The Figurehead by Bill Kirton #FridayReads #BookReview


ABERDEEN, Scotland – 1840

Return to an age where sail was being challenged by steam, new continents were opening, and the world was full of opportunities for people to be as good—or as evil—as they chose. When the body of a local shipwright is found on the beach, neither the customers and suppliers he cheated nor the women he molested are surprised. But the mystery intrigues woodcarver John Grant, who determines to seek out the truth of the killing. His work and his investigations bring him into contact with William Anderson, a rich merchant—and his daughter Elizabeth. Commissioned to create a figurehead that combines the features of two women, John eventually uncovers a sordid tale of blackmail and death as, simultaneously, he struggles to resist the pangs of unexpected love.

Poor old Bessie Rennie found herself in great trouble as a result of stealing a watch from the dead body of Jimmie Crombie, the shipwright, on the Aberdeen beach. Had she murdered him, or did he drown? The local Watch are useless, but John Grant, figurehead maker and ship carver, is determined to find the murderer even if Jimmie deserved his fate.

William Anderson, wealthy ship owner and trader, had commissioned Crombie to build him a new ship, so he is concerned about completing the build, while his independently minded daughter, Helen, not a typical rich young lady of 1840, wants to help her father in his business as well as solve the murder. Inevitably, Helen and John Grant are drawn together as she models for the figurehead for her father’s ship and they begin to share their investigations.

Events slowly reveal which of Jimmie’s enemies might have wished him dead, as the author shows the comfortable gentrified life of the Anderson family contrasting with extreme poverty among the fisherman, thieves and prostitutes. While John is able to span the lives of both communities, Helen takes dangerous risks in seeking out the company of Jimmie’s widow, Jessie. The picture of 19th century Aberdeen is vivid and convincing, while John’s strong, calm personality is a good foil for the impetuous determination of Helen Anderson.

This is a story full of realistic characters, whom we grow to care for and a lifestyle full of passion and suffering. After an unpredictable twist, the mystery draws to a satisfactory, logical conclusion, but the relationship of Helen and John is still uncertain, leading us on to the following book. The well-researched background story of this busy port raises questions to be answered about the business practices of William Anderson and his provision of passages to the colonies so I look forward to reading “The Likeness.”

The Figurehead is available at Amazon UK



The American Boy by Andrew Taylor #BookReview #TuesdayBookBlog



Interweaving real and fictional elements, The American Boy is a literary historical crime novel in the tradition of Possession.

England 1819: Thomas Shield, a new master at a school just outside London, is tutor to a young American boy and the boy’s sensitive best friend, Charles Frant. Drawn to Frant’s beautiful, unhappy mother, Thomas becomes caught up in her family’s twisted intrigues. Then a brutal crime is committed, with consequences that threaten to destroy Thomas and all that he has come to hold dear. Despite his efforts, Shield is caught up in a deadly tangle of sex, money, murder and lies — a tangle that grips him tighter even as he tries to escape from it. And what of the strange American child, at the heart of these macabre events, yet mysterious — what is the secret of the boy named Edgar Allen Poe?

This historical murder mystery shows the extremes of poverty and wealth within a small area of 19th century London. “The American Boy” is well researched and, for me at least, a page-turner. It appears to be heavily influenced by Wilkie Collins writing. I enjoyed following the developing mystery although I found the final denouement a little disappointing.

The reticence Thomas Shield shows to reveal the details of his tête-à-tête with Sophia, do perhaps carry the assumption of 19th century good taste a little too far but the romance certainly kept my interest in the fate of both characters. His earlier confused attraction to two women was harder to believe but perhaps I don’t understand men well enough. It is certainly true that Miss Carswell is a tantalising, enigmatic character, while Sophia seems aloof & unapproachable.

I am not happy with the chosen title and although Andrew Taylor gives his interest in the youth of Edgar Allan Poe as the raison d’être for this book, the boy seems to me to be only an incidental character and if anything is a conceit of the author. Without great knowledge of Poe, I suspect I am missing nuances in the text.

The pictures painted of the three locations, London, Gloucester and Monkshill Park are clearly delineated and atmospheric and the machinations of the plot built up convincingly. Initially the novel adopts a leisurely pace, but this gradually heats up. In contrast to the interactions of the many characters involved in the story, there are also interludes of philosophical observation by Thomas Shield such as,

For the first time in my life, I was about to be a man of substance. The knowledge changed me. Wealth may not bring happiness, but at least it has the power to avert certain causes of sorrow. And it makes a man feel he has a place in the world,

which I particularly enjoyed.

I have read that Taylor initially wrote this story in the third person, but sensibly realised that Thomas Shield was an essential narrator to ensure the reader’s involvement. I found him a very sympathetic character, in spite of his tendency to act like a Dr.Who heroine.

Mary Tudor – Princess by Tony Riches #TuesdayBookBlog #BookRevue

MARY paperback (002)

From the author of the international best-selling Tudor Trilogy, the true story of the Tudor dynasty continues with the daughter of King Henry VII, sister to King Henry VIII. Mary Tudor watches her elder brother become King of England and wonders what the future holds for her.

Born into great privilege, Mary has beauty and intelligence beyond her years and is the most marriageable princess in Europe. Henry plans to use her marriage to build a powerful alliance against his enemies. Will she dare risk his anger by marrying for love?

Meticulously researched and based on actual events, this ‘sequel’ follows Mary’s story from book three of the Tudor Trilogy and is set during the reign of King Henry VIII.


My Revue

Unlike other readers I tend to avoid selecting Tudor history, perhaps because of a surfeit of them in earlier years, but Mary – Tudor Princess appealed because she was so little known to me; not Bloody Mary, Henry’s eldest surviving child, not Mary Queen of Scots but Henry’s sister Mary.  Though written in the third person, this Mary speaks to us of her life of duty and compromise and the happiness she found by guile and diplomacy in finally achieving the marriage she desired.


Wise beyond her years, 13-year-old Mary accepts her betrothal to 9 year old Charles, a future Emperor and prepares herself by keeping his picture at her bedside, but suddenly her capricious brother, King Henry VIII, sees more profit in marrying her to the much older King Louis of France.  Rather than being filled with horror, as a young woman of this century would be, she faces her new life bravely, realising that the King’s age and poor health open the possibility of another husband when she is widowed.  To this end she extracts a promise from her brother that her next marriage will be of her choice though she was to find this was not quite as straightforward as she hoped.


The story also deals with the purchase of wardships, where an astute gentleman, such as Charles Brandon, Mary’s second husband, acquired a young ward so that he could gain access to her fortune by arranging her marriage either to himself or to a useful ally. And here too, we see young girls happily agreeing to this state of affairs, just as Mary’s grand-daughter, Lady Jane Grey would, 40 years later. The complex life of a noble lady in 16th century Europe is both fascinating and disturbing.


Tony Riches has given us a likeable, clever Mary who becomes a good mother and step-mother, who eventually marries the love of her life but quickly learns that she and her friend Queen Catherine are tools in a man’s world.  I thoroughly enjoyed entering the French court, watching Henry’s tournaments and experiencing Mary’s joys and sorrows.

Mary Tudor Queen is available at Amazon UK and at Amazon US

Tony Riches Author (002)

About the Author
Tony Riches is a full-time author of best-selling historical fiction. He lives in Pembrokeshire, West Wales and is a specialist in the fifteenth century, with a particular interest in the Wars of the Roses and the lives of the early Tudors.
For more information about Tony’s other books please visit his website and his popular blog, The Writing Desk and find him on Goodreads as well as Facebook and Twitter @tonyriches.


An Interview with Miriam from “No More Mulberries” by Mary Smith

Set in rural Afghanistan during the 1990s, we quickly realise that Scottish-born midwife, Miriam loves her work at a health clinic and the warmth and humour of her women friends in the village, but she has personal problems which she can no longer ignore.  I am grateful that she has agreed to share some of her feelings with us.


Miriam, when you first settled in Afghanistan in 1986, did you have difficulty coping in a house where there was no running water, a latrine outside and no electricity?

Oh, god, yes. Although I’d tried to prepare myself for it, the reality was difficult. It was ages before I stopped reaching for a light switch when it became dark in the evening. I didn’t try turning on a tap for water – there was no sink. It all had to be brought from a spring. Fine in summer but not much fun in winter. Cooking was a nightmare. We stayed at first with Usma, who became one of my closest friends, and her family. I was amazed at how she could cook several dishes at once in such primitive conditions. The kitchen was always full of smoke which was supposed to go up and out of a hole in the ceiling but didn’t. It just swirled around. It’s no wonder so many village women have eye problems.

The worst was the latrine: the 100-yard -walk to reach it so everyone knew where you were going, no flush and the lack of privacy. At Usma’s there wasn’t even a latrine. People just said they were going ‘outside’ and everyone knew what they meant. Jawad built a latrine at the clinic but I soon discovered while Afghan women may be modest in front of menfolk they have no such modesty amongst other women and think nothing of following you into the latrine to continue a chat. When we came to Sang-i-Sia, I insisted we had a proper door (rather than a bit of sacking) with a bolt on our latrine. I became used to everything except having an audience when I went to the loo.

Why do you feel closer to your friends in Afghanistan then you did to your friends in Scotland?

My mother was incredibly strict when I was growing up, and terribly worried about appearances and what the neighbours might say. When I was a young teenager I wasn’t often allowed to hang out with my friends and missed out on all the giggly, flirty stuff. I was actually quite scared of my mother – she could make like difficult for me and my dad if challenged. Unless you’ve witnessed a Scottish ‘humph’ you’ve no idea. By the time I was older I didn’t seem to fit in. I felt I was being judged – not able to flirt, lack of make-up skills, the wrong clothes and wrong taste in music. In Afghanistan I felt free to be me and it was wonderful.

If you had returned to Scotland after the death of your first husband, wouldn’t you have given your son, Farid more opportunities and a better education?

You ask tough questions! It makes me feel I am a terrible mother to think I was denying my son a better education in Scotland than he’d receive in Afghanistan. At the time, though, I couldn’t think of anything other than the loss of his father, my husband. I was utterly devastated. It seemed – still does – to be so important Farid was not completely cut off from his father’s country and culture and family connections. Besides, it could have been quite tough for him in Scotland dealing with everything, including racism. I’d have hated him to feel he didn’t fit in.

What are your hopes and fears for the women of Afghanistan?

While Taliban controls the country I have only fear for the women of Afghanistan, no hope. Before they came I felt that things were changing for the better, however slowly, for women. Schools were opening for girls, giving them opportunities their mothers never had. Health services, including ante-natal care was becoming more available. There was never peace, always fighting somewhere, but in Sang-i-Sia and Zardgul life went on in its own way. People were poor, work was hard and we all hoped peace would come to Afghanistan. Instead the Taliban came and swept everything good away.

How would you describe your husband, Iqbal, to someone who had not yet met him?

If you mean physically, then I’d say he was quite handsome: tall, broad, a lovely smile. Like most Hazara people he has a small nose and slanting eyes. He is self-conscious about his lack of eyebrows from when he had leprosy. I never notice but I’ve learned how important eyebrows are in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Funny isn’t it, my friend Janet in Scotland has hers waxed almost into oblivion and Iqbal would give anything to have bushy eyebrows.

He’s a good man with a strong sense of fairness and doing what’s right, but he’s also a complex person carrying, as we all do, a certain amount of baggage from his past. I didn’t understand for a long time that he struggles with wanting to change things but not wanting to go against his culture. It almost always comes down to our fear of not belonging, doesn’t it?

You can find No More Mulberries on Amazon UK

My review of the book is here


With thanks to Mary Smith for allowing me to interview Miriam.


#amreading The Invisible Library by Genevieve Cogman #FridayReads

“He smiled at Bradamant dazzlingly.  Irene felt a little of the overspill of it, the burning surge of slavish desire and passionate adoration, and felt the brand across her back burn like raw ice in reaction.  She also felt a quick burst of relief that apparently Silver hadn’t recognised her as a Library agent.  She was still incognito for the moment.”

Invisible Library

My current read is tremendous fun, a steampunk romp through an alternative world with Irene, a strong-minded, intelligent Librarian solving a crime while on a mission to take a precious Fairy Tale book back to the Invisible Library.  While mentoring a handsome, but troubling assistant she finds she also has to deal with her bitterest personal enemy and a dangerous foe who is trying to kill her.  It is a fascinating novel, filled with humour, danger, adventure and mystery -all the right ingredients.  And there are three more books to follow!


Genevieve Cogman

Genevieve Cogman got started on Tolkien and Sherlock Holmes at an early age, and has never looked back. But on a perhaps more prosaic note, she has an MSC in Statistics with Medical Applications and has wielded this in an assortment of jobs: clinical coder, data analyst and classifications specialist. Although The Invisible Library is her debut novel, she has also previously worked as a freelance roleplaying game writer. Genevieve Cogman’s hobbies include patchwork, beading, knitting and gaming, and she lives in the north of England.


An Interview with Lachlan Greig from “Rack and Ruin” by Carol Hedges

Rack &

“Greig is an imposing man, thirty years old and well above the regulation five foot seven inches. He is handsome, with a clear complexion, broad shoulders, bright chestnut hair and a certain glint in his eye. Life had taught him, sadly, that being gifted with a high degree of intelligence didn’t always play out well with those of his colleagues, and those of the criminal fraternity, who were not equally gifted.”

Inspector Greig, I have admired your tenacity and upright bearing as an officer of the law. I can tell from your accent that you are not a Londoner by birth. What made you join the metropolitan police?

Good day, Mistress Lloyd, and may I say your name reminds me of my own country, Bonnie Scotland. You are right, I am a long way from home, and there is a reason for that state of affairs. I joined the police force at the age of eighteen, but this was the Edinburgh force, and it was there I learned my training, much as my colleagues in Scotland Yard, by pounding the streets, and arresting the thieves and villains that frequent them. Of which there were many, I can assure you.

The reason I came south, to this strange city that seems to have no end to it, was because of a young women. Her name was Mary, and I met her at the house of a family friend. She was seventeen, and as sweet as the red red rose that our great Scottish poet Robert Burns writes about, but her father did not want her to marry a poor constable, and she respected his opinion too much to go against his wishes. So we argued and debated and I pleaded my case, but in the end, she chose a rich young man over me and for pride, I left my father’s house and came down to this smoky city, for I could not bear to see her sweet face or be close to her again.

I hear from my dear sister Jeanie that the match is not a happy one, for he drinks and spends long hours at the tables, but she has made her choice, and so have I, and we will not meet again upon this earth, I think.

Do you miss your family and friends?

I miss my father, who picked me out of the gutter when I was an abandoned bairn, and took me to his house. He brought me up as his own child, schooled me and has always supported me in all I wanted to do. Sadly, he died a year ago, of the fever, which he caught from some cloth that came over from the Americas ~ perhaps you have heard the story? Many importers and merchants died, for the cloth was all infected with the smallpox. He is buried in Greyfriars kirkyard, with a white angel over his tomb. He was a good man, and without him, I would surely have perished in the street, for my own mother abandoned me.

My sister Jeanie and her bairns are my only family now. I am ‘Uncle Lackie’ to the little ones, and send them toys and sweetmeats whenever I can. I hope this year to visit them for the Christmas festivities, if our superintendent will give me leave..

Will you return to Scotland in the future?

When I first arrived in London, my whole intention was to go home as soon as my heart had healed ~ for London was like some heathen wilderness to me: I didn’t understand its ways, nor how the inhabitants spoke, for their accents were strange and I confess, I was very lonely for quite a while. But now I have joined the detective division, and have found a friend in Jack Cully, and have been welcomed into his home by his wife Emily, I think I shall stay here. There is a lassie that I like ~ her name is … but maybe it would not be right to tell you her name, as we are not yet courting, but I intend to broach the matter with her as soon as this new investigation is over.

Reports of your bravery or perhaps foolhardy behaviour in stopping a moving omnibus have been printed in the newspapers. What made you act in that manner?

You are referring to the newspaper report in the Telegraph? I was merely carrying out my duty, which was to stop a woman taking a baby from its mother. You must know that there are many such women in this city who, for a fixed amount, will remove a child and dispose of it. My friend Jack Cully’s brave wife Emily was acting as a decoy to lure this evil woman into the open. Had I not stopped the omnibus, her own child could have been taken. The cut on my head and the broken collarbone are healing nicely and I do not think my actions justified the ‘Hero of the Hour’ headline!

Do you have ambitions for further progress in the Metropolitan police force or any other plans?

I have now moved from Bow Street to Scotland Yard, where I am a working detective. It is an increase in salary, which is most welcome and I hope soon to rise to the rank of Detective Inspector. My current case concerns banking fraud and gambling on a grand scale. You have maybe heard of the runs on several city banks who have defaulted on their loans? There is more to it than meets the eye, and DI Stride and I are looking into who is behind it. I hope we will be able to tell you the tale later in the year.

I am very much looking forward to reading about your current investigations.  Thank you for giving us your time today.

Rack and Ruin can be purchased at Amazon UK

And here you may read a review of Rack and Ruin



How to Stop Time by Matt Haig #BookReview

How to stop Time

Who wants to live forever? Well, not Tom Hazard, but he has been alive for over 400 years so far. Appearing to be 41 years old, as a young man in Elizabethan England, he had discovered that he aged extremely slowly. In an era when people believed in witchcraft, this caused suspicion and soon Tom began a lifetime of constantly moving on, frequently changing his name.

Like Dr Who, he found the transitory nature of relationships with others caused sadness and grief, so he is now determined to avoid involvement. Discovering that he was not the only human being with this unusual genetic condition, was partly a relief, but also caused him more complications. After half a lifetime as a sailor, jazz pianist, roofer and wandering lute player he is now a History teacher in 21st century London. Now that would be the perfect History teacher. He is not a mere Time Traveller; he has lived through so many events personally.

After losing his first love so many years before, Tom has firmly avoided falling for anyone again. He does have a mission to find one person from his past, but he also has to carry out onerous tasks for a Machiavellian fellow long-lifer. As the narrator of the story, Tom is an empathetic, believable hero. Just like everyone else he is still trying to work out what life is all about and what really matters to him.

This is a captivating story about a likeable man. The possibilities of his lifetime experiences are boundless, so it must have been difficult choosing the people and places for the storyline. A recommended read.

Matt Haig

Matt Haig is a British author for children and adults. His memoir Reasons to Stay Alive was a number one bestseller, staying in the British top ten for 46 weeks. His children’s book A Boy Called Christmas was a runaway hit and is translated in over 25 languages. It is being made into a film by Studio Canal and The Guardian called it an ‘instant classic’. His novels for adults include the award-winning The Radleys and The Humans.

He won the TV Book Club ‘book of the series’, and has been shortlisted for a Specsavers National Book Award. The Humans was chosen as a World Book Night title. His children’s novels have won the Smarties Gold Medal, the Blue Peter Book of the Year, been shortlisted for the Waterstones Children’s Book Prize and nominated for the Carnegie Medal three times.

His books have received praise from Neil Gaiman, Stephen Fry, Jeanette Winterson, Joanne Harris, Patrick Ness, Ian Rankin and SJ Watson, among others. The Guardian summed up his writing as ‘funny, clever and quite, quite lovely’ by The Times and the New York Times called him ‘a writer of great talent’.

How to Stop Time on Amazon UK

and Amazon US