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

Ascension by Gregory Dowling

Gregory Dowling’s fifth novel; his first foray into historical territory, is set in mid 18th Century Venice and introduces a charming protagonist in the form of cicerone or tour guide Alvise Marangon. Having grown up mostly in England Alvise makes guiding British tourists his specialty but he gets more than he bargained for when he offers to guide the young Mr. Boscombe and his tutor Mr. Shackleford.
Soon Alvise is entangled in the city’s criminal underbelly finding himself arrested, robbed, beaten up and finally persuaded to join the city’s secret network of spies to uncover a criminal threat that goes to highest levels of Venice’s aristocratic society.
This is a wonderful page turner with a fabulous cast of characters from the gambling dens to the theatres, the booksellers to the taverns, the courtesans to the gondoliers. Alvise is able to use his innate sense of theatre and charm to move fluidly between all the classes and this also makes him a perfect spy.

Dowling’s storytelling is superb and the sights, sounds and smells of 18th Century Venice are brilliantly realised. Although the plot is resolved the book has the feel of the first in a series so I hope there will be a return for Alvise. This book would be ideal for fans of Diana Bretherick and Robin Blake.
Published by Polygon 2015.
This review originally appeared in Historical Novels Review Magazine

A Ghost's Story by Lorna Gibb

A Ghost’s Story is an intriguing book, as it presents the tale of Katie King not a famous medium but a famous ghost. Although it is Lorna Gibb’s first work of fiction there are a number of real people included in the story. There is correspondence between Bob Loomis, Senior Librarian at the Magic Circle and the author herself who has received the Katie King ‘spirit writing’ from the Magic Circle archive, this writing is interspersed with a manuscript from an Italian Bookshop named after Katie King and the academic notes of Adam Marcus who had been investigating the manuscript prior to his death.
The narrative is in the voice of John/Katie King a celebrated spirit who visited a number of mediums during the 19th and early 20th century when séances and an interest in the spirit world were at their peak. Moving between America, Britain, Russia, Italy, France and Canada we observe Katie’s growth as she gradually begins to affect her surroundings, to be heard by those she is drawn to and even to enter into the mediums she visits.

Written in a vivid lyrical style the sense of passing time as Katie witnesses the changes in the places and people she visits and tries to be perceived and believed is beautifully rendered. Gibb’s research is meticulous and the unusual framing makes this a genuinely compelling read. This book will appeal to anyone with an interest in Victorian spiritualism but its unique style will undoubtedly mean its appeal will be much broader.
Published by Granta 2015
This review originally appeared in The Historical Novel Review Magazine. 

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

House of Shadows by Nicola Cornick

Everything about this book was guaranteed to entice me from the title to the cover to the tag line 'Dark secrets lie just around the corner..' but most of all the blurb which not only hinted that this is a time-slip novel but recommended the book to fans of Barbra Erskine and Kate Morton. That was it, I was sold so even though the publishers were kind enough to send me an e-galley I just had to get a print edition too.
The book opens with The Winter Queen Elizabeth Stuart, a fascinating woman who I think simply doesn't feature enough in history or historical fiction. Nicola used a setting she knows well Ashdown House where she works as guide and with some poetic licence she has told the story of the house and some of it's occupants, real and imagined. This is my favourite kind of historical fiction mixing the magical and the mystical with the past and the present. In the present day Holly is searching for her missing brother Ben who vanished at Ashdown Mill where he was researching the family tree. Holly begins a desperate race against time to find her brother and discover the secrets about this fascinating place.  Holly discovers a diary written by a 19th Century occupant of the house before it was burned down and from this point Nicola Cornick weaves the three different timelines together skillfully in this deftly plotted book. Wonderful characters and excellent storytelling.
Published by Harlequin Mira.