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Today’s Celebrating Indie Publishing features both a book review and an author interview, and I am thrilled to share my thoughts with you about The Red Gene.

  • Title: The Red Gene
  • Author: Barbara Lamplugh
  • Publisher: Urbane Publications
  • Publication Date: 18th April 2019

Copy received from publisher for review purposes.

Description:

When Rose, a young English nurse with humanitarian ideals, decides to volunteer in the Spanish Civil War, she is little prepared for the experiences that await her.
Working on one front after another, witness to all the horrors of war, she falls in love with a Republican fighter, Miguel. In 1939 as defeat becomes inevitable, Rose is faced with a decision that will change her life and leave her with lasting scars.

Interspersed with Rose’s story is that of Consuelo, a girl growing up in a staunchly Catholic family on the other side of the ideological divide. Never quite belonging, treated unkindly, she discovers at a young age that she was adopted but her attempts to learn more about her origins are largely thwarted.

It falls to the third generation, to Consuelo’s daughter Marisol, born in the year of Franco’s death and growing up in a rapidly changing Spain, to investigate the dark secrets of her family and find the answers that have until now eluded her mother.

My Thoughts:

The Red Gene is an impressive journey through the history of three distinctly different women, all of whom are linked by a connection and are completely unaware of it.
Rose, a young woman makes the decision she must volunteer, her nursing skills would be of great use to those fighting in the Spanish Civil War and give her the glimpse of the world that she so desperately wants. For Rose, this begins as an adventure, not aware of the harsh realities she will face so close to the fighting. The injuries she sees, the lack of supplies and the constant fear of bombardment take their toll on Rose, they change who she was, and in turn begin a transformation into a woman who takes chances and knows her worth.

As readers get to know Rose and her story, they are immersed in the early life of Consuelo. She is a troubled young girl, feeling that her place in her family isn’t as valued as that of her siblings, always feeling that she is on the receiving end of her mother’s disappointment. Learning that she was adopted as a baby, things begin to make sense for her but this also leaves her with so many questions. Where did she come from? Who were her biological parents and are they still around?

The lives of both Rose and Consuelo play out over the course of their narratives, and so does the exploration of their personalities. In these two women we witness great humanity but also pain, we see them grow, watch them take on challenges and thrive under the pressures placed on them. Just as their lives reach a certain place, a third narrative is added in by way of Marisol, Consuelo’s daughter, a confident but somewhat youthfully naive girl who questions everything around her. Her inquisitive mind illustrates the movement of both time and society, why does her mother do everything for the family, why don’t her male siblings help out around the home instead of expecting the females of the family do it it all … she demonstrates the change in thinking that drives the modern world and in turn gives readers another strong female character to fall in love with.

Barbara Lamplugh has written a strong yet beautiful story that brings to life the atrocities of the Spanish Civil War, the stolen babies of the Franco era and the turmoil associated with them both. She approaches the subjects with sympathy and sensitivity, not shying away from the realities, yet she manages to portray them in away that gives readers an understanding of the situations. The confusion and turmoil faced by her characters is so vividly described in The Red Gene, the sense of loss and longing that is depicted is very real and it’s hard not to be moved to some extent by it.
Whilst being a very interesting read and very well written, there is a subtle message that this book bestows upon the audience, the importance of family. It reminds us that family is not just those who you are linked to by blood or genetics, but those who you choose to to bring into your life.


Author Feature:

Barbara Lamplugh started out as a travel writer in the 1970s, inspired by a life-changing overland journey to Kathmandu in a converted fire-engine. Her love of adventure then took her backpacking around SE Asia via the Trans-Siberian Railway and Japan. Two travel books, Kathmandu by Truck and Trans-Siberia by Rail, were the result. Another new experience – motherhood – came next, putting an end to her extensive wanderings. However, she continued to write, turning now to fiction. In 1999, spurred by the challenge of living in a different culture, she headed for Granada, Spain, where along with the energising light of the sun, she found her dream job as a features writer for the magazine Living Spain, writing on topics as diverse as garlic, machismo, the life of a lighthouse keeper and the nightmarish experience of being trapped at an all-night drumming festival. Although her heart and home are in Granada, where her 2015 novel Secrets of the Pomegranate is set, she makes frequent visits to the UK to spend time with her children and grandchildren.
Her new novel, The Red Gene, will be published by Urbane in April 2019.

What’s your most favourite thing about being an author?

Nothing can beat the exhilaration of that moment when an idea comes to me out of the blue for a plot development, a scene or just a sentence that expresses perfectly what I want to say. But the thrill of getting feedback from readers that they’ve loved my book or been deeply affected by my writing comes a close second.

What’s your least favourite thing about being an author?

Sending my baby out to agents or publishers after years of hard work and emotional investment and getting no response or just a standard two-line rejection six months later. It’s hard not to get discouraged, to continue to believe in yourself and your writing.

If you could have written any book what would it be and why?

That’s a difficult question, there are so many. I’m tempted to pick one of Roald Dahl’s for his brilliant imagination, creative way with language (Frobscottle! Whizzpoppers!) and the pleasure he’s given to generations of children. But I think instead I’m going to plump for one of Rose Tremain’s novels. I’d be proud to have written any of them, I so admire the way she gets under the skin of diverse characters and brings settings – from 17th century Denmark to gold-rush New Zealand to post-war Switzerland – vividly to life. If I have to choose one of her books, I’ll go for The Colour. It portrays a world previously unknown to me and reflects, as do all her books, her deep understanding of human nature.

How do you spend your time when you’re not writing?

I like to balance the solitary hours at my desk with socialising – seeing friends, spending time with my children and grandchildren in the UK, generally getting out and about – and to balance the sedentary task of writing with exercise – walking, cycling, swimming, dancing. I’ve always loved travel though I do less now than I used to. Reading also plays an important part in my life, as I imagine it does for most writers.

Do you have a set routine for writing?  Rituals you have to observe? I.e. specific pen, silence, day or night etc.

I’m at my most creative in the mornings and I need silence and solitude. Although ideas can come to me at any time, I never take my laptop to cafes as some writers do. I would find that far too distracting. If I’m stuck, I go for a walk, or to the beach in summer. That nearly always works but only when I’m alone. I’ll write my ideas down in a notebook or on any handy scrap of paper, to be transferred once I get home. Inspiration comes when I’m relaxed and tends to strike most easily when I’m in or near water: the sea, rivers, even the bath!

What’s on the horizon? 

While I’m in the full throes of promoting The Red Gene, it’s difficult to focus on a new novel. I need to have some writing on the go though, so in the meantime, I’m working on a memoir around the theme of migration – my family’s and mine – and how it has influenced our lives. After that, I hope to return to fiction.

Finally, if you could impart one pearl of wisdom to your readers, what would it be?

Life is full of coincidences, missed opportunities, tragedies or serendipities of timing, often with momentous consequences. I’ve sometimes used these in plotting my novels. For example,
Secrets of the Pomegranate opens with Deborah, the central character, catching a train by the skin of her teeth. It happens to be one of the four targeted by Islamist extremists in the terrorist attack of 2004. The fact that she’s on that train sets off a whole chain of consequences, without which there’d have been no story. In The Red Gene, missed opportunities and accidents of timing were all that stood in the way of encounters that would have changed the lives of my protagonists. I’m often struck by how much in life is down to chance (call it Fate if you like): to being in the right place at the right time or the reverse.

Can you tell me a little about your latest book?  How would you describe it and why should we go read it? 

The Red Gene is a novel about love and war and motherhood and identity, set in Spain and England between 1936 and 2012. It tells the story of Rose, a young English nurse who volunteers for Spain with the International Brigades at the beginning of the Civil War. The story spans three generations of women so it’s also the story of Consuelo, born in 1939 soon after the start of Franco’s dictatorship and of Consuelo’s youngest daughter, Marisol. Having lived in Spain for 20 years, I’m pretty fluent in Spanish and that meant I was able to interview older Spaniards on both sides of the political divide about life under the dictatorship. Their stories and what has emerged in the press in recent years showed me some of the less savoury aspects of recent Spanish history, including the theft of babies for ideological reasons. Both the interviews and the media articles were invaluable when plotting The Red Gene and fleshing out the background.

It’s an action tale, a love story and a family drama rolled into one, but set in a historical context that resonates today as we see fascism on the rise again in a number of countries. Readers have told me they found the book moving and hard to put down and that they learnt a lot too. I personally like reading novels that involve me emotionally but also make me think and I hope that’s what I’ve achieved in writing
The Red Gene.

A huge thank you to Barbara for joining me today for a chat, it’s a huge honour to welcome indie authors to The Quiet Knitter blog to speak about their books, their writing habits and find out what their next project might be about.

To find out more about Barbara and her books, check out her website or Twitter!
Website: https://barbaralamplugh.com


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I’ve been very lucky lately with some of the books I’ve read for sharing on this feature. When Celebrating Indie Publishing started, I don’t think I ever imagined how popular it would become, or how many different books I would end up falling in love with. Today’s book is one of those rare books that I started reading, not prepared for how deeply it would make me think or how much it would get under my skin.

  • Title: The Lives Before Us
  • Author: Juliet Conlin
  • Publisher: Black and White Publishing
  • Publication Date: 28th March 2019

Copy received from publisher for review purposes.

Description:

“I wasn’t sure I liked the sound of it. Even my vivid imagination could hardly fathom a place as tight, or dense, or narrow as Shanghai.”

It’s April 1939 and, with their lives in Berlin and Vienna under threat, Esther and Kitty – two very different women – are forced to make the same brutal choice. Flee Europe, or face the ghetto, incarceration, death.

Shanghai, they’ve heard, Shanghai is a haven – and so they secure passage to the other side of the world. What they find is a city of extremes – wealth, poverty, decadence and disease – and of deep political instability. Kitty has been lured there with promises of luxury, love, marriage – but when her Russian fiancé reveals his hand she’s left to scratch a vulnerable living in Shanghai’s nightclubs and dark corners. Meanwhile, Esther and her little girl take shelter in a house of widows until the protection of Aaron, Esther’s hot-headed former lover, offers new hope of survival.

Then the Japanese military enters the fray and violence mounts. As Kitty’s dreams of escape are dashed, and Esther’s relationship becomes tainted, the two women are thrown together in the city’s most desperate times. Together they must fight for a future for the lives that will follow theirs.

A sweeping story of survival, community and friendship in defiance of the worst threat to humanity the world has ever faced. From the author of the extraordinary The Uncommon Life of Alfred Warner in Six DaysThe Lives Before Us will particularly resonate with readers of Jeremy Dronfield (The Boy Who Followed His Father into Auschwitz), Anthony Doerr (All the Light We Cannot See), Heather Morris (The Tattooist of Auschwitz), and Costa-winner Bart van Es (The Cut Out Girl).

My Thoughts:

I have to admit, that the journey to Shanghai was not one that I was familiar with, and indeed I wasn’t aware of the number of people who fled Europe for China around the time of WWII, so The Lives Before Us was a somewhat educational read for me.

Juliet Conlin crafts two wonderfully complex characters to make the journey from an unstable Europe to the haven of Shanghai in 1939. These women are brought to life through her eloquent and vivid writing, they are more than just names on a page, they are well rounded personalities with very real worries and problems, they are victims of decisions made around them and for them, but one thing is for sure, Shanghai will be a new start for them.
Esther and her young daughter Anni, are thrown somewhat by the arrival of a glamorous woman in their cabin aboard the ship in Genoa, Kitty’s appearance was not expected, but both women are given little choice about the arrangements and decide to make the best of a difficult situation. As they cross the oceans to Shanghai, Esther learns that Kitty is also a Jew, and fleeing persecution in Vienna. The pair strike up a friendship, a genuine bond forms between them and Esther is saddened when they lose sight of each other when they arrive at their final destination.
Arriving in Shanghai, Kitty is thrilled to see fiance Vitali and cannot wait to begin the rest of their lives together. She shows her to an apartment, introduces her to her young Chinese servant Yi (Wing as Vitali refers to him), and then drops the bombshell that life will not work out as Kitty had hoped.

What then follows is a rich and heartbreaking narrative from the perspectives of Esther, Kitty and Yi. Readers experience the adjustments to life that each of these characters faces, Esther trying to keep her young child safe and find work so that they can move out of a refugee centre, Kitty living an existence that doesn’t quite match up with the life she had envisioned, feeling alone and isolated, and then there is Yi. Yi lives in a kind of poverty that forces the reader to face the inequalities in society, he is treated with kindness by Kitty, a stark contrast to the way that Vitali treats him, and I almost gasped in horror reading the beatings he received at the hands of his Russian master.

As their lives develop and adapt to their surroundings, these characters grow, they find strength and courage, but the compassion they receive and show to others really sets these three out as special.

This is a really remarkable book, it takes a very dark part of history and together with compassionate and beautiful writing, transforms the story into an unforgettable tale that works its way into the hearts of readers and leaves them wondering “what if?” with it’s thought provoking prose.



  • Title: The Inheritance
  • Author: Anne Allen
  • Publisher: Sarnia Press
  • Publication Date: 8th April 2019

Copy received from Rachel’s Random Resources for review purposes.

Description:

1862 Young widow Eugénie faces an uncertain future in Guernsey when her husband dies at sea. A further tragedy brings her to the attention of Monsieur Victor Hugo, exiled on the island and living in his voluptuous house only yards away from Eugénie. Their meeting changes her life and she begins working for him as a copyist, forming a strong friendship with both Hugo and his mistress, Juliette Drouet.

2012 Doctor Tess Le Prevost, born in Guernsey, now living in Exeter, is shocked to inherit her Great-Aunt’s house on the island. As a child she listened to Aunt Doris’s tales of their ancestor, Eugénie, whose house this once was, and who, according to family myth, was particularly close to Hugo. Was he the father of her child? Tess doubts it, but inheriting the house allows her to make a fresh start in her beloved island.

Will she discover the truth about Eugénie and Hugo? A surprise find may hold the answer as Tess embraces new challenges which test her strength – and her heart.


My Thoughts:

I am a huge fan of Anne Allen’s writing and have enjoyed many of the books in the Guernsey series, each of the so different yet so rich in characters and wonderful settings.

The linking of two timelines always appeals to me in a novel, and I know from the outset that any of Anne Allen’s books will be just the right mix of modern day and historic setting. With characters in 2012 and 1862, we span a few centuries but see in both of these times circumstances that impact on society then as much as they do now.
Eugénie in 1862 is mourning the loss of her new husband, his death at sea robbing her of happiness and companionship, and so a chance meeting with Victor Hugo opens her eyes to a world she could never have imagined. She is a character that we slowly watch transform through the pages, the once quiet and withdrawn young woman becomes more confident, more sure in her own skin and begins to move on after the early tragedies that befell her. The friendships she forms are a lifeline for her, they are a comfort to her and they enable her to be Eugénie again, and not just a sad widow.
2012 brings the reader the story of Tess, a young doctor finishing off her training in Exeter. Stunned to learn that she has inherited the home of her Great- Aunt on Guernsey, she makes the life changing decision to move back to her beloved island, and make a life there. But if that wasn’t enough to deal with, there are the simple matters of family politics, clearing out the possessions of her Great-Aunt and unravelling a myth that has run through her family for generations, thrown into the mix.

In both Eugénie and Tess, we see strong female characters who take control of situations they are in. There are times that life throws them a curveball, makes things somewhat difficult for them, but these women are wonderful to watch, they take it in their stride, use the events to give them courage, strength and ultimately adapt.
The mystery element of the plot is fascinating, readers follow Tess as she pieces Eugénie’s life together to form a narrative that gladdens and breaks the heart in equal measure, as well as experience events through the perspective of Eugénie. In Anne Allen’s hands, this is done with sympathy as well as highlighting the harshness of situations that her characters find themselves in.

There’s something comforting about picking up a book from this author, she has a wonderful way of bringing a story alive with rich and atmospheric settings, I felt like I could see the sights of Guernsey, like I could see the houses that she described, I felt like I got to know the characters and became so invested in them. I shared their frustrations, their sorrows, their confusion and eventually, their happiness.
Of all of the Guernsey novels, I think that this has been my favourite so far, I can’t quite put my finger on what it was that grabbed my heart, but something about this book has lingered on after I read the last page. It’s perhaps just my head wondering “what next?” for Tess, her family and her friends, but I do know that I thoroughly enjoyed this book and absolutely recommend it, and all of the books.

All of the books in this series can be read as standalone.

Check out Rachel’s Random Resources for the blog tour!
  • Title: Madness, Murder and Mayhem: Criminal Insanity in Victorian and Edwardian Britain
  • Authors: Kathryn Burtinshaw and John Burt
  • Publisher: Pen & Sword History
  • Publication Date: 2nd October 2018

Copy received from publisher for review purposes.

Description:

Following an assassination attempt on George III in 1800, new legislation significantly altered the way the criminally insane were treated by the judicial system in Britain. This book explores these changes and explains the rationale for purpose-built criminal lunatic asylums in the Victorian era.

Specific case studies are used to illustrate and describe some of the earliest patients at Broadmoor Hospital – the Criminal Lunatic Asylum for England and Wales and the Criminal Lunatic Department at Perth Prison in Scotland. Chapters examine the mental and social problems that led to crime alongside individuals considered to be weak-minded, imbeciles or idiots. Family murders are explored as well as individuals who killed for gain. An examination of psychiatric evidence is provided to illustrate how often an insanity defence was used in court and the outcome if the judge and jury did not believe these claims. Two cases are discussed where medical experts gave evidence that individuals were mentally irresponsible for their crimes but they were led to the gallows.

Written by genealogists and historians, this book examines and identifies individuals who committed heinous crimes and researches the impact crime had on themselves, their families and their victims.

My Thoughts:

A fantastically intriguing and insightful read, the pages of this book are filled with information that has been thoroughly researched and collated by two experienced and respected historians and genealogists.

I think it would be fair to say that this book was a great starting point for me wanting to know more about asylums and health care in the 1800s in Britain, especially after reading chapters about the creation of specific facilities for the treatment of those deemed criminally insane. The case histories used in each section of the book make for fascinating reading, and it’s interesting seeing how society and medical professionals saw and understood those who had mental illness or committed crimes because of mental illness.
The sections on mentally weak habitual criminals and idiots and imbeciles really opened my eyes and had me asking so many questions after reading the case histories. The ideas at the time were often that poor parenting and poverty were the cause of some mentally weak people. A former governor and medical officer of Holloway Prison commented ‘some criminals are of bad or degenerate stock’ and ‘different to skilled criminals who would not have recruited associates of low intelligence’, and I do think that this is a very powerful way to see people. The arguments that took place at the time of how to define individuals makes for interesting reading, and it was often felt that it would be in infringement to lock people up because of what was deemed to be a low intellect. Which was in contrast to those who were of the belief that segregation and strict birth control would contain those with learning disabilities. Alarming really when you consider the views of the Eugenics Education Society at the time.

The theme of poverty is covered along with infirmity and illegitimacy, which involved societal issues such as employment, sickness and disability. These were contributors to the break down of families and often lead to families being admitted to workhouses. However, fear of workhouses was catalyst enough for many, these ‘prisons for the poor’ were to be avoided and so many would descend into a spiral of poor mental health trying to keep themselves away from the workhouse and keep their families clothed, homed and fed.

An absolutely fascinating read and one I would highly recommend!

It’s a great honour to be part of the blog tour for The Librarian of Auschwitz today, even more so as I’m kicking off the tour with the first review.

  • Title: The Librarian of Auschwitz
  • Author: Antonio Iturbe
  • Translator: Lilit Zekulin Thwaites
  • Publisher: Ebury Press
  • Publication Date: 4th April 2019

Early copy received from publisher for review purposes.

Description:

For readers of The Tattooist of Auschwitz and The Choice: this is the story of the smallest library in the world – and the most dangerous.

‘It wasn’t an extensive library. In fact, it consisted of eight books and some of them were in poor condition. But they were books. In this incredibly dark place, they were a reminder of less sombre times, when words rang out more loudly than machine guns…’

Fourteen-year-old Dita is one of the many imprisoned by the Nazis at Auschwitz. Taken, along with her mother and father, from the Terezín ghetto in Prague, Dita is adjusting to the constant terror that is life in the camp. When Jewish leader Freddy Hirsch asks Dita to take charge of the eight precious books the prisoners have managed to smuggle past the guards, she agrees. And so Dita becomes the secret librarian of Auschwitz, responsible for the safekeeping of the small collection of titles, as well as the ‘living books’ – prisoners of Auschwitz who know certain books so well, they too can be ‘borrowed’ to educate the children in the camp.

But books are extremely dangerous. They make people think. And nowhere are they more dangerous than in Block 31 of Auschwitz, the children’s block, where the slightest transgression can result in execution, no matter how young the transgressor…

My Thoughts:

Set in one of the most notorious places of the Third Reich, Auschwitz-Birkenau, this is a powerful and emotive read that does not shy away from the brutal events that took place in Nazi extermination camps during WWII.

Dita and her family are three of the many people moved from the Terezín ghetto to the death camp, where she takes on the dangerous yet thrilling job of being the librarian at Hut 31 in the family camp. Here children undergo lessons with teachers, allowing them a small sense of normalcy in such a harsh environment. This schooling shines a glimmer of light in a dark world and enriches their lives with stories and tales from the physical and the ‘living’ books that Dita has available. Being the librarian is a dangerous task, books are banned, and if discovered they could lead to the immediate death of any one in the camp, not just those in possession of the books.
But for Dita, these books are precious, she spends time repairing them, appreciating them and learning as much as she can, for books give her a means of escape.

Running the school is Freddy Hirsch, a character who struggles with his own troubles, but appears outwardly strong and dependable to those around him. His determination to do the right thing and ensure the safety of the people under his care is commendable, he is a very realistic character that you cannot help but be drawn to. The more you read of his life, the more invested you become in his tale and feel sympathy for him. The path that led him to Auschwitz-Birkenau was one that tested his heart and really had me wondering if I would have acted as Freddy did that situation.

For me, the main character Dita was the one that really worked her way into my heart. Watching her grow and develop into a wonderfully complex character was very rewarding, and at times she seemed larger than life. On so many occasions she acted wiser and older than her years, but it’s important to remember that she was only fourteen. Seeing Dita struggle to make sense of events around her was a sharp reminder about her age, but her questioning of things also gives voice to the thoughts that many other people were thinking.
And although I knew the most likely outcome for those in the extermination camps, I won’t lie, I held strongly onto the faith that something good would come of these events.

It’s often easy to be swept away with the story, and I think that this is the sort of story that will live on in your head after you’ve finished the book. The emotions that this book pulls from you as you read are so strong, I found at moments it felt as though my heart was in my mouth, or almost reading through my fingers in places, fearing what fates may befall the characters. And once I was used to the narrative switching between the main characters, I was unable to put this book down.
Although there are various accounts of life within the concentration camps throughout the Nazi empire, the writing here really brought to life the horrendous conditions that people endured, the fear, the pain the never ending hunger … it felt authentic and at times, uncomfortable to read.

Included at the end of the book, the author has provided a brief note of the characters and their lives, what became of them etc, which I really appreciated. The explanations, where possible, allowed for closure.

Check out the other stops on the blog tour


Today’s post for Celebrating Indie Publishing features a review of a book that I anticipated so eagerly, the follow up to a book that I got at Christmastime and devoured in one day, and in true book addict style, I finished this one in one day too!

  • Title: Sunwise
  • Author: Helen Steadman
  • Publisher: Impress Books
  • Publication Date: 1 April 2019

Early copy received from publisher for review purposes.

Description:

When Jane’s lover, Tom, returns from the navy to find her unhappily married to his betrayer, Jane is caught in an impossible situation. Still reeling from the loss of her mother at the hands of the witch-finder John Sharpe, Jane has no choice but to continue her dangerous work as a healer while keeping her young daughter safe.

But, as Tom searches for a way for him and Jane to be together, the witch-finder is still at large. Filled with vengeance, John will stop at nothing in his quest to rid England of the scourge of witchcraft.

Inspired by true events, Sunwise tells the story of one woman’s struggle for survival in a hostile and superstitious world.

My Thoughts:

I thoroughly loved Widdershins, so taut and intriguing and found that I connected so strongly with the characters, they haunted my thoughts long after I closed the book and left me wondering the eternal “what if” … So imagine my delight when I discovered that Helen Steadman had written a sequel, and it was due out just a few months later. It’s safe to assume that I let out the odd whoop of delight and instantly began to wonder what fate awaited these beloved characters that I had come to know and worry about.

Picking up from events in Widdershins, Sunwise reconnects the reader with Jane Driver who is slowly getting on with her life after the death of her mother at the hands of John Sharpe, the Scottish witch-finder. Times are hard and there is much danger around, rumours and suspicion are enough to bring someone’s character into question and so Jane feels that she must be careful in her work as a healer and midwife. But more so when her true love Tom arrives back from sea. Tom was press ganged during the course of Widderhins, leaving Jane bereft and open to the deceit of the man she would eventually marry, Andrew Driver. Jane is relieved to discover that Tom did not perish when his ship went down, but distraught to realise that she is trapped in a marriage and there is little that can be done to rectify events.

Running parallel to Jane’s story is that of John Sharpe, the malevolent witch-finder. He believes he is carrying out God’s work to rid the country of witches and their evil ways. The methods he employs are deplorable, his investigations are flawed and his mental state more than questionable, and somehow this malicious character feels larger than life. Steadman brings such a creeping and dark character to life so fluidly that I felt something akin to fear reading the passages of his narration, following his thought processes were frightening, the connections an addled mind made were worrying reading, and I found that the thinking of the period almost made sense given the circumstances and the belief systems in place.

Steadman is a truly gifted writer, vividly setting scenes in each chapter, bringing alive the sights and smells so perfectly. It was hard not to feel transported to the villages and towns as the characters moved around, I could almost smell the ingredients Jane used to make her medicines, feel the heartbreak that Jane and Tom experienced when they realised the impossible situation they were in … incredibly powerful writing that had me struggling to slow down and not race through this book. Taking true events as a basis for her writing, I think it’s fair to say that Helen Steadman has told the story of the period in a way that reflects her knowledge and research well, but also brings to life the superstitious and dark times that are very much part of our history.

Don’t forget to check out the other stops on the blog tour for reviews, giveaways and fantastic guest posts!

Today’s Celebrating Indie Publishing joins up with the blog tour for Claire MacLeary’s third book in the series featuring PIs Maggie Laird and Wilma Harcus in Aberdeen. Having read and loved the previous books, I was very excited to be involved with the buzz for the new book, Runaway. Claire MacLeary is a name you want to remember her books are fantastic!

  • Title: Runaway
  • Author: Claire MacLeary
  • Publisher: Contraband
  • Publication Date: 14th March 2019

Early copy received from publisher for review purposes.

Description:

When Aberdeen housewife Debbie Milne abruptly vanishes, her husband is frantic with worry and turns to local PIs Maggie Laird and Big Wilma Harcus.

Maggie is reluctant to take on a misper case, but Wilma cajoles her into a covert operation trawling women s refuges and homeless squats in search of a lead. But when a woman’s body is discovered in a skip, the unlikely investigators are dragged into a deeper mystery involving people-trafficking, gambling and prostitution and they’re in deadly danger.

With the police struggling to make headway and the clock ticking, the race is on for Harcus and Laird to find answers, further straining their already fraying relationship.

With Runaway, Claire MacLeary delivers the goods again creating a surprising, gritty, fast-paced tale with the warmth and wit of women of a certain age.

My Thoughts:

Where to start … well if you’re unfamiliar with this series, I would highly recommend checking out the previous books, Cross Purpose and Burnout and getting to know the force of nature that is ‘Big Wilma’ and her business partner Maggie, they are by far some of the best characters I’ve ever met in a book.

In Runaway, the reader is faced with a frantic man searching for his wife who seems to have vanished, his phone call to the emergency services starts the book with bang. Who is the missing woman, what has happened to her, where has she gone, is there more to her disappearance than meets the eye … so many questions based on an opening chapter!
As the police investigation develops and the frantic husband, Scott begins to lose faith with the detectives and hires Harcus and Laird to look into the disappearance of his wife Debbie. Unbeknownst to Scott, the police investigation has picked up some speed and with information from another branch of Police Scotland, the case is soon escalated to CID which should mean that Harcus and Laird step back and allow the police to do their work. Big Wilma firmly has the bit between her teeth with this case and is adamant she will not give this case up. After the previous case that the agency worked on, the women are keen not to make the same mistakes again, and Maggie especially is wary of taking things at face value, and tries to push back on Wilma every time her dogged determination tries to take over or push her.

With two such strong characters it’s hard for readers not to connect with them. Billed as ‘women of a certain age’, they certainly don’t feel outdated or difficult to like, they are what I would think of as “normal” women, trying to make a living doing something they are actually good at whilst juggling running a household, family, life … admirable really. The thing I found most appealing about these characters is the way that they secretly want to be a little more like the other. Wilma, always impressed at the vocabulary that Maggie possesses, seems to want to expand on her knowledge, wants to use the intelligence she clearly already has and it’s wonderful to see this develop through the book. Maggie often seems as though she wishes she had Wilma’s confidence and sure-footedness in many situations and slowly begins to take chances with it.
Underneath their often heated exchanges, is a genuine care for each other, these women may not have started out at best friends, but there’s a strong friendship between them which has grown with each new book in the series, I’ve loved seeing how these two vastly different women have not only formed a lasting friendship but become the emotional support that the other needed.

If strong characterisation wasn’t enough to make this book a winner, then it has to be said that the writing itself is a thing of beauty! Hailing from the Granite City, I know a lot of the landmarks and settlements mentioned within the book and Claire MacLeary distills their essence perfectly. Even down to the little details such as the railings inside the Dutch Mill hotel and pub. She brings the people and the places of Aberdeen alive and shows that no matter the city, there is always a side to things you may not be aware of. And as Maggie and Wilma work their way through their investigation, their paths crisscross through some dark and dangerous streets, MacLeary ensures that readers can ‘feel’ the danger that lurks in the shadows ahead, she makes sure they can ‘sense’ the dread and anticipation, but most of all she takes some truly difficult themes and makes them understandable, writing them in a way that does not simplify or remove any of the severity surrounding them.

A gripping, dark and gritty read that is the perfect addition to the series and I truly cannot wait to see what Claire MacLeary writes next! If you ever get the chance to see Claire talking at a book festival, or even just see her in the crowd, do say hello. She is one of the loveliest people, and genuinely wonderful to speak to!

  • Title: A Death in Chelsea
  • Author: Lynn Brittney
  • Publisher: Mirror Books
  • Publication Date: 14th March 2019

Early copy received from publisher for review purposes.

Description:

Set against the backdrop of WW1, Mayfair 100 is the telephone number for a small, specially-formed crime fighting team based in a house in Mayfair.

A call comes through to Mayfair 100, where the intrepid team of investigators eagerly await their next case. A society gossip queen has been found hanged in her room in mysterious circumstances. Her enemies are numerous – and her family are convinced she was murdered.

Can the group uncover the truth?

My Thoughts:

Although A Death in Chelsea is the second book of the Mayfair 100 series, it was the first book that I read and I did feel that I could read it and get a grasp of the characters in the investigation team. However, I would recommend reading Murder in Belgravia for completeness sake.

This is an enjoyable read set in 1915, a time that of course sees Britain engaging in WWI and facing many social challenges on the Home Front. So when the death of Lady Adeline Treborne is brought to the attention of the MET Commissioner, it’s only a matter of time before the case is assigned to Beech and the Mayfair 100 team.
The cast of characters that drive the story are magnificently created, appearing very realistic in the time and setting, the women that make up the investigative team are fascinating, each possessing their own quirks and personalities. Heading up the Mayfair 100 team are police officers Chief Inspector Peter Beech, Detective Arthur Tollman and PC Billy Rigsby, who must juggle the legalities of the investigation whilst ensuring that they get results. But for me, it was the strong and opinionated women who stole the show, Mabel, Sissy and Caroline are just brilliant!

The investigation is far from easy or straightforward, the team find that they are led down various paths, uncovering secrets and skeletons from their pasts, but the wonderful dynamic of the personalities involved makes this so enjoyable to follow. Watching the development of relationships between the members of the team were fantastic, especially the contrast between the policing of Tollman’s days and the more modern ways of Rigsby, but their friendship always felt strong and real, despite opposing viewpoints at times.

Clever characterisation, strong research into social and economic factors and some brilliant writing make this a must read for fans of historical crime fiction. There’s so many threads to the plot, and I hate to admit it, but Lynn Brittney had me fooled as to the motive and identity of the killer. But she didn’t half wow me with her crafty writing and leave me desperately hoping for another case for the Mayfair 100 team!

The second of my reviews today comes from a vastly different book, this time a book called The Silver Moon Storybook written by Elaine Gunn and illustrated by Megan MacPhie.

  • Title: The Silver Moon Storybook
  • Author: Elaine Gunn
  • Publisher: Self published

Early copy received from the author for review purposes.

Description:

What darkness lies in the past of a little witch, cursed into the shape of a giant? Who will save a magical unicorn, imprisoned for generations in the castle of a tyrant? As the silver moon rises in the sky, an enormous clown and a powerful siren join a humble weaver and other enchanting characters in these haunting tales of illusion, discovery and love.

An exquisitely illustrated bedtime story for the age of #MeToo, The Silver Moon Storybook transforms themes of modern feminism into touching fables full of the magic and shadows of traditional fairy tales.

My Thoughts:

The words of Elaine Gunn are brought to life with the impressive artwork of Megan MacPhie in what I believe is Gunn’s first published book. And what an intriguing book this is, with a cast of characters that are crafted with detail and clear personalities.

Each of the tales within this book features a strong female character that found a sense of freedom from the ties that bound her in the beginning. There are also themes of love, loss and relationships throughout the tales, which make for thought provoking reading.
The notion that these are modern feminist tales will attract many readers, the magical creatures and wonderful illustrations will also appeal to the audience, but there is a feeling of reality in all of this. Stick with me on this train of thought, but even in a tale featuring witches, unicorns or giant spiders, there are characters who can rely on each other, support each other or just be allies in times of need. These characters can be all female, they can be all male or they can be a mixture of both sexes and show an accurate portrayal of modern struggles – therefore making this feel very current and real for modern life.

I this book would be worthy addition to any bookshelf, the tales themselves are magical and entertaining for readers who just want to read the story, but perhaps for those who want to read between the lines, who want to explore the themes and deeper meanings of the text then this is also an idea read. There are so many different things you can take from The Silver Moon Storybook. It’s one of those that I read at leisure, taking the time to enjoy each story, think about what I read and the meanings behind it before moving on to the next story. The handy note section at the back of the book providing ample space for me to jot down thoughts about what I had read, and means that when I undoubtedly go back to read this book again, I will be able to see if the story still conjures the same ideas as before.

I don’t often mention the cover of books, but in this case I want to make an exception. The Silver Moon Storybook is an exquisite book, from the beautiful purple cover, to the flowing silver image and font … it’s eye catching and hard to resist.


I’m thrilled to welcome you to a special Indie Publishing Friday , today I have two fantastic books that I want to share with you. Two vastly different books, but two brilliant ones.

I’ve also got a great Q&A with one of the authors to share.

The book in this post is A Letter From Sarah by Dan Proops. It was published by Urbane Publications on 7th March and is available from Waterstones, Amazon etc.

  • Title: A Letter From Sarah
  • Author: Dan Proops
  • Publisher: Urbane Publications
  • Publication Date: 7th March 2019

Early copy received from publisher for review purposes.

Description:

Adam’s sister, Sarah, has been missing for seven years, but he hasn’t given up hope of finding her. He is a sculptor and lives with his bedridden father who is a bully and a curmudgeon.

One morning, as the anniversary of Sarah’s disappearance nears, Adam receives a letter from her and she is apparently alive and well, living in New York. Adam travels to Brooklyn to search for Sarah as he’s desperate to see her, but she seems determined to avoid him.

Sarah’s letters arrive weekly, but she continues to remain elusive. Adam is perplexed by Sarah’s requests for secrecy, as is his father and his girlfriend, Cassandra.

He is determined to find her, whatever the cost to his wellbeing, health and sanity….

My Thoughts:

A Letter From Sarah is an exploration of human emotion and the bonds of family/friends. In this book, Dan Proops takes great care to weave a story that illustrates the best and worst character traits a human can possess. There is obsession, love, betrayal, faith, and loyalty to name but a few, but somehow Proops manages to balance these perfectly to showcase a cast of characters that are distinctly different from each other, acting in ways you might not always agree with or understand. With such strong characterisation it’s hard not to feel some pull towards Adam, through his desperate need to find answers about his sister Sarah, readers watch him slowly become obsessed with the letters that begin to arrive. The very idea that his sister is alive and living in New York buoy him up, but at the same time, he guards his heart against being hurt. There have been plenty time wasters over the years, ones who have pretended to be Sarah or have information about her and left Adam and his father no better off for answers.

The writing is pitched just right, at times it feels as though events are seen through the eyes of Adam, it feels as though you are following his muddled train of thought as he tries to piece together information from the letters, memories of childhood and process events around him. It feels like his mind is unravelling at times, and his slow descent into a dark abyss feels all too real, the people around him taking advantage of his generosity or kind nature make this all too brutal to witness sometimes.

It’s an addictive read and one that I found myself thinking about when I wasn’t reading it, why was Sarah keen to evade him, why was Adam treated so harshly by his father, how would this all impact on Adam’s relationship with his girlfriend Cassandra … so many questions swirled around in my mind about this book and haunted my thoughts as I read.
A truly remarkable read and one that I think would be perfect for book groups, the possibilities for discussion are endless!


Author Feature:

Dan Proops has been a full time writer for six years and has completed four novels and a memoir. Previous to this he was a professional artist, organising a one man show at the age of fourteen. He has had many exhibitions over a long career and his artwork was purchased by internationally acclaimed art dealer, Eric Franck. His artwork appeared frequently in the national press and his painting was featured in Image of the Week in the Times. One of his exhibitions was previewed in the Telegraph by columnist Colin Gleadell.

Dan is a Twitter influencer and has a following of 22,000; last year 1.2 million people read his tweets, and he currently attends the advanced writing class at Morley College, run by the renowned radio four dramatist Mike Walker. Dan Proops is also the grandson of legendary advice columnist, Marjorie Proops. He lives and works in London.

What’s your most favourite thing about being an author?

I love being an author. I can create a place, populated by characters and wonderful locations. It’s like creating my own world where I control the actions of my people, their dreams and ambitions. I give them dilemmas, emotions and difficulties that are sometimes hard to overcome. And their unique traits are woven into the fabric of my story.

I can envisage, in detail, my characters’ tone of voice, how they act, and their demeanours. And I love description, perhaps a building painted liquid bronze in the sunshine. Characterisation, description and plot all intertwine to create my own personal universe.

What’s your least favourite thing about being an author?

As I write a lovely sentence, at the back of my mind, I wonder if anyone has Tweeted on my notifications page, so I’ll just have a five second peek. (really, this time just five seconds).

An hour later, I’ve lost my place and can’t remember what I was writing about! The other problem I face as an author is strict discipline, which involves sticking to only five double espressos a day, which is hard at the best of times. Coffee is the fuel of writing.

If you could have written any book what would it be and why? 

A novel that I would love to have written is Orwell’s first novel, Burmese Days. He served as a policeman in Burma and the descriptions of the Burmese jungle are beautiful and evocative. I particularly like the protagonist, Flory, a vulnerable character who’s beleaguered with the racism of his members club; he struggles to find his footing as he’s close friends with a Burmese doctor.

How do you spend your time when you’re not writing?

I enjoy reading, and meeting up with friends. I also enjoy meeting with fellow authors to discuss writing.

I’m also an avid PC gamer and enjoy story-run fantasy games that draw me in o a fascinating narrative.

Now my first novel has been published I’m really enjoying promoting A Letter From Sarah and am thrilled that an Indie bookshop is stocking the novel. For me, seeing my novel in a bookshop is as important as my online presence, connecting with my Twitter followers and making sure my website is up to date. And I’m really excited about blog tours.

Do you have a set routine for writing?  Rituals you have to observe? I.e. specific pen, silence, day or night etc.

About ten in the morning, I go to a particular café that I like, flick through a newspaper, then I read some fiction for an hour. After that I begin writing. I work for four hours, then I take a break and try for another hour.

What’s on the horizon? 

I’m currently working on a new novel. I’m always excited about the book I’m currently writing, and this particular manuscript needs a thorough edit. I’m quite ruthless when it comes to editing, and can spend up to eight months perfecting a book. The first draft feels like having fun at a party, after a few beers, when you can say anything you want, without worrying about the consequences!

Finally, if you could impart one pearl of wisdom to your readers, what would it be?

I’d advise any reader to try out books from different decades. I love Orwell, Grahame Greene, and F. Scott Fitzgerald as I really like the style of writing in those times. So, if you’re a crime addict, try an Agatha Christie, Arthur Conan Doyle or Daphne Du Maurier. For me, reading the classics is as important as perusing contemporary literature.

Can you tell me a little about your latest book?  How would you describe it and why should we go read it? 

Here’s a brief description of the novel: for seven years Adam has been tormented by the disappearance of his beloved sister Sarah. And then, with no warning he receives a letter from her. She refuses to meet but won’t explain why. Adam fears she’s in trouble and sets off to find her, but the harder he looks the more elusive she becomes.

A Letter From Sarah is not autobiographical in the strict sense, but I was inspired to write it after falling out with my only sibling.

I think that anyone who likes psychological thrillers, mystery, suspense would enjoy the book.


A huge thank you to Dan for joining me today for a chat, it’s a huge honour to welcome indie authors to The Quiet Knitter blog to speak about their books, their writing habits and find out what their next project might be about.

To find out more about Dan and his books, check out his website or Twitter!
Website: http://dan-proops.com/
Twitter: https://twitter.com/Dan_Proops




 


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