Tag Archives: author

Recommended Read – The Light Between Oceans by M L Stedman

A boat washes up on the shore of a remote lighthouse keeper’s island. It holds a dead man – and a crying baby. The only two islanders, Tom and his wife Izzy, are about to make a devastating decision.
They break the rules and follow their hearts.

After reading the above description I was expecting ‘The Light Between Oceans’ to be a romance/crime thriller, but in fact it turned out to be so much more. Set in Australia in the aftermath of the First World War it is a moving tale of how difficult it was for survivors of that conflict to integrate back into society, how their loved ones were affected by these shadows of men from the trenches, and how those whose husbands, brothers and sons never came back from the war struggled to understand the appalling waste and come to terms with their loss. This sounds like a novel in itself, yet it is purely the backdrop for a story packed with emotional highs and lows and a sympathetic understanding of human psychology.

The main characters of the novel struggle throughout with the concepts of right and wrong, and with putting these into some sort of acceptable order. Is it ever right to break the law to help a loved one who is suffering? Can love conquer all? Can we close our eyes to the suffering we may have unknowingly caused to someone else once that has been revealed to us? You will find yourself sympathising with Tom as he struggles to support the woman he loves, even though it goes against his conscience, and you will also find yourself sympathising with the other main characters too. ‘The Light Between Oceans’ is an incredibly well written novel with believable characters who draw you into their stories. Ms Stedman has great skill as a writer in that she is able to describe the places and environment which are inhabited by her story in a way which makes you feel as though you are there breathing the salty air, feeling the wind and rain etc. whilst at the same time she creates characters, including some very minor ones, whose lives you can fully appreciate and whose driving forces are wholly believable.

The themes of love and loss, fear, anger, and hope are played out against the backdrop of a lighthouse on a rocky island, The Light Between Oceans of the title, and Ms Stedman has clearly put a lot of time and effort into researching the life of a lighthouse keeper in early twentieth century Australia. Her writing is very descriptive and the reader feels an affinity for the small-town community on the mainland as well as the incredibly difficult life of the lighthouse keeper and his family. It is a period of Australian history which I was not familiar with yet, by the end of the book, felt wholly engaged with.

This book is a highly emotional and moving read, I can guarantee that you will go on a roller-coaster ride of emotions and be left pondering some big philosophical questions at the end. ‘The Light Between Oceans’ is certainly a book which will stay with you for some time to come and I heartily recommend it.

The Light Between Oceans can be found on Amazon

You can find out more about M L Stedman here

You can find more of my Recommended Reads here

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The Road Between Us by Nigel Farndale

1939: In a hotel room overlooking Piccadilly Circus, two young men are arrested. Charles is court-martialled for ‘conduct unbecoming’; Anselm is deported home to Germany for ‘re-education’ in a brutal labour camp. Separated by the outbreak of war, and a social order that rejects their love, they must each make a difficult choice, and then live with the consequences.

2012: Edward, a diplomat held hostage for eleven years in an Afghan cave, returns to London to find his wife is dead, and in her place is an unnerving double – his daughter, now grown up. Numb with grief, he attempts to re-build his life and answer the questions that are troubling him. Was his wife’s death an accident? Who paid his ransom? And how was his release linked to Charles, his father?

As dark and nuanced as it is powerful and moving, The Road Between Us is a novel about survival, redemption and forbidden love. Its moral complexities will haunt the reader for days after the final page has been turned.

‘The Road Between Us’ is a thought provoking novel which touches on subject matter which can make it uncomfortable reading at times. Following the stories of a father and son (one during the Second World War and the other set in the present day) Mr Farndale weaves a picture of love and loss, of discrimination and cruelty, yet also of loyalty and hope. During the war Charles loses his commission for ‘conduct unbecoming’ and spends the rest of the conflict searching for and attempting to rescue his lover, Anselm, who had been deported to Germany for ‘re-education.’ In the present Charles’s son, Edward, is released after eleven years in captivity and is also searching for love and hope, both of which he has buried deeply in order to survive his long period of isolation and deprivation.

Mr Farndale has approached the difficult subjects in his novel with respect and sensitivity. His descriptions of place and character are vivid, making the reader feel as though they are there and drawing them into the story. Even though some of the subject matter is difficult I found myself wanting to read more, to discover what made these characters tick and how they came to terms with aspects of their lives which were so troubling at times. It is the mark of a great novel to keep you reading under such circumstances, the key here being the believable characters who are drawn so sympathetically.

The historical context of ‘The Road Between Us’ has been well researched which gives a depth of plausibility to the story – the ‘re-education’ workcamps, the treatment of homosexuals etc. The dialogue has an authentic ring which brings the characters to life, dialogue which reflects the authors understanding of human psychology and encourages the reader to look deeper into themselves. All in all, this is a very moving story and compelling reading; it has a great narrative, the feel of both thriller and love story, intelligent and literary writing.

If you like historical novels which explore the human condition with depth and sensitivity then I heartily recommend ‘The Road Between Us’ to you.

(I have deliberately avoided going into details of this story as it would be difficult to do so without spoiling it for you!)

‘The Road Between Us’ can be found on Amazon

You can find out more about Nigel Farndale on his website 

You can read more of my Recommended Reads here

Thank you Whispering Stories for a lovely Author Interview

I’d like to thank Stacey for her lovely write up of our interview about my life and writing. I do hope  you can take a look and find out a little more about me and my writing.

As most of you know I now live back in the UK but the beautiful photo of ‘where I write’ is actually the view I had from my desk at Lakeside where most of ‘The Cavalier Historian’ was written. I was very lucky to have probably the best view in the world from an office!

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Recommended read – The Gift Of Rain by Tan Twan Eng

the-gift-of-rain-by-tan-twan-engPenang, 1939. Sixteen-year-old Philip Hutton is a loner. Half English, half Chinese and feeling neither, he discovers a sense of belonging in an unexpected friendship with Hayato Endo, a Japanese diplomat. Philip shows his new friend around his adored island of Penang, and in return Endo trains him in the art and discipline of aikido.

But such knowledge comes at a terrible price. The enigmatic Endo is bound by disciplines of his own and when the Japanese invade Malaya, threatening to destroy Philip s family and everything he loves, he realises that his trusted sensei to whom he owes absolute loyalty has been harbouring a devastating secret. Philip must risk everything in an attempt to save those he has placed in mortal danger and discover who and what he really is.

With masterful and gorgeous narrative, replete with exotic and captivating images, sounds and aromas of rain swept beaches, magical mountain temples, pungent spice warehouses, opulent colonial ballrooms and fetid and forbidding rainforests Tan Twan Eng weaves a haunting and unforgettable story of betrayal, barbaric cruelty, steadfast courage and enduring love.

In ‘the Gift Of Rain’ the reader is immersed in life in Malaya during the 1940’s. Tan Twan Eng writes some of the best prose I have read in a long time, and it pays to take the time to read slowly and savour this poetic and evocative language. Whether he is describing the beauty of Malaya or the brutality of occupation the author places the reader there, in the midst of the action, in such a way that it easy to become lost in this book. Supporting the lyrical descriptions is a cast of characters who are multi-faceted and totally believable. It is easy to sympathise with Philip in his search to find out where he belongs; even when he makes choices which we might not agree with we can understand his reasons and fervently hope that he will find the love, acceptance and peace that he is searching for.

This book is written in two distinct sections. The first, set in Penang in 1939, moves at a gentle pace as Philip meets a Japanese aikijitsu master, and through his lessons with Endo develops a physical, intellectual and spiritual awareness which remains with him for the rest of his life. There is a strange bond between the two which seems to transcend time and space, and the playing out of this relationship is the pivot of the whole book. The second part of the book takes place after the Japanese invasion and is faster paced, dramatic and hard hitting. Philip finds that life puts him in a position which challenges his ethics and morals; does his loyalty lie with his family or with Hayato Endo? Or does he have a much broarder loyalty to the people of Malaya? And where does his sense of self fit within this conflict?

‘The Gift Of Rain’ evokes a real sense of time and place, giving the reader insights not only into the history of Malaya but also of Japan and China. The way that the Second World War impacted on the different ethnic groups and their relationships with each other is the cloth of which this story is woven; it is a testament to the thorough research which Tan Twan Eng has made of the history of these countries, and of the colonial impact which played a part in shaping events. Why does history seem to see British occupation of Malaya as acceptable, unlike the Japanese occupation which is seen as criminal? What responsibility did the colonial power have to the people of Malaya, and they to it? There are no easy answers to this, and the questions raised are played out through Philip’s own personal search for identity.

Tan Twan Eng has created a book which looks at the darker side of life yet which holds an incredible balance. One could almost describe the whole novel as an evocation of the ying and yang of life, the balance of duty and loyalty, the image of a civilised and refined Japan which can be selfish and brutal at the same time. It is a book which is incredibly difficult to categorise. Part historical fiction and part martial arts treatise, part philosophy and part a coming of age story, it is a book which draws the reader in from the very first words and doesn’t let go, even after the last page has been turned. I have read this book a number of times and come back to it again and again, learning something new each time. I heartily recommend ‘The Gift Of Rain’ as one of those few books which will leave a lasting impression on you for some time to come.

The Gift of Rain is available on Amazon 
Tan Twan Eng has a website here
You can find more of my book reviews here

First review in for ‘The Cavalier Historian’

Cover_Kindle_front coverI woke up this morning with just days to go before ‘The Cavalier Historian’ is published on kindle and feeling rather nervous. Now I have a big smile on my face after receiving my first pre-publication review by Romuald Dzemo writing for Readers’ Favorite. Romuald has given my new novel five stars, which is a wonderful achievement from such a large and respected review site. So, thank you, Romuald, for the review – and the consequent boost to my confidence!

Romuald’s review:
A story that begins with a man waking in the middle of the night, feeling cold and uneasy, to find an ugly woman lurking in his room and telling him she’d waited many years to face a certain Mr. Hardwycke is a good promise for an adventure. The Cavalier Historian by Dorinda Balchin is this story, a tale that features witchcraft, civil war, and a gruesome injustice.

Robert Hardwick has been entrusted with the task to help transform the legendary Marston Manor in Oxfordshire into a themed attraction on the English Civil War. But strange things begin to happen as he starts this exciting project. Someone seems to be working against him, making sure that he doesn’t make any progress. He doesn’t have to investigate because his dreams create the link for him, thrusting him back in time to relive the awful events that took place during the war, and the witch trials of 1651. A woman named Rebekah seems to be at the center of the mystery. Can Robert right the injustice she’d suffered back then?

Part historical and part paranormal, The Cavalier Historian is a story that allows the reader to relive the horrors of the Civil War and the persecution of witches, a story about one of the controversial events in English history. What is most astounding is the bridge the author creates between then and now, making the story read as though it was happening now. The descriptions are vivid and readers will enjoy how the settings and culture are portrayed through the masterful use of language. The plot is fast-paced and intriguing, and I enjoyed the suspense created around the ghostly woman. Dorinda Balchin is a good storyteller with the gift of making the supernatural feel as real as the rainbow and creating characters readers want to stick with. Brilliant. Loved it so much!

Oxford, where North and South are reversed!

People often ask me if I find the research needed to write good historical fiction is hard work. My answer is always the same – if you love finding out about the past as much as I do then research doesn’t feel like work at all!

I often find out something unusual when reading about life in the past, and delving into the impact that the English Civil War had on Oxford is no exception. I’m no geographer but I’ve often wondered why North Parade in Oxford is actually south of South Parade; it doesn’t make any sense. But when you look at what was going on there in the seventeenth century it all becomes perfectly clear. King Charles I had his headquarters in the area around Oxford University whilst the Parliamentarians held north Oxford. So the Royalist front line was to their north and was situated roughly where North Parade is today. The Roundhead’s frontline was to their south, hence South Parade. So there is a logical historical explanation for a strange looking geographical anomaly!

One of my aims in writing novels is to educate my readers through fiction. I hope that those who read ‘The Cavalier Historian’ will get a broader understanding of the English Civil War whilst enjoying a good book. If you want to pre-order your copy it is available on Amazon now.

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Book review – ‘The Fort’ by Bernard Cornwell

the-fort‘Captivate, kill or destroy the whole force of the enemy’ was the order given to the American soldiers in the summer 1779.

Seven hundred and fifty British soldiers and three small ships of the Royal Navy. Their orders: to build a fort above a harbour to create a base from which to control the New England seaboard.

Forty-one American ships and over nine hundred men. Their orders: to expel the British.

The battle that followed was a classic example of how the best-laid plans can be disrupted by personality and politics, and of how warfare can bring out both the best and worst in men. It is a timeless tale of men at war.

The Fort tells the story of the military action which took place at Penobscot Bay where General McLean of the British Army was sent to set up a garrison to control the New England seaboard and offer a place of refuge for loyalists fleeing from the American War of Independence. The American rebels in their turn planned to oust the British in a show of strength. The novel is told from four perspectives – both the British and American, and for each side descriptions of the action on land and at sea. This gives the reader a feel for the complexity of what was going on and also the rivalries which can cause problems for military expeditions. One problem I initially had with this approach though is that some of the sections, particularly at the beginning of the book, were quite short and I had to stop to remind myself which side I was reading about; but as the story progressed this became less of a distraction. I found myself becoming increasingly engrossed in the story and eager to find out what happened next.

The American War of Independence is not something I have studied in any great depth so the story of Fort George was completely new to me. As with all of his novels Mr Cornwell has obviously spent a great deal of time researching this period, and this action in particular, and has conveyed a real feel for warfare at the time. I was particularly impressed with his descriptions of the navel engagements from both a tactical point of few and from the perspective of the sailors. Such battles must have been truly terrifying for the participants.

Fans of Bernard Cornwell’s ‘Sharpe’ novels may be surprised by this book; it has a very accurate historical focus but less attention is given to the personal lives and romantic relationships of the characters. Having said that, most of the people who appear in this novel are real historical figures and much of their conversation and actions is based on authentic documents. This gives the novel a real feeling of authenticity, placing the reader in the midst of the conflict and eliciting feelings of anger and frustration towards some of the people (I have completely changed my view of Paul Revere!) whilst leaving me wanting to know more about others (in particular Lieutenant John Moore who went on help reform and develop the British Army and who appears to have been a fascinating character).

The Fort is not a novel for those who like historical stories where the main protagonist is in a fight of ‘good and evil’ against an opponent who holds some sort of a grudge against them, and where the hero then goes on to win the day pretty much all by himself. But if you like a well-researched, accurate account of a little known event in history then I would recommend that you take the time to read and appreciate The Fort.

‘The Fort’ can be found on Amazon

Bernard Cornwell’s website

More of my book reviews can be found here