Saturday, 30 June 2018

Review - Call of the Curlew - Blog Tour


BLOG TOUR
Today I am part of the Blog Tour for the wonderful Call of the Curlew by Elizabeth Brooks.
This historical fiction set on the brooding Tollbury Marsh published by Penguin Random House is out now. Find it on Amazon and many other good booksellers. #CalloftheCurlew @ManxWriter



My review:

Call of the Curlew by Elizabeth Brooks:

This haunting and atmospheric book is set in a fabulously dramatic and brooding location which is painted in beautifully descriptive prose by the author. Saltwinds is an old house set on the edge of Tollbury Marsh a vast silent landscape of seeping water and sucking sands which come and go with the tides, populated with wading birds it’s nevertheless not a place to go walking, its eerie beauty belies the deadly nature of the swampy marshland.

Not the ideal spot you might think for a young orphan girl to be brought to live. But eleven year old Virginia considers herself fortunate to have been chosen by the childless couple who live at Saltwinds, for amidst the outbreak of world war 2 and the uncertainty in the air, she has been adopted and found her forever home at the edge of this Marshland which both fascinates and terrifies her.

Quite a lot scares her, not least whether her new parents will like her!

As the book begins she is taken of foot along the path beside the marsh by her new adoptive Father towards her new home, and won over by the rather dour man who hands her sweets from his pocket. But her new Mother Lorna seems constantly distracted and is a difficult women for the lonely little girl to love. But Virginia has a lot of love to give and this lonely place proves very insular and isolated making growing up difficult and confusing for her. My emotions were really tugged for this confused young girl.

The book takes us back and forth in time from Virginia’s childhood and upbringing to the present when she still resides at Saltwinds as lonely and old lady at 86 as she was as a child of eleven. But time has passed and she knows tonight is the time she is due to die, so, as she begins to make plans for her own demise, (should she leave a farewell note? Find someone to feed her cat) the past begins to throw up its own reminders of things she believed buried beneath the shifting sands of time and of the terrible marsh beyond the windows. Why has she lived all these years under a terrible pall of guilt? The dual time aspect creates a real sense of mystery and intrigue.

Back in the past, terrible events, involving a German pilot who crashes into the marsh is about to shatter her newly built family, fractured though it already seems, it is about to completely break.

As Virginia tries to come to terms with loss and being left behind with the mother she remains detached from, the pompous and sinister Max Deering, one of their closest neighbours and his family become embroiled in their lives and a secret she has promised to keep hidden threatens to be revealed and leave nothing the same ever again.

The writing is superb, it has a slightly misty, murky feel just like the marsh which surrounds us as we read it, nothing is quite as straightforward as it seems …. see that nice clear path across the Marsh – DON’T step on it, it will swallow you up!

The book is very atmospheric, the storyline creepy and sinister with a gentle tension which builds so subtly you are hardly aware your jaw is tightly clenched as you read it. It’s one of those books where you are lulled into almost believing not much is going on, until you look back after you read it and think - Oh my, that was something else!

In some ways this book reminded me of the wonderful modern classic novel – The Book Thief (not least of all the fat tear which wound its way down my cheek as I drew a gasping breath at the end) tempered with a hint of Daphne du Maurier.

This sublime book is perfect for anyone who enjoys a historical setting subtle mysteries and the slight other-worldly misty memory feel you get when we slip back and forth in time inside someone else’s memories.
Loved it.

The Blurb:

Virginia Wrathmell has always known she will meet her death on the marsh in reparation for the mistakes of her childhood.

On New Year's Eve, at the age of eighty-six, Virginia feels the time has finally come.

In 1939, Virginia is ten, an orphan arriving to meet her new adoptive parents, Clem and Lorna Wrathmell, at their mysterious house, Salt Winds. 

The house sits right on the edge of a vast marsh, a beautiful but dangerous place. It's the start of a new life for Virginia, but she quickly senses that all is not right between Clem and Lorna - in particular, the presence of their wealthy neighbour Max Deering, who takes an unhealthy interest in the family. When a German fighter plane crashes into the marsh, Clem ventures onto the deadly sands to rescue the airman. And that is when things really begin to go wrong...


Monday, 25 June 2018

Review - The House on Half Moon Street - Alex Reeve -


The House on Half Moon Street - Alex Reeve


My Review:

I feel a bit embarrassed that it took me a while to get around to reading this fabulous historical mystery with a difference. And my only excuse is that it arrived on my tbr accompanied by so many other great tales it took me lonegr than I wanted to get around to reading them all. This was worth the wait!

2018 has been for me THE year of the historical novel, with a plethora of wonderful, tempting new titles to entice and beguile me, and a delightful profusion of new historical fiction.

This one is no exception. A most entertaining, heartfelt and gripping murder mystery with twists aplenty and characters who entranced me.

This intriguing new title, features a hero I was a little unsure whether I'd relate to at first, but have to admit i fell head over heels in love with. Leo, born in a girls body has always known he is a man and left his family and his former female identity to live as a man, in the city of London.

An inevitable decision, yet nevertheless a very brave one as not only, if he were discovered living transgender in the Victorian era, would he be viewed as perverted and insane but is, every minute of every day, just by being his true self is breaking every law in the book and would face severe penalties.

In the course of his job, working in a hospital as a coroners assistant he comes close to the recently deceased and I was almost as shocked and horrified as he must have felt, when he peels back the covering from the face of a woman dragged from the Thames, to see the face of his beloved! Maria, a prostitute, nevertheless won Leo's heart with her gentle acceptance of his true self and her sweet nature despite her calling, made him fall hook line and sinker for this lady of the night and even though he has always known that she can be any mans for a few shillings, he dreamt of a future for them together as a couple maybe even as man and wife one day and all that is now shattered. Maria is dead and Leo, beside himself with grief decides th elast thing he can do for her, is uncover what really happened to his beloved girl.

Suspecting foul play he becomes embroiled in the lives of other people, Rosie Flowers recently widowed, his landlord the hapless pharmacist with an enterprising nature who tries to set up a dental surgery in his shop without great success and his young daughter Constance, who dreams of owning a kitten and tries to educate Leo in the manufacture of medicines and cures by constantly testing him on the properties of potions and physics.

But life gets more complicated as Leo becomes at first a suspect then gets himself further and deeper in the clutches of some nefarious characters who all surround the house in half moon street which is the brothel at the heart of his investigation.

He ends up with some truly terrible things happening to him one of which in particular made me really cry my eyes out and he makes discoveries that not only is he harbouring his own great secret but almost everyone else around him has their own secrets too. The reason I loved Leo is, he retains, together with some of the physical frailties of the womans body he is encased within, a gentle understanding of women which seems singularly lacking in most of his male contemporaries, making him slightly vulnerable and I just wanted to give him a big hug and mother him.

Peopled with wonderful characters, some likeable, some loathsome, located in the murkiest of 19th century London slums and dockland and mystery piled upon mystery all make for a truly entertaining genre and gender crossing and captivating, wonderful book.

Loved, loved loved it.

The best thing is this is number one in a forthcoming series and I can hardly wait to meet up with Leo again soon.

My review copy was from Netgalley and my thanks go to the publisher Raven Books for providing me with the ebook to read.

The Blurb
Everyone has a secret... Only some lead to murder.

Leo Stanhope. Assistant to a London coroner; in love with Maria; and hiding a very big secret. 

For Leo was born Charlotte, but knowing he was meant to be a man – despite the evidence of his body – he fled his family home at just fifteen, and has been living as Leo ever since: his original identity known only to a few trusted people.

But then Maria is found dead and Leo is accused of her murder. Desperate to find her killer and under suspicion from all those around him, he stands to lose not just the woman he loves, but his freedom and, ultimately, his life.

A wonderfully atmospheric debut, rich in character and setting, in The House on Half Moon Street Alex Reeve has created a world that crime readers will want to return to again and again.

Available now at Amazon and all good bookstores

Saturday, 16 June 2018

A gathering of Ghosts - Karen Maitland - wonderfully atmospheric historical writing

A Gathering of Ghosts by Karen Maitland



My review:

Karen Maitland smashes the bar again with another fabulous, bewitching medieval masterpiece.

She populates her latest book with a cast of superbly memorable characters.

A group of holy sisters in an isolated Priory, ruled by the indomitable Prioress Johanne assisted by a group of sisters including the wonderful sister Basilia (I must confess I instantly pictured her as the wonderful actress Patsy Byrne - most famous for her role of Nursie in Blackadder, and wonder if the author had this character in mind when she created her?)

Knights of St John, tinners working on Dartmoor living in impoverishment I shudder to imagine, and some wonderful mystical and magical pagan women.

The whole story is woven around survival, the battle between pagan beliefs versus Christianity, magic, ancient lore, the wisdom and fortitude of women from different walks of life entwined with the occult. Combine this with a stunningly believable storyline and strange happenings and you have a winner.

If you like your historical fiction to be scrupulously researched, scintillatingly imaginative and deeply engaging look no further. I was wowed by this latest book by one of my favourite historical authors.

The Blurb

The year is 1316 and high on the wilds of Dartmoor, hidden by the mist, stands the isolated Priory of St Mary, owned by the Sisters of the Knights of St John. People travel from far and wide in search of healing at the ancient holy well that lies beneath the chapel.

But the locals believe the well was theirs long before Christianity arrived and there are those who would do anything to reclaim their sacred spring... As plagues of frogs cascade from the well and the water turns to blood, is there witchcraft afoot? Or is the Old World fighting back at last?

Thursday, 7 June 2018

Wrecker by Noel O'Reilly - gritty historical fiction

Wrecker by Noel O'Reilly



My review

I can't resist a trip into the dark and murky past of our forbears and Wrecker plunged me into the world of bygone coastal Corwall.

(I must admit the beautiful cover drew me in like a moth to a flame)

This is a take of poverty stricken fishing folk who often struggle to put another pilchard on the table and whom desperation makes reckless. These villagers live in crude hovels with naught to their names but the hand me down pagan beliefs they have inherited. They eke out the meagre living they try to sustain with fishing and farming, by scavenging goods which have been washed up from the many shipwrecks which occur in the area.

In this twisty tale of times gone by we meet Mary Blight, a feisty feckless heroine, who lives with her ailing Mam and her beloved sister. Mary wants to better herself and is about to seize any opportunity that comes her way, but she is apt to make a bad decision or two:

like the time she goes to the beach to see what pickings she can find following a shipwreck and impulsively pulls a pair of expensive boots from the body of a dead woman whose body has already been mutilated by a previous wrecker, an act she is to come to regret.

Like the time she gets very drunk at a village gathering and lifts her skirts to try and ensnare a man who is promised to someone else, alienating herself from her peers.

Like rescuing a man from drowning and the attachment she makes to this man she rescues from the sea. Gideon Stone, a married Methodist minister who, after his salvation at Mary's hands finds in himself a burning ambition to save the villagers of Porthmorven from their pagan superstitions and returns to build them a chapel where he can preach and save their souls.

Mary is a character I rooted for, yet didn't wholly like, she is cunning with a mercenary streak but seems to lack the sharpness of wit required to fully make the most of her opportunities. She treats people badly and her motives are sometimes unclear but mostly driven by greed and understandable dissatisfaction with her lot.

The book is a gripping historical story, with love at its core and secrets and superstition at its heart, yet it's as far removed from a regency romance as the characters are from the drawing rooms of polite society.

Atmospheric and rather dark its a great read for the lover of gritty historical fiction.

The blurb

A powerful debut exploring the dark side of Cornwall – the wrecking and the drowned sailors – where poverty drove villagers to dark deeds…

Shipwrecks are part of life in the remote village of Porthmorvoren, Cornwall. And as the sea washes the bodies of the drowned onto the beach, it also brings treasures: barrels of liquor, exotic fruit, the chance to lift a fine pair of boots from a corpse, maybe even a jewel or two.

When, after a fierce storm, Mary Blight rescues a man half-dead from the sea, she ignores the whispers of her neighbours and carries him home to nurse better. Gideon Stone is a Methodist minister from Newlyn, a married man. Touched by Mary’s sacrifice and horrified by the superstitions and pagan beliefs the villagers cling to, Gideon sets out to bring light and salvation to Porthmorvoren by building a chapel on the hill.

But the village has many secrets and not everyone wants to be saved. As Mary and Gideon find themselves increasingly drawn together, jealousy, rumour and suspicion is rife. Gideon has demons of his own to face, and soon Mary’s enemies are plotting against her…

Gripping, beautifully written and utterly beguiling, Noel O’Reilly’s debut WRECKER is a story of love, injustice, superstition and salvation, set against Cornwall’s dark past.


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