Monthly Archives: August 2014

The Devil and the Marshalsea – Antonia Hodgson – Review

Hodder

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“Longlisted for the John Creasey Dagger Award for best debut crime novel of 2014.

London, 1727 – and Tom Hawkins is about to fall from his heaven of card games, brothels and coffee-houses into the hell of a debtors’ prison.

The Marshalsea is a savage world of its own, with simple rules: those with family or friends who can lend them a little money may survive in relative comfort. Those with none will starve in squalor and disease. And those who try to escape will suffer a gruesome fate at the hands of the gaol’s rutheless governor and his cronies.

The trouble is, Tom Hawkins has never been good at following rules – even simple ones. And the recent grisly murder of a debtor, Captain Roberts, has brought further terror to the gaol. While the Captain’s beautiful widow cries for justice, the finger of suspicion points only one way: to the sly, enigmatic figure of Samuel Fleet.

Some call Fleet a devil, a man to avoid at all costs. But Tom Hawkins is sharing his cell. Soon, Tom’s choice is clear: get to the truth of the murder – or be the next to die.

A twisting mystery, a dazzling evocation of early 18th Century London, THE DEVIL IN THE MARSHALSEA is a thrilling debut novel full of intrigue and suspense.”

4 of 5 stars

I received a copy of this book from the publishers and this is my honest opinion.

Tom Hawkins is a Gentleman without purpose. He drifts through life, spending his money on gambling and brothels with little thought for the future. Soon his actions catch up with him and he finds himself owing his landlord £20, which he cannot pay. After winning £10 at cards he is happy in the belief that this will hold off his landlord until he can win the rest. That same night however the money is lost again, this time in a different way and Tom finds himself thrown in the Marshalsea; the dreaded debtors prison. He winds up sharing a room with Sam Fleet, a dangerous individual suspected of murdering his room mate some months previously.

Soon Tom is drawn into the unique way of the Marshalsea and sets out to find out the murderer, and hopefully save himself in the process.

I love historical fiction. It transports us to a different time and I soon find myself immersed in that strange other world. I am also fascinated with the Marshalsea, the debtors prison where prisoners had to pay rent, buy their own food and pay for servants – if they were lucky enough to live on the Master’s side. The fact that family could live with the debtor but be free to come and go, as were some of the prisoners, and that some of the more trusted inmates were allowed to be turnkeys, is a wonderful draw. I therefore loved that this story was set here.

Antonia Hodgson has obviously put in a lot of research into London and the Marshalsea of the time. I could imagine the stench and grime of the city and the prison and almost feel how it must have been in the Marshalsea, and how traumatic an experience it must have been for those poor souls locked in the common side where conditions were almost unimaginably terrible.

Tom Hawkins is, at least at the beginning, not a very likeable character. He is selfish and self serving, thinking only of having fun, no matter the cost. However he does start to develop as a character and despite some of the things that happen to him in prison, or indeed because of them, he does start to become a better person. He’s not a completely changed character however and the rakishness still shines through to the very end.

The murder mystery itself is engaging and despite me guessing the whodunit before the reveal it kept me guessing most of the way. The cast of supporting characters were all well drawn, from the down right violent governor Mr Acton, Samuel Fleet the feared room mate and Kitty, his ward, to all the other prisoners, turnkeys and friends, all added to the story. I’d eagerly read more stories featuring them in the future.

All in all a lovely example of historical crime fiction. I look forward to reading more from Antonia Hodgson in the future.

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Nancy Christie – Q&A

Today I have a Q&A with Nancy Christie where she talks about her new collection of short stories Traveling Left of Center which is published on 9th September, and tells us about her perfect writing day.

1. About TRAVELING LEFT OF CENTER AND OTHER STORIES

The characters in the stories all seem a little (in some case, a lot!) wounded or vulnerable. What draws you to write about these types of characters?

I’m not entirely sure. It’s not like I set out to write stories about odd, eccentric or unstable people. It’s just, for some reason, I am drawn to those types of people—perhaps it’s one of those “There, but for the grace of God” things.

My fiction—or at least, my short fiction—tends to be about people who are damaged in some way—by what they have done to themselves or by what was done to them, by what they have received, what they gave up, or what was taken from them. They are, for the most part, struggling to navigate through dangerous waters. Some survive and move forward toward land, some are just treading water, and some don’t even know that they have lost the battle and are, even now, drowning.

I feel sorry for those people, wish I could do something for them, and perhaps, in the writing of their stories, that is what I am doing. Because somewhere out there, there is a real person who is held in thrall by his or her obsessions, who is controlled by past or present circumstances, who wants to live a happy, normal, balanced life but finds that the tightrope of life vibrates too much and maintaining equilibrium is but a dream.

“Dream”—and there it is again. The idea of what we want and what we have. For some of us—perhaps for most of us—the former is the dream and the latter is the reality and never the twain shall meet.

2. You made a reference to your “short fiction”—does that mean there is a novel or two kicking around in your writer’s closet? And are those characters damaged as well?

Yes—two that I have finished and several more in various stages of creation. And no, those characters are more normal (whatever that means!) although they too have their own battles. But those battles are, in a sense, more conventional—trying to figure what they want out of life, trying to carve a new identity and role when circumstances alter.

I don’t think I could sustain a story line like “Annabelle” for fifty or sixty-thousand words. It’s not a writing thing but a temperament thing—it would exhaust me psychologically to become so immersed for so long in that type of story. When I write, I live with my characters. It would be too draining to live with Annabelle or Sarah in “Skating on Thin Ice” for months or years on end.

3. How long have you been writing? When did you start? Why did you start —what triggered your writing?

I was always a reader—the best gift anyone could give me was a book—so I would imagine that influenced me. And as a child, my next-door neighbor Danny and I were always making up stories, acting out scenarios, creating our own worlds out in the woods. From making up stories to writing them down was a natural progression. I wrote my first short story (actually I called it a book—it even had a cover!) in second grade.

There’s a lot to be said for not having all those electronic games that only require button pushing. When children are left to their own devices and have nothing but their imagination to work with, they can be very creative.

4. Why do you write fiction?

To understand what I see or feel or am going through. To serve as a conduit for imagined characters whose voices are as loud to me as those of real people. To play with “what if” without exposing myself to any real danger—physical, mental, emotional, psychic. To escape—but I’m not sure if it’s a case of “escaping to” or “escaping from”! To get it out to make more room for new “its”—while fearing all the time that there are no more “its” left to make room for!

Do you have any writing totems? Superstitions? Strange routines? Things you do or have to have around you when you begin your writing process?

No. I was cured of having requirements when I worked for the newspaper part time and had two kids and a fulltime job. I have written everywhere and anywhere: in hospital waiting rooms—and more than once, in patient rooms!—airports, hotel rooms, in a temporary office in my basement surrounded by workers who were jackhammering a floor, at a cottage by the beach (the kids were swimming but I was working), in a fabulous room at the Ritz Carlton in Half Moon Bay, California. That suite was wasted on me, by the way—all I did was sit with my laptop and pound away at the keys! I might as well have been in some cheap roadside motel!

5. Do you have an agent?

I have a foreign rights agent—Sylvia Hayse—but not one for domestic sales. I would like to have an agent because I know enough to know I don’t know as much as I should about the business side of being a published author. And even though both my publishers—Beyond Words and Pixel Hall Press—have done right by me, I would still prefer to have an agent.

6. How do you define success as a writer? What makes you feel successful as a writer?

When someone reads a story I wrote and finds something in it that I hadn’t even realized I put there. It’s as though they uncovered some hidden piece of gold, some shiny jewel and told me about it. It becomes an interactive experience.

7. Conversely, what makes you feel like a failure, and how do you combat that?

When I can’t write. I start to write and get stuck or can’t even get started. Then I am convinced that the last thing I wrote will be the last thing I write. It’s an ugly black hole and I have to crawl out of it.

8. What is your idea of a perfect writing day?

No phone calls, No interruptions. The sound of the waves outside my window. Lots of coffee. And lots and lots of words pouring out of my head and onto the paper—the majority of which are half-way decent.

9.  Finally what do you want your writer’s epitaph to be?

Just two words: “Fiction Writer”

About the author:

NANCY CHRISTIE

“Nancy Christie is a professional writer, whose credits include both fiction and non-fiction. In addition to her fiction collection, TRAVELING LEFT OF CENTER, and two short story e-books, ANNABELLE and ALICE IN WONDERLAND (all published by Pixel Hall Press), her short stories can be found in literary publications such as EWR: Short Stories, Hypertext, Full of Crow, Fiction365, Red Fez, Wanderings, The Chaffin Journal and Xtreme.

Her inspirational book, THE GIFTS OF CHANGE, (Beyond Words/Atria) encourages readers to take a closer look at how they deal with the inevitability of change and ways in which they can use change to gain a new perspective, re-evaluate their goals and reconsider their options. Christie’s essays have also appeared in Woman’s Day, Stress-Free Living, Succeed, Experience Life, Tai Chi and Writer’s Digest. She is currently working on several other book projects, including a novel and a book for writers. A member of the American Society of Journalists and Authors and Short Fiction Writers Guild (SFWG), Christie teaches workshops at writing conferences and schools across the country and hosts the monthly Monday Night Writers group in Canfield, Ohio. Visit her website at http://www.nancychristie.com or connect with her on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn or at her writing blogs: Finding Fran, The Writer’s Place and One on One.”

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Barbara Nadal – Cold hearted killer? Moi?

Today on the blog I’m honoured to feature Barbara Nadal, author of the Inspector Ikem and the Hakin and Arnold mystery series. Here, in a moving piece, she talks about killing off characters.

Cold hearted killer? Moi?

Authors are in the most unique position of being masters of their own fictional universes. Scriptwriters, poets, artists and musicians may also fall under this data gory. And as creators of our own universes we can also, completely or in part, destroy them too.

How do you go about killing off a character and why? We’ll, you got about it with caution as I know to my cost. As an inexperienced writer at the beginning of my Cetin Ikmen series I killed off a character that I liked and readers liked. It was Ikmen’s father Timur and I regret it bitterly. Even now I don’t know why I did it. Relating what happened at that time makes my skin crawl.

My own father was still alive when I killed Timur Ikmen, but unlike him, dad was healthy. He was about the same age as Timur Ikmen and shared some of his vices. But he wasn’t nearly so irascible. However, only a few months after I killed Timur, my father died very suddenly and very shockingly. And like Timur Ikmen he spent his last hours on this earth on a life support machine. Horribly the decision Cetin Ikmen and his brother Halil had to make about Timur when he was on life support was one that I had to make too. It was as if in that book ‘A Chemical Prison’, I had been rehearsing for my own loss. Magical thinking I know. But how would you feel?

Ever since then I’ve been very wary of killing off my series characters. I’ve tended to only slaughter those who are, or become, unlikeable. In ‘Harem’ I killed off a rouge sergeant called Orhan Tepe who turned out to be a massive misogynist – other characters have left, moved on, got divorced etc. I have always avoided killing them.

But in ‘Body Count’ my sixteenth Ikmen book, I came to the decision that one particular character had to go. Basically this person was in a bind and I couldn’t see any way that he or she could get out of it undamaged. Confidence was waning, he or she was losing their grip and some, albeit subtle, signs of mental illness were beginning to manifest. I could see the slow decline approaching and so I had to decide whether I wanted to put my character through that. Would he or she want to go out like that? Or would a sudden, albeit shocking, end be more appropriate.

As I do a lot in my fiction, I let the book dictate what happened next. Too cowardly to take the decision myself I watched the way the wind was blowing with this character, I shall call X. At one point I did actually decide that the slow decline was my way forward. But then I changed my mind. X was becoming pitiful and it wasn’t right.

Characters who have featured prominently in a series deserve to be treated with respect. God almighty, they’ve worked, cried, laughed and bled for our amusement! No author, or reader should just write such people off (as it were)! There has to be dignity and, in some cases, a level of nobility too. And so I decided to kill X in a way that would ensure that he or she went down in the annals of Ikmen as somebody bloody good who we would all miss.

I planned the ending of X for some weeks. Insanely, I felt guilty and had moments of doubt and even self-loathing. But by this time the plot was moving inexorably towards the death of X and, although his or her death was not essential to the resolution of the plot, X and myself were gearing up for it.

I designated a day when I would do it and I stuck to it. In the morning of that day, I resolved that I wouldn’t leave my desk until X was dead. I almost stuck to it. What stopped me was that I had to go to the bathroom to get some paper tissues. As X began to die, I wept. I really, really did. Was it just because, like the death of my father, once the process had started it was unstoppable? Or was it because I’d got to know X very well over the years and had come to like, almost love the character? Or was it a bit of both?

I achieved my goal that day and killed X without hesitation or mercy. But it drained me. In fact I took the rest of that day off and just read, which is most unprecedented for me. When I went back to ‘Body Count’ the next day I felt as bereft as my bereaved characters. Unlike them however I was glad that X had died as opposed to just faded away. X’s death had some nobility in it and I knew then and know now that he or she will be remembered for a long time in part because of that demise.

So how do you act as a cold hearted killer to your characters? Carefully is the answer. It takes a lot of thought, a lot of soul searching and quite a few tears to do it properly – which I think I’ve done. But read ‘Body Count’ and judge for yourselves.

I’d be lying if I said that killing X gave me some sort of insight into my father’s death or even some form of closure. It didn’t. But I think, and hope, that my many experiences of bereavement since dad’s death have at least made me able to write about loss in a convincing manner. Because when I killed X I really did lose someone and it was someone that I cared about.

 

Body Count is published by Headline and out now.

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Before the Blog Review – Taking the Fall – AP McCoy

Title – Taking the Fall – AP McCoy

Publisher –Orion

Originally posted –Shaz’s book blog and  Goodreads

Read – 16 November to 3 December 2013

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“Duncan Claymore could have it all. He’s one of the country’s up-and-coming young jockeys and this year his sights are set on getting right to the top. He has the talent and the tenacity, but he also has his demons, and it’s these that threaten to overthrow his burning ambition.
Duncan was taught everything he knows by his father, Charlie, a former trainer whose career and reputation were destroyed when a series of bitter rivalries got out of hand. It ruined him and Charlie hasn’t been able to set foot on a racecourse since.

Now, with his father’s health rapidly declining, Duncan is desperate to beat the best and at the same time take down the men responsible for Charlie’s ruin. But can he do both or must he choose between his family and his future?”

3 of 5 stars

This review first appeared on www.shazsbookboudoir.blogspot.co.uk

I received a copy of this book from Sharon and the publishers and this is my honest review.

This is the first novel by champion jockey A.P. McCoy and he has naturally fallen back on his 18 year career in horse racing to set his first novel in the horse racing world.

The story is set in 1979 and focused on Duncan Claymore a young, cocky jockey. He has two dreams, to become Champion Jockey, and to get revenge on the three men who ruined his father. His dad, Charlie, was a horse trainer, who was small time, but after a series of wins, becomes more successful. But his success upsets some powerful men who set out, and succeed in ruining him. Now Charlie is suffering from dementia and Duncan wants to get revenge on the men who put an end to his dad’s racing career and for Charlie to know they have been brought to their knees. As Duncan becomes more successful on the track he comes closer and closer to his enemies but when it comes to his plans for revenge will he fall at the first hurdle?

This story is a fascinating insight into the racing world and I enjoyed this aspect of the book. It was good to follow Duncan become more successful as a jockey, finding a second family with his racing friends. I grew to like Duncan the more I read about him, he didn’t seem a very sympathetic character at first but his love for his father, horses and his friends soon shone through and I found myself wanting him to get his revenge – but not if it should cost him all the progress he had made in his own racing career.

I don’t want to go into details here as to what Duncan’s plan is to get revenge on his father’s enemies, or who those enemies are, as that would spoil the story.
I admit I didn’t class this as a traditional thriller, I didn’t feel that the pace was such as I would expect in such a novel but I did become more intrigued as to how Duncan would get his revenge as the storyline developed. This book would appeal to anyone who has an interest in horse racing but don’t let it put you off if you don’t. I had little knowledge about this before reading this novel but enjoyed reading this fictionalised account of the racing world.

I’d like to thank Orion Publishing for providing me with a review copy and Sharon for allowing me to guest review on her blog.

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Before the Blog Review – Tinder – Sally Gardner

Title – Tinder – Sally Gardner

Illustrated by David Roberts

Publisher –Indigo

Originally posted –Waterstones.com and Booklikes

Read – 27-31 October 2013

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“Otto Hundebiss is tired of war, but when he defies Death he walks a dangerous path. A half beast half man gives him shoes and dice which will lead him deep into a web of dark magic and mystery. He meets the beautiful Safire – pure of heart and spirit, the scheming Mistress Jabber and the terrifying Lady of the Nail. He learns the powers of the tinderbox and the wolves whose master he becomes. But will all the riches in the world bring him the thing he most desires?

Fairy tales are often the cruellest stories of all; in this exquisite novel Sally Gardner writes about great love and great loss.”

4 of 5 stars

I received an advance copy of this book from Waterstones.com in exchange for a review.

Otto Hundebiss is 18, a soldier in the 30 years war since he was 14. He’s seen his family slaughtered and killed his fair share of soldiers and civilians. One fog filled morning he sees the Spector of Death walking towards him, the ghosts of dead comrades and enemies walking behind him.

Escaping Death he runs into the forest, soon loosing consciousness due to his wounds. He awakes to be faced by a strange man wearing clothes that make him look like a beast. This half beast half man treats his wounds and before he departs gives Otto dice he must use to show him which direction to take next.

Throwing the dice Otto sets off on his journey into the unknown, going deeper into the forest where dangers, both human and animal, are always present. He soon comes across two mercenaries and, driven by hunger is contemplating how he can overcome both of them in his weak state. Whilst he watches them, waiting for them to fall asleep he sees a man. At this Otto steps out to fight the soldiers too. To his horror the man appears to turn into a wolf, chasing after the soldiers. Otto is left in fear, especially when he hears cries of terror from deeper in the woods. He soon runs off into the forest.

It is here he meets Safire, a girl with flame red hair and with whom he falls in love with. She soon vanishes and he sets off in search of her. On his journey he comes into contact with the Lady of the Nail, a malevolent sorceress who tricks him into facing three wolves to recover a tinderbox. But what is so special about this plain old tinderbox and how can it help him find Safire?

This story is based on the fairy tale The Tinderbox by Hans Christian Anderson. I am not familiar with this fairy tale but after reading Tinder I will be seeking it out.

This is a deliciously dark tale. It has an ethereal quality to it and not just because it is a tale of werewolves and magic. Yes it has a love story in it and yes werewolves are involved but this is no Twilight.

The author’s use of imagery is brilliant. I could easily imagine the fog filled battlefronts, dark forests and narrow streets of Safire’s home city. The final published version will contain 100 pages of illustrations by David Roberts. The sample illustrations in the proof copy show how good these will be. They perfectly matched my imagination which shows the talent of the the storyteller and the illustrator.

This is labelled as a YA book. There is some language and are some scenes that may not be suitable for the younger end of this age range but I feel that this book would appeal to older readers just as much and will appeal to readers of both genders.

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Dear Daughter – Elizabeth Little – Review

Harvill Secker/Vintage

9781846558160

“‘As soon as they processed my release Noah and I hit the ground running. A change of clothes. A wig. An inconspicuous sedan. We doubled back once, twice, then drove south when we were really headed east. In San Francisco we had a girl who looked like me board a plane to Hawaii.
Oh, I thought I was so clever.
But you probably already know that I’m not.’

LA IT girl Janie Jenkins has it all. The looks, the brains, the connections. The criminal record.

Ten years ago, in a trial that transfixed America, Janie was convicted of murdering her mother. Now she’s been released on a technicality she’s determined to unravel the mystery of her mother’s last words, words that send her to a tiny town in the very back of beyond. But with the whole of America’s media on her tail, convinced she’s literally got away with murder, she has to do everything she can to throw her pursuers off the scent.

She knows she really didn’t like her mother. Could she have killed her?”

3.5 of 5 stars

I received a copy of this book from the publishers via Net Galley and this is my honest review.

Jane Jenkins, Hollywood socialite, is released on a technicality after serving 10 years in prison for the murder of her mother. Immediately she goes into hiding. Running away from the world, and her lawyer, the only friend she has, she sets out to find out the truth about her mother’s murder, basing her search on a snatched conversation overheard the night her mother died. Even if it means finding out she did actually kill her mother, as everyone else believes…

Jane Jenkins, renamed by the media as Janie, had a spoiled and somewhat lavish upbringing, spending most of her youth in Switzerland before moving to the US. Her mother is a socialite and philanthropist also well known for her many marriages. One morning Janie wakes from a drug and drink fuelled binge to find her mother dead from gunshot wounds, with the name Jane written in blood at her side. Not knowing what really happened that night, and whether she did kill her mother, with whom she had a tumultuous relationship at best, Janie heads out to find out what happened.

I have mixed feelings about this book. There were times I couldn’t put it down, wanting to find out what happened next. Then there were times that I carried on reading just to get past a part I didn’t particularly like. Janie Jenkins is a particularly dislikeable character with few redeeming features. She is spoiled, vain, tempestuous and snide. Despite 10 years in prison, most spent in solitary, she still has a major chip on her shoulder. I understand that the author, Elizabeth Little, is keen to find out what people thought of Janie and she is certainly a character that will make an impression. Elizabeth Little is certainly talented at characterisation. A character that draws definite feelings is always better than one that draws indifference.

As the story develops some parts of Janie mature too but overall she still acts as the spoiled 17 year old who went to prison and not the 27 year old who has been released. She is however more aware of her short comings, she is well aware of her ‘rampant narcissism’. Through the story development and flashbacks it becomes apparent that perhaps a lot of Janie’s attitude is as result of her childhood but also some of it inherited from her mother, who is not all that she seems either.

The mystery itself was compelling enough; I had worked it out before the denoument but again this didn’t spoil the story for me. I don’t want to go into too much detail as it would spoil the story. After all the fun of reading a mystery novel is that it’s a mystery before you start 🙂  All in all, whilst I didn’t love this story I did like it and am glad I read it.

 

 

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Before the Blog Review – Life After Life – Kate Atkinson

Title – Life After Life – Kate Atkinson

Publisher – Doubleday

Originally posted – Goodreads, Amazon and Booklikes

Read – 20-26 August 2013

9780385618670

“What if you had the chance to live your life again and again, until you finally got it right?

During a snowstorm in England in 1910, a baby is born and dies before she can take her first breath.

During a snowstorm in England in 1910, the same baby is born and lives to tell the tale.

What if there were second chance? And third chances? In fact, an infinite number of chances to live your life? Would you eventually be able to save the world from its own inevitable destiny? And would you even want to?

Life After Life follows Ursula Todd as she lives through the turbulent events of the last century again and again. With wit and compassion, Kate Atkinson finds warmth even in life’s bleakest moments, and shows an extraordinary ability to evoke the past. Here she is at her most profound and inventive, in a novel that celebrates the best and the worst of ourselves.”

5 of 5 stars

I first read this book after checking out a copy from the library. I then received a copy from the publisher. The review is my honest opinion of the book.

Most of us have experienced déjà vu before. Is it simply the mind playing tricks on us or is it more? Ursula Todd is born in the middle of a snowstorm in 1910. Repeatedly. She lives her life for a while, sometimes without any outstanding events, sometimes finding herself in terrible situations, but always the snow comes back to claim her and everything fades to black.

She is constantly reborn – starting again with the things the same, but always slightly different. As she grows she begins to notice she is different to her siblings. During her lives she begins to realise that her intuition, feelings and sense of déjà vu are not as simple as they appear. Life After Life takes us along with Ursula as she lives her many lives and as she tries to make sense of her purpose she tries to make the lives of others around her better.

The hardback edition of this novel is truly beautiful. The image of a small girl, dressed in the period clothes of the early 20th Century, whilst viewing images of the Blitz, surrounded by snowflakes holds promise of what lies in the pages beneath. Luckily the story itself does not fail to deliver on this promise.

This is story telling at its finest. Kate Atkinson builds the story layer upon layer, subtly adding in details in each of Ursula’s lives so that the story and characters develop and evolve. So much so that when I read this again, and I will, soon, I know that I will find details of the story that I missed on the first reading. In fact my view of the book changed after I had finished it and had time to thing about it more. I had orginially marked it as a 4 star read initially but on reflection felt this had to be increased to 5 stars.

This is a beautifully evocative tale. For each period of Ursula’s life the story feels true to that period in history.  Each page allows you to travel backwards and forwards in time with Ursula. I could vividly imagine the Todd family in the 1910’s for example. The sections of the book dealing with the second world war were particularly engaging. It showed a fascinating insight into the blitz, with the sense of an impending bomb being dropped almost palpable. Even more intriguing was the life where Ursula experienced the bombings in Berlin. It was a fascinating to read about an often overlooked aspect of the Second World War – the experiences of the German population.  Not all of Ursula’s lives are happy. At times I found myself hoping that the snow would come to claim her again given the awfulness of her current situation, so that she could start again afresh.

I have said in reviews before that I rarely give 5 stars to a book. This is not through any snobbish pretensions but simply because I come across so many books I like, I need some way of distinguishing those few books that stand out to me in some particular way. This is one of those books. If you like it half as much as I do you will not be disappointed.

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Before the Blog Review – Mayhem – Sarah Pinborough

Title – Mayhem – Sarah Pinborough

Publisher – Jo Fletcher

Originally posted – Goodreads and Booklikes

Read – 24-27 September 2013

Updated review

mayhem-199x300

“When a rotting torso is discovered in the vault of New Scotland Yard, it doesn’t take Dr Thomas Bond, Police Surgeon, long to realise that there is a second killer at work in the city, where only a few days before, Jack the Ripper brutally murdered two women in one night.
But this is the hand of a colder killer, one who lacks Jack’s emotion.
Dr Bond, plagued by insomnia and an unshakeable sense of foreboding, has begun to spend his sleepless nights in a drug-induced haze in the opium dens by the docks. He’s not the only man who looks like he doesn’t belong there. There is a stranger, a man in a long black coat, who spends his nights studying the addicts as they dream.
More headless and limbless torsos find their way into the Thames, and as Dr Bond becomes obsessed with finding the killer, he begins to suspect the stranger might be the key. As his investigations lead him into an unholy alliance, he starts to wonder: has a man brought mayhem to the streets of London, or a monster?”

4 of 5 stars

Dr Thomas Bond is called to the site of the New Scotland Yard. Greeting him are the grisly remains of a woman, her head and limbs missing. Bond, who is relied upon for his instincts as well as his medical knowledge, is in no doubt that this is not the work of Jack the Ripper, whose reign of murder currently terrifies the residents of Whitechapel.

As more victims are found Dr Bond spends his nights in the opium dens, seeking the sleep that eludes him. During one such visit he notices a man observing the addicts. He soon comes to realise that he has seen this man before, always at times he has been dealing with the victims. Believing this man to be key to helping him solve the crimes, Bond tracks him down and discovers that more horrors lie behind the murders than he suspected.

I really enjoyed this book. It felt dark and atmospheric, I could picture the fog filled alleys and the rich lit rooms of Bond and his colleague Dr Hebbert. I was soon immersed in the story, eager to see where it would lead.

Without spoiling the story there is a supernatural element to the tale but this seems fitting to the story and doesn’t jar, it simple adds to the tension. You are aware of ‘whodunit’ about half way through the book but you are still pulled along with the tale, wanting to find out how it will end.  This is a dark historical whodunit with a twist and an enjoyable one at that.

This was the first book by Sarah Pinborough that I have read and I shall be adding her other books to my to read list.

Update – I have now read the sequel to Mayhem, Murder and you can find my review here:  https://fromfirstpagetolast.wordpress.com/2014/05/01/murder-sarah-pinborough-review/

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Him and Me – Jack and Michael Whitehall – review

Penguin Michael Joseph

9781405910903L

Him & Me is a hugely entertaining and irreverent account of a unique relationship between a father and son. Written in two distinctive styles, it reflects the larger-than- life personalities of its authors, Jack and Michael Whitehall.

‘This book is a portrait of the pretty odd relationship I have with my elderly father. It’s given me an opportunity to share memories of him losing his temper with foreigners on holidays, being rude to my mother’s family at Christmas and failing epically during the fathers’ race at my prep school. He’s also written some stories about me, but can I just say, before you read anything, that I recall being a calm, well-behaved and learned child, not the intellectually subnormal, mal-coordinated dipshit that he paints me as. Nor am I, as he suggests inside, a sex addict, a flasher or a Scientologist.’ Jack

‘How dare Jack refer to me as elderly! People always tell me how young I look for my age. In this book, I have at last been able to recount the many occasions when I have been let down by my only son. He failed on the stage, the sports field and he even screwed up the interview for his first boarding school by pretending he had mental health issues. Despite being practically illiterate, he tells stories about me, strewn with grammatical errors and peppered with endless exaggerations and lies. I was a kind, doting father, who guided his son through his formative years with love, care and respect.’ Michael

‘I’m not your only son, what about Barnaby?’

‘Oh yes, I forgot about Barnaby.’

Packed with anecdotes, some embarrassing and indiscreet, many warm and touching, Him & Me is lavishly illustrated with family photographs and Jack’s original illustrations. Friends, relatives, neighbours, teachers, actors, none are safe once Jack and Michael have opened up the Whitehall archives and shared their hilarious memories with us.” (taken from Penguin website)

4 of 5 stars

I received this book as a birthday present and it had been languishing on the to read pile for a while. Feeling uninspired with the other books I had picked out from the to read pile I sought this one out and I’m glad I did.

Each chapter is written by one of the Whitehall’s with the other making the odd derisory comment in the margins. I loved this format and it was great to see the comedic interactions between them both.

As I expected this book was very funny, I was caught laughing out loud on too many occasions to remember. A stand out part, which left me with tears of laughter, was the chapter depicting Jack’s various attempts to run away from home. I don’t want to spoil it here but it is a true work of comedy genius!

The love and strength of the relationship between the Messrs Whitehall is evident throughout the book and a delight to read.  The photographs that are dotted throughout the book add to the sense of what a happy and loving environment the Whitehall family is. I also loved hearing about Mrs Whitehall who must be a very patient woman 🙂

A lovely, funny account of how two people grew up together and a light-hearted look into family life.

 

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Jane Lark – Excerpt from The Lost Love of a Soldier

 

Today I’m pleased to feature an extract from The Lost Love of a Soldier, the new novel by Jane Lark, author of 4 other historical romance novels. There’s also a chance to win all of her historical novels too!

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The Lost Love of a Soldier Excerpt

“Ellen?” Paul whispered her name into the night as he heard the rustle of frost bound leaves on the ground. His breath rose in a mist into the cold winter air. He was on the Duke of Pembroke’s land. He’d not dared encourage her to take a horse, so he’d come close enough that she might walk from the house and find him.

He waited at the end of an avenue of yews, out of sight of the house, in a place she could easily see him. His horse whickered, sensing something, or someone. “Ellen?” he whispered again.

Still no answer.

He stayed quiet. Listening. Wondering if she’d been caught as she left the house. He hoped not. If she’d been caught her father would give her no freedom. Short of leading a military assault on Pembroke’s home, he would not be able to get her out then.

The horse shook its head, rattling its bit, and snorted steamy breath into the cold air. The chill of the winter night seeped through his clothes. There would be a hard frost. He hoped she’d dressed in something warm.

He’d have to buy more clothes for her before they sailed. She would need garments to keep her warm in the sea breezes she’d face on their journey to America.

There was another sound.

“Ellen?”

“Paul?”

How did this woman manage to make his heart beat so erratically whenever he saw her? He could run into battle and not be so affected.

She looked even more beautiful in the dark. Ethereal.

A band of silver light reached through the scudding clouds and caught her face.

He let go of the horse’s bridle and instinctively moved forward. He’d never held her. In the summer there had been no moments alone, she’d been strictly chaperoned and even when she’d come to meet him she’d brought the groom and her sister. When they’d met a fortnight ago, she’d still brought a groom. For the first time they were alone. “Ellen.” He stepped forward and embraced her. In answer her arm came about his waist. It was the most precious feeling of his life. He would always remember this day. She was slender and delicate in his arms.

She slipped free, but he caught her nape and pulled her mouth to his, gently pressing his lips against hers. It was her first kiss, he knew; he could tell by the way her body stiffened when he‘d pulled her close. He let her go, a tenderness he’d never known before catching in his chest.

“Come.” He took the leather bag she carried. “Will you ride before me, or would you rather sit behind my saddle and grip my waist?”

“Would it be easier if I ride behind you?” Her voice ran with uncertainty. She was giving up everything to come with him.

“Do what feels comfortable for you, Ellen.”

She nodded, not looking into his eyes. “I would prefer to ride pillion.”

“Then you shall.” He warmed his voice, hoping to ease her discomfort.

Turning to the horse he slipped one foot in the stirrup, then pulled himself up. “Did you have any difficulty leaving the house?”

“No, the servants’ hall was quiet, and the grooms had all retired.”

He rested her bag across his thighs, then held a hand out to her. “Set your foot on mine and take my hand. I’ll pull you up.” He watched her lift the skirt of her dark habit and then the weight of her small foot pressed on his, as her gloved fingers gripped his. She was light, but the grip of her hand and the pressure of her foot made that something clasp tight in his chest, and the emotion stayed clenched as her fingers embraced his waist over his greatcoat.

He shifted in the saddle, his groin tightening too. A few more days. Just days. He had been waiting months. As he turned the horse, Ellen’s cheek pressed against his shoulder.

“Did you tell anyone you were leaving? Your sister? Or your maid?”

“No, I did not want them to have to face Papa knowing the truth. He would be able to see they’d lied, and then who knows what he might do.” Paul urged the mare into a trot as Ellen continued. “He made me

spend the day on my knees reading the Commandments because I refused to marry the Duke of Argyle.”

“Today?” He wished to look back at her but he could not.

Her father had been diabolical to Paul, sneering as though he was nothing when he’d done the decent thing and offered for her. He could not imagine the way Pembroke treated the girls.

He had to get Ellen to Gretna before her father caught them, so she never had to come back and face his retribution.

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Like what you’ve read so far? Check out Jane’s books over on Amazon

The Illicit Love of a Courtesan | The Passionate Love of a Rake | The Scandalous Love of a Duke |

Capturing the Earl’s Love | The Lost Love of a Soldier

Author Bio:

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Jane is qualified to the equivalent of a Masters Degree in People Management and is fascinated by the things that craft people’s personalities, so she has great fun exploring these through characters. She lives in the United Kingdom near the Regency City of Bath and has just bought her 400 year old dream home. History has always tempted her imagination and she loves researching and also exploring ruins and houses to get ideas. She equally loves a love story. Jane has always aspired to writing a historical novel so when she was thirty she put it on her ‘to do before I am forty’ list. She completed her first novel ten years ago, never sent it anywhere then started the next. She’s not stopped

writing since, and escaping into a mental world of fiction is a great painkiller to help fight off her Ankylosing Spondylitis.

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