Unlawful Things by Anna Sayburn Lane | Blog Tour Guest Post |#UnlawfulThings

Available in ebook & paperback (22 October 2018)
402 pages

About the Book

A hidden masterpiece. A secret buried for 500 years. And one woman determined to uncover the truth.When London tour guide Helen Oddfellow meets a historian on the trail of a lost manuscript, she’s intrigued by the mystery – and the man. But the pair are not the only ones desperate to find the missing final play by sixteenth century English playwright Christopher Marlowe. What starts as a literary puzzle quickly becomes a quest with deadly consequences.

When Helen realises the play hides an explosive religious secret, she begins to understand how much is at stake. Relying on her quick wits, she battles far-right thugs, eccentric aristocrats and an ancient religious foundation, each with their own motives for getting their hands on the manuscript. She discovers there is a price to pay for secret knowledge, but how high is too high?

Unlawful Things was shortlisted for the Virago/The Pool New Crime Writer Award. If you love a bit of historical sleuthing and a healthy dose of fast-paced action, you’ll enjoy this intriguing debut thriller from Anna Sayburn Lane. Discover Unlawful Things today!

Guest Post
What Inspired Unlawful Things?

The action in my novel, a contemporary thriller about the dangers of digging up historical secrets, unfolds along the road from London to Canterbury, once a well-trodden pilgrim path. And the inspiration for the novel came out of walking that route myself.

It wasn’t an organised walk, just something I wanted to try. I set off one Friday with my husband, planning to walk the 60 miles over three days. We started in Southwark at the site of the Tabard Inn, where Geoffrey Chaucer’s pilgrims gathered at the start of The Canterbury Tales. The first day took us through the streets of south London, where I’d lived and worked as a local newspaper reporter. Passing through Deptford, I noticed a pair of grisly-looking carved skulls on a gate into a churchyard. Intrigued, we went inside.

The churchyard was St Nicholas on Deptford Green, the burial place of Elizabethan playwright Christopher Marlowe. Marlowe was a colourful character. He killed a man in a knife-fight in Shoreditch, was rumoured to be a spy and was supposedly killed in a brawl in Deptford. Some people suspect he faked his own death and was the true author of Shakespeare’s plays. 

Chaucer, Marlowe – who else would we come across on our walk? We stopped for the night at Dartford, then the following day started to see evidence of Charles Dickens, as we moved deeper into Kent. Dickens had a house at Gad’s Hill, between Gravesend and Rochester, both of which featured in his novels, as did the neighbouring village of Cobham. The ancient Cobham Hall, I later discovered, had its own intriguing history, including a treason plot against James I.

When arrived in Canterbury at the end of day three, I’d collected enough ideas for several novels. I’d also learned that 60 miles is too far to walk comfortably in three days! But as we arrived at the appropriately-named Pilgrims Hotel, I noticed one more thing. We were opposite the town’s Marlowe Theatre. Christopher Marlowe, I discovered, was born in Canterbury, before a scholarship from the King’s School took him to Cambridge and then to the theatres of London’s Southwark. 

What if, I thought sleepily as we turned in for the night, Marlowe had learned something in Canterbury as an inquisitive child? A secret, something important, perhaps from Canterbury Cathedral. Something he wrote about, that was dangerous… dangerous enough to get him killed?

That ‘what if?’ sparked the plot for Unlawful Things. It’s a game of literary hide-and-seek, which also draws on some of the hard-hitting crimes and disturbances I’d written about as a London journalist. The weaving together of fact and fiction, real locations with historical speculation, is my favourite sort of writing. I hope readers have as much fun reading it as I did writing it. 

My thanks to Anne Cater of Random Things Tours for the invitation to take part and to Anna for the the guest post.

About the Author

Anna Sayburn Lane is a novelist, short story writer and journalist, inspired by the history and contemporary life of London. Unlawful Things is her first novel. She has published award-winning short stories in a number of magazines, including Mslexia, Scribble and One Eye Grey. Her award-winning story Conservation was described by judge and Booker-longlisted author Alison MacLeod as “a powerful and profound contemporary piece in which one man’s story stands for an entire nation’s… it’s a punch to the heart, a story that will haunt and touch its readers deeply”.

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If Only I Could Tell You by Hannah Beckerman | Blog Tour Review| #IfOnly

Published by Orion
Available in ebook & hardback (21 February 2019) | paperback (15 October 2019)
368 pages
Source: Paperback review copy received from Amazon Vine

My thanks to Tracy Fenton for the invitation to take part in the blog tour. I have been waiting for so long for a new book from Hannah Beckerman, I loved the Dead Wife’s Handbook which I reviewed here back in 2013 and have been excitedly waiting to read this, ever since it was announced.

About the Book

Hannah Beckerman pens a life-affirming novel that tells the story of a family divided and the secret that can possibly unite them–a must for fans of This Is Us.

Audrey knows that life is filled with ups and downs, but she can’t help feeling like she’s been dealt more than her fair share as she’s watched her family come undone over the years. Her dream as a mother had been for her daughters, Jess and Lily, to be as close as only sisters can be. But now as adults, they no longer speak to each other, and Audrey’s two teenage granddaughters have never met. Even more upsetting is the fact that Audrey has no idea how to fix her family as she wonders if they will ever be whole again.

If only Audrey had known three decades ago that a secret could have the power to split her family in two, but ironically, also keep them linked. And when hostilities threaten to spiral out of control, a devastating choice that was made so many years ago is about to be revealed, testing once and for all Audrey and those she loves.

Is it too late for one broken family to heal and find their way back to each other…?

A beautiful novel of mothers and daughters, the bonds of family, and the secrets that can sometimes divide us yet also bring us together, If Only I Could Tell You will remain on your mind long after the last page is turned.

My Thoughts

How can a family estrangement last for nearly 30 years. Audrey would like to know the answer.  Her two daughters have been estranged ever since 10 year old Jess stopped speaking to elder sister Lily; even their own children have never been allowed to get to know each other.  Now Audrey has her own battle to face and her dearest wish is for her family to come together again. The problem is that because she doesn’t know what caused the divide, she doesn’t know how to fix it.

Told from the perspectives of Audrey, Jess and Lily, the story switches back and forth from the present to significant years in each of their lives.  There is much in the way of secrets, sadness, resentments and unfulfilled dreams – all of which gradually come to light.

Reading If Only was a fully immersive experience. I adore Hannah Beckerman’s writing. She writes beautifully with each sentence being carefully constructed and so emotionally charged.  Each character was superbly drawn from single mother Jess trying to juggle a time-demanding  job with family responsibilities; with career focussed Lily who never seems to have time for anyone. Their typically strong-willed and outspoken teenage daughters, Mia and Phoebe who are far more perceptive than their families give them credit for and finally Audrey who has regrets and sadness of her own.

Many reviewers have said that this book made them cry.  I’m quite often a real softie when it comes to emotional books and in all honesty I had expected to need tissues here, but surprisingly this book didn’t make me cry. Having said that, it is a very emotional and moving read but I think I was so frustrated and at times angry with one particular character that I was beyond tears – if there had been tears from me, they would have been ones of frustration.

Being an only child, (something which I am sometimes thankful for!) the world of sibling relationships is rather alien to me. However I guess that like any family relationship, just because you’re related you don’t necessarily have to like each other and If Only shows how long festered thoughts and secrets can potentially destroy a family.

If Only I Could Tell You was a powerful and emotional read with a broken family at its heart but there was also a message of hope.  I loved it and I know that this will be one of my favourite books of the year.

About the Author

Hannah Beckerman is an author, journalist and broadcaster. She is a regular contributor to The Observer, The FT Weekend Magazine, and The Sunday Express, and was the book critic on Sara Cox’s Radio 2 Show. She chairs literary events around the UK and has been a judge on numerous book prizes including the Costa Book Awards.

Prior to becoming a full-time writer, Hannah was a TV Executive who spent fifteen years producing and commissioning documentaries about the Arts, History and Science for the BBC, Channel 4 and Discovery USA before turning her hand to writing.

Hannah lives in London with her husband and their daughter.

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Blood Orange by Harriet Tyce | Blog Tour Book Review | #BloodOrange

Published by Wildfire
Available in ebook and hardback (21 February 2019)
336 pages
Source: Copy received from publisher for review

My thanks to Georgina of Headline for the review copy and to Anne Cater of Random Things Tours for the blog tour invitation. I was fortunate to be able to attend the recent NewVoices2019 event featuring Harriet. Listening to her talking about the book made me even more keen to read it. My review is below but first the about the book bit…

About the Book


Alison has it all. A doting husband, adorable daughter, and a career on the rise – she’s just been given her first murder case to defend. But all is never as it seems…

Just one more night. Then I’ll end it.

Alison drinks too much. She’s neglecting her family. And she’s having an affair with a colleague whose taste for pushing boundaries may be more than she can handle.

I did it. I killed him. I should be locked up.

Alison’s client doesn’t deny that she stabbed her husband – she wants to plead guilty. And yet something about her story is deeply amiss. Saving this woman may be the first step to Alison saving herself.

I’m watching you. I know what you’re doing.

But someone knows Alison’s secrets. Someone who wants to make her pay for what she’s done, and who won’t stop until she’s lost everything….

My Thoughts

Alison is a successful criminal law barrister who seems hell-bent on pressing that self-destruct button.  Outwardly she has a home life to envy with an adorable young daughter, a husband who takes care of the house and childcare whilst she works and she has just been given her first murder case, a big step up the ladder in her career.  She also has a drink problem and a lack of self-control – one drink is never enough and inevitably she ends up making a fool of herself in front of friends and colleagues and worse, making decisions that she would regret.  In this category, falls her continuing affair with a colleague.  She knows that she should stop it but she just can’t bring herself to actually do it …and mean it.

When I first started reading this I really struggled to feel any empathy for Alison because of her reckless behaviour.   Even though her drunken binges didn’t seem to adversely affect the way she did her job, I didn’t like the way she neglected her family when she didn’t have to and whilst her love for her daughter was never in doubt, she was too easily side-tracked by the thought of another drink or another illicit meeting with the sometimes charming but rather quite odious Patrick. However as the story went on, with more tantalising disclosures together with reading between the lines, my opinion of her slowly changed and the more I began to understand, the more I was on her side.

The story is not just about Alison although she is the main character and the story is told from her perspective. The client she has been asked to defend has been accused of murdering her husband.  At first sight it looks a straightforward case but as the defence case is prepared, it becomes clear that there are unsettling parallels between the lives of Alison and her client Madeleine.  

It’s really difficult to review this in detail without giving away spoilers. Blood Orange is a both a domestic and legal thriller, with adult content, and a dark and disturbing storyline involving control and manipulation. Just when you think you know which way the story is heading, the author throws a curveball and you’re left blindsided.  There were one or two aspects that I had guessed, but nothing could prepare me for the conclusion.

Blood Orange is the author’s debut novel and it is an absolute cracker.  Tyce was a barrister herself for 10 years so the legal aspects are totally realistic. It is so cleverly structured and the characterisations are superbly done – any author who can bring their characters to life and make you feel such strong emotion, whether it be dislike or sympathy, has done their job well. 

This is another sure-fire contender for my top books of the year. I loved it and wouldn’t hesitate to recommend it. It makes for very uncomfortable reading at times and there are parts that may shock but its actually a very topical read and just so compelling.

I was delighted when Harriet signed my proof copy at the above mentioned New Voices event in London but I enjoyed the book so much, I had to buy a finished hardback to keep it company. That’s why there’s a different book picture – actually it’s because of the daffodils. Who doesn’t love them!

It has just been announced that Blood Orange has been optioned for a TV series by World Productions. This is excellent news but no surprise – it would make an excellent TV drama and I can’t wait. 

About the Author

Harriet Tyce was born and grew up in Edinburgh. She graduated from the University of Oxford in 1994 with a degree in English Literature before gaining legal qualifications. She worked as a criminal barrister for ten years, leaving after the birth of her first child. She completed an MA in Creative Writing – Crime Fiction at UEA where she wrote Blood Orange, which is her first novel.

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One Minute Later by Susan Lewis | Blog Tour Q and A

Published by HarperCollins
Available in ebook & hardback (21 February 2019) | paperback (25 July 2019)
416 pages

My thanks to Rebecca of Harper Collins for the invitation to take part in the tour and for providing the author Q&A.

About the Book

You think your life is perfect.

You think your secrets are safe.

You think it’ll always be this way.

But your life can change in a heartbeat.

With a high-flying job, a beautiful apartment and friends whose lives are as happy as her own, Vivienne Shager is living the dream. Then, on the afternoon of Vivi’s twenty-seventh birthday, one catastrophic minute changes everything.

Forced to move back to the small seaside town where she grew up, Vivi remembers the reasons she left. The secrets, lies and questions that now must be answered before it’s too late. But the answers lie in thirty years in the past…

Shelley Raynor’s family home, Deerwood Farm, has always been a special place until darkness strikes at its heart. When Vivi’s and Shelley’s worlds begin to entwine, it only takes a moment for the truth to unravel all of their lives.

Q&A with Susan Lewis

1.         What inspired One Minute Later? 

It was inspired by twenty-one-year-old Jim Lynskey and his real-life experience of waiting for a heart.  Getting to know someone in his position affected me deeply and brought home just how much more we can do to help or save those waiting for organs. 

2.         Why did you choose to include Jim as himself in the book alongside your fictional characters and is this a writing technique you would recommend to other writers?

I believe that featuring Jim as himself adds more impact to the story, and the campaign, Save9Lives is all his.  I feel very fortunate that he was happy for me to use it.   Yes, I’d recommend it provided you have the permission of the person concerned.

3.         The novel explores many different relationships including friendship, romantic, maternal and paternal. Which of these relationships is most integral to the book and which did you find the hardest to write? 

The romantic relationship is probably the most important, and was certainly the most difficult to write.  It couldn’t progress the way other relationships might, however it wasn’t as constrained either.  Striking the balance was quite a challenge. 

4.         What do you want people to take away from the book?

The understanding of how important it is to be an organ donor.  Also, how unpredictable life can be so why not seize every moment and stop being afraid? 

5.         What genres of book do you mostly read and do you have a favourite book?

 I move around genres all the time and I have so many favourites I could never list them all.  Here are three:   The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver; Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens; Suite Francaise by Irene Nemirovsky.

6.         Who is your favourite character that you have written so far?

 I’ve always been pretty mad about Francois in Darkest Longings.  I’m also very attached to Laurie and Elliot from the Silent Truths quartet of books.

7.         A lot of your books explore important topics which require a lot of research. Do you have a particular process when researching and which of the topics that you have explored so far has been the hardest to write about? 

Without doubt the hardest to write about was the child abuse in No Child of Mine.  This is the story of a social worker who fights to rescue a little girl from an abusive home.  I spent a lot of time listening to social workers to make sure I had a proper understanding of the process and how desperately dealing with these tragedies affects them.  

8.         Do you remember the first story you ever wrote and what was it about? 

The first book I ever wrote was called Cloudesley, a teen fantasy-adventure story set in nineteenth century Cornwall.  It was never published but my stepsons and I still have great fun adding to it and naming characters such as Mobgoblin the mafia goblin; HoblinGoblin the one-legged goblin; Health Elf the doctor, Self Elf the narcissist. 

9.         What do you like doing in your spare time?  

Walks with my dogs, movies, spending time with my husband and friends and travelling.

10.       Any advice for writers struggling with writer’s block?

 It usually happens to me when I’m tired, so I’d say take a rest.  Go away for a few hours, or days and try again.   If you still have a problem, try sitting back and listening to the characters.

About the Author

Susan Lewis is the bestselling author of thirty-five novels. She is also the author of Just One More Day and One Day at a Time, the moving memoirs of her childhood in Bristol. She lives in Gloucestershire. 

Susan is a supporter of the breast cancer charity Breast Cancer Care: www.breastcancercare.org.uk and of the childhood bereavement charity Winston’s Wish: www.winstonswish.org.uk

Author photography copyright: Colin Thomas (2011)

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The Dressmaker of Draper’s Lane by Liz Trenow | Blog Tour Review

Published by Pan
Available in ebook and paperback (21 February 2019)
352 pages
Source: Copy for review provided by publisher

About the Book

The Dressmaker of Draper’s Lane revisits the opulence and extravagance of the London silk trade in the mid-eighteenth century which Liz Trenow wrote about in her previous bestselling novel, The Silk Weaver.

1768, London

As a foundling who rose from poverty and now runs her own successful dressmaking business in the heart of society London, Miss Charlotte is a remarkable woman, admired by many. She has no need, nor desire, to marry. The people she values most are her friend Anna, her recently-found sister Louisa and nephew Peter.

She feels herself fortunate, and should be content with what she has. But something is missing.

A small piece of rare silk discovered in a bundle of scraps at auction triggers a curious sense of familiarity, and prompts her to unpick a past filled with extraordinary secrets and revelations…..

My Thoughts

Charlotte Amesbury had a very poor start in life. She was left by her poverty stricken mother at the Foundling Hospital in London and by determination and some good fortune, has been able to make her own way as a costumière with her own business near the City of London. 

The art of the seamstresses’ and the beauty of the materials they work with are superbly described. Charlotte has made a name for herself with the well to do ladies of London who recommend her to their friends and business is good.  However, there is one area of Charlotte’s life that causes her sadness. She would love to know about her mother and upon sheer chance, she happens to come across a small scrap of silk which leads her to make connections beyond which she would not have thought possible – however the discovery is also the cause of much sadness and discord. I had my suspicions as to why one character was so against Charlotte trying to find out more about her background.

Although I knew about the term ‘foundling’ it was particularly interesting here to read about the way the hospital selected which babies to accept and the tokens that the mothers left with their child, as a way of identification, in case they were ever in a position to reclaim them at a later date.

Charlotte was an extremely engaging character; for all of her confidence and business acumen, she had suffered personal heartbreak and her success had come at a price. Her best friend Anna, who together with her husband, owned a silk weaving business brought some light hearted fun into her life.  Sadly the same couldn’t be said for Ambrose, her sister Louisa’s husband. For a minister of the cloth, he certainly didn’t practice what he preached.

For a single woman in the 18th century, Charlotte is very unusual.  She has an independent spirit, manages her seamstresses with great tact and skill and is prepared to stand her ground with the toughest of business men.  I think for me, this is why I kept being pulled out of the era.  Although generally, there is an excellent sense of place, it was Charlotte herself who seemed to be of a modern age and it was only when I encountered a reference to travelling in a gig, or to some other Georgian reference that I remembered that I was actually in the 18th century and not in the 21st.  This is not a criticism of the book, but just a personal reaction.

It is not a fast paced story but The Dressmaker of Drapers Lane is a very well written historical tale and the level of research which must have been necessary comes through clearly, also the author’s family has had a silk business since the 1700s so no doubt this personal knowledge was invaluable. The detailed clothing descriptions and way of life, the fear of catching the dreaded typhus and the limited medical treatment of those times (compared to what we know today), the difficulties of communication and travel – all these aspects are so well done.  In amongst the fictional characters are ‘real life’ historical people including artist William Hogarth, one of the benefactors and governors of the Foundling Hospital and his wife Jane, who is a great friend to Charlotte.

The book features some of the characters, including Charlotte and Anna, from a previous book, The Silk Weaver, but it’s not necessary to have read that one to enjoy this as it works perfectly well on its own.

I enjoyed getting to know Charlotte and fans of historical fiction and anyone with an interest in the subject will find much to enjoy with this story.

About the Author

Liz Trenow’s latest novel is In Love and War, also known in the US as The Lost Soldiers. Her previous novels are The Last Telegram, The Silk Weaver (The Hidden Thread in the US), The Forgotten Seamstress and The Poppy Factory, which will be published in the US as All the Things We Lost on 10th January 2019. She has been published all over the world and in nine foreign languages. The Last Telegram was shortlisted for a UK national award and The Forgotten Seamstress was a New York Times best-seller. 

The Lost Soldiers marks the anniversary of the end of World War One with a story about the thousand of bereaved families who within months of the Armistice made the difficult journey to the devastated battlefields of the Flanders and The Somme in search of their loved ones who were ‘missing, presumed dead’. The book is told from the perspectives of three women who undertook this pilgrimage, each of them from different countries and backgrounds All three bear their own burdens of sorrow and guilt, and their searches seem almost impossibly daunting. While initially regarding each other with suspicion what they eventually discover, together, is greater than any of them could have imagined. 

Liz is a former journalist who spent fifteen years on regional and national newspapers, and on BBC radio and television news, before turning her hand to fiction. She lives in East Anglia, UK, with her artist husband, and they have two grown up daughters. 

Please go to www.liztrenow.com, follow her on Facebook or join her on Twitter @liztrenow

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