Year End Wrap-Up

So, I’ve been seeing all of these year end wrap-ups, year in review, and top ten book posts and figured that I should probably jump on the band wagon and whip one up myself. Of course, I thought that this was going to be an easy one to write, so imagine my surprise when sitting down to reflect on my first year of book blogging hit me like a ton of bricks! So here goes…

My first (almost) year of book blogging

I call this an almost year because April will officially be my one year blogiversarry, but on the whole this process started last December when I was laid off during Calgary’s recession. I had been thinking about starting a book blog for some time and I suddenly found that not only did I still have the desire to do so, but now I also had the time. So, I started reading books, taking notes, and researching both tactics for success and some of the most popular blogs out there. And the best part? I even managed to wrangle some extra credit for my MLIS! You see, reading and critically assessing books is part of professional practice and this seemed like a great way for me to get into the habit of making this part of everyday life.

It really been a learning process though, and I’ve decide to include some of my main takeaways below:

  1. The book blogging community is friggin incredible! Sure, there are a few turds and Debbie-Downers in the mix but bye and large the diamonds are plentiful and you have to dig to find the coal. I discovered within days of launching my blog and Twitter that you need only express your interests, struggles, or intentions and there would be an army of bloggers happy and willing to offer advice. I was directed to FB groups, great twitter accounts to follow, outstanding blogs, authors and members of the publishing industry almost continuously. I was welcomed with open arms, and I’m left praying that the recent toxicity spreading throughout the community is short lived and this little phenomena is absolutely amazing.
  2. NetGalley is a blessing… and a curse! When I was first introduced to NetGalley I thought that I was in heaven. Seriously. I requested at random and with reckless abandon, and the TBR quickly grew out of control. Soon I found myself racing to finish reading before archive dates (here some of the titles disappear on the archive date, even after they’ve been downloaded as they are embedded with an ARC kill-date that accompanies publication) and that my blogging activities were starting to take over my life. Que the grumpy hubby. And so, I learned that pacing, balance, and fewer visits to NetGalley and only checking out books I knew I could read on schedule and were genuinely interested in was required.
  3. There ain’t no such thing as overnight success. Now, I’m not saying that some bloggers don’t rise to prominence like an Internet meteor, but it’s not by fluke and it’s certainly not overnight. This gig is hard. It takes effort, dedication, and consistency in both style and posting frequency to build a solid following. Those that do this best, make it look easy – but I’ve also learned that they’re the first to say how much it takes to make it all happen. Bravo my loves, you will always be an inspiration!

Hopefully I’ll have something more profound to say in April, but in the mean time I’m happy to keep reading, reviewing, and always trying to improve!

My top reads of 2017

I thought about ranking these, but I’m a little uncomfortable comparing YA to historical fiction and comics to literary fiction. So instead, I thought it would be best to pick my favourite book from each genre.

Historical Fiction

This was a hard genre to pick just one book in, so I settled for three. All are set in or around WWII, but they’re so different in terms of style and content that I don’t really consider them as being the same.

Sarah’s Key by Tatiana de Rosnay makes this list because it was the first book of the year to make me full out cry. Heart wrenching and painfully real this is one story I simply couldn’t tear my eyes away from. It’s one of those books that has staying power, and I’m sure it will continue to grow in readership for many years to come.

The Life She Was Given by Ellen Louis Wiseman is the next one to have a found a permanent spot in my bookish thoughts. I hadn’t really realized how big of an impact it had until I tallied everything and discovered that this baby is my most leant-out copy of all the books I’ve read this year (a whopping 22 times!). I absolutely adored the touch of mystery and that tear jerker ending, and obviously haven’t stopped talking about it since.

The final work of historical fiction to make the list is Rose Under Fire by Elizabeth Wein. Although YA by description, I can’t argue passionately enough that this book belongs to all age groups. Packed with exciting adventures, ample amounts of genuine evidence, and compounded by the setting this is a tale that explores the limits of humanity (good and bad). Interestingly enough, I wasn’t completely sold by Rose at the beginning of the book but she and the rabbits grew on me over time and have manifested themselves as permanents parts of my bookish memory.



Strangers by David A. Robertson was, by a long shot, my favourite YA series to be started this year. Quirky, mature, diverse, and undeniably Canadian this is one of the books that has me getting excited and shoving it into the hands of random strangers when I came across it at bookstores. I am eagerly awaiting the next installment, and can’t wait to see where it’s going next. My only regret is that it’s a little too old for the kids in my school, otherwise I would have purchased a ton of copies already.


Trell by Dick Lehr is another outstanding read that can’t be overlooked. Teachers, parents, and librarians take note – you need this book in your collections. Not only is it diverse and grapples with painfully relevant social justice issues, it is beautifully written. This is the kind of book that hooks readers without sympathy and doesn’t let them go until it’s chewed them up and spat them out the other side. I have no hesitation when it comes to suggesting it as a modern a relevant alternative to dated educational classics like The Outsiders and To Kill a Mockingbird (for the record, I love these books but so many kids simply can’t relate).

Comics & Graphic Novels


Although I read a good number of outstanding comics and graphic novels this year, The Wendy Project by Osborne & Fish was a clear stand out from the crowd. Not only does it deal with difficult and complex subject matter, it is simultaneously gentle and complex. The art and colouratim is extraordinary and carries just as much meaning as the text, and the result was that I was transported alongside Wendy into Neverland. If you’re new to graphic novels, this is a great place to start; if you’re a frequent reader of these beauties, The Wendy Project won’t leave you disappointed.


nemesisterNemesister by Sophie Jonas Hill was another early stand out. Rarely have a come across a thriller so twisty and genuinely fucked up that I am blown out of the water. But this was that book, this was that book by a mile. It was so good, in fact, that I *had* to read it again right after I finished it the first time.

The Missing Girls by Carol Wyer was another exceptional read. It didn’t matter to me that I jumped in to a series on book three – the fact that this could be done without missing a beat was incredible. I loved the style, the over arching themes, and of course our strong female lead. I’ve since gone back and read the first two books in the series but The Missing Girls remains the crowning jewel IMHO.

Some Final Thoughts

So there we have it, my top reads of 2017 and a few assorted thoughts on my first year of blogging. Thank you all for being so wonderful and supportive, and I look forward to what 2018 has to offer.

Love ya long time!

– J

#BlogTour #Q&A #GuestPost # Giveaway: Spanish Crossings by John Simmons @UrbaneBooks #UrbaneChristmas


Today I have the absolute pleasure of closing out Urbane’s 12 Days of Christmas Blog Tour with not only an AMAZING Q & A from John Simmons, but also an international giveaway (for hardcovers to boot <3), and a very thorough guest post. The perfect way to end off my posting until after the holidays, wouldn’t you agree?

Spanish Crossings is a beautifully written, heart wrenching tale that I haven’t stopped recommending since I hit the 50% mark when reading. The craft, pacing, and detail throughout transports you not only to another time, but to another world. The human elements far overshadow the historical fiction elements, which is entirely fitting as so many of the themes throughout are still relevant today.

I hope that you enjoy the Q & A, Guest Post, and book as much as I did and I am looking forward to sharing some more book love in the new year.





To enter for a chance to win 1 of 3 hardcover copies of this amazing book, simply like this post and share on twitter. This contest is open INTERNATIONALLY and will run from 12/ 22/ 2017 – 12/ 29/ 2017.

Like and share my friends, like and share.

This book is absolutely worth it!

Q & A

The Spanish Civil War has been the inspiration for many novelists, myself included. In this post I interview John Simmons, who has recently published a novel with a Civil War background. Spanish Crossings (Urbane Publications, 2017) is set mostly in 1930s and 40s London but his characters, English Lorna and Spanish Pepe, are deeply affected by what is happening in Spain.

I believe you drew on events in your own family history to write this novel. Could you tell me something about that?

Back in 1937 my mum and dad, Jessie and Frank, were young, newly-married and committed to fighting the rise of fascism. When 4000 refugee children arrived in Britain from northern Spain, sailing on the boat Habana from Bilbao, they volunteered to ‘adopt’ one of the children. I knew him only from photographs in our family album, and that his name was Jesús. He had returned to Spain, and I had never met him or heard anything more from him. In my family, growing up in the 50s and 60s, Spain was a forbidden country – we boycotted it because of Franco’s dictatorship.

Unfortunately my mum and dad died when I was a teenager so I didn’t get to ask them all the questions that I would now wish to ask. But three years ago my daughter Jessie (named after my mum) gave me a book Only for Three Months (by Adrian Bell) that told the story of the refugee children. It’s an extraordinary and little-known story, and it was one of my main sources in writing Spanish Crossings. It allowed me to reconnect with my family history and to take that as inspiration for the novel.

Your descriptions of 1940s London come across as very authentic. How did you go about researching the background for this novel?

That time was history for me, but it was also only a few years before I was born. I remember growing up in flats facing a bombed site from the war. Those flats were Levita House that feature as a location in part of the novel. The main detail – particularly of the 1943/44 period – came from reading that I did. I found the local history archive in Holborn Library useful for articles; read a lot of fiction written and set in the period; and found contemporary photographs amazingly evocative.

Is the story of Lorna and Pepe based on any real history you discovered in your research?

Neither character is directly based on a real character but each are amalgams of people I knew or read about. People often assume Lorna is based on my mum, but she isn’t – though I imagined my mum might have been present as an observer in many of the scenes. Pepe came mainly from my imagination and reading, but probably the most important influence was a photograph of a boy called Angel who was a friend of Jesus.

How would you describe Lorna? Did you find any problems in writing from the POV of a woman?

The first words for the book – “Mother declared herself happy” – came to me in a dream when I was staying in Seville in 2014. That’s the only time that has happened to me. I wrote down the words in my notebook when I woke up and that day I wandered around Seville writing in my notebook while sitting in cafes and parks. By the end of the day I had the first draft of what is now the Prologue of Spanish Crossings. So my first writing about Lorna (as I subsequently called her) was in the form of a frail old lady visiting Spain for the first time in the mid-1980s. But the Prologue established so many threads of the backstory, and I wanted now to imagine what Lorna had been like in her prime, in the 30s and 40s.

It was a great starting point, having that backstory, and Lorna came to life in my head fairly easily. I’d been brought up in a household where left-wing politics were constantly discussed, so Lorna came out of that knowledge and experience. I’d seen and heard people who were politically idealistic, as Lorna is, and I’d seen that this didn’t make them romantic dreamers. They wanted to do practical things to make the world a better place. Lorna has that aspiration, even as she realises the difficulty of her ambitions in those turbulent times. She is a determined fighter, part of what drew her towards her real love Harry, the International Brigade member.

I think it was only after the book was written that people asked the question you ask. I hadn’t asked it of myself while writing. It just seemed a natural thing to do in fiction – to write from the point of view of any of your characters. Of course there are things I have never experienced as a man – for example, a miscarriage – but I’ve never experienced being a soldier either. It’s what I really love about writing fiction, you enter the lives and minds of other people, discovering more about them and more about yourself.

Spain is ever-present in this novel, partly through Lorna’s passionate political beliefs, partly though Pepe’s yearning for his lost country. Yet except for the prologue and epilogue in the 1980s, all the action happens outside Spain, mainly in London. The sense of exile is potent. Did you manage to speak to any of the few Spanish exiles still alive? Or to their children?

I think the sense of exile is common, and always poignant, not simply in the Spanish context. When I ran a writing course in Wales a few years ago I was introduced to the Welsh word Hiraeth. I was told it has no English equivalent but refers to a yearning for your lost homeland. It’s a powerful emotion and in a way we all feel that sense of exile from where we originally came from. I sensed that in the photographs of the Spanish refugee children, even those who stayed.

After I’d written the novel I was lucky enough to meet some of the refugees who had stayed on and made their lives in Britain. In that strange spirit of serendipity it turned out that my next-door neighbour Rosa (who’s Spanish) had an aunt Agustina who lived just up the road. I had a very pleasant and moving afternoon talking to this lovely old lady who had lived a full life in London after leaving Spain as a child.

How did you come up with the title?

As you say, very little of the book is set in Spain but the episodes that feature Spain are about crossings (by boat in the case of the children, over the mountains in the case of the International Brigaders, across the estuary at the close of the book). It seemed to fit, and I guess I also had a faint thought of exploring ‘trust’. Is this character to be trusted or is he in some sense ‘double crossing’? But, of course, journey metaphors also relate to psychological states too and the book is about individual relationships with all those borders that exist in life – political, social, class, cultural.

Did you know what the ending would be when you started writing the novel?

I don’t think I knew what the beginning would be when I started. But it led on quickly from that Prologue. Fairly early on I decided on the three-part structure of the book so I knew where the story was heading, though there were many changes along the way before I got to the final chapters.

Spanish Crossings was published on the 80th anniversary of the arrival from Bilbao of the Habana, the ship carrying 4,000 child refugees to Britain after the bombing of Guernica. Do you think it’s important that people today know the history of the Spanish Civil War and its aftermath? Why?

History doesn’t repeat but it rhymes. I believe in the truth of that. I was conscious of writing a novel that had many modern points of resonance. The refugee situation is the obvious one, but I think it’s broader than that. I find it horrific that, despite the second world war, we look around at examples of modern demagoguery and political brutality. I think we can, and should, know what happened in the past – particularly in the relatively recent past. It’s the best way of avoiding similar mistakes in the future, though we don’t seem to be particularly good at doing that. I was struck a few days ago to hear Lord Adonis likening the situation of Brexit to the 1930s and appeasement. I don’t think you can ever say specifically ‘don’t do that, look what happened on 24th April 1937’ – but it does help to see life today in a historical context. Human beings don’t change that much.

It’s a human story but Lorna’s socialist convictions come across strongly. Was there a political motive to writing this novel? What do you hope readers come away with after reading your novel? Does it have lessons for today?

Lorna’s convictions are similar to the ones I was brought up with through my mother. But I don’t see Spanish Crossings as a didactic novel. There is no party-political message in it. But on a broader level, yes, I hope people will come away with a reinforced belief that we are all individual human beings, we each of us deserve respect and need to give others respect. We should remember the past without allowing the past to dictate our future.

You’ve written non-fiction books and you teach creative writing for business. What do you think are the main differences between writing for business and writing fiction? In both there must be a connection with the reader (as you say on your Dark Angels website), but is it the same?

In our Dark Angels workshops we always have two strands – business writing and personal writing. That’s because we believe each can inform and improve the other. Business writing needs to be more human and individual; personal writing can learn from the best of business writing to use words with impact.

Which do you prefer? What made you turn to fiction?

I’ve always wanted to write fiction. My first novel Leaves was only published in 2015 but I started out originally writing it straight after university. I set it aside for decades and revised it more recently; it was published more than forty years after the first words were written. But that’s a good example of why I prefer fiction: it lives with you, it’s part of you, and you walk around with a whole world in your head, and that world is full of interesting characters that you learn a little bit more about every day.

What are you working on now? Is there a new novel in the pipeline?

I still run my Dark Angels workshops and I still write special commissions in the business world – they help subsidise my fiction from which I have few expectations of making money. But I carry on writing fiction because I love it, so I am currently writing the final chapter of a new novel called The Good Messenger. This time I am setting it either side of the first world war. It begins in 1912 and ends in 1927, with a short middle section on Armistice Day 1918 (that gives me a target for a publication date). With the first draft completed soon, I’ll then have a few months editing before I can show it to anyone.

In a strange way I see it as the prequel to Spanish Crossings. Part of me is thinking in rather grandiose terms that I might need to write a third novel, set after the time of Spanish Crossings, to make a trilogy.

Guest Post

History rhymes

Eighty years ago my mum and dad, recently married, were active in the local Labour Party and its resistance to fascism that was rising in the 1930s. In 1937 during the Spanish Civil War they turned their sympathy into active support for the Spanish republican, anti-Franco cause. They adopted a Spanish boy called Jesús. In our family photo album there were a couple of pictures of Jesús and pictures of my mum surrounded by Spanish boys giving the No Pasaran salute.

My daughter Jessie – named after my mum – got interested in these photos of the Spanish boy and the grandmother she had never met. My mum and dad, Jessie and Frank, had died in the 1960s when I was relatively young. So all those questions I now wanted to ask, could not be asked or answered. Jessie started digging and I started reading books about the Spanish Civil War, the International Brigade and the 4000 Basque children who had been evacuated to Britain in May 1937 almost exactly 80 years ago to this day.

With these thoughts in my head, by chance I was going to Spain three years ago to run one of my Dark Angels writing courses. Before the course I had a night and a day to myself in Seville. That night I slept badly but I dreamed and for the only time in my life I dreamed some words that I remembered on waking. I wrote down the words in a notebook because I thought they were interesting, a good phrase: “Mother declared herself happy”.

Who was this Mother? And why had she come to Seville? I decided to find out by writing and seeing what followed on from those words. Wandering around Seville, sitting in coffee shops and on park benches, I carried on from those words. Like this:

“September 1984, Spain

Mother declared herself happy. She had not liked Madrid. In her head it still rang with the steel clang of jackboots on the cobblestones. Standing in front of Picasso’s newly installed painting Guernica, paying silent homage, had left her tearful. Now we had moved south to Seville, and her mood lifted. 

Sometimes we rattled through the streets on trams but mostly we walked. Even in late September Seville was hot, the heat rising from the pavements as well as burning down from above. So our walking was strolling and our strolling was sitting in the gardens. Watching the world go by was what Mother did now, now that the world was passing her by. It seemed that way to me too, now that I was nearing my fortieth birthday.

I had been a disappointment to Mother and Spain had been the reason for her disappointment. In her youth, her beliefs and her friendships had been defined by the Spanish Civil War. In north London, particularly in Hampstead, the war had raged fiercely through the weapons of words. I wish I had heard her then, in her prime. I was left with the black and white photos of a young woman with dark hair tied back and a raised clenched fist. “No paseran!” she shouted from the centre of her eccentric group of comrades.”

That was the start and it continued. I wrote a story of 1000 words, read it out at the Dark Angels course, and got good reactions. So when I returned home I began writing. That story became the Prologue to a life story that would be set before, during and after the second world war. This Prologue had already suggested much of the back story to this elderly woman’s life – Guernica, her son, Spain’s political history, the pursuit of happiness by trying to live a good life.

When I began writing there were three important characters: Lorna, elderly in the Prologue but what had she been like in her younger days? Harry, a member of the International Brigade, and Pepe a Spanish refugee boy adopted by Lorna after he had arrived, with 4000 others, on the boat Habana from Bilbao to Southampton in May 1937.

There’s a phrase much used at the moment: History does not repeat but it rhymes. Supposedly written by Mark Twain, though no one’s sure. Over the last week it’s been used to point out similarities between two American presidents, Trump and Nixon, both crooks.

But as I wrote it became clearer to me that the story I was writing had real relevance and resonance to the times we live in now. History doesn’t repeat, but it rhymes. A rising authoritarian right wing. A refugee crisis. History rhymes.

The second part of the book is set in the second world war, the third part in the post-war 1947. A time of hope and optimism. The National Health Service founded. The nationalisation of the railways. The world I was about to be born into.

Which brings me to why we’re here in this pub on Levita House estate. Just there, 100 yards behind me, is the flat where I was born. A few years later this is the pub where my mum would send me to buy her a bottle of Guinness for her nightcap. Yes, nine-year-olds could do that in the 1950s.

I decided that I would feature Levita House as the place where Lorna would be living in the third part of the novel. After all, I knew I could write about it authentically. I didn’t really have to do much research. History rhymes. Here’s a bit from the book…

“They now lived in Levita House, on a council estate between Euston and St Pancras stations. The estate was regarded as something of a model for new public housing when it was built in 1930. Its architects had been influenced by modernist styles from Germany and Austria. Part of the post-war reconciliation, thought Lorna, not really believing herself. But she remained pleased with her new home even as she stared from her balcony towards the bank of snow that had been shovelled from the pavement against the high redbrick wall that ran along Ossulston Street. Behind the wall the trains were still not moving in the station goods yard.”

I need to round up now and strain your patience no further. I hope you’ll want to read the book and find out more about the story of Lorna who is not, by the way, based on my mum. But in the most magical way of writing fiction, I found myself writing scenes that I imagined my mum might have been present at. Along with my dad and my aunt Ce.

So you can see, it’s a very personal book but novels need to be written from deep feelings. If this novel has any merit, that is why.


Author Information 

John Simmons John Simmons is an independent writer and consultant. He was a director of Newell and Sorrell from 1984 until the merger with Interbrand in 1997. He headed many large brand programmes with companies as diverse as Waterstone’s, Royal Mail, Air Products and the National Theatre. He established Interbrand’s verbal identity team before he left in 2003. His current clients include Allied Irish Banks, Anthony Gold Solicitors and Marks & Spencer.

John runs “Writing for design” workshops for D&AD and the School of Life. He also runs “Dark Angels” workshops, residential courses in remote retreats, which aim to promote more creative writing for business He has written a number of books on the relationship between language and identity, including “The Dark Angels Trilogy” – We, me, them & it, The invisible grail and Dark angels. His books helped establish the practice of tone of voice as a vital element of branding.

He’s a founder director of 26, the not-for-profit group that champions the cause of better language in business, and has been writer-in-residence for Unilever and King’s Cross tube station. In 2011 he was awarded an Honorary Fellowship by the University of Falmouth in recognition of ‘outstanding contribution to the creative sector’.

His most recent books are 26 ways of looking at a blackberry, about the creative power of constraints, and Room 121: a masterclass in business writing, co-written with Jamie Jauncey as an exchange over 52 weeks. In June 2011 John’s first work of fiction, The angel of the stories, was published by Dark Angels Press, with illustrations by the artist Anita Klein.

He recently initiated and participated in the writing of a Dark Angels collective novel Keeping Mum with fifteen writers – the novel was published by Unbound in 2014. John is on the Campaign Council for Writers’ Centre Norwich as Norwich becomes the first English City of Literature.

Many thanks to Abby Fairbrother at Anne Bonny Book Reviews for wrangling me into this Holiday book-love madness and arranging for a fabulous Q & A, to John Simmons for providing such thorough answers AND supplying a beautiful Guest post, and to Matthew at Urbane Publications for making sure that I had absolutely everything that I needed despite my being across the pond and on exactly opposite time zones.

Blackmail, Sex and Lies Giveaway Winner Announced!

Today I am delighted to announce the winner of the giveaway for an ebook copy of Blackmail, Sex and Lies by Kathryn McMaster that was running as part of the blog tour last week. Thank you to all who entered, and I encourage you to keep your eyes peeled as I’ll be running another giveaway (this time for hard copies!) later this week.






***Giveaway Winner***

After running all of the entries through randomizer, I am delighted to announce that Cleo Bannister at is our lucky winner.

Congrats Cleo!

Happy reading and happy holidays.

Many Thanks to Rachel Gilbey at Rachel’s Random Resources for organizing this fabulous blog tour, and to Kathryn McMaster for providing an advanced copy in exchange for an honest review.

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#Review: Out of Mecklenburg: The Unwilling Spy by James Remmer #HistoricalFiction

Today on the blog I have the pleasure of reviewing James Remmer’s Out of Mecklenburg, an exciting work of WWII fiction split between Argentina and Germany that is packed full of spies, romance, and historical fact. If you’re a fan of heady, slow-burn reads this is sure to be one for you!

mecklenburgTitle: Out of Mecklenburg: The Unwilling Spy

Author: James Remmer

Publisher: Troubadour Publishing

Publication Date: August 9, 2017

Genre: Fiction, Historical Fiction, Literary Fiction

Themes: WWII, Espionage, Spies, Romance, Survival

Features: N/A

My Rating: 4/ 5


From Goodreads…

With Hitler at the height of his power, Carl von Menen, suave, wealthy and aristocratic, a high flying servant of the German Foreign Office, lives a duplicitous and dangerous life – he abhors the Nazis and wants to kill Hitler! But his vision of seeing a Nazi-free Germany shrinks to despair, when he is unexpectedly assigned to Argentina to keep a watchful eye on the emerging United Officers Group (GOU), a pro-Nazi/Fascist faction of military officers led by the aspiring Juan Domingo Peron.

In Buenos Aires, von Menen is sucked into a cauldron of treachery, deceit and revolution, heightened by his secret ideology, the far-reaching threat of the Gestapo and his clandestine dealings with the seemingly obliging Colonel Filipe Vidal, a man who emerges with a devious and sinister agenda: a plot to side-line Peron and seize power for himself. But Vidal needs arms and his coercive key to getting them is the life of the woman von Menen loves, the dazzling Maria Gomez.

Scheming his way back to Europe, von Menen finds Berlin in ruins, the Gestapo in overdrive, and a merciless Red Army charging towards Germany with only one thing in mind – vengeance! Gambling his own survival against certain execution, he contrives to convince a desperate and weakening Nazi hierarchy that Vidal has a pro-Nazi deal on offer that not even Peron can equal. Hitler finally gives his approval, but the scent of treachery is in the air and the Gestapo is watching. What follows is a bold and daring plan to rob the Reichsbank, a perilous journey by U-boat to the South Atlantic and a maelstrom of heart-stopping events back in Buenos Aires…

James Remmer explores the covert operations of WWII with reference to the early years of Peron and to real events of the war years. The book offers a unique perspective into WWII and will appeal to fans of historical fiction, especially those interested in undercover operations during the Second World War.

My Review

Coming in to this novel, I initially had mixed feelings as it’s a little bit slow to start. But, once you make it past the first few chapters the excitement takes off and doesn’t stop building – not even at the end, as a dramatic sequel has clearly been set up.

I think the single most endearing feature of this book was the fact that von Menen was anti-Nazi right from the get-go and managed to use his position to carry out small acts of resistance. I found myself growing more anxious and more paranoid with every chapter and every contact that was eliminated from von Menen’s network. But more than anything, I was drawn in by the fact that von Menen’s entire family was wrapped up in resisting the party despite many of his family members holding high ranking positions within RnD, the military, and the navy. It was a refreshing perspective after reading a string of books that focused on concentration camps, so naturally I was completely on board with the family’s attempts to stick it to the man.

The gold heist was hands down the highlight of the story as it was fast paced, humorous, and utterly gripping. I nearly died when the whole scheme was almost derailed by an SS officer ‘parking’, and Hans’ scrappy resourcefulness in a time when nearly everything is impossible to obtain. I mean, who else could obtain a spare car and petrol during the height of rationing and shortages?

The Argentine setting too, was absolutely enthralling, as it represented a melting pot of political activity and unrest that was both central to many nations during WWII while simultaneously being removed from the action. I detested Vidal as a character, but appreciated Remmer’s historical accuracy when it came to Ortiz, Peron, and the revolution of 1943. I am left hoping that the second instalment will focus on ODESSA and Ribbentrop’s network for smuggling of Nazi fugitives to Argentina.


Would I recommend this book? Absolutely. But, it would come with the warning that the front third is a little heavy on the character building, explication, and setting the stage for later action. Regardless, it’s well written, carefully developed, and sure to please those sticklers for detail that insist on accuracy with their espionage.

Many thanks to James Remmer and Troubadour Publishing for providing an advanced copy via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. 

#Blogtour #Review #Giveaway: Blackmail, Sex and Lies by Kathryn McMaster – Part 2 @rararesources @TrueCrimeNovels

Welcome to the second half of my stop of the blog tour for Kathryn McMaster’s latest true crime novel Blackmail, Sex and Lies. If you haven’t done so already, please check out Part 1 – but don’t forget to make it all the way to the bottom of the page for info on how to enter to win an eBook copy (open internationally, ends 12/16/2017)!

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Title: Blackmail, Sex, and Lies: A Victorian True Crime Thriller

Author: Kathryn McMaster

Publisher: Drama Llama Press

Publication Date: August 30, 2017

Genre: Fiction, Historical Fiction, Murder Mystery

Themes: Toxic Relationships, Romance, Arsenic Poisoning, Class Stratified Society, True Crime

Features: Historical Documents, Archival Photographs


Blackmail, Sex and Lies is a story of deception, scandal, and fractured traditional Victorian social values. It is the tale of a naïve, young woman caught up in a whirlwind romance with a much older man. However, both have personality flaws that result in poor choices, and ultimately lead to a tragic end.

For 160 years, people have believed Madeleine Smith to have been guilty of murder. But was she? Could she have been innocent after all?

This Victorian murder mystery, based on a true story, takes place in Glasgow, Scotland, 1857. It explores the disastrous romance between the vivacious socialite, Madeleine Hamilton Smith, and her working class lover, Pierre Emile L’Angelier.

After a two-year torrid, and forbidden relationship with L’Angelier, that takes place against her parents’ wishes, the situation changes dramatically when William Minnoch enters the scene. This new man in Madeleine’s life is handsome, rich, and of her social class. He is also a man of whom her family approve.

Sadly, insane jealous rages, and threats of blackmail, are suddenly silenced by an untimely death.

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If there are two genres I love to read they’re true crime and historical fiction, so having them put together in a single book was an absolute treat. Now add in the fact that Mimi and Emile’s letters, as well as archival photographs, were interspersed throughout the text and that little part of my historian/ librarian brain that craves provenance and evidence does a super excited happy dance! This book was the perfect balance between fact and fiction, giving us not only an evidentiary exploration of the events leading up to Emile L’Angelier’s death but also a gripping read with characters and settings that are bound to suck you in.

Given the depth and subject matter of this book, I was surprised at how easy it was read and how quickly it flew by (and by that I mean how I didn’t notice the time ticking by before my husband hit me with a pillow at 2AM and told me to go to sleep whilst I was caught up in the reading). I’m not normally a fan of alternating perspectives, but the switch between Emile and Madeline points of view created both tension and balance as the story advanced towards to the trial of the century. The structure really played into the true crime genre, giving it the feel of arguments being presented by both sides in the court room, and added an air of objectivity to a story that could have been incredibly biased if only told from one perspective or the other. The shorter segments and natural gaps between the lovers meetings helped to advance the plot naturally, and those moments that felt a little slower were compensated for by the fact that they were packed full of introspection and essential character building. The inclusion of the letters also works wonders, as it allows a glimpse into the long forgotten psyche of these people, while simultaneously allowing the readers a chance to feel the ebb and flow of a romance that once burned bright.

I’m not going to lie, at first I rather liked Emile. I mean, who can blame a man for wanting to work hard to better their station in the world? This is something that has been preached for centuries, so this sentiment really rang true. I even felt for the fellow after not one, but two of his engagements were called off in favour of men with better social standing. But, my pity for him died the minute he started to control Mimi’s actions and pressure her to marry despite knowing full well that it could damage her prospects forevermore.

Madeline, on the other hand, was someone that I actually quite liked and my empathy for her character continue to grow as the narrative progressed. Sure, she was head strong, naive and impetuous, but I happen to have a thing for ladies who like to bend the rules. I giggled along side her, felt the thrill of her secret affair, and became completely wrapped up in her predicament as she tried to distance herself from Emile despite the leverage that he was attempting to use against her. Undoubtedly, Mimi comes across as a more complete and depth character as there are so many more of her letters surviving. The result was that I really felt I gained a sense of who she was as a person and how carefully she walked the tightrope of being a Victorian socialite engaged in a clandestine affair.

Everything from the setting to the clothing transported me back to 1857, and carefully relayed the intricacies of Victorian era society. It is clear that this is a work supported by extensive and painstaking research which is something that I both seek out and enjoy. Those little details, like the pearl buttons on Mimi’s nightgown, the split style of her undergarments, and even the challenges of navigating doorways in flounced dressed and hoop skirts brought a realness and texture that works of pure nonfiction simply can’t provide. I was engrossed too, by the social morays of the Victorian elite as I would never think twice about where I walked and with whom, or the possible implications of attending a concert with a member of the opposite sex.

What I loved the most about this book is that the story itself isn’t new – the naive heiress falls for an older man who wishes to take advantage of her – we’ve all heard that one before! But the novelty lies in the way in which McMaster crafts the narrative, leaving just enough real evidence to cause a constant flip-flop as to who did it and why. But more than anything, I love how McMaster leaves it up to the reader to decide.

Would I recommend this book? Oh heck yes! It’s gripping, fast-paced, and undeniably real. Everything from the writing style to the vivid imagery is designed to draw you in, and just like Emile, this is a story that won’t let you go without a fight. And as one of my favourite reads of 2017, I can’t recommend Blackmail, Sex and Lies highly enough – get your copies now!


The rules are simple: Like this post and share it via Twitter before 11:59 PM (MST, because this Canadian has to clarify time zones!) on December 16, 2017 for a chance to win an eBook copy of Blackmail, Sex and Lies: A Victorian True Crime Murder Mystery.

This contest is open internationally & the winner will be announced December 18th.

Happy sharing!

Author Information 

Blackmail Sex Lies - kathry-macmaster-author Kathryn McMaster is a writer, entrepreneur, wife, mother, and champion of good indie authors. She co-owns the book promotion company One Stop Fiction (, where readers can sign up to receive news of free and discounted 4 and 5 star reviewed books. She is also a bestselling author of historical murder mysteries set in the Victorian and Edwardian eras. Her debut novel, “Who Killed Little Johnny Gill?” was well received. All her novels are based on true stories, and she melds fact with fiction, writing in the creative nonfiction style. She lives on her 30 acre farm in the beautiful Casentino Valley, Italy for 6 months of the year, and during the other half of the year, on the small island of Gozo, Malta.

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Don’t forget to check out Part 1 of my tour stop for an excerpt!

Many Thanks to Rachel Gilbey at Rachel’s Random Resources for organizing this fabulous blog tour, and to Kathryn McMaster for providing an advanced copy in exchange for an honest review.

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