Book Review: Traitor in the Ice by K. J. Maitland

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Winter, 1607. A man is struck down in the grounds of Battle Abbey, Sussex. Before dawn breaks, he is dead.

Home to the Montagues, Battle has caught the paranoid eye of King James. The Catholic household is rumoured to shelter those loyal to the Pope, disguising them as servants within the abbey walls. And the last man sent to expose them was silenced before his report could reach London.

Daniel Pursglove is summoned to infiltrate Battle and find proof of treachery. He soon discovers that nearly everyone at the abbey has something to hide – for deeds far more dangerous than religious dissent. But one lone figure he senses only in the shadows, carefully concealed from the world. Could the notorious traitor Spero Pettingar finally be close at hand?

As more bodies are unearthed, Daniel determines to catch the culprit. But how do you unmask a killer when nobody is who they seem?

This is the second book in the Daniel Pursglove historical mystery series. I was captivated by the first book, The Drowned Citywhen I read it last year (you can read my review of the book here) so I was delighted to be invited to review The Traitor in the Ice. My thanks to the publisher for providing me with a copy of the book for this purpose, which I have reviewed honestly and impartially.

It is not necessary for you to have read the first book featuring Daniel Pursglove for you to be able to understand and enjoy The Traitor in the Ice, it works perfectly well as a standalone novel, although it would give you a little more background on how Daniel has found himself in the position he currently occupies as a spy for someone close to the throne. For those of you who have read The Drowned City, which is set in Bristol during the flood of 1606, the author has whittled out another freak weather event to form the backdrop of this book, the Great Freeze of 1607. For me, the weaving of an entertaining murder mystery with real life, little known historical events makes for the perfect novel, because I love to learn things as I am entertained.

The main setting of the book is the town of Battle, close to the coast in East Sussex, and its famous Abbey, which purports to be a hotbed of illicit Catholic activity at a time when this was illegal. Other chapters take place in London around the court of James I. Clearly, a huge amount of research has gone into this novel and the fictional element of the murder mystery is embedded firmly in historical fact about the life of Viscountess Montague and her sheltering of Catholic priests during the reigns of Elizabeth I and James I, when the Protestant faith was given prominence across the country. The book absolutely oozes with the tension and fear of persecution that stalked the steps of Catholics during that period, the constant threat of raids, capture, torture and execution for anyone accused of preaching the Catholic faith or harbouring anyone who did. This was particularly heightened during this period immediately following the failed Gunpowder Plot, when suspicion was rife that further attempts on the life of the King were being planned. The author has captured this oppressive fear and suspicion perfectly here and the book will have you on edge from beginning to end.

Amidst the task Daniel has been given to gain information about what role Battle and the Montague are playing in the Catholic cause at this time, he comes across a series of murders which appear to be linked with the Crown’s efforts to infiltrate Battle and discover its secrets. It quickly becomes clear, though, that the solution is not that straight forward and Daniel has to separate the truth from the false trails that the killer has attempted to lay to divert attention away from his actions. The author explores many interesting topics whilst weaving this tale of mystery and intrigue; the lives lead by servants in great households at this time; how the Catholic priests remained hidden and moved around the country and the Continent; how faith was practised in secret; the folk tales and superstitions of ordinary people at the time; the tensions and competition in James’s court between the Scots and the English nobility; the strange practice of night creeping. All of it is absolutely fascinating and I was captivated by every aspect.

The book is very detailed and I suppose some readers may find that the level of description slows the plot somewhat. However, for me it works absolutely brilliantly if you come at it from the perspective of it being as much a historical novel as a murder mystery and that it is balanced as such. The detail and description is important to the book as the action, if you look at it this way, and the historical information gleaned is as rewarding as solving the puzzle of the murders. This is what makes it such a special and rewarding read for me, the sublime blending of historical fact and real people with fictional characters and the mystery plot. Just a delight.

Whilst tying up the particular conundrum of who has committed the murders in this book and why, the author has left enough questions hanging to tantalise the reader with anticipation for the next book. There are particular questions left about who is really controlling Daniel and why, whose side they are on, and what is their ultimate goal. Also, the fate of one character is left curiously unresolved and I, for one, have no sooner closed this novel than I am hankering for the next. Write faster please, Ms. Maitland! Daniel is a character I have completely fallen in love with for his skills, cunning and sense of honour, and I am also enjoying learning more about this period of history, which is one I have not studied in much detail. I already await the hardback of this book arriving to grace my library, and I can’t wait for book three.

Highly recommended for lovers of historical fiction and murder mysteries alike.

The Traitor in the Ice will be published in hardback, audio and ebook formats on 31 March and in paperback on 29 September, and you can pre-order a copy here.

About the Author

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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

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RONA Awards 2022 Celebration Drinks with… Helen Fisher

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This is my final RONA celebration drinks post! I’ve had 33 fantastic guests chatting about their nominations and their writing. I have some interviews with some of the winners coming up, and one final guest on this slot. So, last but definitely not least, I have a nominee in the Fantasy Romantic Novel Award category with her novel, Space Hopper. Please welcome… Helen Fisher.

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Thank you for joining me for drinks this evening. First things first, what are you drinking?

Gin (Bombay Sapphire) and slimline tonic, lots of ice please. I can drink it all night and still appear fairly sober. If you want to get all my secrets out of me, then you better get me some wine.

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I’m with you on the gin, I think it’s the tonic which staves off the dehydration. 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?

A cocktail bar called Baskervilles in Bury St. Edmunds. I don’t get on that well with cocktails, but I like the atmosphere there and the cocktails are Sherlock-themed. One of their cocktails arrives in a little briefcase billowing with dry ice, and another comes in a little bottle that’s hidden inside a hollowed-out book.

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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?

For my female guest I’d be torn between Reese Witherspoon and Gillian Anderson both of whom I love as actors and who I think would be great fun. But if I have to choose, I’ll go for Reese because, shamelessly, I’d like to get her to read my book and turn it into a film. I love her book-to-screen adaptations and think she’d do a brilliant job with Space Hopper. For my male guest I’m torn between Robin Williams and Bruce Springsteen, but I think I’d cry too much if I saw Robin Williams, so let’s go with Bruce.

I love Reese, she’s been one of my idols ever since I saw Election. 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 currently editing book two of a two-book deal. I say “book two”, but it’s essentially “book five” as I wrote two and a half novels after Space Hopper, which the editors didn’t feel would work as a follow-up to my first novel. It sounds so simple when I say it like that, but as you can imagine I shed a lot of tears and pounded a lot of pillows in the process. The idea for the main character in my new novel (he’s called Joe-Nathan) came from nowhere that I can put my finger on, but before I ever committed anything to paper, he had taken up residence in my head with his habits and his funny way of saying and doing things. Joe is so life-affirming that even during some very dark times he kept me going. I’m enjoying the editing, because it means I get to spend more time with him, and no apologies if that sounds plain weird.

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

There are so many proud moments for me that came from writing a novel: just finishing a novel; getting an agent; getting a publisher; buying a kitten (as promised if I ever got published) for my kids; seeing my book in bookstores and in people’s hands; writing “author” when I’m filling in a form that asks my occupation; being shortlisted for the RNA awards; having the novel I’m working on at the moment accepted by my publisher. The list goes on.

As for my biggest challenge, well, I’m not a patient person, and this work requires patience. It takes a long time to write a novel and you spend hours, days, months doing it, never knowing if anyone will read it. Writing the second novel in a two-book deal has been, by far, the biggest challenge yet. By the time I started the novel that ended up being accepted, I had lost my confidence and writing it was torture. I think that if this one hadn’t been accepted, I might have given up completely.

I think, as a still-aspiring author, that is both encouraging and discouraging at the same time! What is the one big thing you’d like to achieve in your chosen arena? Be as ambitious as you like, its just us talking after all!

I would love to see my novels adapted to the screen. Hence my evening out with Reese.

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

Space Hopper was shortlisted for the RNA (Romantic Novelists’ Association) award, in the category of Fantasy Romance. I don’t think of Space Hopper as a romance, but there is a lot of love in the book and the protagonist has a very nice marriage; I’m delighted to have been shortlisted and very excited to be going to a real-life awards ceremony in London. Also, there is an event this June, which was originally scheduled two years ago, and there will be lots of authors there. The thought of mingling with real authors is a dream come true. Mind you, I love mingling with anyone who can talk for hours on end about books and writing.

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 was lucky enough to travel around the world when I was younger, with the man I would end up marrying (and then divorcing!) There are so many amazing places in the world, but I loved South Africa. Having said that, I’m drawn to Italy and if I could only travel there for holidays for the rest of my life, I’d be happy with that. I’d love to do karaoke in Japan.

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

When I was a kid, I thought all cats were female and all dogs were male. I’ve worked it out now. I blame my confusion on the fact that I watched too many cartoons in which cats had long, dark eyelashes and wore bows on their heads (because don’t all females?) and the dogs carried briefcases and wore ties. Luckily, these days animals can wear whatever makeup and clothes they want and are not so stereotyped.

I’m glad that confusion has been cleared up! 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’?

Leonard and Hungry Paul, a brilliantly written story about a friendship between two men, by Ronan Hession. I think it’s just wonderful.

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Leonard and Hungry are two quiet friends who see the world differently. They use humour, board games and silence to steer their way through the maelstrom that is the 21st Century. It is the story of two friends trying to find their place in the world. It is about those uncelebrated people who have the ability to change the world, not by effort or force, but through their appreciation of all that is special and overlooked in life.

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?

Saying the words “never again” a lot, with your head in your hands, should help loads. Failing that, do the boring (but effective) thing: drink pints of water before you go to bed. Problem is, when you’ve drunk that much, you stop being sensible enough to drink water before bed. Next day, if you’ve got a hangover, go for a walk, eat toast and drink tea. 

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

I can’t do two nights out in a row, so Saturday will start on the sofa eating toast, drinking tea and saying “never again”, followed by a long walk (I walk every day, nice and fast, with weights on my ankles). The rest of the weekend will involve some combination of meeting friends, watching boxsets and eating out. If I’ve got the kids, then hanging out with them, forcing them to go for a walk, playing games and shouting at the TV together is fun. I love watching programs I might not choose if it wasn’t for them. We just finished The Umbrella Academy, and I loved it.

Helen, it has been a total joy to talk to you this evening and can I just take this opportunity to say how much I loved Space Hopper? I’m very much looking forward to reading your next book.

Helen’s RONA-shortlisted novel, Space Hopper, is out now in all formats and you can buy a copy here. you can read my recent review of Space Hopper here.

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If you could go back in time to find answers to the past, would you?

For Faye, the answer is yes. There is nothing she wouldn’t do to find out what really happened when she lost her mother as a child. She is happy with her life – she has a loving husband, two young daughters and supportive friends, even a job that she enjoys. But questions about the past keep haunting her, until one day she finally gets the chance she’s been waiting for.

But how far is she willing to go to find answers?

Helen Fisher lives in the Suffolk countryside with her two children and a cat called Bear, who thinks he’s a dog. She has a background in psychology and worked as the senior evaluator in ergonomics at RNIB. She now writes for a living. Space Hopper is her first novel, published by Simon & Schuster and will be available in paperback on the 17th of March. Her second novel, also published by S&S, will be out in 2023.

Connect with Helen:

Website: https://www.helenfisherwrites.com/

Twitter: @HFisherAuthor

Instagram: @helenfisher_author

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RONA Awards 2022 Celebration Drinks with… Anita Frank

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We are drawing towards the end of our celebration of this year’s RONA nominees but we still have a few fantastic authors to talk to. Tonight I am joined by a nominee in the Historical Romantic Novel Award category with her novel The Return. Please welcome to the blog… Anita Frank.

Anita Frank, Historical Romantic Novel, Romantic Novel Awards 2022

Thank you for joining me for drinks this evening. First things first, what are you drinking?

Well, to be honest, I’m not a huge drinker, but since this is a special occasion, I’ll have a G and T and will probably then swap to lemonade and lime, but I might round off the evening with a cheeky glass of Madeira (it’s a rather old-fashioned tipple, so drinking it always makes me feel like a character from one of my novels!)

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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?

A nice country pub with a friendly atmosphere, comfy seats, good food and a roaring fire!

Oh, you need to come to my local! 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?

I’ve always been a huge Cary Grant fan, and I think he would be charming company with lots of good stories to tell.  I’d also invite Agatha Christie, because her life story is similarly fascinating and maybe she’d tell me what really lay behind her mysterious disappearance!

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?

Right, well, I’ve just delivered my book 3 to my editor. That one is a Golden Age crime thriller – I hope she likes it – and I’m also writing my book 4 which is a love story set during the First World War. It’s inspired by a true story, the details of which I read about fifteen years ago. I’m taking my characters into a slightly different dilemma,  

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

I would absolutely love to have one (or more!) or my books adapted for film or television. That has been a dream of mine since I was very little and still the goal I’m striving for.

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

I can’t ride a bike!

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’?

There are so many! But my favourite book of late has to be Raft of Stars by Andrew J Graf. It just grabs you from the first page, and it made me laugh, it made me cry and I was having heart palpitations by the end. Just a hugely enjoyable read.

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One summer night in Wisconsin, the lives of two ten-year-old boys are changed forever…

Tired of seeing his best friend Dale Breadwin abused by his alcoholic father, Fischer Branson takes action. A gunshot rings out, and Bread and Fish flee into the woods. They build a raft, but the river quickly leads them into even greater danger.

In their wake travel a group of adults – each determined to save the boys from the terrors of Ironsford Gorge.

The further they go, the more the wilderness starts to change them in profound and unexpected ways. And when they reach the edge of the Gorge itself, they begin to understand the true violence and beauty of the natural world, and its ability to heal.

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?

I think before I don’t drink much, my liver is in pretty good condition, so on the rare occasions I do drink to excess (very rare these days!!) I don’t, touch wood, tend to get hangovers! I do always drink plenty of water before I go to bed, and I always take a big jug up to bed with me so if I wake up parched I can drink more.

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

I’d go for a lovely country walk with the dog (and maybe the family!) in the morning, spend the afternoon reading, get him indoors to cook me dinner, and then have everyone round the telly to watch a good film in the evening. 

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Dogs are always the best company! Thank you for chatting to me, it has been fun.

Anita’s RONA-nominated book, The Return, is out now and you can buy a copy here.

Anita Frank, Historical Romantic Novel, Romantic Novel Awards 2022, The Return BOOK COVER

Jack Ellison’s war is over, but the battle for his family has just begun.

When Jack left for the war, he made a parting pledge to his pregnant bride, Gwen, that he would never return. It was, after all, best for everyone that he didn’t.

Now, as celebrations erupt for Victory in Europe, Gwen is terrified that Jack will renege on his promise, threatening the life she has built for herself and their son on the family farm.

But war has changed Jack, and he is coming home, determined to claim a place in Gwen’s life – and her heart.

As events of the past come back to haunt them, Jack and Gwen find themselves facing their greatest battle – and it is a fight neither of them can afford to lose.

A farmer’s daughter from Shropshire, Anita Frank studied English and American History at the University of East Anglia before moving to London to work in media analysis and communications.

She left paid employment to become a stay-at-home mum when she had the first of her three children. Sadly, Anita‘s youngest child developed a rare form of epilepsy in infancy which has left him severely mentally disabled and she is now his full-time-carer, but she has begun snatching what time she can to pursue her lifelong ambition of writing historical fiction.

Anita now lives in Berkshire with her husband, her two lovely girls and her gorgeous boy, a fluffy cat with an attitude, and a bonkers Welsh Springer Spaniel.

Her debut novel, The Lost Ones, was published by HQ in October 2019.

Connect with Anita:

Facebook: Anita Frank

Twitter: @Ajes74

Instagram: @anitafrankauthor

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Blog Tour: The Club by Ellery Lloyd

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The Home Group is a collection of ultra-exclusive private members’ clubs and a global phenomenon, and the opening of its most ambitious project yet – Island Home, a forgotten island transformed into the height of luxury – is billed as the celebrity event of the decade.

There’s no place like Home…

But as the first guests arrive, it turns out that even the most beautiful people can keep the ugliest secrets – secrets some will die to keep and others will kill to expose.

I’m delighted to be opening the blog tour today for The Club by Ellery Lloyd. I’m very grateful to Becca Bryant at Pan Macmillan for inviting me to review the book and providing me with a copy for that purpose. I have reviewed the book honestly and impartially as always.

There have been lots of thrillers recently involving small groups of people stranded in remote locations falling foul of a murderer. You might think that The Club is just another in this group by reading the blurb, but it is actually something a little different, and well worth picking up, even if you think you have heard it all before.

Ned and his brother Adam run a group of exclusive private members’ clubs around the world, catering to the glitterati and indulging their most extreme excesses. The opening of their latest venture, a club on an abandoned island just off the South Coast, promises to be a glamorous weekend of indulgence for the creme de la creme of the entertainment world, and everything has to be perfect. However, under the surface of all this perfection, dangerous tensions are simmering, ugly secrets are about to be revealed – it’s going to be murder!

This book is a fun thriller that exposes all the dark heart and flaws of celebrity and the lifestyle that some of these people live. The way that some believe their power, fame and money will protect them, even as they indulge in activity that society finds abhorrent or is actually criminal. The lengths they will go to to protect their reputations and how this leaves them open to manipulation by unscrupulous characters masquerading as friends.

The book is told from the viewpoint of four different characters, interspersed with extracts from a Vanity Fair article detailing the events of that weekend in the aftermath. It is a very clever way of revealing the story and the truth of the events bit by bit, leaving you guessing what has actually happened right until the end. It’s very easy to follow who is telling the story at any given time and, as the story is told sequentially, it is not at all confusing. The tone is quite light and easy, not too dark, despite the bleakness  of the story and the whole thing is very entertaining. The press release blurb suggests the book will appeal to fans of The White Lotus and, as someone who loved this show, I think this is a most apt comparison. (If you haven’t watched this show from 2021 on Sky, I highly recommend it, it is excellent and darkly humorous.) I was completely caught up in the story and read it over the course of only 24 hours because it was so addictive.

A lot of the characters in this book are unpleasant, but deliberately so. There are some you are desperate to see get their comeuppance, others you will be rooting for, and you might be left wondering which celebrities these two wicked writers have taken as their inspiration! Having read this, I will definitely go back and read their first book, which I seem to have overlooked despite it being a Richard and Judy Book Club pick. The Club has been chosen by Reese Witherspoon for her book club, which is a good enough endorsement for me and may persuade you to pick this up, if my review doesn’t.

The Club will be published on 31 March and you can pre-order your copy here.

Please follow the rest of the tour for alternative reviews of the book:

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About the Author

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Ellery Lloyd is the pseudonym for London-based husband-and-wife writing team Collette Lyons and Paul Vlitos. Collette is a journalist and editor, and former features editor at Stylist, content director of Elle and editorial director at Soho House. She has written for the Guardian, the Telegraph, and the Sunday Times as well as two travel books. Paul is the author of Welcome to the Working Week and Every Day is Like Sunday. He is subject leader for English Literature, Film, and Creative Writing at the University of Surrey.

Connect with Ellery Lloyd:

Website: https://www.ellerylloyd.com

Facebook: Ellery Lloyd Author

Twitter: @ElleryLloyd

Instagram: @ellerylloyd_author

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RONA Awards 2022 Celebration Drinks with… Suzanne Fortin

RONAS

Another fantastic author nominated in this year’s Romantic Novel Awards has agreed to chat to me on the blog tonight. Her novel, All That We Have Lost, was nominated in the Jackie Collins Award for Romantic Thrillers category and went on to win. It’s… Suzanne Fortin.

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Sue, welcome to the blog and thank you for joining me for drinks this evening. First things first, what are you drinking?

Thank you so much for inviting me, it’s lovely to be here. Mine’s a Bacardi and coke – I’m such an 80s girl. 

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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?

Probably to my local village pub, sitting near the open fire and having a bar meal of some description. Not very rock n roll, I know.

Well, since in front of the fire in my local is one of my favourite places, I’m not going to argue with you! 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?

Wow, what a question! Let’s see … I think I’d ask Rik Mayall, who I hope would be equally hilarious and outrageous as he always appeared. My other guest would be someone like Sophia Loren, although I’m not sure what she’d make of Rik! 

I loved Rik Mayall so much. I rewatched The New Statesman recently and it genius and also scarily realistic now! 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?

So, at the moment, I’m very much juggling different projects. I have two books, both historical dual-timelines, which are at different stages of the editing process and I’m expecting edits to come in from those any time now. I’ve got an idea for a new historical book which I’m running by my agent and editor and I’m also working on a short story for readers. I’m planning on using the short story as a giveaway for existing and new sign ups to my newsletter.

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

The proudest moment was when one of my books went to Number 1 in the whole of the UK Amazon chart and Number 3 in the whole of the US Amazon chart. It was a bit overwhelming at the time but when I look back, I’m really proud of that achievement.  The biggest challenge has been then trying to keep everything in perspective with the books that followed and not to get hung up on whether the next book is as good, sells as many copies, gets as many reviews etc. 

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

I used to have a list of things I wanted to achieve pinned by the side of my computer, but over the years, my goals have changed and I don’t have that list anymore. I used to want to be a Sunday Times Bestseller and, I guess, to a degree, that still remains a dream. However, I have different types of things I want to achieve and, at the moment, that is to have a good work/life balance. 

What are have planned that you are really excited about?

I have a new book coming out in July called Beyond A Broken Sky. I really enjoyed writing this one. I can’t wait to be able to share the story. It’s another historical dual-timeline where we meet Rhoda Sullivan who is restoring a stained-glass window of a church which has an unusual backstory and a mystery to be solved. The mystery dates back to wartime England and Italian POWs in Somerset.

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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?

My favourite place is France. We have a cottage in Southern Brittany and love to go over there as often as possible. It’s in a very rural and quiet location but not too far to travel for every day needs. We went to Australia a few years ago and I’d love to go back there and explore different parts of the country.

I’d love to go to Australia but I think I might have to wait until the kids leave home now and go for six weeks to see it all, maybe tag New Zealand on too. I think I may only persuade my OH to fly that far once! Tell me one interesting/surprising/secret fact about yourself.

Oh, what to say … erm … I can tap dance. I haven’t tapped for a long time but I learnt as an adult and loved every minute of it. I would like to go back to it one day.

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’?

I feel this is an impossible question to answer! I read Omerta by Mario Puzo years ago and loved it but equally I thoroughly enjoyed Plan B by Emily Barr. Sorry, that’s two which is cheating.

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The perfect couple. The perfect French farmhouse. Plan A is the perfect life. But then there’s Plan B…

Emma adores living in Brighton, but she loves Matt more. When he suggests they buy the perfect farmhouse in the South of France, she reluctantly agrees, even though he continues commuting to London while she looks after their daughter and the builders. But France is not the idyll he promised, and when she discovers the true reason he spends half his time in London the foundations on which she’s built her life start to crumble…

That Emily Barr book sounds so good. 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?

I am the world’s worst drinker. I only have two glasses of alcohol as I can’t handle any more, it just makes me go to sleep. My cure to any kind of hangover is definitely sleep.

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

Going for a long walk in the countryside or along the beach. I live on the south coast of England, so I’m lucky to have both things very close by. There would also have to be a Sunday roast involved and a few hours reading.

Thank you for a lovely chat over a drink – a perfect way to spend the evening.

Thank you Sue, it’s been an absolute joy to chat to you this evening.

Suzanne’s RONA Award-winning novel, All That We Have Lost, is out now in all formats and you can buy your copy here.

All That We Have Lost

Papa always told us that to be brave doesn’t mean you have no fear.
It just means you can move forwards in spite of that fear.

2019. When Imogen Wren‘s husband dies, she must realise their dream of moving to France on her own. She finds a beautiful abandoned chateau and starts to rebuild her life among its ruins. But she soon notices that the locals won’t come near. A dark web of secrets surrounds the house, and it all seems to centre on the war…

1944. Since the moment German troops stepped foot in her village, the sole aim of Simone Varon‘s life has been to avoid them. Until one soldier begins leaving medicine bottles for her sick brother, and she gets to know the man behind the uniform. Then the Resistance comes calling, and she must choose between love and duty – with devastating consequences that will echo through the decades.

As Imogen restores the chateau, she’s determined to uncover the truth – and set to rest the ghosts of the past.

Suzanne Fortin writes historical fiction, predominantly dual timeline and set in France. Her books feature courageous women in extraordinary circumstances with love and family at the heart of all the stories.

Suzanne also writes mystery and suspense as Sue Fortin where she is a USA Today bestseller and Amazon UK #1 and Amazon US #3 bestseller. She has sold over a million copies of her books and been translated into multiple languages.

Connect with Sue:

Website: https://suefortin.com

Facebook: Sue Fortin Author

Twitter: @suefortin1

Instagram: @suefortinauthor

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RONA Awards 2022 Celebration Drinks with… Catherine Tinley

RONAS

Tonight I am chatting to another winner in the Romantic Novel Awards 2022. Winner of the Historical Romantic Novel Award  with her book, A Waltz with the Outspoken Governess, please welcome… Catherine Tinley.

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Thank you for joining me for drinks this evening. First things first, what are you drinking?

I’m drinking a gorgeous pink gin made in a local distillery. It’s called Rostrevor -the Mourne Dew distillery also does whiskey and poitín, which are also fab. Do you want to try some?

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I am a big gin fan (I was going to say ‘big gin drinker’ but that makes me sound like I have a problem!), so yes please. 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?

I’d take you to the Old Killowen Inn in the village of Rostrevor, for great Guinness and Irish music. The craic (fun) would be great!

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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?

Let’s see…Danny O’Donoghue from The Script for the singing and the craic, and Eloisa James, because I think she’d love it!

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’m writing a trilogy set in Regency times, but in the Outer Hebrides! I know, I know…unusual. But I am absolutely loving it! There’s always great fun to be had in the research for historical fiction, and I’m lucky to have a friend from the Hebrides who has been wonderful in keeping me right on history, geography, and language. He’s a native Gaelic speaker, so I’ve included small bits of the language in the books. 

Book 1, A Laird for the Governess is just out and I’m relieved and delighted by the early reviews. People really get it, I think. It features a London governess who takes a post in the wilds of the Hebrides, and finds not just love, but belonging, and a sense of community. Book 2 reverses the scenario, as I plan to take a couple of characters from the island community and bring them into the glittering heart of Regency society. I had planned to stop after three books, but a reader has just requested a happy-ever-after for a secondary character from A Laird for the Governess, so who knows?

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A penniless governess

And the dour Laird of Ardmore

Lydia Farnham must travel to a remote Scottish island to work for widower Alasdair MacDonald, who doesn’t trust her or her unconventional teaching methods! Yet as his daughter flourishes, so too does the intense connection between Lydia and Alasdair. Only she should know better than to fall for the handsome laird when it could leave her without a job, or a home…

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

Getting ‘the call’ and the offer of a two-book contract from a major publisher was a dream come true. It’s the moment I began thinking of myself as an author as well as a writer. I’ve also been lucky enough to win a coveted Rita ® award in the US (for Waltzing with the Earl) as well as winning the RoNA last year for Best Historical Romance (for Rags-to-Riches Wife). That one also won the HOLT Medallion in the US…it’s just so lovely to know that readers like what I write!

In terms of challenges, I’ve had to transition from writing as a hobby to being a professional author. I work full-time in the NHS, so I have to be very disciplined about my writing targets and stick to my routines, otherwise I’d never meet deadlines. I also have ADD, which I’ve worked hard to manage, so overcoming this challenge is something I’m very proud of. I’ve discovered, for example, that I daren’t take a break between books as I risk losing the good habits, so now I take no more than a day or two off before starting the next project. I also use a tracker called www.pacemaker.press (it’s free!) which really helps.

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

I’d like to write a longer Regency, and have it published by a major trade publisher. I am working on a draft, so watch this space…

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

Travel! It’s been so, so long, so this year I’m making up for lost time. Apart from flying to London for the RoNA Awards I also intend to go to the RNA conference this year for the first time, plus we have unused holiday vouchers from two years ago that will take us somewhere sunny in August. Can’t wait!

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 lived in Munich for a year and will always love the place. Interrailing was wonderful so I did it three times, yet there’s still so much of Old Europe I want to see. The bucket list includes Vienna and Salzburg, Berlin, and Brussels.

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

Ooh! Ok then. People are often surprised when I tell them I manage a maternity hospital as my day job (and people at work are always surprised when I tell them I’m an author!)

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’?

Impossible! Even within Regency I can’t choose just one, but maybe Frederica or Venetia by Georgette Heyer. I also enjoy high fantasy, and my favourite there is Daughter of the Empire by Feist and Wurtz. Apparently they’re planning to make it into a TV series – I hope they do it justice.

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Enter the mysterious and exotic world of Kelewan…

Mara, the youngest child of the ancient and noble Acoma family, is about to take her pledge of servitude to the goddess Lashima when the ceremony is disrupted by news of her father and brother’s death in battle.

Despite her grief, as the only surviving member of her house, Mara must now take up the mantles of Ruling Lady. But she soon discovers betrayal at the heart of her family’s loss, and the Acoma’s enemies have brought her house to the brink of utter destruction.

Daughter of the Empire is the magnificent first book in The Empire Trilogy by Raymond E. Feist and Janny Wurts.

Mara, an inexperienced political player, must draw on all her wit, intelligence and cunning to navigate the ruthless Game of the Council, regain the honour of House Acoma and secure the future of her family. But with assassins waiting around every corner, it might take everything Mara has simply to survive.

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?

Sadly, I’ve learned that I have no head for drink (despite the reputation of Irish people) so I’ll have been supping water alongside the alcohol this evening. You wouldn’t have known it to look at me though, cos I’ve been singing and clapping and yee-ho-ing with the rest! If we’re hungover in the morning I’ll take you for a lung-cleansing stroll along the beautiful Fairy Glen, just five minutes from here, then afterwards we can wander along the shores of Carlingford Lough or check out the stunning views from the Big Stone (don’t worry, we can drive most of the way up the mountain). You’ll love it!

Carlingford Lough

I’ve yet to visit a part of Ireland that I haven’t loved so I am sure I will! After our fabulous night out, what would be your ideal way to spend the rest of a perfect weekend?

Let’s mix our nature walks with some pampering in a local spa. I’m no shopaholic, but happy to go with you if that’s your preference. Mine would be local Neolithic sites, Viking era towers and Norman castles, and a Gaelic football or hurling game! 

Going to see a game of hurling is one of the things on my bucket list, so I’d love to be able to tick that off. Thank you for joining me this evening, Catherine, it’s been a hug pleasure to chat to you.

Catherine’s RONA award-winning bookA Waltz with the Outspoken Governess, is out now and you can buy a copy here. A free preview of her new book, A Laird for the Governess, can be found here.

Catherine Tinley, Historical Romantic Novel Award, Romantic Novel Awards 2022, A Waltz with the Outspoken Governess BOOK COVER

A quiet governess…

An unruly heart

Sir Nicholas Denny is desperate to find a governess to care for his boisterous nieces and nephews. Demure vicar’s daughter Mary Smith seems ideal—at first. All too soon Nicholas discovers a different side…a beautiful, vivacious woman, even if she infuriates him with her strong opinions! When he waltzes with Mary at a party, he knows he’s in trouble—the spark between them is so tempting, but she challenges everything he thought he wanted in a wife!

Catherine Tinley is an award winning author of historical romance. She writes witty, heartwarming Regency romance for Harlequin Mills & Boon. Her first book, Waltzing with the Earl, won the Rita® Award for Best Historical Romance 2018, while Rags-to-Riches Wife won the RoNA Award for Best Historical Romance 2021 as well as the HOLT Medallion, and A Waltz with the Outspoken Governess has been shortlisted for the RoNA Award for Best Historical Romance 2022.

She has loved reading and writing since childhood, and has a particular fondness for love, romance, and happy endings. After a career encompassing speech & language therapy, Sure Start, maternity campaigning and being President of a charity, she now manages a maternity hospital. She lives in Ireland with her husband, children, cats, and dog.

Connect with Catherine:

Website: https://catherinetinley.com/

Facebook: Catherine Tinley 

Twitter: @CatherineTinley

Instagram: @catherinetinleywriter

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RONA Awards 2022 Celebration Drinks with… Freya Marske

RONAS

It’s Friday at last and tonight I am joined by the winner of the Fantasy Romantic Novel Award 2022 for her book, A Marvellous Light. Welcome to the blog, author… Freya Marske.

Freya Marske, Fantasy Romantic Novel Award, RONAs 22

Freya, welcome to Friday Night Drinks and thank you for joining me. First things first, what are you drinking?

I’m a gin & tonic girl through and through, so I’ll pore over the menu for any kind of gin that’s new to me and sounds exciting. And then I’ll add tonic in an alarming ratio that will make you wonder why I didn’t just order a martini, but trust me: the tonic is vital. Even if it’s just a splash.

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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?

One of my favourite places here in Australia is a hotel in the Southern Highlands which has a gin bar attached to the restaurant (see my gin weakness above) and, even more pleasingly, also has a whisky lounge. I think we’ll start with a meal and then retire to the lounge and curl up on their velvet sofas for a good long chat.

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?

I’m extremely torn when it comes to my parcel of favourite dead Dorothys, as to which of them would be the best value on a night out drinking. I would seriously consider both Dorothy Sayers and Dorothy Dunnett, so I could hurl myself into their laps with despairing pleas that they somehow teach me all the secrets of their genius—yes, right now, over this glass of wine—but I think Dorothy Parker would liven up the party best.

Similarly, much as I’d love to meet Shakespeare, I think Kit Marlowe would be a better addition to a drinking party. Just so long as nobody brings out any knives.

Great choices, although I would love to meet Dorothy L. Sayers too, I’m a huge fan. 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?

At the moment I’m in the early, groping-through-the-darkness, oh-God-why stages of drafting the third book in my romantic historical fantasy trilogy. You’d think I would be less melodramatic about it, given it is my third book in this world. But each book does have a different pair of POV characters and a slightly different narrative vibe, and hammering out the character voices always makes me feel like I’m breaking in an uncomfortable pair of new shoes for the first half of the first draft. 

Ideally, though, I’ll build up my calluses quickly and then be able to get on with finishing this trilogy. I’m really excited to be fulfilling some promises and digging my teeth into some themes and plotlines that I’ve been setting up since book 1. Here’s hoping I can pull it all off. 

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

I still get a jolt of disbelieving pride when faced with evidence that someone who is neither related to me nor a friend has read my book and enjoyed it, or found something in it that spoke to them and connected with them.

The biggest challenge has been the direct flipside of that: realising that now my joyful creative hobby is also a career, and I have contract deadlines and reader expectations to meet. There have been weeks where I can feel the tendrils of toxicity and pressure trying to sneak in, wrap themselves around the creative process and strangle all the fun out of it. But I’m determined to hold onto the joy and satisfaction that writing can produce for its own sake.

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!

The biggest and best thing I can think of is flourishing longevity of career. I want to be eighty years old with a massive backlist of both SFF and romance (and any other genres I feel like picking up along the way!), still writing new books, still acquiring new readers and delighting old ones, and swanning around the world to have cantankerous opinions at festivals and conventions. 

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

Every single idea for The Next Book (of which I have…approximately seven) has realised that I’m meant to be writing my book 3 draft, and so they’ve all ratcheted up in detail and excitement. I’m planning some novellas—a format I haven’t played with before—as well as a space opera, a story about a magical medical school, and a new contemporary romance.

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?

It might just be recency bias, given it was one of the places I visited just before the pandemic put an end to international travel, but I adored Barcelona. Researching A Marvellous Light gave me an enormous fondness for early twentieth century art and design movements, and I spent a lot of time geeking out over the Art Nouveau architecture of that city. And the food. And the wine. The rest of Spain is near the top of my bucket list, too, as I’ve only seen that one city and am dying to explore the rest of the country! 

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

The one thing about me that usually elicits an “oh! That’s interesting!” is the fact that I’m a figure skater. I think more adults should get into this as a sport: there’s much less pressure if you start as an adult than if you’re a tiny flexible child, and it combines strength and athleticism with moving to music (and wearing sparkly clothes, of course). And there’s something of a life lesson in the fact that learning to fall, expecting to fall, and cheerfully getting up again every time is part of the process. The overachiever in me has had to learn that it’s good for the soul to be bad at things, sometimes, and to slowly improve through hard work. 

This is  lesson I’m still trying to take on board at the age of 49! 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’?

 One of my favourite books of all time combines history, science fiction (time travel!), screwball comedy, mystery and romance: To Say Nothing of the Dog, by Connie Willis. I defy anyone to read it and not finish with a huge grin on their face and a lightening of the spirit that will last for days. 

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Ned Henry is a time-travelling historian who specialises in the mid-20th century – currently engaged in researching the bombed-out Coventry Cathedral. He’s also made so many drops into the past that he’s suffering from a dangerously advanced case of ‘time-lag’.

Unfortunately for Ned, an emergency dash to Victorian England is required and he’s the only available historian. But Ned’s time-lag is so bad that he’s not sure what the errand is – which is bad news since, if he fails, history could unravel around him…

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?

Drink a very boring and large amount of water before going to sleep, and then drink some more. If you wake up with a hangover anyway: stumble to the kitchen, put the kettle on for coffee, and give fervent thanks to the past version of you who knows to keep the freezer stocked with frozen hash browns.

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

Saturday mornings I’m always at the ice rink, which means I start the weekend energised! Yes, I’m aware of how insufferable this makes me sound. I think that in order to force my bones out of bed before seven o’clock, on a weekend morning when the tiny devil on my shoulder is whispering sleeeeeep iiiiiiiin, I’ve somehow Stockholm Syndromed myself into genuine enjoyment. It does help that I love skating. (“I DO love skating,” I tell myself through gritted teeth in the middle of winter, when it’s minus six degrees outside and I’m about to step into an equally cold icebox of a rink.)

After that, my perfect weekend would usually contain several hours of reading, reaching my word count goal on whatever I’m writing, lunches comprised mostly of different types of cheese on crusty bread, going to an art gallery or a theatre matinee, and then going out for dinner with friends before coming back to my place to ply them with the contents of my cocktail trolley.

Freya, you have been an absolutely marvellous and entertaining guest, huge thanks for chatting to me and I can’t wait to read your book. Please come back on the blog any time.

Freya’s RONA award-winning novel, A Marvellous Light is out now in all formats and you can buy a copy here. The second book in the series, A Restless Truth, is available for preorder in most places, including here!

Freya Marske, Fantasy Romantic Novel Award, RONAs 22, A Marvellous Light BOOK COVER

Young baronet Robin Blyth thought he was taking up a minor governmental post. However, he’s actually been appointed parliamentary liaison to a secret magical society. If it weren’t for this administrative error, he’d never have discovered the incredible magic underlying his world. 

Cursed by mysterious attackers and plagued by visions, Robin becomes determined to drag answers from his missing predecessor – but he’ll need the help of Edwin Courcey, his hostile magical-society counterpart. Unwillingly thrown together, Robin and Edwin will discover a plot that threatens every magician in the British Isles.

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My website:

My twitter: https://twitter.com/freyamarske

My Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/freyamarske/

Freya Marske lives in Australia, where she is yet to be killed by any form of wildlife. She writes stories full of magic, blood, and as much kissing as she can get away with. Her hobbies include figure skating and discovering new art galleries, and she is on a quest to try all the gin in the world.

Her short fiction has appeared in Analog Science Fiction, Andromeda Spaceways, and several anthologies. In 2020 she was awarded the Australian National SF (Ditmar) Award for Best New Talent.

Her debut novel, the queer historical fantasy A MARVELLOUS LIGHT, was published in 2021.

Connect with Freya:

Website: https://freyamarske.com

Twitter: @freyamarske

Instagram: @freyamarske

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Blog Tour: Faceless by Vanda Symon

Faceless jacket

Worn down by a job he hates, and a stressful family life, middle-aged, middle-class Bradley picks up a teenage escort and commits an unspeakable crime. Now she’s tied up in his warehouse, and he doesn’t know what to do.

Max is homeless, eating from rubbish bins, sleeping rough and barely existing – known for cadging a cigarette from anyone passing, and occasionally even the footpath. Nobody really sees Max, but he has one friend, and she’s gone missing.

In order to find her, Max is going to have to call on some people from his past, and reopen wounds that have remained unhealed for a very long time

and the clock is ticking…

Vanda Symon has become one of my favourite authors over the last few years so I am delighted to be taking part in the blog tour today for her new release, Faceless. 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.

Wah, where is Sam? That was my first thought when I heard that Vanda Symon’s latest novel didn’t feature the detective in whom I have become so invested. Was I going to enjoy one of Vanda’s book as much without Sam? No, Julie, I chided myself, keep an open mind and don’t go into the book loaded down with prejudices. I’m really glad I did because, despite the Sam-shaped hole, this is an excellent book.

Told in the voices of the four main protagonists, we get the story from every angle. An ordinary family man picks up a teenage prostitute on the streets of Auckland, an action completely out of character. What happens next takes this man further and further away from where he started. Unluckily for him, the girl is not the friendless, lost soul he assumes. She has someone looking out for her, and he has friends, and so a chain of events is set in motion that quickly spiral out of control.

Vanda has created a quartet of fascinating characters here to carry this story, every one of them complex, rich and believable. Billy, the girl, has a tragic story that gradually unfolds across the pages until we fully understand why she has ended up where she is. She is a victim, but refuses to surrender herself to that identity and the reader’s heart goes out to her from the beginning. It is only too easy to imagine any young girl finding herself similarly exposed by only a tiny slip of circumstance and, as a mother of girls, it is troubling and heartbreaking. Max is similarly sympathetic, once we understand what has lead him to the streets. The book is a thoughtful exploration of how one mistake, one bad decision, one untreated mental health catastrophe can quickly lead to the disintegration of someone’s life and them falling through the cracks.

Bradley is an entirely different proposition, He embodies the darkness that can lurk behind a benign facade. How a seemingly mild-mannered personality can hide suppressed proclivities that, once unleashed, cannot easily be put back in their box. The fact that he is so believable as a character makes for uncomfortable reading for women; it reminds us that it is all too easy to fall foul of a person who hides their demons behind a bland face, that we can never really know what lurks beneath the surface of a person.

This book is a hard tale to read, because it shines a light on a subset of society that it is too easy for the rest of us to forget. The souls who have dropped off the grid of normality that the rest of us inhabit and eke out an existence in the shadows that puts them at great risk. It is shameful that, in modern, wealthy nations, so many people are homeless and lost and prey to people who wish to exploit them. I admire Vanda for taking on this topic and dealing with it so tenderly and with great understanding. This is not a book I am comfortable saying that I enjoyed, but I was certainly gripped by it and left with the uneasy feeling that I am sure the author fully intended.

Faceless is out now in all formats and you can buy a copy here.

Please do visit some of my fellow bloggers to find out their views on the book:

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About the Author

Vanda-Symon

Vanda Symon is a crime writer, TV presenter and radio host from Dunedin, New Zealand, and the chair of the Otago Southland branch of the New Zealand Society of Authors. The Sam Shephard series, which includes Overkill, The Ringmaster, Containment and Bound, hit number one on the New Zealand bestseller list, and has also been shortlisted for the Ngaio Marsh Award. Overkill was shortlisted for the CWA John Creasey (New Blood) Dagger.

Connect with Vanda:

Website: http://vandasymon.com/index.php

Facebook: Vanda Simon

Twitter: @vandasymon

Instagram: @vandasymon

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RONA Awards 2022 Celebration Drinks with… Suzanne Ewart

RONAS

Tonight’s guest is another nominee in the Katie Fforde Debut Romantic Novel Award category in this year’s Romantic Novel Awards. With her book, One Month of You, please welcome to the blog, author… Suzanne Ewart.

Suzanne Ewart, Katie Fforde Debut Romantic Novel, Romantic Novel Awards 2022

Thank you for joining me for drinks this evening. First things first, what are you drinking?

Hello! Thank you so much for having me. I’m drinking a very cold glass of white wine. 

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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?

I would be taking you for a night out in Manchester. We’d start with a cocktail in Cloud 23, a hotel bar with the best views over the city and then we’d head into nearby Spinningfields, which is packed with great bars and restaurants if we get hungry. 

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?

If we’re on a night out, I’d want to invite people who seem like great fun, so I’d choose Marian Keyes, who I love and think is hilarious and so warm. I’d also choose Graham Norton so we can spend the night chatting about books, but also celebrity gossip! 

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’m in the middle of writing a first draft of my latest romance novel. Unlike my last two romances, where I had come up with the plot first, in this case, the main character appeared in my head fully-formed one day, and I knew I had to write about her. It’s been really good fun writing, and I hope readers love her and her flawed ways as much as I do.

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

Without doubt, my proudest moment was when my debut novel, One Month of You was nominated for the Katie Fforde Debut Romantic Novel Award for the RNA Awards. I’ve followed these awards for years, and I was over the moon to be selected among other brilliant writers. I’m also a huge Katie Fforde fan, so it was particularly special to be in this category. 

I think my biggest challenge is one that many writers face, and that is the challenge of keeping going! Writing a novel takes a lot of time and perseverance and often the hardest thing is continuing with a book when you can’t imagine ever finishing it. I have to constantly remind myself that I’ve done this before and that it will be worth all the hard work in the end. 

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

Honestly, I would love one of my books to be adapted to the screen, and I’d love to be part of an adaptation. My teenage ambition was (still is, really) to be a script writer for Coronation Street, and I would love to work on a script for one of my own stories. It must be the best feeling making your characters come to life on a screen.  

What are have planned that you are really excited about?

I’m super excited about the book I’m currently writing. The main character is more flawed than characters I’ve written before, she makes a lot of decisions that hold her life back, but at the same time she’s so romantic and optimistic, it’s been lovely to spend time with her. I’m excited to share her story once it’s finished and hear what people think. 

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?

My favourite place is Rome. I love the history and the food and the shops. I can’t wait to go back. Top of my list is California. I’ve always been fascinated by the glamour and the lifestyle there, and would love to spend time driving down the coastline.

Oh, I love Rome, one of my absolute favourite cities in the world. Tell me one interesting/surprising/secret fact about yourself.

I’m an identical twin. Not the exciting, psychic kind I’m afraid, but we do look exactly the same and have this thing were we have no idea which of our earlier memories actually belong to us. They’ve all kind of mixed to together into a joint pot. I love reading books about twins and would love to write about them one day. 

I have identical  twin step-daughters. 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’?

Sorrow and Bliss by Meg Mason. It’s a beautiful book about love and family and identity and it is also absolutely hilarious. I love it. 

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Everyone tells Martha Friel she is clever and beautiful, a brilliant writer who has been loved every day of her adult life by one man, her husband Patrick. A gift, her mother once said, not everybody gets.

So why is everything broken? Why is Martha – on the edge of 40 – friendless, practically jobless and so often sad? And why did Patrick decide to leave?

Maybe she is just too sensitive, someone who finds it harder to be alive than most people. Or maybe – as she has long believed – there is something wrong with her. Something that broke when a little bomb went off in her brain, at 17, and left her changed in a way that no doctor or therapist has ever been able to explain.

Forced to return to her childhood home to live with her dysfunctional, bohemian parents (but without the help of her devoted, foul-mouthed sister Ingrid), Martha has one last chance to find out whether a life is ever too broken to fix – or whether, maybe, by starting over, she will get to write a better ending for herself.

I really must read this, I’ve heard so many people rave about it. 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?

See, in my youth, I’d have gone for a fry up and many, many cups of coffee, but experience has taught me there’s nothing better than a home-made banana milkshake to get going the morning after. It works a treat!

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

I’d spend the rest of the weekend going on long walks with my kids (who magically wouldn’t moan about this!), and there would definitely be a trip to a country pub for some lovely food. I’d also make time to do some cooking, which I love, and to read.

Sounds great, hope you get one of those perfect weekends soon!

Suzanne’s RONA-shortlisted novel, One Month of You, is out now in all formats and you can buy a copy here.

Suzanne Ewart, Katie Fforde Debut Romantic Novel, Romantic Novel Awards 2022, One Month of You BOOK COVER

When Alec asks Jess out, she knows it won’t work. He may be charming and handsome, but Jess has rules. And the first? Don’t fall in love.

Jess has inherited Huntington’s disease from the mother that she cares for. Falling in love would mean condemning someone to the heartbreak that she feels every day. Jess has learnt to keep everyone and everything at arm’s length, but Alec is determined to break down her barriers. When she finally tells him why they have no future together, he proposes that they forget the future and live for the moment – for just one month.

Before writing her first novel, Suzanne Ewart taught English to secondary school children in Greater Manchester. In 2019 she won the eHarmony / Trapeze books Write Your Own Love Story competition. Her debut novel, One Month of You, was published in 2021. She now lives in Warrington with her husband and children.

Connect with Suzanne:

Twitter: @SuzanneEwart1

Instagram: suzanneewart_author

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Blog Tour: The High House by Jessie Greengrass

High House Cover Image

Perched on a hill above a village by the sea, the high house has a mill, a vegetable garden and a barn full of supplies.

Caro and her younger half-brother, Pauly, arrive there one day to find it cared for by Grandy and his granddaughter, Sally. Not quite a family, they learn to live together, and care for one another.

But there are limits even to what the ailing Grandy knows about how to survive, and, if the storm comes, it might not be enough.

This book has been waiting patiently on my TBR for quite a while now, so I am delighted to be taking part in the blog tour for the paperback release of The High House by Jessie Greengrass which has made me get around to reading it at last! My thanks to Anne Cater for inviting me to take part in the tour and to the publisher for offering me a copy of the book for review. I have reviewed the book honestly and impartially.

I wasn’t sure what to expect from this book before I went in to it, as I had deliberately avoided reading any reviews that might slew my opinion. I was expecting a piece of dystopian literature, which is a genre I love, and I got this, and so much more. This book is an absolutely beautiful exploration of the devastation of climate change, preparation for survival, love, responsibility and the motivations we have for keeping ourselves alive.

Caro’s stepmother is a scientist who perceived the dangers of the havoc we are wreaking on the planet and begins to make secret preparations to ensure the safety of her son, Pauly. Caro, unknowing, perceives her behaviour as selfish as she is left to parent Pauly by herself but, when tragedy strikes, she begins to see what Francesca has done to secure their future in the sanctuary she has built for them in the High House. Looked after by caretaker, Grandy, and his granddaughter, Sally, Caro finds a curious kind of family life high up above the East Anglian marshes, as the rest of the world begins to suffer and die when the extremes of weather change the face of our world forever.

This books has so many themes running through it that, although it is only short, there is too much to unpack and ruminate on in one reading. The book has raised so many questions in me, and stirred up so many emotions that it is going to be a very hard book to move on from, and I think I will have to come back to it soon for a second reading to cement my reactions to it more firmly and revisit my feelings at a more leisurely pace, and with some distance from the immediate.

My overriding feeling at present is one of melancholy. The book is imbued with such hopelessness about our future and what we are doing to the planet. From the beginning it is clear that mankind has left it too late to reverse the harm it has caused and all anyone can do now is try and find a way to survive as long as possible. Francesca’s fury at people’s refusal to address the problems and heed her warnings burns from the page and, when we realise what she has been doing to protect her son, it just emphasises the fact she realised there was no turning back. I hope that the author means this as a warning and not a prediction that we have already reached this point, because the future she paints here once we have passed the point of no return is too bleak to contemplate.

In fact, I was staggered by the amount of detail in her portrayal of this future where the planet has turned against the ungrateful human parasites who have elected to destroy the very thing on which their survival depends. She has clearly spent a lot of time contemplated what might happen and how our world might look, should we be fortunate enough to survive drought or flood. Things I had not even given any thought to are described very convincingly here, and the picture is not pretty. In fact, if you read this book and are not terrified by the possibilities of what might wait in our future if we don’t take steps to change things, you are severely lacking in imagination.

However, throughout the book the author also explores the themes of love and family, how deep run the familial bonds, how overriding is the human desire to survive and protect our loved ones at whatever cost to ourselves. This book really screws down into the motivations of humans to ensure their survival at all costs. I spent a good chunk of the book asking myself what I would do in the circumstances that Sally and Caro in particular find themselves. What exactly is it that is keeping them going, what kind of life are they preserving and, at what moral cost do they ensure the future of themselves and their loved ones as  opposed to the rest of society. Anyone who has ever seen any kind of disaster movie will know that these are not new ideas, but this novel considers them with a depth, sincerity and tenderness that I found deeply moving and affecting.

The author’s writing style is poetic and lyrical. The book switched between different voices and time periods which can be difficult to follow until you get used to it, particularly as she does not use speech marks to indicate dialogue but it is easy to get into the flow of her words after the first few pages and then I just lost myself in the images she was painting. Because painting is what this is, painting with words on the canvas of the page which transferred perfectly on to the movie screen in my brain and I watched it like a beautiful film unspooling. This is a stunning, saddening, worrying book to read and I can entirely understand why it was shortlisted for the Costa.

The High House is out now in all formats and you can buy a copy here.

Make sure you visit some of the other blogs taking part in the tour for more reviews and other great content:

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About the Author

Jessie Greengrass Author Pic

Jessie Greengrass spent her childhood in London and Devon. She studied philosophy in Cambridge and London and now lives in Berwick-upon-Tweed with her partner and children.

Her collection of short stories, An Account of the Decline of the Great Auk, According to One Who Saw It, won the Edge Hill Prize 2016 and a Somerset Maugham Award. Her critically acclaimed debut novel, Sight, was shortlisted for the Women’s Prize for Fiction 2018.

Connect with Jessie:

Twitter: @JessGreengrass

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