#GuestReview: Ring of Spies by Alex Gerlis (@alex_gerlis) @canelo_co @cobaltdinosaur #RingOfSpies #ARichardPrinceThriller #damppebbles

Ring of Spies Cover“As the war approaches its end, Prince once more has to risk everything.

Berlin, 1939: A German intelligence officer learns a top agent is quickly moving up the British Army ranks. He bides his time.

Arnhem, 1944: British paratroopers have been slaughtered in one of the bloodiest battles of the Second World War. A shell shocked officer is convinced: the Germans knew they were coming.

But who betrayed them?

Back in London, Richard Prince, detective and spy, is approached by MI5 about a counterintelligence operation. Information is leaking and British troops are dying. Prince has to stop it, and crack the suspected spy ring at all costs. But in the world of espionage nothing is as it seems…

The latest WWII espionage thriller from Alex Gerlis is perfect for readers of Robert Harris, John le Carré and Alan Furst.”

Hello and welcome to damppebbles. Today I am handing the keys over to my guest reviewer, Ryan, who is going to share his thoughts on Ring of Spies by Alex Gerlis. Ring of Spies is the third book in the Richard Prince Thriller Series and was published by Canelo on 15th October 2020. Ryan chose to read and review a free eARC of Ring of Spies but that has in no way influenced his review.

Over to Ryan…

Ring of Spies is the first book I have read by Alex Gerlis, it is the third book in the Richard Prince series and it is wonderful! Ring of Spies pulls you straight into the second half of the Second World War. The mission to take Arnhem is a difficult one for the Allies, a successful mission would likely bring forward the end of the war, but when the Allies attack the German’s defence is much stronger than expected. Had the Germans been pre-warned or was it just a coincidence?

Richard Prince is a wonderful character. He starts the book as a detective in Lincolnshire – a much more relaxed existence than his previous work as a spy behind enemy lines. When MI5 need an outsider to find the German Spy in their midst, then Prince is soon pulled back into espionage and the murky world of the different Military Intelligence Sections. I was impressed by how quickly I felt I knew the characters. Despite being the third book in the series, Ring of Spies can easily be read as a standalone. 

Alex Gerlis has clearly done his research for this book. He cleverly interweaves historic facts from the war with the story to lend it a credibility and depth that made this book standout from others in the genre. 

The story is told from multiple perspectives, following Richard Prince as he searches for the German agent, the German Spy “handler” in Berlin, and the unidentified agent in central London. The different perspectives provided a clear ebb and flow to the story, allowing the reader to understand the decisions made and the consequences of those decisions. The investigation isn’t an easy one and the author makes the characters work hard for clues, follow red herrings and suffer misfortune. But do they find their spy before the war ends?  That would be telling 😉

Ring of Spies is a fantastic historic detective/spy thriller that will be well appreciated by many and is a must read if you have an interest in the Second World War period. Wonderful writing, excellent characters and a storyline that will pull you into the immersive world of espionage.

Ryan chose to read and review a free eARC of Ring of Spies. The above review is his own unbiased opinion.

Ring of Spies by Alex Gerlis was published in the UK by Canelo on 15th October and is available in digital formats with the paperback to follow next year (please note, the following links are affiliate links which means I receive a small percentage of the purchase price at no extra cost to you): | amazon.co.uk | amazon.com | Kobo | Goodreads |

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Alex_Gerlis (c) Ealing GazetteAlex Gerlis is the author of the acclaimed Spies series of four Second World War espionage thrillers which are noted for their detailed research and intricate plots and feature two great adversaries: the British spymaster Edgar and his Soviet counterpart Viktor. The television/film rights for The Best of Our Spies have been bought by a major production company.

Born in Lincolnshire, Alex was a BBC journalist for nearly 30 years. He lives in west London with his wife and family and three black cats, a breed which makes cameo appearances in his books. He’s a lifelong supporter of Grimsby Town, which has provided some preparation for the highs and lows of writing novels. When asked if he has worked in the field of espionage he declines to answer in the hope some people may think he has.

#BlogTour | #GuestPost: The Quality of Mercy by Malia Zaidi (@MaliaZaidi) #TheQualityOfMercy #LadyEvelynMysteries #damppebbles

The Quality of Mercy cover“After years spent away, Lady Evelyn is at long last back in her home city of London and she has returned with a rather controversial plan. The Carlisle Detective Agency is born, and it does not take long for the bodies… ahem, cases, to start piling up. With her friend and assistant Hugh, Evelyn embarks on the quest to solve the crimes. Yet the London she encounters is not the London of her coddled youth, and she is forced to learn that there is more to discover than the identity of a murderer. It isn’t only her city which reveals it is not what she always believed it to be, but the people she encounters as well. Secrets are revealed that have her thinking twice about everything she thought she knew about the society in which she grew up.

Evelyn’s love for her hard-won independence confronts her with yet another mystery, whether she is ready or willing to give up any of it for marriage. And then there is the arrival of rather a familiar face in London, one Daniel is none to pleased to see. Evelyn must find not one but two murderers, as well as make a decision that could determine her future. From the mansions of Mayfair to the dark alleys of Whitechapel, can Evelyn catch the killers before another life is taken?”

Hello and welcome to damppebbles. Today I am delighted to be sharing a guest post from Malia Zaidi, author of the Lady Evelyn Mystery Series, as part of the blog tour for book five – The Quality of Mercy. The Quality of Mercy was published on 25th August 2020 and is available in paperback and digital formats. This is a series I’m keen to get stuck into so I’m delighted to be able to share this fascinating post on the life of a character.

Over to Malia…

The Life of a Character

I consider myself a character driven reader, by which I mean, if the characters are intriguing, well developed, rounded enough, I can forgive a weak plot and still love the book. In some ways, this character focus accompanies me on my writing journey as well. Don’t get me wrong, I aim to create a gripping and well plotted story, but those stories are, in a sense, crafted by the characters and not the other way around. Their decisions, actions, thoughts and desires dictate how the story moves along instead of them bending towards the plot. This process works for me and it may not for other writers, there is no right or wrong. Here I’d like to discuss a little how certain characters take on a life of their own and in that way influence or even change how I go about writing my books.

A character who has been present in The Lady Evelyn Mysteries from the second book (A Darker Shore) onward is Hugh Lawrence. He appears when Evelyn and Daniel are in Amiens, France on a quest to find Daniel’s long lost brother. I had intended Hugh to play a small role, to be a side character in only one book, but as the story unfolded, throughout the long editing process, I came to grow quite fond of him. He seemed to me a figure I should not let go of so easily. As he became more fleshed out on the page, he took on real dimensions in my mind as well. I thought about his past and how his time serving as a somewhat unwilling soldier in the First World War shaped him; how so many men of his generation gave their lives but also so much of themselves to a bloody and miserable effort they often hardly understood. It opened up a door to exploring the world soldiers faced when they came home, the walking wounded, to a society that just wanted to forget and move on. Hugh seemed relevant to me even today, in a world in which those who suffer from trauma or mental illness are often misunderstood or even relegated to the background. I felt an affinity with him, though he and I are so different and I am really much more like Lady Evelyn (though I daresay she is a little more adventurous…;-) Hugh took on mannerisms in my mind, a specific way of walking, a little slouch, because he wants to go unnoticed, an unwillingness to meet one’s eye. In some ways, I feel as though he has yet to reveal certain parts to me, even as his inventor, just as he has kept much of himself private from the people he is beginning to trust. He needs time to let his story unfold, and I think, for this reason, I could not let him go and have included him in every subsequent Lady Evelyn novel.

I suspect many authors feel the same as I do when crafting characters. They come up with a name, a vague idea about who the person is or will be and then, as they begin to write, he or she becomes someone different, someone better or worse or far more complicated that first expected. We want our characters to feel real and believable and real people are complicated, real people do not fit into a box or an outline one can create. Developing characters is one of my greatest pleasures as a writer, and I hope you enjoy them all and the story presented in The Quality of Mercy!

A wonderful guest post – thank you, Malia. I am most certainly a character-driven reader myself. A good (or bad!) character can make or break a book for me!

The Quality of Mercy by Malia Zaidi was published in the UK by BookBaby on 25th August 2020 and is available in paperback and digital formats (please note, the following links are affiliate links which means I receive a small percentage of the purchase price at no extra cost to you): | amazon.co.uk | amazon.com | Book Depository | Barnes and Noble | Goodreads |

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Version 2Malia Zaidi is the author of the Lady Evelyn Mysteries. She studied at the University of Pittsburgh and at the University of Oxford.

Having grown up in Germany, she currently lives in Washington DC, though through her love of reading, she resides vicariously (if temporarily) in countries around the world.

#BookReview: Mexican Gothic by Silvia Moreno-Garcia @JoFletcherBooks @QuercusBooks #MexicanGothic #20booksofsummer20 #damppebbles

mexican gothic“The acclaimed author of Gods of Jade and Shadow returns with a mesmerising feminist re-imagining of Gothic fantasy, in which a young socialite discovers the haunting secrets of a beautiful old mansion in 1950s Mexico.

He is trying to poison me. You must come for me, Noemí. You have to save me.

When glamorous socialite Noemí Taboada receives a frantic letter from her newlywed cousin begging to be rescued from a mysterious doom, it’s clear something is desperately amiss. Catalina has always had a flair for the dramatic, but her claims that her husband is poisoning her and her visions of restless ghosts seem remarkable, even for her.

Noemí’s chic gowns and perfect lipstick are more suited to cocktail parties than amateur sleuthing, but she immediately heads to High Place, a remote mansion in the Mexican countryside, determined to discover what is so affecting her cousin.

Tough and smart, she possesses an indomitable will, and she is not afraid: not of her cousin’s new husband, who is both menacing and alluring; not of his father, the ancient patriarch who seems to be fascinated by Noemí; and not of the house itself, which begins to invade Noemi’s dreams with visions of blood and doom.

Her only ally in this inhospitable abode is the family’s youngest son. Shy and gentle, he seems to want to help, but might also be hiding dark knowledge of his family’s past. For there are many secrets behind the walls of High Place. The family’s once colossal wealth and faded mining empire kept them from prying eyes, but as Noemí digs deeper she unearths stories of violence and madness.

And Noemí, mesmerised by the terrifying yet seductive world of High Place, may soon find it impossible to leave this enigmatic house behind . . .”

Hello and welcome, bookish friends, to damppebbles. Today I am delighted to be sharing my seventh 20 Books of Summer review with you, which is for Mexican Gothic by Silvia Morena-Garcia. Now the observant amongst you may be wondering where review number six has gone. Well, I’ll be sharing that on Thursday but seeing as it’s publication day for Mexican Gothic today (which is 30th June 2020 – happy publication day!), it seemed more fitting to share review seven before review six (that, or I’m just trying very hard to confuse myself!). I chose to read and review an eARC of Mexican Gothic but that has in no way influenced my review.

I’ll be completely honest and say that I didn’t know what to expect from Mexican Gothic. I’ve read plenty of gothic novels over the years. They fit quite nicely into my love of dark fiction. But this book is billed as a historical gothic fantasy/romance and, as a reader of predominantly crime with a splash of horror on the side, this book felt a little like an unknown entity to me. I needn’t have worried. Mexican Gothic is a haunting gothic tale which played straight into my love of the horror genre, taking me on a terrifying journey into the very heart of a creepy old mansion and the sinister family who inhabit its walls.

Party girl and socialite Noemí Taboada is reluctant to follow her father’s wishes and visit her recently married cousin, Catalina, at High Place – a decrepit old mansion on the outskirts of a small Mexican village. But Catalina has written such a strange letter, leaving her family in Mexico City concerned for her mental health and well being, that Noemí feels she has no choice but to go — the promise of a place at University to study anthropology made by her father also helps! When Noemí arrives, she meets Catalina’s strange extended family. They’re guarded. She’s an unwelcome guest in their home but she feels something is definitely wrong at High Place. The more time she spends in the house, the more concerned she grows for Catalina and the more desperate she is to leave. But the more Noemí digs into the history of High Place and the Doyle family, the more frightening secrets she discovers…

I loved tenacious, fiery Noemí. She’s one gutsy woman who won’t be put in a box and behave as the era expects of her. She’s forthright, outspoken and determined to discover what is happening to her cousin and why Catalina reports of seeing ghosts. But getting to Catalina for any length of time is a problem as she’s closely guarded by the family and their staff. Other characters in the book (virtually all of the Doyle family actually) made me feel really uncomfortable, which I loved. I felt particular disgust for creepy old Howard Doyle, the family patriarch, his handsome yet utterly repulsive son, Virgil, and Howard’s niece, the detestable Florence. The scenes in the book between Noemí and Virgil are so brilliantly written, they physically made my skin crawl. Florence’s son, Francis, faired a little better. I wanted to know what his secret was though. What was he hiding from Noemí.

It’s very difficult to talk about the plot of Mexican Gothic without revealing a few spoilers so I’m going to say as little as possible about it. The first half of the book, I found a touch slow. But I think that’s quite true of many gothic novels. You need time to get to know the characters and the setting and make that connection. The second half I loved and sped through the story. When the family secret is discovered, the pace really picks up and I struggled to put this book down. It’s so compelling and I was lost in the world of High Place alongside Noemí.

Would I recommend this book? I would, yes. Mexican Gothic is a chilling read and one I heartily recommend. With that stunning cover, a fierce female lead and a story that takes you places you don’t expect, this is a book not to be missed. Despite my initial reservations, I’m glad I read Mexican Gothic and lost myself for a few hours in the dark and dank corridors of High Place. As settings go, it’s going to be one I remember for some time to come. Recommended.

I chose to read and review an eARC of Mexican Gothic. The above review is my own unbiased opinion.

Mexican Gothic by Silvia Moreno-Garcia was published in the UK by Jo Fletcher Books on 30th June 2020 and is available in hardcover and digital formats (please note, the following links are affiliate links which means I receive a small percentage of the purchase price at no extra cost to you): | amazon.co.uk | Waterstones | Foyles | Book Depository | Goodreads |

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silvia moreno-garciaSilvia Moreno-Garcia is the author of Signal to Noise, named one of the best books of 2015 by BuzzFeed and more; Certain Dark Things, a Publishers Weekly top ten; The Beautiful Ones, a fantasy of manners; and the science fiction novella Prime Meridian. She has also edited several anthologies, including the World Fantasy Award-winning She Walks in Shadows (a.k.a. Cthulhu’s Daughters). Born and brought up in Mexico, she now lives in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada.

 

 

#GuestPost: Catherine Hokin (@cathokin), Historical Fiction author #damppebblestakeover

I am delighted to welcome you to another #damppebblestakeover post.  Following a short break over the Summer we are back with a bang…for a short while anyway!  My guest post series is drawing to a close but I am thrilled with the fabulous authors that have wanted to take part, their inspirational posts and of course, the excellent feedback I have received from readers.  Thank you one and all, the bookish community totally rocks! #damppebblestakeover may well be back in the future, maybe sooner rather than later as my wrist surgery has been rescheduled for early November.  Keep your fingers crossed that it goes ahead this time around – saying that, if it doesn’t, November and December will become #damppebblestakeover months (otherwise I will have a very empty blog)!

One of my favourite things about this series of posts is that I have featured authors of genres outside of my crime and thriller comfort zone.  Today I am thrilled to welcome historical fiction author, Catherine Hokin to the blog.  Catherine’s debut novel, Blood and Roses, centres around Margaret of Anjou, the wife of Henry VI and oh my, it sounds too good to not put on the wishlist!  Here’s the blurb:

CRDg-oxW8AAKMmD“Blood and Roses tells the story of Margaret of Anjou (1430-82), wife of Henry VI and a key protagonist in the Wars of the Roses.

This is a feminist revision of a woman frequently imagined only as the shadowy figure demonised by Shakespeare – Blood and Roses examines Margaret as a Queen unable to wield the power and authority she is capable of, as a wife trapped in marriage to a man born to be a saint and as a mother whose son meets a terrible fate she has set in motion. It is the story of a woman caught up in the pursuit of power, playing a game ultimately no one can control…”

Today Catherine shares with us a post about her favourite character, the dangerous woman.  I can understand Catherine’s fascination with the dangerous woman.  Some of my favourite crime reads are about a determined, ruthless female lead who does what she has to do, no matter what that is, in order to get what she wants. Over to you, Catherine…

Dangerous Women

I like dark characters. Some people excel at funny, frothy, shopaholic types; some people write moody and magnificent souls who constantly wrestle with the meaning of life and don’t tangle all that well with it. My characters are dangerous women. They are driven (usually by the pursuit of power or some form of love, never the romantic kind), act against expectation when the need arises (or when they create it) and have a core of steel which can be pushed against but never broken.

Although I knew I wanted to write historical fiction, I started down the writing road cutting my teeth and learning my craft with short stories. The one I am most fond of, Stolen Moments is about an amoral woman who steals from the moment she can walk, simply because she can. Her actions reach their peak in the abduction of a baby and, unsurprisingly, things do not go well. Because it was a competition finalist, I got feedback and that was fascinating: some of the judges were convinced it couldn’t have been written by a woman as it was too ‘wicked’ (they’re not meeting the right women), a couple of others genuinely said to me that they presumed (I think hoped) I didn’t have children. I have – they’re fine. What was most interesting about the reaction was how uncomfortable many people were around the concept of a ‘dangerous’ woman who broke social norms.

When I started my novel Blood and Roses about Margaret of Anjou, the wife of Henry VI and a key player in the Wars of the Roses, it was her demonization that first fascinated me. Most people, if they meet Margaret at all, meet her through Shakespeare’s plays. Shakespeare was, of course, in the pay of the Tudors so his treatment of her is pure propaganda and, to be honest, almost cartoonish. He refers to her as “a foul wrinkled witch’ and has her wandering round court clutching the severed head of her supposed lover the Duke of Suffolk, dripping blood everywhere like a deranged baddy from Gotham’s Arkham Asylum. Complete nonsense: contemporary sources describe her as “more wyttyer then the kynge” and as a “grete and strong labourid woman” who was capable of formulating military strategy and was a far safer pair of hands than her husband who had a habit of falling into prolonged comas when he wasn’t imagining himself as a saint. Was Margaret dangerous? Yes, to her enemies. But, when judged by the standards of the incredibly vicious conflict that is sweetened by the title the Wars of the Roses, she was no more dangerous than any of the men around her. Margaret was multi-faceted, difficult and fascinating. She believed the English throne belonged to her family, to her and to her son, and she fought tooth and nail to keep it despite fierce and brutal opposition. My Margaret takes a very dangerous risk for power’s sake and she pays for it but she never gives up, even when she probably should. That’s what dark characters do.

Dangerous women are having a moment in popular culture: Claire Underwood in House of Cards making Lady Macbeth look like mother of the year; Marvel’s troubled, hard-drinking Jessica Jones; the power-flip in Game of Thrones which has brought all the female characters into terrifying relief. These women break the rules, they are complex and compelling and cannot be second guessed – writers like to write them and audiences want to meet them, in literature as much as film and television. In my second novel (just completed and with my agent so keeping everything crossed), the lead character (Katherine Swynford) is a woman perfectly happy to unleash hell when her family is threatened and she fights back hard when social mores threaten to overwhelm her. She is a lioness and she bites.

Deliciously ruthless, dangerous women who don’t do what convention expects – that’s who I will always write about but, trust me, their dreadful deeds are purely from my imagination so don’t run away if you meet me. I’m really quite a happy soul…

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Thank you for this brilliant post, Catherine.  When book two is ready for launch, please think of damppebbles.  You and your dangerous, convention defying female leads are always welcome.

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CHCatherine is a Glasgow-based author whose fascination with the medieval period began during a History degree which included studies into witchcraft, women and the role of political propaganda. This sparked an interest in hidden female voices resulting in her debut novel, Blood and Roses which brings a feminist perspective to the story of Margaret of Anjou (1430-1482, wife of Henry VI) and her pivotal role in the Wars of the Roses.  Catherine also writes short stories – she was a finalist in the Scottish Arts Club 2015 Short Story Competition  and has been published by iScot magazine – and regularly blogs as Heroine Chic.

Purchase Links: http://www.amazon.co.uk/Blood-Roses-Catherine-Hokin/dp/1910130044/

Social media links: Catherine’s website Catherine’s blog | Catherine’s Facebook author page | Catherine on Twitter @cathokin |