Category Archives: Blog Tour

Gate Crashers by Patrick S. Tomlinson

Tor | 2018 (1 July) | 416p | Review copy | Buy the book

Gate Crashers by Patrick S TomlinsonThe Magellan or ‘Maggie’ is Earth’s first vessel to travel deep out of our solar system. It’s taken decades for them to reach this far, every year out another sacrifice for its captain and crew who will not see their families alive again. The only real time constant they have is a method of communication with Earth that is so advanced, it’s almost beyond their understanding. But otherwise Captain Allison Ridgeway and her crew are on their own. And then they discover the artefact fixed in space. It’s clearly non-human. It has unintelligible inscriptions on it. It’s just what the crew of Maggie has been after – the answer to that question asked by the people of Earth since time began: Are we alone in space? No, we’re not. Oh dear.

The technology of the artefact is extraordinary and, when Earth hears about it, the powers that be want to understand it, to recreate it, to make it their own. And so another vessel joins Maggie, this time using alien technology to reach the Maggie almost at once. As new and old spacefaring technology collide and they all finally realise the significance of this enigmatic, powerful artefact, survival becomes paramount. It appears that Earth has rather annoyed the creators of the artefact, it’s trodden on some toes and kicked off a rumpus that could have catastrophic consequences. The people of Earth might mean well but perhaps the rest of the universe can’t be bothered.

The premise of Gate Crashers is so fantastic, I couldn’t wait to read it. It fully delivers. I love a space romp with mysterious artefacts, even more so when they bring about that first contact with enigmatic aliens. But what makes Gate Crashers unusual and particularly successful is that here we have a science fiction novel that is full of humour and actually makes me laugh. This is really unusual! I’m a huge fan of the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy novels and any attempt at humour in space since then has fallen flat for me. Gate Crashers clearly has the feel of a homage to Hitchhiker’s, while also going for the fans of the genial and wonderfully easy going spacefaring novels by Becky Chambers, but it also works in its own right. There are plenty of jokes here aimed at those who’ve read a lot of science fiction but, more than that, Gate Crashers is such an entertaining and warm space adventure with moments in it that made me roar with laughter.

The characters are fantastic, whether they’re human or not. Gung-ho Maximus Tiberius isn’t somebody you’d forget in a hurry, however much you might try, while the efforts of ‘Maggie’ to fit in with her crew are poignantly entertaining. It’s just as well that the aliens are in two or three or four minds over what to do with these humans. I really enjoyed the first contact element of the novel, especially when we realise what a bad job the humans are making of it. But the aliens we encounter here are an entertaining mix of species, all with their own issues and concerns, and some downright horrible and frightening. Suddenly the universe feels very big indeed.

There might be humour here but there’s also action and drama and the moments after the artefact is brought inside the Magellan are particularly tense. This is hugely exciting and it becomes even more so when we discover the meaning of the artefact. I think my jaw may have dropped.

Gate Crashers is a hugely entertaining space romp! It’s undoubtedly well-written and witty with some laugh out loud moments to treasure. Humans might be flawed but they’re not the only ones and so the result is a warm, humorous and thrilling look at what might lie in store for mankind once it breaks free of the solar system. I can’t wait!

I’m delighted to post my review as part of the blog tour. You can find other stops on the tour here:

Monday, June 25 Sci Fi Chick
Tuesday, June 26 Books, Bones & Buffy
Tuesday, June 26 Espresso Coco
Wednesday, June 27 Civilian Reader
Thursday, June 28 Bibliosanctum
Friday, June 29 For Winter Nights
Saturday, June 30 Just a World Away

Advertisements

Where the Missing Go by Emma Rowley

Orion | 2018 (14 June) | 313p | Review copy | Buy the book

Where the Missing Go by Emma RowleyKate Harlow volunteers part-time at a missing persons helpline. It’s the sort of place that youngsters can ring, completely anonymously, to pass on a message to worried parents to let them know that they’re safe. Kate has her own personal reasons for working in such a place. Kate’s teenage daughter Sophie vanished a couple of years ago. Sophie had stayed at a friend’s house for the night and then not come home. Her Dad, Mark, was too late to see her note, to go searching in time. Marriages don’t easily survive such a thing and this one hasn’t. And then one night, Kate takes that call in the centre. It’s Sophie, leaving a message for Kate and Mark Harlow, to say she’s safe. But through all of the emotion, Kate can hear that Sophie sounds far from safe. She sounds frightened and alone. Kate is determined to find her daughter and bring her home.

Where the Missing Go is one of the few psychological thrillers that I was drawn to straight away and was determined to read. It’s such a great premise – that a mother hears the voice of her lost child, the child she thought could be dead – and the novel delivers well on its promise.

Much of the novel is delivered from Kate’s point of view as she thinks back over the days, weeks and months that led up to Sophie’s disappearance as well as the painful days that followed it. Kate is an ambiguous narrator. Her feelings for Sophie overwhelm everything and yet, if we pay close attention, we can see through Kate’s eyes to the teenager below. Perhaps the signs were there from the very beginning.

This, though, like many psychological thrillers, is a tale in two parts and so we are also given Sophie’s point of view and then the novel reaches into more familiar psychological thriller territory. While I did prefer the first half of the novel, I found myself caring very much for Sophie and her story gripped me.

Emma Rowley writes very well. She’s created characters here that I wanted to know and it’s the people who drive on Where the Missing go. We feel Kate’s pain. This is one of those pageturning thrillers that are such fun to read. I read it in a day, very pleased to have enjoyed a psychological thriller that stands out from the crowd.

I’m delighted to post my review of Where the Missing Go for the blog tour. For other stops on the tour, please take a look at the poster below.

Where the Missing Go blog tour

The Poison Bed by E.C. Fremantle

Michael Joseph | 2018 (14 June) | 406p | Review copy | Buy the book

The Poison Bed by Elizabeth FremantleIt is Autumn 1615 and the court of James I is swept up in a scandal. Two of its most celebrated and glamorous members, Robert and Frances Carr, the earl and countess of Somerset, are imprisoned in the Tower of London, accused of murder, of poisoning a man who knew far too much about the King, about Robert and about Frances. As a result, his life was forfeit, and now somebody must pay. But for Frances in the Tower, imprisoned with her newborn baby and the wet nurse, this is the time for her to look back on her short and eventful life, on her upbringing among the cruelly ambitious and powerful Howard family, on her unhappy first marriage, and on her passion for the beautiful Robert Carr, himself beloved by the King.

The Poison Bed is a story with two sides if not more and, as a result, it moves back and forth between chapters dedicated to ‘Her’ and to ‘Him’. In this way we get to know both Frances and Robert, although the reader must keep their wits about them. We, after all, were not there at the time. We are merely an audience. And in James I’s court with its love of wit and drama, little should be taken at face value.

This new novel by Elizabeth Fremantle (here published with a slight change of name) marks a little bit of a change by this fine author. Her previous novels have been more conventional works of historical fiction, focused on the Tudor and Jacobean periods, and bringing to life such incredible women as Katherine Parr (Queen’s Gambit), the Grey sisters (Sisters of Treason), Penelope Devereux (Watch the Lady) and Lady Arbella Stuart (The Girl in the Glass Tower). All four are wonderful novels (I love the first two in particular) and have such a powerful, brilliantly evoked historical setting and context. In The Poison Bed, Elizabeth Fremantle picks another formidable and remarkable figure from history, Frances Carr, and gives her story a bit of a psychological twist. The book is being billed as the Jacobean Gone Girl and I can understand why the comparison is being made because it really does have the feel of that novel in several ways.

The murder at the heart of the novel and the ensuing arrest of this most glamorous couple are a perfect subject for historical fiction, not least because it reveals so much about James I’s court. His sexual relationship with Robert Carr is given a significant place here. Frances Carr’s position in the court is ambiguous and curious. So much is hidden by the threat of scandal but it certainly tantalises. Frances dominates the book in a way that James fails to dominate his court and government and it is up to the reader to make up their minds from the stories offered up by both Frances and her husband, Robert.

It’s in the second half of the novel that it takes on more of a psychological thriller feel and, possibly because of that, it’s the first half that’s my favourite for it’s then that Elizabeth Fremantle builds up a vivid painting of life in the early 17th century for the very wealthy and ambitious. The Howard family is outrageous and the little child Frances is very much their pawn. I really enjoyed the depiction of James I and his circle. James isn’t a character that we meet too often in historical fiction but he certainly makes for a fascinating subject and the author does such a fine job of animating a figure that I know mostly from portraits. Robert Carr left me comparatively cold. He is completely out of his depth in James I’s government and he flounders. His devotion to Frances, though, is undoubtedly intense. There are so many richly drawn, larger than life characters in The Poison Bed. I love the way that we flit between them.

Elizabeth Fremantle writes so well. This is sparkly, witty prose, dancing between characters, between past and present. The reader is rewarded for paying attention because it can be a challenge keeping up with some of the figures in the book, not to mention their moods. Personally, I think that the story behind The Poison Bed is intriguing enough (and in such safe hands here) that the psychological thriller element wasn’t needed but it may mean that a wider readership will discover the joys of Elizabeth Fremantle’s historical fiction.

I must mention the cover of this hardback – look how beautiful it is!

Other reviews
Queen’s Gambit
Sisters of Treason
Watch the Lady
The Girl in the Glass Tower

I’m delighted to post my review as part of the blog tour. For other stops on the tour, please take a look at the poster below.

Poison Bed Blog Tour Card

‘Digging up inspiration’ – guest post by Nicola Ford, author of The Hidden Bones

The Hidden Bones by Nicola FordNext week, Allison & Busby publishes The Hidden Bones by Nicola Ford, the pen-name of Dr Nick Snashall, National Trust Archaeologist for the Stonehenge and Avebury World Heritage Site. With credentials like those, this is a novel that I am very excited about and I’m delighted to feature a guest post by the author to celebrate the publication. I was an archaeologist myself for many years and so I was really keen to know more about the archaeological inspiration for The Hidden Bones, especially the inspiration of the prehistoric landscape of Stonehenge and Avebury, a place I love very much. Thanks so much to Nicola for such a fascinating post. My review will follow next week.

First, a little of what the novel is about:
Following the recent death of her husband, Clare Hills is listless and unsure of her place in the world. When her former university friend Dr David Barbrook asks her to help him sift through the effects of deceased archaeologist Gerald Hart, she sees this as a useful distraction from her grief. During her search, Clare stumbles across the unpublished journals detailing Gerald’s most glittering dig. Hidden from view for decades and supposedly destroyed in an arson attack, she cannot believe her luck. Finding the Hungerbourne Barrows archive is every archaeologist’s dream. Determined to document Gerald’s career-defining find for the public, Clare and David delve into his meticulously kept records of the excavation. But the dream suddenly becomes a nightmare as the pair unearth a disturbing discovery, putting them at the centre of a murder inquiry and in the path of a dangerous killer determined to bury the truth for ever.

The Hidden Bones: digging up inspiration

Call me biased but I think I have the two best jobs in the world: crime writer by night and archaeologist by day. In my day job I work in two of the most astonishing landscapes on the planet. And that’s official! It’s why Stonehenge and Avebury are a World Heritage Site. So I didn’t have to look far to find the inspiration for my debut crime novel The Hidden Bones. The Marlborough Downs deep in the ancient Wiltshire landscape is where much of the action takes place and that’s where you’ll find Avebury – the largest prehistoric stone circle in the World. But the ancient hills are littered with Bronze Age burial sites just like the barrow cemetery at Hungerbourne.

In The Hidden Bones Clare Hills and David Barbrook rediscover the artefacts and archive from a glittering excavation that has been lost to public view for the best part of four decades. The goldwork from the site is directly inspired by an Early Bronze Age burial in the Stonehenge landscape, known somewhat unglamorously as Wilsford G8. They’re simply stunning pieces of craftsmanship that in real life were dug up at the beginning of the eighteenth century. And if you’d like to see them for yourself and not just rely on Clare Hills word for what they look like you’ll find them on display in the incomparable Wiltshire Museum in Devizes. In the book I wanted to capture the excitement not only of what it’s like to work on fabulously rich finds like these but to unlock the secrets of past lives. Much of what archaeologists like Clare, David and I do is back-breaking hard graft or the result of hundreds of hours spent in windowless museum stores. But the pay-off is that moment of revelation, when you pick up a piece of pottery or hold a stone axe and know that the last person to hold it was laid to rest five thousand years ago. In The Hidden Bones you get to short-cut that and to be there at the moment of revelation.

Archaeology is about layers and things are always more complicated than they appear. The Hidden Bones combines the story of the modern day rediscovery of the original finds and the excavation of the site they came from. But Clare and David also have to dig into the history of the original dig in the 1970s to reveal the truth of what happened at Hungerbourne.

The inspiration for the ‘Brew Crew’ photograph of the original dig team came from a site that was dug in the 1920s and is one of the most famous in the country. In the archives of the museum in Avebury there is a wonderfully evocative black and white shot of the marmalade magnate turned archaeologist Alexander Keiller and his team during their excavation of the Neolithic site at Windmill Hill. And unusually for the day the team comprised not only workmen but a whole bunch of highly talented women. Digs are hard work but enormous fun and there’s a special something that binds a dig team together. When I saw that photo for the first time the sense of camaraderie that you get on an excavation, now as then, leapt off of the print. But there was something else there too. A something that asked who got along with whom? Were any of these people more than just good friends? And what secrets did they share? And who among them might have taken those secrets to their graves? And with that The Hidden Bones was born.

Buy the book.

For other stops on the blog tour, please take a look at the poster below.

Hidden Bones banner

The House Swap by Rebecca Fleet

Doubleday | 2018 (3 May) | 320p | Review copy | Buy the book

The marriage of Caroline and Francis is in trouble. Sometimes it seems as if the only thing holding them together is their adored young son, Eddie. Perhaps it’s time for them to rediscover themselves, to take some time away from home, from Eddie, to reignite that spark that drew them together in the first place. On a whim Caroline had entered a house swap scheme. Finally, she gets a hit. Somebody would like to swap for a week his house in the leafy London suburb of Chiswick for their flat in the centre of Leeds. Full of hope, Caroline and Francis set off. But the house they find is nothing like they expected. It is stripped of personal items and character. It feels like a spotless shell.

But there are flowers waiting for them and a choice of music in the CD player that gives Caroline an uneasy feeling. There is something very familiar about these little things, almost as if a message has been left for her in this stranger’s house. It reminds her of a past she wants forgotten forever. And suddenly the thought hits her that this person, whoever they might really be, is in her own flat. And they seem to know everything about her.

The House Swap has a fantastic premise and it certainly had me intrigued to read it. Its narrative pushes the story on in chapters that move between the present day and events that took place about three years before. Most of the narrative is from Caroline’s point of view but there are other chapters which give us another perspective, especially that of her husband Francis. And it’s to Francis that we are increasingly drawn as we learn more and more about Caroline’s past. There are other sections, though, the ones filled with menace, as we’re taken into the Leeds flat now inhabited by a stranger who has their own plans for Caroline.

I did have issues with The House Swap, largely focused on how difficult I found it to empathise with Caroline. She’s increasingly difficult to like, as is her behaviour. I did feel sorry for Francis and I was glad when chapters allowed him a voice. My other issue was with the frequent sexual content, which I wasn’t expecting and gave the novel an erotic edge that I wouldn’t normally go for. However, the story kept me intrigued throughout and I was keen to discover the truth. There are moments of menace here that I particularly welcomed. Rebecca Fleet is very good at establishing a sinister tone. She can also write a pacey tale because the pages of The House Swap flew through the fingers.

For other stops on the blog tour, please take a look at the poster below.

House Swap blog tour

The House on Half Moon Street by Alex Reeve

Raven Books | 2018 (3 May) | 384p | Review copy | Buy the book

The House on Half Moon Street by Alex ReeveIt is 1880 and Leo Stanhope, assistant to a coroner in London, is in love. It doesn’t matter to him that his love Maria works as a prostitute in Mrs Brafton’s brothel on Half Moon Street. Leo knows that Maria loves him and he has proof. She knows Leo as he really is – a man who was born a girl called Charlotte or Lottie. But Lottie grew up knowing that there was no future for Charlotte the woman. There could only be Leo the man. Very few know Leo’s secret, which is just as well because a woman dressed as a man is committing a criminal offence. But all of Leo’s hopes for the future are shattered when Maria is found dead, murdered, and Leo is a chief suspect. With his heart broken, Leo must discover the truth but in doing so he learns how little he really knew the love of his life.

At the heart of The House on Half Moon Street is its vulnerable and yet immensely courageous transgender hero, Leo Stanhope. He’s so easy to warm to, and fear for, as he lets us into his secrets, we watch him mould his body, suppress his appetite to remain unfeminine, meet with friends who could destroy him with one careless word. The narrative is in the first person and so we know only too well just how much he loves Maria while we also suspect that this relationship is never going to end well. And we worry for him when we watch him risk absolutely everything to chase her killer.

So on one level this is a Victorian murder mystery and it’s a very good one. But on another level it’s an emotional portrait of Leo Stanhope who lived at a time when there must have seemed little hope for someone like him. At times the narrative takes us into very dark places indeed and there is one moment in particular which I found difficult to cope with, that contrasted so sharply with the tone of much of the rest of the novel. And so at times the novel does seem to straddle different worlds. Inevitably, it also reminded me of the much loved Jem series by E.M. Thomson. But there is so much feeling in The House on Half Moon Street that it is impossible not to warm to Leo, who is so beautifully drawn and brought to life, and fear for his situation. But there is more to this novel than Leo’s situation. It also reflects on the situation of London’s poorest women, including its prostitutes.

The portrayal of Victorian London is fantastic. We move around a fair bit of it and I really enjoyed where it it takes us but the best of scenes are reserved for Mrs Brafton’s brothel as well as the evenings Leo spends playing chess with his closest friend. But I particularly liked the moments Leo spends with his landlord and his young daughter. There is such a life to these scenes, although the thought of the landlord practising his dentistry skills is not a comforting one. I loved the lightness and humour of these pages, which do a fine job, I think, of breaking up the darkness.

The House on Half Moon Street is a really enjoyable and at times quite intense portrayal of life in London in the 1880s for poor women and for those who challenged Victorian conceptions of sexuality and gender identity. Leo is an intriguing hero with the weight of the world on his shoulders. The House on Half Moon Street is Alex Reeve’s debut novel and is, I’m delighted to say, the first of a new series. I’m really pleased that Leo will return.

The Madonna of The Mountains by Elise Valmorbida – special post

The Madonna of the MountainsTowards the end of last month Faber & Faber published The Madonna of the Mountains, a novel by Elise Valmorbida, which is set in Italy during the 1920s and onwards and the rise of fascism, telling the story of Maria Vittoria. To celebrate the publication I’m delighted to present here a special post which includes Elise’s answers to my three questions as well as a photo or two from a wonderful night in early March when I saw Elise interviewed in such a stunning room at Liberty’s in London.Faber & Faber have published the novel in partnership with Liberty London and they were responsible from drawing on their vast array of historic designs and patterns to create the gorgeous cover for the novel But first a little of what The Madonna of the Mountains is about.

Set in the Veneto in Northern Italy and spanning nearly three decades following the First World War, The Madonna of the Mountains is a fierce, sharply observed and richly detailed account of a woman’s fight to keep her family alive and thriving – at whatever the cost.

We meet Maria in 1923 as she awaits the arrival of her husband, chosen for her by her father and miraculously neither disfigured nor damaged by the previous war. Together they start a shop and build a business and a family – but the creep of fascism casts a dark shadow, and the horrors of war, political and practical, threaten their very survival.

The Madonna of the Mountains is about what unites family and community and also what destroys them. It is about love and enmity, envy and generosity, two men, one God (and his mother) and the undying bond of a mother to her children.

Thanks very much to Elise for taking the time to answer my questions!

Liberty event March 2018What was your inspiration for the character of Maria? Did her character develop as you were writing the novel or did she stay true to how you first imagined her?

When I started work on this novel, I knew I wanted to write about the life of a woman, and I wanted to write about a woman in times of war. Not one of Mussolini’s lovers, not an aristocrat, not a leader, not a political heroine. An ordinary peasant woman. Finding out about such a person’s day-to-day life was not so easy. I started writing about a birth in a remote time and place, from the point of view of a newborn baby girl. It’s a chapter that has well and truly vanished. But it got me going, and Maria Vittoria slowly emerged from her. She doesn’t have the education or worldliness to analyse ideology, nor the heroism to overcome pragmatism. And she is of her time. The character has changed from draft to draft. She started out tougher. I grew to love her more. I have cried with her.

What is it about Italy during the 1920s and World War II that so appealed to you as a setting for your novel? Are there any other historical periods/places that appeal to you as a writer?

Many historical novelists are historians who have turned their hand to fiction, and some specialise in a favourite era. I’ve met writers who introduce themselves very specifically, say, as ‘a 1066 novelist’, or ‘a specialist in medical nostalgia’. I’m not a historian. And I don’t think of myself as a historical novelist. But I have developed a near-obsession with Italy and the early part of the 20th century. I’m sure this is because of my roots. I feel a strong sense of connection with this time and place, so familiar to me and yet actually so distant. But history repeats itself in lazy loops, and I look on fearfully now as populists and despots take hold in too many places…

Which novelists and books have inspired you?

Shakespeare inspires me above and beyond all other writers. I love the poetry of TS Eliot and Samuel Beckett’s prose and plays. I love Virginia Woolf’s wry intelligence, her soulful and poetic prose. Two slim novels that are standalone perfection: F Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby and Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys. Toni Morrison, Margaret Atwood, Annie Proulx and Michael Ondaatje sing to me.

For other stops on the blog tour, please take a look at the poster below.

Madonna blog tour