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Archive for April, 2019

I do love when I can combine Celebrating Indie Publishing with a blog tour for a book that I have really enjoyed, and today is one of those happy days. I initially got an early copy of this book to read and I felt hugely honoured as I am a fan of this author and I think that everyone should read at least one of her books (or maybe all of them, it’s hard to pick just one). Scottish crime fiction is always a winner with me and this book is definitely one of those that will stay in my head for a while!

  • Title: Death at The Plague Museum
  • Author: Lesley Kelly
  • Publisher: Sandstone Press
  • Publication Date: 18th April 2019

Copy received from publisher for review purposes.

Description:

The pandemic is spreading.

On Friday, three civil servants leading Virus policy hold a secret meeting at the Museum of Plagues and Pandemics. By Monday, two are dead and one is missing.

It’s up to Mona and Bernard of the Health Enforcement Team to find the missing official before panic hits the streets.

My Thoughts:

For those not familiar with Edinburgh and the Health Enforcement Team team in Lesley Kelly’s Health of Strangers series, this is the third book in the series, the first two being The Health of Strangers and Songs by Dead Girls. Information about these can be found on the author’s website or your book buying website of choice. This can be read as a standalone, but to get a real feel for the the characters and the storyline, I would recommend reading th series in its entirety.

In this instalment of the series the HET have a mammoth task on their hands, tracking down a missing official who is a key member of the Virus policy, as well as their day to day job enforcing health checks for the residents of the city to restrict the spread of the deadly virus.
With the HET taking centre stage in this book, the reader gets to know the individuals, their lives and their backstories. A focus on Bernard and Mona in Death at the Plague Museum gives a wonderful human side to the story here, allowing readers to explore their individual stories and leaving them wanting more. This step into the personal lives of the team members allows for some fantastic character development, you get to see the side of them that isn’t the business persona, the organised HET professional, but instead the person with their own troubles, heartaches and wants. I do love a character that can come alive from the pages, the more complex the better and here I felt that these guys were so real, so vivid, and I was rooting for them to find happiness.

The two unexplained deaths and a missing official makes for an exciting plot, and with the investigation taking place over a week, the pace is spot on which is sure to keep readers hooked. The dark humour expertly woven throughout the narrative is pitched perfectly, and the inclusion of difficult themes is what makes this stand out, Kelly has a flair for writing stories that engage the audience and ensure they cannot put the book down.

As with many books with a mystery, it’s hard to say too much about the actual story, there’s always the worry about giving something away, and this is definitely a clever plot that you need to discover for yourself. It’s well structured and leaves the reader breathless as they race through the book. Such a wonderful series from an amazing author, and if Lesley Kelly isn’t a name on your list of authors to keep an eye out for, then I highly recommend you add her name!

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When you see that one of your favourite crime writers has a new title coming out you tend to do a happy little dance, squeal of excitement or just preorder the very second it’s listed on your purchasing site of choice, and that’s exactly the sequence of events that occurs when I know that Steve Cavanagh has a book coming out. But then when the publisher and the book fairy that is Mrs F (wonder if she has wings and a wand?!) whispered that a blog tour was to take place and early copies would be available to read … well I just had to say yes!

  • Title: Twisted
  • Author: Steve Cavanagh
  • Publisher: Orion
  • Publication Date: 4th April 2019

Copy received from publisher for review purposes.

Description:

BEFORE YOU READ THIS BOOK
I WANT YOU TO KNOW THREE THINGS:

1. The police are looking to charge me with murder.
2. No one knows who I am. Or how I did it.
3. If you think you’ve found me. I’m coming for you next.

After you’ve read this book, you’ll know: the truth is far more twisted…

My Thoughts:

I do believe that Steve Cavanagh has done it again, he has written a thrilling and hugely exciting book in the form of Twisted. I’m not sure whether that’s an excellent title or just a play on the imaginative qualities of this wonderful author, his mind sure is a dark place to come up with this book that’s for sure.

So, what can I tell you about Twisted without giving anything away … well it’s the sort of book that you need your wits about you, it’s not a book you can read whilst watching tv or knitting (you’ll quickly tune out the tv and will lose too many stitches), and it’s the kind of book that you almost need to pause after a chapter to catch your breath and mutter “what the …?” but it’s also a book that will keep you turning the pages long into the wee hours as you foolishly try to guess ahead and try to pit your brain against Cavanagh.

Twisted is a standalone thriller, so fans of the Eddie Flynn series will have to wait a little while for the next instalment.
But here, the plot is centred around a best selling author who likes to remain in the shadows, the identity of this author is shrouded in mystery and very few actually know the truth. All is going to plan until an innocent mistake unravels things for an unhappily married couple, revelations are uncovered and events spiral out of control as the body count rises.
With twists aplenty, there is much to keep the reader on the edge of their seat, questioning everything and wondering whether anything is as it seems!

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I am delighted to welcome you to The Quiet Knitter and share a review of Neil White’s latest thriller, The Innocent Ones.

  • Title: The Innocent One
  • Author: Neil White
  • Publisher: Hera Books
  • Publication Date: 24th April 2019

Copy received from publisher for review purposes.

Description:

Three lives cut short. Two decades of silence. One evil secret.

By day, the park rings with the sound of children’s excited laughter. But in the early hours of the morning, the isolated playground is cloaked in shadows – the perfect hiding place to conceal a brutal murder.

When London journalist, Mark Roberts, is found battered to death, the police quickly arrest petty thief, Nick Connor. Criminal defence lawyer, Dan Grant, along with investigator Jayne Brett, are called to represent him – but with bloody footprints and a stolen wallet linking him to the scene, this is one case they’re unlikely to win.

Until help comes from an unlikely source…when the murder victim’s mother says that Connor is innocent, begging Dan and Jayne to find the real perpetrator.

Unravelling the complex case means finding the connection between Mark’s death and a series of child murders in Yorkshire over twenty years ago. Father of two, Rodney Walker, has spent years in prison after being convicted of killing of 6-year-old William and 7-year-old Ruby back in 1997.

But when Mark Roberts gets on the trail of the story, convinced that Walker is innocent, he exposed secrets that have long been buried. Secrets so dark, someone will kill to keep them hidden.

Dan and Jayne are in a race against time to uncover the truth – before a killer silences them forever.

My Thoughts:

As the third book in the Dan Grant and Jayne Brett series, this is a thrilling and wonderfully clever end to the trilogy. And I do think that it is possible for people to read this as a standalone without having followed the series. Previous connections and events are mentioned, enough detail given to clue readers in on what has passed without bogging down readers with extraneous information.

With a complex plot, this is quite possibly one of my most thrilling reads of 2019, a bold statement I know, but after some epic jaw dropping moments whilst reading this book, I think it will be hard for anything to beat this!

Tasked with defending a man charged with the murder of a London journalist, Dan Grant has his case in order, has his line of defence drawn up and knows how he wants to proceed with the case. That is until he is approached by a stranger offering help to find the true killer of the journalist Mark Roberts. The catch is that the stranger is the mother of the victim and Dan isn’t sure if she can be trusted.

Enlisting the help of investigator Jayne Brett, Dan Grant takes the tentative steps on a journey that throws up some of the most shocking revelations, many dangers and a few life changing events. Both Dan and Jayne encounter hostility as they investigate the claims made by Mark’s mother, but they continue to follow the clues and Mark’s story, oblivious to the dangers that lie ahead.

The historic case that Jayne and Dan end up investigating is dark and unsettling, the killing of children is never an easy read but White manages to ensure his plot is flawless without adding any unnecessary or gory details. His writing it pitched perfectly throughout ensuring that the story remains taut and intense, and with such intricately crafted characters it’s hard to drag yourself away from the book. I found that I was shocked by the killer, but wanted to know more, wanted to get inside their head to ding out why they acted as they did. I wanted to explore the case of Rodney Walker, find out what made Mark Roberts so sure of his arguments for Rodney’s innocence and the more I read, the more invested I became in finding out whether Mark was on the right track. Dan and Jayne are equally, if not more fascinating. Each has a past that is mentioned throughout the narrative, and if you’ve followed the series then you will be clued up on their respective pasts. The easy relationship between these characters makes them work well together, there is a lighthearted feel to their dialogue but an edge of concern and deep care when the situation needs it.

There’s so many things that could be said about this book, but I fear that I might give something away. But I will say that I was stunned at how the plot of The Innocent Ones panned out. I had an idea of what might happen in places, but I doff my cap to Neil White, because at certain points of the book I actually gasped out loud at what I’d just read.

A fantastic read and one I’d highly recommend!

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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.



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  • 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!

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  • 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!

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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.

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