Anne Bonny #BookReview Letters From Alice by @petrinabanfield #HistoricalFiction #Saga @HarperCollinsUK ‘Incredibly moving, a mystery at its heart and great plot twists. 5*’

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Letters From Alice by Petrina Banfield
Review Copy
Synopsis:

Two women. One secret. Will they be able to keep it under wraps?

It is a stormy evening in 1920s London. When newly qualified almoner, Alice, stepped into the home of Charlotte, a terrified teenager who has just given birth out of wedlock, she did not expect to make a pact that would change her life forever. Thrown into secrecy after an unexpected turn, Alice is determined to keep bewildered Charlotte and her newborn baby safe. But when a threatening note appears, she realises that Charlotte may need more protection than she first thought. But from who?

Based on extensive research into the archive material held at the London Metropolitan Archives, and enriched with lively social history and excerpts from newspaper articles, LETTERS FROM ALICE is a gripping and deeply moving tale, which brings the colourful world of 1920s London to life. Full of grit, mystery and hope, it will have readers enthralled from the very first page.

My Review:

Letters from Alice is a mix of two of my favourite genre’s. It is very similar to a saga novel, yet there is a huge element of historical fiction. The research is outstanding; and I have a huge respect for the author on her accuracy.

The novel opens in April 1921 with young impressionable Alice Hudson summoned by PC Hardwicke to the London district of Bow. The scene is that of death, poverty and misery. A scene that will forever stay with Alice.

By New Years Eve 1921, Alice is now a much more experienced Almoner. She works hard to find Financial assistance, practical support and crisis management to family’s in dire need. When she makes an unannounced home visit to the Redbourne family. What she uncovers will stir up her previous trauma and compel her to take action.
The Redbourne family have five children, Charlotte (15yrs) is the one that causes Alice the most alarm. Although all the children appear to be undernourished and unkempt.

The history the Almoners and what they do, is fully explored. I had no previous knowledge of their existence and was able to fully enjoy the dramatic story. I felt the author did a fantastic job of explaining to the reader, rather than TELL the reader.
If you get what I mean.

Alice is called out to the Redbourne house again. This time it appears Charlotte has ‘lost her mind’. But Alice is determined to get to the bottom of the case and how Charlotte came to be with child at just 15yrs old.

‘Fear and grief masqueraded as madness’

‘She’s beyond helping, she’s morally corrupt’ – Mrs Redbourne

Whilst Mrs Redbourne maybe quick to condemn Charlotte on the unexpected arrival of her twin babies. Alice is not.
Charlotte’s son is stillborn but her daughter (Daisy) survives. With Charlotte’s future looking extremely bleak between the workhouse, asylum or a hostel.
Is there anything Alice can do to save these young girls?

‘It was as if the asylum were tainted with the same stigma that clung to those they treated’

The treatment of the staff at the asylum is often grim as they are regarded as lower class etc.
Charlotte appears frozen, warning Alice of ‘bad people, whom pretend to help’. Words that Alice makes it her duty to investigate.

Then Alice begins to receive threatening notes…..
‘I know what you did’

The novel fully explores the hardship faced by the poor. Also, how Alice must navigate the males in superior roles their ego’s and dominance over her duty of care.

‘The poor are blamed for everything that is wrong with this country as it is. Well, the poor and the refugees’ – Alice Hudson

Incredibly moving, a mystery at its heart and great plot twists. 5*

PB
Petrina Banfield
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Anne Bonny #BookReview Smoke And Ashes by @radiomukhers Abir Mukherjee 5* Genius #NewRelease #Historical #CrimeFiction #Calcutta @HarvillSecker ‘Outstanding historical crime fiction, that I would love to see adapted for the TV screens’

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Smoke And Ashes by Abir Mukherjee 
Review copy
Synopsis:

**From the winner of the 2017 CWA Historical Dagger Award**

India, 1921. Haunted by his memories of the Great War, Captain Sam Wyndham is battling a serious addiction to opium that he must keep secret from his superiors in the Calcutta police force.

When Sam is summoned to investigate a grisly murder, he is stunned at the sight of the body: he’s seen this before. Last night, in a drug addled haze, he stumbled across a corpse with the same ritualistic injuries. It seems like there’s a deranged killer on the loose. Unfortunately for Sam, the corpse was in an opium den and revealing his presence there could cost him his career.

With the aid of his quick-witted Indian Sergeant, Surrender-not Banerjee, Sam must try to solve the two murders, all the while keeping his personal demons secret, before somebody else turns up dead.

Set against the backdrop of the fervent fight for Indian independence, and rich with the atmosphere of 1920s Calcutta, Smoke and Ashes is the brilliant new historical mystery in this award-winning series.

My Review:

I am a huge fan of this series and If you haven’t read A Rising Man or A Necessary Evil, then you need to add them to your wish list asap. The series is phenomenal and historical crime fiction at its finest. It was my 126th read of the year so far and the 13th edition to the 5* Genius list. The era, characters and location that Abir Mukherjee has created within the series is sheer brilliance.
*I am a shameless fangirl*

The series is set post ww1 in Calcutta, India. The main characters are British Captain Sam Wyndham and Indian Sgt (Surrender-not) Banerjee. The novels are historical fiction, but there is always a grisly crime to be unearthed in the British Raj. I must admit that with this novel, I really felt the historical aspect of the novel had stepped up its game. The depth of historical detail really added to the story. India’s social and political climate is described in a fantastic method, letting the characters lead the scenes.
This is not a history lesson; the author simply invites you into 1921 Calcutta.

The novel opens with Sam fleeing the Imperial police force, blade in hand and covered in blood. He is fleeing a Tangra opium den and is certainly feeling the effects, shall we say. I began to wonder how bad is Sam’s opium addiction?
Is Sam going to be the murderer in this case?

‘Calcutta opium is best smoked ten feet below the corpses of half a dozen dead men’

Despite the police in pursuit, after the raid on the opium den, Sam manages to escape. But he can’t get out of his mind the dead body of the Chinese man he found. Why was the body so disfigured? Was this an opium ‘pipe dream’? Why was Commanding Officer Callaghan of Vice division raiding the den? Sam has so many questions as he falls asleep in a drug induced haze.

‘Calcutta was as flawed and dysfunctional as I was’ – Sam

When he awakes, late, as usual for Sam now. He finds Surrender-not has already left for work. He lights a cigarette and ponders his next course of action, over the body he found.

‘The Chinese were a law unto themselves. What they did to each other was none of my business’

In the background of the novel is the political protests of Mahatma Gandhi. It would appear the natives have tired of British rule and long for independence. Tempers are frayed, and the jails are full. With an impending visit from H.R.H Prince Edward scheduled for Christmas Day. Sam and surrender-not must ensure the streets are free from protestors.
Which will be no easy task, at all.

Lord Taggart, commissioner of the police for Bengal summons Sam to his office. He orders Sam and Surrender-not to deliver a message to Gandhi’s ‘chief rabble rouser’ – C.R Das that the organisation of congress volunteers is now banned. There are clear and spiteful threats issued, the natives must obey their British masters.

The theme of the British Raj and colonisation in general, makes this novel perfect for book groups. There are so many elements to debate. It is also easy to look back with the wisdom of hindsight. I spend many summer days at Osbourne House the summer home of Queen Victoria. It has an Indian room and there is evidence of Indian artefacts throughout. Queen Victoria was clearly impressed and inspired by Indian culture. I find it surprising that a culture for which she found so fascinating, she never visited. . .

Back to the novel and Sam. Not only is Sam battling his emotional past, with the loss of his wife Sarah. Annie makes a reappearance and he has an out of control opiate addiction. He eventually agrees to see a doctor and deal with his opiate addiction once and for all.

‘I preferred not to be reminded of the ghosts of Christmas past’ – Sam

With Das refusing to give in to Taggart’s demands. Sam is placed in the awkward position of delivering messages he no longer believes in or agrees with. . .

‘Tell him that I’ve no issue with arresting him, his family and every one of his supporters’ – Taggart

The British are in the difficult position of wanting to coerce the opposition via threats and intimidation and not wanting to make martyrs of them.
There will be no easy solution in British India.

Sam and Surrender-not are called to a crime scene at Shant-da’s medical clinic. Where they find the body of a young nurse Ruth Fernandez. Ruth’s corpse has the identical injuries as the Chinese victim at the opium den. But what links the murders? Ruth is a native from Goa but holds the role of military nurse. She openly practises her Christian faith. Are these murders political?
Has the non-violent protest suddenly turned to murder?

With the new murder and political tensions at an all time high, the British issue a military enforced curfew of 6pm. At times it felt that they did everything they could, to ignite the flames of riots.
Leaving Sam battling his personal opinions and professional responsibilities.

‘Maybe my penance was a life sentence’ – Sam

When another murder occurs, it is clear Calcutta has a serial killer on its hands and only one man knows the truth. Sam.

As said above the historical aspects are beautifully written and there is so much detail. Each political event, is broken down to be shown from both sides of the governmental powers. I wondered how the author would tackle the character of Gandhi and his political stance. What you discover is that Gandhi was a highly intelligent man, with a strategic mind. He meticulously planned his protests and lived by his convictions.
But I love the way Sam summarises the situation (and some of the finest writing might I add) . . .

‘To see a man as your enemy, you needed to hate him, and while it was easy to hate a man who fought you with bullets and bombs, it was bloody difficult to hate a man who opposed you by appealing to your moral compass’ – Sam

I was sad to see Surrender-not, firmly return to his role of side-kick. In the last novel I really felt his character gain such presence. Despite it being difficult to watch an intelligent man (must) take a back-seat to the British rule. Yet I respect the author for changing the style of each novel, keeping you the reader guessing and avoiding the huge error of repeating the same novel with just a different case.

Outstanding historical crime fiction, that I would love to see adapted for the TV screens. I can even picture the atmospheric opening credits, as we glance around 1920s Calcutta. 5* Genius.

AM
Abir Mukherjee
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My review and Q&A for, A Rising Man
My review and Q&A for, A Necessary Evil

Anne Bonny #BlogBlitz #BookReview & #GuestPost #TheKillingTime by @WriterMJLee #NewRelease #Historical #Mystery 1930s #Shanghai #InspectorDanilov #Series @canelo_co

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The Killing Time by M J Lee – Inspector Danilov #4
Review copy
Synopsis:

As tensions simmer in Shanghai, children go missing…

Shanghai 1932: Inspector Danilov hasn’t recovered from the death of his child… but across a Shanghai riven with communal tensions, children are going missing.

Missing, and then murdered. Who is responsible? Why have the children’s bodies been exhibited for all to see?

Just as Danilov thinks the stakes couldn’t be higher there is a new dimension, Japan, a rising power flexing its muscles. In fractious Shanghai, an explosion is long overdue. With the clock ticking can Danilov and his assistant Strachan solve the case? The fate of Shanghai may be at stake. So is Danilov’s job… And his sanity.

My Review:

The Killing Time is set in Shanghai 1932, the year of the golden goat. I was instantly drawn to the era and location, as I am a huge fan of historical fiction. The novel opens with DS Strachan and Dr Fang at the autopsy of an unknown 13yr old boy. The child has a mutilated face and his right ear has been removed. He died via manual strangulation and was dumped at a building site. He shows no signs of sexual assault and his only identifiable feature is a strawberry birthmark.
It is a case that throws up more questions than answers. What is the motive? Why was he dumped at the building site? Who is he? Is someone targeting children?

‘This one is extremely personal, Inspector. Our victim, whatever his name is, will have been looking straight into the eyes of his killer as he died’ – Dr Fang

Locally students are protesting the Japanese occupation of Manchurita. Calling for others and shopkeepers to boycott Japanese trade. Thugs hassle shopkeepers and it becomes clear the ‘protest’ may require a police presence.
The novel further explores the political situation and expands to explain about the local gangs that operate.

Inspector Danilov is also experiencing his own personal grief and pain at the loss of his son Ivan; just 2yrs ago. The bereavement seems to be a driving force in his search for justice for the victims of this insane killer.

The novel is a complex murder mystery, with the reveal of the culprit at the end a brilliant piece of writing. Almost Columbo in style. The novel comprises of short, sharp and to the point chapters, which I like. The descriptions of Shanghai as a location are interesting. I think the novel could have benefitted from more female characters. It was comprised of nearly an entire male cast.

A complex mystery with elements of culture. 4*

Guest Post: by M J Lee

Is Shanghai the perfect place to set a crime novel?

Thanks for this opportunity to talk about myself and the Danilov novels. It’s something I love doing almost as much as I love writing the books.

I remember very clearly when the idea for writing a novel set in the Shanghai of the 1920s and 1930s came to me.

I was out strolling one evening in Shanghai (we were living in the city at that time). It was around dusk in October, one of the best times of the year in the city. Perfect walking weather. I reached the crossroads at Jiangxi Middle Road and Fuzhou Road, just opposite the Metropole Hotel. A square where four Art Deco buildings built in the 1930s meet. For a moment, there was no traffic and no people, a strange occurrence in a city of over twenty million people. I closed my eyes and was suddenly transported back to the 1920s, imagining old Dodges, Packards and Chevrolets rolling up to the hotel, discharging carloads of flappers and elegant men wearing tuxedos.
A lovely moment, trapped in time.

The Inspector Danilov books were born. And what a time to write about. Back then, the city of ‘joy, gin and jazz’ was an amazing melting pot of adventurers, spies, triads, opium smugglers, merchants, con-men, communists, criminals, fascists, Japanese miltarists, gamblers and refugees. With such a witches cauldron of deceit and double-dealing, happiness and despair, wealth and poverty, it soon became obvious that only a crime novel, with its strong moral compass, could explore the depths of the abyss that was Shanghai.

The two main characters, Detective Inspector Danilov and Detective Sergeant Strachan, are both outsiders, in a society full of outsiders. They are employed by the Shanghai Municipal Police but distanced and separate from the rest of their colleagues, and from the society of the time. Mavericks are always so much more interesting to read about and to write. The choice of Danilov as the lead in the books actually came from a line in a policeman’s memoir of the time. He mentioned that when they had a problem, both the French and Shanghai police turned to White Russian members of their forces to solve it for them.

So far, four books in the series have been published. The latest The Killing Time is set in Shanghai 1932, in the days before the Japanese invaded the city for the first time. It’s apart of the series but can be read as a standalone novel.

MJL
M J Lee
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***Don’t miss the other blogger on the blog blitz***
The Killing Time Blog Blitz

Anne Bonny mini #BookReview The Deserter’s Daughter by @SusannaBavin #NewRelease #Historical #Saga #ww1 @AllisonandBusby Can she escape the burden of her past?

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The Deserter’s Daughter by Susanna Bevin
Review copy
Synopsis:

1920, Chorlton, Manchester. As her wedding day draws near, Carrie Jenkins is trying on her dress and eagerly anticipating becoming Mrs Billy Shipton. But all too soon she is reeling from the news that her beloved father was shot for desertion during the Great War. When Carrie is jilted and the close-knit community turns its back on her as well as her mother and her half-sister, Evadne, the plans Carrie nurtured are in disarray.

Desperate to overcome private shock and public humiliation, and with her mother also gravely ill, Carrie accepts the unsettling advances of well-to-do furniture dealer Ralph Armstrong. Through Ralph, Evadne meets the aristocratic Alex Larter, who seems to be the answer to her matrimonial ambitions as well. But both sisters put their faith in men who are not to be trusted, and they will face danger and heartache before they can find the happiness they deserve.

My Mini Review:

The novel is set in 1920 Manchester, with our protagonist Carrie Jenkins a soon-to-be bride. She lives with her jealous sister Evadne and grieving mother. In the opening scenes Father Kelly; the local Catholic priest visits and reveals a devastating secret to the girls. One that will leave them in a cloud of shame.

‘You defied God himself rather than face the shame of your husband being shot at dawn for desertion’ – Father Kelly

The mother’s long-held secret is then exposed to not only her daughters but the entire local community. Their father was court marshalled and executed on the battlefields of ww1.

Carrie thinks that she may find some solace in the arms of her love Billy Shipton. But Ma Shipton, upon hearing the shocking news soon puts an end to any planning nuptials. The Shipton’s don’t wish to be associated with the scandal of marrying into the family of a deserter. Carrie is now alone more than ever, and she harbours a secret of her own.

The women are tested beyond belief, when they lose their employment. They are ostracised from their community, a community that longs to see them in ruin.

In the background there is a spin-off theme of the doctors working to understand ‘mind-horror’. I felt this was a fascinating thread as we still know so little about PTSD and battle fatigue.

This novel has much more of a historical fiction feel to it than a saga. It lacks the warmth of the characters in a saga novel and the local northern dialect. But with that being said, the family is one in turmoil.

A personal story of a ww1 deserter and the family he left behind. 4*

SB
Susanne Bavin
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Anne Bonny #BlogTour Q&A with @anne_obrien #Author of, Queen Of The North #HistoricalFiction #Medieval England 1399 @HQstories #AuthorTalks ‘This is one woman’s quest to turn history on its head’

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Queen Of The North by Anne O’Brien
Review to follow
Synopsis:

To those around her she was a loyal subject.

In her heart she was a traitor.

1399: England’s crown is under threat. King Richard II holds onto his power by an ever-weakening thread, with exiled Henry of Lancaster back to reclaim his place on the throne.

For Elizabeth Mortimer, there is only one rightful King – her eight-year-old nephew, Edmund. Only he can guarantee her fortunes, and protect her family’s rule over the precious Northern lands bordering Scotland.

But many, including Elizabeth’s husband, do not want another child-King. Elizabeth must hide her true ambitions in Court, and go against her husband’s wishes to help build a rebel army.

To question her loyalty to the King places Elizabeth in the shadow of the axe.
To concede would curdle her Plantagenet blood.

This is one woman’s quest to turn history on its head.

#BlogTour Q&A:

Q) For the readers, can you talk us through your background and the synopsis of your new novel? Biography

A) Although I now live in the Welsh Marches, in Herefordshire, I am a Yorkshire girl by birth in West Yorkshire. After gaining a BA Honours degree in History at Manchester University and a Master’s in Education at Hull, I lived in East Yorkshire for many years where I taught history. Writing was not something I ever thought of doing.
That was in a past life.
Moving to Herefordshire, I gave up teaching and began writing historical novels. It has brought me much enjoyment and a new career. Now I live with my husband in an eighteenth-century timber-framed cottage with a large garden, where I write about the forgotten women of medieval history. It is a marvellous area for giving me inspiration, full of castles and churches and battlefields.

Q) Can you talk us through the journey from idea to writing to publication?

A) – Firstly I have to select a medieval woman as the central character. She must be well connected and involved in the politics of the day. There must be an element of notoriety, scandal, or interest about her life to make her a worthwhile candidate to tell the story.
– A timeline is essential to put the woman and her family into historical perspective with other characters and historical events.
– After many weeks of historical research to put all the relevant facts into place, I start writing. Accuracy is essential.
– A year later, after four separate drafts, additions of events and characters who often take me by surprise, much editing and reviewing and it is complete to be sent off to my agent and my editor
– With my editor’s keen eye, there follows some polishing, usually with regard to length. I tend to write too much.
– And hopefully, sixteen months after I began, the novel is finished.
It is not always as seamless as this of course. Real life tends to break in to my writing schedule with such mundane occupations as dusting and shopping and cooking a meal or two, but I try to write something every morning. It also takes perseverance, patience, and compassion with my characters and what they wish to say. All of it though is highly enjoyable.

Q) What are your favourite authors and recommended reads?

A) If I wish to read historical fiction, it has to be Dorothy Dunnett’s Lymond Chronicles, six novels that carry her hero through sixteenth century France, Scotland with visits to Russia and the Levant, all magnificently constructed to combine fact and fiction.
If I feel a need for some atmospheric crime, then what better than Anne Cleves’ Shetland series, now a superb TV adaptation in the bleak but beautiful islands off northern Scotland.
An excellent blend of folklore, myth, crime, and rural creepiness makes compulsive reading with the novels of Phil Rickman’s series with Merrily Watkins the priest in the depths of Hereford, starting with Wine of Angels.
If I want a novel of family or the relationships and interaction between people, then there can be no better than Anne Tyler. I first discovered her years ago with Breathing Lessons, and continue to read her novels.

Q) What were your childhood/teenage favourite reads?

A) They tended to be historical. My interests have not changed.
A loved the novels of Mary Renault, particularly those which brought the Greek myths to life. I think the first I read were The King Must Die and Bull from the Sea. The novels of Alexander the Great also make great reading in my teenage years, starting with Fire From Heaven. I have re-read them more recently and find they have stood the test of time.
The Passionate Brood was the first historical novel by Margaret Campbell Barnes that I recall reading. It tells the tale of the children of King Henry II and Robin Hood. It showed me what could be done with history to make it a page turning experience for the reader.
Mary Stewart’s novels of King Arthur and Merlin, beginning with The Crystal Cave , captivated me, and still do. I still have a soft spot for King Arthur novels.

Q) What has been your favourite moment of being a published author?

A) It has to be, every time, holding the completed novel in my hands. All is done and it can no longer be changed and edited. It is complete in its cover. It is proof that I have produced something tangible over the past year that has come together in readable form. It is proof that not only have I enjoyed writing it, but my editor and my agent have also enjoyed reading it. It is also a time of some trepidation of course. Now the novel is out of my hands and available to the vast the reading public. I always hope that they enjoy it too.

Q) Who has been your source of support/encouragement, throughout the writing process?

A) For me writing is a very private matter. No one reads my novel, not even sections of it, until it is finished when it is sent off to my agent and editor. Even so the support of those around me is invaluable. My husband who I often dragged into my discussions of historical motivation and logic. His interest in 19th Century history but he is fast becoming well educated in the politics of medieval England. My agent who I know will give me all her support if I get into difficulties or simply need some encouragement. My editor who has the final sweeping view of the novel and gives me advice. I trust her expertise implicitly.
I am blessed to have such support in what can be a very lonely world between me, my PC, and people who have been dead for at least six hundred years.

AOB
Anne O’Brien
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***Don’t miss the other bloggers on the blog tour***
QueenNorth_BlogTour[2]
***Review to follow soon***