Blog Blitz: The Secrets of Hawthorn Place by Jenni Keer #Extract

The Secrets of Hawthorn Place

I am delighted to be taking part in the blog blitz for the delightful new book by author, Jenni Keer, The Secrets of Hawthorn Place. I haven’t yet managed to read the book, but I will be reviewing it in a few weeks time. For now, I have an appetite-whetting extract to share with you. My thanks to Rachel Gilbey of Rachel’s Random Resources for inviting me to take part and to the author for allowing me to share this extract with you today.

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Two houses, hundreds of miles apart…yet connected always.

When life throws Molly Butterfield a curveball, she decides to spend some time with her recently widowed granddad, Wally, at Hawthorn Place, his quirky Victorian house on the Dorset coast.

But cosseted Molly struggles to look after herself, never mind her grieving granddad, until the accidental discovery of an identical Art and Crafts house on the Norfolk coast offers her an unexpected purpose, as well as revealing a bewildering mystery.

Discovering that both Hawthorn Place and Acacia House were designed by architect Percy Gladwell, Molly uncovers the secret of a love which linked them, so powerful it defied reason.

What follows is a summer which will change Molly for ever…

Now, over to Jenni to introduce her extract.

Thank you so much for visiting Julie’s blog today. Here is an extract from The Secrets of Hawthorn Place. In the contemporary story, Molly has just arrived in Dorset to stay with her grieving grandfather, and we get a feel for his unusual house through her eyes. Walter isn’t coping with the death of his wife and spoilt Molly is in for a shock as she struggles to take care of him. Little does she know, this is the start of a summer that will change everything, especially when she stumbles across an unbelievable secret in the very heart of the house.

I stood at the top of the steep stone steps and looked down into a dip of tree-shielded land. From the road you’d never guess there was a house nestled at the bottom. It reminded me of childish efforts to stop someone copying my work at school by covering the page – as if the trees were huge hands shielding it from prying eyes. In fact, the closest you could get a car was the main road above, where Brian’s ostentatious Audi was now parked ahead of Granddad’s ancient Fiat. 

We clambered down the steps and my breath caught in my throat as I looked over to Hawthorn Place. With one foot on the bottom step, and the other on the ancient herringbone brick path that curled around the house, I felt as if I was standing over the meridian line in Greenwich. It was a point where I was in two places at once – two different worlds. I could never understand why flint and brick had been used for the house, when the surrounding landscape was awash with scars of pale stone, exposed through the green of the fields and hills. Portland was only a few miles away, famous for its quarries, and the obvious choice of building material. The property was odd not only in its construction, but also its location. It simply didn’t belong here, even though I wasn’t sure where it did belong.

‘I could murder a cup of tea,’ I announced, as I tumbled into the hallway and threw my arms about my dear old Granddad. He looked slightly startled by my exuberance but I’m embarrassingly tactile. Probably the Italian in me.

I abandoned my shoes and hooked my rucksack over the quirky crenellated post at the bottom of the main oak staircase. Identical posts were dotted up the stairs, and always reminded me of tiny wooden castles in the air – all part of the charm and mystery of the house.

‘I’ll put the kettle on, love,’ Granddad said.

‘Molly is capable of doing that. You’re not to run around after her, Dad.’

It wasn’t said unkindly, but I still glared at him. 

‘I’ll make it, Granddad. Sorry. You don’t have to wait on me.’

‘Nonsense, I bet you two are gasping.’ He toddled off to the kitchen, as Brian parked my suitcase at the foot of the stairs and, neither of us commenting on the muddy trail over the cluttered floor, we followed behind… 

I hope readers are curious about the quirky house, and are also pulled to the historical thread, where we follow the Arts and Crafts architect, Percy Gladwell, and discover why Hawthorn Place is so special to him. Thanks so much for letting me share this extract.

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I’m sure, like me, you now can’t wait to read this book and, if so, you can buy a copy here.

Make sure to check out some of the other blogs participating in the blitz, as detailed on the poster below:

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About the Author

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Jenni Keer is a history graduate who embarked on a career in contract flooring before settling in the middle of the Suffolk countryside with her antique furniture restorer husband. She has valiantly attempted to master the ancient art of housework but with four teenage boys in the house it remains a mystery. Instead, she spends her time at the keyboard writing commercial women’s fiction to combat the testosterone-fuelled atmosphere, with her number one fan #Blindcat by her side. Much younger in her head than she is on paper, she adores any excuse for fancy-dress and is part of a disco formation dance team.

Jenni is also the author of The Hopes and Dreams of Lucy Baker and The Unexpected Life of Maisie Meadows.

Connect with Jenni:

Facebook: Jenni Keer

Twitter: @JenniKeer

Instagram: @JenniKeer

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Blog Tour: The Room in the Attic by Louise Douglas #BookReview

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Delighted to be taking my turn on the blog tour for The Room in the Attic by Louise Douglas today. My thanks to Rachel Gilbey of Rachel’s Random Resources for inviting me to take part, and to the author and publisher for my digital copy of the book, which I have reviewed honestly and impartially.

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A child who does not know her name…

In 1903 fishermen find a wrecked boat containing a woman, who has been badly beaten, and a young girl. An ambulance is sent for, and the two survivors are taken to All Hallows, the imposing asylum, hidden deep on Dartmoor. The woman remains in a coma, but the little girl, Harriet, awakens and is taken to an attic room, far away from the noise of the asylum, and is put in the care of Nurse Emma Everdeen.

Two motherless boys banished to boarding school…

In 1993, All Hallows is now a boarding school. Following his mother’s death and his father’s hasty remarriage, Lewis Tyler is banished to Dartmoor, stripped of his fashionable clothes, shorn of his long hair, and left feeling more alone than ever. There he meets Isak, another lost soul, and whilst refurbishment of the dormitories is taking place, the boys are marooned up in the attic, in an old wing of the school.

Cries and calls from the past that can no longer be ignored…

All Hallows is a building full of memories, whispers, cries from the past. As Lewis and Isak learn more about the fate of Harriet, and Nurse Emma’s desperate fight to keep the little girl safe, it soon becomes clear there are ghosts who are still restless.

Are they ghosts the boys hear at night in the room above, are they the unquiet souls from the asylum still caught between the walls? And can Lewis and Isak bring peace to All Hallows before the past breaks them first…

Goodness, what did I just read? From the very opening chapters of this new book by Louise Douglas, my heart was pounding, I was holding my breath, the hairs on the back of my neck were standing on end, and I was absolutely glued to the page.

I started reading this book very late one night just after I had gone to bed, which was a mistake because the book creeped me out right from the off. As soon as you crawl between the pages, you know you are reading something that is going to keep you on the edge of your nerves, so it may not be recommended for readers of a very nervous disposition. Set in an old asylum which then became a strict boarding school in the midst of the brooding expanse of Dartmoor, there could not be a creepier setting for a story. When I was young, I was addicted to the Famous Five books by Enid Blyton. The thirteenth (coincidence?) of these, Five Go To Mystery Moor, involved spooky goings on on a deserted moor and it scared the bejesus out of my as a kid, so any ghost story set on a moor is guaranteed to give me the wiggins. The author does an absolutely amazing job of bringing the very disturbing setting to vivid life, both in its incarnation as an asylum and a boarding school, a little too vividly for those with active imaginations perhaps!

The story line is divided between three timelines – modern day, 1993 when All Hallows was a boarding school, and the turn of the twentieth century when it was an asylum for those people deemed insane. The narrator in the first two timelines is Lewis Tyler, as a grown man and when he was a pupil at the school. Back in time, we are following the story of Emma Everdeen, a nurse at the asylum. The book switched between the stories with ease, never breaking the tension, and deftly entwining them to great effect. Each of the characters hooked me in, and I was truly feeling genuine fear for all of them by the end. The storytelling is so skilful that it is impossible not to become fully invested in the outcome for all involved.

The story is a clever and intriguing mix of thriller, mystery, ghost story, family drama and exploration of social issues affecting women in the early 1900s. There is something here to appeal to every type of reader, and I can’t imagine there are many people who would not enjoy it (other than those who really don’t enjoy being kept on the edge of their nerves throughout a book.) You can tell that the author did a lot of research into the historical aspects of the book, it is beautifully rich in detail, but this is only used to enhance and not detract from the story. I am honestly so impressed with the authors skill in balancing all the different aspects of this novel to deliver an engrossing, affecting and thrilling story. I think my heart has only just slowed back to its normal speed after finishing it.

I absolutely loved this book, I cannot recommend it highly enough. Perfect October reading, buy it immediately.

The Room in the Attic is out now in all formats and you can buy a copy here.

Award-winning author Louise Douglas was a recent guest on the blog, and you can read my fascinating interview with her here.

Make sure you check out some of the other reviews posted by the other marvellous bloggers taking part in the tour:

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About the Author

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Louise Douglas is the bestselling and brilliantly reviewed author of 6 novels including The Love of my Life and Missing You – a RNA award winner. The Secrets Between Us was a Richard and Judy Book Club pick. She lives in the West Country. Louise’s first book for Boldwood, The House by the Sea was published in March 2020.

Connect with Louise:

Facebook: Louise Douglas Author

Twitter: @LouiseDouglas3

Instagram: @louisedouglas3

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Blog Tour: The Shanghai Wife by Emma Harcourt #BookReview

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I am delighted to be taking my turn on the blog tour today for The Shanghai Wife by Emma Harcourt. My thanks to Anne Cater of Random Things Tours for inviting me to take part, and to the publisher for providing me with a digital copy of the book, which I have reviewed honestly and impartially.

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Forbidden friendship, political conspiracy and incendiary passion draw Australian woman Annie Brand deep into the glamour and turmoil of 1920s Shanghai.

Leaving behind the loneliness and trauma of her past in country Australia, Annie Brand arrives to the political upheaval and glittering international society of Shanghai in the 1920s. Journeying up the Yangtze with her new husband, the ship’s captain, Annie revels in the sense of adventure but when her husband sends her back to Shanghai, her freedom is quickly curtailed.

Against her will, Annie finds herself living alone in the International Settlement, increasingly suffocated by the judgemental Club ladies and their exclusive social scene: one even more restrictive than that she came from. Sick of salacious gossip and foreign condescension, and desperate to shake off the restrictions of her position in the world, Annie is slowly drawn into the bustling life and otherness of the real Shanghai, and begins to see the world from the perspective of the local people, including the servants who work at her husband’s Club.

But this world is far more complex and dangerous than the curious Annie understands and, unknowingly, she becomes caught in a web of intrigue and conspiracy as well as a passionate forbidden love affair she could not have predicted: one with far–reaching consequences…

I was very eager to be on the tour for this book, as this is a time period and setting that I know very little about, and one of the great joys for me in reading is learning. I have to say, this book really opened my eyes to a fascinating time and place in history and am now keen to read more about it. You can’t ask much more from a book than inspiring curiosity in you whilst it entertains.

This book is an intriguing mix of history, social commentary and thriller, and I was drawn into the exquisitely drawn setting as soon as I started to read. The book opens with a young wife, Annie, as she travels up the Yangtze river with her new husband, a boat captain. The couple are still getting to know one another, and the scenes between them are sweet and tender. However, China in the 1920s is a place of political upheaval and danger, with rioting in the cities and banditry in the hills, and Alec, fearing that the journey is too dangerous for his wife and sends her back to the relative safety of the International Settlement in Shanghai.

Annie is an unusual character in the community, young and rebellious, having run away from home in Australia, she does not fit in easily with the constraining social rules of ex-pat society in China, and she displays an unseemly (in the eyes of the other women) interest in the local issues and grows too close to some of the Chinese community. She is very naive, and meddles in things she doesn’t really understand, whilst out of her husband’s immediate supervision, and ends up in a dangerous situation.

I found Annie’s story fascinating. From the perspective of a modern woman, I can sympathise with her feelings, and understand her frustrations, whilst recognising how inappropriate and unwise her actions are. You can see that the situation is not going to end well, and, boy, is this author cruel to her protagonist. This book is an emotional rollercoaster that the reader is propelled along with Annie by the power and beauty of the author’s writing. She has painted a rich and exotic world here, that you can practically touch through the pages and it feels very alive. I absolutely loved being caught up in the machinations of the ex-pat community in Shanghai at this time.

If I had any criticism of the book, it would be that the final segment unravelling the thriller aspect of the plot felt a little rushed, and I got slightly confused. I felt that the author had really luxuriated in the historical and romantic aspects of the plot earlier on, but was less invested in this aspect and just wanted it sorting out. It didn’t feel as richly developed as I would have liked, and it gave the book an uneven cadence in the final quarter. I also didn’t really understand what was the issue between Annie and her father, and this didn’t get resolved to my satisfaction.

These niggles aside, this book is a beautiful exploration of an experience in history that is ripe for story-telling and provides the reader with a feast for all of the senses. I thoroughly enjoyed the book and would not hesitate to pick up another novel by this author. If you love historical fiction, you will want to give this a go.

The Shanghai Wife is out now in all formats and you can get a copy here.

Make sure you follow the rest of the tour as detailed below:

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About the Author

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Emma Harcourt has worked as a journalist for over 25 years, in Australia, the UK and Hong Kong. In 2011, she completed the Faber Academy Writing a Novel course and The Shanghai Wife was borne. Emma lives in Sydney with her two daughters. She is currently working on her second novel.

Connect with Emma:

Facebook: Emma Harcourt Author

Twitter: @emma_harcourt

Instagram: @emmaharcourtauthor

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Desert Island Books with… Mick Arnold

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Today’s strandee will be better equipped to deal with isolation on my desert island than many, I think, as he has certain useful practical skills. However, he will still need intellectual and emotional stimulation, so let’s see what books he is taking with him to provide that. He is author… Mick Arnold.

Book One – The Silver Sword by Ian Serraillier

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This is a story of many different things.

Of a terrible war and an occupied land

Of the Balicki children who are determined to survive

Of a dangerous journey from war-torn Poland to Switzerland

Of a paper knife that gives them the courage to carry on when nearly all hope is lost.

The Silver Sword is the first adult novel I recall reading, and it’s stuck with me ever since. First published in 1956, this is the deceptively simple story of how a group of Polish children traipses across war-torn Europe in search of their father, picking up a troubled stray boy along the way. None older than 16, this is such a moving story which kept me guessing right until the end. For a novel seemingly aimed towards what would now be called the YA audience, this is such a powerful story full of the best and worst of humanity during the terrible conflict, which was World War 2.

Book Two – Guards! Guards! By Sir Terry Pratchett

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‘It was the usual Ankh-Morpork mob in times of crisis; half of them were here to complain, a quarter of them were here to watch the other half, and the remainder were here to rob, importune or sell hotdogs to the rest.’

Insurrection is in the air in the city of Ankh-Morpork. The Haves and Have-Nots are about to fall out all over again.

Captain Sam Vimes of the city’s ramshackle Night Watch is used to this. It’s enough to drive a man to drink. Well, to drink more. But this time, something is different – the Have-Nots have found the key to a dormant, lethal weapon that even they don’t fully understand, and they’re about to unleash a campaign of terror on the city.

Time for Captain Vimes to sober up.

I was already a huge fan of the work of Terry Pratchett by the time this novel came out. It didn’t need it, but I knew I had to read this novel as soon as read the tag – Captain Sam Vimes is searching for a dragon he believes could help him with his enquires. Who wouldn’t want to read on to find out what happens? Pratchett’s creation of the Discworld surpasses that of Tolkein’s Middle Earth – or at least it does in my opinion. To this day, if I need to cheer myself up, I’ll pick up a Discworld novel and I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve read Guards! Guards!; and I never get tired of it. Pratchett creates such vivid pictures of each and every character, no matter how minor they are to the plot, which means I always find something new each time I read the book.

Book Three – Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban by J K Rowling

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‘Welcome to the Knight Bus, emergency transport for the stranded witch or wizard. Just stick out your wand hand, step on board and we can take you anywhere you want to go.’

When the Knight Bus crashes through the darkness and screeches to a halt in front of him, it’s the start of another far from ordinary year at Hogwarts for Harry Potter. Sirius Black, escaped mass-murderer and follower of Lord Voldemort, is on the run – and they say he is coming after Harry. In his first ever Divination class, Professor Trelawney sees an omen of death in Harry’s tea leaves… But perhaps most terrifying of all are the Dementors patrolling the school grounds, with their soul-sucking kiss…

This shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone who knows me. IMHO, the novel in the series which transformed it from purely a children’s series and into the worldwide phenomenon it became for all ages.  Barely giving you a chance to catch your breath, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban is a roller coaster of a story, full of mystery and suspense, and more action than you could shake a stick at. This is still one of my favourite reads when I need to relax my mind.

Book Four – Artemis Fowl by Eoin Colfer

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Rumour has it Artemis Fowl is responsible for every major crime of the new century.

Just twelve years old and already he’s a criminal genius, plotting to restore his family’s fortune with a spot of corruption and kidnapping.

Kidnapping a fairy for ransom, to be precise.

Artemis Fowl has discovered a world below ground of armed and dangerous – and extremely high-tech – fairies. But he may have underestimated their powers. They will fight back. Is the boy about to trigger a cross-species war?

Let the misadventure begin.

I know it may seem that I’ve picked a lot of non-adult books, but just because a book is written with one audience in mind, doesn’t mean it can’t appeal to another. Think an evil twelve-year old James Bond, but with magic and fairies! This book takes you from Vietnam to the city of Haven inside the Earth, via Ireland.  Forget the awful Disney film, this is a rock ‘n’ roller of  book which will make you believe in fairies.

Book Five – The Christmas Promise by Sue Moorcroft

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On a snowy December evening, Sam Jermyn steps into the life of bespoke hat maker Ava. Sparks fly, and not necessarily the good ones.

Times are tough for Ava – she’s struggling to make ends meet, her ex-boyfriend is a bully, and worst of all, it’s nearly Christmas.

So when Sam commissions Ava to make a hat for someone special, she makes a promise that will change her life. She just doesn’t know it yet…

I am a huge fan of Christmas romance and they don’t come any better than this novel. Sue Moorcroft is one of my favourite authors and this is one of her best. A story about someone who hates the Christmas period, this hits all the right spots. Laugh-out loud one minute, pass-me-the- tissues, the next. Forget watching The Sound of Music this coming yuletide, treat yourself to a copy of The Christmas Promise and learn why you should love Christmas.

My luxury item

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I’m going to be practical for my one item. For me, it’s essential, especially as it’s a desert island. I must have a good-sized hat. I burn in the sun easily, so I’d need something like a fedora to protect the back of my neck and the top of my head.

About the Author

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Mick is a hopeless romantic who was born in England and spent fifteen years roaming around the world in the pay of HM Queen Elizabeth II in the Royal Air Force before putting down roots and realizing how much he missed the travel. He’s replaced it somewhat with his writing, including reviewing books and supporting fellow saga and romance authors in promoting their novels.

He’s the proud keeper of two cats bent on world domination, is mad on the music of the Beach Boys, and enjoys the theatre and humoring his Manchester United-supporting wife. Finally, and most importantly, Mick is a full member of the Romantic Novelists Association. Wild Blue Yonder is the second novel in his Broken Wings series and he is very proud to be a part of the Vintage Rose Garden at The Wild Rose Press.

Mick’s latest book, Wild Blue Yonder, is available here.

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Air Transport Auxiliary pilot Doris Winter is accused of stealing a valuable item from a famous Hollywood movie star, now a Captain in the US Army Air Corps, after a dance at the air base in England where he’s stationed. Gathering her close friends together, she’s determined to clear her name.

Ruth’s POW son suffers a life-changing injury just as her own cottage takes damage in an air raid and Penny’s estranged little sister unexpectedly turns up, having run away from school. Together with the ongoing thefts of items of clothing and surprise personal revelations, these all threaten to hamper their investigation.

In spite of the worsening war situation, they must band together to rise above their troubles and prove love and friendship is worth fighting for.

Connect with Mick:

Facebook: M W Arnold Author

Twitter: @mick859

Instagram: @mick859

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Friday Night Drinks with… Nicola Cornick

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Well, it’s a new month and, for me, September always feels like the beginning of a new, fresh period of excitement, with blank slates for everyone – throw back to school days I suppose. So, for my first guest of the new ‘term,’ I’m delighted to welcome to the blog for drinks and chat, wonderful author… Nicola Cornick.

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

My current favourite is an English Garden cocktail, which is gin, elderflower, apple juice and lime. It feels appropriate as I live in a cottage in the middle of the country – although my garden is more like a jungle at the moment!

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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?

We’d go to my local pub, which is a 10 minute walk, and sit outside by the fire pit with a great view of the stars and equally great food! It’s very relaxed.

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?

It’s difficult to narrow it down to only two, isn’t it. I’d like to invite Barack Obama because I dreamed once that I had met him and we had the most fascinating conversation. I was really disappointed to discover it wasn’t true! So I’d like to try to recreate that for real. I’d also invite Jane Austen along too. That would be fun!

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 doing a series of talks and events at bookshops and literary festivals about my latest novel The Last Daughter. It’s a dual-time mystery set in the Wars of the Roses and the present day, taking in the big historical mystery of what happened to The Princes in the Tower and featuring that most fascinating historical monarch, King Richard III. In my talks I discuss the real historical background to my books and chat about all things history and writing. It’s wonderful to be out and about again, meeting readers and history fans in person! This month I’ll be at the Kenilworth Festival of Arts on 12th September and the Burford Literary Festival on the 27th.

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I wish I could attend one of your events, I am obsessed with the Wars of the Roses! What has been your proudest moment since you started writing/blogging and what has been your biggest challenge?

I’ve been writing for a long time – over twenty years – and have experienced some wonderful highs such as when one of my books was featured on a huge billboard in Times Square in New York. That was awesome, as were the times I’ve been shortlisted for the Romantic Novelists’ Association awards and other prizes. My proudest moments though are when readers tell me how much they have enjoyed my books. Nothing beats that sensation and even after twenty years it still gives me joy. With such a long career I’ve also had my share of challenges. One of the things I find the most difficult is those periods when for whatever reason you need to dig deep to find the motivation to carry on. Writing can be lonely that way and it’s at times like that I’ve really appreciated the support of my writing colleagues and friends.

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 big, sweeping historical fiction novel and see it hit the bestseller chart!

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

I’m currently writing a book set in the years leading up to the Gunpowder Plot of 1605. It explores the plotters’ background from the perspective of their female relatives and I’m really enjoying looking beyond all the men to discover the women’s stories.

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?

Oooh, I love travelling too! I’d love to hear more of your bucket list. A couple of years ago we took a trip to Alaska and the western coast of Canada. A lot of the trip was on the ferries that serve all the little islands and towns along the route. That was exciting, even more so when there was a ferry strike and we were stuck in the middle of the wilderness for 5 days! For my next trip, I’d love to go to Greenland and the Faroe Islands. I have ancestors from there and I think they must have been a lot tougher than I am!

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

My mother was a Languages teacher and would insist on speaking French at breakfast to us every day when I was a child. I didn’t appreciate it much at the time but it meant that I was fluent in French by the time I was in my teens and can still speak and understand it reasonably well now.

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’m a huge fan of Sarah Morgan and her book The Summer Seekers is one of my all time favourites, a real must-read. I love the way she is able to go right to the heart of an emotional dilemma and the way she draws out the relationships between the generations and the tensions within families that are so real and familiar. I also love that her books have happy or hopeful endings and always contain some hot romance as well! Happy, wise stories!

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Kathleen is eighty years old. After a run-in with an intruder, her daughter wants her to move into a residential home. She’s not having any of it. What she craves – needs – is adventure.

Liza is drowning under the daily stress of family life. The last thing she needs is her mother jetting off on a wild holiday, making Liza dream of a solo break of her own.

Martha is having a quarter-life crisis. Unemployed, unloved and uninspired, she just can’t get her life together. But she knows something has to change.

When Martha sees Kathleen’s advert for a driver and companion to take an epic road trip across America, she decides this job might be the answer to her prayers. Travelling with a stranger? No problem. She’s not the world’s best driver, but it couldn’t be worse than living with her parents again. And anyway, how much trouble can one eighty-year-old woman be?

As these women embark on the journey of a lifetime, they all discover it’s never too late for adventure…

Shamefully, this is languishing on my TBR! 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’ll do my best to avoid that but if the hangover is going to strike, lots of water before I go to bed and a cooked breakfast in the morning followed by a walk in the fresh air.

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

It has been fabulous – thank you so much! For me a perfect weekend is a modest lie-in, a cup of tea in bed, breakfast at a little local cafe followed by a dog walk and a visit to a historical house or some other interesting history site. Then back home for a delicious meal and an evening relaxing with a good book!

The pleasure has been all mine, I can assure you and I think I may dash off and buy a ticket to your talk at Kenilworth next weekend! Thank you so much for chatting to me tonight.

Nicola’s latest book, The Last Daughter, is out now in all formats and you can buy a copy here.

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A secret hidden in the past.

A family bound by a dark legacy…

Ever since her sister disappeared eleven years ago, Serena Warren has been running from a ghost, haunted by what she can’t remember about that night.

When Caitlin’s body is discovered, Serena returns to her grandfather’s house, nestled beside the ruins of Minster Lovell Hall in Oxfordshire, determined to uncover the truth. But in returning to the place of her childhood summers, Serena stands poised at the brink of a startling discovery – one that will tie her family to a centuries-old secret…

International bestselling author Nicola Cornick is a writer and a historian. After gaining a BA in History from the University of London she worked in academia for a number of years before returning to university as a mature student at Ruskin College, Oxford. Her specialism is Public History and she gained a Masters with Distinction for her work on heroes and hero myths. She is a trustee of the Friends of Lydiard Park, an 18th century stately home in Wiltshire, and she researches the history of the Craven Family and Ashdown House for the National Trust.

Nicola’s most recent books are dual time mysteries that combine an historical and a contemporary thread. The first of these, House of Shadows, was based on the research she has done into Elizabeth of Bohemia, the Winter Queen. Her new novel, The Last Daughter, is inspired by the 15th century mystery of the disappearance of the Princes in the Tower and was described by Alison Weir as: ‘An engaging, beautifully crafted romance that weaves together several intriguing mysteries, both ancient and modern, and questions the very essence of time itself.’ 

Nicola is a trustee of the Wantage Literary Festival and in her spare time, a puppy raiser for the Guide Dogs charity.

You can discover more about Nicola and her work via her website, and on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

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Desert Island Children’s Books: Flambards by K. M. Peyton

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I guess this month’s book is more of a teen/YA read, than a children’s book and it is the first book in a literary quartet that was probably my first introduction into the idea of romance. It is Flambards by K. M. Peyton.

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Christina is sent to live with her uncle in his country house, Flambards, and knows from the moment she arrives that she’ll never fit in.

Her uncle is fierce and domineering and her cousin, Mark, is selfish-but despite all this, Christina discovers a passion for horse-riding and finds a true friend in Will. What Christina has yet to realize, though, is the important part she has to play in the future of this strange household . . .

What a fabulous series of books the Flambards quartet was as a bridge for teen girls between the childhood world of innocence and ponies and the adult world of war, duty, class,  money and romance. I absolutely loved this book because I found it when I was at the same juncture in my life as Christina is during the story and through her eyes I explored the more adult world she is thrust in to when she arrives at Flambards.

Flambards is a great book for pony-mad girls because of the life at the house revolving around horses, and I think this is why I first picked it up, but there is so much more going on in the story, some of which I don’t think I ever really understood properly until I came back to it as an adult. The issues of class with which Christina is confronted in her relationship with Dick, the stablehand, and the treatment by the Russells of his entire family, is certainly not something I think I really understood when I read it the first few times in my early teens.

The book is set in the early years of the twentieth century, at a time of great change on many fronts. The world is on the brink of war, mechanical inventions such as cars and aeroplanes are starting to encroach on a way of life that has existed for centuries and is resistant to the threat. And attitudes are changing, with people becoming more aware of social injustice. This ripple of change is what informs the story, and impacts Christina’s life as she is torn between her love for Dick and the impossibility of that relationship, her joy in the horses and life at Flambards but her horror of the brutality and callousness of her uncle Russell, and her attraction to Will, who represents a dream of the future. It perfectly mirrors the turmoil that girls feel in that period of immense physical and emotional change.

The writing in the novel is beautiful, and the author really captures the contrast between the decaying and dying life at Flambards, and the shiny, bright future envisaged by Will and his machines. It is a snapshot of a period in time that none of us have experienced firsthand but can live through the pages of this book and it reminds my sharply and fondly of my own teenage years. I was drawn back in to the romances of Christina’s life, and how much the author makes us care for her, and for Flambards itself. Have re-read it, I now want to go on to read the rest of the series again. Book two, The Edge of the Cloudis even better from what I remember.

Flambards is available to buy here.

About the Author

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Kathleen Peyton grew up in the London suburbs and always longed to live in the country and have a horse. Although she enjoyed writing stories she wanted to be a painter, and when she left school she went on to study art. At Manchester Art School she met her husband, Michael, and they now live in Essex and have two daughters. Following the success of Flambards, Kathleen went on to write three more books in the sequence, the second of which, The Edge of the Cloud, was the winner of the prestigious Carnegie Medal. And since she has made some money from publishing her books, Kathleen has always had a horse, or several!

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The 2021 Romantic Novel Award Winners Interviews… with Catherine Tinley

Awards

This week I am chatting to the winner of the Goldsboro Books Historical Romantic Novel Award in the Romantic Novelists’ Association Awards 2021 for her novel Rags-to-Riches Wife, Catherine Tinley.

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Catherine, thank you very much for agreeing to appear on my blog today to celebrate the Romantic Novel Awards. You were obviously thrilled to win this award. What does it mean to you for your work to be recognised in this way and what benefits do you think it will bring to your career? Have they already started to manifest?

I was definitely thrilled! I honestly hadn’t expected it. I still think of myself as a newbie to the world of publishing – my next novel will be my seventh – so I have no idea what it might do for my career. It’s still a lovely experience though.

It was clear from your acceptance speech that the support of the RNA and other writers around you mean a lot to you. How does the support of other authors help you in your writing and what would your advice be to new writers starting out who are looking for a similar support network?

I get so much support through my networks of supportive writers. I wrote my first book solo, without any of those supports, so I know what it’s like. The RNA Irish Chapter is so positive, inclusive and supportive. I’m also part of the Unlaced historical romance group on facebook, and a community of women writers based in N Ireland called Women Aloud NI. All of these women support me and nudge me and inspire me. They generously share their knowledge and I try to do the same. There are similar groups everywhere if you look for them. . I’d say to any writer, look for your tribe.

Your publisher, Mills and Boon, must be thrilled to have two winners in this year’s awards and credit must go to them for spotting and nurturing such talent. What is the best thing about writing for Mills and Boon?

A few things come to mind. The sense of community among the Mills & Boon historical writers (again, mutual support). But there’s also the sense of Mills & Boon’s wonderful history and tradition. I read their books as a teenager and young adult, and many readers report that their mothers and grandmothers enjoyed Mills & Boons. Plus I love working with my editor, Julia Williams, who also edited Kate Hardy’s winning book.

What do you think awards like this do for the image of books in your genre, and the image of romance novels as whole, which sometimes are unfairly dismissed? What are readers who would not normally pick up a romance novel missing out on?

There is a certain snobbery about Mills & Boon, about romance, about women’s fiction generally. Yet many readers who wouldn’t normally consider choosing romance will happily watch a romantic comedy or ‘light’ film when they’re in the mood. There’s nothing wrong with happy endings – especially in today’s world. I think we all need to keep saying that.

Regency romance is becoming increasingly popular to readers as a genre, due in no small way I am sure to the Bridgerton effect. Have you always been a fan of Regency novels? What do you particularly love about them?

I think what’s so lovely about Regencies is that readers come to know and understand the ‘rules’ and expectations of the Regency fiction world. It’s like a fantasy world that you know really, really well. We often talk about ‘Planet Regency’ which has its own conventions, tropes, and rules – some of which are more historically accurate than others. As a writer, it’s fun to explore what is possible within the preset tramlines. I’m currently working on a romance set in the Outer Hebrides in 1810 – it basically mixes Regency and Highlander tropes. And there’s so much scope to play with using the regency setting. I’ve explored #MeToo themes, and general themes of women’s choices and women’s freedom throughout my books.

Themes of class distinction are recurrent in Regency novels and this is something you explore in Rags-to-Riches Wife. Is this something that particularly interests you? How do you think you may have fared in the Regency period?

Even though Planet Regency is a fantasy world where we can be whomever we want to be, I can’t forget that my own ancestors would have been farmers, tradespeople, or servants. So I do enjoy writing books that explore the role of women, and the expectations and pressures on women, during that period in history. I actually think women often had more choices, and more autonomy, if they were middle class rather than aristocrats, although women in general had few legal rights. Despite this, I like to think women often would have found ways to influence their own lives – including their choice of a husband. Jane is an unusual heroine I suppose – a Cinderella who isn’t sure she wants to leave her life as a servant, and I loved exploring the class issues through her eyes.

Mills and Boon authors generally seem to be prolific writers, a skill I am in awe of as I struggle on to finish my first novel. What is next in the pipeline for you? How do you manage your workload and do you have any tips for me and other new romance writers?

I hear you! It’s so hard to get into the writing groove and write consistently over time. I work full-time in the NHS so can only write at weekends or during holidays. I do try to write 2k words each writing day, and try not to stop till I’ve reached that target. I also find that when I’m stuck or in a block, it’s usually best to write through it. Having said that I find there are periods when I just get out of the routine of writing and it is so hard to get the regular habit going again. Good luck with your own book, and thank you for having me today!

It’s been my huge pleasure.

Catherine’s award-winning novel, Rags-to-Riches Wife is available here.

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Lady’s maid…

To wedded Lady?

Lady’s maid Jane Bailey’s life is turned upside down by the arrival of wealthy gentleman Robert Kendal. He’s come to take Jane to visit her long-lost, aristocratic grandfather. Travelling together, they succumb to a mutual attraction. Yet Jane knows a maid should not hope to love a gentleman, even if she’s suddenly wearing silk dresses and dining with the Family. Society decrees they cannot marry, but how long can Jane deny her heart?

About the Author

Catherine Tinley is an award winning author of historical romance. She writes witty, heartwarming Regency love stories for Harlequin Mills & Boon. 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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The 2021 Romantic Novel Award Winners Interviews with…. Christina Courtenay

Awards

The next guest on the blog in my series of interviews of the winners of the 2021 Romantic Novel Awards is no stranger to my site and one of my favourite authors to interview. She is the winner of the Fantasy Romantic Novel Award for her book, Echoes of the Runes, author… Christina Courtenay.

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Christina, congratulations on winning the Fantasy Romantic Novel Award in the Romantic Novelists’ Association Awards 2021 and thank you very much for agreeing to come back to the blog during this celebration of the awards.

You have now won a Romantic Novelists’ Association Award on multiple occasions. Does the thrill ever start to wane or is it just as special each time? What did it mean to you to win in particular this year?

No, I don’t think the thrill would ever wane – it definitely feels very special each time it happens! I was absolutely delighted and very honoured to win with this particular book as it is a story that’s very close to my heart in many ways. It was also my first one published by Headline Review so it was lovely that it did so well and their faith in me paid off! 

For people who have not read the book yet, can you tell us what we should expect when we come to it and how it falls into the ‘fantasy’ category?

It’s a timeslip/dual time story where Ceri, a Welsh noblewoman is taken hostage by a Viking in the 9th century, and in the present day Mia uncovers secrets at an archaeological dig. When the present begins to echo the past, and enemies threaten, they must fight to protect what has become most precious to them … The story alternates between the two timelines, and the fantasy part is the fact that Mia owns a very special ring which is magical in that it gives her dreams and visions from Ceri’s life.

You said in your speech that this book had taken you to places you never thought you would go? What did you mean by that exactly? What has been special for you about this particular book?

Although I’d been published before, this book was a first for me in many ways – it was the first time I’d had an agent representing me and fighting my corner, my first with Headline as I mentioned, and it has a Viking setting which is very special to me. I’m half Swedish so the Vikings are part of my heritage and an era I’ve always loved. ECHOES OF THE RUNES is also the first of my books to get more than 1,000 reviews on Amazon, something I had always dreamed about. Then it won the RNA’s Fantasy Award and now it has also been shortlisted for the RWA US Vivian award. I’m just blown away by how well it’s done!

All my fellow bloggers who read Echoes of the Runes have raved about it. Why do you think people have responded to it so positively? What has been some of your favourite feedback on the book? 

I honestly don’t know but I’m so grateful for all the wonderful support I’ve received from readers, bloggers and reviewers – it means so much! I know many readers love the Viking era as much as I do and timeslip novels also seem to be very popular at the moment. (I’m very pleased about that as it’s my favourite sub-genre.) I think the best feedback an author can get is when readers say the characters stay in their mind long after they’ve put the book down, and that they want to continue to spend time in that world and can’t wait for the next book. That makes me feel all warm inside!

Readers of this book have compared you to Barbara Erskine, who is one of my favourite authors and hugely successful. How does that feel?

I don’t think I could ever be as good as Ms Erskine – she is definitely the queen of timeslip novels – but it’s a huge honour to be compared to her as I love her books!

You have said that this book allowed you to explore your heritage. Could you expand on that a little and tell us where the idea for the book came from. Is it tied to your interest in genealogy?

No, it’s not connected with my interest in genealogy as sadly I haven’t been able to prove any descent from Vikings as yet (although I live in hope!). It was more that I went to school in Sweden up to the age of 16 so of course we studied the Vikings a lot and I was fascinated by them. I was a voracious reader and also read the Norse sagas at a young age and they made a huge impression on me. My story was initially inspired by a Viking style ring I own, which is an exact replica of one displayed at the Historical Museum in Stockholm. When I visited the museum, I found the original one in a display case there and I compared the two. It was so exciting to see them together and that’s when I was struck by the idea for this book. My agent, Lina Langlee of the North Literary Agency, just happens to be Swedish as well and she encouraged me so it seemed like it was meant to be.

Will your next novel be exploring similar themes or do you have something completely different planned?

I have continued with the Vikings in my Runes series and there are two more published now – THE RUNES OF DESTINY (which is about Linnea, the daughter of the couple in ECHOES OF THE RUNES) – and WHISPERS OF THE RUNES (following Linnea’s best friend Sara). I have just finished the edits on the fourth book in the series – TEMPTED BY THE RUNES – which will be out in December, and now I’m working on a standalone novel that will hopefully be out next year. They are all timeslip or time travel, but although they explore similar themes, the settings and characters are all different.

Thanks for chatting with me, Christina, it’s been fascinating ans I wish you luck with your upcoming plans.

You can get a copy of Christina’s award-winning novel, Echoes of the Runes, here and watch out for my review of the book coming up later in the summer.

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Their love was forbidden. But echoed in eternity.

When Mia inherits her beloved grandmother’s summer cottage, Birch Thorpe, in Sweden, she faces a dilemma. Her fiancé Charles urges her to sell and buy a swanky London home, but Mia cannot let it go easily. The request to carry out an archaeological dig for more Viking artefacts like the gold ring Mia’s grandmother also left her, offers her a reprieve from a decision – and from Charles.

As Mia becomes absorbed in the dig’s discoveries, she finds herself drawn to archaeologist Haakon Berger. Like her, he can sense the past inhabitants whose lives are becoming more vivid every day. Trying to resist the growing attraction between them, Mia and Haakon begin to piece together the story of a Welsh noblewoman, Ceri, and the mysterious Viking, known as the ‘White Hawk’, who stole her away from her people in 869 AD. 

As the present begins to echo the past, and enemies threaten Birch Thorpe’s inhabitants, they will all have to fight to protect what has become most precious to each of them …

About the Author

Christina Courtenay writes historical romance, time slip and time travel stories, and lives in Herefordshire (near the Welsh border) in the UK. Although born in England, she has a Swedish mother and was brought up in Sweden – hence her abiding interest in the Vikings. Christina is a former chairman of the UK’s Romantic Novelists’ Association and has won several awards, including the RoNA for Best Historical Romantic Novel twice with Highland Storms (2012) and The Gilded Fan (2014).  The Runes of Destiny (time travel published by Headline 10th December 2020) is her latest novel. Christina is a keen amateur genealogist and loves history and archaeology (the armchair variety).

Connect with Christina:

Website: http://www.christinacourtenay.com

Facebook: Christina Courtenay Author

Twitter: @PiaCCourtenay

Instagram: @ChristinaCourtenayAuthor

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Book Review: Two Women in Rome by Elizabeth Buchan #BookReview

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In the Eternal City, no secret stays hidden forever…

Lottie Archer arrives in Rome excited to begin her new job as an archivist. When she discovers a valuable fifteenth-century painting, she is drawn to find out more about the woman who left it behind, Nina Lawrence.

Nina seems to have led a rewarding and useful life, restoring Italian gardens to their full glory following the destruction of World War Two. So why did no one attend her funeral in 1978?

In exploring Nina’s past, Lottie unravels a tragic love story beset by the political turmoil of post-war Italy. And as she edges closer to understanding Nina, she begins to confront the losses in her own life.

I am delighted to be posting my review of Two Women in Rome by Elizabeth Buchan today. I received an advance digital copy of the book from the publisher via NetGalley for the purpose of review, and I have reviewed honestly and impartially.

I am all about novels set in Italy at the moment. For some reason, it is a place I am craving a visit to in these times where it is practically impossible to go anywhere at all. So since I can’t hop on a plane there at the moment, I am taking my tours via books, and Two Women in Rome is my latest foray.

A lot of my armchair travelling is done via romcoms, but this is a much more serious book, with a dual timeline that centres on Lottie in the present day and Nina, back in the 1970s when Italy was going through a period of immense political upheaval. Lottie, an archivist, discovers a lost painting, and a cache of papers that tell part of Nina’s story. Lottie becomes almost obsessed with uncovering what happened to Nina, largely because she can relate to her in some way, her struggle to fit in to Roman society as an English woman, and for authenticity when there are parts of your life which cannot be revealed for a variety of reasons.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book, although it was a rather slow burn. The switching between Lottie’s current life in Rome and Nina’s time there in 1970s was easy to follow, and the women have two distinct voices in the book which each spoke to me with equal strength. I found the historical exploration of Italy in these tumultuous years absolutely fascinating. It is not a period of Italian history I am familiar with at all, and it made me want to go and read more about it, always a sign that a book has caught my imagination. I found the things that Nina is forced to do to carry out her work quite shocking, again not something I have ever thought much about before but intrigued me a great deal. I am sure that the author has researched the topic thoroughly and that what she describes is authentic, which makes it even more unbelievable.

Lottie latches on to Nina’s story as a way to explore her insecurities as an alien in a foreign land, especially when she is married to a man who has lived there so long that he is part of the place, and has a long history with the people and the city, part of which makes Lottie feels threatened. She also has parts of her past missing, which she hasn’t really processed, and investigating Nina’s story is a way of working through all this, and finding something in Rome that is hers, anchoring her to the place and marking herself out as an individual, instead of an appendage to her husband. I could really understand where she was coming from, her story really resonated with me and I was invested throughout in her quest.

This is a thoughtful, considered and rich novel that explores a time and place that will be alien to most of us. It takes the reader beyond the superficial tourist experience of Rome and in to the darker, seedier underbelly of the city and part of its history. It gave me a view of the place from a new perspective, as well as pulling me in to an involved mystery that was fascinating. Speckle all that with complex romantic issues, and you have me thoroughly hooked.

An engaging and rewarding read that provides something for anyone looking for a book with a little more depth to take to their sun lounger this summer.

Two Women in Rome is out now in hardback, ebook and audio formats and you can buy a copy here.

About the Authors

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Elizabeth Buchan was a fiction editor at Random House before leaving to write full time. Her novels include the prizewinning Consider the Lily, international bestseller Revenge of the Middle-Aged Woman and The New Mrs Clifton. She reviews for the Sunday Times and the Daily Mail, and has chaired the Betty Trask and Desmond Elliot literary prizes. She was a judge for the Whitbread First Novel Award and for the 2014 Costa Novel Award.
Connect with Elizabeth:
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Book Review: The Queen’s Spy by Clare Marchant #BookReview

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1584: Elizabeth I rules England. But a dangerous plot is brewing in court, and Mary Queen of Scots will stop at nothing to take her cousin’s throne.

There’s only one thing standing in her way: Tom, the queen’s trusted apothecary, who makes the perfect silent spy…

2021: Travelling the globe in her campervan, Mathilde has never belonged anywhere. So when she receives news of an inheritance, she is shocked to discover she has a family in England.

Just like Mathilde, the medieval hall she inherits conceals secrets, and she quickly makes a haunting discovery. Can she unravel the truth about what happened there all those years ago? And will she finally find a place to call home?

I was provided with a copy of The Queen’s Spy by the publisher via NetGalley for the purposes of review, so my thanks to them. I have reviewed the book honestly and impartially.

I was a huge fan of Clare Marchant’s debut novel, The Secrets of Saffron Hall, so I was very keen to read her ‘difficult second novel’ which features a character from the first novel, but has moved forward slightly in time historically to the court of Queen Elizabeth I.

Well, Clare has made the ‘difficult second novel’ look as easy and breezy as the first with this book. Again we are dealing with a dual timeline, in modern day Norfolk, and sixteenth century London, following the lives of two nomadic souls. In the present day, rootless Mathilde has travelled to England to find out more about an unexpected inheritance and family she had no idea existed. However, she has no intention of staying in the ancient house with its hidden secrets any longer than she must. But the ghosts that haunt the place aren’t keen on letting her go until she has uncovered their stories.

Back in the 1500s, Tom also also travelled from France to make a new life. Both deaf and mute, he also finds it difficult to fit in and put down roots, until he finds how useful he can be to England’s powerful Queen in her war against the cousin who would usurp her throne. Tom and Mathilde’s stories run parallel in their quests for a home and a family they never knew they wanted or believed they could ever have.

What I really loved about this book, and what makes it stand out for me in the canon of dual timeline romances, is the featuring of a male protagonist as the vessel for the story in the past timeline. Clare slips as easily into the skin of sixteenth century male servant just as easily as she did the shoes of her female protagonist in the historical part of her previous novel. She has managed to capture life from his perspective – poor, foreign, physically disadvantaged – absolutely perfectly so that he feels fully authentic and really brings the period to life. The peril in which those without power lived day to day, subject to the whims of their capricious overlords and living in a court full of danger and intrigue. You can feel the fear emanating from the pages.

Equally, in the modern day, I loved the prickly character of Mathilde, thrust into an equally strange environment. Fiercely independent but secretly lonely and vulnerable, she has put up a barrier to everyone else that is going to be hard for anyone to break down. However, over the course of the novel we understand, along with the other characters, why she is as she is and how to get at the real person underneath. Despite her awkward character, you can’t help but sympathise with her, and long for her to see what she could have if she lets people in.

The author has woven the two timelines together perfectly again, the transition between past and present not at all jarring to the reader. Bothe timelines are alive with imagery – sights, sounds, scents bringing each setting fully to life. Exploring the flat, open landscape of Norfolk, and the dank, crowded streets of Elizabethan London with equal aplomb, this is a truly transportive novel. Particularly emotionally, I found, as both the plights of Mathilde and Tom moved me, especially the ending.

This is a great read for anyone fond of this historical period, fans of dual timelines, or those who just love a well-written, immersive novel exploring love and relationships and what humans really need to live fulfilling lives.

The Queen’s Spy is out now in all formats and you can buy a copy here.

About the Author

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Growing up in Surrey, Clare always dreamed of being a writer. Instead, she followed a career in IT, before moving to Norfolk for a quieter life and re-training as a jeweller.

Now writing full time, she lives with her husband and the youngest two of her six children. Weekends are spent exploring local castles and monastic ruins, or visiting the nearby coast.

Connect with Clare:

Facebook: Clare Marchant Author

Twitter: @ClareMarchant1

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