#BlogTour #Review #TheWatcher by Monika Jephcott Thomas 4* #NewRelease @gilbster1000 #ww2Fiction

*My Blog tour review is slightly delayed due to an unscheduled hospital stay*

TheWatcher_BannerThe Watcher by Monika Jephcott Thomas
Synopsis:
It’s 1949 when Netta’s father Max is released from a Siberian POW camp and returns to his home in occupied Germany. But he is not the man the little girl is expecting – the brave, handsome doctor her mother Erika told her stories of. Erika too struggles to reconcile this withdrawn, volatile figure with the husband she knew and loved before, and, as she strives to break through the wall Max has built around himself, Netta is both frightened and jealous of this interloper in the previously cosy household she shared with her mother and doting grandparents. Now, if family life isn’t tough enough, it is about to get even tougher, when a murder sparks a police investigation, which begins to unearth dark secrets they all hoped had been forgotten.

My review:

I am a huge ww2 fiction fan! When I read the synopsis of this novel, I was immediately intrigued. I found the theme of a soldier overcoming the horror he has witnessed, fascinating. I also like the unique theme of the protagonist being a German POW, held by the Russians. A theme slightly neglected, in my opinion. This novel does debate the theory of the German guilt, post-ww2. Either by German civilians or soldiers themselves. It is very cleverly constructed so that you see the topic from various angles.

The novel opens with Max having recently returned from 4yrs hard labour in a Siberian camp. He appears physically and emotionally broken. We are aware he is having trouble battling the mental torment and processing the physical torture he has both witnessed and been a victim of. Max returns to his wife Erika, who has kept herself rather busy with another man. Her guilt for this affair and pain at watching Max struggle fuel her narrative within the novel. But Max and Erika, also have a young daughter named Netta. Netta is just as confused as all the adults in her life and is desperate her life returns to normal. Meanwhile you are aware that somewhere out there is the watcher……….

“If I were a little bird and had wings, I would fly to you…”

Max and Erika are both trained and qualified Doctors. Max was working in a field hospital when he was captured. Throughout the novel, it is scattered with Max’s memories of what he has been forced to endure, it does not make for easy reading. But fully explores how much ww2 POWs were subjected to. “Six of our boys nailed to the table by their tongues, ten hung up from meat hooks in the slaughterhouse and another fifteen thrown down the well and stoned to death. Bloody barbarians those Bolshevists” Obviously as the reader you are aware of the irony, that Max feels so abused and brutalised. When you are aware Nazi ideology, was much the same. But then that fact suddenly dawns on Max.

“God is punishing us for what we did to the rest of the world” Max

Max’s daily struggle, seems almost to be reaching breaking point. Then their maid Karin, is found murdered! Did Max’s mental health finally snap? Was it Erika’s jealousy? Or does an allied soldier lurk to prey on young women? Was it Karin’s disgruntled lover? At the end, all is revealed and the characters are forced to come to terms with who they really are and the impact the war has had upon them.
A thoroughly emotive ww2 fiction novel. 4*

#BlogTour #GuestPost #HerselfAloneInOrangeRain by Tracey Iceton @BultiauwBooks The Power Of Story Telling

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Herself Alone In Orange Rain by Tracey Iceton
Synopsis:

Kaylynne Ryan is a promising art student, used to fighting for her place in a world of men, but when a forgotten friend turns up she realises there is more than her own freedom at stake.

Learning the truth about her Irish heritage, her grandfather who fought all his life for Ireland’s independence, her parents who gave their lives for the same cause, she finds herself drawn into the dangerous world of the Provisional IRA with its bombing campaigns, bloody violence, hunger strikes and patriotic sacrifice.

She didn’t look for the Troubles, but they found her nonetheless, and now, whatever the cost, she must join the cause to help rid the Six Counties of the Brits.

#GuestPost: The Power Of Story Telling

I was a writer before I knew what that was. As a child I made up stories in my head. At thirteen I wrote a ‘novel’, inspired by my favourite book, S E Hinton’s The Outsiders. Then I grew up, reality kicked me and I trained as an English teacher, settling down to teaching literature instead of writing any.

But the dream nagged me. In 2004 circumstances meant I could afford to work part-time and write properly. So that’s what I did. But that was only the start of a long, sometimes painful, process. In between then and now I’ve worked constantly at my writing, fitting it in around part-time teaching, taking workshops and courses (including an MA and PhD in creative writing), seeking out any chance to network with publishers and endlessly submitting pieces then confronting the rejections. Eventually I started getting work accepted more often than rejected. Finally I got a deal from Cinnamon Press to publish my Celtic Colours Trilogy.

Part one, Green Dawn at St Enda’s, came out last year for the centenary of the 1916 Dublin Easter Rising which the novel centres on, offering a fictional retelling of this historic event from the perspective of a schoolboy embroiled in the rebellion. Part two, Herself Alone in Orange Rain, is out this October and it’s with the release of this second book that I feel I’ve made it. Perhaps that’s because everyone is reckoned to have one novel in them so to be a ‘real’ writer you need more. I’ve even started telling people it’s what I do for a living.

Given the slog to get here and the fact that there is not much (hardly any) money in writing (I make a living teaching writing now I’m published and therefore an ‘expert’) why have I stuck with this? It’s because I love storytelling. There is nothing like the escape into imagination for me. Common advice to writers is ‘write what you know’. Pah! Rubbish! Yes, draw on your experiences but don’t limit yourself to them otherwise there are many thrilling, poignant and magical stories you’ll never let yourself tell. Like the story I tell in Herself Alone.

I’ve never been in the IRA. I’ve never planted a car bomb in the early hours. I’ve never had to look someone in the eyes, knowing if I don’t kill them they’ll kill me. I’ve never lost a lover in war. But many women, from all cultures and communities have, yet their stories remain either unwritten or badly written by novelists. I know because, in the specific case of IRA women, I read reams of Troubles fiction (yes, this is a thing – fiction about the Troubles in Ireland), searching for such novels only to fail to find any. Either there are no female characters who are IRA members in the novels or, which is worse, there are some terribly clichéd, stereotyped female IRA characters. Cue a cast of reluctant naïve girlie terrorists, ice-maiden assassins, treacherous femme fatals and butch macho-women.

So with Herself Alone I was on a mission to find a way to write a novel that told the story of these women who took up arms for the Republican cause. I didn’t do that because I’m a Republican supporter (I’m anti all politics if you want to know). I did it because it was a great story that hadn’t been told in fiction, not in any genuine way, and I wanted to put that right. I wanted to find out what life was like for such women. I did extensive research into various biographical and sociological source books to find out what they did, why and how. Then I found a way to tell that story in fiction, creating characters that resembled these real life women and scenes that depicted what their lived experiences of life in the IRA was really like. It’s as honest as possible, for a novel. It was a great story to tell because it was an unknown, untold story. It’s a hard read, I suspect, especially for those who remember the Troubles, but I also think it’s an enlightening, enthralling one and that for me is the power of storytelling.

Tracey Iceton Publicity Photograph
Tracey Iceton

Tracey Iceton is an author and creative writing tutor from Teesside who recently completed her PhD in creative writing at Nortumbria University. Green Dawn at St Enda’s, her debut novel and the first in the Celtic Colours Trilogy, was published by Cinnamon Press in 2016.

Find Tracey at her website: http://www.trywriting.co.uk

#Review Mussolini’s Island by @geowriter Sarah Day @TinderPress 4*

*I received an arc via Bookbridgr in return for an honest review*

cover
Mussolini’s Island by Sarah Day
Synopsis:

Francesco has a memory of his father from early childhood, a night when life for his family changed. From that night, he has vowed to protect his mother and to follow the words of his father: Non mollare. Never give up.

As Francesco is herded into a camp on the island of San Domino, he realises that someone must have handed a list of names to the fascist police. Locked in spartan dormitories, resentment and bitterness between the men grows each day.

Elena, an illiterate island girl, is drawn to the handsome Francesco. Sometimes, she is given a message to pass on. She’s not sure who they are from; she knows simply that Francesco is hiding something. When Elena discovers the truth about the group of prisoners, the fine line between love and hate pulls her towards an act that can only have terrible consequences for all.

My review:

This novel is captivating and completely and utterly immerses you in the location of Italy and the second world war era. The fascism is not hidden, played down or secret. The fascism is real, raw and noted on every page. What would it be like to be a gay man in 1939, Fascist Italy? This novel invites you to firmly place yourself in the protagonist’s shoes. This is the story of Francesco Caruso and his time on the San Domino island, intermittent camp.

The novel opens with a quote from Benito Mussolini’s doctrine of fascism 1932. At that moment you become aware this author has done her homework! The historical accuracy is massively on point and the author deserves huge respect for investing in her research so deeply. The story begins on 20th January 1939. The proposal for the confinement of ‘pederasts’ and the reasoning being, their sexual degeneracy, links to venereal disease and ‘danger to society’. It is quite shocking in 2017, to hear these terms coined towards members of the LQBTQ community.
But this is also why I think novels like this are so important, to highlight the history.
The suffering the LQBTQ community has withstood, in its fight for equality.

The novel jumps between two locations and timeframes. We have Catania, prior to Francesco’s arrest and what initiated his detainment in the intermittent camp. Also the modern day location of San Domino island, where he is being held. But someone on the island of San Domino is watching the boats arrive, with curiosity.
That someone is island native Elena.

When the prisoners arrive they are informed of the rules to be inflicted upon them. They must not form any public meetings, speak to locals or voice any political opinions. They are given secondary, derogatory names. Francesco is given the name of Femminella, which means feeble woman. They are taken to a dormitory and informed they will work for four Lire a day for their food and necessities. They are warned, any breaking of rules, will be met with punishment.
With the final scene of a gun being shoved into Francesco’s mouth……………..

“There was no room any more for pacifists, for weak, feminised men”

There is a wealth of characters amongst the 22 detained men. I really wish they had been explored more and we as the reader got to know more about their backgrounds. Elio Duchessa is infuriated at his detainment and denies that he is a homosexual. But Francesco, recognises some of the faces in the crowd. Friends Arturo and Marcello are present. But Francesco longs to see the face of his lover Emilio, who has been missing sometime.

Elena tries to digests what she witnesses, as she watches the young men disembark from the ship. She notices her father as one of the guards (Carabinieri) and realises this is the new job, he was talking about. One man stands out in particular to her, due to his beautiful smile and that man is, Francesco. When she witnesses her father whipping one of the prisoners, with great malice. She becomes intrigued to what they have done and why they are here. Later when the director comes to tea, at Elena’s house she learns that one of the men is a murderer.
It will be her father’s duty to discover which one…………

The men assemble in the dormitory, trying to come to terms with their sentences. They are also desperate to uncover who is the rat. For someone must have given the authorities a list of names. The speculation, suspicion and accusations amongst the men is rife. I could completely understand their need to know who is responsible for adding their name to the list. The fear injustice and unfairness of their treatment is fully explored. This novel is very clever in its approach to the sensitive topic. By interweaving the Francesco’s past with his present, we learn his full story.

The men are aware of the very limited ways they may leave the island. They begin to plot an escape and realise they have nowhere to go to. Then Francesco spots Emilio amongst the men and the whole plot takes a huge turn. The men are reminded at every turn, how they are a contagion and a stain on society. They are threatened by the guards to inform on one another. The guards desperate to learn the name of the inmate who killed a police officer.

“Man is only man by virtue of the spiritual process to which he contributes as a member of the family”

This novel had me firmly hooked. I was eager to learn what will happen to the prisoners. Who is the betrayer? Who is the killer? When we discover more about the murdered police officer Rapetti. It only serves to leave me with more questions. Rest assured all your questions will be answered. You will discover all the secrets so tightly held at San Domino. This novel is packed full of betrayal, secrets and lies. But yet it is also a beautiful story of love and the sacrifices we make for those we love so deeply. I also note that all sacrifices, in turn bring consequences. It is emotive, thought-provoking and educational.

4*

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Sarah Day
Authors links:
Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/15155946.Sarah_Day
Twitter: @geowriter

 

#Review and Q&A #SugarMoney by @blablafishcakes JaneHarris @FaberBooks 5*

*I received an arc via the publisher in return for an honest review*

SUGAR MONEY jacket
Sugar Money by Jane Harris
Synopsis:

Martinique, 1765, and brothers Emile and Lucien are charged by their French master, Father Cleophas, with a mission. They must return to Grenada, the island they once called home, and smuggle back the 42 slaves claimed by English invaders at the hospital plantation in Fort Royal. While Lucien, barely in his teens, sees the trip as a great adventure, the older and worldlier Emile has no illusions about the dangers they will face. But with no choice other than to obey Cleophas – and sensing the possibility, however remote, of finding his first love Celeste – he sets out with his brother on this ‘reckless venture’.

With great characters, a superb narrative set up, and language that is witty, bawdy and thrillingly alive, Sugar Money is a novel to treasure.

My review:

“Cane is sugar, sugar is money” Emile

This novel is almost like three separate novels in one! It is a sensational story of a brave adventure. Yet there are obviously added dark elements, due to the slavery theme. It is also a story of the bonds of brotherhood and love. It really will pull at your heart strings and you will root for brothers Lucien and Emile, with love and hope on every page!

Firstly, to start my review, I should say this is a beautiful book cover. The maps on the inside of the cover, give it the piracy and adventure feel. I am really glad I own a physical copy! I should also mention that this novel is based around a true story.

The novel opens in St Pierre, Martinique, Western Antilles. In December 1765, the location and era is fully explored throughout the novel. The novel is told from the narrative of slave Lucien. He is summoned to the morgue by his master Father Cleophas. His master is content with hacking at the innards, of a dead field hands corpse. His older brother Emile is present and they are both unsure as to why. Lucien being the younger brother at just approximately 15 years old and Emile being approximately 30 years old. Their story of their ancestry and brotherhood, makes for quite the dark tale.

Father Clophas gives them a long winded explanation of how he wants them to return to Grenada and bring back 42 slaves. He informs them how badly the English treat the slaves and that they are, his rightful property. They will be joined by a Spanish skipper named Captain Bianco, who is a deaf mute. The master is clever in how he lures the men into the mission. As he suggests that Emile will be reunited with lost love Celeste and that they may grow into old age together upon returning. There is some squabbling amongst the brothers and we learn Emile doesn’t wish for Lucien to sail. Father Cleophas is adamant that they must work together as Emile is more cunning, but Lucien speaks the necessary English for the journey.
Never the less they sail on the morrow…………

“Listen, Lucien. This is no adventure, nor a child game. Sometimes, I wonder if you still have the sense you came born with” Emile

Throughout the sailing, between Lucien’s thoughts and the brother’s conversation. We learn of life with the Fathers and monks. We also learn the dark secret of their parentage, which is shocking. Lucien is wary of the risk they will take on their vessel ‘The Daisy’. Emile formalises the plan, they must speak to the slaves at night, under the cover of darkness. He is well aware of what will become of them, if they fail this mission. Whilst Lucien dreams of killing the skipper and sailing to Africa. Neither man is quite prepared for what they will experience on this journey.

“No real harm could come to us while we were together” Lucien

“I knew that nobody could break the bond of blood – good and bad- between us” Lucien

The memories and conversations between the men about Celeste, are fascinating. We learn she means quite a lot to both men. Having raised Lucien and being Emile’s sole love interest. I could not what to find out what had become of her in the seven years apart. The journey, is insightful into the character development and I really liked both Lucien and Emile immensely.

When they arrive at the island, they are reunited with some close friends and family. However, they also learn the fate of some and it does not make for easy reading. They learn of the punishments inflicted upon the slave. They are methodical, barbaric and designed to break the will of the slave. The pass a man naked, bones visible he is so starved. The man has a vacant expression, he is shackled with his ear nailed to the hut and has an ointment on to attract flies to bite him. You could imagine the sheer despair of the mind, at being forced to endure such a torturous punishment.

This novel by no means, down plays slavery. The degradation, brutality and dehumanisation is fully explored. Exactly in my opinion, as it should be. Any novel that is written about slavery has a duty for it to be as an accurate portrayal as possible. I would say I found this similar in one sense to the violence portrayed in The Book Of Night Women by Marlon James. Another author, not afraid to depict slavery honestly. There is a part where you will learn the story of Marital Medicine. It is possibly one of the darkest things I have ever read. I was completely taken aback, with the levels of depravity slavery had.

The men are reunited with friends including Angelique, Leotine, Therese, Lejeune and finally Celeste. But when their eyes meet Celeste they are left shocked to their core……… They are warned of a dangerous drunken overseer named Addison Bell.
A man so insanely violent, he is feared by all…..

“English been working us to death” – Angelquie

“He could…. It could get us all killed” – Celeste

The brothers get world out amongst the slave and begin to build a plan of the escape. This is no easy adventure and capture could be fatal. The novel continues at fast pace and you are left on the edge of your seat. I was genuinely trying to read as fast as I could. So that I could learn what will become of all the slaves including Lucien and Emile. It builds and builds, to an exceptionally emotional ending. I was left reeling and tearful at the same time. There is a note from the editor and an afterword by the author, which serve to add more depth to the characters, long after the novel is finished!
A fantastic historical adventure story, that details the colonial history and pulls at the heart and soul.
5*

“What I saw can never be unseen, never forgotten. All my life, over and over again, that same scene repeating in my mind” – Lucien

Q&A:

Q) Due to the author’s note and details at the end of the novel, I am aware of the inspiration for the novel. But for the readers, can you enlighten them on the true story and how you came across it?

A) I first came across the true story in a history book about the island of Grenada in the Caribbean. The events were described in just a few paragraphs. Basically, a group of French monks in Martinique hired a man (described only as ‘a mulatto slave’ in the original sources) and ordered him to ‘recover’ some slaves from Grenada where the monks had, until recently, managed a hospital and plantation. Although the British had since seized control of Grenada and the hospital estate, the monks maintained that the enslaved people there still belonged to them.

In essence, they ordered this poor man to steal the slaves from under the noses of the enemy. I was shocked that such a thing could have happened and fascinated by the courage of this man – the ‘mulatto’ – at the centre of the story. He became the character of Emile in Sugar Money.

Q) Can you tell us about yourself and your writing career?

A)I didn’t start writing until I was about 30 years old and by then I’d had a number of careers, as a singer and performer, in administration and management, and so on. At one point, I set off to work my way around the world but only got as far as Portugal and that’s where I began to write short stories, while I was waiting to begin work as a teacher at a language school. Very quickly, I knew that fiction-writing was what I wanted to do, so I gave up my teaching job and returned to Britain to try and get the stories published. Fortunately for me, various Scottish literary magazines and anthologies accepted my first efforts.

For several years thereafter, I continued working in various menial jobs while publishing stories here and there. I also undertook a Creative Writing MA and a PhD, and then worked for film companies as a script reader and editor.

After a short detour into writing for the screen, I returned to prose. One of my abandoned stories grew in length and finally became The Observations, my first novel. Thereafter, I wrote Gillespie and I, and it was while writing this second novel that I came across the historical event that would eventually become Sugar Money.

Q) Lucien and Emile have considerable depth as characters, their parentage, relationships with Celeste etc. How do the personalities form? Is it as you write? Do you plan them out?

A)Thank you for your kind words about character! I do try to put a lot into my character work. In the research stage, I write character notes and biographies, family trees and so on, in order to get a general idea of what the characters are like. I often take elements from my own character and from people I know or have met. Developing the voice of the narrator also helps me get to know the protagonist.

In this case, the sibling rivalry between Lucien and Emile was important in defining their personalities, as was how they, as individuals, relate to Emile’s first love, Celeste. This triangular relationship is at the heart of the novel, and my aim was to use these more intimate character motivations to add depth and warmth to the ‘bigger picture’ and the weightier themes of slavery, freedom, justice, escape and so on.

Q) The novel has very graphic portrayals of the brutality and violence of slavery. Which I personally, think is important to cover in a novel with a slavery theme. In particular, the story of Martial Medicine, is exceptionally brutal. Is this difficult to write? and did you have to research into slavery punishments?

A) I did carry out extensive research into all aspects of slavery, particularly as it operated in the Caribbean. Everything in the novel, in terms of punishment, is taken from original sources. For instance, what I call “Martial Medicine” is adapted from something known as “Derby’s Dose” as described in the diaries of Thomas Thistlewood, an overseer and slave-owner in Jamaica, who was breathtakingly frank about his horrific treatment of enslaved people. Without giving too much away, I did find parts of the story difficult to write and – at times, in the process – I became quite depressed.

Q) The ending left me broken, yet there are so many themes of love and hope within the story. Which makes it tough to review. I have done my best to get across to blog readers the various themes etc. How would you describe the novel?

A) I think fellow novelist Amanda Craig summed it up well when she said that Sugar Money is ‘a tale of slavery and freedom, innocence and experience, love and despair.’ That’s what I wanted it to be from the start, and I really hope that I’ve gone some way towards achieving that.

Q) I get the sense this novel would have been a huge project and dominated a large amount of your time. How do you celebrate upon a novel’s completion?

A) This might sound daft, but I don’t celebrate completion until, perhaps, the launch of a book, because there never seems a moment when it’s actually finished. Even once you write “The End” you know there will be endless revisions to be done before submitting to your agent and publisher, then further revisions, then proofing, and finding the right cover, responding to publicity requests and so on. Also, I’m a bit superstitious about celebrating anything too early. However, no doubt, I will be raising a glass of something on the night of publication!

Q) Finally, do you have another project lined up and can we have any snippets of information?

A) I do have a couple of ideas but I’ve been so busy with moving home and various other chores that I haven’t had time to really pin down what exactly I’m going to do next. Every time I finish a book, I always say I’m not going to write another historical novel – but let’s see!

*Huge thanks for being part of a Q&A on my blog and I wish you every success with the release of your novel.

 JH:Many thanks for inviting me to respond and thanks so much for your interesting questions!

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Jane Harris
Authors links:
My website is at www.janeharris.com
My Twitter name is @blablafishcakes
My Facebook Author Page is at: https://www.facebook.com/Author-Jane-Harris-140719536001399/