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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!
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** My thanks to the publisher for my copy of this book and to Anne at Random Things Tours for my invite to take part in the blog tour **

Description:

From the author of THE UNSEEING comes a sizzling, period novel of folk tales, disappearances and injustice set on the Isle of Skye, sure to appeal to readers of Hannah Kent’s BURIAL RITES or Beth Underdown’s THE WITCH FINDER’S SISTER.

‘A wonderful combination of a thrilling mystery and a perfectly depicted period piece’ Sunday Mirror

Audrey Hart is on the Isle of Skye to collect the folk and fairy tales of the people and communities around her. It is 1857 and the Highland Clearances have left devastation and poverty, and a community riven by fear. The crofters are suspicious and hostile to a stranger, claiming they no longer know their fireside stories.

Then Audrey discovers the body of a young girl washed up on the beach and the crofters reveal that it is only a matter of weeks since another girl disappeared. They believe the girls are the victims of the restless dead: spirits who take the form of birds.

Initially, Audrey is sure the girls are being abducted, but as events accumulate she begins to wonder if something else is at work. Something which may be linked to the death of her own mother, many years before.

My Thoughts:

I love folklore and tales, I love historic fiction and I absolutely love Scottish settings so this book just screamed “read me!” when I found out about it.

Mazzola is adept at spinning a tale that is so wonderfully rich in characters, detail and atmosphere, if you’ve not read any of her books before, I would implore you to do so, they are exceptional!

The use of folklore and island history make for an intriguing thread to the plot, and without a doubt the attitudes and beliefs of those who grew up hearing these tales make for mysterious and exciting reading. But unfortunately for Audrey, gaining the trust of the people on the Isle of Skye proves harder than she might have imagined. Even with her position of collecting the tales, songs and myths on behalf of Miss Buchanan, she still struggles to find acceptance of the local community, relying on good words from servants and suchlike to get her into closed gatherings.

Audrey is an interesting character, who I have to admit to being slightly hesitant about initially. Initially she appeared aloof, closed off, and not someone I could really connect with. However as the story develops, Mazzola slowly brings Audrey’s story out into the open, revealing more about her and giving readers an insight into what drives her, what lead her to the Isle of Skye.

Details are an important part in any historical fiction novel and I have to say that the ones in The Story Keeper are carefully and effectively used. Readers get a clear image of the settings used in this book, the damp, the dark, the cold, the arduous journeys … it’s all so evocative and realistic. The dialogue felt natural and befitting for the period, and so when combined with the brilliantly mysterious plot, this book becomes utterly addictive reading.

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 Author: Hazel Gaynor

Published: 8 September 2016
Reviewed: 26 September 2016

4 out of 5 stars
Copy supplied by HarperCollins in return for an honest review

 

Description:

Presenting a dazzling new historical novel … The Girl From The Savoy is as sparkling as champagne and as thrilling as the era itself.

‘Sometimes life gives you cotton stockings. Sometimes it gives you a Chanel gown …’

Dolly Lane is a dreamer; a downtrodden maid who longs to dance on the London stage, but her life has been fractured by the Great War. Memories of the soldier she loved, of secret shame and profound loss, by turns pull her back and spur her on to make a better life.

When she finds employment as a chambermaid at London’s grandest hotel, The Savoy, Dolly takes a step closer to the glittering lives of the Bright Young Things who thrive on champagne, jazz and rebellion. Right now, she must exist on the fringes of power, wealth and glamor—she must remain invisible and unimportant.

But her fortunes take an unexpected turn when she responds to a struggling songwriter’s advertisement for a ‘muse’ and finds herself thrust into London’s exhilarating theatre scene and into the lives of celebrated actress, Loretta May, and her brother, Perry. Loretta and Perry may have the life Dolly aspires to, but they too are searching for something.

Now, at the precipice of the life she has and the one she longs for, the girl from The Savoy must make difficult choices: between two men; between two classes, between everything she knows and everything she dreams of. A brighter future is tantalizingly close—but can a girl like Dolly ever truly leave her past behind?

My Thoughts & Review:

Having been enticed with the beautiful cover of this book and the wonderful insights of the blog tour earlier in the month, I finally got time to sit down and read The Girl From The Savoy.

Charting the story of Dolly, a chambermaid at the Savoy in 1920s London, the reader is transported to the era by Hazel Gaynor’s eloquent prose.
Dolly has great dreams to be a star on stage, appearing in musicals like her idol Loretta May, so when she meets Loretta’s bother Perry and becomes friends with him and Loretta she is beside herself with excitement at the possibilities this poses.

Dolly is a wonderfully rich character, rich in spirit, and a delight to read about.  Despite her past and the secrets she keeps hidden, the reader cannot help but admire this character.  As her secrets are unearthed, they convey so much more about Dolly’s life before the Savoy.    Perry and Loretta are equally great characters, each has their secrets and this helps to bring them to life as believable and likeable characters.

The writing itself is great, Hazel Gaynor carefully captures the very essence of the period, the reader is swept away with the vivid details that Gaynor has taken time to include, you can almost picture the scenes as if it were a play or on the big screen.  It’s clear from the details included that much time has been spent researching the music and the celebrities of the time.  I was lucky enough to share a wonderful piece written by Hazel Gaynor about the music of the period that played a part in her research as part of the blog tour for The Girl From The Savoy.

You can buy a copy of The Girl From The Savoy here.

About The Author:

Hazel Gaynor, copyright Deasy Photographic

Hazel Gaynor’s 2014 debut THE GIRL WHO CAME HOME was a NYT and USA Today bestseller and winner of the 2015 RNA Historical Romantic Novel of the Year award. Her second novel A MEMORY OF VIOLETS was selected by WHSmith Travel as a ‘Fresh Talent’ title and was also a NYT and USA Today bestseller.

Hazel is one of nine contributing authors to WWI anthology FALL OF POPPIES – Stories of Love and the Great War. Her third novel, THE GIRL FROM THE SAVOY is available now.

Hazel writes a popular guest blog ‘Carry on Writing’ for national Irish writing website writing.ie and also contributes special guest features for the site, interviewing authors such as Philippa Gregory, Kate Mosse, Sebastian Faulks, Cheryl Strayed and Rachel Joyce among others.

Hazel was the recipient of the 2012 Cecil Day Lewis award for Emerging Writers and was selected by Library Journal as one of ten big breakout authors for 2015. Originally from Yorkshire, England, Hazel now lives in Ireland with her husband and two children.

To keep up-to-date with Hazel’s latest news, visit her website www.hazelgaynor.com or her Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/hazelgaynorbooks

 

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Author: Gill Paul

Published: 25 August 2016
Reviewed: 4 September 2016

5 out of 5 stars
Copy supplied by Avon in return for an honest review

 

Description:

Love. Guilt. Heartbreak.

1914

Russia is on the brink of collapse, and the Romanov family faces a terrifyingly uncertain future. Grand Duchess Tatiana has fallen in love with cavalry officer Dmitri, but events take a catastrophic turn, placing their romance – and their lives – in danger . . .

2016

Kitty Fisher escapes to her great-grandfather’s remote cabin in America, after a devastating revelation makes her flee London. There, on the shores of Lake Akanabee, she discovers the spectacular jewelled pendant that will lead her to a long-buried family secret . . .

Haunting, moving and beautifully written, The Secret Wife effortlessly crosses centuries, as past merges with present in an unforgettable story of love, loss and resilience.

My Thoughts & Review:

The Secret Wife is a fascinating and beautifully written novel which makes the reader wonder “what if?”

This book has a dual storyline that weaves back and forth between 1914 and 2016 narrated respectively by Russian cavalry officer  Dmitri Malama and Kitty Fisher who has fled London and headed for her great grandfather’s remote cabin in the wake of relationship issues.
Dmitri’s tale finds him in a military hospital during World War I, and recounts the story of his love affair with the Grand Duchess Tatiana Romanov.  It also details the turbulent political landscape of Russia and the effects it has on everyone.
Kitty on the other hand is reeling after what she discovers in London, and makes a break for America to think things through at her great grandfather’s cabin in Adirondacks which she has inherited.  She spends time repairing the cabin and learning more about the great grandfather she knew nothing about.

When reading the description, I wondered just how successfully this dual storyline would work and whether the author would pull this off, and she does so seamlessly.  The level of detail in this shows how that extensive research has been done by the author to ensure that not only the story flows well but also that the historical details are accurate, especially the attitudes towards people like the Romanovs who lived in luxury compared to the ordinary people of Russia who lived in dire poverty.  The historical details of the Red Army and their executions of the Romanov family are harrowing to read but are accurate.
Being able to take such a spectacularly intriguing family and bring them to life through her writing is no mean feat, there is an abundance of material on the Romanov family available, but something in the writing here brought them alive more than anything else I’ve read.

An unforgettable read, with well rounded characters, the inclusion of the idea of what if not all of the Romanovs were executed in 1918 makes this a thoroughly intriguing book.

You can buy a copy of The Secret Wife here.

 

About the Author

Gill Paul is an author of historical fiction, specialising in recent history. Her new novel, The Secret Wife, is about the romance between cavalry officer Dmitri Malama and Grand Duchess Tatiana, the second daughter of Russia’s last tsar, who first met in 1914. It’s also about a young woman in 2016 deciding whether to forgive her husband after an infidelity.

Gill’s other novels include Women and Children First, about a young steward who works on the Titanic; The Affair, set in Rome in 1961–62 as Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton fall in love while making Cleopatra; and No Place for a Lady, about two Victorian sisters who travel out to the Crimean War of 1854–56 and face challenges beyond anything they could have imagined.

Gill also writes historical non-fiction, including A History of Medicine in 50 Objects (to be published 1st October 2016) and a series of Love Stories, each containing fourteen tales of real-life couples: how they met, why they fell for each other, and what happened in the end. Published around the world, this series includes Royal Love Stories, World War I Love Stories and Titanic Love Stories.

Gill was born in Glasgow and grew up there, apart from an eventful year at school in the US when she was ten. She studied Medicine at Glasgow University, then English Literature and History (she was a student for a long time), before moving to London to work in publishing. She started her own company producing books for publishers, along the way editing such luminaries as Griff Rhys Jones, John Suchet, John Julius Norwich, Ray Mears and Eartha Kitt. She also writes on health, nutrition and relationships.

Gill swims year-round in an open-air pond – “It’s good for you so long as it doesn’t kill you”– and is a devotee of Pilates. She also particularly enjoys travelling on what she calls “research trips” and attempting to match-make for friends.

For more information about Gill and her books go to her website http://www.gillpaul.com or follow her on Twitter @GillPaulAUTHOR

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300 Days of Sun

Author: Deborah Lawrenson
Published: 12 April 2016
Reviewed: 18 August 2016

4.5 out of 5 stars
Copy supplied by the author in return for an honest review

 

Description:

Combining the atmosphere of Jess Walters’ Beautiful Ruins with the intriguing historical backstory of Christina Baker Kline’s The Orphan Train, Deborah Lawrenson’s mesmerizing novel transports readers to a sunny Portuguese town with a shadowy past—where two women, decades apart, are drawn into a dark game of truth and lies that still haunts the shifting sea marshes.

Travelling to Faro, Portugal, journalist Joanna Millard hopes to escape an unsatisfying relationship and a stalled career. Faro is an enchanting town, and the seaside views are enhanced by the company of Nathan Emberlin, a charismatic younger man. But behind the crumbling facades of Moorish buildings, Joanna soon realizes, Faro has a seedy underbelly, its economy compromised by corruption and wartime spoils. And Nathan has an ulterior motive for seeking her company: he is determined to discover the truth involving a child’s kidnapping that may have taken place on this dramatic coastline over two decades ago.

Joanna’s subsequent search leads her to Ian Rylands, an English expat who cryptically insists she will find answers in The Alliance, a novel written by American Esta Hartford. The book recounts an American couple’s experience in Portugal during World War II, and their entanglements both personal and professional with their German enemies. Only Rylands insists the book isn’t fiction, and as Joanna reads deeper into The Alliance, she begins to suspect that Esta Hartford’s story and Nathan Emberlin’s may indeed converge in Faro—where the past not only casts a long shadow but still exerts a very present danger.

 

My Thoughts & Review:

Deborah Lawrenson is a new author to me so I had no preconceived notions when I picked up this book, all I had was a description that truly fascinated me and piqued my interest.

Cleverly written as a book within a book, Lawrenson exhibits a the true mastery of her writing abilities.  Transporting the reader to Portugal, the reader encounters Joanna Millard who has travelled to the Algarve coastline to attend a language school and escape from a her stagnant life back home.  When she meets Nathan Emberlin and agrees to help him solve a 20 year old kidnapping case little does she know the journey she is about to take.

Woven into this novel is a book called The Alliance, about an American couple stranded in Portugal during WWII.  The narration then moves back and forth between current day and the story in The Alliance.

What I found incredibly enjoyable was the fact that Lawrenson had taken the time to thoroughly research the impact of WWII on the ordinary people of Portugal, how life was for both native citizens as well as expatiates.  The true extent of the political landscape, espionage and intrigue at the time are well detailed in her writing, giving the reader not only background information,  but also teaching them things they may not have known previously.

At the beginning I did wonder how Lawrenson would bind the two stories together and was intrigued to see how it would work, but I was incredibly impressed at how well it all tied up at the end.

The writing itself is wonderful, the descriptions of Portugal are absolutely mind blowing, more than once I looked online to see just how close to reality they were and was not disappointed, the reader really is transported to Portugal whilst reading this, sadly once you close the book you are back at home.

The characters were interesting and well developed, their predicaments compelling and really captured my attention.

An impressive historical fiction novel with mystery, suspense, romance and wonderfully descriptive settings.

I will definitely be searching out more books by this author to add to my ever growing “To Read” pile.

You can buy a copy of 300 Days of Sun here.

About the Author

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After a childhood of constant moves around the world – my family lived at various times in Kuwait, China, Belgium, Luxembourg and Singapore – I read English at Trinity College, Cambridge. I trained as a journalist on a weekly South London newspaper, then worked on several national newspapers and magazines.

My first novel, Hot Gossip (1994), was a satire based on my experiences working on Nigel Dempster’s diary column, and was followed by a sequel, Idol Chatter (1995). The Moonbathers, a black comedy, followed in 1998.

The Art of Falling was a complete change of direction, which took five years to research and write. But trying to get it published was like starting from scratch again. In the end, after many false dawns and disappointments, I published it myself under the Stamp Publishing imprint in September 2003.

Almost immediately it became clear that the novel had struck a chord with booksellers and reading groups around my home in Kent. Ottakar’s liked it enough to recommend it to their stores nationwide, and the rights were sold to Random House.
The Art of Falling was republished by Arrow in July 2005 and chosen as one of the books for the WHSmith Fresh Talent promotion that summer. It went on to sell more than all the others put together!

Songs of Blue and Gold is in a similar style: a story that grew out of my curiousity about past events and a love for the warmer shores and colours of southern Europe.

My latest novel, The Lantern, has been chosen for The TV Book Club Summer Reads 2011 on Channel4 and More4. I have also written a linked short story for Woman&Home magazine’s 2011 summer reading supplement.

I currently divide my time between rural Kent and a crumbling hamlet in Provence, which is the atmospheric setting for The Lantern.

To find out more about Deborah Lawrenson to go her website http://www.deborah-lawrenson.co.uk or follow her on Twitter @deb_lawrenson

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