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Blog Tours book reviews Emma's Anticipated Treasures Most Anticipated 2022

BLOG TOUR: The Key in the Lock by Beth Underdown

Published: January 13th 2022
Publisher: Viking
Genre: Gothic Fiction, Historical Fiction, Historical Thriller, Horror Thriller, Gothic Romance
Format: Hardcover, Kindle, Audiobook

Welcome to my stop on the blog tour for this mesmerising and beguiling piece of gothic fiction. Thank you to Ellie at Viking for the invitation to take part and the gifted copy of this book.

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SYNOPSIS:

THE PAGE-TURNING NEW NOVEL FROM THE AWARD-WINNING AUTHOR OF THE WITCHFINDER’S SISTER

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I still dream, every night, of Polneath on fire. Smoke unravelling from an upper window, and the terrace bathed in a hectic orange light . . . Now I see that the decision I made at Polneath was the only decision of my life. Everything marred in that one dark minute.

By day, Ivy Boscawen mourns the loss of her son Tim in the Great War. But by night she mourns another boy – one whose death decades ago haunts her still.

For Ivy is sure that there is more to what happened all those years ago: the fire at the Great House, and the terrible events that came after. A truth she must uncover, if she is ever to be free.

But once you open a door to the past, can you ever truly close it again?

From the award-winning author of The Witchfinder’s Sister comes a captivating story of burning secrets and buried shame, and of the loyalty and love that rises from the ashes.

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MY REVIEW:

“I still dream, every night, of Ponleath on fire…”

This is gothic fiction at its finest. Hauntingly beautiful, darkly atmospheric and beguiling, I was captivated from the first page.  A story of secrets, loss and lies filled with mystery and suspense that sends shivers down your spine.  

Moving between dual timelines we follow Ivy Boscawen as she struggles to come to terms with the loss of her son during the Great War, telling the story of her search for the truth about his death, the intense guilt she feels, and how she is still tormented by events that took place thirty years before.  Ivy confesses the secrets she’s kept hidden for decades that still haunt her dreams each night, finally revealing the truth of what happened at Ponleath all those years ago. 

This is an easy five stars from me.  It is my first foray into Beth Underwood’s books and I am kicking myself for allowing her previous book to languish on my shelf unread for so long.  Exquisitely written and intricately plotted, the evocative imagery sets an eerie scene and I felt like I could hear the ghosts whispering their secrets, waiting for their chance to finally be heard.  I was on the edge of my seat from start to finish, my heart aching for these characters, particularly young William Tremain and all he must have gone through on that terrifying night. 

Ivy was a great narrator.  She is a fascinating character and I instantly felt an  emotional connection to her over the death of her only child.  But what could she have done that made not only his death, but marriage to a man she never wanted, to be with the price she deserved to pay for her transgressions?  I never figured it out, the many twists and turns taking me by surprise as she finally lays the spirits of her past to rest with her confessions.  In fact, I found myself so caught up in the story itself I almost forgot there was a mystery surrounding something she’d done as well as the one surrounding who was behind the fire that December night.  What did Ivy know that no one else did? 

Clever, absorbing and utterly mesmerising, The Key in the Lock is an accomplished piece of gothic fiction that keeps you guessing until the very end. Read it now. 

Rating: ✮✮✮✮✮

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MEET THE AUTHOR:

Beth Underdown was born in Rochdale in 1987. She studied at the University of York and then the University of Manchester, where she is now a Lecturer in Creative Writing.

The Witchfinder’s Sister is her first novel, and is out with Viking in the UK and Ballantine in the US in Spring 2017. The book is based on the life of the 1640s witch finder Matthew Hopkins, whom she first came across while reading a book about seventeenth-century midwifery. As you do.

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BUY THE BOOK:

Waterstones*| Amazon*
*These are affiliate links

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Please check out the reviews from the other bloggers taking part in the tour.

Thanks for reading Bibliophiles Emma xxx

Categories
Blog Tours book reviews Emma's Anticipated Treasures Most Anticipated 2022

BLOG TOUR: The Unravelling by Polly Crosby

Published: January 6th 2022
Publisher: HQ
Genre: Historical Fiction, Fantasy Fiction, Magical Realism, Fairy Tale
Format: Hardcover, Kindle, Audiobook

Welcome to my stop on the blog tour for this mesmerising and haunting novel. Apologies that I am posting late due to illness. Thank you to HQ for the gifted copy of the book and the invitation to take part.

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SYNOPSIS:

A darkly beautiful dual-timeline novel with a captivating mystery, for fans of Diane Setterfield, Kate Morton, Kate Mosse and Kiran Millwood Hargrave

’Like a surreal cabinet of curiosities – haunting, eerie, evocative’ Bridget Collins, Sunday Times bestselling author of The Binding

When Tartelin Brown accepts a job with the reclusive Marianne Stourbridge, she finds herself on a wild island with a mysterious history.

Tartelin is tasked with hunting butterflies for Marianne’s research. But she quickly uncovers something far more intriguing than the curious creatures that inhabit the landscape.

Because the island and Marianne share a remarkable history, and what happened all those years ago has left its scars, and some terrible secrets.

As Tartelin pieces together Marianne’s connection to the island, she must confront her own reasons for being there. Can the two women finally face up to the painful memories that bind them so tightly to the past?

Atmospheric and deeply emotional, The Unravelling is the captivating novel from the author of The Illustrated Child.

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MY REVIEW:

“There’s something about this place that I can’t quite get a grip on. It’s as if it’s trying to tell me something, but I don’t know the language.” 

The Unravelling is a story of mystery, grief and metamorphosis set on an isolated island where decades-old secrets are rooted in its very fabric.  Told in dual timelines, this mesmerising story is woven together by gossamer threads that slowly unfurl to reveal the mystery of this peculiar island, its mysterious matriarch and a strange summer many years earlier.

“That night my sleep is velvet blue, dark and dreamless, and when I wake in the morning I forget where I am.”

Polly Crosby is a masterful storyteller who is skilled at crafting intricate and multilayered stories that have so much hidden beneath the surface.  This one has trauma, grief and pain woven into every facet of the narrative, while beautiful, immersive and hypnotic prose pulls you into the world the author has created so completely that everything else falls away.  With evocative imagery she crafts an original landscape that feels vividly real, transporting you to this dark, cryptic place and holding you captive as you try to decipher what is real and what is imagination.  With this book Ms. Crosby has confirmed she is no one-hit wonder and secured her place on my list of favourite and auto-buy authors.

“She is right. This place is tangled up with secrets. Not just the island itself: I sense Miss Stourbridge holds secrets here too.” 

The story centres around two women: Marianne and Tartelin.  Marianne is a cantankerous, secretive old woman who has recently returned to the island owned by her family to study mutation of the local butterflies.  She has hired Tartelin, a young woman trying to come to terms with the recent death of her mother, as her assistant.  From the start Tartelin is intrigued by Marianne and eager to know more about her.  But Marianne is a closed book, unwilling to form any kind of bond or share stories with her only companion or tell her what it is that she is searching for.  They are fascinating and compelling characters, but while I took to Tartelin immediately, it took me a while to warm to Marianne, her spiky shell making it hard to see who she really is underneath.  But as the dual timelines gave us a glimpse into who they both were, and as Tartelin managed to persuade her to reveal more of her heartbreaking story, I grew to not only care about her but admire how strong she was after surviving all she’d been through.

“When I first arrived on Duhhalund, I was disappointed that it wasn’t the beautiful island I hoped for, but now I can see its strange beauty everywhere I look.  It is a wild beauty, a secret beauty that twists and burrows inside me until sometimes I can’t separate myself from it. I’ve never felt like this about a place before. It’s an exhilarating feeling. “

Ms. Crosby has created such a strong and spectacular sense of place in this book that Duhholund feels like a character in itself.  Claustrophobic and isolated, it is a place shrouded in shadows and secrets.  It is a wild place, taken over by nature, without electricity, covered in ruins and inhabited by strange creatures.  It is as if the island is alive, its sinister beauty a living, breathing thing you can feel.  There is a power to it, something almost mythical, the menace and foreboding lingering over every page as you read. 

“The pull of it. Magnetic. As if it wants me to search out its secrets.” 

Haunting, atmospheric and alluring, The Unravelling is like stepping into a cabinet of curiosities.  A magnificent historical mystery that is not to be missed.

Rating: ✮✮✮✮.5

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MEET THE AUTHOR:

After a whirlwind of a year which saw Polly receive writing scholarships from both Curtis Brown Creative and The University of East Anglia’s MA in Creative Writing, she went on to be runner up in the Bridport Prize’s Peggy Chapman Andrews Award for a First Novel. Read Polly’s piece for the Bridport Prize’s blog here.

Polly’s novel was snapped up by HarperCollins HQ in the UK and Commonwealth in a 48 hour pre-empt, and a few days later by HarperCollins Park Row Books in North America.

Polly grew up on the Suffolk coast, and now lives in the heart of Norfolk with her husband and son, and her very loud and much loved rescue Oriental cat, Dali.

The Illustrated Child is her first novel. Her second novel, The Unravelling, is out on 6th January ‘22.

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BUY THE BOOK:

Waterstones* | Amazon*
*These are affiliate links

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Please check out the reviews from the other bloggers taking part in the tour.

Thanks for reading Bibliophiles Emma xxx

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Blog Tours book reviews Emma's Anticipated Treasures Most Anticipated 2022

BLOG TOUR: Wahala by Nikki May

Published: January 6th 2022
Publisher: Doubleday
Genre: Psychological Fiction, Crime Fiction, Contemporary Novel, Domestic Fiction, Urban Fiction, Political Fiction, Romance Novel
Format: Hardcover, Kindle, Audiobook

Welcome to my stop on the blog tour for this sensational debut. Thank you to Anne at Random Things Tours for the invitation to take part in the tour and to Doubleday for the gifted ARC.

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SYNOPSIS:

SEX AND THE CITY with a killer edge for fans of QUEENIE, EXPECTATION and MY SISTER, THE SERIAL KILLER

SOON TO BE A MAJOR BBC TV SERIAL

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Ronke, Simi, Boo are three mixed-race friends living in London.
They have the gift of two cultures, Nigerian and English.
Not all of them choose to see it that way.

Everyday racism has never held them back, but now in their thirties, they question their future. Ronke wants a husband (he must be Nigerian); Boo enjoys (correction: endures) stay-at-home motherhood; while Simi, full of fashion career dreams, rolls her eyes as her boss refers to her urban vibe yet again.

When Isobel, a lethally glamorous friend from their past arrives in town, she is determined to fix their futures for them.

Cracks in their friendship begin to appear, and it is soon obvious Isobel is not sorting but wrecking. When she is driven to a terrible act, the women are forced to reckon with a crime in their past that may just have repeated itself.

Explosive, hilarious and wildly entertaining, this razor-sharp tale of love, race and family will have you laughing, crying and gasping in horror. Fearlessly political about class, colourism and clothes, the spellbinding Wahala is for anyone who has ever cherished friendship, in all its forms.

PICKED AS ONE OF STYLIST MAGAZINE’S ‘FICTION BOOKS YOU CAN’T MISS OF 2022’

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MY REVIEW:

Wahala is a Nigerian Pidgin word meaning ‘trouble’, and there is trouble aplenty in this exciting debut. 

A story of friendship, family, identity, race and secrets, Wahala is narrated by three friends: Ronke, Simi and Boo.  Now living in London, the trio met at university in Bristol and bonded over being of Nigerian and English descent.  Their shared dual heritage made them outsiders and created a connection that they thought was unbreakable.  But when Isobel, a childhood friend of Simi from Lagos, comes into their lives, cracks in their friendships soon begin to appear and  soon all four women are forced to confront their darkest secrets and deepest vulnerabilities.  Will their friendships survive?

Wow!  What a sensational debut.  This book has a great vibe from the start and is full of humour, warmth, chaos and tension, it pulled me in immediately and didn’t let go until the final page.  Nikki May brings her characters and their world to life in vivid technicolour, educating the reader on life in Nigeria and exploring how it feels to be mixed race while also making you laugh and feel entertained.  And the food.  I was so happy to find there are recipes for some of the traditional Nigerian cuisine that is mentioned as it made my mouth water and stomach rumble reading about it. 

A book like this is nothing without great characters and Ms. May has created an enthralling group of flawed, fascinating and fabulous women.  Ronke is a dentist who just wants to find Mr. Right and have babies.  She loves cooking, especially Nigerian food, and seems to be the heart of the group.  Simi is the glamorous one, at least until Isobel arrives.  She likes the finer things in life and cares about what others think of her, always keen to project a picture perfect image of her life even if it’s falling apart at the seams.  Boo is unsatisfied with her life and feels like the grass is always greener.  She loves her husband and child but feels stifled by them and wants something more.  And then there’s Isobel, newly divorced, vivacious and exuding confidence.  I liked her at first but it didn’t take long for me to realise that this woman was a sniper from the side.  I could see her calculating to come between these three friends but couldn’t figure out why or what she wanted.  And I was on the edge of my seat trying to figure it out.  They were all such fun to read and I loved how the author portrays many facets of womanhood and female friendship through these women. There is something that we can all relate to in some way.  

Entertaining and explosive, Wahala is the debut that everyone is going to be talking about.  I was thrilled to learn that it has already been picked up for TV because it is utterly bingeable.  Read it now!

Rating: ✮✮✮✮✰

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MEET THE AUTHOR:

Born in Bristol, raised in Lagos, I’m proud to be Anglo-Nigerian. I ran a successful ad agency before turning to writing and now live in Dorset with my husband, two standard schnauzers, and way too many books.

My debut novel WAHALA was inspired by a long (and loud) lunch with friends. It will be published around the world in January 2022 and is being adapted into a major BBC TV drama.

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BUY THE BOOK:

Waterstones*| Bookshop.org*| Amazon*
*These are affiliate links

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Please check out the reviews from the other bloggers taking part in the tour.

Thanks for reading Bibliophiles ☺️Emma xxx

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Blog Tours book reviews Emma's Anticipated Treasures

BLOG TOUR: Demon (Six Stories Book 6) by Matt Wesolowski

Published: January 20th 2022
Publisher: Orenda
Genre: Mystery, Thriller, Fairy Tale, Horror Fiction, Suspense, Psychological Fiction, Coming-of-Age Story, Biographical Fiction
Format: Paperback, Kindle, Audiobook

Welcome to my first blog tour of 2022. And I’m delighted that it is for one of my favourite series that is published by one of my favourite publishers. Thank you to Anne at Random Things Tours for the invitation to take part in this tour and to Karen at Orenda for the eBook ARC.

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SYNOPSIS:

Scott King’s podcast investigates the 1995 cold case of a demon possession in a rural Yorkshire village, where a 12-year-old boy was murdered in cold blood by two children. Book six in the chilling, award-winning Six Stories series.

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In 1995, the picture-perfect village of Ussalthwaite was the site of one of the most heinous crimes imaginable, in a case that shocked the world.

Twelve-year-old Sidney Parsons was savagely murdered by two boys his own age. No reason was ever given for this terrible crime, and the ‘Demonic Duo’ who killed him were imprisoned until their release in 2002, when they were given new identities and lifetime anonymity.

Elusive online journalist Scott King investigates the lead-up and aftermath of the killing, uncovering dark stories of demonic possession, and encountering a village torn apart by this unspeakable act.

And, as episodes of his Six Stories podcast begin to air, and King himself becomes a target of media scrutiny and the public’s ire, it becomes clear that whatever drove those two boys to kill is still there, lurking, and the campaign of horror has just begun…

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MY REVIEW:

“A horror. There’s no other word for it. Horror upon horror.”

Scott King is back with his Six Stories Podcast, a show that investigates old crimes from six different perspectives to try to get to the truth of what happened. He specialises in the strange and mysterious. Cases that are surrounded by rumours of the supernatural and the occult. This time it is the brutal, senseless murder of a child by other children, two outcast boys mired in trauma and grief, the Usslethwaite kilns with their magnetic pull and the strange folklore that surrounds them and rumours of witchcraft and demons. Can he unravel the truth of what happened that day in 1995?

What a way to start the year! Unsettling, dark and haunting, this atmospheric story had me hooked. The sixth book in the Six Stories series sees Podcaster Scott King is investigating the 1995 murder of twelve-year-old Sidney Parsons by two of his classmates. It was a brutal murder with no apparent motive that took place in a small North Yorkshire village where superstition and suspicion of those who are different was and is rife.

It is a disturbing case, and while there are inevitably stomach-churning and spine-chilling moments, this goes much deeper, humanising the boys that the media dubbed the ‘Demonic Duo’ and exploring what could have led two troubled boys to escalate from acting up in class and playing pranks to terrorising the village and savagely killing one of their peers. Through the interviews with six people with very different perspectives, news articles and letters from one of the boys to his late mother that he wrote in the months and days leading up to the crime, we get an insight into who these boys were and how they arrived at the moment where they killed another child without any apparent motive.

“The answer to this case lies somewhere in the strange hinterland between pity and condemnation. It’s a rocky and treacherous place to stand.”

The story also examines topics such as the lingering effects of the crime, offender rehabilitation, the bestowing of new identities and lifetime anonymity upon the most vilified offenders, vigilante justice and online commentary. It makes you think, stirs up uncomfortable emotions and makes you reflect on your own reactions to a crime such as this. When a crime seems particularly heinous and unforgivable, it is easy to demonise the perpetrators rather than taking a real look at the very human reasons this could have happened. We need to believe only real evil can do such a thing in order to separate ourselves from the people who commit such unspeakable acts.

For me, it conjured up memories of the tragic murder of James Bulger; the horror and disbelief that two children could commit such a terrible act, the outrage at what they did, and how the pair were immediately demonised with the entire country calling for justice. I don’t know if the Bulger case or its aftermath inspired this book, but I feel like it echoed a lot of what I remember happening in the media and my own conversations with people about the crime even to this day.

When I pick up one of Matt Wesolowski’s books I know what I’m getting, a book that is bold, mysterious, thought-provoking, eerie and addictive. Demon delivers all of those things and more in what I think is the best of his books I’ve read yet. But it isn’t for the faint hearted. In fact, the book opens with warnings about the content which I appreciated as it means readers can make an informed decision before deciding to proceed.

Expertly written, deftly told and filled with fascinating characters, Demon is a chilling tale you won’t forget.

Rating: ✮✮✮✮.5

TW: Violence against children and animals.

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MEET THE AUTHOR:

Matt Wesolowski is an author from Newcastle-Upon-Tyne in the UK. He is an English tutor for young people in care.

‘Six Stories’ was published by Orenda Books in the spring of 2016 with follow-up ‘Hydra’ published in the winter of 2017, ‘Changeling’ in 2018, ‘Beast’ in 2019 and ‘Deity’ in 2020.

‘Six Stories’ has been optioned by a major Hollywood studio and the third book in the series, ‘Changeling’ was longlisted for the Theakston Old Peculier Crime Novel of the Year, 2019 Amazon Publishing Readers’ Award for Best Thriller and Best Independent Voice.

‘Beast’ won the Amazon publishing award for Best Independent voice in 2020.

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BUY THE BOOK:

Orenda Books | Waterstones*| Amazon*
*There are affiliate links

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Please check out the reviews from the other bloggers taking part in the tour.

Thanks for reading Bibliophiles ☺️ Emma xxx

Categories
Blog Tours book reviews

Blog Tour: Search No Further by A.J. Campbell

Published: December 8th 2021
Publisher: Code Grey Publishing
Genre: Thriller, Psychological Thriller, Crime Fiction, Crime Series
Format: Paperback, Kindle

I’m closing out the year with a review for a heart-pounding thriller by an author I’ve loved reading this year. Thank you A.J. Campbell for the invitation to take part in the tour and the gifted eBook ARC.

SYNOPSIS:

Someone is dying. Everyone is lying.

Glamorous Cara De Rosa has it all: a rapidly expanding chain of family-run Italian restaurants, friends aplenty and an imminent marriage to a much younger man.

When she collapses during a family party, all signs point to a heart attack. But Cara knows better. She confides in her beloved granddaughter, Sienna. Someone wants her dead.

Sienna, a troubled single parent, is exasperated with the police for failing to find the culprit of her husband’s death five years earlier. Her lack of confidence in the justice system leads her to delve into Cara’s chilling allegation.

It’s a race against time to save her grandmother’s life. The more Sienna searches for the truth, the more she discovers her family is riddled with dark secrets, lies and deceit.

But who would want to see the end of the popular Cara De Rosa?

A psychological suspense thriller full of twists and turns

Great for fans of Lisa Jewell, Harlan Coben, Shari Lapena, Adele Parks, Mark Edwards, Miranda Rijks, Daniel Hurst and Lucy Foley.

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MY REVIEW:

When De Rosa family Matriarch, Cara, collapses at her great-granddaughter’s birthday party all signs point to a heart attack. But while in hospital Cara confides in her granddaughter Sienna that she has been poisoned, and she knows who wants her dead…

A thrilling mystery skillfully interwoven with compelling family drama, Search No Further is a story of family, secrets, lies and betrayal. It will take you on a rollercoaster ride of emotions, breaking your heart as Cara fights for life in her hospital bed and Sienna continues to grapple with the devastating loss of her husband five years earlier, making you smile as young Lola shares the wisdom only children can possess, and making your heart race as you work to untangle the web of mystery surrounding them all to discover if one of them is a potential killer.

I’ve now read all of A.J. Campbell’s novels and she just keeps getting better. This book is a departure from her Eva Barnes series but I found the De Rosa family utterly compelling. Even without their deep cavern of family secrets this family is entertaining enough for multiple books, a colourful cast of characters who leapt from the page. I especially loved Cara and the sweet relationship she and Sienna shared. It reminded me of the close relationship I enjoyed with my own Grandmother, who I lost earlier this year, right down to how Cara dotes on her great-grandchild, just as mine did. This made me feel even more invested in the story and whether or not Cara would pull through. As we approached the finale I couldn’t read fast enough, my heart pounding so hard I thought it might beat out of my chest right up until the shocking truth was revealed.

A pacy and twisty psychological puzzle that will keep you guessing, read this book if you enjoy a well-written thriller.

Rating: ✮✮✮✮✰

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MEET THE AUTHOR:

AJ Campbell is the debut author of the bestselling novel Leave Well Alone, which readers describe as ‘a gripping story with a killer twist’. An alumna of the Faber Academy, AJ writes in the psychological suspense, thriller and mystery genres. Her latest novel Don’t Come Looking, although a standalone story, is a sequel to her debut and was released in April 2021.

The human mind and how different people react to each other and interact in society fascinates AJ. She draws inspiration for her novels from many facets of everyday life. Asking, ‘How can that have possibly happened?’ AJ loves to immerse herself in developing threads, plotting and letting her creative energy help her characters evolve.

Until the birth of her twins in 2005, which radically changed her life, AJ worked as an accountant in London. One of her twins was born with severe disabilities, as a result of which she had to give up work to care for him.  During this incredibly challenging (and rewarding) time, AJ began to draw on her love of the written word, partly for daily inspiration and partly for her own mental health. 

Reading or writing, AJ loves nothing more than settling down with a good book. She enjoys reading most genres, especially thought-provoking novels that beg the question – what would I have done in that situation?

AJ lives on the Essex / Hertfordshire border with her husband, two of her three sons, and her cocker spaniel, Max. She is a firm believer in daily exercise for mental health and enjoys walking Max in the local fields. AJ also loves cooking oriental food while sipping a good glass of white wine.

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BUY THE BOOK:

Amazon*
*This is an affiliate link

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Please check out the reviews from the other bloggers taking part in the tour.

Thanks for reading Bibliophiles 😊 Emma xxx

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book reviews Emma's Anticipated Treasures Year In Review

21 Favourites of 21

It’s that time of year where we look back on the books we’ve loved most this year.

In 2021 I’ve read a total of 170 books (well, I will have by the end of tomorrow lol) so you can imagine that narrowing it down to just 21 was no easy task. I went back and forth over this list for weeks, struggling to get it down from 30 and then 25.

Thirteen of these book are by new-to-me authors, eleven are debuts and two are part of a series. Three of the author, Stacey Halls, Ellen Alpsten and Jessica Ryn, have had all of their books in my list of favourites in the year each was released and were all in my list of 20 favourites of 2020.

I plan to do a stack of the books that almost made it in the coming days so keep an eye on my social media for that. But for now, here are the 21 books I loved most in 2021:

The Lamplighters by Emma Stonex

The Lamplighters is a truly accomplished debut. Haunting, mesmerising and atmospheric, it tells the story of the disappearance of three men and their warring widows. Drenched in mystery and with a hint of the paranormal, it is a vividly told and addictive read that I devoured quickly. I loved that it was based on a true story, adding even more intrigue to this already fascinating tale.

Published March 4th 2021 by Picador. Buy here*
Read my full review here.

Call Me Mummy by Tina Baker

This crazy psychological thriller still vividly lives rent free in my mind almost a year after reading. Like the author herself, this is a vivacious, darkly funny and compelling debut that I loved. It tells the story of every parents’ worst nightmare come true, of how longing can become twisted into evil, and the ripple effects of trauma and pain. Mummy remains one of the most terrifying creations I’ve read, mostly because I understand her and why she became who she is. If you love a well-written thriller then read this book.

Published February 25th 2021 by Viper Books. Buy here*
Read my full review here.

The One Hundred Years of Lenni and Margot

I’m a sucker for a multi-generational friendship so I was immediately on board for a story about a seventeen-year-old girl and eight-three-year-old woman. Lenni and Margot are residents of the hospital’s terminal ward and build a friendship in the art room, telling their stories through paintings that illustrate the many highs and lows of their shared one hundred years. Hypnotic, mesmerising and heart-rending, this is a book that reaches into your soul and changes you forever. A story of life, death, all the magical moments in between.

Published February 18th 2021 by Doubleday. Buy here*
Read my full review here.

The Asylum by Karen Coles

Claustrophobic, haunting and addictive, The Asylum is a spectacular debut that doesn’t get enough love in my opinion. Exquisitely written, it transports you to the bleak, shadowy rooms of the asylum and the anguished recesses of Maud’s mind. Fans of historical and Gothic fiction will not want to miss this book.

Published April 1st 2021 by Welbeck. Buy here*
Read my full review here.

Circus of Wonders by Elizabeth Macneal

Once again Elizabeth Macneal has created a masterpiece. Captivating, illuminating and consuming, I was under the spell of this story from start to finish. This is a story about the outcasts, about finding your place in the world and what it is to be human. Circus of Wonders is dazzling piece of historical fiction that is not to be missed.

Published May 13th 2021 by Picador. Buy here*
Read my full review here.

The Metal Heart by Caroline Lea

Oh, my heart. When I think of this book that is my first thought. A story about love, sacrifice, fear and survival set against the backdrop of a remote Scottish island during World War II, The Metal Heart is a breathtakingly beautiful story that I will never forget.

Published April 29th by Michael Joseph. Buy here*
Read my full review here.

Ariadne by Jennifer Saint

Atmospheric, lush and evocative, Ariadne is a rich tapestry that swept me away. In this glorious debut, Jennifer Saint brings to life many of the familiar Greek myths through a new lens, tells them from the perspective of the women who were previously relegated to the sidelines. And it is utterly spectacular, sparking my obsession with Greek mythology. I loved it so much that I not only bought the beautiful hardback, but also the Waterstones special edition. This is a book that I recommend to everyone, whether you’ve previously been interested in Greek myths or not.

Published April 29th by Wildfire. Buy here*
Read my full review here.

The Wolf Den by Elodie Harper

If Ariadne ignited my obsession with Greek mythology, The Wolf Den solidified it. The first in an exciting new trilogy, it tells the story of Amara, a former Doctor’s daughter sold into slavery and now one of the she-wolves at Pompeii’s infamous brothel. Lush, evocative and atmospheric I was transported to the doomed city’s dusty streets and immersed in Amara’s fight for survival and freedom. I am counting down to book two in May so I can find out what happens next.

Published May 13th by Head of Zeus. Buy here*
Read my full review here.

The Stranding by Kate Sawyer

The Stranding is a story about the end of the world. About humanity, love, hope and survival. Imaginative, original and utterly magnificent, it surpassed all my expectations. I still find it hard to believe this is a debut. Exquisitely written and beautifully observed, this was a masterclass in storytelling. I will certainly be buying anything Ms. Sawyer writes in the future.

Published June 24th 2021 by Coronet. Buy here*
Read my full review here.

This Is How We Are Human by Louise Beech

This is the book that I always recommend when anyone asks for a 2021 book they might not have read. A truly astonishing novel from an extraordinary talent, I think this book deserves to be on everyone’s reading list. It is a story about the nuances and complexities of being human that is full of heart, warmth and wisdom. A story that is unflinchingly honest and achingly real. I have a son with autism and am so thankful to Louise for writing a book that doesn’t show us a cliché, but a real person who is as individual as anyone else. Please read this book.

Published June 24th by Orenda Books. Buy here.
Read my full review here.

The Tsarina’s Daughter by Ellen Alpsten

Another masterpiece in the Tsarina series by Ellen Alpsten. Her debut novel, Tsarina, was one of my favourite books of 2020 and I am not surprised that the follow up was every bit as good. This time she tells the story of Elizabeth, daughter of Peter the Great, following her highs and lows after Russia is torn apart and her fortunes drastically change. The Tsarina’s Daughter is dazzling piece of historical fiction that I couldn’t put down and left me eagerly awaiting book three.

Published July 8th 2021 by Bloomsbury. Buy here*
Read my full review here.

Before You Knew My Name by Jacqueline Bulbitz

A murder mystery with a twist, this startling debut tells the story from the perspective of the victim rather than those investigating the case. And this creative author goes even further, also highlighting what it is like to be the person who discovers the body, a person we rarely hear more than a passing sentence or two about in most thrillers. Timely, brave and thought-provoking, it stands out from the crowd of other thrillers. A must read for fans of the genre.

Published July 15th 2021 by Sphere. Buy here*
Read my full review here.

Mrs England by Stacey Halls

Stacey Halls once again shows why she is a Queen of historical fiction and one of my favourite authors with this slow-burning novel. Atmospheric, eerie and full of menace, it follows Ruby, a Norlander Nurse, on her latest job caring for the four England children is West Yorkshire. But all is not quite what it seems with Mr. and Mrs. England, and secrets are slowly revealed in this haunting and twisty novel.

Published June10th by Manilla Press. Buy here*
Read my full review here.

The Beresford by Will Carver

Will Carver is an author with a quirky, twisted and original style that is all his own. And The Beresford is another outstanding example of his creative genius. It opens with a murder then follows the residents of The Beresford, a halfway house for the disillusioned and vulnerable that has a life of its own, living and breathing as much as the physical characters of the story. Seductive and unsettling, The Beresford is my favourite Will Carver book to date.

Published July 22nd 2021 by Orenda Books. Buy here.
Read my full review here.

The Last Library by Freya Sampson

The Last Library is my favourite uplit of 2021. A bibliophile’s dream, this is a hug in book form and is now one of my favourite books of all time. It follows a varied cast of characters as they fight to save their beloved local library from closure. It is a celebration of books and the power of stories, but also of community, friendship, kindness and courage. A charming, funny and uplifting story that I can’t recommend highly enough.

Published September 2nd by Zaffre. Buy here*
Read my full review here.

The Hidden Child by Louise Fein

A perfect family is fractured and torn apart when illness invades their lives and not only tests their strength, but makes them question their core beliefs and values in this extraordinary piece of historical fiction.  Powerful, moving and thought-provoking, this beautifully written story is one you won’t forget.

Published September 2nd by Head of Zeus. Buy here*
Read my full review here.

The Maid by Nita Prose

I was lucky to be selected as a VIP for the Tandem Collective readalong of this highly anticipated debut. A murder mystery that was also a balm for my soul, this book exceeded all expectations and was like nothing I’ve read before. I adored Molly, the heroine of this wonderful story. Quirky and endearing, the world would be a better place if we were all a little more like her. Nita Prose is an author with a bright future ahead and I have no doubt that this book will be a sensation when it’s released next year and I can’t wait to see the movie adaptation that is already in the works.

Published January 20th 2022 by Harper Collins UK. Buy here*
Read my full review here.

Wish You Were Here by Jodi Picoult

A book about the pandemic doesn’t sound like something that would be on my list of top books, but Jodi Picoult has added her magical touch to make that so. A story about resilience, hope and survival that explores the fear and trauma of the pandemic and the limitless potential of the human mind. Beautiful, heartwarming and absorbing, I got lost in this book. I thought I knew what I was getting when I started reading, but I had no idea. When that twist comes it blows your mind and shakes you to the core. This is one of Ms. Picoult’s best books to date.

Published November 25th 2021 by Hodder & Stoughton. Buy here*
Read my full review here.

The Imperfect Art of Caring by Jessica Ryn

Sometimes you pick up a book and it is exactly what you need.  That was the case when I decided to read this book on a whim. Uplifting, heartwarming and hopeful, this is a beautiful story of friendship, community and forgiveness. Just as she did with her debut novel, Jessica Ryn has given us another everyday heroine to root for and I was behind Violet every step of the way. Ms. Ryn has solidified her place on my list of auto-buy authors and I can’t recommend her books highly enough.

Published November 25th by HQ. Buy here*
Read my full review here.

A Girl Made of Air by Nydia Hetherington

One of those books that is just as beautiful on the inside as it is on the outside, A Girl Made of Air is a mesmerising and magical tale. It tells the story of an nameless and unwanted protagonist, following her from the days as a neglected child living in a circus in England then all the way to New York, where she found fame as the greatest Funambulist of all time. For this dazzling debut, Nydia Hetherington merged Manx folklore, fairy tales, circus freaks and fiction to create a story about the strange and the extraordinary. My only regret is that I left it to languish on my shelf for so long. Pick it up now.

Published September 3rd 2020 by Quercus. Buy here*
Read my full review here.

Midnight in Everwood by M. A. Kuzniar

I am so glad that I saved this spellbinding story to read over Christmas as it is on Christmas Eve that most of the magic happens in Everwood. Marietta dreams of being a ballerina but her high society family have another path for her life that she must follow. As she prepares for final performance, Marietta discovers a hidden magical world full of wonder hidden in the scenery.  But this enchanting place holds magic darker than she ever imagined and Marietta soon finds herself fighting to find a way to break free of Everwood’s hold and return home.  A mesmerising debut sprinkled with magic, this is the perfect winter read.

Published October 28th 2021 by HQ. Buy here*
Read my full review here.

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BOOK OF THE YEAR

I have agonised for weeks over what book should be given the title of Book of the Year. I had two main contenders: Ariadne and This Is How We Are Human. It was only now, while writing this post and putting together my thoughts about the books, that it became clear which book would get the title. It is a book that lives in my heart and soul, one that I am passion about having other people read and that I truly believe has the power to educate and change minds. That book is This Is How We Are Human by the incomparable Louise Beech. If you’ve not read it, please do. And let me know your thoughts.

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Thanks for reading Bibliophiles Happy New Year and I will see you in 2022. Emma xxx

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SquadPod Book Club Review: The Wolf Den by Elodie Harper

Published: May 13th, 2021
Publisher: Head of Zeus
Genre: Historical Fiction, Historical Romance, Greek Mythology
Format: Hardcover, Kindle, Audio

Better late than never. I’m finally sharing my review for The Wolf Den, the magnificent story that was the first Squadpod Book Club read in the summer. Thank you to Head of Zeus for the gifted ARC.

SYNOPSIS:

Sold by her mother. Enslaved in Pompeii’s brothel. Determined to survive. Her name is Amara. Welcome to the Wolf Den…

Amara was once a beloved daughter, until her father’s death plunged her family into penury. Now she is a slave in Pompeii’s infamous brothel, owned by a man she despises. Sharp, clever and resourceful, Amara is forced to hide her talents. For now her only value lies in the desire she can stir in others.

But Amara’s spirit is far from broken. By day, she walks the streets with the Wolf Den’s other women, finding comfort in the laughter and dreams they share. For the streets of Pompeii are alive with opportunity. Out here, even the lowest slave can secure a reversal in fortune. Amara has learnt that everything in this city has its price. But how much is her freedom going to cost her?

Set in Pompeii’s lupanar, The Wolf Den is the first in a trilogy of novels reimagining the lives of women who have long been overlooked. Perfect for fans of Pat Barker’s The Silence of the Girls and Madeline Miller’s Circe.

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MY REVIEW:

Sold by her mother. Enslaved in Pompeii’s brothel. Determined to survive. Her name is Amara. Welcome to the Wolf Den…

The Wolf Den is an absolute masterpiece. Lush, atmospheric and mesmerising, it gives a voice to the voiceless women lost to the sands of history. Told by Amara, a young woman sold into slavery after her family fell into poverty and now forced to be one of the she-wolves at Pompeii’s infamous brothel, this is a story of friendship, jealousy, betrayal, revenge and survival.

I luxuriated in the exquisite storytelling of this book. This ancient tale is told with a modern voice, bringing the story to life in a way that is relatable and compelling. The evocative scene setting brought the story alive and transported me back to the doomed city of Pompeii as vividly as if I were walking the dusty streets myself. The brutality and precariousness of life at the time is vividly depicted through a broad spectrum of society, from the seedy to the opulent, reminding us your fortunes could change in an instant, taking you from freedom to slavery. Meticulously researched, the author’s vivid descriptions and attention to detail illustrates her passion for the history of Pompeii and to allow those who were silenced for centuries to finally have their voices heard.

“And you would, wouldn’t you? Tear them all apart.”

The characters are richly drawn, vivacious and charismatic. They have that spark that makes you care and root for them. There is a sisterhood shared by the she-wolves, each one ready to defend the other no matter what. This book was our first Squadpod Book Club read and Clare described the she-wolves as the ‘early Squadpod’, which I thought was perfect. Each of them possess strength, tenacity and vulnerability, as well as a sensuality and wiliness that they rely on to survive. As women and slaves they were especially powerless and I liked that we saw the hard choices they had to make and unpaletable things they are forced to do in order to survive.

“She gets better at pretending, but Amara is never satisfied. The desire to escape takes hold, its roots digging under her skin, breaking her apart.”

I loved Amara and thought she was a great choice for the narrator. Though she is now a slave, she is a doctor’s daughter and an educated woman, something that sets her apart from many of the other women. And while Felix may own her body, he doesn’t own her spirit, the embers of rage burning in her alongside an unquenchable determination. I liked her immediately and found her easy to root for, even when she was unlikable.

Sumptuous, enthralling and unflinching, The Wolf Den is a phenomenal start to an exciting new trilogy. The jaw-dropping ending left me desperate for more and counting down to the release of part two next May. A triumph of historical fiction that fans of the genre shouldn’t miss. Go read it now!

Rating: ✮✮✮✮✮

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MEET 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. Her job as a journalist has seen her join one of the most secretive wings of the Church of Scientology and cover the far right hip hop scene in Berlin, as well as crime reporting in Norfolk where her first two novels were set – The Binding Song and The Death Knock.

Elodie studied Latin poetry both in the original and in translation as part of her English Literature degree at Oxford, instilling a lifelong interest in the ancient world. The Wolf Den is the first in a trilogy of novels about the lives of women in ancient Pompeii.

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BUY THE BOOK:

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Thanks for reading Bibliophiles😊 Emma xxx

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Book Review: Mrs England by Stacey Halls

Published: June 10th, 2021
Publisher: Manilla Press
Genre: Historical Fiction, Gothic Fiction, Mystery
Format: Hardcover, Kindle, Audio

I am finally getting around to sharing my review of this spectacular novel. Thank you to Manilla press for the gifted ARC and Jenna at Tasting Notes Book Club for hosting a fantastic readalong and chat.

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SYNOPSIS:

‘Something’s not right here.’
I was aware of Mr Booth’s eyes on me, and he seemed to hold his breath. ‘What do you mean?’
‘In the house. With the family.’

West Yorkshire, 1904. When newly graduated nurse Ruby May takes a position looking after the children of Charles and Lilian England, a wealthy couple from a powerful dynasty of mill owners, she hopes it will be the fresh start she needs. But as she adapts to life at the isolated Hardcastle House, it becomes clear there’s something not quite right about the beautiful, mysterious Mrs England.

Distant and withdrawn, Lilian shows little interest in her children or charming husband, and is far from the ‘angel of the house’ Ruby was expecting. As the warm, vivacious Charles welcomes Ruby into the family, a series of strange events forces her to question everything she thought she knew. Ostracised by the servants and feeling increasingly uneasy, Ruby must face her demons in order to prevent history from repeating itself. After all, there’s no such thing as the perfect family – and she should know.

Simmering with slow-burning menace, Mrs England is a portrait of an Edwardian marriage, weaving an enthralling story of men and women, power and control, courage, truth and the very darkest deception. Set against the atmospheric West Yorkshire landscape, Stacey Halls’ third novel proves her one of the most exciting and compelling new storytellers of our times.

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MY REVIEW:

“I just have a feeling that… That something’s not right here.” 

My love for Stacey Halls is no secret and her debut novel, The Familiars, remains one of my favourite books of all time.  So I had high expectations when this, her third book, was released in June.  She did not disappoint and though it has taken me a long time to get around to sharing this review, Mrs England is one of my favourite books of 2021. 

Atmospheric and eerie, this slow-burning novel sent shivers down my spine.  Though I read it at the height of summer, there is an iciness to it that I felt deep in my bones.  Ms. Halls has said that she immersed herself in the landscape in which she set the novel, living there in complete isolation during the winter of early 2020.  This has certainly shone through in her vivid imagery of the bleak, desolate landscape, and evocative descriptions of the isolation and menace that pervades the halls of Hardcastle House.  Merged with unexpected twists and an air of mystery and foreboding, it comes together to create an irresistible read that I couldn’t put down. 

“I knew about secrets, and I knew, too, how one led to another. I was a fool for thinking she’d have no more.”

As with her previous books, Ms. Halls has taken inspiration from real life and crafted an exquisite work of her own imagination around it.  I won’t tell you about the event that inspired this book as it would spoil one of the biggest twists, but she talks about it in the author’s notes and I loved how it was woven into the story.  In this book she also explores coercive control with an honesty and sensitivity that I appreciated as a survivor of such abuse.  It is clear that she has taken care to research it at length and really helps the reader understand the ways in which both the abusers and those who are abused behave, as well as the ripple effect it has on those around them.

“It was as though I’d stumbled into an upside-down world, where the master has taken the place of the mistress.” 

Ruby May is a fascinating narrator.  Born into an impoverished background, she gained a scholarship to the Norland Institute where she trained as one of it’s prestigious Nurses.  She is clearly still cleaved to her family, not only sending half her wages home, but forced to never be too far away thanks to an invisible chain of guilt forged thanks to mysterious circumstances that are slowly revealed.  Then there is Mrs. Lilian England herself, the antithesis of the stereotypical mistress of the house.  She is an enigma, rarely emerging from her room, and cold and distant to her children.  The strange way in which the whole England household is run perplexes Ruby and because we see the story through her eyes, we are also suspicious of Lilian.  But we soon learn that things aren’t quite what they seem in the England home and I found my view of some of the characters shifted as the truth about this mysterious family unfurled. 

Haunting, evocative, suspenseful and compelling, Stacey Halls has once again shown why she is one of my favourite authors.  Mrs England is a must read for anyone who enjoys well-written historical fiction with a twist.

Rating: ✮✮✮✮.5

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MEET THE AUTHOR:

Stacey Halls was born in Lancashire and worked as a journalist before her debut The Familiars was published in 2019. The Familiars was the bestselling debut hardback novel of that year, won a Betty Trask Award and was shortlisted for the British Book Awards’ Debut Book of the Year. The Foundling, her second novel, was also a Sunday Times top ten bestseller. Mrs England is her third novel.

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BUY THE BOOK:

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Thanks for reading Bibliophiles☺️ Emma xxx

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Review: Midnight in Everwood by M. A. Kuzniar

Published: October 28th, 2021
Publisher: HQ
Genre: Fairy Tale, Fantasy Fiction, Historical Fantasy, Magical Realism, Coming-of-Age Story
Format: Hardcover, Kindle, Audiobook

SYNOPSIS:

In the darkness of night, magic awaits…

Nottingham, 1906

Marietta Stelle longs to be a ballerina but, as Christmas draws nearer, her dancing days are numbered – she must marry and take up her place in society in the New Year. But, when a mysterious toymaker, Dr Drosselmeier, purchases a neighbouring townhouse, it heralds the arrival of magic and wonder in Marietta’s life.

After Drosselmeier constructs an elaborate theatrical set for her final ballet performance on Christmas Eve, Marietta discovers it carries a magic all of its own – a magic darker than anyone could imagine. As the clock chimes midnight, Marietta finds herself transported from her family’s ballroom to a frozen sugar palace, silent with secrets, in a forest of snow-topped fir trees. She must find a way to return home before she’s trapped in Everwood’s enchanting grip forever.

In the darkness of night, magic awaits and you will never forget what you find here…

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MY REVIEW:

“Only the most magical things happen at midnight. When mortal folk are dreaming, safe in their beds, it is then that the sprites and goblins creep out and the air crackles with wild magic.”

Nottingham, 1906. Marietta longs to be a ballerina but she is torn between the life she wants and the one her high society family expects her to have.

On Christmas Eve, as she prepares for final performance, Marietta discovers a hidden magical world full of wonder hidden in the scenery built by mysterious new neighbour Dr. Drosselmeir. But this enchanting place holds magic darker than she ever imagined and Marietta soon finds herself fighting to find a way to break free of Everwood’s hold and return home.

I’d saved Midnight in Everwood to read over Christmas and I am so glad I did. I started it on Christmas Eve, which is when most of the magic happens in Everwood, and was so enthralled that I had to force myself to stop reading at 2am so I would be able to function the next day. I was spellbound by this magical tale that I feel sure will become a future Christmas classic.

“… once magic has entered your life, you stay in it’s glittering clutch forever.”

Luminous and enchanting, Midnight in Everwood is a dark fairytale for adults. An air of creeping menace lingers over every page like a silent shadow waiting to strike, making my heart race and sending shivers down my spine. Richly imagined and beautifully told, I was transported to another world as I followed Marietta’s journey. Ms. Kuzniar is a gifted wordsmith, her glorious prose and evocative imagery bringing the stifling rigidity of high society in the early 1900s and the dazzling beauty of Everwood to life as vividly as if I’d stepped inside them myself.

Like Marietta, I was enchanted by Everwood, a wondrous dreamworld with its sugar-spun castle, frozen landscape and magical charms. But beneath the glittering facade is a much darker side. Less of a dream and more of a nightmare. A place ruled by a tyrant who enjoys torture and pain.

“Never dull your sparkle for anyone else, flame fiercely into your own glittering future.”

This is a book filled with spectacular characters. Marietta is a brilliant protagonist who I immediately liked. Feisty and determined, she doesn’t fit the mould expected of her and refuses to acquiesce. I loved this and was rooting for her from the start. That feeling only grew after she’s captured in Everwood and I was cheering her on and hoping she would find a way to escape the king’s clutches. I loved the relationship she had with her brother, Frederick, himself a great character who I could have happily read a lot more of. But it was her friendship with Pirlipata and Dellara I enjoyed most of all. This wonderful trio were a delight to read, Dellara in particular bringing an ebullience to the page that made her captivating. I loved watching their bond grow and cheering them along as they came together to find a way home.

Shimmering, incandescent and haunting, Midnight in Everwood is a mesmerising debut sprinkled with magic. The perfect book to get lost in on a cold winter’s day while snuggled under a cosy blanket, I can’t recommend it highly enough. It is one that I will treasure forever.

Rating: ✮✮✮✮✮

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MEET THE AUTHOR:

Maria Kuzniar spent six years living in Spain, teaching English and travelling the world which inspired her children’s series The Ship of Shadows. Her adult debut novel Midnight in Everwood was inspired by her love of ballet and love of The Nutcracker.

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BUY THE BOOK:

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Thanks for reading Bibliophiles ☺️ Emma xxx

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Review: A Girl Made of Air by Nydia Hetherington

Published: September 3rd, 2020
Publisher: Quercus
Genre: Fairy Tale, Folklore, Historical Fiction, Fantasy Fiction, Magical Realism
Format: Hardcover, Paperback, Kindle, Audiobook

SYNOPSIS:

A lyrical and atmospheric homage to the strange and extraordinary, perfect for fans of Angela Carter and Erin Morgenstern.

This is the story of The Greatest Funambulist Who Ever Lived…

Born into a post-war circus family, our nameless star was unwanted and forgotten, abandoned in the shadows of the big top. Until the bright light of Serendipity Wilson threw her into focus.

Now an adult, haunted by an incident in which a child was lost from the circus, our narrator, a tightrope artiste, weaves together her spellbinding tales of circus legends, earthy magic and folklore, all in the hope of finding the child… But will her story be enough to bring the pair together again?

Beautiful and intoxicating, A Girl Made of Air brings the circus to life in all of its grime and glory; Marina, Manu, Serendipity Wilson, Fausto, Big Gen and Mouse will live long in the hearts of readers. As will this story of loss and reconciliation, of storytelling and truth.

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MY REIVEW:

“Up until this moment I have lived in sepia, my muddy life devoid of meaning.  That is how it always feels, until I see her, once again, bathed in colour and light.”

A Girl Made of Air is one of those rare literary gems where what is on the inside is just as beautiful as the dazzling cover on the outside.  It is genuinely one of the most beautiful and captivating stories I have ever read.  A truly mesmerising and magical debut, it weaves an enthralling tale that is poignant, sad and dark, yet also filled with hope, colour and wonder. It tells the story of a nameless and unwanted protagonist, following her from the days as a neglected child living in a circus in England then all the way to New York, where she found fame as the greatest Funambulist of all time. 

In a book filled with larger than life characters, our protagonist at first feels so small and insignificant.  She is born into a life of poverty and neglect; the unwanted child of Marina, a mermaid-esque character who swims with crocodiles, and Manu, a lion tamer.  She spends her earliest years invisible, silent and unloved, keeping to the shadows and scrounging for scraps of food.  But when she’s seven years old she is taken in by Serendipity Wilson, a flame-haired woman who dazzles all who meet her, and for the first time our protagonist experiences real kindness and love.  Now nicknamed Mouse, Serendipity Wilson takes her under her wing and teaches her the art of walking the wire, introducing her to the art that becomes her passion and sees her become the star of the show, performing in the big top and then taking her talent to Coney Island in New York.  But there is an underlying heartache that mars any happiness she finds, the rejection and hatred of her mother casting a shadow that never fades, no matter how brightly she shines.  

“What happens to all the lost memories; the moments of silent thought, the complicity of long-gone lovers, when our minds are so far gone our still breathing bodies may as well be thrown into some dark oubliette? What happens to a life once lived?”

I am still in awe that this is a debut novel.  Nydia Hetherington merges Manx folklore, fairy tales, circus freaks and fiction in this phenomenal tale of the strange and the extraordinary.  She takes us behind the shimmering spectacle of the circus, pulling back the curtain to reveal the truth of life in the grubby, bleak encampment.  The author’s descriptions are so vivid that I could see and smell the dirt, mud and animals; a rotten stench that the performers can never escape.  It is a depressing insight into the poverty they live in despite their incredible talents.   But it is also breathtakingly beautiful and intoxicating, the lyrical and evocative prose transporting you to the world the author created and bringing it to life as clearly as if you’re watching it on a movie screen.   

“My words are a labyrinth into which we can wander.  As I write these tales, I can follow each path, each fallen leaf, in the hope they might take me to the person I seek.”

There were many elements of the writing that I loved, including the author’s use of storytelling throughout the book, both in how she has Mouse narrate the story as she transcribes her memories that she scribbled down in notebooks and journals over the years and as she tells us the Manx Folklore that Serendipity Wilson would tell Mouse.  I also enjoyed how contrasts play such a big part of the story, whether that is in the characters and places which are flamboyant and colourful yet shabby and somber, or in the writing itself which manages to be both magical and full of misery.  Ms. Hetherington is clearly a born storyteller and writer whose attention to detail is evident on every page.  I never wanted it to end and savoured every word.  

Spellbinding, luminous and kaleidoscopic, A Girl Made of Air was a joy to read from beginning to end.  It is a book that lingers long after reading, where I’ll catch myself thinking about it at random moments. My only frustration is that I allowed it to languish on my shelf unread for so long.  So if you haven’t read it, I urge you to do so as soon as possible.  And be prepared to fall in love.

Rating: ✮✮✮✮✮

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MEET THE AUTHOR:

From Leeds — although born on Merseyside and spending the first few years of life on the Isle of Man — Nydia Hetherington moved to London in her early twenties to embark on an acting career. Later she moved to Paris where she created her own theatre company. When she returned to London a decade later, she completed a creative writing degree at Birkbeck, graduating with first class honours.

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BUY THE BOOK:

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*These are affiliate links

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Thanks for reading Bibliophiles Merry Christmas! Emma xxxx