Tempted By… Over The Rainbow Book Blog: The Widow of Pale Harbour by Hester Fox

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A town gripped by fear. A woman accused of murder. Who can save Pale Harbour from itself?

1846. Desperate to escape the ghosts of his past, Gabriel Stone takes a position as a minister in the remote Pale Harbour, but not all is as it seems in the sleepy town.

As soon as Gabriel steps foot in town, he can’t escape the rumours about the mysterious Sophy Carver, a young widow who lives in the eerie Castle Carver: whispers that she killed her husband, mutterings that she might even be a witch.

But as strange, unsettling events escalate into murder, Gabriel finds himself falling under Sophy’s spell. As clues start to point to Sophy as the next victim, Gabriel realises he must find answers before anyone else turns up dead.

I have to admit, it was the fabulous cover of this book that first caught my eye when I saw it on Joanna’s fantastic blog, Over The Rainbow Book Blog. Whoever designed it is a genius because it is so atmospheric, it draws you right into the story before you have even read a page.

Once I started reading the review Joanna had written about the book, I was irretrievably Tempted By… her glowing words and absolutely had to get a copy for myself. I absolutely love a gothic novel, and the allure of a dark mystery tied to the works of Edgar Allan Poe was too good to resist.

Reading the review, the book hints at a gothic mystery combined with a crime story and a romance, all wrapped up in one. Who could possibly turn down the chance to read their three favourite genres in a single novel? Jo does a great job of boiling all of the most attractive features of the book into a short, sweet review and it certainly worked its magic on me!

I absolutely love Joanna’s blog. She is so down to earth and to the point with her reviews that you are never in any doubt how she feels about a book and she manages to get to the heart about what is great about any book she reviews. If you are looking for straight forward opinions about a book that will really give you an clear idea about whether you will like a book or not, make sure you head over to Over The Rainbow Book Blog.

And if you have been tempted by Jo’s review to get your own copy of The Widow of Pale Harbour by Hester Fox, you can buy it in all formats here.

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Guest Post: A Tuscan Memory by Angela Petch

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In a tiny hamlet nestled in the Tuscan mountains, farmers gather after a hard day in the meadows, and children’s laughter rings across the square: but one little boy does not join in their play. Behind his deep brown eyes, hides a heartbreaking secret…

Ninety years later. When elderly Giselda Chiozzi discovers a lost little boy, curled up asleep in the beech forest outside her grand but empty home, she can’t help but take pity on him. It’s been a long time since she had a visitor. Waking up to her kind smile and the warming smell of Italian hot chocolate, Davide soon blurts out what drove him into the cold Tuscan night: he’s different from everyone else, he’s never belonged anywhere, and now his beloved mother is ill.

With her heart full of sadness for this lost child, Giselda promises to help Davide trace his family history – she knows better than anyone that connecting with your roots can ground you in the present, and hopes it will make Davide realise that home is where he truly belongs.

Together the unlikely pair discover the story of Davide’s great-grandfather, Giuseppe Starnucci, a young boy who spent his days milking cows, helping with the harvest, and hammering horseshoes in the forge. But after a terrible incident that changed his life forever, Giuseppe also ran away. Forced to become a man before his time, Giuseppe joined the treacherous pilgrimage all Tuscan farmers must make from the mountains to the plains, sacrificing everything to ensure the survival of their families.

Engrossed in the story, Davide is slowly starting to heal when he and Giselda discover a shocking secret which Giuseppe took to his grave – and which now threatens to tear apart Davide’s family for good. Will Davide let the pain of the past determine his future, or can he find the courage, love and loyalty within him to return home… and even if Davide himself finds peace, will it be too late for Giselda?

This week marks the publication of the latest novel by Angela Petch. A Tuscan Memory was published in digital format by Bookouture on 7 September and, to celebrate, Angela has kindly agreed to visit the blog and tell us a bit about the inspiration behind her writing.

Italian Inspiration by Angela Petch

They say truth is boring and that fiction makes truth more exciting. But, having lived in several countries, I have never found my life boring.  Maurice and I met in Sicily where we both worked for a Dutch construction Company. I had escaped to Italy after a disastrous relationship and had given up on men. (My husband always feels uncomfortable when I say that. “Am I not a man, then?” he asks.) When you are least expecting it, something brilliant happens. Escaping from one man, I fell in love with another and Maurice and I married in Italy less than one year later. Then we moved to Tanzania where we worked and explored this fascinating country for three years. We have been together for forty-three years. Maurice has an Italian mother and I spent my early years in Rome, so this beautiful country has always had a hold on both of us.

Wind back twenty years from today. Three children growing up and the decision to downsize and buy a ruin in Italy with what was left over (after a parents’ evening that didn’t go so well and made us run for consolation to the pub). It was one of the best things we ever did.

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Ten years further on, and a health warning led to early retirement. By now, our children were more or less independent and we packed up to start a dream life: six months in Tuscany each year, running our small holiday rental business.

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At the age of sixty, I finally had time to write. I think that in the interim I had been gathering ideas and stories, like a seamstress collecting patches of material to sew into a quilt. Before then, I wasn’t ready.

It hasn’t been difficult to find more stories where we live in our remote river valley hidden in the eastern Tuscan Apennines.

When I walk along the ancient mule paths, I feel that I am breathing in history. Our area was occupied during the Second World War and this is the period that fascinates me. I combined local accounts from elderly friends with the experiences of my Italian mother-in-law who met and married her handsome English army Captain when he was stationed nearby. My husband describes himself as a son of the Gothic Line – a defensive barrier constructed by the German army which extended from east to west coast and practically past our door. I have uncovered plenty of facts about local partisan activity and escaped POWs and they feature heavily in the three books that I have written so far. Having been indie, I am now published by Bookouture and am under contract to write two more Second World War novels.

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I write most afternoons in a study on a mezzanine at the top of our converted stable.

As we live in a remote area in Italy, there are no local writing groups to join, so I’m so pleased that we now have access to the internet and I can engage with the writing community.   I started off as an indie author, but as a result of involving myself with groups online and joining the RNA, I am now published by Bookouture and haven’t looked back. In the early days, the only way to access the internet was to use a dongle and drive up the mountain to a layby where I could get reception. I won’t expand on some of the dodgy propositions I received, sitting there in my car…

Our life in England where we live in the winter is much busier. I manage to write more in Italy. The country inspires me; it is so beautiful and intriguing.

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Thank you for sharing that with us, Angela, you obviously live in the midst of an inspiring landscape.

A Tuscan Memory by Angela Petch is out now and you can buy a copy here along with Angela’s other two Tuscan-set historical novels, The Tuscan Secret and The Tuscan Girl.

About the Author

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Angela Petch shares her year between the Tuscan Apennines and West Sussex. 

Her love affair with Italy was born at the age of seven when she moved with her family to Rome. Her father worked for the Commonwealth War Graves Commission and he made sure his children learned Italian and soaked up the culture. She studied Italian at the University of Kent at Canterbury and afterwards worked in Sicily where she met her husband. His Italian mother and British father met in Urbino in 1944 and married after a wartime romance.

Her first book, Tuscan Roots was written in 2012, for her Italian mother-in-law, Giuseppina, and also to make readers aware of the courage shown by families of her Italian neighbours during WW2. Signed by Bookouture in 2018, this book was republished as The Tuscan Secret in June 2019. The Tuscan Girl followed in February 2020.

Now and Then in Tuscany, was self-published in April 2017 and features the same family. The background is the transhumance, a practice that started in Etruscan times and continued until the 1950s. Bookouture has since acquired the rights, and under a new title, A Tuscan Memory will be released on September 7th 2020. Research for her Tuscan novels is greatly helped by her knowledge of Italian and conversations with locals.

Although Italy is a passion, her stories are not always set in this country. Mavis and Dot, published at the end of 2018 and sold in aid of research into a cure for cancer, tells the story of two fun-loving ladies who retire to the Sussex seaside. They forge an unlikely friendship and fall into a variety of adventures. Ingenu/e Magazine describes it as: “Absolutely Fabulous meets Last of the Summer Wine… a gently hilarious feel-good book that will enchant and delight…”. 

A prize-winning author and member of the RNA, she also loves to travel and recently returned to Tanzania, where she lived at the start of her marriage. A keen tennis player and walker, she enjoys spending time with her five grandchildren and inventing stories for their entertainment. 

Her short stories are published by PRIMA and the People’s Friend. 

Connect with Angela:

Blog: https://angelapetchsblogsite.wordpress.com

Facebook: Angela Petch Author

Twitter: @Angela_Petch

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Desert Island Books: A Town Like Alice by Nevil Shute

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Jean Paget is just twenty years old and working in Malaya when the Japanese invasion begins.

When she is captured she joins a group of other European women and children whom the Japanese force to march for miles through the jungle – an experience that leads to the deaths of many.

Due to her courageous spirit and ability to speak Malay, Jean takes on the role of leader of the sorry gaggle of prisoners and many end up owing their lives to her indomitable spirit. While on the march, the group run into some Australian prisoners, one of whom, Joe Harman, helps them steal some food, and is horrifically punished by the Japanese as a result.

After the war, Jean tracks Joe down in Australia and together they begin to dream of surmounting the past and transforming his one-horse outback town into a thriving community like Alice Springs…

The eighth book on my Desert Island Books list is A Town Like Alice by Nevil Shute, which is one of my favourite love stories. And I am not just talking about the romance between the young English girl, Jean Paget, and the heroic Australian, Joe Harman, but the underlying, unrequited love that the narrator, Noel, feels for Jean, and which informs the whole way he tells her story.

This is a book of two halves. The story starts with the reader being introduced to a lawyer, Noel Strachan, who is employed by an infirm Scottish gentleman to draw up his will, some time in the early 1930s. The war then intervenes, and after the war, the gentleman dies and Noel has to track down his niece, and inform her that she has come into an inheritance, of which he is the trustee. So Noel’s involvement in Jean’s life begins. 

During the course of administering the trust, Noel hears Jean’s story of being taken prisoner in Malaya during the war and being marched across the country with a party of other women because the Japanese don’t know what to do with them. A terrible incident occurs during this time which deeply affects Jean and stops her fully recovering after the war. She tells the whole horrifying story of her wartime experiences to Noel, so we hear them as he does, firsthand. Before I read this book for the first time as a teenager, I knew very little of what had occurred during the war in the Far East, as my school studies of the period concentrated on the action in Europe, so this story really piqued my interest and encouraged to to expand my reading on the subject to the wider content of the war beyond the repercussions in Europe to the actions of the Japanese and the involvement of our Commonwealth allies. This is what good fiction can do, encourage further reading into the actual events upon which they are based, even if the fiction is written with a little poetic licence.

In the second half of the book, the action moves to Australia and Jean’s attempts to find Joe Harman after the war, and how together they work to expand a community in the Australian outback. I know some people find the second half of the book less exciting, given the horror and high drama of the first half, but they are missing the point. For a young, ambitious girl on the brink of adulthood with big plans for her future, this story of a woman alive in a time of burgeoning opportunity for females, who defies convention and strikes out into the unknown on her own, following her heart but using her head as well, was revelatory. Whilst it is hard to recognise the kind of attitudes that prevailed in that day when reading from a modern day position, I defy anyone not to be inspired by Jean Paget and be cheering her on from the sidelines

If you are coming to A Town Like Alice for the first time in 2020, it is going to make you very uncomfortable in parts. The attitudes to gender, colour and a lot more besides are going to be jarring when you look at them with a twenty-first century eye, and I know people will find this off-putting. This is a book of its time, it reflects society as it was in the early 1950s and needs to be read with that firmly in mind. If nothing else, it gives a clear picture of how far attitudes have moved on since then, even if we have a long way still to go. But setting these acknowledged issues with the novel aside, this is a uplifting and tender love story of triumphs in the face of adversity, powerful love overcoming severe obstacles, and how love can take many forms, and how wonderful it it when reciprocated. For anyone who is a true romantic, this is a beautiful story.

I have read this book many times over the last 30+ years. Inbetween readings, I sometimes wonder whether it will continue to age well, or if one day I will come back to it and find it no longer speaks to me. Although there are aspects of it which are unpalatable in our, hopefully, more enlightened times, the core story of a brave, resourceful and determined young woman setting out to find the man she loves and build a good life for them both is still moving and inspiring and I would definitely like to have it with me on my desert island to remind me what people can achieve if they set their minds to it.

A Town Like Alice is available in all formats and you can buy a copy here.

About the Author

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Nevil Shute Norway was born on 17 January 1899 in Ealing, London. After attending the Dragon School and Shrewsbury School, he studied Engineering Science at Balliol College, Oxford. He worked as an aeronautical engineer and published his first novel, Marazan, in 1926. In 1931 he married Frances Mary Heaton and they went on to have two daughters. During the Second World War he joined the Royal Navy Volunteer Reserve where he worked on developing secret weapons. After the war he continued to write and settled in Australia where he lived until his death on 12 January 1960. His most celebrated novels include Pied Piper (1942), No Highway (1948), A Town Like Alice (1950) and On the Beach (1957).

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Book Review: The Secrets of Saffron Hall by Clare Marchant #BookReview

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Two women, five centuries apart.

One life-changing secret about to be unearthed.

1538
New bride Eleanor impresses her husband by growing saffron, a spice more valuable than gold. His reputation in Henry VIII’s court soars – but fame and fortune come at a price, for the king’s favour will not last forever…

2019
When Amber discovers an ancient book in her grandfather’s home at Saffron Hall, the contents reveal a dark secret from the past. As she investigates, so unravels a forgotten tragic story and a truth that lies much closer to home than she could have imagined…

It is publication day for The Secrets of Saffron Hall by my fellow RNA member, Clare Marchant. Very happy publication day, Clare! My thanks to the publishers for my digital copy of this book, received via NetGalley, which I have reviewed honestly and impartially.

This is a dual timeline story, following the lives of two women living a quincentenary apart, but with a thread of shared experience that somehow binds them across the centuries. In the early sixteenth century, Eleanor is a young girl, reluctantly married but making a go of her new life at her husband’s grand house in Norfolk, growing saffron to increase his fortunes. It is a time of great upheaval in the country, as Henry VIII enacts the Act of Supremacy and begins to dissolve the monasteries. In current times, Amber has suffered an earth-shattering upheaval of her own, and goes off to hide at her family’s long-time home, Saffron Hall, where her future becomes inextricably linked with Eleanor’s past.

The author handles the dual timeline brilliantly, expertly weaving the two stories together, so it is easy to follow whose story we are in, and how the one is feeding in to the other. She gives both women a strong, defined character and an equally important and well-developed storyline, so the novel feels well balanced and satisfying in both timelines. I was equally invested in the fates of both women, and completely sold on the idea that Amber’s future happiness, in her head at least, depended on her resolving the puzzle of Eleanor’s past.

This novel deals with a very difficult subject matter and, as someone who has been through this experience herself, I found the author dealt with it sensitively and with great understanding and tenderness and honesty. Whilst it did bring back some difficult memories, it left me moved and comforted, rather than distraught, and I would not have wanted to be put off reading it, although I suppose some who have been through the experience more recently and for whom the issue is more raw, may want to proceed with caution.

The author brings the life of the sixteenth century vividly to life in this book, and I became completely lost in the daily existence of Eleanor’s household and her duties and cares. It is a historical period that is rich in happenings and excitement and Clare mines them expertly and cleverly to provide the tension in the book. If you know any of the history of this period, the introduction of one character to the narrative will set alarm bells ringing, and you will be waiting for the fallout to ripple through the narrative. Clare has been very clever with the way she has woven real historical figures with fiction in the text, and I was almost reading the last part of the book from behind a metaphorical cushion, waiting for the inevitable. It is hard to get someone on tenterhooks when they almost feel like they know what is coming, so I take my hat off to this author that she managed it.

This is a vivid, moving, evocative story with a hint of the supernatural, and I absolutely loved it. It is a must-read for fans of the time period, and for a great, dual timeline story. Excellent work.

The Secrets of Saffron Hall is out today in paperback, audio and ebook 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

 

 

Desert Island Books: The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern

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The circus arrives without warning. It is simply there, when yesterday it was not. Against the grey sky the towering tents are striped black and white. A sign hanging upon iron gates reads:

Opens at Nightfall
Closes at Dawn

As dusk shifts to twilight, tiny lights begin to flicker all over the tents, as though the whole circus is covered in fireflies. When the tents are aglow, sparkling against the night sky, the sign lights up:

Le Cirque des Rêves
The Circus of Dreams

The gates shudder and unlock, seemingly by their own volition.
They swing outward, inviting the crowd inside.

Now the circus is open.
Now you may enter.

Discover this amazing fantasy read with a different kind of magic.

Like a lot of people my age, or any age I guess since my daughters loved them too, my first introduction to independent reading, and the very first books I fell hopelessly in love with, were The Magic Faraway Tree series by Enid Blyton. Those magical stories of three children who discover a fantastical tree in a wood near their house, populated with fairy creatures and with a rotating roster of enchanted lands that they could visit at the top, transported me into my wildest dreams.

When I first read The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern, it is the closest I have felt as an adult to those transformative moments when I first lost myself in the pages of The Enchanted Wood and was taken to Fairyland. This book is a wondrous adult fairytale full of magic and enchantment and this is why it is number seven on my list of books I would take to my desert island, and the most recently-published book on the list.

If you haven’t read this book, it takes place at the turn of the nineteenth century and involves two people locked in a game of skill which takes place in a magical nighttime circus that travels the world. It is also a passionate love story. But none of this truly captures the essence of why I love this book so much, or why it is one I return to again and again.

It is the magic with which Erin Morgenstern has managed to imbue every word of this novel, the intricate detail of her descriptions of every aspect of the story, the way she stimulates every sense of the reader throughout and fully transports you to this wondrous place that can’t possibly exist, but she makes you feel like it does, and the sheer audacity of her imagination, the way she has let it run completely and unashamedly wild in creating the circus and everything in it.

This book is rich and opulent and amazing, in the truest sense of the word. Since I started writing myself, my latest reading of the book in preparation for drafting this post had me stepping back slightly and admiring the breadth of Erin’s imagination in conjuring this magical circus, and also the complex tale of competition she has woven around it. The character development, the way she suggests, rather than overtly explains, many of the plot devices, allowing the reader scope to stretch their own imagination, all of these are writerly skills that I covet greatly and can appreciate the ease with which she wields them, whilst marvelling at the sheer amount of work that must have gone in to creating such a detailed and intricate novel. At the same time, this book makes it impossible for me to remain dispassionate, it pulls me in every time and transports me fully into the illusion she has created, losing myself completely in the Labyrinth of her creation.

I defy anyone to read this book and not wish with their whole heart that the circus were real and you could visit it. Taste the cinnamon pastry twists, watch the Twins and their performing kittens, jump through the Cloud Maze, ride the Stargazer and breathe in the stories in the tent of boxes and bottles (have I dropped enough tantalising hints to make you want to pick up this book yet?) If the Night Circus were real, I would be a reveur for sure.

This book is the closest thing to magic I have come across as an adult, the book that has taken me nearest to recapturing that magic you feel as a child losing yourself in a fairytale. The only other experience I have had that has given me similar tingles, is visiting Disney World. This is childhood magic captured and distilled to perfect in a very grownup story and I absolutely adore it.

If you would like to get your own copy of The Night Circus, you can buy it here.

About the Author

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ERIN MORGENSTERN is the author of The Night Circus, a number-one national best seller that has been sold around the world and translated into thirty-seven languages. She has a degree in theater from Smith College and lives in Massachusetts.

Website: https://erinmorgenstern.com

Facebook: Erin Morgenstern Books

Twitter: @erinmorgenstern

Instagram: @erinmorgenstern

Blog Tour: Spirited by Julie Cohen #BookReview

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Three women carry unspeakable truths in their heart. At what cost will they find their freedom?

In Victorian England, Viola is an amateur photographer struggling with the grief of her father’s death and the sterile atmosphere of her marriage to her childhood friend, Jonah. When she discovers a talent for capturing ghostly images on camera, Viola comes to the attention of a spirit medium, and a powerful attraction between the two women is sparked…

As each woman puts herself at risk, secrets are brought to light that will change their lives forever.

I am so thrilled to be closing the blog tour today for Spirited by Julie Cohen. My thanks to Anne Cater for inviting me to take part in the tour and to the publisher for my copy of the book, which I have reviewed honestly and impartially.

This is one of those book reviews that you dread starting to write, because I just know I am not going to be able to do this wonderful book justice, or truly convey its magic and just why I loved it so much.

A really ambitious book, the story tackles so many different issues that my head is still reeling from trying to sort through all the ideas and feelings and images with which the novel has peppered my mind. In addition, the book is rich with period detail, visually evocative, and explores fascinating subjects including Victorian photography techniques, life below stairs in a grand house, Spiritualism and British Rule in India, so huge amounts to absorb and enjoy. I know this is one of those books I will return to again and again and still find new details to appreciate.

The story revolves around Viola, who has recently lost her father, the mainstay of her life, and she is floating, lost and disoriented. The only thing anchoring her is her childhood friend and recent husband, Jonah, and she clings to him like a lifebelt. But Jonah is recently returned from India, where he has experienced something which has fundamentally changed him, and he and Viola have lost their connection, their marriage getting off to a rocky start. They move to the Dorset coast, where they meet spirit medium, Henriette Blackthorne, who touches both their lives profoundly in different ways. But she may not be all she seems.

This is a story about loss and grief and faith and love, and the different ways they can manifest themselves, what happens when they are tested, and how they endure if they are true. It explores the way that women were limited and trapped in Victorian society, by limits on opportunity, lack of personal property and societal expectation. But equally how men can be trapped too, by similar expectation, by public standing and by honour and duty. It looks at what it costs people to break these bounds and be true to themselves, and where flying in the face of convention can lead.

This book is an impressive feat of writing. Whilst slow-burning, it aroused in me such fascination and passion for the topics the author is exploring that I simply could not put it down. I was completely immersed in this world she has built, and did not want to leave it and break the spell that the narrative wove around my mind and my heart. At the same time, the analytical and logical part of me took a step back and admired the sheer amount of work that it took to craft this book. The detail in the research that was needed to imbue the story with all the texture, colour and intricate imagery that it contains is just staggering. This book was clearly a labour of love, and that shows in every sentence. It would be a fairly hard-hearted soul that failed to be touched by the devotion that oozes from this novel.

This book is, at its heart, a very tender love story. Between the childhood friends who have to navigate their way to a new relationship once they realise their incompatibility as husband and wife. Between Viola and her father, her faith and what her relationship with Henriette brings out in her, partly against her will. Between Jonah and India and the things he discovers about himself there. Between the author and her characters. Between me and this novel. I just adored it.

What more can I say. Brava, Julie Cohen.

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

Do please check out the other blogs taking part in the tour:

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About the Author

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Julie Cohen grew up in the western mountains of Maine. Her house was just up the hill from the library and she spent many hours walking back and forth, her nose in a book. She studied English Literature at Brown University and Cambridge University and is a popular speaker and teacher of creative writing, including classes for the Guardian and Literature Wales.

Her books have been translated into fifteen languages and have sold over a million copies; DEAR THING and TOGETHER were Richard and Judy Book Club picks. Her most recent novel is the critically acclaimed LOUIS & LOUISE.

Julie lives in Berkshire with her husband, son and a terrier of dubious origin.

Connect with Julie:

Website: http://www.julie-cohen.com

Facebook: Julie Cohen Books

Twitter: @julie_cohen

Instagram: @juliecohenauthor

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Guest Post: Women’s Progression with Rachel Brimble

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1911, Bath.

Banished from her ancestral home, passionate suffrage campaigner Esther Stanbury works as a window dresser in Pennington’s Department Store. She has hopes and dreams for women’s progression and will do anything to help secure the vote.

Owner of the prestigious Phoenix Hotel, Lawrence Culford has what most would view as a successful life. But Lawrence is harbouring shame, resentment and an anger that threatens his future happiness.

When Esther and Lawrence meet, their mutual understanding of life’s challenges unites them and they are drawn to the possibility of a love that neither thought existed.

With the Coronation of King-Emperor George V looming, the atmosphere in Bath is building to fever pitch, as is the suffragists’ determination to secure the vote. Will Esther’s rebellious nature lead her to ruin or can they overcome their pasts and look to build a future together?

Today, I am delighted to be joined on the blog by Rachel Brimble, who is going to talk about women’s progression in society, what suffrage was really about and what inspired her book, A Shop Girl Gets The Vote (previously published as, A Rebel at Pennington’s). So let me hand over now to Rachel.

Women’s Progression…good and not so good. What did the suffragettes & suffragists really want? by Rachel Brimble

I think when we hear the words “suffragettes” or “suffragists” we conclude that women wanted the vote, wanted the chance to be heard – which, of course, is true. However, I think if we dig deeper into ourselves, even as we are today with the vote being granted to all women over the age of eighteen, we understand the motivation and passion behind all that these women attempted and suffered was about so much more than obtaining the vote.

To me, their fight was about validation, acknowledgement and respect.

The vote was finally granted to women over the age of 30 in February 1918 and then, ten years later, granted to women over 21 giving them equal standing with men. When we look back, it is almost unfathomable that women were not given a voice when so many of them worked in service, retail and factories all over the country. Were they not affected as much by financial, welfare and domestic decisions as men?

It is not hard to imagine the conversations that occurred between women all over the world about the injustice of having to work and raise children, to obey and service families with a budget deemed acceptable by fathers and husbands. How could the government not anticipate that women would eventually rise up? Would revolt?

After all, they were sending a clear message to women – You Do Not Matter.

Hence the battle that spanned decades bringing women together to form a solid, unshakeable, force that would not be silenced without victory.

The suffragists were the peaceful campaigners, relying on rallies and appeals, letters to MPs and people of influence. Then emerged the suffragettes, frustrated, angry and filled with determination. These women concluded only militant action would ensure they were heard. That it was only with drastic action that the press would provide space for them in their newspaper pages.

I have wanted to write a novel with women’s suffrage as the backdrop for many years but couldn’t seem to find the heroine whose story I wanted to tell. At least, I didn’t until I began to write the first book in my Pennington’s Department Store series, A Shop Girl In Bath.

It wasn’t very far into writing the first draft that a secondary character emerged, and I knew I had found the woman to tell my ‘suffrage story’. Esther Stanbury was raised by a mother who had been active in the fight since Esther was a young girl. When her mother died, Esther pushed forward with the Cause…much to her father’s disappointment.

Banished from her home and sent to live in Bath with her aunt, Esther’s passion and determination as a suffragist did not falter. In A Shop Girl Gets The Vote, Esther grows and changes, eventually being faced with the dilemma of whether to join the suffragettes as her frustrations only grow more profound.

I loved writing this book and I loved writing Esther with all her beliefs, virtues and flaws. A Shop Girl Gets The Vote is most definitely a book of my heart and I hope readers feel that as they turn the pages.

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Thank you for sharing that with us, Rachel. A fascinating topic that is still important to women today.

A Shop Girl Gets The Vote is the second book in the Pennington’s Department Store series and describes one woman’s journey to find herself and help secure the vote. It is perfect for the fans of the TV series Mr Selfridge and The Paradise. You can buy a copy here, and it is currently only 99p on Kindle.

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The other three books in the Pennington’s series are also available here.

About the Author

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Rachel lives with her husband and their two daughters in a small town near Bath, England. She is the author of over 20 published novels including the Pennington’s department store series (Aria Fiction) and the Templeton Cove Stories (Harlequin).

Her next project is a Victorian trilogy set in a Bath brothel which she recently signed with Aria Fiction. The series will feature three heroines determined to change their lives and those of other women. The first book, A Widow’s Vow is due for release in September and available for Amazon preorder now.

Rachel is a member of the Romantic Novelists Association and has thousands of social media followers all over the world. 

Connect with Rachel:

Website: https://rachelbrimble.com

Facebook: Rachel Brimble Author

Twitter: @RachelBrimble

Instagram: @rachelbrimbleauthor

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