Weyward

Author: Emilia Hart

Publisher: Harper Collins Publishers/The Borough Press

Available: 2nd February 2023 in Hardback, eBook & Audiobook

Book Details:

KATE, 2019

Kate flees London – abandoning everything – for Cumbria and Weyward Cottage, inherited from her great-aunt. There, a secret lurks in the bones of the house, hidden ever since the witch-hunts of the 17th century.

VIOLET, 1942

Violet is more interested in collecting insects and climbing trees than in becoming a proper young lady. Until a chain of shocking events changes her life forever.

ALTHA, 1619

Altha is on trial for witchcraft, accused of killing a local man. Known for her uncanny connection with nature and animals, she is a threat that must be eliminated.

But Weyward women belong to the wild. And they cannot be tamed…

Weaving together the stories of three women across five centuries, Weyward is an enthralling novel of female resilience and the transformative power of the natural world.

Thoughts:

There are some books that you seem to see everywhere on various social media platforms prior to their publication and I do love seeing them, as they prompt me to investigate books, I might not yet be aware of. As was the case with Weyward Emilia Hart’s debut novel, I mean how could I miss the shockingly pink proofs floating about and they sparked my curiosity and I went and had a look at the book details…and I had a love at first sight moment…I was struck with that internal sense of fizz of excitement, that sense of satisfaction and anticipation and a rather childlike, chant of gimme, gimme, gimme in my head because I knew that I must read this novel! Then came the crushing discovery that I would have wait about 6 months until it was published (I could be exaggerating about the timeline but to be honest, it has felt like forever) until finally last week, Weyward was released into the world, and I could get my hands on a copy, or in this case the audiobook and before 9am on 02/02/2023 I was engrossed and I could not put it down or stop listening in my case!

If there was ever any doubt about the hype for this novel surpassing the expectation, let me dispel that notion! Emilia’s book deserves it, every mention, all the excitement and the accolades…this novel may just be my favourite read of 2023 and yes, I know that we aren’t even halfway through February…well that should tell you, how fabulous I think it is! And Emilia, what ever you write next, I will be at the head of the queue to buy it, as you are an imaginative, clever storyteller and you deserve every success this book brings you.

So let me give you a small taste of the book itself; three women from the same maternal line centuries apart, with lives and societies so different from each other, yet all face the violent persecution of men.  Men who fear them for their independence, their intelligence and their power and seek to destroy them but they are Weyward women, so be careful what you start! This novel is a magnificent mixture of murder, mystery, and magic. As a reader are drawn deeply into the characters’ lives, their emotions, their struggles, and their environments. Which Emilia has constructed so exquisitely, and she imbues the circumstances each woman faces, with such taut atmospheric tension, you can almost touch it! I found my heart in my mouth several times as I read!

I loved how this novel was constructed layer upon layer of history, social context, and emotional intelligence, its simply sublime. Each woman has their own individual story, and they are woven together, and each chapter of their timelines are slotted together like literary Lego to create the legacy of the Weywards; a human tapestry if you will. The knowledge and experiences of the past (Altha story) informs the story of Violet and in turn, their discoveries provide Kate with the strength she needs to survive her present.

It is a rich history of women and their connections to the spiritual and natural world, some might label it feminist, but that for me is oversimplifying the context. Yes, it is a fictional story of women their skills and their survival, but it is so much more, it a novel that articulates, the complexities of society, where the patriarchy in their fear and insecurity, seeks to control, to supress and to dominate a gender they cannot comprehend as mentally equal never mind physically so and where their fear overwhelms them, they seek to destroy women who refuse to be cowed or submit to the limited boxes assigned to their imposed weaker gender and through Altha, Violet and Kates experiences, we see the nefarious manifestations and consequences of that fear and it will make you grind your teeth with the presumption of it! This novel is breathtaking, it will terrify you and inspire you in equal measure as you to read it but of course to find out more you will have to embark on this reading journey for yourselves as I won’t be revealing anything specific here!

As far as I’m concerned, this book needs to be on every bookshelf in the land and deserves to win a literary prize or two as well. It is a textured, taut, terrifying, and triumphal book and one that I insist you buy, today, right now, put an order into to your local bookshop or click madly online but get it and then cancel all your plans, make frothy coffees and stock up on snacks and refuse to move from your reading nooks until you’ve finished reading it! Now I’ll stop gushing and let you get on with your book shopping.

Happy Reading Bookophiles…

Author:

Emilia Hart is a British-Australian writer. She was born in Sydney and studied English Literature and Law at the University of New South Wales before working as a lawyer in Sydney and London. Emilia is a graduate of Curtis Brown Creative’s Three Month Online Novel Writing Course and was Highly Commended in the 2021 Caledonia Novel Award. Her short fiction has been published in Australia and the UK. She lives in London. You can follow Emilia on Twitter at @EmiliaHartBooks.

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Promise Me

Author: Jill Mansell

Publisher: Headline

Available: 19th January 2023 in Hardback, eBook & Audiobook

Thank you to Anne Cater, Random Things Tours, for my gifted copy and for having me on the blog tour for this book. My review is based on my experience of the book and any thoughts expressed here are solely mine alone. 

Book Details:

Fate’s about to make mischief…

 One minute Lou is happily employed, with a perfect flat. The next, her home and job have gone. Suddenly she has to start over.

The last thing Lou wants is to move to a tiny Cotswolds village. She certainly doesn’t intend to work for curmudgeonly eighty-year-old Edgar Allsopp. But Edgar is about to make her the kind of promise nobody could ignore. In return, she secretly vows to help him fall in love with life again.

Foxwell is also home to Remy, whose charm and charisma are proving hard to ignore. But Lou hasn’t recovered from the last time she fell for a charmer. She needs a distraction – and luckily one’s about to turn up.

Secrets never stay hidden for long in Foxwell, nor are promises always kept. And no one could guess what lies ahead…

 My Thoughts:

Today, I am sharing my thoughts on Jill Mansell’s latest novel Promise Me. Now I must confess, this is my maiden voyage as far as Jill’s books are concerned…shocking I know. I have always intended to read her books but in some foolish oversight on my part, I hadn’t, until now and I am certain that, I will be bulk buying as many of her previous books, as I can get my paws on! Jill’s books are clearly magnificent and how I missed them I shall never know! Jill, please forgive me!

Now a little about the story; Lou is visiting her best friend Sammy (a musician) and in the course of her weekend, bumps into the grumpy, grouchy Edgar Allsopp, who is clearly in need of help but of course there is no way he’s going to admit it…and before the weekend is done, Edgar has offered Lou a job, which initially she refuses as she is perfectly happy with her job and life. However, circumstances unfold and naturally she ends up working for Edgar. Who has become quite isolated from the world around him but with Lou in his life, encouraging and supporting him, this begins to change and more so with the arrival of Mr Oates…a furry, four footed kindred spirit. Edgar gets in touch with a lost love and hopes for happy endings all round seem on the horizon and Lou’s own romantic life may also be set to change or will history repeat itself…? And just wait until you meet the deliciously dastardly Della and her dreadful children, whose avarice knows no bounds and no matter how much you shout don’t do it at this book, they move in with Edgar and Lou…So what happens next, well there’s the Keeler brothers in the picture too, …but if you want to know more…you will have to read the book and find out for yourself…yes, I am such a tease!

When I read the details about Promise Me, I felt and still do an instant connection to the protagonist, the lovely Lou, whose life experiences although fictional, were uncannily similar like my own, in some respects.  The genius of this novel, for me, is in Jill’s ability to sensitively craft such relatable characters, who we as readers; recognise and empathise with and in reading about their experiences, brings us such a sense of the familiar, and I know, I find this emotional intelligence in a book engaging and comforting. In discovering Jill’s books, I have found literary, emotionally satisfying soul food.

From the moment I sat down to read this novel, I was charmed, captivated, and frequently amused. I mean how could I not be; as I write this review, the scene that pops into my head is discussion between Remy and his girlfriend about the issue of having children…and the moment she compares having them; to winning a raffle prize of a case of out of date dog food…I roared with laughter probably because that’s exactly what I’ve always felt about having children, but have never had the sufficiently witty turn of phrase to explain my feelings about it! Well not quite true, I’ve always borrowed Elizabeth Gilbert’s logic in her book Eat, Pray, Love…who stated, that having children is rather like having a tattoo on your face…you need to be damn sure about it! Jill’s book is full of such pertinent and perceptive observances about the complexities of life, and they will make you laugh, and they may make you shed a tear or two as well. I speak from first-hand experience as I did both while reading this novel.

What an absolute joy Promise me has been to read and I am bereft that I’ve finished it…the characters felt like friends, there was drama, humour, sorrow and romance and I was completely lost in the story, and I have no doubt you will be too. You must add this book to your shelves, you will miss a treat if you don’t and now, I am off to source more of Jill’s back catalogue to sate my latest book addiction!

Happy Reading Bookophiles…

About the Author:

Jill Mansell has been writing Sunday Times bestsellers for over twenty years, most recently Should I Tell You? Her hobbies include exploring the Cotswolds and the southwest of England, scouting for locations for future books, and discovering brilliant new restaurants along the way. She lives in Bristol with her family.

Please do read some of the other reviews available on this blog tour.

She, You, I

Author: Sally Keeble

Publisher: Eleanor Press

Available: 5th January 2023 in Paperback & eBook.

Thank you to Anne Cater, Random Things Tours & Eleanor Press for my gifted copy and for having me on the blog tour for this book. My review is based on my experience of the book and any thoughts expressed here are solely mine alone.

Book Details:

When Skye Stanhope returns to her grandmother’s childhood home, she’s looking for the roots of her life story. Why her tough-minded granny Maisie ran away to war. And why her brilliant mother Isla died. Her search for the truth stretches across almost a century of conflict, peace, boomtime and bust, into the uneasy calm of post pandemic Britain.

 “She, You I” is the debut novel of Sally Keeble, a former journalist and MP. She has written non-fiction previously, focussing on social and feminist issues, and many of these themes run through her novel. For Maisie, signing up to fight in the second world war provides a way to escape poverty and violence at home. But she finds herself caught up in new tragedy, and her unresolved grief is played out in the lives of her own daughters.

 It’s only in the third generation that her granddaughter Skye is able to heal the wounds. Woven through the women’s lives is Hsiao Ling, a seamstress whose ancestor disappeared in wartime France. It’s an emotional journey, from a Scottish tenement to an airbase in wartime Suffolk, through London’s fashion and finance industries, to a coffee cart by the south coast.

Through each woman’s story, “She, You, I” holds up a mirror to the complexity of family relationships and answers the question, how many generations does it take to recover from abuse. For the author, “She, You, I” is a chance to explore in fiction some of the issues that she campaigned on during her time in politics. It shows how women’s lives have changed, and the challenges we’ve faced. It also tells a story of hope and reconciliation that aims to make readers laugh as well as cry.

My Thoughts:

Today it’s my turn to share my thoughts on Sally Keeble’s debut novel She, You, I . I found it to be an insightful, intuitive multi-generational read, focusing on the trials and tribulations of women from a single family, spanning from WWII to the present. It is an evocative novel and one that is constantly evolving as the perceptions of society ebb and flow regarding the role of women within it. I enjoyed the saga feel about it as I read from one woman to the next, but I thoroughly appreciated Sally’s subtle female centric thematic direction for each of them. Sally has carefully and clearly drawn on her own experiences in public life to colour the lives of the interesting cast she has created. I was thoroughly engaged while reading it and I believe many of you would be too.

So let me give you a little taste of the story, Skye Stanhope returns to the childhood home of her grandmother Maisie, believing that by discovering answers to the secrets of her maternal line, will she hopes bring clarity to her own life. What prompted her irascible granny decades earlier to leave her home in Glasgow and join the WAAF and why did she never return! And what might have been the root cause of her mother Isla’s death, impact of which Skye carries with her. Skye believes uncovering their true stories, maybe the only way to heal the hurts of the past. As I was reading, I found it fascinating to consider potentially how much the emotional trauma and tragedy of these women’s past, has such taint on the present and I thought Sally illustrated the impact of abuses subtly and sensitively and as a reader, really made you think!

The construction of this novel was another element, I admired greatly; Sally has recounted each of her characters from a differing perspective; Maisie’s story is in the third person, Isla story is shared by her old sister Julia and Skye’s story is in the first person, hence the She, You, I concept. I thought this was a rather inventive means of conveying the narrative. At the core of this novel, is the depth and scope of familial relationships and how each generation faces, personal and societal challenges with resilience, courage, hope and humour.

I confess that initially, I was expecting more drama perhaps but, this novel’s focus wasn’t about dramatizing the horrible things that can occur in life but rather on the remarkable ways women cope with whatever circumstances they find themselves in and how they navigate choppy waters or smooth seas and how experiences of childhood, can impact our definition of self and the myriad of ways we manage our expectations of relationships. Sally has written a gem of a novel and it not what I was expecting, it was far better, her book is captivating, clever, and considered and a reading experience, that I highly recommend you try for yourself.

Happy Reading Bookophiles… 

About the Author:

Sally writes about the things she’s passionate about—the triumphs and tragedies of people’s everyday lives. It’s what originally took her into journalism and then politics and keeps her active there still.

Growing up in a diplomatic family, she spent much of her early years in the USA, Switzerland, and Australia, returning home to the UK after working as a journalist in South Africa. She made the switch from journalism to politics, first as a South London council leader during the turbulent 1980s and then as one of the big intake of Labour women MPs who changed the face of British politics in 1997. She became a minister in local government and then international development. Itchy feet don’t stand still.

After losing her seat, she set up an international development agency for the Anglican Communion, and travelled widely, especially in Africa and South Asia. She’s written nonfiction previously, especially on women’s issues and social policy, but “She, You, I” is her first novel.

To learn about creative writing, she did courses with City Lit and Jericho Writers, and has had pieces of flash fiction shortlisted in competitions. Some of the storylines in “She, You, I” draw from insights gained from her personal and political life.

Sally splits her time between Northampton, where she was MP, and Bawdsey, a village in coastal Suffolk close to her family roots. She and her husband Andrew have two adult children.

Please do read some of the other reviews available on this blog tour.

The Lumberjills Stronger Together

Author: Joanna Foat

Publisher: Merrow Downs Press

Available: Out now in paperback & eBook

Thank you to Anne Cater, Random Things Tours & Merrow Downs Press for my gifted copy and for having me on the blog tour for this book. My review is based on my experience of the book and any thoughts expressed here are solely mine alone. 

Book Details:

A WW2 saga about adversity, courage, and friendship. When war breaks out, three spirited women must set aside their differences to help Britain win the war. Fighting from the forests, they find new depths of strength and courage. But – when war threatens everything – would you risk your life to save a friend?

 When feisty, bohemian Keeva signs up for war work in the forest, she’s already learnt the hard way that people can’t be trusted. For Rosie, a factory girl from London’s East End, the forest is an escape – but she can’t stop her big mouth getting her into trouble. And Beatrice, a wealthy debutante, wants to use her brain, not ruin her fine hands felling trees. Meanwhile, Lady Denman, director of the Women’s Land Army, battles with bureaucrats in Whitehall ¬to defend the Lumberjills.

As these strong women struggle to survive in a tough men’s world, it seems they really may succeed in their dangerous war work… when a terrible disaster strikes and threatens everything they have achieved.

 The Lumberjills Stronger Together is inspired by the incredible and heroic true stories of the Women’s Timber Corps, a branch of the Women’s Land Army. Author Joanna Foat researched and interviewed sixty women who served as Lumberjills in World War II. These first-hand accounts, and her own passion for wild landscapes, bring a rugged authenticity to this emotionally rousing novel of female courage, strength, and determination.

 A World War II novel for fans of Suzanne Goldring, Nancy Revell and Jennifer Worth.

 My Thoughts:

It’s my pleasure today to share my thoughts with you about Joanna Foat’s debut novel The Lumberjills Stronger Together a truly masterful mixture of facts and fiction, beautifully blended to create a charming, charismatic, colourful and character driven novel focusing on the work and lives of young women from all walks of life; who wanting to ‘do their bit’ for the war effort, bravely joined The Women’s Land Army and found themselves far away from the often urban lives they knew, thrown in at the deep end (or the very cold and muddy end) and they faced undertaking physically demanding tasks, that would make us modern women quake in our Uggs! Never mind them also having to deal with relentless stream of sexism and machismo from the men in charge, who quite frankly couldn’t boil an egg alone! One of the elements of the book that really struck me, was that more than 70 years on from the period of this novel; that patriarchal attitudes towards women’s capabilities really haven’t advanced much, have they, you’ll see precisely what I’m referring to when you read Jo’s book! For those of us with a more feminist persuasion, gird your loins ladies!

As a huge fan of historical fiction, especially novels that concern themselves with the often overlooked roles women held during the war, Jo’s book was a siren call to me and I found it a detailed, dedicated and a vastly illuminating read and I encourage you to get hold of a copy, as soon as possible.

It is very clear to anyone who reads this wonderful novel, that it is impeccably researched and Jo’s love of the human history underpinning the story, shines through with great respect and sincerity, her work is undoubtly a labour of love and given that she has already written a non-fiction book on the subject, the facts are expertly woven into the frame of her novel, as is her admiration (and now mine too) for the real women (many of whom she has interviewed) whose experiences and stories I believe are the source for Jo’s lively, authentic, cast of characters.

The novel is mostly set in at the Forestry Training Camp in the Forest of Dean during 1940 and I can’t wait for you to meet Keeva, Rosie, Beatrice, Edith, Lily & Gladys, each woman both fabulous and flawed in her own way. As you will discover, they all have their own reasons for signing up to the Woman’s Land Army and Jo tells their collective story, from each of their perspectives, providing explanation for their actions and reasons for their behaviours, both the good and the bad as well as providing a tangible sense of the privations and forestry training, her cast endures. I also loved the pithy turn of phrases that Jo has written for her girls; in Chapter 1, page 3 – Keeva is pondering what on earth she has let herself in for after enduring PT at the hands of the patronising, pontificating, pompous Captain Blunt (every time he speaks, I had to grit my teeth, he made my taser finger very twitchy!) Keeva is considering her skills, including taxidermy, but she can’t tell anyone about that. “A girl’s education was one of those things that well-behaved people didn’t discuss, like copulation and lavatories” …I confess, this made me snort with laughter in a very un-lady like manner (Beatrice would not approve)! But I am sure you can see from this quote, why I enjoyed this book so much and also why if fanned the flames of my feminist tendencies!

Jo’s story is filled with drama, duty and delicious details from berets and jodhpurs (who knew how scandalous, they would be considered) to how to fell a tree without dropping it on your head or the vital uses of pit posts! And at it’s heart, the importance of friendship; that irregardless class or education, friendships can grow and they make these women stronger together, able to face, whatever may come next in the circumstances of war and their own lives. It has been a resounding joy to immerse myself in the world of the Lumberjills and I believe Jo has set the novel up for a sequel at the very least, please say it’s so? I need to know, what happens next, to our cohort. This novel is a triumph of historical fiction as far as I’m concerned and one no history fiction fan, should miss! Plus, it’s nearly payday, so you should certainly treat yourself to a copy!

Happy Reading Bookophiles…

About the Author:

Joanna grew up in Surrey, always loved the outdoors, forests, wildlife – climbing trees, helping her Dad work on the car, tinker in the shed and mow the lawn. She also loved chopping up wood for the fire and one year her father bought her an axe for Christmas.

She studied Psychology at Hull University and has an Msc. in Occupational and Organisational Psychology from Surrey University. She now works in communications for environmental organisations.

Joanna first discovered the Lumberjills while working for the Forestry Commission in 2012. With a wild, adventurous spirit and passion for forests, she felt a connection with their story.

 Like most people, she had previously never heard of the women who took on tough ‘men’s work’ foresting and logging during WW2. Since then, she has interviewed and met over 60 women who served as Lumberjills.

 She has given dozens of interviews on TV, radio, in newspapers and magazines and more than 50 public talks to increase recognition of their wartime work. For further information about Joanna Foat and her books visit www.thelumberjills.uk

Please do read some of the other reviews available on this blog tour.

Tiding

Author: Siân Collins

Publisher: Honno

Available: 12th January 2023 in Paperback & eBook

Thank you to Anne Cater, Random Things Tours & Honno for my gifted copy and for having me on the blog tour for this book. My review is based on my experience of the book and any thoughts expressed here are solely mine alone. 

Book Details

A lyrical, engaging coming-of-age murder mystery set in the Great Freeze.

 December 1962, Eleanor O’Dowd, a middle-aged piano teacher, is found stabbed and bludgeoned to death. As the Great Freeze of 1963 takes hold, local vicar’s daughter Daphne Morgan finds herself forced to navigate the confusing currents of the adult world, where she must faceup to her own crimes and what she knows about the murder.

A novel about memory and the power of the imagination…

‘She stands on the margin of the ebb tide. The air is foul, a miasma of things lost or drowned; the reek of dead stuff.’

My Thoughts

Welcome to my first review of 2023 and given the current weather conditions (it was -7*in Yorkshire yesterday) almost prophetic coincidence that today I am sharing my review of Sian Collin’s new book, Tiding. A scintillating gem of novel, set in a similarly freezing environment, although I’m slightly too young to recall the actual great freeze of 1963! This book, I think you should absolutely add to your TBL, it is addictive reading!

Set in Glanmorfa, a small Welsh town; our protagonist is precocious 10 year old Daphne, youngest daughter of the local vicar and his teacher wife. When a shocking murder occurs, causing much speculation as to why anyone would wish to harm piano teacher Elizabeth O’Dowd, the consensus of the locals is that it was a robbery gone, wrong! After all she did, it seem have large stash of money in her home! Daphne and her friends, however, believe they maybe to blame for her death, if only they hadn’t unearthed a cursed skull! Ah the innocent imagination of youth!

Daphne’s guilt about the situation, is further compounded by the fact that on the day in question, she skipped her piano lesson with Miss Dowd, who you get the distinct impression Daphne doesn’t really like and views as a bit of a curmudgeon (and in all honesty, she’s not wrong!) Elizabeth O’Dowd is not what she seemed. A murder in such a small community, causes much disquiet and more so when another local Johnny Nebo, a deaf mute is arrested for the crime, but really, is he not just be a convenient scape goat! Could Daphne’s recollection of the day’s events exonerate him but in recounting her story, she may get herself in trouble, is Daphne brave enough to do what’s right?… And of course, if you want to find out more, you will have to discover the answers for yourself, by reading the book!

I was completely absorbed in this atmospheric novel, it is beautifully descriptive and as a reader, you feel as is you are part of the story in an omnipotent way. The environmental essence that Sian illustrates, brings such a delicious tension and edge to her dark tale. I also much admired how the story is astutely character driven, each one has a detailed life and backstory, I found myself relating to Daphne in particular (I am a vicar’s daughter and was probably very similar in my behaviours to her at the same age) and I was also intensely frustrated with her thoughts and actions, but I did have to remind myself, she’s only 10 and I have no doubt people would have frequently wanted to throttle me at 10…and yet as a character, her emotional intelligence regarding the circumstances belies her age.

When reading through my notes about this novel, it suddenly struck me of how much it reminded me a of a game of chess (not that I’m good at chess, I’m really not) all the pieces (people) are positioned, and you think, you know what moves are ahead until Sian, puts in some clever little plot moves; like trapping the inhabitants of the town in place by a huge blizzard, so nobody can get in or more importantly out and just when you think, you’re at check mate…you’re not! As I said at the beginning of my review, this is an evocative, compelling read; atmospheric, absorbing, and astute and I couldn’t put it down. I do hope you add it to your crime collections too.

Happy Reading Bookophiles…

About the Author:

Siân Collins was born in Pembrokeshire and Carmarthenshire. An Edinburgh graduate, she taught Anglo Saxon and Medieval Literature in South Africa, worked as an assistant editor on The Lancet, and ran English and Drama departments in several well-known London secondary schools. She returned to Carmarthenshire to teach, write, and relish life in the beautiful Tywi Valley. Her debut novel, Unleaving, was published in 2019.

Please do read some of the other reviews available on this blog tour.

Jacqueline in Paris

Author: Ann Mah

Publisher: Harper Collins

Available: 27th October 2022 in Hardback, eBook & Audiobook

Thank you to Anne Cater, Random Things Tours and Harper Collins for my gifted copy and for having me on the blog tour for this book. My review is based on my experience of the book and any thoughts expressed here are solely mine alone.

Book Details:

From the bestselling author of The Lost Vintage, a rare and dazzling portrait of Jacqueline Bouvier’s college year abroad in post-war Paris, an intimate and electrifying story of love and betrayal, and the coming-of-age of an American icon – before the world knew her as Jackie. In September 1949 Jacqueline Bouvier arrives in post-war Paris to begin her junior year abroad. She’s twenty years old, socially poised but financially precarious, and all too aware of her mother’s expectations that she make a brilliant match.

Before relenting to family pressure, she has one year to herself far away from sleepy Vassar College and the rigid social circles of New York, a year to explore and absorb the luminous beauty of the City of Light. Jacqueline is immediately catapulted into an intoxicating new world of champagne and châteaux, art and avant-garde theatre, cafés, and jazz clubs. She strikes up a romance with a talented young writer who shares her love of literature and passion for culture – even though her mother would think him most unsuitable.

 But beneath the glitter and rush, France is a fragile place still haunted by the Occupation. Jacqueline lives in a rambling apartment with a widowed countess and her daughters, all of whom suffered as part of the French Resistance just a few years before. In the aftermath of World War II, Paris has become a nest of spies, and suspicion, deception, and betrayal lurk around every corner. Jacqueline is stunned to watch the rise of communism – anathema in America, but an active movement in France – never guessing she is witnessing the beginning of the political environment that will shape the rest of her life—and that of her future husband. Evocative, sensitive, and rich in historic detail, Jacqueline in Paris portrays the origin story of an American icon.

Ann Mah brilliantly imagines the intellectual and aesthetic awakening of Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy Onassis, and illuminates how France would prove to be her one true love, and one of the greatest influences on her life.

My Thoughts:

It’s my pleasure today to be sharing my thoughts on Ann Mah’s book Jacqueline in Paris. As soon as I read the book details, I was instantly intrigued by its premise, I confess that I have a fascination and a high expectation of books, like this one, that choose to re-imagine elements of iconic women’s lives and that delve into their personal history and explore emotional secrets, that these women could well have felt or experienced. Having previously been engrossed in and thoroughly enjoyed  Rodham by Curtis Sittenfeld; The Language of Birds by Jill Dawson and The Other Bennet Sister by Janice Hadlow to name but a few, you can, I expect understand one of my many reasons for wanting to read Ann’s book. Another reason, I admit is a great deal more pedestrian, because like a myriad of other people, I have an innate curiosity, to know more about the enigmatic woman that was Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy Onassis and naturally, I have in my quest to know more, read several of the pile of biographical offerings available (and there are piles of them).

However, for me what makes this book so interesting, is it delves into an element of Jackie’s life, that though documented, was mostly private and her own experience and one that left an indelible imprint and influence on her life, before she became a Kennedy, a first lady and found herself being enmeshed in the often shadowy world of Camelot and before the eminently shocking and intensely public death of her husband. Where the image of her blood stained pink boucle Chanel suit has passed into legend but never forgotten…I can even see it now as I write this review. I have always wondered, what Jackie might have achieved in her own right and I think this book fanned those flames of possibility for me.

Set in 1949, Jacqueline Bouvier is spending her junior year in Paris, France; on the cusp of her entry into society, carrying the weight of familial pressure to secure an advantageous match on her return, this single year is her’s; her escape from everyone else’s expectations of her, her taste of freedom if you like. Hosted by a French Countess and her daughters, she is immersed in a world completely different from all that she knows from the social confines and limitations of her life in Vassar. A vivid society filled with post war glamour, of champagne, theatres, night clubs, fashion and of art and Jacqueline finds herself associating and conversing with a panoply of different people, some of whom would have caused very raised eyebrows back in the US! But there is a darkness here too, Paris is a city scarred by occupation and the privations of war are etched on the streets and its people, there is a tangible air of mistrust and a pervading sense of betrayal, that influences all, including Jacqueline’s hosts, whose role within the resistance, cost them in all the ways you don’t wish to imagine!

I think the vibrancy and validity of this novel is escalated by Ann’s choice to write Jackie in the first person, that we are given the unedited version of Jacqueline’s perspectives and emotions, aspects of her personality that nobody would have seen in her real life. Although this is a fictionalised realisation of a deeply private, reserved, and intelligent woman, who seeks to educate herself and find self-reliance, to almost find herself before other expectations engulf her, to be freed from the caustic limitations of American society in the 50s/60s and the aspirations of her mother! We are also given insight into the woman she will become, a political wife, loyal, supporting, and silent, where discretion was required regardless of its cost on her! This multifaceted characterisation of Ann’s imagined Jackie resonated with me, her enjoyment of life’s possibilities; her innocence, her enthusiasm for the essence of Paris and her love of art and literature, which of course, she put to good use renovating the White House during her short term as first lady and nobody would doubt, the influence of French fashion on her choice of wardrobe. Ann’s research for her subject has clearly been extensive and I appreciated and admired how she subtly mixes fact and fiction and gives her character such discerning understanding of the complex socio/political issues of the time which are delicately examined and explored through Jackie’s eyes and experiences.

Ann’s novel is evocative, emotionally intelligent, and elegantly insightful and allows us as readers to evaluate another side to the iconic figure of Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy Onassis. I felt you could see elements of the woman she was or could have been, before she became the woman the world thinks they know and were very happy to judge irregardless of her circumstances or without understanding her choices! This book is the perfect read for book clubs, as there is so much to assess and discuss within the story. Or if like me you relish exploring the more secret (imagined or not) side to a remarkable woman, then this is definitely one to add to your bookshelves.

Happy Reading Bookophiles…

About the Author:

Ann Mah is an American food and travel writer. She is the author of the USA Today and Wall Street Journal bestseller The Lost Vintage, as well as three other books.

She contributes regularly to the New York Times Travel section, and her articles have appeared in the Washington Post, Condé Nast Traveller, The Best American Travel Writing, The New York Times Footsteps, Washingtonian magazine, Vogue.com, BonAppetit.com, Food52.com, TheKitchn. com, and other publications.

Please do read some of the other reviews on this blog tour.

The Grove

A Nature Odyssey in 19 1/2 Front Gardens

Author: Ben Dark

Publisher: Octopus / Mitchell Beazley

Available: 7th April 2022 in Hardback, ebook & Audiobook

Thank you to Anne Cater, Random Things Tours and Octopus for my gifted copy and for having me on the blog tour for this book. My review is based on my experience of the book and any thoughts expressed here are solely mine alone

Book Details:

Recent times have seen a renewed interest in urban nature, as can be witnessed in the work of amateur botanists, identifying wildflowers, and chalking their names on pavements.

In The Grove the award-winning writer and head gardener, Ben Dark, reveals the remarkable secrets of 20 commonly found cultivated plants – including the rose, buddleja and the tulip – observed in the front gardens of a typical London street on daily walks over the course of a year. We discover how each species found its way into our gardens, the cast of characters who played their part in its story and what each one tells us about our national obsession with gardening and the urge to cultivate our own patch of nature.

‘Every species in this book was seen from one pavement over twelve months and there is little here that could not be found on any road in any town, but they recount stories of such weirdness, drama, passion and humour that, once discovered, familiar neighbourhoods will be changed forever.’

 The Grove is about so much more than a single street, or indeed the plants found in its 19 ½ front gardens. It’s a glorious piece of urban nature writing and a skilful blend of horticultural history, personal narrative and an exploration of why gardens and gardening matter.

My Thoughts:

It is my absolute pleasure to be sharing my thoughts on Ben Dark’s book ‘The Grove: A Nature Odyssey in 19 1/2 Gardens’ with you today. Oh, my goodness, what an elegant, enthusiastic, and educational journey it will take you on and this book will make the best Christmas gift, for plant lovers or killers alike…you absolutely need this book in your collection. I cannot recommend it more highly. In his book, Ben blends horticulture, history and humour together, in the most original, immersive and illuminating way and as he explains his awakening on Norroy Road one September day and his own recognising and realisation of plants and that light bulb moment when he could name the plants he saw and how it  was like understanding a new language and his own ‘plant blindness’ evaporated and everywhere around him brought new discoveries and through the pages of this book, he unlocks the secrets and histories of some of our most reliable flora.

From the moment you settle down to read this book, you are on a journey or an arc of discovery and Ben is our knowledgeable and intrepid guide to the wilds of the urban landscape or at least urban landscaping. Each chapter is titled and focuses on specific individual flora and fauna. Plants most of us are familiar with (even if you are not in the least bit green thumbed) as these are flowers, trees and shrubs universally recognizable and ones, we are familiar with but no longer really see; be they roses, tulips, privet or flowering cherries, they are the unsung heroes of our gardens.

Ben spent a year in a specific location, observing the lives of this ordinary street’s front gardens, resulting in his extraordinary book. Early on in my reading, it dawned me, that all too often we are all focused on our journeys from A to B, with our attention in thrall to diary commitments or the lure of social media; the essence of the journey is only to travel quickly but in doing so, though we look or acknowledge our route, we have lost the ability to really see all that exists around us or the remarkable discoveries we seem to let slip through our fingers.

 I loved Ben’s assertion that within our front gardens these ‘small squares share stories of ambition, envy, hope and failure’. I know this to statement to be true from personal experience; as back in 2002 to celebrate the late Queen’s Golden Jubilee I had the most beautiful terracotta window boxes in front of my house in Eltham (Greenwich), filled to the brim and overflowing with red, white and blue flowers…when some thieving (apply very rude word) stole all of them in the time it took me to go upstairs and come back down again, worse was to come, after I replaced them all and then 2 weeks later…yep, once again I was sans window boxes (more rude words)…however I am not to be thwarted, 3rd time lucky…masonry bolts…resolved the issue once and for all! However, I digress…back to the joys of The Grove.

Ben is a truly gifted writer, his words come alive in your hands, his descriptors fluid and lyrical and the identity of the plants become tangible; you can see them clearly in your mind’s eye and recall their leaves and their perfume, be it delicious or less so in the case of the ‘unassuming immortal’ Privet, bastion of the middle class hedge layers and most hated by the in dominatable landscaper Vita Sackville West, along with the usually unassailable National Trust, who due to some family drama and the curse of primogeniture, in Vita’s eyes robbed her of her legacy (Knole) and also ironically decades later took over the trusteeship of her home Sissinghurst as well (and her thoughts on this, Ben shares)…and as the book progresses you uncover endless gems of knowledge; be it the basics of deciphering road work hieroglyphics; the difference between Chinese and Japanese Wisteria; or how Buddleja (bane of my mother) or boon of bees and butterflies, how it endlessly propagates everywhere from cracks in walls to railway sidings country wide, and why it is so successful, is attributed by Edward Salisbury (the seeds and weeds man) to the shape of its seeds and the human vector. As you continue to read, you do so greedily, eager to glean new facts or stories with every page…which is a positively breathtaking experience, further enhanced by the wonderful illustrations by Skevoulla Gordon, that punctuate the chapters.

This book is a delight; a cornucopia of social context, Horti history and a plenty of wry humour, it also made me wonder do the plants and flowers we choose, reflect their planters, rather like some owners look rather like their canine companions…something to ponder, I know I am. This exceptional read really needs to be top of your to buy list, you will miss out if you don’t get your hands on a copy, regardless of your own gardening prowess!

Happy Reading Bookophiles…

About the Author:

Ben Dark is a head gardener, award-winning broadcaster and landscape historian working at the top of British horticulture. He’s been described as ‘the millennial Monty’ by Gardeners’ World Magazine and ‘the future of horticulture’ by Horticulture Week. He graduated with a degree in History from Bristol University and went on to study Horticulture at Capel Manor College, before completing his education with a traineeship at the Garden Museum and an MA in Garden and Landscape History at the University of London’s Institute of Historical Research.

 As a gardener he has worked for embassies, cemeteries, heritage bodies and oligarchs. He has organized a private flower show for the Royal Family and helped to build gold-medal winning gardens on the main avenue at the Chelsea Flower Show. As the creator and host of the award-winning Garden Log Podcast he frequently speaks to gardening groups and industry events. Ben has written about plants for the Telegraph and has been featured in the Independent, Gardens Illustrated and the Financial Times.

Please do read some of the other reviews available on this blog tour.

Shrines of Gaiety

Author: Kate Atkinson

Publisher: Doubleday

Available: 27th September 2022 in Hardback, eBook & Audiobook

Thank you to Anne Cater, Random Things Tours and Doubleday for my gorgeous, gifted copy and for having me on the blog tour for this book. My review is based on my experience of the book and any thoughts expressed here are solely mine alone.

Book Details:

1926, and in a country still recovering from the Great War, London has become the focus for a delirious new nightlife. In the clubs of Soho, peers of the realm rub shoulders with starlets, foreign dignitaries with gangsters, and girls sell dances for a shilling a time.

The notorious queen of this glittering world is Nellie Coker, ruthless but also ambitious to advance her six children, including the enigmatic eldest, Niven whose character has been forged in the crucible of the Somme. But success breeds enemies, and Nellie’s empire faces threats from without and within. For beneath the dazzle of Soho’s gaiety, there is a dark underbelly, a world in which it is all too easy to become lost.

With her unique Dickensian flair, Kate Atkinson brings together a glittering cast of characters in a truly mesmeric novel that captures the uncertainty and mutability of life; of a world in which nothing is quite as it seems.

My Thoughts:

Well today it is this ‘vinegary librarian’ from York’s pleasure to be sharing her thoughts on Kate Atkinson’s latest book Shrines of Gaiety and what a maelstrom of murder, machiavellian plots for power and magnificence it is.  I hardly know where to begin, but I suspect, writing, trust me, stop whatever you are doing and go and buy this book right now, this second, might not be a sufficient elucidation of its utter brilliance.  I am not certain there are enough superlative adjectives available to me either. I think you can gather from my gushing enthusiasm, that I absolutely LOVED this novel and I have no doubt that I won’t be alone in this conclusion. Kate’s book is the perfect storm of the marvellous and the malevolent, awash with abundantly clever creativity, immense imagination and the seamless blending of fact and fiction and a necessary amount of artistic licence, just in case you might be picky about such things, I am not. 

This is a book, whose plotlines captures the vivid gaiety and abandonment of the interwar period, the need for those who survived the horror of the first world war to live every moment regardless of the consequences, almost in homage to the millions, who could not, mixed with privations of hardship and elements of mystery and murder. This novel is without question an exceptional, exhilarating, effervescent read and it may well be my favourite book of 2022 and once you’ve read it, I believe you’ll agree.

At the heart of the novel is the Coker family; with the indefatigable doyen Nellie Coker at the helm, who despite being a woman in a man’s world, has with astuteness and cunning built an empire of popular and prestigious nightclubs and she will do whatever necessary to keep control of them and there are plenty of nefarious villains, who would like to see her fall and have no qualms about plotting against her!

But Nellie’s own family don’t help matters; her staunch lieutenant, daughter Edith, usually reliable and trustworthy, let’s her heart rule her head, with nearly fatal consequences. Youngest son, Ramsay… a dreamer, a lacklustre aspiring author, who is really a bit of nincompoop, a wastrel, lacking common sense and foresight and has the innate ability to find trouble or rather fall into it. Then there’s the twins Betty and Shirley: beautiful aspiring socialites, who draw men to them like moths to a flame but whose idol vacuousness and penchant for couture, means the well placed matrimonial route, might be their means of success, as a head for business they have not. And then there’s the youngest, Kitty, precocious, a little sneaky but her antics will certainly make you grin…I mean how can you fail to enjoy a character, that confuses being an ignoramus with being a hippopotamus (this line is still making me laugh). Last but not least is Niven the eldest; ahh Niven, handsome and savvy but whose war experiences have changed him forever (I confess, I am just a little bit in love with him). Niven does what he can to aid Nellie, as well as acting in a fondly often exasperated distant loco-parentis to his siblings. But as you’ll discover, as I did, their stories are only the tip of the masterful ‘Dickensian style’ plotting that Kate has in store for you, what a tangled web she weaves!

You have yet to meet, Freda and Florence; who in the typical naivety of youth; decide that leaving the relative safety of Yorkshire and running off to seek fame and fortune in London, is their best course of action, well Freda does and Florence is her loyal friend so she goes too! I spent a lot of time while reading, shouting at these two in my head, usually along the lines, of what are you doing? Are you completely insane!!! As they soon discover, London is not the mecca of success, the streets are not paved with gold; it is place of untold and unnamed dangers!

Hot on their heels is my favourite character, Gwendoline Kelling; a Librarian from York, a stalwart, whose life has been of service and duty to her family but tragedy and an unexpected inheritance has released her and her adventurous spirit is on the rise. Anyone who knows me, will understand why she’s my favourite, well I’m a former librarian and I live in York, so you can see why I relate to Gwendoline), she’s direct, practical, plucky and eminently pithy and determined to find Freda and Florence…following them to London and after some fruitless searching, circumstances put her in the path of John Frobisher, a police chief inspector based at Bow Street, with his own war story and a wife, whose mental stability wanes daily and together they form an uneasy alliance and a plan of action to achieve their goals and I am not giving you any more details because, you need to enjoy the experience of discovering what they get up to for yourself and there is so much to uncover!

 What I ardently admired so much about this novel, was the sheer scope of the weaving and intersecting plotlines, the cast’s intimate, individual, detailed, and evocative backstories, and Kate’s genius in linking and tying all these incredible characters together in a myriad of ways, it is simply spectacular and even better, Kate generously ties up all the loose ends and allows us a glimpse into the characters’ lives going forward at the end of the book…no stone is left unturned. It is also very clear, when you read this novel, the vast extend of research that Kate has embarked upon, every page you read, is packed full of social, political, economic elements to construct, and illustrate, the atmosphere and environments of London and York in the 1920s. For example, each of Nellie’s nightclubs has a theme, which echoes the popular cultural tends of the period, for example Howard Carter’s discovery of Tutankhamen tomb, so Nellie’s club the Sphinx is all things opulent and Egyptian, including a stolen mummified cat! And this element, is one of many Kate has utilised to evoke the era and ambience of her story.

For me, Kate’s book is a sumptuous, stunning, and scintillating read filled the brim with life, its triumphs, its tragedies, the complexities of love, of friendship and for extra spice add in murder, marauding villains, and a pinch of further mayhem. No review, I could write, will do it justice. It is a book, I could not put down and I devoured it greedily and 10 mugs of frothy coffee and now all that is left to me is to shamelessly insist that you get a copy for yourself; cancel any and all plans, stock up on vast quantities of chocolate and don’t leave home until you’ve read it…it is a masterpiece of fiction and Kate deserves every piece of praise and vibrant accolade this book will garner!

Happy Reading Bookophiles…

About the Author:

Kate Atkinson is one of the world’s foremost novelists. She won the Costa Book of the Year prize with her first novel, Behind the Scenes at the Museum. Her three critically lauded and prize-winning novels set around the Second World War are Life After Life, an acclaimed 2022 BBC TV series starring Thomasin McKenzie, A God in Ruins (both winners of the Costa Novel Award) and Transcription.

Her bestselling literary crime novels featuring former detective Jackson Brodie, Case Histories, One Good Turn, When Will There Be Good News? and Started Early, Took My Dog, became a BBC television series starring Jason Isaacs. Jackson Brodie later returned in the novel Big Sky. Kate Atkinson was awarded an MBE in 2011 and is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature.

Please do read some of the other reviews on this blog tour.

The Dead Romantics

Author: Ashley Poston

Publisher: Harper Collins

Available: 29th September 2022 in Paperback, eBook & Audiobook.

Thank you to Alliya Bouyis Harper Collins for my gifted copy and for having me on the blog tour for this book. My review is based on my experience of the book and any thoughts expressed here are solely mine alone.

Book Details:

Florence Day is a ghost-writer with one big problem. She’s supposed to be penning swoon-worthy novels for a famous romance author but, after a bad break-up, Florence no longer believes in love. And when her strict (but undeniably hot) new editor, Benji Andor, won’t give her an extension on her book deadline, Florence prepares to kiss her career goodbye.

Although when tragedy strikes and Florence has to head home, the last thing she expects to see is a ghost at her front door. Not just any ghost, however, but the stern form of her still very hot – yet now unquestionably dead – new editor.

As sparks start to fly between them, Florence tells herself she can’t be falling for a ghost – even an infuriatingly sexy one. But can Benji help Florence to realise love isn’t dead, after all?

My Thoughts:

As a lifelong prolific reader, who never leaves home without at least one book on my person; regardless of whether I’m going to work, heading to the supermarket, or attending a wedding, where I go a book or 3 goes too, so I like plenty of variety and I do love a romance novel with a difference, such as Ashley’s book. There are some books that find their way into my reading life, that touch that special place in my book blogging heart and reading them, is like coming home and all that, that phrase implies and they have the magical ability to draw you to them, to the characters and their glorious stories and so it was Ashley’s book ‘ The Dead Romantics’. As I was reading it, the warm glow of recognition of a kindred spirit spread through me as I met Florence Day and we embarked on her adventure. This is definitely a romantic read with a twist!

Florence is one of those character’s that you will smile in recognition of, she’s the embodiment of that little part of us girls (women) who prefer being at home or in a café with coffee, cake and good book or making a pilgrimage to our local bookshop in search a new trove of yet unread adventures. Florence is clever, charming, comic and just a little bit calamitous as well as being in possession of a generous amount of hutzpah, you just cannot help but adore her, she is truly an eclectic modern heroine and her romantic escapade is the glorious balance of heart-breaking and heart-warming and the trajectory of the story that will have you requiring a tissue one minute and laughing out in public the next, I speak from experience here!

So let me tell you a little about Florence’s story; she’s a ghost writer (you’ll understand the irony of this title later in the book) for a famous and successful romance writer and usually she loves her job but recently a tumultuous break up of her own relationship, leaves her wounded and firmly of the opinion that all ideas of love are best to confined to the pages of books, her loss of enthusiasm for all things romantic have left her with a virulent cases of writers block and with her latest book deadline fast approaching and Florence is failing to write a happy ending…there have been several murderous ones instead… the idea of these, is still making me smile. Add into the mix, a new rather yummy editor, especially one Florence can imagine some very happy endings with and all that this euphemism suggests! Life is getting rather complicated and it becomes more so when her past crashes into her present and she has no option but to return to her rather unorthodox family and their funeral parlour home, which she has carefully been avoiding until now and with her return, we get to see some of Florence’s rather unusual abilities come to the fore, especially when Benji joins the corporeal ranks but of course, to say anymore might spoil the story, so if you want to find out what happens next, then you’ll have to treat yourself to copy of Ashley’s book!

The Dead Romantic’s is certainly a spirited romantic comedy (sorry I couldn’t help myself)! With a clever, imaginative, slightly spooky storyline, a cast of wonderful quirky characters, for me it was rather like Bridget Jones joins the Addams Family and I absolutely loved every page and I hope you do too! And if you love an eBook, this one is only £0.99p at present, so I say grab it while you can.

Happy Reading Bookophiles…

About the Author:

Ashley Poston writes stories about love and friendship and ever afters. A native to South Carolina, she now lives in a small grey house with her sassy cat and too many books. You can find her on the internet, somewhere, watching cat videos and reading fan-fiction.

Tweet her at @ashposton and find out more about her at www.ashposton.com.

Do have a read of some of the other reviews available on this blog tour.

Marram

Memories of Sea and Spider Silk

Author: Leonie Charlton

Publisher: Sandstone Press

Available: 1st April 2022 in Hardback, Paperback, eBook & Audiobook

Thank you to Ceri and Sandstone Press for my gorgeous, gifted copy of this book. My review is based on my experience of the book and any thoughts expressed here are solely mine alone.

Book Details:

From the southern tip of Barra to the ancient stone circle of Callanish, Leonie and her friend Shuna ride off the beaten track on their beloved Highland ponies, Ross and Chief. In deeply poetic prose, she not only describes the beauties of the Hebridean landscape, its spare, penetrating light, and its people, but also confronts the ghost of her mother and their fractured relationship.

My Thoughts:

As part of the SquadPod Collectives (@Squadpod3) celebration of the wonderful independent publisher Sandstone Press (@sandstonepress), we as a group decided that the month of September 2022 would in fact be re-named #Sandtember and along with our book of the month (which I will tell you all about in a review of its own, coming soon) we were afforded the pleasure and privilege of choosing an extra book to read and review. I confess we were spoilt for choices here, but for me the instant I read the details for Leonie’s memoir, I simply knew this was the book for me and I hope that it will be the book for you too. This gorgeous memoir is a poetic, personal and poignant read awash with Leonie’s experiences, her emotional memories, her love of poems, philosophy, and the restorative power of nature in all its wild and vibrant beauty. From the very first page I was entranced and the world around me fell away and when you read it, you will see exactly what I mean! So make yourselves a frothy coffee and get comfy!

In this book, Leonie recounts the story of one of her long ride adventures with her best friend Shuna and their resilient and remarkable highland ponies Ross and Chief, as they explore the Hebrides but there is so much emotional depth in the experience, more than paniers of porridge and whisky, the joyful discovery of a spork or their repeated battles to keep dry in a torrent of wind and rain or the remarkable endless kindness of strangers, who support their ride in a myriad of little wonderful ways.

Leonie’s book is one of discovery, of herself and of the land around her and I felt as if I were riding along with them and following their hoof prints in the sand, as Leonie’s ability to encapsulate with her artistic palate of adjectives the stunning scenery around her; the fierceness of the weather be it lashing rain or the transforming power of the sun, the chorus of birds that herald their journey, the steadfast statuesque quality to the weather worn stony coastlines to the simply entrancing description of her  ‘tasting the pink light on the causeway’. Leonie’s lyrical words weave themselves around your heart and mind and evocatively elucidate the emotions and environs of her adventure. They are without a doubt, breathtaking and completely unforgettable.

This journey is not just memories of traveling from one place to another it is also an intimate and personal pilgrimage for Leonie; whose mother has recently passed away, their frustrated, fractured, and fractious relationship with each other is tangible, yet this does not lesson Leonie’s sense of loss but perhaps heightens it and her need to have a multitude of questions answered, ones that she failed to find resolution to before her mother’s passing. I respectfully admired, Leonie’s reminiscences of the complexities of their relationship and her charming and touching way to link her mother to this ride (one they had once hoped to do together but life got in the way, so the experience was never realised). Leonie carries with her a pouch of her mother’s beads and selects suitable ones to subtly mark places along her route in touching tribute to their relationship.

For me this beautiful book is a truly exceptional read; a powerful, potent and poetic memoir with a journey of mental self-discovery underpinning the core of Leonie’s physical expedition, a celebration of friendship, the gift of inappropriate laughter,  the ebb and flow of the complexities of grief and loss and a great deal of wonderful food, sumptuous scenery and several dicey heart stopping moments…I shall say the words ‘peat bog’ to you now and if you want to know, what I’m referring to, then explore this incredible read for yourselves, trust me, you need to add this book to your book shelves, today! I insist, vigorously!

But, if you need further encouragement to take the first step in reading this book, below my review is the opening extract to Leonie’s book, kindly provided by Sandstone Press, so you can see or rather read for yourself, how utterly amazing this book is….

Happy Reading Bookophiles

Extract:

DAY ONE

Oban to Barra

Our stuff was spread out across the metal-rimmed table in the dining area of MV Isle of Lewis: water bottles, camera cases, lip salve, cable ties, bananas, a stack of pink OS maps numbered 31, 22, 18, 14 and 8. There were two books placed face down at significant pages: Pocket Walking Guide No 3, Western Isles; The Outer Hebrides, 40 Coast and Country Walks. A purse full of Mum’s beads was there too.

We moved everything to one side when the smiling steward brought across our plates of fish and chips and rolling peas. ‘So, here’s to our trip then,’ said Shuna, her eyes aquamarine in the sunlight coming through the salt-chalked glass. We clinked the tops of our Peroni beer bottles. Shuna and I had been friends for fifteen years and we’d done several long horse trips together. We were both aware there were big gaps in our planning this time, but there wasn’t much we could do now, just hope that everything would work out. I told her about the man talking on the radio that week of the benefits of travelling without plans, how it leaves you open to new experiences, to meeting people in a different way. I’d taken it as a positive sign.

We drank quickly and, sitting there, watching diving Gannets spill the sea into spindrifts of white, our shoulders began to soften. The water bottles rolled backwards and forwards across the table as the sea pushed the boat up beneath us. I picked up the bead purse. It wasn’t exactly classy, made of soft plastic, the words ‘LAS VEGAS’ repeated in gold and silver and white across a shiny black background. Mum definitely wouldn’t have approved, but it was the perfect size and had a good sturdy zip. I opened it and looked inside at the huddle of beads, wondering where they would all end up. There was also a little roll of ivory silk thread which I’d found in Mum’s bead drawers. I’d originally thought I’d take a fishing line to tie the beads onto things because it was tough and wouldn’t weather. Then I’d started to worry that a bird might get caught in it, or worse. The silk thread would decompose eventually, but there was no need for the beads to stay put forever; Mum’s necklace would be fluid, made up of gestures of emotion in a certain place, in a certain moment. It would change shape, the beads free to move through storms and tides and seasons.

The boat rolled again and I felt my guts tilt. I tried to close the zip but a loose strand of silk had snagged in the zipper. I carefully teased it out, my fingers touching this spool of thread that Mum must have handled countless times. I thought of her hands and felt that old familiar wash of pain. I could see her fingers now, red from the cold. They were always cold. We were all always cold, living in those old stone-walled houses and barely able to afford to keep one room warm. She used to say that her hands were ugly, that they were manly. She didn’t wear rings because she hadn’t wanted to draw attention to her hands. I remember watching them for hours while she worked, her dexterity, her skill, even after the first brain tumour when they trembled and trembled. Yet still she’d persevere with threading the tiniest crystals, the tiniest seed pearls, taking as long as it took. Handling things she loved in those hands she didn’t love. Holding treasures between her fingertips, angling them to the light.

My brothers, Will and Tom, and I always said that she should have been rich; she had a taste for expensive things, for luxury, and yet had so little of that in her life. I knew she wouldn’t have approved of all the beads I’d chosen. I’d been in a hurry that day. Had found it difficult opening those drawers that still smelt of her. I’d kept thinking about her nails, always filed smooth so they wouldn’t snag on the thread. Then in her last few years how they had been bright red. How she’d had acrylic nails ‘done’ by a professional every month. Standout nails. So, did that mean she’d made peace with her hands by then? I hadn’t asked, that would have felt dangerously like connection. I was sorry that we hadn’t got a professional in to do her nails when she was in the Lynne of Lorne Nursing Home, that we’d let somebody we never met do them, a volunteer. Yes, her hands. They haunted me. Even when she was dying, and the rest of her rattled tiny, her hands had stayed big. Right to the end. I looked at my own hands as I pulled the zip closed. I didn’t know whose hands I had, but I knew they weren’t my mother’s….

About the Author:

Leonie Charlton travelled extensively as a child, living in England, Africa, Wales, and Scotland. She has worked as a cowgirl in Australia, an English teacher in Japan, and her degree in Hispanic Studies took her to Catalonia for two years. Marram is her first full length book although her fiction and poetry have appeared widely in magazines

The Falcon’s Eyes

Author: Francesca Stanfill

Publisher: Harper360

Available: 18th August 2022 in Hardback, eBook & Audiobook

Thank you to Anne Cater, Random Things Tours & Harper 360 for my gifted copy and for having me on the blog tour for this book. My review is based on my experience of the book and any thoughts expressed here are solely mine alone.

Book Details:

“With her eye for historical detail and flair for sympathetic heroines, Francesca Stanfill breathes new life into the medieval court of Eleanor of Aquitaine. The Falcon’s Eyes is a novel of epic proportions that succeeds in being both intimate and vast. History is Stanfill’s canvas, humanity her inspiration.”— Amanda Foreman, bestselling author of Georgiana: Duchess of Devonshire

“Stanfill has persuasively re-imagined the Middle Ages, surrounding the legendary Queen Eleanor of Aquitaine with indelible characters in an immersive tale of intrigue, bravery, ruthlessness, and compassion. . . . The Falcon’s Eyes is a dazzling adventure, with riveting twists and turns and a surprising yet deeply satisfying conclusion.”—Sally Bedell Smith, author of Elizabeth the Queen

Set in France and England at the end of the twelfth century, the moving story of a spirited, questing young woman, Isabelle, who defies convention to forge a remarkable life, one profoundly influenced by the fabled queen she idolizes and comes to know – Eleanor of Aquitaine Willful and outspoken, sixteen-year-old Isabelle yearns to escape her stifling life in provincial twelfth century France.

The bane of her mother’s existence, she admires the notorious queen most in her circle abhor: Eleanor of Aquitaine. Isabelle’s arranged marriage to Gerard — a rich, charismatic lord obsessed with falcons — seems, at first, to fulfill her longing for adventure. But as Gerard’s controlling nature, and his consuming desire for a male heir, become more apparent, Isabelle, in the spirit of her royal heroine, makes bold, often perilous, decisions which will forever affect her fate.

A suspenseful, sweeping tale about marriage, freedom, identity, and motherhood, THE FALCON’S EYES brings alive not only a brilliant century and the legendary queen who dominated it, but also the vivid band of complex characters whom the heroine encounters on her journey to selfhood: noblewomen, nuns, servants, falconers, and courtiers.

The various settings — Château Ravinour, Fontevraud Abbey, and Queen Eleanor’s exiled court in England — are depicted as memorably as those who inhabit them. The story pulses forward as Isabelle confronts one challenge, one danger, after another, until it hurtles to its final, enthralling, page. With the historical understanding of Hillary Mantel and the storytelling gifts of Ken Follett, Francesca Stanfill has created an unforgettable character who, while firmly rooted in her era, is also a woman for all times.

My Thoughts:

My love of historical fiction now spans decades, much to my surprise! It is a journey of discovery starting in my teens with the works of Jean Plaidy, Barbara Erskine and Alison Weir steadily progressing to the newer works of Louise Shepherd-Robinson and Caroline Scott. Through their creative re-imagining of history I have found that I hold an intense fascination particularly with the roles of women, who are so often given a bit part in the more academic recollections of our historic past. But these wonderful writers, have examined, extrapolated, and explored a variety of different women, their history and heritages, their roles, their presence in our socio-political annals, the potential of their hearts and minds, their complex and often violent environs, and their vivid, visceral, victorious lives.

For me, these writers have provided me as a reader with enlightenment, entertainment, and awareness, as well as an unstoppable addiction to historical fiction. So, when the details of Francesca’s book The Falcon’s Eyes popped into my inbox, I simply couldn’t resist the premise of her book, as Eleanor of Aquitaine has long held an interest for me, after all she is one of the most incredible and formidable women in history, in my humble opinion and given the sumptuous depths of Francesca’s book, I am not alone in these thoughts.

Now this is not a novel for the faint hearted or the weak wristed, as it is a door stop of a book at over 800 pages but don’t let the size inhibit your chance to read it, as it is a truly magnificent read, awash with expressive history, diligently researched and divinely written. Francesca clearly loves this period of history; you feel it in the words she writes and she is exceedingly knowledgeable about it. I have to admire her creative skill, in eloquently and evocatively immersing her readers in the 12th Century, from the first chapter I found myself transported into Isabella’s world of betrothals, births, birds, bloodshed and brutality. The novel begins with an ending, that of a great Queen, wife to two Kings, mother to two more, by her side, her ever faithful and watchful companion Isabella, their lives forever interwoven, it is a sublime, emotional intimate start, and it complete ensnares you. Francesca’s lyrical intricate descriptions, anchor you to her characters and the world she weaves for them…you won’t be able to leave.

Isabella is our guide, to this tumultuous time, as a young woman, her life is predictable for the age, her heritage unremarkable, her family without influence or prestige and yet she has an unquenchable desire for more than a domestic existence, she has tangible aspirations and dreams, wholly unsuitable for a woman of her time and when marriage is sprung upon her, you can feel her disappointment and reticence in the turn of events and when this relationship founders and when you meet her husband, it’s not really a surprise, nor is his obsessive desire for a male heir! I did ponder at this point, how she could escape the inevitable cycle of life for a woman of her standing! Yet circumstances arise and the trajectory of Isabella’s life is inextricably altered and places her at the side of the remarkable Eleanor of Aquitaine, whose life is completely extraordinary, especially when you consider the jeopardy of period and exacting expectations her gender, never mind the pressures of child bearing and I confess, I am massively oversimplifying the complexities of the domestic and political environment here but you will see precisely what I am referring to, when you read the book!

Francesca’s book illuminates in incredible incisive detail, the role of women in the medieval period, be they a Queen or a commoner, the importance of dress, the impact of religion, the power of heritage and the dominance of patriarchy. I loved the meticulous details of this novel and Francesca’s determination to imagine, examine and escalate the identities of the woman in her book. It struck me, how that both Eleanor and Isabella were both like falcons; majestic birds of prey, tamed and tethered by the expectations of their sex, yet both women were still wild at heart, intelligent, courageous, and subtly determined that societal restrictions, would not crush or quell their spirit. I simply loved this book and I am trying to not to witter on too much. So, If like me you are a fan of historical fiction, this splendid, stunning, scintillating, sweeping saga of a novel, needs to be added to your collection today, it is simply too good to miss…

Happy Reading Bookophiles…

About the Author:

FRANCESCA STANFILL was born in Oxford, England, and grew up in New York City and Los Angeles. She is a graduate of Yale University, where her studies included the History of Art and medieval history. Her articles have appeared in many publications, including The New York Times Magazine, New York, and Vanity Fair.

Her lifelong fascination with the twelfth century and its legendary queen, Eleanor of Aquitaine, propelled her to write The Falcon’s Eyes, her third novel. She lives in New York.

Please do read some of the other reviews available on this blog tour.

The Mortification of Grace Wheeler

Author: Colette Dartford

Publisher: Whitefox Publishing

Available: 18th August 2022 in Paperback & eBook

Thank you to Becky Hunter & Midas PR for my gifted copy and for having me on the blog tour for this book. My review is based on my experience of the book and any thoughts expressed here are solely mine alone.

Book Details:

A stale marriage, an illicit affair. Who pays the price?

 Faced with an empty nest when her only child goes to university, the flaws in Grace’s marriage are sharply exposed. Finding excuses to escape the taut atmosphere at home, she is drawn into an affair that ignites a mid-life sexual awakening.

But when her secret is discovered, there is a terrible price to pay, and Grace is not the only one who pays it.

A compelling and emotional read, The Mortification of Grace Wheeler shines a spotlight on a marriage in crisis, the challenges of being a middle-aged woman, and the fear that your best years are behind you.

My Thoughts:

Today, I’m sharing my thoughts on Colette Dartford’s third novel ‘The Mortification of Grace Wheeler’. I am always on the lookout for novels, whose premise revolves around women who are no longer in the first flush of youth, as I am no longer at this stage of life and do like to relate to the protagonist I am reading about. So naturally I was intrigued by the details for Colette’s latest book as it certainly sounded like it would meet my current reading preferences and I wasn’t wrong in this assumption. From the moment I sat down to read, I was instantly drawn to Grace and her story, to the point that I was unable to stop reading and gorged myself on its pages…reading into the early hours of the morning! I found this book gripping, galvanising and gloriously gritty, definitely one to add to your Library.

Let me give you a little taste of the story; Grace’s life is now in flux, her son Josh has gone to university and although she knew that this would be a painful change, she hadn’t anticipated the full extent of the psychological and emotional hole, his absence would create. Her husband Cal is 23 years her senior and in poor health, which has made him seem suddenly old. Their relationship seems to have stagnated and Grace is depressed by the prospect of spending countless hours, days and weeks stuck with nothing to fill her time but Cal and his churlish attitudes.

Grace realises that to escape this fate, she needs a pastime to fill the void, to focus her attention on and to get her out and about. She settles on learning how to fly-fish! I must be honest, this choice of hobby did make me laugh, as I didn’t really picture Grace in green rubber waders and hideous canvas hat but as it is one of Josh’s passions, you can fully understand her reasoning. But instead of hooking fish, Grace finds herself netted by the instructor and driven by her need to feel fulfilled, makes some calamitous choices, the impact of which have wide ranging consequences for Grace, her friends and family! Obviously, if you want to find out what exactly I am alluding to, then you’ll have to treat yourself to a copy of the book and find out more for yourselves. No spoilers here!

Colette is consummate storyteller, her pithy and pacy style of writing draws the reader in and keeps you fully engaged but for me with this book what I admired most was Colette’s delicious insight into the intricacy of emotional intelligence; in Grace she has created a relatable, resilient middle-aged woman, facing her mad moment. Throughout the trajectory of this story Colette extrapolates and explores the minutiae of a woman’s life; the complexities of relationships; the multi-faceted nature of marriage and motherhood; the necessity of female friendships and the significance of understanding ourselves, warts, and all. Colette does not sugar coat the impact of infidelity nor its harsh ramifications on those caught up in such a maelstrom. And personally, I think Colette has done a sterling job in fictionalising some hefty societal issues.

This book is female-centric fiction at its finest; it is formidable, fierce, and fantastic read and as I said at the start, I simply couldn’t put it down. It would the prefect book choice for a reading group as I have no doubt it would cause some ferocious discussions on the themes and characters within the story. Luckily Colette’s book is out today, so you can get a copy and see what I mean for yourselves.

Happy Reading Bookophiles…

About the Author:

Colette Dartford writes contemporary fiction with compelling emotional themes. Her debut novel, Learning To Speak American, was shortlisted for the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award and published by Bonnier Zaffre. Her second novel, An Unsuitable Marriage, was a Kindle bestseller for over 18 months.

In addition to her novels, Colette has had award winning Flash fiction, short stories and poetry, published in popular magazines and anthologies.

Her third novel, The Mortification Of Grace Wheeler, will be published in 2022.

Colette lives in Bath with her husband and a very demanding labradoodle

Please do read some of the other reviews available on this blog tour.

Chinese-ish

Authors: Rosheen Kaul and Joanna Hu

Publisher: Murdoch Books

Available: 4th August 2022 in Hardback

Thank you to Anne Cater, Random Things Tours and Murdoch Books for my stunning gifted copy and for having me on the blog tour for this book. My review is based on my experience of the book and any thoughts expressed here are solely mine alone.

Book Details

Modern, unconventional, innovative, vibrant, tasty, colourful and incredibly delicious—this is a cookbook from two authors who consider themselves wonderfully Chinese-ish.

As immigrants with Chinese heritage who both moved to Australia as kids, Rosheen Kaul and Joanna Hu spent their formative years living between (at least) two cultures and wondering how they fitted in. Food was a huge part of this journey – should they cling to the traditional comfort of their parents varied culinary heritage, attempt to assimilate wholly by learning to love shepherd’s pie, or forge a new path where flavour and the freedom to choose trumped authenticity?

 They went with option three. Chinese-ish celebrates the confident blending of culture and identity through food: take what you love and reject what doesn’t work for you. In these pages you’ll find a bounty of inauthentic Chinese-influenced dishes from all over Southeast Asia, including the best rice and noodle dishes, wontons and dumplings, classic Chinese mains and even a Sichuan Sausage Sanga that would sit proudly at any backyard barbie. There are also plenty of tips and shortcuts to demystify any tricky-sounding techniques, and reassuring advice on unfamiliar ingredients and where to find them. Tuck in to Hot and sour noodles and Chicken congee, make your own Chilli oil and Lazy XO sauce, and enjoy those meals for one with Burnt spring onion noodles or Chiffon omelette. There are Chinese snacks (sort of) such as Crispy prawn balls and Beijing hot chicken, as well as dishes for a crowd (‘Big plate’ chicken with hand-pulled noodles). Lastly, there are Rosheen and Jo’s favourite Chinese-ish puddings: Pumpkin buns, Egg custard tarts and Hong Kong-style sago pudding.

My Thoughts:

Today, I am going to be telling you all about Chinese-ish by Rosheen Kaul and Joanna Hu, which is a delicious hybrid biographical recipe book, which I have found utterly sumptuous in its presentation, its pictures and illustrations are gorgeous and informative and they are interspersed with personal reminiscences of family and food which I have found addictively fascinating to read.  Rosheen and Joanna share their vivacious heritage and culture all wrapped up in a book parcel of their knowledge and love of their original and self-proclaimed unauthentic Asian food. This book is literally a memoir in food, documenting dishes they love and why they are sharing them with their readers, I think Rosheen summed it up beautifully as ‘memories and moshu‘…this engaging book is an ode to their complicated heritage (hence the title of the book; as being Chinese-ish, a succinct descriptor of their identities) but their reality is much more complex. The recipes themselves have their metaphorical roots in tradition but Rosheen & Jo bring their own style of interpretation to some familiar dishes…making them modern, accessible, and original as well as the prevailing tone of encouraging you to try them out for yourselves.

Part of my personal interest in reviewing this book, is that though I am a successful hobby baker, cakes and desserts are my passion and relatively easy for me to make but I possess an inability to successfully stir fry anything! Despite the fact that during my university days, I lived with the most wonderful Chinese girl (woman) called Bee, who like the authors of this book had a remarkable background and she and a small group of friends used to cook together and share their mothers and grandmother’s recipes and create banquets from a plethora of intriguing ingredients, these meals took place several times a week and despite my Anglo-Irish heritage and complete ineptness with a wok, I was welcomed into Bee’s group although I wasn’t allowed to cook (unless it was a dessert). Decades later I look back on these memories with mirth and much joy…and these fond recollections prompted my interest in this book and my determination to learn how to cook some Chinese-ish food successfully (no more soggy stir fry from me)!

What I loved about this book’s recipes, were how clear and simple the cooking instructions are, from how to cook rice the best way, noodle dishes which I adore and my absolute favourite wontons and dumplings in fact I made some Pork & Chive Dumplings (see Page 69), I was completely surprised by my success and I’m chalking it up to brilliant instructions from Rosheen & Jo and a pinch of beginners luck and there would have been a picture if the big man & I had any self-restraint and hadn’t gobbled them all in one sitting…yes all 50+ of them, I confess we are that greedy but they were so good in our defence…it was only afterwards in our dumpling coma, I realised, I had forgotten to take a photo!

Other elements I really appreciated and haven’t seen in any other books on Chinese cooking, was Rosheen & Jo’s litany of brilliant tips and tricks to make the preparation and cooking of their delicious dishes accessible to any wanna be cook. I can’t tell you how incredible it was to have such easy to follow instructions for techniques I had believed were beyond my skill. I was also very excited by their store cupboard lists and excellent advice on where to find some ingredients, that I was not familiar with nor what exactly I supposed to do with them. This also prompted me to locate my nearest Chinese grocery store but a 2 week bout of Covid, has delayed my visiting in person…but I will be making a bee-line for it very soon.

 As next up on my path to my Chinese-ish discovery will be the Golden Shrimp Roe Noodles on page 42. I cannot express how much I engaged with this wonderful book, which has built my confidence in exploring a whole new world of cooking, as well giving me new skills and overall has allowed me (and you too) to explore Chinese-ish cooking without fear, Rosheen and Jo encourage you to go at your own pace and make ingredient substitutions if something isn’t to your liking, for example, I’m allergic to chilli but have found using smoked paprika works for me.

As I was writing this review, what also struck me, is how pertinent the arrival of this book is now, with many people (myself included) seriously impacted by the UK cost of living crisis…my favourite Chinese takeaway treats, are just a memory but this book has brought me hope, I can now cost effectively still indulge in some of my favourite food. If like me, you have previously failed in the art of re-creating fabulous fried rice or winning wantons…this book needs to grace your bookshelves today…

Happy Cooking Bookophiles

About the Authors:

Rosheen Kaul is head chef at Melbourne’s Etta restaurant, where she cooks a menu as culturally diverse as she is. It was at the beginning of the pandemic that her employer shut the doors and as a project to occupy herself, Rosheen began documenting all the inauthentic Asian recipes she most loved to eat each day.

Joanna Hu is an illustrator and ex front-of-house at Vue de Monde, Saint Crispin and Fat Duck restaurants. The daughter of Chinese Australian parents, she eschewed a career in law for a whirlwind few years in hospitality before settling into a life of painting, knitting, watching crime procedurals, and buying an excess of charity shop tweed blazers.

Please do read some of the other reviews on this blog tour.

Little Dancer

Author: Melanie Leschallas

Publisher: Unbound

Available: 21st July 2022 in Paperback & eBook

Thank you to Anne Cater, Random Things Tours & Unbound for my gifted copy and for having me on the blog tour for this book. My review is based on my experience of the book and any thoughts expressed here are solely mine alone.

Book Details

Paris, 1878. Ballet dancer Marie van Goethem is chosen by the unknown artist Edgar Degas to model for his new sculpture: Little Dancer, Aged Fourteen Years. But Marie is much more than she seems. By day she’s a ‘little rat’ of the opera, contorting her starving body to entertain the bourgeoisie. By night she’s plotting to overthrow the government and reinstate the Paris Commune, to keep a promise she made to her father, a leading communard who died in the street massacres of 1871.

 As Marie watches the troubling sculpture of herself come to life in Degas’ hands, she falls further into the intoxicating world of bohemian, Impressionist Paris, a world at odds with the socialist principles she has vowed to uphold. With the fifth Impressionist Exhibition looming, a devastating family secret is uncovered which changes everything for both Marie and Degas. As Degas struggles to finish his sculpture and the police close in on Marie, she must decide where her loyalties lie and act to save herself, her family, and the Little Dancer

My Thoughts:

As a lifelong reader of historical fiction and historical biographies, I have become familiar with large pockets of history such as the Tudors, World War I & II as well as plenty more but when I read the details for Melanie’s book Little Dancer, my interest was immediate; partly because decades ago, I attempted to read Victor Hugo’s Les Misérables after I had seen the musical production for the second time (I have seen it three times more since!) and I was fascinated by the period as it wasn’t a time I had studied previously. The musical is truly fabulous, vivid, evocative with diverse storylines.  I was engaged enough to examine the book it was based on. However, at 17, I found it rather like wading through treacle and I confess, I didn’t make it to the halfway point of the book, before stopping. And now all these years, later Melanie’s book popped on to my radar and I couldn’t resist her approach to this period in history, nor her focal character Marie, who is so resilient, fierce and determined, despite the myriad of hardships her life entails. Melanie’s novel is beautifully written, exceedingly well researched and transports you to the visceral vibrancy of Paris in 1870s, a time of socio-political unrest, of economic struggle, of strife and starvation; a time of the Commune and Communards; a time of barricades and bloodshed. Paris was a tinder box primed for revolution. I have no doubt that this is a book my fellow historical fiction fans won’t be able to resist and it is certainly a novel you will want to add to your bookshelves, in fact I go far as to suggest, you must add it to your collection.

Marie aspires to be like her revolutionary father, a man who held staunch opinions on the need for progress and social reform, he wanted his daughters to have the chance for a different life, but sadly his zeal died with him, as tragedy took him from his family far too soon. His loss took the light from her family, Marie has watched as her mother Gigi once a successful laundress, descend into abject poverty, barely able to scratch a living. Her sister, Antoinette, has no interest or time for wild ideas or the unrealistic dreams of ‘the cause’, her focus is on survival and she will use whatever she has to do this! Marie has the head of a reformer and the heart of a fighter, her body maybe small but her determination great! Marie, ekes a living as a ‘little rat’, a dancer in the theatre, paid a pittance that just keeps her from starving but how she manages on so little, with a physically demanding job, is almost unfathomable, there is nothing glamourous about her life, it all about hunger and hand me downs!

Opportunity comes to Marie from the most unlikely avenue, she is spotted by the artist Degas and is bewildered and a little suspicious by his request for her to become his model, she cannot comprehend, why he would choose her, she’s nothing to look at, she is starving waif! Yet Degas is relentless, consumed by his desire to create sculpture that is real, not contrived, he wishes to capture the true nature of the human form and not be dictated to by the fashionable traditions of the time. In becoming his model, Marie enters a new world, I loved her reactions to his studio, her mixture of fear and fascination is tangible, she is also intrigued with the variety of people, he associates with. I got the impression, Marie is a little amused and confused by his enraged brother, who is seemingly angry at the world and everything in it…but intrigued by Mary, who seems to be Degas’s friend in a time, when transactions between men and women, are maternal, matrimonial or moneyed. I think, that being in Degas’ world inspires Marie, it shows her, there is more to life than deprivation and strengthens her resolve to resume her father’s intellectual legacy for societal reform.

This book is potent, powerful, poignant and progressive; Marie is a protagonist, you can’t help but admire, her fortitude, her aspirations and her determination to make the society she lives within better for all, to give girls and women choices, to liberate them from having no option for survival other than to sell themselves…which if you think about it, is an incredible aspiration! One of the reasons, I was thoroughly captivated by this book, was Melanie’s skill at blending, her own knowledge of the often brutal physicality of being a dancer with historical fact, the vivid cacophony of the social political environment and all the while cleverly creating a storyline, that re-imagines how one of my favourite sculptors (Degas) might have found his muse, motivation, and method for creating some of his most beautiful work. This novel is truly a majestic read and I absolutely loved the very subtle feminist undertones at its core, the very essence of the story etches itself on your memory. I must congratulate Melanie on her brilliance at being able to skilfully weave an insightful fictional story, fascinating in its passion for the arts and the role of women and filled with sublime historical context and all the while also engagingly educating and elucidate the nuances and nature of societal complications in a time and place, often overlooked. If you don’t buy this book, you will truly miss out on marvellous read, its payday weekend, I say treat yourself!

Happy Reading Bookophiles…

About the Author:

Melanie Leschallas holds MAs in Creative Writing from Sussex and in Drama and Movement Therapy from Central School in London as well as a BA(Hons) in French and Italian from Bristol University. She was trained as a dancer and worked at the Moulin Rouge in Paris during her twenties. Mel is also a jazz singer and loves to sing Jacques Brel songs at the Savoy Hotel in London. She runs http://www.lunarlemonproductions.com with her husband, Craig, teaches yoga in Brighton and leads wellness and writing retreats at her home in the Malaga mountains. @2SpencerRoad

Please do read some of the other reviews available on this blog tour.

The Wilderness

Author: Sarah Duguid

Publisher: Tinder Press

Available: 21st July 2022 in Hardback, eBook & Audiobook

Thank you to Anne Cater, Random Things Tours and Tinder Press for my gifted copy and for having me on the blog tour for this book. My review is based on my experience of the book and any thoughts expressed here are solely mine alone.

Book Details:

Once it was a family home. Now they are all at sea . . .

When Anna and David receive a phone call late one evening, their lives are upturned. Within minutes, they are travelling to the west coast of Scotland, preparing to care for two young sisters, tragically and suddenly orphaned.

It’s a beautiful place, the heather is in bloom, the birds wheel above the waves, the deer graze peacefully in the distance. But the large granite house is no longer a home for the girls, and Anna knows she can never take the place of their mother. Then David invites his friend to stay, to ‘ease them through’ and Anna finds herself increasingly isolated, with everything she – and the girls – once knew of life discarded and overruled by a man of whom she is deeply suspicious

My Thoughts:

The merest suggestion of wildness within the context of novel, completely seduces me from the outset and so it was with Sarah’s book The Wilderness, I mean who can fail to be intrigued by a remote island with large, lonely house upon it…I can’t…what struck me from the moment I started reading, was the sense of anticipation rolling off the pages regarding what I might discover as I read. It wasn’t however the fizzy excited sensation, I was experiencing, more the slow, relentless sense of something dark, this way comes! Oh my goodness what a clever, complicated treat you have to come…Sarah is for me, is the newly dubbed, Countess of Creepy (a compliment, I assure you), she knows, how to pull you into her plot and into her web of very subtle, potentially sinister suggestions…but the genius of the novel, is how Sarah develops the tainted atmosphere, she wields the twin sensations of disquiet and disturbance, like weapons and draws you into their unsettling embrace ….you have no option but to read on in order to perhaps to escape these tainted tendrils of suspicion! I found myself both enticed and terrified at the same time and I literally couldn’t put this book down!

Anne, whose perspective we follow most closely is a 50 plus woman, her own sons are grown and flown and her husband David is a hard-working lawyer. Anne is starting to look forward to his retirement and the untapped potential, that could be available to them in the new phase of their lives and marriage. She would like very much to cast off the proverbial ‘ties that bind’, the endless partner dinners and relentless required social engagements, the shine of which is firmly tarnished. I definitely got the sense that Anne is secretly looking forward to a period of re-invention…until a phone call comes and all her potential plans are shattered. I almost got the feeling, Anne wanted, to shout, how bloody typical…despite the tragic circumstances, there is a tangible sense of resentment too.

David and Anna, travel to the remote wilds of Scotland to support their orphaned nieces…who, quite frankly reminded me of the creepy twins from The Shinning…but is their strangeness a result of the tragedy or was it bred into them…or is it something else entirely (well as if I’m going to tell you that!). As family and friends gather, Anne feels increasingly trapped and as her brother-in-law’s will names her and David as the girl’s guardians, her plans for a different future are completely scuppered…all she can see are future decades of child rearing ahead and you can just feel how much she doesn’t want to play this role anymore, she’s done with this part of her life, now was to be her time to explore life! You also get the sense (and this examined further, later in the novel) that David and Anne’s marriage, isn’t as secure as it looks! Somewhat resigned to the fact she is now going to be responsible for raising her two nieces by marriage, Anne must face the reality, that she is dealing with two rather strange and grieving girls and all the hormones and emotions, that they are awash with.

The plan is to return to London with the girls, however everyone advises, that this can’t be done straight away, so for the next few months, Anne is stuck on a remote island, in a house, whose amenities are limited (a massive understatement), with a pair of sullen girls…to be honest, I ‘m with Anne, this scenario is sounds like my worst nightmare! Then to further exacerbate the situation, comes the arrival of Brendan,  David’s friend…who at best is eccentric but as the story continues to unfold, you get the sense he something darker more unpleasant and his behaviour with the girls and his desire to help them, initially seems genuine but then on occasion also inappropriate as well, and the atmosphere darkens further and my sense of unease began to build, snippets of secrets start to float to the surface and there is a palpable sense of disquiet. Brendan, seems to be as odd and disturbed as the girls, with his shrine building and rituals, is this a man on the edge and what nature of darkness might engulf him? And as for the girls, there seems to be an ever increasing toxicity to their behaviour… I began to consider could they be capable of nearly anything, even the unimaginable?

It was at this point, I began to comprehend that ‘The Wilderness’ was not merely a locational descriptor but one that could be used to define the behaviour and characteristics of some of the cast, the wildness of emotions especially that of grief, the wilderness of relationships, that are complex, perplexing and almost unfathomable and the transience of life itself and that once we are gone, the wilderness will reclaim the space we once inhabited! Sarah’s book is mesmerising, memorable and deliciously macabre, the ideas and suggestions she brings to her readers, will rattle around in your head for days…I know this to be true, because they are still making me pause for thought. A unique and intellectually stimulating read and one, I will not forget anytime soon. I thoroughly recommend you try it for yourself, once read, this novel will never be forgotten!

Happy Reading Bookophiles….

About the Author:

Sarah Duguid grew up on a farm in North Lincolnshire & now lives in London. Her stunning debut Look at Me came out in 2016. The Wilderness is her second novel.

#TheWilderness

Please do read some of the other reviews available on this blog tour.

SOLO

What Running Across Mountains Taught Me about Life?

Author: Jenny Tough

Publisher: Octopus Books

Available: 23rd June 2022 in Hardback, eBook & Audiobook

Thank you to Anne Cater, Random Things Tours & Octopus Books for my gifted copy and for having me on the blog tour for this book. My review is based on my experience of the book and any thoughts expressed here are solely mine alone.

Book Details:

Jenny Tough is an endurance athlete who’s best known for running and cycling in some of world’s most challenging events – achieving accolades that are an inspiration to outdoor adventurers everywhere. But SOLO tells the story of a much more personal project: Jenny’s quest to come to terms with feelings and emotions that were holding her back.

Like runners at any level, she knew already that running made her feel better, and like so many of us, she knew that completing goals independently was empowering, too. So, she set herself an audacious objective: to run – solo, unsupported, on her own – across mountain ranges on six continents, starting with one of the most remote locations on Earth in Kyrgyzstan.

 SOLO chronicles Jenny’s journey every step of the way across the Tien Shan (Asia), the High Atlas (Africa), the Bolivian Andes (South America), the Southern Alps (Oceania), the Canadian Rockies (North America) and the Transylvanian Alps (Europe), as she learns lessons in self-esteem, resilience, bravery and so much more. What Jenny’s story tells us most of all is that setting out to do things solo – whether the ambitious or the everyday – can be invigorating, encouraging and joyful. And her call to action to find strength, confidence, and self-belief in everything we do will inspire and motivate

My Thoughts:

Now you might wonder why a short, round, and sedentary bookworm, like myself, would jump at the chance to read Jenny’s book Solo, which ostensibly is about running in some ultra-tough terrain in remote parts of our world, armed only with poles and pack, that I would struggle to only fill with all I need for a day in the office, never mind weeks running up and down mountains. The why, is very easily explained, I am an armchair adventurer, experiencing intrepid exploration, vicariously through the remarkable endeavours of incredible women, like Jenny; whose resilience, fortitude and bravery, I richly admire and am completely inspired by (but I am still not running anywhere…to be honest you could up-end me and roll me along quicker, rather than attempt to get me to run) but this doesn’t stop being completely in awe of Jenny and her amazing achievements but her book is so much more that a completion of amazing feats; it is intimate, independent, occasionally irascible and an unbelievably incredible read and I couldn’t put this book down! I say this now, buy it, buy it today!

Talk about being literally tough by name; Jenny is a dynamic woman; with an adventuress’ spirit, yet she is still humble and heroic, with a wry sense of humour, that had me frequently smiling and nodding my head as I read. If I had to put my finger on one trait that enthralled me so much; it is the intimate nature of this book; Jenny has shared with us her personal internal monologue as she faces hell and highwater; how from her daydreaming, pouring over maps and her curiosity for adventure, led to these journeys; and the big idea of running across these wild mountain ranges solo; without any back up and only the most frugal support, a true testament to her ethos self-reliance. Mountains for Jenny bring the comfort and familiarity of being at home, they make her heart soar and life’s burden’s lift in their presence. I loved how, she is comfortable in her solitude because I am too…I can’t think of anything more perfect, that being home with my books, frothy coffee, grumpy Comet (Cat), and a jigsaw – OK, I’ve taken my spinster nerdiness to whole new public level here.

The book is divided into six parts; covering Jenny’s quests by location and her lessons learnt and all her observations; for example, Chapter 3; Aren’t you Afraid? – The Bolivian Andes, which  is when during Jenny’s epic adventure in Bolivia, time and time again comes monotonous refrain of ‘Aren’t you afraid’ that Jenny has levelled at her (usually by men) and the near stratospheric incomprehension, that Jenny has in fact travelled all over the world and it seems has run over a large portion of it too, but no, she must, because she’s in possession of XX chromosomes be completely unaware of her location, impending danger or how to look after herself, because clearly oestrogen renders women to a completely state of helplessness!. Obviously, It’s a universally acknowledge fact, that a woman travelling alone must be in want of some testosterone filled, knuckle dragging protection! …Not!

Jenny, I promise, my eyes nearly fell out the back of my head, I rolled them so often, every time you recounted this sort of misguided patriarchal protection order. As if, as a woman, like the rest of us, Jenny wasn’t crystal clear in her comprehension, regarding the burden of safety that falls/fell at her feet…it is not something she requires instruction on…!!! I think it was Chapter 2 in the Atlas Mountains, were she had to spend vast amounts of physical and mental energy avoiding unrequired and unwanted attention from the Gendarmerie, who refused to accept that she was capable of undertaking her journey and made it their mission to enforce protection upon her…I literally couldn’t help laughing, at the absurdity of the situation Jenny endured…my admiration for her calmness and fortitude at this point in the book, was beyond measure…as I would have been incandescent and probably would have required Ambassadorial assistance to extract me from the situation!

The core of this book isn’t focused on the physical exploits Jenny undertakes, though they are amazing, she states that adventures such as these do not need to be measured, they just need to be experienced and though from others’ perspectives, they may see her undertakings as competitive, Jenny does not. The true beating heart of this memoir/biography is the understanding and appreciation Jenny gleaned from this undertaking and on the psychological and emotional elements of her life; regarding perseverance, resilience, and the internal strength to wrangle your fear, the sheer importance of living life on your own terms, an ethos, that Jenny encourages in all of us, no matter your gender, ability, age or race. Nothing in this life of ours is easy, but it does always get better, regardless of the discomfort or challenges life throws at Jenny or us. Her mantra of ‘Keep Going’ is wise and inspiring (and currently on a post – it on my desk). She encourages us to learn to be brave, to embrace it and to be brave enough to use our strength, there will always be days where we get everything wrong (and Jenny shares one such day with us in her book) …but if you find your strength and keep going, you will survive it and probably learn from the experience as well.

This book is a complete triumph, Jenny is my idea of a role model for women everywhere, her words, her independence of mind and spirit are incredible, attainable, completely inspiring and inclusive. If life isn’t going how, you expected or you are struggling with mental health issues or just need a book to light a fire under you or you feel the need to appreciate the freedom Jenny’s ventures impart. Then this is the book for you, I cannot recommend it highly enough nor more enthusiastically. Whatever Jenny, endeavours to do next, I will be cheering her on and I can’t wait to read more about her life journey and adventures.

Happy Reading Bookophiles

About the Author:

Jenny Tough is an adventure traveller originally from Canada. She enjoys writing about her solo mountain expeditions and tales of world travel as a solo female. Jenny has been featured by National Geographic, BBC Scotland, Women’s Running, The Great Outdoors and more.

 In 2020 she edited Tough Women Adventure Stories, published by Summersdale. When she’s not exploring the mountains of the world, she lives in Scotland, and occasionally wherever she parks her adventure van.

Please do read some of the other reviews available on this blog tour.

Blue Hour

Author: Sarah Schmitt

Publisher: Tinder Press

Available: 7th July in Hardback, eBook & Audiobook

Thank you to Anne Cater, Random Things Tours and Tinder Press for my gifted copy and for having me on the blog tour for this book. My review is based on my experience of the book and any thoughts expressed here are solely mine alone.

Book Details

She thinks of blue mountain, her favourite place. ‘We’re going somewhere where we can be safe. We never have to come back here.’ As the rest of the world lies sleeping, Eleanor straps her infant daughter, Amy, into the back of her car.

This is the moment she knew must come when they will walk out on her husband Leon and a marriage in ruins since his return from Vietnam. Together, she and Amy will journey to blue mountain, a place of enchantment and refuge that lit up Eleanor’s childhood. As the car eats up the miles, so Eleanor’s mind dives back into her fractured relationship with her mother, Kitty.

 Kitty who asked for so much from life, from love, from family. Kitty who had battled so hard to prise her husband George out of the grip of war. Kitty, whose disapproving voice rings so loud in Eleanor’s head. Tense, visceral, glittering, it is a masterful return to fiction from the author of the acclaimed See What I Have Done.

My Thoughts:

Blue Hour by Sarah Schmitt appeared on my radar, due to the enthusiastic recommendation of my friend, fellow blogger and @Squadpod3 member Hayley @hayleyloftusflo1 and I trust her discernment when it comes to a good book. So, you can appreciate my excitement, when I was able to be part of the blog tour for this novel.

This is a book that immediately burrows into the beautiful and brutal complexities and dynamics of relationships, between lovers, between husbands & wives and between mothers and daughters. It is wholly unflinching in essence but never unfeeling, it exposes the emotional fault lines of love and poses one of the greatest questions in life, ‘how can you be sure that love is enough?’ It is a triumph of exploration into the nature of emotional intelligence and how our environs shape our reactions to circumstances both joyous and tragic.

Recounted from the perspectives of a mother & daughter, over dual timelines; although the book opens with Eleanor’s (the daughter) story and her escape, with infant daughter Amy from a failing and increasingly violent marriage to Leon, as she travels away from her marriage, we start to learn of her past and how she has come to be in this situation. Her recollections and punctuated by elements of her mother Kitty’s life in the past, as a young woman on the cusp of adulthood, wanting the freedoms and experiences, we have all desired at this stage of life; Kitty wants to find her place in the world, to find companionship and love, her maelstrom of emotions are heightened due to the circumstances of war (the great war to put into context)  her meeting George, the heady feelings of first love, and their desperation to cement their connection, to establish permanence during a time of great uncertainty. Kitty’s experience of nursing wounded men and her reconnection with George after he returns from the slaughter of war, a damaged man, both physically and mentally and one act, ties them together but instead of being a path forward, these are ties that bind them and begin to strangle their relationship and their outlook on life!

Kitty’s experiences intersect with her daughter’s in the present. Kitty and Eleanor’s relationship, is not one to be aspired to, it is fractured and fractious an often antagonistic; Kitty is not a loving mother; she’s a simmering angry one, manipulative, malicious and I got the sense that she blames Eleanor for the life she has been ‘forced’ to lead and it is clear from the beginning of our journey with Eleanor, that in more recent times, their connection has failed completely, but why exactly is only revealed in tantalising increments.

We also have the opportunity to explore Eleanor’s past and the contextual background that has led her to drive away from her home and her marriage, with nothing but an ancient estate car and her daughter heading towards the Blue Mountains, which are clearly a place of sanctuary for her (stemming from previous childhood visits). What struck me was the irony of these two women, Eleanor seeking to be different woman and mother to that of her mother, yet her life choices almost echo that of Kitty. What fascinated and intrigued me about this novel was that here we have two women ostensibly ensnared by maternity and their own failings to see the reality before them but instead believing that their love has the power to heal the destruction war has wreaked on their husbands but becoming increasingly frustrated by the burden of their reality.

This book delves into life’s truths; the expectations of relationships, marriages, motherhood, and the weighty mental and emotional burdens that come with such powerful connections. Eleanor struggles with her reality, you can see her trying not to repeat the patterns of the past, because now she can see and interpret the signs of a troubled marriage but these markers, were the ones that as a child, she wasn’t able to associate with the actions of her parents. Sarah doesn’t shy away from tackling some of the worst aspects of relationships, nor in extrapolating the margins of love and control, that are so often blurred in the name of love and protection.

Take a deep breath bookophiles! This book is going to make you ‘ugly cry’ I know you won’t want to (I didn’t) but the wrenching depth of the heartbreak; the stark brutality is beautifully wrought, that Sarah’s writing gives you no other recourse, so you’d better stock up on tissues before you start. (Sue @brownflopsey you were absolutely right) Please don’t let my observation here put you off reading it though! Yes, there this a disturbing and disquieting darkness to the stories the book contains but so it is in life, such moments are inescapable and this magnificent book of Sarah’s just lays bare for us to see and feel. This book is truly a masterful piece of authorship and deserves every accolade, I can give it…Please, Please treat yourself to a copy, your bookshelves won’t be complete without it.

Happy (or at bit soggy on this occasion) Reading Bookophiles…

About the Author:

Sarah Schmidt is the acclaimed author of See What I Have Done, which was longlisted for the Women’s Prize for Fiction and won the AIBA Literary Fiction of the Year 2018. She lives in Melbourne where she works as a librarian. You can follow her at https://sarahschmidt.org/ and on Twitter @ikillnovel.

Please do read some of the other reviews available on this blog tour.

The Island House

Author: Mary Considine

Publisher: Monoray/Octopus Books

Available: 9th June 2022 in Hardback & eBook

Thank you to Anne Cater, Random Things Tours & Monoray/Octopus Books for my gifted copy and for having me on the blog tour for this book. My review is based on my experience of the book and any thoughts expressed here are solely mine alone.

Book Details

Mary and Patrick’s dream was to live in London, have 2.4 children, the nice house, the successful jobs. But life had other plans, and in one traumatic year that all came crashing down. Bruised and battered, Mary finds herself pulled towards Cornwall and dreams of St George’s Island, where she spent halcyon childhood summers. So, when an opportunity arises to become tenants if they renovate the old Island House, they grab it with both hands. Life on the island is hard, especially in winter, the sea and weather, unforgiving.

 But the rugged natural beauty, the friendly ghosts of previous inhabitants, and the beautiful isolation of island life bring hope and purpose, as they discover a resilience, they never knew they had. It has been empty now for six years, and it is full of ghosts. Every wall is patterned with black mould, in lacy fronds or lumpy stripes; every window in the house is broken. We pile bedding, blankets, coats on to the bed and the cats climb in with us, mourning their lost comforts. We listen to the wails of wind and the menace of waves through the broken glass and breathe in the spores and the damp, clinging together, our family, in the faint warmth of the bed. We are entirely happy.

My Thoughts:

On a sunny Saturday morning in early July Mary’s book popped through my letterbox with a satisfying thud and from the moment, I held this beautiful book in my hands, I was transfixed. I would love to own the cover picture of this book and have it on my walls, it is so evocatively stylised, it’s reminiscent of those 1930/40s travel posters and certainly captures your eye and imagination regarding what the contents of this book contain. It is a wonderful mixture of memoir, historical recollection and journal-istic essence. Mary’s unique view point, vivid descriptions and wide range experiences are shared candidly and with deft humour.

Though this book maybe small in stature at less than 300 pages, it is never-the-less, magnificent, and mighty in content and if you have ever dreamed of running away to live on an island, Mary’s expressive revelations, may bring some healthy and authentic reality to that aspiration. Having holidayed and lived with my aged parents on the Isle of Wight over nearly a 20 year period, I completely understand the draw and magic of island life; especially during the winter months, when the squabbling mobs of tourists have returned home and the island sleeps and the beaches are mine once more to roam upon uninterrupted and it is the captivating essence of living life differently that Mary harnesses here and I enthusiastically recommend you read her book to see exactly what I mean. As I turned over the first page, I fell a little more in love with this book, as I found; the beautiful, detailed hand drawn map of St Georges Island off the Cornish coast near Looe, it makes your toes tingle to look at it and certainly you will find yourself, referring to its locational details as you read, I did frequently.

Mary open’s her book in dramatic style, with a young man making a foolish decision to swim in January, in the dark and the cold across to ‘the island’ and wet and bedraggled he turns up on Mary and Patrick’s doorstep; whose reaction to this uninvited visitor is not one of surprise as you might imagine but one of practical calm, in dealing with someone half dead and clearly not in his right mind. This is the start of many episodes that Mary and Patrick will face during their time living in the Island House and each chapter of the book reflects these salient episodes for us to enjoy, explore and immerse ourselves in vicariously; covering the former inhabitants (The Sisters), the history (Previous owners) and their epic (Renovation) undertaking, that involves, boats, cranes, tractors and seemingly impossible tasks like getting new range from the mainland on a boat, off a boat, up a beach, into the house and into a kitchen. How they didn’t just shout, ‘sod this, and leave it on the beach, I don’t know’ I found myself mentally applauding their tenacious spirit, time and time again, there was also the vital issues of water, electricity and a reliable internet connect to contend with as well and of course the importance of ‘the devil being in the details’ I shall merely say lightbulbs at this point! …

Making the Island House their home was an undertaking that was undeniably a labour (in every sense of the word) of love and one that not many of us island dreamers could accomplish! And just you wait for the chapter on self-sufficiency and pig wrangling and what occurs when you get the measurements wrong…yes, let’s transport pigs loose in the back of your car…I’m sorry but as I type this description out, I am still shaking with laughter at the concept (not at you Mary but with you, I promise) and even more so by the choice of Sausage and Bacon as their names…I would have done exactly the same! Every page of this wonderful book, is full of memory, the tales of the island’s past, intertwined with Mary’s past, as child visitor with her mother and brother, loved the Sam Wise Gamgee reference too…that the familiarity and comfort of a place, is instilled in her soul and how throughout her life, Mary has returned to this wild and awkward place and eventually with Patrick for a time, they make it their home, despite as I mentioned earlier, the many complicated and seemingly insurmountable issues, that would make most of us find the first boat off the island never to return!

This memoir is one of the finest I’ve read; captivatingly full of tides, tribulations, and triumphs; Mary is both pithy and poignant in her accounts and recollections and she has created an utterly enticing intimate, historic journey for us to read. I have been completely immersed in her adventures and inspired by her humour and resilience. This one of those books, I will return to repeatedly as I find it balm to my island loving heart. I hope you relish reading it as much as I have.

Happy Reading Bookophiles…

About the Author:

Growing up in the flat landscape of Bedfordshire, Mary Considine fell in love with Cornwall and the sea on her first visit as a small child. Distracted by the badlands of London, she spent the 90s writing and directing plays on the London and Edinburgh Fringe, and scriptwriting. Work included Angels, Time Out Critics Choice; The Other Half, commissioned by the Carlton TV screenwriting initiative; and a short film The Hand Job, shortlisted for the Lloyds Bank/Channel 4 short film competition. The noughties were spent teaching drama in secondary schools in the hills of North Yorkshire and, in pursuit of her now husband, back in London, before realising her impossible dream of moving to St George’s Island in 2010. She now lives in North Devon with her husband, Patrick, and seven horses.

Please do read some of the other reviews available on this blog tour.

More Than You’ll Ever Know

Author: Katie Gutierrez

Publisher: Penguin Michael Joseph

Available: 7th July in Hardback, eBook & Audiobook

Thank you to Ella Watkins and Penguin Michael Joseph for my gifted copy and for having me on the blog tour for this book. My review is based on my experience of the book and any thoughts expressed here are solely mine alone.

Book Details

A stunning debut novel of love, marriage, and murder…

Lore Rivera was married to two men at once. She led a secret double life – until one man shot the other. That’s the story the world knows. But true-crime writer Cassie Bowman wants to know more – about the mysterious woman at the heart of it all, and about what really happened the night of that tragic murder.

How did Lore lead two lives? How did it feel when it all came crashing down?

 Cassie is surprised that Lore is willing to talk. But as what really happened that fateful summer of 1986 unfurls, will either woman be prepared when the truth comes to light? Written with an irresistible hook at its heart – how does one woman come to be married to two men, each secret from the other? What really happened the night that double life came crashing down?

More Than You’ll Ever Know is a jaw-dropping novel about two very different women, it explores the many conflicting demands of marriage and motherhood, and the impossibility of ever truly knowing someone – especially those we love.

My Thoughts

There are some books that as a reader, that moment you read the details of them, they spark intense curiosity and an insistent longing to discover more. So, it was for me, with Katie’s debut novel More Than You’ll Ever Know; it made me do that, ooooh yes…yes please out loud response.  I simply can’t resist a novel, that involves crime and strong female protagonists – I don’t think I’m alone in this preference. This is a novel, that captures your attention and draws you immediately into its pages; it’s an intelligent and intriguing read, with issues of love, betrayal, retribution, and redemption at its heart. The quality of the writing and cadence of the story is superb and it is hard to believe this is Katie’s first book, yes, it is that incredible and a read, that deserves pride of place on your bookshelves.

It was with hindsight, that it dawned on me, that the opening pages of this book,  where Carrie is reminiscing about her mother, that her memory holds the key concept of this book, for me it is this “When you read your textbooks, ask yourself who is telling the story…and what they have to gain by your believing it” and when you’ve read this novel, you will appreciate the astute profundity of this line and it is an intellectual concept that will linger in your head, long after you’ve finished reading this story. I know it will because I am still thinking about it! While you ponder on this, let me tell you a little about the book.

The premise of Katie’s story is what that truly piqued my initial interest, but it turned out only to be the tip of the iceberg where my fascination was concerned; Lore Rivera…a female bigamist; whose first husband murders her second/other husband… as the cover of my proof says; this is the story the world knows but it isn’t the story you are about to read, how tantalising is that! From the outset, I couldn’t help but consider the why? Why would the wounded parties in this scenario turn on each other instead of directing their rage and resentment towards the perpetrator of this domestic predicament? What drove them to this fatal resolution, Why not simply walk away…And what of the woman herself, what led her into this situation?

And it is this last question, that one of the two main protagonists: Carrie a true crime blogger, fixes on. She wonders the same and decides to discover who Lore Rivera was and is now…and what is her true story, as previous media coverage has been predictably melodramatic. Carrie faces several hurdles in embarking on this project, she is looking into a crime and its circumstances, that occurred decades ago and her renewed interest in the case proves tricky…the proverbial dust has settled long ago and those involved, are reticent about digging up this tragedy and re-opening old wounds.

Carrie is also carrying some fairly heavy familial issues, that seem to making a resurgence in her life. She is also procrastinating over her approaching marriage to the lovely Duke, who is the antithesis of any man previously in her life. Yet she isn’t rushing to the alter but instead, cites money as being the main factor stopping their relationship progression but you get the distinct sensation, there is more behind her reluctance! Carrie is certainly flawed; obsessive and self-absorbed, but also determined and dedicated to discovering Lore’s perspectives and with a healthy level of self-interest and curiosity she puts a great deal of effort in building a relationship between herself and Lore, who is initially sceptical and ambivalent about revisiting the resting skeletons of her past, what good will come of it… ah well now, that’s for me to know and you to read Katie’s book and find out! Absolutely no spoilers here!

The novel is divided into alternating perspectives between Carrie in 2017 and Lore and we follow her story in the present (2017) and through a series of chapters in 1983, when her life imploded and the decisions/choices she made led to a violent conclusion and resulted in lifelong heartache, for herself and all those impacted by her actions. I think it would very easy to assume that she is the villian of the piece but to my mind she’s not, in fact, I loved Lore; she’s charismatic, composed and more than a little ‘canny’. In 2017, we follow the interactions between Carrie and Lore, the tenuous truce at the beginning of their relationship, which soon turns into reciprocal conversations about their lives, with Lore slowly providing some of the details of her life in 1983 but not about the crime, although as story evolves, elements are revealed to confirm my suspicions!

Carrie, turns investigator and convinces, Lore’s former colleagues and family to recount what they know and remember. While as readers we hold the omnipotent vantage point and get to follow Lore’s life in 1983, her marriage to Fabien, her twin sons and her job, which proved to be the catalyst for Lore’s trajectory, and when in a coincidental and innocent meeting, she dances with Andres and events spiral from that moment, leading her to fall in love with Andres and build a second life with him…It is very easy to judge Lore from our own moral perceptions, however Katie does a stunning job of turning those on their heads…in particular for me, why Lore allowed herself to start the affair / relationship with Andres, and her explanation, that with him came an understanding of herself; that her relationship with Andres occurred not as so often presumed because of a lack of something within her marriage to Fabien but became about her personal discovery about finding and being another part of herself, that she had lost or put aside, the part of her that wasn’t about familiarity or a shared history. She could be with Andres, who she wanted to be, rather than who she had fallen into being…I admit, this was an astounding revelation and one that complete made sense to me! You will have to see if you are convinced by it…

The subtle correlations between Carrie and Lore lives and comprehension of Love and trust, is so sublime and the convincing way Katie elucidates; the endless emotional complexities of marital and familial relationships and their emotional foundations and the extrapolations of the varying essence and nature of trust within these boundaries and the far-reaching taint of betrayal that can destroy it all in a heartbeat, is beyond astonishing and so elegantly constructed. And as the novel reaches it’s climax, there are a few surprises in store, but those are for you to discover, for yourselves!

This novel is a divine hybrid of paradoxes, it’s philosophical, pertinent, poignant, and incredibly powerful. This book is so much more than simply being a thriller or a crime novel, it is almost a treatise on love and trust, which are elements of life, that are never as simple or easy as we imagine them to be but they are based on personal assessments of emotional intimacy and as Lore says, ‘Truth is a malleable thing’. This is a book, whose complex concepts embed themselves in your mind, in constant whir of evaluation and this book of Katie’s is one I will talk about rapturously, probably forever! I literally, cannot recommend it more enthusiastically or vigorously, you must buy a copy and then cancel all your plans, hide out on your sofa, and read and remember to buy in plenty of frothy coffee, as you won’t want to put it down, I couldn’t!

Happy Reading Bookophiles…

About the Author:

Katie Gutierrez, a Mexican-American debut novelist from Texas, has an MFA from Texas State University, and has written for Harper’s Bazaar, the Washington Post, Longreads, and more. She was born and raised in Laredo, Texas, a city on the U.S.-Mexico border, and now lives in San Antonio with her husband and two young children. More Than You’ll Ever Know is her debut novel. @katie_gutz

Please do read some of the other reviews available on this blog tour.

The Loyal Friend

Guest Post/Spotlight

Author: A.A. Chaudhuri

Publisher: Hera Books

Available: 23rd June 2022 in Paperback, eBook & Audiobook

Thank you to Danielle Price & Hera books for having me on the blog tour for this book.

My Thoughts:

Today, I am thrilled to be sharing with you a guest post from the wonderfully talented AA Chaudhuri, whose latest novel The Loyal Friend hit bookshops near you last week and there is fantastic offer on Amazon, so you’d better head over there quickly and click, click, click! Alex’s latest book is not to be missed!

I am a huge fan of Alex’s, clever savvy writing and her deliciously twisty plots and I have had the greatest privilege and pleasure in reading and reviewing her Kramer & Carver Series (The Scribe & The Abduction) – which I adored, so you had better add those to your TBL as well and then in August 2021 came the scintillating She’s Mine…a darkly sublime read and its sinister nature, seeps into your subconscious making it simply unforgettable! I cannot praise or recommend Alex’s books more highly; your crime collections will not be complete without her books.

Below, Alex has shared with me, the ingenuity and imagination behind The Loyal Friend and to whet your appetite further, I have also added the synopsis of the book and Alex’s author bio – how can you resist such dark drama…I can’t, so pour yourself a margarita and enjoy!

Happy Reading Bookophiles

 Guest Post: – AA Chaudhuri – The Inspiration Behind the Story

The Loyal Friend explores various themes – toxic friendships, jealousy, revenge, and deceit to name a few – but also other issues close to my heart, like mental health and the pressures on women these days to have it all. In all my books I enjoy delving into the mindsets of my characters – what drives them to act and behave in the way they do, whether that be issues stemming from childhood, former relationships or painful life events that have a profound effect on their character and motivations.

I began writing this book in July 2021 and wanted to base it in a setting I didn’t feel had been done before in the psychological thriller genre, and with the health and fitness industry having become a key part of so many people’s lifestyles – largely owing to the stress we encounter on a daily basis, along with the push given by lockdown to keep ourselves fit and healthy – I also felt the setting would be widely relatable. Furthermore, I know from my own experiences that unlike the gym, fitness classes attract a wide variety of attendees, of varying ages and fitness levels, and have become increasingly popular over the years. Having said all that, although the backdrop for the novel is a health club, the story centres on so much more than that, chiefly the interplay between three very different women and the things that are prompting them to act and live out their lives in the way they do. Natalie, Grace, and Susan are ostensibly three normal women tackling everyday issues so many women around the world face these days, including being able to keep a grip on their sanity in a world that can push human tolerance to the limit. Body hang-ups, the advent of menopause, juggling work, family, and elderly parents all feature in some way, along with other more delicate issues of child abuse and infidelity. Once again, I chose to write in the first person, wanting to bring out the voice of each of my characters in as compelling and believable way as possible, and so as to get across their own unique idiosyncrasies and viewpoints, making them stand out from each other. In a psychological thriller I feel this is particularly important, simply because the action is largely character rather than plot driven and therefore a reader wants to be able to get a real sense of what makes each protagonist tick through their voice and behaviour. It can also make for a more unnerving read I find, as the reader is never quite sure who is telling the truth – that classic unreliable narrator scenario so typical of this genre.

Like Grace, I have struggled with my own mental health owing to the stress of caring for my elderly parents, while managing a career and young family, while I have also come across women like Susan who appear to have the perfect life but really are concealing a feeling of disenchantment and emptiness behind the glamourous, happy veneer. The pressures on women to perform and ‘have it all’ can be intense these days, and it was therefore something of a cathartic experience to write this book, at a time when I was dealing with a lot of personal stress myself. The story and characters are completely fictional, although I did live in the Surbiton area for eleven years, and more recently Cobham, both of which feature heavily in the story. Before Covid, I also used to work out with a lovely group of girls at a local gym and this experience helped to create authenticity around the novel, in terms of the set-up of group classes and diverse groups of characters who inhabit them. Nothing so scandalous occurred there, however, I am pleased to say, and none of the women featured bear any resemblance to them 🙂

I hope you enjoy The Loyal Friend and find it a suspenseful, fast-paced read, replete with twists and turns and one or two shocking reveals that make your eyes pop out!

The Loyal Friend – Book Details

She has your back….And may stab you in it.

Wealthy, pampered Susan is living the perfect life in leafy Kingston. She’ll never let anyone see the darkness she’s concealing behind the diamonds and rosé.

Grace is new to the group, seemingly the perfect wife and mum. Yet no one knows the truth of what’s happening behind closed doors.

Loner Natalie hides the pain of her childhood behind a carefully ordered life. But how long can the past stay hidden?

Three unlikely friends, brought together for a weekly class run by beautiful, friendly, instructor, Jade.

But when Jade goes missing in mysterious circumstances, the group starts to unravel. And as their darkest secrets come to light, it seems that no one can be trusted. Even their closest friends…

A heart-in-your-mouth thriller that builds twist after twist, culminating in an unforgettable ending. This shocking, tense and gripping read will delight fans of T.M. Logan, B.A. Paris and Big Little Lies.

About the Author:

A. A. Chaudhuri is a former City lawyer. After gaining a degree in History at University College London, she later trained as a solicitor and worked for several major London law firms before leaving law to pursue her passion for writing. She is the author of The Scribe and The Abduction, books 1 and 2 of her Kramer & Carver legal thriller series featuring the feisty Maddy Kramer, also published in audio. Her first psychological thriller with Hera Books, She’s Mine, was published on kindle, paperback, and audio in August 2021, her second due to be published in June 2022. Represented by Annette Crossland of A for Authors Literary Agency, she lives in Surrey with her family, and loves films, all things Italian and a good margarita!

#1 Amazon Australia Amateur Sleuth Mysteries (Aug ’19); #1 Amazon Canada Women Sleuth Mysteries; (Aug ’19) top 10 Amazon UK Legal crime thrillers (Aug ’19); #1 Amazon Australia Legal Thrillers (November ’19)

Find more info at:

https://aachaudhuri.com/
https://www.facebook.com/AAChaudhuri/
https://twitter.com/AAChaudhuri
https://www.instagram.com/a.a.chaudhuri/

Please do check out some of the fantastic reviews on this blog tour.

Bad For Good

Author: Graham Bartlett

Publisher: Allison & Busby

Available: 23rd June in Hardback, eBook & Audiobook

Thank you to Helen Richardson at Helen RichardsonPR for my gifted copy and for having me on the blog tour for this book. My review is based on my experience of the book and any thoughts expressed here are solely mine alone.

Book Details

How far would you go?

The murder of a promising footballer, son of Brighton’s highest-ranking police officer, means Detective Superintendent Jo Howe has a complicated and sensitive case on her hands.

The situation becomes yet more desperate following devastating blackmail threats.

Howe can trust no one as she tracks the brutal killer in a city balanced on a knife edge of vigilante action and a police force riven with corruption.

My Thoughts

As a dedicated fan of crime fiction with a penchant for police procedurals, I am by nature a create of habit and avidly (and often impatiently) wait for my favourite authors to weave their dark magic and produce their latest books but while I do, I keep my eyes peeled for new voices to enter the fray and so you can imagine my enthusiasm when the details for Graham Bartlett’s debut novel, Bad for Good popped into my email. Naturally I wasted no time in grasping the chance to read his book and I was delightfully engaged by what I read. I confess, with any new crime author I read, there is always a level of anticipation; will the author be able to tantalise my brain and meet my expectations in delivering a devious and twisty plot and will I enjoy the characters…well you will be pleased to know that Graham excelled in my expectations. His debut is authentic, gritty, gristly, and gripping topped with a deliciously dramatic flair and I loved Graham’s attention to detail which is exceptional and his extensive knowledge of policing, procedure and all the pitfalls of institutional hierarchies roll off the pages in waves. This is definitely the exciting start of a series, that poses as many questions for you to ponder as it does resolutions…a perfect combination, I think!

Let me whet your appetite a little…the book is based on the scenic south coast, with Brighton & Hove being the hub; Jo Howe is our main protagonist and part of the reason, I wanted to read the book so much, I do relish having a female in the lead role especially in a male dominated profession. Jo is savvy, smart, direct, and diligent, she’s a high-ranking officer, a wife and a mother and manages to keep all the balls in the air, which is no mean feat given the weight of her workload, the pressures from the powers that be, especially regarding the matter of rising crime rates and the heaps of issues she has trying to fight crime using an underfunded and much depleted police force.  As a result, when some rather unsavoury characters go missing, there isn’t really a great urgency to locate them, after all is it the best use of the police’s limited time to seek out wife beaters, paedophiles, petty thieves and some anti-social teens…and it seems some vigilantes are picking up the slack of the beleaguered police in the area…but their version of justice diverges from the established societal norms in the most malignant manner (and one that is now etched in my mind forever!)

Jo then receives a call to a murder scene, the body of young man, has been found and when that young man turns out to be the son of her former lover and fellow officer Peter Cooke, the dominos start to fall and bring with them a myriad of moral mayhem and crime complications and as readers we are given insight into Peter’s side to the story, his points of view and some pretty reprehensible actions, which will certainly make you think, roll your eyes and probably tear out your hair too, I may have done just these things, while reading! At the core of this book is the conundrum of the moral dilemma; that if you do bad things for a good reason, then maybe the good result outweighs the bad actions…or do they? Is it possible, that this way of thinking simply causes even more issues than the complication of the initial problem!! Certainly gets your little grey cells working doesn’t it and its the fluctuation of such ethical dilemmas and ideas that under pins Graham’s novel brilliantly and makes it rather masterly in my opinion and very different direction to take his characters in and a very unusual element if you compare Graham’s novel to any of his peers, in my opinion it is a very fresh edge and one I look forward to reading more of…hint, hint Graham!

Graham’s professional expertise and experience gives weight and substance to the plotline and the behaviours of his cast, the book is brimming with atmosphere and tension and illustrates for us lay folk the  extensive frustrations of being on the frontline of policing dealing endlessly with revolting media intrusion and interference; the implications and hypocrisy of politian’s hindering and hampering those trying to bring justice to victims of crime and the very real danger of vigilantism, never mind fighting the demon corruption from within the ranks! Talk about the tangled web we weave…I am thoroughly impressed by this immersive, illuminating, imaginative and incendiary police procedural and I can’t wait for more and given how this book ends, there better be more (please)…I want to know what happens for Jo next…I hope you are typing fast Graham; I have no doubt I am not alone in being a firm fan of your writing. Now I firmly believe everyone else, needs to add your book to their crime collection, they would be remiss not to!

Happy Reading Bookophiles…

About the Author:

I am a best-selling author and crime and police procedural advisor to fiction and TV writers.

I was a police officer for thirty years and mainly policed the city of Brighton and Hove, rising to become a Chief Superintendent and its police commander. I started writing when I left the police in 2013 and, almost by accident, became a police procedural and crime advisor, helping scores of authors and TV writers (including Peter James, Mark Billingham, Elly Griffiths, Anthony Horowitz, Ruth Ware, Claire McGowan and Dorothy Koomson) achieve authenticity in their drama.

I run online crime writing workshops and courses with the Professional Writing Academy and deliver inputs to Masters programmes at the University of Cambridge and the University of East Anglia as well as at the Crime Writing Certificate programme at West Dean College.

I live in Sussex with my wife Julie and variously my 24yr old triplets!

 My debut crime novel, Bad for Good is now on pre-sale on Amazon.

Please do read some of the other reviews on this blog tour.

We All Have Our Secrets

Author: Jane Corry

Publisher: Penguin Viking

Available: 23rd June 2022 available in Paperback, eBook & Audiobook

Thank you to Ellie Hudson & Penguin/Viking for my gifted copy and for having me on the blog tour for this book. My review is based on my experience of the book and any thoughts expressed here are solely mine alone.

Book Details:

You know she’s lying…

But so are you?

Two women are staying in Willowmead House.

One of them is running.

One of them is hiding.

Both of them are lying.

Emily made one bad decision, and now her career could be over. Her family home on the Cornish coast is the only place where she feels safe. But when she arrives, there’s a stranger living with her father. Emily doesn’t trust the beautiful young woman, convinced that she’s telling one lie after another. Soon, Emily becomes obsessed with finding out the truth…

But should some secrets stay buried forever?

My Thoughts:

It is my great pleasure to be sharing my thoughts with you as Jane’s latest book We All Have Our Secrets is hitting bookshop shelves near you today. Now I must confess, despite being an avid crime fiction reader until I picked up this book, I had never read any of Jane’s previous work…more fool me! This novel was a dark delight, brimming with duplicity, deceit and domestic drama and I simply could not stop turning its pages, as I was compelled to seek resolution and relief from the growing tension as the plot ebbed and flowed, peppering my thoughts with potential outcomes…just when I presumed to know the truth, I realised I didn’t…which is deliciously devious and diverting! This book certainly deserves a place in your crime collection and I am thrilled to have added it to mine and I have no doubt I will be adding more of Jane’s books in the future!

Let me give you a taste of the story, without any spoilers obviously… (I hope!) Told in dual narration, in mainly alternating chapters from the individual perspectives of the female protagonists – Emily and Francoise. Although Emily’s father Harold and his wartime experiences and past life illuminate and offset the present, giving you further aspects to consider and of course there is Zorro the dog (who definitely holds a special place in this reader’s affection).

As you omnipotently watch events unfold, coloured by the characters voices, thoughts, and secrets! Emily is a midwife in London but a dreadful situation at work, sees her suspended and leaves her hard-earned career hanging in the balance. In the face of such trying circumstances, she seeks the solace of familiarity and retreats to the Cornish coast and Willowmead House, her childhood home and residence of her elderly father, who at the glorious age of 93 is succumbing to the ravages of dementia. Planning on putting the fraught events in London behind her, she is not expecting to be greeted at the door by a young attractive French woman, who claims to be her father’s carer! For Emily suspicion is rife…is Francoise, all that she seems…or does she have an ulterior motive?

Emily is determined to find out! However, we also have Francoise’s point of view which as it turns out is equally compelling. I don’t know about you, but very often when reading a crime novel, I tend to gravitate towards a character, believing their intentions and interactions are the ones I can relate to and trust…and I found it instinctive to follow Emily’s narrative and convince myself, she is the heroine of the piece or the wounded party but then comes the dichotomy…Francoise’s stance is equally appealing and seemingly sincere but what if my assumptions here are flawed and neither of them is truthful in their assertions…and therein lies the brilliance of Jane’s clever, intricate, creative novel; her marvellous ability to manipulate and mould the implication of truth and fallibility of perception! Which of her protagonists is the victim, which of them is the villain, could they be both or neither??? Well now…that’s for me to know and you to discover!

I was thoroughly immersed and engaged by and in this novel, its divine blending themes; family, identity, regret, rage and resolution and its potent, poignant intellectual and emotional conundrums, which made it for me, an impressive and unforgettable read and my only regret was that I finished it so quickly, I shall know for my next read of Jane’s to pace myself better! I hope you are as enthralled in reading it as I have been. You’ll just have to pop out and get yourself a copy now.

Happy Reading Bookophiles…

About the Author:

Jane Corry is a writer and journalist (Daily Telegraph and women’s magazines) who worked for three years as the writer in residence of a high security male prison. This experience helped inspire her Sunday Times Penguin bestsellers ‘My Husband’s Wife’, ‘Blood Sisters’, ‘The Dead Ex’, ‘I Looked Away’ ‘I Made A Mistake’, ‘o Tell The Truth’ and ‘We All Have Our Secrets’. She has now sold over a million copies of her books world-wide.

Jane also writes short stories as well as a weekly digital column about being a granny for My Weekly. As well as this, she speaks at literary festivals all over the world. Many of her ideas strike during morning dog-jogs along the beach followed by a dip in the sea – no matter how cold it is!

Jane’s brand-new thriller ‘We All Have Our Secrets’ is being published on June 24 by Penguin Viking and is available for pre-order. http://linktr.ee/janecorry. You can find Jane on Twitter at @JaneCorryAuthor and on Facebook at JaneCorryAuthor as well as Instagram. See website for details of events. www.janecorryauthor.com.

Please do read some of the other reviews on this blog tour.

The Gone And The Forgotten

Author: Clare Whitfield

Publisher: Head of Zeus

Available: 9th June in Hardback, eBook & Audiobook

Thank you to Anne Cater, Random Things Tours and Head of Zeus for my beautiful, gifted copy and for having me on the blog tour for this book. My review is based on my experience of the book and any thoughts expressed here are solely mine alone.

Book Details:

Part psychological thriller, part coming-of-age novel from the author of People of Abandoned Character. A missing girl. Buried family secrets. An absent father. Is the truth worth searching for? Summer, 1993. In the aftermath of her mother’s suicide attempt, 16-year-old Prue must spend the summer holidays on a remote island in the Shetlands with her favourite Aunt Ruth and Uncle Archie, a man she’s barely met since her aunt married him. Prue hopes to re-establish the relationship, and that her aunt might help her understand some of the parts of the past she has been forbidden to discuss by her mother – including the identity of her father. Prue soon finds out that her uncle was the only suspect in the disappearance of a local girl some twenty years ago. As she grows closer to him, she learns there are differing views on how the beguiling Evelyn O’Hara disappeared, but is her uncle innocent? Truth is something Prue has always had a fractured relationship with. A single version of the truth seems impossible for her to lock down…

‘I wanted to explore how ordinary families can condition themselves to keep the darkest of secrets – until the truth forces its way out. It’s the story of a family’s unravelling through the eyes of a confused and isolated 16-year-old girl trying to make sense of the past.’ Clare Whitfield

My Thoughts:

From the moment I pulled this beautiful book from its benign brown postal confines and held it in my bookish paws, I instinctively knew I was about to embark on an extraordinary and remarkable read, this book fairly sparked in my hands. I was intoxicated instantly by its lustrous lavender blush cover, adorned with delicate black silhouette etchings of a girl a top spectral tree branches that reach out and embrace the cover and if you look carefully, you can see the various mushrooms and other flora decorating those branches and I didn’t know then, the part they would play in this story! Nor could I have anticipated the magnificent malignant mystery that would unfold in my hands! This is my first foray into reading one of Clare’s books and it won’t be the last, her exquisite ability to weave a story of such a deliciously toxic, taught, and turbulent nature elegantly mixed into the ordinary modulation of her characters’ lives is subtly superb and oh so sinisterly sublime. Clare is without question, the mistress of mysterious malevolence and I am a more than a willing acolyte, prepared to worship at the altar of her literary prowess! I am just a little bit in love with clandestine nuance of her words. If you haven’t yet read Clare’s books, you simply must…, now, today…go to a bookshop, order online but buy them!

Now I’ve done my fan girling…I shall attempt without spoilers to give you a little taste of this novel; Prue is a teenager on that cusp, between girl child and young woman…it’s a confusing, heady time and filled panoply emotional absolutes. Prue has been living with her flawed mother and irascible grandmother until recently but her mother has been taken ill and will be need rehabilitation but the nature of her illness is not defined at this point…and you may be tempted to assume causation! As to Prue’s Grandmother, she has recently passed away but the why and the how of her death will be revealed in due course (and not by me, yes, I know…I’m a completely shameless book blogging tease!) Prue is staying with her best friend Sumo’s, family, who are vibrant and vocal and a complete anthesis to what she’s used to but she finds comfort in being with them. Prue and Sumo are busy plotting a summer of mischief, especially as they have access to Prue’s now empty home, no fun sucking adults to spoil their party vibe! Until Prue’s Aunt Ruth calls and throw’s the proverbial spanner in the works! She insists, that Prue comes to stay with her and her husband at his family estate on the island of Unst in the Shetlands…well you can imagine Prue’s reaction to that demand; because every teenage girl, wants to be exiled in the middle of nowhere away from friends and fun for the entire summer..NOT! Despite trying to escape her fate, Prue ends up with her aunt after a rather epic bus journey and several ferries, little does she know that this is only the brink of her journey into the dark recesses of her family’s secrets!

For me, a significant part of what makes Clare’s book so outstanding, is her cast of characters; whom it is very easy for a reader to perceive them as quirky, artistic, a bit odd ball but well-intentioned but yet they are all hiding consequential dark flaws; Ruth’s photographer husband, seems chilled and charming…but you will discover elements about him, where you will be hard pressed not want to apply a cattle prod to his pinky parts (ok, that might just be me!) And then we have the crafty indominable Ronnie, who maybe in her dotage but she will blow any notion of the canny granny label out of the water…and despite her rather offensive, snobby, entitled societal notions about how things should be…I ruefully love her twisted toxicity and the part she must play in this story! My first impressions of Prue, are probably typical of my generation (just writing that makes me sound ancient!), my goodness she seems annoying, smoking spliffs, belligerent, sulking but there is also a great deal about her that is hilarious and endearing, so Prue, despite some eye bogglingly foolish decision making (you’ll see what I mean, when you read the book) grows on you, as a reader you appreciate, that a lot of her actions are born out of frustration with the reticence of the adults in her life, who simply refuse to tell her about her dad and other family issues, that no one wants to address and Prue, just wants clarity, the not knowing makes her constantly off balance. But of course, there could be a good reason, why nobody is talking… (and there is!!) and my lips are firmly sealed on what that might be!!

Reading this novel is rather like the experience of watching a Tim Burton production, where the perceptions of what you think you know, are upended in a myriad of shocking and surprising ways or like in the fairy tales of old, where your being red riding hood visiting grannie; innocently looking forward to cosy chat with coffee and cake but when you get to grannie, there is something intangibly wonky, something feels off kilter and of course we all know traditionally how that story ends, although I prefer Roald Dahl’s Revolting Rhymes version, which ends with Red Riding Hood wearing a fur coat and carrying pigskin bag!! I use these analogies as the greatest form of a compliment to Clare, because ever since, I finished reading her book, I have been trying to find a point of cultural reference to articulate and illustrate, clever twisted humour and the tantalising tempo of unease that underpins the novel and the very subtle spector of secrets that has enmeshed itself at the family’s core and Prue’s urgent quest to find answers to her long held questions…although the answers may not be what she or you expect! It will come as no surprise to you, when I say I adored this deliciously devilish book; a divine hydra of psychological mystery and murderous modern fairy-tale and I can hope you do too, and maybe you will think as I do, that your time with this magnificent book may now be gone but its superb story and its cunning cast will never be forgotten. This novel I consider one of my favourite reads of 2022 and whatever Clare write’s next I want it.

Happy Reading Bookophiles…

About the Author:

Clare Whitfield is a UK-based writer living in a suburb where the main cultural landmark is a home store/Starbucks combo. She is the wife of a tattoo artist, mother of a small benign dictator and relies on a black Labrador for emotional stability. She has been a dancer, copywriter, amateur fire breather, buyer, and mediocre weightlifter. Her first novel, People of Abandoned Character, was a Goldsboro book of the month.

Please do read some of the other reviews available on this blog tour.

Impostor Syndrome

Author: Kathy Wang

Publisher: Verve books

Available: 2nd May 2022 in Paperback, eBook & Audiobook

Thank you to Hollie & Verve Books for my gifted copy and for having me on the blog tour for this book. My review is based on my experience of the book and any thoughts expressed here are solely mine alone.

Book Details

Highly anticipated, razor-sharp novel about women in the workplace, the power of Big Tech and the looming threat of foreign espionage

Julia Lerner is one of the most powerful people in Silicon Valley and an icon to professional women across the country. She is the COO of Tangerine, one of America’s biggest technology companies. She is also a Russian spy. Julia has been carefully groomed to reach the upper echelons of the company and use Tangerine’s software to covertly funnel information back to Russia’s largest intelligence agency.

Alice Lu works as a low-level analyst within Tangerine, having never quite managed to climb the corporate ladder. One afternoon, when performing a server check, Alice discovers some unusual activity and is burdened with two powerful but distressing suspicions: Tangerine’s privacy settings aren’t as rigorous as the company claims they are and the person abusing this loophole might be Julia Lerner herself. Now, she must decide what to do with this information – before Julia finds out she has it.

My Thoughts:

Today, I am sharing with you my excited thoughts on Kathy Wang’s novel Impostor Syndrome, which is the reading equivalent of diving into a cold pool on a hot day, such an experience is both shocking and stimulating, simultaneously! The atmosphere and nuances of this novel, captivate you from the first page. It is such an intelligent, intriguing, and insidious mixture and quite difficult to label; in terms of its content; a modern high octane, hybrid spy thriller but this description really doesn’t do justice to its genius or Kathy’s…with her story’s heart honing in on the potential intrusion of technology in our lives…very few of us, are immune to the seductions of social media or the multitude of clever gadgets sold to us, intended to make life better! What I began to cogitate when reading this novel, was – does it ever cross your/my mind that our reliance on such tech could, possibly, potentially, probably…lead us all lemming like towards destruction! Ok, so I might be just being a tiny bit overly dramatic but that is what this book leads you to.  Prepare to be completely WOWED by this book and possibly deeply paranoid by the time you put it down!

Part of the complexity of this novel that I admire and that I have been turning over and over in my mind; is its ability to place the kernels of ideas in my head and then nurture these ideas via the progression of the story, growing them into the most pernicious and paranoia inducing reality. I confess, there have been a few moments when I considered bundling up my iPad, iphone, iWatch and Alexas and burning them in my courtyard…I had to remember this is just a story (I hope!) and such an extreme reaction may be unnecessary and exceedingly costly!!! The other aspect of this book, that struck me was the strength and audacity of its female protagonists who are succeeding in a suffocatingly patriarchal industry and Julia is literally a product of circumstances and environment and has all the hall marks of anti-heroine, you cross her at your peril; she is fierce, frightening and I think utterly fabulous, she is a character, you may love to hate but I just adored her moxi on steroids persona! Worryingly I would rather like to have some of her vivid & vicious spirit but in reality, I am probably more Alice but that’s not a step down in anyway, she is just different, she’s clever and considering, almost unintentionally stealthy, characteristically speaking, I think Alice is an Omega to contrast Julia’s Alpha and their storylines in this book are so strong and sublime.

I literally could not put this novel down, I read into the early hours of the morning and then lay awake, thinking about the plot and themes, it is packed full of devious dark drama and once read, it is a book you simply cannot forget. I just want everyone else to hurry up and buy a copy, so we can talk about it in a less guarded fashion than I am here. My reason for being almost cryptic about the books content, is because as a reader you need to feel the impact of Kathy’s words and experience the trajectory of her plot for yourself and I don’t want to spoil this stella experience for anyone reading my review. This is a complex, clever, charismatic, convincing, and divinely compulsive novel and Kathy’s sublime storytelling skills are beyond measure. She is an author to keep firmly in your sights and I shall be hunting out her previous book Family Trust as soon as I’m paid! You simply must add both to your book collection too!

Happy Reading Bookophiles

About the Author:

Kathy Wang grew up in the Bay Area, California, and holds degrees from UC Berkeley and Harvard Business School. For more information and details, please visit bykathywang.com

Please do read some of the other reviews available on this blog tour.

Young Women

Author: Jessica Moor

Publisher: Manilla Press

Available: 26th May 2022 in Hardback, eBook & Audiobook

Thank you to Anne Cater, Random Things Tours & Manilla Press for my gifted copy and for having me on the blog tour for this book. My review is based on my experience of the book and any thoughts expressed here are solely mine alone.

Book Details

A vivid, bold, and compelling new novel of female friendship and what it means to be a young woman after MeToo, from one of the most arresting, exciting young novelists writing today

‘Everyone’s got that history, I guess. Everyone’s got a story.’

When Emily meets the enigmatic and dazzling actress Tamsin, her life changes. Drawn into Tamsin’s world of Soho living, boozy dinners, and cocktails at impossibly expensive bars, Emily’s life shifts from black and white to technicolour and the two women become inseparable.

Tamsin is the friend Emily has always longed for; beautiful, fun, intelligent and mysterious and soon Emily is neglecting her previous life – her work assisting vulnerable women, her old friend Lucy – to bask in her glow. But when a bombshell news article about a decades-old sexual assault case breaks, Emily realises that Tamsin has been hiding a secret about her own past. Something that threatens to unravel everything . . .

Young Women is a razor-sharp novel that slices to the heart of our most important relationships and asks how complicit we all are in this world built for men.

My Thoughts

As I sat down to write my thoughts on Jessica Moor’s latest book Young Women, my brain was like a ping pong ball bouncing frenetically around in my head; where to start, what to say… and I was deeply concerned that I don’t possess an iota of the writing skills necessary to adequately elucidate the power, prowess, and pertinence of the themes in this novel or the clever, complex and conscious ethos and style of Jessica’s writing. Young Women for me reverberates with richness, rage and reticence, it is the book, that if I ever won millions on the Euro lottery, I would buy hundreds of copies and deliver them to schools, libraries and reading groups country wide, it is a book that needs to be shared and avidly discussed, it should be on English literature modules and I hope that a literary prize panel will give it the public accolades it truly deserves! Bravo Jessica, bravo!

What I have come to love and admire about Jessica’s books; both this novel and her stratospherically successful debut novel Keeper; is her ability to weave complex societal issues facing women into her narrative, with visceral vitality and she never shies away from awkward, awful dichotomies women face, she hits them with a feline fierceness and allows her readers to come to their own conclusions regarding the themes she explores! At the heart of this book is friendship, connection and the intricacies and ramifications of consent, revealed from the perspectives and relationship of three women. Young women, who could be any of us, past, present, or future; such is the nature of their experiences! Although, when I started this book, I was slightly freaked out (as Emily & Lucy) have a nearly identical geographical background to myself, let just say I know the commute from East Croydon to Blackfriars, Victoria, and London Bridge like the back of my hand!! Sorry, random tangent!

So let me give you a little taste of the novel and our protagonists: Emily (a lawyer), Lucy (a teacher) and Tamsin (an actor); Emily and Lucy share a past as school friends, who retained their relationship through to adulthood; their choices of career and lifestyles have diverged since leaving university and embarking on those first steps of career and searching for a romantic partner, both are determined and dedicated to their choices. Lucy is quiet, sedate, organised and fully focused on her role as a teacher and settling down in her relationship with her partner and I think is amused and slightly exasperated by Emily’s controlled chaos and I think Emily though she’s fond of her friend, doesn’t fully appreciate Lucy’s choices or her reasons for them; they still retain a connection, with a regular catch ups although their perspectives of each other are coloured by assumptions of their shared past and presumed knowledge of each others experiences and their connection is slightly off kilter.

Emily is keen on living life to the full, she’s not ready to settle and I get the impression, she wishes Lucy would act more like her wing man on potentially shared adventures! Emily is a bit of a warrior, her job entails fighting for the rights and justice of marginalised women, she believes she has a handle on adulting, her moral and ethics compass is secured or is it!? On a political march, she meets an American (or rather a Canadian) woman, Tamsin and a new friendship is born and blossoms; they seem to have similar desires in living life, Emily is fascinated by her glamourous new friend and believes she’s starting to live the kind of life she had always imagined, posh cocktails, dancing until dawn, interesting and intellectual conversations and even her rather calamitous love life seems to be improving! Until the proverbial spanner in the works occurs; a breaking news story; of interest to Emily because it involves the sexual coercion of young actresses by an established, famous producer (whose films Emily has always admired but not any more). As for Tamsin, she is elegant, enigmatic and her life experiences have certainly made her the woman she has become but her perspective on what is to follow, will make your mind fizz…I am saying nothing more!

As the world media is awash with this scandal, the actresses the involved, the, he said, she said elements, accusations flying, supercisions in all directions and the particulars of the case, start to impinge and dominate Emily’s life initially from her own moral perspectives but the ramifications overflow into her reactions at work, her attitude towards Lucy and influence her own emotional comprehension. Emily is impacted further when she discovers that Tamsin also has a connection to this story…now before you think, I’m spoiling anything. I promise, I’m not; it would be obvious and easy to assume about how the book will unfurl from this point or what might happen next; let me say to you; nothing from this point is predictable and you may think you can guess what may occur, let me assure you that, you can’t! Jessica is a masterful storyteller and the directions she takes her characters in, is utter genius and will throw up so many questions for you as a reader; chiefly; what I would do in such circumstances and in attempting to answer such questions; you must consider each character’s backstory, development and perspectives and then these considerations present you with such a conundrum of moral, ethical, intellectual intangibility, with potentially numerous outcomes. There is no black or white option available! I consider myself to be forcefully direct in my opinions but I am still digesting and cogitating the questions Jessica poses through her cast’s experiences, reactions, and actions. Days after I finished reading the book, I am still thinking about these elements and I predict, I will be doing so for weeks and months to come…and I have no doubt once you read this book, you will be too…feel free to let me know what you think!

As this exceptional novel, makes its way into the public’s conscious, the term feminist leanings will certainly be attached to it and yes, this book does have those character traits but I know that the term feminism has ability to turn off readers as much as it turns them on and I don’t want it to be a reason you don’t embark on reading this book. Because as a phrase, it is often used to denigrate rather than celebrate, too often banded about in the negative; as if the collective voices of women should be scorned and eschewed and made to be seen as nothing more than a parade of braless harridans, strident and screeching…instead as I see it, Feminism is a word of power and protection and it matters little whether you shave your legs, go braless or choose wear every product ever produced by Clarins all at the same time, that is up to you! Feminism it is a term I believe as women, that we should view and embrace as a path to collegic cooperation, in much the same way as #MeToo hashtag is! Together we are stronger to weather the storms of patriarchal entitlement and navigate the treacherous waters of emotional and sexual coercion and Jessica’s book highlights for me at least the importance of acknowledging feminism in this way as well as providing an arena for discussion and opening our minds to flexible non-judgmental perceptions! Eek, I hope that wasn’t too preachy!

Jessica’s new book is undoubtable a powerhouse of ideas and themes, astute, articulate and alluring. It is a read I am in awe of and admire in equal measure and one that I will be sending to all my friends as birthday gifts at some point this year, pennies allowing. It a read, that will certainly be one of my favourite books of 2022 and hope you are as engaged by Emily, Lucy, and Tamsin; their friendship, feminism, flaws an all; as I have been and continue to be…it is a novel, you will never forget or be able to stop discussing! Get a copy today!

Happy Reading Bookophiles…

About the Author:

Jessica Moor studied English at Cambridge before completing a Creative Writing MA at Manchester University. Her debut novel Keeper was published in 2020 to rave reviews and critical acclaim. Jessica Moor was selected as one of the Observer’s debut novelists of 2020, and her debut, Keeper was chosen by the Sunday Times, Independent and Cosmopolitan as one of their top debuts of the year. Keeper was nominated for the Desmond Elliott Prize and an Edgar Award. Young Women is her second novel.

Follow Jessica on Twitter @jessicammoor

Please do read some of the other reviews on this blog tour.

Brazen

My unorthodox journey from long sleeves to lingerie

Author: Julia Haart

Publisher: Octopus Books

Available: 12th April 2022 in Hardback, eBook & Audiobook

Thank you to Anne Cater, Random Things Tours & Octopus Books for my lovely, gifted copy and for having me on the blog tour for this book. My review is based on my experience of the book and any thoughts expressed here are solely mine alone.

Book Details:

From the star of Netflix’s My Unorthodox Life, a riveting, inspiring memoir. Julia Haart tells the story of her extraordinary journey, from leaving an ultra-Orthodox Jewish community to her rise from housewife to shoe designer, to CEO and co-owner of the modelling agency Elite World Group.

Ever since she was a child, every aspect of Julia Haart’s life – what she wore, what she ate, what she thought – was controlled by the rules of ultra-Orthodox Judaism. At nineteen, after a lifetime spent caring for her seven younger siblings, she was married off to a man she barely knew. For the next twenty-three years, her marriage would rule her life.

Eventually, when Haart’s youngest daughter, Miriam, started to innocently question why she wasn’t allowed to sing in public, run in shorts, or ride a bike without being covered from neck to knee, Haart reached a breaking point. She knew that if she didn’t find a way to leave, her daughters would be forced into the same unending servitude.

So Haart created a double life. In the ultra- Orthodox world, clothing has one purpose – to cover the body, head to toe – and giving any more thought than that to one’s appearance is considered sinful, an affront to God. But when no one was looking, Haart would pour over fashion magazines and sketch designs for the clothes she dreamed about wearing in the world beyond her Orthodox suburb. She started preparing for her escape by educating herself and creating a ‘freedom’ fund. At the age of forty-two, she finally mustered the courage to flee.

Within a week of her escape, Haart founded a shoe brand, and within nine months, she was at Paris Fashion Week. Just a few years later, she was named creative director of La Perla. Soon she would become co-owner and CEO of Elite World Group and one of the most powerful people in fashion. Along the way, her four children – Batsheva, Shlomo, Miriam and Aron – have not only accepted but embraced her transformation.

Propulsive and unforgettable, Haart’s story is the journey from a world of ‘no’ to a world of ‘yes’, and an inspiration for women everywhere to find their freedom, their purpose, and their voice

My Thoughts:

When I saw the details for this book, my instant reaction; was now that sounds interesting. I am huge fan of biographies and learning about other people’s environments and experiences, so I was eager to read it. I had absolutely no clue who Julia Haart was/is (my apologies Julia) when my lovely copy of this book arrived. I realised that there was a lot more to the contents of this book and its writer. I discovered there was a Netflix series; now another apology/confession/observation: I am a bit of snob when it comes to tv, I am not a fan of vapid self aggrandising reality series (like Love Island, TOWIE etc) in fact they make my toes curl in mortification and my brain fizz with the levels of selfishness and stupidity that is promoted in the name of entertainment…which such programmes in my eyes aren’t…for me they are an alien form of intellectual torture (I have watched several episodes of each) before I dare to cast such aspersions and I do fully appreciate, that we are all different and have the choice to enjoy a diverse range of entertainment and I intend no offense if these are your favourite programmes! I decided it would be remiss of me, not to engage with Julia’s series and I watched every episode of My Unorthodox life and realised the book I held in my hands, was the one I saw Julia and her daughter Miriam discussing on the show! I was now intrigued, so I started to read and what I discovered is that Julia Haart is brilliant, brave, ballsy, bossy, and beautifully brazen…I am filled with awe and admiration of her journey.

What struck me from the outset, was the warmth of Julia’s tone and vitality, honesty, and authentic nature of her story and what a story it is! Julia is a survivor, a success and a incredible role model. She is sensitive to those who still reside within the confines of the community she left and she provides eloquent and educational information to those of us who only have a peripheral knowledge of her religious background. Julia was once an ultra, ultraorthodox Jew; now most of us have a basic level of understanding of the Jewish culture, no bacon, guys with black hats and ringlets and ladies in dowdy clothes with headscarves and lots of children…well this is the mere tip of a very shady, shadowy iceberg!  As a woman, when you read this book, you will have to resist the temptation to throw Julia’s book at the wall in an act of enraged solidarity at her experiences. I had to shove it under a cushion and sit on it several times to calm my incredulity and rage at the circumstances she endured! However, you react to its shocking contents, please do continue to read it…

Julia takes us right back to the beginning of her journey, as a child, her family are Russian in origin and as the communist state virtually forbade the practice of all religions; Jews included and her family lived more or less the same as everyone else around them under a communist regime. Until her parents made the move to the US and partly to find community in a land so alien to them, they had a change of heart and made the decision to embrace their heritage and faith in its harshest form and it brought about seismic changes for the young Julia (or Talia as she was known).

As you read, you cannot help but be shocked and stunned by the endless, suffocating and utterly sexist rules, that young Julia would have to endure (covered from head to toe, no hair or skin on show, just in case it drove men to uncontrolled lust) but as she relays at the time, it didn’t feel like oppression, it was the norm for every female, therefore compliance was expected. These rules of piety and submission; these were necessary elements of suffering in order to bring her closer to god and avoid his punishment for any level of digression, she almost didn’t know better but how could she, the community is completely cut off from every aspect of ‘normal life’ no tv, no secular books, magazines, nothing to poison the mind, the soul or pollute the body….I think the element that will completely stun any women reading this book, is the relentless, endless, repetitive enforcement on women within this community that they are ‘less than…less important than men, less worthy, less able to think or understand anything, they have no power or recourse, no justice, no means of opinion, no identity other than to be daughters, wives and mothers, no right of reply, no right to think or be individuals. Their role is one of support, to suffer, to serve, to earn income, to raise their families, to have baby after baby after baby, to ensure that their husbands focus all their attention on their studies and god, they don’t even have to bring in an income, it all falls to the women…I literally couldn’t get my head around this!

While women remain unseen, unheard and almost invisible…the true implications of this Julia shares with us and when you as the reader start hearing the rules and breath and scope of the indoctrination…it is literally mind blowing, you are left sitting holding this book with your mouth open in horror, in rage in absolute disbelief that all of what Julia conveys is not imagined, it is real and it make’s Margaret Atwood’s novel, The Handmaids Tale, seem like a walk in the park! The mere idea that in 21st century many women, live or rather exist within these oppressive, obliterating confines, seems unreal, but as Julia’s story shows, it isn’t!!! As I was reading, I remembering thinking, how on earth did I have no clue about any of this and then came a wave of appreciation and admiration for Julia…she prevailed, she did not simply accept this hideous reality, despite the fact living this way, nearly destroyed her mind, body and soul…instead, she used all her experiences and fortitude, to arm her, to convey her, to give her untapped strength to walk away, to become a new person in every single way; waving bye bye to unbearable wigs (although that took a while) and putting her new self firmly in those YSL leather leggings (strictly forbidden clothing type) to find and harness the motivation to achieve her aspirations (especially in the world of fashion, which is so clearly a great passion of hers and to follow the dream of being a designer and having her own brand one day and just as importantly to ensure freedom of choice, independence was available for her children, some of whom were beginning to wilt and wither under the endless suppressions of their community.

Honestly, I could wax on forever about the contents of this biography/memoir and still not have the words to elucidate all the incredible circumstances it contains…like how Julia left her community, what she faced and fought next, how her love of shoes saved her and put her step by step on a path to stratospheric success, how she was able with so little knowledge or comprehension of this modern and alien world she fell into, made such an exceptional success of herself, despite the shameful and shameless behaviour of people who were supposed to assist her! This biography like it’s author is truly an unstoppable force, it is irrepressible, irresistible, intoxicating and inspirational and it might cause a seriously level of irritation at the magnitude of insurmountable obstacles Julia has faced so far! It is by far one of the most thought provoking, educational and illuminating memoirs, that I have read in a very long time…it is a magnificent must read…if you are undecided what book to choose next…this is it, buy it for yourself and then buy copies for all the women you know…as you will definitely want to discuss it…I know I do!

Happy Reading Bookophiles….

About the Author:

Julia Haart is the star of the Netflix docuseries My Unorthodox Life.

She is the CEO, co-owner and chief creative officer of Elite World Group, the world’s first talent media agency, which is comprised of 48 global agencies representing the most dynamic and culturally connected talent in the world.

She was previously the creative director of La Perla, the luxury Italian intimates brand, and launched her career as a designer with her namesake shoe collection.

 Julia lives in Manhattan.

 Instagram: @juliahaart.

Please do read some of the other reviews on this blog tour

War Babies

Author: Rachel Billington

Publisher: Unicorn Publishing Group/Universe

Available: May 2022 in paperback

Thank you to Anne Cater, Random Things Tours & Unicorn Publishing Group for my gifted copy and for having me on the blog tour for this book. My review is based on my experience of the book and any thoughts expressed here are solely mine alone.

Book Details:

A woman lies unconscious on the carpet of a smart Westminster apartment, one red high heeled shoe has fallen off…

A younger woman lies with her eyes closed, … Her fingers clutch an empty bottle…

This is the story of three sisters, Millie, Di and Cleo. They are the war babies. Growing up in a world hungover from war, the sisters struggle to leave their mother behind and build their own lives. Millie turns to marriage, motherhood, and God. Di becomes a foreign correspondent, finding a role in war-time Vietnam. Cleo chooses words as a defence against the world. A successful novelist, for a time she is content to be a sardonic voyeur. Each sister is lost in her own world where extreme need leads to extreme behaviour. Then Cleo, the youngest and wildest, becomes the catalyst to smash the pattern. Who will adapt and survive? Who will find peace?

From the 50s to the present day, and with elements of a psychological thriller, Rachel Billington shows how three women navigate a future where men are not the only answer. The focus shifts from one sister to the next, putting human nature, its flaws, and its virtues, under the spotlight. Yet there is hope at the heart of this story which leaves the reader wondering long after the final twist is revealed.

My Thoughts:

It is my immense pleasure to be sharing my thoughts on Rachel Billington’s book War Babies with you today. From the moment I opened this novel, I was instantly captivated by the opening pages and couldn’t stem the tide of compulsion to keep reading which meant I continued reading into the early hours of morning on a school night (oops) but I do not regret it in slightest! This exceptional novel is a delectable, dark, dramatic delve into a family’s damaged dynamics, elegantly and excitingly written. It is my first experience of one of Rachel’s books but it has set me on a path to discover more of her work and I have no doubt, you will feel the same!

Told from the perspective of each of the three sisters’ lives, we learn their voices, their aspirations, their motivations, and the myriad of complex and varied emotions they have; what is evident is that their childhood and their parent’s relationship to each other and to the girls leaves a tangible taint and it also bears the responsibility for the way the women react to each other as time passes. For me, Rachel’s intuitive, illuminating comprehension and revelation of the intricacy and intimacy of this family’s flavour and flaws is so pertinent, powerful, and poignant, it just renders you unable to put this book down. Plus, there are some deviously clever indications of a mystery to be uncovered and yes, I am being reticent in providing you with any suggestion of what this might be! It’s for me to know and you to read this book and find out!!!

I was completely engrossed in the distinguished directions each of the women’s lives took; Millie with her religious zeal, intent on marriage and motherhood with almost a maniacal intensity! Di with her determination and drive to eschew parental and societal expectations to be different in her hunt for fulfilment, which leads her to become a foreign correspondent and her journey into war torn Vietnam, is mesmerising (I confess, I forgot Di wasn’t a real person from time to time). And Cleo, the youngest sister; creative, courageous, and more than a little calamitous who sees the world in words and becomes a prestigious novelist and whose pen certainly does the talking!

Each woman chooses a different pathway in life and love, yet deep down they were/are all were seeking to assuage the same need. I got the sense they were all seeking a level of emotional recalibration to counteract the tempestuous nature of their childhood and it didn’t come as a surprise to me, that their own romantic inclinations take a back seat in their journeys; both deliberately and inadvertently and I admit, I might just be oversimplifying this matter but it is an element of this novel, that intellectually is interesting to explore! Another aspect of this book, that has had me pondering as I read; is the diverse and difficult nature of the mother/daughters dynamic (possibly because personally I have a fractious relationship with my mother) and very often the awfulness of the maternal relationship is not examined, but in this novel Rachel has done so and although Julie (their mother) does not have her own voice in this book in the way her daughters do; her indomitable presence is felt regardless and she certainly has an impact on each of them for better or for worse!

I hope that in my review, I have conveyed to you, how much I admired and adored this book; its intimate intensity, its imaginative nuances, its intelligent intricacy all bound up in the characters of this story and their lives we experience vicariously. It is a book, that cannot fail to resonate with anyone who has the privilege of reading it and I insist enthusiastically that you do…I can’t think of a better way of spending this Jubilee weekend!

Happy Reading Bookophiles…

About the Author:

Rachel Billington has written over thirty books. In 2012 she was awarded an OBE for Services to Literature. Her most recent books are the novels Glory: A Story of Gallipoli and Clouds of Love and War. She is Associate Editor of the prison newspaper, Inside Time, and for three years was President of English PEN, the human rights organisation for writers.

Please do read some of the other reviews on this blog tour.

The House with the Golden Door

Author: Elodie Harper

Publisher: Head of Zeus

Available: 1st May 2022 in Hardback, eBook & Audiobook

Purchase Links

Amazon Hardback: https://amzn.to/38nSjQ

Amazon eBook: https://amzn.to/3kfJuv

Thank you to Amy Watson & Head of Zeus Books for my beautiful, gifted copy and for having me on the blog tour for this book. My review is based on my experience of the book and any thoughts expressed here are solely mine alone.

Book Details:

Freed from Pompeii’s brothel. Owned as a courtesan. Determined to have revenge. Her name is Amara. What will she risk for power?

Amara has escaped her life as a slave in Pompeii’s most notorious brothel. She now has a house, fine clothes, servants – but all of these are gifts from her patron, hers for as long as she keeps her place in his affections.

As she adjusts to this new life, Amara is still haunted by her past. At night she dreams of the wolf den, and the women she left behind. By day, she is pursued by her former slave master. In order to be truly free, she will need to be as ruthless as he is.

Amara knows she can draw strength from Venus, the goddess of love. Yet falling in love herself may prove to be her downfall.

The House with the Golden Door is the stunning second novel in Elodie Harper’s celebrated Wolf Den Trilogy, which reimagines the lives of women who have long been overlooked.

My Thoughts:

It was with much ecstatic anticipation I awaited the arrival of Elodie’s second book in the Wolf Den trilogy. I literally couldn’t wait to be transported back in time to Pompeii and Amara’s world, especially as The Wolf Den, had ended in such dramatic and tantalising manner. I confess when my beautiful copy of The House with the Golden Door arrived, all I could do for the first few days, was stroke it reverently and lovingly, I almost couldn’t believe it was mine (I’m sure I’m not the only book blogger to have done this). But then my curiosity took over and I read the first few chapters and once again Elodie’s glorious talent for immersing you in Amara’s life blooms; as a reader you are conveyed back to the streets ancient Pompeii; the sights, the sounds, the smells Amara is surrounded by leap off the page and imbed themselves in your subconscious, it is as if you too walk these streets! For me, it is Elodie’s skill in evoking this involvement of her readers and her immense historical knowledge of this period that makes her for me, a grand dame of historical fiction!

Now let me give you a little taste of this sublime second book; we return to Amara and her days as a sex slave in the brutal Wolf Den are seemingly behind her, technically she is free of the cruel and insidious Felix but her freedom is still limited, she remains trapped but this time by the gossamer web of control by her patron Rufus; as a courtesan, she is a lady of leisure; surrounded by riches, a beautiful home, servants, new clothes, yet any of her actions he deems inappropriate, could cost her dearly! Part of me, hoped she would acquiesce to her new circumstances but I realised, that if she did, it wouldn’t be very Amara nor would it make for an interesting development of her story. In delicate increments, Amara puts herself in peril and as a reader, you have an ever growing sense of disquiet and anxiety about the direction of the plotline…which is utterly addictive; especially when in her attempts to protect her friends back in the Wolf Den, she once again places herself in Felix’s power (and trust me, you are almost screaming at her…what on earth are you doing, are you mad!) and I did begin to wonder if she would ever be free of him! Elodie’s eloquent development of Amara’s complex and contrary character, is marvellous (even when it does make me anxious about what might happen next).

 Amara is well aware of what she must do to survive the patriarchal society she inhabits but she can’t quash her emotions, her need for independence or what her heart truly desires and it is those myriad of emotions and desires that direct this story; a maelstrom of rage, a need for vengeance caught up with her feelings of loyalty and love…and as we all know, love can blinker us (and Amara) and love could be the catalyst to destroy all she has accomplished and then when you add in the enormity of betrayal to this incendiary mix…oh my goodness what a story you have and I warn you now, that Amara may be forced to make unenviable choices (and that’s putting it mildly)! In contrast to subtle trajectory of The Wolf Den and its stunning climax; this second book, from the start has you enmeshed in its oscillating storyline and as I said, it provokes a prevailing and beguiling sense of consternation, it is almost with trepidation do you turn the next page and the next expecting Amara to face jeopardy! Yet they are not the same hazards she faced in the Wolf Den and these darkening situations and sensations certainly keep you on the edge of your seat!

One of the many reasons, I have fallen in love with Elodie’s books, is the magnificent depth of environment she creates for her characters; in the Wolf Den, you gained a sense of the mechanics of Pompeii but in this book; Elodie takes us deeper into the imagined inner workings of the city and its hierarchies. The identities, the ranks, the legal implications; the variety of accepted interactions, the differences between being born free in comparison to the implications being a freed woman and the overall complexities of social interaction between classes/ranks.  I was particularly fascinated by elements of this story that expanded for me, the roles of women within the confines and constraints of Roman society and my understanding of their lives were previously limited to my GSCE in classical studies, where women were not focused on in any sufficient way, so I am delighted to feel more enlightened on this matter, now having read Elodie’s latest book.

Often with a trilogy, the middle book is merely a link between the first and the third; setting the scene and guiding the reader in the direction of the final enticing instalment to come; this is not the case,  with this glorious novel; it progresses Amara’s story deliciously, you are engaged, excited and divinely terrified by the happenings in this book but also in your mind’s eye, you cannot fail to be aware of the spector of doom on the horizon. After all most people are familiar with eruption of Mount Vesuvius AD79 and the destruction it wrought and I suspect this historic moment with have a monumental impact on Amara but I am only speculating at this point! I am completely enraptured by and ensnared in this series and Elodie, I beg you to type faster, as I can’t wait for more Amara and of course to find out what will unfold in book 3…I am desperate to know! I am prepared to bribe you with chocolate and frothy coffee!

If like me, you are cognisor of historical fiction, Elodie’s scintillating and sensational books are a must read; you simply have to add them both to your collection, right now…after all they are the perfect choice for the upcoming jubilee bank holiday, what else would you want to do but curl up and devour them!

Happy Reading Bookophiles…

About the Author:

Elodie Harper is a journalist and prize-winning short story writer. Her story ‘Wild Swimming’ won the 2016 Bazaar of Bad Dreams short story competition, which was judged by Stephen King. She is currently a reporter at ITV News Anglia, and before that worked as a producer for Channel 4 News. The House with the Golden Door is the second book in The Wolf Den trilogy. The first book in the trilogy, The Wolf Den, was a Waterstones Book of the Month for fiction and a Sunday Times Top 15 bestseller.

Twitter: @ElodieITV

Instagram: @elodielharper

Facebook: Elodie Harper

Website: Elodieharper.com

Please do read some of the other reviews on this blog tour

When We Fell Apart

Author: Soon Wiley

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Available: 12th May 2022 in Hardback and eBook

Thank you to Anne Cater, Random Things Tours and Simon & Schuster for my gifted copy and for having me on the blog tour for this book. My review is based on my experience of the book and any thoughts expressed here are solely mine alone.

Book Details:

A profoundly moving and suspenseful drama that untangles the complicated ties that bind families together – or break them apart…

When the Seoul police inform Min that his girlfriend Yu-jin has taken her own life, he’s sure it can’t be true. She was successful, ambitious, happy, just on the cusp of graduating from university and claiming the future she’d always dreamed of. Min, on the other hand, born to an American father and Korean mother, has never felt quite the same certainty as Yu-jin about his life’s path. After growing up in California, where he always felt ‘too Korean’ to fit in, he’s moved to Seoul in the hope that exploring his Korean heritage will help him find a sense of purpose. And when he meets Yu-jin, little does he know that their carefree relationship will set off a chain of events with tragic consequences for them both.

 Devastated by Yu-jin’s death, Min throws himself into finding out why she could have secretly wanted to die. Or did she? With a controlling and powerful government official father, and a fraught friendship with her alluring and destructive roommate So-ra, Yu-jin’s life was much more complex than she chose to reveal to Min. And the more he learns about her, the more he begins to doubt he ever really knew her at all.

As Yu-jin’s story – a fraught exploration of selfhood, coming-of-age, and family expectations – collides with Min’s, the result is an engrossing page-turner that poses powerful, urgent questions about cultural identity, family bonds, secrets, and what it truly means to belong.

My Thoughts:

Part of my love of books, is that they offer and provide me an opportunity to view people, places and perspectives that are different from my own and it was this that drew me to Soon Wiley’s debut novel When We Fell Apart; it is a magnificent, melancholic, moving, mysterious read. Echoes of its content, linger with you long after you have finished reading. It is a literary experience not to be overlooked and one I highly recommend you embark on. Beautifully written and constructed and it cannot fail to make an impact on you, as it has me.

Let me give you a little taste of what this book is about; Min is a Korean American and like any of us, wishes to find his place in this world but when your origins are from two diametrically different social, political, cultural, and geographic backgrounds, discovering and exploring your personal history is vital in establishing an understanding of yourself and where you fit, your identity.  To do this, Min has moved to Korea and has started to build a new life and a natural part of this is to make friends and embark on relationships and build a sense of belonging. Yu-Jin is his girlfriend, from a prestigious family, her father has great power and status and with this comes the expectation and extraordinary pressure on his daughter to be successful, regardless of any else and very early on in the story, you can see Yu-Jin fulfilling this expectation but at the same time, utilising it to attempt relieve the relentless pressure on herself, yet to no avail and as a reader, I think you can see, that she can’t really escape.

Min is seemingly oblivious to her predicament and it comes as an overwhelming shock when he receives news that Yu-Jin has taken her own life! And like anyone who has experienced such a tragic loss, he searches for answers; how could he have missed this, how could he have changed the outcome, did he really know Yu-Jin at all, his guilt, frustration, sadness are all palpable…so is his need to find and understand the reason/s of why she would do this, what in her life could have made her believe that her only recourse was to die…Min makes it his mission to find out and in doing so, he may find more understanding of self.

What makes this novel so powerful, is that as readers we are omnipotent and are given a broader insight of events and the characters, so you have a sensation of knowing more than the characters and a sense of what might occur next but without it being confirmed. I loved how Soon, revealed both Min’s and Yu-Jin’s alternating perspectives, their backstories and current progression through life and the myriad of facets that made them the people they are. I found the juxtaposition between Min’s life in American and his life in Korea fascinating, that his reality is/was that despite having roots in both places, he didn’t really fit in either! And with Yu-Jin, she stole my heart if I am honest, her journey, her reasoning, her choices come from both a personal and a cultural perspective that is almost emotionally incomprehensible; the Korean concept of ‘Han’, a ‘collective despair’ over the failure to be able to choose one’s own destiny, individually or nationally…Han is the essence that prevails when this right is repressed and an understanding of this concept, provides an anchor for us as readers to comprehend Yu-Jin’s decision/s.

The more I read this novel, the more I appreciated Soon’s ability to transport me vicariously into another world, his knowledge and skill in depicting Korea’s complicated nature, it’s vibrant culture and turbulent history, he educates and enlightens his readers throughout. This is a clever, complex book; it is thought provoking and profound and when the heavy hitting themes are engaged, those of identity, of culture, of grief, of loss and Soon wealds and weaves them adroitly and sensitively through the voices of his characters and their environments. Once you read this book, you will never forget it and as this is Soon’s first novel, I shall be very interested to see and read what he writes next.

Happy Reading Bookophiles…

About the Author:

A native of Nyack, New York, Soon Wiley received his BA in English & Philosophy from Connecticut College. He holds an MFA in Creative Writing from Wichita State University. His writing has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize and earned him fellowships in Wyoming and France. He resides in Connecticut with his wife and their two cats. When We Fell Apart is his debut novel.

Please do read some of the other reviews on this blog tour.

The Birdcage

Author: Eve Chase

Publisher: Penguin Michael Joseph

Available: 28th April 2022 in Hardback, eBook & Audiobook

Thank you to Kallie Townsend & Penguin Michael Joseph for my gorgeous, gifted copy and for having me on the blog tour for this book. My review is based on my experience of the book and any thoughts expressed here are solely mine alone.

Book Details

Lauren, Kat, and Flora are half-sisters who share a famous artist father – and a terrible secret. Over the years they’ve grown into wildly different lives. But an invitation to Rock Point, the Cornish cliff house where they once sat for their father’s most celebrated painting, Girls and Birdcage, reunites them. Rock Point is a beautiful, windswept place, thick with secrets, electrically charged with the events of the summer – twenty years before – that the family daren’t discuss. And there is someone in the shadows watching their every move. Someone who remembers the girls in the painting – and what they did.

My Thoughts

It is my pleasure today to be sharing with you my thoughts on Eve Chase’s latest novel The Birdcage. I was instantly intrigued by details of this novel and when my copy arrived, I admit to being completely seduced by its dark beauty and as it turned out this book is stunning both inside and out! For me, Eva is fast becoming the maven of dysfunctional family dynamics, what I infer by this, is that Eve has an incredible ability and discernment in delving into the tangled complexities of familial relationships, especially ones that aren’t more common to us as readers, such as a single parent or the 2.4 children descriptors. Eve’s cast of characters and their relationships are multi-dimensional; a complete package of awkward, annoying, amusing, and authentic and add to this a whopping great secret and the component elements of the plot revealed over a dual timeline…what you end up with is a dynamite read, exhilarating, enticing and explosive…Enjoy it, I certainly did!

Eve’s writing and story development for me has strong echoes the work of Mary Ann Evans (more commonly known as Victoria writer George Elliott) who was renowned for her realism, psychological insight, her intrinsic sense of place and magnificent description of the countryside and I believe that Eva has all these delicious elements in her work, plus with added extra spice in the forms of modernity and mystery! At the core of this novel are three half-sisters, Lauren, Kat & Flora and their fractious interlocking relationship with each other, their respective mothers (yes plural, not a typo) all orbiting their famous artistic, philandering, irreverent and often irresponsible father whose endless carefree and careless nonchalance has and continues to colour their lives! At this point I was certain he needed castrating!

As children each of the women has a different mother and each one has grown up in very different cultural and societal environments from the others and their points of reference in life are influenced by this and it tends to significantly impact how they see themselves as individuals and how each of them responds and reacts to the others and as is often the way with girls; their go to defensive position when emotionally challenged is to parry with jealously, suspicion and spite! Their father’s laisse faire attitude to morality and relationships further fosters and spreads a pervading tone of resentment firstly within the mothers and then within their daughters and I can’t say I blame them! And it is easy to understand why they’ve avoided each other’s company for so long…

Until at the request of their father (Charlie) who insists they visit him, as he has an announcement to make the three women return to ‘Rock Point’ their grandmother’s former home and the hub of some of their childhood summers. With a great deal of reticence and curiosity, they return, it has been 20 years since their last visit in the Summer of 1999 during the solar eclipse, when something sinister and traumatic occurred but none of them have acknowledged this event to each other or anyone else…ever! Pieces of this episode a tantalisingly revealed to us, as the story dips back from present to the past, providing teasing glimpses of the girls in their early teens with all their adolescent drama and with each return to the past, a drop more tension is added to the tale and certainly compels you to read on…So what did happen in the late summer of 1999; what could possibly have occurred to leave such a gaping emotional scar on the landscape of their lives???…as if, I am going to tell you that! Not a chance…once you read the book, you’ll find out! What I will say is that the women are not alone in knowing the truth of the matter, because someone is now leaving nasty notes around the place, insisting they leave and never return…could now be the time to slay the spector of their secrets past!

Now I admit, that it has taken me several days since finishing this book to full appreciate it’s genius. I struggled with the fact that apart from a cheeky vicious African grey parrot called Betha whose random attacks amused me greatly, I really disliked Lauren, Kat and Flora but I realised that I wasn’t necessarily supposed to like them, they are often irritating, irrational and selfish (then again aren’t we all sometimes) they are indeed a product of the unorthodox circumstances of their childhood and burdened with a need for reassurance and acceptance, that they failed to receive and with the secret they are harbouring is it any wonder they are, the way they are!!! Fear not, they do eventually grow on you as a reader as I discovered.

The Birdcage is a triumph, it is powerful, provoking, poignant and pertinent, it is book, that you can’t put down and one you want to discuss with all your bookish friends on finishing it. I enthusiastically suggest you add a copy to the top of your to be read piles very very soon.

Happy Reading Bookophiles…

About the Author:

Eve worked as a journalist for women’s magazines and national newspapers for many years. She lives in Oxford with her family, and a very hairy golden retriever, Harry. The Birdcage is her fourth Eve Chase novel.

Please do read some of the other reviews on this blog tour.

Tell Me An Ending

Author: Jo Harkin

Publisher: Hutchinson Heinemann

Available: 12th May 2022 in Hardback, eBook & Audiobook

Thank you to Anne Cater, Random Things Tours & Hutchinson Heinemann for my gifted copy and for having me on the blog tour for this book. My review is based on my experience of the book and any thoughts expressed here are solely mine alone.

Book Details

Across the world, thousands of people are shocked to receive an email telling them that they once chose to have a traumatic memory removed. Now they are being given the chance to get that memory back. For Mei, William, Oscar, and Finn there is a piece missing, but they’re not sure what. And each of them must decide if the truth is worth the pain, or better left unknown. For Noor, who works at the memory clinic Nepenthe, the process of reinstating their patients’ memories begins to shake the moral foundations of her world. As she delves deeper into the programme, she will have to risk everything to uncover the true human cost of this miraculous technology. An exploration of secrets, grief, identity and belonging – of the stories we tell ourselves, and come to rely on, Tell Me An Ending is a sharp, dark, and devastating novel about the power and danger of memory.

My Thoughts:

Tell Me An Ending by Jo Harkin, is a book that it could be very easy to compartmentalise and label a dystopian thriller of sorts. However, when I read the description of the book, it seemed to be much more than this mere label suggests…oh my goodness it is so much more. Reading it, is a complete brain stimulation experience; yes, you read it but when you do (and you must)! Immediately your brain kicks in and the questions, scenarios and thoughts come pouring into your mind…an avalanche of what ifs and what would I dos…it’s a book that pokes, provokes and pesters your little grey cells …. making reading it, utterly mind blowing! If I am honest, I am sitting here still in awe of you Jo, the scope of your imagination and this genius novel of yours!

Consider this, all of us have episodes in our lives we wish to forget, break ups, bad financial decisions, the loss of a loved one…what if, you could remove those overwhelming experiences from your memory, so you wouldn’t have to revisit or relive them. What if, you could make the choice to remove such memories…would you, could you, should you…yes/no, maybe, perhaps, probably…see even now my mind is spinning with the possibilities, is this ethical/moral or just state sanctioned mind control? Nepenthe in one of their state-of-the-art memory clinics can provide you with this service; they can relieve you of the burdens of your mind; book an appointment, chat with counsellor/psychologist, sign your paperwork, pay your fee and…Zap…those pesky recollections are gone and you can get on with living your life! Sounds perfect…but and you know that there had to be one…didn’t you! What if, there is an undisclosed flaw in this ground-breaking scientific advancement? One that Nepenthe despite rumours and conjecture, fiercely denies…what if, some of their clientele maybe suffering from ‘traces’; flashbacks of memory and ones that the clients have no comprehension of what they relate to! Causing them a great deal of consternation and confusion…does it sound like such a good idea now?!

Oh but there’s more, clients who choose to undergo this procedure, Nepenthe label’s self-informed clients and they know that their memories have been erased but there is also a group of clients labelled self-contained; who due to the nature/scope of their traumatic memories, have had them removed but also any knowledge of this procedure has been erased as well (everyone reading this is now going ooooh or resisting the urge to run screaming into the hills in blind panic) yes exactly, these clients are completely in the dark until Nepenthe is forced because of the emergence of the ‘trace’ phenomenon to offer their self-contained clients the opportunity to have the removed memories returned! Can you imagine the enormity, never mind the myriad of emotion and questions you’d have at receiving a letter; saying by the way, you won’t remember this but we removed some of your memory and we didn’t ask you but you can have it back now, if you want!!! See I told you it was mind blowing didn’t I…

The concept of this novel is original, outstanding, and deviously oppressive and Jo is exceptional in her delivery, it all seems so obvious and normal but yet you can see through the eyes and voices of her characters that having memories removed either by choice or necessity…is anything but normal. I also admired that Jo constructed the story from different perspectives; Noor works at Nepenthe and is fully indoctrinated in the pros of memory removal and is almost oblivious in her loyalty and support of her boss and mentor Louise and of Nepenthe’s memory mission. Until by increments she begins to understand, that activities within the clinics supersede their mandate in a manner she can’t even imagine never mind reason out and this in turn impacts and alters her own relationships! In contrast to Noor, we have the clients themselves, Oscar, William, Finn, and Mei, each of whom has their own story and role to play in the progression of this novel, each one is intimate, authentic, and wholly individual and contains surprise elements that build a whole picture for the reader. Two of my favourite characters were Mei whose innocence and intelligence is so endearing and Oscar, who is seemingly incorrigible, inscrutable and utters some hilarious one liners but this is a cunning distraction as he has a significant link to Nepenthe! I shall say no more!

Jo’s book is shout out loud phenomenal; a truly scintillating, stimulating, sinister and sensational read; which presents you with so many ethic conundrums to cogitate. I leave you with this thought of mine; memories are what inform us of who we are, where we’ve come from and may direct where we are going. Our ability to recall the past informs our present but what if these signposts in our minds are removed, what if you can’t remember, your life, the school friends you made, the person you first fell in love with…what could be the impact of not knowing or not experiencing an event!!! Have you ceded control of your will, your right to choose…Chilling thought isn’t it…Maybe when you buy Jo’s book (and I insist that you do) you’ll find some answers…then again will you remember them!

Happy Reading Bookophiles…

About the Author:

 Jo Harkin studied English Literature at university. She daydreamed her way through various jobs in her twenties before giving in and becoming a full-time writer. She published four real-world literary fiction novels under a pseudonym, before deciding to follow her passion and move into speculative fiction. Her focus is ‘what if’ stories with an emphasis on human lives. She lives in Berkshire.

Please do read some of the other reviews on this blog tour.

Elizabeth of York; The Last White Rose

Author: Alison Weir

Publisher: Headline Review

Available: 12th May 2022 in Hardback, eBook & Audiobook

Thank you to Anne Cater, Random Things Tours & Headline for my gifted copy and for having me on the blog tour for this book. My review is based on my experience of the book and any thoughts expressed here are solely mine alone.

Book Details

The spellbinding story of Elizabeth of York, the first Tudor queen.

An English Princess, born into a war between two families. Eldest daughter of the royal House of York, Elizabeth dreams of a crown to call her own. But when her beloved father, King Edward, dies suddenly, her destiny is rewritten. Her family’s enemies close in. Two young princes are murdered in the Tower. Then her uncle seizes power – and vows to make Elizabeth his queen. But another claimant seeks the throne, the upstart son of the rival royal House of Lancaster. Marriage to this Henry Tudor would unite the white rose of York and the red of Lancaster – and change everything. A great new age awaits. Now Elizabeth must choose her allies – and husband – wisely, and fight for her right to rule

My Thoughts:

When as a lover of historical fiction, I heard that Alison was embarking on a new series of books the Tudor Rose Trilogy. I literally clapped my hands in glee and anticipation, how could I not! History fans everywhere (my self included) are already enamoured with Alison’s skill at reanimating and reimagining our Tudor heritage, with her extensive knowledge and in exquisite detail. For me, Alison is masterful at marrying factual history with insightful, intuitive, and imaginative fiction, allowing her readers to inhabit the lives of remarkable, resilient, regal women; whose vital roles in our past all too often have been relegated to the margins and footnotes of the past we are taught. Through Alison’s exceptional articulation, she opens our eyes to their pivotal contributions, their daily trials, their subtle voices, their ambitions, and their societal limitations.

Before reading Alison’s latest book; Elizabeth of York; The Last White Rose my knowledge of Plantagenet history was sparse and confined to a rather complicated board game I received as a child, called Kingmaker; which allowed players to fight out the War of the Roses by choosing characters and picking a side, be it the White Roses (the Yorks) or the Red Roses (the Lancasters) and through strategy and battles you fought for the Crown (and little tip here, you always needed the Earl of Warwick to win!) I was utterly fascinated by this game and the names and roles of its cast of characters and it inspired my reading choices as I grew older. And now through Alison’s inspired creativity and historical prowess; I get to immerse myself in the circumstances of the era through the eyes and experiences of Elizabeth of York, a woman at the core of one of the most brutal, turbulent, and ultimately transformative periods of history. Elizabeth played a key role in fortifying Henry Tudor’s tenuous claim to the throne and as mother to the future Henry VIII her comprehension and burden of affixing her family’s legacy Alison recounts to us in her wonderful book.

It is very easy when engrossed in Elizabeth’s world to forget that her viewpoints, experiences, and emotions are a product of Alison’s prestigious creation but they are portrayed so astutely because of Alison’s own diligence in research and her expansive knowledge of the period. Which reassures my enquiring mind about the voracity and authenticity of the actions and assumptions of the characters in this book. Spanning the entirety of Elizabeth’s life, from her earliest recollections at 4 years old of seeking sanctuary with her mother; impresses on us readers the uncertainty and the instability of the world she resides in; the nature and nuances of her life, the actions and reactions that shape her are all explored as she experiences a revolving door of peace and peril; there is no real opportunity for settled contentment, just the seemingly endless pervading atmosphere of truculence

Elizabeth was a wife, a mother and a Queen but still confined by the limitations put upon her sex; it’s often difficult to accept these restrictions when as modern woman with liberty at my fingertips; to have my own aspirations, to achieve my own goals, to have ambition in my career and foster my dreams; to have the freedoms of choice about how to live my life and who to love is my right but to understand and accept that Elizabeth not have any of these options, to accept the shackles women of her rank and status were bound by, does make me more than a little cross and heavy hearted; but as I was reading, I realised I needed to assess Elizabeth in a different way, I tried to view her from the perspective of a chess board but I didn’t see her as a pawn in the game of her life, to be manipulated and sacrificed though it would be easy to see her this way…instead, I chose to view her like one of the most powerful pieces on a chess board, the Queen, whose movements within the game may be perceived as restricted yet this is an under estimation of her power as it is Elizabeth’s, her power is not in stating her own claim to crown, not in voicing opinions (though I wanted her too) nor is it a balking at the variety of arranged matches (the Dauphin of France, her Uncle) for others political gain. Elizabeth’s power and silent gumption is in her position, her status and rank, her subtle influence over her husband and sons. Her bloodline and virtue as a maiden; her wiles as a wife and her maternal manipulations as a matron; powers overlooked and underestimated by the patriarchal environment and not always fully appreciated by the modern one!

Elizabeth ‘fights’ within the scope of the game to secure a dynasty and monarchy for a lifetime to come, with peace and security the ultimate goals. One of the many reasons I admire Alison’s books especially the fictional ones, is that she is never sentimental in her depictions of the remarkable women whose stories she re-imagines, nor overly romantic in her extrapolations of their complicated lives. For me, she encapsulates reality and retrospectively recalibrates in this novel Elizabeth’s life, so we can see and appreciate the pivotal role, she played in this social and political maelstrom of history.

The Last White Rose is not a light-hearted historical romp, nor would I want it to be; it is an impressive, imaginative, immense tome to be savoured, enjoyed and considered for its excellent historical context and it’s enticing and engaging re-animation of a truly incredible woman and I loved every one of its 500 pages and I hope you find it as intoxicating and immersive as I have done.

Happy Reading Bookophiles

About the Author:

Alison Weir is the bestselling female historian in the United Kingdom, and has sold over 3 million books worldwide. She has published twenty history books. Alison is also the author of twelve historical novels, including the highly acclaimed Six Tudor Queens series all of which were Sunday Times bestsellers. The complete short-story collection, In the Shadow of Queens, accompanies this series. Alison is a fellow of the Royal Society of Arts and an honorary life patron of Historic Royal Palaces.

Note from the Author:

Elizabeth of York’s life has always fascinated me because it spans my two favourite periods of English history: the Yorkist age and the early Tudor era, a time that saw the end of the medieval period and the dawn of modern England. Her marriage to Henry VII united the warring royal houses of York and Lancaster and founded the Tudor dynasty. Elizabeth was beautiful and cultivated – and she should have been the rightful Queen of England after the probable deaths of her brothers, the Princes in the Tower, in 1483. She had a better claim to the throne than Henry VII, but because she was a woman, no one championed her right. She was regarded chiefly as the heiress of the royal House of York, through whom the right of succession could be transmitted by marriage. She passed on that right to her son, Henry VIII. Having published a biography of Elizabeth in 2013, I have long wanted to write a novel about her, because there are tantalising gaps in her story. Despite the wealth of source material, history does not always record her thoughts, emotions, motives, hopes and fears. She was passionate and proactive in intriguing behind the scenes to become queen. Once she was crowned, however, her voice was silent, so we can only speculate on how events affected her. And that leaves plenty of scope for a novelist… Among the many mysteries that surround Elizabeth is the fate of the Princes in the Tower. We can only imagine the distress that her brothers’ disappearance and rumours of their murder caused her. Later, the emergence of a pretender claiming to be the younger Prince must have impacted profoundly on her. In this novel, I offer what I believe to be the most credible explanation of what happened to the Princes. Having written six novels about her daughters-in-law, the wives of Henry VIII, Elizabeth of York was the obvious choice for my next foray into fiction, this book being the first in the Tudor Rose trilogy that will span three generations of England’s most celebrated royal dynasty.

Please do read some of the other reviews on this blog tour.

One Good Thing

Author: Alexandra Potter

Publisher: Macmillan

Available: 28th April 2022 in Hardback, eBook & Audiobook

Thank you to Anne Cater, Random Things Tours & Macmillan for my gifted copy and for having me on the blog tour for this book. My review is based on my experience of the book and any thoughts expressed here are solely mine alone.

Book Details

In life, nothing is certain. Just when you think you have it all figured out, something happens that changes the course of everything . . . Liv Brooks is still in shock. Newly divorced and facing an uncertain future, she impulsively swaps her London Life for the sweeping hills of the Yorkshire Dales, determined to make a fresh start. But fresh starts are harder than they look and feeling lost and lonely she decides to adopt Harry, an old dog from the local shelter, to keep her company. But Liv soon discovers she isn’t the only one in need of a new beginning. On their daily walks around the village, they meet Valentine, an old man who suffers from loneliness who sits by the window and Stanley, a little boy who is scared of everyone, hides behind the garden gate and Maya, a teenager who is angry at everyone and everything. But slowly things start to change… Utterly relatable, hilarious and heart-breakingly honest, this is a novel about friendship, finding happiness and living the life unexpected. And how when everything falls apart, all you need is one good thing to turn your life around and make it worth living again.

My Thoughts:

It has been a while since I last treated myself to one of Alexandra’s books and I had forgotten how glorious they are, more fool me! When I read the book description for her latest novel One Good Thing, I saw it as a fortuitous moment and dived right in. From the moment you start reading this novel, for me at least it is like being embraced by a friend; joyous and familiar. I think I was drawn to this book probably because I relate to both the story and the main character Olivia (Liv) in fact I was amazed how the story mirrored my own life in the past few years. This is a heart-warming and empowering tale which takes the reader from the tears of adversity to the celebration of life. I love how Alexandra has the gift of weaving the many facets of life into her story, to the extent you complete forget that Liv isn’t actually a real person, I’d like to imagine we would be friends is she were. This wonderful book is charming, comforting, comic and divinely cathartic and cannot fail to find a home in your heart, as it has mine.

There is a fantastic line (somewhere in the middle/end stages of the book, sorry I forgot to note the page) …which adeptly sums up the core of this story for me…”A woman is like a tea bag, you never know how strong she is until she’s in hot water…” quite frankly this quote needs to be on bookmarks and tote bags across the land, it is utterly marvellous and completely true! And as you will discover, sums Liv up perfectly…Liv is a character you instantly warm to, her experiences resonate with you as a reader possibly because we have all suffered heartbreak at some stage in our lives.

The book begins with her being in a great deal of emotional turmoil, her 10 year marriage has ended suddenly; she is hurt, bewildered and more than a bit hacked off; her nincompoop of a husband has walked out and shacked up with a younger model (time for much eye rolling and twitchy taser fingers from me).  The horrible dawning realisation, that he has stopped loving her and moved on without a backward glance, leaving her alone, shocked and bereft…because a loss like this, as any of us who have experienced such a thing know; is very much like a death…Liv is left grieving for the life she had, the life she knew, the expectations she had of their future together…now in an instant..poof…it has all gone! So, what will Liv do now…?

Alexandra has cleverly structured Liv’s onward story around the well-known theory of grief by psychiatrist Elizabeth Kubler-Ross who provided a concise guide on the complexity of loss and its many variations and the progression of reactions to it, from shock and disbelief the progression of an emotional journey towards acceptance and forward to hope but as Alexandra notes in the opening page “Loss is universal but it is also very personal and everyone’s journey is their own’! And in this novel, we get to follow Liv’s journey….starting with her brave decision to leave the tatters of her London life behind and move to a dated and somewhat dilapidated cottage in the wilds of the Yorkshire Dales! Ok, I might be being a little dramatic, Yorkshire is not quite the wilds but I made the same move in equally as trying circumstances as Liv,  from London to York and it does/did feel a bit like that! Life is very different here in the frozen North – my words not Liv’s or Alexandra’s! Although when Liv arrives at her new home, at night in the dark and cold of a Yorkshire winter, she does wonder what on earth she has done and considers has her loss turned her loopy!

Liv starts her new life focusing on the renovation of her home and on one of her endless trips to buy supplies, a chance encounter with a young woman (Maya) in the car park, who is collecting donations for a local dogs home. This interaction, leads Liv to another decision, she is no longer bound by her ex’s phantom pet related allergies and decides that maybe a dog in her life, will bring her new joy and stem some of the loneliness, she’s feeling…intent on rehoming a puppy, until that is.. she meets Harry…a scruffy, mongrel, who has been mistreated and dumped and in seeing his sadness and depression…Liv looks into his eyes knows he’s the dog for her! Despite their rather traumatic but amusing journey home and Gucci handbag chewing incident; Harry becomes a conduit of change in Liv’s life, his presence brings new connections and friendships with Valentine, Ben and Stanley, Maya…who they meet on their daily walks. Harry teaches Liv to slow down, to look and listen at the people and places around her. And as the characters’ lives intermingle, their stories and experiences are shared with us and Liv. And she begins to understand that the broken-hearted are all around her, hiding in plain sight, that we can’t ever really know what is happening in other people’s lives, that though Liv or you or I might feel alone, in actual fact, we aren’t; our individual journeys maybe different but the feeling we experience are the same and that by reaching out to others, the way Liv does to Valentine in his window or Stanley a little boy in a garden…we become stronger, together!

One Good Thing is a literary lullaby to loss, love, laughter and ultimately life…the idea that one good thing from coco heart on your morning latte to phone call to say the man you love doesn’t have cancer can instantly turn your life around in a myriad of unexpected and miraculous ways…for Liv, Harry was her one good thing that made the difference and forged links and love in her new life and I can’t wait for you to read this wonderful book and see what happens, there might be some dancing on the beach at Whitby and a few secrets and surprises to be revealed but that’s for me to know and you to find out. This book is a simply must read, if I were you, cancel any plans you might have, snuggle up on your sofa with a frothy coffee and several bacon rolls and read…For me, this book has been my One Good Thing in a very trying week…I think it could be yours too.

Happy Reading Bookophiles…

About the Author:

Alexandra Potter is the bestselling author of numerous romantic comedy fiction novels in the UK including CONFESSIONS OF A FORTY-SOMETHING FUCK UP, which is currently being developed as a TV series. Her books have sold in twenty-two territories and achieved worldwide sales of more than one million copies (making the bestseller charts in the UK, US, Germany, Czech Republic, Slovenia, and Serbia). Yorkshire born and raised, Alex currently lives in south-west London with Mr California and their Bosnian rescue dog, and when she’s not spending time writing or travelling, she’s spending far too much time on Instagram being reminded that she should be exercising regularly, drinking enough water, practising mindfulness, and feeling blessed. Follow her @alexandrapotter

Please do read some of the other reviews on this blog tour.

The Hiding Place

Author: Simon Lelic

Publisher: Viking

Available: 5th May 2022 in Paperback, eBook & Audiobook

Thank you to Ellie Hudson & Viking for my gifted copy and for having me on the blog tour for this book. My review is based on my experience of the book and any thoughts expressed here are solely mine alone.

Book Details

Four Friends. One Murder. A game they can’t escape.

‘It was only a game.’

Until a boy went missing.

‘No one was meant to get hurt.’

But a body has been found.

‘Just some innocent fun.’

Except one of them is a killer.

Ready or not, here I come.

It’s time to play hide and seek again.

A PULSE POUNDING DETECTIVE THRILLER: 20 years after a boy goes missing at boarding school, his body is found and his friends, now some of the most powerful people in the country, are the suspects – for fans of THE CHALK MAN PB and THE GUEST LIST.

My Thoughts:

Today it is my turn to share my thoughts with you on Simon Lelic latest book The Hiding Place and my first experience of reading one of his many novels, a situation I will be rectifying shortly. As huge crime fiction fan, it seems I have been remiss in not discovering Simon’s books until now but on the flip side of this acknowledgement is my excitement in discovering a new author (to me) and his books. From the minute I turned the first page of this book, I was completely engrossed in the story. Simon pens a slick, sinister, and scintillating read indeed!

The story is told to us, through two perspectives over a dual timeline that of the detectives in the present and 22 years previously we see and hear things from the victim point of view, which certainly adds a growing and palpebral tension throughout the novel. The book opens with a boy in terror, hiding and hoping not to be discovered! We then return to the present with Detectives Fleet and Collins arriving at an exclusive and expensive boarding School; where in the old church on the campus a skeleton in a foetal position has been unearthed and you cannot help but think, how did we come to this; especially as you are pretty certain you know who the victim is (as are the detectives) but what trajectory of events and sinister circumstances led to murder and why haven’t they come to light until now, what deadly game was played and has it come to its fruition? I really admired Simon’s skill at moving us readers seamlessly back and forth between the two timelines and across his excellent plotlines without giving the game away and yet still providing us with ample hints and teasing suggestions about what occurred then and what is occurring now, making the reading exceptionally enticing and addictively engaging.

Ben Draper missing for 22 years; when we meet Ben, he’s being dropped off at yet another boarding school by his father (who is beyond unpleasant in manor) and you can tell that any trouble Ben gets himself into is as a direct result of dire parenting! Ben finds it difficult to connect with others, he doesn’t make friends and is constantly the victim of bullying but at this time, he is quickly allowed entry into a friendship group of three other students, who have labelled themselves as outcasts as well but it is unclear whether their intentions are good and Ben is wary, can they be trusted….it is all just a little bit suspicious! The School and these new so call friends to me anyway bare a sinister taint, made greater when Ben disappears during an ‘innocent ‘ game of hide & seek…and you know there was nothing innocent about this so-called game!! Back in the present, Detectives Fleet and Collins seek to unravel, the secrets and lies and I grew very fond of DS Nicola Collins in her black suit and converse; she doesn’t suffer fools and she’s a woman you don’t want to mess with, determined and diligent and she wants answers. I enjoyed the quick wit and amusing banter between her and Fleet, and I loved how they bounced ideas off each other regarding the complexities of this case. The biggest question of course, is can they ferret out the truth in this devious tangled web but that is for me to know and you to read the book and find out and be prepared to expect the unexpected!

I am thrilled to have discovered Simon’s books, this one was deliciously sticky, sinister and a sensational read, you can hardly put it down because you desperately want to know what happens next! If like me you are always looking for a new crime procedural to devour then Simon’s books are definitely ones you need to add to your crime library. I know I will be adding more to mine.

Happy Reading Bookophiles…

About the Author:

Simon Lelic is the author of seven highly acclaimed thrillers: Rupture (winner of a Betty Trask Award and shortlisted for the John Creasey Debut Dagger), The Facility, The Child Who (longlisted for the CWA Gold Dagger and the CWA Ian Fleming Steel Dagger), The House, The Liar’s Room, The Search Party and The Hiding Place. He has also written The Haven series for younger readers, twice shortlisted for the CrimeFest awards.

Please do read some of the other reviews on this blog tour.

A Little Hope

Author: Ethan Joella

Publisher: Muswell Press

Available: 26th April in Hardback, eBook and Audiobook

Thank you to Fiona Brownlee and Muswell Press for my gifted copy and for having me on the blog tour for this book. My review is based on my experience of the book and any thoughts expressed here are solely mine alone.

Book Details:

In the small town of Wharton, Connecticut, lives are beginning to unravel. A husband betrays his wife. A son struggles with addiction. A widow misses her late spouse. At the heart of these interlinking stories is one couple: Freddie and Greg Tyler. Greg has just been diagnosed with a brutal form of cancer. He intends to handle this the way he has faced everything else: through grit and determination. But can he successfully overcome his illness? How will the Freddie and their daughter cope if he doesn’t? How do the other residents of Wharton learn to live with loss and find happiness again? Celebrating the grace in everyday life, this powerful debut immerses the reader in a community of friends, family, and neighbours and identifies the ways that love and forgiveness can help us survive even the most difficult of life’s challenges.

My Thoughts:

As I sat down to write my thoughts on Ethan Jollea’s book A Little Hope, one quote repeatedly popped into my mind and I haven’t been able to exorcize it since; John Steinbeck said, A little hope, even hopeless hope, never hurt anybody. I realised that in essence, Ethan’s book is a literary manifestation of this suggestion. Usually as a book blogger, when I opened a book and begin to read, instantly I form an impression or sense of the novel and a sort of recognition hits me, rather like the smell of bacon cooking or coffee brewing and these impressions grow as I continue to read. However, on occasion, and this is one such occasion, this familiar pattern desserts me because I am simply blown away by the power, poignancy, magic, and magnitude of the words I hold in my hand. Now I must attempt to articulate for you how sublimely sensational this book is; as I suspect repeating the phrase WOW a thousand times, won’t be considered enough of a review nor adequately express how much I admire this book! There really aren’t sufficient superlatives to sing its praises nor how superb Ethan’s skill is as through the character vignettes, he provokes/evokes a torrent of emotion within his readers, in such cogent, calm undeniably bewitching fashion. This book is the embodiment of literary soul food!

Welcome to Wharton, a quintessential quiet American town in Connecticut but unlike previous visits to such environs, Peyton Place (1956) by Grace Metalious comes to mind and which focused on a small, conservative, gossipy town in New England; where adultery, lust and murder, hypocrisy, social inequities, and class privilege were at its twisted heart. Ethan’s novel chooses a broader esoteric; with his story being structured across one year and told through a series of character driven vignettes, which overlap and interlink in the most divine way. Ethan’s character creation is simply sublime; you just believe that these people are real, despite knowing logically that they are not! Each character has a story to share and what stories they are, taking you from joy to despair and back again with whispers of every sentiment in between; the simple beauty of their construction rolls of the pages and inhabits your subconscious as you follow their intimate and intricate lives.

Freddie and Greg Tyler, an all-American couple, who seem to have it all, the beautiful home, the wonderful little girl, a cat and a dog complete the domestic idle until a shadow falls across their prefect lives; Greg is ill, diagnosed with a pernicious form of cancer and the impact of this crushing diagnosis begins to shatter their dreams; despite Greg’s almost deluded determination to fight and survive but at what cost!

Alex and Kay Lionel; Alex is Greg’s boss, mentor, and friend but Alex sees Greg as a son, a salve to his and Kay’s grief; as they once had a son; who was killed in the most tragic circumstances and this loss nor the weight of this burden has ever left them but there is more to their story; Alex holds a secret and his wife Kay cannot acknowledge it and the enormity colours their lives!

Then we have the widow, Darcy Colley, who over time has built a new life from the ashes of her loss, though she still misses her husband Von and wishes he was still beside her especially as their son Luke is struggling on his life path! Luke can’t seem to get life right and his biggest regret was losing his true love Ginger. Which is deliciously ironic because Ginger Lord, is back in town, to a be a bridesmaid for her friend Suzette; in a suitably hideous dress and her thoughts turn to Luke and what could have been!

Over the year to come, which of Wharton’s residents will find resolution, reconnection, realisation, or resignation, but then for all involved there is always a glimmer of hope.

Ethan is in my opinion a literary anthropologist; his cast of characters are his cherished specimens to be observed, explored, and understood. His style of writing is infused with the echoes and essences of the great American writers; Capote and Steinbeck and their intelligent, elegant extrapolations of the American way of life, Ethan has taken their style mantel on to another level by layering emotional intelligence and intimacy on top. Creating a novel, so observant and appreciative of the complexities of lives being lived, being for better or for worse; his ability to identify the nuances of human nature, the things in life we hold dear, the issues we cannot release, the depth of the fears we have regarding the future, the impact of loss or being lost and yet despite everything we face, there is always a little hope!

For me, this book is the perfect read; I completely and utterly adored it, despite having puffy eyes from the odd episode of crying in both sadness and joy!  I have also just discovered that a second book is on its way which has made me incandescent with joy! A Little Hope will bring every reader who holds it in their hands and hearts a great deal of hope and it is absolutely one of my favourite reads of 2022 and I have no doubt that it will be one of yours too! I ardently suggest that you do everything in your power to get hold of a copy of this book today, right now…it’s payday, treat yourself….

Happy Reading Bookophiles…

About the Author:

Ethan Joella teaches English and psychology at the University of Delaware and specializes in community writing workshops. His work has appeared in River Teeth, The Cimarron Review, The MacGuffin, Delaware Beach Life, and Third Wednesday. He lives in Delaware with his wife and two daughters.

Please do read some of the other reviews on this blog tour.

Behind The Olive Trees

Author: Francesca Catlow

Publisher: Gaia & Fenrir Publishing

Available: 6th May 2022 in Paperback & eBook

Thank you to Anne Cater, Random Things Tour & Francesca Catlow, for my gifted copy and for having me on the blog tour for this book. My review is based on my experience of the book and any thoughts expressed here are solely mine alone.

Book Details

She thought she’d found her lost past, but did she uncover all the secrets?

Melodie returns to her mother’s house in Corfu for the first time since inheriting it. Only, she discovers it isn’t empty. She finds someone has been living there; a girl who claims the property is hers. Behind The Olive Trees is the second book in the Little Blue Door series and is set in 2022 within the context of the pandemic. The novel is a continuation of Melodie’s journey to finding herself and finding out about her past but has also been adored by readers new to Catlow’s work. This is women’s fiction at its best, with a unique balance of romance, family saga and mystery-thriller all rolled into the real-world-escapism of the UK’s favourite Greek island, Corfu.

My Thoughts:

It is my pleasure today to be sharing my thoughts on Francesca Catlow’s second book in the Little Blue Door trilogy; Behind the Olive Trees. What struck me on reading the description of this novel was that sometimes a name or an idea of a place draws you to it. Corfu for me, is such a place, as a child it was one of my grandparent’s favourite holiday destinations, to escape the grey drizzle of their Stockport home. My grandad a man of very few words, spoke with great fondness of this island’s natural beauty and the warmth of its atmosphere and I think it always refreshed his soul to visit. To date, I have not yet had the pleasure of exploring it for myself, although now by reading Francesca’s intoxicating story of familial intrigue, sun, and secrets from a fictional perspective at least, I feel I have had a taste of the island.

With her vibrant and atmospheric descriptions, Francesca transports her readers to Corfu’s sun-baked beaches and hidden grottos, to its umbrella strewn cafes with the sounds of coffee cups, clinking in the sun as the island’s guests and residents alike take respite and our protagonist Melodie returns to these familiar haunts. As I mentioned, this is the second book in this tryptic but my first taste of the series, I have not yet read the first book The Little Blue Door but I promise, I will be re-tracing my steps as I am curios to find out how Melodie’s story begins and what contentious circumstances of her past have coloured her present and what relationship conundrums, led to an estrangement between a mother and her daughter!

As we re-join Melodie in this book, she on the cusp of a whole new life; having found love and sanctuary in the arms of widower Anton and they are about to marry making Melodie a wife and mother all at one time. As Anton has a 14-year-old daughter Gaia, who is a sparky, savvy and sweet teenager and more than a little wise beyond her years too and a firm favourite of mine,! With her wedding approaching Melodie, with reluctance and as yet unexplained trepidation returns to her mother’s home, which has stood empty since her death. On arrival at the house, Melodie and Gaia discover a squatter, who has made herself at home and when Melodie confronts her;  she is attacked and literally thrown out of her own house, I have to say I was shocked and indignant by the violent aggressive actions of this intruder, as Melodie is but also deliciously inquisitive as to why behave in this way; what a dramatic reaction, what previous actions could have stoked such a venomous response…I know, I couldn’t wait to find out!

Melodie retreats from the situation and vows to deal with this usurper after her wedding, which is the most entrancing episode, I loved this wedding; simple, elegant, family orientated, beach side with chiffon and bougainvillea blowing in a warm breeze, friends and family uniting to celebrate this loving couple, with dancing, drinking and the wonderful plate throwing tradition and the vision of one of Anton’s brother’s trousers splitting during some enthusiastic dancing, can’t fail to make you smile! After the wedding, Melodie discovers that the aggressive intruder, is in fact her sister Keres, who it seems was stolen from their mother and discarded by their nefarious father! Melodie seeks to right the wrongs of the past and welcomes this prickly young woman into her life and home…but very quickly it is apparent all is not what it seems, is Keres who she says she is and what are her motives for seeking out reconnection with Melodie…the subtle thrilling tension builds, as a reader your mind is filled with a multitude questions in your quest to unravel the truth! Will Anton and Melodie’s life together be tarnished by Keres’s intentions; is she a victim of her past or the orchestrator of villainy! But of course, if I say more, then I will spoil your fun in uncovering the resolution!

Francesca’s novel is topical, tropical, thrilling and utterly tantalising to read, her cast of characters delightfully engaging and her plotlines, have a mischievous slow burn quality and although revelations are made, you are left with a teasing sense of disquiet and a delectable impression that there is still more to come! Which of course there is in book three…which now you have whetted our appetites Francesca, I hope will be coming soon! If you are looking for an ensnaring and enticing family saga to read this bank holiday weekend then these are the books for you, it’s a series, so in my opinion you need both books to sate your curiosity. I have thoroughly enjoyed my time on Corfu with Melodie and I look forward in gleeful anticipation to what will happen next!

Happy Reading Bookophiles…

About the Author:

Francesca Catlow is a mother of two young children and a carer to her husband, she has created her own publishing brand to produce novels her own way and to create her own work-life freedom. Born and raised in the heart of Suffolk, Catlow has travelled extensively in Europe with her French husband and, more recently, their two children. Of all the places she’s been, it is the Greek islands that have captured her heart.

www.francescacatlow.co.uk

Twitter/Tik Tok – @FrancescaCatlow

Facebook/Instagram – @FrancescaCatlowOfficial

Please do read some of the other reviews on this blog tour.

The Belles of Waterloo

Author: Alice Church

Publisher: Unicorn Publishing Group / Universe

Available: 1st April 2022 in Paperback

Thank you to Anne Cater, Random Things Tours and Unicorn Publishing Group/Universe for my gifted copy and for having me on the blog tour for this book. My review is based on my experience of the book and any thoughts expressed here are solely mine alone.

Book Details:

Maria, Georgy, and Harriet navigate their first throes of passion, scandal, and love in the heady pre-war atmosphere of Brussels in 1815. Little do they know they will soon be waltzing their way to the battle of the century at a small village called Waterloo. As the fight for Europe rages outside the city walls, Maria seeks to find herself – will she also find a husband along the way?

My Thoughts:

The moment I read the details of Alice’s book The Belles of Waterloo I clapped my hands in glee and knew immediately I had to read it. I do relish a novel that re-imagines the remarkable lives of women during periods of history that my previous formal education has failed to develop. Alice’s book is irresistible, sumptuously, and seamlessly blending her incredible factual knowledge with delectable fictional inspiration. Alice’s inviting insight of the time and the family comes alive on the page; you are immersed in their world and I became very attached to the sisters three and all their trials, tribulations, and triumphs. I warn you now, once you start reading this book, you won’t be able to stop or escape its historical embrace, nor will you wish too! Prepare to be enticed by rank, reluctance, romance, and reticules!

The novel opens in London, a city awash with jubilation and excitement, Bonaparte has finally been bested; the celebrations are underway, the pageantry, the sights and sounds fill your senses, the anticipation of balls and dinners to mark the occasion but for Harriet, Georgy, and Maria much to their dismay, will it seems miss it all! As their mother Lady Caroline, informs them, the entire family is moving to Brussels and given the girls reaction to this announcement, Belgium may well be the ends of the earth and they can’t believe that their mother would take them away from town just as the ballrooms of London will be filled with potential suitors! But they are astute enough to ascertain that despite their discontent and disappointment, there is no other option; if their family is to avoid financial scandal brought about by their own father’s addiction to the ‘green baize’ and their creditors menacing approach!

After a gruelling three-week journey and I have to say my mind boggled at the concept of travelling in two carriages with 11 children for this period of time. If I’m honest it maybe the concept of 11 children that sets my mind aquiver with horror more, than than the mode and duration of travelling! The family arrives in Brussels and much to the surprise and delight of Harriet, Georgy, and Maria, they find their new home is a large, delightful house, pleasantly situated right in the heart of society! They soon discover that their exile may not be as tedious as expected and the potential for romantic adventure may well be within their grasp; as there is soon a cavalcade of eligible suitors gracing their drawing room and they receive invitations that draw them into the vibrant and heady high society of Brussels! I confess I did spend some time, playing match maker in my head at this point; Georgy and the Prince of Orange; Harriet and General Barnes and what of Maria and the increasingly infamous Lord Hay, would their romantic hearts be satisfied or would the ‘cruel world where women were judged harshly on their dress, manners and accomplishment’ prevail! Just as you are caught up in all this tantalising romantic potential, the political circumstances shift and Bonaparte escapes Elba, rallies his forces and all frivolity is quashed by the encroachment of War on their lives and society, where the focus comes down to a battle to be fought in nearby Waterloo! And of course, I know what happens next but you’ll have to buy the book to find out won’t you! I know, I’m a monstrous tease!

This book is like a box of exceedingly posh chocolates, it’s beautiful to look at but once you unwrap it, there are layers of literary and historic delight to tempt, discover and savour. I loved that each chapter starts with an extract from the real letters of the family, Alice based her characters upon. I was fascinated by the sublime details of dress and etiquette and that this story is revealed from a wholly female perspective; where these incredible, intelligent, individual women, their emotions, expectations, and their untapped strength are at its heart. I applaud Alice’s sublime ability to transport her reader from boats and ballrooms to battlefield with such vicarious imagination. The very essence of this outstanding historic romantic read, embraces, and entices you as a reader and you cannot fail to enjoy every morsel! I can’t wait for you to read it too because if you love historical fiction as much as I do, this book really is a must read!

Happy Reading Bookophiles…

About the Author:

Alice Church has specialised in Wellington-era history since studying for her BA at University College London. After graduating in 2012 she worked as a researcher on the Wellington portrait catalogue ‘Wellington Portrayed’ (Unicorn, 2014). She has also published a biography of Lady Georgiana Lennox, daughter of the 4th Duke of Richmond (Universe, 2016). She lives in Dorset with her husband Charles and son Freddie. This is her first novel.

Please do read some of the other reviews on this blog tour.

Wet Paint

Author: Chloë Ashby

Publisher: Trapeze

Available: 14th April 2022 in Hardback, eBook & Audiobook

Thank you to Alex Layt & Trapeze for my gifted copy of this book. My review is based on my experience of the book and any thoughts expressed here are solely mine alone.

Book Details:

 Since the death of her best friend Grace, twenty-six-year-old Eve has learned to keep everything and everyone at arm’s length. Safe in her detachment, she scrapes along waiting tables and cleaning her shared flat in exchange for cheap rent, finding solace in her small routines.

But when a chance encounter at work brings her past thundering into her present, Eve becomes consumed by painful memories of Grace. And soon her precariously maintained life begins to unravel she loses her job, gets thrown out of her flat, and risks pushing away the one decent man who cares about her.

Taking up life-modelling to pay the bills, Eve lays bare her body but keeps hidden the mounting chaos inside her head. When her self-destructive urges spiral out of control, she’s forced to confront the traumatic event that changed the course of her life, and to finally face her grief and guilt.

My Thoughts:

Today I am sharing my thoughts with you on Chloë Ashby’s debut novel Wet Paint. Chloë brings a fresh perspective and a direct voice to women of her generation, I just realised how ancient that statement makes me sound, but age is a factor here, so read on. Wet Paint is an arresting, awkward and brilliantly articulated story of the hazards of dealing with life in your mid-20s. I found it fascinating in how many ways the world has moved on, developed, and changed since my own 20s and how society’s expectations have expanded for better and for the worse and subsequently how our individual reactions and coping strategies to the varied circumstances we face, mould us in to courageous, capable women . This book is not…. a novel of fluffy happiness, where insight dawns on the protagonist and she lives a better life or worse goes on to live happily ever after…this is reality, the visceral, vivid, and vexing experiences of a young woman attempting to negotiate a life hampered by loss, guilt and grief…it is instead, an ode to survival.

The story opens with a young woman, filling the silence of the room she has found herself in by talking and talking, her own anxiety has taken hold and she cannot stop the outpouring nor her overthinking of everything. When it dawns on you as a reader, you are the fly on the wall and are watching our protagonist in a counselling session, which was confirmed for me when the term ‘abandonment issues’ was uttered, classic parlance for this type of environment! This one sided jittery, jarring conversation, is a brilliant opening, it conveys the turmoil in the mind of the character and her need to say what she needs to express, as quickly as possible, so it’s done, it’s over and whatever her issue/s are, by the act of expelling a torrent of words, she can convey her story, a verbal exorcism of sorts, surely by doing it this way, her burden will be vanquished or explained and won’t require further examination, which she really can’t bear!…Eve says it herself –  how did a simple train journey end here!

When we meet Eve, she is most certainly stumbling through life, she’s 26, lives in a shared house in London with a condescending couple. She has an uncomfortable relationship with her one remaining parent and didn’t finish her degree, Eve is not winning at life! Instead, she’s a waitress, with a litany of previous such jobs in her wake; it’s a role filled with unpleasantness and pitfalls and daily Eves faces ‘acceptable’ harassment from the clientele that frequent the bar she works in…you can imagine of what I speak; leery city boys and avaricious men with wallets bigger than their IQs and who are pathologically incapable of keeping their hands to themselves!!! On this day in this place, Eve is fed up with their mauling and applies a swift slap to frequent perpetrator; as a result, she is once again unemployed and as a reader and a woman, you are reduced to gnashing your teeth at the unrelenting unfairness of the situation. I confess, my taser finger was twitching madly and I was certainly thinking, that a short sharp bust of electricity to some of this world’s cockwombles, would in my humble opinion, go a long way to improving things for a lot of women! I digress – back to Eve. Who on being fired again, decides to branch out and opts new career path as a life model, with some interesting and intriguing outcomes!

Eve for me, is the modern version of anti-heroine; she’s a catastrophe, difficult, demanding and often unpleasant, she seems to lack even a hint of common sense or foresight regarding her actions, nor does she care, she is often unobservant and self-interested. As a reader you will learn of the circumstances, that may have made her this way and some readers will pity her and explain away her selfishness and self-destructive behaviour, citing that there is always a reason, an explanation, or an excuse for what she does but so is the fact she takes no personal responsibility for her actions. Eve possess a subtle level of entitlement in an obtuse way and her complete audacity in taking other people’s belongings, being late and being inconsiderate towards, the few people left in her life that do seem to care is staggering. I did wonder if it was my age, perceptions, and own experiences, that made me see her this way! I found myself to be enthusiastically frustrated by her; Eve is not likeable but perversely, I think that is why I did enjoy her antics and honestly because Eve may well be a darker reflection of ourselves! She is the literary vehicle, that allows us to see the impact of grief on life, the burden of loss and guilt that has hindered her progression, the very core of herself has been shattered not once but twice and fighting the spiralling darkness within, is hard selfish work!

One of my favourite parts of this novel is Eve’s happy place (not a euphemism for anything naughty) but reference to Eve’s visits to a painting she nickname’s the barmaid, located at the Courtauld Art Gallery; the painting in question is by Manet and titled  A Bar at the Folies-Bergère (1882) which is where Eve comes to find solace and revisit past memories of happier times and her best friend Grace, whom she met while they were both studying Art History in the hallowed halls of Oxford. Two girls who were as different as fire and ice but who forged a sibling like attachment. But now, Eve sits alone and remembers and cogitates!  Anything further on this element, is for you to uncover!

Chloe’s book is tantalising, thrilling and tremendous; unflinchingly emotional and evocative, providing scope and depth to the increasingly heavy weight issues of being a young woman in this modern world of ours and attempting to deal with raw, overwhelming circumstances, without the aid of a familial safety net. As all the elements of Eve’s life explosively collide, as the tension and tempo of the story rises, you are left breathless with anticipation about how this story could or will end but as to what that end will be…ah well now…You’ll have to read the book and find out, won’t you!

Happy Reading Bookophiles

About the Author:

Chloë Ashby is an author and journalist. Her first novel, Wet Paint, will be published by Trapeze in April 2022. Since graduating from the Courtauld Institute of Art, she has written about art and culture for publications such as the TLS, Guardian, FT Life & Arts, Spectator and frieze. She is the author of Look At This If You Love Great Art (Ivy Press; June 2021) and The Colours of Art (Frances Lincoln; August 2022).

 www.chloeashby.com

Lost Property

Author: Helen Paris

Publisher: Penguin/DoubleDay

Available: 13th April 2022 in Paperback, eBook, and Audiobook

Thank you to Anne Cater, Random Things Tours & Penguin/DoubleDay for my gifted copy and for having me on the blog tour for this book. My review is based on my experience of the book and any thoughts expressed here are solely mine alone.

Book Details:

A moving, uplifting and life-affirming debut novel from an exciting new voice in Book Club fiction.

With themes of loss, hope, forgiveness, and kindness, this is a novel about finding your place in the world.

One lost purse. One lost woman.

A chance encounter that changes everything.

Dot Watson has lost her way. Wracked with guilt and struggling with grief, she has tucked herself away in the London Transport Lost Property office, finding solace in the process of cataloguing misplaced things. It’s not glamorous or exciting, but it’s solitary – just the way Dot likes it.

That is, until elderly Mr Appleby walks through the door in search of his late wife’s purse and Dot immediately feels a connection to him. Determined to help, she sets off on an extraordinary journey, one that could lead Dot to reclaim her life and find where she truly belongs…

 My Thoughts:

It is my absolute joy and pleasure to be sharing with you my thoughts on Helen Paris’s debut book Lost Property and it’s a corker; charismatic, charming, calamitous, comforting and ultimately cheering; this is a novel about lost property but more potently, it is about the properties of loss! Reading this book, is like coming home, it is funny and familiar and you cannot help but adore Dot…her lot in life and her experiences will resonate with you. As she did for me, if I am candid, I am very like Dot Watson bar her sartorial choices and taste for soups of the world (I am scotch broth or cream of chicken fan through and through, Helen knows what I am referencing here). Dot is the doyenne of the dijon, focused, diligent, probably more than a little bit OCD, with an innate belief, there is a place for everything and everything has its place and takes her role of reuniting property with their person, very seriously! This is a must-read book for you, if like me you were enraptured by Elinor Oliphant; The Cactus or most recently The Maid; where a quirky heroine, her emotional intelligent and societal perspectives are just a little bit different. I should also say I love this novel so much, that I’ve read it twice and the character voices on the audiobook version are a perfect joy! You simply must read it or listen to it for yourself…I insist vigorously you buy it and buy one for a friend while you’re at it!

For over a decade, Dot Watson with her fastidious, professional approach has made it her raison d’être to reunite the variety of ephemera retrieved or handed in from buses, trains and tubes at Transport for London with their forgetful and on occasion, careless owners; anything and everything from ubiquitous black umbrellas to funeral urns and back again, handbags, books, travel cards, you name it; these items will probably pass through Dot’s hands and be suitably attired with a detailed descriptive dijon label and then kept safe until the item in question can be returned or re-homed. Dot rarely deviates from her rotes or routines, her work uniform of brogues, pleated skirt and felted jacket nor her avid addiction to travel guides or her preference for an ‘adult’ drink now and again! Dot’s life is a perfect holding pattern of secure unexcitment but these weren’t the dreams and aspirations she had a girl, nor the direction she intended her life to take. In a previous lifetime, she studied languages, lived and loved in the sumptuous city of Paris, explored its beauty and mystery and aspired to be UN translator and travel the world. Until tragedy struck! The sort of life changing, joy sucking episode, the weight of which cripples Dot emotionally, the burden of grief and loss so overwhelming that only the lost property pit in Baker Street can provide sanctuary and protection from its onslaught. Dot’s own experiences of loss, illuminates the reasons she places such profound importance in her task of reunion. Belongings, have tangible memories, they allow their owner to recall a time, a place, a person, a connection, it may only be fleeting but it is present. It is this understanding, that drives Dot especially when she meets Mr John Appleby, who has lost his leather bag, containing a trowel, tulip bulbs and his deceased wife’s purse, his sadness at being without this ordinary familiar item resonates with Dot, she is aware of what such a loss costs and makes it her mission to locate said items but this isn’t going to be as simple as she expects!

The winds of change are blowing for Dot both personally and professionally; the Lost Property department has a change of management and the pompous, jargon spouting, terrifik uttering slime that is Neil Burrows takes charge and makes a plethora of unnecessary modernisations; aimed solely at making him look good! Worse still he has his clammy sights set on our delicious Dot and quite frankly, showering in battery acid would be more preferable than being ‘clasped’ by NB! This repugnant man needs frequent and repeated tasering to his unmentionables although Dot manages to fend him off in her own indomitable way, you’ll see how! This hideous change to Dot’s work environs is not the only discombobulation she faces; a year previously, she had moved in with her mother, whose mental faculties due to dementia were starting to fail, a fall resulting in a broken hip and Dot’s sister Philippa, supercilious queen of the spray and swipe, takes charge and moves their mother to safe confines of ‘The Pines’ nursing home! Because Philippa knows what’s best for everyone, her mother and Dot and now, she believes it’s time to sell her mother’s house and for Dot ‘to get on with her life! And trust me, all of this comes with some comic and calamitous happenings and possibly a hint of romance but I am certainly not going to spoil those elements for you…although the episode of Dot and Philippa, finally understanding each other’s perspectives and then being chased by a bull in a muddy field, is utterly hilarious. I am still wiping tears of mirth from my eyes!

At the core of this wonderful story is the poignant, profound issue of loss, the properties of which impact everyone, every day in a myriad of ways. Loss of a loved one is the hardest of these to bare and it permeates the essence, choices and living of those left behind. With Dot’s loss, she bears a burden of guilt, of regret, of recrimination and a heartfelt belief that her words or actions in some way bore responsibility or negatively influenced the circumstances; grief narrowed her perspectives and so did, a lack of comprehension regarding the true intentions and actions of her sister and mother. So all-encompassing and powerful was her hurt that it skewed the reality of the situation, placing her in a stasis of sorts and emotive hibernation; now with her own emotional fog clearing, a dawning realisation occurs in a dramatic manner and shatters finally the numbing bubble she resides in and a new Dorothea Watson emerges, ready and willing to live and love again.

Helen has written a story to be treasured and shared, it is imbued with insightful, amusing, and enduring characters; a charming intelligence and the ability to make you laugh and cry at the same time. Lost Property is a sincere, scintillating, sparkling read and its power and profundity will remain with you long after you’ve closed the cover of the book. I cannot wait for you to cherish this book as much as I have.

Happy Reading Bookophiles…

About the Author:

Helen Paris worked in the performing arts for two decades, touring internationally with her London-based theatre company Curious. After several years living in San Francisco and working as a theatre professor at Stanford University, she returned to the UK to focus on writing fiction. As part of her research for a performance called ‘Lost & Found’, Paris shadowed employees in the Baker Street Lost Property office for a week, an experience that sparked her imagination and inspired this novel.

Lost Property is her first novel.

A note from Helen:

“Although entirely a work of fiction Lost Property was influenced by the short time I spent in Lost Property, Baker Street shadowing different employees as research for a performance. Whether it’s a designer bag left in the back of a black cab or a woolly scarf forgotten on the number 44 bus, loss touches all of us. It is pervasive, and it never ends ¬¬– as Dot Watson might say, ‘It’s reliable like that.’

I have always been fascinated by the memories that objects hold, how even the most everyday object – a pipe, a bag, a small purse – can help us recall a place or a person or a particular time in life.  Objects can be totemic, portals to the past.  Tactile memory ¬– the memories triggered by holding familiar objects – can be profound.  Some objects almost let us time-travel back to the places we yearn to be, to the people no longer with us, and linger there, if only for a moment.”

Please do read some of the other reviews available on this blog tour.

Shattered Bones

Author: Kate Bendelow

Publisher: Bloodhound Books & Isis Audio Ltd

Available: Out now in paperback, eBook & audiobook

Thank you to Danielle Price, Isis Audio Ltd for my gifted audio copy and for having me on the blog tour for this book. My review is based on my experience of the book and any thoughts expressed here are solely mine alone.

Book Details

How do you catch a killer if you can’t identify the victim? A scene of crime officer collects the evidence piece by piece in this gritty British mystery.

SOCO Maya Barton is called to a canal where a heavily decomposed male body has been discovered. A bank card belonging to Trevor Dawlish is found in the cadaver’s pocket, and the name matches that of a missing person.

All seems straightforward—until Trevor’s wife phones the police to say that Trevor has returned home, leaving Maya and the team wondering who the unknown male is.

When it’s revealed that the male was dead before he entered the water, Maya finds herself with a murder on her hands. But when another body is discovered, the case becomes further complicated. The hope is that facial reconstruction of the first victim will help solve the mystery—but it may lead Maya and her team down an even darker path.

My Thoughts

It is my pleasure to be reviewing Kate Bendelow’s second book, Shattered Bones in the Maya Barton series. I am a huge fan of crime novels and Kate’s books; are now firm favourites and I have devoured the first two narrated by Annabelle Indge on audiobook in a week; I was completely engrossed in book one – Definitely Dead and moved seamlessly and greedily on to this second book and if I am honest, I am already clamouring for book three. They are addictive listening; I can tell you. I am very much a creature of habit and with crime novels I can’t bear to read them out of sequence because for me, there are always underlying elements that span a series and I simply must know the origins of these plotlines before I can settle down and immerse myself in the present circumstances! But you can certainly read them, however you choose, so long as you read them!

Shattered Bones opens with a malicious, sinister promise made, the sense of rage is palpable and the need for revenge is polluting the air! It is certainly a gripping way to start this second book but as to who might be making these dark utterances; you will have to wait and see! Maya Barton is a SOCO or scenes of crime officer, for anyone not familiar with the label. Her job is to retrieve the deceased and all the ephemera surrounding their discovery be it by foul means or fair! Maya is sharp, sassy and when the need arises occasionally snarky and when you work with some big egos, quick wits are required! Maya has been called to recover a decomposing body from a canal and you get the full decidedly gruesome details of how exactly this is achieved. It is one of the many elements, I love about Kate’s books. Yes, the characters and plots are fiendishly devious but the authentic and knowledgeable aspects of Maya’s job are based on reality, as Kate has held a similar role in real life and she embeds these very specific nuanced details to Maya’s actions. Which sets apart her books from other crime novels and makes them for me even more enticing to read.

All the signs point to this body being a missing chap called Trevor but as water does terrible things to bodies, his identification is tricky! Made more so when a call from his wife reporting his return to their home and his assault on her, but how is this even possible if he is supposed to be dead and his remains languishing in a canal!!! Clearly all is not what it seems and something nefarious is at hand and when the DNA results don’t add up either, there is a lot more investigating to be done. Plus, Trevor’s wife, is beyond irritating (in fact, a third of the way, through the book, I would have quite happily drowned her myself!) When the missing Trevor and his wife are tied to another suspicious death and Maya points out a number of discrepancies, will her discoveries be heeded or dismissed by her police colleagues, after all Maya does have a reputation for relishing a conspiracy and she’s not been wrong yet!

 I was completely engaged by the twisted web of sinister plot lines this book has and how brilliantly they all join together, equally I revelled in how Kate leaves you just enough subtle clues to figure out her compelling plot and yes, I did figure out who had a hand to play in the murders and why and I had a fantastic time figuring it all out. I bet I sound smug now as well, sorry about that! I was also enamoured with the sub plot underpinning this story, it all relates to Maya’s past and watching this menacing figure, creep ever closer to Maya and her mum, Dominique is both terrifying and thrilling all at once and you will have to read Kate’s books to find out anymore! Because I don’t do spoilers and yes, I know I am a dreadful tease!

I have been completely enthralled, engaged, and occasionally terrified by Kate’s latest book. Maya is a fantastic protagonist, she’s clever, kind and doesn’t suffer fools, she sounds like me! The plotting is seamlessly excellent and there is a wonderful edge of tension to the sub plots. Also, there is a great sense of authenticity and originality to the role of a SOCO that I haven’t seen in any other crime novel I have enjoyed to date. I can’t wait to find out what happens in book three, which I hope will be coming very soon, Kate, I hope you are typing fast now, we need more Maya. This is a clever, compelling crime series that every crime fan needs to add to their library.

Happy Sleuthing Bookophiles…

About the Author:

I am the author of The Real CSI: A Forensic Handbook for Crime Writers. I also deliver presentations on the same subject to crime writers. I hope you find The Real CSI a useful resource.

Bloodhound Books are the publishers behind the SOCO Maya Barton trilogy. It’s crime fiction with a twist, as the main protagonist is a scene of crime office rather than a detective. The first two books in the series are Definitely Dead and Shattered Bones and are perfect for you if you’re interested in forensics crime scene investigation.

Please follow me on Twitter, Instagram, or my author page https://www.facebook.com/Katebendelowauthor/

Please do read some of the other reviews on this blog tour.

Fledgling

Author: Hannah Bourne-Taylor

Publisher: Aurum

Available: 5th April 2022 in Hardback and Ebook

Thank you to Anne Cater, Random Things Tours & Aurum for my beautiful, gifted copy and for having me on the blog tour for this book. My review is based on my experience of the book and any thoughts expressed here are solely mine alone. 

Book Details

Hannah Bourne-Taylor grew up in the English countryside, the daughter of a biologist and conservationist. Years later, she found herself living in rural Ghana for her husband’s work. Without a job or purpose of her own, she sank into depression and was suffering from acute anxiety. Fledgling examines the struggles of reshaping an identity when ‘normal’ life has fallen away. Fuelled by the power of nature, it is also a raw and uplifting account of Hannah’s unexpected bond with two wild birds who she rescues and raises with the intention of releasing back into the wild. Brimming with determination and hope, it a reminder to us all that nature can provide solace in the most unexpected ways. Even the tiniest of creatures can show us what is important in life and how to find happiness

My Thoughts

There are some books that come into my life that completely take me by surprise, by the power of their contents and connection they bring to me as a reader. Everything around you seems to fall away when you immerse yourself in the pages of such a book and Fledgling by Hannah Bourne-Taylor, is just such a book. When I finally turned the last page, I sat on my sofa slightly giddy and in awe of all I had just read and vicariously experienced. WOW doesn’t even begin to do sufficient justice to the impact this book had on me or I hope on you when you read it and I can hardly articulate how much I want everyone I know to read it. Before I had even read a few chapters in, I knew Hannah’s story had etched itself onto my heart, it is bewitchingly beautifully written and Hannah has a turn of phrase equal to such classics penned by Thomas Hardy and you can’t help but admire them. This is a book unlike any other I have read and yet there is a familiarity and comfort to be found within the soothing cadence of its pages and just for the record. I love marmalade just as much as Hannah does, for similar reasons!

Hannah is a keen and sensitive observer; she sees, absorbs, appreciates the natural world around her. Her impressions of her environment from wildest Africa to the drizzlier urban shores of the UK are recounted in poetic, detailed beauty; she knows the lay of the land that she walks upon like the creases of her hand. In the prologue of this book Hannah recalls stargazing and the progression of the seasons, from nature emerging from the grey slumbering solicitude of Winter; to the warming song of Spring; sky bound travellers whose arrival herald the summer months; from dawn chorus to evening lullaby and these words, just resonate in your soul.

 Hannah’s photographer’s eye finds wonder in the smallest aspects of the world she sees and what is more incredible is that she has the ability to transcribe for us the most lyrical, vibrant and sumptuous images into words. When she’s first introducing us to Swifts, she imparts the fact that Swifts sleep on the wing and don’t roost like other birds and she is wondering what is like to live in the sky and sleep among the clouds and how this remarkable feat doesn’t quite correlate with the ordinary life below; ” As though they can’t possibly exist at the same time, let alone in the same view, as rows of cottages. Cottages full of people who are curled up on sofas or gathered in kitchens eating late-night bowls of cereal or snoring under duvets. And yet, above televisions and baths, dining table and computers, bunk beds and four posters, shooting stars graze the skies and sleeping swifts glide”. I ask you how, can you fail to fall in love with such a description; my biggest concern when writing my review was that I would become overly obsessed with noting down such slices of literary deliciousness, I seem to have filled a notebook full of them!

As Hannah and her husband leave the UK for Ghana; she is faced with a whole new world and she becomes a ‘trailing spouse’, a follower of her husband; her career and aspirations are put indefinitely on hold as she is not permitted to work and her life is held in his wake! The poignancy of leaving behind all Hannah knows rolls of the pages, the start of an unknown adventure, will it bring tribulation or despair; her awareness of danger in its many forms; from dangerous reptiles to emotional isolation and depression. Hannah’s new life is not one dreams are made of; she is lost and at a loss, the overwhelming sense of her isolation, being lonely and homesick is heartbreakingly tangible. The struggle she has to establish a necessary form of identity in her new environment, which is not helped by being trapped in concrete box of an apartment! Like me, Hannah has lived an urban nomadic existence; constantly moving to different houses, places, continually having to start anew; everything changes, except for the birds. When and wherever she has been they are ‘her anchor of home’, which becomes even more vital during her time abroad. The loss of the sense of home and the identity that comes with being settled is the partial heart of this book.  

With Hannah’s move abroad, she never imagined how much she would lose her sense of belonging within herself…until her reconnection with Swifts and their ‘graceful madness’ sparks recognition, realignment, redemption, and resuscitation. When a young swift is displaced from its nest, Hannah steps in, as much to save this little bird as to save herself and the enormity of this task is revealed and this won’t be the last time she undertakes such actions, as a glorious mannikin finch will also have a stunning impact on Hannah later on but that is for me to know and you to read for yourselves and it would be far too easy for me to spoil what happens next or on Hannah’s return years later to the UK…I envy you the experience, of discovering these elements of the book for the first time.

This book is such a consummate joy to read; Hannah’s environmental awareness is beyond admirable, her story and experiences that she shares with us her readers are magnificently elucidating, edifying and educational, with every word, you can see and smell the bougainvillea, the fluctuations of palm fronds, the relentless march of ants, the combes of paper wasps, the silver flash of puff adders but the birds are the stars of this show. For me, this book epitomises nature and nurture, the potential of the symbiotic relationship between humans and all creatures, winged, pawed, clawed, or hoofed; it is a magnificent lullaby to nature combined with a determination by Hannah to nurture those creatures, often overlooked and in doing so, she finds understanding, solace, and nurtures herself, it is truly inspiring. All I can say now, is that you simply must buy this book, today with all haste!

About the Author:

Hannah Bourne-Taylor graduated from the London College of Fashion, with a First in Photography in 2008. She became an equine photographer with photographs exhibited in the Royal Academy and solo exhibitions in London and New York. From 2013 – 2021 Hannah lived in rural Ghana with her husband who ran the ‘Right to Dream’ charitable foundation. She worked within the charity’s media team producing a documentary series on gender equality in celebration of the foundation’s girls’ programme, the first of its kind in Africa. Since 2019, Hannah has ghost written and edited several books, including working closely with Anne Glenconner on her bestselling Lady in Waiting: My Extraordinary Life in the Shadow of the Crown.

Hannah is now back in the UK, putting down roots in the Oxfordshire countryside with her husband and their two Ghanaian rescue dogs. She is writing her second book, based around British wildlife and conservation, to be published by Aurum in 2023. She is currently actively involved in a number of conservation projects within the UK, including The Bumblebee Conservation Trust; The Woodland Trust; People’s Trust for Endangered Species (PTES) and Froglife. More information can be found here: https://hannahbournetaylor.com; or via Twitter: @WriterHannahBT @aurumpress #Fledgling

Please do read some of the other reviews on this blog tour.

A Question of Guilt

Author: Jørn Lier Horst

Publisher: Penguin Michael Joseph

Available: 3rd March 2022, in paperback, eBook & Audiobook

Thank you to Kallie Townsend & Penguin Michael Joseph for my gifted copy and for having me on the blog tour for this book. My review is based on my experience of the book and any thoughts expressed here are solely mine alone.

Book Details

WISTING IS BACK IN THE FOURTH NOVEL IN THE COLD CASE QUARTET (AS SEEN ON BBC FOUR)

The record-breaking Norwegian TV series, Wisting, hit UK screens on BBC Four in 2019 and the second series is due to air soon. Be ahead of the game and join investigator William Wisting to discover the killer… In 1999, seventeen-year-old Tone Vaterland was killed on her way home from work. Desperate for a conviction the police deemed the investigation an open-and-shut case and sent her spumed boyfriend, Danny Momrak, down for murder. But twenty years later William Wisting receives a puzzling letter. It suggests the wrong man was convicted for Tone’s death and the real murderer is still out there. Wisting is quickly thrown into a terrifying race against time where he must find the sender, decipher this mysterious letter, and catch the real killer before they strike again…

My Thoughts:

I am an ardent fan of all things dark, freezing, grisly, gripping and colloquially known as Scandi Noir, thanks to epic tv series like The Killing, The Bridge & Der Pass and of course the world renowned Millennium series – aka Girl with a Dragon Tattoo by Steig Larsson. This month, I embarked on a new, well to me, Scandi crime series and I fell into the world of William Wisting masterminded by the deviously talented Jørn Lier Horst. Whose books, I had missed…until now!

I have to admit, that this is the first book of Jørn’s I have read although it is the 4th book in the Wisting series and I hate reading out of sequence as such series often have underlying story lines that run across all the books (and so it is here) but fortunately  on this occasion, I was able to mitigate this issue because BBC iPlayer has an excellent tv dramatization of some of the previous books and as Jørn is an Executive producer of the series. I had every faith the TV version would be adhering to the tone and tension of the books and would catch me in a general manner…which they did! But have no fear I have two of the earlier books lined up to listen to!

A Question of Guilt is from the outset an arresting, atmospheric instalment and as I was reading the book, it struck me how structurally similar it was to one of my beloved complicated jigsaw puzzles. As any proficient puzzler will attest; each one of us has a process for solving tricky jigsaws; some of us like to throw caution to the wind and dive in without any preparation. Others of us are more considered, strategic, and ordered in our puzzling process. I confess, I am much more the latter, than the former. As I prefer to start a puzzle by locating the outside edge pieces and dividing the rest in trays according to colour/image. Now why all this reference to jigsaws, in the middle of a book review. Well because for me, this book is a complex, creative, crime conundrum; all the elements are just like the pieces of a puzzle, with timelines over a 20-year period, a variety of characters whose actions and behaviours influence both the past and the present and clues to direct the reader towards information to create the whole picture and like any crime reader. I always like to pit my wits against the author’s imagination and see if I can figure it all out before the revelation! Which I do by organising the plot in the same way I do jigsaw puzzle pieces – see I’m a nerd (and proud of it). Trust me I needed all my puzzling prowess to fathom out and navigate the clues and mystery in this book and yes it paid off but obviously I can say why…no spoilers here!

Just to give you a little taste of what you can expect; Wisting is a police detective, he is supposed to be on leave until he receives the first of four cryptic letters; containing nothing but a series of numbers in black marker; to what do these numbers pertain? Can Wisting decipher them; Who sent the notes and why? Wisting soon finds himself, re-examining a case two decades old; that of 17 year old Tone Vaterland; who went missing after finishing work at a local eatery and then a few days later, her naked brutalised body was discovered! Naturally the case was investigated and the conclusion was drawn, that her recently dumped boyfriend Danny Momrak, sort revenge, with a tragic outcome. The case was investigated, evidence gathered, witnesses interviewed (or were they) and the case fully prosecuted and the murderer imprisoned… or was it!? Was the right man punished for his crimes; now there is new evidence and the advancement in technology may suggest that a murder has walked free, possibly more than once, especially if the current murder is taken into consideration! Naturally, as Wisting starts to re-assess the past cases and the new, his investigating creates waves and he must deal with the political pushback from those, whose starring roles in the old cases, led them and their careers on to bigger and better things! Digging up this past case and another, with a nearly identical MO, will cause unnecessary ructions for all involved and they are very displeased, and that’s putting it mildly! Will the new technology and newly discovered evidence prove a miscarriage of justice has occurred or is there something more nefarious afoot…well that’s for me to know and you to find out when you read the book! It would be no fun if I spoil the surprises!

One of the most striking things about this book (and I suspect the other in the series may prove similar) is it’s clear that Jørn’s own knowledge of policing, investigating and legal procedure, is woven skilfully into Wisting’s character his attitude and actions. Which makes you forget that you are reading a work of fiction, because it makes the story, plot and its twists and turns completely authentic in tone and taste. I have enjoyed every page of this engaging, atmospheric episode and I am very much looking forward to revelling in Jørn’s earlier books to discover more about William Wisting and his past cases; this is a Scandi Noir series, you don’t want to miss, it is definitely a set to add to your crime collections.

Happy Reading Bookophiles…

About the Author:

Having worked as a police officer and head of investigations before becoming a full-time writer, Jørn Lier Horst has established himself as one of the most successful authors to come out of Scandinavia. His books have sold over two million copies in his native Norway alone and he’s published in twenty-six languages.

Please do read some of the other reviews on this blog tour.

The Diamond Eye

Author: Kate Quinn

Publisher: Harper Collins

Available: 29th March 2022 in Hardback, eBook & audiobook

Thank you to Anne Cater, Random Things Tours & Harper Collins, for my lovely, gifted copy and for having me on the blog tour for this book. My review is based on my experience of the book and any thoughts expressed here are solely mine alone.

Book Details

New from the bestselling author of The Rose Code, which was an immediate #2 New York Times and #1 Canadian Globe and Mail bestseller, an Indie Pick and Amazon Best Book of March 2021

Based on true historical facts: Like her previous novels, Kate has been inspired by real events and people, basing Mila, her sniper heroine, on a real-life female figure

She’s the war’s most lethal sniper. And the one they least expect… In the snowbound city of Kiev, aspiring historian Mila Pavlichenko’s life revolves around her young son – until Hitler’s invasion of Russia changes everything. Suddenly, she and her friends must take up arms to save their country from the Fuhrer’s destruction. Handed a rifle, Mila discovers a gift – and months of blood, sweat and tears turn the young woman into a deadly sniper: the most lethal hunter of Nazis. Yet success is bittersweet. Mila is torn from the battlefields of the eastern front and sent to America while the war still rages. There, she finds an unexpected ally in First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt, and an unexpected promise of a different future. But when an old enemy from Mila’s past joins forces with a terrifying new foe, she finds herself in the deadliest duel of her life. The Diamond Eye is a haunting novel of heroism born of desperation, of a mother who became a soldier, of a woman who found her place in the world and changed the course of history forever.

My Thoughts

It is my pleasure today to be reviewing Kate Quinn’s latest book The Diamond Eye; I have been aware of Kate’s previous books and I have The Alice Network to listen to on audiobook very shortly and I am relishing the experience to come. What predominantly draws me to Kate’s books is her ability to reveal the lives and accomplishments of remarkable women, whose courage, resilience, determination, and skills which until now have been shielded from our exploration by the continued patriarchal recounting of history. As if women had no significant part to play on the world stage in times past; as we are merely a footnote in time, relegated to kitchens or nurseries. Kate’s books for me, recalibrate this limited viewpoint of the anonymity of women. As with creative skill and significant research, she weaves an authentic and fascinating story of the woman or women each of her books focuses on. I have been completely transfixed by Kate’s latest book and life in my small household has been frozen; Comet my cat has been woefully unimpressed by my continued focus on reading it and not on capitulating to his every feline whim!

Let me introduce you to Lady Death, single mother, graduate, library researcher, sniper, war hero with 309 kills to her name; who is Lyudmila Pavlichenko? Well, my lovely bookophiles, I hope to merely wet your literary taste buds with my review but full disclosure is yours to discover, when you read the book for yourselves! What intrigued me about the scope of this novel was it seamless blending of imagination, biographical fact and edged with a tantalising thriller element. The book is divided into segments; starting in 1942 with a Russian Delegation visiting the White House and being greeted by the in dominatable Eleanor Roosevelt, as reader you have the feeling of being an omniscient watcher. Amongst the press core clamouring there is another more sinister watcher of these events. Interspersed between sections are Eleanor’s own notes for the day and what she observes. The book, then takes us back in time to follow Mila’s journey and but returns to this 1942 visit at salient points to allow us to uncover a brewing plot and I am doing my best to avoid any semblance of spoilers here.

Now we go back 5 years to 1939; to Mila; a young mother at 21, with a failed marriage trying to arrange a divorce from her arrogant, ambitious surgeon husband; who seduced her at 14 and made her a mother at 15 and 6 weeks after the birth of their son left her! But still years later he won’t release her from their marriage and trust me when I say if ever a man needed tasering (repeatedly) Alexi is top of the list; his constant belittling of Mila, he calls her by the nickname ‘crumb’, on the face of it, this moniker seems endearing or sweet until you examine the nature of the term. A crumb is a waste product and therefore disposable and unimportant. This is how he views and treats his wife, mother of his son! As you read this story, if you are female (or identify as such) you will need to grit your teeth as Kate does not spare our sensibilities and fully reflects via her male characters the typical standing of women at this time; machismo and sexism are rife. As a woman you cannot help feeling irritated and incredulous at the predictable, puerile male perspectives that pour forth on to the page but they are wholly necessary to illuminate the incredible feat Mila achieves despite these derogatory viewpoints.

You cannot help pondering, how Mila became a sniper and I promise all is revealed; there is defining moment, when her vile husband reappears and take their 6 year old son to the shooting range (a seemingly odd turn of events for us in the west) but not an unusual social pursuit in the former Soviet Union under its communist mantle. Mila tracks them down at the range and a series of small events unfurl but they set Mila on the path to being a supreme markswomen. I was enthralled by Mila’s undertaking to train become a superior marksman/women, the relentless training, drilling, and practicing and the wonderfully described understanding of her weapon/s; as she begins to hear ‘ the song a rifle sings’ and her steely determination and anthem of ‘Do Not Miss….Anything’! What is also absorbing, is the endless questioning of her decision to become a sniper; how does a girl, a mother, a student, a librarian kill 100s of men without compunction, what is her secret!?

The assumption is that to be Lady Death makes her an enigma to her sex and I enjoyed the Russia folklore behind this title too; with endless often unflattering caricatures of her looks and character being assumed (from her own comrades to the US press); such a woman must be a wild feral creature; a snarling spitting savage, ice cold and with the immoral consciousness of a beast from a ‘snowbound hellscape!’ I confess I did think this was a rankling irony, that her commanders and some of her fellow soldiers all servants of the communist regime, that pretends to afford equality to both genders, but in reality, this is only hyperbole when it comes to a successful women. The constant disbelief in Mila’s skill and ability, the idea from the west that she is communist stooge and the disappointment in her being so ordinary but I loved the fact, she couldn’t care less what anyone thought/thinks of her and her rifle becomes her spine, the support she requires to face all that is to come. Mila lets her rifle and kill tally do the talking! Though as things turn out, this underestimation, misassumption, and dismissal of her; by a sinister figure and his cohort, who are watching her while she is visiting the US and seeking to embroil her in a nefarious plot, will turn out to be something they regret…that’s all I’m saying!

This intriguing, imaginative, irrepressible story with an incredible heroine at its core is a darkly delicious read awash with tantalising tension. A maelstrom of blood, smoke and history re-told and its pages will transfix you, from the moment you open the book. The scintillating detail of the unrelenting, un-retreating toll of War; of Mila’s pivotal role at Odessa, Sevastopol, the relationships she makes during the most trying of circumstances, her fortitude and sheer will to succeed and survive. This book is a triple threat of history, heroines and hellscapes and oh so much more…bravo Kate, I adored it and I have no doubt you will to and as it’s payday weekend, this is the book you need to buy…right now!

Happy Reading Bookophiles

About the Author:

Kate Quinn is a native of southern California. She attended Boston University, where she earned a Bachelor’s and Master’s degree in Classical Voice. A lifelong history buff, she has written four novels in the Empress of Rome Saga, and two books in the Italian Renaissance detailing the early years of the infamous Borgia clan. All have been translated into multiple languages. She and her husband now live in Maryland with two black dogs named Caesar and Calpurnia

Please do read some of the other reviews of this book on the blog tour.

The Flames

Author: Sophie Haydock

Publisher: DoubleDay

Available: 17th March 2022 in Hardback, eBook & Audiobook

Thank you to Anne Cater, Random Things Tours & DoubleDay for my beautiful, gifted copy and for having me on the blog tour for this book. My review is based on my experience of the book and any thoughts expressed here are solely mine alone.

Book Details

EVERY PAINTING TELLS A STORY, BUT WHAT IF THE WOMEN ON THE CANVAS COULD TALK…

Vienna, at the beginning of the 20th century, is an exhilarating social whirl, a city of ideas, of music, of ground-breaking art, led by Gustav Klimt until the arrival of his scandalous protegee, Egon Schiele. Into this world come four women, each with their own story to tell:

ADELE: passionate, fierce, obstinate. The daughter of a bourgeois family, she rails against the strictures of her class and harbours her own wild fantasies.

GERTRUDE: spirited, single-minded, possessive. The sister to budding artist Egon Schiele, she longs for an exciting life away from their tempestuous family home.

VALLY: determined, independent, proud. A model for celebrated artist Gustav Klimt, she has carved her way out of poverty and is now forging a brave new path for herself.

EDITH: quiet, conventional, loyal. Or is she? Younger sister to Adele, Edith is overlooked and wonders if there is another version of the woman she might become.

Four flames, four wild, blazing hearts, longing to be known. In an elegant bohemian city like Vienna, everything seems possible – until an act of betrayal changes everything. For just as a flame has the power to mesmerize, it can also destroy everything in its path.

My Thoughts:

As I may have mentioned before, my undergraduate degree is in Art History, so it has always been an area of fascination and interest to me. But the world of art is vast, spanning centuries, countries and cultures; it is not unsurprising that there are some areas of this arena that remain undiscovered by own meagre studies and so whenever I get the opportunity to explore and examine the works and world of an artist, I am not overly familiar with, I am always exhilarated to learn more about them and their influences. Art is a passion for both the producers and the viewers, different images resonate in your heart and mind and periods of prolific production are etched on our social conscious. If I say to you; Renaissance, Impressionist, Pre-Raphaelite, or Art Nouveau I am certain any number of images will pop into your head as they do mine.

Egon Schiele it seems was both a pre-war and an inter-war artist although until I embarked on reading Sophie’s debut novel ‘The Flames’ I had never been able to put him and his work into context nor was I aware that he was Gustav Klimt’s protégée. Sophie’s book focuses on Schiele’s muses and recounts their back stories and relationship to the artist and to each other. The backbone and ribs of this novel are awash with Sophie’s magnificent knowledge of this period, this artist and the women who inspired him. Schiele’s work has become seminal to this point time and is universally recognised. However, Schiele’s images though absorbing could also be considered; awkward, misshapen and brutal in many ways and are a complete contrast to the golden stylised ethereal glory of Klimt and as Sophie reveals considered pornographic (likely due to the unflinching, uncompromising, and stark attitudes of his nudes (or rather partially dressed models). All four of the women in this book, were drawn and painted by Schiele on numerous occasions and we probably recognise them more than we do him. Adele, Gertrude (Gertie), Valley and Edith, whose images today adorn the walls of galleries and museums. Sophie’s book is undoubtedly a literary labour of love. It is opulent and sumptuous in its contextual historical details and in its illumination of the politics and society of this age.

The novel is divided into individual books focusing on each of the women but bookended by a modern tale set in the late 1960s and designed to draw the elements of this story together; the book opens with a violent bicycle crash where a young woman collides with a rather rabid old woman, who you think seems to be quite mad, with her muttering and cursing and refusal of help. After she is removed from the scene of the accident, the young woman (Eva) discovers a piece of jewellery and is determined to return it to the disturbed old woman now in hospital. This is our first meeting with Adele!

I loved how each segment of the story; is introduced with an image of the woman it relates to, painted by Schiele; so, Adele’s book is illustrated with ‘Seated Woman with legs drawn up’. And we embark on our interlude with Adele, who is contradictory, obstinate, selfish, and naïve and I confess I really didn’t like her or (in modern parlance) her entitled behaviour towards everyone including her sister (Edith) and her intense resolution to meet Egon and a teenage girl’s obsession unfolds as does the turbulence surrounding the start of WWI! But despite Adele’s desires and schemes, her plans are thwarted and let’s just say things do not go her way and there are some delicious surprises to come.

The book then segways to Gertie – Gertrude; Egon’s little sister, whose love and loyalty to her brother, rolls off the pages. Through her story, we learn of the Schieles’ troubled and tormented past, their life before Vienna; in the rural setting of Tulln; where their father was a station master but their family life is anything but perfect. Their father is tyrannical and incensed by Egon’s failure to measure up to his expectations and sees no value in his daughters or his wife. His violence towards his family, spills out into his professional life and circumstances for the family are dire until tragedy becomes a blessing of sorts! And if you want to find out more, then you will have to read on for yourselves! We move on to Vally; who is flamboyant, fierce, and independent; once a model for Klimt, she wants to find her way in the world on her terms but she is overshadowed by Egon and he does not treat her well! In fact, his treatment of her made me grind my teeth rather! I loved her tenacity, determination, and defence of her loved ones! And how she does not allow society’s restrictions to hamper her, regardless of the cost!

Edith is the fourth muse and Adele’s sister, she is solicitous, obedient, and quietly charming and you think, she is often trampled by the force of her sister’s character. But her quiet calm is her weapon and she wields it masterfully to successfully change the path of her life; to remove society’s shackles, to shake off the conventional and become someone completely different and wholly unexpected. I think Edith is my favourite character, because she is so unexpected and overlooked but that doesn’t stop her and interestingly it is only Egon who really sees her!

Like comets these 4 remarkable women orbit the sun that is Egon Schiele, their trajectory impeded and influenced by him and not always for the good! Through their perspectives and voices we learn more of the artist and the man, the best and worst bits. Each woman see’s and relates to him differently and I admired, how Sophie blended seamlessly fact and fiction to create these women’s voices, lives and aspirations.

This is a truly remarkable read and I loved every line of it; it is a book to ignite your passion for art history, to illuminate the women, whose power and uniqueness are captured for all time on canvas. The flames of their collective and individual influence ignited and inspired Schiele and now through this story they are not easily forgotten nor can they be extinguished by the annals of time. Their presence will burn bright in the minds of all who read this book. It is a magnificent story of trials, tyranny and triumph and will be out in the world tomorrow. Make sure you get hold of a copy; you will miss out if you don’t!

Happy Reading Bookophiles!

About the Author:

 Sophie Haydock is an award-winning author living in east London. The Flames, is her debut novel. She is the winner of the Impress Prize for New Writers. Sophie trained as a journalist at City University, London, and has worked at the Sunday Times Magazine, Tatler and BBC Three, as well as freelancing for publications including the Financial TimesGuardian Weekend magazine, and organisations such as the Arts Council, Royal Academy and Sotheby’s. Passionate about short stories, Sophie also works for the Sunday Times Audible Short Story Award and is associate director of the Word Factory literary organisation. Her Instagram account @egonschieleswomen – dedicated to the women who posed for Egon Schiele – has a community of over 110,000 followers and continues to grow. For more information, visit: sophie-haydock.com.

Please do read some of the other reviews available on this blog tour.

Reputation

Author: Sarah Vaughan

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Available: 3rd March 2022 in Hardback, eBook & Audiobook

Thank you to Anne Cater, Random Things Tour and Simon & Schuster, for my gifted copy and for having me on the blog tour for this book. My review is based on my experience of the book and any thoughts expressed here are solely mine alone.

Book Details

A lifetime to build, one moment to destroy…

Emma is a high-profile MP. Impassioned and empathetic, she wants to make a positive difference but faces threats and trolling as she tries to work in the public eye.

When she launches a campaign to protect women from the effects of online bullying, the abuse steps up. And when her teenage daughter’s character is called into question, Emma learns how far she will go to protect both their reputations. But still: how did she come to be standing trial for murder? She only lied once – didn’t she?

As with Sarah’s last two books, Reputation is both a very successful, suspenseful mystery and emotionally involving: the perfectly positioned book for readers who are curious about what it means to be a woman in the world today. A timely, thought-provoking novel about women, perception, and power.

My Thoughts:

I have a confession, Reputation is the first of Sarah’s novels I have read; don’t get me wrong, I am in possession of her previous books (though if you asked me where they are in my book filled house, I’d have to spend time locating them!) It is not the case of them just being in my stacks of TBR (to be read) books; nor of any antipathy on my part towards Sarah or her novels but more a personal reticence to experience the magnitude of anxiety that their content might unleash in me! What on earth could I mean, I can hear you say with probably a level of exasperation. Sarah’s books for me are exceptional and she adroitly and ardently creates casts and scenarios around remarkable, flawed women facing the tribulations of modernity and reading of these women’s fictional experiences, makes me awkward and edgy with a prevailing sense of unease and no amount of frothy coffee can dispel the sensation. I have prevaricated and have left them unread because, if such incredible fictional women can face destruction…how can ordinary ones in reality like me, survive and succeed in the often poisonous world we live in! Until now, I have performed my reading ostrich approach, buy the books, and read the blurb, take them off the shelves on the odd occasion, when feeling emotionally braver and then chickening out and putting them back; saying to myself nope – not quite ready yet… Pandemics and perimenopause may just have made me brave or more resilient, plus I couldn’t resist the sound of this book!

For several weeks now I have seen glimpses of the front cover of Reputation on social media and when my wonderful proof copy arrived, it didn’t look the same; it was very silver, shiny, and enticing but not the image you see above and then when I sat down to read, I discovered I couldn’t open the book, literally! Serious muppet moment – it was in a slipcover, which required me to slide it off, to uncover the book jacket I was expecting! I am so glad nobody was present to witness my utter gormlessness – how on earth did I not notice this and in the words of Homer Simpson ‘Doh’! Enough of my foolishness let’s talk about Reputation!

The prologue of the story describes the discovery of a body at the bottom of a flight of stairs and my instant reaction; how did we come to this! We then jump back three months to September 2021; meet Emma Webber an MP, divorced, mother of one teenage daughter; she is diligent, determined and driven, passionate about serving her constituents and influencing change for her causes. A photo shoot and front cover in The Guardian magazine, she envisions may assist her in garnering attention for issues she wants to pursue politically. The cover shot is arresting, powerful and alluring, not really how Emma sees herself and of course, there is a price to pay for putting this image of herself out into the world…trolling, vile and vicious abusive words hurled at her! Furthermore, this image will become the bane of her life and will be used a metaphorical stick to taunt and beat her with at her arrest and during her trial. Those that serve the public do so at the emotional, psychological cost to their friends and family!

 My previous words may sound like a bit of a spoiler – they are and they aren’t (ooh I’m such a tease) …a word of advice, assume nothing! Assumption is not your friend, don’t for one second think you know, what is going to occur within the framework of this novel! Just wallow in the glorious genius of the read!

I loved how the story was revealed to the reader, each chapter is written from the perspective of individual characters although mostly Emma and we are introduced to cast by increments; Ex-husband David, who made my eyes roll with irritation regarding  his behaviour; his new wife Caroline, who filled me with distrust and dislike, or Simon, who will make anyone want to charge their tasers to the max – excuse the vernacular – he’s a card carrying cockwomble . Each chapter  is filled with the characters; emotional ephemera, their intentions or inattention, their actions/reactions and for me I was most fascinated by the incomplete and often incomprehensible communications between Emma and her daughter Flora; who is only 14 and in that shadowy twilight zone between childhood and adulthood, where her awareness, fear and vulnerability is heightened but not necessarily understood  and the confusion of communication and  their own individual limited perceptions leads to calamity – you can see disaster brewing  but not the form it will take, remember I said not to assume; all you can do is be a helpless observer…, I said Sarah’s books make me edgy and no I couldn’t stop reading either and nor must you!

It is not a surprise that this book has garnered hype, I usually have a couple of reactions to this, curiosity and sceptism will the contents match the hyperbole? In the case of this novel – ‘hell yes’! As I read the first chapter, a wry grin spread across my face and I found myself nodding in appreciation to my fellow blogging bookophiles, the hype is right! There is an innate symbiosis between reality and imagination in this novel. Sarah is a consummate wordsmith, with a sublime command of vocabulary mixed with creativity and cunning, that seduces the intellect in an unparallel manner…let me just say lachrymouse as an example. Every aspect and element of this story is subtly scintillating and intellectually stimulating, it is fine wine for the mind or in more prosaic terms; a damn fine read!

For me Sarah is the savvy and gloriously sinister 21st century equivalent of Dickens, Elliot, Austin, or Atwood, through the voice of her powerful, female protagonist and how she addresses and tackles in her plot the variety of pertinent, social topics women endure daily. It struck me how astute the title of this novel is; Reputation, the very nature of the word promotes trust, resilience, and integrity. It is a phrase of praise, a societal award of respect and a crucial element of success! A damaged reputation can only herald negative connotations (as you will find out) and how much more costly its loss is to women. Women have fallen on the sword of reputation; it has been used (and still is) to define or defile their character and moral judgement. The loss of reputation for women equals censor and sanctions. In times past it has marked them/us for destitution and even death. A man’s reputation is never defined with the same life changing magnitude; the word can be used in conjunction with their actions or behaviour but never their perceived appearance, perspective, or social value and to my mind this still has not changed. When you read this book, see what you think!

I know it might only just be March but the complexity, cleverness, and charismatic nature of this book, is not one I will ever be able to forget. It’s a 10-star read, it really is exceptional and its characters, essence and power will resonate with you long after you finish reading. It may even be my top read of 2022…Reputation it is published today, Congratulations Sarah, my enthusiastic recommendation to you all, would be; Buy it, now…go on click, click, click…you will not regret it. I promise!

Happy Reading Bookophiles…

About the Author:

Brought up in Devon, Sarah Vaughan read English at Oxford and went on to become a journalist. After training at the Press Association, she spent eleven

years at the Guardian as a news reporter, political correspondent, and health correspondent, before leaving to freelance and write fiction. Anatomy of a

Scandal, her third novel was an instant international bestseller and translated into 22 languages, long-listed for the Theakston Old Peculiar Crime Novel of

the Year 2018 and short-listed for the Audible Sounds of Crime Award, GoodReads Jury’s Out award, French Elle’s Prix des Lectrices and Richard &

Judy’s ‘Best of the Decade.’ Anatomy of a Scandal has been adapted for screen and will air on Netflix as a six-part series in Spring 2022. Little Disasters, her

fourth novel, was selected as a Waterstones Thriller of the Month in 2021, has been sold to the US, France, Portugal, Sweden, and Spain, and optioned

for TV. Reputation is her fifth novel.

Please do read some of the other reviews available on this blog tour.

The Kitchen Front

Author: Jennifer Ryan

Publisher: Pan MacMillan

Available: 3rd March 2022 in Paperback, eBook & Audiobook

Thank you to Anne Cater, Random Things Tours & Pan MacMillan, for my gifted copy and for having me on the blog tour for this book. My review is based on my experience of the book and any thoughts expressed here are solely mine alone.

Book Details:

From the bestselling author of The Chilbury Ladies’ Choir comes an unforgettable story inspired by the true events of a BBC-sponsored wartime cooking competition.

Two years into the Second World War, and German U-boats are frequently disrupting Britain’s supply of food. In an effort to help housewives with food rationing, a BBC radio programme called The Kitchen Front launches a new cooking contest – and the grand prize is a job as the programme’s first-ever female co-host.

For young widow Audrey, winning the competition could be a chance to pay off her husband’s debts and keep a roof over her children’s heads. However, her estranged sister, Gwendoline, is equally set on success even if her own kitchen maid, Nell, is competing against her. And then there is Zelda, a London-trained chef desperate to succeed in

a male-dominated profession – and harbouring a secret that will change everything . . .

My Thoughts:

A few years ago, now, The Chillbury’s Ladies Choir was one of the first audiobooks, I ever bought and I was completely absorbed in the story from the moment I started listening to it.  I was thrilled to discover that Jennifer has been busy writing in the past few years (I have a previous book to catch up on) and The Kitchen Front is her latest book. From the outset I was captivated by this delicious story; in fact, I completely consumed it in 2 days, it a literary feast for any/all history fiction fans, it is illuminating, tantalising, educating and evocative. A sumptuous treat for all who read it!

A radio programme, A cooking competition, a secret or two and a quartet of extraordinary women in wartime; a charismatic and charming story of kinship, love, life and loss and the true power of friendship that binds them all together. A community of resilient, strong, occasionally jealous, and often embattled women; Audrey, Gwendoline, Nell and Zelda, all different in class, status and aspirations; yet each is independent and all are carrying life’s battle scars and from inauspicious beginnings; trying circumstances and familial wounds; these women refuse to let what has gone before, define them now or stop them acknowledging their mistakes and forming an alliance which will eventually bring joy and success to all their futures. It a story filled with triumph over domestic adversity, character driven and utterly heart-warming and compelling be prepared for tears of joy and sadness and you will definitely require a tissue or two. I applaud Jennifer’s imagination and skill as a writer in recreating the past with the essences of real-life stories. These glorious women, you wish you could know and I loved how their lives and experiences were the focal point of the book and the men in their lives, played a part, some of them in very nefarious ways but they were peripheral and the limelight is on the women and their prestigious cooking talents.

The culinary vernacular of the time graces nearly every page of this novel and I for one can’t wait for you to hear more about sprod, mock custard, sardine rissoles and of course SPAM! Where would we be without spam!!! I remember being served Spam fritters in my primary school in Peckham in the early 80s; it’s very much like eating a greasy, crunchy Frisbee!!! And from the sounds of it, not much about its texture and consistency has changed since the war period!!! You will of course get an amusing introduction to Qwitch…or Quiché. Sorry but this mis -pronouncement is almost as funny as the time; I was outside a restaurant looking at the menu, when a loud voice behind me, said “ooooh I fancy some crud-ites”…I turned quizzically to my dad and we grinned at each other as the dawning light of comprehension came – she meant crudités.

Throughout the novel is very apparent how much effort and research Jennifer has undertaken to craft her characters and authenticate their stories and the acknowledgements confirm this in detail and I may have added some other books to my ‘to buy list’! Jennifer has been gathering and immersing herself in the war papers archived from the Ministry of Food/Mass Observation project and is clearly awash with food pamphlets, tips and techniques and a myriad of recipes and ways to countermand the food shortages of the period. With food rationing in Great Britain being in force from 1940-1954 everyone has a tale to tell of their own experiences and Jennifer references her own grandmother as I can reference my grandfather; a baker who would engage me as a child with his stories of making cakes for special occasions and all the tricks he used to make them look as grand as they should without being able to use the rationed sugar, flour, eggs etc. Rationing made for the mother of all invention and it is this knowledge and invention that is the backbone Jennifer says to this story and it clearly and beautifully is, it really has made my heart sing!

This book is truly a delight to savour, a tasty morsal for readers like me who adore character driven historic fiction. It is impossible to put the book down, I have no doubt you will find the same, when you try it for yourselves. I am off to buy The Spies of Shilling Lane, which is Jennifer’s previous book, that I haven’t read yet, as I really am not prepared to say goodbye to the evocative, emotional embrace her novels provide……chin, chin…dearest bookophiles!

And Happy Reading!!!

About the Author:

Jennifer Ryan is the author of The Chilbury Ladies’ Choir. She lives in Ireland with her husband and two children. Originally from Kent and then London, she was previously a non-fiction book editor.

@JenniferiRyan

Please do read some of the other reviews on this blog tour.

Fear Less Live More

Author: Aimee Fuller

Publisher: Octopus Publishing

Available: 17th February 2022 in Hardback

Thank you to Anne Cater, Random Things Tours and Octopus Publishing for my gifted copy and for having me on the blog tour for this book. My review is based on my experience of the book and any thoughts expressed here are solely mine alone.

Book Details

As someone who has lived outside her comfort zone, Aimee Fuller has a lot to say about fear.

 A former professional snowboarder who spent years riding on the fine edge of progression at the top of her sport, Aimee made history as the first woman to land a double backflip in competition and competed in two Winter Olympics. In 2019, she fronted the documentary Running in North Korea, which shows her running her first-ever marathon in one of the most isolated countries in the world. Through testing her own resilience, she has discovered that while it is scary to step outside your comfort zone, it can also be a prerequisite for growth.

 In this bright and insightful book, Aimee gives an honest account of her experiences with fear and how, when the worst happens, she manages to pick herself back up again with purpose and an even greater thirst for life. Encouraging you to get up close and personal with your fears, Aimee shows you: What fear is, both physically and mentally How to recognise it in yourself How to be mindful of fear without letting it take control How to reframe fear and build a healthy relationship with it What to do when things go wrong Drawing on her training as a professional athlete, Aimee provides confidence-building tools that can be applied to any aspect of life, like goal-setting, maintaining consistency, celebrating your strengths, learning from failure, taking comfort in choice, owning your decisions and visualising success. Fear Less, Live More is for anyone who wants to be the driver of their own life.

My Thoughts:

Women like Aimee are a complete inspiration to me, she’s dynamic, daring, decisive, driven and her determination is off the scale, yes, she’s a 2 time Olympian and a famous snowboarder but she’s also humble, authentic, and very funny (in a good way)! So, on seeing she had written a book to motivate and inspire others, it wasn’t a hard sell for me to want to read it.  I didn’t need to find out who Aimee is from the old interwebby…I’m a huge armchair fan of snow sports, plus I’ve just spent the past 16 days glued to the Winter Olympics in Beijing and have been enjoying her demonstrations and commentary on the telebox. 

As to my own snow experiences, they are firmly in the past, thanks to torn ligaments in my left ankle (Rugby) and damage to the ball bearing bits of my spine (picking up Grannie), these circumstances stopped my skiing fun for the most part. What I enjoyed most about this book, is its mixture of practical advice/suggestions and discoveries that Aimee has made that have helped her or changed/re-arranged her perspectives of fear and have enhanced her journey to success. She shares triumphs and trials and a recommendation to avoid breaking your bum (I’ve done this 3 times and it bl**dy hurts) so I concur, that this isn’t something you want to experience! This book is a pocket rocket of a relatable read, once you start it you are so fascinated by Aimee’s words, you really can’t put it down.

This vibrant book is a biographical/self-help hybrid and I enjoyed the format, it’s concise and divided into short, easily digestible sections with some great section titles – I mean how can you resist reading a section called ‘When in doubt, go for the backflip’…this even had me channelling my Kung Fu Panda vibes for 10 minutes or so, though my equivalent is more of a forward roll! Aimee has loved sport all her life and she started young and she recounts how her skills have had to be learned both physically and mentally and that it doesn’t end there, hours, days, weeks, months and years of honing these skills comes from practice, practice, practice that there is no easy route to success, no quick fix and no short cuts and if or when you leave your comfort zone, perspective and practice are key. Nobody is born a superstar; this comes from hard work.

As you read this book, you cannot fail to admire Aimee’s mindset and she gives you her toolkit for building your own, although, as I have a butterfly mind, leaping from one thing to the next, I don’t know I will manage to achieve, Aimee’s zen master level flow state – I can only keep trying but I suspect Aimee might approve of that course of action. My favourite bits of this book, are when Aimee puts you in her head, it’s as if you are the angel or demon on her shoulder, you can see and feel her emotions and reactions to the situation she’s facing the excitement, the fear, the exasperation- like the Big Air Event at PyeongChang you can feel how charged she is but then her binding breaks and this change of routine breaks her spell and causes mental chaos, which has a physical impact (literally) and this is something we can all comprehend!

Fear Less Live More is full of Aimee’s wit and wisdom, shared with authenticity and you cannot fail to be inspired and it seems fitting to share with you Aimee’s words that have seared themselves in my head and they are “To truly live, rather than exist, you need to own your life  and know what your priorities are today and in the future….Set your intentions now, maintain that focus and most importantly, enjoy the ride” and as Aimee says – You Got This! So now I say, you need to get this book, today, as it cannot fail to have a positive influence in your life, as it has mine.

Happy Reading Bookophiles…

About the Author:

Aimee Fuller is a two-time Olympian, broadcaster, and sport and media personality. She is a qualified yoga instructor and loves to share her passion for movement. As a professional snowboarder, Aimee made history as the first woman to land a double backflip in competition at the X Games.

She took part in two Winter Olympics for Team GB and, in 2017, ranked third in the world in the Big Air World Cup rankings. She is now a member of the British Olympic Association (BOA Athletes’ Commission. Aimee hosts regular features on BBC One’s Ski Sunday and presents live TV events across sport for Red Bull TV and the Olympic Channel.

She hosts a weekly podcast, Monday Mile with Aimee Fuller, in which she invites celebrity guests excelling in their field to walk a mile with her and share their secrets to Monday motivation. It’s all about taking the conversation outside, away from the screens – after all, they do say the best conversations happen sideways. In collaboration with BBC Sounds, Aimee presented a 13-part podcast series around the Tokyo 2020 Olympics. In The Olympic Mile, Aimee walked a mile with some of Team GB’s finest athletes as they discuss their training plans, mindset, Olympic goals and much more.

Please do read some of the other reviews on this blog tour.

The Rebel Daughter

Author: Miranda Malins

Publisher: Orion

Available: 17th February 2022 in Paperback, eBook & Audiobook

Thank you to Alex Layt & Orion for my gifted copy and for having me on the blog tour for this book. My review is based on my experience of the book and any thoughts expressed here are solely mine alone.

Book Details:

A country torn apart by war. A woman fighting for her future…

Ely, 1643. England is convulsed by Civil War, setting King against Parliament and neighbour against neighbour. As the turmoil reaches her family home in Ely, 19-year-old Bridget Cromwell finds herself at the heart of the conflict.

With her father’s star on the rise as a cavalry commander for the rebellious Parliament, Bridget has her own ambitions for a life beyond marriage and motherhood. And as fractures appear in her own family with the wilful, beautiful younger sister Betty, Bridget faces a choice: to follow her heart, or to marry for power and influence, and fight for a revolution that will change history…

A gripping evocation of the Civil War, and the hidden stories of women at the heart of power… Perfect for fans of Philippa Gregory and Anne O’Brien

My Thoughts:

Having absolutely loved Miranda’s debut novel The Puritan Princess last year. You can imagine my excitement at hearing there was to be a second book. I am not sure who was more ecstatic myself or my father as we both admired Miranda’s extraordinary historical knowledge and her ability to write such evocative and emotional tangibility into her characters stories. We both had high expectations of The Rebel Daughter and these expectations were surpassed; this book, is just as beautifully written and imbued with history as Miranda’s first book and you are drawn into the story from the opening line, actually it was the wry comment that Biddy makes regarding a quote from proverbs ‘that women don’t get many verbs’ that made me fall a little bit in love with this book.

The Rebel Daughter follows the life and experiences of Bridget (Biddy) Cromwell, the eldest daughter of the infamous Oliver Cromwell. Bridget is a woman of her time, she knows and understands her role in her family, her church and wider society and accepts her place in them. However, this acceptance of societal restraints does not repress her intellect or directness; she’s no fool and she doesn’t suffer them either. Bridget is rather disparaging of her prettier and flippant younger sister Betty, whose behaviour is more than a little silly, so I don’t blame Biddy for her annoyance! My dad says she reminds him of me, I take that as a huge compliment!

From the outset, you do understand and recognise Biddy’s disappointment in not being born male; because of the physical and intellectual liberty her brothers may field, when she doesn’t have the same opportunities; that hearth and home will be her lot, although she is not convinced that she wants to marry at all! Biddy is stunned when Major Henry Ireton proposes. Betty describes him as not quite handsome, more lupine but Biddy can appreciate he is a diligent and determined man, who is dedicated to the same cause as her father, who he clearly admires and admonishes her sister, saying she would prefer intelligent conversation over good looks! I did enjoy the progression of Henry and Biddy’s relationship; from its awkward beginnings, you can see the love between them emerge. And I attribute that development to how well Henry appreciates, respects, and listens to Biddy’s forthright opinions on matters both political and religious and is not threaten by her or them, unusual perhaps in a man of his time.

I think one of the many reasons, I enjoy Miranda’s books so much is her attention to and knowledge of historical details for this period. Her stories paint such a vibrant impression of society, of the complexities of the civil war, the vivid and violent political bias of both sides. The treachery of the times and the fear that religious and political uncertainty brings to all her cast and this in turn brings such an incredible atmosphere to her book. The other main reason for my admiration of this book and its predecessor is Miranda’s dedication to illuminating the lives of fascinating female protagonists, to write such strong, intelligent women, giving them a voice, perspectives, and fictional acknowledgement of their achievements. When so often in history and historical fiction their roles are downplayed and underappreciated. As a woman, it is refreshing to have a remarkable woman’s life and points of view be the focus of the story.

This second instalment of Miranda’s Cromwellian series is as pertinent, powerful, and poignant as her first. It is engaging, entertaining and enlightening and very addictive reading, it kept me completely absorbed in the storm building in the story rather than one rattling my windowpanes this past week. In my opinion, Miranda certainly brings history to life and I cannot wait to read the next book in the series (given how this book ends) I am hoping desperately for a third book…I don’t think that’s a spoiler! This is definitely a historical series you want to add to your bookshelves and one I thoroughly recommend, if you haven’t read them yet!

Happy Reading Bookophiles…

About the Author:

Miranda is a writer and historian specialising in the history of Oliver Cromwell, his family and the politics of the Interregnum period following the Civil War. She studied at Cambridge University, leaving with a PhD, and continues to speak at conferences and publish journal articles and book reviews. She also enjoys being a Trustee of the Cromwell Association. Alongside this, Miranda works as a commercial solicitor in the City and began writing historical novels on maternity leave. She lives in Hampshire with her husband, young son, and cat Keats.

Please do read some of the other reviews on this blog tour.

Chasing Lions

One woman’s 55,000-mile journey in search of her Inner Lion

Author: Amanda Marks

Publisher: Antler House Press

Available: 13th February 2022 in Paperback & eBook

Thank you to Anne Cater, Random Things Tours & Antler House Press for my gifted copy and for having me on the blog tour for this book. My review is based on my experience of the book and any thoughts expressed here are solely mine alone.

Book Details

Chasing Lions is an empowering and captivating memoir. It shows that a lack of self-confidence doesn’t have to stop you from living the life you want and finding the love you deserve.

When Amanda is mugged by a gang of schoolkids, she knows things have to change. She decides to go in search of her inner lion.

It proves to be a bruising experience both physically and mentally. But she perseveres and surprises herself by becoming a truck-driving tour leader in the bohemian and male-dominated world of overland expeditions.

Over three years and 55,000 miles, Amanda faces her feelings of inadequacy as she strives to discover her roar. On her journey, she watches the moon rise over the Serengeti and the sun set behind Egypt’s pyramids, she rafts with Zambezi river gods and communes with gorillas, she faces lions in the wild, has her fortune told by a crab sorcerer . . . and meets her soulmate?

Chasing Lions is a compelling tale of inner transformation through immersion in the natural world and being open to the rich diversity of life. Amanda’s story encourages us to live life to the full, be brave, and choose love.

My Thoughts:

It is my great pleasure today to be reviewing Amanda’s memoir, Chasing Lions. From the moment I stuck my nose in the cover of this book, I soon realised I was prepared to offer myself up as Amanda’s new bestie so strongly was the connection I had to her words, recollections, and journey to become ‘more lion, less mouse’. In between the sunset orange covers of this intrepid, inspiring, and irrepressible read are adventures waiting to ensnare and amuse you. I couldn’t put it down, I was intoxicated by Amanda’s words; which paint vibrant pictures in your head as you follow her explorations; the sights, the sounds, the smells, the people, and the vivid places most of us will only see online or in magazine pictures. But Amanda has seen them all and now shares them with us her avid readers in her poetic connection between literature and landscape (more or less her words not mine).

What strikes you as begin to read, is how relatable Amanda’s story is; just like the rest of us, her childhood experiences (being mugged) impact her mind and reactions to circumstances she faces as a young woman and that she doesn’t like how she reacted to such an event or how it made her feel. But, life moves on, university and all the changes and challenges that occur. Leaving Uni and heading into the world of work/career, buying a home, living life to the full with a busy social live. And you feel keenly that although Amanda appreciates all that she’s achieved to this point, there is something missing; I remember it well in my mid 20s – that sensation of ‘is this it’! And for most of us it is, gosh that sounds dull doesn’t it! But for Amanda a Dragoman Overland Adventures event at her local Agricultural college, turns the status quo on its head. The missing piece of her life’s jigsaw is revealed but can she make that piece fit!

As I continued to read, I pondered on how strange it was, that Amanda considered herself more mouse than lion; when she bravely and determinedly went after a different life from the one she was living; getting her HGV licence, learning truck mechanics (which to me seems mind-bendingly complicated and I’m lucky if I can locate my de-icer and a scraper on a good day). Striving to achieve the status of tour leader with Dragoman (whose brochures I regularly received in my 20s and poured over – I so wanted to spend 6 months travelling in Africa) but I couldn’t ever afford it and worse still, I wasn’t even courageous enough to try (minor life regret) although I did spend a month in India back in 2011 for my sister’s wedding (and I made the most of it but no tents were involved- shudder)

But through Amanda’s detailed descriptions and memories in this book, I have been allowed to live vicariously through her adventures; from the Pyramids in Egypt, to the red rock city of Petra; to the ‘smoke & thunder’ of the Victoria Falls and through the seductive sands in the African dessert, to the muddy truck swallowing holes of Zaire or white water rafting on the Zambezi (that one I am more than happy to just read about) and to the legendry but now ruined  Zanzibar imbued and tainted by horrors of the slave trade and ivory trafficking. And so much more… but I shall leave those episodes for you to read for yourselves.

Through these exploits, Amanda shares her tears, her laughter and meeting of people who have become lifelong friends (I loved the update about them all at the end) and one in particular who became a little bit more than that! I loved that Amanda too suffers from the missing spatial awareness gene (welcome to the club my dad & I are very familiar with this genetic mutation and have the gift of falling down/up in public too without the aid of a vat full of gin!) I found myself nodding my head in recollection, as Amanda documents her limited communication with friends and family through air mail letters and the odd phone call, the only way to communicate before we had mobile phones and the technology that can track us any and everywhere! Talk about a different world!

Through all these 1000s of miles Amanda has travelled, yes, they are incredible but they have clearly brought more to her than adventure and stunning views. Her exploits have carved an identity and have internally secured a sense of belonging in her which in turn has lead to an acceptance of self and of others as well as making her incredibly independent and confident. Traits she feels she lacked before her time as an overland tour leader. It certainly helped when once again she was mugged (actually I think she was mugged a further two or three times during the course of this book – I did think at this point of an alternative title to this memoir could be – No More Mugging Mandy! Sorry couldn’t help myself, the phrase popped into my head!) But as frustrating and unpleasant as these experiences were for her as an adult, the psychological results this time were hugely different! I found myself muttering ‘you go, Girl’ in to the pages of the book!

I have loved every word of this book, its humour and honesty touches your heart and mind and certainly shifted some of my perspectives on life! I only hope I have sufficiently encouraged you to read it too. As it really is a MUST read book and I want you all to enjoy it as much as I have. Amanda would too, I suspect, plus she also encourages you to buy your copy from your local independent book shops as well – so you know what to do, place that order today!

Happy Reading Bookophiles…

About the Author:

Ever since reading the Narnia novels of C.S. Lewis as a little girl, I yearned for a magical connection with nature. I found it. I found it in the hills of Durham and the north of England where I grew up, and I found it when I became a lifelong traveller exploring far-flung lands as a guide and then a travel company founder. I have sat, entranced, with gorillas and chimpanzees in the wild; I have paddled in a dugout canoe for 5 days on the Congo River; I have walked across living root bridges in north-east India and trekked through the Amazon forest in Peru.

I believe in taking myself out of my comfort zone now and then, to try new things, to meet new people and to open my eyes to different cultures, beliefs, and ways of life. Sometimes, though, talking to a tree is enough for me.

When not on my travels, I live in Suffolk with my husband, two grown boys, a cat and a dog, in a house that has ancient markings to stop witches entering.

www.amandamarks.co.uk

facebook@amandamarksauthor

Please do read some of the other reviews available on this blog tour.

The Perfect Escape

Author: Leah Konen

Publisher: Penguin Michael Joseph

Available: 3rd February 2022, in Paperback, eBook & Audiobook

Thank you to Kallie Townsend at Penguin Michael Joseph for my gifted copy and for having me on the blog tour for this book. My review is based on my experience of the book and any thoughts expressed here are solely mine alone.

Book Details

When her husband Harry walks out after just six months, a girls’ weekend away with two friends seems like just what Sam needs.

But they aren’t even halfway to their destination when things start to go wrong: car trouble that just happens to leave them stranded in the town where Harry lives.

And that’s only the beginning.

Because there are three things Sam doesn’t yet know:

One of her friends is lying about why they’re there.

One is lying about who she is.

And one of them will never make it home . . .

My Thoughts:

As soon as I saw the book details for The Perfect Escape, I clapped my hands together in glee. How could anyone resist the suggestion of a book awash with sinister secrets and breath-taking betrayals – I know I couldn’t! Pull up a snuggly blanket, froth your coffee and crack open a packed of mini eggs and prepare for the dark thrills to come.

What could be more innocent and enjoyable than 3 friends having a girly weekend away to escape life’s trials: Margaret, Sam & Diana are all fed up with the collapse of their relationships and the processes involved in separating or divorcing! Sam is reeling from being abandoned by her husband after only 6 months of marriage; Margaret’s husband Lars refuses to believe their relationship is done and Diana’s husband has taken to stalking her but their plans are soon scuppered when car trouble leaves them stranded in the town of Catskill. Initially you think, well that doesn’t sound too bad but of course, life is never that simple. As it turns out this town is home to Sam’s soon to be Ex and his new paramour! So, it isn’t surprising that the women want to get back on the road and continue with their trip. Yet something seems set against them doing just that! Fractures in the women’s relationship start to materialise and Sam begins to wonder if she knows her friends as well as she thinks she does!!

From the moment you start reading this book it is filled with a very subtle tension, that ramps up in increments the more pages you turn. You very easily become engaged with the 3 female protagonists and find yourself invested in their lives and all the while wondering in which direction is this tale going to turn and what the potential outcomes could be! When one of the 3 vanishes and all their plans for weekend of relaxation dissipate, you know nothing good is going to happen next! The investigation into the missing woman is woefully insufficient and boarding on negligent and you get the distinct impression, their concerns are not being taken seriously and boy is that frustrating and you begin to wonder what will make the investigators take this sinister turn seriously – well a body might and does!

Leah’s cleverly crafted tale demands your attention and you can’t help but admire her skill at infusing her story which such delicious tension, you know with some certainty something bad this way comes! But the what, the when, the why and who is only tantalisingly uncovered, which means you can’t put the book down until your dark curiosity is assuaged. It is a supremely compelling read, taut, tantalising, and tempestuous; and it definitely leads you to think; should you really trust your friends?! Well, you will have to read it for yourselves to find out as I don’t do spoilers!

The Perfect Escape is the perfect excuse for escaping into a book for all my fellow crime bookophiles and one you don’t want to miss out on, so make sure you get hold of a copy soon. I was thoroughly immersed in this book and I hope you are too!

Happy Reading Bookophiles…

About the Author:

Leah Konen is a graduate of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, where she studied journalism and English literature. She lives in Brooklyn and Saugerties, NY, with her husband and their dog, Farley. Find her online at leahkonen.com or on Twitter and Instagram @leahkonen

Please do read some of the other reviews available on this blog tour.