Book Review: Titian’s Boatman, by Victoria Blake

Publisher:  Black and White

Publication date: 26th January 2017

titians-boatman-my-review

titians-boatman-coverThere is an epic vibrancy to Titian’s Boatman where the necessity of appreciating every morsel of life takes on new meaning as events unfold. The words wrap you in their splendour as they take you on a journey as relevant to the present as they were to the present.

The beautifully layered narration from a 16th century Venetian gondolier who tells his story of the time of disease and corruption that is partially cloaked in resentment, and for good reason. The brutally honest Titian’s Boatman tells of the ills that befell his family, the sights he endured, and the orders he willingly complied with. How this man came to know the great painter Titian as a youth and grew into boatman like his father before him is utterly compelling. The unwavering respect he offers to his masters is as intricate as the paintings of his time.

In 2011, a London gallery and an apartment in New York display these glorious, mesmerising works many centuries after the smell of turpentine and the raging tantrums have died away, like the muse who sat for them. Yet they remain as vivid and affecting as the day they were framed.

A particular canvass depicting The Man with the Blue Sleeve becomes an iconic symbol in this tale that spans centuries. The undetermined identity of the sitter and the way a painting may speak to those who care to visit it. In one case the painting actually verbalises its opinion to a thespian named Terry, and offers him some peculiar words of wisdom!

Each character is a captivating individual whose story is touched by a passion, hope, regret or desire that is present in all of them in varying degrees: The morose actor, his flamboyant director, the widowed housemaid from Cuba, our humble yet determined boatman, a successful and headstrong courtesan, and the artists whose work continues to enthral viewers who stand in awe before it.

Titian’s Boatman incorporates divine passages and glides effortlessly through the eras. His story conjures the artistry and imagination of the magicians whose brush strokes are as fluid and alive as the sitter themselves, their enigmatic essence immortalised and open for admiration and speculation. As the delicate connection of time begins to show its hand, so does the clarity that accompanies new beginnings everywhere.

A fascinating story, gracefully told. 

Rating:  4/5

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

titians-boatman-book-summary

(Courtesy of Amazon UK)

It is 1576 and Venice is in chaos, ravaged by plague and overrun by crime.

In the midst of the anarchy we find those brave souls who have chosen not to flee the city. Titian, most celebrated of Venetian painters, his health failing badly. Sebastiano, a gondolier who is the eyes and ears of the corrupted and crumbling city. And Tullia, the most notorious courtesan of the age, who must fight to retain her status as well as her worldly possessions.

In the present day, the echoes of what happened centuries earlier still ripple as the lives of ordinary people as far distant as London and New York are touched by the legacy of old Venice…

‘Travelling across time and place, this compelling intrigue captures the beauty of several Venices and the essence of Titian the city’s most scandalous genius.’
Francesco Da Mosto

‘From the squalid glamour of 16th-century Venice to modern-day London and New York, Titian’s Boatman demonstrates the power of art to bridge the years and transform lives. With fine, elegant brush-strokes, Victoria Blake has created a rich and enchanting novel.’
Rory Clements, author of Sunday Times bestseller Holy Spy

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titians-boatman-author-profile

(Courtesy of Amazon UK)

Victoria Blake s love of Italy and history was inspired by her father, the historian Robert Blake, famous for his pioneering biography of Benjamin Disraeli. She grew up in Queen’s College, Oxford where he was the Provost. After studying history at Lady Margaret Hall she subsequently worked in law, publishing and bookselling.

She is the author of an Oxford-based crime series featuring the PI Sam Falconer and has written two true crime books for the National Archives, one on Ruth Ellis, and one on Florence Maybrick. Her historical novel Far Away was shortlisted for the Historical Society Novel Indie Award 2016.

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Book Review: The Learn, by Tony Halker

Publisher:  Clink Street Publishing

Publication date:  29th September 2016

the-learn-my-review

The Learn by Tony HalkerThe Learn is an unusual Bronze Age tale featuring the spiritual evolution of a young man by the name of Owayne as he transforms from beach scavenger, by the nature of his birth, to that of priest under the intense guidance of a wise Druid.

Following the discovery of a rare item in the rock pools where they harvest shellfish, Owayne’s mother quickly intervenes to present both this and her son as a candidate for The Learn. This item attracts much interest of the Druid, Merle, as it is associated with the Deity they worship. Now she has Merle’s attention she can barter for her son’s advancement in life, although her approach is considered somewhat unconventional.

This telling of Owayne’s steps into priesthood is told is stark and simplistic detail. To make him ready for the ultimate test, where it will be decided if he is ready to embrace The Learn or will become a ‘fail’, he must shadow the druid for many months and experience nature, spirits, defence, and ultimate respect for all these elements.

With each new day his eyes are opened to reveal the concept of new ideas, intense discussion, and the value of listening to all sides before coming to a conclusion – walking with Druidii will provide a tough education for the lowly beach comber.

It is expected that learning should never cease and there’s almost a ‘Dragon’s Den’ moment where a new invention is offered to the high council for consideration, as it is thought that this initial concept could alter the course of history. But first it requires approval by the most knowledgeable, which is an interesting process; while there are people wishing to test new theories, accusations of blasphemy, abomination, and offending Mother Nature are a few of the barriers placed in their way.

The non-flowery prose perfectly conveys the ‘bare necessities’ of this primitive period, which makes any progress appear awe inspiring; new knowledge is celebrated and defended, as ‘know’ is essential for long term survival. As Owayne becomes older and hopefully wiser he will learn and grow, until one day he can leave his own footprints on the earth. 

The Learn captures the essence of a people embracing devout intellectual prosperity and is enriched by a philosophical approach to the ever-changing world around us.  It’s a story perfectly suited to the patient reader who will be able to fully appreciate the journey through this intriguing historical era and the calmness it evokes.

Rating:  3/5

(I received a digital copy of this title from Rachel at Authoright PR  and Authoright in exchange for an honest review, with my thanks.)

~ Here’s wishing the author a wonderful publication day ~

the-learn-book-summary

(Courtesy of Amazon UK)

Blending reality, history and legend, about a time when women were considered as important as men, taking power in an oral society that worships the Goddess. A whole Celtic Druid world is laid out before us, incorporating beliefs, technology and the natural environment.

A Celtic boy, a beach scavenger, is pledged to the Learn, a life of endurance, a path to become sworn Druid: scholar and warrior.  Young women and men progress, becoming Priests and Druidii. Friendship, affection, passion and care develop as novices mature, confidence emerging.

Seasonal battles of winter and summer bring rich festivals when seeds of men are taken by women in pleasure to prove fertility. Small damaged, hurt peoples on the margins of Celtic society blend in and out of vision.

At frontiers with Nature, dependent for everything on what the earth gives or takes, an emotional response to the natural environment defines who people are and the values they live by.

A lyrical novel resonating with modern readers through portrayal of character, language and history; arising from a landscape of today, yet centred in the Celtic Bronze Age of North Wales.

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the-learn-author-profile

(Courtesy of Author’s blog)

Born in London, Tony Halker studied geology at Leeds University after which he worked as a geologist, travelling extensively overseas. Following an MBA at Cranfield School of Management, he became a manager in hi-tec business and later a businessman and entrepreneur. His writing is inspired by powerful natural landscapes and his interest in the people and technologies emerging from those hard places. His two daughters were born in North Wales. He lives with his wife there and in Hertfordshire.

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Book Review: The Beast on the Broch, by John Fulton #thebeastonthebroch

Publisher:  Pokey Hat (Cranachan Books)

Publication date:  September 2016

Beast on the Broch - My Review

The Beast on the Broch - CoverBrimming with legend and lore this exceptional tale features enigmatic stone carvings, a primitive religious order, a sword with two blades, a wise old woman, imminent invasion and not forgetting, The Beast on the Broch.

Spirited Talorca lives a quiet life catching fish to provide for her one parent family. Her father has died and her mother is often preoccupied. Soon the twelve year olds’ daily mischief is replaced by mayhem that came in on the tide and village life is about to get interesting when a group of ignorant intruders muscle their way in to take advantage of their shores.

Her introduction to the new arrivals doesn’t go well. From the top of the old broch Talorca spies three lads casually helping themselves to her nets and all the bounty in them! As she races to stop them, she slips from the tower only to come face to face something more menacing than the wretched thieves. She doesn’t believe her eyes when she finds herself staring at a long snout, two curly horns and a mouth full of razor sharp teeth, features she recognises from the mythical symbols carved into the ancient clan stone that stands in the centre of their village. And in a flash the creature vanishes, almost like it was never there at all.

While one threat has gone the other remains as it seems these uninvited guests are planning on staying a little while. The villagers try their best to accommodate their ‘superior’ neighbours who can’t speak their language and make no effort to learn it. But the chief’s three sons are so up for making trouble, taunting Talorca and goading her until her patience runs dry. And what on earth is her mother thinking when she invites these people for tea?!

With no one to confide in except a wise old woman, she and Talorca do what they can to make the visitors feel unwelcome. Although Talorca may be used to getting into scrapes things get very serious indeed and she finds that it’s not her fishing nets she will need to defend, but her severe recklessness.

There some wonderfully mysterious encounters with the enigmatic Beast and this one isolated girl. His presence may appear menacing, but it will prove to be an asset providing Talorca can coax him into lend a helping claw or two!

The Beast on the Broch is bursting with adventure, bravery, and a glorious Pictish charm. The very talented John Fulton has captured the vulnerabilities and extremes of living in a remote coastal village in 799AD and how things can go from bad to worse as the tide ebbs and flows. The story carries subtle morals of owning up when you are wrong, and also one regarding change – you don’t have to embrace it just try to adapt, as a time may come when you need to pull together to confront your true enemy.

Rating:  5/5

Huge thanks to the author for getting in touch for a review and to Cranachan Books for kindly organising this intriguing bookish parcel, complete with chocolate broch! …

Beast on the Broch Book Post

Beast on the Broch - Book Summary

(Courtesy of publisher)

A lonely girl.  A wild Beast. An unforgettable friendship.

12 Year Talorca is a Pictish girl living in North-east Scotland in 799 AD.  When Gaelic-speaking Dalriadans arrive in her village, her world is turned upside down.

Her only friend is a mythical Pictish Beast, who has been injured by the Dalriadans. Talorca decides to take a stand against the intruders and hatches a plan to drive them out. But she can only do that with the help of the wild beast on the broch.

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Beast on the Broch - Author Profile

(Courtesy of publisher)

John K Fulton is the son of a lighthouse keeper, and grew up all around the coast of Scotland.  These remote and lonely locations instilled in him a life long love of books and the sea. He studied at the universities of St. Andrews and Dundee, and now lives in Leicester with his partner Sandra.  While Leicester is about as far from the sea as you can get in the UK, their home is stuffed with books, which is the next best thing.

His first book, the WW1 spy thriller The Wreck of the Argyll, won the Great War Dundee Children’s Book Prize.

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Blog Tour Book Review: On Starlit Seas, by Sara Sheridan

Publisher:  Black and White Publishing

Publication date:  28th July 2016

On Starlit Seas My Review

On Starlit Seas - coverWhat a delight! The pure richness of words wrapped by the cover of On Starlit Seas allowed me to be swept away on a magical, epic voyage that simply took my breath away. From Cacoa beans in Mexico, to Fry’s Chocolate manufactory in Bristol, and the filthy London back streets knocking on society’s finest door, On Starlit Seas is delicious story featuring smuggling, blackmail and adventure, where the path of two people with differing destinies seemed fated to cross.

Widowed Maria Graham, a Naval Captain’s wife and English lady of respectable birth and intellect, sought passage home during a turbulent time of in South America’s history. Being used to travelling to exotic places with her husband before his passing she continued to do so alone. She has found acclaim as an author after documenting her experiences, much to the interest of her publisher who eagerly anticipated her newest manuscripts from his offices in the chillier climes of London.

A rarity in the 1800’s, a woman author (she’s not fictional) would inevitably lead to mockery by her male peers, but Maria Graham was not the sort of lady you would meet every day. In fact she was a breath of fresh air – lead by her determination to observe the world and everything in it.

After discovering there were no passenger or Naval ships available to provide a suitable escort for Maria, as they were commissioned to carry out more important tasks, her quest to find a suitable means home became an interesting proposition. She had to deliver her new manuscripts to her publisher and collect supplies for her new position as governess to a young princess and although she might be accustomed to dealing with rugged escorts on her many journeys, trudging along on horseback through difficult terrain, nothing would prepare her for Captain Henderson, a gentlemanly rogue if ever there was one!

From the moment they met at the port, no matter what he seemed to do, he caused repeated insult or offence. Frustratingly, her position means she cannot admit to being intrigued by his rugged exterior and the mysteries of his inherited cargo, not to mention his unusual boat and the crew that complimented it! The surprising nature of their affinity leads to endearing moments throughout.

The Captain took a step away from polite society when his was a boy of twelve to join his father’s business, and despite his best efforts his rough edges show. He’s used to his own company and another class of lady altogether and his unintentional confusion surrounding these matters is met with some distain from Maria Graham as she graces the deck of the Bittersweet.

Although fiercely independent, she is grateful for the advantages her status has afforded her. If only she could put aside the inhibitions reining her in for just a moment, and if only he can stop being so innocently devilish, and presumptuous, then things could be very different on the perilous journey ahead where they will meet some very unsavoury characters indeed. Their difficulties also lead to the heart of society which shows its disapproval at the slightest whiff of impropriety, and neither wishes to rock that particular boat (excuse the pun).

The many flavours of the characters are further enhanced by the places they encounter. I was especially intrigued by the regular consumption of chocolate throughout, which is sipped from a cup rather than eaten in a block. Its innovations and practices lead Fry’s Chocolate to be woven into the intricacies of a grand plot, as are the hints of improvements to conditions for the plantation workers with the hint of a ‘fair trade’ cacoa bean.

On Starlit Seas is a magnificent and captivating read, blended to perfection.

Rating:  5/5

(I’m most grateful to have received a copy of an exquisitely packaged book from the publisher for review.)

Publishers Book Post

On Starlit Seas Book Summary

(Courtesy of Amazon UK)

Celebrated writer and historian Maria Graham must make the treacherous voyage from Brazil to London to deliver her latest book to her publisher. Having come to terms with the loss of her beloved husband, Maria now has renewed hope for the future and is determined to live her life as she pleases, free from the smothering constraints of Georgian society.

For a woman travelling alone it s a journey fraught with danger, and as civil war rages around her, the only ship prepared to take Maria belongs to roguish smuggler Captain James Henderson. Onboard, all is well until Maria makes two shocking discoveries the first a deadly secret, the second an irresistible attraction to the enigmatic captain.

With Henderson on a journey of his own and determined to finally put his life of crime behind him, he and Maria grow ever closer. But can Henderson escape his illicit past or will the scandalous secret he s hiding ruin them both?

On Starlit Seas is a breathtaking and compelling story of passion, secrets and escape.

“A story as rich and velvety as the chocolate at its heart… A joy to read.”
MARY CHAMBERLAIN (author of The Dressmaker of Dachau)

“This is a novel to take one seamlessly from exotic places to shadowy underworlds and polite drawing rooms, in order to revel in an emotionally charged and socially challenged Victorian romance, coupled with the cliff-hanging jeopardy of Brazilian and London low-life… Five stars with extra phosphorescence!”
JOANNA HICKSON (author of The Tudor Bride)

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On Starlit Seas Author Profile

(Courtesy of Amazon UK)

Sara Sheridan was born in Edinburgh and studied at Trinity College, Dublin. She works in a wide range of media and genres. Tipped in Company and GQ magazines, she has been nominated for a Young Achiever Award. She has also received a Scottish Library Award and was shortlisted for the Saltire Book Prize. She sits on the committee for the Society of Authors in Scotland (where she lives) and on the board of ’26’ the campaign for the importance of words. She’s taken part in 3 ’26 Treasures’ exhibitions at the V&A, London, The National Museum of Scotland and the Museum of Childhood in Bethnal Green.

She occasionally blogs on the Guardian site about her writing life and puts her hand up to being a ‘twitter evangelist’. From time to time she appears on radio, most recently reporting for BBC Radio 4’s From Our Own Correspondent. Sara is a member of the Historical Writers Association and the Crime Writers Association. A self-confessed ‘word nerd’ her favourite book is ‘Water Music’ by TC Boyle.

Sara Sheridan writes the popular Mirabelle Bevan Murder Mysteries set in 1950s as well as historical novels set in 1820-1845. Fascinated particularly by female history she is a cultural commentator who appears regularly on television and radio. In 2014 she was named one of the Saltire Society’s 365 Most Influential Scottish Women, past and present.

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Book Review: The Doctor’s Daughter, by Vanessa Matthews

Published by:  Completely Novel   |  Publication date:  23rd June 2015  |  Edition: Review copy (PDF)

  Doctors Daughter My Review

The Drs Daughter by Vanessa Matthews SmallThe Doctor’s Daughter is brimming with secrets and lies, and tackles the subject of abuse in its various guises: mental, physical and power. It’s undeniably suspenseful, and there’s some thunderously excellent prose with sinister stand-out moments.

Since she was a child, Marta Rosenblit had been treated very differently from her sisters and what she accepted to be an ordinary life to her was a fundamentally cruel existence. She’s an otherwise invisible entity, displayed at gatherings where her father can voice his strong views on psychological matters.

As a well-respected Doctor in this field, her father can dismiss any opinion she chooses to conceive herself as being incredulous, particularly if she’s making more sense than him. To persist with her fervent beliefs on psychological matters would be seen as bordering on the hysterical, and she could see herself joining her mother in an asylum. So, she listens politely, as she is force-fed his ideas and regurgitates these at timely intervals to reinforce her father’s expertise in his chosen subject.

Never knowing what made her mother become unwell, other than because she was born, her sisters are indifferent to her and without acquaintances to call on for advice she is left with her father treating her like a second class citizen, as if her mind were feeble simply because of her gender.

How can a young lady possibly compete with such strong characters in 1920’s Vienna when her voice is being lost amongst the crowd? As you follow her story, you’ll soon discover that it’s quite the impossible task for Marta and this in turn opens a revolving door of hidden suffering for her.

Everything was set to change when she meets Dr Leopold Kaposi, a friend of her fathers. She sees him as a ray of light. Little does this naïve young woman know of Dr Kaposi’s agenda, which will leave her swirling in an eddy of confusion, only adding to her already fragile state.

I was willing her to find the courage to open her eyes. It seemed she might do just that when an anonymous parcel arrived for her. Her furtive investigations to find the sender lead her to some awful truths with the help of an outspoken and newly qualified doctor by the name of Elise, who plays the most magnificent part. It turns out the ladies may have more in common than would first appear.

It all gets very dark indeed. Without a doubt, the appeal for me was whether Marta could find a shred of hope under the emotional debris. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.

Rating: 5/5

(My sincere thanks to the author for providing a review copy of her book for review. SO happy she did!)

Doctors Daughter Book Summary

A prominent psychiatrist’s daughter realises insanity can be found much closer to home when she unlocks secrets from the past that threaten to destroy her future.

It’s 1927, women have the right to vote and morals are slackening, but 23-year-old Marta Rosenblit is not a typical woman of her time. She has little connection with her elder sisters, her mother has been detained in an asylum since Marta was born and she has spent her life being shaped as her father Arnold’s protégé. She is lost, unsure of who she is and who she wants to be. Primarily set in Vienna, this dark tale follows her journey of self-discovery as she tries to step out of her father’s shadow and find her identity in a man’s world. Her father’s friend Dr Leopold Kaposi is keen to help her make her name, but his interest is not purely professional and his motivations pose greater risks than she could possibly know. Marta’s chance encounter in a café leads to a new friendship with young medical graduate Elise Saloman, but it soon turns out that Elise has some secrets of her own. When Marta’s shock discovery about her family story coincides with her mother’s apparent suicide, Marta can’t take anymore. Nobody she has grown to love and trust is who they seem. Her professional plans unravel, her relationships are in tatters and her sanity is on the line – and one person is behind it all.

Doctors Daughter Author Profile

Vanessa Matthews

In 2014, the first draft of my novel The Doctor’s Daughter was fortunate enough to be selected for a Free Read by The Literary Consultancy (TLC), a manuscript assessment that is awarded on merit and received interest from a number of literary agents and publishing houses.

My debut poetry collection ‘Melodies of my Other Life’ was published by indie press Winter Goose Publishing in 2013. Since then I have been featured in several poetry publications and have developed my fiction writing skills through training with the Arvon Foundation.

I have been writing since my teens and during my career have penned several feature articles printed in the national media. In 2012 I started a 30-day writing and blogging challenge during which I won two poetry contests. I regularly update my blog http://www.ordinarylifelessordinary.wordpress.com with poetry, short stories and author interviews.

I live in Cornwall, England with my husband and four children. I am 38 years old.

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1066: What Fates Impose, by G K Holloway

Publisher:  Matador  |  Publication date:  4th March 2013  |  Edition: Kindle (Review Copy)

1066 - What Fates Impose

Which King is destined to rule England? That’s ‘What Fates Impose’.

Bloody battles, family feuds, and a scramble to sit at the high table (like a lethal game of musical chairs), the 11th Century had its fair share of traumatic incidences, the Battle of Hastings being the one we’re all familiar with.

I’m ashamed to say that my knowledge of this event is fairly limited, but we all know the basics: King Harold of England vs Duke William of Normandy, arrow to the eye, and the rest, as they say, is history. Or is it?

After reading this book I must admit that I feel more enlightened as to the events occurring during this period, it’s clear that it’s been very well researched. Fact and fiction are woven seamlessly together, which allows this story to harness the more ‘human’ (and often inhumane) side to all parties involved.

The prologue shows us a snapshot of the demise of William the Conqueror, lying on his death bed in 1087 in Rouen, Normandy. In the throes of death, he is haunted by demons from his past and he refuses to name a successor to the throne of England, leaving it for ‘God to decide’. The story ends at the beginning of his reign, when the famous battle has been won.

Between this timeline lies a strained history leading up to that fateful day in 1066,  I found myself witnessing fictional snippets of conversations surrounding children, loves, woes, and treachery. Subsequently, the pecking order of potential successors changed frequently.

For me, the author has carefully pitched each person and successfully brought their individual history to life. Of course, no one will ever really know what was said in casual conversation, but listening in was intriguing – who may have had a dry sense of humour, who could have been the most courageous or downright cruel, and how they attempted to justify their decisions in the eyes of God.

It appears that a Kingdom would balance its successes and losses in this period of history as a result of a higher power ‘determining it’; when a comet is sighted by opposing sides, with just the a stretch of water between them, both wonder if it’s an omen sent for them personally, and how the rivals interpret these ‘signs’ is very interesting indeed.

There’s A LOT of people mentioned, some on the periphery, some with a similar name in the same family, which did throw me at times! But the author has kindly included a helpful ‘list of main characters’ in the intro, featuring real family trees.

Although the majority of the ‘action’ occurs in the latter third of the book, some quite graphic, anyone with even the remotest interest in history / historical fiction will find this absolutely fascinating. I know I did, and I’m so glad I bumped this up my TBR pile.  Nicely done.

Rating: 4/5

(Many thanks to the Author, G K Holloway, for providing a copy of his book in exchange for an honest review. )


G K Holloway Author Bio

1066 What Fates Impose, won the Gold Medal in the 2014 Wishing Shelf Independent Book Awards – Adult Fiction.

G K Holloway left university in 1980 with a degree in history and politics. After spending a year in Canada, he relocated to England’s West Country and began working in Secondary Education. Later he worked in Adult Education and then Further Education before finally working in Higher Education.

After reading a biography about Harold Godwinson, he became fascinated by the fall of Anglo Saxon England and spent several years researching events leading up to and beyond the Battle of Hastings. Eventually he decided he had enough material to make an engrossing novel. Using characters from the Bayeux Tapestry, the Norse Sagas, the Domesday Book and many other sources. He feels that he has brought the period and its characters to life in his own particular way. Following the major protagonists, as well as political, religious and personal themes, the downfall of Anglo-Saxon England is portrayed by a strong cast.

Nowadays he lives in Bristol with his wife and two children. When he’s not writing he works with his wife in their company.

1066 is his debut novel was originally published as an ebook. It has received very positive reviews and this has encouraged him to publish it in paperback. Currently he is working on a sequel. One day he hopes to write full time.

1066 ShieldVisit G K Holloway’s website:  www.gkholloway.co.uk

Twitter: @GlynnHolloway

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Amy Snow, by Tracy Rees

Publisher: Quercus | Publication date: 9th April 2015 | Edition: Paperback (review copy)

Amy Snow by Tracy Rees

What is the ultimate gift you could you give someone? Hope? Freedom? Or a copy of this book? All of the above?

A delightful and inventive tale of friendship, heartbreak and surviving whatever life may throw at you. It’s written with absolute class and is a glorious example of a shining needle in a very large haystack (otherwise known as ‘a little beauty’).

The Story

In January 1831, a baby came into the lives of the Vennaway family of Hatville Court, but not in the traditional way it would appear.

The new born was not a bundle of joy and happiness, it was lying abandoned on the crisp white snow of the grounds.

Amy had arrived. And so, her journey had begun.

Her tiny, naked form was discovered by the youngest member of the Vennaway household. If it wasn’t for a feisty, impetuous girl by the name of Aurelia, the babe may never have survived – she owes her life to the young heir and will never forget it.

Amy snow

Escaping the grip of Hatfield Court

So, you would think that a decent enough life would be waiting for a baby who had survived the odds, yet Hatfield Court offered nothing but a miserable existence. For all their fancy airs and graces, the cruel and vindictive ways of the Vennaways left a lot to be desired. Aurelia’s mother was so vile they should have renamed the house ‘Hateful’ Court. I truly wanted to slap the scowl right off her face and all her venom with it. Lady Vennaway’s behaviour is explained late in the book, but you’ll have to see if you think this excuses her…I’m afraid that whilst I sympathise, I personally think not.

Only Aurelia truly fought the little girl’s corner; Amy was the sister she never had.

Seventeen years later, Aurelia tragically left the world, leaving Amy behind bleary-eyed and afraid. She was released from her life of servitude, which was a relief to both parties. Having been offered a token sum in the young woman’s will, Amy was sent speedily on her way. Before she left the grounds she was secretly handed a mysterious letter written by the recently deceased.

This was the first ‘clue’ which would lead her on a solitary journey, a concept completely alien to her. Upon her arrival to her previously unknown destination, it’s not too long before another letter comes to light. Before she can move on, Amy finds she must decode the hidden messages from her only friend in the world, who is no longer with her to offer advice.

“Open the door. Unlock the secret.”

A secret and patient chase for the next clue leads an unchaperoned Amy from place to place, putting her in awkward positions, accepting or declining invites to balls and events, and introducing her to a society she never knew existed. All the while, Amy considers if there is any place where she will truly belong.

Faced with suitors she didn’t know she would attract, social soirees where she doesn’t know how to act, and Aurelia’s bizarre and secret pact – will Amy figure out the final destination before she abandons the quest, like her mother abandoned her?

Soon, Amy begins to question Aurelia’s motives – is she making a fool of her from the grave?

Whilst the ending is not totally unexpected, the story itself is a delight to read. It’s one which moves at a gentle trot, not a gallop, allowing you to bathe in the atmosphere the writer has successfully conjured up.

And you know something? It’s makes pleasant change to reach end of a book without any profanity in it.

Rating: 4.5 / 5

(I am grateful to Hannah Robinson of Quercus for agreeing to send this to me for review.)


You can follow the author on Twitter: @AuthorTracyRees | Publisher: @QuercusBooks