Book Review: The Ascent of Rum Doodle, by W. E. Bowman

Publisher:  Vintage Classics

Publication date:  1st April 2010

Source:  Paperback [My own purchased copy]

The Ascent of Rum Doodle is a jaunty parody of inept mountaineers, who couldn’t organise a raffle at a village fete let alone master the 40,000 (and a half) ft climb to the peak of ‘Rum Doodle’.

These ‘professionals’ have the most ironic surnames like Burley, who was was anything but as he was out of sorts after failing to acclimatise to any step of their journey, the team’s medical assistance was provided by a Dr Prone who contracted everything from mumps to malaria, while Constant unintentionally offended the local porters at every available opportunity with his professed linguistic skill, and their navigator, Jungle, aptly couldn’t find the wood for the trees.

The ‘Rum Doodle’ campaign reaches farcical proportions as their specially selected liabilities hamper progress at every possible turn. The team leader, Binder (his radio code name), is a naïve shepherd with a flock that regularly outwits him. He is blissfully unaware of the reverse psychology they apply in order to avoid sharing a tent with his inexhaustible counsel.

The greatest threat to their party wasn’t in fact Binder, the altitude, or mutiny every time Constant opened his mouth, but Pong, a cook with the most frightful culinary ability to ‘demoralise’ all grown men. Strategies were developed to minimise exposure of his contribution to their endeavour but his presence was ludicrously unshakeable.

And with the exception of Binder’s incessant obsession for dredging up every team member’s fiancée status (regardless of how curious their replies are) this story is completely dominated by men. I can honestly say I hadn’t noticed the omission of female characters until the end as I was busy being carried away by their absurd behaviour and the futility of meticulous planning!

There were  memorable gems of recklessness and ridicule throughout, but my absolute favourites were when the team had diagnosed the doctor as having hopes of a recovery on the basis that he hadn’t expired yet, and the moment Binder’s tears secured his face to the ice during a momentary lapse of emotional composure. Plus this one, where the leader is once again trying to raise morale …

Poor Prone seemed quite low, and to cheer him up I encouraged him to talk about his home. Had he a fiancée? I asked. He said, no, his wife was the unsympathetic kind and his children considered one mother quite enough.

Binder’s valiant efforts to provide his calamitous conquerors with the necessary encouragement turned into an ascent of endurance rather than an expedition. I mean, exactly how many people can you lose in a crevasse before something twigs?! Loved it! 😀

Rating:  5/5

(Courtesy of Amazon UK)

An outrageously funny spoof about the ascent of a 40,000-and-a-half-foot peak, The Ascent of Rum Doodle has been a cult favourite since its publication in 1956. Led by the reliably under-insightful Binder, a team of seven British men including Dr Prone (constantly ill); Jungle the route finder (constantly lost), Constant the diplomat (constantly arguing) and 3,000 Yogistani porters, set out to conquer the highest peak in the Himalayas.

http://www.rumdoodle.org.uk/

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(Courtesy of Amazon UK)

W. E. Bowman (1912-1985) was a civil engineer who spent his free time hill-walking, painting and writing (unpublished) books on the Theory of Relativity. He was married with two children.

RUM DOODLE WEBSITE

Book Review: The Night Brother, by Rosie Garland

Publisher:  The Borough Press

Publication date:  1st June 2017

After previously spending time in A Palace of Curiosities and travelling back to the 14th century with Vixen, I was over the moon to discover the same staggeringly talented author of these two books has a new one on the horizon – The Night Brother.

Once again I find myself lost in the reverie of Rosie Garland’s exquisite writing. Extraordinarily enchanting, The Night Brother’s emotional bounty caresses each page to boldly pursue the trials that can divide and conquer.

Sharing a parallel existence, so one leads by day and the other by night, we see life through the eyes of Edie and Gnome (Herbert). These unique siblings occupy one body in a challenging world, where gender equality is a ludicrous notion and many battles are fought, both publicly and in private.

Edie’s and Gnome’s personalities mature from mischievous children into adults eager spread their wings and take it in reluctant turns to dominate or deny each other’s presence. As happiness beckons they are hounded by confusion and insecurity. Although they are two sides of the same coin acceptance, rather than rejection, could be the difference between being their lives being fulfilled or tormented.

This is an imaginative and affecting tale where the entire cast of this historical-fantasy-romance stage are performers each worthy of an Oscar. Their aspirations and chosen paths of personal contentment are inspired (particularly in the case of Edie’s / Gnome’s Nana – that was an excellent move!)

Embracing the intimacies and complexities of the heart and soul The Night Brother doesn’t feel like a story, but a delectable gift.  All that remains is for me to offer a thunderous round of applause for what is simply an expressive, breath-taking wonder.

Perhaps love is measured not by how much radiance is keeps to itself, but by how much it shines upon the world.

Rating:   5/5

Please note: the above quotation was taken from a proof copy of this book.

(I received a copy of this title from the publisher via Netgalley and welcomed it with open arms. It is my absolute pleasure to not only read this book but to provide and unbiased review.)

(Courtesy of Amazon UK)

From the author of The Palace of Curiosities and Vixen comes a dazzling and provocative new novel of adventure, mystery and belonging. The Night Brother shifts tantalisingly between day and night, exploring questions of identity, sexual equality and how well we know ourselves. Perfect for fans of Angela Carter, Sarah Waters and Erin Morgenstern.

Rich are the delights of late nineteenth-century Manchester for young siblings Edie and Gnome. They bicker, banter, shout and scream their way through the city’s streets, embracing its charms and dangers. But as the pair mature, it is Gnome who revels in the night-time, while Edie is confined to the day. She wakes exhausted each morning, unable to quell a sickening sense of unease, and confused at living a half-life.

Reaching the cusp of adulthood, Edie’s confusion turns to resentment and she is determined to distance herself from Gnome once and for all. But can she ever be free from someone who knows her better than she knows herself?

Exploring the furthest limits of sexual and gender fluidity, this is a story about the vital importance of being honest with yourself. Every part of yourself. After all, no-one likes to be kept in the dark.

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(Courtesy of Amazon UK)

Rosie Garland is a novelist, poet, performer and singer with post-punk band The March Violets. An eclectic writer, she started out in spoken word, going on to garner praise as a performance poet. Her award-winning short stories, poems and essays have been widely anthologised, and her sixth poetry collection, As In Judy, is out now with Flapjack Press. She is the author of Vixen, a Green Carnation Prize nominee. Her debut novel, The Palace of Curiosities, won Book of the Year in the Co-op Respect Awards 2013 and was nominated for both The Desmond Elliott and the Polari First Book Prize. She lives in Manchester and is currently developing a new musical project, Time-Travelling Suffragettes.

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Book Review: Defectors, by Joseph Kanon #Defectors

Publisher:  Simon and Schuster UK

Publication date: 1st June 2017

Dangerous games with perilous consequences are played to perfection in Defectors. This story of an American CIA agent’s defection during the 1960s is both fascinating and engrossing.

In Moscow, the life Frank Weeks leads with his wife and Russian bodyguard Boris is not what I’d expected at all. There are unwritten rules that are never broken and he’s careful not to abuse these publicly, but as he wrote most of them for ‘The Service’ he knows how to shape them to his advantage on occasion.

What I found interesting was his sense of purpose within ‘The Service’, the difference he expects to make regardless of the cost of his own country. When he voluntarily defected he left his brother behind with people asking questions he couldn’t answer. Even though Frank and his wife are officially held captive by his values, they have adopted a stoic performance for anyone who may be watching, listening and reporting their movements.

Frank is a curious character. On one hand you’d think him cold-hearted, in fact learning some of his problem solving techniques you’d better believe he is, but when the strains of a personal tragedy affect his wife he is motivated to take extreme action, offering a small glimpse of his personality other than being stamped as nothing more than a traitor.

Cue an invitation for Simon, his publicist brother, to join him in Moscow to discuss the draft manuscript of Frank’s memoirs which will set the record straight once and for all. Given the nature of Frank’s position, being a notorious spy, I would have thought that more intimidating powers were likely to object, but he has permission to go public providing he preserve the identities any ‘active’ agents.

But even as we follow Frank and a suspicious Simon (complete with the very loyal Boris) around on their meticulously planned sightseeing excursions while something even greater than the memoir is brewing, you never truly get a vivid picture of Frank’s train of thought. There’s always that feeling that he’s keeping something back that will never be shared until the end.

Adapting to changing circumstances and knowing the shadow of a Russian agent is never far away becomes natural, like breathing. Although it does takes Simon a little longer to adjust during his short stay. Simon’s principles may differ from his brother but a bond remains, where threats and complications are tackled with unflinching spontaneity.

Defectors emphasises the human perspective in a story of spies, lies, and family ties, where even the best laid plans can buckle under the weight of the wrong decision and the element of surprise is always two steps ahead. I was impressed by the speed at which the narrative hurtled along while a veiled authority determined the outcome of people’s lives with frightening unpredictability. 

Rating:   4/5

(I’m grateful to Emma Finnigan and the publishers for providing a copy of this title and it’s my pleasure to provide an unbiased review.)

(Courtesy of Amazon UK)

Some secrets should never be told.

Moscow, 1961: With the launch of Sputnik, the Soviet Union’s international prestige is at an all-time high. And the most notorious of the defectors to the Soviet Union, former CIA agent Frank Weeks, is about to publish his memoirs. What he reveals will send shock waves through the West. Weeks’ defection in the early 1950s shook Washington to its core – and forced the resignation of his brother, Simon, from the State Department.

Simon, now a publisher in New York, is given the opportunity to read and publish his brother’s memoir. He knows the US government will never approve the publication of what is clearly intended as KGB propaganda. Yet the offer is irresistible: it will finally give him the chance to learn why his brother chose to betray his country.

But what he discovers in Moscow is far more shocking than he ever imagined …

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(Courtesy of Author’s website)

Joseph Kanon is the internationally bestselling author of eight novels, which have been published in twenty-four languages: Los Alamos, which won the Edgar Award for best first novel; The Good German, which was made into a film starring George Clooney and Cate Blanchett; The Prodigal Spy, Alibi, which earned Kanon the Hammett Award of the International Association of Crime Writers; Istanbul Passage, and Leaving Berlin. He is also a recipient of The Anne Frank Human Writers Award for his writings on the aftermath of the Holocaust. Before becoming a full-time writer, he was a book publishing executive. He lives in New York City with his wife, literary agent Robin Straus. They have two sons.

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Book Review: The Butcher Bird (Somershill Manor Mystery #2), by S. D. Sykes

Publisher:  Hodder & Stoughton

Publication date: 

22nd October 2014 (Hardback & Ebook)

7th April 2016 (Paperback)

The Butcher Bird is a mesmerising mystery as an epidemic of a different kind arrives in Somershill, one spread by panic and fear. After disease flocked to our 14th century shores with no regard for social status, the years that follow breed superstition and madness, although it’s exceptionally difficult to tell which when dealing with the tenants under Oswald de Lacy’s jurisdiction.

Poor Oswald. The naïve, spoiled novice we met in Plague Land and watched as he solved a medieval mystery involving a desperate persecution among the locals, only to unearth more skeletons in his family’s cupboard than any person should have accrued in a lifetime.  Having left his cloistered life to reluctantly accept a title bestowed upon him, he discovers the hard way that time doesn’t heal everything: recent mass deaths have caused an abrupt shortage of labour, wage grievances entice his tenants to greener pastures, and the contempt the rest of the villagers feel for their newly appointed young Lord could easily result in heckling given the slightest opportunity.

Inadequacies of his servants, the senseless laws he must uphold, his mother re-enacting tragedy at every waking moment and her physician who believes dung cures all known ailments chips away at him from all sides. Add to that a heavily pregnant, condescending widow, who is also his sister, and her feral step-daughters, well, his Lordship is wrung out by the ordeal. Even his horse requires bribery before considering a command!

Oswald barely has a moment in private to consult the ‘tempting’ manuscript he keeps hidden in his room when The Butcher Bird arrives in Somershill. This most recent challenge is the fantastical reasoning to explain how infants are missing from the safety of their cribs and are found dead in nearby shrubbery. As Oswald has morphed into a human misery magnet, unwillingly attracting the manor’s redundant souls who can no longer find their place in this baron world, he is tasked with discovering the whereabouts of a murderous beast. More importantly he must intervene to prevent the lynching of a grief-stricken local man accused of inviting this winged creature to feast on children after he lost his own during the pestilence.

From this point onward, everything that cannot be explained by simple means is the fault of The Butcher Bird, or Oswald himself. The gravity of the grim riddle that taunts him is complimented by the amusing witlessness of humble folk, as they feign ignorance when it suits and develop a brutal shrewdness when beneficial. It’s essential in tales like these that the writing evokes the wretchedness of the era but in this case it also projects the physical disgust of our young investigator when approached by, well, people. At first he copes admirably, that is until they taint the moment by attempting to prolong a conversation, or heaven forbid touch him!

I’m incredibly fond of Oswald for both his poor judgement resulting from both an aversion to peasants and also his own confidence, even when he’s on the right track. Life is certainly more illuminating outside monastic walls; Oswald de Lacy may be a novice in every respect but he’s learning, and witnessing his progress after he’s considered the bleakness faced by others is the pearl in a sea of despair.

Rating:  5/5

Source: My own purchased copy. Another one off the personal TBR bites the dust, and quite brilliant it was too – just like Plague Land (Book 1) which I read back in 2014! Very much looking forward to City of Masks (Book 3) which will be published in July!

(Courtesy of Amazon UK)

Oswald de Lacy is growing up fast in his new position as Lord of Somershill Manor. The Black Death changed many things, and just as it took away his father and elder brothers, leaving Oswald to be recalled from the monastery where he expected to spend his life, so it has taken many of his villagers and servants. However, there is still the same amount of work to be done in the farms and fields, and the few people left to do it think they should be paid more – something the King himself has forbidden.

Just as anger begins to spread, the story of the Butcher Bird takes flight. People claim to have witnessed a huge creature in the skies. A new-born baby is found impaled on a thorn bush. And then more children disappear.

Convinced the bird is just a superstitious rumour, Oswald must discover what is really happening. He can expect no help from his snobbish mother and his scheming sister Clemence, who is determined to protect her own child, but happy to neglect her step-daughters.

From the plague-ruined villages of Kent to the thief-infested streets of London and the luxurious bedchamber of a bewitching lady, Oswald’s journey is full of danger, dark intrigue and shocking revelations.

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(Courtesy of Amazon UK)

SD Sykes now lives in Kent, but grew up in Somerset and South London, before spending many years in the North West of England. She is a graduate from Manchester University, and has a Masters degree in Writing from Sheffield Hallam. She has a passion for medieval history and was inspired to finish her first novel after attending the novel writing course at literary agents, Curtis Brown. She has also written for radio, and has developed screenplays with Arts Council funding.

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Book Review: The Magician’s Lie, by Greer Macallister #Legend100

Publisher:  Legend Press

Publication date:  3rd April 2017

the-magicians-lie-my-review

the-magicians-lieThe Magician’s Lie explores the life story of a famous fictional illusionist who possesses a phoenix complex, having the ability to re-invent herself by rising from the ashes of her early traumatic life. While some traumas she can never escape others she must exploit to her best advantage. If only her astonishing performance skills and notorious abilities could conjure a solution to her current circumstances.

We’re transported to Iowa 1905 and Officer Virgil Holt is watching the performance of the Amazing Arden from the very back of the theatre. Her act is not like any other insomuch as she is the main attraction, not a predicable stage accessory to provide a useful distraction when required.

It’s evident she can hold an audience in the palm of her hand as they are in awe of her exploits, waiting patiently for her grand finale where she appears to cut a man in half. Shortly after the breath-taking scene Holt learns that an actual man has been savagely murdered and his body crudely concealed inside one of the props, which is not looking good for the Amazing Arden considering the ‘Halved Man’ act he’s just witnessed and that Arden has amazingly ‘disappeared’.

We learn that Holt has received disturbing news about his health which he’s reluctantly putting off telling his wife as he travels home for the evening.  Perhaps that’s why he’s the perfect person to stumble across the suspect quite by chance; he’s got some time to kill and the person in his custody has a very special story to tell.

It’s no mean feat to narrate the majority of the tale leading up to the murder from the uncomfortable surroundings of a small town police station: two people, one room, and events that conspired to lead us to this point in time. The conversation cleverly switches to scenes that occurred when her early dreams grew and faded, the sadistic cruelty of a family member she was forced to endure, and the mother who just wouldn’t listen. This didn’t feel like a usual interrogation between lawman and a suspect but more like a curious therapy session, as she was secured to a chair with several pairs of handcuffs rather than reclining on a couch.

From the beginning I was captivated by her intimate, heart-breaking, courageous story, including the intricate details of the illusions she perfected and the dogged determination of a survivor who refuses to give up. I believed the stage was being prepped as her best trick was yet to come, alas the grand finale didn’t quite materialise and I can only assume that the intended conclusion was overshadowed by my own expectations. I would have also liked a certain ‘talent’ to be explored because it wasn’t a naturally occurring phenomenon. Regardless of whether it was medical or indeed truly magical I’d have loved to know more.

Perhaps this is the magician’s ‘lie’. On the surface she’s just an ordinary woman with the extraordinary ability to enthral an audience, her distinctive dual-coloured eye making her wholly unforgettable. This particular illusionist puts on a show that has you hanging on her every word, and as her account ends at daybreak she allows you to draw your own conclusions.

Rating:   3/5

(My thanks to the publisher for providing a copy of this title, for which it was my pleasure to read and provide an unbiased review.)

Legend 100 Club

the-magicians-lie-book-summary

(Courtesy of Amazon UK)

A USA Today Bestseller

‘[A] well-paced, evocative, and adventurous historical novel…’ —Publishers Weekly, STARRED Review

‘This is a book in which storylines twist, spiral and come together again in an ending as explosive as a poof of smoke from your chimney… or a top hat.’ –Oprah.com

‘Smart, intricately plotted… a richly imagined thriller.’ —PEOPLE magazine

‘This debut novel is historical fiction that blends magic, mystery, and romance.’ —Boston Globe, Pick of the Week

‘It’s a captivating yarn… Macallister, like the Amazing Arden, mesmerises her audience. No sleight of hand is necessary. An ambitious heroine and a captivating tale are all the magic she needs.’ —Washington Post

The Amazing Arden is the most famous female illusionist of her day, renowned for her notorious trick of sawing a man in half on stage. But one night she swaps her trademark saw for an axe. When Arden’s husband is found dead later that night, the answer seems clear, most of all to young policeman Virgil Holt.

Captured and taken into custody, all seems set for Arden’s swift confession. But she has a different story to tell. Even handcuffed and alone, Arden is far from powerless, and what she reveals is as unbelievable as it is spellbinding.

A magical and mysterious historical thriller, perfect for fans of The Night Circus and Water for Elephants.

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the-magicians-lie-author-profile

(Courtesy of Publisher’s website)

Raised in the Midwest, Greer Macallister is a poet, short story writer, playwright and novelist. Her plays have been performed at American University, where she earned her MFA in Creative Writing. Her debut novel THE MAGICIAN’S LIE was a USA Today and MIBA Indie bestseller, an Indie Next, LibraryReads, and Target Book Club Pick, and was chosen by guest judge Whoopi Goldberg as a Book of the Month Club main selection. It has been optioned for film by Jessica Chastain’s Freckle Films.

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Book Review: A Betrayal in Blood, by Mark A. Latham #SherlockHolmes

Publisher:  Titan Books

Publication date:  28th March 2017

Our infatuation for a damned fine mystery often stirs a morbid curiosity of the unknown and encourages many of us to channel our inner detective. We may not rival the greats, particularly when the competition is none other than Sherlock Holmes, but A Betrayal in Blood reinvents a cryptic nemesis to indulge our every whim.

In this embittered tale a familiar legend places innocent lives in jeopardy. Set amid Victorian society, an asylum, and the grandeur of a Transylvanian castle, Doctor Watson narrates the case of the ‘Dracula papers’ as the determined duo investigate the impact of vampirism, allegedly practised by a deceased reclusive nobleman.

How I love it when sinister plots are afoot aiming to foil our intrepid private detectives, especially when those responsible are not to be meddled with. Professor Abraham Van Helsing is one such character. Exuding confidence in both his intelligence and influence, The Dutchman defends his posse’s intervention to stop Dracula (literally dead in his tracks) after an unfortunate young woman could not escape the Count’s wicked motives. He may have led the hunt for the monster responsible but was subsequently accused of murder.

Certain irregularities regarding the murders will rise, along with reports of the undead, causing Sherlock to continue where Scotland Yard’s official involvement ceased as the whole affair remains fantastical. In an unusual spin, a new case is born combining the tale of Count Dracula and the authenticity of classic Sherlock Holmes. Harnessing the keen perception of the great man himself complete with his faithful colleague at his side, they nip at the heels of shifty witnesses until the facts are unveiled and the wicked are held accountable.

I could tell from the spring in his step and that familiar gleam in his eye that he had the scent of villainy, and would stop at nothing until the wrongdoer was brought to justice.

Unreliable evidence and inconsistent testimony construct a riddle that features timeless fictional celebrities fuelled by fear and a quest for the truth. A worthy and thoroughly obliging addition to the Sherlock archives. 

[On a totally random note, by reading this I’ve learned the name ‘Wendy’ (a fleeting character appearance, and of course my own) appeared before JM Barrie’s Peter Pan was published. I didn’t know that, and I only mention it as I’d never heard the name being used in a story around this period before. End of randomness.]

 Rating:  4/5

(I received a copy of this title from the publisher and it is my pleasure to provide an unbiased review.)

(Courtesy of Amazon UK)

It is 1894, and the news of a Transylvanian nobleman s death at the hands of a certain Professor Van Helsing is the talk of London. Unsatisfied at the acquittal of the professor, Mycroft Holmes asks Sherlock to investigate what truly led to the deaths of Lucy Westenra and the mysterious aristocrat. The newspapers are full of inconsistencies and wild supernatural theories, and as Holmes digs deeper, he suspects that those hailed as heroes are not what they seem.

The clues point to an innocent man framed and murdered for crimes he did not commit, and Holmes and Watson find themselves targeted at every turn, as what began as a quest to clear one man s name reveals a conspiracy that draws them to the mountains of Transylvania and the infamous Castle Dracula.

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(Courtesy of Amazon UK)

Mark Latham is an author, editor and games designer with a passion for nineteenth century history, from Staffordshire, UK. Formerly the editor of Games Workshop’s White Dwarf magazine and head of Warhammer 40,000, Latham is now a writer of novels, short stories, and tabletop games, such as Legends of the Old West, and Waterloo. Latham is published in Further Encounters of Sherlock Holmes.

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Book Review: Gibbous House, by Ewan Lawrie #GibbousHouse

Publisher: Unbound Books

Publication date: 12th January 2017

gibbous-house-my-review

gibbous-house-cover-jpgGibbous House is an architectural curiosity. It’s an imposing feature on the landscape and is home to guests that require urgent psychological assistance. From the moment you step inside a world of decaying morals, Gothic ambience and the author’s quick wit, you will find fate dealing a shocking hand to those blissfully unaware of the game they are playing. 

Ah, that brings me to Mr Alastair Moffat. He’s oddly charming for a murderous scoundrel and has a flippant sense of humour, even under most testing circumstances. He is motivated by the prospect of gaining something at no cost to himself, so you can probably guess he was over the moon to receive news of a potential windfall via his late wife. An inheritance destined for Arabella Coble suggests great fortune awaits him at Gibbous House. Eager to discover more Moffat signs papers in the presence of the estate’s lawyer, without the burdensome task of reading them, and thereby claims ownership of the property and all the quirky responsibilities that go with it.

The domain of the deceased, Septimus Coble, should provide anonymity from Moffat’s parasitic past while providing him with a very lucrative future.  Yet the most important item listed among his new assets is something referred to only as ‘The Collection’. The cadaverous-looking staff offer a unique welcome to the new arrival and although their roles are unclear at first it’s entertaining to watch the penny drop as the nature of his inheritance becomes clear. 

It’s was an amusing prospect to learn that the activities at Gibbous House are potentially worse than Moffat’s – I mean, could anyone have less scruples?! Dining is a theatrical spectacle, only to be further enhanced by Mrs Gonderthwaite’s miraculous culinary fayre which is served by her feral children of unclassified parentage. There’s his new ward too and it’s uncertain whether Miss Pardoner has developed a facial twitch or is winking at him. Other fixtures include a dwarf professor who needs to be constantly reminded who the new master of the house is, and poor Maccabi, a reluctant stooge at Moffat’s command. SUCH a fabulous cast!

This lair of sinister indulgence encourages you to consider the welfare of a man who hasn’t a shred of conscience. But far from Moffat presenting himself as a victim, his attitude could come in handy when he interrupts the cloistered ethics of Gibbous House.

The plot is an absolute stunner but, and this is a very, very minor thing, the closure wasn’t as striking as I’d have hoped for. After almost 450 pages of a cracking build up it didn’t have quite the impact I was expecting, given the rest of the tale I’d just savoured that is. What you can be sure of are continuous japes from a treasure trove of oddballs who appear right on cue.

Yep, I quite enjoyed this one!

Rating:   4/5

Source:  My own purchased copy, as a result of pledging my support for its publication via Unbound Books.

gibbous-house-book-summary

(Courtesy of Unbound Books Website)

What if Oliver Twist had uncontrollable, murderous urges? What if Pip’s great expectations were suddenly overturned by a mad scientist’s plot for world domination?

You wouldn’t be reading Dickens – but you might be reading Gibbous House.

Moffat is a character in the full Dickensian mode – a carefully drawn and verbose criminal thriving in the underbelly of 19th century London. When he unexpectedly inherits Gibbous House, an estate in Northumbria, he heads north on a journey that raises questions about his own identity and quickly leads to issues of morality, addiction and murder.

Gibbous House, Moffat discovers, already plays home to a motley cast of characters: the beautiful and seductive Ellen Pardoner, the conniving attaché Maccabi and the arrogant scientist Enoch – manager of the mansion’s esoteric ‘collection’. Moffat’s greed-fuelled pursuit of his inheritance takes him deep into a crazed, conspiratorial plot and a series of tense, psychological showdowns.

Gibbous House is intelligent, cryptic and brimming with historical detail. The book combines suspense and mystery with comic asides to Edgar Allen Poe and Charles Dickens – adding an engaging modern irony to the rich texture of the classic Gothic novel.

Why settle for Nicholas Nickleby when you can have a Victorian Psycho?

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gibbous-house-author-profile

(Courtesy of Amazon UK)

Ewan Lawrie spent 23 years in the Royal Air Force. He began writing during long boring flights over desert countries. His stories and poetry have been published in several anthologies. Gibbous House is his first novel.

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Book Review: A Dangerous Crossing, by Rachel Rhys

Publisher: Doubleday UK (Transworld)

Publication date: 23rd March 2017

a-dangerous-crossing-my-review

When someone has seen you at your lowest you share something with them that is almost impossible to define and harder to undo. [Quotation taken from a proof copy.]

Departure:          29th July 1939. Tilbury Docks, Essex

Lillian Shepherd experiences conflicting emotions as she boards the Orontes on an assisted passage to Australia: waving goodbye to her family as she braces herself to travel alone VS the anticipation and that delicious lure of escape from her past traumas.

a-dangerous-crossing-by-rachel-rhys-coverDespite reassurances, it appears England is on the brink of war as a fusion of difference and ignorance is thrust together for five long weeks. During her travels, Lily keeps a diary of her on-board exploits and writes regularly to her folks to keep up with news from home. As the distance between her and the English shore grows their replies bring old news, which is an unnerving prospect when you can’t be sure the world has changed by the time you reach your destination.

Lily’s adventure carries the pressing temptation to rub shoulders with a couple from the upper class deck who have taken her under their wing. Second guessing the motives of her ludicrously odd companions among the tiered system of nobodies, wannabes and the recently scandalised is a mine field in itself. Some of them are just so damned persuasive and besides, if the alternative is spending time with your matronly cabin-mate and her disapproving glare you’d be tempted to ‘forget the pecking order’ and join them too.

It was astonishing to witness the pristine etiquette, mesmerising scenery and enchanting company being swallowed up by the claustrophobia creeping along the deck. There’s no escaping people you grow to dislike or mistrust and sooner or later they will catch up with you, if only to introduce you to your new friend ‘paranoia’.  

The intensity of the voyage becomes unbearable at times, but also offers encounters from the admirers Lily attracts, usually without encouragement. Doubts about the extraordinary bonds that are being forged are reinforced as her companions temperaments bob up and down in time with the ocean, while extraordinary secrets are channelled into the journey at well-timed intervals triggering a looming sense of unease. 

Arrival:                 4th September 1939. Sydney, Australia

Lily has successfully visited the ports of misery, heartbreak, prejudice, and deception.

A Dangerous Crossing is a journey I’ll never forget. I greedily read this book in two sittings, about the same time Lily took to determine the measure of one or two people she dined with! The stunning narration and authentic sense of era effortlessly transported me from one side of the world to the other, although I’m pleased to report my reading journey was infinitely more agreeable than the experience of some of the passengers on board the Orontes.

Highly recommended!

Rating:  5/5

(A review copy of this title was kindly provided by Alison Barrow of Transworld Publications for which is is my pleasure to provide an unbiased review.)

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(Courtesy of Amazon UK)

It was a first class deception that would change her life forever.

1939, Europe on the brink of war. Lily Shepherd leaves England on an ocean liner for Australia, escaping her life of drudgery for new horizons. She is instantly seduced by the world on board: cocktails, black-tie balls and beautiful sunsets. Suddenly, Lily finds herself mingling with people who would otherwise never give her the time of day.

But soon she realises her glamorous new friends are not what they seem. The rich and hedonistic Max and Eliza Campbell, mysterious and flirtatious Edward, and fascist George are all running away from tragedy and scandal even greater than her own.

By the time the ship docks, two passengers are dead, war has been declared, and life will never be the same again.

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(Courtesy of Publisher’s website)

RACHEL RHYS is the pen-name of a successful psychological suspense author. A Dangerous Crossing is her debut under this name and is inspired by a real life account of a 1930s ocean voyage. A Dangerous Crossing is due to be published around the world. Rachel Rhys lives in North London with her family.

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Book Review: The Witchfinder’s Sister, by Beth Underdown #witchfinderbook #BlogTour

Publisher:  Viking Books UK

Publication date:  2nd March 2017

witchfinder-my-review

the-witchfinders-sister-by-beth-underdown-coverFascinating and unsettling, the essence of menace and misplaced belief spirals out of control in The Witchfinder’s Sister.

It’s a certainty that dark forces were at work in 17th Century Manningtree, Essex but exactly what they were is open for debate as the basis and convenience of how someone could be accused of practicing witchcraft was astounding: “Every old woman with a wrinkled face, a furred brow, a hairy lip, a gobber tooth, a squint eye, a squeaking voice …” (It’s frightening to think this applies to most of my street.)

As I read Alice’s considerate and perceptive account of the time she returned to her family home in Manningtree to find her brother’s motives askew, I could scarcely believe how her old acquaintances could give evidence against another after simply taking offence. Being aware of how degrading and horrific the punishment would be for those suffering a lapse of judgement in a moment of anger, passion, or indeed not being of sound mind, was ignorant or vengeful. Yet Alice’s own morals skirt dangerously close to the townsfolk’s basis for judgement when someone she resents is on trial. There are some interesting moments where she understands how scores could be settled if the truth is ignored.

While some revel in another’s misery it becomes clear that these women did not deserve the finger of suspicion pointed at them. As a result of their alleged crime they were not treated leniently by the witchfinder, Alice’s brother, Matthew Hopkins. Seeing how he gathered the necessary evidence, which to us in the 21st Century would sound preposterous, it made me consider why a man as intelligent as Matthew would choose to pursue this way of life.

In contrast to his sister, Matthew appears devoid of emotion. As he enters their names into an ominous ledger he finds it’s easy to encourage a confession under circumstances where anyone could be convinced they were possessed by the devil simply to end the ruthless ordeal they were being subjected to.

Surprised to receive such an icy reception after their closeness as children, Alice learns to be mindful of her thoughts more than she ever did before she found herself in a precarious position; upon inheriting nothing more than her stepmother’s old clothing, and without a husband or means of supporting herself. After enduring many trials and indignities, one by one old skeletons step out of the cupboard for Alice’s closer inspection. As matters escalated I could sense a wary composure radiating from her when carrying out her duties with a rare compassion, and I was willing her to find Matthew’s “Achilles Heel” to prevent his twisted obsession from gaining strength.

Alice’s story has a marked refinement where her pauses for thought are placed at perfect intervals during the narration for maximum impact. These expressive brush stokes paint a picture so distorted and monstrous that it won’t fail to conjure The Witchfinder’s Sister in the flesh, effortlessly and defiantly reciting from her text for all to hear.

Rating:  4/5

(I received an ARC of this title from the publisher and Katy Loftus with my thanks and it’s my pleasure to provide this unbiased review.)

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(Courtesy of Amazon UK)

‘VIVID AND TERRIFYING’ Paula Hawkins, author of The Girl on the Train

The number of women my brother Matthew killed, so far as I can reckon it, is one hundred and six…

1645. When Alice Hopkins’ husband dies in a tragic accident, she has no choice but to return to the small Essex town of Manningtree, where her brother Matthew still lives.

But home is no longer a place of safety. Matthew has changed, and there are rumours spreading through the town: whispers of witches, and of a great book, in which her brother is gathering women’s names.

To what lengths will her brother’s obsession drive him?
And what choice will Alice make, when she finds herself at the very heart of his plan?

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witchfinder-author-profile

(Courtesy of Amazon UK. Author photograph courtesy of publisher.)

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Beth Underdown lectures in Creative Writing at the University of Manchester. Her first novel, The Witchfinder’s Sister, is based on the life of the 1640s witchfinder Matthew Hopkins. Beth’s interest in seventeenth-century England was sparked by the work of her great-uncle David Underdown, one of that period’s foremost historians. She came across a brief mention of Matthew Hopkins while reading a book about midwifery, igniting an interest which turned into an all-consuming hunt for the elusive truth about this infamous killer.

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Be sure to check out the other stops on this immense tour for The Witchfinder’s Sister! 😀

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Book Review: Corpus, by Rory Clements #BlogTour #CORPUS

Welcome to today’s stop on the Blog Tour for Corpus by Rory Clements, who is a new author to me.

Well, I’m over the moon to have been introduced to his writing as I enjoyed this novel immensely and I am delighted to share my review with you today, so thank you for stopping by. 😀

Publisher:  Bonnier Zaffre

Publication date:  26th January 2017

corpus-my-review

corpus-by-rory-clements-coverThe fallout of war casts its long shadow on 1930’s England. While fragile teacups clink innocently against their saucers in houses up and down the country, the elements of conspiracy are frighteningly close and its darkening divide has the potential to alter the course of history as we know it. Yes indeed, Corpus is dominated by misdirection and kept me on my toes throughout.

Upon receiving his neighbour’s plea for help following the premature death of a friend, a pioneer for the truth endeavours to pick up the torch and light the way. That man is Thomas Wilde. Widow, American, and respected history professor at Cambridge. He hasn’t been to war, doesn’t side in political debates, avoids the ‘traditions’ of the college at all costs, and he’s one of the few people whose morals remain intact. This gentleman also believes that opinions should be formed based on evidence not assumption, and encourages that approach from his students. Although he will have a hard time applying his philosophy as his judgement is tested throughout this story.

Wilde is a truly brilliant character who is no wannabe hero just a determined, level headed problem solver when the need demands, which will come in particularly handy in the minefield of political riddles he’s stumbled into. There he finds a trio of friends distanced over time and their prominent families, two of whom have been tainted by sudden deaths. After connecting a few erratic dots Wilde is directed into the path of a mysterious journalist whose talents allude to events more instrumental than getting a scoop for The Times.

Manipulated current affairs play a crucial role in just about everything and the meticulously engineered motives of prominent figures reach across the ocean to Russia, Spain, Germany, and more alarmingly right under our noses. In the midst of a royal scandal that was King Edward VIII and Mrs Wallis Simpson further obstacles are hurled in Wilde’s way. With the frustrating lack of co-operation and every confidence that corruption will triumph despite his best efforts, the plot becomes acutely cloak and dagger until people closest to him are in grave danger.

This is an immensely engrossing novel where the security of any country and the devastation that could ensue from  certain orchestrated events is depicted with a terrifying realism; the sharks are circling and have no hesitation in picking off anyone who threatens their cause, regardless of where they sit in the food chain.

Corpus is a remarkable chronicle of the treacherous game of poisoned politics, teasing the moves from its players with considerable skill to result in a thoroughly exhilarating fusion of espionage, intrigue and murder.

Rating:  4/5

(I received an ARC of this title from the publisher and Emily Burns with my thanks, and this is my unbiased review.)

corpus-book-summary

(Courtesy of Amazon UK)

1936.
Europe is in turmoil.

The Nazis have marched into the Rhineland.
In Russia, Stalin has unleashed his Great Terror.
Spain has erupted in civil war.

In Berlin, a young Englishwoman evades the Gestapo to deliver vital papers to a Jewish scientist. Within weeks, she is found dead in her Cambridge bedroom, a silver syringe clutched in her fingers.

In a London club, three senior members of the British establishment light the touch paper on a conspiracy that will threaten the very heart of government. Even the ancient colleges of Cambridge are not immune to political division. Dons and students must choose a side: right or left, where do you stand?

When a renowned member of the county set and his wife are found horribly murdered, a maverick history professor finds himself dragged into a world of espionage which, until now, he has only read about in books. But the deeper Thomas Wilde delves, the more he wonders whether the murders are linked to the death of the girl with the silver syringe – and, just as worryingly, to the scandal surrounding King Edward VIII and his mistress Wallis Simpson…

Set against the drumbeat of war and moving from Berlin to Cambridge, from Whitehall to the Kent countryside, and from the Fens to the Aragon Front in Spain, this big canvas international thriller marks the beginning of a major new series from bestselling author Rory Clements.

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(Courtesy of publisher’s website)

Rory Clements is the bestselling author of the John Shakespeare series of Tudor spy thrillers. His six acclaimed novels, Martyr, Revenger, Prince, Traitor, The Heretics and The Queen’s Man, follow Elizabeth’s Intelligencer, John Shakespeare, brother to the playwright William, through the dark underworld of Tudor England as he unmasks the traitors and conspirators who plot against the Queen. The seventh John Shakespeare novel, Holy Spy, is due to be published in February 2015.

Rory Clements won the Crime Writers’ Association Ellis Peters Historical Fiction Award in 2010 for Revenger, and has been shortlisted for CWA Awards for Martyr, Prince and The Heretics. A TV series is currently in development.

Find out more at http://www.roryclements.co.uk

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