Wednesday 20 December 2023

The Finery - Rachel Grosvenor

Tyranny is in the air in the city of Finer Bay, and Professor Wendowleen Cripcot would like to be left alone, thank you very much. The memories of the last one hundred years are quite enough to be getting on with, if only these young upstarts from the government body, The Finery, would stop trying to control her every move. 

With the eyes of a dictator upon her, there are not many places to hide...but Wendowleen has never been one to back down from a fight (just ask her pet wolf), and insurrection is brewing underground.

What did I think?

It's always a little daunting when I start a book in an unfamiliar genre but I knew from the very first page that I was going to love The Finery.  So, if you say you don't read fantasy then definitely make an exception for Rachel Grosvenor's fantastic debut novel.

Professor Wendoleen Cripcot is almost 101 years old but she still has her wits about her and she refuses to be told what to do, especially by that young whippersnapper, the Dictator.  Wendoleen is such a feisty character and I absolutely loved her and her pet wolf.  The character of Wolf is easily one of my favourite fictional animal characters and I loved his voracious appetite that added a wonderful sprinkly of humour throughout the novel.

As Finer Bay is a dictatorship, there's more than a hint of revolution bubbling beneath the surface and when The Finery captures Wendoleen in their crosshairs she has no alternative but to join the revolution.  I absolutely loved this part of the story and I could almost 'hear the people sing' as they rose up and made their voices heard.

Incredibly entertaining and so vividly written, it's very easy to forget that The Finery is a fantasy novel as I was so completely immersed in the story from start to finish.  The Finery isn't just a magnificent debut, it's a groundbreaking novel that has put fantasy firmly on my list of genres.  Put Rachel Grosvenor on your bookshelf and your watch list, readers!

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

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Tuesday 19 December 2023

Oscar's Tale - Chris Bishop

'For is it not the wish of every man that his son will achieve more in life than he did?'

OSCAR'S TALE is the story of a Saxon boy who sets out to find and rescue his father who has been taken by Viking slavers. 

Set in 877 as the people of Wessex are forced to fight not just for their very lives, but for their freedom, their religion and for their right to live as Saxons, Oscar relates all that which befalls him on his all but impossible quest. This is set against the backdrop of King Alfred's desperate attempt to regain his kingdom which culminates in a victory at the Battle of Edington which is very much against the odds. 

But this is not just a story about bloody battles and fearsome warriors, it's about a boy struggling to live up to his father's reputation as a warrior and trying to find his place in a turbulent and uncertain world. For that, Oscar is forced to confront many dangers, earn the respect of others far above his station and even find love - albeit the cost to him is far higher than most men would have been willing to pay. 

What did I think?

I am a huge fan of Chris Bishop's Shadow of the Raven series so I was delighted to read an advance copy of his new standalone novel, Oscar's Tale.  This wonderful novel is a virtual walk in the footsteps of the Anglo Saxons and I absolutely loved it.

It's a difficult time in 9th century Wessex with the constant threat of Viking invasion and families trying to survive by living off the land.  Teenager Oscar witnesses a Viking invasion on his home and as if that wasn't bad enough, he sees his father captured and taken prisoner.  Oscar struggles with his guilt of not rushing to defend his father but with a wise head on such young shoulders instead makes his way to the Ealdorman's Vill to plead for help.

Oscar is such a plucky young lad and I really enjoyed reading about his adventures that takes him on a journey that brings him to the attention of King Alfred himself.  I love Oscar's whole commitment to defend his family and his king and he has to do a lot of both as the Battle of Edington draws near.

After reading Oscar's Tale it's almost like other books are written in monochrome as Chris Bishop writes historical fiction in glorious technicolor, magically bringing history to life in front of my eyes.  Vivid, immersive and compelling; it feels like stepping back in time when you read Oscar's Tale and I can't recommend it highly enough.

Many thanks to Chris Bishop for sending me a digital ARC to read and review; this is my honest and unbiased opinion.

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Saturday 9 December 2023

Stable (A Tyler Zahn Novel Book 1) - Cam Torrens

A kidnapper hiding in plain sight.

A rural town with tons of suspects.

From debut author Cam Torrens comes a gut-wrenching suspense novel based on an actual missing person case.

A 911 call sends Search & Rescue on a search for a missing girl in the Collegiate Peaks. They find a child…but not the one they seek.

Air Force pilot Tyler Zahn's life disintegrated when he lost his son. He discarded his family, his career, and his dignity, finding solace in apathy and beer. Eight years later, armed with new confidence, he invites his estranged daughter, Daria, to visit his Rocky Mountain home. Zahn tries too hard to mend their relationship, and as the tension between father and daughter increases, forgiveness seems out of reach. Especially when his Search & Rescue work pulls him away from Daria and she finds romance at the church camp next door.

But Zahn can't get the missing girl he found—and the one he can't find—out of his mind. Someone in this mountain valley is collecting children, and Zahn is gradually drawn into the case while still trying to break through to his daughter.

Then she disappears too.

What did I think?

Wow!  This book is absolutely fantastic!  It's outstanding books like Stable that make me feel very grateful to be a book blogger as I might never have discovered it otherwise.  I'm not sure how debut author Cam Torrens found me but I am delighted that he did.

I have to say that for a debut novel, the quality of writing is exceptional.  I was drawn straight into the story and it felt so realistic, probably because it is inspired by a real missing person case.  It always pulls at my heartstrings when children go missing as there is a lot of evil in the world so although it's distressing that the girls have been abducted, there is no gratuitous violence or graphic abuse in Stable.

Tyler Zahn is one heck of an interesting character and it was heartbreaking to see him try so hard to rebuild his relationship with his daughter, Daria.  Tyler missed so much of Daria's life when he was stuck in his own spiral of grief after his son died, but Daria lost her brother too.  Tyler wasn't there for Daria back then but when she is next to go missing, god help the person who has taken her as Tyler Zahn is coming for them.

Sublimely plotted and incredibly gripping with a blisteringly fast pace, Stable is one of the best thrillers I have read this year, and even more astonishing is the fact that it's a debut novel too.  Getting hooked on the storyline is one thing but getting hooked by a character is another and it doesn't happen often but I am doubly hooked.  I can't wait to read more Tyler Zahn novels and I can't recommend Stable highly enough.  Don't miss this one, thriller fans!

Many thanks to Cam Torrens for sending me a digital ARC and this is my honest and unbiased opinion.

My rating:

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Thursday 7 December 2023

The Mystery Guest (A Molly the Maid mystery) - Nita Prose

A new mess.
A new mystery.
Molly the maid returns . . .

Molly Gray wears her Head Maid badge proudly for every shift at the Regency Grand Hotel, plumping pillows, sweeping up the guests’ secrets, silently restoring rooms to a state of perfection.

But when a renowned guest – a famous mystery writer – drops very dead in the grand tea room, Molly has an unusual clean-up on her hands.

As rumours and suspicion swirl in the hotel corridors, it’s clear there’s grime lurking beneath the gilt. And Molly knows that she alone holds the key to the mystery. But unlocking it means thinking about the past, about Gran, and everything else she’s kept tidied away in her memory for so long.

Because Molly knew the dead guest once upon a time – and he knew her . . .

What did I think?

After the success of The Maid, I'm absolutely delighted that Nita Prose decided to write another book starring my favourite maid, Molly Gray.  The Mystery Guest is one of my most eagerly anticipated books of 2023 and I loved it.  Whilst The Mystery Guest can be read as a standalone, I would advise reading The Maid first as there are some returning characters and we also find out more about Molly's childhood.

We return to the Regency Grand Hotel in The Mystery Guest where Molly is now Head Maid and she's preparing for a big event as a bestselling author is hosting a press conference in the hotel.  This isn't the first time that Molly has met author J.D. Grimthorpe and this leads on to the wonderful flashbacks of Molly's past.

I adore the relationship between Molly and her Gran and even when Gran isn't with her, Molly  hears Gran's wise words in her head.  There are so many brilliant Gran quotes but my favourite is: "A tissue for your issue."  I'm definitely adopting that and using it whenever I can.  

Molly is such a delightfully quirky character and I feel that she has really grown up since I last encountered her in The Maid.  She's in a sweet relationship with Juan Manuel (who disappointingly doesn't make an appearance as he is away visiting his family) and she has been promoted at work.  Even this new encounter with Detective Stark sees Molly eventually being treated with more respect.

Cosy mysteries don't get much cosier than The Mystery Guest and I thoroughly enjoyed it.  Once you have met Molly Gray you will never forget her; The Mystery Guest will delight fans of The Maid and introduce Molly into the lives of many more readers.  

I received an ARC to read and review for the Tandem Collective readalong and this is my honest and unbiased opinion.

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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.

My rating:

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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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Tuesday 7 November 2023

BLOG TOUR: Solstice (The Widdershins Trilogy Book 3) - Helen Steadman

England, 1673. Still a world of witches, witch trials and witchfinders.

When a new vicar arrives to take over the parish of Mutton Clog, the village finds itself in the grip of puritan fever, and suspicious eyes are turned on Rose Driver.

Rose’s mother, brother and grandmother were all put to death by the fanatical witchfinder, John Sharpe.

Almost quarter of a century after the Newcastle witch trials, Sharpe is no longer a threat. Rose should be safe in her quiet village, but is history about to repeat itself?

Find out in Solstice, the powerful conclusion to The Widdershins Trilogy, which tells the story of one woman’s struggle for survival in a hostile and superstitious world.

The Widdershins Trilogy was inspired by the little-known Newcastle witch trials, where fifteen women and one man were hanged for witchcraft on a single day in August 1650.

What did I think?

Solstice is the third book in the Widdershins Trilogy and it is a fantastic conclusion to an absolutely superb series.  It can be read and enjoyed as a standalone but it is simply breathtaking when read as part of the series.

Rose Driver, the daughter of Jane Chandler from the previous books, is one of the main characters in Solstice and she is brought beautifully to life through Helen Steadman's vivid writing.  The story is told from two points of view; that of Rose and her nemesis, Patience Leaton, whose father is the new parish vicar.

Patience takes an instant dislike to Rose, especially when Rose catches the eye of Patience's twin brother Earnest. Patience is overcome with religious fervour and it's almost as if she is possessed by the devil, which is rather ironic when she accuses Rose of being a witch...just like her mother and grandmother.  

Reading Solstice is like stepping back in time with every single turn of the page.  The sights, sounds and smells of 17th century County Durham seem to emerge from the pages of the book and completely immerse the reader in the era.  Helen Steadman is an impeccable researcher and the depth of her knowledge is evident throughout the book.

Wonderfully immersive and completely spellbinding, Solstice is a magnificent piece of historical fiction that deserves its place on my favourites shelf.  I have adored every book in this wonderful trilogy and Solstice is a very fitting end.  An easy five stars and highly recommended.

I received an 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:

Helen Steadman's first novel, Widdershins and its sequel, Sunwise were inspired by the 1650 Newcastle witch trials. Her third novel, The Running Wolf is about a group of master swordmakers who defected from Germany to England in 1687. Helen's fourth novel, God of Fire, is a Greek myth retelling as seen through the eyes of Hephaestus, perhaps the least well known of all the Olympians. Helen is particularly interested in revealing hidden histories and she is a thorough researcher who goes to great lengths in pursuit of historical accuracy. To get under the skin of the cunning women in Widdershins and Sunwise, Helen trained in herbalism and learned how to identify, grow and harvest plants and then made herbal medicines from bark, seeds, flowers and berries.The Running Wolf is the story of a group of master swordmakers who left Solingen, Germany and moved to Shotley Bridge, England in 1687. As well as carrying out in- depth archive research and visiting forges in Solingen to bring her story to life, Helen also undertook blacksmith training, which culminated in making her own sword.

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Thursday 2 November 2023

The Runaway Heiress - Emma Orchard

London, 1815. Cassandra Hazeldon is on the run.

Under duress to marry a repellent friend of her uncle, Cassandra has made her escape, but now she is very much alone. With luck and quick thinking, she finds a refuge in a grand mansion in Mayfair, and a protector in Lord Irlam, or Hal to his friends.

Posing as a friend of Hal’s sister, Cassandra is swept up into the social whirl of a Brighton summer. But the attraction between her and Hal is starting to scorch, and when jealousy is added to the mix, things are set to reach boiling point.

Dear Reader, this wonderfully romantic story has passionate and steamy scenes, enjoy …

What did I think?

Regency romance books are very popular at the moment but I have never felt inclined to read one until now.  With a fiery redhead on the front, the cover of The Runaway Heiress is very striking and I just had to find out what lay in store for her.  It may not be one of my usual genres, but I absolutely loved it.

Cassandra Hazeldon is such a wonderful character.  1815 may be an age when women are seen but not heard, however, Cassandra knows her own mind and she's not going to do anything she doesn't want to do.  That includes marrying a friend of her uncle and losing her fortune to an odious old man.

Of course Cassandra is rescued by a dashing young man who melts her insides and proves to be a swoonworthy love interest.  Hal is lovely and puts his family commitments above his own happiness, but Cassandra is weakening his resolve and he's proving powerless to resist.  What I like about Hal is his insecurities and it's nice to see this from a male viewpoint for a change.  

Well I do declare, Ms Orchard, I am blushing like a schoolgirl.  Never has the touch of a palm felt so erotic and caused me to exclaim: 'Is it me or is it hot in here?'.  Read this one with a fan handy; it's a real scorcher and may cause uncontrollable blushing.

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

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Tuesday 31 October 2023

The Fortunes of Olivia Richmond - Louise Davidson

After a terrible tragedy, governess Julia Pearlie finds herself with no job, home, or references. When she’s offered a position as companion to Miss Olivia Richmond, her luck appears to be turning. But Mistcoate House is full of secrets.

Olivia has a sinister reputation. The locals call her the Mistcoate Witch, thanks to her tarot readings, and her insistence that she can speak to the dead. Her father, Dr Richmond, believes this to be girlish fantasy and is looking to Julia to put a stop to it. 

Determined to prove herself and shake off her own murky history, Julia sets to work trying to help Olivia become a proper young lady. However, as she becomes a fixture at Mistcoate, it is soon clear that there may be more to Olivia’s stories than Dr Richmond would have Julia believe – not least because somehow, Olivia seems to know something of the darkness that Julia desperately hoped she had left behind.

As the danger grows, and the winter chill wraps around the dark woods surrounding Mistcoate, Julia will have to fight to uncover the truth, escape her past – and save herself.

Original and engrossing, this chilling Victorian Gothic ghost story is an outstanding piece of storytelling, perfect for fans of Sarah Perry, Erin Morgenstern and Jessie Burton.

What did I think?

The haunting cover of The Fortunes of Olivia Richmond gives the reader some idea as to how dark it is inside and this spinetingling historical gothic novel is a great book to read over the spooky season.

Julia Pearlie comes from a wealthy family but as a woman she is left penniless when her brother inherits the family's wealth.  Forced to take a job as a governess, Julia now works for people who should have been her peers.  Of course the reader can't help but wonder how good Julia is at her job with a transcript from a drowning inquest at the start of the book and this is a sad story that literally haunts her.

Mistcoate House has its very own witch in the form of Olivia Richmond and Julia has been offered the position as Olivia's companion.  I felt so sorry for Olivia, living with a father who cares naught for her, a grandfather with dementia and a housekeeper who seems far too close to her employer for my liking.  It's like a bubbling cauldron of intrigue and it had me completely riveted.

Set in the late 19th century, it explores the Victorian obsession with the occult and how the body works.  Dr Richmond isn't beyond using his own daughter for experimentation to secure funding, after all she's only a girl.  Olivia is a talented tarot card reader and she seems to know more about Julia's past than she ought to, including the identity of the ghostly boy who lingers around Julia.

Spooky, creepy and mesmerising, The Fortunes of Olivia Richmond is a wonderful piece of historical fiction with a dark, gothic edge.  Perfect reading for Halloween.

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

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