Writing Regency Women : a #guestpost by Caroline Miley, author of Artist On Campaign

Happy publication day to Caroline Miley for her latest novel, Artist On Campaign. Caroline visits my blog today to talk about writing regency women in novels but first let’s see what her latest book is all about.

Author : Caroline Miley
Title : Artist On Campaign
Pages : 380
Publisher : Greenslade Creations
Publication date : October 30, 2019

| ABOUT THE BOOK |

Ralph Oughtred has few ambitions – to be rich, or at least out of debt, to eventually marry his charming mistress, and to get into the Royal Academy.

An amiable rake in Georgian London, Ralph is an artist who thinks he’s got it made when he wins a big commission to paint the Duke of Wellington’s generals. But before he can put brush to canvas they’re whisked off to Portugal to fight Napoleon, and he must follow or lose the money. In a comic romp through Portugal and Spain in the train of the British army, Ralph leads the reader through war, art, sex, love, travelogue, musings on life and a lot of drinking. He’s recruited as a spy, accidentally leads a cavalry charge, makes love to an officer’s wife during the Battle of Porto, and is captured by the French.

A man of his time and an everyman bound to the wheel of fortune, Ralph travels the road of the reluctant hero from innocence to experience. But he’s intelligent and complex and his adventures will appeal to the reader who wants their history to live, their escapism to be philosophical and their narratives lyrical. The book is written with a deft, light touch; there’s just enough accurate military history, and the characters – Ralph and his friends, and the generals he paints – are varied and amusing.

Artist at Large is that rare bird, a novel that is literary, historical and funny, a stylish evocation of the history and manners of an era, and an entertainment of the highest order.

Amazon US | Amazon UK

| GUEST POST |

WRITING REGENCY WOMEN

As a historian and author of historical novels set in the late Georgian, I’m often in conflict about writing female characters. The conflict is caused by the clash between the values of today and of the past, and between historical facts and imaginary characters. The past, as LP Hartley famously said, is another country. They do things differently there. And nowhere is that more apparent for a historical writer today, than in the position of women, which has changed far, far more in the last 200 years than the positions of men. And that poses a dilemma for authors.

Dame Hilary Mantel says that women writers must stop rewriting history to make their female characters falsely “empowered”. Part of this, she says, is the desire to give ‘a voice to those who have been silenced’. That’s very understandable, but I’m with Dame Hilary. The problem is not empowerment, it’s the ‘falsely’. 

Two hundred years ago, women had few legal rights. Married women could not own property, although women from moneyed families often had specific amounts agreed to in marriage contracts. Married women had no rights, even, to their children, and depended on the men in their families – fathers, brothers, husbands – to use goodwill in managing their affairs and representing them in public spheres such as the law courts. Unmarried women over their late 20s were generally regarded as ‘poor cousins’ by society and had little status. Society had narrow views on what roles and behaviour were suitable for women and ostracized those who didn’t conform.

So what’s a writer to do? For me, the answer is in looking more closely at what women’s lives were really like, and what they thought themselves. Something that’s immediately apparent is that women didn’t particularly think of themselves as unempowered. Women of all classes – and there were enormous differences in the life of working, middle and upper-class women – exercised their powers in a large variety of ways.

The greatest freedom, as always, was to be found in the lowest and highest in the land. A wealthy woman had a great deal at her command, especially if her father had managed her marriage contract well. Lady Caroline Lamb had money and a title that no-one could take away; she was excluded from polite society because of her rampant behaviour, but perhaps didn’t care. Women like Becky Sharp in Vanity Fair could shrewdly parlay their beauty and skills into social advancement. And women at the lowest levels could do much as they pleased, because they, too, didn’t care what people thought. They could fall down drunk on gin, brawl in the street, run a tavern or conduct a respectable business as a washerwoman. They still had no rights, but then, the men of their class had relatively few either. There was an equality of disempowerment. It was the respectable middle classes, such as Jane Austen’s family, who cared what people thought and tried to conform to expected standards of polite behaviour.

It’s important, too, to realise that the Regency was the last gasp of the rollicking, boisterous, bawdy Georgian era, the last before the straightlaced Victorians and their ‘family values’ and prudery about sex. Regency rakes still wore powder and patches, dampened their breeches to make them cling and wore ornate fobs dangling just above their genitals, and rakish Regency women rouged their nipples and wore transparent muslin. In the dark streets of pre-gaslit London and in country hedgerows, men and women enjoyed each other with gusto. We know this because of Sheridan’s and Goldsmith’s plays, and most of all, perhaps, from Rowlandson’s lampoons and sketches. One of the premier illustrators of his day, Rowlandson’s colossal output included a huge number of graphically sexual drawings that show men – and women – enjoying themselves with energy.

Soldiers’ wives – and the army was large at the time – lived in barracks with their children and followed their men on campaign, marching with them from place to place, carrying their children and sometimes even their man’s equipment. They might be respectable or otherwise. They could make money by doing the officers’ washing, mending and cutting their hair, and baking biscuit for the Commissaries. These women were enterprising and entrepreneurial, and endured hardships stoically. Their achievements were in many ways highly admirable.

More respectable women did none of this, but there is no reason to suppose that they didn’t enjoy their respectable marriage bed. And they had plenty to occupy themselves. They cared for the poor, visited the sick, drew the vicar’s attention to evils that needed to be remedied. They taught their own and other people’s children. They ran schools for girls and young ladies. They wrote novels and poetry and translated books. There were, in fact, many women writers of the late 18th century, although most have been forgotten today, but Maria Edgeworth, Fanny Burney, Anna Laetitia Barbauld and Anna Yearsley, and bluestockings like Hester Thrale were well-known in their own time.  Ann Radcliffe, author of Gothic novels, was the most popular and highest-paid novelist in Britain in the 1790s.

Women were also interested in politics, although the suffrage movement was decades away. Mary Wollestonecraft was middle class, but her more bohemian circle was more liberal in its acceptance of unconventional behaviour. Women could not speak in public or stand for Parliament, but they could read, and attempt to influence others. Again, they had to be imaginative in the ways they could exercise that influence. Women were very instrumental in the abolition of the slave trade movement of the period, for instance. Aphra Benn and Hannah More, among others, published books, tracts and poems drawing attention to the plight of the slaves, which were widely distributed. Women bought Wedgwood anti-slavery medallions they wore as jewellery and played a huge part in the very successful sugar boycott, which hit plantation-owners’ pockets, and exclusively patronising grocers who did not sell plantation sugar.

Women of the past may have had few rights and a narrow range of social roles, but there is real fascination, and countless stories, in seeing the variety of what they did with their lives within those confines, and how imaginatively and powerfully they exerted themselves in the spheres that were open to them.

I couldn’t agree more with this post if I tried. The whole idea of rewriting history is a scary thought to me. You can’t just erase historical events or ways of life because they make people feel uncomfortable in this day and age. Where do you even draw the line? That was then, this is now and I for one prefer my historical fiction, fiction though it may be, as close to the mark as it can possibly be.

Thank you so much for stopping by, Caroline, and for writing this fascinating and thought-provoking post.

| ABOUT THE AUTHOR |

Caroline Miley is an art historian and author of literary historical novels set in the late Georgian era. Her debut novel, The Competition, won a Varuna Fellowship and a Fellowship of Australian Writers award, and was selected by the Royal Academy of Arts for its 250th Anniversary celebrations. Her latest novel, Artist on Campaign, was inspired by wondering what would happen if a rake of an artist was obliged to put up with the British Army, and vice versa.

Her interests are art, both as a practitioner and a viewer, books, films, history, travel and gardens. 

Daisy Jones and The Six by Taylor Jenkins Reid | #20BooksOfSummer

Author : Taylor Jenkins-Reid
Title : Daisy Jones and The Six
Pages : 368
Publisher : Hutchinson
Publication date : March 5, 2019

| ABOUT THE BOOK |

For a while, Daisy Jones & The Six were everywhere. Their albums were on every turntable, they sold out arenas from coast to coast, their sound defined an era. And then, on 12 July 1979, they split. Nobody ever knew why. Until now.

They were lovers and friends and brothers and rivals. They couldn’t believe their luck, until it ran out. This is their story of the early days and the wild nights, but everyone remembers the truth differently. The only thing they all know for sure is that from the moment Daisy Jones walked barefoot onstage at the Whisky, their lives were irrevocably changed.

Making music is never just about the music. And sometimes it can be hard to tell where the sound stops and the feelings begin.

| MY THOUGHTS |

Why yes, this is my second Taylor Jenkins Reid book of the Summer. I didn’t plan it like that but you know, peer pressure. What can you do?

Daisy Jones and The Six follows the rise and fall of one of the most popular bands of the 70’s. At one point, they were absolutely everywhere with their albums selling like hot cakes and sold out arenas from coast to coast. And then suddenly, seemingly out of nowhere, it all came to an end and nobody knew why. Now, band members and people who were around them at the time have sat down to tell their stories.

This novel is written like a rock documentary and to be honest, I struggled somewhat with this format at the start. If this had been on television, I would have been glued to the screen but to read it in this way was a bit weird at first. I felt it didn’t quite give me the opportunity to connect to these characters. However, the more I read and adjusted to the way it was written, the more I became hooked and completely immersed in the story of these seven rockstars.

There are quite a lot of cliches in this book, from the sex, the drugs and the rock ‘n’ roll to the egos that won’t fit through a door. But throughout it all, there is also a really interesting journey of personal growth, of figuring out what’s ultimately more important in life and of knowing when to step away. Throughout it all, I was often reminded of Lyndsey Buckingham and Stevie Nicks from Fleetwood Mac. This volatile relationship that created such amazing music and ultimately imploded.

Despite my initial misgivings, I’m so glad I kept on reading because I ended up loving this book. It’s brilliantly written, full of flawed and damaged characters and I just had to know what caused this band to split up at the height of their fame. Taylor Jenkins-Reid really managed to capture the era of the seventies and Daisy Jones especially is a character that is truly unforgettable.

With this second book by Taylor Jenkins-Reid under my belt, she has now found herself a spot on my list of go-to authors. Daisy Jones and The Six is refreshing, original, brilliantly written historical fiction from the top shelf.

Daisy Jones and The Six is available to buy!

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Book 16 from my 20 Books of Summer list

The Ashes of London by Andrew Taylor | #20BooksOfSummer

Author : Andrew Taylor
Title : The Ashes of London
Series : James Marwood #1
Pages : 482
Publisher : Harper Collins
Publication date : April 7, 2016

| ABOUT THE BOOK |

London, September 1666. The Great Fire rages through the city, consuming everything in its path. Even the impregnable cathedral of St. Paul’s is engulfed in flames and reduced to ruins. Among the crowds watching its destruction is James Marwood, son of a disgraced printer, and reluctant government informer.

In the aftermath of the fire, a semi-mummified body is discovered in the ashes of St. Paul’s, in a tomb that should have been empty. The man’s body has been mutilated and his thumbs have been tied behind his back.

Under orders from the government, Marwood is tasked with hunting down the killer across the devastated city. But at a time of dangerous internal dissent and the threat of foreign invasion, Marwood finds his investigation leads him into treacherous waters – and across the path of a determined, beautiful and vengeful young woman.

| MY THOUGHTS |

Recently, I’ve been on the look-out for more historical crime fiction as it’s a genre I’ve been enjoying quite a bit lately. The Ashes Of London caught my eye as it’s an era I’m not especially familiar with. I had heard of The Great Fire though, so that’s something as that is where this story starts.

The Great Fire of London in 1666 caused quite a few deaths. But St. Paul’s holds another body that didn’t perish in the fire. This victim was murdered before the fire got to them. As James Marwood watches the devastating fire roar, he helps a boy to safety. A boy who later turns out to be a young girl. This girl, Catherine, is trying to find her father. Could he be the murder victim?

For some reason, I couldn’t quite get to grips with this one. While I found it interesting to see the devastation the fire caused across the city, how it affected some but not others and the way it seemed to rain ashes for days on end, I mostly picked this book because I’m a crime fan. And the crime fan in me will always be way more intrigued by the murder investigation. This seemed to often take a bit of a backseat though in this story. There is a lot of walking through the streets, soaking up the atmosphere, a rather big cast of characters which sometimes confused me, conversations of which I felt they didn’t really bring much to the table and a rather slow pace where I was expecting more tension and “oomph”.

The story switches between James and Catherine. Unfortunately for me, neither of these two characters particularly held my interest and I often found my attention wandering. This story of conspiracies and revenge didn’t quite do it for me. I actually have the other books on my shelves and I will be giving them a go at some point. But for now, when I need a historical crime fiction fix, I will return to the Shardlake series by C.J. Sansom which, in my most humble opinion, is far more superior.

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Book 10 from my 20 Books of Summer list.

The Girl at the Window by Rowan Coleman | @rowancoleman @EburyPublishing @ChloeRose1702 @elliecrisp | #RandomThingsTours #recommended

I am absolutely delighted to kick off the blog tour for The Girl at the Window by Rowan Coleman today! My thanks to Anne Cater at Random Things Tours for the opportunity to join and to the publisher for my review copy!

Author : Rowan Coleman
Title : The Girl at the Window
Pages : 464
Publisher : Ebury Publishing
Publication day : August 8, 2019

| ABOUT THE BOOK |

Ponden Hall is a centuries-old house on the Yorkshire moors, a magical place full of stories. It’s also where Trudy Heaton grew up. And where she ran away from…

Now, after the devastating loss of her husband, she is returning home with her young son, Will, who refuses to believe his father is dead.

While Trudy tries to do her best for her son, she must also attempt to build bridges with her eccentric mother. And then there is the Hall itself: fallen into disrepair but generations of lives and loves still echo in its shadows, sometimes even reaching out to the present…

| MY THOUGHTS |

Oh, be still my beating heart. What an absolutely glorious novel this is. Something about The Girl at the Window called out to me the minute I saw it mentioned on social media. Something that said I would love this story, without even really knowing what it was about. But I wasn’t prepared for just how much!

When Trudy’s husband fails to come back from a trip to Peru, she returns home with her son. But Trudy’s childhood home isn’t just any random place. Oh no! It’s Ponden Hall, a centuries old house in the Yorkshire moors, a magical place full of stories, and one that was often visited by none other than Emily Brontë. It’s been sixteen years since Trudy last went home. Ponden Hall has fallen into disrepair and yet Trudy feels it is still the best place for her and her son to find a way to heal and maybe even somehow fix her relationship with her mother.

Just like Ponden Hall seems to have put some kind of spell on Trudy, The Girl at the Window put a spell on me. From the very fist page, I found myself utterly engrossed, almost enchanted and unable to put this novel down for even a second. It is just so immensely beautifully written, somewhat spooky, immensely moving and sometimes positively heartbreaking. I don’t often get emotional when reading a novel but I did with this one and often found it quite hard not to choke on the lump in my throat.

Part love story, part ghost story and part historical fiction, this haunting tale wormed its way into my heart and straight onto my list of “top books of the year”. These characters jumped off the pages. Highly realistic and believable, it was impossible not to go through every range of emotion with them. I’m purposefully not giving anything away about the historical part of this novel, as it’s something you need to discover for yourself but I will say, it is brilliantly done and the mysteries surrounding Ponden Hall had me truly hooked.

The Girl at the Window is magical, haunting, moving and just …. wow! I was incredibly sad to see this story coming to an end, to be honest. I felt a little bereft and would have been quite happy to spend lots more time at Ponden Hall with Trudy and her family, searching through all the nooks and crannies. For surely this great house hides many more secrets and ghosts.

I don’t think my review is doing this novel justice at all. It’s one of those special ones. One of those stories where I just can’t find the words to describe how much I loved it. A novel to treasure. Highly recommend it. I’m not sure what more I can say. Loved it! Did I mention that? ❤️

The Girl at The Window is available to buy in ebook format. The paperback will be published in August.

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| ABOUT THE AUTHOR |

Rowan Coleman lives with her husband and their five children in a very full house in Hertfordshire. She juggles writing novels with raising her family.

Rowan’s last novel,The Summer of Impossible Things, was selected for Zoe Ball’s ITV Book Club.

Rowan has an everlasting love for the Brontes, and is a regular visitor of Ponden Hall.

Mahoney by Andrew Joyce | @huckfinn76 | #guestpost #extract

Good morning! Today, I welcome author Andrew Joyce to the blog to talk a little bit about his novel Mahoney and how he came around to writing it. But first, let’s see what Mahoney is all about.

Author : Andrew Joyce
Title : Mahoney
Pages : 495
Publisher : William Birch & Assoc.
Publication date : May 19, 2019

| ABOUT THE BOOK |

In the second year of an Gorta Mhór—the Great Famine—nineteen-year-old Devin Mahoney lies on the dirt floor of his small, dark cabin. He has not eaten in five days. His only hope of survival is to get to America, the land of milk and honey.

After surviving disease and storms at sea that decimate crew and passengers alike, Devin’s ship limps into New York Harbor three days before Christmas, 1849.

Thus starts an epic journey that will take him and his descendants through one hundred and fourteen years of American history, including the Civil War, the Wild West, and the Great Depression.

| GUEST POST |

My name is Andrew Joyce and I write books for a living. Eva has been kind enough to allow me a little space on her blog to promote my new book, Mahoney. So, I thought I’d tell you how it came about. But to do that, I gotta tell you how my mind works.

A few years ago, I had just finished reading Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn for the third time, and I started thinking about what ever happened to those boys, Tom and Huck. They must have grown up, but then what? So I sat down at my computer and banged out Redemption: The Further Adventures of Huck Finn and Tom Sawyer. I had them as adults in the Old West. Kind of like Wyatt Earp type characters. It was a modest success and won an award for Best Western of 2013.

I think my favorite book of all time is The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck. I’ve read it a number of times over the years—the last time being two years ago. Now, for those of you who may not have read it, it’s about one family’s trek from the Oklahoma Dust Bowl of the 1930s to the “Land of Milk and Honey,” also known as California. Of course, California wasn’t a land of milk and honey. If anything, the family was worse off in California than they were in Oklahoma. The subtext of the book is how those on the lower rungs of society’s ladder are oppressed and have very little voice to fight against that oppression.

Near the end of the book, Tom Joad, the protagonist, runs afoul of the law and must leave his family or else be arrested on a trumped up charge or be killed by the big landowners’ goons. His mother, quite naturally, will miss him and is worried for him. The words he spoke to her in that scene have become iconic.

“I’ll be aroun’ in the dark. I’ll be everywhere-wherever you look. Wherever there is a fight so hungry people can eat, I’ll be there. Wherever there is a cop beatin’ up a guy, I’ll be there. I’ll be in the way kids laugh when they’re hungry and they know supper’s ready. An’ when our folk eat the stuff they raise an’ live in the houses they build—why, I’ll be there.” — Tom Joad, The Grapes of Wrath, by John Steinbeck

So, here’s what I did. Just like with Huck and Tom, I started thinking about what ever happened to Tom Joad after he left his family. I wanted to write about injustices and the people who suffer those injustices. I thought I’d follow Tom around and write about what he encountered from about the mid-thirties to 1963 when Martin Luther King, Jr. gave his “I have a Dream” speech.

However, there was just one problem with that: copyright laws. The character of Tom Joad belongs to the heirs of John Steinbeck. So, I had to come up with another angle. After some thought on the matter, I decided to expand my initial time frame from between 1933 and 1963 to 1849 and 1963. I’d start the story in Ireland during the potato famine and work my way to America and then I’d end up where I had originally intended.

Here’s the blurb for the book:

In this compelling, richly researched novel, author Andrew Joyce tells a riveting story of adventure, endurance, and hope as the Mahoney clan fights to gain a foothold in America.

In the second year of an Gorta Mhór—the Great Famine—nineteen-year-old Devin Mahoney lies on the dirt floor of his small, dark cabin. He has not eaten in five days. His only hope of survival is to get to America, the land of milk and honey. After surviving disease and storms at sea that decimate crew and passengers alike, Devin’s ship limps into New York Harbor three days before Christmas, 1849. Thus starts an epic journey that will take him and his descendants through one hundred and fourteen years of American history, including the Civil War, the Wild West, and the Great Depression.

Well, that’s how Mahoney came about. For those of you who may read it, I hope you enjoy it. It took me almost two years of full-time research, writing, and editing to get it to where I wanted and to tell the story I wanted to tell.

| WEE TEASER |

The reflected firelight flickered across awestruck faces and mirrored in the eyes of those who listened as stories were told of yesterday’s indignities and tomorrow’s aspirations. The look in those yearning eyes spoke of hopes and dreams. The laughter heard around the fire conveyed a sense that somehow it would all work out. For a few short hours, on Saturday nights, in the deep woods of a place none of them had ever heard of before, the constant fear that lived within their hearts was banished from their lives.

In time, they would prevail. Their sons and daughters would one day stand straight and tall as proud Americans, as proud as their fathers had been to be Irish.

Doesn’t this sound good? If you’d like to read more, you can purchase yourself a copy of Mahoney right now!

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Thank you so much, Andrew, for stopping by and sharing your Mahoney journey with us!

| ABOUT THE AUTHOR |

Andrew Joyce left home at seventeen to hitchhike throughout the US, Canada, and Mexico. He wouldn’t return from his journey until years later when he decided to become a writer.

Joyce has written seven books. His first novel, Redemption: The Further Adventures of Huck Finn and Tom Sawyer, was awarded the Editors’ Choice Award for Best Western of 2013. A subsequent novel, Yellow Hair, received the Book of the Year award from Just Reviews and Best Historical Fiction of 2016 from Colleen’s Book Reviews.

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Blood & Sugar by Laura Shepherd-Robinson | #20BooksOfSummer

Author : Laura Shepherd-Robinson
Title : Blood & Sugar
Pages : 430
Publisher : Mantle
Publication date : January 24, 2019

| ABOUT THE BOOK |

June, 1781. An unidentified body hangs upon a hook at Deptford Dock – horribly tortured and branded with a slaver’s mark.

Some days later, Captain Harry Corsham – a war hero embarking upon a promising parliamentary career – is visited by the sister of an old friend. Her brother, passionate abolitionist Tad Archer, had been about to expose a secret that he believed could cause irreparable damage to the British slaving industry. He’d said people were trying to kill him, and now he is missing . . .

To discover what happened to Tad, Harry is forced to pick up the threads of his friend’s investigation, delving into the heart of the conspiracy Tad had unearthed. His investigation will threaten his political prospects, his family’s happiness, and force a reckoning with his past, risking the revelation of secrets that have the power to destroy him.

And that is only if he can survive the mortal dangers awaiting him in Deptford…

| MY THOUGHTS |

Historical crime fiction is quickly becoming my new favourite genre!

It’s the summer of 1781. At Deptford Dock, the body of a man is found hanging from a hook. He’s been tortured, branded with a slaver’s mark and had his throat cut. A few days later, our main protagonist Captain Harry Corsham receives a visit from the sister of an old friend. She tells him her brother, Tad, a fierce abolitionist who is convinced he’s found a way to expose a secret that will pave the way to put an end to slavery, has gone missing.

Colour me incredibly ignorant, but I had no idea England had a slave history too. For some reason, when slavery is mentioned I always think of America. Slavery is a lucrative business so how do you go about tackling the injustice of it all when the people who are making so much money from it are also in power? Needless to say, some of the events in this book are quite uncomfortable to read. Slaves were not seen as humans, but as property; goods to be sold and resold, treated like dirt.

There are quite a few characters to come to grips with in this story, none of whom could be trusted. I had a bit of a struggle getting them all straight in my head but once that happened, it was smooth sailing. As Harry digs deeper into all the things that are going on in Deptford to try and find out what happened to Tad, danger lurks around pretty much every corner. I couldn’t at all figure out who was behind Tad’s murder or who was trying to stop Harry from finding out the truth.

Blood & Sugar is a compelling, tense and brilliantly written historical crime fiction novel. It oozes atmosphere, has a wide range of intriguing characters and all the while, it shines a spotlight on a horrible era in England’s past. An impressive debut from Laura Shepherd-Robinson, for sure.

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Book 9 from my 20 Books of Summer list

The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid | @tjenkinsreid @AtriaBooks | #20BooksOfSummer #recommended

Author : Taylor Jenkins Reid
Title : The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo
Pages : 385
Publisher : Atria
Publication date : September 1, 2017

| ABOUT THE BOOK |

Aging and reclusive Hollywood movie icon Evelyn Hugo is finally ready to tell the truth about her glamorous and scandalous life. But when she chooses unknown magazine reporter Monique Grant for the job, no one is more astounded than Monique herself. Why her? Why now?

Monique is not exactly on top of the world. Her husband has left her, and her professional life is going nowhere. Regardless of why Evelyn has selected her to write her biography, Monique is determined to use this opportunity to jumpstart her career.

Summoned to Evelyn’s luxurious apartment, Monique listens in fascination as the actress tells her story. From making her way to Los Angeles in the 1950s to her decision to leave show business in the ’80s, and, of course, the seven husbands along the way, Evelyn unspools a tale of ruthless ambition, unexpected friendship, and a great forbidden love. Monique begins to feel a very real connection to the legendary star, but as Evelyn’s story near its conclusion, it becomes clear that her life intersects with Monique’s own in tragic and irreversible ways.

| MY THOUGHTS |

Aging former movie star Evelyn Hugo is ready to tell the world about her life and set the record straight. Surprisingly, she picks an absolute nobody to write her biography. But as soon as you get to know Evelyn, you realise she doesn’t do anything for no reason and that nobody, Monique, is right where she should be. Why though? That’s the million dollar question and one I completely failed to answer until it was revealed to me.

Evelyn Hugo’s story depicts life behind the glitz, glamour and bright lights of Hollywood. In the days when the big movie studios ran Hollywood, things were very different from now. The movie studios held enormous power over their stars, determining what they should look like, what to eat (or not to eat) and even who to date. Anything to make their movie stars stand out, get publicity and sell movie tickets. There’s quite a lot of deceit, hiding behind masks, putting on acts all over town, the need to be seen. But more than anything, the sense that you should do whatever is necessary to avoid a scandal. Not just to protect your career, but also your family.

Evelyn Hugo married seven times during her lifetime. While talking to Monique, she deftly guides us through each of these marriages and it was often quite heartbreaking and devastating. Numerous times, I found I had a bit of a lump in my throat and by the end, I was very much an emotional mess.

Just like Monique, I too had a hard time deciding how I felt about Evelyn. From a young age, she knew exactly what she wanted and she went out there and got it, no matter what it took. Some of her actions really caused food for thought. Yet, they were also entirely understandable and throughout I was often left to wonder what I would have done in the situations Evelyn found herself in.

I found myself absolutely engrossed in Evelyn’s story from the very beginning. I feel privileged to have spent time with her, to have somewhat gotten to know the woman behind the actress. I say somewhat, because I’m convinced there were many more stories she could have told. Saying goodbye to Evelyn has left me feeling quite bereft and I realise I’m talking about her as if she was a real person because that’s exactly how she felt to me.

I loved everything about this story. The setting, the complex and multi-layered characters, the absolutely beautiful writing … there’s someone out there nodding her head, saying “I bloody told you so!” and now I’m telling you. If you love historical fiction or just a fantastic story in general, really, you have to meet Evelyn. This is my first time reading a novel by Taylor Jenkins Reid but it won’t be my last.

The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo is available to buy!

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Book 7 from my 20 Books of Summer list.

The Serpent’s Mark by S.W. Perry | @swperry_history @CorvusBooks @annecater | #blogtour #bookreview #RandomThingsTours

Such a pleasure to host a stop on the blog tour for The Serpent’s Mark by S.W. Perry today! My thanks to Anne Cater at Random Things Tours for the invitation to join and to the publisher for my fabulous review copy!

Author : S.W. Perry
Title : The Serpent’s Mark
Series : Nicolas Shelby #2
Pages : 424
Publisher : Corvus
Publication date : June 6, 2019

| ABOUT THE BOOK |

Treason sleeps for no man…

London, 1591. Nicholas Shelby, physician and reluctant spy, returns to his old haunts on London’s lawless Bankside. But, when the queen’s spymaster Robert Cecil asks him to investigate the dubious practices of a mysterious doctor from Switzerland, Nicholas is soon embroiled in a conspiracy that threatens not just the life of an innocent young patient, but the overthrow of Queen Elizabeth herself.

With fellow healer and mistress of the Jackdaw tavern, Bianca Merton, again at his side, Nicholas is drawn into a dangerous world of zealots, charlatans and fanatics. As their own lives become increasingly at risk, they find themselves confronting the greatest treason of all: the spectre of a bloody war between the faiths…

| MY THOUGHTS |

The Serpent’s Mark is the second instalment in the Nicolas Shelby series, featuring Nicolas, a physician and reluctant spy, and Bianca Merton, owner of the Jackdaw tavern and licensed apothecary.

Nicolas finds himself once again engaged by Queen Elizabeth’s spymaster, Robert Cecil. A mysterious doctor has arrived from Switzerland to cure a young boy from the falling sickness. Robert Cecil wants Nicolas to investigate the dubious practices of this doctor. Which is fortuitous, as Nicolas has already been asked by the boy’s father to keep an eye out. Meanwhile, Bianca gets a lovely surprise when her cousin arrives on a ship from Padua. Nothing is at it seems though and soon Nicolas and Bianca find themselves caught up in a thrilling conspiracy from both ends.

Who doesn’t love a good conspiracy? I know I do and this particular one here had me enthralled. I don’t want to give anything away so I won’t mention too much about it but the idea is incredibly cleverly plotted and it’s something that would not just turn the house of Tudor upside down but could quite easily ignite a war between the faiths.

S.W. Perry really brings to life the streets of London during the Elizabethan era. From the smells and the sounds to the danger lurking around every corner, I immediately felt myself transported. As a physician, the character of Nicolas Shelby also shines a light on the way the science of medicine worked in those days. Physicians consulted astrology, for instance, to determine a diagnosis or treatment. A way of doing things that doesn’t always sit right with Nicolas, which often gets him into trouble.

A clever plot, intriguing characters, a conspiracy, the threat of war, a web of deceit … I mean, really, what more could you possibly ask for?! I couldn’t at all figure out how things would end and feared for the fate of these characters. The Serpent’s Mark had me absolutely engrossed from start to finish. I thoroughly enjoyed its predecessor and felt this one was even better. This is one captivating and twisty historical fiction novel full of mystery and suspense and I absolutely can’t wait to read more in this series!

The Serpent’s Mark is available to buy!

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Other retailers : Amazon US | Amazon UK | Kobo | Waterstones | Wordery

| ABOUT THE AUTHOR |

S. W. Perry was a journalist and broadcaster before retraining as an airline pilot. He lives in Worcestershire, England with his wife.

The Wartime Midwives by Daisy Styles | @MichaelJBooks @sriya_v | #blogtour #bookreview

It’s a real pleasure to host a stop on the blog tour for The Wartime Midwives by Daisy Styles today! My thanks to Sriya at Michael Joseph for the opportunity to join and for the lovely review copy!

Author : Daisy Styles
Title : The Wartime Midwives
Pages : 384
Publisher : Michael Joseph
Publication date : May 16, 2019

| ABOUT THE BOOK |

1939.

Mary Vale, a grand and imposing Mother and Baby Home, sits on the remote Fylde coast in Lancashire. Its doors are open to unmarried women who come to hide their condition and find sanctuary.

Women from all walks of life pass through Mary Vale, from beautiful waitress Emily, whose boyfriend has vanished without trace, to young Isla, cast out by her wealthy family after her first year at university goes horribly wrong.

Awaiting them is Nurse Ada and Sister Anne who work tirelessly to aid the mothers and safely deliver the babies. But the unforgiving Matron and Head of Governors, Captain Percival, have other, more sinister, ideas.

As war looms the women at Mary Vale must pull together for the sake of themselves and their babies and Ada and Anne must help protect their patients, no matter what the cost.

| MY THOUGHTS |

Author Daisy Styles was completely unfamiliar to me when the invitation to join this tour landed in my inbox. But with a historical fiction story about midwives in the early years of WWII, how could you possibly go wrong?

Mary Vale is a mother and baby home, a place of sanctuary for unmarried mothers-to-be who need to hide away their pregnancies. Women from all walks of life travel to the coast of Lancashire to have their babies in peace. So, we meet Emily, an unmarried waitress whose boyfriend has disappeared. There is also Shirley, a fifteen year old girl who needs protecting in more ways than one, and Isla whose parents kicked her out of her home the minute they discovered she was pregnant. Some of these women will return home with their babies, some will put their children up for adoption. And despite their differences, they may just find friends for life.

But not everything is as perfect as it seems at Mary Vale. Matron is not a very nice person and that’s putting it mildly. She and Sir Percival, Head of Governors, come up with quite the sinister scheme. The women at Mary Vale will need to pull together to keep their babies safe.

I must admit that I tend to like my historical fiction with a bit more depth and bite to it but there is something about these women that just pulled me in. It’s hard to imagine the days that unmarried pregnant women had to hide themselves away aren’t that far behind us and sad to see how parents valued their status above their own daughters, having no qualms but to throw them out of house and home because the shame and disgrace was too hard to handle. Even with a war looming, these women needed a safe space because as one of the characters is fond of saying : life goes on. Babies will not stop being born.

The Wartime Midwives is a heartwarming and moving story about love and friendship during the hardest of times. There are some wonderful moments between mums and their babies, but also some truly emotional ones. These characters will worm their way into your heart and you will root for them every step of the way. If you like your historical fiction a bit more on the lighter side or enjoy tv series like Call The Midwife, then this is definitely for you.

The Wartime Midwives is available to buy!

Affiliate link : Bookdepository
Other retailers : Amazon US | Amazon UK | Kobo | Waterstones

| ABOUT THE AUTHOR |

Daisy Styles grew up in Lancashire surrounded by a family and community of strong women whose tales she loved to listen to. It was from these women, particularly her vibrant mother and Irish grandmother, that Daisy learned the art of storytelling. There was also the landscape of her childhood – wide, sweeping, empty moors and hills that ran as far as the eye could see – which was a perfect backdrop for a saga, a space big enough and wild enough to stage a drama, one about women’s lives during the Second World War.

Anna of Kleve : Queen of Secrets by Alison Weir

Author : Alison Weir
Title : Anna of Kleve : Queen of Secrets
Series : Six Tudor Queens #4
Pages : 485
Publisher : Headline
Publication date : May 2, 2019

| ABOUT THE BOOK |

Newly widowed and the father of an infant son, Henry VIII realizes he must marry again to insure the royal succession. Now forty-six, overweight and unwell, Henry is soundly rejected by some of Europe’s most eligible princesses, but Anna of Kleve—a small German duchy—is twenty-four and eager to wed.

Henry requests Anna’s portrait from his court painter, who enhances her looks, painting her straight-on in order not to emphasize her rather long nose. Henry is entranced by the lovely image, only to be bitterly surprised when Anna arrives in England and he sees her in the flesh. She is pleasant looking, just not the lady that Henry had expected.

What follows is a fascinating story of this awkward royal union that had to somehow be terminated tactfully. Alison Weir takes a fresh and surprising look at this remarkable royal marriage by describing it from the point of view of Queen Anna, a young woman with hopes and dreams of her own, alone in a royal court that rejected her from the day she arrived. 

| MY THOUGHTS |

The Six Tudor Queens series continues with the fourth of Henry VIII’s wives, Anna of Kleve. This is one I’d been looking forward to, happy to move even further away from the Great Matter, and also because I didn’t know much about Anna herself.

Anna hailed from Germany and to all intents and purposes seemed to have lived quite the sheltered life under the watchful eye of her mother. Until the day Henry VIII, King of England, decides he needs another wife and preferably another heir. With Spain and France joining forces against him, an alliance with the Duke of Kleve would be quite an advantage. Henry asks his court painter for a portrait of Anna. He likes what he sees. Until Anna finally arrives in England. Despite the marriage going ahead, it quickly becomes clear Henry isn’t happy and when Henry isn’t happy, heads roll. But will it be Anna’s?

There is quite the controversial storyline running through Anna of Kleve. As always, Alison Weir takes facts and builds her story around those. In this case, the reasons Henry listed for his marriage to Anna to remain unconsummated. By that time, he was nearing 50, massively overweight and unfit, and quite possibly impotent. But of course, that’s not something he would ever have admitted. In his attempts to have his marriage to Anna annulled, Henry shows a side of himself we’ve not really seen before. At times he managed to come across as likeable even.

Now imagine Anna. A young woman sent off to England to marry a King. She spoke no English, knew nothing of the culture or customs but did know the stories about what happened to Henry’s previous wives. How incredibly frightening is that? Unable to please Henry, through no fault of her own, her life at the court must have been spent in sheer fear and anxiety.

I mentioned the controversial path Alison Weir takes with this story. Up to a certain point, I was quite willing to follow it. It explained a lot, it made sense while keeping Henry’s words in the back of my mind. But as the years went on, I must admit that that particular fictional part of the story lost me a little bit. I’m being deliberately vague here because I want the readers to experience this for themselves. If you do read this novel, and you definitely should, I’d be incredibly interested in knowing your thoughts.

I absolutely adore the Six Tudor Queens series and boy, do those hardcovers look amazing on my bookshelf. As always, Alison Weir’s research is immaculate and her descriptions are fabulously vivid. From the various palaces and their furnishings to the food served to the gorgeous clothes, she brings this era to life like no other. While I enjoyed Anna of Kleve, it wasn’t my favourite of the series though. It’s a bit hard to explain but for the first time in this series, I really felt like I was reading fiction. Which it is for the most part, of course, but some of it just didn’t quite work for me. Nevertheless, putting those misgivings aside, Anna of Kleve is another fantastic addition to this series and I can’t wait for the next one.

Anna of Kleve : Queen of Secrets is available to buy in ebook and hardcover.

Affiliate link : Bookdepository
Other retailers : Amazon US | Amazon UK | Kobo | Waterstones | Wordery