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War Horse by Michael Morpurgo

*This review is of the picture book illustrated by Tom Clohosy Cole*

Michael Morpurgo’s book about the friendship between a boy and his horse has become a modern classic and with this new illustrated version for younger readers, he is destined to get a whole new audience.

When Albert’s horse, Joey, is sold to the army at the start of World War One, Albert joins up as a private, determined to seek out his friend amongst the thousands of other horses on the battlefields of Europe. As the conflict progresses, both boy and horse witness the horrors of war, never giving up hope that one day they will be reunited.

This book has been adapted by Michael Morpurgo from his original novel, the key events from the story being given in a way that makes it very approachable for young readers. It is hard not to be moved by the story as you see the bond between Albert and Joey and Albert’s determination to find his friend once again. Heartbreaking and heartwarming in equal measures, this is a powerful tale of friendship and determination that will appeal to all readers.

The illustrations by Tom Clohosy Cole are out of this world, helping to enhance the child’s understanding by providing clear images of life on the battlefront. One illustration in particular made the book for me, that is the depiction of no man’s land. There is so much detail, from the fearful expressions on the soldiers’ faces, the desolation of the battlefields and the distant explosions and fires.

This adaptation of War Horse is a fantastic introduction to Morpurgo’s work for younger readers but it also has so much to offer for all ages. It is worth purchasing for the illustrations alone.

**BLOG TOUR** The Forgotten Gift by Kathleen McGurl

1861

When George first sets eyes on Lucy, one of his household’s servants, he is smitten and is soon making plans for his future. After being rejected, however, his hopes are further thwarted when Lucy dies, seemingly the victim of a poisoning. Distraught, George knows that someone at home must have killed her, but who?


Present

Cassie is quite content with her life: a job she loves, friends she can rely on and doting parents who would do anything for her. All this is turned upside down, however, as research into her family history makes her question everything she thought she knew about her life.

I am a huge fan of Kathleen McGurl’s dual timeline novels, my favourite being The Daughters of Red Hill Hall. I was thrilled, therefore to see that the author has revisited my favourite era of historical fiction, the Victorian period, in her latest book, The Forgotten Gift.

As with her other books, we have two different plots set in two different time frames with a common theme running through them. The issue of family secrets is very much at the forefront here and the lengths some people will go to in order to stop these secrets from being revealed. I had great sympathy for George, who came across as a lovely young man, shunned by his family through no fault of his own. By starting the book with George’s will, I immediately became invested in his story, and was desperate to know what had happened in his life. This also provided a good link between the two time frames as Cassie tried to discover the same things.

As a fellow genealogist, I could relate a lot to the character of Cassie and loved how an enjoyable evening for her was one sat reading old documents, trying to make sense of the past. The discovery of scandal is an occupational hazard for a family historian, but Cassie manages to open up several cans of worms that have a profound effect on her life. I won’t give any spoilers, but I felt that this was sensitively handled, showing very real reactions from all involved parties.

I have, recently, been struggling to read books at my usual pace and I knew that a Kathleen McGurl book would help me out of my slump. I was so right as I raced through The Forgotten Gift, desperate to know what had happened in George’s life and how had overcome his problems. (Although I loved Cassie’s story, it was George who tugged at the heart strings for me!)

This is a wonderful read which, although fiction, gives a real insight into aspects of Victorian life. I have sung the praises of this author many times and I will continue to do so. If you haven’t read any of her work before, then please do – you won’t be disappointed!

With thanks to Rachel’s Random Resources, Kathleen McGurl, Net Galley ad HQ Digital for my copy of The Forgotten Gift.

Take a look at my reviews of other books by Kathleen McGurl:

   The Emerald Comb 
   The Pearl Locket
   The Daughters Of Red Hill Hall
   The Girl from Ballymor 
   The Drowned Village
   The Forgotten Secret
   The Stationmaster’s Daughter
   The Secret of the Chateau

**PUBLICATION DAY PUSH** Sherlock Holmes and the Ripper of Whitechapel by M K Wiseman

The famous consulting detective Sherlock Holmes has been tasked by Inspector Lestrade of Scotland Yard to assist in the hunt for the notorious serial killer Jack the Ripper. Initially reluctant to join in the investigation, Holmes has to go it alone due to the recent marriage of his faithful partner, John Watson. The case takes a sudden turn, however, when the detective identifies a possible prime suspect – none other than Watson himself…

As someone who has a huge interest in the Jack the Ripper case and is also a big fan of Sherlock Holmes, this book ticked all the boxes for me! Over the years, I have read many takes on the identity of the Whitechapel murderer, and thought that everything that could have been written on this subject has already been done. I was pleased therefore, to see a new slant and was intrigued to see how the author would mix fictional characters with such a well-documented case.

This is a well-written pastiche of Conan Doyle’s original Sherlock Holmes stories which could almost be written by the author himself. The style and language took me straight back to the likes of A Study in Scarlet with one difference – this case is penned by Holmes himself, the usual scribe, Dr Watson being the subject of much of the detective’s musings.

We discover quite early on that Holmes has suspicions about his friend and I really like how the author keeps you waiting until near the end to discover whether these suspicions are well-founded. Like Holmes, I could not believe that Watson could possibly commit such heinous crimes, but the evidence definitely seemed to fit… You will have to read the book yourself to see the outcome!

Sherlock Holmes and the Ripper of Whitechapel is quite a short book so if you are a fan of Sherlock Holmes who is looking for a quick read with an engaging plot, then this could be the book for you. Thoroughly enjoyable.

With thanks to M K Wiseman and to Rachel from Rachel’s Random Resources.

 

Purchase Link

UK – https://www.amazon.co.uk/Sherlock-Holmes-Ripper-Whitechapel-Wiseman-ebook/dp/B088P92XWC

US – https://www.amazon.com/Sherlock-Holmes-Ripper-Whitechapel-Wiseman-ebook/dp/B088P92XWC

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**Blog Tour** The Smuggler’s Daughter by Kerry Barrett

1799

One night, young Emily Moon witnesses the brutal murder of her father. Unable to tell anyone what she has seen, her mother thinks that he has simply disappeared, leaving her to find solace in the alcohol that she sells at their clifftop inn in Cornwall. Knowing that the smugglers that operate nearby are the ones responsible for the murder, Emily is not happy that the killers are seemingly getting away with this horrific crime.

Present Day

After a tragic case, police officer Phoebe Bellingham decides that a break in Cornwall would be the ideal way to get some respite. Staying with her friend at The Moon Girl pub, she comes across the story of Emily and is immediately intrigued. Just what did happen to Emily Moon and are we about to see history repeat itself over 200 years later?

As a fan of dual timeline books, The Smuggler’s Daughter ticked all of the boxes for me. The author successfully transported me back to Georgian England, painting a very descriptive picture of the Cornwall coastline, something straight out of du Maurier’s Jamaica Inn. I could almost smell the sea air and hear the wind whistling across the cliffs.

Although the time frames are two very different eras, we get to see a parallel in the plots due to the place the story is set, with smuggling being the common link. We also see some similarities between the two lead characters, both of them with an eye for justice and a desire to do the right thing. My heart went out to Phoebe who is torturing herself due to what she perceives as a failure on her part to do her job properly on her last case. It was easy to see why she needed something to occupy her mind, her investigation into Emily Moon being the perfect distraction.

Emily Moon is a fantastic character. Dismissed by locals as a simple young girl, she was actually an incredibly strong young woman, brave beyond her years. I loved every scene she was in and had my fingers crossed throughout the book that she would go on to live a happy life. I admired her tenacity, even when faced with extreme danger, and understood her need to revenge the death of her father, whatever the cost.

The Smuggler’s Daughter is one of those books that draws you in straight away and I found it difficult to put down, reading it in a few sittings. This is the perfect book for someone wanting a mix of history and mystery and I will definitely be looking out for more books by this author.

With thanks to HQ and Net Galley for my ARC and to Sian Baldwin for organising the blog tour.

 

The Molten City by Chris Nickson

All eyes are on the Leeds police as the city is soon to receive a visit from the Prime Minister. The year is 1908, however, and the unemployed are planning to disrupt the visit along with the Suffragettes who see this as an ideal opportunity to get their grievances heard. With his men already stretched, an anonymous note sent to Detective Superintendent Tom Harper has piqued his interest. Telling of an abducted child fourteen years earlier and naming the family with whom he now lives, Harper is concerned that the original investigation seemed to be a bit lacklustre with a paper thin file detailing the steps taken. When missing children are a top priority, why was the disappearance of Andrew Sharp never taken seriously and why is there still an attempt to keep the story hidden?

Tom Harper is back, and this time things are looking very different in his personal life. At the start of the book, we see him having to come to terms with the loss of a close friend, someone who we have got to know throughout the series. This death, although not suspicious, sets the tone for the rest of the book, with numerous murders occurring to try to protect an old secret.

One of the things I have always liked about this series is the prominence placed upon Tom’s wife, Annabelle. Very much a woman ahead of her time, we now see this replicated in their daughter, Mary. Now sixteen years of age, she is very much involved in the suffragette movement, although unlike her mother, she is prepared to go against her father’s wishes to achieve her aim. I had great sympathy for Tom who, despite showing support for his daughter, knows he has a job to do, finding it difficult to prevent his daughter from getting involved in potentially dangerous demonstrations.

The Molten City has a lot happening between its pages, but the story flows easily, each plot being as enjoyable as the other. Chris Nickson, again, adds an air of authenticity by including real historical events as part of the plot, and it is easy to imagine yourself in the Leeds of 1908.

My only concern with this series is that, as time is moving on, Tom Harper is getting older. I hope that we do not see him retiring any time soon, as this is a series that I am thoroughly enjoying! If you haven’t read any of this series before, I can highly recommend it. Take a look at my reviews of some of the other books in the series:

Two Bronze Pennies

Skin Like Silver

On Copper Street

The Tin God

Leaden Heart

With thanks to Net Galley and Severn House Publishers for my copy.

 

 

 

 

The Redemption Murders by J C Briggs

The year is 1851 and the police have been called to London’s Blackwall Reach where a death has been reported on the ship The Redemption. The captain, Louis Valentine, has been brutally stabbed to death, the only clue left behind being a  copy of The Old Curiosity Shop, one of Charles Dickens’ books. The book has been inscribed to someone called ‘Kit’ who Dickens immediately recognises as his friend Kit Penney. With his friend now a murder suspect, Dickens sets out to find him, only to discover that he is missing. Is he involved or is he in fear for his own life? As the death toll rises, Superintendent Jones and the famous writer find themselves uncovering a series of dark secrets…

This, the sixth in the series is possibly the most complex plot to date, with a great deal going on, all linking together to create a huge web of intrigue. If you haven’t read any of this series yet, you may wonder how Charles Dickens finds himself involved in this shady underworld and, although this is explained in previous books, you don’t need to have read them to enjoy The Redemption Murders. Each book in the series can be read as a standalone.

One of the things I enjoy most about this series is the descriptions of Victorian London. Although we do get to experience the richer part of society, I particularly like reading about the lower classes and the environment they are forced to live in. J C Briggs writes this extremely well and you can easily picture these downtrodden people, living in squalid conditions through no fault of their own. Dickens has great sympathy for these people and there several links made to the author’s own life which, as many people will know, was not a bed of roses.

Children feature quite strongly in this series and there was one moment with a particular child in this book that was truly heart-wrenching. Throughout the book, we see how these children have to grow up fast, often doing things that they should not be doing at their age.

If you are a fan of historical mystery or are someone who enjoys the books of Charles Dickens, then this is a great series. A superb atmospheric read.

With thanks to Sapere Books and Net Galley for my copy.

The Fear of Ravens by Wendy Percival

After being hired to research the history of an old mill owned by her client Anna Brannock, genealogist Esme Quentin uncovers allegations of murder, witchcraft and a family feud that still exists today. Disturbingly, Anna appears to be the victim of some sort of hate campaign – is there a link to what happened a century ago? It is during the course of her investigation that Esme also finds herself embroiled in a missing persons enquiry after a private investigator arrives, looking for an Ellen Tucker. Why are the local people denying knowing too much about Ellen and how does it link to what is happening to Anna?

I was thrilled to see that Wendy Percival had written a fourth Esme Quentin book and could not wait to see where I would be transported to this time. Although we are taken back to the Victorian era as part of Esme’s research, I liked how most of the events link to the more recent history, a common theme linking everything neatly together.

As a fan of historical fiction and, in particular, genealogical fiction, one of the things I enjoyed most about this book is that the writing style is very different from other authors of this genre. Although we find out about different historical eras, this is not written as a ‘timeslip’ story as in other books. Instead, we experience Esme’s research, the stories of the past being uncovered as we read. This is fascinating to me and, as a family history researcher myself, I enjoyed seeing that Esme’s research mirrored what I would have done!

The plot is a fascinating one, dealing with the subject of witchcraft and how women were condemned for the most trivial of reasons. The Fear of Ravens hits the spot in so many ways, as in addition to being a great historical mystery, there is a cracking whodunit running throughout. When you add the wonderful setting and great characters into the mix, what you have is a book perfect for anyone looking for a read that really draws you into the plot.

If you are a fan of historical fiction, or have never given books with a genealogical slant a try, then I can thoroughly recommend The Fear of Ravens. Although it is part of a series, it can be read as a standalone, but if you would like to find out about the rest of the series, take a look at the rest of the books and some of my reviews:

Blood-Tied

The Indelible Stain

The Malice of Angels

Death of a Cuckoo

Legacy of Guilt

With thanks to Wendy Percival for sending me an ARC off The Fear of Ravens.

The Arbella Stuart Conspiracy by Alexandra Walsh

The year is 1603 and the reign of the Tudors has come to an end. The Scottish king James, now James I of England, has taken the throne, much to the anger of those who believe that there is another rightful monarch residing in the country. Back in the present day, Dr Perdita Rivers and her sister Piper are still taken aback at the changes that have happened in the past year, but know that even more is ahead. If they can find the one thing that has been eluding them, could they have the evidence that could alter the course of British history forever? With old enemies set to resurface, how much more blood will be shed to prevent secrets from emerging?

The Arbella Stuart Conspiracy is the final book of the Marquess House trilogy and I would advise that you read the previous two (The Catherine Howard Conspiracy and The Elizabeth Tudor Conspiracy) before starting this one in order to develop a full understanding of the plot. Briefly, and without spoilers, in the previous books we discover that the sisters have inherited their family home, Marquess House, an impressive building containing a wealth of history. They soon discover that the house is hiding numerous secrets that could potentially change everything we thought we knew about Tudor history, and that there are people who would happily kill to keep us all in the dark. 

As someone interested in this era of British history, I’ve loved the journey that Alexandra Walsh has taken me on, merging fact with fiction to the point where it is impossible to see the joins! I enjoy books that challenge my thinking and, as I read this, I found myself researching characters and aspects of the plot in order to get a better understanding of this turbulent time in Britain’s past. By referencing real events such as the Main and Gunpowder Plots, there is an air of authenticity about the book, and the amount of research undertaken by the author is apparent. I admit to not knowing a great deal about Arbella Stuart, but after reading this, I will definitely be finding out more about her.

In the present day part of the story, there are plenty of loose ends left from previous books that I hoped would be tied up by the end and I was pleased to see that they were. I must say that I am very envious of Perdita’s life: living in such a historic building with access to all of that research material sounds like my idea of heaven! 

While I have thoroughly enjoyed the Marquess House trilogy, I am sad that it has come to an end. I hope that Alexandra Walsh has a similar idea in the pipeline as I’d love to read her take on another aspect of history – I’m sure there is plenty of scope for a few more conspiracy theories!

With thanks to Sapere Books for my copy of The Arbella Stuart Conspiracy. 

**BLOG TOUR** The Secret of the Chateau by Kathleen McGurl

It is the end of the 18th century and Pierre and Catherine Aubert, the Comte and Comtesse de Verais, have fled the privileged life they lead at the court of Versailles to set up home at a chateau, the ancestral home of Pierre. With attitudes towards the aristocracy changing rapidly, will the couple manage to start a new, more bourgeois life or will their aristocratic life catch up with them?

In the present, Lu and her husband, along with three of their friends have upped sticks to France to start a new life as joint owners of French property – the chateau Aubert. When people start to talk about the ghost that is known to live there, Lu’s interest is piqued and she begins to research the history of their house, revealing a secret that has remained hidden for centuries…

As always, it is a privilege to be part of the blog tour for one of Kathleen McGurl’s books as this is an author whose work I always eagerly anticipate. As in previous books, the story is told in two time frames: the present and, in this case, the lead up to and the aftermath of the French Revolution. It soon became apparent how much research the author has done into this turbulent time, not only with her historically accurate account of the events In France but also with the descriptions of the Alpes Maritimes. It was easy to visualise the setting such was the description, Kathleen McGurl painting a very picturesque view of this area of south east France. (If you want to see some pictures that inspired the book, take a look at https://www.pinterest.co.uk/kathmcgurl/future-novel/) .

In the two main characters, we see contrasting personalities. Lu is someone who is in need of a purpose in life after retiring from work to care for her mother. The death of her mother has left her at a loose end and so the opportunity to relocate to a chateau in France with her husband and friends seems like an ideal opportunity. Her uncertainty about the venture, however, is the complete opposite to Catherine, a woman who, despite her tender years, knows her own mind, even though her desire to emulate Marie Antoinette could end up being her downfall.

As someone who researches my family history, I liked reading about the discoveries made by Lu as she attempted to find out about the previous occupants in the chateau. This was where the two story lines converged, leading to a harrowing revelation about what actually happened to Pierre and Catherine Aubert. I found this very moving and, although I won’t give any spoilers, I was pleased that there could be closure for characters in both time frames.

As expected, I thoroughly enjoyed The Secret of the Chateau and loved the slow, mysterious build-up leading to a heart-breaking yet satisfying conclusion. This is a standalone, but I can definitely recommend all of Kathleen McGurl’s previous dual time frame books:

The Emerald Comb

The Pearl Locket

The Daughters of Red Hill Hall

The Girl From Ballymor

The Drowned Village

The Forgotten Secret

The Stationmaster’s Daughter

With thanks to HQ Digital, Net Galley and Rachel’s Random Resources for my ARC and for my spot on the blog tour.

 

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