Guest Post: The English Wife by Adrienne Chinn #GuestPost

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Two women, a world apart. A secret waiting to be discovered…

VE Day 1945: As victory bells ring out across the country, war bride Ellie Burgess’ happiness is overshadowed by grief. Her charismatic Newfoundlander husband Thomas is still missing in action.
 
Until a letter arrives explaining Thomas is back at home on the other side of the Atlantic recovering from his injuries.

Travelling to a distant country to live with a man she barely knows is the bravest thing Ellie has ever had to do. But nothing can prepare her for the harsh realities of her new home…

September 11th 2001: Sophie Parry is on a plane to New York on the most tragic day in the city’s history. While the world watches the news in horror, Sophie’s flight is rerouted to a tiny town in Newfoundland and she is forced to seek refuge with her estranged aunt Ellie.
 
Determined to discover what it was that forced her family apart all those years ago, newfound secrets may change her life forever…

Today is publication day for this marvellous sounding book by Adrienne Chin, and to celebrate I am delighted to be hosting a guest post by the author which tells us more about the setting for her new book.

Magical Fogo by Adrienne Chin

Off the northern coast of the rugged island of Newfoundland, in the cold waters of the North Atlantic, a magical island named Fogo sits at one of the four corners of the world. Just outside of the outport village of Fogo, you’ll find Brimstone Head, a jutting climb up prehistoric rock from the top of which you’ll look out to a horizon, at the end of which you’ll fall off – according to the Flat Earth Society. Brimstone Head isn’t signposted – you’ll find it at the edge of the town, on the other side of the local football field. It’s just one of the many odd and magical places you’ll find all around Newfoundland and its outlying islands like Fogo.

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Brimstone Head

My second novel, The English Wife, is a timeslip story set in World War II Norwich and contemporary Newfoundland. I’m a native Newfoundlander, although I’ve been in the UK for thirty years, and I had always wanted to set one of my novels in this ruggedly beautiful place. I spent a month in the spring of 2019, travelling around the island, visiting relatives and researching inspiration for the fictional outport village of Tippy’s Tickle. Which is what brought me to Fogo, a short ferry ride from Twillingate on “The Rock” (as the locals call the island of Newfoundland).

Off the ferry, I headed across the island to the fishing outport of Tilting where I stayed in a old sea captain’s house overlooking the small harbour. Irish settlers arrived in the 1730s, building houses and fishing rooms around the harbour to support the fishery.  It has a rare collection of traditional structures, and the oldest Irish cemetery outside of Ireland, and this contributed to it being designated a Registered Heritage District in 2003. 

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Tilting

Down the road, just outside of Joe Batt’s Arm, you’ll find the Fogo Island Inn, a stunning piece of modern architect inspired by the fishing huts (called “stages”) on stilts all around the Newfoundland coast. Run as a social enterprise by the Shorefast Foundation, founded by local businesswoman Zita Cobb, I made sure to have lunch there while I was on the island. With a view out to the North Atlantic, with humpback whales spouting and icebergs drifting by, it was a lunch to remember. Oh, and if you’d like to hear how Joe Batt’s Arm got its name, here you go: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hAVG7IoO6C8

Fogo Island Inn & Joe Batt’s Arm

A short walk past the old cemetery in Tilting and along the coast, I came upon one of the four small artists’ residences dotted in remote spots around the island – another venture of the Shorefast Foundation. What a place to write a novel, with a view over the crashing waves, nothing but Greenland far beyond the horizon!

Artist’s Residence & Fogo Island Coast

Thank you for that quick tour around the setting for your new book, Adrienne, I can’t wait to read it.

if you like the sound of The English Wife, it is out today and you can buy a copy here.

About the Author

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Adrienne Chinn was born in an old paper-making town in Newfoundland, and grew up in rural Quebec and Montreal. She retraced her English father’s footsteps back to England, where she now lives and works as a novelist, design lecturer and interior designer. She is a regular interior design lecturer in the UK and China.

When not writing or designing, Adrienne can be found puttering in her Sussex garden, trawling the Marrakech flea market, or in the queue at Gatwick heading off somewhere new.

Connect with Adrienne:

Website: https://www.adriennechinn.net

Facebook: Adrienne Chinn Author

Twitter: @adriennechinn

Instagram: @adriennechinn

Book Review: Where The Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens #BookReview

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For years, rumors of the ‘Marsh Girl’ have haunted Barkley Cove, a quiet town on the North Carolina coast. So in late 1969, when handsome Chase Andrews is found dead, the locals immediately suspect Kya Clark, the so-called Marsh Girl.

But Kya is not what they say. Sensitive and intelligent, she has survived for years alone in the marsh that she calls home, finding friends in the gulls and lessons in the sand. Then the time comes when she yearns to be touched and loved.

When two young men from town become intrigued by her wild beauty, Kya opens herself to a new life – until the unthinkable happens.

Unless you have been living under a literary rock for the past few months, I’m sure you have heard of this book. You’ve probably already read it, as I seem to be a little late to the party but, if not, I suggest you pick up a copy as soon as possible because this is one of the best things I have read for a long while and will definitely be one of my top books of 2020.

This is the story of Kya, a young girl abandoned at a young age in the marshes of North Carolina who learns how to survive on her own by studying the wildlife that surrounds her on all sides. Her life is touched by a few souls from the nearby town, but largely she is an outcast, misunderstood and feared by local residents so, when a local man is murdered in the marsh, she is the prime suspect.

This book is a masterpiece in so many ways. It begins as a mystery story with the body of the man discovered in the marsh, so we are immediately engrossed in trying to discover, along with the local police, who is responsible. In this way we are introduced to Kya, the ‘Marsh Girl,’ an outsider who has lived alone in the marsh since she was a child and who is deeply misunderstood by the local townsfolk. The book then runs along two timelines, the current investigation of the murder, and Kya’s past as she grows up in the marsh. The  mystery is compelling and involves many twists and turns and false paths, so the reader can’t really know who did it until the very end. However, despite the fact the mystery is well-developed, this is probably the aspect of the novel that drew me the least.

The things that make this book so special are the exploration of Kya as a character and how she survives alone in the marsh from childhood and how this life affects her emotionally, and the vivid and immersive descriptions of the landscape and nature of the marsh where the book is set. The author writes so captivatingly and movingly about both that the reader cannot help but be swept away in the story.

The development of Kya’s story from her abandonment by her entire family as a young child and how she has to learn to survive alone in a hostile environment with very little contact with or help from her nearest neighbours is tender, believable and completely heart-breaking. It is a damning commentary on the way society frowns upon anyone who chooses to live a lifestyle outside the mainstream and how such choices invite disdain and a cold-shoulder. How people are largely concerned only with themselves and quick to ignore problems they don’t want to address. The only people who have the good heart to help Kya are others who are similarly shunned for their differences, or who want to use her for their own ends.

Kya is a fascinating and wholly endearing character. Her stalwart determination to survive alone, learning from the creatures that surround her, adapting their habits and survival skills to help her and, in doing so, falling in love with the life and creatures of the marsh and studying them in a way few people ever do. The way the author draws parallels between humans and the wildlife of the marsh and uses those parallels to inform the reader about both is deft and clever. We fall in love with both Kya and her delicate and unique environment and come to care deeply about the survival and protection of both by the end of the book.

The marsh, then, is an integral part of the book, as essential to the story as any of the characters. In fact, it becomes a character in its own right, as intricately described and developed as any of the human participants, a living, breathing organism that is vital to Kya’s happiness and well-being in a way no human has ever been. It is the one thing she loves, trusts and knows will never let her down. Their lives are so intertwined that, when she is forcibly separated from it, it feels like a form of death to her. Like removing a fish from the ocean, she feels like she cannot breathe. If you ever wanted to read a book that really transports you to an environment you have probably never experienced but into which you will completely disappear, this is the novel for you.

The writer’s prose is lyrical and flowing. I know some people have found the book a little slow, and it is true that is is very descriptive and languid, but this is a huge part of the beauty of the novel and, if you stick with it, I am sure you will find the whole story as beautiful, heart-rending but, ultimately, uplifting as I did. The languorous nature of the prose is entirely fitting to the plot and the setting, mirroring the slow, warm, unchanging days in the Carolinas and will envelope you in the mindset if you let it. Just kick back and go with the flow and let this exceptional novel float you on a magical journey that will leave you fundamentally affected by it.

Where The Crawdads Sing is out now in all formats here.

About the Author

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Delia Owens is the co-author of three internationally bestselling nonfiction books about her life as a wildlife scientist in Africa including Cry of the Kalahari.

She has won the John Burroughs Award for Nature Writing and has been published in Nature, The African Journal of Ecology, and many others.

She currently lives in Idaho. Where the Crawdads Sing is her first novel.

Connect with Delia:

Website: https://www.deliaowens.com

Facebook: Author Delia Owens

Instagram: @authordeliaowens

Book Review: The Confessions of Frannie Langton by Sara Collins #BookReview

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‘They say I must be put to death for what happened to Madame, and they want me to confess. But how can I confess what I don’t believe I’ve done?’

1826, and all of London is in a frenzy. Crowds gather at the gates of the Old Bailey to watch as Frannie Langton, maid to Mr and Mrs Benham, goes on trial for their murder. The testimonies against her are damning – slave, whore, seductress. And they may be the truth. But they are not the whole truth.

For the first time Frannie must tell her story. It begins with a girl learning to read on a plantation in Jamaica, and it ends in a grand house in London, where a beautiful woman waits to be freed.

But through her fevered confessions, one burning question haunts Frannie Langton: could she have murdered the only person she ever loved?

The problem that has been plaguing me the last few days is how to encapsulate the many, complex facets that form this novel, and my equally complicated reactions to it, in the form of a few inadequate words. I’m not sure I’ve solved the conundrum completely, but the day has come to plough ahead with my review regardless.

Part of the problem is, this book is too multi-layered and multi-themed to unravel in a single reading, and, reviewing it against the back drop of current events has further muddied my thinking on some of the issues it addresses. I am all too aware that I don’t know enough, I haven’t studied the history in sufficient depth, I don’t feel entitled to discuss some of these topics. All I can give you is my honest reaction to the book on my first reading of it, tempered as it is with all of this knowledge of inadequacy in the background.

This book, is at its heart for me, a gothic horror story, with a mystery and a love story woven in. Horror story, because that is my overwhelming reaction to the events that unfold between the pages. The novel follows the tale of Frannie, born a mulatto, on a sugar plantation in Jamaica, who, through a series of extraordinary events, arrives at a wealthy household in London where she becomes intimately embroiled with the mistress of the house. The book is dark and complicated and rich and thought-provoking.   It has echoes of some of my best beloved classic novels of all time; Jane Eyre, Moll Flanders, Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde to name but a few. The writing is exquisite in detail, placing the reader firmly at the heart of Georgian society, but mining its seedy underbelly, whilst showing us the glossy front that hides these aspects.

The book is ostensibly anchored by the mystery of who murdered Frannie’s English ’employers’, and we meet her while she is on trial for those murders, telling her story for her lawyer. However, the mystery was probably the least diverting part of the book for me and, by the time the true facts of the crime were revealed, I wasn’t really that invested in the outcome. The most stimulating part of the book is the story of Frannie’s journey from slave to her position in the Benham’s household in London, the reactions people have to her transformation and the feelings she has herself about the things she has done to get there. It is not as straight forward as many stories about people ‘escaping’ from slavery are, and Frannie herself resists attempts by abolitionists to co-opt her tragic story to their cause, as she finds these tales of pity and misery boring. Frannie has, to every degree she is all permitted, refused to be fortune’s plaything and attempted to become author of her own future. How far this is actually possible, even in England where slavery is ‘illegal’ is one of the over-arching themes of the novel. In addition, Frannie has to consider at length the things she has been required to do in order to attain even the limited level self-determination she has and whether it could ever truly be freedom at that price.

This book addresses a lot of uncomfortable issues, particularly the matter of the science of race, which is being researched by Frannie’s original owner, using his own slaves as lab rats, including Frannie herself. In fact, the question of her whole life being a continual experiment is at the forefront of the book, and the whole concept if truly horrifying, particularly as we know it is based on true events. The author very cleverly uses hints at things that are going on in the novel, without specifically spelling it all out in graphic detail, which is actually an extremely clever way of making the reader really think, and using their imagination to fill in the gaps which, as we all know, means we end up conjuring the very worst images we can possibly conceive. This is human nature. However, in this case, the fear is always there that the worst images we can conceive don’t actually come close to the horrors that were enacted, our minds will shy away from accepting the true depths people can plummet in their inhumanity to one another, and this is the truth that is really the heart of the horror story here. I apologise if my thoughts on this come across as a little confused, I am still chasing all of my conclusions about this book around my head, still trying to process all of the emotions it has drawn from me.

The book also centres around a love story between Frannie and her mistress, but this also raises again the question of whether Frannie is a slave to the whims of a capricious woman who may be using the girl for her own ends, rather than seeing her as an equal in the relationship who deserves the same emotional treatment as anyone else. At least, this is what I drew from the book. I have seen some reviews that have characterised the love story as unconvincing but, on my interpretation of it, it worked perfectly, and Madame’s relationship with and feelings for, Laddie, particularly after his emancipation, just supported this reading of the relationship for me. Maybe I’ve got it all wrong, I’d love to discuss the book with the author to find out what she had in mind when she was writing it, but I guess the beauty of a novel is that every reader comes at it from a different angle and will take a completely individual experience away from it at the end.

Despite this being a very long and rambling review, I’m really not sure that I have adequately explained what is so marvellous about this book, or why you should be tempted to read it, so let me try and give you a succinct summary. This book is rich, detailed, beautifully written, historically illuminating and absolutely horrifying in the true, gothic sense of the word. If you don’t come away from it feeling deeply disturbed, you haven’t been concentrating, but you absolutely should read it, I have not come across anything quite like it in recent times.

The Confessions of Frannie Langton is out now and you can buy a copy here.

About the Author

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Sara Collins is of Jamaican descent and grew up in Grand Cayman. She studied law at the London School of Economics and worked as a lawyer for seventeen years, before admitting that what she really wanted to do was write novels. She obtained a Master’s degree in Creative Writing with distinction from Cambridge University, where she was the 2015 recipient of the Michael Holroyd Prize. In 2016, she was shortlisted for the Lucy Cavendish prize for The Confessions of Frannie Langton, her first novel, a gothic romance about the twisted love affair between a Jamaican maid and her French mistress in 19th century London. The novel won the Costa First Novel Award 2019.

Connect with Sara:

Website: https://saracollinsauthor.com

Twitter: @mrsjaneymac

Instagram: @saracollinsauthor

Book Review: Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel

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‘Lock Cromwell in a deep dungeon in the morning,’ says Thomas More, ‘and when you come back that night he’ll be sitting on a plush cushion eating larks’ tongues, and all the gaolers will owe him money.’

England, the 1520s. Henry VIII is on the throne, but has no heir. Cardinal Wolsey is his chief advisor, charged with securing the divorce the pope refuses to grant. Into this atmosphere of distrust and need comes Thomas Cromwell, first as Wolsey’s clerk, and later his successor.

Cromwell is a wholly original man: the son of a brutal blacksmith, a political genius, a briber, a charmer, a bully, a man with a delicate and deadly expertise in manipulating people and events. Ruthless in pursuit of his own interests, he is as ambitious in his wider politics as he is for himself. His reforming agenda is carried out in the grip of a self-interested parliament and a king who fluctuates between romantic passions and murderous rages.

This book won the Man Booker Prize in 2009 but yet it lurked on my TBR unread for many a long, shameful year. Then I discovered I was not alone! Another much-admired book reviewer on Twitter came out as a fellow shirker, then slowly, more and more of us came out of the shadows and owned our ignominy publicly. We then decided to do a buddy read of the book to put our chagrin firmly behind us.

The read started at the beginning of April, and slowly people began to drop out. I totally understand why this happened. This book is not an easy read. Mantel uses a narrative construct that is not easy to navigate and is a little confusing until you get used to it, which makes the book a read that requires concentration and application, it is not something you can just skim. Unfortunately, this read started just as we were entering lockdown in the UK in the face of the coronavirus pandemic, we were all trying to adjust to this completely alienating new reality and, for many, this was not the time to be tussling with this tome.

I actually felt the opposite. Reading has always been my respite in times of trouble and, during lockdown, I escaped even deeper into fictional worlds, consuming novels at a record rate (I have now read 90 books this year.) Being able to lose myself in a book that demanded my full attention was a welcome distraction from the terrible news that was hitting us day by day, and it returned the novel rewarded me tenfold.

I have always been fascinated by the Plantagenet and Tudor periods of history, and have read a lot of historical fiction set in this period, but Mantel’s book goes way beyond anything I have read before. She dives so deeply into the psyche of Cromwell, revealing to us the whole panoply of life in Tudor England through his eyes, that it feels like a lived experience. The book is written in the present tense, as if you are actually in that time, and it is very effective. Her writing gives the man a humanity that is missing from his portrayals in a lot of history books, and it has given me a totally different perspective on his role in this period.

Her research is obviously extensive and meticulous, and she feeds the book with exquisite detail and texture that is just delightful to absorb. This is a book that you can actually FEEL through all of your senses. Although it is slow moving, it is curiously addictive. Every time I picked it up I felt transported and was loathe to put it down and return to the real world. I was so absorbed that this monster of a novel felt too short, and I am so glad that there are two other novels coming for me to enjoy. I haven’t started them yet, as I am still revelling in the afterglow of the first book and am going to delay the gratification of starting book two until I can bear it no longer.

I know this book is not going to be for everyone. Some will find it too ponderous, and the slow richness of the writing that I adored will be the very thing that discourages others. Mantel’s prose and use of ‘he’ to refer to Cromwell throughout, rather than calling him by his name, can be confusing at times (particularly as there are so many Thomases in the book) and requires a level of concentration that can prove tiring, especially when you are going through a time of stress. It is a book that needs a particular moment, a particular frame of mind to appreciate. I think she is a writer that may seem to lack some warmth for some people, focused as she is on the historical detail, her writing can come off as dispassionate, which may be this books downfall for some. I can understand why people might fail to engage with Cromwell as protagonist to a degree that they cannot care about his story. But, if you can get past this, there is no doubt at all that this book is a masterpiece of historical fiction that will give the persistent reader a whole new insight into this period of history.

I bloody loved it and I owe huge thanks to Jules Swain for finally getting me to pick it up.

If you would like to give it a go yourself, you can buy a copy of Wolf Hall herealong with books two and three of the trilogy, which are all out now.

About the Author

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Hilary Mantel is the two-time winner of the Man Booker Prize for her best-selling novels, Wolf Hall, and its sequel, Bring Up the Bodies. Wolf Hall has been translated into 36 languages, Bring Up the Bodies into 31 languages, and sales for both books have reached over 5 million copies worldwide. She is the author of fourteen books, including A Place of Greater Safety, Beyond Black, and the memoir Giving Up the Ghost. In 2014 she was appointed DBE.

Connect with Hilary:

Website: https://hilary-mantel.com

Facebook: Hilary Mantel Author

Blog Tour: Murder on a Mississippi Steamboat by Leighann Dobbs #BookReview

MURDER ON A MISSISSIPPI STEAMBOAT HI

Nora elbowed her way up to the railing and looked down. The paddle wheel was making its last turn, dredging up a mass of turquoise chiffon made almost transparent by the water. A hand, its red lacquered fingernails a contrast to the pale white skin, stuck up from a bejeweled cuff… 

A relaxing cruise down the Mississippi on the Miss Delta Belle steamboat turns to tragedy when celebrity Delilah Dove falls from the deck and is swallowed by the river faster than you can say ‘man overboard!’

It’s touted as a tragic accident, but guests Miss Nora Marsh and her wily great-aunt Julia know a murder when they see one. Can they get justice for Delilah and crack the case without alerting the murderer to their suspicions?

As Nora and Julia hunt for clues it emerges that nearly everyone had a reason to want Delilah dead. And that’s bad news for the two sleuths—who want to solve the case pronto, before Mississippi police chief and Aunt Julia’s nemesis Artemis Leonard comes on board at the next port to launch the official investigation. She’s not letting him get the credit if she can help it.

With multiple suspects and a series of mysterious thefts onboard—not to mention the distractingly handsome Max Lawton turning Nora’s head—this is shaping up to be one tough case to crack. What started as a gentle river voyage is far from plain sailing.

I’m delighted to be taking part in the blog tour for Murder on a Mississippi Steamboat by Leighann Dobbs. My thanks to Sarah Hardy of Books on the Bright Side Publicity for inviting me on to the tour and to the publisher for my digital copy of the book, received via NetGalley, which I have reviewed honestly and impartially.

This is my first book by this author and I have to say I thoroughly enjoyed it. I love a cosy mystery as a little light relief and this one was great fun.

The setting on the steamboat travelling down the Mississippi was a great feature of the book. It had the advantage of trapping all the suspects in one place while Aunt Julia, a crime writer, and her niece carried out their investigation, reminiscent of Agatha Christie’s Death on the Nile, but lighter and more tongue-in-cheek. Who doesn’t love the romance of a river journey? Paddle wheels, steamer trunks, fancy dinners and live bands – it will make anyone wish they could travel back in time and take a glamorous trip down the Mississippi.

I loved the placing of the story in the 1920s and the author does a great job of bringing the period to life, with little historical details and quirks. Fantastic descriptions of the clothes and the music, as well as the place of women in society at the time, things which were only just becoming popular and little nods to the future (the fact that we would indeed find out that smoking is addictive in the future, for example.) I particularly enjoyed the nods to prohibition and Aunt Julia’s sneaky hip flask, it was a great character quirk that really brought her to life, and the book is full of little details like this that firmly establish the characters as real personalities.

The mystery itself is very gentle. The author seems to plant lots of clues and direct suspicions on practically everyone on the boat one way or another. I can’t honestly say that the whole thing made much sense to me and I had no idea who hd actually done it until the big reveal at the end, and even then the clues seemed a bit flimsy. It reminded me of a lightweight episode of Midsomer Murders or Death in Paradise, where the reader has little chance of guessing whodunnit or why, but it doesn’t really matter because the story is a lot of fun to follow anyway. By the end, I wasn’t overly concerned who has killed Delilah, I was just enjoying the journey.

This was a quick, easy, pleasant read that whiled away a couple of hours without being taxing. Fans of cosy mysteries and books set in the 1920s will find it very entertaining I am sure. Perfect for a lazy weekend afternoon in the sun.

Murder on a Mississippi Steamboat is out now and you can buy a copy here.

Please do make sure you visit the rest of the fabulous blogs taking part in the tour for this book:

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About the Author

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USA Today bestselling author, Leighann Dobbs, discovered her passion for writing after a twenty year career as a software engineer. She lives in New Hampshire with her husband Bruce, their trusty Chihuahua mix Mojo and beautiful rescue cat, Kitty.

Her book “Dead Wrong” won the “Best Mystery Romance” award at the 2014 Indie Romance Convention.

Her book “Ghostly Paws” was the 2015 Chanticleer Mystery & Mayhem First Place category winner in the Animal Mystery category.

Connect with Leighann:
Facebook: Leighann Dobbs
Twitter: @leighanndobbs

Blog Tour: You Will Be Safe Here by Damian Barr #BookReview

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A beautiful and heart-breaking story set in South Africa where two mothers – a century apart – must fight for their sons, unaware their fates are inextricably linked.

Orange Free State, 1901. At the height of the Boer War, Sarah van der Watt and her six-year-old son Fred can only watch as the British burn their farm. The polite invaders cart them off to Bloemfontein Concentration Camp promising you will be safe here.

Johannesburg, 2010. Sixteen-year-old Willem is an outsider who just wants to be left alone with his Harry Potter books and Britney, his beloved pug. Worried he’s turning out soft, his Ma and her new boyfriend send him to New Dawn Safari Camp, where they ‘make men out of boys.’ Guaranteed.

The red earth of the veldt keeps countless secrets whether beaten by the blistering sun or stretching out beneath starlit stillness. But no secret can stay buried forever.

This is a book I have had on my TBR for a long time so I am delighted to finally have read it and be reviewing it for the blog tour today. My thanks to Anne Cater for inviting me to take part and to the publisher for my copy of the book which I have reviewed honestly and impartially.

This book is incredibly intense, moving, powerful, eye-opening and heartbreaking. It is a book set across multiple timelines and told by multiple voices, and at first it seems like the threads are unconnected, but at the end, all becomes clear and it is a fascinating, if difficult exploration of the history of a troubled country.

The book opens with the arrival of a teenage boy at a ‘safari camp’ in the veldt near Blomfontein, then immediately circles back to the experiences of a Boer farmer’s wife at the height of the second Boer War in 1901, as told through her diary entries. This historical part of the book is eye-opening and disturbing. This is a part of history that I did not know much about and, having read this, I am not remotely surprised that this is a part of British history that is not taught in our schools. It is a shameful thing to have to read about, and the writing here describes the suffering of the Boer women and children so vividly that it is extremely upsetting, but important and necessary, and you will come away from the experience with your perception altered.

The rest of the book follows the lives of one family from the 70s through to modern day as their history is told to the birth of Willem, the main protagonist of the modern part of the book, and the reasons he ends up in the ‘safari camp,’ where the writer draws disturbing parallels between the concentration camps used by the British in the Boer War and the way these misfit boys are treated in the modern day. You would believe this is an exaggerated story save for the fact that the book was inspired by the death of a real boy. The fact that these camps exist in modern South Africa is troubling.

Reading this book is extremely poignant in the modern era. The book explores the ongoing racial tensions in South Africa and the attitude of a section of the white population that believe a reckoning is coming for the historical wrongs done to them. This harking back to the past and a time that was perceived to be better than the modern day, is a scourge on our society and a flimsy camouflage for ingrained racism, intolerance and bigotry that fuels so much that is wrong in the modern world. This book is so powerful in the way it makes the reader think about these issues and will shake and complacencies you may have about how pure our history is as a country.

This is not an easy or comfortable read, but it is an important and thought-provoking book that I would highly recommend to anyone interested in history and social politics.

You Will Be Safe Here is out now and you can buy a copy here.

Please make sure you check out the rest of the fabulous blogs taking part in the tour:

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About the Author

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 Damian Barr is an award-winning writer and columnist. Maggie & Me, his memoir about coming of age and coming out in Thatcher’s Britain, was a BBC Radio 4 ‘Book of the Week’, Sunday Times ‘Memoir of the Year’ and won the Paddy Power Political Books ‘Satire’ Award and Stonewall Writer of the Year Award.

Damian writes columns for the Big Issue and High Life and often appears on BBC Radio 4. He is creator and host of his own Literary Salon that premieres work from established and emerging writers. You Will Be Safe Here is his debut novel.

Damian Barr lives in Brighton.

Connect with Damian:

Website: https://www.damianbarr.com

Facebook: Mr Damian Barr

Twitter: @Damian_Barr

Instagram: @damianbarrliterarysalon

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Blog Tour: Hamnet by Maggie O’Farrell #BookReview

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TWO EXTRAORDINARY PEOPLE. A LOVE THAT DRAWS THEM TOGETHER. A LOSS THAT THREATENS TO TEAR THEM APART.

On a summer’s day in 1596, a young girl in Stratford-upon-Avon takes to her bed with a fever. Her twin brother, Hamnet, searches everywhere for help. Why is nobody at home?

Their mother, Agnes, is over a mile away, in the garden where she grows medicinal herbs. Their father is working in London. Neither parent knows that one of the children will not survive the week.

Hamnet is a novel inspired by the son of a famous playwright. It is a story of the bond between twins, and of a marriage pushed to the brink by grief. It is also the story of a kestrel and its mistress; flea that boards a ship in Alexandria; and a glovemaker’s son who flouts convention in pursuit of the woman he loves. Above all, it is a tender and unforgettable reimagining of a boy whose life has been all but forgotten, but whose name was given to one of the most celebrated plays ever written.

I am privileged today to be taking part in the blog tour for Hamnet by Maggie O’Farrell. The book has been longlisted for the Women’s Prize for Fiction and is one of the most eagerly anticipated books of the year. Huge thanks to Anne Cater for my place on the tour and to the publisher for my copy of the book, which I have reviewed honestly and impartially.

I’m always a little wary about reviewing books as hyped as this one has been, and by authors as revered as Maggie O’Farrell. One wonders if the books, and indeed the authors, can ever live up to the advance accolades they receive, and whether, when the literary establishment is so in love with a novel or novelist, any positive review will be accepted at face value or perceived as just another acolyte toeing the party line. On the converse, would anyone dare post a negative review whilst anticipating the backlash that might ensue? After all, this book has been long listed for the Women’s Prize, a lot of people have rated it very highly. It might make one seriously consider whether just to keep one’s opinion to oneself.

I have to admit that I am not a devotee on this author’s work, simply because I have never previously got around to reading it. I have two of her titles on my TBR, but in the past three years madding rush of blog tours, they have remained there, untouched. So maybe I am ideally positioned to come at this with an open mind and no preconceptions, which is exactly what I did. I also had no expectations with regard to how this would compare to her previous work, I could judge this book purely on its own merits.

The author could not have foreseen when writing this book, which is a book she has said she has wanted to write for over thirty years, that it would arrive on the shelves at a time the world was being touched by a deadly pandemic, arousing in us the kind of fear and panic that is the mirrored in the family at the centre of the book, as they are touched in the same way by the plague in the sixteenth century. In fact, the vividness with which the author recreates this in the novel may strike too close to home for some to bear at this terrifying moment in this history. For others of us, what it manages to do is draw us close across the centuries to those who went before us and show us that, although much in the world has altered beyond recognition in those long, intervening years, human emotions of love, loss, grief, kinship, fear and fortitude are constant and unchanging. It allows us to relate to these long-dead people in a way we might otherwise be unable to do.

Of course, this is largely down to the skill of the author in the writing. The everyday world of Stratford at this time is brought to life in such detail, and with such incisive and graphic description that complete immersion in the story in unavoidable. I was totally transported, living and breathing this experience along with the characters, completely caught up in the emotions and events to the point where I resented being pulled back out to face the everyday. I wanted to stay there, living and breathing and feeling this story until I finished it, harrowing and difficult as that was in parts, because it became so important to me to know how it ended.

This is a very detailed book, full of languorous language, indulgent pacing and descriptions of the minutiae of life at this time. This is going to frustrate some readers, I know. We are used to life at a frenetic pace, we have no patience in the modern day. People’s attention span has been accustomed to sixty second sound bites, memes, instant fixes, instant gratification. We always want to move on, move on to the next thing, never satisfied. But life as we know it has stopped for a while. We have been forced to slow down, take a break, sit back and pause. Use this time to take in a book like this, when enjoying the language and indulgence of expression in this book to take you back to a time when life was slower, more considered and possibly more appreciative of the smaller, lesser pleasures, will pay off in spades with a deeper understanding of how people lived and worked and loved at that time. Allow yourself the space and time to feel the emotion that flows from the pages of this book and seeps in to your bones if you let it.

Anyone coming to this book expecting the story of Shakespeare is going to be disappointed. In fact, the author never mentions his name once throughout. He is referred to as tutor, son, brother, father, husband, playwright, and this is very deliberate, because this is not his story. He is not centre stage, he is not the main protagonist, he is off in the wings, a bit player, the occasional character who wanders in and out of the scene, even to the end where is is the supporting role in his own play, not the titular character. This is the story of his wife.

Anne Hathaway, known in this book as Agnes, as her father referred to her in his will, is the driving force in this novel. It is through her eyes that we see life in Stratford at this time, that we learn about the roles of the womenfolk who held the homes and families together as the men were away working and making the decisions. The heart of the story is in Stratford, where all the action takes place while Shakespeare is in London, and it is she who drives the plot, from the very first time they meet. She is portrayed as a remarkable woman with many skills that were underestimated by her peers, even treated with suspicion in some cases, skills of healing and understanding and uncanny intuition. She is also shown as possessing unbelievable strength of character, allowing her husband to leave her with two small children to go to London because she understands he needs to get away from the constraints of his family, the same family she is left to live within his absence, even though they are not her own. Maggie’s admiration for this unusual woman as she envisages her is apparent on every page. She uses her to show us intimate aspects of small town life in the sixteenth century and, more particularly, what life was like for women at that time. As a historical exploration, it is absolutely fascinating.

The main thing that makes this book so special though, is the portrayal of parental grief on the loss of a child. This is something of which I have personal experience and the depth of understanding the author displays for the thoughts and emotions a parent experiences in these circumstances was profound. Her descriptions aroused in me memories that remain painfully vivid but oddly treasured, it is very difficult to explain how reading something this accurate both hurts and is deeply comforting at the same time. To be so understood, to have such pain acknowledged and explored, explained and transmitted to that fortunate part of society that has never felt it, is oddly consoling. There were scenes in this book that rang so completely true with me that it both broke my heart and gave me succour at the same time. The passage detailing the procession to the churchyard in particular was like reliving a scene from my own life, it made me cry but also provided solace in the form of understanding by another person of this pain. This is what great writing can do, it can make us feel understood, it can make us feel less alone in a confusing and frightening world. Many of us are going to need much more of this in days to come.

I have waxed on at length in this review, I know, but I hope you have come to understand at the end why it is that I am telling you I have immeasurable love and appreciation for this book. Regardless of the hype, it has given me so much on so many different levels that I cannot praise it highly enough. As a historical text, as a celebration of the strength and fortitude of women, as an exploration and acknowledgement of grief and pain, of relationships between man and woman and parent and child, I adored every single thing about it. Every word, every feeling rewarded me beyond measure. It has moved me more profoundly than anything I have read in recent memory and I cannot recommend it highly enough. Read it, not because of who the author is, or because it is being feted high and low, or because it has been listed for prizes, but because it is a work of wonder and you deserve to give yourself the opportunity to experience it for yourself.

Hamnet is out now in hardback, ebook and audio formats and you can get a copy here.

The books is taking a huge tour, and there are loads of amazing blogs taking part so do make sure you check out some of the other reviews:

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About the Author

Maggie Author Pic

Maggie O’Farrell is the author of seven novels, AFTER YOU’D GONE, MY LOVER’S LOVER, THE DISTANCE BETWEEN US, which won a Somerset Maugham Award, THE VANISHING ACT OF ESME LENNOX, THE HAND THAT FIRST HELD MINE, which won the 2010 Costa Novel Award, INSTRUCTIONS FOR A HEATWAVE, which was shortlisted for the 2013 Costa Novel Award, and THIS MUST BE THE PLACE, which was shortlisted for the 2016 Costa Novel Award. Maggie has also written a memoir, I AM, I AM, I AM. She lives in Edinburgh.

Connect with Maggie:

Website: https://www.maggieofarrell.com

Facebook: Maggie O’Farrell Books

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Blog Tour: The Message by Mai Jia #Extract

Jia_THE MESSAGE (1)_ Front Cover

China, 1941.

It is the height of the Second World War, and Japan rules over China. In the famously beautiful city of Hangzhou, a puppet government propped up by the Japanese is waging an underground war against the Communist resistance.

Late one night, under cover of darkness, three men and two women are escorted to an isolated mansion on the shores of West Lake. All five are intelligence officers, employed as codebreakers by the regime. But the secret police are certain that one of them is a communist spy. None of them are leaving until the traitor is unmasked.

It should be a straightforward case of sifting truth from lies. But as each codebreaker spins a story that proves their innocence, events are framed and re-framed, and what really happened is called into question again and again.

I am delighted to be opening the blog tour today for The Message by Mai Jin, with an exciting extract for you. My thanks to Martina Ticic from Midas PR for inviting me to take part in the tour.

Extract

The following day, just as the sun was rising and before the mists that veiled West Lake had dispersed, Commander Zhang’s black car was already bumping its way along the shoreside road.

Commander Zhang Yiting had been born into an ordinary family in Anhui province, but from a very early age it was clear that he was unusually intelligent. At eighteen he took first place in the provincial examinations for the imperial bureaucracy and seemed destined for a prestigious job in the civil service of the Qing dynasty. But, like a bolt from the blue, the Revolution of 1911 destroyed his dreams, and for many years afterwards nothing went right for him. He was ambitious to serve his country but condemned to remain on the sidelines. Too often he was treated with contempt by others; too often he found himself at the mercy of misfortunes he’d done nothing to deserve. This situation lasted until the Japanese installed their treasured collaborator Wang Jingwei in Nanjing. Only then, when Zhang Yiting was in his fifties, the hair at his temples already turning white, did his future began to look bright. He became Qian Huyi’s deputy: Vice-Commander of the ECCC.

But what kind of future lay in store for him? A year earlier, when he’d returned home to attend his mother’s funeral, one of the villagers had poured a bucket of shit over him. He was so furious that he grabbed a gun off a subordinate and fired at the villager. He didn’t kill him – the man just lost a bit of skin off his leg – but for Zhang Yiting this marked the end of an era. He understood that he would never be able to go home again, and he decided to carry on down the path he’d chosen with redoubled determination. So when his boss Qian Huyi was murdered and the rumours flying around were such that none of his colleagues dared step into the role, he accepted the promotion, exhibiting surprising courage and boldness.

That was almost a year ago now, and he’d never regretted his decision, not least because he had no other choice. Now, as he thought about all that had happened the previous night, and all that was about to happen at the Tan Estate, he had exactly the same feeling: he had no other choice.

The black car skirted the lake, followed the road up to the Tan Estate and after a few blasts on the horn came to a halt at a high wall. Sentries shouldering guns stood to attention outside the main gate and the guards ushered the Commander through. It was 7.30 a.m. – he had indeed come at the earliest possible opportunity.

Before him was a T-shaped grey-brick building with a black-tiled roof, very much in the traditional style, and a pretty but not at all practical grille door that was nowhere near high enough to stop a determined person from climbing over. It was here that the Tan family had quite brazenly installed a brothel. The sign that now hung over the door said it was an officers’ club, which was pretty much the same thing.

The car traced a circle round the large open space in front of the officers’ club and then turned right, in the direction of the rear courtyard. It drove through an area densely planted with phoenix-tail bamboo and on down a narrow road between stands of imperial zhennan trees. Commander Zhang caught a glimpse of the two buildings to the east and west, and then, as the car passed an ornate rockery overgrown with weeds and a wisteria-covered pergola, he saw that Secret-Police Chief Wang Tianxiang was waiting respectfully on the terrace of the western building.

Standing to attention behind the Police Chief was a sentry with a Mauser pistol at his hip, and behind the sentry was a wooden signboard, newly erected, which read: ‘Military Area. No Admittance for Unauthorized Personnel.’ There was also a freshly painted white line demarcating the area. This had all been put in place by Police Chief Wang during the night.

Since everyone had gone to bed very late the night before and hadn’t expected Commander Zhang to arrive so early, the five ECCC officers had all got up late. Indeed, Gu Xiaomeng was still in bed when he turned up. To have the Commander arrive at such an early hour was kind of flattering, but it brought home the seriousness of their mission. Even more so when they came out of the house to go to breakfast and saw the sentries standing to attention and the white line encircling the building.

If this has whetted your appetite and you would like to read the rest of the book, it is out now in hardback, ebook and audio formats and you can buy a copy here.

Please do make sure you check out the rest of the tour for reviews and more:

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About the Author

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Mai Jia’s first novel in English, Decoded, was published by Penguin Classics in 2002, and has been translated into over twenty languages. His novels have sold over 10 million copies and Mai Jia has won the Mao Dun Literature Prize, the highest literary honour in China. The Message was first published in 2007 and has sold over a million copies in China. Mai Jia was born in 1964 and spent many years in the Chinese intelligence services.

 

Songbird by Karen Heenan #BlogTour #GuestPost (@karen_heenan) @RaRaResources #RachelsRandomResources #Songbird

Songbird

I’m happy to be taking part in the blog tour today for Songbird by Karen Heenan. Unfortunately, I haven’t had the opportunity to read and review this book for you, but instead I have a fantastic guest post from the author. My thanks to Rachel Gilbey of Rachel’s Random Resources for my place on the tour and to the author for providing the guest post for me to share with you.

Songbird Cover

Bess has the voice of an angel, or so Henry VIII declares when he buys her from her father.

As a member of the Music, the royal company of minstrels, Bess grows up with in the decadent Tudor court, navigating the ever-changing tide of royals and courtiers.

Friends come and go as cracked voices, politics, heartbreak, and death loom over even the lowliest of musicians. Tom, her first and dearest friend is her only constant but as Bess becomes too comfortable at court, she may find that constancy has its limits.

Sounds great, doesn’t it? Now, Let me share with you Karen’s experiences and advice on the publishing process.

‘Get out of your own way’ by Karen Heenan

I’ve been a writer for most of my life. I learned to read young, because I had mother who, if interrupted when she had her nose in a book, would say, “Unless you’re bleeding, it can wait until I finish this chapter.”

It made me desperate to know what was inside those covers. Not long after I learned to read, I realized someone wrote those books, and unlike my aspirations to ballet, which required toe shoes and lessons and talent, I could learn to be a writer. It still took talent, but more than that, it took hard work, and lots and lots of reading, which was no hardship.

For a long time, writing was something I did in secret, for me, that got me through my early teens and then kept me going during years of office work that drained the light from my soul. I don’t know who I would be if I hadn’t had the outlet of writing during those times, but I don’t think I’d be happy.

The idea of writing for publication was scary. It was unnecessary; I wrote for myself. Letting other people—strangers—read my writing seemed like being naked in public. I didn’t need the exposure. I did it for myself. That was enough.

Until one day, it wasn’t. I decided to submit my book (an earlier version of Songbird) to see if I could get an agent. In 2015, after a period of rejection—I didn’t keep count of how many times I heard the word “no”, but it was a lot—I got an offer. The agent suggested changes to improve the book, and I made them, all the while thinking, “How dare you!”  because obviously, in my eyes, my book was perfect.

It wasn’t. After a year, the agent and I parted ways, Songbird returned to my hard drive, and I spent a few years licking my wounds. In the fall of 2018, I rewrote the entire book, realizing—surprise!—that the agent’s comments were not only valid, but she’d gone nowhere near far enough in her suggestions. I cut 15,000 words without losing a character or a scene, and even added an epilogue.

One more try, and I then would give up. 

While I was working on the dreaded query letter, I saw something interesting on Twitter: there were a lot of book pitches in my feed. It was a pitch contest. Pitch your book in 280 characters or less. Agents and publishers like your tweet to express interest.

Hmm, I thought. Interesting, but I’m not ready. I don’t even have a query letter. I’ll try again next time.

I went upstairs to clean the bathroom, then came right back down, typed a quick pitch into my phone, and closed my eyes. What was the worst thing that could happen? I did it twice more before the end of the day, resolutely not looking at responses until it was over.

And there were responses. Only three, but still. Two were agents, and one was a small publisher. I responded to each, sending a query letter (which I quickly finished), and the requested samples. One agent still hasn’t responded, another wanted rewrites I wasn’t comfortable with (changes that would have altered my style and voice too much), and the publisher was interested in the book as it was, with only standard, non-painful copy edits and tweaks. 

I signed a contract in February, 2019, and my book came out in November.

The moral of the story: get out of your own way. What’s the worst thing that can happen?

Thank you for sharing that, Karen, good advice for those fledgling writers amongst us!

If you would like to read Songbird for yourself, it is out now and you can buy a copy here.

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

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About the Author

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Karen Heenan was born and raised in Philadelphia. She fell in love with books and stories before she learned to read, and has wanted to write for nearly as long. After far too many years in a cubicle, she set herself free to follow her dreams – which include gardening, sewing, traveling and, of course, lots of writing.

She lives in Lansdowne, PA, not far from Philadelphia, with two cats and a very patient husband.

Connect with Karen:

Website: http://www.karenheenan.com

Facebook: Karen Heenan Writer

Twitter: @karen_heenan

Instagram: @karen.heenan

Lady Edith’s Lonely Heart by Audrey Harrison #Spotlight #BlogTour (@AudreyHarrison2) @RaRaResources #RachelsRandomResources #LadyEdithsLonelyHeart

Lady Ediths Lonely Heart

I’mdelighted to be taking part today fin the blog tour today for Lady Edith’s Lonely Heart by Audrey Harrison with this spotlight post. My thanks to Rachel Gilbey at Rachel’s Random Resources for asking me to take part in the tour.

Lady Edith

She is under pressure to find a husband she doesn’t want. He keeps to the fringes of society because of family constraints. Will the written word be enough to bring two lost souls together?

Lady Edith Longdon is an heiress, in danger of being classed a spinster, and disillusioned with the fops, dandies, and fortune hunters surrounding her in society. Deciding it’s time to take her future into her own hands, she devises a foolproof way of finding someone she can love. She’s convinced nothing could go wrong…

Lord Ralph Pensby, overwhelmed by a sense of obligation, and with no one he can turn to, is adrift from those around him…

Two people drawn together, both on a journey which will affect them in ways they could never have foreseen. Secret correspondence, mistrust and confusion, not to mention cads of the highest order, make this novel a fast-paced, heart-warming story.

I am not a big reader of Regency romance but I know there are a lot of fans out there who will love this book and I am thinking that it is a genre I should explore more!

Lady Edith’s Lonely Heart is out now and you can get your copy here.

Make sure you check out the rest of the blogs taking part in the tour for reviews of the book and other great content:

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About the Author

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AMAZONUK KINDLE STORYTELLER COMPETITION FINALIST 2018!

Audrey was born about two hundred years too late. She wants to belong to a time when men were men and women were dressed in gowns and could float, simper and sigh.

In the real world she has always longed to write, writing a full manuscript when she was fourteen years old. Work, marriage and children got in the way as they do and it was only when an event at work landed her in hospital that she decided to take stock. One Voluntary Redundancy later, she found that the words and characters came to the forefront and the writing began in earnest.

So, although at home more these days, the housework is still neglected and meals are still late on the table, but she has an understanding family, who usually shake their heads at her and sigh. That is a sign of understanding, isn’t it?

Website: http://www.audreyharrison.co.uk

Facebook: Audrey Harrison Author

Twitter: @AudreyHarrison2

Instagram: @audrey.harrisonauthor