Monday, 29 January 2018

Triumph of a Tsar by Tamar Anolic - alternative historical fiction

I'm happy to draw your attention to this new historical fiction title by author Tamar Anolic which is entitled Triumph of a Tsar


It is available now to buy for your kindle or in paperback.

Book Description:

Triumph of a Tsar is a work of alternate historical fiction in which the Russian Revolution of 1917 is averted, and the hemophiliac Alexei, son of Tsar Nicholas II, comes to the throne.

In August, 1920, sixteen-year-old Alexei is enjoying his birthday celebrations when Nicholas dies suddenly. Overnight, Alexei becomes tsar of an empire that covers one-sixth of the world’s landmass.

The Great War is over, but Russia is still suffering from the devastation and poverty that it brought. Communists such as Lenin, Stalin and Trotsky view the political situation as ripe for revolution, but they realize that the popular Alexei stands in their way.

To make matters worse, Alexei’s hemophilia, the disease that has threatened him his whole life, returns to haunt him. With his life in constant danger from internal threats, Alexei must also navigate the external threats of fascism and Adolph Hitler.

Slowly, Hitler’s menace increases throughout Europe until he tries to kill Alexei himself. Only then does Alexei realize that another World War is the only way to stop his German enemy.

Here are some words from the Author herself about what motivated her to write about this subject, how an event in history fired her imagination so much she had to write about something which didn't happen, but so clearly might have done, takeing an alternative stance to historical fact and turning it into a work of imaginative fiction:

I have been interested in Russian history, and the Romanovs in particular, for nearly twenty years. 

I have always thought that the Romanovs were an imperfect but fascinating dynasty. Of course, their brutal downfall always made me ask- what if? What if Alexei had been allowed to reign? What kind tsar would he have been? What kind of person would he have been? 

Many biographies about Alexei and his family have analyzed Alexei’s personality, the circumstances of his life and upbringing, and how he interacted with his parents and sisters. 

I was always intrigued by that analysis, and I had wanted to write something about Alexei for years before “Triumph of a Tsar” finally took shape. 

2017 and 2018 mark the centennial of the Communist Revolution and the Imperial family’s demise at the hands of the Bolsheviks. 

As a result, books about the Romanovs and how Russia could have been different now seem particularly relevant. 

Intrigued? If this subject fascinates you I hope you'll support the author and read her book.

Saturday, 27 January 2018

Review of The Hunger by Alma Katsu - Historical with a hint of horror



Oooh this book ticked all my boxes and I'm excited to read that movie rights are already in place, it will make a wonderful film if its done right.

But me, I prefer to read the book first and this one didn't disappoint one bit, and isn't the cover beautiful?

I must confess I am not overly familiar with the notorious true story of the hapless pioneering family known as the Donner party who set out along the California trail to Wyoming in a wagon trail and became beset by ill fortune and disaster although when I picked up the Hunger I realized that in the past I have read a very different account of this famous event which is very well documented.

The Hunger is very much a work of fiction, though closely woven around a hard core of fact and many characters in the book and things which happened are very real. It is historical fiction with a creepy and insidious taint of horror.

A large mismatched group of families set off together with their belongings and wagons, to travel across The Wild West of America in the days when it truly was the WILD West. This alone is a brave and possibly foolhardy thing to do. Following misjudgements and mishaps this party become delayed, and winter is approaching, fast.



They reach a divergence of two trails, the main one which is well trodden, used by many before them, a proper trail which is marked and has the odd supply post scattered along it. The second one of which little is knows except the lack of information and waymarks yet is talked about, the rumours say it is hard, it is wilder than wild and it crosses paths with native tribes who are rumoured to be unfriendly, but it is also rumoured to be much shorter, more direct and the decision to take this path, made by self appointed leader George Donner, is just one of many mistakes he will come to regret.

As the party fractures, some stay to the original planned route despite approaching winter meaning they just may not reach their destination before the harsh winter weather arrives. The rest go forth into the unknown with a leader who is neither fully respected nor as wise as one would hope, a recipe for disaster surely before they even set off.

What happens in this account is horrific and terrifying and although it is a work which is part horror part fantasy, it is actually incredibly believable and not too far from the truth to make you think Oooer. Its deeply immersive and awe inspiring and so damn chilly and creepy it scared my pants off!

I love historical fiction, based loosely on real events and filled with ordinary everyday folk, who might have had my ancestors amongst them, though I do fervently hope nobody in my bloodline was subjected to the tragedies in these pages.

What is put across extremely well and made me wrapt in this story is the massive risk and bravery these pioneering families took upon themselves in a time when adrenaline sports and adventure travel was unheard of.

Husbands who have spent all their lives working the land on a farmstead together with wives whose skills lie in jam making and child rearing and whose most adventurous occasion so far has been a family birthday party or a new preacher arriving at the local church, pack up their hard earned and impractical belongings into a wagon, sit their kids on top, herd their livestock, tighten their shawls and set off to basically walk 2,500 miles across the most inhospitable and harsh terrain imaginable!

It makes your mind boggle! And these are suspicious and often ill educated folk who find it difficult to distinguish fact from fiction, myth and legend from historical fact. Being away from familiar surroundings and unsure of where they will end up is enough to totally stress the most laid back person, so it's not surprising when mistrust and violence begins to erupt, but it doesn't quite stop there. But something darker and more sinister has them in their sights and as missing children, death and murder become rife, just where will it all end?

This is an imaginative and innovative take on historical fiction with a difference. I loved it and hope you do too.

The Blurb

After having travelled west for weeks, the party of pioneers comes to a crossroads. It is time for their leader, George Donner, to make a choice. They face two diverging paths which lead to the same destination. One is well-documented – the other untested, but rumoured to be shorter.

Donner’s decision will shape the lives of everyone travelling with him. The searing heat of the desert gives way to biting winds and a bitter cold that freezes the cattle where they stand. Driven to the brink of madness, the ill-fated group struggles to survive and minor disagreements turn into violent confrontations. Then the children begin to disappear. As the survivors turn against each other, a few begin to realise that the threat they face reaches beyond the fury of the natural elements, to something more primal and far more deadly.

Based on the true story of the Donner Party, The Hunger is an eerie, shiver-inducing exploration of human nature, pushed to its breaking point.

Thursday, 25 January 2018

Review - The Mermaid and Mrs Hancock by Imogen Hermes Gowar


My Review

A very atmospheric and enthralling historical novel about a man who seeks to fill the emptiness in his life with wonder and beauty, which almost becomes his downfall.

Jonah Hancock is a middle aged widower, an 18th century merchant and not taken to flights of fancy. He could be said to be staid and unimaginative. But when he is offered a chance to accrue riches beyond his dreams by gambling his fortunes on the ownership of a curiosity, a strange thing found on a fated sea voyage which he is assured is that mythical beast - a mermaid, he acts out of character and sets in motion a series of events which ARE about to change his life, just perhaps not in the way he could have imagined.

Persuaded that the way to recoup any losses invested in this awful and frightening denizen of the deep is to display it in public, eventually brings onto his radar the beautiful and capricious Angelica, a courtesan of some repute, her shallowness and flightiness is the opposite of his dull, ponderous nature yet opposites attract for many reasons and the pair are destined to become a mismatched couple. But the mermaid which brought them together may be the very thing which rips them apart and becomes an obsession which can only lead to heartache for one or both of them.

It is a story of relationships and greed, loneliness and desperation and the lengths people can be pushed to. It is a character driven story and those characters are not wholly likeable, they develop and change so much a complete metamorphosis of their natures takes place which is a little hard to come to grips with, but understandable when you appreciate their circumstances.

This book is not quite what I expected, the characters are quite flawed and entirely disparate, yet the story is a compelling one, although it does drag quite slowly in the middle it meanders and rambles and eventually gets us to where we want to be.

Nevertheless, it is very descriptive and engaging and for anyone who enjoys a historical tale with a difference this is a great read.

The Blurb

One September evening in 1785, the merchant Jonah Hancock hears urgent knocking on his front door. One of his captains is waiting eagerly on the step. He has sold Jonah’s ship for what appears to be a mermaid.

As gossip spreads through the docks, coffee shops, parlours and brothels, everyone wants to see Mr Hancock’s marvel. Its arrival spins him out of his ordinary existence and through the doors of high society. At an opulent party, he makes the acquaintance of Angelica Neal, the most desirable woman he has ever laid eyes on… and a courtesan of great accomplishment. 

This meeting will steer both their lives onto a dangerous new course, on which they will learn that priceless things come at the greatest cost.

Where will their ambitions lead? And will they be able to escape the destructive power mermaids are said to possess?

Sunday, 21 January 2018

Salt Creek by Lucy Treloar - atmospheric, historical, wonderful.




My Review

As soon as I saw this book on a friends tbr pile I knew it was exactly my kind of read. Historical literary fiction set in a bleak and harsh alien wilderness with its attendant dangers, brings the opportunity to step back in time and slip into someone else’s shoes and I wasn’t disappointed with the time travel experience this beautifully written, wonderful, haunting novel presented.

Salt Creek begins in England in the 1870s where Hetty is reminiscing about the years she spent living in the Coorong Australia with her parents and siblings. Coorong is the absolute back of beyond and Salt creek is its armpit! A harsh, bleak and very lonely place, yet it haunts her very existence.

Her intractable Papa is a feckless and reckless soul who never quite manages to make a success of any venture he tries yet he is full of big ideas and will never admit defeat. So in 1955 when his life in Adelaide begins to crumble he drags his unwilling family across the plains of Australia to live in a wooden shack he has built with his bare hands, at the edge of a dry country near a coastal inlet where the nearest neighbours are far below the families previous social status, even these Innkeepers, live over 10 miles away running a hotel which caters for the odd passing traveller.

15 year old Hester Finch (Hetty) is appalled when she realises how far they have fallen from the polite society they used to belong to and which now rejects them. A simmering resentment of having to do what her father dictates, together with watching her formerly bright and pretty mother become a nervous drudge, builds and she vows she will never be beholden to a man. She also worries what will become of her younger sister Addy, a sweet, flirty, flighty young miss, prone to tantrums and the apple of her fathers eye.

Life in this totally isolated and relentless spot takes its inevitable toll on the family and all the time Papa’s great ideas falter and fail. The cattle he planned to raise starve in the barren heat, so he exchanges them for sheep, to find they fare no better. He ends up working himself and his sons almost to death with little success and always his misplaced pride stops him asking for help from family and making bad decision after worse – a trait which will have disastrous consequences.

Meanwhile Hetty tries to make the most of their lot. They are a large family and her older and younger brothers plus 2 younger sisters provide companionship and the inevitable sibling rivalries. The odd visitor who occasionally passes their way, some travelling musicians, an artist and his father, provide a little relief from the isolation and an aboriginal boy called Tull whom Papa tries to educate and civilise as part of a pointless anthropological experiment, becomes a pivotal part of the family as his education distances him from his own kin yet his black skin and cultural beliefs prevent him from ever really being part of the Finch family even though he lives as part of the household. His inclusion into the family causes Hetty to wonder just what civilization actually means.

The family have to live beside the natives who have lived off the land around for centuries and who have legends and myths deeply ingrained in the salty sand, but the Finch families intervention changes and damages the land and contaminates the water sucks where the natives get their water from therefore has an adverse effect on the aboriginal folks lives and a resentful truce is difficult to maintain.

I just slid into Hetties skin as though I was born in it, I felt and smelt and lived every second of her difficult life and devoured this deeply affecting and completely wonderful novel, drinking every drop of descriptive storytelling from the bottom of the mug and exhaling a satisfied Aahhh at the end of it.

It is one of those books you wish you’d never come to the end of, yet you can’t wait to get there to discover the outcome. It’s a book to savour, to enjoy and definitely to make you think.

My copy has some reading group notes at the back and I agree this will make a wonderful read for groups of enthusiastic readers who love to discuss and dissimilate every nuance of a story.

The Blurb


Salt Creek, 1855, lies at the far reaches of the remote, beautiful and inhospitable coastal region, the Coorong, in the new province of South Australia. The area, just opened to graziers willing to chance their luck, becomes home to Stanton Finch and his large family, including fifteen-year-old Hester Finch.

Once wealthy political activists, the Finch family has fallen on hard times. Cut adrift from the polite society they were raised to be part of, Hester and her siblings make connections where they can: with the few travellers that pass along the nearby stock route - among them a young artist, Charles - and the Ngarrindjeri people they have dispossessed. Over the years that pass, an Aboriginal boy, Tully, at first a friend, becomes part of the family.

Stanton's attempts to tame the harsh landscape bring ruin to the Ngarrindjeri people's homes and livelihoods, and unleash a chain of events that will tear the family asunder. As Hester witnesses the destruction of the Ngarrindjeri's subtle culture and the ideals that her family once held so close, she begins to wonder what civilization is. Was it for this life and this world that she was educated?

Sunday, 7 January 2018

Review - Still Me by Jojo Moyes



Still Me - Jojo Moyes - My review:

I was lucky enough to win a copy in advance of publication from Penguin books and here are my thoughts after diving in.

I'm a die-hard Jojo Moyes enthusiast, she writes such readable, fully immersive books and even though I usually prefer stand alone books rather than series, I loved Me before You so very much that not reading Still me just wasn't an option. Yet like many readers I knew in my heart it was never going to better the first book in this series.

"Do I need to read book 2 before reading this?" seems to be a common thread regarding this book, and I will say "Hell Yeah - why on earth wouldn't you?" The 3 books ARE a trilogy, written in chronological order and You'll make a better connection with Lou's adventures in this book, if you have followed her story from the start.

I loved meeting up with Lou Clark yet again and following her to New York where she puts her caring nature to work and follows the advice of her previous employer (and love of her life) Will by grabbing every opportunity that comes along and saying yes to far more than she says no to.

This book is 100% pure romantic fiction, its light and easy and fun to read and Lou capers through it wearing her big heart on her sleeve and her bumble bee tights on her legs.

She ends up working for a mega rich American business mogul's difficult and demanding new young Polish wife Agnes. Despite struggling to get to grips with being a servant in a wealthy household, nevertheless Lou's warm and caring nature mean the two women become almost friends. Despite being employer and employee, both strangers in the city that never sleeps and both with past hurts to overcome. But we are told never confuse business with friendship, and you'd think, having got so involved with her ex employer and having had her heart broken, she'd be a little more wary and things are about to blow up in her face.

Meantime Lou's now long distance relationship with new boyfriend Sam (whom we met in After You) struggles and stutters, and temptation is placed in her way when she meets the handsome and successful Josh, who just happens to be the spit of Will who she still misses and morns despite loving Sam.

Yes this is a pure unadulterated romance and if you're looking for something deeper and more meaningful, well, go back to the beginning and read book one again, because this really just isn't that deep.

Look at it as a completely new book with the comfort of a familiar character or two and read it without prejudice and prior expectations. Read it expecting another Me before You and you may feel a slight sense of disappointment, and this book doesn't deserve to disappoint any reader. It is written with the great skill and style of this top bestselling Author.

It is peopled with really great characters you'll feel you actually know and it's set in the great location of the Big Apple in a luxury apartment block in an old New York Brownstone, with descriptions which will make you either feel you've visited or leave you wanting to go there.

With lots of background stories, a group of residents battling to save their local library from closure (how many of us keen readers will that ring true to?)  peppered with vintage fashions, a few secrets and lies, a crotchety old woman with a cute and irascible pug called Dean Martin how could you fail to love it?

Its fun, its lovely and I galloped through it. Don't miss it.

The Blurb

Louisa Clark arrives in New York ready to start a new life, confident that she can embrace this new adventure and keep her relationship with Ambulance Sam alive across several thousand miles. She is thrown into the world of the superrich Gopniks: Leonard and his much younger second wife, Agnes, and a never-ending array of household staff and hangers-on. Lou is determined to get the most out of the experience and throws herself into her job and New York life within this privileged world. 

Before she knows what's happening, Lou is mixing in New York high society, where she meets Joshua Ryan, a man who brings with him a whisper of her past. In Still Me, as Lou tries to keep the two sides of her world together, she finds herself carrying secrets--not all her own--that cause a catastrophic change in her circumstances. And when matters come to a head, she has to ask herself Who is Louisa Clark? And how do you reconcile a heart that lives in two places?

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