Category Archives: Blog Tour

Guest post by Ian Ross, author of Triumph in Dust

The Twilight of Rome series by Ian Ross has given me such reading pleasure over the last few years. Set during the early years of the 4th century AD, the books provide such a fascinating and thrilling portrait of a divided Roman empire at war, covering the rise to power of one of Rome’s most famous (but perhaps not that well known in fiction) emperors Constantine the Great. The centurion Aurelius Castus, a fantastic hero, is placed at the heart of events and it is gripping stuff. In January, the series comes to a close with the sixth book, Triumph in Dust. This obviously makes me sad as I’ll miss it but I’m really excited to see how it will end – for Rome and for Castus. I’ll be posting a review of the novel closer to its publication in hardback on 10 January but the ebook will be available from 1 December. To celebrate the occasion, I’m delighted to join the blog tour with a guest post by Ian Ross on how he picked this particular period of Roman history to bring alive in the Twilight of Rome series.

War at the Edge of the World by Ian RossGuest post

You decide that you want to write a series of novels, following the adventures of a single character through an epic period of history. You’ve always been fascinated by the ancient Roman world, so that seems the ideal setting; but Rome endured for over half a millennium, and featured a wealth of extraordinary events; how do you narrow it down?

You want to choose a period that will allow you the widest geographical scope. You also need a cast of engaging historical figures, familiar to the educated reader but not over-represented in fiction. You want to steer your stories as close as possible to recorded facts, so you need a well documented era, but one with sufficient breadth of uncertainty to allow your imagination free rein. Lastly, of course, you need to choose a setting with the greatest possible dramatic potential, a time of wars and uprisings, plots and intrigues, a moment when the certainties of the past are being overthrown, and a single man – or woman – can rise from obscurity to take a guiding role in great events.

It’s strange to consider, as I reach the conclusion of my ‘Twilight of Empire’ series – the sixth and final book, Triumph in Dust, is published in January – that I did once ask myself these questions. But for me, there could only have been one answer. Years before, when I lived in Sicily, I had visited the ruins of the Roman villa at Piazza Armerina, and seen the fabulous floor mosaics, dating from the early 4th century AD, showing scenes of daily life: soldiers and hunters, aristocrats and slaves, all in dazzling colour. I soon realised that the thirty-year reign of the Emperor Constantine would provide an ideal framing chronology. From his first acclamation at York in AD306, Constantine’s bloody and dramatic rise to sole power would give me a powerful narrative arc, around which my story could evolve. He was also the first emperor to adopt Christianity, and the revolutionary changes in religion would add an extra social dimension to the turmoil of the era.

Imperial Vengeance by Ian RossBut I did not want to tell the story of Constantine himself; instead I wanted to view his world through the eyes of a figure on the periphery of power, a man who could move freely between the frontiers and the very heart of the empire. And so my protagonist was born: Aurelius Castus begins the first novel as a common soldier, recently promoted to centurion of a legion in northern Britain. His adventurous career will take him through the greatest battles of the age, and right across the Roman world from the barbarian wilderness to the palaces of the emperors, then onward to the distant eastern frontiers, as he scales towards the dangerous summit of power.

Now, even as I consider future projects, and once more ask myself those same questions about setting, I know that the world of the ‘Twilight of Empire’ novels will always endure in my imagination. Historical fiction gives us a way of encountering familiarity in the strangeness of the past.

Reviews and posts
War at the Edge of the World (Twilight of Empire 1)
Swords Around the Throne (Twilight of Empire 2)
Battle for Rome (Twilight of Empire 3) (with interview)
The Mask of Command (Twilight of Empire 4)
Imperial Vengeance (Twilight of Empire 5)

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Penguin Modern Classics: A Small Town in Germany by John Le Carré

A Small Town in Germany by John Le CarreOn 27 September 2018, Penguin completed its nine-year project to publish 21 of John Le Carré’s novels as Penguin Modern Classics, making him the living author with the greatest number of works awarded this classics status. New to the list will be Little Drummer Girl, which the BBC is about to bring to our small screens. I’m really proud to have been invited to take part in the blog tour to celebrate the project, as well as the BBC series of Little Drummer Girl. It’s my role to introduce you to A Small Town In Germany, which, like so many in the Le Carré Penguin Modern Classics has such a gorgeous, striking cover.

A Small Town in Germany was published by Penguin Modern Classics in 2011 but the book itself first appeared in print back in 1968 and is one of the spy novels that doesn’t feature George Smiley. Here is a little of what the novel is about:

West Germany, a simmering cauldron of radical protests, has produced a new danger to Britain: Karfeld, menacing leader of the opposition. At the same time Leo Harting, a Second Secretary in the British Embassy, has gone missing – along with more than forty Confidential embassy files. Alan Turner of the Foreign Office must travel to Bonn to recover them, facing riots, Nazi secrets and the delicate machinations of an unstable Europe in the throes of the Cold War.

As Turner gets closer to the truth of Harting’s disappearance, he will discover that the face of International relations – and the attentions of the British Ministry itself – is uglier that he could possibly have imagined.

The small German town in question is Bonn, West Germany, and it’s a foggy, wet place – a dangerous place in this time of Cold War and suspicion. It is a time when Europe is trying to draw closer together, to tighten its Union, in the face of a considerable amount of instability and hostility. Alan Turner isn’t keen to visit but he has no choice. It’s in Bonn that he must look for the missing British Embassy Secretary, Leo, a man that remains elusive throughout the novel.

The Little Drummer Girl by John Le CarreA Small Town in Germany is one of Le Carre’s earliest novels and takes place without the presence of George Smiley. Nevertheless, it still contains the hallmarks of Le Carré’s skill – his ability to describe in great detail without giving much away, keeping the reader as much in the dark as his agents. The time and place are evoked with great clarity, despite the puzzles that haunt each page.

I’ve read most of Le Carré’s novels over the years and I would definitely call myself a fan. I do think that A Small Town in Germany is one of the more challenging of the books – it takes a while to establish in which direction it’s heading and it can, at times, confuse – but it is so steeped in the times, which seem particularly pertinent now.

I have a spare copy of A Small Town in Germany to give away, so if you’d like to read it, please leave a comment here or on Twitter.

This is such an exciting blog tour to be a part of, with each stop focusing on a different book. A spy book bonanza! For the other stops on the tour, please do take a look at the poster.

John le Carre - Blog Tour Card

Now You See Her by Heidi Perks

Century | 2018 (26 July) | 416p | Review copy | Buy the book

Now You See Her by Heidi PerksHarriet is a very protective mother. She can’t bear to let her daughter Alice out of her sight. But then one day Harriet gets the chance to go on a course that could potentially transform her future, giving her a life outside the home. And so, with great reluctance, she agrees that her best friend Charlotte can babysit for the day, taking Alice along with her own children to the school fete. Charlotte swears she only took her eyes off the children for a moment and now she must tell Harriet that little Alice is missing. Both Harriet and Charlotte are devastated and Harriet swears she will never speak to Charlotte again for losing her child and not one of her own. But two weeks later both women are being questioned by the police. The truth will not stay buried.

The lost or stolen child is a familiar theme in psychological thrillers but there is something about the way that Heidi Perks treats the theme in Now You See Her that particularly appeals. And I think that this has a great deal to do with Harriet and Charlotte. Each is such an interesting character and the development of their friendship over the previous few years is portrayed with real feeling. Harriet is not an easy woman to warm to, she’s an outsider, and the mums that gather outside the school gates to collect their young can be every bit as unkind as their offspring. Charlotte won’t stand for it. Their friendship is fragile and they have very little in common except their children but it feels very genuine. I warmed to these two, especially Charlotte.

The police investigation, the stories of Charlotte and Harriet, Harriet’s relationship with her husband, the role of the media and society in forming opinions – these all work together to form a psychological thriller that is more original and realistic than most.

There are tantalising hints throughout the novel from the very beginning, in the form of snippets from police interviews, so we know that something serious lies ahead, perhaps even more so than the disappearance of four-year-old Alice, and this keeps the reader on tenterhooks. The narrative also shifts to and fro in time and moves between the stories of Charlotte and Harriet. The structure works well and keeps the pace moving.

I realised quite early on in which way the novel would go and so this did take the edge off it a little for me. Nevertheless, Now You See Her gives us something different in what is a rather crowded shelf. It is well-written and the pace is maintained throughout, driven by the memorable and appealing characters of Harriet and Charlotte whose friendship is here put to the biggest test.

I’m delighted to post my review as part of the Blog Tour to celebrate the publication of Now You See Her. For other stops on the tour, please do take a look at the poster below.

Now You See Her blog tour poster

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

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