Category Archives: Books

Friday Five – unusual historicals

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There’s a tendency sometimes for historical novels to be set in very similar time periods – Henry VIII, the English Civil War, Victorian Britain.  So it’s a breath of fresh air to discover books set in some much more unusual times and places that you might not otherwise have come across.  Here’s a handful I’ve read over the years.

Across the Nightingale Floor by Lian Hearn

Beautiful, lyrical and incredibly authentic story set in medieval Japan, with all the elements of Japanese literature including romance, destruction and tragedy. I believe it’s actually a YA title, but really doesn’t read like it and tackles some amazingly adult themes.

As Meat Loves Salt by Maria McCann

This is actually set against the backdrop of the English Civil War, but stands out for two reasons.  One is the sheer sensory overload of sights, smells and sounds of the time, which gives it a strong sense of authenticity. The other is that the main character is a gay man.  The romance is affecting, the characters strongly drawn, and I found it hard to put down.

Death of a Monk by Alon Hilu

A simply extraordinary book written by an Israeli author and translated into English in a volume I found in a second hand book store in London. The story involves another gay man struggling to cope with marriage, relationships and life in 1840s Damascus, when the city was subdivided into a number of racially divided but surprisingly well integrated quarters. A unique and mesmerising book.

People’s Act of Love by James Meek

A searing romance-cum-historical-cum mystery set against the wilderness backdrop of early twentieth century Siberia during the early years of the Revolution. At times brutal, but also imbued with a mischievous sense of humour – and the final revelation is almost literally to die for!

The Sleeper in the Sands by Tom Holland

A sort of ‘thousand and one nights’ for ancient Egypt, with a storyline that moves from Howard Carter’s discovery of Tutankhamun’s tomb to a series of ancient myths and legends that form a story within a story within a story. Slightly confusing at times and I’d have like more about Carter, but it was gripping and unusual.

 

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Friday Five – garden mysteries

P1020888I’m a sucker for any kind of mystery and I love gardens and gardening, so it stands to reason I would seek out books with a bit of both.  I’ve read a few over the years; here’s a selection of some of them:

Tom’s Midnight Garden by Philippa Pearce

Still one of my favourite books and a big influence on my writing even now. I love the descriptions of the garden of the past, and the happiness Tom finds there, and the reveal still has the power to send shivers up my spine. I also love the way she manages to write a children’s novel without ever talking down – the language and themes are remarkably grown up.

The Savage Garden by Mark Mills

A fascinating exploration of a Renaissance garden in Tuscany, and the macabre hidden message it sends out via statues, grottoes and classical inscriptions.  I found it hard to put down.  It’s billed as a murder mystery, but really has more in common with Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code, except that it’s less hysterical and much, much better written.

The Serpent in the Garden by Janet Gleeson

Overall this was a little too cosy for my tastes, but I enjoyed the descriptions of the 18th century garden, the hot house and the mystic art of growing pineapples!  There’s also a nod to the work of Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown.  A shame that the plot, involving a stolen emerald necklace, didn’t entirely hold up to scrutiny.

Thornyhold by Mary Stewart

Another favourite, with a wonderful sense of otherworldliness and a plot that involves telepathy, white witchcraft and herbalism.  In places it’s desperately sad, but the ‘fairy godmother’ saves the day.  A beautiful and absorbing read.

The Sea Garden by Sam Llewellyn

A recent find, set in a fascinating 18th century garden by the sea (on an island off the Cornish coast, no less), where the new owner finds a human skull in a flower bed and sets off to discover who it once belonged to.  Again, this is less murder mystery and more a sprawling family saga involving all sorts of skeletons in all sorts of closets, and I really enjoyed it.

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Got Ghosts? You will have!

Terrific news in the last few days – my new book ‘Got Ghosts?’ is due out from Fox Spirit in October, all set to coincide with Halloween!

The book is a complete romp, very loosely based on the hit TV show ‘Most Haunted’, and features a haunted English manor house, and all the things that go wrong when the film crew of (entirely fictional) television series ‘Got Ghosts?’ come for a weekend to make a programme there.

Greystone Hall’s owner Emily has far too much to deal with, including a plethora of ghosts, an arrogant producer, happy and unhappy mediums, a set of missing paintings, and yet more ghosts, not to mention a burgeoning romance with someone she doesn’t expect.

More details to come, but then if you’re good psychics you’ll know that already…

 

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The Sea Garden

seagardenI’ve just finished reading Sam Llewellyn’s mystery-in-a-garden The Sea Garden, and loved it.

As I say in my Goodreads review, I’m a complete sucker for any kind of mystery involving gardens (Tom’s Midnight Garden, The Savage Garden, Thornyhold), and this was no exception.

The present-day heroine Victoria uncovers a skull in the ancient, rambling and mysterious garden she and her husband have just inherited on an island off the Cornish coast.  When the skull vanishes again before she’s had a chance to examine it properly, she sets off on an investigation of who it could have belonged to and why it was buried there.  And uncovers a whole furniture-store of closets full of family skeletons and secrets in the process.

The writing was every bit as good as Mary Stewart at her best and the unexpected humour reminded me of Dorothy Dunnett.  Since those are two of my favourite authors it’s hardly surprising I liked this.

The ending was perhaps a little too melodramatic for my liking, but it fitted well with the ‘gothic’ feel of the book, and with the historical elements, and it tied everything up very neatly.

I’m hoping Mr Llewellyn will write more books in a similar vein, that I can look out for and devour.

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Shadow of the Wind

1232I realised earlier today that I’d never got round to putting a review of this wonderful book on Goodreads.  So, to put the damage right I’ve now added a review and given it five very well-deserved stars.

As I mention in the review, it did take me a while to ‘get into’ the book and I had a couple of false starts where something jarred and I got stuck.  However, the third time the author’s style or voice spoke to me; I got over the sticking point, kept going, and never looked back.

The book is quite simply stunning.  I love the whole idea of a library for forgotten books so much I think I’d want to spend all my time in there!  And the mystery of the book that’s selected, and the danger it brings for the young hero, is really compelling.

As with many of the best reads, this one is by no means quick or easy.  The whole thing clocks in at a whopping 500+ pages and the narrative style is quite slow, even ponderous.  But that and the beauty of the prose just add to the overall atmosphere.  I ended up loving it, and want to doff my virtual hat to both the author and the translator who seems to have done an excellent job transferring ‘Shadow’ to English idiom while keeping the lyricism of the original Spanish.

Oh – and if you want to read my rather more concise review on Goodreads, it’s here!

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Bookshop Trail

The other day I picked up a leaflet somewhere about a bookshop trail.  Not just any bookshop trail, but specifically the ‘Dales & Lakes Bookshop Trail’, which is a collective of secondhand bookshops in the Yorkshire Dales and Lake District national parks and their surroundings.

I’d never come across this before, and was delighted to find that there are twenty-six participating stores, including several in the small “book town” of Sedbergh, which is situated roughly half way between Kendal and Yorkshire.  We visited the town for the first time last year and I was amazed at the number of book shops lining the streets.  Now, apparently, there are six – not bad for a town of around 3,000 people!

And it’s not just Sedbergh.  The shops listed cover a vast area from Hawes and Hebden Bridge in the Yorkshire Dales, to Keswick and Penrith in northern Cumbria, Whitehaven on the far west coast, and Cartmel and Grange-over-Sands in the south.

It’s an impressive cooperative project.  And I’m really looking forward to trying to visit every bookshop on the list!

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Last chance for Necessity’s Door

100NecessitysDoorA quick update – my gay crime/erotic romance novella Necessity’s Door comes out of contract from Riptide Publishing this coming Tuesday (1st November).

If you’ve been meaning to get yourself a copy and forgetting, then this weekend is pretty much your last chance.  Hurry along to my website for more details on where to get hold of a copy, before it vanishes from the shelves and you miss it forever!

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