Bookstagrammer, Blogger & Bookshop Reviews

Bookstagrammer, Blogger & Bookshop Reviews

From May 23rd 2024

Fran: FranMcBookface

June 16th 2024

This is such a great historical fiction novel. 

Meticulous research, a great story and an engaging writing style combine beautifully and I devoured this book across an afternoon - I couldn’t put it down. 

Following the life of the now little known actor and comedian Charles Mackay, the book traces his story from his boyhood in Edinburgh, to his start in acting, to his place as a national icon. The book paints a vivid picture of the world of theatre across the UK but particularly in Edinburgh in the 19th century. 

Helen has done a great job of drawing Charles as a likeable but fallible person. A man who undoubtedly loved his family but who perhaps put his career to the fore. His story is wonderfully woven with real people and events of the day and I loved reading about his friendship with Walter Scott and the preparations for the visit of King George IV in 1822.

I was as throughly entertained by this book as those long ago audiences were by the man himself. 

Thank you to the author for a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review

Tracey: dublintraceyisreadingagain

June 8th, 2024

This is a lovely book. It was difficult to put down and was read on buses, in a cafe and on the sofa over just a few days. Work kept getting in the way! I felt likeI was there, in Georgian Edinburgh, at the theatres and in the houses. Your thorough research and interest in your ancestor's story shone through without it feeling acedemic. I really felt like I was there.

Sinéad: sinéadisreadingagain

June 2, 2024

Well researched and insightful look at a fantastic story in Scottish history

Firstly thank you so much to Helen Graham for my proof copy of this book!
I haven’t read too much historical fiction, particularly Scottish historical fiction, but I feel this may be a springboard for me into the genre as I really found the scene setting and character development so interesting and will definitely be exploring more!

This book focuses on the character of Charles Mackay, a nineteenth century comedic theatre actor, and his life across many decades and stages.

I loved the immersive setting of this book and really felt like I was in Edinburgh with the Mackay family and their friends during the periods focused on. This book is clearly incredibly well researched and allows the reader to engage so well with Charles - but also with the theatre setting and the atmosphere these drove. Helen Graham has absolutely done her ancestor proud with this writing!

I thought the character development was great throughout and loved Charles in his later life reflecting on his earlier days in the theatre and his relationships with his wife, children and friends. I also really loved some of the female characters such as Charles's wife Charlotte (who I thought was a wonderful powerhouse), Bella, Dorothy Charles's mum and his granddaughter Lottie. There were a lot of strong females in Charles's life and I loved how their stories were interwoven. However, these characters are also used to explore the realities of inequality and the difference between men and women during this time really thoughtfully, alongside other difficult topics covering loss, love and family in a sensitive engaging way, that enables you to be there with the characters. This is even more impressive when recognising that the majority of these were based on real people!

I really enjoyed immersing myself in this story and would really recommend for those interested in historical fiction - especially focused on Scotland and the theatre - but I also think it’s a really well written accessible story for all.


Advait: books_for_nooks

May 31, 2024

Meticulously researched historical novel

A carefully researched historical novel about the life of Charles Mackay who was perhaps Sir Walter Scott’s favourite comedian. This was an immersive evocative read that wonderfully wraps the reader in the charged atmosphere of Scottish theatre. Charles’s talent was evident from his younger days and propelled him towards roles that were much sought after. The world he is thrown into is vibrant and competitive but the audiences are fickle and so are the critics. As challenging as things seem for Charles your heart can’t help but go out to the women in his life. A large part of his success is a result of the unconditional love and support that he received from them especially when they were trying to overcome their own grief. Charlotte is perhaps the kindest and most giving character I have ever come across.
The sights and sounds of 18th and 19th century Edinburgh are so vividly described and are paired perfectly with the sensibilities of the people at the time. I highly recommend this for fans of Scottish historical fiction and theatre and look forward to Helen’s next project.


Adele: @adeleloves_edin

May 31st 2024

Firstly I am so grateful to the author for gifting me a proof copy of her debut novel, which I absolutely adored.

Historical fiction isn’t my number one genre, to be even more niche, local historical fiction is even further down the pile. However, I surprised myself by being totally pulled in and amerced in this well put together and researched novel focusing around Sir Walter Scott’s favourite comedian’s life inside and outside of the theatre. Helen Graham has done her ancestor, Charles Mackay, very proud.

There are many things I loved, especially the relationships between Charles and the women in his life. The first being his mother, then his wife Charlotte and finally with his Granddaughter Lottie. The love and emotion oozes from the pages. My other notes include the descriptions of Edinburgh and the local history. I’ve learned so much about a period of time and its people that I knew nothing about. Finally, the references to the joy of books and stories just hit me in the heart. I related hard with this element as every piece of love the characters showed towards books is how I feel about books today.

I can’t recommend this book enough.

Favourite Quotes:

‘He had curled his body round her and muttered into her hair be safe, my darling girl, be well and safe.’

‘His books were like old friends and must be treated with respect.’

‘…only the tops of the trees in Drummond Place Gardens poked their heads above the persistent haar still rolling in from the Forth like a wispy white sea.’

As an extra little snippet into my thoughts, here are few questions my partner, Callum, asked me during our discussions about this book.

Q: Would it be a good adaption into a tv series or film?
A: I think so! I can see it translated well into a film or play.

Q: Who is your favourite character?
A: Charlotte! I was rooting for her so much, and felt very strongly for her.

Q: Do you need to like historical fiction to enjoy this book?
A: Not at all. If you love a good story, you’ll enjoy it.

Lizzie: @thehighlandbookshelf

May 28th 2024

Quote: "You always said we were two halves of an orange, Charles - and so we are, my dear, so we are."

'Night after night jostling crowds clamour for entry to Edinburgh’s Theatre Royal with one name on their lips: the Real Mackay. But who is he?'

It was brilliant to return to Edinburgh after a 4 year hiatus, albeit it was 18th century Edinburgh, exploring the highs and lows of one of the most famous Scottish actors of the time!

It's been a wee while since I last read historical fiction but this was so easy to dip in and out of. I loved how incredibly well-researched the plot was, everything was enshrined in a stark level of reality. I felt like I was following closely behind Charles Mackay's every footstep!

I thought there was some really interesting commentary on the inequality between female actors and their male counterpart. Mackay's wife, Charlotte, in particular, countlessly proves herself as a serious and talented actress but is held back from an illustrious career by what is heralded as 'women's problems'. Despite only having one episode of ill health strike whilst onstage (which she manages in a very professional manner), she is constantly dismissed from playing bigger parts. In contrast, Charles waits until last minute, whilst ill, before cancelling his appearance in a performance which causes the company a great deal of stress. Despite this, he never receives repercussions, showing the vast inequality in the way men and women's illnesses were treated.

Charles relationship to his family and his dedication to the theatre is a striking force throughout the novel. I especially loved the later chapters depicting his relationship with his Granddaughter. Her love of the theatre really blooms from Charles' own love and devotion to the arts.

Thank you so much to @helengrahamwriter for the lovely proof copy, I thoroughly enjoyed reading this!

Fiona: @doeweread

May 23rd 2024

This has been a joyful read. Thank you so much to @helengrahamwriter for sending me this copy.
Historical fiction set in Edinburgh is a favourite of mine. I love learning about buildings that no longer exist or their use has changed. Walking to work I can now see where the theatres of the Real Mackay's time used to be. This book has opened up a whole new world of learning about Edinburgh.
Mostly, though, the book excels in its story of Charles Mackay and the family he loves so much. The relationships with his wife and later his granddaughter are beautifully laid out in this book.
Tomorrow I'll walk past the Scott Monument and nod to Sir Walter, knowing I have learned so much more about his favourite comedian.

The Nairn Bookshop
May 21st 2024

The person who first read it 'for' the shop was thrilled: it wasn't really her 'thing' so she was a bit wary tbh - but she 'thoroughly' enjoyed it and said it's well researched, well written & has a great story to it. So we're very happy to promote it! Such a great idea for a novel - and you pulled it off so well (which is the hard part!)