Wednesday, 31 March 2021

Blog Tour: The Deception of Harriet Fleet by Helen Scarlett

I'm thrilled to be taking part in the blog tour for 'The Deception of Harriet Fleet' by Helen Scarlett which is published today. Many thanks to Katya Ellis and Quercus Books for sending me a copy of the book to review. 

1871. An age of discovery and progress. But for the Wainwright family, residents of the gloomy Teesbank Hall in County Durham the secrets of the past continue to overshadow their lives.

Harriet would not have taken the job of governess in such a remote place unless she wanted to hide from something or someone. Her charge is Eleanor, the daughter of the house, a fiercely bright eighteen-year-old, tortured by demons and feared by relations and staff alike. But it soon becomes apparent that Harriet is not there to teach Eleanor, but rather to monitor her erratic and dangerous behaviour - to spy on her.

Worn down by Eleanor's unpredictable hostility, Harriet soon finds herself embroiled in Eleanor's obsession - the Wainwright's dark, tragic history. As family secrets are unearthed, Harriet's own begin to haunt her and she becomes convinced that ghosts from the past are determined to reveal her shameful story.

For Harriet, like Eleanor, is plagued by deception and untruths.

'The Deception of Harriet Fleet' is the debut novel of author Helen Scarlett. Set in 1871, during the Victorian era, it has a wonderfully Gothic feel and the story is cloaked in intrigue and mystery. 

'Jane Eyre' is my favourite nineteenth century novel, so when I first saw this book described as a 'spine-tingling homage to great Gothic novels such as Jane Eyre', I was sold. I instantly wanted to read it. There were definitely shades of Bronte's classic in the story but it was also hugely original and brilliant in its own right.   

The heroine of the title, Harriet Fleet, takes a job as a governess at the remote Teesbank Hall in County Durham. The local residents tell of a family marred by tragedy and there is an air of mystery shrouding them. When Harriet arrives, she thinks she is there to teach 18 year old Eleanor, daughter of the Wainwrights but instead she discovers that she has been employed to watch over her and spy on her. The true reason for this is not revealed until much further on in the novel. What does become clear though, is that the Wainwright family have a deep, dark secret which Harriet soon becomes embroiled in as she investigates the family's tragic past. 

In any good book, you need a strong central character and Harriet Fleet is certainly that. I admired her determination to make a new life for herself as she tries to escape the bonds which have been placed upon her. What I really loved about the novel as well, is that it's historical fiction but with a feminist twist. Helen Scarlett highlights the oppression of women during the Victorian period and shows how they do not have the same rights and freedoms that were accorded to men. This is seen not only through the character of Harriet but also her charge Eleanor, who is very much controlled by her father. Society has put constraints on both women but they rally against these as they both seek to build a better future for themselves. 

I loved the sense of suspense that is woven throughout the story. Teesbank Hall itself is quite spooky and this led to an ominous and foreboding atmosphere. The secret of the tragic event that has marred the family is gradually untangled as Harriet delves deeper and deeper into the mystery and I was eager to keep reading to find out the truth. I was kept guessing right up to the end which was a chilling and tragic exposition of one terrible moment in the past. 

This was a stunning debut which I enjoyed tremendously. I am really looking forward to reading more by Helen Scarlett in the future. 

Friday, 26 March 2021

Blog Tour: The Lamplighters by Emma Stonex

I'm thrilled to be taking part in the blog tour for 'The Lamplighters' by Emma Stonex. Published by Picador Books, this title is out now and is most definitely a book that you don't want to miss out on!

Cornwall, 1972. Three keepers vanish from a remote lighthouse, miles from the shore. The entrance door is locked from the inside. The clocks have stopped. The Principal Keeper’s weather log describes a mighty storm, but the skies have been clear all week.

What happened to those three men, out on the tower? The heavy sea whispers their names. The tide shifts beneath the swell, drowning ghosts. Can their secrets ever be recovered from the waves?

Twenty years later, the women they left behind are still struggling to move on. Helen, Jenny and Michelle should have been united by the tragedy, but instead it drove them apart. And then a writer approaches them. He wants to give them a chance to tell their side of the story. But only in confronting their darkest fears can the truth begin to surface . . .

'The Lamplighters' is the debut novel of author Emma Stonex. I read this over one weekend and was absolutely hooked on unravelling the mysterious disappearance of three lighthouse keepers from a Cornish sea tower. I'd heard a lot of pre-publication buzz about this book so I was really excited to get my hands on a copy. Let me tell you now, believe everything you read about this title because it is incredible. 

The story alternates between 1972, focusing on the lighthouse keepers of the Maiden Rock - Arthur, Bill and Vince and 1992, twenty years later, when the mystery of their disappearance is being investigated by novelist Dan Sharp. The present day part of the book incorporates the recollections of the women that were left behind - Helen, Jenny and Michelle. Three women who in many ways, have never been able to put the events of the past behind them. 

I adored the mystery element of the book. I was totally caught up in wondering what really happened to the keepers and how they just disappeared from inside a locked lighthouse in the middle of the sea. As I read along, I did develop my own theory but I could never have guessed at the real events of that fateful day. There's actually a really interesting piece written by the author and available to read here which looks at the real-life mystery that inspired the novel. I found this fascinating and added an extra layer to my enjoyment of the book. 

The setting of the story is wonderful. The sea is almost a character in its own right and I could almost sense its salty tang and wildness/unpredictability. It's incredibly atmospheric and the remote setting serves to highlight the sense of loneliness that envelops the life of a lighthouse keeper. I thought that Emma Stonex did a fabulous job of exploring the inner psychology of the men and each one came alive in my mind as I pictured them going about their day to day routines. 

It's hard to believe that 'The Lamplighters' is a debut novel because the writing style of Stonex is so self-assured and confident. She brilliantly captures the sense of grief felt by the three women left behind and explores what it really means to love someone. I liked the way that she showed how this love can simultaneously lift up and also destroy a person. 

This is definitely one of my stand-out books of the year so far. I was still thinking about it long after having finished reading it and I'm definitely going to be recommending it to everyone.

Monday, 8 March 2021

Review: Life After Truth by Ceridwen Dovey

Publisher: Swift Press
Published: 4th March 2021

Fifteen years after graduating from Harvard, five close friends on the cusp of middle age are still pursuing an elusive happiness and wondering if they've wasted their youthful opportunities. Mariam and Rowan, who married young, are struggling with the demands of family life and starting to regret prioritising meaning over wealth in their careers. Jules, already a famous actor when she arrived on campus, is changing in mysterious ways but won't share what is haunting her. Eloise, now a professor who studies the psychology of happiness, is troubled by her younger wife's radical politics. And Jomo, founder of a luxury jewellery company, has been carrying an engagement ring around for months, unsure whether his girlfriend is the one. 

The soul-searching begins in earnest at their much-anticipated college reunion weekend on the Harvard campus, when the most infamous member of their class, Frederick - senior advisor and son of the recently elected and loathed US President - turns up dead. Old friends often think they know everything about one another, but time has a way of making us strangers to those we love - and to ourselves...

'Life After Truth' was not the story that I was originally expecting. The book is marketed as being about a group of five friends who meet over one weekend at their Harvard School reunion, fifteen years after they all graduated together. The line from the blurb that caught my eye was the one about the US President's son Frederick, an infamous member of their class, turning up dead on the same weekend. I think I can be forgiven for thinking therefore that this was going to be a murder mystery. A tense whodunnit with the five friends possibly implicated in the death. I was actually way off the mark because the death of Frederick is actually almost a forgotten side note in the book. Insignificant and almost unimportant until the very end. And that's okay because although this might not have been the book I thought it was going to be, I enjoyed it regardless. The story centres around the main characters who reflect on their lives and the journeys that they have all been on, since their days as young students. 

Each chapter is told in the third person and focuses on a different character. Out of the group of friends, I particularly enjoyed the chapters from the perspective of married couple Mariam and Rowan, who fell in love at Harvard, married young and now have two small children in tow. They felt the most relatable to me as they don't have the same wealth and comfort as the others but have a different kind of happiness. I enjoyed the reflection on the events of their past and the insight given into their marriage and how it has been changed by the arrival of their children. 

I felt more detached from some of the other characters, such as Eloise, a 'Happiness' professor, who questions many of her life choices. There was also a lot about AI and the ethics of this in her parts of the book, which I didn't find as interesting. However, the other two members of the group, Jomo and Jules, definitely fascinated me. The line between love and friendship is very much blurred between them as they have left so many things unspoken. The character of Jules seems to be based on Harvard graduate Natalie Portman and she is the only person who doesn't get to share her own thoughts with the reader. That makes her come across as quite elusive which was intriguing. 

'Life After Truth' may not have been the story that I was expecting when I first picked up the book but it was still a thoughtful read about life and friendship. It explores the effect that time can have on a group of people and the way in which relationships can change and evolve. I haven't read anything by Ceridwen Dovey before but I will certainly look out for her future titles, as I really enjoyed her writing style. 

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