Two Steps Forward by Graeme Simsion and Ann Buist @GraemeSimsion @TwoRoadBooks

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Two Steps Forward by Graeme Simsion and Anne Buist  Two Road Books April 5th 2018

Zoe, a sometime artist, is from California. Martin, an engineer, is from Yorkshire. Both have ended up in picturesque Cluny, in central France. Both are struggling to come to terms with their recent past – for Zoe, the death of her husband; for Martin, a messy divorce.

Looking to make a new start, each sets out alone to walk two thousand kilometres from Cluny to Santiago de Compostela, in northwestern Spain, in the footsteps of pilgrims who have walked the Camino (the Way) for centuries. The Camino changes you, it’s said. It’s a chance to find a new version of yourself, and a new beginning. But can these two very different people find themselves? Will they find each other?

My review

Martin and Zoe flee to France, each have totally differing reasons. Martin is fleeing the aftermath of a divorce and Zoe the sudden death of her husband.

On impulse both decide to do the famous Camino trail of the pilgrims. Martin to test out his cart design that may be bought and produced by a company and Zoe, to find herself.

This is the story of two people who have lost their way in life. Its is a story of the people they meet along the way and what they discover about themselves. Its is also a love story, of two people who meet,  are mutually attracted to each other, but events and themselves conspire to pull them apart.

The story is narrated in alternating chapters, each author owning a character, Simsion, Martin and Buist, Zoe. This could be a recipe for disaster with chapters that could appear quite separate, not seeming to fit together, but not so. The technique actually enhances the novel giving each character its own distinct voice.

Martin, bumbling along, removing himself from home to spare his daughter the pain of being caught in the middle of two divorced parents, thinking she would be happier without him.

Zoe, traumatised and shocked by the sudden death of her husband, unaware of the financial predicament he has left them in,her two grown up daughters bemused at her flight to France, insisting she return to sort out her life.

When the characters do meet you can sense their fear at opening up to each other, not helped by the interference of other characters and certain misunderstandings.

The characters they meet as they walk are hugely entertaining. The young German engineer, the Brazilians and the mother and daughter walking in honour of their deceased husband/father make the novel more than just about Martin and Zoe.

The descriptions of the little towns and villages, the mountainous routes and the stunning scenery add that extra dimension. The vivid imagery is lovely giving the reader a real feel for the conditions and landscape.

Over the course of three months and 2038km Martin and Zoe slowly begin the healing process, slowly realise what they want and what they need to do. It is a heartwarming novel, that left me with a tear in my eye and a warm feeling.

The novel has already been optioned for film by Fox Searchlight and it will be interesting to see who is cast in the lead roles!

Thank you to Two Road books for the opportunity to read and reveiw.

About the authors

Graeme and Anne

Graeme Simsion is the internationally bestselling author of The Rosie ProjectThe Rosie Effect and The Best of Adam SharpAnne Buist is chair of Women’s Mental Health at the University of Melbourne and author of the psychological thrillers, Medea’s CurseDangerous to Know and This I Would Kill For. 

graemesimsion.com / annebuist.com
@GraemeSimsion / @anneebuist

#Blogtour Tale of a Tooth by Allie Rogers @Alliewhowrites @LegendPress

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Tale of Tooth by Allie Rogers  Legend Press April 19th 2018

Four-year-old Danny lives with his mother, Natalie, in a small Sussex town. Life is a struggle and when they are threatened with a benefits sanction, salvation appears in the form of a Job Centre employee called Karen. But Karen’s impact is to reach far beyond this one generous gesture, as she and Natalie embark on an intense relationship.

Told in the voice of an intelligent, passionate and unusual child, Tale of a Tooth is an immersive and compelling look at the impact of domestic abuse on a vulnerable family unit.

My review

Life’s pretty good for four year old Danny, he’s got his Mum or Meemaw, otherwise known as Natalie and his beloved dinosaur Spiney, but life is about to get a bit tougher when Karen enters their life’s and everything he loves is in danger of being taken away.

From the outset I knew there was something different about Danny. He was not your average little boy, his obsession with dinosaurs, his high intelligence and obvious emotional issues placed him somewhere on a spectrum. What was extremely interesting and unique was Rogers use of Danny’s voice to tell the story. The dialogue is that of a four your old, sentences never complete, words jumbled up, no obvious conversation between the characters. It is a style which at first I found slightly off putting, but soon found myself engrossed in the tortured world of this wonderful character. Danny’s voice was distinctive and emotive and immersed me in Danny’s innermost thoughts and emotions. I could feel his fear at Karen’s violent outbursts, and his pent up frustration with Natalie at not getting rid of her. All I wanted to do was grab hold of this little boy, hug him and tell him it was all going to be ok when I knew that perhaps it was not going to be ok.

The relationship between Danny and Natalie was just so wonderful to read. Natalie is everything to Danny, the one constant in his life, the only person that understands his little idiosyncrasies, and how precious his dinosaurs are.

Karen is the interloper threatening to destroy that close relationship between Natalie and her son. She offers Natalie some time away from the drudgery of life as a single parent on benefits with very little money to feed herself and her child, but at what cost? I didn’t blame her in the slightest for taking some time to enjoy herself, but when she become subjected to abuse, both physical and mental I just wanted her to free herself from Karen. We all know that once in a cycle of abuse it is so difficult to break free and Natalie was no different. Rogers was brilliant at conveying her utter despair, her sense of guilt not only toward Karen but most importantly towards Danny. She was a character with a huge capacity for forgiveness but also doing what she felt was right, even if that wasn’t the right thing for Danny.

Rogers was extremely clever at building the tension, at times lulling me into believing that all would be well before another twist took the story further into the depths of Danny’s increasing anguish and turmoil. I found the latter parts of the novel upsetting to read at times, so traumatic were the effects of events on Danny. At no time did I feel that Rogers was writing of abuse just to merely shock, they were always in context, measured and sensitive.

It is to Roger’s huge credit that she has written such a distinct and unique novel and the great skill needed to write in the voice of a four year old and sustain it throughout impressed me enormously.

Having read and loved her debut Little Gold I was not disappointed with Tale of The Tooth, it is an impressive second novel.

I would like to thank Imogen Harris and Legend Press for a copy of Tale of the Tooth to read and review and for the invite to participate in the blogtour.

About the author

Allie Rogers

Allie Rogers was born and raised in Brighton and enjoys story in all forms, the magic of a
surprising sentence and books that defy categorisation. She is a librarian at the University of Brighton.
Follow Allie on Twitter @alliewhowrites

Read more reviews of Tale of the Tooth by discovering what my other fellow bloggers thought.

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#Blogtour #Extract He’s Gone by Alex Clare @_AlexandraClare @natalie_rose_c @ImpressBooks1

He’s Gone by Alex Clare  Impress Books

HE’S GONE is the first in a gripping police procedural series with a transgender detective – a compelling, fast-paced, and assured crime fiction series with a contemporary and relevant heroine.

On her first day returning to work as Robyn rather than Robin, DI Bailley is thrust into the media spotlight when she must solve a missing child case whilst dealing with the reactions of her colleagues, the local community, and her.

Its always interesting to read new authors and especially those with a slightly different perspective and I’m thrilled to be a sharing an extract from Alex Clare’s He’s Gone.

Extract

Robyn scurried through the door into the dim lobby of the police station. The desk sergeant was playing with his mobile, top two shirt buttons undone, no tie. Robyn opened her mouth then decided she couldn’t face a confrontation over the dress-code at this precise moment.
‘Good morning.’ The voice was too squeaky because she hadn’t practised enough. Talking to herself at home had made her feel crazy. ‘Morning, sir.’ The usual response. Robyn kept moving. She was determined not to stop, not to let others’ reactions bother her. She knew he didn’t mean anything bad, reasoning that if it had taken her over forty years to
have the confidence to declare herself a woman, she had to allow everyone else time. She concentrated on walking because the tape between her legs was pushing them apart making her feel like a gunslinger entering a saloon. The new shoes, bought over the internet in a size nine-and-a-half, claimed to be for women but didn’t look much different to her old ones. She was grateful she hadn’t risked heels.

Along the corridor, the notices on the staff board had new ones pinned over them. The same bulb was out near the lift where a knot of people waited, a woman in a black suit standing apart, tapping into a BlackBerry. Chatter about a local girl’s chances on Superstar Seeker stopped, leaving a sudden absence of conversation. The thought
of standing and waiting in silence wasn’t appealing so she kept on moving towards the stairs. Robyn was past the group when she heard the HR Business Partner.
‘Ah, DI Bailley, welcome back. Good break?’
Robyn opened her mouth but the woman hadn’t finished. ‘Relaxing, I hope? We’re all glad to have you back.’ One civilian worker was gazing at Robyn and another, with equal intensity, at the floor. Robyn stopped, wondering what to do with her hands as the speech went on. ‘It’s always good to take holiday early in the summer I think, don’t you?’ The woman flicked her highlighted hair behind one ear. ‘You get a good break and things aren’t so crowded. I’m going away soon myself …’
The lift arrived and people shuffled forward. The tall woman answered an unspoken question by holding the doors open with her briefcase.
‘Well, good to catch up, DI Bailley. If you need anything, do let me know.’
The doors closed. There had been lots of meetings with HR in the last few months and presumably there would have to be more. Robyn made a note to keep arranging them for late in the day when she could have a stiff drink afterwards. As she trudged up the stairs to the second floor, Robyn wondered what conversations were now taking place. The tape around her groin rubbed every time she raised her foot but being back in the bland,
familiar building was soothing. She took a deep breath on the last landing, clinging to the belief that everything would be fine. The team’s morale was strong, she’d spent two years building it up, which was why she hadn’t taken up the superintendent’s offer of a transfer to a new station. But it didn’t say much for her opinion of them, when she
hadn’t even told them what she was going to do face-to-face. Now it was actually happening, there seemed to be lots of things she could have handled better. Robyn stood outside the CID office, gripping the handle, still hesitating. She’d come this far …
In the office, Detective Constable Ravi Sharma was sorting through piles of statements. Talking to his back seemed cowardly so Robyn dropped her handbag onto a desk with a thump. Ravi spun round, eyes widening with shock, narrowing with scrutiny, before finally crinkling with welcome. ‘You made me jump. Ma’am. Good break?’ Robyn paused before replying. Ravi was blinking a lot. ‘Yes thanks, Ravi. Good to be back. How are you?’ ‘Fine. Thanks. Ma’am.’ Robyn sat down, wondering which short person had been sitting in her chair and reached under the seat to adjust it. ‘Now which of these does the height – ah.’ When she sat back, Ravi was still standing, wearing the same fixed smile, making her wonder when he’d last taken a breath. ‘Janice has been keeping me up to date with texts. She said everything had been quiet, apart from the new
burglary.’ ‘Yes, ma’am, same as the last five, another pensioner but there’s a witness this time, a neighbour who was able to give a description. Lorraine’s following it up.’ Ravi’s chest swelled as he gulped air. In the pause, a buzz of conversation in the corridor rose then fell. ‘And you got the result in the hit and run – good work.’ ‘Thank you. Ma’am. The bloke pleading guilty meant they didn’t need what I’d put together but at least he went down.’ Ravi’s rigid grin had returned. Robyn smiled back, willing him to relax. ‘Your work meant he’d no choice but to change his plea. Avoiding a trial is good news.’ Ravi’s
hands unclenched. ‘A confession is best because getting someone to make a clean breast……

Ravi twitched, sending half the statements sliding to the floor. As he scrambled to retrieve them, Robyn switched on her computer, reflecting if this was the reaction from Ravi, aged twenty-seven with a sociology degree, things were going to be at the lower end of her expectations. There was a shriek of laughter as Detective Constable Lorraine
Mount barged in, holding the door for Detective Sergeant Graham Catt, both laden with bags from the canteen. After the laugh died, no one said anything for a moment. ‘Right, let’s get started on these while they’re hot. Here you go, Raver.’ Graham handed Ravi a fried-egg sandwich, the yolk already seeping through the napkin. ‘And there’s your hot chocolate – careful you don’t fall asleep.’ There was a pantomime between him and
Lorraine as they worked out which of the bacon rolls had brown sauce. ‘There’s yours, Guv.’ He reached into another bag. ‘And tea as well. One sugar, not much milk.’ Robyn reached for the cup, conscious of the tension in her shoulders. As her number two, of all the team, she’d worried most about how Graham would react and now he’d offered a neat way out of one problem. She’d always hated ‘Guv’ because it was how the previous
DI had been addressed but anything was better than ‘ma’am’. ‘Thanks, Graham. Morning, Lorraine. It’s good to be back.’ And for the first time she believed it might be. The voice was OK – not too deep or high. ‘Anyone seen Janice this morning?’ ‘Holiday today, Guv – her birthday.’ Ravi spoke through a mouthful of sandwich. She’d forgotten. Unlike Janice, who always remembered everyone else’s special occasions. ‘Oh yes. Have we got her a card?’ Three blank faces. ‘OK, Ravi, pop out and get one today and we can all sign it. And
some chocolates or something too.’ The team settled around Robyn’s desk as, for once, it was free of clutter. ‘Right, let’s get started. Lorraine, where are we with the burglaries?’

Lorraine stopped in mid-chew, nose powdered in flour, whiteagainst her dark skin. Normality was restored, until Robyn noticed Ravi staring at the lipstick mark on her cup.
The door opened. As it swung closed, the reek of Superintendent Fell’s sweat moved with the air. His presence in the incident room was unusual and there was an immediate hush, apart from furtive flicks as napkins removed grease. ‘Welcome back, Bailley.’ Fell’s gaze was fixed somewhere above Robyn’s face. ‘We have a missing child at Whitecourt Shopping Centre. Uniform are there but the local news has already picked up the story so I need a senior officer to take charge.’ He glanced down at a heavy watch. ‘Give updates to Tracey as I have meetings all morning.’ The door closed, leaving the room with a penetrating reminder of Fell’s presence. It focused the mind. Robyn’s worries over what she was wearing seemed less important now she was needed. ‘Right.’ Robyn stood up. ‘Graham and I will take this. Ravi, get the kid’s name and run background checks with Social Services. Let’s hope this is a false alarm but it never hurts to be prepared, especially if the press are already on it. Lorraine, keep working on the burglary.’ If there were stares in the corridors on the way out, she didn’t notice them. Her mind was checking off things to be done. As they walked outside, Graham tutted and pointed to where DC Janice Warrener was bending to lock a small van. Janice met them at the bottom of the steps, her blouse buttoned into the wrong holes. ‘Morning, Robyn. When I heard the news on the radio about the missing boy I thought I’d better come in. Then my car wouldn’t start and I had to take Martin’s …’ Even though she appeared flustered, Robyn could feel a gentle gaze taking in details of her new appearance. She touched her own buttons. Janice looked puzzled before she glanced down and blushed. Hoping she hadn’t upset her, Robyn smiled. ‘Thanks for thinking of us, Janice, and thanks for the updates while I was away. And Happy Birthday. Let’s hope the lad isn’t far away and you can be home before long. I’ve set Ravi getting background: can you let him know where
everything is?’ Walking between cars, Robyn had a moment of panic when she touched her thigh: her car key was not in the pocket. Then the realisation. Nothing was in the trouser pocket because the woman’s suit she was wearing didn’t have any pockets. Everything she needed, keys, wallet, phone, was all in the black handbag swinging from her shoulder. Graham pulled out his own keys. ‘I’m driving, mind. Bloody women drivers.’

If you enjoyed the He’s Gone extract follow the He’s Gone blogtour and find out what other bloggers thought about the novel.

About the author

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After nearly twenty years of being a committed corporate person, Alex Clare was made redundant. She had always enjoyed writing, studying fiction part-time through the Open University and managing to complete a novel in her commuting time, though no one had ever read it. Now, with lots more time on her hands, there was the opportunity to take writing more seriously. She began to enter competitions and joined a writing group, which encouraged her to try out new genres and styles.

After a period focusing on short stories, she wanted to try another novel. Inspiration came from watching Parliament debate the Equal Marriage Act in 2013. Astounded by the intensity of feeling generated, she created a fictional world to explore some of the issues and attitudes. Now working again she is working on her second novel, in her usual place, on a London commuter train.

Twitter: @_alexandraclare

If you enjoyed the extract you can read reviews of He’s Gone by following the blogtour.

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#Blogtour The Black Earth @pipkazan @AllisonandBusby @annecater #RandonThingsTours

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The Black Earth by Philip Kazan  Allison and Busby  April 19th 2018 

1922. When the Turkish Army occupies Smyrna, Zoe Haggitiris escapes with her family only to lose everything. Alone in a sea of desperate strangers, her life is touched, for a moment, by a young English boy, Tom Collyer, also lost, before the compassion of a stranger leads her into a new life. Years later when war breaks out, Tom finds himself in Greece and in the chaos of the British retreat, fate will lead him back to Zoe. But he will discover that the war will not end so easily for either of them.

My review

So many novels base themselves in the horrors of World War II. We read of the French occupation, the concentration camps and the blitz, but very little is written of what happened to the people of Greece and the hardship they had to endure.

The Black Earth changes all that, and I was absolutely fascinated.  Much of the story is told though the eyes of Zoe and Tom, two characters who epitomise their generation, brave, strong, with an inbuilt instinct for survival.

Kazan took us back to 1922 where he introduced us to Zoe as she flees Turkey with her parents aboard their family yacht. A collision with a battleship finds Zoe clinging to the wreckage of the boat as her father and mother disappear. Alone in the port of Piraeus she fleetingly meets Tom not quite realising the significance of their encounter and so began their story.

Told in alternating perspective, Kazan drew me into their stories. Both faced hardships and trauma but Zoe’s story in particular was one I found poignant and evocative. Kazan brilliantly wrote of the hardships that she faced, first as a refugee and then as a young woman in a country occupied by the Germans. As her life became harder so Kazan peeled back another layer of her character, revealing a woman with a huge capacity for love, forgiveness and tolerance. Yet she was also a woman who had a wonderful talent as a singer adding brightness and happiness to a novel that could have become mired in the sadness and horrors that war brings.

Tom’s story is so far removed from Zoe’s, a boy from a wealthy family background, a loving mother but a difficult relationship with his father. His father a product of the Great War, his behaviour his way of coping, yet underneath you just knew that he was immensely proud of Tom’s role in the war, just incapable of showing it. Tom is no hero, waving a gun around shooting numerous enemy soldiers, Tom’s war is much deeper than that and that is what I liked so much about his character. Tom is a thinker, a man with a conscience, a man who won’t let others down and that is what drives him to find Zoe, no matter how hard that journey might be. What interested me most was Tom’s role as a war artist and his amazing ability to capture what he saw. I felt that this was his way to cope with the war, to take the horrific sights out of his head and put them onto paper, somehow leaving them behind before moving on to his next location.

The real triumph of The Black Earth is its historical detail. What Kazan so skillfully achieves is the use of Tom and Zoe as conduits of history, Tom the British involvement, Zoe the traumas of the Greek people. I felt Kazan achieved the perfect balance, with detail that never drowned out Zoe and Tom’s story, but enhanced it and brought it to life.

The imagery Kazan conjured I found at times brutal and shocking, yet there were also moments of great tenderness and happiness. I could sense the emotion of the characters and at some points their desperation, and the last few pages will live in my mind for a long time to come.

It is a novel that showcases the capacity for human compassion, hope and above all love, love that can transcend and sustain whatever life may throw at us.

I know from reading a little of Philip Kazan’s background that the events he so eloquently describes have a deeply personal connection to him and that is why this novel is such a triumph. You just know that is heart and soul is in the pages of the novel and his Grandfather would have been so proud of what he has achieved.

I would like to thank Allen and Busby, and Emma Finnegan for a proof copy to read and review and as always my thanks to Anne Cater for inviting mybookishblogspot to participate in the blogtour

About the author

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PHILIP KAZAN was born in London and grew-up on Dartmoor. He is the author of two previous novels set in fifteenth-century Florence and the Petroc series following a thirteenth-century adventurer. After living in New York and Vermont, Philip is back on the edge of Dartmoor with his wife and three children.

Follow him on Twitter: @pipkazan

Author’s Website: philipkazan.wordpress.com

There are some fantastic bloggers participating in The Black Earth blogtour. Why not visit them and discover what they thought of The Black earth

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#Review The Hunger by Alma Katsu @almakatsu @PoppyStimpson @TransworldBooks

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The Hunger by Alma Katsu  Transworld  April 5th 2018

After traveling west for weeks, the party of pioneers comes to a crossroads. It is time for their leader, George Donner, to make a choice. They face two diverging paths which lead to the same destination. One is well-documented – the other untested, but rumoured to be shorter.

Donner’s decision will shape the lives of everyone travelling with him. The searing heat of the desert gives way to biting winds and a bitter cold that freezes the cattle where they stand. Driven to the brink of madness, the ill-fated group struggles to survive and minor disagreements turn into violent confrontations. Then the children begin to disappear. As the survivors turn against each other, a few begin to realise that the threat they face reaches beyond the fury of the natural elements, to something more primal and far more deadly.

Based on the true story of The Donner Party, The Hunger is an eerie, shiver-inducing exploration of human nature, pushed to its breaking point.

My review

When you hear that Ridley Scott has optioned The Hunger for a film, you know you must be in a for a damn good book. The fact it is based on a true story made  the novel even more interesting and appealing. I had not previously heard of the Donner Party and did a quick Google search to find out what it was all about. To read that eighty seven pioneers set off for California and only forty eight survived and of the horrors that they endured I did wonder if the true story was just that, a story so unbelievable some of the information.

What intrigued me most of all was how Alma Katsu would use the story of the Donner Party, how she portrayed the characters and the imagery she might conjure up.

The characters were wide and varied, from various social backgrounds, and all seemed to have some secret or past they wished to remain hidden. George Donner had money and to start with power and emerged as the natural leader, fellow pioneer James Reed his self appointed deputy. Donner’s wife Tamsen is treated with suspicion such is her love of herbal potions, that many blame her witchery for the disasters that dog them on their journey.

There is Stanton, the only single man amongst the party, running away from a past hoping to make a new life in California, Elitha Donner who hears voices , Mary Greaves who forms an attachment to Stanton, Reiner Keseberg, nasty and out for himself. And those are just  a few that make up the wagon train.

Such a huge cast of characters could be unwieldy, in danger of becoming bogged down and complicated yet Katsu handles them all with great skill, weaving their back stories into the present. Their motives for the journey are laid bare, their weaknesses exploited adding drama and palpable tension throughout.

The most prominent characters in the novel were the landscape and the weather. When Donner makes the final decision on their route choice you just knew it would be the wrong one. The landscape is challenging, from thick forest to the wide expanse of the Sierra Nevada. The weather sees the pioneers experience suffocating heat and the brutality of a bitter Sierra Nevada winter. This is where Katsu excelled, as the hardships of the weather and terrain took their toll on the pioneers, her narrative ramped up a notch. She brilliantly described the infighting, the suspicion, and ultimately the will of the pioneers to protect their own and survive. The horrors that ensued are not glossed over, and I did find some of the descriptions hard to read, yet it is an essential part of the story. The only thing that I was uncertain of and felt was not needed was the supernatural element of the story. I shall not go into detail but let you make up your own mind!

There is is a surprise towards the end of the novel that I found terrifying and filled me with horror, the narrative conjuring images that are definitely not nice.

The Hunger is a nightmare none of us would ever wish to experience. It is chilling and all the more horrifying when you know much of what Katsu writes is based on true facts.

It is well written and utterly compelling, and a novel I will not forget in a hurry.

My thanks to Poppy Stimpson and Transworld for a proof to read and review.

About the author

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A graduate of the Masters writing program at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Alma Katsu worked briefly in advertising and PR before moving into the intelligence world, working as a senior analyst for several US agencies, including the CIA and the American equivalent of GCHQ. She was also a regular contributor to the Huffington Post. Alma Katsu lives in the Washington, DC area.

To find out more, visit her website almakatsubooks.com

#Blogtour The Body In The Boat by AJ MacKenzie @AJMacKnovels @imosebba @BonnierZaffre

The Body In The Boat by A J MacKenzie   Bonnier Zaffre  EBook April 5th 2018

Welcome to mybookishblogspot and my turn on the blogtour for A J Mackenzie’s The Body In The Boat.

A J Mackenzie have very kindly written a guest post, but before I share it, here is a little bit about The Body In The Boat.

Across the still, dark English Channel come the smugglers. But tonight they carry an unusual cargo: a coffin. Several miles inland, a respected banker holds a birthday party for his wife. Within days, one of the guests is found shot dead.

What links this apparently senseless killing to the smugglers lurking in the mists? Why has the local bank been buying and hoarding gold? And who was in the mysterious coffin?

Reverend Hardcastle and Mrs Chaytor find themselves drawn into the worlds of high finance and organised crime in this  dramatic and dark Georgian mystery. With its unique cast of characters and captivating amateur sleuths, The Body in the Boat is a twisting tale that vividly brings to life eighteenth-century Kent and draws readers into its pages.

When the Gentlemen Go By

English folklore has a strange fascination for criminals. From Robin Hood and his outlaws the East End gangsters and the Great Train Robbery, they have been the unlikely heroes of books and films for decades, even centuries.

Smugglers are no exception. Perhaps the most famous evocation of smugglers can be found Kipling’s poem A Smuggler’s Song:

If you wake at midnight, and hear a horse’s feet,

Don’t go drawing back the blind, or looking in the street,

Them that asks no questions isn’t told a lie.

Watch the wall my darling while the Gentlemen go by.

In just a few words, Kipling captures the essence of the smuggling myth: the combination of romance and menace, the notion that everyone knows what happens in the community but no one talks about, the culture of the smugglers epitomised by their mocking nickname for themselves, the Gentlemen. Kipling’s home in the Weald of East Sussex was near the smugglers’ haunts and he would have doubtless heard the local tales. Yes, smuggling was criminal activity; but in the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, it was also part of the fabric of English coastal society.

Smuggling came about because of high taxes on imports and exports of certain goods: wool originally, and then later luxury goods such as brandy, gin, tobacco and even things such as hair powder and playing cards. If there was a profit to be made, the smugglers would move it. During times of war, smugglers helped escaped French prisoners get from England back to France; they also helped refugees fleeing persecution get from France to England. And, of course, some of them also dabbled in espionage.

Who were the smugglers? The answer is that they were everyone. There were some organised gangs who, as well as smuggling, turned to all sorts of crime including robbery, blackmail and murder; the infamous Hawkhurst Gang from the mid-eighteenth century is an example. In The Body in the Boat we see another example of a gang branching out from simple smuggling into something much more sinister.

But most of the gangs stuck to straightforward smuggling. They were part-timers, doing one or two runs across the Channel to France each month; in their ordinary lives, they were fishermen, farmers, shepherds, publicans, and yes, even clergymen. Women helped land cargoes and sometimes smuggled tubs of gin under their skirts past the watchful eyes of customs officers. Children acted as lookouts, warning the gangs if the forces of law and order were getting too close.

Smuggling (as with most criminal activities) could often be violent. There are numerous accounts of pitched battles on Romney Marsh and elsewhere between smuggling gangs and the Customs and Excise services. There were also sea battles between revenue cutters and smuggling ships; the latter were often well armed. People were killed on both sides. Smuggling was also a capital offence, punishable by hanging or transportation to Australia. None of this dimmed the appetite for smuggling, however. Why would it, when a man or woman could earn in a night on a smuggling more than they would earn in a month in their day job?

About the authors

A J Mackenzie is the pseudonym of Marilyn Livingstone and Morgen Witzel, an Anglo-Canadian husband-and-wife team of writers and historians.

They write non-fiction history and management books under their own names, but ‘become’ A J MacKenzie when writing fiction.

You can discover more about Marilyn and Morgan if you visit their website:

http://www.ajmackenzienovels.com/about-a-j-mackenzie.html

Thank you to Imogen Sebba and Bonnier Zaffre for inviting mybookishblogspot to take part in the blogtour.

If you enjoyed the guest post, visit the other bloggers on the blogtour to discover what they thought of The Body In The Boat.

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#Blogtour The Generation Game by Sophie Duffy @sophiestenduffy @LegendPress

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The Generation Game by Sophie Duffy  Legend Press  April 5th 2018

Philippa Smith is in her forties and has a beautiful newborn baby girl. She also has no husband, and nowhere to turn. So she turns to the only place she knows: the beginning.
Retracing her life, she confronts the daily obstacles that shaped her very existence. From the tragic events of her childhood abandonment, to the astonishing accomplishments of those close to her, Phillipa learns of the sacrifices others chose to make, and the outcome of buried secrets. Philippa discovers a celebration of life, love, and the golden era of television. A reflection of everyday people, in not so everyday situations.

My review

The Generation Game brought back lots of memories of long forgotten television programmes. Who remembers Family Fortunes, New Faces, This Is Your Life, Come Dancing and of course The Generation Game? It is a veritable trip down memory lane and indeed that what this novel is all about. It is about looking back, it is about Philippa, aged forty who sits in a hospital with her newborn baby and how she got to where she is today. It is also a novel about family and discovering who your family is and what they mean to you.

Philippa herself is a person defined by her upbringing, abandoned by her mother, Helena, she is brought up by Bob owner of a local Torquay newsagent. Never married and no children of his own they somehow muddle through. He may not be the perfect role model or indeed her Father but he somehow steers Philippa in the right directions, even if at times she resented and was less appreciative of him. There were times when Philippa frustrated me but I think that’s because she herself didn’t know what she wanted or knew how to deal with situations. She was a person always looking for something, her place in the world, who to love, and ultimately a family. I felt the birth of her daughter was her second chance, the epithany where everything finally slotted into place and finally she could be who she wanted to be.

Philippa’s life is full of wonderful characters. None are more poignant than Lucas , who tragically dies young but forever remains in Philippa’s heart. His lasting legacy, a time capsule buried in Bob’s garden, will hold the answers to the many unanswered questions that Philippa carries with her throughout her forty years.

My favourite character had to be Wink, a formidable elderly lady with a parrot for a pet and an obsession with Bruce Forsyth and the Generation Game. She provided much of the humour and was the one of the constants in Philippa’s life. She never doubted Philippa, always believed that she would achieve whatever she wanted to.

What I loved most about Duffy’s novel was her ability to balance the light and the dark. It would have been so easy for Philippa’s story to be bogged down in all the serious issues that she had to face, yet Duffy managed to intersperse the dark times with great humour. One particular highlight had to be the royal wedding of Charles and Diana which I remember so well myself.

I felt a real connection with Philippa and I think it was because I shared so many of the events and TV programmes she remembers. I may not have had the same life issues but it was a connection that I rarely find in the many books that I read.

The Generation Game is a poignant novel, hugely emotive and filled with humour and most importantly full of hope. It is a novel about family and discovering who your family is even if they are not your blood relatives. It is a novel that I enjoyed immensely and I shall be seeking out and reading the Duffy’s other novels.

Thank you to Imogen Harris and Legend Press for inviting mybookishblogspot to participate in the blogtour.

About the author

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Sophie currently lives in Teignmouth, Devon with her husband and three children. The Generation Game was inspired by her childhood growing up in a sweet shop in Torquay.
Follow Sophie on Twitter @sophiestenduffy

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