#Blogtour By Her Own Design by Piper Huguley

It’s an absolute pleasure to take part in the BlogTour By Her Own Design: A Novel of Ann Lowe, Fashion Designer to the Social Register written by Piper Huguley. I loved this book!

About the Author

Piper Huguley is the author of the Home to Milford College and the Migrations of the Heart series. She is a multiple-time Golden Heart finalist. Piper blogs about the history behind her novels on her website. She lives in Atlanta, Georgia, with her husband and son. Follow @piperhuguley on Twitter, Visit piperhuguley.com

About the book

The incredible untold story of how Ann Lowe, a Black woman and granddaughter of slaves, rose above personal struggles and racial prejudice to design and create one of America’s most famous wedding dresses of all time for Jackie Kennedy.

1953, New York City – Less than a week before the society wedding of the year where Jacqueline Bouvier will marry John F. Kennedy, a pipe bursts at Ann Lowe’s dress shop and ruins eleven dresses, including the expensive wedding dress, a dress that will be judged by thousands. A Black designer who has fought every step of the way, Ann knows this is only one struggle after a lifetime of them. She and her seamstresses will find the way to re-create the dresses. It may take all day and all night for the next week to accomplish the task, but they will do it.

1918, Tampa – Raised in Jim Crow Alabama, Ann learned the art of sewing from her mother and her grandmother, a former slave, who are the most talented seamstresses in the state. After Ann elopes at twelve with an older man who soon proves himself to be an abusive alcoholic, her dreams of becoming a celebrated designer seem to be put on hold. But then a wealthy Tampa socialite sees Ann’s talent and offers her an amazing opportunity—the chance to sew and design clothing for Florida’s society elite. Taking her young son in the middle of the night, Ann escapes her husband and embarks on the adventure of a lifetime.

Based on the true story of one of the most famous designers of the twenties through the sixties who has since been unjustly forgotten, By Her Own Design is an unforgettable novel of determination despite countless obstacles and a triumph celebrated by the world.

Review

Although the story of Ann begins at the end of her life, it perhaps does her more justice, because the battles she fought and the hills she had to climb to achieve her dreams and goals – the reader thinks they know how her journey will progress or at least they think they do. 

The reality of course is that the hardships endured, the racism faced, and the courageous and dangerous decisions made, are the norm for her because she is a black woman. The white privilege she is surrounded by is a pill to be taken daily with a portion of steadily controlled seething anger. And yet at the core is the child, the girl who is plucked from innocence and thrust into the stark reality of womanhood. The girl, who learns to covet and embrace the bonds of sisterhood, maternal strength and the protection of those who endured and survived the same before her.

This is the story of an artist, a woman with an incredible talent for design and fashion, who wrote history and yet has been forgotten by those who wrote it.

I absolutely loved this book and I really hope someone makes a screen version of it – Oscar material right here. The author has fixed an injustice by bringing the important story of Ann to the forefront of our minds, and in doing so ensures that she receives her rightful place in the history of design and fashion. Kudos to the author for the storytelling, the excellent writing and for sharing this story with us all.

It is a travesty that the voices, the achievements, designs, inventions, and their pivotal input and influence on our developments and history in general, of women – especially women who belong to marginalised and oppressed groups – have been erased from historical narratives. Whitewashed from history. This is a perfect example of every detail being known to the world, except the part where a black woman designed the wedding dress of one of the most well-known historical figures of the 20th century, and yet somehow it has become the one detail that is never mentioned. I highly recommend this book – it’s an excellent read.

Buy By Her Own Design at Amazon Uk or go to Goodreads for any other retailer. Publisher : William Morrow PB, pub date 21 July 2022. Buy at Amazon com.

#Review Operation Moonlight by Louise Morrish

 A great story based on real events during WW2 – Operation Moonlight by Louise Morrish. ‘Wartime France. A newly trained agent. A deadly mission.’

About the Author

Louise Morrish is a Librarian whose debut novel won the 2019 Penguin Random House First Novel Competition – chosen from over 4000 entries – in partnership with the Daily Mail. She finds inspiration for her stories in the real-life adventures of women in the past, whom history has forgotten. She lives in Hampshire with her family. Follow @LouiseMorrish1 on Twitter, Find out more about Louise at linktr.ee/louisemorrish

About the book

1944: newly recruited SOE agent Elisabeth Shepherd is faced with an impossible mission: to parachute behind enemy lines into Nazi-occupied France and monitor the new long-range missiles the Germans are working on. Her only advice? Trust absolutely no one. With danger lurking at every turn, one wrong move for Elisabeth could spell instant death.

2018: Betty is about to celebrate her 100th birthday. With her carer Tali at her side, she receives an invite from the Century Society to reminisce on the past.

Remembering a life shrouded in secrecy and danger, Betty remains tight-lipped. But when Tali finds a box filled with maps, letters and a gun hidden in Betty’s cellar, it becomes clear that Betty’s secrets are about to be uncovered . . .

Nostalgic, heart-pumping and truly page-turning, Operation Moonlight is both a gripping read and a novel that makes you think about a generation of women and men who truly knew what it meant to survive.

The inspiration for Operation Moonlight – The real-life SOE heroines of WW2

The Special Operations Executive (SOE) was a clandestine government organisation, authorized by Winston Churchill in 1940 to ‘set Europe ablaze’, which recruited and trained over 400 secret agents, 39 of them women. Only a handful of these female secret agents have been remembered for their brave achievements.

In 1942, in an unprecedented move, women were recruited into the organisation. The decision shocked and angered some people, not least because if women were given the right to bear arms they would no longer be protected by the Geneva Convention. This meant that if they were caught by the enemy, they could not expect to be treated as prisoners of war.

Nevertheless, 39 French speaking women, some of them wives and mothers, their ages ranging from 19 to 51, from a variety of backgrounds, were recruited. Once recruited, the women embarked on a 4-stage course, training alongside their male counterparts.

If the agents passed the stringent criteria, they were then sent to paramilitary training in Arisaig, Scotland. Here, they learned to survive in the beautiful, yet wild and unforgiving Scottish landscape. On the remote beaches and secluded moors, they were taught the rudiments of demolition and sabotage.

The second stage of the agents’ course was parachute training, which took place at Ringway Aerodrome in Manchester. Up until now, the women had endured everything the male agents experienced. But when it came to jumping from a plane, the women were only expected to make three practise jumps, their fourth being into France. The men, however, performed an additional night jump, and thus were awarded their ‘wings’.

The final stage of training was known as Finishing School, and took place at various Stately Homes such as Beaulieu in Hampshire. Here, the agents honed their skills in espionage, and undertook pseudo-schemes, evading capture by the Southampton police force, in readiness for their real missions in France.

Of the 39 women who risked their lives as agents, 12 were executed following their capture by the Germans, while one died of meningitis during her mission. The remainder survived the war.

Writing Operation Moonlight, Louise Morrish took inspiration from all the female agents of the SOE, but three women – in addition to Louise’s grandmother Betty – in particular: Noor Inayat Khan, Violette Szabo, and Odette Sansom Hallowes, whom Morrish researched in detail at The National Archives, at Kew.

Review

This is a dual timeline read – the reader is taken back and forth from 2018 and to the 1940s, as the secrets of an old lady who is about to celebrate a milestone birthday start to emerge. Betty still finds it hard to change old habits, which is to let sleeping dogs lie because you’ve been taught to never say a word, ergo periods of her life have been hidden from everyone around her. It also means there has never been any recognition for the her bravery.

You already low-key know you’re going to enjoy a book when you start casting the characters for the screen version shortly after starting the book. It has the emotional bonding of Home Fire with Bletchley House suspense, and I would very much like to throw in a pop culture reference  – it absolutely gave me Fall From Grace vibes.

It’s both tragically sad and disappointing that although we remember the casualties of war every year, we seem to forget the service and sacrifice of the living, during the same periods of time in history. It’s a strange phenomenon that those who returned were revered less than those who didn’t, to live forever in the shadow of those who gave the ultimate sacrifice, and yet is or was theirs not equally as great.

It’s a riveting historical fiction read, which is even more fascinating given the true events it is based on, and the author absolutely does her personal connection to the story justice. These women were incredibly brave, especially considering the lack of support they knew to expect if they were caught. It’s an incredible part of history that has taken a secondary place in comparison to the actions and deaths of others.

Buy Operation Moonlight at Amazon Uk or go to Goodreads for any other retailer. Publisher ‏: ‎Century, pub date 21 July 2022. Buy at Amazon comBuy via Penguin Uk.

#BlogTour Burning Secret by R.J. Lloyd

It’s my turn on the Blogtour Burning Secret by R.J. Lloyd – ‘An ancestor found, a name change, criminal activity and more in Harry Mason’s great great grandson’s fictionalised retelling of his life.’

About the Author

Tracing your ancestors has never been more popular, but what if your ancestor was far more intriguing than you ever thought? 

In R J Lloyd’s fictionalised reconstruction of his lost ancestor, Burning Secret, he explores the rich past of his great great grandfather and what might have been. Follow @rjlwriteruk on Twitter

About the book

As in life, the book begins in 1844, when Enoch Price was born into poverty. An ambitious youth, he becomes a bare-knuckle fighter in London’s underworld. In debt to a violent and unscrupulous moneylender and facing ruin and imprisonment, he escapes to Jacksonville, Florida, abandoning his wife and three young daughters, a decision that will haunt him for the rest of his life. By the time he arrives in Florida, Enoch Price has become Harry Mason.

Through a series of thrilling and risky escapades, he plays an important role in the development and history of Jacksonville, building an extraordinary new life of political and financial notoriety, shooting a rival, and concealment of a murder. Despite imploring his wife to join him, she declines, exhausted by his lies. 

Tormented by loneliness and guilt, Harry seeks solace through a bigamous marriage, leading him into a web of deceit as he tries to conceal his true identity. Meanwhile, lauded and enjoying popular success, Harry is elected in 1903 to the Florida State House of Representatives with the prospect of becoming State Governor. He advances his business interests through a series of corrupt practices, becoming a wealthy and  successful politician. 

However, success brings neither happiness nor contentment, and, seeking redemption, Harry plans to return home – but life is never that simple as the First World War breaks out, the Spanish flu takes its toll, and the American government introduces prohibition. Will there be a good end for Harry, or will his secrets prove to be the death of him?

Review

Enoch is hanging on to life outside of prison by the skin of his teeth – it’s only a question of time until his troubles catch up with him. He has a wife and three daughters to think of, and he decides to go on the run. With a purpose, with the promise of new beginnings for all of them.

Except it doesn’t work out that way, well for him it does, as he reinvents himself and makes his mark on and in a new country, whilst always thinking about his loved ones. His wife no longer trusts him, and in the end Enoch, now Harry, leaves all aspects of the old life in the past and turns to pastures greener.

In the afterword, there is a lot of information about familial connections and their fate, historical and relevant figures to the story. What I would like to know was just how much of the story is based on fact or fiction. Given the extra information I would say the author has merely filled in the blanks and created likely scenarios, regardless of whether they are often seen from a more positive and/or negative perspective given the the main character is family, and there is no way to reproduce how the first family and wife really felt about the way he abandoned them. 

If he was truly tormented then surely he would have done something about it, but then the house of cards would have collapsed, right? It’s easier to imagine that life goes on, regardless of his presence, but the real question is whether his presence and/or the status he acquired would have made a difference to their lives. The reality of a woman and three small children being left behind in those circumstances – it would have been tough.

It’s a fascinating story that can be interpreted in different ways. You can see the deception and the fact this man led a lifetime of lies or see the man who navigated another path for himself, and made a more positive impact in the second part of his story. Either way it is one heck of a story, and life.

Buy Burning Secret at Amazon Uk or go to Goodreads for any other retailer. Publisher: Matador, pub date 28 June 2022 | ISBN: 9781803131498 | Price: £10.99. Buy at Amazon comBuy via Troubador – Matador.

#BlogTour Outcast by Claire Voet

 It’s my turn on the BlogTour Outcast by Claire Voet.

About the Author

Claire Voet is an English author, born in Gosport across the shores of Portsmouth Harbour. Claire started writing in 2010 and has since then written a number of books to include The Ghost of Bluebell Cottage, The Other Daddy A World Away, Captain Hawkes, short story A Helping Hand, Echoes In The Mist and the Outcast series.

Claire demonstrates her love for history and also the supernatural in many of her spellbinding stories. As a commercial participator for the BBC Children in Need Appeal, Claire donates money from her book sales once a year. Visit clairevoet.com

About the book

In 1945 Molly Hazleton is heart broken when her fiancé doesn’t return from the war after being reported “missing in action.” So when Aunt Daphne comes to visit with news of having bought a 17th century manor house at auction in Scotland, Molly welcomes the opportunity to start afresh and help her aunt turn Aberdoch Manor into a hotel.

With a strange sense of déjà vu, Molly struggles to understand her connection with the property having never stepped foot inside of it or even Scotland for that matter. Ross McDaniel, the newly appointed gardener, knows more than he is letting on. And when he shows Molly an ancient yew tree named by the locals as the Ghost Tree, after touching it, Molly discovers a remarkable ability to vividly see and experience her own past life – a life of extreme danger and hardship on the road with the Jacobite in 1745, hunted by the Red Coats for crimes she hasn’t committed. She is also in love with a brave, Scot warrior, leader of the McDaniel clan who soon becomes her husband.

Stirring up forgotten memories and an uncontrollable yearning to be back with those she once loved, Molly is hopelessly torn between very different worlds, two hundred years apart! 

Review

The story begins in the past with a brief encounter and a connection created through common ground and self-preservation. It continues in the middle of the 20th century, as the Second World War comes to end. Families and loved ones, are simultaneously relieved and stricken with grief.

Molly is still reeling from her own personal loss, which is probably why she doesn’t think twice at leaving her family and life behind, and hitting the restart button. Moving to a manor house in Scotland sounds like an amazing adventure that will hopefully keep her mind off her grief. Little does she know that both the present and the past are waiting for her.

This is a dual timeline story, historical fiction with a wee bit of romance. At the core of it though, is essence of understanding when one door closes another one will appear and open eventually. This is not only the case when it comes to most things in life, but most certainly also when the door represents relationships and love. 

The ending is a bit of a cliffhanger, the road taken isn’t as clear-cut anymore. I guess the next book is a must read then.

Buy Outcast at Amazon Uk or go to Goodreads for any other retailer. Publisher ‏: ‎Blossom Spring Publishing pub date 26 May 2022. Buy at Amazon com.

#Blogtour The Silk Pavilion by Sarah Walton

 It’s a pleasure to take part in the BlogTour The Silk Pavilion by Sarah Walton.

About the Author

The pandemic has restricted Sarah Walton to the Sussex Downs of late, but she is restless for encounters around the world. A digital pioneer in California n the.com era, she remains a leading figure  in digital innovation and corporate storytelling. She has a PhD in Creative Writing and lectures on Hull University’s Online MA Creative Writing. 

Sarah also teaches her Soul Writing method, that combines meditation, free-writing and creative writing skills. This bis her third novel. Follow @sarahwalton on Twitter, Visit drsarahwalton.com

About the book

Lucy is on assignment. A wild, reclusive writer awaits her. She wants his life story. He wants her everything. A whirlwind romance takes them to the highs and lows of Deià. But beneath them lie the bodies of a generation and as Lucy unearths the darkness, her own skeletons begin to rattle the closet.

A brilliant, steamy, summer read – on the Mallorcan coast, a young woman uncovers the history of a nation, of a rogue Spanish writer, and of herself.

Review

There is a huge contradiction between the emotional reaction and physical ones – the latter being lived out and the first narrated as an inner dialogue between the reader and the character. It has psychological connotations, almost as if the conscious and unconscious (subconscious) have their own stage appearances in the story. One after the other, trying to deliver their truth or what they assume to be their truth.

The gut reaction of repulsion (inner dialogue) and the physical desire, which then leads to sexual acts, even when the feeling of being repulsed by Miguel is almost overpowering. From the first page there are parallel paths of red flag gut instincts and self-warnings, and the romanticised drive that fuels the physical interactions.

Running alongside this path of self-flagellation in the form of degradation, risky choices and complete submission to familiar abusive traits, are historical issues in Lucy’s past. Then to top it off a complex layer of the history of Franco’s Spain, and the waves of pain and destruction it left in its wake.

It’s a complex, and yet eerily engaging piece of literature. The author has an interesting way of creating a visceral bond between reader and story, and yet the reactions are often filled with the same kind of revulsion the main character experiences. The result is the kind of pull and hook that just doesn’t let you go.

Buy The Silk Pavilion at Amazon Uk or go to Goodreads for any other retailer. Publisher ‏: ‎Barbican Press pub date 9 Jun. 2022. Buy at Amazon comBuy at the Barbican Press.

#BlogTour The White Girl by Tony Birch

It’s a pleasure to take part in the BlogTour The White Girl by Tony Birch. It’s an excellent read. I highly recommend it.

About the Author

Tony Birch is the author of three novels: the bestselling The White Girl, winner of the 2020 NSW Premier’s Award for Indigenous Writing, and shortlisted for the 2020 Miles Franklin literary prize; Ghost River, winner of the 2016 Victorian Premier’s Literary Award for Indigenous Writing; and Blood, which was shortlisted for the Miles Franklin Award in 2012. 

He is also the author of Shadowboxing and four short story collections, Dark As Last Night, Father’s Day, The Promise and Common People; and the poetry collections, Broken Teeth and Whisper Songs. In 2017 he was awarded the Patrick White Literary Award for his contribution to Australian literature. Tony Birch is also an activist, historian and essayist. His website is: tony-birch.com

About the book

“A profound allegory of good and evil, and a deep exploration of human interaction, black and white, alternately beautiful and tender, cruel and unsettling.”—Guardian

Australia’s leading indigenous storyteller makes his American debut with this immersive and deeply resonant novel, set in the 1960s, that explores the lengths we’ll go to save the people we love—an unforgettable story of one native Australian family and the racist government that threatens to separate them.

Odette Brown has lived her entire life on the fringes of Deane, a small Australian country town. Dark secrets simmer beneath the surface of Deane—secrets that could explain why Odette’s daughter, Lila, left her one-year-old daughter, Sissy, and never came back, or why Sissy has white skin when her family is Aboriginal.

For thirteen years, Odette has quietly raised her granddaughter without drawing notice from welfare authorities who remove fair-skinned Aboriginal children from their families. But the arrival of a new policeman with cruel eyes and a rigid by-the-book attitude throws the Brown women’s lives off-kilter. It will take all of Odette’s courage and cunning to save Sissy from the authorities, and maybe even lead her to find her daughter.

Bolstered by love, smarts, and the strength of their ancestors, Odette and Sissy are an indomitable force, handling threats to their family and their own identities with grace and ingenuity, while never losing hope for themselves and their future.

In The White Girl, Miles Franklin Award-nominated author Tony Birch illuminates Australia’s devastating post-colonial past—notably the government’s racist policy of separating Indigenous children from their families, known today as the Stolen Generations—and introduces a tight-knit group of charming, inspiring characters who remind us of our shared humanity, and that kindness, hope, and love have no limits.

Review

I’m not sure about other readers, but when I read a book about minorities, the indigenous of any country, the oppressed or the vulnerable – just as an example, I often presume the events are historical. When I say historical I mean over a century or more, and I am often dismayed by the reality of the actual truth. That for the majority we are talking recent events, in modern times when the world should have been condemning such oppression and atrocities.

Odette is a fictional example perhaps, but I think probably a softer version of the awful truth of the way the colonisers have treated the indigenous people of Australia. This story takes place in the 1960s – a long time after the first early colonial period of certain parts of Australia. In a Podunk rural town where white and indigenous are still segregated. The indigenous people live outside in a specified area and are only allowed into the white town on a specific day and for a short period of time. 

Odette takes care of her young granddaughter, who has now reached an age where her presence has become of interest to both the authorities, and she is also vulnerable to the predators who perceive indigenous women especially, as of no worth or chattel of the white man.

The young girl is fair-skinned, and the authorities feel it is their duty to remove those children – white passing – in order to place them in an environment conducive to a less native and savage environment. To save their souls. Odette starts to realise that the danger her family has always faced is starting to wander in the path of her granddaughter. 

This book should be on more prize lists –  I am surprised it isn’t and that it hasn’t had more traction this side of the pond. It is an incredible piece of work, which is only more admirable when you consider the subtlety of the approach to the sensitive topics in this story. The atmosphere is a stark reminder of reality, and indeed the reader almost walks alongside Odette, that’s how vivid a picture the author presents.

The displacement, essentially kidnap, of whole generations of indigenous of children has burdened further generations with generational trauma. Children who survived the system and never saw their families again, parents who never got over having their children stolen. At this point it is important to note that just recently the reality of what really happened to the majority of these children is being unearthed. The mass graves, the unmarked graves of so many abused and neglected indigenous children. It’s more than a tragedy, it’s a disgrace – absolutely unforgivable.

I wouldn’t hesitate to read or recommend this author after reading this. As I was reading I was envisaging the screen version of this – I would love to see Deborah Mailman make Odette come to life. Either way this story needs more circulation, so more people can read it. It’s poignant, it is a story that grabs you tightly as it tears you into the murky depths of colonial guilt and the criminal atrocities committed under the auspice of malevolent colonialism and white supremacy. And I might add – the author only skims the surface of the aforementioned.

Buy The White Girl at Amazon Uk or go to Goodreads for any other retailer. Publisher ‏: ‎HarperVia pub date 28 April 2022). Buy at Amazon comAt Harper Collins.

#BlogTour The Hidden Child by Louise Fein

It’s a pleasure to take part in the BlogTour The Hidden Child by Louise Fein. Today you’re in for a treat, a small extract of this powerful story – The Hidden Child.

About the Author

Louise Fein holds an MA in Creative Writing from St Mary’s University. Her debut novel, People Like Us (entitled Daughter of the Reich in the USA/Canada, has been published in thirteen territories, was shortlisted for the RSL Christopher Bland Prize 2021 and the RNA Goldsboro Books Historical Romantic Novel Award 2021. Her books are predominantly set during the twentieth century and all of her books seek to explore issues that continue to be of relevance today. Follow @FeinLouise on Twitter

About the book

From the outside, Eleanor and Edward Hamilton have the perfect life, but they’re harbouring a secret that threatens to fracture their entire world.

London, 1929. – Eleanor Hamilton is a dutiful mother, a caring sister and an adoring wife to a celebrated war hero. Her husband, Edward, is a pioneer in the eugenics movement. The Hamiltons are on the social rise, and it looks as though their future is bright.

When Mabel, their young daughter, begins to develop debilitating seizures, they have to face an uncomfortable truth: Mabel has epilepsy – one of the ‘undesirable’ conditions that Edward campaigns against.

Forced to hide their daughter away so as to not jeopardise Edward’s life’s work, the couple must confront the truth of their past – and the secrets that have been buried. Will Eleanor and Edward be able to fight for their family? Or will the truth destroy them?

Extract of The Hidden Child

Brook End is a big house, by most people’s reckoning. It’s not a stately home, as such, but a handsome, brick-built, sprawling villa, four storeys high, and a mere twenty years old. A suitable residence for a respected member of the upper-middle classes, with a growing family and an even faster-growing reputation for being the expert in his field of psychology and education. It’s quite the ticket. Modern is far more suitable for a Man of Science. Edward could undoubtedly have picked up a mansion steeped in history, with a large estate, had he been minded so to do. As soon as he and Eleanor had become engaged, he’d searched in earnest for the right country house for his bride-to-be. He had wanted to give her the very best he could afford, especially after all that she had been through, coming as she did from a good, professional family. Her father had been a financier in the City of London and she had grown up with money until the devastating loss of all the male members of her family during the war had sent their fortunes spiralling downwards, forcing her mother and Eleanor herself to seek work. 

Five years ago, there had been a fair few stately homes going on the cheap, but Edward’s private bankers, Coleroy & Mack, had advised him against taking on such a venture, and their financial acumen, their hunch about the British economy and the increasing tax burden wealthy landowners would have to carry, had been proven right. 

With the aristocracy selling up in their droves and investing their money elsewhere, he is happy not to have assumed their hefty tax burden, not to mention the social and economic responsibility they were all busy extricating themselves from. No, Edward congratulates himself for not falling into that trap. He might be considered by some to be nouveau riche or, as Barton Leyton once called him, a wealthy upstart, and stately home or no stately home, the people of polite society would continue to sniff down their haughty noses at him. But, unlike Barton, who moans regularly about the cost of keeping Mayfield Manor from crumbling around him, Brook End requires little maintenance and boasts both modern conveniences and ample space, as well as a beautiful location. Besides, Eleanor, who is of far better breeding stock than Edward, seems perfectly content with the house. At least, she never says she isn’t. 

‘Evening, sir,’ Alice greets him at the front door. 

‘Good evening to you too, Alice,’ he replies, noticing her round and freckled face is flushed with excitement. 

‘Mrs Hamilton collected Miss Carmichael from the station earlier today,’ she gushes. ‘Lovely to have her home, isn’t it? She’s told me all about her tour around Italy. It sounded wonderful. And you must hear her speak French! Like a native, she is.’ 

‘Indeed? And what did she say?’ 

‘Oh, heavens, I’ve no idea. She could have been telling me I’m the queen of England for all I know, but it did sound lovely, like.’ 

Edward smiles indulgently. ‘I see. And where are the ladies now?’ 

‘Changing for dinner, I believe. It’ll be served in fifteen minutes.’ 

‘Excellent. I just have enough time to wash and change myself.’ 

Taking the stairs, he notices how empty the house is without a dog. A house really isn’t a home without a dog in it. It’s been over a month since Patch died. He must look into replacing him. 

‘My darling!’ And there she is, standing arms outstretched at the top of the stairs. Eleanor. His beautiful wife. 

He bounds up the last two, grabs her and pulls her into an embrace. ‘Oh, how I’ve missed you!’ he says, breathing in her lily-of-the-valley scent. He picks her up and swings her around, making her shriek and giggle. 

‘Edward!’ she cries. ‘Put me down!’

‘Never!’

‘Urgh, it’s making me dizzy! Someone will see!’

‘Who cares,’ he laughs, and releases her.

‘Go and wash and change,’ she smiles up at him. ‘You smell of London.’

‘I do? And how does that smell?’

‘Like old boots!’ she laughs. ‘Scrub it off and put on some of that cologne I gave you for your birthday. That will be a great improvement!’ She blows him a kiss and skips downstairs. ‘I must speak to Mrs Bellamy before she ruins the soup!’ 

Review

Edward is a bright star and mover in the popular Eugenics movement, but when his family is confronted with their own less than perfect specimen, ergo child with an impairment. What does that mean for Edward and Eleanor going forward and their standing in society, and more importantly what does it mean for Mabel?

I’d like to say the Hamilton’s are not indicative of beliefs at that time, however eugenics have been a popular pseudo-science for a long time, directly linked to white supremacy, colonialism and the rule of white men. The belief that certain people are superior to others in intellect based on certain genetic characteristics, colour of skin, race.

Also that any condition suggesting a lack of perfection would also be deemed a lack of intelligence, such as epilepsy, special needs, any ‘imperfection’ really. Society and what is perceived as an imperfection is a steadily moving and evolving target. The need to breed perfection also meant trying to ensure faults weren’t passed on, the atrocities of the Nazi Party are a perfect example of the teachings of eugenics. It’s important to note that interestingly enough the term and theory of eugenics evolved from Darwin’s survival of the fittest via his cousin Galton, who felt that society should be encourage to breed like with like to ensure the purity and strength of species.

Fein always likes to throw a moral conundrum into the mix. Riveting historical fiction with fascinating characters, but the maelstrom at the core of the story is always a question of conscience, of right and wrong, which is often directly linked to certain periods in time. For instance are decisions made during wartime, or certain eras, ones you wouldn’t have made under other circumstances? 

In this book the topic of eugenics, which is at the centre of the oppression of minorities and has been for centuries is brought down to the core. It becomes a personal question of ideology and when family defies the so-called logic of that ideology – then what?

What if your family or a family member, in this case a child is considered exactly what you are advocating against. Do you fold to society or do you do what is humane and correct for your child?

This is what I really enjoy about this author, I always come away from her books with questions and have great conversations with fellow readers about said moral conundrums. That in itself, and the fact I could write about this story for yonks, is indicative of a fantastic storyteller, and also one that feels it’s important to leave a footprint where they have written and engaged.

Buy The Hidden Child at Amazon Uk or go to Goodreads for any other retailer. Buy at Amazon comBuy at Head of Zeus.

#Blogtour The Attic Child by Lola Jaye

It is absolutely a pleasure to take part in the Blogtour The Attic Child by Lola Jaye. It’s a fantastic read.

About the Author

Lola Jaye is an author and registered psychotherapist. She was born and raised in London and has lived in Nigeria and the United States. She has a degree in Psychology and a Masters in Psychotherapy and Counselling. She has contributed to the sequel to the bestseller Lean In, penned by Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg, and has also written for the Huffington Post, CNN, Essence, HuffPost and the BBC.

She is a member of the Black Writers’ Guild and the author of five previous novels. The Attic Child is her first epic historical novel. Follow @LolaJaye on Twitter

About the book

Two children separated by almost a century, bound by a secret…

1907: Twelve-year-old Celestine spends most of his time locked in an attic room of a large house by the sea. Taken from his homeland and treated as an unpaid servant, he dreams of his family in Africa even if, as the years pass, he struggles to remember his mother’s face, and sometimes his real name. 

Almost a century later, Lowra, a young orphan girl born into wealth and privilege, will find herself banished to the same attic. Lying under the floorboards of the room is an old porcelain doll, an unusual beaded claw necklace and, most curiously, a sentence etched on the wall behind an old cupboard, written in an unidentifiable language. Artefacts that will offer her a strange kind of comfort, and lead her to believe that she was not the first child to be imprisoned there . . . 

Review

I’m not sure there is any right way to review this in regards to the white privilege I acknowledge and access, and the frame of reference through which I experienced this read. White guilt is unwanted and white saviourism is a concept created only to sooth the conscience of deep seated roots of colonialism, and the waves of destruction it has caused.

I found the story of Dikembe incredibly sad, and the actions of the man who bought him as a show pony exemplar, are just despicable. It’s hard to fathom how people could disassociate themselves with the concept of humanity in other races, believing themselves superior and virtuous, whilst treating others like commodities. 

Equally I was moved by Lowra’s story, but on a different level. The voice of neglect and abuse is one to be heard and remembered. The connection between the two characters is a shared experience of being invisible, forgotten and never good enough. It’s that bond and force of nature, the strength of endurance, that creates a strong legacy from the past, present and into the future.

This is definitely going on my best reads of the year list. I loved it. I can’t wait to read more by Jaye – what an incredible writer. The way history, white privilege and colonialism is woven silently into the plot. There is no placard with a silent scream of anger, disappointment, sorrow or pain. There is only fact, fate, truth and acknowledgement of guilt. 

This is only one voice of many silent ones, faction and hard reality melded with a creative flair to create this compelling story of displacement, abuse, racism and identity. An excellent read.

Buy The Attic Child at Amazon Uk or go to Goodreads for any other retailer. Published by Pan MacMillan 28th April 2022 | Hardback – £14.99. Buy at Amazon comBuy at Pan MacMillan.

#BlogTour The Homecoming by Anna Enquist

It’s a pleasure to take part in the BlogTour The Homecoming by Anna Enquist, translated by Eileen Stevens.

About the Author

Anna Enquist studied piano at the academy of music in The Hague and psychology at Leiden University. She is the author of the novels The Masterpiece; The Secret, winner of the 1997 Dutch Book of the Year awarded by the public; The Ice Carriers; Counterpoint; Quartet; and the international bestseller The Homecoming, which received the Prix du Livre Corderie Royale-Hermione for its French translation. 

Anna is also the author of A Leap, a collection of dramatic monologues, as well as numerous poetry collections, including Soldiers’ Songs, for which she was awarded the C. Buddingh’ Prize; A New Goodbye; and Hunting Scenes, winner of the Lucy B. and C.W. van der Hoogt Prize.

About the Translator – Eileen Stevens

Eileen Stevens earned her MA in linguistics with a specialization in translation from the University of Amsterdam. Her many Dutch-to-English translation credits include Connie Palmen’s Your Story, My Story; Karin Schacknat’s In and Out of Fashion; Vera Mertens’s The Concentration Camp; and Ineke van Doorn’s Singing from the Inside Out. She has also translated numerous essays on classical music and the arts. A New Jersey native, Eileen spent twenty-five years working as a professional violinist in a Dutch orchestra and has lived in Amsterdam since 1990.

About the book

After twelve years of marriage to English explorer James Cook, Elizabeth has yet to spend an entire year with her husband. In their house by the Thames, she moves to the rhythms of her life as a society wife, but there is so much more to her than meets the eye. She has the strength to manage the house and garden, raise their children, and face unbearable sorrow alone.

As she prepares for another homecoming, Elizabeth looks forward to James’s triumphant return and the work she will undertake reading and editing his voluminous journals. But will the private life she’s been leading in his absence distract her from her role in aid of her husband’s grand ambitions? Can James find the compassion to support her as their family faces unimaginable loss, or must she endure life alone as he sails off toward another adventure?

An intimate and sharply observed novel, The Homecoming is as revelatory as James Cook’s exploration of distant frontiers and as richly rewarding as Elizabeth’s love for her family. With courage and strength, through recollection and imagination, author Anna Enquist brilliantly narrates Elizabeth’s compelling record of her life, painting a psychological portrait of an independent woman ahead of her time.

Review

It’s always fascinating to read about the women behind important historical figures. The people who remain anonymous, invisible and because of that they disappear into the folds of history books and archives. The importance of their roles is underrated and often never told. Putting that into perspective, who doesn’t know about James Cook, and who in turn knows anything about his wife Elizabeth.

We meet Elizabeth as she is preparing for her husband to return to her once again. Not unlike modern military wives, she is the glue that holds the family and home together, awaiting the man who is little more than a distant love. They have spent little time together for the duration of their marriage – his endeavours, tasks and adventures always come first.

She carries the weight of grief alone, the unusual existence of being the wife of an early version of a celebrity. It’s no wonder that the two of them have little common ground when he finally and reluctantly returns home. The feet they itcheth to be waterborne once more.

The subtle combination of historical fact, imagined dialogue, actual excerpts of letters and journals with a smidgen of faction thrown in to compliment the tale. It’s also a lovely homage to the woman behind the man.

I always appreciate a good translation, which when done well leaves no lasting impression of having been translated, and captures the true essence, the nuances and voice of the author. Kudos to Stevens for that, and to Enquist for the fascinating read.

Buy The Homecoming at Amazon Uk or go to Goodreads for any other retailer. Publisher Amazon Crossing, pub date 1st April 2022 | Paperback: £8.99. Buy at Amazon com.

#BlogTour Sparks Like Stars by Nadia Hashimi

It’s a pleasure to take part in the BlogTour Sparks Like Stars by Nadia Hashimi.

About the Author

Nadia Hashimi was raised in New York and New Jersey. Both her parents were born in Afghanistan and left in the early 1970’s, before the Soviet invasion.  In 2002, Nadia made her forst trip to Afghanistan with her parents. She is a pediatrician, and lives with her family in the Washington, D.C, suburbs. She is the author of three books for adults, as well as the middle grade novels One Half from the East and the Sky at Our Feet. Follow @NadiaHashimi on Twitter, Visit her online at nadiahashimibooks.com

About the book

Kabul, 1978: The daughter of a prominent family, Sitara Zamani lives a privileged life in Afghanistan’s thriving cosmopolitan capital. The 1970s are a time of remarkable promise under the leadership of people like Sardar Daoud, Afghanistan’s progressive president, and Sitara’s beloved father, his right-hand man. But the ten-year-old Sitara’s world is shattered when communists stage a coup, assassinating the president and Sitara’s entire family. Only she survives. 

Smuggled out of the palace by a guard named Shair, Sitara finds her way to the home of a female American diplomat, who adopts her and raises her in America. In her new country, Sitara takes on a new name—Aryana Shepherd—and throws herself into her studies, eventually becoming a renowned surgeon.

New York, 2008: Thirty years after that fatal night in Kabul, Aryana’s world is rocked again when an elderly patient appears in her examination room—a man she never expected to see again. It is Shair, the soldier who saved her, yet may have murdered her entire family. Seeing him awakens Aryana’s fury and desire for answers—and, perhaps, revenge.

Review

Sitara’s world is destroyed when he affluent family falls prey to the political machinations of a brutal and lethal coup. She doesn’t necessarily see her escape and subsequent life as fortunate, as she finds it difficult to put the horrors she experienced to bed. The sounds, images and emotions that have dimmed and become quieter as her drive pushes her to success in her new life, are suddenly awakened when she encounters a pivotal person from her past.

I really enjoyed the read, Hashimi has a knack of fusing fact and fiction, so the reader isn’t quite sure where the two meet or separate. It gives the historical inspiration behind the story more validity and I think it also leaves a bigger imprint because of it. That in itself is quite important with historical fiction, when readers encounter history they perhaps haven’t encountered in their life or educational, cultural background.

In a time and era of such discourse and division, and with many more countries becoming melting pots of diversity, due to immigration, refugees and mass migration – it’s paramount that we all understand the history of those around us. It gives context, especially in regards to culture and indeed often the trauma they have experienced and bring with them.

It’s a fascinating story of betrayal, trauma, pain and also one about closure. About dealing with the past and acknowledging that no action in the present or the future will change the past, which means learning to accept to gain some semblance of peace. I really enjoyed both the story and the writing.

Buy Sparks Like Stars at Amazon Uk or go to Goodreads for any other retailer. Publisher ‏: ‎William Morrow pub date 2 Mar. 2021. Buy at Amazon com.