How To Make a Life

Matriarch Ida Amdur and her daughter Bessie escape from Ukraine to America in
1905, fleeing the persecution of Jews in a pogrom, or massacre, in which five members
of their family were murdered. But fleeing one tragedy doesn’t guarantee an easy life for
them or the generations that follow.


In How to Make a Life by Florence Reiss Kraut, a multi-layered saga of four generations of the Weissman family, we see how the trauma and challenges faced by the family members impact their relationships and future generations. Betrayal, secrets, accidents, illnesses, good luck and bad are woven through the novel. As personal desires come into conflict with family needs, the Weissmans must accept each other’s mistakes and differences or risk cutting ties with the very people who anchor their place in the world.


Anyone who comes from a large, close family will recognize the intricacy of the
connections among these varied and sometimes flawed people. Anyone who is not
from such a family will learn from having entered this world. Readers of Colm Tóibín
and Anne Patchett will devour How to Make a Life and it is a perfect book club pick.

How To Make A Life  is both a moving and memorable book and I’m very grateful to be blogging about it as part of the tour.   It really lets us see these historical events and their repercussions and allows us a real insight into the many thousands of people across the world who lost everything,  fled their homes and went through unimaginable suffering at the hands of the Pogroms and how whole families lives were altered irrevocably as a result.

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This unforgettable and affecting read allows us an unforgettable insight into the lives of this family, particularly Ida and Bessie whilst we see at close hand the devastating impact these events had on their lives. Their flight and its aftermath is brought vividly to life as a story of a people just trying to survive. These women have very different personalities but their experiences bond them together and let us see the impact of tis upheaval on not just their lives but on all four generations of woman that we meet through these pages.

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The characters in this book spring to life from the page and remain in your heart long after you’ve finished–  it’s impossible to close the final page of this book and  not feel a strong connection to these characters as you know that all the time you are reading it that these stories represent the many thousands of women who lived through those times as well as those who didn’t. Even though this book is fictional, it is undoubtedly full of real stories of suffering and human endurance that are still happening in some places across the world.  The power of the narrative with its simple lyrical words to convey such powerful truths is an important part of why this novel has stuck with me and why I really think that you should read it too. The book it reminds me of in terms of my engagement with it is The Kite Runner and just like that book, these characters are very much still alive in my mind and I can’t forget their emotional as well as their literal struggle go forwards and deal with the legacy of their uprooting. Bessie and Abe Weissman’s children struggle with their daughter Ruby’s mental illness, Jenny’s love affair with her brother-in-law, the disappearance of Ruby’s daughter and the accidental deaths of Irene’s husband and granddaughter. This is a story filled with pain but its epic path means that it’s totally unforgettable and you will think of these characters a lot when you are not with the book.

Statue of Liberty, New York

Their new lives in America are far from a land of milk and honey and their struggles continue as they move through the century, through civil rights riots, war protests and the rise of other powers across the globe. This novel is an epic journey and brings you with the characters as they are brought face to face with some of the things that their forefathers fled from, even in the new world. This is an important read and I can’t recommend it highly enough. A powerful insight into identity, suffering and the lengths we will go to to protect the things that are most important to us. This is not an easy read, but it’s a very important one and it’s one that I unreservedly recommend. I am so grateful that I got the chance to read it and have really learned a lot from this family’s stories of hope, pain and ultimately survival. Buy yourself a copy here and discover this epic story for yourself .

Writer On The Shelf

Florence Reiss Kraut is a native New Yorker, raised and educated in New York City.  She holds a BA in English and a master’s in social work.  She worked for thirty years as a clinician, a family therapist, and CEO of a family service agency while writing stories and essays for publication. Then she retired to devote herself to writing and traveling widely. She has published personal essays for the New York Times and her fiction has appeared in journals such as The Evening Street Press, SNReviewThe Westchester Review and others. She lives with her husband in Rye, New York.

Miss Benson’s Beetle Blog Tour

It is 1950. In a devastating moment of clarity, Margery Benson abandons her dead-end job and advertises for an assistant to accompany her on an expedition. She is going to travel to the other side of the world to search for a beetle that may or may not exist. 
Enid Pretty, in her unlikely pink travel suit, is not the companion Margery had in mind. And yet together they will be drawn into an adventure that will exceed every expectation. They will risk everything, break all the rules, and at the top of a red mountain, discover their best selves.

This is a story that is less about what can be found than the belief it might be found; it is an intoxicating adventure story but it is also about what it means to be a woman and a tender exploration of a friendship that defies all boundaries.

Miss Benson's Beetle Cover
Random Things Tours

Am so happy to be on today’s Blog Tour for Miss Benson’s Beetle as it’s one of the most delightful books I’ve ever read, never mind in 2020, but ever. It’s wonderful to be writing about a book that you want everyone reading your review to rush out and buy and it’s so easy to break out the superlatives when talking about a book I’ve enjoyed as much as this one. I love blogging on Random Things Tours due to the diverse and eclectic range of books that I’m introduced to and I was delighted to be invited on this one as I loved Harold Fry so much.

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This gorgeous book cover is wrapped around a warm and uplifting read that will genuinely draw you into its story and make you feel part of Margery and Enid’s world as they join together to embark upon a journey that will entertain, surprise and delight you in equal measure

Margery Benson was a fantastic character that you can totally believe in. When you have a passion like she does, then anything seems possible, it’s an easy sentiment to connect with – I’m sure lots of you will have had that feeling when you wonder what would happen if you really went for it and followed your dreams. Her unlikely partnership with pink and pretty Enid with her unfeasible amount of luggage and plenty of metaphorical baggage to boot, makes for a fantastic reading experience with plenty of ups and downs and altercations along the way. At times you won’t know whether to laugh or cry – but one thing you will definitely do is keep turning those pages!

Helen Simonson, Miss Pettigrew, Rachel Joyce, Miss Benson's Beetle

The way that the two women connect through their trials and tribulations on their great adventures in entomology makes for great reading and the way that the snippets of Enid’s past start to pop up in the narrative as you read, allowing us a further insight into some of her intriguing shenanigans is again one of the highlights of this book. Rachel Joyce has an unparalleled talent for creating characters that feel absolutely real as you are travelling with them and their secrets, hopes and dreams are uncovered. It is like a vintage version of Thelma and Louise as this unlikely pairing set off on their adventures and discover that it is often the way that our deepest bonds are forged when we least expect it to. I love novels that explore female friendship and I think that this quote sums it up perfectly:

“The differences between them – all those things she’d once found so infuriating – she now accepted. Being Enid’s friend meant there were always going to be surprises. However close they were it didn’t entitle her to Enid’s memories and neither did it allow her to be part of Enid’s life before they met. Being a friend meant accepting those unknowable things. It was by placing herself side by side with Enid that Margery had finally begun to see the true outline of herself. And she knew it now: Enid was her friend.”

Miss Benson's Beetle, Rachel Joyce, Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry

Their surprising and enduring friendship is one of the best things about this book as the two women see that their different life experiences and perspectives means that their friendship is a stronger one due to all of these differences . You really feel their relationship bloom – drawn together by the pursuit of the golden beetle and ending up with a golden friendship to boot. Be warned, this is an unexpectedly touching read that will move you subtly as you really start to care about this eclectic pair and their different pathways to happiness and fulfilment. We very definitely don’t all have to be the same to get along with one another – and Enid and Margery’s relationship proves that even the oddest of couples can complete one another once a friendship is given the chance to flourish.

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Raynor Winn, The Salt Path, Rachel Joyce, Miss Benson's Beetle

Rachel Joyce writes books from the heart, and it shows.  All of her books present the readers with unforgettable characters who stay with you for a long time. I still think of Queenie all the time and I’m sure that these two ladies will also take up a firm place in my reading heart. I would love to see this on screen and think it would be a perfect period piece that would whisk us back to the 1950s with these two lady adventurers.  Buy yourself a copy here and start your own journey with them this summer! This is definitely a contender for my favourite read of 2020 and I can’t stop recommending it to people

Sarah Winman, Rachel Joyce, Miss Benson

I didn’t think I could love it as much as Harold Fry or Queenie, but I’m happy to be proved wrong and am recommending this warm, feel-good read to just about everyone! Thank you so much to Anne Cater for inviting me onto the blog tour and giving me the chance to be part of Miss Benson’s story.

Make sure you go back and check out all the rest of these fab bloggers and their reviews!

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‘Exciting, moving and full of unexpected turns… surely this is the one that will propel the intrepid Joyce off the long and shortlists into prizewinning territory.’THE TIMES

‘Brilliant and elegant and wise…powerful and moving…I can’t recommend it enough.’ JOANNA CANNON

‘A beautiful portrayal of female friendship in all its frailties, contradictions and strengths.’ RAYNOR WINN

‘The perfect escape novel for our troubled times.’ PATRICK GALE

Writer On The Shelf

Rachel Joyce Author Pic

Rachel Joyce is the author of the Sunday Times and international bestsellers The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry, Perfect, The Love Song of Miss Queenie Hennessy, The Music Shop and a collection of interlinked short stories, A Snow Garden & Other Stories. Her books have been translated into thirty -six languages and two are in development for film.

The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry was shortlisted for the Commonwealth Book prize and longlisted for the Man Booker Prize. Rachel was awarded the Specsavers National Book Awards ‘New Writer of the Year’ in December 2012 and shortlisted for the ‘UK Author of the Year’ 2014. Rachel was a Costa prize judge and University Big Read author in 2019.

She has also written over twenty original afternoon plays and adaptations of the classics for BBC Radio 4, including all the Bronte novels. She moved to writing after a long career as an actor, performing leading roles for the RSC, the National Theatre and Cheek by Jowl. She lives with her family in Gloucestershire.

All Adults Here

Astrid Strick has always tried to do her best for her three children. Now, they’re finally grown up – but you could be forgiven for thinking otherwise.

Elliott doesn’t have any idea who he really is, or how to communicate with his own sons. Porter is, at last, pregnant – but feels incapable of rising to the challenge. Nicky has fled to distant New Mexico, where he’s living the bohemian dream.

And Astrid herself is up to things that would make her children’s hair curl.

Until now, the family have managed to hide their true selves from each other. But when Nicky’s incorrigibly curious daughter Cecelia comes to stay, her arrival threatens to upturn everything . . .

Witty, astute, and irresistibly readable, All Adults Here is a novel about how to survive inside a modern family from New York Timesbestselling author Emma Straub.

In All Adults Here, Emma Straub shows her extraordinary gift for illuminating the small and striking details which make us all human. She is one of those writers who makes you laugh whilst reminding you that being alive is full of pain, struggle, joy and regret in glorious technicolour.

Am so happy to be on today’s Blog Tour of #AllAdultsHere today and it’s an actual tour today because I’m posting this from gorgeous Northumberland this afternoon. It’s wonderful to be curled up with a great book after a windy walk. The wood burning stove is lit and I’m going to be sampling one of the local gins as soon as the sun goes over the yard’arm.

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I absolutely loved this book. It’s a warm and uplifting read that will genuinely draw you into its narrative and make you feel part of Astrid’s eclectic and memorable world as she tries to navigate family life in all its vivid complexity as she thinks about her own past and how her family have evolved and

Astrid is a fantastic character that you can totally believe in. When I was reading about her granddaughter’s arrival and the chain of events that ensues, I forgot that was reading about a set of fictional characters and became totally involved in this diverse and entangled family’s story. I’m sure lots of you will have had that feeling when you stop feeling like these are characters on a page and start reflecting on their conversations and life choices like they are actual people that you’ve met. The rest of her family are introduced by degree and I guarantee you will be creasing up, hearing about some of the situations she finds herself caught up in and the amount of things going on beneath the surface that they are all oblivious to.

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Even if you haven’t encountered her other fictional work, I think there will be lots of readers converted into Emma Straub fans after finishing this book – and you should definitely seek out her other books if you haven’t already enjoyed them. There were loads of moments in Astrid’s frustration and exasperation that I really connected with – her odd reflections and off-the-cuff comments are totally unique and I found her absolutely hilarious. Her attempt to understand her often-frustrating and diverse family is beautifully written and I definitely found it laugh-out-loud funny as there are plenty of awkward and memorable moments as she tries to fathom exactly why they’ve turned out like this and whether it’s nature or nurture that can be blamed…

Emma Straub wrote this book from the heart, and it shows.  It presents a picture of a unique, hilarious and memorable family with a legendary matriarch and captures the chaos, frustrations and complexities of modern family life perfectly I would absolutely love to see this book on our screens in the future. When you read the reviews below, you’ll see that there are so many fans of her writing that are far more eminent than myself – so you don’t just have to take MY word for it…

Buy yourself a copy here and enjoy meeting Astrid and her collection of weird and wonderful relatives for yourself.

‘Smartly observant, wryly witty, big-hearted . . . Fans of Ann Patchett, Anne Tyler and Lily King should seek [Straub] out’ The Sunday Times

‘This beautifully written book delves deeply, perceptively and humorously into the contemporary human condition’The Daily Mail

‘A glorious mash-up of Elizabeth Strout and Gilmore Girls’Red

‘If you’re a fan of Anne Tyler’s writing, you’ll love this captivating well-observed family drama’Good Housekeeping

All Adults Here

Writer On The Shelf

Emma Straub

Emma Straub is the New York Times bestselling author of three other novels, The Vacationers, Modern Lovers, and Laura Lamont’s Life in Pictures, and the short story collection Other People We Married. 

Her books have been published in twenty countries. She and her husband own Books Are Magic, an independent bookstore in Brooklyn, New York.

TAPESTRY Blog Tour

Twenty-one-year-old Skye Willis lives in Eufaula, Alabama, a tourist mecca of stately homes and world-class bass fishing. Her childhood friends are either stuck at dead ends or have moved on to accomplish Big Things.

Skye’s grandmother, Verna, insists on being called “Sparrow” because she suspects her ancestors were Muscogee Creek. She dresses in faux deerskin and experiments with ancient Native American recipes, offering a myth or legend to anyone who will listen.

Skye has no idea what to do with her life. She’s smart as hell, but she has no faith or knowledge there’s something out there she was “born to do.” Nor does she know much of anything about her father, who died in Afghanistan when she was a toddler. He and his family are a mystery her mother won’t discuss. But when Sparrow sets out to confirm her Creek ancestry through genetic testing, Skye joins in.

The results hit like a DNA bomb, launching them both on a path filled with surprises and life-changing events. Skye learns a harder truth than she ever expected.

Alternating chapters between Skye’s Alabama life and an intertwining tale of greed, deceit, and control in Texas, this story offers proof that all life is a woven tapestry of past, present, and future.

In Beth Duke’s uplifting and soul-singing voice, TAPESTRY is Southern Fiction at its best; you will cry, you will laugh out loud, and you will wish you were a member of the beautiful, matriarchal family Duke has created for her readers.

Tapestry

I love doing Emma’s Blog Tours with Damp Pebbles Tours as no two books she ever invites me to review are the same. When she asked me onto the tour for Tapestry I was really intrigued as the cover was simply stunning. Then when I began reading, I totally fell under its spell. For me, that is definitely one of the best things about being a book blogger – that it has never failed to introduce me to books that I’d never have been exposed to before as well as hearing what other bloggers thought too. It’s like a virtual book group where you are waiting every day to see what other people loved about the book and seeing their thoughts can make you reflect on aspects of the book that you might not have considered yourself.

I was really intrigued to read Tapestry as  I love novels that deal with family relationships and how different generations interact and the complexities that lurk beneath the surfaces of most families’ lives.  As soon as this book arrived,  I wanted to open it up and find out how these family members’ lives would unfold and I absolutely fell for its Alabama setting and Skye’s family history. I loved the premise of Skye’s background and family providing a total contrast with the Darlings and found the alternating storyline extremely compelling. Once we started off exploring the past, I really wanted to get to the heart of her family’s history and discover the truth alongside her ancestors as well as uncover her mother’s secrets that she has tried to hide in shame from Skye through her own hurt and pain.

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I also enjoyed the way that Beth Duke’s novel allows us to see the reality of families and the complexity of relationships, rather than just the ‘all girls together’ that we are so often presented with in fiction and I think that this is one of the things that I enjoyed most about this book. The way that the three generations interact with one another is exceptionally well drawn and a testament to her skill as a writer that we really believe in their relationships with one another and I’m sure that there are many daughters reading this novel and nodding their heads in recognition at some of the secrets, omissions and insecurities that are so vividly represented in this novel and recalling times where they could have listened, learned and grown from their relationships with their elders too.

The way that Beth Duke builds in the uncertainties about what’s really going on beneath the surface and slowly develops our understanding of what is going on in the heads of these characters is convincingly done and leads to you feeling like you can really start to understand them as people. Skye and her grandmother Sparrow have such an interesting and well-drawn relationship and I’m looking forward to hearing what my sister thought of this book over a long coffee date as soon as possible as it is one of those reads that makes you appreciate the family bonds and connections in your own life.

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The scenes where these three women are trying to deal with the ramifications of the past and the impact of the fallout on their relationships have an incredibly realistic feel and the comparisons with Fannie Flagg are definitely well deserved. I thoroughly enjoyed the chance to immerse myself in the intricacies of this family’s life and found it really thought-provoking to have the contrasting families and their ‘tapestry’ of stories to see the events unfolding from their very different perspectives.

Tapestry is a fascinating and immersive read as it takes a genuine look at what we really mean by ‘family’ in a way that never feels ‘worthy’ or glib. It allows us a glance into relationships where peoples’ needs are complex and real and dares us to ask ourselves what we might have turned away from, hidden or overlooked in our own lives. Its setting in Alabama is another aspect that I really enjoyed and it really made me feel like I was able to immerse myself in events where the beauty of the surroundings and the complexities of what is unfolding is deftly juxtaposed. The threat posed by the Darlings is well handled and brings the clash between cultures and greed to life in a compelling and fascinating way and made me want to read more about Native American history as a result.

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I always enjoy a book much more if I’m not hyping myself up before I read it and Tapestry was exactly that. It was definitely a book that I wasn’t expecting to love as much as I did – and I found myself thinking about these characters and their complex, emotional and satisfying family history well after I’d finished reading it. I will definitely seek out more books by Beth Duke and am keen to keep pushing myself to choose more novels by writers I haven’t encountered before.

Treat yourself to a copy of Tapestry here

Writer on the Shelf

Beth Duke

Beth Duke is the recipient of short story awards on two continents and is eyeing the other five.

She lives in the mountains of her native Alabama with her husband, one real dog, one ornamental dog, and a flock of fluffy pet chickens. 

She loves reading, writing, and not arithmetic. 

Baking is a hobby, with semi-pro cupcakes and amateur macarons a specialty. 

And puns—the worse, the better. 

Travel is her other favorite thing, along with joining book clubs for discussion. 

Please invite her to London…England or Kentucky, either is fine. Anywhere!

Website | Twitter | Facebook | Instagram

The Truth Must Dazzle Gradually

On an island off the west coast of Ireland, the Moone family are shattered by tragedy.

Murtagh Moone is a potter and devoted husband to Maeve, an actor struggling with her most challenging role yet – being a mother to their four children. Now Murtagh must hold his family close as we bear witness to their story before that tragic night.

We return to the day Maeve and Murtagh meet, outside Trinity College in Dublin, and watch how one love story gives rise to another. And as the Moone children learn who their parents truly are, we journey onwards with them to a future that none of the Moones could predict . . .

Except perhaps Maeve herself.

Graham Norton

I absolutely loved Helen’s The Lost Letters of William Wolf, and begged so many people to read it that when I was invited onto the blog tour for The Truth Must Dazzle Gradually I was over the moon. I was as captivated by this novel as I imagined and can’t stop thinking about it and its characters long after finishing it. I was whisked away to tiny Ines Óg with the Moone family and felt like I was right there beside them when the unspeakable tragedy happened and witnessed the ripples that go right through their family as if I was a member of it myself. I loved the way we are able to time travel back to their courtship in Dublin and live through their entire marriage with them, experiencing all the joys, agonies and moments in time as they evolve and grow as a family – which makes the dreadful events of the Winter concerned even more difficult to bear witness to.

The Truth Must Dazzle Gradually is an evocative, beautiful and pitch perfect rendering of a family who have to bear the unbearable . When I saw how much Emma Flint loved it, I knew that it would be right up my street as her picks are always spot on. The beauty of the writing and the strength of the characterisation are in perfect harmony throughout the novel and rendered me almost speechless at times as I felt that some scenes were just so poignantly and perfectly captured. Maeve is such a compelling character and her struggles with mental illness are a million miles away from today’s culture of empathy and ‘it’s good to talk’

Maeve has to deal with the black dog – or the ‘old crow’ in a period where mental health was totally stigmatised and misunderstood and her pain is borne all the more alone because of that. It is totally heartbreaking to see the impact on Maeve herself, but it is all the more poignant to see the struggles of her family to cope with the impact of her pain. Murtagh, Nollaig, Mossy, Dillon and Sive have to struggle to find their own way to cope when Maeve is lost to them and ostracised by the community through a lack of understanding and comprehension of what she is going through.

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 The Lost Letters of William Wolf  captured my heart and let me feel like I’d spent real time with its characters, feeling their emotions and walking a mile in their shoes and this book goes one step further in making me feel like I’d lived these experiences as I read. I empathised with Murtagh’s guilt, feeling like he’d set much of her suffering in motion by asking her to surrender her dreams of acting to be his wife in the middle of nowhere. Murtagh’ struggles to cope, to be the husband, father, rock and support is more than anyone could maintain and we feel for his isolation and lack of support and understanding almost as much as we do for Maeve herself. You can see how strong their bond is as well as how consumed Maeve is by her illness that his love itself is not enough to pull her back from the abyss

The Truth Must Dazzle Gradually is a beautifully rendered portrait of the devastating impact of mental illness and the way that entire families lives can be affected by depression and mental struggles. I haven’t been this emotional about a novel for a long time – the last time it was this powerful was when I read We Were the Mulvaneys and I know that this book will definitely stay with me for just as long due to its beauty, its anguish and its refusal to gloss over either the bleakness or devastation that these characters have to endure. If you don’t have at least a lump in your throat at some point when reading this novel, check that you don’t actually have a heart of stone because some moments described here are far far to difficult to bear…

I’d like to thank Srija for the blog tour invite and can’t wait to see what Helen does next – buy yourself a copy here but stock up on some tissues first, you have been warned…

literary fiction

‘A beautiful bittersweet story of love, loss and families all set in the most irresistible of locations. Tears were shed!’ Graham Norton

‘I devoured this, falling in love with the setting and with every character. It is just glorious. A close-up on the everyday beautiful details that make up love’ Emma Flint, author of Little Deaths

Writer On The Shelf

Helen’s debut novel, The Lost Letters of William Woolf was published by Penguin in July 2018 in the UK, Ireland, Australia and South Africa and published in America by Harper Collins in June 2019. The novel is also available in translation in numerous foreign markets including Italy, Germany, Russia, Greece and Israel where it hit the bestseller charts. The TV option for the book has also been acquired by Mainstreet Pictures.

The first draft of this novel was written while completing the Guardian/UEA novel writing programme under the mentorship of Michèle Roberts. Helen holds an M.A. Theatre Studies from UCD and is currently completing an M.A. English Literature at Brunel University.

Helen was nominated as Best Newcomer in the An Post Irish Book Awards 2018. She is also a contributor to the Irish Times newspaper and Sunday Times Magazine.

Helen is now writing full-time. Her second novel, The Truth Must Dazzle Gradually, will be published in Ireland and the UK on August 20th, 2020 and as The Dazzling Truth in the USA and Canada on August 18th, 2020.

Hinton Hollow Death Trip

Little Henry Wallace was eight years old and one hundred miles from home before anyone talked to him. His mother placed him on a train with a label around his neck, asking for him to be kept safe for a week, kept away from Hinton Hollow.

Because something was coming.

Narrated by Evil itself, Hinton Hollow Death Trip recounts five days in the history of this small rural town, when darkness paid a visit and infected its residents. A visit that made them act in unnatural ways. Prodding at their insecurities. Nudging at their secrets and desires. Coaxing out the malevolence suppressed within them. Showing their true selves.

Making them cheat.
Making them steal.
Making them kill.

Detective Sergeant Pace had returned to his childhood home. To escape the things he had done in the city. To go back to something simple. But he was not alone. Evil had a plan.

I was so happy to be reunited with Detective Sergeant Pace, after falling for him in both Good Samaritans & Nothing Important Happened Today and I couldn’t wait to see what was awaiting me in Hinton Hollow (population 5120) as we travel there with him. I am very grateful to be joining the blog tour and I have to say that this is the first time I’m reviewing a book where I’m being led through the narrative by Evil. Quite Literally.

Evil is Will Carver’s narrative voice of choice in his third novel and I have to say that this is a stroke of utter genius, and the genuine sense of creeping unease you feel when he directly warns us that: ‘you can leave now, if you want… this is the last time I try to save you’ is a bold version of ‘Abandon hope all ye who enter here and believe me, readers should be taking heed! Once you enter the strange world of Hinton Hollow you begin to fall under its spell and it becomes a bit like the Hotel California once it’s under your skin ‘You can check out any time you like, but you can never leave…’

If you are turned off by darkness then this is perhaps not the book for you, and definitely don’t say that you haven’t been warned. If it’s not enough of a giveaway that Evil is leading you by the hand, you should gird your loins and prepare yourself for a deep dive into some pretty traumatic events. If you are looking for something to remind yourself of the goodness inherent within human nature, you’ve come to the wrong place – but by god this is a marvellously dark and deviously delightful read.

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We are lured into the narrative and totally fall under the spell of this place and its inhabitants as we start to orientate ourselves over the five days he spends here meeting a whole cast of characters such as Darren, Mrs Beaufort and Evil himself of course. Books that involve the death of children are never easy to review as this will put some people off straight away, but the murders are only part of this novel. What Carver is always so successful at is presenting us with the banality of evil and its utter ordinary-ness. There is so much going on in this novel that is immoral, inappropriate and downright illegal that you won’t know where to turn. It’s a next of vipers this town, but what a fascinating one it is.

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Will Carver is a talented and original writer whose characters spring off the page and come to life for you as you try and work out what makes them tick and remember that he is not inventing society in these pages but recreating it as it really is without the sugar-coated veneer. Mrs Beaufort’s character is unforgettable – she is a woman who knows the price of everything and the value of nothing and you will maybe be able to recognise a few of her ilk operating in your own community the further you read. But don’t think for a second that you’ll get off with judging only other people as you read this book – Carver also asks us to take a long hard look at ourselves and think about what we are actually capable of as we read and the notion of judge not, lest ye be judged pervades this entire novel.

Hinton Hollow Death Trip is a superb blend of skilful plotting with an unforgettable cast of characters and the most original narrator since The Book Thief that I’ll be recommending to everyone. It stands out to me due to its deft manipulation of the reader and the way it keeps us constantly reflective about humanity and the depths we are capable of as we are reading and there is no letting up. I absolutely loved it and it’s definitely left me desperate for my next Will Carver fix and hoping that I don’t have to wait too long for it!

Buy yourself a copy of this fantastic and unique read here, you definitely won’t regret it.

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“A taut, highly original novel from one of the most underrated crime writers out there.” –Simon Kernick, author, Siege

“Beautifully written, smart, dark and disturbing–and so original. The whole thing feels like a shot of adrenaline.” –Steve Mosby, author, The Murder Code

“Carver goes on to spin an impossible-to-predict tale about which the only guarantee is that you won’t be able to stop reading.” —I-Newspaper

“Carver has created a highly original state-of-the-nation novel.” —Literary Review

“Horribly addictive.” —Telegraph

“I’ve never read such an original, stunning, clever, literary thriller.” –Sarah Pinborough, author, Behind Her Eyes

“Thrilling and completely original, Nothing Important Happened Today deserves to become an instant classic.” –Kevin Wignall, author, When We Were Lost

Writer on the Shelf

Will Carver Author pIc.jpeg
Will Carver

Will Carver is the internationally bestselling author of the January David series. He spent his early years in Germany but returned to the UK at age eleven when his sporting career took off.

He turned down a professional rugby contract to study theatre and television at King Alfred’s, Winchester, where he set up a successful theatre company.

He currently runs his own fitness and nutrition company and lives in Reading with his two children.

 Good Samaritans was the book of the year in Guardian, Telegraph and Daily Express, and hit number one on the ebook charts.
Twitter: @will_carver

Tennis Lessons

The darkly funny, fiercely honest debut novel about a spirited young misfit and her rocky road to womanhood, stopping at each year along the way.

You’re strange and wrong. You’ve known it from the beginning.
This is the voice that rings in your ears. Because you never say the right thing. You’re a disappointment to everyone. You’re a far cry from beautiful – and your thoughts are ugly too.You seem bound to fail, bound to break.But you know what it is to laugh with your best friend, to feel the first tentative tingles of attraction, to take exquisite pleasure in the affront of your unruly body.You just need to find your place.

From dead pets and crashed cars to family traumas and misguided love affairs, Susannah Dickey’s revitalizing debut novel plunges us into the private world of one young woman as she navigates her rocky way to adulthood.

If you are suffering from a Fleabag-shaped hole in your life, I’ve found your next favourite read and If you binge-watched This May Destroy You then this will give you another topic to talk over and over with your friends after they’ve all read it. I’ve talked about it to everyone at my Book Group and will definitely be suggesting it as one of our next reads too I was SO excited to be emailed and invited on the tour for this book as I love supporting debut novelists and Tennis Lessons sounded right up my street.

I’m so very privileged to be on this fantastic debut novelist’s blog tour and can’t wait to tell you all about how much I fell for this original and striking novel, I feel totally bereft now that I’ve finished reading it and her unusual and resonant voice isn’t part of my daily life any more…

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I don’t think you have had to have the same experiences as the narrator to bond with this book, but by god – if you have there will be moments in this novel that you’ll read and read again saying ‘This is ME’  and I think that there will definitely be whole friendship groups all over the UK who will be wondering whether Susannah Dickey was sitting behind them eavesdropping on their conversations as so much of this book feels so REAL that at times you forget that this is an actual novel and feel like this is us being able to experience another person’s life right alongside them.

I’d like to thank Anne Cater for inviting me on the tour and recommend that you go back and see what all the other fab bloggers had to say about this unforgettable book. This was such a great read to remind me of why I love book blogging so much – when I get to read debut novels that I absolutely love and let other people discover them too…

Nell Frizzell has said: “ ‘Incredibly funny and honest . . . by turns charming and disgusting and I loved it’ and I couldn’t agree more. I had the nervousness you get when you’ve REALLY LOVED a book and you’re waiting for somebody else you know to read it too, so you can both talk about all the things that you felt were so perfectly drawn that you can’t quite believe that they’re not real people. Books about growing up and school and friendships and families are ten a penny – but this one really is different. It’s dark and light in exactly the right ratio to be truly satisfying and there will be moments where you’ll literally be shocked – but by the end the holistic effect is both honest and absorbing and I’m so jealous of everyone who hasn’t read it yet…

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As you will have gathered, I could not put this book down. I was so caught up in our narrator’s life and I’m sure you will be too. It really felt like we’d been through all of this together. Her combination of  devastating candour and acerbic humour mean that everyone can identify with some part of her story– she’s a representation of all the things that we all struggle when we are growing up– how to be ourselves in a world that’s sometimes the most scary and unpredictable world to attempt to be honest in.

It’s hard to feel like that – that your life is just one series of catastrophes after another and everyone is too busy dealing with their own ‘stuff’ to be much bothered about yours. All friendship groups are awful and challenging and disorientating at times – but you’ll find that out for yourself as you immerse yourself in the depths of our unnamed narrator’s life and some of this is pretty bloody realistic  It’s hard to write originally about growing up as it’s such a universal experience , but I’m definitely not exaggerating when I tell you that Susannah Dickey has pulled it off and you will have to get a copy yourself to discover just how on the money she is about growing up and experiencing these moments that form us as human beings.

This is the kind of book you’ll be recommending to all your friends and you’ll be desperate to meet up with them afterwards and talk about of all the ways you’ve either been treated like this or met someone who’s been through exactly the same set of emotions even if the root causes were slightly different. Susannah Dickey is definitely a writer to watch – and if you have a look at the blog tour, you can see that I’m not alone in my opinion!

Buy yourself a copy here:

Tennis Lessons Blog Tour

For fans of I MAY DESTROY YOU and FLEABAG 

‘A raw, fierce, shockingly honest coming-of-age story.’ LOUISE O’NEILL 


‘Incredibly funny and honest . . . by turns charming and disgusting and I loved it’ NELL FRIZZELL


‘Propulsive . . . brilliantly vivid . . . stays in the mind long after reading’ IRISH TIMES’

A beautifully written and psychologically incisive bildungsroman…the arrival of a young writer to watch’ OBSERVER

Writer On The Shelf

Susannah Dickey, author or Tennis Lessons

Susannah Dickey is from Derry-Londonderry, Northern Ireland. She is the author of two poetry pamphlets, I had some very slight concerns (2017) and genuine human values (2018). Her poetry has been published in Ambit, The White Review, Poetry Ireland Review and Magma, amongst others.

In 2018 she was shortlisted for The White Review short story prize, and in 2017 she was the winner of the inaugural Verve Poetry Festival competition. You can find the author on Twitter: @SusannahDickey

The Big Chill Blog Tour #OrendaBooks

Running private investigator and funeral home businesses means trouble is never far away, and the Skelf women take on their most perplexing, chilling cases yet in book two of this darkly funny, devastatingly tense and addictive new series!
 
Haunted by their past, the Skelf women are hoping for a quieter life. But running both a funeral directors’ and a private investigation business means trouble is never far away, and when a car crashes into the open grave at a funeral that matriarch Dorothy is conducting, she can’t help looking into the dead driver’s shadowy life. 
 
While Dorothy uncovers a dark truth at the heart of Edinburgh society, her daughter Jenny and granddaughter Hannah have their own struggles. Jenny’s ex-husband Craig is making plans that could shatter the Skelf women’s lives, and the increasingly obsessive Hannah has formed a friendship with an elderly professor that is fast turning deadly. 
 
But something even more sinister emerges when a drumming student of Dorothy’s disappears and suspicion falls on her parents. The Skelf women find themselves sucked into an unbearable darkness – but could the real threat be to themselves?
 
Following three women as they deal with the dead, help the living and find out who they are in the process, The Big Chill follows A Dark Matter, book one in the Skelfs series, which reboots the classic PI novel while asking the big existential questions, all with a big dose of pitch-black humour.

After all the trials of remote learning and the lockdown, I felt like spending a week in stunning Northumberland with a bag full of awesome books was my reward -and The Big Chill was quite frankly the icing on the cake. I’ve been waiting for book Two of The Skelfs series ever since I finished A Dark Matter and spending the day on a lounger getting stuck into The Big Chill was one of the highlights of my week away for sure and as ever I’m grateful to Anne Cater for inviting me on the tour and to Karen Sullivan from Orenda for always picking the best books to blog about

It might sound overtly dark to blend a Private Investigation firm with a Funeral Directors – bit that’s where Doug Johnstone’s genius kicks in. Life with Dorothy, Jenny and Hannah is never dull and whilst this could absolutely be read as a stand-alone, the fact that I was already so invested in these three women and their lives added another dimension of enjoyment for me as I immersed myself in the second instalment of their adventures.

green grass field and body of water

As ever, life for the Skelfs is never dull and it’s one of the things that I love about Doug Johnstone’s writing that we manage to be just as caught up and interested in all of the stories, rather than waiting to return to the ‘main one’ when we are away from it – as can be the case for so many crime writers. I was totally engaged with Jenny’s search for the family of a man who dies at one of Dorothy’s funerals. His death is one of the many aspects of this novel that are just superbly written and I am vowing to keep this spoiler free so I’ll just say that I made my husband drive the next day after reading about his untimely demise. Life for Dorothy and Hannah is far from dull either as they are both caught up in mysterious cases of their own when their private and public lives collide and they are closer to the persons involved than either of then would like to be…

pink and white flowers

Doug Johnstone remains one of my very favourite writers as he knows just when to switch from one thread of the story to another that leaves us hungrily turning the pages and forgetting about the time. He never sacrifices character in the name of plot and that’s why time just flies when you’re reading his books. You want to know the answers, yes for sure – but you also want to knowhow this impacts on the Skelfs themselves because he makes you care. Their lives are complex and three dimensional, their problems are the ones caused by their jobs, of course – but also the problems that we’ve all struggled with in terms of our life choices and our relationships that make them feel like people we know and people who matter to us. I found myself wondering about them as I went through the day whenever I was away from them and for me that is one of the hallmarks of an excellent rather than just enjoyable read.

stone castle near tall trees

Johnstone asks us to think about a range of issues in the novel but as ever he writes best about human connections – the way that the people we love affect our lives is superbly handled as he highlights the way that we often are totally unaware of the way that our actions can impact on those closest to us. It’s not just the Skelfs that he brings to life in this way – all of the families in the novel are beautifully written and often it’s the little thing that resonate the most. I particularly love Archie and the things he comes away with and love the way that his Cotard’s Syndrome is woven into the narrative so seamlessly that it never sticks out as gimmicky or tokenistic.

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They all have their own struggles and it’s satisfying to see their personalities mature and diversify in this second novel. They are far greater than the sum of their parts and there are aspects of them all that I connected with -although in this book that it’s Hannah’s travails that I’m most drawn to as she is clearly struggling and the added pressures of work are not helping her to feel as she one did that there are calm and rational rules for the universe that can bring it to heel once we learn them all. Hannah’s struggles to match her University studies with an often senseless and chaotic world outside her textbooks makes for a compelling and compassionately written narrative that I thought about often as I walked the coastal paths last week and she became so real that I felt like I could have met up with her for a coffee and tried to put the world to rights together.

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person holding white happy birthday throw pillow

This book will be sure to please Doug Johnstone’s legions of fans with its intriguing and satisfying blend of a family saga, some compelling cases and a satisfyingly tense narrative. It kept me absolutely hooked and I cannot wait for the next instalment. This year will be all the poorer due to not being able to book tickets to see Doug at a Book Festival soon – but I am ever-hopeful that once this is all over I can check in and hear him talking to us about the Skelfs to my hearts content. Buy yourself a copy of The Big Chill here and set aside some time to really enjoy it. It’s a perfect summer read with characters you’ll really care about and I can’t recommend it highly enough.

Writer On The Shelf

Doug Johnstone

Doug Johnstone is a writer, musician and journalist based in Edinburgh. His tenth novel, Breakers, was published by Orenda Books in May 2019, and was shortlisted for the McIlvanney Prize for Scottish Crime Novel of the Year. His previous books include The Jump, shortlisted for the McIlvanney Prize, Gone Again, an Amazon bestseller, and Hit & Run, which was an Amazon #1 as well as being selected as a prestigious Fiction Uncovered winner. His work has received praise from the likes of Irvine Welsh, Ian Rankin, Val McDermid, William McIlvanney, Megan Abbott and Christopher Brookmyre.

Doug has been Writer in Residence with William Purves Funeral Directors. He is also a Royal Literary Fund Consultant Fellow, and was RLF Fellow at Queen Margaret University in Edinburgh 2014-2016. Doug was also Writer in Residence at the University of Strathclyde 2010-2012 and before that worked as a lecturer in creative writing there. He’s had short stories appear in various publications and anthologies, and since 1999 he has worked as a freelance arts journalist, primarily covering music and literature. He is also a manuscript assessor for The Literary Consultancy and Emergents in the Scottish Highlands. He has taught creative writing at festivals and conferences and regularly at Moniack Mhor, and he has mentored aspiring writers for New Writing North and Scottish Book Trust.

Doug is one of the co-founders of the Scotland Writers Football Club, for whom he also puts in a shift in midfield as player-manager. He is also a singer, musician and songwriter in several bands, including Northern Alliance, who have released four albums to critical acclaim, as well as recording an album as a fictional band called The Ossians. Doug has also released three solo EPs. He plays drums for the Fun Lovin’ Crime Writers, a crime writing supergroup featuring Val McDermid, Mark Billingham, Chris Brookmyre, Stuart Neville and Luca Veste.

Doug has a degree in physics, a PhD in nuclear physics and a diploma in journalism, and worked for four years designing radars. He grew up in Arbroath and lives in Portobello, Edinburgh with his wife and two children.

The Cry of the Lake Blog Tour

A gruesome discovery unravels a dark trail of murder and madness…

A six-year-old girl sneaks out of bed to capture a mermaid but instead discovers a dead body. Terrified and unable to make sense of what she sees, she locks the vision deep inside her mind. 

Ten years later, Lily is introduced to the charismatic Flo and they become best friends. But Lily is guilt-ridden – she is hiding a terrible secret which has the power to destroy both their lives. 

When Flo’s father is accused of killing a schoolgirl, the horrors of Lily’s past come bubbling to the surface. Lily knows that, whatever the consequences, she has to make things right. She must go back to the events of her childhood and face what happened at the boat house all those years ago. 

Can Lily and Flo discover what is hiding in the murky waters of the lake before the killer strikes again?

If you think that it’s wrong to judge a book by the cover, in this case you’d most definitely be wrong! The Cry of the Lake is every bit as captivating as its gorgeous cover promises. I absolutely love a dark and atmospheric read and this novel was every bit as intriguing as its cover and absolutely lived up to my level of anticipation. Charlie Tyler has an innate ability for grabbing you and pulling you right into her story and I literally could’t tear myself away from it as I spent this week in stunning Northumberland

landscape photography of a white lighthouse

I’m a real true-crime fan and this thrilling and twisty read definitely filled the gap that the Cold podcast, that I’ve just finished, has left in my life. Lily and Flo really are fantastic characters that you really feel come alive as you uncover more and more details about them and we uncover the way that our past can affect the present day– for good or for bad…

In the same way that I felt a strong connection with many of the characters I encounter in True Crime podcasts, I really felt like I’d come to know Flo and Lily by the final page and although I’m firmly committed to my ‘No Spoilers’ rule, I can’t wait to have a good chat with someone else who’s read The Cry of the Lake so that we can mull over it together and talk about what a fantastic creation it is. I keep suggesting it to people who are looking for a fantastic summer pageturner and hopefully my book club will love it as much as I have when we discuss it later in the summer…

Flo is a captivating character and it’s easy to see how she draws people towards her and how Lily’s guilt starts to seep into their friendship. Flo soon has her own family drama to contend with – and this is where the past and the present begin to collide and we see that the tranqil setting has darkness at its heart that the girls are inextricably linked with…

trees on calm body of water under clear blue sky at daytime

Just like the beautifully embroidered looking pattern on its cover, has a skull lurking beneath the surface, so too do many of the incidental moments have a darker secret lurking at their heart and I loved the way that these unravel as we get further into the story.

This was really intriguing for me and reflected the way that each of the characters in this novel stood out as individuals who have all been shaped and moulded by their experiences and the ways that this affects them in later life is not always predictable.  I really can’t emphasise how much I loved this dark and delicious read and found the hidden elements very well developed and thought-provoking.

There are not many characters in this novel who are as they first appear and I loved the way that things are gradually uncovered, like a magic eye painting where you see more things the longer you look.

landscape photography of mountains near mountains

I also liked the way that like the very best True Crime podcasts – Charlie Tyler allows space for our own feelings and responses. These characters actions and responses actions are not tied up in a neat little package for us – as real life just doesn’t work like that. There is enough room for us to ask ourselves questions about who we believe and trust as the novel unfolds and why that makes this novel such an ultimately rewarding experience. 

I found myself genuinely being convinced to see things from a constantly shifting perspective as the novel bore me towards the conclusion and this was a rollercoaster ride that I definitely didn’t want to get off…

This book has a little bit of everything – psychological intrigue, memorable characters, a ‘true crime’ feel and a real sense of menace. As you can probably tell, I loved this book and felt like sleeping with the light on for about four days after reading it.

It is a book that you’ll want to pass on to other people so that they’ll have had the same experience you did, reading it for the first time. If you want to treat yourself and find out what all the fuss is about, buy yourself a copy right here

And don’t just take my word for it – check out what these other writers are saying about The Cry of the Lake as you follow it through the blog tour

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Writer on the Shelf

Charlie signed with Darkstroke in May 2020 and The Cry of the Lake is her debut novel.

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Charlie is very much a morning person and likes nothing more than committing a fictional murder before her first coffee of the day.  She studied Theology at Worcester College, Oxford and now lives in a Leicestershire village with her husband, three teenagers, golden retriever and tortoise.

The Puritan Princess

Power, passion and a devastating fight for the crown – discover the gripping story of Oliver Cromwell’s youngest daughter. Perfect for fans of Anne O’Brien, Alison Weir and Philippa Gregory

1657. The youngest daughter of Oliver Cromwell, eighteen-year-old Frances is finding her place at England’s new centre of power.

Following the turmoil of Civil War, a fragile sense of stability has returned to the country. Her father has risen to the unprecedented position of Lord Protector of the Commonwealth, and Frances has found herself transported from her humble childhood home to the sumptuous palaces of Hampton Court and Whitehall, where she dreams of romance.

But after an assassination attempt on the Cromwell family, Frances realises the precarious danger of her position – and when her father is officially offered the crown, Frances’ fate becomes a matter of diplomatic and dynastic importance.

Trapped in the web of court intrigue, Frances must make a choice. Allow herself to be a political pawn, or use her new status to take control – of her own future, and of her country’s…

I love investigating the real history and characters found in the books I’m reading and Miranda Malins does an amazing job of transporting you back in time and reliving this turbulent and fascinating part of history, which is jam-packed full of double-crossing, back-stabbing, subterfuge and unsteady allegiances  – I could not put to down and it has left me with a real book hangover as it was so immersive and exciting a tale.

The Puritan Princess truly gives us a fascinating insight into Frances’ experiences and allows us to travel back in time with her and witness these events unfolding as her Father’s position alters and she moves from her humble beginnings to living at the centre of English power and magnificence – as well as getting the wider impact of these changes  at a very intriguing time in history from the perspective of some unforgettable characters that reminded me of my favourite Du Maurier novel ‘The King’s General’ and set me off in search of more information about what it was like to be a woman at this time in history…

gold crown with a cumulus clouds in the background

This is a really engrossing read. Malins has an excellent mixture of characters in this novel, from Frances and her sister to some much more ordinary characters from the Cromwells more humble background  – which really shows the reader that these turbulent events had an impact on life whoever you were and whatever your situation, providing much food for thought about women’s rights, independence and morality during this period for a 21st-century readership. There have been a fair few comparisons with Alison Weir and I think that readers of historical novels have had plenty of Tudor tales to enjoy and will get totally caught up in the dangers and intrigues of a very different period through this novel

woman holding silver-colored crown

I think that Malins is just as skilful in writing about domestic matters as she is about the history or the politics at this time and the way that the impact of these events was so vividly depicted was a real strength of this novel. It was interesting to hear the girls discussing frankly the idea that their raised position was going to bring them a real lack of agency over their futures now – as their father’s status was bound to impact on who would be considered an advantageous match for them. It made for fascinating reading to see exactly how prescient Frances had been as we get caught up in her history and how her youthful words come home to roost.

I loved the fact that Frances’ story brings the personal into the historical research and we see exactly how difficult her choices were And as usual, I spent a lot of time online after finishing it, looking up Cromwell’s story and falling into a bit of a rabbit hole finding out as much as I could about him and his children, as he was SUCH a fascinating character in his own right. His ascent from poverty to becoming Lord Protector of the Commonwealth makes for engrossing reading and I found myself totally gripped by the family’s incredible ascent to glory, and its aftermath…

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Fans of historical epics and enthusiasts of novels exploring the role of women in history from a more personal perspective will love this beautifully written novel and I will be recommending it to readers who love period fiction and strongly written literary narratives. I really enjoyed this journey with Frances through a fascinating episode in English history and heartily recommend that you too delve into this period in all its turbulent glory and find out more about it for yourself. Buy yourself a copy here and spend an afternoon like I did, totally wrapped up in this intelligent and engaging novel that wears its learning lightly and carries you forward as you are compelled to know what unfolds for these characters whose stories remain with you long after you’ve finished reading their stories.

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‘There is much to enjoy in this evocation of a family whose lives are so upended by the convulsions of history’ Antonia Senior, The Times

‘This engaging novel brings one of the most momentous but least well known periods of English history vividly to life.’ Carolyn Kirby, author of THE CONVICTION OF CORA BURNS

‘Miranda Malins has offered us a thrilling debut novel, packed with expert scene-setting and juicy details, bringing to life her characters with aplomb and as a result allowing readers to revel in 17th century England’s epicentre of power.’ Prof Michael Scott, University of Warwick

Writer On The Shelf

Miranda Malins

Miranda is a writer and historian specialising in the history of Oliver Cromwell, his family and the politics of the Interregnum period following the Civil War. She studied at Cambridge University, leaving with a PhD, and continues to speak at conferences and publish journal articles and book reviews.

She also enjoys being a Trustee of the Cromwell Association. Alongside this, Miranda works as a commercial solicitor in the City and began writing historical novels on maternity leave. She lives in Hampshire with her husband, young son and cat Keats.