blog tour, books, reviews

Blog Tour: Betsy Roberts – N.G. Neville

This incredible story is based on true events concerning young Betsy Roberts – how she was kidnapped, abused but survived America’s first serial killers – the evil Harpe brothers – how she outlived and ultimately profited using her wits and sheer determination.

Betsy Roberts, a young woman from Kentucky is brutally kidnapped by notorious outlaws Micajah and Wiley Harpe who abuse then exploit her. The novel describes how Betsy uses her wits and courage to survive, and then ultimately prosper despite the most appalling conditions and treatment she suffers, in the wilderness of late eighteenth century America. She gradually becomes tainted by the evil, murderous activities of the Harpe brothers who, amongst other things, use her as bait to lure travelers to their deaths. She does this under duress initially but later becomes indifferent, even to the extent of being a willing accomplice.

Part 2 of the novel describes her long, gruelling journey of escape to New York in the early eighteen hundreds. It covers how she became a key figure there, developing businesses, illicit and legal, and the family dynasty she establishes.

The story is an extraordinary and gripping tale of horrific violence, a kaleidoscope of extraordinary characters, settings and and yet also incredible willpower, survival instincts. Betsy ultimately becomes a strong, determined woman but also uses almost any means to achieve her ends.

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N.G. Neville is the pseudonym or pen name of Geoff Burke and Nick Fisher, co-authors of ‘BETSY ROBERTS’ their first major novel. It was preceded by a shorter novel entitled ‘DEGENERATION The Story of Betsy Roberts’ which forms the first part of the full novel ‘BETSY ROBERTS’.

A sequel or more accurately prequel, a collection of short or not so short in some cases, stories will be published in 2021. It has a working title ‘DEATH and SALVATION’. Many of the amazing characters in ‘BETSY ROBERTS’ are present before they appear in the full novel. How they got to where they were in the novel forms a fascinating collection of truly extraordinary stories.

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My thoughts: inspired by the real life Betsy Roberts, this novelised biography is packed full of details of her nefarious dealings and the trail of corpses left in her wake. From rural Kentucky to the high society of New York City, Betsy proves to be a ruthless and determined woman, whether surviving being kidnapped by two outlaws, to escaping justice, travelling cross country with her young son, and engineering her way to wealth and success, she doesn’t let anyone or anything get in her way. Including husbands.

I felt sorry for Betsy at first, with her murdered parents and having been kidnapped and treated brutally by the Harpe brothers. But instead of escaping them, she breaks them out of jail and goes on the run with them again. She’s so cold hearted and utterly without remorse, even murdering her own husbands to get her own way. While I can’t quite say I admire her, she is after all a murderer and criminal, she sounds like a force to be reckoned with, and her rags to riches tale should be encouraging – as long as you don’t go with the body count too.

*I was kindly gifted a copy of this book in exchange for taking part in the blog tour but all opinions remain my own.

blog tour, books, reviews

Blog Tour: The Reacher Guy – Heather Martin

The Reacher Guy is a life of bestselling superstar Lee Child, a portrait of the artist as a young man, refracted through the life of his fictional avatar, Jack Reacher. It tells the story of how the boy from Birmingham reinvented himself to become the strongest brand in publishing, selling over one hundred million books in more than forty different languages across the globe.
Heather Martin interviews friends, teachers, colleagues and neighbours, including agents and editors. Based
primarily on her conversations with the author over a period of years, together with readings of his books and research in his literary archive, this authorised biography reveals the man behind the myth, tracing his origins back through the generations to Northern Ireland and County Durham, and following the trajectory of his extraordinary career via New York and Hollywood until the climactic moment when, in 2020, having written a continuous series of twenty-four books, he finally floats free of his fictional creation.
Lee Child comments: “I met Heather Martin some years ago, and we started talking about why people love telling and hearing stories. To get more depth and detail we started talking about why I do. Eventually I said, ‘If you want to really get to the bottom of it, you’re going to have to write my biography.’ So she did. It was a fun and illuminating process. I had forgotten a lot, and it was fascinating to be reminded. Now it all makes sense.”

Heather Martin was born in West Australia. She grew up in Aix-en-Provence, Paris, and Perth, where she would fall asleep to the sound of the Indian Ocean. She left Australia for England to become a classical guitarist but found herself singing with a Venezuelan folk group and learning to speak Spanish instead. She read Languages at Cambridge, where she also did a PhD in comparative literature, and has held teaching and research positions at Cambridge, Hull, King’s College London, and most recently, the Graduate Center, City University New York.
Heather is a long-time Reacher fan. While waiting to get her hands on the next in the series, she once read a Lee Child book in Spanish and wound up writing to the author about the fate of his character in translation. The Reacher Guy is her first biography.

My thoughts: I haven’t read many Reacher books, I think maybe 2 of them, but my dad and Grandad are fans and I’m always interested in how and why a writer started writing. A very slow start, honestly I would skip the first few chapters, that then got really interesting as Jim Grant became Lee Child and started writing his incredibly successful books. He seems very matter of fact about why he started writing and how he goes about creating each of them. I’m very interested to see how his younger brother handles taking over the mantle of Jack Reacher writer in chief.

There were some very funny moments, especially when talking about publishing and funny things that happen when a famous but not necessarily recognisable writer starts travelling around the world and meeting fans. I liked the story about when Lee was at an airport and said to someone reading a Reacher book “I’ve heard the rest are really good too”, if that person recognises themselves, they’re going to be very puzzled, I know I would be.

*I was kindly gifted a copy of this book in exchange for taking part in the blog tour but all opinions remain my own.

blog tour, books, reviews

Blog Tour: The Improbable Adventures of Miss Emily Soldene – Helen Batten

The fascinating biography of an almost forgotten star of the Victorian stage brought back to life by the Sunday Times bestselling author of Sisters of the East End.
Emily Soldene was a courageous actor-manager whose life spanned the entire Victorian period. She challenged the stereotype of Victorian women and showed just what women
could achieve with enough determination. From in humble working-class beginnings born
as the daughter of a Clerkenwell milliner in 1838, she rose to become a celebrated leading lady, director and formidable impresario creating one of the era’s most celebrated opera
companies. Her career took her to theatres across America and Australia, as well as throughout Great Britain, before reinventing herself as a journalist and writer in her fifties.
She wrote a weekly column for the Sydney Evening News, as well as a novel and a memoir, and scandalised the capital with her revelations. Emily Soldene died in 1912.
A darling of London’s music halls and theatre land, Emily counted Charles Dickens and the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood as friends and mingled with the Rothschilds, Oscar Wilde and
aristocrats. Charting her international triumphs and calamitous disasters, from taking Broadway by storm, to befriending cowboys in the Wild West and touring the Australian outback, Helen Batten vividly recreates the era and a riotous life that has faded from the limelight.
Putting Emily Soldene firmly back in centre stage, The Improbable Adventures of Miss Emily Soldene is a portrait of an irrepressible character who trod the boards, travelled the globe and tore up the Victorian rule book.

HELEN BATTEN is the Sunday Times bestselling author of Sisters of the East End, and of The Scarlet Sisters which told the story of her grandmother’s life. She is also the co-author of Confessions of a Showman: My Life in the Circus, Gerry Cottle’s autobiography.
After reading history at Cambridge, Helen studied journalism at
Cardiff University. She went on to become a producer and director at the BBC. She now works as a writer and psychotherapist. She lives in West London with her three daughters.

My thoughts: the author is a distant relative of Emily Soldene so this added a nice extra dimension to the story of one of history’s forgotten women. Emily was a brilliant woman, reinventing herself from illegitimate daughter to darling of music halls and opera houses. Her talent and sheer determination saw her battle back from failure time and again, eventually becoming a writer and journalist.

She was feted across the UK, America and Australia, blazing a trail, which saw her, her sister Clara and her niece Katie all spend time on stage. But Emily was the star. An incredible biography of a truly remarkable woman.

*I was kindly gifted a copy of this book in exchange for taking part in the blog tour but all opinions remain my own.

blog tour, books, reviews

Blog Tour: The Gilded Cage on the Bosphorus – Ayşe Osmanoğlu*

Brothers bound by blood but fated to be enemies. Can their Empire survive or will it crumble into myth?

Istanbul, 1903. Since his younger brother usurped the Imperial throne, Sultan Murad V has been imprisoned with his family for nearly thirty years.
The new century heralds immense change. Anarchy and revolution threaten the established order.
Powerful enemies plot the fall of the once mighty Ottoman Empire. Only death will bring freedom to the enlightened former sultan. But the waters of the Bosphorus run deep: assassins lurk in shadows,
intrigue abounds, and scandal in the family threatens to bring destruction of all that he holds dear…

For over six hundred years the history of the Turks and their vast and powerful Empire has been
inextricably linked to the Ottoman dynasty. Can this extraordinary family, and the Empire they built,
survive into the new century?

Set against the magnificent backdrop of Imperial Istanbul,The Gilded Cage on the Bosphorus is a spellbinding tale of love, duty and sacrifice.
Evocative and utterly beguiling,The Gilded Cage on the Bosphorus is perfect for fans of Colin Falconer, Kate Morton and Philippa Gregory.

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Ayşe Osmanoğlu is a member of the Imperial Ottoman family, being descended from Sultan Murad V through her grandfather and from Sultan Mehmed V (Mehmed Reşad) through her grandmother. After reading History and Politics at the University of Exeter, she then obtained an M.A. in Turkish Studies at SOAS, University of London, specialising in Ottoman History. She lives in the UK with her husband and five children.

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My thoughts: this was really fascinating, a partly fictionalised account of the lives of the deposed Sultan Murad V and his family, who lived under house arrest after his brother seized the throne.

Written by a descendant of the family, it obviously has a slight bias towards the real life figures in it, but that’s understandable and I think if I were to write about my ancestors, I’d probably do the same. Saladuddin in particular was a really interesting, intelligent man, the son of the former sultan, he had lots of ideas about reforming the Ottoman Empire and bringing it into the 20th Century, but his paranoid and mistrustful uncle would never have listened.

It is at times very sad, the whole family, four generations at one point, were trapped in an admittedly luxurious Palace, but unable to see any of their other relatives, of which there were many, or even know what was going on outside the walls, unless from the newspapers and loyal servants’ gossip. After Murad’s death, they are finally allowed on restricted outings and Prince Nurid doesn’t even realise that the four legged creatures on the streets are dogs, that’s how isolated and forgotten they were.

It’s an incredibly moving and deeply interesting read – seeing world history through their eyes, as opposed to the Western European one I learnt at school was especially intriguing.

*I was kindly gifted a copy of this book in exchange for taking part in the blog tour but all opinions remain my own.

blog tour, books, reviews

Blog Tour: The Queen of Romance – Liz Jones*

The first biography of the bestselling author and journalist Marguerite Jervis Daughter of an officer of the Indian Medical Corps, Florence Laura Jarvis (1886 – 1964) was born in Marguerite Burma and became one of the most successful novelists of her time .

During the course of her 60-year career, Marguerite published over 150 books, with 11 novels adapted for film, including The Pleasure Garden (1925), the directorial debut of Alfred Hitchcock. In her heyday she sold hundreds of thousands of novels, but is now largely forgotten; under numerous pseudonyms she wrote for newspapers, women’s magazines and the silent movie screen; she married one of Wales most controversial literary figures, Caradoc Evans.

She also trained as an actress and was a theatrical impresario. Known variously as Mrs Caradoc Evans, Oliver Sandys, Countess Barcynska and many other pseudonyms, who was she really?

Liz Jones has dug deep beneath the tale told in Marguerite Jervis’s own somewhat romanticised memoir to reveal what made this driven and determined woman. And what turned her from a spoilt child of the English middle classes to a workaholic who could turn her hand to any literary endeavour and who became a runaway popular success during the most turbulent years of the 20th century.

Liz Jones writes drama and creative non-fiction, reviews, short stories and journalism ranging from Take a Break to New Welsh Review. Along the way she has raised two daughters, tried to change the world, worked in a café-cum-bookshop, a housing association, in community development and lifelong learning. She is now a Teaching Fellow at Aberystwyth University.

My thoughts: this was a really interesting book. I hadn’t heard of Marguerite Jarvis or any of her aliases. Even studying English Literature for years, she never crossed my path as a writer. Which is a shame. Her life was more interesting than fiction. She reinvented herself so many times, as a writer, a “countess”, a theatre owner. Her books were made into films during the silent era, and then adapted into plays for her theatre company.

I really enjoyed learning about this interesting and colourful woman, her life, marriages and work. Her devotion to her last husband, Welsh writer Caradoc Evans, and her son Nicholas meant she never stopped writing, desperate for money to support them. It’s a shame her books seem to be hard to get hold of these days, yes I looked, as while they’re not particularly fashionable, they’re a part of literary history.

*I was kindly gifted a copy of this book in exchange for taking part in the blog tour but all opinions remain my own.

blog tour, books, reviews

Blog Tour: The Shadowy Third – Julia Parry*

A sudden death in the family delivers Julia a box of love letters. Dusty with age, they reveal an illicit affair between the celebrated twentieth-century Irish novelist Elizabeth Bowen and Humphry House – Julia’s grandfather.

So begins an intriguing quest to discover and understand this affair, one with profound repercussions for Julia’s family, not least for her grandmother, Madeline.

This is a book about how stories are told in real life, in fiction and in families. Inspired by Bowen’s own obsession with place and memory, Julia travels to all the locations in the letters – from Kolkata to Cambridge and from Ireland to Texas.

The reader is taken from the rarefied air of Oxford in the 1930s, to the Anglo-Irish Big House, to the last days of Empire in India and on into the Second World War.

The fascinating unpublished correspondence, a wealth of family photographs, and a celebrated supporting cast that includes Isaiah Berlin and Virginia Woolf add further richness to this unique work.

The Shadowy Third opens up a lost world, one with complex and often surprising attitudes to love and sex, work and home, duty and ambition, and to writing itself.

Weaving present-day story telling with historical narrative, this is a beautifully written debut of literary and familial investigation from an original and captivating new voice.

Julia Parry was brought up in West Africa and educated at St Andrews and Oxford. She teaches English literature and has worked as a writer and photographer for a variety of publications and charities. She lives in London and Madrid. This is her first book.

My thoughts:

This was utterly fascinating and totally absorbing a read. As someone whose own family has a few mysteries, I could completely relate to the author’s desire to follow in her grandparents footsteps and unravel the complex relationships at the heart of this book.

I read Elizabeth Bowen’s The Heat of the Day at uni, but we focused more on the text than the writer, so it was also interesting to learn more about her life, and its web of affairs, especially the way Parry connects Bowen’s written works, short stories and novels, to the parallels in her own life.

Part biography, part mystery, part memoir, this was a truly brilliant debut, well written and expertly paced, as you travel with Parry to Kolkata, Ireland, and across the UK.

*I was kindly gifted a copy of this book in exchange for taking part in the blog tour but all opinions remain my own.

blog tour, books, reviews

Blog Tour: 18 Tiny Deaths – Bruce Goldfarb*

‘For most of human history, sudden and unexpected deaths of a suspicious nature, when they were investigated at all, were examined by lay persons without any formal training. People often got away with murder. Modern forensic investigation originates with Frances Glessner Lee – a pivotal figure in police science.’

18 Tiny Deaths is the remarkable story of how one woman changed the face of murder investigation forever.

Born in 1878, Frances Glessner Lee’s world was set to be confined to the domestic sphere. She was never expected to have a career, let alone one steeped in death and depravity. Yet she was to become known as ‘the mother of forensic science’.

This is her story.

Frances Glessner Lee’s mission was simple: she wanted to train detectives to ‘convict the guilty, clear the innocent and find the truth in a nutshell’. This was a time of widespread corruption, amateur sleuthing and bungled cases.

With the help of her friend, the pioneering medical examiner George Magrath, Frances set out to revolutionise police investigation. Her relentless pursuit of justice led her to create ‘The Nutshell Studies of Unexplained Death’, a series of dollhouse-sized crime scene dioramas depicting actual cases in exquisitely minute detail that Lee used to teach homicide investigators. They were first used in homicide seminars at Harvard Medical School in the 1930s, and then became part of the longest running and still the highest regarded police training seminar in America.

Celebrated the world over by scientists, artists and miniaturists, these macabre scenes helped to establish her legendary reputation as ‘the mother of modern forensics’, influencing people the world over, including Scotland Yard.Frances wanted justice for all. She became instrumental in elevating murder investigation to a scientific discipline.

Bruce Goldfarb is the executive assistant to the Chief Medical Examiner for the State of Maryland, US, where the Nutshell Studies of Unexplained Death are housed. He gives conducted tours of the facility and is also a trained forensic investigator. He began his career as a paramedic before working as a journalist, reporting on medicine, science and health. He collaborated with Susan Marks – the documentary filmmaker who produced the 2012 film about Frances Glessner Lee and the Nutshells titled Of Dolls and Murder.

My thoughts:

This was a really fascinating read, I’d come across the Nutshell models on a TV crime show, but had no idea they were real, and created by such an extraordinary woman. Frances Glessner Lee was so far ahead of her time, pushing forensic science into the modern age, creating some of the very techniques still used today in solving crime.

Obviously she had the benefit of being born into wealth and a social class that tolerated her “eccentric” interests.

But she was also incredibly determined and intelligent, if she had been male she would have been a doctor and probably have been the head of the department she funded at Harvard herself.

*I was kindly gifted a copy of this book in exchange for taking part in this blog tour but all opinions remain my own.

blog tour, books, reviews

Blog Tour: Hidden Wyndham – Amy Binns*

New biography explores the secret love life of celebrated author John Wyndham

Hidden Wyndham: Life, Love, Letters includes previously unpublished love letters from The Day of the Triffids author

The first biography of the life of science fiction author John Wyndham is now available. It includes the first publication of a collection of love letters to his long-term partner and later wife, Grace Wilson.

Hidden Wyndham: Life, Love, Letters, by Dr Amy Binns, author and senior lecturer in journalism at the University of Central Lancashire (UCLan), explores Wyndham’s wealthy but traumatic childhood. This was transformed by a spell at the first mixed-sex public school Bedales from 1915 to 1918, the source of the strange but fervent feminism of Consider Her Ways and Trouble with Lichen.

The biography covers his formative years as a pulp fiction writer, his experiences as a censor during the Blitz and his part in the Normandy landings. He described his struggles with his conscience in a moving series of letters to Grace, the teacher with whom he had a 36 year love affair.

After the war, he transformed the searing experiences of wartime London, France and Germany into a series of bestselling novels: The Day of the Triffids, The Chrysalids, The Midwich Cuckoos and The Kraken Wakes. But he remained intensely private, shunning fame and finally retiring to live anonymously with Grace in the countryside he loved.

With a decade of experience in news reporting, Dr Amy Binns is now a writer, researcher and journalism lecturer at the University of Central Lancashire.

Her PhD was on solutions to difficult behaviour on social media and other online communities, and she has contributed to a report from the Committee on Standards in Public Life on the intimidation of parliamentary candidates. She regularly speaks on Radio Five Live on social media issues.

Hidden Wyndham: Life, Love, Letters, is Dr Binns’ second book. She has also written about local history in the book “Valley of a Hundred Chapels”, also available on Amazon. She has also published papers and chapters on interwar feminism and social history. Dr Binns lives in Yorkshire with her husband and two children.

My thoughts:

This was certainly an interesting book, like most people I knew little of John Wyndham beyond his famous books; The Midwich Cuckoos and The Day of the Triffids foremost, but the reclusive author led a long and interesting life.

His wartime experiences are recalled in verbatim reproduction of the letters he and his great love, Grace, exchanged, while other details come from Grace’s diaries and Wyndham’s brother Viv’s writing.

I found the section on his publishing career and his works most interesting, he founded a science fiction magazine with several contemporaries as well as producing the novels for which he is most well known.

His early feminism was also very interesting, perhaps stemming from witnessing his parents unhappy marriage and his father’s treatment of women in particular.

Throughout it all it is his relationship with Grace that sustains him, and although very few people were even aware of their love, and they only married later in life, Binns posits that all of his female heroines were versions of Grace, a love letter in every story he wrote.

*I was kindly gifted a copy of this book in exchange for taking part in this blog tour but all opinions remain my own.

blog tour, books, reviews

Blog Tour: A Reluctant Spy – Miller Caldwell*

Hilda Campbell was born in the north of Scotland in 1889. She married German national Dr Willy Bűttner Richter in 1912. They honeymooned in Scotland and returned to settle in Hamburg. Dr Richter died in 1938. After visiting her ailing parents, Hilda returned to Germany just before the Second World War began. She became a double agent, controlled by Gerhardt Eicke in Germany and Lawrence Thornton in Britain. How could she cope under such strain, and with her son Otto in the German Army? Nor did she expect her evidence to be so cruelly challenged at the Nuremberg Trials. Learn of her post-war life, which took her abroad as a British Ambassador’s wife.

This is an extraordinary story based on the life of the author’s great aunt, Hilda. The book includes several authentic accounts.

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I retired at the age of 53 as I found I had mild cognitive impairment MCI. This is a condition which gives me a poor memory but a sharp mind. It was difficult to find work that would take me and so I decided to write books. Sixteen years later, I have written twenty three books with another two yet to be published. I have learned the book writing skills though writing clubs and writers magazines. Over the years I find my writing is much better received. I am seen as a novelist but I have three illustrated children’s books, several biographies and three self help books as well. My website sags with the volume. But I cannot be pigeon holed. It depends what theme obsesses my thinking, as that will be my next book.

I have been on the committee of the Society of Authors in Scotland and have been their Events Manager. I am due to speak at next year’s Wigtown Book Festival as A Reluctant Spy will be a documentary by then. That reminds me I have an agent. A Literary as well as a Film agent in Mathilde Vuillermoz. With her on board I will release some of my self published books through her. Without an agent it is becoming more difficult to attract traditional publishers. So I remain optimistic and find like a graph, my trajectory is currently on an upswing.

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My thoughts:

This was really interesting, based on the real life of the author’s great aunt; which makes it even more compelling. An ordinary woman thrust into extraordinary circumstances, relying on her wits and determination to not get caught.

It was really fascinating – a story that hadn’t been told from this angle before. A resourceful, intelligent and capable woman, resilient and brave; Hilda Campbell was an incredible person and I’m glad I got to read about her.

The book is well written and flows nicely, travelling across Europe with Hilda, not afraid to show the peril she faced at times, and the genuine fears and tragedies of wartime life.

*I was kindly gifted a copy of this book in exchange for taking part in this blog tour but all opinions remain my own.