Book Review

The Merest Loss -Steven Neil

Travel back in time with me today, as we take a look at Steven Neil’s The Merest Loss.

BLURB:

A story of love and political intrigue, set against the backdrop of the English
hunting shires and the streets of Victorian London and post-revolutionary Paris.

When Harriet Howard becomes Louis Napoleon’s mistress and financial backer and appears at his side in Paris in 1848, it is as if she has emerged from nowhere. How did the English daughter of a Norfolk boot-maker meet the future Emperor? Who is the mysterious Nicholas Sly and what is his hold over Harriet?

Can Harriet meet her obligations and return to her former life and the man she left behind? What is her involvement with British Government secret services? Can Harriet’s friend, jockey Tom Olliver, help her son Martin solve his own mystery: the identity of his father?

The central character is Harriet Howard and the action takes place between 1836 and 1873. The plot centres on Harriet’s relationships with Louis Napoleon and famous Grand National winning jockey, Jem Mason. The backdrop to the action includes significant characters from the age, including Lord Palmerston, Queen Victoria and the Duke of Grafton, as well as Emperor Napoleon III. The worlds of horse racing, hunting and government provide the scope for rural settings to contrast with the city scenes of London and Paris and for racing skulduggery to vie with political chicanery.

The Merest Loss is historical fiction with a twist. It’s pacy and exciting with captivating characters and a distinctive narrative voice.

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PURCHASE LINKS:

Amazon UK

Amazon.com

Independent Author Network

REVIEW:

The Merest Loss is a book to be enjoyed by fans of historic fiction and historians alike, finding, as it does, a delicate balance between the facts of a tempestuous period of European history and a fictionalised account of the life of one of the women caught up in the political negotiations of the time.

Reading at times a little more like a history book than a novel (albeit a far more interesting history book than any I read at school), the facts behind The Merest Loss are interspersed with splashes of colour as we get to know Harriet and the largely male characters with which she was surrounded.

Harriet is a character that I couldn’t help but be drawn to. I loved her wild nature and determination to be heard at a time when this was not encouraged in well brought up young ladies. I also found myself growing rather fond of the steeplechasing double act of Tom Olliver and Jem Mason, and I really enjoyed the chapters told from Tom’s point of view looking back over the years in which he knew Harriet. For me these chapters added a depth of humanity to the whole book.

Whilst everyone is familiar with Napoleon Bonaparte, I must confess that I knew little about his nephew Napoleon III, and so found this a fascinating lesson in European history.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

The Merest Loss - Author Profile Pic shutterstock_1485118

Steven Neil has a BSc in Economics from the London School of Economics, a BA in English Literature and Creative Writing from the Open University and an MA in Creative Writing from Oxford Brookes University. In his working life he has been a bookmaker’s clerk, management tutor, management consultant, bloodstock agent and racehorse breeder. He is married and lives in rural Northamptonshire.

SOCIAL MEDIA:

Facebook

Twitter

Many thanks to Steven and to Rachel at Rachel’s Random Resources for inviting me to be a part of this tour and for providing my copy of the book. Make sure you have a look at the other blogs taking part.

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Book Review

The Glass Diplomat – S.R. Wilsher

Today I am excited to be helping to kick off the blog tour for The Glass Diplomat by S.R. Wilsher. To be totally upfront, this isn’t the type of book that I would normally choose, but something in the blurb drew me in. Let’s see what you all think.

BLURB:

In 1973 Chile, as General Augusto Pinochet seizes power, thirteen-year-old English schoolboy Charlie Norton watches his father walk into the night and never return. Taken in by diplomat, Tomas Abrego, his life becomes intricately linked to the family.

Despite his love for the Abrego sisters, he’s unable to prevent Maria falling under the spell of a left-wing revolutionary, or Sophia from marrying the right-wing Minister of Justice.

His connection to the family is complicated by the growing impression that Tomas Abrego was somehow involved in his father’s disappearance.

As the conflict of a family divided by politics comes to a head on the night of the 1989 student riots, Charlie has to act to save the sisters from an enemy they cannot see.

The Glass Diplomat - E book Cover Final

REVIEW:

As I said at the beginning, this is not my normal type of book at all, but something sparked my interest, and I am so glad that I read it. Spanning 45 years this is the story of one boy’s attempts to unravel the mysteries of his father’s disappearance, and of his inextricable link to the Abrego family.

I am ashamed to admit that prior to reading this book, I had little to no knowledge of Chile and it’s complicated history, but Wilsher’s writing brought the city of Santiago to life, and left me wanting to find out more for myself.

Whilst this book provides an insight to Chile under the Pinochet regime, and hints at the corruption and lies that were a part of this, it goes much deeper than this. A sense of intrigue runs through the book as Charlie struggles to come to terms with the loss of his father and to discover the extent to which, if any, Tomas Abrego was involved. At the same time, he has to deal with conflicting and confusing emotions about each of the very different Abrego women.

The characters in this book are so well-developed that you are left with no choice but to feel invested in their futures, whether wishing them well, or hoping that they get their comeuppance, celebrating their successes or their downfalls. There are areas of the book that are not easy to read, especially when you remember that there is an element of truth in them, but it feels important that these actions are not forgotten.

This book was certainly an eye-opener for me, and has cultivated an interest in an area of history that I had honestly never considered before. I know that I will be going on to read further into the Pinochet regime, the tactics used to deal with those who fought against it, and the UK’s reaction to what was happening in Chile.

PURCHASE LINKS:

Amazon UK

Amazon US

I am absolutely thrilled that I have been allowed to share an extract of this book with you all, especially as this particular extracts takes place shortly after one of my favourite parts of the book.

Charlie is 13 when his father disappears. It’s a tough age to lose a father, and his relationship with Carla Abrego is central to the narrative. Not only is he infatuated with her at that impressionable age, he grows to suspect that she and his father were having an affair before he disappeared. That it might have been a factor in the events of that night.

When they’d met at the reception a few days ago she’d appeared much older. Today, she was how he always pictured, with long hair hanging loose, and bright orange dress compensating for the gloomy house.

She beckoned him with a small wave, clutching his forearms to half pull him down and raise up to kiss him on each cheek.

“You have a bruise, Charlie?”

“Rugby,” he lied. It could easily have been an instant stand-in for a troubling tale about Raoul Encarro and Maria. Instead it had been to hide the shame. He didn’t want her to see him as a rough street brawler.

“Come and sit with me in the dining room, Charlie. The girls can have you back in a while, I want to catch up with all you’ve been up to.”

She took him through the double doors the girls had disappeared into and led him through a single door into an equally large room with a trio of sofas arranged before a French window to the rear. Evident on the walls of the surrounding buildings, the sun didn’t quite reach into the room.

“This is a lovely house, although I do miss having a proper garden.” She peered from the large room into the tiny garden, that inverse ratio of space non-city people never understand.

“Thank you for spending time with the girls. It’s important to me they have a friend in London.”

“I enjoyed it.”

“See, I told you friendships are worth working at.” He didn’t get time to agree. “How much do you remember about your father?”

“I don’t remember much of what he said. Or, I think I’ve confused and misremembered much of what he did say. I recall images more than substance. I recall the factory, and large parts of the house. I see him in the car, and in his office. Although it’s like I’m looking through a window at him.”

More than any window, he recalled peering through the car’s windscreen. He played and replayed the image of his father walking into the dark constantly, afraid one day the tape of his memory would degrade with its overplaying, and always waiting for the horizontal interference of its loss to begin the destruction. He didn’t ruin her pleasantness with the image. Nor did he describe the emptiness of a house with only one parent to speak to, or meet in the kitchen, or watch TV with. How every day he didn’t arrive home it got worse, had grown worse in a way he’d failed to imagine it could. How, at each and every unexpected knock on the door, for the briefest flash of a moment, he believed it was him.

“What do you remember of him?” he asked instead.

“All of it.” The soft intonation and the sigh heavy with regret suggested much more than the long past loss of an old friend.

“Did you love him?” Every thought of them from then until now crystalized in the simple question. The inappropriate one he would never have asked if he hadn’t heard the heartbreak in her three words telling a story in themselves.

She nodded before she spoke. She retreated to the centre sofa, and indicated for him to follow. She didn’t speak again until he sat.

“Much of what happens to us does so in small steps. He made me smile, and then he made me laugh, and then he made me interested. Before I knew it, his next visit became all I cared about.” She turned to see if anyone else had come into the room. “And he visited more than he needed to.”

“Were you lovers?”

“We provided solace, a warm blanket in a cold world. It didn’t mean we loved our children less. But we all need the warmth to sustain us, and we did that for each other.

“I used to go to the house, before you arrived from England. I loved it there. I remember every visit. I’ve never been happier than that time. We called it our ‘impossible dream’ knew it would end one day, even though we each hoped the universe would find a way for it not to.” She placed a hand on his, a balm for the damage she might be doing.

“Jack loved you and your mother, and he would never have given the two of you up. And Tomas would never have suffered the humiliation if it had become public.

“It’s why I stayed in touch with your mother, to retain a connection to him. It’s why I asked you to stay in touch with the girls. If you were in our lives, I hoped I might occasionally catch a glimpse of him, in you. Stupid, I know. Pathetic even.” She smiled at the self-denigration. But she wasn’t ashamed by the admission. She was liberated.

Charlie avoided travelling down the path of how wrong it felt to him. He’d yet to love in such a way.

“Do you think Senor Abrego suspected?”

“He might.” She considered it. “I don’t think so.”

“But he might? Do you think it’s the reason my father disappeared?”

“Tomas never let me believe he knew. If he did find out, he kept it to himself. He would be capable of that. If the world had discovered us, he would have acted, and I’ve no doubt he would have had him killed. It’s what I’ve always feared.”

She’d told him the truth without ever saying yes to an affair, the self-preservation of keeping one step back from the brink.

MEET THE AUTHOR:

The Glass Diplomat - Author Pic

It didn’t occur to me to write until I was twenty-two, prompted by reading a disappointing book by an author I’d previously liked. I wrote thirty pages of a story I abandoned because it didn’t work on any level. I moved on to a thriller about lost treasure in Central America; which I finished, but never showed to anyone. Two more went the way of the first, and I forgave the author.

After that I became more interested in people-centric stories. I also decided I needed to get some help with my writing, and studied for a degree with the OU. I chose Psychology partly because it was an easier sell to my family than Creative Writing. But mainly because it suited the changing tastes of my writing. When I look back, so many of my choices have been about my writing.

I’ve been writing all my adult life, but nine years ago I had a kidney transplant which interrupted my career, to everyone’s relief. It did mean my output increased, and I developed a work plan that sees me with two projects on the go at any one time. Although that has taken a hit in recent months as I’m currently renovating a house and getting to know my very new granddaughter.

I write for no other reason than I enjoy it deeply. I like the challenge of making a story work. I get a thrill from tinkering with the structure, of creating characters that I care about, and of manipulating a plot that unravels unpredictably, yet logically. I like to write myself into a corner and then see how I can escape. To me, writing is a puzzle I like to spend my time trying to solve.

SOCIAL MEDIA LINKS:

Twitter: @srwilsher

Website: http://www.srwilsher.com

I would like to say a massive thank you to S.R Wilsher and to Rachel Gilbey from Rachel’s Random Resources for inviting my to take part in this book tour, and for providing me with a copy of the book. If you want yo check out the other blogs taking part in the tour, all the details are below.

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