Katherine Clements – The Crimson Ribbon

katherineclements-thecrimsonribbonMay Day 1646. The Civil War is raging and what should be a rare moment of blessing for the town of Ely takes a brutal turn. Ruth Flowers is left with little choice but to flee the household of Oliver Cromwell, the only home she has ever known. On the road to London, Ruth sparks an uneasy alliance with a soldier, the battle-scarred and troubled Joseph. But when she reaches the city, it’s in the Poole household that she finds refuge.

Lizzie Poole, beautiful and charismatic, enthrals the vulnerable Ruth, who binds herself inextricably to Lizzie’s world. But in these troubled times, Ruth is haunted by fears of her past catching up with her. And as Lizzie’s radical ideas escalate, Ruth finds herself carried to the heart of the country’s conflict, to the trial of a king.

The English Civil War is an era of British history that I’ve only started to learn more than the bare bones about in the past few years. Reading The Bleeding Land and its sequel Brother’s Fury by Giles Kristian and some of Andrew Swanston’s Thomas Hill novels showed me that these decades in the middle of the seventeenth century were pivotal in Britain’s history and created massive changes to British society and left deep scars on its populace. It’s a fascinating era and Katherine Clements’ debut novel The Crimson Ribbon, set in perhaps some of the most dramatic and traumatic years of the Civil War, couldn’t fail but catch my interest when it came through the mail. And though it took me over a year to read it, I’m glad I made the time, because Clements weaves a stunning tale.  Read More …

Jen Williams – The Iron Ghost

jenwilliams-theironghostBeware the dawning of a new mage…

Wydrin of Crosshaven, Sir Sebastian and Lord Aaron Frith are experienced in the perils of stirring up the old gods. They are also familiar with defeating them, and the heroes of Baneswatch are now enjoying the perks of suddenly being very much in demand for their services.

When a job comes up in the distant city of Skaldshollow, it looks like easy coin – retrieve a stolen item, admire the views, get paid. But in a place twisted and haunted by ancient magic, with the most infamous mage of them all, Joah Demonsworn, making a reappearance, our heroes soon find themselves threatened by enemies on all sides, old and new. And in the frozen mountains, the stones are walking…

Last year Jen Williams’ The Copper Promise, the first book in this series, surprised me with the insane amount of fun it was. I loved the effervescent Wydrin, the conscientious Sir Sebastian, and the troubled Lord Frith. This meant I was very much looking forward to returning to these characters in The Iron Ghost. And Williams delivers on the promise of the first novel with this second book. The Iron Ghost is just as much fun as The Copper Promise, while upping the drama and narrative stakes. Wydrin remains brilliant, but I liked the more pronounced roles of Frith and Sebastian in this outing.  Read More …

Sarah Hilary – No Other Darkness

sarahhilary-nootherdarknessTwo young boys.
Trapped underground in a bunker.
Unable to understand why they are there.
Desperate for someone to find them.
Slowly realising that no-one will…

Five years later, the boys’ bodies are found and the most difficult case of DI Marnie Rome’s career begins.

Her only focus is the boys. She has to find out who they are and what happened to them.

For Marnie, there is no other darkness than this…

Last year, Sarah Hilary burst onto the British crime writing scene with her debut Someone Else’s Skin. I was blown away by the book, falling in love with its main character, DI Marnie Rome and her main DS, Noah Jake. I’ve been impatiently waiting for the moment that I could read the next book in the series, as I couldn’t wait to spend more time with Marnie and Noah and to see what sort of intricate case Hilary would come up with to follow up her fantastic debut.  Read More …

Jenny Blackhurst – How I Lost You

jennyblackhurst-howilostyouThey told her she killed her son. She served her time. But what if they lied?

I have no memory of what happened but I was told I killed my son. And you believe what your loved ones, your doctor and the police tell you, don’t you?

My name is Emma Cartwright. Three years ago I was Susan Webster, and I murdered my twelve-week-old son Dylan. I was sent to Oakdale Psychiatric Institute for my crime, and four weeks ago I was released early on parole with a new identity, address and a chance to rebuild my tattered life.

This morning, I received an envelope addressed to Susan Webster. Inside it was a photograph of a toddler called Dylan. Now I am questioning everything I believe because if I have no memory of the event, how can I truly believe he’s dead?

If there was the smallest chance your son was alive, what would you do to get him back?

When I was handed the advanced review copy for How I Lost You my first reaction was “This book is going to make me cry, isn’t it?” In fact, it didn’t. Instead it kept me reading way past my bedtime and completely glued to its pages. How I Lost You is a gripping story, with characters it’s hard not to love.  Read More …

Karen Maitland – The Raven’s Head

karenmaitland-theravensheadVincent is an apprentice librarian who stumbles upon a secret powerful enough to destroy his master. With the foolish arrogance of youth, he attempts blackmail but the attempt fails and Vincent finds himself on the run and in possession of an intricately carved silver raven’s head.

Any attempt to sell the head fails … until Vincent tries to palm it off on the intimidating Lord Sylvain – unbeknown to Vincent, a powerful Alchemist with an all-consuming quest. Once more Vincent’s life is in danger because Sylvain and his neighbours, the menacing White Canons, consider him a predestined sacrifice in their shocking experiment.

Chilling and with compelling hints of the supernatural, The Raven’s Head is a triumph for Karen Maitland, Queen of the Dark Ages.

The Raven’s Head is Karen Maitland’s latest historical novel, one that I’d been very much looking forward to reading. I have enjoyed Maitland’s writing on The History Girls blog and have wanted to read her work since reading reviews for Company of Liars. Earlier this week I read her previous novel The Vanishing Witch, which I really enjoyed, and I was interested to see how much of the unique style of that book was particular to that story and how much was part of Maitland’s authorial voice. Based on the sample I’ve read so far (n=2) Maitland definitely has a distinctive and consistent writing style, one that really suits my reading tastes.  Read More …

Author Query – Karen Maitland

karenmaitland-theravensheadOne of my favourite non-SFF blogs is The History Girls. And one of my favourite History Girls is Karen Maitland. I’ve been wanting to read her ever since I saw reviews for Company of Liars, but as is so often the case never got around to it. Today marks not one, but two book birthdays for Karen however, with the paperback release of last year’s The Vanishing Witch and the release of her latest novel, The Raven’s Head. I was fortunate enough to receive review copies for both of them. I reviewed The Vanishing Witch yesterday and check back for my review for The Raven’s Head tomorrow. But today I get to bring you an Author Query with Karen in which she has some fascinating answers to offer to my questions.  Read More …

Karen Maitland – The Vanishing Witch

karenmaitland-thevanishingwitchTake one wealthy merchant. Add one charming widow. And one dying wife.

The reign of Richard II is troubled, the poor are about to become poorer still and landowners are lining their pockets. It’s a case of every man for himself, whatever his status or wealth. But in a world where nothing can be taken at face value, who can you trust?

The dour wool merchant?

His impulsive son?

The stepdaughter with the hypnotic eyes?

Or the raven-haired widow clutching her necklace of bloodstones?

And when people start dying unnatural deaths and the peasants decide it’s time to fight back, it’s all too easy to spy witchcraft at every turn.

I’ve wanted to read Karen Maitland’s work for years, ever since I read reviews for Company of Liars, but as often happens in a reviewer’s life, I never got to it. This made me doubly excited when this ARC for The Vanishing Witch appeared in my mailbox, but it was a big book – 688 pages in my proof copy – and it languished on my To Be Read pile. Now with the paperback for The Vanishing Witch out tomorrow, not to mention Maitland’s latest The Raven’s Head, this seemed a good time to read it. It was a wonderful read, super atmospheric and very much what I expected Maitland’s writing to be based of what I’ve read of her non-fiction articles on The History GirlsRead More …

Neil Gaiman – Trigger Warning

neilgaiman-triggerwarningIn this new volume, Neil Gaiman pierces the veil of reality to reveal the enigmatic, shadowy world that lies beneath. Trigger Warning includes previously published pieces of short fiction-stories, verse, and a very special Doctor Who story that was written for the fiftieth anniversary of the beloved series in 2013-as well as BLACK DOG, a new tale that revisits the world of American Gods.

Trigger Warning is a rich cornucopia of horror and ghosts stories, science fiction and fairy tales, fabulism and poetry that explores the realm of experience and emotion. In Adventure Story-a thematic companion to The Ocean at the End of the Lane-Gaiman ponders death and the way people take their stories with them when they die. His social media experience A Calendar of Tales are short takes inspired by replies to fan tweets about the months of the year-stories of pirates and the March winds, an igloo made of books, and a Mother’s Day card that portends disturbances in the universe. Gaiman offers his own ingenious spin on Sherlock Holmes in his award-nominated mystery tale The Case of Death and Honey. And Click-Clack the Rattlebag explains the creaks and clatter we hear when we’re all alone in the darkness.

A new Neil Gaiman book or collection is usually greeted by lots of cheers of readers all over the world. When his third short story collection was announced, this was readily apparent all over the internet. And then the title was announced and things got a little less cheery. Gaiman decided to title his collection Trigger Warning: short fiction and disturbances. For various reasons people were unhappy about this. The announcement came at a time when mainstream discussion on trigger warnings and whether to include them on prescribed reading lists at universities and colleges  was turning heated and the discussion was quickly co-opted by the ‘feminism is ruining everything’-crowd. In his introduction to his collection Gaiman explains that he was fascinated by the phenomenon of trigger warnings in an academic environment and his thoughts on the subject led him to decide to slap some trigger warnings on his own fiction before someone else did.  Read More …

Guest Post: David Churchill’s Top Five Historians

davidchurchill-devilLast month I reviewed David Churchill’s first novel The Leopards of Normandy: Devil, which I enjoyed very much. I say first novel instead of debut novel, since it’s a public secret that David Churchill is a pseudonym for thriller writer and journalist David Thomas. I really enjoyed Devil and I’m looking forward to the rest of the books. So I was stoked to be able to be part of the blog tour for the book and host a guest post. Today David reveals his top five historians, who fed his love of history.  Read More …

David Churchill – The Leopards of Normandy: Devil

davidchurchill-devilThe fate of England hangs in the balance of a fight between brothers

The noble families of Europe are tearing themselves apart in their lust for power and wealth.

Emma, Queen of England, is in agony over the succession to her husband Canute’s throne … while the sons of her brother, the Duke of Normandy, battle in the wake of his death.

Robert, the younger son, has been cheated of Normandy’s mightiest castle and sets out to take it by force. He emerges from a bloody siege victorious and in love with a beautiful — and pregnant — peasant girl.

Robert’s child will be mocked as William the bastard. But we have another name for him

… Conqueror.

The first instalment in the Leopards of Normandy trilogy paints a world seething with rivalry and intrigue, where assassins are never short of work.

The Leopards of Normandy: Devil was one of my most anticipated reads for the first half of the year. William the Conqueror is a fascinating figure in English history. The effects of his taking over England on the English language was huge and one of the more interesting topics we studied in linguistics class—linguistics not being my favourite topic at uni. And while this era of European history is quite interesting due to its eventful nature, it is also one I don’t know that well. Enter Devil and the chance to learn more about both William and this period of history. Devil was very much what I expected it to be, with some surprises and some elements that really bugged me. Despite these, I really enjoyed the story as much as I’d hoped to.  Read More …