The Opium Smuggler: Sword and Steampunk by Celine Jeanjean (The Viper and the Urchin Book 7) #NewRelease

 

Opium

An impossible smuggling route
A smuggler who won’t quit
Will Adelma’s stubbornness bring her success or get her killed?

Adelma has one dream: to set herself up as a smuggler. But as the daughter of a fisherman, that’s easier said than done.

As she slowly starts to network in the smuggling world, she comes across a man who loudly mocks her looks. What’s a self-respecting wannabe smuggler to do? Punch his lights out, of course. Preferably in front of an audience—adding humiliation to injury.

But the man turns out to be far more powerful than she realised, successfully ensuring no one in the smuggling world will give her work.

With no options left, Adelma turns to one of the most dangerous people in Damsport. No one knows where The Widow comes from, whether she’s truly a widow, or how she came to operate Damsport’s largest criminal network.

The one thing everyone knows? You don’t mess with the Widow, and if you work for her, you better make damn sure you’re successful. The consequences of failure don’t bear thinking about.

Except that Adelma’s first smuggling job is going to be a route that no seasoned smuggler has ever survived. That’s enough of a challenge, but it’ll be even harder with someone after her, determined to make sure she fails.

Adelma’s too stubborn to quit, but will she be able to pull off the impossible, or will she get herself killed in the process?

This novel tells the back story of Adelma, the fisherman’s daughter who became a smuggler and helped Rory and Longinus in earlier books of The Viper and the Urchin series. It can be read as a standalone, but it means a great deal more if you already know of Adelma as the hard-drinking, tough fighter with a hidden soft spot. At the beginning of The Opium Smuggler when we meet one-year old Adelma, “her looks were from her father, an ugly man, even if her eyes wide and dark were her mothers. Jeremiah her father teaches Adelma to trust no one and to react to any threat with retaliation.

After her father’s death, she is determined to become a successful smuggler, but making an enemy of Assurak, one of The Widow’s trusted captains, causes Adelma to lose everything. She can still cadge a drink and a place to sleep with Kriss at The Old Girl’s Arms and her unlikely friend Mercy, an agrophobic book-worm, helps her research Teraverre, the port where she hopes to prove her skills as a smuggler. But wherever Adelma goes, there like a bad penny, Radish turns up. He’s been a successful smuggler himself but now he’s relaxed and somehow gets under her skin.

I started the book feeling that it would not be as interesting without Rory and Longinus but gradually Adelma’s plight won me over and I hoped for her happiness and success. Celine Jeanjean’s vivid descriptions of the Damsport Rookery and the contrasting perfection of Terraverre fill your mind with pictures you believe in and the exciting adventure at sea was gripping.

My Review of Slave City in which Adelma first appears

The Opium Smuggler on Amazon UK

#BookReview: A Song for Summer by Eva Ibbotson

Ibbotson Song        Ibb Chant

When Ellen Carr abandons grey, dreary London to become housekeeper at an experimental school in Austria, she soon knows she has found her calling. She never expected the Hallendorf school to be quite so unusual. Her life back in England with her suffragette mother and liberated aunts certainly couldn’t be called normal, but buried deep in the beautiful Austrian countryside, Ellen discovers an eccentric world occupied by wild children and even wilder teachers and a tortoise on wheels. But it is the handsome, mysterious gardener, Marek, who intrigues her – Marek, who has a dangerous secret. As Hitler’s troops march across Europe, Ellen finds she has promises to keep, even if it means sacrificing her future happiness.

My Review

I discovered Eva Ibbotson through her amazing children’s book A Journey to the River Sea written in 1998, when she was 73. I then selected her adult romances, often promoted for Young Adults. The cover pictures for A Song for Summer pitch it as a romance, which it is, but it is so much more than that. As Ellen, an educated young woman from a suffragist household, travels to 1930s Austria, we see this idyllic country knowing that it will soon be plunged into turmoil. Spurning her chance for an academic life, she yearns to visit the country of her unofficial grandmother and to cook and care for a group of needy children in an extremely eccentric school. Never judgemental, she spreads happiness and sorts out problems and this school has many.

The other adult trusted by the children is Czech handyman, Marek, who carries two secrets; one a dangerous mission to help people escape from the Nazis and the other a wonderful talent and fame. But he is a flawed hero, impulsive and easily roused to anger and circumstances are bound to separate him from those he cares for.

There are many amusing characters in this story, such as Tamara, the passionate Russian ballet dancer, who is actually Beryl from England, Hermine a pretentious eurythmics teacher with her baby Andromeda, tucked down the front of her smock and the dire, Kendrick Frobisher, who adores Ellen but is scared of his mother or any involvement in real life.  And yet, the awful consequences of the advancing fascists are also addressed within the plot so that we hope Ellen can survive but do not expect a happy ending.

For me this was a perfect read for the present time.

Eva Ibbotson

Eva_Ibbotson

Eva Ibbotson was born to Jewish parents in Vienna in 1925. When she was nine Eva moved to London to join her mother, a successful novelist and playwright, who had fled Vienna in 1933 after her work was banned by the Nazi authorities. Other members of Eva’s family also escaped Vienna and settled in England, and their shared experiences later influenced Eva’s writing, with the themes of home, refugees and immigration running through her books.  Eva studied Physiology at Cambridge University and later trained as a teacher. She started to write in her thirties and her first children’s book, The Great Ghost Rescue, was published in 1975 when she was fifty years old. Despite her late literary start, Eva went on to write more than twenty books for children and won the Smarties Prize for her novel Journey to the River Sea in 2001. She also wrote seven books for adults. She died at her home in Newcastle in 2010, aged eighty-five.

 

The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman #YA #BookReview

Graveyard

When a baby escapes a murderer intent on killing the entire family, who would have thought it would find safety and security in the local graveyard? Brought up by the resident ghosts, ghouls and spectres, Bod has an eccentric childhood learning about life from the dead. But for Bod there is also the danger of the murderer still looking for him – after all, he is the last remaining member of the family. A stunningly original novel deftly constructed over eight chapters, featuring every second year of Bod’s life, from babyhood to adolescence. Will Bod survive to be a man?

My Review

This unusual story is not typical of the style of books I would choose but I knew after reading Good Omens that Neil Gaiman is a writer to follow.  Written for Middle Grade readers The Graveyard Book is also perfect for adults.  After a horrifying introduction when three members of a family are murdered by a cruel killer named Jack, the orphaned baby escapes. Crawling into the graveyard he is adopted by the ghosts and other inhabitants and his new parents name him Nobody Owens or Bod for short.  Like other children he learns by experience and through the guidance of those who bring him up. He is kept safe from Jack, who still seeks him, but is able to make friends with one living human, a girl called Scarlett. When Scarlett disappears from his life Bod is not prepared to stay in the sanctuary of the graveyard, but can he survive to adulthood?

The environment and inhabitants of the graveyard have charm and intrigue and the plot is incredibly inventive. A novel about loyalty and friendship and it’s such fun.

First published in 2008, the film of The Graveyard Book is currently being produced.

To read more about Neil Gaiman

Gaiman

The Graveyard Book on Amazon UK

 

Friday Bookshare #AmReading

This week I’m reading Harry Leslie Smith’s account of his early life. I was prompted to do so by Terry Tyler who reviewed his three autobiographies on her blog

A great depression

Harry Leslie Smith died on 28th November 2018 at the age of 95. He grew up in Yorkshire in great poverty and found wartime an escape from a life of hardship. After he retired he began to write about 20th century British social history and contributed many newspaper articles. In the last few years of his life his public appearances, such as his speech at the Labour party Conference have brought him to the attention of the wider public.

Reading this moving story about the sad childhood of Harry and his sister reminded me of another true story from the same era which I read many years ago.

Twopence

Helen Forrester came from a prosperous family, but after her father lost everything, the family moved to Liverpool, where her experiences of starvation and growing out of her clothes mirror that of Harry Leslie Smith.

Both these books are essential reading for anyone who thinks that hardship ended in the Victorian age.  Despite their dreadful experiences, both books are compelling and take you into their world.

The Lost Letters by Sarah Mitchell #BookReview #RBRT

Lost

 What if keeping your loved ones safe meant never seeing them again?

Norfolk, 1940: Sylvia’s husband Howard has gone off to war, and she is struggling to raise her two children alone. Her only solace is her beach hut in Wells-Next-The-Sea, and her friendship with Connie, a woman she meets on the beach. The two women form a bond that will last a lifetime, and Sylvia tells Connie something that no-one else knows: about a secret lover… and a child.

Canada, present day: When Martha’s beloved father dies, he leaves her two things: a mysterious stash of letters to an English woman called ‘Catkins’ and directions to a beach hut in the English seaside town of Wells. Martha is at a painful crossroads in her own life, and seizes this chance for a trip to England – to discover more about her family’s past, and the identity of her father’s secret correspondent.

The tragedy of war brought heartbreaking choices for Sylvia. And a promise made between her and Connie has echoed down the years. For Martha, if she uncovers the truth, it could change everything…

My Review

Martha, overcomes her terror of flying in order to discover more about her father’s past. Having written about his life in Canada, he was about to return to his roots in East Anglia when he suddenly died. Martha also wants to see her estranged daughter, Janey, who is studying at Cambridge, but first she must solve the mystery of the beach hut he father had rented and the file of letters on his computer to someone called Catkins.

The novel takes us back to World War Two and a friendship between two young women, Sylvie and Connie.  Each is hiding a secret and their unexpected friendship gives them courage to take a bold decision.  We are shown a vivid picture of life in wartime Britain, where women had important roles doing their best for their country in the Women’s Voluntary Service, against a background of bombing and fear.  Relationships between men sent off to fight and their worried wives at home are severely strained and they can easily grow apart.

Martha is an engaging character, whose story, written in the present tense, involves us actively in her compelling adventure, while Sylvie, distanced by the past tense, makes us fear for her future happiness.  Threads are gradually gathered, connecting the women together and enabling Martha to forge a more positive future where she is reunited with her daughter and finally understands her father’s past.

The Lost Letters can be purchased at Amazon UK

S Mitchell

Sarah Mitchell

THE LOST LETTERS in my first novel, inspired by a visit to Wells-next-the-Sea in Norfolk, where there is a row of iconic beach huts. Some of them looked very old to me, and it made me wonder for how many generations they might have been in the same family and handed down over the years…

I didn’t become a writer until I was in my forties. I studied law and after that practised as a barrister in London for nearly 20 years. For a long while I wanted to write a novel – inspired by my mother who used to write children’s stories for a radio programme called ‘Listen with Mother’ – but it took me a long while to take the plunge and actually make the dream happen. As well as the beach huts, THE LOST LETTERS draws on the decision my grandparents almost made to evacuate my mother to Canada at the start of the Second World War. So much has changed since then, and yet so much – the bonds within a family – are the same. I wanted to explore that in my writing.

I now live back in Norfolk, where I grew up, with my husband and three almost-grown-up children. Norfolk is an extraordinary county and I feel incredibly lucky to live here. I hope THE LOST LETTERS captures a little bit of the beauty of Norfolk, as well as the horror and hardship of war.

You can follow Sarah Mitchell on Twitter at @SarahM_writer

Gift Horse by Jan Ruth #NewRelease #BookReview

Gift Horse Cover MEDIUM WEB

 A time-slip novel about the choices women make, the healing power of horses, and the devastating consequences of human error.

Imagine living eighteen years of your life around a mistake…

Caroline Walker’s daughter suffers a horrific riding accident. Her distraught parents wonder if she’ll ever walk again, let alone ride. And when Mollie’s blood group is discovered as rare, her husband offers to donate blood. Except Ian is not a match. In fact, it’s unlikely he’s Mollie’s father.

Eighteen years previously, Caroline had a one-night stand with Irish rock star, Rory O’Connor. Caroline fell pregnant. Deeply flawed boyfriend, Ian, was overjoyed. And Caroline’s parents were simply grateful that their daughter was to marry into the rich, influential Walker family. Never look a gift horse in the mouth.

Caroline turns to Rory’s friend Connor; and although his almost spiritual connection with his horses appears to be the balm she needs, Caroline cannot forget Rory, or her youth – both lost to a man she never loved. Eighteen years on and after surviving cancer Rory lives as a virtual recluse in the Welsh mountains. Through his well-meaning but interfering sister, he is shocked to discover he has a teenage daughter. Or does he? As the truth begins to unravel, Caroline finds herself faced with a complex trail of moral dilemma.

Someone has made a terrible mistake… someone is going to get hurt…

My Review

Caroline has it all, a rich successful husband, a large beautiful home and a daughter they both love.  But Mollie’s terrible accident while competing on her horse, Sahara Sun, exposes cracks in their apparently happy life and Caroline’s past catches up with her.  Can she take Mollie from Ian, the father she loves so much, and will Mollie ever forgive her secrecy?

Travelling back to the millennium we join Caroline and her flat-mate Niamh at a party in the Welsh hills.  Already in a relationship with Ian, she realises that the life she will have with him will be very different from that lived by Niamh and her charismatic pop-star brother, Rory.  Will one night of happiness change her path or be a last fling?

However, this tale is more complex. More mistakes are made in 2017.  As Mollie struggles to come to terms with her injuries, Caroline hopes that she will agree to try horse therapy with Connor, an unusual man who helps people to cope with pain and confusion through their interaction with horses.  Meeting Niamh and Rory again, adds further complications as she strives for independence, developing her illustration business and facing up to her own weaknesses.

Gift Horse is an unusual novel which shows the shallowness of material wealth and respectability, but it also deals with crises of injury and betrayal. I was expecting more details of the horse therapy, which I would have enjoyed but perhaps that might have loosened the taut plot and surprising conclusion.  A remarkable story of a woman discovering her destiny.

Gift Horse can be purchased at Amazon UK

And my review of Midnight Sky by Jan Ruth

Connectedness by Sandra Danby #BookReview

Connectedness by Sandra Danby (002)

Justine Tree is a successful artist, about to be accepted into the Royal Academy.  But we meet her in her childhood home on the East Yorkshire coast, remembering her childhood, as she clears her mother’s home after her funeral. She remembers the encouragement of her parents and her early interest in the life of Picasso.  But she also realises that she is acting a part, concealing secrets from her past.

Justine’s home in London is shared with Darya, a much older woman who understands her art and has been a substitute mother for 27 years.  As Darya sinks into dementia, Justine decides to make more effort to find the baby she gave up all those years ago, a secret which fuels the pain in her art.  She seeks help from journalist, Rose Haldane, who has previously investigated her own adoption.  As we follow the story we also discover cracks in Rose’s “happy” life.

The story moves back to the early 1980s when Justine was a penniless student in Picasso’s birthplace of Malaga.  Bullied by her tutor, and struggling with the language, she meets Frederico, an architecture student who teaches her to embrace Spanish food, language and the way of life.  The sensual description of the succulent Spanish food shared with Frederico, defines their building passion and is vividly remembered by Justine.

There are many layers in this sensitive story.  The nurturing Justine received from her mother is only appreciated in retrospect,

“In the last year, Darya had aged like a film on fast forward.

I wasn’t there for Mum. I will not abandon Darya.”

Will Justine’s daughter forgive her?  Will they be reconciled and what of Frederico, the love of her life?

This is the second book of the “Identity Detective” series, all centred on Rose Haldane who wishes to reunite those who lost members of their family due to adoption.  I have not yet read the first book but will be seeking it out soon.  Sandra Danby is a thought provoking author whose sense of place enhances a fascinating mystery.

Connectedness is on sale at Amazon UK and Amazon US

 

The Identity Detective Series

Rose Haldane, journalist and identity detective, reunites the people lost through
adoption. The stories you don’t see on television shows. The difficult cases. The people who cannot be found, who are thought lost forever. And each new challenge makes Rose re-live her own adoption story, each birth mother and father, adopted child, and adoptive parent she talks to, reminds her of her own birth mother Kate. Each book in the ‘Identity Detective’ series considers the viewpoint of one person trapped in this horrible dilemma. In the first book of the series, Ignoring Gravity, it is Rose’s experience we follow as an adult discovering she was adopted as a baby. Connectedness is the story of a birth mother, her hopes and anxieties, her guilt and fear, and her longing to see her baby again. Sweet Joy, the third novel, will tell the story of a baby abandoned during The Blitz, and how the now elderly woman is desperate to know her story before it is too late.           Sandra Danby

Magpie Murders by Anthony Horowitz #FridayReads #BookReview

Magpie

One for sorrow,
Two for joy,
Three for a girl,
Four for a boy,
Five for silver,
Six for gold,
Seven for a secret,
Never to be told.
Eight for a kiss,
Nine for a wish,
Ten for a bird,
You must not miss.

Magpie Murders is a book within a book.  There is a murder mystery during the 1950s in a Somerset village in the style of “Midsummer Murders” with a wide range of typical characters, each with a secret.  We meet a troubled vicar, a hard-working doctor and her artistic husband, an antique dealer with a shady past and a bombastic, unpleasant lord of the Manor.

Two deaths are investigated by Atticus Pünd, a detective reminiscent of Hercule Poirot, but with a German Jewish background.  Despite the large number of characters, the mystery is intriguing, though rather long-winded.

But beyond this storyline is that of Alan Conway, the author of nine novels about this popular detective.  Alan Is not an engaging man.  He has few friends, has left his wife and child and has had a major row with his loyal sister.  The heroine of this plot is Susan Ryeland, Head of Fiction at Cloverleaf Books, who has edited all of Alan’s books while keeping her distance from him.  When Alan has an accident, only Susan is prepared to look for foul play, despite the opposition of her lover, her boss and the police.

This is a lengthy volume and for me only becomes interesting when Susan takes over the narrative.  Structurally it is clever, and the devices Alan has used are amusing, especially in naming his characters and drawing parallels from his own life.  A worthwhile read with a twist at the end but not my favourite book by Anthony Horowitz.

Magpie Murders on Amazon UK

 

An Interview with Crazy Amy (from the books by Rose Edmunds)

I am thrilled that the amazing (crazy?) Amy from Concealment and Exposure has taken the time to talk to me this week, shortly before another installment in her life is revealed to us by Rose Edmunds in her new book Restitution.

new conceal Exposure

Amy, you are a smartly dressed woman who had all the trappings of success in the world of corporate finance, but nobody really seems to know you well. Perhaps you could answer a few questions so that we can understand you better.

It is said that you are exceptionally ambitious and obsessed with material things which demonstrate your success. Does this conceal hidden insecurities?

Before I started out on my painful journey of readjustment, I would have vehemently denied this, but now I’m inclined to agree. Having grown up in squalor due to my mother’s compulsive hoarding, I felt driven to live the “perfect” life I’d been denied as a child. The material possessions were merely symbols of this quest for perfection. But the shame and embarrassment of my childhood never left me, and I felt unworthy of my beautiful home and designer wardrobe, and dissatisfied with my professional achievements. So I drove myself harder and harder until it all imploded…

Would you agree that keeping secrets make relationships impossible to sustain?

Yes and no. In the past, I believed everyone would shun me if they knew about the hoarding, and so keeping the Big Secret was essential. This has been my undoing on occasion. Now, I’m much more open about that aspect of my life, but I still haven’t told anyone about Little Amy. People already regard me as crazy and I shudder to think what they’d say if they knew I was haunted by a hallucination of my fourteen-year-old self.

Did you enjoy the chance of assuming a new identity by changing your appearance? Shorter hair suits you, by the way.

Thanks for the compliment. I like the short hair too, and now realise that the long flowing locks were just part of the illusion I was trying so desperately to maintain.

The new identity was exciting to begin with. I relished the opportunity to be someone different and leave behind all my emotional baggage. But ultimately I came to realise that no matter who you’re pretending to be, you can’t leave your weaknesses behind.

Did you benefit from your stay at the Priory?

Not as much as I should have done. It was useful to retreat for a few weeks, but I never really fully engaged in the therapy and was always trying to hold something of myself back (those secrets again!). With hindsight, I shouldn’t have been on the rehab program anyway, because obviously I’m not an alcoholic.

We have seen you in a variety of relationships. Who was the one who got away?

Toby Marchpole. We first dated when I was sixteen and I realise now I should have confided in him about the problems at home. He was hurt when he found out what I’d been holding back, as it demonstrated a lack of trust, and ended the relationship. On the other hand, he ferretted out my secret in a very sneaky way, but I can hardly hold that against him in the circumstances. Unfortunately by the time we reconnected, time ran out before we could put the past behind us.

Is Little Amy a help or a hindrance in times of stress?

Both. She talks a lot of bullshit, but on the other hand from time to time there are nuggets of common sense in what she says. But lately she’s been a real bitch and it’s stressful to deal with her. Plus it’s obviously concerning that she’s around at all, which makes me wonder if I really am crazy. I’ve also been wondering why she’s fourteen? Did something stressful happen then which I can’t remember? Maybe some day I’ll find out.

Thanks so much for the interview. I do hope my answers have cleared up some of the mystery surrounding me. You’ve given me much food for thought and maybe I should try to be more open with people in the future. But it’s so hard to shake off a habit of secrecy ingrained over a lifetime. Perhaps I should have been a spy…

Rose Edmunds

Rose Edmunds

My reviews of Concealment and Exposure

My Life in Books (1917 Edition)

Belles

Here’s a bit of Christmas fun courtesy of Roof Beam Reader

The rule is, complete the phrase with books you read this year:

At school I was the: Oath Breaker (Shelley Wilson)

People might be surprised by my: Past Encounters (Davina Blake)

I will never be: Down and Out in Kathmandu (Jennifer S Alderson)

My fantasy job is: Girl in the Castle (Lizzie Lamb)

At the end of a long day I need: My Sweet Friend (H A Leuschel)

I hate it when there’s: No Way Back (Kelly Florentia)

I wish I had: The Honesty of Tigers (David Bridger)

My family reunions are; A Divided Inheritance (Deborah Swift)

At a party you will find me making: The Last Gamble (Anabelle Bryant)

I’ve never been to: Lindisfarne (Terry Tyler)

A happy day includes: Wonders & Wickedness (Carol Hedges)

The motto I live by is: Everybody’s Somebody (Beryl Kingston)

On my Bucket List is: The Little French Guest House (Helen Pollard)

In my next life I want a: Garden of Stars (Rose Alexander)

If you decide to play along, add a link to your post in the comments box on Roof Beam Reader’s post and the comments box on this post so I can take a look at yours.