of Rachel’s Random Resources for inviting me to take part and to the publisher for my digital copy of the book, which I have reviewed honestly and impartially.

image0

She might not have much in this world, but it cost nothing to be kind… 

Meet Miranda Brown: you can call her Mim. She’s jobless, homeless and living in her car… but with a history like hers she knows she has a huge amount to be grateful for.

Meet Beatrice and William Howard: Bill and Bea to you. The heads of the Howard family and owners of Venhallow Hall, a sprawling seaside Devonshire estate… stranded in a layby five hours from home the night before their niece’s wedding.

When fate brings the trio together, Mim doesn’t think twice before offering to drive the affable older couple home. It’s not like she has anywhere else to be. But as the car pulls into the picturesque village of Littlemead, Mim has no idea how her life is about to change…

I loved the premise of this book as soon as I read the  blurb and I think I would have picked it up, even if I’d never heard of the author before. I’ve never made any bones about my immense love for the writing of Kate Field so, this coupled with the promise of the story meant I was really looking forward to reading it.

This is a story about how a chance encounter can change the course of your life entirely, about the kindness of strangers, how family can mean more than just those people you are related to by blood, and what it really means to find a home. When we meet the main character, Mim, she is about as down on her luck as it is possible to get. She has lost her home, her job and the only person in the world who cared about her and is sleeping in her car. When she meets Bill and Bea and agrees to do them a favour, she has no idea how completely it will change her life and how her kindness will be repaid a hundredfold.

When I first encountered Min, I thought she was an old lady – I think because of her name which is quite old-fashioned – but it soon becomes clear that she is only in her thirties but has had a very difficult life that has lead to her current circumstances. This has made her quite hard-shelled and suspicious in some ways, but we can see from the beginning a softer underside peeking out, which makes her a much more likeable and relatable character than she might have been otherwise. This is one of Kate’s specialities, and the reason I adore her writing, she is extremely skilled as creating complex, difficult characters who have interesting stories and redeeming features that mean you can’t help falling in love with them and wanting the best for them.

The Howard family are very different. They seem to lead gilded lives and have every advantage that anyone could wish for. What could they possibly have in common with Mim? More than she could expect in the end. The book explores the idea that we are all too quick to judge other people according to superficial information in this life and, if we only just give people a chance and put aside our preconceptions, we might be pleasantly surprised. Although Mim hates to be judged by her past herself, she is particularly prone to make snap judgements about people – a lesson she learns during the course of the novel.

The story here is beautifully crafted and realised. I loved everything about it. Aside from the characters, the setting in Devon is a tempting place to visit. The life that Mim begins to build is heartwarming and uplifting, and the people she meets are all gorgeous. I fell in love with all of it, and I know you will too. But the real genius here is the way that the author tugs at your heartstrings. I’ve yet to come away from one of this author’s novels without having shed a tear at some point, and this was no different. Here is an author who really understands human emotion and relationships and knows exactly how to mine and manipulate them to cause maximum reaction in her reader. I always come away from her books feeling like I’ve made new friends and fallen in love.

If I have one complaint about this book it is about the cover. It doesn’t do the book justice, relate to the story, or really communicate to me what the heart of the book is and is too generic. I would probably skim past this on a shelf and that would be a crying shame. The book deserves better and this publisher normally wows me with its covers, which is probably why I am disappointed. This is definitely one book you should not judge by its cover, it is absolutely wonderful.

Finding Home is out now as an ebook and will be published in paperback on 8 July. You can buy a copy here.

Please check out some of the other blogs taking part in the blitz:

Finding Home Full Tour Banner

About the Author

katefieldauthorphoto

Kate writes contemporary women’s fiction, mainly set in her favourite county of Lancashire, where she lives with her husband, daughter and mischievous cat.

She is a member of the Romantic Novelists’ Association.

Kate’s debut novel, The Magic of Ramblings, won the RNA’s Joan Hessayon Award for new writers.

Connect with Kate:

Facebook: Kate Field

Twitter: @katehaswords

A Little Book Problem banner

Guest Post: Forget Russia by L. Bordetsky-Williams #GuestPost #Extract

Williams Black 9

“Your problem is you have a Russian soul,” Anna’s mother tells her.

In 1980, Anna is a naïve UConn senior studying abroad in Moscow at the height of the Cold War—and a second-generation Russian Jew raised on a calamitous family history of abandonment, Czarist-era pogroms, and Soviet-style terror. As Anna dodges date rapists, KGB agents, and smooth-talking black marketeers while navigating an alien culture for the first time, she must come to terms with the aspects of the past that haunt her own life.

With its intricate insight into the everyday rhythms of an almost forgotten way of life in Brezhnev’s Soviet Union, Forget Russia is a disquieting multi-generational epic about coming of age, forgotten history, and the loss of innocence in all of its forms.  

Today I am delighted to be sharing on the blog, not only a guest post by L. Bordetsky-Williams on the story behind her book, Forget Russia, but also an excerpt from the book as well. Without further ado, I will hand over to Lisa.

A Story of Love, Murder, Betrayal, and Revolution by L. Bordetsky-Williams

Forget Russia tells the story of three generations of Russian Jews, journeying back and forth from America to Russia, during the course of the twentieth century. From before the 1917 Revolution to Brezhnev’s Soviet Union, this is a tale of unlikely heroes and the loss of innocence.  A significant portion of the novel focuses on an American Russian-Jewish family that returns to Leningrad in 1931, in a type of reverse migration, to build the Bolshevik Revolution. Forget Russia is a story of revolution, betrayal, murder, and love.

In 1980, at the height of the cold war, and the Iran hostage crisis, I had the opportunity to study Russian language for a semester at the Pushkin Institute in Moscow. This experience not only changed my life but it influenced the course of my life. I met many of the religious and dissident-type Jews of the Soviet Union.  Some of them were Refuseniks, people whose exit visas had been denied, and others said they could never leave because one of their parents had a “secret job,” which would prevent them from ever getting an exit visa.  Those Refuseniks had lost their jobs and were having a very difficult time just surviving.  Many of those young Soviet Jews were the grandchildren of the Bolsheviks.  Their ancestors had believed in the ideals of the 1917 Revolution and had flourished until Stalin had them put to death or exiled to labor camps during the height of the purges of 1936-1938. They had inherited a legacy of terror and fear. I have never forgotten them and the time we spent together.

About a year before I went to the Soviet Union, I was having lunch at my grandmother’s apartment, and she told me her mother died on a boat in Russia.  She was a woman who did not speak much, but when she did speak her words always contained great meaning. I probed more into her story with my family and discovered from my uncle that my great-grandmother had been raped and murdered. This information simply stunned me. I didn’t understand why no one had ever told me this. My grandmother had suffered from depression, and I then knew why.  As an old woman, when she was ill, I once heard her cry for her mother and that absolutely broke my heart.

When I studied Russian language, she began to sing me songs of her girlhood—songs of unrequited love that made me feel she must be trying to tell me something about her own life experiences. I wanted to grasp how such a horrific act of violence would affect the subsequent lives of women in a family.  This is a very large question, but it was one of the questions that prompted me to write Forget Russia.

I also was aware that my grandparents, both Russian Jewish immigrants, had returned to the Soviet Union in 1931, during the height of the Depression.  My grandfather was a carpenter, who longed to return and build the revolution.  He sold everything and borrowed money for the ship so his two small children, my mother and aunt, ages five and three, and my grandmother, could take an arduous journey back to Leningrad. They only stayed nine months.  If they had stayed any longer, they would have lost their American citizenship and never could have gotten out. 

On some level, my book looks at the nature of destiny—as I met these young Soviet Jews, I saw what my own life might have been if my ancestors had made other decisions.  I began to see how interdependent our lives were despite our apparent differences. I also wanted to understand how this initial trauma affected the subsequent generations of women in the family.

I did a tremendous amount of research for the novel over a number of years. I read accounts of American Russian Jews, who, just like my grandparents, went to the Soviet Union in the 1930’s. They were heartbreaking accounts of Americans who couldn’t leave the Soviet Union once the purges reached a peak in 1936-38. Many were imprisoned and exiled to labor camps. Many did not survive. I had the opportunity to interview a few American Jews from Russia who went to the Soviet Union with their parents in the 1930’s and managed to return to this country. I also read accounts of other Americans who went to the Soviet Union in hopes of getting work since there was very little work in America at the height of the Depression. I also researched a great deal about the Ukraine during the Civil War following the Russian Revolution.

I was surprised to find out that the Americans were originally very welcome in the Soviet Union.  Ford Motor Company even had a plant in Nizhni Novgorod, which encouraged many unemployed Americans to settle in the Soviet Union.  In the beginning, it sounded like it could have been quite exciting for a young person to be there. There was even a baseball team set up!  However, that all changed drastically when Stalin’s purges swept the country in 1936-38. The dream turned into a nightmare. These stranded Americans got no support from the American government as well. They were truly alone.

I also discovered that the Ukraine was very unstable during the Civil War that occurred after the Revolution.  Anti-Semitic Ukrainian nationalists controlled the Ukraine, and at other times the White army retained controlled, but once the Red army re-established rule, the retreating and defeated armies went into Jewish shtetls and massacred many Jews.  My poor grandmother was just a teenager when her mother was raped and murdered in one of these pogroms. 

In Forget Russia, when Anna, the granddaughter, comes back to the Soviet Union in 1980, she falls in love with a young Soviet Jew, who helps her make sense of her grandparents’ return to the country fifty years earlier.  Both characters must contend with the violence and enduring loss passed down to them from their ancestors. 

Forget-Russia-Collage-6-instagram

Extract from Forget Russia by L. Bordetsky-Williams

A week later, on a day in late October when most leaves had fallen to the ground, Iosif took me to the zagorod. The land rested in brown, golden and yellow colors, and the homes were the way I imagined them to be, with white paint embroidering the outside of delicately carved windows. A short distance from the train station, we found a cement path leading us into a darkening forest.

“These are real Russian woods,” Iosif said and placed his arm through mine as we stepped through thickets of light layered trees; shadows receded and cobwebbed mists opened onto the path leading us to his grandfather’s old apartment.

“Anichka, I have to say your Russian has gotten much better.”

“It’s still pretty bad.” Dried mud clung to my brown leather boots. I gazed up at him, at his thin and lanky body, at his face that seemed young and old simultaneously.

“No, it’s better.” His praise meant more to me than I could say. Iosif was definitely the smartest person I had ever met.

“In Russian class, we’re learning when to raise our voices higher, like at the end of a question. But when else do you do it?”

I didn’t expect Iosif to start laughing. “I don’t know. I never thought about any of this.”

“Depending on what you want to say, you’re supposed to raise your voice a little or a lot.”

“Really?” He stopped for just a moment, wrapped his arm around me. I leaned my head onto his shoulder.

“Now you tell me something. What do Americans talk about when they get together? Is it only about business?”

“No.” I was the one laughing this time.

“Well, then, what is it?”

“I don’t know. Movies, music, TV, maybe a book. The usual stuff, the election, the world.”

“Do you ever tell any jokes?”

“Of course, we do.”

“I see.” We walked in silence for a while. As we got deeper into the forest, Iosif’s mood changed.

“In the countryside, there’s hardly any food. Only bread and grains. Some sausage maybe and cabbage,” he whispered. Iosif pushed away the strands of wind-blown hair from his face. “Tell me, do you know what a propiska is?”

I didn’t have a clue.

“You must understand this if you’re going to know anything about our country,” he said, slightly impatient or impassioned. I wasn’t sure. “Propiska is a pass. We’re actually supposed to carry it around with us at all times, but most don’t. But if I want to go any great distance outside of Moscow, I must report where I’m going and get permission. Понимаешь?

“Yes,” I said, though I didn’t. I only knew there was a humming in my arm linked through his.

“Can you imagine? If I want to go to Leningrad, I can’t just pick up and go. Do you see what I’m saying?”

“I understand,” I said in my limited Russian, then switched to English.

“Well, now I have a question for you.” The rows of trees obscured my view of the sky, the afternoon light slipping away.

“Okay, then. Go ahead.”

“When your parents separated, did they fight a lot about money?”

“Money?” Iosif paused. “Why money? They didn’t have any to fight about. Why do you ask?”

“Because money was all my parents fought about.”

“What can I say. America is a sick place,” he said as he stepped into the moist dirt covered with yellow leaves. The soil smelled of rain from yesterday—the thin boughs of trees opened into a path of green and brown for us to follow. All of my life I had been waiting to be here. I leaned once more into Iosif’s arm, felt his cotton jacket against my face.

He led us out of the woods, away from the scent of pine and nettle everywhere. We found another cement path taking us to a brown brick apartment building that stood all by itself, surrounded only by grass.

“Years ago, my grandfather used to come here a lot—to think, to work. But that was all before he lost his memory.”

“When did that happen?”

“The last ten years, I would say. It was gradual. But it’s probably better he forgets the past as far as I’m concerned.” I remembered the soft and feathery feel of his grandfather’s hand when I saw him at Iosif’s apartment, his thick furry eyebrows, that dreamy, faraway look to his face.

We walked up several flights of dingy stairs until we came out into a dark corridor. I followed alongside Iosif, seeking the evening light. Inside the apartment, volumes and volumes of Tolstoy’s books filled up most of the shelves lining the walls.

“How did your grandfather get all these books? I’ve never seen anything like this”

“I can’t tell you that. But this is everything Tolstoy ever wrote.”

More secrets. I was growing used to it, little by little. So much could not be said or shared.I wanted to know but would not ask again.

Thank you, Lisa, for preparing the guest post for us and allowing me to share the extract. If the above has whetted your appetite for the book, Forget Russia is out now and you can buy a copy here.

About the Author

L Bordetsky-Williams

L. BORDETSKY-WILLIAMS is the author of Forget Russia, published by Tailwinds Press, December 2020. She has also published the memoir, Letters to Virginia Woolf (Hamilton Books, 2005, http://www.letterstovirginiawoolf.com); The Artist as Outsider in the Novels of Toni Morrison and Virginia Woolf (Greenwood Press, 2000); and three poetry chapbooks (The Eighth Phrase (Porkbelly Press 2014), Sky Studies (Finishing Line Press 2014), and In the Early Morning Calling (Finishing Line Press, 2018)). She was a student in Moscow at the Pushkin Institute in 1980. Presently, she is a Professor of Literature at Ramapo College of New Jersey and lives in New York City.

Connect with Lisa:

Website: https://www.forgetrussia.com/

Facebook: Forget Russia, A Novel

Twitter: @BordetskyL

Instagram: @forgetrussia

A Little Book Problem banner

Friday Night Drinks with… Julie Anderson

friday-night-drinks

Pubs are open again, hurrah! However, it is only outside drinking for now so my guest tonight is joining me indoors in my warm, virtual bar for chat and Friday Night Drinks. Please welcome to the blog, author…. Julie Anderson.

image2

Hi Julie and thank you for joining me for drinks this evening. First things first, what are you drinking?

Chilled white wine, so cold the glass is frosted.  A bottle of the wine sits neck deep in ice in a bucket at my elbow for us to share with our guests.

If we weren’t here in my virtual bar tonight, but were meeting in real life, where would you be taking me for a night out?

The wine is in an ice bucket because the air is warm, a balmy evening at the end of a hot day and we’re in Delphi, Greece, otherwise known as the ‘navel of the world’. We’ve driven up from Athens, through the traffic choked outskirts, across the farmland and into the mountains around the Gulf of Corinth, a drive of several hours. Now we’re sitting outside as the sun sets, on the terrace of a tiny, family run taverna on the edge of  Delphi which serves amazing fresh local dishes, dolmades, tzatziki and flatbread, wild boar stew and dessert made with Parnassus honey, washed down with the resinous local retsina.  But it’s the view which stuns. Beyond the railings of the terrace the mountain slope, covered in cypress and pine trees, falls away sharply, over 1,600 feet to the river far below.  On the other side of the valley are the peaks of the lesser mountains, ranging away to the horizon and the valley slopes away to our right, down to the plain and sea. We are on the slopes of the highest  mountain, Mount Parnassus. Its name means the mountain of the house of the god.

Delphi is the setting for my novel Oracle, the second in the series featuring Cassandra Fortune, Whitehall detective and, after the end of Plague, the first book, the envoy of the British Prime Minister. Cassie doesn’t eat at this restaurant, she is staying at the European Cultural Centre which lies just outside of Delphi town on the other side of a mountain ridge, but the view is similar there. Just around another ridge on the other side of town is the ancient Temple of Apollo, which is really a precinct of temples and buildings, including an amphitheatre, gymnasium and stadium, all set on the slopes around the massive Temple itself. The site has been a centre of worship since the Early Bronze Age (so about 3,000 BCE) and, when you look at the spectacular view you can see why – of course it must belong to a God.

ECCDViewtosea

If you could invite two famous people, one male and one female, alive or dead, along on our night out, who would we be drinking with?

Given where we are I’m going to have to choose someone from the classical period, so my male invitee is Xenophon of Athens born about 430 BCE. He lived at a fascinating time, he was a pupil of Socrates, a contemporary of Plato and knew Cyrus the Great of Persia, his Hellenica details Greek history from the Golden Age of Athens to the rise of Macedon and Alexander the Great. He knew many of the politicians and generals he wrote about and was well travelled and open minded enough to understand and admire different peoples and cultures. He also wrote the Anabasis, an account of how he lead the Greek ‘Ten Thousand’, mercenaries who were leaderless and thousands of miles from home in Asia Minor, back to Greece.  This has inspired many books and novels and a cult 1979 film, The Warriors directed by Walter Hill. In addition to all this he found time to write many philosophical works and On Horsemanship, a manual on the selection, care and training of horses still in use centuries later. He visited Delphi and consulted the Oracle there. Would I have some questions for him!

My female guest is Agatha Christie, doyen of detective fiction and married to an archeologist, so someone who would feel quite at home in Delphi. I devoured her stories when a child, even if Sherlock Holmes was my favourite, not Hercule Poirot, but Christie is a cultural phenomenon. I’d have lots of questions for her, mostly about plotting ( I confess, I often find her plots contrived ), but also about her time as a pharmacologist during World War Two and how she used places she had visited in her books ( something which I do too ). She also had a civil service detective, in a series of little known stories, called Parker Pyne, though he was retired.

So, now we’re settled, tell me what you are up to at the moment. How and why did you start it and where do you want it to go?

I am mid-way through the first three books in a series featuring Whitehall investigator, Cassandra Fortune, for publisher Claret Press. The first book, entitled Plague, was published in September 2020 and I wrote an article about it for A Little Book Problem on 18th September. The second book, Oracle, is being published on 5th May, though it’s available for pre-order now. In the absence of book tours and signing sessions I’ve been doing lots of promotion and publicity online for both books.  Though that’ll have to take second place soon as I need to begin writing Opera, the third, which is due out in 2022. That one is set in London, as was Plague, so I’ll be closer to home.

The three books hang together as a trilogy, following the central character, although the plotlines are, mostly, stand alone. They’re all thrillers, but are also about political themes like power and justice, looking at corruption and cronyism (very topical).  That makes them sound boring, but they’re not, at least that’s not what readers say, who tell me that they’re gripping and exciting. I’ve agreed to write three, then I’ll decide whether or not to pursue the series.

OraclewithPlague

What has been your proudest moment since you started writing and what has been your biggest challenge?

2020 was such a strange year that the obvious candidates for proudest moment, like my first, traditionally published book launch, didn’t happen  there was so much that we were going to do that had to be shelved. I was really proud of my book being reviewed in the Literary Review, however, I didn’t know it was going to be and it was a complete surprise when it was. I was also really pleased when fellow writers, much more experienced than I, liked my book and were prepared to say so.

The biggest challenge is always to get the book out there and noticed. There are so many books on the market, from large publishers with deep pockets who focus on a small group of already famous or celebrity names so newcomers like me from small indie publishers don’t get much of a look in.  But then I’m sure some self-published authors would say that I was fortunate, so it’s all relative and we all face the same pressures.

What is the one big thing you’d like to achieve in your chosen arena? Be as ambitious as you like, it’s just us talking after all!

Oooh, there’s a question. I’d like to be involved in making a filmed or TV series of the Cassandra Fortune books, but my dream is winning some sort of big prize for writing.  Neither are likely.

What do you have planned that you are really excited about?

The next book – always the next book is the exciting thing. Opera is the culmination of the three books so far, but it might also, I hope, lead on to another.

There’s also this year’s Clapham Book Festival ( I’m a trustee of the charity which runs it ). The 2020 edition was cancelled, like so much else, but the Board have decided to go ahead this year with a mix of events, some physical, in the local theatre which we have used before, some virtual, bringing together authors from all over and some interesting additions, like literary walks led by authors. Clapham has always attracted writers and there are lots of places of literary interest.  It’s a great Festival, run entirely by volunteers and was, until COVID hit, attracting a growing audience.  Clapham Book Festival 2021 is going to be fab! It’s happening on 16th October, please tell everyone about it.

I love to travel, and I’m currently drawing up a bucket list of things I’d like to do in the future. Where is your favourite place that you’ve been and what do you have at the top of your bucket list?

I love where I live, but it’s an urban environment, so I would choose to visit somewhere rural. I really enjoy the Northumberland coastline, with its miles of beach, castles on promontories and little hidden churches and chapels, also the gently folding Devon countryside or wild Dartmoor.  Delphi is similarly apart from the city, the town itself is only small, though the ancient town must have been quite a size. The Temple site is fabulous, very atmospheric, especially when there’s a mountain mist. It’s tucked into a fold of the mountain so that you don’t see it until you’re on top of it. It must have been a magnificent sight when it all still stood, marble reflecting the sunlight.

There are wonderful mountain walks, on slopes roamed by wild goats and where bees, feasting on pollen from wild flowers and herbs, make the famous Parnassus honey. In ancient times, when Delphi was difficult to get to in winter, it was said that Apollo left to spend the winter months in the land of the Hyperboreans, the land beyond the north wind, which is sometimes identified with Britain. So his cousin and fellow god, Dionysus, ruled at the Temple during the winter. Dionysus was the god of the grape, of theatre, festivity and ecstasy, also known as Bacchus and there is a suitably Dionysian revel in the book.

The top of my bucket list would be to travel the great railway journeys of the world, but taking in music where ever I went. So, London to Istanbul would be on the Orient Express but via Paris (Opera), Vienna ( Musicverein ), Venice ( La Fenice ) Belgrade ( jazz and blues) Sofia (plain chant in the Alexander Nevsky Cathedral) to Istanbul. There I would stay at the Pera Palace Hotel, which is where Agatha Christie stayed  – it has a room dedicated to her.  I could even write for a time on the train. Absolutely perfect, but probably impossible.

Tell me one interesting/surprising/secret fact about yourself.

When I was a civil servant I found myself the nominal owner of one of the world’s smallest navies (it’s true). 

One of the areas for which I was responsible was something called ‘Bona Vacantia’ or ownerless goods.  This refers to the goods and effects of individuals who die intestate and without any relatives ( there is something similar for companies and corporations ).  Their property reverts to the Crown. Legally this idea goes back to the sixteenth century when Henry VIII was trying to raise money for his foreign wars. In this instance, however, a company which hoped to create a marine tourist attraction in the, then recently refurbished, Liverpool Docks, had gone bankrupt. It owned a destroyer, a mine sweeper, the ship on which the Falklands War ended and several other smaller craft. These reverted to the Crown, but had to be ‘owned’ by someone on its behalf, at least until the items were sold.

What happened to it, you ask. Well, I tried to get the First Sea Lord to take the destroyer, but he wasn’t game, the Navy having sold the unwanted ship to the defunct company in the first place. In the end most was sold for scrap. I just regret not having got myself a peaked navy hat.

Books are my big passion and central to my blog and I’m always looking for recommendations. What one book would you give me and recommend as a ‘must-read’?

Having just written Oracle I am heavily into Greek history, mythology and drama at the moment ( a quote from Aeschylus’ play Agamemnon opens the book ). Modern fiction in English seems to be having a ‘Greek’ moment, with writers like Madeleine Miller ( The Song of Achilles, Circe ) Natalie Haynes ( A Thousand Ships ), Margaret Attwood ( Penelopiad ) and Pat Barker ( The Silence of the Girls ) reinterpreting the ancient Greek stories, often from a female perspective. I can recommend all of the above.

The one book I would recommend right now, however, is the only novel of Harry Thompson called This Thing of Darkness. It follows successive voyages of the Beagle, captained by Robert Fitzroy ( pioneer in weather forecasting) with Charles Darwin as naturalist.  It has an almost perfect blend of history, science and adventure and brings that period and those, real, individuals to life.

51sGTGv7LhL._SY291_BO1,204,203,200_QL40_ML2_

In 1831 Charles Darwin set off in HMS Beagle under the command of Captain Robert Fitzroy on a voyage that would change the world. This is the story of a deep friendship between two men, and the twin obsessions that tear them apart, leading one to triumph, and the other to disaster.

So, we’ve been drinking all evening. What is your failsafe plan to avoid a hangover and your go-to cure if you do end up with one?

My plan is to drink lots of water at the same time as drinking the alcohol, especially when in warmer climes. And, given that one of the famous Delphic maxims is ‘Nothing in excess’ often translated as ‘All things in moderation.’ I’ll have to be careful. We don’t want to offend the god.

If I do end up hung over I try and replace the sugars and vitamins lost ( that’s my excuse ), so fresh orange juice, fruit cocktail with yoghurt and Greek pastries ( or croissants ). If I was somewhere cold it would be a bacon butty or a boiled egg with bread and butter soldiers.  In short, comfort food.

After our fabulous night out, what would be your ideal way to spend the rest of a perfect weekend?

On Saturday morning, hangover permitting, I’d walk up the mountain behind Delphi to the Corycian Cave where people have lived since Neolithic times. I’d trek across, via the stadium used for the Pythian Games (rivalling the Olympic Games in their time) to stand at the top of the Phaedriades, huge cliffs called the ‘shining ones’ which tower above the temple site. It used to be the punishment for blasphemy to be thrown from these cliffs and, in Oracle, a body is found at their foot.

I’d come back down into town and have an early lunch on a terrace at one of the other little tavernas, then spend the heat of the day in the Museum (which is air conditioned) looking at artefacts from and reading the history of the ancient site. That evening it would be to an outdoor concert or drama performance, either at the European Cultural Centre or in the temple site itself.  I would love to see Euripides’ The Bacchae in the amphitheatre, in which Dionysus is a main character. Or Eumenides by Aeschylus, which opens in the Temple of Apollo at Delphi and ends at a ‘trial’ in Athens, just like Oracle.

Then on Sunday morning to the Temple itself, walking up the Sacred Way, past the ruins of treasuries built to house the many treasures and gifts which rich patrons dedicated to the God. Cities sent presents, so did whole islands and even Pharoah of Egypt dedicated gold and precious gems. No one wanted to offend Apollo. I’d go to the Castalian Spring at the foot of the Phaedriades, where the Pythia, the female priestess, bathed in ritual purification before she entered the Temple and became the Oracle. I like that this place was dedicated to Gaia the Great Mother before it passed to Apollo and that it was a woman, or women, who spoke with the God’s voice even after Apollo took over. I’m not sure I’d have fancied the ritual outdoor bathing in March ‘though. At that time of year it’s cold this high up.

A long and lazy Greek lunch would follow, probably before a nap and the drive back to the modern world.

Thank you for a really interesting chat, it’s been extremely enjoyable.

Julie’s new book, Oracle, will be published on 5 May and you can buy a copy here.

9781910461464-Perfect.indd

High on the slopes of Mount Parnassus, near the ancient Temple of Apollo, a group of young idealists protest against the despoiling of the planet outside a European governmental conference. Inside, corporate business lobbyists mingle with lawmakers, seeking profit and influence. Then the charismatic leader of the protest goes missing.

Oracle is about justice, from the brutal, archaic form of blood vengeance prevalent in early human societies to modern systems of law and jurisprudence, set in the context of a democracy. This is the law and equality under the law which allows democracy to thrive and underpins the freedoms and safeguards for individuals within it. The story is interlinked with Greece’s past, as the ancient cradle of democracy and source of many of western ideas of government, but also to its more recent and violent past of military strongmen and authoritarianism in the twentieth century.

Oracle also considers, in the form of a crime thriller, the politicisation of the police and the justice system and how that will undermine justice, especially following the banning of Golden Dawn, the now criminal organisation which wrapped itself in the mantle of politics. It touches on the new academic discipline of zemiology, the study of ‘crime’ through the prism of the harm it does to people, especially those without power.

Julie Anderson was a Senior Civil Servant in Westminster and Whitehall for many years, including at the Office for the Deputy Prime Minister, the Inland Revenue and Treasury Solicitors. Earlier publications include historical adventure novels and short stories. She is Chair of Trustees of Clapham Writers, organisers of the Clapham Book Festival, and curates events across London. 

You can find out more about Julie and her books via her website, Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

A Little Book Problem banner

Blog Tour: Summer Secrets at Streamside Cottage by Samantha Tonge #BookReview

Tonge_SUMMER SECRETS AT STREAMSIDE COTTAGE_Final

A new start can come from the most unexpected places…

It’s been years since Lizzie Lockhart spoke to her parents. But she was safe in the knowledge she knew everything about them. Once upon a time, they were as close as could be. Until they weren’t.

After receiving the earth-shattering news of their passing, Lizzie decides it’s time to unearth some family secrets and find out just who her parents really were… starting with Streamside Cottage. A cottage Lizzie never knew existed, in a place she’s never heard of: the beautiful English village of Leafton.

Leaving behind London, and the tattoo parlour she called home, Lizzie finds herself moving to the countryside. Faced with a tight-lipped community, who have secrets of their own, Lizzie is at a loss for what to do, until her rather handsome neighbour, Ben, steps in to help.

As Lizzie finally begins to piece together the puzzle of her family history she realises she has to confront the truth of the past in order to face her future.

I am delighted to be taking part in the blog tour today for the new book by Samantha Tonge, Summer Secrets at Streamside Cottage. My thanks to Victoria Joss at Head of Zeus for inviting me to take part and providing me with a digital copy of the book, which I have reviewed honestly and impartially.

Lots of books start off with a character being jolted out of their current life and into a new situation but few people have such a shocking and dramatic change as Lizzie does at the beginning of Summer Secrets at Streamside Cottage. What could possibly persuade a London-based tattoo artist to move to a tiny cottage in a rural setting, and how on earth will she fit it when she does? Was there ever a more fish-out-of-water scenario to open a book?

Well, finding out how this can all possibly work out is the joy of this book, and Samantha does a fantastic job of unfurling a convincing story out of this implausible scenario and making it all make sense. There are family secrets lurking in the walls of Streamside Cottage and Lizzie is determined to weed them out and try and make sense of why she became estranged from her over-protective parents, and why some villagers in Leafdon are so reluctant to talk about the past of Streamside Cottage.

Wrapping up an intriguing mystery with an exploration of family dynamics and what it really means to love and lose another person, this book has so much to offer to a range of different readers. It also seemed early on that the story might have a touch of the paranormal about it, until it took a very different direction. The story jumps backwards and forwards to different points in Lizzie’s life, so you have to pay quite keen attention to the headings at the beginning of each chapter to check what point you are at at any given time or the story won’t make sense, and the time jumps are not linear, but if you do that, the story will flow quite easily. I did have an inkling fairly early on as to what part of the secret might be, but this did not detract from my enjoyment of the book as I was eager to find out if I was right – and the answer was – not 100%!

I loved the fact that Lizzie was a tattoo artist – not something you come across often as a profession in a novel – and Samantha has included a little fact at the beginning of each chapter about tattoos, which tied in with events in that chapter. I found myself googling some of the things she referred to, I was so interested. She had obviously done a lot of research, and it was something Lizzie is very passionate about in the book. After living for 10 years with someone who has a bit of a tattoo addiction and having watched him add to them, I understand how meaningful they can be, and how much thought goes in to them, and this really came across in the writing here.

The storyline of the book is quite complex and dark, and the writing doesn’t shy away from this. I actually found myself in tears close to the end, so this may not be the light and fluffy read people come to expect from this type of fiction. However, this is something that appeals to me, I like the fact that romance novels can address some very personal and intense topics in an accessible way and I think people often underestimate this about the genre. This novel offers the reader a lot to think about during the read, and proved very satisfying.

This is a meaty read from Samantha Tonge, and will be enjoyed by anyone who loves a romance novel that they can get their teeth into.

Summer Secrets at Streamside Cottage is out now an an ebook and will be published in paperback in July, and you can buy a copy here.

Please visit some more bloggers taking part in the tour for alternative reviews and extracts:

Summer Secrets at Streamside Blog Tour 1

Summer Secrets at Streamside Blog Tour 2

About the Author

Sam Tonge_author photo

Samantha Tonge lives in Manchester UK with her husband and children. She studied German and French at university and has worked abroad, including a stint at Disneyland Paris. She has travelled widely. When not writing she passes her days cycling, baking and drinking coffee. Samantha has sold many dozens of short stories to women’s magazines. She is represented by the Darley Anderson literary agency. In 2013, she landed a publishing deal for romantic comedy fiction with HQDigital at HarperCollins and in 2014, her bestselling debut, Doubting Abbey, was shortlisted for the Festival of Romantic Fiction best Ebook award. In 2015 her summer novel, Game of Scones, hit #5 in the UK Kindle chart and won the Love Stories Awards Best Romantic Ebook category. In 2018 Forgive Me Not heralded a new direction into darker women’s fiction with publisher Canelo. In 2019 she was shortlisted for the Romantic Novelists’ Association romantic comedy award

Connect with Samantha:

Website: http://samanthatonge.co.uk/

Facebook: Samantha Tonge Author

Twitter: @SamTongeWriter

Instagram: @samanthatongeauthor

A Little Book Problem banner

Blog Tour: Don’t Turn Around by Jessica Barry #BookReview

51SZTgBouOL._SX324_BO1,204,203,200_

TWO STRANGERS. DANGEROUS SECRETS. THEIR ONLY CHANCE IS EACH OTHER.

Cait’s job is to transport women to safety. Out of respect, she never asks any questions. Like most of the women, Rebecca is trying to escape something.

But what if Rebecca’s secrets put them both in danger? There’s a reason Cait chooses to keep on the road, helping strangers. She has a past of her own, and knows what it’s like to be followed.

And there is someone right behind them, watching their every move…

On 6 April, I posted an extract from Don’t Turn Around by Jessica Barry and now I am delighted to be able to share my review of the book with you, as we celebrate the book’s paperback publication day. My thanks to Graeme Williams for inviting me to be part of the tour and to the publisher for providing me with a copy of the book for the purposes of review, which I have reviewed honestly and impartially.

This book is a really interesting mix of genres and ideas that take it beyond mere thriller territory and into something more emotionally intense and thought-provoking. That being said, it works excellently as an edge-of-your-seat thriller too!

Cait turns up at Rebecca’s house at midnight to transport her 300-plus miles across Texas and into New Mexico. The two women have never met before. Why Rebecca needs escorting across state lines in the dead of night by a complete stranger is something than unfolds across the course of the book, as do the secrets that Cait herself is hiding, as we flip between the present and the two women’s pasts to learn how they came to be where they currently find themselves.

As they embark on their drive and begin to learn things about what another, it soon becomes clear that they are not alone on the empty, night-shrouded desert roads, and the person keeping them company has intentions that are far from benign. But which of the two women is their target and why? What do they intend to do? Finding these things out are what gives this book its nail-biting edge and will have you racing through the pages to solve the mystery and find out what happens. I have to say, the pursuit of the two women across the desert in the dead of night was extremely frightening and creepy. A terrifying mashup of the movies Thelma and Louise and Duel, if you remember either of those.

Aside from the psychological thriller aspect of the pursuit storyline, the books also explores some much deeper issues that are very topical. It looks at the #MeToo era, inceldom, pro-life activism and women’s rights amongst other things. One thing I really loved about the book was the solidarity and support that develops between women – even those that don’t know each other – when faced with adversity and attacks on their autonomy coming from the patriarchy. There are not many thriller novels that delve so deeply into the idea of women’s rights as this one does, and I think the author has been very brave to do it because the book touches on some areas of controversy, but I thoroughly enjoyed the fact that she didn’t shy away from exploring difficult topics and felt that it elevated the book out of the ordinary.

A great book for anyone who enjoys a scary, psychological thriller with a fierce bite, I highly recommend it.

Don’t Turn Around is out now in all formats and you can buy a copy here.

The other bloggers taking part in the tour will also be sharing their reviews today, so make sure you visit their blogs too:

Dont Turn Around_Blog Tour Card_Blog Image_v1

About the Author

Jessica Barry is a pseudonym for an American author who grew up in a small town in Massachusetts and was raised on a steady diet of library books and PBS.

She attended Boston University, where she majored in English and Art History, before moving to London in 2004 to pursue an MA from University College London.

She lives with her husband, Simon, and their two cats, Roger Livesey and BoJack Horseman.

Connect with Jessica:

Facebook: Jessica Barry

Twitter: @jessbarryauthor

Instagram: @jessicabarry9

A Little Book Problem banner

Guest Post: A piece by author Elizabeth Jade to mark Autism Awareness Month

mock-00037

Today I am delighted to welcome to the blog, author Elizabeth Jade, who has written a piece to share with us to mark April as Autism Awareness Month.

I was born in North Yorkshire in 1998 and moved to Somerset when I was very young. I started school in 2002 and by the time I was 7, the kids were already bullying me; the teachers said I needed to pay more attention; and I would go home and relate what everyone had been doing in detail but hadn’t a clue what the lessons were about. I waited a term and a half for the teaching assistant I was told I needed, but never received it. By this stage, the stress from being at school was making me physically unwell and my parents decided to teach me at home.

I started writing when I was 14, around the time I started struggling with depression and anxiety. The ideas began flowing faster than I could get them onto paper, and I have boxes of ideas and bits of stories to prove it. I found myself so absorbed in writing that I had to be reminded to eat and sleep.

The inspiration for my stories could come from anywhere – a conversation, a photograph or even a YouTube clip. As a visual thinker, I like to work with a photograph of my character in front of me. It’s as if I can see their personality shining through. On one occasion, I was searching for an image of a dalmatian with a husky for a dalmatian story I was working on. But when I found an image I liked, it felt like the husky was telling me her story, so I wrote that instead, and my first husky/wolf story was born.

For a while, writing kept my mental health in check, but by my late teens I was struggling again and was referred to the children’s mental health team. While I found this an unpleasant experience, it was here the possibility of Aspergers was suggested, leading to my diagnosis when I was 18, around the time my first book was published. As anxiety and depression are often found alongside Aspergers, it’s difficult to say if they are related to my autism or the result of my struggles in school.

Initially, I think I was relieved to know there was a reason for the struggles I had experienced in my life. I had spent a long time trying to fit in and measure up to what behaviour was expected by society. I had spent years wondering what was the matter with me, why everything I did always seemed to be wrong, and if I would ever achieve anything with my life. While I was relieved that I wasn’t alone in experiencing these struggles, I resented the fact that the school’s Special Educational Needs Co-ordinator hadn’t spotted my Aspergers. My school life could have been much easier, and I may not have struggled so much with my mental health if I had received an earlier diagnosis and the support that goes with it. But I guess people weren’t really aware of the signs of this type of autism in girls when I was at school, compared to the level of awareness around the time I was diagnosed.

When I published the first book in my Akea series, I decided to take a gamble and include my autism and mental health diagnosis in both the author’s bio section and any newspaper articles about me. The reaction was better than I could have hoped for. Some people were encouraged because I had spoken about the struggle with my mental health, and one man stopped to thank me for mentioning it in a recent article in the local paper. Others were keen to accept that I had Aspergers and wanted to actively support me. I ended up supplying A5 display stands entitled ‘The Aspie Author’, to be placed next to my books in local bookshops. This turned out to be an effective way to be noticed as people often go into a book shop with a specific purchase in mind, and as a new author it’s easy to be overlooked. But people were drawn to the displays, read the information on them, and then picked up the book to read the blurb. People do seem to be a lot more understanding and supportive than they were while I was growing up.

thumbnail__20181005_162018

An example of a new level of acceptance in schools can be seen in Oldfield Park Junior School in Bath. Last September, they named their classes after literary figures. Some famous names like AA Milne and Dr Seuss were chosen. While other authors, such as Benjamin Zephaniah, were chosen because they had overcome challenges like dyslexia and would be positive examples for the children. As it happens, they also named a class after me. This came as a bit of a shock, and I still don’t know how they even heard about me.

Elizabeth Jade class

According to the teacher of ‘Elizabeth Jade’ class, she would have two autistic children in her class, two who were currently in the diagnosis phase, and one child with severe hearing loss. And I was chosen to be an inspiration to those in the class with additional challenges. They will also be reading my books and using them as a basis for classroom discussion on acceptance. I never imagined my books could be used as a basis for classroom discussions like that, but then I hadn’t realised my stories contained such important lessons until some of my readers pointed this out to me.

In ‘Akea – The Power of Destiny,’ Akea always felt different, even though she didn’t know why, and when she sees a lone wolf by the name of Kazakh, she understands that her true destiny lies beyond the relative safety of her sled dog family. Kazakh’s role is to help her discover her place in the world but doing so goes against the rules and norms of wolf society. Each obstacle that Akea overcomes makes her stronger and brings her closer to her goal, until she finally ends up fitting in where she physically stands out the most and is accepted by both the wolves and the family she left behind.

The themes of belonging, acceptance and overcoming obstacles were not something I had consciously included, it seems my own desire to be accepted and understood had indeed been woven into the story. Discovering this made me look more closely at the second Akea story I had written, and I discovered I had woven similar themes into this one too.

In ‘Akea – His Mother’s Son,’ Akea’s wolf-dog son, Salvador, is captured by humans and taken to a wildlife park where he is shunned as a ‘mongrel’ by the first wolf he meets there. On learning of a threat to his family (I won’t tell you how – that would spoil it) he must convince her and the other wolves to accept his leadership, escape with him, and return in time to save his pack. So, you have the same issues of acceptance and overcoming obstacles. But, of course, it’s not just Salvador that has to adjust to being separated from his family. Akea and the rest of the wolf pack must come to terms with the loss of Salvador. So, this second book has the addition of a dual narrative which allows the reader to see both sides of this experience of loss and change too.

While I liked the idea that learning about me and my books could be a source of encouragement to the children in EJ Class, I wanted to go a little further than that. So, I wrote to the class to personally encourage them to look for what makes each of them different, to celebrate that as a good thing, and to look for ways in which they could encourage and support one another. I was delighted to receive nearly thirty letters and pictures in reply. Sadly, the children have spent more time away from school than in it since September, and as things move forward, they may well need support with their own mental health. Hopefully, those previous words of wisdom will encourage them to look out for each other and speak up when they need support themselves.

April may be autism awareness month, but autism isn’t the only challenge, and awareness is not enough. There is a need for people not only to be aware of the unique individuals that make up this world, and not just to accept the things that make each of us different. We need to move beyond that and celebrate those differences. This applies to all forms of autism, disability, special needs, and so on – Everybody matters!

What an inspiring and heartfelt piece of writing, I am so grateful to have been able to share that with you all. My huge thanks to Elizabeth Jade for writing that for me.

Elizabeth is the author of two books in the Akea Wolf Stories series.

(Book 1) Akea – The Power of Destiny

Akea - The Power of Destiny (BK1)

 

Akea is born into a family of sled dogs and a life that follows a predictable path, but from the day she first sees the lone wolf, Kazakh, Akea knows her future lies beyond the safety of her home. Kazakh is well aware of Akea’s destiny and the pack laws he will break to help her reach it. Regardless of the challenges ahead, he must make sure this young husky will be ready, even if it means his life.

You can buy a copy of Akea: The Power of Destiny here.

(Book 2) Akea – His Mother’s Son

Akea - His Mother's Son (BK2)

Akea is no ordinary husky, and taking her place as Wolf Queen was just the first step in the journey set out for her by the Great Wolf. Akea’s world turns upside down when humans raid their home, scattering the pack and capturing her hybrid son. Salvador struggles to adjust to a life in captivity, quickly realising not everyone approves of his husky mother’s rise to Wolf Queen. And when the Great Wolf sends him warning dreams, Salvador discovers his true purpose for being there.

You can buy a copy of Akea: His Mother’s Son here.

About the Author

Elizabeth Jade

Elizabeth Jade was born in 1998 in Northallerton, North Yorkshire, England, but moved with her family to Wellington in Somerset when she was very young. Her early schooling did not go smoothly, and as a result, she was home-schooled from the age of seven. Her parents soon learned she had a unique slant on life and quickly abandoned attempts to follow the national curriculum in favour of child-led learning.

Elizabeth stumbled into writing at the age of fourteen when she began to suffer from anxiety and depression and quickly found her story ideas pouring out faster than she could get them onto paper. It wasn’t until the age of eighteen that she realised her struggles in school had been due to Aspergers Syndrome (an autistic spectrum disorder).

As an enthusiastic animal lover, Elizabeth volunteered first at the Conquest Riding Centre for the Disabled and then at St Giles Animal Rescue before moving on to the Cats Protection Homing and Information Centre. Her gifted way with the cats quickly earned her the title of ‘Cat Whisperer’ from the staff. Since she had always possessed such a way with animals, it was only natural for her story ideas to revolve around them.

Elizabeth’s personal experience as a young author with the challenges of autism, depression and anxiety, along with her writing theme of acceptance and overcoming obstacles, have led to her having a junior school class named after her.

Connect with Elizabeth:

Website: https://elizabethjade.org/

Facebook: Akea Wolf Stories

Twitter: @AkeaWolfStories

Instagram: @akeawolfstories.author

Pinterest: Akea Wolf Stories

YouTube: Elizabeth Jade

A Little Book Problem banner

 

Romancing The Romance Authors with… Victoria Springfield

romancing-the-romance-authors-1

The weeks are going by so fast now, aren’t they? I can’t believe it is time for another edition of Romancing The Romance Authors, the feature where I chat to an author of romance novels about what, why and how they write. But it is, and this week I am delighted to be talking to… Victoria Springfield.

Welcome to the blog, Victoria. Tell me a bit about the type of books you write and where you are in your publishing journey.

I write contemporary women’s fiction immersed in the sights, sounds and flavours of Italy.  I started writing my first book in 2018 and was lucky enough to get a place on the RNA’s New Writers’ Scheme in 2019.  Later that year I met my agent, Camilla Shestopal at the RNA conference in Lancaster.  My debut novel, The Italian Holiday, has just been published by Orion under their digital-first brand, Dash.  A second book, set in a riding school in the Tuscan countryside, will be coming out in August this year.

Why romance?

Romance novels are often dismissed but love is one of the biggest influences on people’s emotions and actions.  Love can make one person curl up in a ball in a dark corner, another person to leap up and down on the sofa like Tom Cruise.  It can make people do crazy things, cause them to betray their friends and families or commit acts of self-sacrifice.  Love provides a writer with great material and I enjoy creating a happy ending.  I want people to put my books down with a big, contented sigh and the feeling that all is well in the world.

What inspires your stories?

I have been holidaying in Italy since I was a teenager thanks to my father who was a real Italophile.  The locations, the scenery, the history and of course, the wonderful food all inspire me.  Italy is such a diverse country – it was not united until the late 19th century – so the strong local identity of each location shapes my characters’ lives.  The story lines come from people I have met, conversations I have overheard and things I have read.  Once I start writing, the story itself inspires twists and turns as I go along.

Who are your favourite romance authors, past and/or present?

My favourite authors such as Mary Wesley, Joanna Trollope and Anita Shreve mix romance with other elements. I have recently discovered Erin Hilderbrand who is fantastic at dissecting human relationships; her books are mainly set on Nantucket.  Rosanna Ley is great; I really enjoyed The Little Theatre by the Sea set in Sardinia, and I always enjoy Sue Moorcroft’s books.  I want to read more from Nadia Marks, her Among the Lemon Trees, a mixture of family secrets and wartime romance has an Italian element but mainly takes place on a small Aegean island.  For a complete change I am trying some historical romance; I am thoroughly enjoying The Spanish Girl by Jules Hayes.

If you had to pick one romance novel for me to read, which one would you recommend?

I hope you have plenty of spare time because I am going to suggest Vikram Seth’s A Suitable Boy.  This is by far the biggest book on my shelf but well worth the read. The book opens with the wedding of the heroine Lata’s older sister.  Lata’s mother assures her that she will find a suitable boy for Lata to wed, but Lata has ideas of her own.  By the end of the book Lata has three different suitors to choose from and has to weigh up the merits of romantic love, personal happiness and family obligations.

Lata’s search for love plays out against a backdrop of infighting and tragedy as India prepares for its first election after gaining independence from the British Empire.  There is a lot to digest with the political shenanigans and a subplot involving a battle for the affections of the captivating courtesan, Saeeda Bai.  The recent BBC television series included many of the hundred-plus characters from the book but it could only scratch the surface – they should have made fifty episodes!

51oeEdBIIyL._SX325_BO1,204,203,200_

A modern classic, this epic tale of families, romance and political intrigue, set in India, never loses its power to delight and enchant readers.

At its core, A Suitable Boy is a love story: the tale of Lata – and her mother’s – attempts to find her a suitable husband, through love or through exacting maternal appraisal. At the same time, it is the story of India, newly independent and struggling through a time of crisis as a sixth of the world’s population faces its first great general election and the chance to map its own destiny.

Which romantic hero or heroine would you choose to spend your perfect romantic weekend with? Where would you go and what would you do?

I was tempted to choose a handsome, brooding Italian but I am going to step back in time and choose Emma’s charming old-fashioned Mr. Knightley who would knock at my door and whisk me off in a horse-drawn carriage to Donwell Abbey.  After a tour of the grounds, we would enjoy dainty cakes washed down with copious amounts of tea from fine china cups in front of the roaring fire.  Later, I would descend the stairs dressed in a sweeping gown for the evening’s ball, where I would miraculously dance beautifully.  The next day a groom would appear with two striking horses.  I would try sidesaddle; Mr. Knightley would look particularly dashing in breeches and leather boots.  We would fall through a portal into the Italian countryside and trot through the same vineyards, meadows and woods as the characters in my forthcoming second novel before spending the night at the home of a handsome Italian count.  Spurred on by the count’s flirtation with me, Mr. Knightley would at last cast off his English reserve…

What is your favourite thing about being a member of the RNA? What do you think you have gained from membership?

The RNA provides a wonderful sense of camaraderie; I am continually astonished by how helpful and friendly everyone is.  I have been missing the chapter meetings but now I am crossing paths with people on social media.  If I had not joined the RNA’s New Writers’ Scheme I am not sure I would have got published.  The reader was able to pick out specific passages in my manuscript to show me where my writing could be more engaging and vivid.

What one piece of advice or tip would you give to new writers starting out in the romance genre?

Do what works for you and do not worry if someone else is writing 3,000 words a day.  Also, get away from the computer.  For me there is something about the rhythm of swimming or walking that untangles my plot problems.  I have been known to scribble things down whilst I am wrapped in a towel in the pool changing rooms.

Tell us about your most recent novel.

The Italian Holiday is an uplifting seaside romance which weaves together the stories of unlucky-in-love Bluebell and kind widow, Miriam who meet on a coach tour of the Amalfi Coast, with that of local girl, Michela, who is returning to Italy after a year working in London.  Whilst Bluebell and Miriam are making friends and exploring the region, Michela’s plan to work at her cousins’ restaurant in Positano is scuppered by a family crisis.  Instead, she lends a helping hand at her parents’ tiny café bar in the quaint town of Minori, surrounded by memories of her first love, Stefano.

The three women have to learn to embrace the changes in their lives and seize their chances of happiness.  The book explores love, friendship, family ties and – thanks to a mysterious poppy-print dress – how a change of clothes can change your life.

The_Italian_Holiday Cover

Sun, sea and spaghetti…

Italy was Bluebell’s dream destination, but taking her granny’s place on the Loving and Knitting magazine competition holiday she’d won wasn’t quite what she’d had in mind. For one thing she didn’t knit and for the other…well being single probably discounted her from the love category too. But a free holiday is a free holiday and it’s the perfect escape from her lacklustre life.

Michela didn’t think she’d be returning home to Italy so soon, a new job at her cousin’s restaurant on the harbour of Positano was a dream gig, miles away from the grey London clouds. This time though, she vowed not to fall into old habits, Stefano was the past and now her future in her old hometown beckoned.

But under the Italian skies a whole host of possibilities await and maybe happy-ever-after is just a plane-ride away…

You can buy The Italian Holiday as an ebook here.

About The Author

Victoria Springfield

Victoria Springfield writes contemporary women’s fiction set mainly in Italy.  Her feel-good stories follow unforgettable characters of all ages as they find adventure, friendship and romance.  After many years in London, she now lives in Kent with her husband in a house by the river.  Victoria joined the Romantic Novelists’ Association’s New Writers’ Scheme in 2019.  In 2020 she signed a two-book deal with Orion Dash.  The Italian Holiday set on The Amalfi Coast is out now.  A second book, set in a horse riding centre in Tuscany, will be published in August 2021.

Connect with Victoria:

Facebook: Victoria Springfield Author

Twitter: @VictoriaSwrites

A Little Book Problem banner

The Fiction Cafe Book Club Reading Challenge 2021: The Little Shop on Floral Street by Jane Lacey-Crane #BookReview

51j61WWaKHL

In the wake of tragedy, two sisters have to piece their family back together…

Grace never thought she’d have to return home to Floral Street. Having spent most of her life building a successful career in London, she’s done everything she possibly can to avoid the flower stall that’s been in her family for generations. But when tragedy hits, she’s got no choice. It’s time to face the demons of the past and support her family.

Faith has returned home after years travelling the world. The baby of the family, she always struggled to find her place. She thought that her life would be different after a trip across the globe, but as she settles back into life in her childhood room she has to come to terms with the fact her life isn’t quite what she expected. And she has no way of getting out of the rut she finds herself in.

Faith and Grace have never seen eye-to-eye, always clashing, never forgiving. But they might just find a way to understand one another, to fight their way through their grief and come out stronger. By opening up, they’ll discover they aren’t so different at all. And family will always be there for you.

Category six of The Fiction Cafe Book Club Reading Challenge was ‘Read a book by an author with the same name as your best friend.’ Now, this caused me a bit of a dilemma as I have a number of close friends and didn’t want to offend the others by naming any one of them ‘best.’ So I chose the name of my first best friend at senior school who moved to Cornwall after a year and who I haven’t seen since 1984! It also allowed me to tick a book off my NetGalley list, so it was win-win. The book I picked was The Little Shop on Floral Street by Jane Lacey-Crane.

I am ashamed that this book has been languishing on my TBR for so long, because I have loved Jane’s previous two books. This one was another great piece of women’s fiction, that spoke to me on a personal level, dealing as it does with the relationship between three sisters. As someone who is the eldest of four girls, and who counts her sisters as her closest friends as well as siblings, the dynamics of relationships between sisters is always something I am interested in seeing explored in a novel.

In this book, two of the sisters have remained close, despite the fact that the eldest left home at a young age after become largely estranged from their father. The youngest sister has been away travelling and her return to the family home marks a period of upheaval for them all, that culminates in a family tragedy that changes them all forever, and has the power to push them all apart or pull them back together.

In this novel, Jane has drawn a truly authentic and believable family dynamic that plays out honestly on the page. I felt that each of the characters, and their relationship to one another, were beautifully realised and explored and I could really relate to all of them. Despite my own closeness to my sisters, the tensions and rivalries between the three girls were very recognisable to me; with the best will in the world every family has difficulties and areas of friction, and the way each of the sisters interpreted events differently depending on their position and role within the family was all too familiar!

As the eldest, Grace was the one to whom I most related. I recognise that feeling of responsibility and having the weight of sorting out the family’s issues and taking on its burdens, whilst the younger sisters have a much more carefree existence. I am sure my sisters would argue that the younger girls have their own crosses to bear, and would recognise themselves more in Hope or Faith, which is the genius of Jane’s drawing of the characters!

The story centres around the family’s flower stall business, and its future in the wake of the tragedy and the shockwaves of its aftermath and, in this regard, it is a tight, small story that could be happening to any family up and down the country today and, in fact, in the wake of so many losses suffered by so many families in the last twelve months, many of the issues explored will be painful and relevant to a lot of people at the moment. In this regard, the book will speak to a lot of people and touch many of us with its message. This is a book that takes a step beyond a typical women’s fiction novel.

I really enjoyed this book. It is a novel with a big heart and a gentle exploration of issues that will have touched most of us in some way at some point in our lives. I would be surprised if there is anyone who can’t find some recognisable experience or emotion in its pages. Well worth reading.

The Little Shop on Floral Street is out now in ebook and paperback formats and you can buy a copy here.

About the Author

59tt1QT8_400x400

Jane has reached the age now where she no longer tells people her age! She’s old enough to legally be able to do everything and that’s all that matters. Secrets & Tea at Rosie Lee’s is Jane’s debut novel. Born and brought up in London’s East End, she now lives in Lincolnshire with her family. Thankfully she recently discovered the joys of mail order pie, mash & liquor, so she can relive her youth anytime she feels like it!

Although writing stories was something that Jane had always done, she never thought anyone would pay her to do it so she focused on learning to act instead, figuring that this was a much more reliable way to earn a living. Sadly, her career as an actress was shortlived, actually it was non-existent, so she turned her attention to another reliable line of work – Cable Television! This was where Jane managed to finally get paid (badly!) doing something she enjoyed – writing. She began with scripts for a series all about Serial Killers (imaginatively entitled ‘Serial Killers’) and then moved on to a series of history documentaries. This series never saw the light of day in the UK but Jane has been informed that it used be very popular with insomniacs staying in hotels in the Far East. This may or may not be true.

Jane’s latest book, The Little Shop on Floral Street, is out now and returns to the familiar East London streets where the author grew up.

Connect with Jane:

Facebook: Jane Lacey-Crane

Twitter: @JaneLaceyCrane

Instagram: @janelaceycrane

A Little Book Problem banner

Blog Tour: The Drowned City by K. J. Maitland #BookReview

The Drowned City Graphic 5

I am absolutely thrilled to be taking part today in the blog tour for a book I have been looking forward to reading so much, The Drowned City by K. J. Maitland. My thanks to Anne Cater for inviting me to take part in the tour and to the publisher for my digital copy of the book which I have reviewed honestly and impartially.

The Drowned City Cover

Gunpowder and treason changed England forever. But the tides are turning and revenge runs deep…

1606. A year to the day that men were executed for conspiring to blow up Parliament, a towering wave devastates the Bristol Channel. Some proclaim God’s vengeance. Others seek to take advantage.

In London, Daniel Pursglove lies in prison waiting to die. But Charles FitzAlan, close adviser to King James I, has a job in mind that will free a man of Daniel’s skill from the horrors of Newgate. If he succeeds.

For Bristol is a hotbed of Catholic spies, and where better for the lone conspirator who evaded arrest, one Spero Pettingar, to gather allies than in the chaos of a drowned city? Daniel journeys there to investigate FitzAlan’s lead, but soon finds himself at the heart of a dark Jesuit conspiracy – and in pursuit of a killer.

I’ve just spent 24 hours of my life immersed in life in the flood-ravaged Bristol of 1606, caught up in the intrigues of the post-Gunpowder Plot Jacobean court and cutting through a web of spies, lies, superstition and religious rivalry to try and solve a murder mystery and I didn’t really want to come back to reality.

The Drowned City is a fantastic mix of historical novel and murder mystery set against the backdrop of a startling but little known event of Jacobean times – the flooding of Bristol by a freak tsunami or storm surge – that was believed by many to be a sign from God at a time when there was still friction between the Catholic church and the Protestant faith in the fairly-new reign of James I. This is not a period of history that I am very familiar with, being more of a Wars of the Roses obsessive, but I was completely gripped by this fascinating blend of fact and fiction to the extent that I had to keep breaking off to find out which bits of the book were based on actual events and characters and which bits the author had invented; the story-telling is completely seamless.

This is the story of Daniel Pursglove, a proponent of sleight of hand tricks, who has found himself in Newgate Prison awaiting trial on suspicion of witchcraft during the reign of a paranoid and superstitious monarch. He is given the chance of earning a pardon by a man claiming to be a close advisor of the King; all he has to do is go to a flood-blighted Bristol to investigate rumours that a priest who had a hand in the Gunpowder Plot is in hiding there, planning sedition. Faced with the prospect of losing his hands, if not his life, Daniel agrees and sets off, but finds himself investigating a string of murders in a city that is beset by suspicion against outsiders and religious superstition, making it a dangerous place for him and his mission.

To say that the author brings the setting of the book to life would be a massive understatement. I can’t remember the last time that I read a book which presents such a vivid portrayal of a different time and a different life. I felt like Harry Potter when his nose touches the surface of the Pensieve and he is pulled in to Dumbledore’s memory. I literally *fell* right in to the heart of Bristol, surrounded by the clamour and the squalor of the blighted metropolis. The author’s writing is vivid and textured and absolutely perfect. The descriptions she uses to evoke the pictures just filled my heart with delight (‘shave the beard from a herring’ was a particular favourite), I could mentally roll around in her language and revel in the feel of it for hours. To take such delight in not just a story but the very way in which it is told is a rare and particular joy to me.

The murder mystery itself is fiendish and full of suspense and tension; enough by itself to carry the story if the book offered nothing else to the reader and it will appeal to lovers of that genre as well as fans of the historical novel. But the setting of the mystery against the historical backdrop adds another layer of interest to anyone who enjoys that genre, and if you are a fan of both as I am, you will be in hogs’ heaven with this novel. It gave me the same joy as I felt when I first discovered the Cadfael novels by Ellis Peters which has a similar style of murder mystery peppered with actual historical fact.

On every level, The Drowned City worked perfectly for me. The writing, the story, the characterisation were all faultless, and I enjoyed this book as much as any I have read in a long time. This is one of the best books I have read so far this year, and I confident it will feature in my top ten books of 2021. Definitely one for the ‘forever’ shelf and I have bought myself a copy in hardback (which has the most beautiful cover too!). I can’t wait for the next in the series, and have no hesitation in recommending this book to anyone and everyone. Reading bliss, I want to do it all over again.

The Drowned City is out now in hardback, ebook and audiobook formats and will be published in paperback in November. You can buy a copy here.

Make sure you go back and visit some of the other blogs taking part in the tour for alternative reviews and other content:

The Drowned City BT Poster

About the Author

KJ Maitland Author pic

Karen Maitland is an historical novelist, lecturer and teacher of Creative Writing, with over twenty books to her name. She grew up in Malta, which inspired her passion for history, and travelled and worked all over the world before settling in the United Kingdom. She has a doctorate in psycholinguistics, and now lives on the edge of Dartmoor in Devon.

Connect with Karen:

Website: https://karenmaitland.com/

Facebook: Karen Maitland

random-thingstours-fb-header

Book Review: Whisper of the Lotus by Gabrielle Yetter #BookReview

Front cover

Sometimes you have to go a long way from home to come full circle back to discover what was right in front of you..

Charlotte’s mundane, dead-end life lacked excitement. She never imagined that sitting on a plane to Cambodia, struggling with her fear of flying, would lead to her being befriended by Rashid, an old man whose tragic secret would take her on a mystery tour of discovery.

In a land of golden temples, orange-clad monks, and smiling people, Charlotte discovers nothing is as she’d expected. She also never imagined the journey would take her back to the night when her father walked out on the family.

And who was Rashid? Was he just a kindly old man, or was there something deeper sewn into the exquisite fabric of his life?

I received a digital copy of this book from the author for the purpose of review, for which she has my thanks. I have reviewed the book honestly and impartially.

I am partial to a book that takes me to another country, especially one that I have never visited in person. Cambodia is a place that is at the top of my bucket list so, until I can get there in reality, I was really looking forward to being transported there between the pages of this book. The author certainly managed to do that in Whisper of the Lotus. The book is filled with the sights, sounds, smells, tastes and people of Cambodia and really brought the place to life in a way that only someone who is very familiar with the country really could.

Charlotte is a person who doesn’t really have a life of her own. After her parents split up, she has been left at home looking after her mother – a woman consumed by bitterness and self-pity – by a mixture of guilt and fear. Her best friend Roxy went off travelling and found a new life in Cambodia, so Charlotte decides to take a long-desired holiday to visit her out there. Charlotte is afraid of flying, afraid of travelling alone, afraid of anything different, so this is a big deal for her. She is befriended on the flight by an elderly man who calms her down with words of wisdom, and that encounter sets her the path of a mystery when she lands in Cambodia that will change everything for her.

This is a really unusual book which crosses a number of genres. Part travel novel, part mystery, part supernatural, part exploration of Buddhism, part family saga, there is a lot that will appeal to many different people here, and it will probably be like nothing you have read before. The author explores the relationship between Charlotte and her mother and how that has impacted her life, and between Charlotte and her friend Roxy and how the differences between the two illuminate the changes that Charlotte needs to make to her life to make her happy. The book takes us on an exploration of Cambodia that is enriching and delightful for anyone who is interested in life in other parts of the world, and her writing here is rich and detailed and full of affection and admiration for the country and its people. 

I found the discussion of Buddhist principles through Charlotte’s learning of them particularly fascinating, as it something I have always had a mild interest in but never particularly pursued beyond that, so learning a little more was enlightening and made me think I might look into it a bit further. Charlotte begins down the path of seeing how it could help her move on in her life, although it is clearly not an easy path because she seems to forget what has been taught as soon as she gets into a difficult situation! I think this indicates it is something that takes a lot of time and dedication to explore and cannot turn things around overnight.

I did have a couple of issues with the book, which came mainly from the character of Charlotte. I did find her a hard person to warm to at times. She is quite whiny and addicted to her victimhood (as Roxy points out!) and very quick to fly of the handle if she thinks anyone is telling her something she doesn’t want to hear. I appreciate that her character needs to be like that at the beginning so she can move on from it through the book as she learns and grows, but I didn’t feel like she had got there by the end; she still seemed to be quite self-centred at the conclusion. Normally this might be quite fatal for my enjoyment of a book, but the rest of it was written so beautifully and was so entertaining that I was able to get past it. She is not a character I could ever love though.

The supernatural element of the book created some moments of beauty and interest, and I enjoyed it, although I think some people might find it too unbelievable and coincidental to swallow. It is definitely a book that requires the reader to suspend their disbelief. The book is a languid and leisurely feast for all the senses, that doesn’t rush but takes a slow and circuitous route to its conclusion. It is not without flaw, and won’t appeal to everyone, but I thoroughly enjoyed it and would recommend it for anyone looking for something that little bit out of the ordinary.

Whisper of the Lotus is out now in ebook and paperback and you can buy a copy here.

About the Author

kqiljdkmrets4b7hivecns96sp._US230_

Gabrielle Yetter has lived in India, Bahrain, South Africa, Cambodia, England and the USA. She worked as a journalist in South Africa, owned a dining guide in San Diego, wrote a cookbook about traditional Cambodian desserts and freelanced for publications and online sites in the US, The Netherlands, South Africa, and Southeast Asia.

In 2010, she and her husband, Skip, sold their home in the US, quit their jobs, gave away most of their possessions, and bought a one-way ticket to Cambodia.

In June 2015, she co-authored Just Go! Leave the Treadmill for a World of Adventure, with Skip. In May 2016, she published her first children’s picture book, Ogden, The Fish Who Couldn’t Swim Straight followed by Martha The Blue Sheep in 2017.

She lives in Eastbourne, England and her first novel, Whisper of the Lotus, was released in November 2020.

Connect with Gabrielle:

Website: http://www.gabrielleyetter.com/

Facebook: Gabrielle Yetter

Twitter: @gabster2

A Little Book Problem banner