Tag Archives: historical fiction

Book review: The Song of the Stork by Stephan Collishaw

14 Mar

song of the storkFifteen-year-old Yael is on the run. The Jewish girl seeks shelter from the Germans on the farm of the village outcast. Aleksei is mute and solitary, but as the brutal winter advances, he reluctantly takes her in and a delicate relationship develops.

As her feelings towards Aleksei change, the war intrudes and Yael is forced to join a Jewish partisan group fighting in the woods.

Torn apart and fighting for her life, The Song of the Stork is Yael’s story of love, hope and survival. It is the story of one woman finding a voice as the voices around her are extinguished.

Having read The Song of the Stork, I can easily see why Stephan Collishaw was selected by the British Council in 2004 as one of the best young British novelists. I found Stephan’s writing beautiful to read even though the events that he describes are horrifying.  At just over two hundred and sixty pages, The Song of the Stork is a short novel but one that had a huge impact on me as I read and a book that I won’t forget easily.

Yael is a fifteen year old Jewish girl on the run from the Nazi soldiers who destroyed her village, separated her from her family and continue to present a very real threat to her life. As war rages around her, Yael does all she can to survive, clinging to the hope that one day she will reunite with her family. Collishaw writes with a readable and honest style that shows all that Yael has to endure.

As a student of history, I studied Nazi Germany in quite a lot of detail and I’m well aware of the horrors of the Holocaust. The Song of the Stork brings those horrors starkly to life yet shows just how strong the human spirit can be. Collishaw has clearly done his research but more than just knowing the historical details of the period, he gets under the skin of his characters and brings them fully to life on the page.

Yael seeks shelter at the farmstead of a local mute boy, Aleksei. I was absolutely captivated as Yael very slowly won Aleksei over and I couldn’t help but be impressed by the way Stephan has written a love story without words between the two main characters showing that even in the darkest of times and most difficult of circumstances, love can grow and hope can flourish.

What struck me particularly whilst reading was how despite the acknowledged horrors of persecution and war, that both still continue. The tension of the story is continually high and the bleakness of Yael’s future broke my heart but despite all of this, I finished the book hopeful. There are many beautiful moments in the story, acts of kindness and small mercies that show human nature at its best.

The Song of the Stork is a surprising and moving historical love story and I’ll definitely be adding Stephan’s previous book to my reading pile. I look forward to reading more from him in future.

5/5

The Song of the Stork is out now in paperback and ebook formats from Legend Press.

I’d like to thank the publisher for providing a review copy of this book.

 

 

Extract and giveaway! The Wedding Girls by Kate Thompson

3 Mar

Today I’m delighted to be first stop on the blog tour for Kate Thompson’s new novel, The Wedding Girls which is published on 9th March by Pan Macmillan. Kate is a journalist with twenty years’ experience as a writer for the broadsheets and women’s weekly magazines. She is now freelance and, as well as writing for newspapers, she’s a seasoned ghostwriter. The Wedding Girls is her third novel, following the Sunday Times bestseller Secrets of the Singer Girls and The Secrets of the Sewing Bee. You can find out more about Kate and her books at: http://www.katethompsonmedia.co.uk/

Read on for an extract from the book and the chance to win one of five copies!

The wedding girlsIf a wedding marks the first day of the rest of your life, then the story starts with the dress.

It’s 1936 and the streets of London’s East End are grimy and brutal, but in one corner of Bethnal Green it is forever Hollywood . . .

Herbie Taylor’s photography studio is nestled in the heart of bustling Green Street. Tomboy Stella and troubled Winnie work in Herbie’s studio; their best friend and hopeless romantic Kitty works next door as an apprentice dressmaker. All life passes through the studio, wishing to capture that perfect moment in time.

Kitty works tirelessly to create magical bridal gowns, but with each stitch she wonders if she’ll ever get a chance to wear a white dress. Stella and Winnie sprinkle a dusting of Hollywood glamour over happy newly-weds, but secretly dream of escaping the East End . . .

Community is strong on Green Street, but can it stand the ultimate test? As clouds of war brew on the horizon, danger looms over the East End. Will the Wedding Girls find their happy ever afters, before it’s too late?

Extract

Prologue

18 january 1933

St Margaret’s Church, Westminster, London

A fine frost covered the churchyard in a glittering blanket of silver as the first flecks of snow began to drift from an ivory sky.

To some, January might have been a queer month in which to tie the knot, but to Kitty Moloney it was perfect.

Married when the year is new, he’ll be loving, kind and true, or so went the old rhyme. The bride, Miss Nancy Beaton, would enter the church, but she would emerge, quite transformed, as Lady Smiley, wife of Sir Hugh Smiley, a Grenadier Guards officer and baronet. There was something irresistibly romantic about starting the New Year with a new name, especially one as grand as that, Kitty thought.

Stamping her frozen feet on the flagstones to keep out the cold, she tried her hardest to nudge her way to the front of the crowd for a better view, but it was impossible. Everyone loved a wedding, and no one could resist the sight of a bride, especially a well-known society one such as Nancy.

Kitty was hemmed in on all sides by stout matrons in damp wool coats, all clamouring for the best spot from which to view the bride enter the church.

A whiskered constable was holding back the crowds, a disapproving figure in black, his cloak spread wide like a bat, with the Palace of Westminster arching up into the skies over his helmet.

‘Mind yourself, girlie,’ tutted the woman in front; a dressmaker, judging by the sketchbook and pencil in her hand. ‘Us hoi polloi gotta keep a respectable distance.’

Kitty felt foolish. Her gaze slid down and a flush of pink washed over her pale cheeks. What was she even doing here? She was just a girl from the wrong side of town, a shabby fourteen-year-old in cardboard-patched boots and her big sister’s hand-me-downs. And then she remembered. She was somebody. In five days’ time, she was to start an apprenticeship under the tutelage of wedding dressmaker Gladys Tingle at her Bethnal Green workshop.

Gladys’s voice when she had hired Kitty while she was still at school, not two and twenty days previous, rang through her mind as clear as a bell in the chilly churchyard.

‘If a wedding marks the first day of the rest of your life, then the story starts with the dress. Immerse yourself in wedding gowns, my girl, leave no stitch unturned, ’cause it’s the society sorts from up West that the girls from the East End wanna look like. It’s pictures of their wedding gowns in the Daily Sketch they’ll be bringing in for us to copy!’

After a brusque examination of Kitty’s hands and nails, Gladys had dismissed her with orders to start at 9 a.m. prompt the first Monday morning after the new school term began.

A sudden burst of handclapping and the distant thud of horses’ hooves brought Kitty back from her wonderings.

‘I say! There she is,’ called out an excited voice. ‘God bless you, Nancy!’

Applause and cheers rang out and the crowd stirred into life. The dressmaker gasped and dropped her pencil. A small space opened up in the crowd as she bent to retrieve it. Seizing her chance, Kitty wriggled through the sea of stockinged legs and found herself at the very front.

She opened her eyes wide, then wider still and just like that, her grumbling tummy and frozen feet were forgotten. For gliding down the flagstones on the arm of her father was the bride, and what a marvellous bride was she!

Nancy emerged dreamlike from the snow, a tiny ethereal vision in a long sweep of buttery silk, its diaphanous overskirt shimmering with silver embroidery and hundreds of tiny pearls. In her pale fingers she clutched a spray of chalk-white flowers.

Kitty gazed in wonderment, for Nancy looked like no other woman she had ever seen: a perfect china shepherdess, her brown eyes large and liquid, her lips full and rosy. Atop her gleaming curls, tiny white flowers and a dusting of snow. In her wake, two pageboys in white satin breeches and tails, holding the train as if it were made of glass. In the swirling snow, looking like they had stepped straight from the pages of a children’s fairy tale, they drew a collective sigh from the crowd of admiring matrons.

And then came the bridesmaids: tall, slender and serene in white tulle and taffeta. Kitty counted seven – no, wait, eight of them – and oh, how dreamy, how utterly dreamy. As they slid past like a bevy of swans, she realized they were all connected by a long continuous garland, smothered in snowdrops, which looped from one maid to the next like a maypole. Everywhere Kitty looked there was light, snow-white blossom: encircling slender waists and trailing over shoulders.

Kitty felt her heart turn over. It was a performance, a thrilling, spectacular show with a Snow Queen its star. She sighed deeply. If the walk to the church door could be this glamorous, Kitty could only guess how heavenly the interior of the church must look. How dashing the groom, how regal the guests, to what impossible height the ceiling must soar.

The bride was drawing closer now, so close Kitty could almost reach out and touch the hem of her ermine-trimmed gown. Instead, she gazed up at her with shining eyes and realized she was holding her breath.

Please look at me, Kitty from Bethnal Green. Notice me.

But the Snow Queen bride passed on by, poised and unreadable, leaving in her wake a scented trail of allure.

Kitty sagged and scuffed the toe of her boot on the ground. Who was she fooling? Girls like Nancy were born to glide on marble floors bedecked with roses. Girls like her were consigned to watch them from the damp darkness of the crowd, anonymous and unseen.

But as the bride reached the church porch, something magical happened. She turned. Flickered those large dark eyes over the crowd and settled on Kitty. A whisper of a smile, the flash of a diamond as she raised her hand. And then she was gone, stepping into the church, off to meet her glittering future, leaving Kitty as pale and faint as the January sky. Nothing could ever come close to the lavish, romantic dream Kitty had witnessed.

As the crowd dispersed and she reluctantly began the long walk back to the narrow streets of the East End, Kitty made a vow in her secret heart. She wouldn’t just be the wedding seamstress. One day, she would be the bride.

Giveaway!

Kate’s lovely publisher has given me five paperback copies of The Wedding Girls to give away to lucky readers.

To enter  just leave comment in the box below or re-Tweet one of my tweets about this giveaway or like one of my posts about this giveaway on my Instagram page.

I’ll pick five winners using Random.org after the closing date.

This giveaway is open to UK residents only and will close at midnight on Wednesday 8th March. Good Luck!

 

Book review: Ambulance Girls by Deborah Burrows

21 Feb

ambulance girls bpbOn duty during London’s Blitz…

As death and destruction fall from the skies day after day in the London Blitz, Australian ambulance driver Lily Brennan confronts the horror with bravery, intelligence, common sense and humour.

Although she must rely upon her colleagues to carry out her dangerous duties, Lily begins to suspect that someone at her Ambulance Station may be giving assistance to the enemy by disclosing secret information. Then her best friend, Jewish ambulance attendant David Levy, disappears in suspicious circumstances. Aided – and sometimes hindered – by David’s school friend, a mysterious and attractive RAF pilot, Lily has to draw on all of her resources to find David, and negotiate the dangers that come from falling in love in a country far from home in a time of war…

Ambulance Girls is the first book in a new historical saga series from Deborah Burrows and will appeal to fans of wartime sagas such as Daisy Styles’ The Bomb Girls and Donna Douglas’ nursing series’. I do love a good historical saga and particularly those that shed a light on the important work done by women during war. Set in London in 1939, Ambulance Girls starts with a brave rescue and is an excellent tribute to the men and women who put their lives on the line to rescue others during the second world war and particularly during the Blitz.

Deborah clearly knows her history and has done her research; I live and work in London and I was fascinated by the details that Deborah put into this story; it certainly made for thought provoking reading as I read about places and landmarks that I visit regularly and the devastation that the bombing raids wreaked.

We meet Lily Brennan who is fairly new to England and working as an ambulance driver. This novel stood out from other sagas to me for having an Australian female lead which gave a very different perspective on the war and I enjoyed seeing London through her eyes and also learning about the country that she called home. Having read several books about the nursing profession during the war, I enjoyed getting another perspective on the work that so many women volunteered to do.

Lily is an excellent lead; she’s bright, strong and has an innate sense of what is right that she is willing to fight to defend. I admired her bravery as she pushed herself to the limits to help others and her tenacity in fighting for what she believes is right. Lily’s partner in the ambulance is David; a handsome and educated Jewish man who Lily has formed a close bond with. I enjoyed their banter and I felt that their relationship was very well written.

I was also struck by the way that this novel quickly showed that David is considered an outsider. There’s a sad and sobering theme to Ambulance Girls that highlights clearly that anti-semitism wasn’t the preserve of Hitler and the Nazis but also prevalent in England during the war. I always find it fascinating to think about what people knew at the time, what attitudes were accepted and how this played out in day-to-day life in England. We hear a lot about the camaraderie and fighting spirit of the war years but in Ambulance Girls we also see the other side of the story with characters who take advantage of others’ misfortune and show prejudice to others.

As David goes missing, Lily teams up with an old school friend of his to try to find him. David’s RAF pilot friend, Jim was one of my favourite characters in the book and I loved reading as his relationship with Lily developed. Their story brings the romance element to the story but certainly not in a conventional way and I enjoyed how this story line kept me guessing.

I’m so pleased that there are going to be more books in this series. The next, Ambulance Girls Under Fire is due for release in October and will focus on Celia Ashwin, another ambulance driver that we meet in this book. I can’t wait to read more about the characters that Deborah has introduced here and find out what happens to them next.

4/5

Ambulance Girls by Deborah Burrows is published by Ebury Press, in paperback on 23rd February.

Find out more about Deborah and her writing at: http://deborahburrows.com.au/

I’d like to thank the publisher for providing a review copy of this book.

Book review: Before the Rains by Dinah Jefferies

20 Feb

before the rains cover1930, Rajputana, India. Since her husband’s death, 28-year-old photojournalist Eliza’s only companion has been her camera. When the British Government send her to an Indian princely state to photograph the royal family, she’s determined to make a name for herself.

But when Eliza arrives at the palace she meets Jay, the Prince’s handsome, brooding brother. While Eliza awakens Jay to the poverty of his people, he awakens her to the injustices of British rule. Soon Jay and Eliza find they have more in common than they think. But their families – and society – think otherwise. Eventually they will have to make a choice between doing what’s expected, or following their hearts. . .

Dinah Jefferies’ ability to conjure up the sights, smells, tastes and atmosphere of a particular country at a particular time in her writing is second to none. Dinah’s books unite two of my favourite topics; history and travel and always provide a wonderful escape and as with her previous novels, Before the Rains is another vividly transporting story and I loved it.

For Before the Rains our destination is India in the 1930s. It is a time of great change for the country and in the wider world and lead character Eliza embodies this with her desire to strike out in her own right as a photographer and pursue a career as a photojournalist. Eliza is given the opportunity to visit one of the princely states to photograph the royal family as part of an archive by the British Government and this sets the scene for a story filled with colour, drama, secrets and mystery that examines the tensions between two cultures and provides a captivatingly emotional story of loss and love that really brought the characters to life for me.

I’ve never visited India but it’s clear from her evocative writing that Dinah has and that she loves the country that she is writing about. I thought Dinah cleverly presented practices and customs and the different views on them on both sides of the story with understanding and allowed me as a reader to form my own judgments on this period of history. 

With Jay and Eliza, Dinah has created one of my favourite relationships in an historical fiction novel – I loved how their connection slowly developed and was heartbroken when it became clear that the expectations of Jay’s royal role would not allow them to be together. Dinah uses both Jay and Eliza and their relatives and friends in India and England to explore the notions of love, loss, family, fate and destiny and as you’ve probably gathered by now, I found Before the Rains an emotional and gripping read.

The story is in four parts and follows Eliza through a year in her life. I very much enjoyed reading about the changes that the diiferent seasons bought and the festivals and celebrations that went with them. As secrets are revealed and change cannot be avoided, Eliza has to decide whether to follow her head or her heart and Dinah kept me hooked right to the end of the story with excellent pace and fantastic locations that mirrored the drama of the story. I can’t wait to see where she will take me next!

5/5

Before the Rains is released in hardback and ebook formats by Viking on 23rd February.

Find out more about Dinah and her writing at: http://www.dinahjefferies.com/

I’d like to thank the publisher for providing a review copy of this book.

BTRjustpreorder

Author interview: Judith Kinghorn

15 Feb

Today I’m delighted to welcome Judith Kinghorn back to One More Page to talk about her latest novel, The Echo of TwilightJudith is the author of three other novels; The Snow Globe, The Memory of Lost Senses, and The Last Summer. She was born in Northumberland, educated in the Lake District, and is a graduate in English and history of art. She lives in Hampshire, England. Welcome Judith!

judithYour new novel, The Echo of Twilight is out now – I love the title; how did you come up with it?

Thank you, I’m so pleased you love it! My working title for the novel was simply Pearl & Ottoline – and though I became very attached to it, my publishers didn’t like it as much as me and asked me to come up with another.

As you know, the novel opens with Pearl’s recollection of a fateful ‘golden evening in August’: a remembrance that echoes through the story as she tries to make sense of the events of that night. Drawing on that theme, and on images, I played around with words and came up with a few possible titles – including The Echo of Twilight, which everyone liked.

What inspired you to write this story?

I’d always wanted to set a novel in Northumberland, where I grew up, and early inspiration came from my grandmothers; one of whom had been employed as a lady’s maid in the 1920s; the other, whose love of the Scottish Highlands affected me as a child. Both of them are in the novel – here and there, infecting dialogue and character – along with a few others who, though long gone, I remember vividly from my childhood.

I was struck by the names of both people and places in The Echo of Twilight. How do you choose your character names (Ottoline, Pearl) and those of the great houses they inhabit (Birling, Delnasay)?

As you drive away from Warkworth, heading north towards Alnwick, you pass – for all of ten seconds – through Birling. A few minutes later, if you look west across the fields, you will see Shortridge Hall: this is the exact location of and my inspiration for ‘Birling Hall’ in The Echo of Twilight. As for Delnasay, it’s there too; nestling in a valley beneath Tomintoul. Even the whitewashed cottage – Ralph’s studio – exists. And I know this because I’ve stood where Pearl stands with Billy and watched the smoke rise up from its chimney.

As for my character’s names, I never think too hard on them and prefer to let them come instinctively. Having said that, many of them are borrowed or plucked from family and friends, or come from my research. I first came across the name Ottoline when I read about Ottoline Morrell; and Pearl was always and could never have been anything other than Pearl. However, her surname, Gibson, was my mother’s maiden name, the surname of my maternal grandmother; and Billy happens to be the name my paternal grandmother used for her son, my father William.

Location plays an important part in the story too and I enjoyed the descriptions of Northumberland and Scotland; how have your own experiences of these places fed into the novel?echo of twilight

In each of my novels I’ve written about places I know; and places I know well enough to be able to summon in my mind’s eye. I want my readers to be aware and confident of where they are, and for them to be so immersed in time and place that they see it all, too.

In setting The Echo of Twilight in Northumberland and Scotland – and even in London, in Fulham and Battersea – I was able to write about places I know. Imagining these places in a different era, a time not so long ago, meant I had to draw on a combination of imagination and research, and on old photographs and paintings.

J.M.W. Turner’s views of the Thames, his use of light and colour, remained at the forefront of my mind when I wrote about a golden evening in August. When I was writing about Northumberland – in the years during and after the First World War, I referred back to my father’s and grandmothers’ memories, and to old photographs. I was very much aware of the isolation of a far-flung county; of the uninterrupted peace and birdsong, and of empty, dusty roads. As the story moved on, ever further from the hustle and bustle of London and Turner’s Thames, and to Scotland, that sense of isolation and quietude became more pronounced.

A lot of this is drawn from my own experience. For so many years I’ve gone back to the Northumbrian coast, where the skies are unending and the wind roars in from a steel-grey sea and very little changes. Regardless of new arrivals, commuters or tourists, it seems to me now a strangely timeless place. Fortified by castles, huddled villages and dunes; by ancient churches and cemeteries and walls. Over time, I’ve both loved and hated the place –  but isn’t that always the case with ‘home’? We love and then sometimes hate it, depending on where we are in our trajectory.

For me, The Echo of Twilight allowed me to understand and love my home county once again.

Both Ottoline and Pearl are fascinating characters; did they behave as you expected them to when you sat down to write or did they take on a life of their own as you wrote and surprise you?!

My characters always and inevitably go off-piste and take on a life of their own. As their creator, I have a degree of control – at the start, anyway; but after that, they tend to lead me. And yes, Ottoline in particular surprised me – and right up until the end of the novel.

As a rule, I don’t plot too much in so far as character development is concerned. I place the obstacles and my characters find their own way round them. I want them to breathe, to have their own life and make their own decisions. I want their reactions and words to seem as real as yours and mine. And, even though I write historical fiction, even though the dialogue might contain a few old-fashioned or obsolete words, I want my characters to be as understandable as anyone today.

Finally … what can we expect next from Judith Kinghorn?

I’m not sure. The only thing I do know is that my next novel will be something quite different. In the meantime, I’m taking a break and about to head off to Australia with my daughter. So who knows… maybe I’ll write something contemporary – and set in the southern hemisphere.

Thanks Judith – enjoy your break and I’ll look forward to hearing about your next book.

The Echo of Twilight is out now in the UK in ebook format from Canello  and in the US in paperback and ebook formats from Berkley Books.

Find out more about Judith and her novels at: http://www.judithkinghornwriter.com/

Books and the City Spring Blogger Evening!

10 Feb

spring blogger

Last week I was lucky to be invited to the Books and the City Spring Blogger Evening at publisher Simon and Schuster. These eveningsIMG_7258 are always brilliant  thanks to the lovely Sara-Jade Virtue and the rest of the team, and this one was no exception (check out the cakes!).

There were four author’s on the panel and another two authors joined them at the event. The super six were: Alice Peterson, Dani Atkins, Milly Johnson, Kate Furnivall, Juliet Ashton and Sarah Vaughan. It was lovely to hear them read from their laIMG_7256test books and to hear a little about them and how they go about writing the books that we love!

 

The evening ended with lots of book talk with fellow bloggers, a signing, more cake and a treat-packed goody bag!

Here are the fab books that you can look forward to this spring from Simon and Schuster.

song for tomorrowA Song for Tomorrow by Alice Peterson – out now!

This book is hot off the press as it was released yesterday! Alice’s books are always emotional and poignant reads and this one is no exception – based on a true story.

Tom fell in love with Alice the moment he saw her. He realises that being with her will not be easy, but she is a force of nature, a burst of sunlight in his otherwise ordinary world. 
 
Some people might look at Alice and think she has everything, but Alice knows she is not like other women. Her life is complicated, unpredictable, difficult. Alice does not like pity. All she wants to do, has ever wanted to do, is sing.

Alice has been told not to follow her dreams. So has Tom. But when fate has already dealt a tough hand, it’s time to stop listening to everyone else and only follow their hearts.

The Liberation by Kate Furnival – out nowthe liberation

Look out for Kate’s next novel, The Betrayal too which will be out in November!

The Liberation is set in Italy in 1945 as British and American troops attempt to bring order to the devastated country and Italy’s population fights to survive. Caterina Lombardi is desperate – her father is dead, her mother has disappeared and her brother is being drawn towards danger. One morning, among the ruins of the bombed Naples streets, Caterina is forced to go to extreme lengths to protect her own life and in doing so forges a future in which she must clear her father’s name. An Allied Army officer accuses him of treason and Caterina discovers a plot against her family. Who can she trust and who is the real enemy now? And will the secrets of the past be her downfall?

Orange Blosson Days by Patricia Scanlan – 9th March

I’m typing this in cold, grey, wet England – how I wish I could jump into this cover! Patricia’s beautifully titled new book will be out in hardback on 9th March.

orange blossomIn a beautiful southern Spanish town, where the sea sparkles and orange blossoms scent the air, the gates of a brand new apartment complex, La Joya deAndalucía, glide open to welcome the new owners.

Anna and Austen MacDonald, an Irish couple, are preparing to enjoy their retirement to the full. But the demands of family cause problems they have never foreseen and shake their marriage to the core.

Sally-Ann Connolly Cooper, a feisty Texan mother of two young teenagers, is reeling from her husband’s infidelity. La Joya becomes a place of solace for Sally-Ann, in more ways than one.

Eduardo Sanchez, a haughty Madrileño, has set out with single-minded determination to become El Presidente of the complex’s management committee. But pride comes before a fall.

Jutta Sauer Perez, a sophisticated German who aspires to own her very own apartment in La Joya, works hard to reach her goal. Then the unthinkable happens.

As their lives entwine and friendships and enmities develop, it becomes apparent that La Joya is not quite the haven they all expect it to be…

this loveThis Love by Dani Atkins – 23rd March

I loved Dani’s last novel, Our Song and I can’t wait to read This Love!

Sophie Winter lives in a self-imposed cocoon – she’s a single, thirty-one year old translator who works from home in her one bedroom flat. This isn’t really the life she dreamed of, but then Sophie stopped believing in happy endings a very long time ago, when she was fifteen years old and tragedy struck her family. Her grief has left her scared of commitment and completely risk averse, so she plays it safe and keeps everyone at arm’s length. Sophie understands she has a problem, but recognising it and knowing how to fix it are two entirely different things.

One night a serious fire breaks out in the flat below hers. Sophie is trapped in the burning building until a random passer-by, Ben, luckily happens to spot and rescue her. Suddenly her cocoon is shattered – what will be the consequences of this second life-changing event?

woman at number 24The Woman at Number 24 by Juliet Ashton – 20th April

The cover for this book has just been revealed – isn’t it fab?

Welcome to number 24, a Georgian villa in west London that is home to five separate families and five very different lives.

Up in the eaves, Sarah finds that recovering from a nasty divorce is even more heartbreaking when your ex-husband lives one floor beneath you with his new wife. Their happiness floats up through the floorboards, taunting her. A child psychologist, Sarah has picked up great sadness from the little girl, Una, who lives with her careworn mother three floors below, but is Sarah emotionally equipped to reach out?

The Spring brings a new couple to number 24. Jane and Tom’s zest for life revives the flagging house, and Sarah can’t deny the instant attraction to handsome Tom. Having seen at first hand what infidelity does to people, she’ll never act on it … but the air fizzes with potential.

The sunshine doesn’t reach every corner of number 24, however. Elderly Mavis, tucked away in the basement, has kept the world at bay for decades. She’s about to find out that she can’t hide forever.

Love, rivalry, secrets and murder – all under one seemingly ordinary roof ….

queen of wishfulThe Queen of Wishful Thinking by Milly Johnson – 4th May

This sounds like another treat of a book from Milly – add it to your wish lists now!

When Lewis Harley has a health scare in his early forties, he takes it as a wake-up call. So he and his  wife Charlotte leave behind life in the fast lane and Lewis opens the antique shop he has dreamed of. Bonnie Brookland was brought up in the antiques trade and now works for the man who bought out her father’s business, but she isn’t happy there. So when she walks into Lew’s shop, she knows this is the place for her.

As Bonnie and Lew start to work together, they soon realise that there is more to their relationship than either thought. But Bonnie is trapped in an unhappy marriage, and Lew and Charlotte have more problems than they care to admit. Each has secrets in their past which are about to be uncovered. Can they find the happiness they both deserve?

last pieceThe Last Piece of My Heart by Paige Toon – 18th May

I’m a massive fan of Paige’s books and have read them all so I can’t wait to read this one!

Meet Bridget, a successful travel journalist with ambitions to turn her quirky relationship blog into a novel. But, after numerous rejections from publishers, she accepts an alternative proposition: Nicole Dupre died leaving behind a bestselling novel and an incomplete sequel, and the family need someone to finish it. Bridget is just thankful to have her foot in the publishing door. But as she gets to know Nicole’s grieving family, and the woman behind the writing, Bridget’s priorities begin to change …

Which of these are you looking forward to reading this spring? Find out more about the books featured here and lots of other lovely reads on the Books and the City site at: http://booksandthecity.co.uk/

Book review: The House at Bishopsgate by Katie Hickman

9 Feb

house at bishopsgate1611. Celia Lamprey looks out across the rooftops of Aleppo for the last time. After ten years living in the Orient, she and her husband, Paul Pindar, are setting sail for England – taking with them the legendary diamond, the Sultan’s Blue, despite the curse that surrounds it.

They arrive to find a country much changed; Bishopsgate, once surrounded by fields, is now a muddy thoroughfare choked with carriages – from which carpenters, gardeners and footmen descend, summoned to restore Pindar’s great house to its former splendour. But all is not as it seems. Celia is frail, and the marriage childless. Between the couple lies a great, unspoken darkness. Now, as they await the arrival of Celia’s friend Annetta from Venice, another woman, the alluring widow Frances Sydenham, becomes increasingly indispensable to the running of the household – and the happiness of its inhabitants.

But who is this strange woman, and what are her real motives?

The House at Bishopsgate is a gripping and intriguing historical fiction novel set mainly in London in 1611. This is a period of history that I’m not very familiar with, so I was very much looking forward to reading this book and learning about a new time period for me. I wasn’t disappointed; it’s clear from the very first page that Kate Hickman knows her stuff and I loved the wonderful level of detail that she put into this book. Katie’s descriptions of place, furniture and clothing are excellent and I was easily able to visualise London in the 1600s and found it fascinating to learn more about the history of the city that I live in and as familiar place names popped up I loved imagining London of the past.

In this story we meet Paul Pindar and his wife Celia. Paul is a wealthy merchant and as the story opens is preparing to return to England after many years away. Although only a very short part of the story, the descriptions of Paul and Celia’s home and life in Aleppo were among my favourite parts of the book. When I picked up The House At Bishopsgate, I hadn’t realised that it’s actually the third of Katie’s novels to feature Paul Pindar and I’ve now added The Pindar Diamond and The Aviary Gate to my reading list for the future as I would love to know more about the back story of the characters in this book even though it stands perfectly well on its own.

Katie’s storytelling is packed with historical detail and feels very true to the period but is also pacey, readable and current as political intrigue and family dramas play out. I found the characters in this book fascinating and was quickly drawn into the complexities of their stories. Paul and his wife Celia are on the surface rich and exotic with the magnificent house of the title a testament to Paul’s mercantile success and a showcase for the treasures that he has collected. But underneath all of this the couple are battling the impacts of Celia’s past. As they return to England they are joined on their voyage by widow Frances Sydenham who soon makes herself an indispensable part of the household. Frances was one of the characters I liked least but as the story progressed I couldn’t wait to find out what her machinations would lead to and I thought she was cleverly used to bring a psychological thriller element to the story.

Chapters from the perspectives of different characters bring further mystery to the story and these are interspersed with letters from Paul’s brother Ralph to Paul. Ralph is one of the most horrid characters I’ve come across in a book recently and his attitude to those around him is immediately obvious. But Paul isn’t the only target of Ralph’s bullying tactics and there’s an excellent subplot to the story that unfolds as Paul and Celia’s return to England plays out to a dramatic ending.

4/5

The House of Bishopsgate is out now in hardback and ebook formats by Bloomsbury.

I’d like to thank the publisher for providing a review copy of this book.

 

Author interview: Victoria Blake

31 Jan

Today I’m delighted to welcome author Victoria Blake to One More Page on the final stop of her Titan’s Boatman blog tour. Victoria was brought up in The Queen’s College, Oxford and went to university in the same city, studying history at Lady Margaret Hall. She has worked in law, publishing and book selling and is also the author of the Sam Falconer crime series. Welcome Victoria!

victoria blakeYour historical fiction novel, Titan’s Boatman has just been released; please could you tell us a little about it and your inspiration for it?

The trigger for the book was my love of Titian’s painting The Man with the Blue Sleeve. When I’m between books I tend to get a bit restless and I went for a wander in The National Gallery and stood in front of him for a long time and realized I always ended up in front of him when I was in a certain restless frame of mind. He’s such a sexy, sardonic rogue. Then I noticed how young Titian was when he painted him – about twenty. That was the start of the book for me.

What drew you to Renaissance Venice and Titian and how did you go about the historical parts of the research?

It was the painting really that began it all. To be perfectly honest although I could have named Titian I knew next to nothing about him before beginning the book but our family had a strong emotional connection to Italy. My father, the historian Robert Blake had a great love of Italy. He had been a POW during the second world war in the south of Italy, had escaped and then been looked after by Italians before making his way through the mountains and back to the allied troops. I don’t think he ever forgot being looked after in that way. It was a very dangerous thing for Italians to do at the time. So when I was child we went to Italy for holidays and Venice was one of the first places I went abroad. It made an indelible impression on me. So there was this combination of factors that came together. For the research I read everything I could get my hands on. Particularly useful were the letters of Pietro Aretino. He was a poet, pornographer, blackmailer and great friends with Titian. He was absolutely clear that Titian was a genius and told everyone. His letters are hugely entertaining. He writes to friends thanking them for sending him salad. He writes to his gondolier advising him not to marry. He even writes letters on the dangers of eating mushrooms. He adored Venice and I loved his letters. I also read Sheila Hale’s fantastic biography of Titian. For research on courtesans I read Margaret Rosenthal’s book The Honest Courtesan about Veronica Franco and I also read Franco’s poetry.

During your research for the book what was the most surprising fact you uncovered?

I think that there was an actual term ‘muneghini’ that was used to describe those young male patricians who visited nuns for sex. The term means ‘frequenters of nuns.’ According to the Renaissance diaries of Marin Sanudo at any rate! That was extremely surprising. And also that there was an episode in 1514 when the nuns of the Convent of San Zacaria got together and stoned the authorities who wanted to interfere with the way their nunnery was run. I loved the idea of mutinous nuns!

Who was your favourite character to write?

I had a real fondness for Tullia, the courtesan. I loved her courage, her sense of humour and her essential good heartedness. I wanted her to not just survive but thrive as well. Apart from her the character I was most involved with was the boatman, Sebastiano. I heard his voice incredibly vividly in my head from the very beginning. I had a very strong visceral impression of him and he tops and tails the book.

If you could travel to any time or place in history where would you go and why?

Ask me that tomorrow and I’d come out with a different answer but today …  I’ve got a stone age axe head that my grandfather, who was a Norfolk farmer, picked up in his fields. I’d like to go back to the moment when the axe head had just been created and take a look at the man who had carved it and was holding it in his hands.

Do you have a favourite Titian painting and for those interested in learning more about him, which books would you titanrecommend?

Apart from The Man with the Blue Sleeve, I love the portrait he did of Aretino. It’s in Florence in the Galleria Palatina. Aretino wears this very splendid orange, velvet gown and has a magnificent beard. He looks like he’s going to jump out of the canvas at you and demand the most recent gossip. You get a real sense of his physical strength as well as his strength of character. For anyone wanting to read about Titian I recommend Sheila Hale’s biography and also Titian: The Last Days by Mark Hudson – that’s a fantastic, highly readable, fascinating book.

And finally … what can we expect next from Victoria Blake?

My next book is a novel about one of the first female war correspondents who goes and reports from the Spanish Civil War. I find female war correspondents fascinating and have watched with a huge amount of respect and admiration over the years fantastic women like Kate Adie, Lyse Doucet, Lindsay Hilsum and Orla Guerin. How do they go into those incredibly dangerous places, hold it all together, report back coherently and then come home without being destroyed by it all? I think they are remarkable people. It’s been interesting reading the obituaries of the war correspondent Clare Hollingworth who has just died at the age of 105. She reported the ‘scoop of the century’ –  that the Second World War had started.

Thank you Victoria.

Titan’s Boatman is out now in Hardback and ebook formats from Black and White Publishing.

Find out more about Victoria and her writing at: https://victoriablakewriter.wordpress.com/

 

Book review: The Echo of Twilight by Judith Kinghorn

3 Jan

echo of twilightAs I watched him his long legs striding the narrow path through the heather, his golden hair catching the sun I had a hideous feeling in the pit of my stomach. For it seemed as though he was already marching away from me.

In 1914, despite the clouds of war threatening Europe, Pearl Gibson s future is bright. She has secured a position as a lady s maid to a wealthy Northumberland aristocrat, a job that will win her not only respect but an opportunity to travel and live in luxury. Her new life at Lady Ottoline Campbell s Scottish summer estate is a whirlwind of intrigue and glamour, scandals and confidences and surprisingly, a strange but intimate friendship with her employer.

But when violence erupts in Europe, Pearl and Ottoline s world is irrevocably changed. As the men in their lives are called to the front lines, leaving them behind to anxiously brace for bad news, Pearl realizes she must share one final secret with her mistress a secret that will bind them together forever..

What a wonderful way to start my new reading year, with a brilliant new novel from one of my favourite historical fiction authors. I read Judith Kinghorn’s debut, The Last Summer when it was released in 2012 and absolutely loved it but I have to say that The Echo of Twilight is in my opinion, Judith’s best book yet and a must read for fans of historical fiction set around the First World War.

The Echo of Twilight introduces us to Pearl Gibson, a young lady with a passion for life and a determination to make something of herself despite having no remaining family or place to call home. Pearl was raised by her beloved aunt Kitty and her devotion to her aunt’s teachings through the early parts of the novel often made me smile with many of the adages that Pearl lives by reminding me of the words that my Nan would say and that I still find myself thinking of now.

As we meet Pearl she is just about to take on a new job as lady’s maid to Lady Ottoline Campbell. I loved reading about Pearl’s role as lady’s maid and the detail that Judith includes in this book about life above and below stairs is just wonderful. I love to visit historic houses and in The Echo of Twilight Judith brings both Birling in Northumberland and the Scottish estate of Delnasay vividly to life and I very much enjoyed reading about the beautiful settings described.

Pearl’s character jumps off the page and I enjoyed reading as she developed. Pearl is a great mix of tenacity, bravery and naivety and I loved the glimpses of her sense of humour too. Ottoline and Pearl’s relationship quickly progresses to much more than just lady and maid and I was impressed by how believable this thread to the story was, particularly when set against the rapid changes in society brought about by war. Judith evoked the full range of emotions from me in this novel and as with The Last Summer captured the heartbreaking consequences of war in a very poignant way.

Against this backdrop of uncertainty, Pearl’s early days at Delnasay take on a romantic and almost ethereal quality as she is swept up into a new world with many new experiences, the biggest of which is first love. The Echo of Twilight is a very romantic novel despite Pearl being alone for the majority of the book and as I read I was holding my breath for a positive outcome. As the mysteries of Pearl’s past are uncovered and truths unveiled, I couldn’t turn the pages fast enough and as the story moves through the war and into its final part during the post-war years, I didn’t want to put this book down.

The Echo of Twilight has everything that I look for in an historical fiction read; a strong female heroine, mystery, romance and beautiful historical detail. Even though it’s only the third of January, Judith has set the bar high and I know I’ve already found one of my top historical reads for 2017!

5/5

The Echo of Twilight is released today (3rd January) by Berkley Publishing in paperback and ebook formats.

I’d like to thank Judith Kinghorn for providing a review copy of this novel.

Find out more about Judith and her writing at: http://www.judithkinghornwriter.com/

Book review: A Nightingale Christmas Carol by Donna Douglas

18 Nov

A Nightingale Christmas CarolThe Nightingale Hospital, London, 1944

All that Dora Riley wants is her husband home safe for Christmas…

With her husband Nick away fighting, Dora struggles to keep the home fires burning and is put in charge of a ward full of German prisoners of war. Can she find it in her heart to care for her enemies?

Fellow nurse Kitty thinks she might be falling for a German soldier, whilst Dora’s old friend Helen returns from Europe with a dark secret.

Can the women overcome their prejudices and the troubles of their past to do their duty for their country?

This is the eighth book in Donna Douglas’s Nightingales series and Donna continues to create strong story-lines and to bring to life war-torn London of the 1940s. If you’re a fan of the series, you’ll love being back at the Nightingale and catching up with some familiar faces. If you’re new to Donna’s books, don’t be worried about starting here; the story reads perfectly well as a stand alone novel.

Starting in December 1943, A Nightingale Christmas Carol spans a two year period that finally sees the end of the war. Donna really gets into the heart and feelings of a nation that has been at war for many years and her descriptions of the devastation, loss and fear felt by the east end community are heartbreaking and thought provoking. Donna took me through all the emotions as I read this book and I admired the way the characters carried on and made the best of things at the worst of times. There’s an absolutely beautiful scene linked to the title of the book which actually brought tears to my eyes!

Donna focuses in on an interesting angle for this book; the treatment of German prisoners of war, in this case, those brought to the Nightingale hospital for treatment. I loved that Donna represented a complete cross-section of reactions to the German patients at a time when tensions were naturally high.  As ever, Donna takes a topic and weaves it skillfully into personal stories. Dora, Kitty and Helen all have strong reactions through the book to the German POWs and this added a strong tension and drama to the story and quickly showed their personalities.

Kitty and Dora’s stories in particular had me turning the pages as fast as I could and hoping for happy endings for both of them. Both are east end girls with extended family nearby and I liked the depth that this brought to the story as well as the side stories involving their parents and siblings. Kitty’s story brings the romance to the book and I enjoyed this aspect as she finds herself attracted to one of the German soldiers but catches the eye of a Scottish soldier.

Dora’s story tugged on my heartstrings as a mum. As well as working at the Nightingale Dora has six year old twins and her husband is away fighting. My heart was in my mouth whenever the story focused on Dora and Donna Douglas certainly threw in some shocking story-lines for her character.

A Nightingale Christmas Carol is another excellent read from Donna Douglas and if you’re a fan of wartime saga and historical romance then you should definitely put this book on your Christmas list!

5/5

A Nightingale Christmas Carol is out now in paperback and ebook formats.

Find out more about Donna and her novels at: http://donnadouglas.co.uk/

I’d like to thank the publisher for providing me with a review copy of this book.

Read Donna’s guest post on here inspirations for the book at: http://www.onemorepage.co.uk/?p=19788