As if it weren’t enough to be cheated on by her husband of ten years, Yorkshire lass Hannah Davis is losing her beauty salon business too. Luckily, her big sister is there to pick up the pieces, but Hannah is desperate to find some independence.
Impulsively, Hannah applies for a spa job…on a cruise ship! Christmas in the Caribbean, springtime in the Mediterranean, what’s not to like? But, despite being in her thirties, Hannah has never done anything on her own before, and she’s terrified.
As the ship sets sail, Hannah has never been further from home…or closer to discovering who she is and who she wants to be.
This book makes for lovely, lively reading. The opening is quite brutal though, as we find Hannah just recovering from what’s pretty much a total breakdown after her husband of many years suddenly leaves her. She’s neglected her business for too long to save it so things look very bleak. Her stalwart of a sister, Jen, is there for her and helps her start to find her feet her again.
An expected nail-mending job introduces Hannah to the idea of working in a cruise ship, which Jen encourages her to do. So Hannah courageously decides to take this career leap, and with her we travel to many locations, deal with frustrations and tribulations, and possible heartache.
Hannah is a great character. She’s fun and feisty, but flawed in that, as her sister says, it’s a crisis if she misses her favourite TV soap. In this novel she faces a real crisis, and while it floors her to start with, she does cope, and with humour and fortitude. You can’t help but like and admire her.
The author has a lively sense of fun too, and creates some great people, places and happenings to entertain us. She gives both sides of the coin when it comes to the cruise ship – it’s not all excitement and glamour, in fact, there’s a lot more drudgery and rule-following.
This is an easy and enjoyable read, light but not without sharp comment here and there, and a super book to while away a few hours.
Purchase links – mybook.to/TheHolidayCruise
Victoria Cooke grew up in the city of Manchester before crossing the Pennines in pursuit of a career in education. She now lives in Huddersfield with her husband and two young daughters and when she’s not at home writing by the fire with a cup of coffee in hand, she loves working out in the gym and travelling. Victoria was first published at the tender age of eight by her classroom teacher who saw potential in a six-page story about an invisible man. Since then she’s always had a passion for reading and writing, undertaking several writers’ courses before completing her first novel, ‘The Secret to Falling in Love,’ in 2016
Hooray, my turn to take part in the blog tour for this excellent book!
Sylvia Blackwell is tired. Her grandchildren are being kept away from her, and the expected inheritance that might finally get her middle-aged son to move out has failed to materialise – thanks to her mother’s cat. It is becoming increasingly difficult to remain composed. On a romantic clifftop walk for her 47th Wedding Anniversary, an unexpected opportunity leads to a momentous decision that will irretrievably change the course of her life.
The Craft Room is a darkly comic tale of sex, crepe paper, murder and knitting in a sleepy Devon town, with a ‘truly original’ premise and genuinely jaw-dropping moments. What would you do if unexpectedly freed from bondage you never knew you were in? How would your children cope? How far would you go to protect them from an uncomfortable truth? You can only push a grandmother so far…
This book is wickedly funny, absolutely dark comedy at its best. All Sylvia wants is her own craft room so she can outdo her nemesis Maureen at the local craft fairs. Now that Robert, her son, has moved out for the second time, having come to terms with his separation from his wife Alexa, she’s got his old room earmarked.
However, she’s temporarily distracted by her mother’s death, an event which doesn’t come as a surprise to Sylvia. Also, the fact her mother has left her next to nothing since she’s gambled it away or promised it to cats takes her focus for a while. Husband Ron swoops into the empty room before she knows it. He annexes it for a golf swing training room. Now, that really is going a bit too far. But he’s not a nice person, someone who delivers encouraging sarcasm and withering looks, and has always belittled their son. Robert moves back in for a while.
Another death in the family, that again doesn’t surprise Sylvia, and neither does the next one, which sees the demise of Ron’s mistress. Cops Frank and Don see the coincidence but rule kind old granny Sylvia out, although suspect she’s covering for someone. They therefore keep an eye on her nearest and dearest, the remaining ones…
The action intensifies from here on, with complications sneaking in. Will Sylvia ever realise her dream of a fully equipped craft room?
This is hugely entertaining. Once you start reading, you can’t stop. The dark humour is wonderful, and addictive! Sylvia is a brilliant heroine, one you can sympathise with – although perhaps you shouldn’t really. She’s larger than life, yet down to earth. She’s great. Robert, insipid at first, comes into his own as the story progresses, and other characters we meet entertain and fascinate.
The physical and social settings of the novel come over well, and contribute towards making this a remarkable and memorable read. I loved it!
Dave Holwill was born in Guildford in 1977 and quickly decided that he preferred the Westcountry – moving to Devon in 1983 (with some input from his parents).
After an expensive (and possibly wasted) education there, he has worked variously as a postman, a framer, and a print department manager (though if you are the only person in the department then can you really be called a manager?) all whilst continuing to play in every kind of band imaginable on most instruments you can think of.
His debut novel, Weekend Rockstars, was published in August 2016 to favourable reviews and his second The Craft Room (a very dark comedy concerning death through misadventure) came out in August 2017. He is currently in editing hell with the third.
Today I’m excited to be taking part in this blog tour:
1934: a doctor struggles with belief, mortality and murder. A novel inspired by real events
John M. Bischoffberger is a Pennsylvanian doctor adrift in the relative wilds of Maine during the dying years of the great depression. Struggling with a loss of religious faith and retreating from painful memories of The Great War, John has married and set up practice in the town of Naples.
As Medical Examiner for Cumberland County, it is also John’s job to investigate deaths that occur under unusual or suspicious circumstances. Yet as he goes about his work, he begins to suspect that the deaths he is called upon to document are in fact far from routine.
Against his better judgement, he becomes convinced that an uneasy alliance of three itinerants is going about the county, killing. An old woman, a little girl and a thin man are fulfilling some strange and unspoken duty, drowning, suffocating, hanging and the like, men, women and children; each of the three harbouring a profound distrust of the other two, yet still this queer confederacy press on with their murderous work.
John confides in local outsider Joseph, an older man who becomes John’s only outlet for his impossible fears. All the while the three continue to kill, and the deaths seem to be drawing closer to John: others who may suspect foul play, then acquaintances of John, then perhaps friends, even family members.
As the storm clouds of a new world war gather in Europe, and John’s rationality slowly unravels, he must find a way to disprove what he has reluctantly come to believe, or to confirm his worst fears and take steps to end the killing spree of the three in the woods, whatever the cost.
With a narrative switching between the doctor and the trio of murderers, and inspired by, and including, genuine accounts made by the real Dr John M. Bischoffberger in his medical journal between 1934 and 1941, The Thirty Five Timely & Untimely Deaths of Cumberland County weaves about them a fictional and dreamlike story of faith, community, and how we deal with life in the shadow of mortality.
This is an unusual, emotive and ambitious book, which is an enthralling combination in this author’s hands. It all begins quite straightforwardly, with switches between narrators keeping us intrigued. There are also actual historical documents incorporated in the text, which is a fascinating and effective facet to the book.
As the various strands begin to weave themselves ever tighter together the novel becomes quite complex. Not complicated, but you need to concentrate a bit. As Dr Bischoffberger begins to slide into confusion, it becomes more of a challenging read, but you’ll be rewarded for your effort.
It’s definitely a haunting book, slightly uncomfortable almost, and certainly powerful. It’s one that stays with you once you’ve finished reading. I found much of the imagery very striking. A character is described as “like a shout you can see”, another suffers the “hue and cry” of life. There are numerous superb images that make you think, ‘Oh my goodness, that’s so true! Why have I never thought of that.’ The author is also a poet and this shines through in the pictures he creates with his words.
There is so much you can say about this book, so many levels that it works on, but I think the best thing is to discover it for yourself. Reading a few things that the author has said about it will also be useful and tantalising.
The author talks about his book:
How did you come up with the idea for the book?
Some years ago, on my thirtieth birthday, my then girlfriend (now wife) decided that I should collect something and knowing me as she did, she decided that what I should collect was antique medical equipment. To this day I have a lovely cabinet of wonderful and grotesque… things, of varying archaic medical use and brutal if utilitarian aesthetic.
However, one day while searching the internet for something to add to my collection, she came across Bischoffberger’s Medical Examiner’s Record. A large hardcover book, a ledger of deaths stretching from 1934 to 1954, the record instantly drew me in. As I read, my previous disparate ideas and abortive attempts at the story coalesced into a whole (albeit a strange one) and the novel began to take shape in my mind.
How would you describe the 35 Deaths?
It’s not so much a historical novel as a novel based on real events and featuring some real people but which takes those incidents and characters and imposes a fictional, even fantastical, framework upon them.
Who has influenced you in the writing of this novel? I’d say the novel’s biggest influences are probably Cormac McCarthy and David Lynch, though I’m not sure it’s that much like either of them; but I suppose every writer’s work is a conglomeration of their own influences, visible or not.
How did you go about researching Maine in the 1930s? This is the first piece I’ve written that is even close to being historical in setting and so, beyond the reading of the medical record itself, I had to embark on more research than ever before. The joy of research is that, no matter what, you will find incredible and unexpected things, many of which seem almost tailor made to fit into your narrative.
I found local history books online, sourced period maps of the area (I also used Google Earth a lot!) and even managed to find a book of historical photographs of the region; I cannot deny a slight shiver running through me upon finding within this book a picture of Doctor Bischoffberger himself looking back at me.
About the author
Following his poem Fireworks Fireworks Bang Bang Bang at the age of six, Mason eventually took the whole writing thing a little more seriously, graduating in 2009 from London Metropolitan University, having received first class honours in Creative Writing.
In his second year, he won the Sandra Ashman award for his poem Mother Theresa in the Winner’s Enclosure.
He has subsequently had work published in Succour magazine and Brand magazine.
Mason is currently working on a number of writing projects, as well as developing his next novel.
In addition to this, he writes, co-produces and hosts the award-winning monthly cabaret night The Double R Club (as Benjamin Louche, winner of “Best Host” at the London Cabaret Awards). He also worked as a performer on Star Wars: The Force Awakens & The Last Jedi.
Mason is a trustee of East London charity Cabaret vs Cancer.
He lives in East London with his wife, a cat called Monkey, and a collection of antique medical equipment.
While staying in a Dorset cottage, Hugh Mullion finds a mysterious key down the side of an antique chair. No one can say how long the key has been there or what it opens.
Hugh’s search for answers will unlock the secrets of the troubled life of a talented artist, destined to be hailed a neglected genius fifty years too late. And no secret is darker than that of The Amber Maze, from whose malign influence he never escaped.
The trail takes Hugh from Edwardian Oxfordshire to 1960s Camden Town, where the ghosts of the past are finally laid to rest.
Delicately crafted noir fiction at its best.
This novel is an intriguing and erudite mystery. More noir than cozy, it’s a thoughtful, intelligent story. There’s definite menace and a lurking threat, embodied by the maze that is the symbol of Assendene Court. You get a hint of that from the cover: what exactly is round that next bend
Our protagonist Hugh plunges into a maze of investigation. Progress is slow and cautious to start with, but gains momentum. However, there are wrong turns and dead ends. But like a determined terrier, once he’s got his teeth into this mystery he’s not going to let go. There’s an old box, paintings, a journal belonging to underrated artist Lionel Pybus and the amber maze itself of Assendene Court that all need investigating and, let’s move to a jigsaw analogy now, piecing together.
It’s nice to have a male protagonist, since this type of more literary and less violent mystery is generally the preserve of female sleuths, and a slightly more mature one too. He’s not a perfect person – he’s definitely on the obsessive side, can’t let things go. He’s sharp, curious, personable, and he works well with a number of knowledgeable people to delve deeper into this mystery. He’s methodical, almost a little plodding, but that just means we can keep up with events clearly and understand exactly what’s going on.
His life partner, Kate, is a perfect foil for him. She’s more impulsive and upbeat, equally likeable and sharp, and is drawn into Hugh’s investigation despite herself. She’s very supportive. She’s just one of a compelling cast of characters that accompany Hugh through the story, all rounded and interesting.
Despite Hugh’s meticulous approach to his investigation, the story progresses steadily, gaining momentum, and the book is a real page-turner. You keep wanting to know what next, fascinating snippet he’ll uncover and how it will fit in with what we know so far.
Christopher Bowden lives in south London. The Amber Maze is the sixth of his colour-themed novels, which have been praised variously by Andrew Marr, Julian Fellowes, Sir Derek Jacobi, and Shena Mackay.
Daisy Belle : Swimming Champion of the World by Caitlin Davies
I’m so pleased to be taking part in the blog tour for this captivating novel featuring such a resilient heroine.
Summer 1867: four-year-old Daisy Belle is about to make her debut at the Lambeth Baths in London. Her father, swimming professor Jeffrey Belle, is introducing his Family of Frogs – and Daisy is the star attraction. By the end of that day, she has only one ambition in life: she will be the greatest female swimmer in the world. She will race down the Thames, float in a whale tank, and challenge a man to a 70-foot high dive. And then she will set sail for America to swim across New York Harbour. But Victorian women weren’t supposed to swim, and Daisy Belle will have to fight every stroke of the way if she wants her dreams to come true. Inspired by the careers of Victorian champions Agnes Beckwith and Annie Luker, Daisy Belle is a story of courage and survival and a tribute to the swimmers of yesteryear.
I think the word that best sums up this beautiful novel is understated, and this is precisely what makes it so powerful. Daisy Mae Belle calmly and modestly recounts to us the story of her eventful life. She never sensationalises things, and she could on many, many occasions. As a young child she breaks moulds by swimming, and her father takes full advantage of her courage and determination to line his pockets. She’s upset by this at times but restrains her emotions. She remains low-key concerning her incredible feats of endurance and the tolls they take on her. When her little sister becomes her mother’s pet and Daisy is all but ignored, she accepts it and doesn’t dwell on how much it must hurt. This taking things in her stride makes us respect and admire Daisy all the more. And love her, I think. She’s a wonderful character – so honest and unassuming, a charming and unpretentious heroine.
The novel has not quite cycles, but definitely fore-shadowings. The Belles’ marriage isn’t a great one. Daisy’s father and mother are generally at loggerheads and there doesn’t seem to be much affection in the family, apart from between Daisy and her eldest brother Billy. Daisy’s own marriage to the handsome Dob doesn’t turn out to be quite what she hoped for either. Daisy’s once happy relationship with her mother as the adored and petted little girl of the family is replayed by Minnie who, like her big sister, eventually tires of her mother’s restrictions. Daisy sees how Captain Matthew Webb allows himself to be driven by the desire for more money into going too far, pushing himself beyond his limits, and she too finds herself tempted into taking on perhaps more than she should. Just as her father attempted to save someone who fell into the sea, so does Daisy, and ultimately neither rescue attempt ends well.
The novel is so eye-opening as regards the social norms of the time. Girls aren’t allowed to do boy things, like swim. Women are completely subservient to the men in their lives, although a few, including Daisy, make brave steps forward. However, they’re generally on some sort of rein. Poor Daisy has to make her epic swims in heavy, modesty-protecting outfits that must weigh a ton when wet!
There is so much fabulous imagery, particularly regarding water. After all, the whole novel is water-based, an water, as one character says, “makes you feel yourself”. The seaside, Margate, is depicted in vibrant blues with freshness and freedom in the air. The sea is alive. London, to which Daisy’s father drags them, has dead, dirty water. The baths seem oppressive, the Thames is menacing, the Aquarium is claustrophobic. Daisy is like the creatures there that are confined by their captivity.
Daisy travels to America, somewhere she’s long wanted to go, in an attempt to obtain fame and fortune – or at least the latter for Dob. This trip proves to be a key event in her life. Back home in England, her life begins to unravel and it’s heart-breaking, but remember, this is Daisy. And there is justice in the world, although it can take a while coming. Keep a tissue handy 😉
This novel is as buoyant as its heroine and will stay with you for a long time after you’ve read it. It’s marvellous.
About the author
Caitlin Davies was born in London in 1964. She spent 12 years in Botswana as a teacher and journalist and many of her books are set in the Okavango Delta, including a memoir Place of Reeds, described by Hilary Mantel as ‘candid and unsentimental’.
Her novels include The Ghost of Lily Painter, a fictional account of the arrest and execution of two Edwardian baby farmers, and Family Likeness about the fate of ‘war babies’ born to African American GI fathers in England during World War Two.
Her non-fiction books include Taking the Waters: A Swim Around Hampstead Heath, a celebration of 200 years of outdoor bathing, an illustrated history of the world famous Camden Lock Market, and Downstream: a history and celebration of swimming the River Thames.
Her latest non-fiction is Bad Girls, and her latest novel is Daisy Belle: Swimming Champion of the World, based on the lives of several Victorian aquatic stars, to be published by Unbound on September 1, 2018.
She is also a teacher and journalist, and was a regular feature writer for The Independent’s education and careers supplement. From 2014-17 she was a Royal Literary Fund Fellow at the University of Westminster, Harrow, in the faculty of Media, Arts & Design.
I’m delighted to be featuring ‘The Continuity Girl’ by Patrick Kincaid today as part of the book’s blog tour. This novel is sparkly, sophisticated and impossible to put down.
1969. Hollywood descends on a tiny Scottish village for the making of Billy Wilder’s most ambitious picture yet: a sprawling epic detailing The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes. But the formidable director and his crew soon come into conflict with Jim Outhwaite, a young scientist seeking evidence for monsters.
2014. Stuck just a short walk from the East London street where she grew up, ambitious Film Studies lecturer Gemma MacDonald is restless and hungry for change. A job offer in the Highlands seems to offer escape – but only at a cost to her relationships with family and an equally ambitious American boyfriend. Then a lost print of Gemma’s favourite film turns up, and with it, an idea… Two stories, separated by 45 years, are set on collision course – on the surface of Loch Ness, under the shadow of a castle – by the reappearance of the continuity girl herself: April Bloom.
Two worlds collide in this novel in a number of ways. Firstly, in the form of academia and the film industry, and two timelines run throughout, not quite in parallel as there are links between the two. Yet another contrasting pair is found in how fact and fiction interweave throughout the story and occasionally crash headlong into each other. Let’s not forget our main hero Jim and heroine Gemma who don’t have the smoothest relationships with their respective partners. We see a contrast between grey, crowded London and the beauty of the Scottish highlands. The prehistoric Loch Ness monster is having quite an impact on twentieth-century life, and finally the moon, shining down on the earth, has a part to play too.
In the modern day timeline of 2013/14, lecturer Gemma McDonald has stumbled across some reels from Billy Wilder’s film ‘The Secret Life of Sherlock Holmes’. She’s also applied for a job in the film studies department at the University of Aberdeen. She can’t quite find the right time to tell her boyfriend David, who has just accepted a post in Chicago. In the 1969 thread, Jim and the others in the Loch Ness Research Group have their ordered, focussed existence overturned when the camera crew, actors and support staff, including the all-important continuity girl April, turn up to film the relevant parts of the film. True to her name, April brings continuity not only to the film script, but also to the novel as she turns up in both timelines. There’s a backing cast of fascinating personalities too.
You don’t need to be a film buff or an obsessive Nessie fan to enjoy this novel, since we’re told all we need to know about these key features of the story. However, if you can be bothered to spend a little time on Wikipedia reading up about Billy Wilder and his films, and about Loch Ness and its famous purported inhabitant, you can appreciate more fully just how much research has gone into this novel. The author’s hard work adds extra depth and sparkle. There’s no info dumping, just a richer text as a result. For readers like me who were there in 1969 the mention of Golden Wonder crisps, and the descriptions of the clothes people are wearing and the music they are listening to is a lovely trip down memory lane, not to mention the overawing excitement of huddling around someone else’s TV to watch those grainy black and white pictures of Neil Armstrong taking his giant leap on behalf of mankind.
This is a delightfully different and thoroughly enjoyable novel about discovery, friendships and love, about following your dream, about how life can be unfair and force choices on you that you don’t want to make. But happy endings take many forms and ultimately, I think, the book is a celebration of being true to yourself and doing what you have to do. And that is a pretty major achievement.
• Paperback: 224 pages
• Publisher: Unbound Digital (9 Mar. 2018)
• Language: English
• ISBN-10: 191158698X
• ISBN-13: 978-1911586982
Like April in the novel, Patrick is an Anglo-American. He was born to an English mother in Amarillo, Texas, but moved to the UK when his American father was stationed in Oxfordshire with the USAF in the mid-1970s. Unlike his older brother, Patrick was sent to a local rather than a base school, and very quickly went native. He eventually gained a PhD in English Literature at the Shakespeare Institute in Stratford-upon-Avon. For the past 14 years, he has taught English to secondary school children in an inner-city comprehensive in Coventry.
Long a fan of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes stories, Patrick contributed one of his own, ‘The Doll and His Maker’, to MX Publishing’s SHERLOCK’S HOME: THE EMPTY HOUSE, an anthology of pastiches put together to raise funds for the preservation of one of the author’s former homes. As well as writing fiction, Patrick is a keen poet. He was short-listed for the Bridport Poetry Prize in 2012 and long-listed for the Fish Poetry Prize in 2013.
Encounters with a pair of supersized Y-fronts; a humourless schoolmarm with an unfortunate name and monstrous yellow incisors; and a tut-tutting, big-breasted, modern-day gorgon are the norm for Ruth Roth. She’s used to crazy.
Her mum squawks like a harpy and her dad has a dodgy moral compass. Add in daily face-offs with a relentlessly bitchy mirror, and Ruth’s home life feels like a Greek tragicomedy.
She hankers for the ordinary. But blah is not a good fit for someone who doesn’t fit in. And isn’t meant to.
Ruth’s vanilla existence is an issue for her besties—her hot-looking, obsessive-compulsive cousin and soul mate (who needs to do everything twice-twice), and her two closest girlfriends.
With their encouragement and a good homoeopathic dose of ancient mythology, Ruth embarks on an odyssey to retrieve her spirit. She’s confronted with her biggest challenge ever, though, when one of these friends sends her spiralling back into a dark place.
The decision she must make can either bring her out or launch the mother of all wars in her world.
I love books with fascinating titles and this is definitely one. An odyssey is a long and eventful or adventurous journey or experience and is forever associated with classic Greek literature. A teacup is, well, a teacup. We have a lovely juxtaposition of the epic with the everyday, the Homeric with the homely. The teacup suggests everydayness and triviality, and much of the story is at heart every day and trivial as it recounts the experiences of the unimaginatively and economically-named Ruth Roth (no middle name) growing up. However, this wonderful character with her surrounding cast of eccentric personalities, tells us a tale that is far from mundane.
To say her family is dysfunctional is something of an understatement. As part of her journey, Ruth learns that her ‘normal’ really isn’t. Sylvia and Joe are way off base, but that makes them fascinating characters to meet, although fortunately not to have to live with. She thus has to fight rather harder than most of us to fit in with her peers, and get to do all the things they get up to.
Ruth is a witty narrator, able to laugh at herself. Which is just, as well as things never go completely smoothly for her. She’s strong, as a result of her criticism-laden upbringing, punctuated regularly with the words ‘oeuf’ and ‘pest’, and courageous. She has a sharp eye and sees through pretence and posing, and strips humanity down to its ridiculous inner workings. Her observations are brilliant, wry and sharp. It’s heartening to see that her boldness and unconventional pass down to her children too.
We join Ruth on her journey from childhood through to adulthood and to a surprising but wonderful ending slash beginning. On the way we come across clever echoes of and references to Homer’s ‘Odyssey’, and to Greek mythology. It makes this book even richer.
It’s a fabulous book, riveting from the first page. Ruth frequently has us laughing, but there’s sadness too as we join her for a bumpy ride in her little teacup being buffeted by a rough ocean and challenging winds. Really memorable.
Paula Houseman was once a graphic designer. But when the temptation to include ‘the finger’ as part of a logo for a forward-moving women’s company proved too much, she knew it was time to give away design. Instead, she took up writing.
She found she was a natural with the double entendres (God knows she’d been in enough trouble as a child for dirty wordplay).
As a published writer of earthy chick lit and romantic comedy, Paula gets to bend, twist, stretch and juice up universal experiences to shape reality the way she wants it, even if it is only in books. But at the same time, she can make it more real, so that her readers feel part of the sisterhood. Or brotherhood (realness has nothing to do with gender).
Through her books, Paula also wants to help the reader escape into life and love’s comic relief. And who doesn’t need to sometimes?
Her style is a tad Monty Pythonesque because she adores satire. It helps defuse all those gaffes and thoughts that no one is too proud of.
Paula lives in Sydney, Australia with her husband. No other creatures. The kids have flown the nest and the dogs are long gone.
Life as a duchess… or something much more dangerous…?
This is book 1 of The King’s Elite series.
Constantly told her beauty and charm is all she has to offer, Lady Clarissa is intent on marrying a duke. And intriguing spy Sebastian Leatham will help her! Only first she’ll assist him with his new assignment of playing the part of confident aristocrat Lord Millcroft.
However, Sebastian awakens a burning desire within Clarissa which leaves her questioning whether becoming a duchess is what she truly longs for…
Virginia Heath’s books always sparkle with humour and human foibles. Her characters are so very real. There’s a danger with historical fiction, where there’s the need to recreate a previous period of time, to present us with stiff caricatures who speak awkwardly and act unnaturally. None of that in this author’s splendid books and ‘The Mysterious Lord Millcroft’ is no exception. We meet recognisable human beings who, whilst they still face certain social constraints, manage to reveal their full, rounded personalities to us. They’re interesting for us to be with, and they tease and irritate each other just like any group of people will do.
The story is clever and well told. Sebastian, the bastard son of a duke, is working with an elite team which includes characters from others of Virginia Heath’s wonderful novels, to capture a group of smugglers. These have leaders and friends in high places, and in order to track them down Seb goes ‘undercover’ into the top echelon of society as Lord Millcroft. The fiancé of a woman he has recently come to admire, the “incomparable” Lady Clarissa Beaumont, is one of the people he’s investigating, and another of the villains has even closer connections to Seb. Can he complete this task, at all costs? His last mission had him shot while defending a young woman, and he’s only just recovered from that.
Seb is handsome and brave, the perfect hero you’d think. However, he’s desperately shy, socially awkward and prone to being snappy. Clarissa is headstrong and intelligent but somewhat obsessively determined to marry a duke, no matter how miserable that may make her. She may give the impression of being arch and dignified, but she’s not above thoroughly enjoying the sight of a semi-naked man when she sees one! It’s this sort of touch that makes these characters so human and so likeable. Even the rogues have their charms.
So do escape for a while into Regency England in this lively and intriguing novel. You’ll enjoy every minute.
Virginia Heath lives on the outskirts of London with her understanding husband and two, less understanding, teenagers. After spending years teaching history,she decided to follow her dream of writing for Harlequin. Now she spends her days happily writing regency romances, creating heroes that she falls in love with and heroines who inspire her. When she isn’t doing that, Virginia likes to travel to far off places, shop for things that she doesn’t need or read romances written by other people.
Giveaway – Win 3 x E-copies of The Mysterious Lord Millcroft (Open Internationally)
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In 1973 Chile, as General Augusto Pinochet seizes power, thirteen-year-old English schoolboy Charlie Norton watches his father walk into the night and never return. Taken in by diplomat, Tomas Abrego, his life becomes intricately linked to the family.
Despite his love for the Abrego sisters, he’s unable to prevent Maria falling under the spell of a left-wing revolutionary, or Sophia from marrying the right-wing Minister of Justice.
His connection to the family is complicated by the growing impression that Tomas Abrego was somehow involved in his father’s disappearance.
As the conflict of a family divided by politics comes to a head on the night of the 1989 student riots, Charlie has to act to save the sisters from an enemy they cannot see.
From a dictator in my last book review on this book blog to a diplomat, who serves under a dictator. But this diplomat is a glass diplomat. That’s certainly an interesting concept that gets you thinking even before you start reading the book. Glass as an adjective suggests fragility or transparence, but also hints that, once broken, sharp and dangerous edges are left that can do harm.
The diplomat in question is Tomas Abrego, who takes our hero, Charlie, under his wing.
The background is that Charlie’s father owns a factory in Santiago, and spends more and more time there. Charlie goes to join him from England during school holidays. During one visit some menacing men in suits and soldiers visit. Charlie overhears his father refusing to turn his factory over to the manufacture of military items. Not long after Charlie’s father disappears and this is when Tomas Abrego steps in. Tomas has two daughters, Maria and Sophia, and from now on the lives of the three young people become firmly interwoven.
This novel is strongly character driven, and we meet some fascinating personalities in the book. Good or bad, they’re all flawed, all human, all very convincing. Each reflects their culture, and each has their own set of judgement values. What’s right for one is wrong for another.
Charlie’s life is something of a balancing act. He walks along a knife-edge where the two cultures of Chile and the West meet. It’s also where two families meet, his own and his ‘adopted’ one. He treads carefully between the two sisters too.
Charlie develops throughout the novel as he gradually gains full understanding of what is going on around him. Early on he is slow to react, and there are losses as a result. But later he becomes decisive, assured and confident in his own morality and with his new philosophy. He remains vulnerable, however, and is a sympathetic but admirable figure, one we quickly warm to and continue to care about.
And what of Tomas, our diplomat? Charlie, at his mercy to begin with, ends up being the one with the power. Tomas has manipulated others all his life, mainly with threats and acts of violence, but eventually he is the one manipulated. His power is finally shattered like glass.
This is a totally absorbing novel, throwing stark light on what happens in dictatorships. Diplomacy has a rather different meaning.
It didn’t occur to me to write until I was twenty-two, prompted by reading a disappointing book by an author I’d previously liked. I wrote thirty pages of a story I abandoned because it didn’t work on any level. I moved on to a thriller about lost treasure in Central America; which I finished, but never showed to anyone. Two more went the way of the first, and I forgave the author.
After that I became more interested in people-centric stories. I also decided I needed to get some help with my writing, and studied for a degree with the OU. I chose Psychology partly because it was an easier sell to my family than Creative Writing. But mainly because it suited the changing tastes of my writing. When I look back, so many of my choices have been about my writing.
I’ve been writing all my adult life, but nine years ago I had a kidney transplant which interrupted my career, to everyone’s relief. It did mean my output increased, and I developed a work plan that sees me with two projects on the go at any one time. Although that has taken a hit in recent months as I’m currently renovating a house and getting to know my very new granddaughter.
I write for no other reason than I enjoy it deeply. I like the challenge of making a story work. I get a thrill from tinkering with the structure, of creating characters that I care about, and of manipulating a plot that unravels unpredictably, yet logically. I like to write myself into a corner and then see how I can escape. To me, writing is a puzzle I like to spend my time trying to solve.
How exciting to be taking part in this blog tour on its opening day!
Ben longs to be prime minister one day. But with no political connections, he is about to crash out of a Masters degree with no future ahead. So when by chance he becomes fast friends with a young Arab prince, and is offered a job in his government, he jumps at the chance to get on the political ladder.
Amal dreads the throne. And with Ben’s help he wants to reform his country, steering it onto a path towards democracy. But with the king’s health failing, revolutionaries in the streets, and terrorism threatening everyone, the country is ready to tear itself apart.
Alone in a hostile land, Ben must help Amal weigh what is best against what is right, making decisions that will risk his country, his family, and his life.
This short book is the story of two idealistic young men. One, Ben, is a British student with political ambitions, the other an Arab prince, Amal. They meet at an inter-university debate, with the subject under debate being the very pertinent ‘ideology is dead’. Here and elsewhere in the novella, there’s some very interesting philosophical and political discussion.
Ben rather suddenly finds himself recruited as Amal’s advisor, but mainly friend, in Amal’s home of Argolis. The differences he encounters between his own culture and this one are sharply observed and create the atmosphere of somewhere fascinating, yet also menacing and obdurate. It’s also vicious, with public executions and other extreme punishments being meted out somewhat enthusiastically.
Just as suddenly, Amal finds himself the new king after the untimely and suspicious death of his older brother and then, soon after, his father. The moment has come for Amal to instigate that ‘ benevolent monarchy’ that he’s dreamed of. Ben determines to help him do exactly that.
However, there are just two of them fighting for change, and one only half-heartedly. Amal feels obliged to honour his father’s legacy, one very much centred on keeping power at all costs, and the young king has a stubborn entourage who like things the way they are. Rebels choose this unsettled moment to start causing trouble, and clearly there’s someone close to Amal who’s feeding them information. Unfortunately, some important people decide it must be Ben. His and Amal’s hopes collapse, with fatal yet inevitable consequences. Throughout the book, as on the cover, there are reflections of Shelley’s sonnet ‘Ozymandias’, which is one both young men know.
is a fast-paced and exciting book, yet there’s so much to think about too. Who, for example, actually is the benevolent dictator in the end? Amal? Or is it Ben, who has naively tried to instil Western values in his Arab friend? It’s all too easy to assume you are right and try to influence other to your own way of thinking.
There’s a strong and moving theme of friendship throughout too – of nominal friends and true friends, of superficiality and loyalty. So if you like a page-turner that also has you pausing and contemplating amidst the action, then this is most definitely a book for you.
Tom Trott was born in Brighton. He first started writing at Junior School, where he and a group of friends devised and performed comedy plays for school assemblies, much to the amusement of their fellow pupils. Since leaving school and growing up to be a big boy, he has written a short comedy play that was performed at the Theatre Royal Brighton in May 2014 as part of the Brighton Festival; he has written Daye’s Work, a television pilot for the local Brighton channel, and he has won the Empire Award (thriller category) in the 2015 New York Screenplay Contest. He is the proverbial Brighton rock, and currently lives in the city with his wife.
Social Media Links – www.twitter.com/tjtrott, www.facebook.com/tomtrottbooks, www.tomtrott.com