Monday 4 December 2023

The Semi-Detached Women - Alex Quaid

For a young woman in 1960s England, falling in love can be a crime—and could cost her everything . . .

In 1963 Manchester, England, a pregnancy is enough to get eighteen-year-old Janine thrown out by her mother—regardless of whether the baby’s father is Janine’s much older married boss, who’s taken advantage of her. Having spent her lonely childhood immersed in romantic books, Janine gets practical and rents out one-half of a stone cottage to wait for childbirth.

She isn’t alone long though. Laura, a newly divorced with an eight-year-old boy and a difficult past of her own, moves into the other half of the house. The two women become friends, and their relationship grows. But after Janine’s daughter is born, a social worker starts hovering, strongly suggesting that Janine allow the Catholic unwed mother’s home to put her child up for adoption.

To hold on to the happiness she’s found, Janine will have to stay strong against malicious forces—and accept help from some unexpected friends—in this richly emotional novel about finding out who you can truly depend on and who you really are.

What did I think?

The rainbow and the two women on the beautiful cover of The Semi-Detached Women tells the reader that this is a romance with a difference.  Not only is this a romance set in the sixties, but it's also the heartwarming relationship between two women.

I loved both the main characters of Janine and Laura.  Janine is a young pregnant unwed woman and what a scandal this is in the 1960s.  Forced out of her home she travels to Manchester where nobody knows her to make a new start with her baby.  Laura finds it hard to trust anyone after divorcing her cheating husband and she sets up home with her son next door to Janine.  

It's delightful to watch Janine and Laura's friendship develop and, although both women are confused by their feelings at first, it's lovely to see their relationship grow into something deeper.  It's quite thought-provoking for me (as a child of the seventies) to explore homosexuality in the sixties.  I thought it was illegal back then, and it was, but what I didn't realise is that it was only illegal for men.  It's quite sad really, considering the sixties had the whole free love ethos.  Clearly, free love wasn't free for all.

Alex Quaid uses words as building blocks to reconstruct the 1960s word by word and I felt as if I had stepped back in time.  I was so mad when the church tried to take Janine's perfectly healthy and much loved baby from her.  I  think perhaps people of the sixties found unwed mothers as shocking as homosexuals.  There's a hippy in a campervan in the story and something Ianto said really stayed with me, so much so that I wanted to share a quote from the book:
"You think in labels, man, but she doesn't.  She's just a woman in love."
Be more Ianto and stop thinking in labels!  The world will be a much better place for it.

So beautifully written, sensitive, thought-provoking and quietly affecting, The Semi-Detached Women is an outstanding and unforgettable novel.  

I chose to read a digital ARC and this is my honest and unbiased opinion.

My rating:

Wednesday 29 November 2023

In the Shadow of the Wolf Queen: Book 1 (Geomancer) - Kiran Millwood Hargrave

The earth is stirring . . .

Ysolda has lived her life in the shadow of the wolf queen's tyrannical rule but, safe in her forest haven, she has never truly felt its threat.

Until one day when a mysterious earthquake shakes the land and her older sister Hari vanishes in its wake.

Accompanied by her loyal sea hawk, Nara, Ysolda embarks on a desperate rescue mission. But when she is forced to strike a bargain with the wolf queen herself, she soon finds herself embroiled in a quest for a magic more powerful - and more dangerous - than she could ever have imagined ...

From the author of The Girl of Ink and Stars, Julia and the Shark and The Mercies, the Geomancer trilogy is a new modern classic for readers young and old.

What did I think?

Firstly, I have to say that this hardback book is beautiful.  The cover beneath the dust jacket is stunning and completely mesmerising when it catches the light and becomes iridescent.  It’s well worth opting for the hardback, in my opinion.

I don’t read a lot of fantasy so it took me a while to get into Ysolda’s world (depicted via a wonderful map on the endpapers) but once I did, I was completely immersed in the story.  Ysolda and her sister Hari only have each other so when Hari is taken captive by the Wolf Queen, Ysolda is determined to rescue her…and so Ysolda’s adventure begins.

Kiran Millwood Hargrave writes so beautifully that I couldn’t put this book down.  It may be aimed at readers between 9 and 11 years old, but I’m almost 50 and I loved it.  It’s an epic fantasy adventure for readers of all ages and the start of an exciting new series.  I can’t wait to continue Ysolda’s adventure.

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Friday 24 November 2023

The Immortal Games - Annaliese Avery

An explosive romantasy YA, perfect for fans of The Hunger Games and Lore.

Every Lunar Eclipse signifies the beginning of The Immortal Games: an epic set of games played by the Gods of Olympus, with randomly-selected humans as their Tokens. The stakes are high; the Gods covet entertainment and glory above all else, for the Tokens, it's about survival.

17-year-old Ara wants revenge. Revenge on the Gods for allowing her older sister to die in the Games. She's determined to be selected as a Token and find a weapon powerful enough to kill a God. But when she's plucked from the clutches of death by Hades, God of the Underworld, the odds are stacked against her. Hades is the outcast of the Gods, and the only one who has never won the games. But he soon realises that Ara does not fear death, just as she does not fear him, and when a wager with Zeus and Poseidon puts both their futures at stake, the games take on a new meaning.

With each challenge, the games become more brutal. Can Ara put aside her rage and survive?

What did I think?

Oh I really enjoyed this book; it’s beautifully written and very entertaining.  

I’ve been reading more books based on Greek mythology lately so I absolutely loved the setting and Annaliese Avery’s stunning writing really brought the gods to life.  You can’t help but compare it with other YA novels of the same ilk as it even states in the blurb that this book is for fans of The Hunger Games, and whilst it does have some similarities, it’s also completely different.

I loved the main character of Ara - she is desperate to take part in The Immortal Games, not for fame and fortune but for revenge.  Her pain and torment is palpable throughout the book and I loved how her character developed as she went to war with her own feelings.

If readers of the Immortal Games aren’t already interested in Greek mythology, I think their interest will be well and truly piqued now.  I learned new things whilst reading and I wish textbooks were written with even half the passion as it really helps to retain information when it’s presented in such an enjoyable format.

It’s a wonderful YA debut and it’s as stunning inside as out.  Highly recommended.

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Wednesday 15 November 2023

BLOG TOUR: Joe Nuthin’s Guide to Life - Helen Fisher

Joe loves predictability. But his life is about to become a surprising adventure.

Joe-Nathan likes the two parts of his name separate, just like his dinner and dessert. Mean Charlie at work sometimes calls him Joe-Nuthin. But Joe is far from nothing. Joe is a good friend, he’s good at his job, good at making things and good at following the rules, and he’s learning how to do lots of things by himself.

Joe’s mother knows there are a million things in life he isn’t prepared for. While she helps guide him every day, she’s also writing notebooks full of advice about the things she hasn’t told Joe yet, things he might forget and answers to questions he hasn’t yet asked.

Following her wisdom – applying it in his own unique way – this next part of Joe’s life is more of a surprise than he expects. Because he’s about to learn that remarkable things can happen when you leave your comfort zone, and that you can do even the hardest things with a little help from your friends.

What did I think?

Having adored Helen Fisher's fabulous debut, Space Hopper, I was so excited to read her second novel, Joe Nuthin’s Guide to Life, and it is just wonderful.  This should be everyone's winter read as it left me with a glow that lasted longer than the Ready Brek one ever did.

Joe-Nathan doesn't have a bad bone in his body; that's what his mother says and everyone knows that mothers are always right.  Joe's mum knows that she won't be there to help him every day of his life, so she has written some advice for Joe to follow when she is no longer there to guide him.  I think we should all have one of Joe's mum's guides to follow - the world would be a much nicer place if we did.

There's something so endearing about Joe-Nathan and it's not just one or two things, it's his whole essence.  The way that Joe tries to help Mean Charlie, even though Charlie is horrible to Joe, just shows what a lovely character he is.  Just as well my heart is not made of ice as Joe would have totally melted it.

Incredibly captivating and completely unforgettable, Joe Nuthin’s Guide to Life is easily one of my favourite books of the year.  It's an unmissable read and very highly recommended.

I received a digital ARC to read and review for the blog tour and this is my honest and unbiased opinion.

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About the author:
Helen Fisher is the author of Space Hopper, her debut novel of 2021. Joe Nuthin’s Guide to Life is her second novel. Helen has degrees in psychology and ergonomics and was the senior evaluator at RNIB for a few years. This background informs much of her writing as she is fascinated by the psychology of everyday life, especially in terms of relationships. Inspiration for Helen’s protagonists and other characters are often drawn directly from herself, her friends and family. She explains that her creation of the character of Joe Nuthin is partly to examine ‘the importance of what some might think of as a small and ordinary life’.

Helen was born on a US military base and spent the first five years of her life in the US, before returning to the UK with her family settling in Suffolk. She returned to Suffolk as an adult and now lives in a village with her two children and a cat called Bear, who thinks he’s a dog. When she isn’t working on her third novel, she walks a lot, talks a lot, likes a jigsaw and the occasional Mojito. @helenfisher_author.

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Monday 13 November 2023

BLOG TOUR: Best Served Cold - Hilly Barmby

A mystery woman enters Lily's life
At the launch for her latest children's book, a member of the audience asks Lily for an strange inscription in her copy of the book. Why does this unnerve her?

Is Jack the answer to Lily's prayers?
Later, while celebrating in a local bar, Lily, and best friend Alice, spot the same woman. Her name is Rose. Putting aside earlier unease, a new friendship between the three is formed. Rose offers to help Lily re-enter the dating scene after a bad breakup and they come across Jack, Mr Perfect on Paper. Lily quickly falls for handsome Jack. Is he too good to be true?

The past is the past, or is it?
Soon after the pair start dating, bizarre things start to occur to Lily, things are moved or they go missing, and, what’s worse, her precious artwork is damaged. Who did this to her? Surely it can’t have been her new boyfriend, her new friend Rose, or even oldest friend Alice? They all have a motive. Perhaps Lily did this all herself. Who can she trust, in fact, can she trust herself? Or has a ghost from Lily's past come back to haunt her?

What did I think?

Oooooh this book gave me the chills and I absolutely loved it!  Hilly Barmby is a new author to me and I'll definitely be checking out her back catalogue (and future books) based on this fantastic read.

I loved Lily and Alice's friendship and it is a very strong friendship to have survived Lily's breakup with Alice's cousin, Harry.  Whether it will survive the addition of a suspicious new member to their group is the big question when Rose Briar (see what Hilly Barmby did there, fairy tale fans?) inveigles her way into their lives.  As soon as Rose said that line from Misery, Lily should have run for the hills! 

Lily's duo becomes a trio and Rose convinces Lily to try online dating.  Before Lily knows it, Jack Kelly enters her life and he really is too good to be true.  As the reader being treated to flashbacks to Lily's past, I could see what was happening to her I wanted to reach into the book to keep her safe.  It's like watching a car crash in slow motion as events unfold and I couldn't tear my eyes away from the page.

Incredibly gripping, addictive and chilling, Best Served Cold is a fantastic revenge thriller that had me on the edge of my seat and I couldn't read it fast enough.  Very highly recommended.

I received an ARC to read and review for the blog tour and this is my honest and unbiased opinion.

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Friday 10 November 2023

BLOG TOUR: My Best Friend's Secret - Danielle Ramsay

Five women; pretty, privileged, perfect, and ultimately protected… but not for long…
It was ‘their’ dark secret. For twenty-two-years ‘they’ kept it buried. Time hasn’t healed my wounds. Instead, they’ve festered. Their actions went unpunished. Until now…

Shamed, scarred, and shunned, I watched, waited and plotted how to shatter ‘their’ enviable lives. Now, finally, they will suffer as I did in ‘their’ cruel hands that fateful night.

Time’s up. I am here for you, Dr Claudia Harper. But first, you’ll witness your childhood friends, one by one, beg for mercy.

And I’ve saved the best ‘til last, so watch your back; I’m closer than you think. I’m here to expose your best friend’s secret. The one you’ve all kept hidden...until now.

A tale of betrayal, dark, twisted lies and long-awaited retribution. Perfect for the fans of Claire McGowan, Shalini Boland and S. E. Lynes

What did I think?

This book is an absolute corker!  I couldn't put it down until I had discovered the secret that this group of friends were hiding.  Revenge is a dish best served cold and in this case it's positively glacial.

Claudia is reeling from the sudden death of her best friend, especially when they weren't on the best of terms when Jaz died.  As Claudia and her old schoolfriends Willow, Issie and Ava gather to pay their last respects, it's clear that something is being kept back from Claudia and paranoia sees her spiralling out of control.

I wanted to reach into the book and give Claudia a shake and a hug at the same time.  She has hit the self-destruct button and has front row seats to watch her life blowing up spectacularly.  My brain was whirring at a rate of knots as I tried to work out what was going on and just what the big secret was.  Whilst I had some suspicions about particular characters, I really couldn't have guessed any of the explosive plot.

Fast-paced, gripping and chock-full of intrigue, My Best Friend's Secret has a razor-sharp plot that reminded me of a firework display; it fizzes and crackles with tension and as the smoke begins to clear there are yet more surprises in store.  It's a fabulous psychological thriller and one I highly recommend.

I received a digital ARC to read and review for the blog tour and this is my honest and unbiased opinion.

My rating:

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About the author:

Danielle Ramsay is a Scot living in a small seaside town in the North-East of England. Always a storyteller, it was only after completing a First Class (Hons) Degree in Media Production that she then went on to follow an academic career in literature. She was shortlisted for the CWA Debut Dagger in 2009 and 2010, and appointed a New Writing North Read Regional author in 2011. 

She is the author of five DI Jack Brady crime novels and The Last Cut, a dark thriller with DS Harri (Harriet) Jacobs. Danielle fills her days with horse-riding, running and murder by proxy.  She is also the proud Patron of the charity SomeOne Cares, which counsels survivors of domestic violence, rape and child abuse. 

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Thursday 9 November 2023

Julia - Sandra Newman

London, chief city of Airstrip One, the third most populous province of Oceania. It's 1984 and Julia Worthing works as a mechanic fixing the novel-writing machines in the Fiction Department at the Ministry of Truth. Under the ideology of IngSoc and the rule of the Party and its leader Big Brother, Julia is a model citizen - cheerfully cynical, believing in nothing and caring not at all about politics. She knows how to survive in a world of constant surveillance, Thought Police, Newspeak, Doublethink, child spies and the black markets of the prole neighbourhoods. She's very good at staying alive.

But Julia becomes intrigued by a colleague from the Records Department - a mid-level worker of the Outer Party called Winston Smith, she comes to realise that she's losing her grip and can no longer safely navigate her world.

Seventy-five years after Orwell finished writing his iconic novel, Sandra Newman has tackled the world of Big Brother in a truly convincing way, offering a dramatically different, feminist narrative that is true to and stands alongside the original. For the millions of readers who have been brought up with Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Four, here, finally, is a provocative, vital and utterly satisfying companion novel.

What did I think?

It has been many years since I last read George Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Four but Sandra Newman took me right back to Oceania in her stunning feminist retelling of Orwell's classic.

In Julia, Sandra Newman tells Julia's story from her point of view as she interacts with Winston Smith and various other characters.  I recognised various scenes from the original story and felt the whole retelling was beautifully done.  I think I need to go back and read Nineteen Eighty-Four again to fully appreciate Sandra Newman's craft though.

At times shocking, Julia touches on a number of disturbing subjects that are sometimes difficult to read and the book has many trigger warnings.  Nothing feels gratuitous though and it's all necessary to fully immerse the reader in Oceania of 1984.

Intelligent, thought-provoking and powerful, Julia is an absolute must-read for anyone who has read and enjoyed Nineteen Eighty-Four.  I plan to read both books again and I think Julia will be even better the second time around. 

I received a gifted hardback as part of the Tandem Collective readalong and this is my honest and unbiased opinion.

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