Thursday, October 13, 2016

As I Descended by Robin Talley

As I Descended is the third novel from Robin Talley; winner of the inaugural Amnesty Honour for her debut novel Lies We Tell Ourselves. The author once again chooses a school as the setting of her story. This time it is exclusive Acheron Academy, which prides itself on being diverse and 21st Century despite its gothic campus and the rumours of numerous hauntings over the years. Lily and Maria are senior students, near the top of their class, room-mates and secretly a couple. Only Maria's best friend Brandon knows their secret. So Brandon is happy to play along when Lily wants the three of them to call up some of the spirits of Acheron's spooky past with a Ouija board. Brandon thinks it'll be a bit of fun but when strange and frightening things happen during the session with the Ouija board and the girls start behaving strangely afterwards he's not so sure. Maria is desperate to win the coveted Cawdor Kingsley Prize which goes to the top senior student every year but there's one problem Delilah Dufrey. Delilah is the most popular girl in school, captain of the girls’ soccer team and just a fraction of a percent ahead of Maria. While Maria has always worked hard and played by the rules Delilah flirts, sleeps and cheats her way to the top and  Maria has had enough; with the spirits of Acheron's gruesome past as a plantation peopled with slaves now unleashed Maria may just get what she wants.

This novel is a modern retelling of Macbeth, a psychological gothic horror with fantastic storytelling and some real twists and turns in the narrative. It highlights the danger of putting teenagers under so much pressure to perform academically and also to be the most popular in the school as well as the stresses that can cause students to buckle when they have to hide a part of themselves because of pressure from friends, teachers, parents etc. The horror and haunting is well done and there some really creepy moments. The back story about the plantation and the cruelty that was inflicted on the slaves is also intriguing. 
A great spooky read in the lead up to Halloween. 

Thanks to Isobel Fenlon at Midas PR for a review copy. As I Descended is out now published by MIRA Ink a division of Harper Collins. 

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Dear Charlie by N. D. Gomes

Dear Charlie is a powerful contemporary debut novel. Set in England in 1996/97, it deals with the aftermath of a school shooting. The book is narrated by Sam; 16 years old and brother of Charlie, the one who carried out the shootings before taking his own life. Sam is desperate to understand Charlie's actions and he is also dealing with the media frenzy, the anger and grief of local people and trying to grieve for the brother he loved but he's not sure if he really knew him. The book is Sam's letter to Charlie and his attempt to work his way through his own grief. 
The book opens with Sam's fear as he starts a new school. He is bullied and harassed but he simply accepts it making no complaint. He soon realises that there are a group who don't attack him and begins to sit with them and eventually make friends. This group of outsiders become Sam's lifeline. He is able to just be a normal teenager; hanging out after school, joking around, going to parties. Somehow Sam is able to pull himself through the tortuous final months of school and try to get his life back on track.
This is a very clever and important book. While the author doesn't try to offer any easy answers to the great question of why school shootings happen she does show us Sam's and his parents struggle with the shock, anger, guilt, grief and recovery. We see Sam slowly make progress in therapy and return to his music and the tentative recovery of a relationship with his parents who had each retreated into their own misery after the killings. 
The author grew up in Scotland and was studying at Stirling University not far from Dunblane when the tragic school massacre took place there. She went on to become a teacher specialising in special needs and she was teaching in the U.S. just a few hours away from the Sandy Hook school when the horrific shootings took place there in 2012. The author's interest in and understanding of vulnerable teenagers really shines through in the writing of this novel and I highly recommend it.

Published by HQ an imprint of Harper Collins on 20th. Thanks to Isobel Fenlon of Midas PR for a review copy of the book.

Friday, October 7, 2016

Death at the Seaside by Frances Brody

I am delighted to be taking part in the blog tour for Frances Brody's latest novel Death at the Seaside; the 8th book in the Kate Shackleton Mystery series. 

Having decided that nothing much happens in August lady detective Kate Shackleton heads off for a relaxing stay at the Royal Hotel in Whitby where she hopes to enjoy the sea view and plenty of fresh air and spend time with old school friend Alma and her daughter Felicity. 

However within hours of her arrival she stumbles upon the dead body of local jeweller Jack Phillips. Kate is particularly shaken as it was at Mr Phillips' shop that she and her beloved husband Gerald had chosen her engagement and wedding rings. So obviously returning to the jewellers alone was especially poignant for Kate. Having contacted the police Kate is perturbed to then become a suspect in Sergeant Garvin's investigation. However she soon discovers that Mr Phillips was a gentleman friend of Alma's and now Alma's daughter Felicity is missing along with Mr Phillips' boat. Kate knows that all the events are connected but she must investigate as discretely as possible to avoid Sergeant Garvin's suspicion but has Alma told her the truth?
This is the first of the Kate Shackleton Mysteries I have read and I have to admit I'm hooked. The books are set in the 1920s and Kate like many resourceful young women of the time has sought to achieve independence and has established herself in what many would see as a man's role as a private detective. Her husband was killed during the First World War and although this book has the genteel and easy feel of a classic cosy crime novel, there is still very much a sense of the visceral wounds of war. The characters, the setting and the era are very well set up, in particular the sense of a hidden world that takes place behind closed doors even in a small town where everybody knows each other's secrets; thus there are illicit affairs, elopements, smuggling and hidden resentments. 
I had no problem delving straight into the story despite not having read the previous books in the series, so I can recommend this book as both a stand alone and a new instalment. If you are a fan of Agatha Christie, MC Beaton or Jacqueline Winspear then this book is for you. I know I will certainly be reading more of this series.  

Thanks so much to Clara Diaz at Little Brown Book Group for a review copy of the book and a chance to be involved in the blog tour. 

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Blog Tour for Conquest Book 1 by Tracey Warr

I am delighted to be taking part in the blog tour for the brilliant new book by historical fiction author Tracey Warr. Check out the review below and check out the details of all the other stops on the blog tour in the banner above.


This is the first book in the Conquest trilogy by Tracey Warr and it centres around a number of real historical figures most notably Princess Nest ferch Rhys daughter of the last independent Welsh King; Rhys King of Deheubarth. Nest is captured from her home by Normans invading her lands and held hostage at Cardiff Castle. Nest is just 12 years old when her family are killed and she is placed under the protection of  the Montgomerys and  FitzHamons. Her "captor"  Sybil  soon becomes a friend as Nest trains to be a lady, learning French, History and courtly manners in order to become the wife of a Norman Lord. 
Although the book is peopled with a large cast of characters the relationships are well delineated by the author so that readers don’t become confused and joy of joys there are maps, family trees, historical notes and even a floor plan of Cardiff castle.
Nest is an absolutely fascinating character torn between two cultures and eventually between the love of two men. The book also features letters and journal extracts from other characters; Faithful Knight Haith and his sister Benedicta and Gerald FitzWalter a faithful friend to Nest adding further insight and details about court life and the ongoing fighting between the Normans and Welsh and especially amongst the Normans themselves. This book offers fantastic insight into the lives of women of the period; the frustration of being kept in the dark about events, the lack of control, the insistence on bearing a son and heir and the constant reminders that a woman’s greatest currency is in her ability to bear children.
There is a wonderful quality to Tracey's writing, every character and setting really leaps off the page and I can imagine this book making a fantastic film or television series. 

This is a wonderful novel brilliantly researched and told in a fantastic page turning style it will appeal to fans of Carol McGrath, Joanna Courtney and Patricia Bracewell. I thoroughly enjoyed it and cannot wait for the next instalment. 
Thanks so much to Natalie at Impress Books for the chance to read the book and take part in the blog tour. 
Conquest is available from Impress and published on October1st. 

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Associates of Sherlock Holmes edited by George Mann

This collection edited by George Mann is the third he has produced for Titan Books and features a number of writers well known for their Sherlockiana such as Lyndsay Faye and James Lovegrove as well as those such as Simon Bucher-Jones who is presenting his first Sherlock Holmes story here. Unlike many other stories set in the universe of Arthur Conan Doyle which present the cases from Watson's viewpoint as Doyle did, here we see Holmes and Watson through the eyes of others; including Inspector Lestrade, Irene Adler and many more. It allows many of the associates, clients and villains to tell their own stories for the first time. The collection opens with a new story from fan favourite Lyndsay Faye as she allows Police Inspector Stanley Hopkins who appeared in Doyle's "The Adventure of Black Peter" to tell us a brand new tale of body parts dredged from the Thames in "River of Silence" There are some brilliant supernatural touches too courtesy of Jeffrey Thomas and Tim Pratt.
Titan are undoubtedly the best and most enthusiastic publisher of Sherlockiana and this collection is a fantastic idea although some stories are less successful than others. This collection is also a wonderful showcase of the work of some great new (to me) authors of crime, science fiction and fantasy. I will certainly be exploring more of the work of some of the authors I have encountered here. Fans of Sherlock Holmes won't be disappointed and in fact I went back to the original stories with new insight.
Perfect for fans and new readers alike.
Thanks to Philippa Ward from Titan Books for a review copy of this book.
Associates of Sherlock Holmes is published later this week. 

Friday, August 19, 2016

The Harrowing by James Aitcheson

The Harrowing of the North is a famous phrase familiar to many of us as the tactic used by William the Conqueror to quell rebellion in the North and ensure the conquest of England was complete. In this novel James Aitcheson shows us the personal side of this tactic, as the land is cleared and the people; men, women and children are murdered, often in the most cruel and gruesome of ways.  We meet five individuals; Tova a maid and her mistress Merewyn who are fleeing Merewyn’s husband’s family, Beorn the warrior who rescues them from a Norman attack, Guthred a former priest and Oslac a wandering storyteller. As the people of the North flee the approaching Normans so these five must also make their way Northwards to Hagustaldesham (Hexham, Northumberland).
The storytelling is brilliantly framed with each part of the book covering one day of travel and the various characters telling their stories each evening as they prepare to rest, a style not dissimilar to The Canterbury Tales. In this way we get an insight into each character and understand their perspective on the situation. The author does not shy away from the truth of the bloodshed and cruelty of events and it becomes clear that although they are fleeing the Norman army who have destroyed their homes, they are also each fleeing from their past. The storytelling is wonderful each character tells their story in their own voice but the pace never flags, the plotting is taut and the characterization deft. James Aitcheson is a fantastic writer who has brought to vivid life a dark period in English history, shining a light on ordinary people and the impact on them of historical events. 

Published by Heron Books 2016
This review first appeared in The Historical Novel Review