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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

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Blog Tours book reviews Emma's Anticipated Treasures Support Debuts

Blog Tour: Cecily by Annie Garthwaite

Published: August 12th, 2021
Publisher: Viking
Genre: Historical Fiction, Biographical Fiction, Political Fiction
Format: Hardcover, Kindle, Audio

Welcome to my stop on the tour for this powerful debut. Thank you to Viking for the invitation to take part and the gifted ARC.

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SYNOPSIS:

‘Rebellion?’
The word is a spark. They can start a fire with it, or smother it in their fingertips.
She chooses to start a fire.

You are born high, but marry a traitor’s son. You bear him twelve children, carry his cause and bury his past.

You play the game, against enemies who wish you ashes. Slowly, you rise.

You are Cecily.

But when the king who governs you proves unfit, what then?

Loyalty or treason – death may follow both. The board is set. Time to make your first move.

Told through the eyes of its greatest unknown protagonist, this astonishing debut plunges you into the closed bedchambers and bloody battlefields of the first days of the Wars of the Roses, a war as women fight it.

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MY REVIEW:

‘Rebellion?’
The word is a spark. They could light a fire with it, or smother it now in their fingertips.
She chooses to start a fire.

Cecily was my 100th read of the year and one of my most anticipated books. I was drawn to it not only by the synopsis, but by its striking cover. But lying beneath that bright, luring jacket, is a dark, grim and savage story. The author pulls you in immediately, opening the book with the burning at the stake of Joan of Arc, a shocking and atmospheric scene that feels like it’s setting the tone for what is to come.

This is the story of the Wars of the Roses through the eyes of the women who fought from the shadows. It was a brutal time. A time where power is won by blood and playing the game well is the difference between life and death. A cutthroat and ruthless time when your best friend today could be your enemy tomorrow. It is meticulously researched and beautifully written, transporting you back to a time when women were often forgotten and discounted, when they had to use the voices of men to be heard. And without taking away from those things, I feel I must mention that it took me a while to really get into this book. There were times my concentration wandered and the story felt too heavy, disjointed or hard to follow. I found it a little too bogged down in politics and would have liked more emotion and insight into what makes the characters tick. I had to put it down for a few days and come back to it, and when I did I finally got to a place where it felt like Cecily finally came alive, and it was then that I really started to enjoy the book.

“Women have no swords, brother. We do our work by talking.”

Cecily is a forgotten heroine that I am glad is finally having her story told. Feisty, strong, determined and intelligent, she is a force to be reckoned with. Born at a time when women are denied a voice or any real power, she is able to become a woman of influence in politics from the sidelines. A lot of this is down to the relationship she has with her husband, Richard. Their marriage is strong, loving and respectful, and it is clear he values her opinion. Other women gain power through marrying a weak man, which is what her enemy, Marguerite, does. The two women were undoubtedly similar in many ways, but while Marguerite comes off as unlikeable and venomous, Cecily appears resolute and caring. I enjoyed their bitter feud and how both women got stronger as time went on while the men appeared to wither.

I love how many books there have been recently that have taken a familiar story from history and told it from the woman’s perspective, illuminating voices that were silenced and finally revealing to the world the true strength these women possessed and how instrumental the moments that shaped our world today. I can’t help but wonder how many more of these forgotten heroines are out there, still waiting for their chance to shine. 

A familiar story with a feminist edge, Ceicily is a powerful debut and brilliant historical read. You will never look at the Wars of the Roses the same again. 

Rating: ✮✮✮✮✫

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MEET THE AUTHOR:

Annie Garthwaite grew up in a working class community in the north-east of England. 

A schoolgirl interest in medieval history became a lifelong obsession with Cecily Neville, so, at age fifty-five, she enrolled on the Warwick Writing MA programme. Her extraordinary debut novel Cecily is the result. During a thirty-year international business career she frequently found herself the only woman at the table, where she gained valuable insights into how a woman like Cecily might have operated. 

Today she lives with her partner – and far too many animals – on the side of a green Shropshire hill close to the Yorkist stronghold of Ludlow.

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BUY THE BOOK:

Waterstones*| Bookshop.org*| Amazon| Google Books| Apple Books| Kobo
*These are affiliate links

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Please check out the reviews from 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: The Tsarina’s Daughter by Ellen Alpsten

Published: July 8th, 2021
Publisher: Bloomsbury UK
Genre: Historical Fiction, Biographical Fiction, Book Series
Format: Hardcover, Kindle, Audio

I’m thrilled to be sharing my review for this magnificent novel on its publication day. Thank you to Midas PR for the invitation to take part and to them and Bloomsbury UK for the gifted copy and champagne.

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SYNOPSIS:

When they took everything from her, they didn’t count on her fighting to get it back… Born into the House of Romanov to the all-powerful Peter the Great and Catherine I, beautiful Tsarevna Elizabeth is the world’s loveliest Princess and the envy of the Russian empire. Insulated by luxury and as a woman free from the burden of statecraft, Elizabeth is seemingly born to pursue her passions.

However, a dark prophecy predicts her fate as inexorably twined with Russia. When her mother dies, Russia is torn, masks fall, and friends become foes. Elizabeth’s idyllic world is upended. By her twenties she is penniless and powerless, living under constant threat. As times change like quicksand, an all-consuming passion emboldens Elizabeth: she must decide whether to take up her role as Russia’s ruler, and what she’s willing to do for her country – and for love.

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MY REVIEW:

“Everything comes at a price.”

Take a bow, Ellen Alpsten, for you have created another absolute masterpiece.

The Tsarina’s Daughter follows the journey of Tsarevna Elizabeth, daughter of Peter the Great. When the story begins she is a teenager, known for being the world’s most beautiful Princess and awaiting her expected engagement to the King of France. But after her mother’s death her fortunes quickly change and a dark prophecy predicting a turbulent future inexorably linked with her beloved Russia seems to be coming to pass. As Russia is torn apart, so is Elizabeth’s life, and we follow her one a journey of highs and lows, of rags and riches and of life and death.

Tsarina was one of my favourite books of 2020 and put Ellen Alpsten on my list of aut-buy authors. I was elated to learn that it was the first in a series and couldn’t wait to get my hands on the follow up. Expectations were high, and she exceeded them all. The Tsarina’s Daughter is a spectacular novel. Exquisitely written, beautifully crafted and addictive, I luxuriated in every word. Once again the author’s meticulous research leaps from the pages and transports you back in time to the opulence of Imperial Palace and the rule of the Tsars. One of the things I love about historical fiction is when a book educates and entertains you, and this certainly does both of those things flawlessly.

“I had not yet turned twenty but felt weighed down by all I had lived through.”

Elizabeth is a fascinating historical figure. The daughter of not only one of Russia’s greatest Tsars, but its first Tsarina, she is understandably a force to be reckoned with. She lives in an era where everything is a matter of life or death. You have to watch your every word and play the game carefully in order to survive, and I loved watching her grow and learn to master the rules of the game. But Elizabeth was also born during a time of great change, where women took power and had their voices heard for the first time in Russia’s history. At the beginning of her journey, the best she hopes for is to be the wife of a great King, and by the end she is fighting to take her place as Tsarina of All of Russias.

The Tsarina’s Daughter is a dazzling, magnificent and captivating novel that I couldn’t put down. And after that ending I can not wait for book three to see what is next for Elizabeth and the Romanov dynasty. This outstanding series is a must for any history lover.

Rating: ✮✮✮✮✮

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MEET THE AUTHOR:

Ellen Alpsten was born and raised in the Kenyan highlands, where she dressed up her many pets and forced them to listen to her stories.

Upon graduating from the ‘Institut d’Etudes Politiques de Paris’, she worked as a news-anchor for Bloomberg TV London. While working gruesome night shifts on breakfast TV, she started to write in earnest, every day, after work, a nap and a run. So much for burning midnight oil!

Today, Ellen works as an author and as a journalist for international publications such as Vogue, Standpoint, and CN Traveller. She lives in London with her husband, three sons, and a moody fox red Labrador.

‘Tsarina’ is her debut novel in the ‘Tsarina’ series, followed by ‘The Tsarina’s Daughter’.

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BUY THE BOOK:

Waterstones* | Bookshop.org* | Amazon* |Apple Books | Kobo
*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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Book Features book reviews Emma's Anticipated Treasures Support Debuts

Publication Day Feature: Tsarina by Ellen Alpsten

Published: June 24th, 2021
Publisher: Bloomsbury UK
Genre: Historical Fiction, Biographical Fiction
Format: Paperback, Hardcover, Kindle, Audio

Today is the paperback publication day of Tsarina, the first in an exciting new trilogy that was also one of my favourite books of 2020. To celebrate, I’m resharing my review.

Thank you Midas PR and Bloomsbury UK for my gifted copies of the book.

The second book in the series, The Tsarina’s Daughter, is out July 8th.

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SYNOPSIS:

SHORTLISTED FOR THE AUTHOR’S CLUB BEST FIRST NOVEL AWARD

‘It makes Game of Thrones look like a nursery rhyme’ – Daisy Goodwin

Lover, mother, murderer, Tsarina

1699: Illegitimate, destitute and strikingly beautiful, Marta is sold into labour at the age of fifteen – where in desperation she commits a crime that will force her to go on the run. Cheating death at every turn, she is swept into the current of the Great Northern War. Working as a washer woman at a battle camp, she catches the eye of none other than Peter the Great. Passionate and iron-willed, Peter has a vision for transforming the traditionalist Tsardom of Russia into a modern, Western empire.

With nothing but wits, courage and formidable ambition, Marta will rise from nothing to become Catherine I of Russia. But it comes at a steep price and is tied to the destiny of Russia itself.

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MY REVIEW:

“He is dead. My beloved husband, the mighty Tsar of all the Russias, has died – and just in time.”

Tsarina is a story of power, lust, sex, murder and betrayal. Of rags-to-riches. Of Catherine, the first Tsarina of all the Russias.

It begins in February 1725, on the night that Peter the Great, Tsar of All the Russias, dies. Catherine, her children and his advisors try to conceal his death for as long as possible to delay their fate. It is a matter of life and death. The story then moves between that night and flashbacks to Catherine’s life, beginning when she was just thirteen-years-old, still known as Marta and living with her serf family. We then follow her journey from poor peasant girl to Tsarina; a story that would be deemed too far fetched if you tried to sell it to a publisher. But every word of this novel is based in fact, with just a few liberties taken as the details of Catherine’s early life is shrouded in mystery.

I have always had a love for history and ever since studying the fall of the Tsars for my History A Level I have been fascinated with their story. So when I saw this book advertised I knew from just the title that I HAD to read it. After reading the synopsis it became one of my most anticipated books of the year. Thankfully, this magnificent debut surpassed every one of my high expectations. It was an all-encompassing read. A book that I took my time with, taking time to soak in every word, but also one that I couldn’t put down or stop thinking about when I had to do so.

Ellen Alpsten is a new talent to watch. Exquisitely written and wonderfully crafted, her meticulous research shines through on every page, bringing back to life those who lived and died three hundred years ago and making you feel like they are right there beside you with her powerful storytelling. I was hooked from the start and became totally lost in Catherine’s story, living every word of this book while reading it. Every moment of love and joy, every piercing pain of heartbreak and every gut-wrenching horror she witnessed and experienced, I felt along with her.

“Together, we have lived and loved, and together, we ruled.”

After reading this novel it seems unimaginable that Catherine’s story has been forgotten. That such a strong, brave and remarkable woman had been consigned to a footnote in history. At that time life for most of Russia’s people was hard, harsh and bleak. Even those in the upper classes lived in fear of falling out the Tsar’s favour and losing not only their wealth but their lives. Peter had a new vision for Russia and was a ruthless leader who was willing to sacrifice anyone and everything to achieve it. Even as his wife Catherine walked a tightrope knowing she could be stripped of everything and either sent to a convent or killed should the fancy take him. The brutality of life at that time and the lack of rights that were held by even the highest-ranking women is starkly illuminated in Catherine’s story in sobering detail.

Tsarina is a masterpiece of historical fiction. Atmospheric, intoxicating, unsettling, and compelling, this outstanding novel is one that will linger long after you close it’s pages. This gloriously decadent debut is one you don’t want to miss.

Rating: ✮✮✮✮✮

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MEET THE AUTHOR:

Ellen Alpsten was born and raised in the Kenyan highlands, where she dressed up her many pets and forced them to listen to her stories.

Upon graduating from the ‘Institut d’Etudes Politiques de Paris’, she worked as a news-anchor for Bloomberg TV London. While working gruesome night shifts on breakfast TV, she started to write in earnest, every day, after work, a nap and a run. So much for burning midnight oil!

Today, Ellen works as an author and as a journalist for international publications such as Vogue, Standpoint, and CN Traveller. She lives in London with her husband, three sons, and a moody fox red Labrador.


‘Tsarina’ is her debut novel in the ‘Tsarina’ series, followed by ‘The Tsarina’s Daughter’.

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BUY THE BOOK:

Waterstones* |Bookshop.org* | Amazon*| Google Books |Apple Books |Kobo

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Thanks for reading Bibliophiles😊 Emma xxx

Categories
Blog Tours book reviews

The Company Daughters by Samantha Rajaram

Published: October 30th, 2020
Publisher: Bookouture
Format: Paperback, Kindle, Audio
Genre: Historical Fiction, Coming-of-Age Fiction, Biographical Fiction, Lesbian Literature

I’m delighted to finally be able to share my review for this poignant novel. It’s late because of illness, but was worth the wait to read. Thank you to Bookouture for the invitation to take part and the gifted eBook ARC.

SYNOPSIS:

Wanted: Company Daughters. Virtuous young ladies to become the brides of industrious settlers in a foreign land. The Company will pay the cost of the lady’s dowry and travel. Returns not permitted, orphans preferred.

Amsterdam, 1620. Jana Beil has learned that life rarely provides moments of joy. Having run away from a violent father, her days are spent searching for work in an effort to stay out of the city brothels, where desperate women trade their bodies for a mouthful of bread. But when Jana is hired as a servant for the wealthy and kind Master Reynst and his beautiful daughter Sontje, Jana’s future begins to look brighter.

But then Master Reynst loses his fortune on a bad investment, and everything changes. The house is sold to creditors, leaving Jana back on the street and Sontje without a future.

With no other choice, Jana and Sontje are forced to sign with the East India Company as Company Daughters: sailing to a colonial Dutch outpost to become the brides of male settlers they know nothing about. With fear in their hearts, the girls begin their journey – but what awaits them on the other side of the world is nothing like what they’ve been promised…

Based on true history, this is a beautiful and sensual historical novel, perfect for fans of The Girl with the Pearl Earring, The Miniaturist and The Indigo Girl.

MY REVIEW:

“But having lived through so much upheaval, I doubt I will ever know the full taste of safety. I’m forever assuming some future disaster. Reading myself to flee.”

Jana Beil has not had an easy or happy life. She’s fought to survive, escaping violence and neglect only to find herself homeless and starving on the streets of Amsterdam in the late 17th century. She is grateful to find employment in the home of Master Reynst and his daughter, Sontje, but tragedy strikes when Reynst loses everything after a bad investment and Jana faces uncertainty once more. Sontje is faced with just one option; to travel to Batavia as one of the Company Daughters, a bride for one of the VOC settlers on the Dutch colony. When Sontje asks Jana to accompany her she agrees, eager to both escape her life in Amsterdam and to find a way to keep close to Sontje.

I am a big fan of historical fiction, especially when it’s based in fact, so I was instantly drawn to this book which is based on the true stories of Dutch women who were shipped to the other side of the world to become brides for strangers. It was a long and arduous ten month journey where they face increasing hunger and illness that threatens to end their voyage before they reach their destination. It is clear that the author has done a lot of research which she blends with fiction and vivid scene setting to transport you to another time and place, immersing you in this poignant tale.

“I ignore the fear rooting in me and feel triumph in this. Even in our captivity, we’ve found each other. Seized at whatever joy we can find.”

The characters are well written and richly drawn. I loved the protagonist, Jana. She’s easy to like and root for, a strong and determined character who isn’t typical of the women of the day. We follow her as she goes on a compelling journey that is both literal and figurative, her life marred by tragedy; where every time she feels like things are finally going well something comes along to pull the rug from under her feet once again. She isn’t someone who wishes to conform to what society expects of her, and over the course of the book her rebellious streak becomes increasingly evident as she is determined to carve her own path.

“I can’t help but feel bitterness—the fact of my body’s ownership passing from hand to hand—my father’s pummelling, the other men with their pawing and leering, as though I existed only for their gaze.”

The author also examines the lack of freedom, rights and choice available to women of the day. They are owned by men their whole lives and at their mercy. They can only hope for a father, husband or master who is kind and doesn’t beat or rape them. It’s a bleak existence and they have no way to independently make their way in the world; even a widowed woman is looked upon with suspicion if she doesn’t quickly remarry.

Atmospheric, harrowing, moving and hopeful, this was an easy and entertaining read that I would highly recommend to anyone who enjoys historical fiction.

Rating: ✮✮✮✮✰

MEET THE AUTHOR:

Samantha Rajaram spent most of her childhood in Gillette, Wyoming, where she and her family were the first Indian-Americans to live in the community. As a law student, she focused on social justice and international human rights law with a focus on female sex trafficking.

She is now an educator, and currently teaches composition at Chabot College in Hayward, California. She lives in the California Bay Area with her three
children.

Website |Twitter |Instagram

BUY THE BOOK:

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Blog Tours book reviews Emma's Anticipated Treasures

The Diabolical Bones by Bella Ellis

Published: November 5th, 2020
Publisher: Hodder Books
Format: Hardcover, Kindle, Audio
Genre: Historical Fiction, Historical Mystery, Gothic Fiction, Mystery, Biographical Fiction

Welcome to my stop on the tour for this mesmerising novel. Thank you to Steve at Hodder Books for the invitation to take part and the gifted copy of the book.

SYNOPSIS:

It’s Christmas 1845 and Haworth is in the grip of a freezing winter.

Charlotte, Emily and Anne Brontë are rather losing interest in detecting until they hear of a shocking discovery: the bones of a child have been found interred within the walls of a local house, Top Withens Hall, home to the scandalous and brutish Bradshaw family.

When the sisters set off to find out more, they are confronted with an increasingly complex and sinister case, which leads them into the dark world of orphanages, and onto the trail of other lost, and likely murdered children. After another local boy goes missing, Charlotte, Emily and Anne vow to find him before it’s too late.

But in order to do so, they must face their most despicable and wicked adversary yet – one that would not hesitate to cause them the gravest of harm. . .

MY REVIEW:

“They had awoken a monster.”

Atmospheric, haunting luscious and exquisitely gothic, this was everything I dreamed it would be and more. The first installment of the Bronte Mysteries was one of my favourite books of 2019 and the second installment is one of my most highly anticipated books of this year. I had high hopes, which the author didn’t just meet, she completely smashed them, crafting an even better novel than its predecessor.

Once again the book opens with Charlotte, now the only remaining Bronte child, looking back at life when her siblings were still alive. This time she remembers a particularly sinister case back in December 1845.

A child’s bones are discovered interred within the chimney of a room that has been locked up for thirteen years at Top Withens Hall, home to the scandalous Bradshaw family. When they hear of the discovery, Charlotte, Emily and Anne Bronte’s interest in detecting is renewed and they set out to investigate, unprepared for the dark and murky secrets they are about to uncover.

This was a book that delighted my soul, transporting me back to Victorian Yorkshire and immersing me in the sister’s world. The author seamlessly merges fact with fiction to craft a richly drawn story full of memorable characters, vivid imagery and gloriously gothic mystery. I struggled to put this one down, fighting against my need to sleep as I desperately tried to keep reading and get to the end in one sitting. My mind was a whirl of questions. And though my prediction turned out to be correct, I was still shocked by the revelations that were unveiled and on the edge of my seat as I approached the conclusion.

Mesmerising, eerie and surprising, The Diabolical Bones is a magnificent novel and an absolute must read for anyone who enjoys gothic or historical fiction or a good mystery. Creating a series where the famous Bronte sisters are also detectors is pure genius, and Bella Ellis executes it to perfection. It is just crying out to become a TV show. BBC; are you listening?

Rating: ✮✮✮✮✮

MEET THE AUTHOR:

Bella Ellis is the Brontë-esque pseudonym of an acclaimed author of numerous novels for adults and children. She first visited the former home of the Brontë sisters when she was ten years old. From the moment she stepped over the threshold she was hooked, and she embarked on a lifelong love affair with Charlotte, Emily, and Anne; their life; their literature; and their remarkable legacy.

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BUY THE BOOK:

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First Line Friday

First Line Friday: Unto This Last by Rebecca Lipkin

Today’s First Line Friday is also a Publication Day post as this gorgeous historical novel is released today.

“Ruskin chased the open carriage as it thundered across Westminster Bridge. Several times he very nearly lost sight of it, yet he still pursued the landau, drawn by a pair of sprightly grey mares. The tales of his frock coat flapped bird-like as he crossed the gustiest part of the bridge, while he could hardly avoid scuffing his leather boots when he stumbled in his hurry, for he had no time to look where he was going.”

SYNOPSIS:
London, 1858.

Passionate, contradictory, and fiercely loyal to his friends, John Ruskin is an eccentric genius, famed across Britain for his writings on art and philosophy. Haunted by a scandalous past and determined never to love again, the 39-year-old Ruskin becomes infatuated with his enigmatic young student, Rose La Touche, an obsession with profound consequences that will change the course of his life and work.

Written in a style recalling Victorian literature and spanning a period of twenty years, the story poses questions about the nature of love, the boundaries of parenthood, and compatibility in marriage. Unto This Last is a portrait of Ruskin’s tormented psyche and reveals a complex and misunderstood soul, longing for a life just out of reach.

Until This Last is published by Book Guild Publishing on August 28th, 2020
Buy here: Amazon|Waterstones|Hive

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Rebecca has had a passion for Victorian art and literature from a young age. She first discovered John Ruskin through E.M. Forster’s novel, A Room with a View, and later joined the Ruskin Society at the age of seventeen to learn more about Ruskin’s work. Rebecca pursued a career in journalism, specialising in arts writing and theatre reviews, and has worked for a number of national publications.

Rebecca says, “Most accounts of John Ruskin’s complex personal life focus on his brief marriage to Effie Gray, but his twenty-year relationship with Rose La Touche was of huge importance to the evolution of his thinking; it is a captivating and tragic story of two people whose loving friendship transcended boundaries and conventions to the very end.”

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Blog Tours book reviews

Tsarina by Ellen Alpsten ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

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Published: May 14th, 2020
Publisher: Bloomsbury
Format: Hardcover, Kindle, Audio
Genre: Historical Fiction, Biographical Fiction

Welcome to my stop on the blog tour for this magnificent  debut. Thank you to Anne at Random Things Tours for the invitation to take part and Bloomsbury for the gifted copy.

SYNOPSIS:

Lover. Murderer. Mother. Meet TSARINA, the most powerful woman history ever forgot.

Spring 1699: Illegitimate, destitute and strikingly beautiful, Marta has survived the brutal Russian winter in her remote Baltic village. Sold by her family into household labour at the age of fifteen, Marta survives by committing a crime that will force her to go on the run.

A world away, Russia’s young ruler, Tsar Peter I, passionate and iron-willed, has a vision for transforming the traditionalist Tsardom of Russia into a modern, Western empire. Countless lives will be lost in the process.

Falling prey to the Great Northern War, Marta cheats death at every turn, finding work as a washerwoman at a battle camp. One night at a celebration, she encounters Peter the Great. Relying on her wits and her formidable courage, and fuelled by ambition, desire and the sheer will to live, Marta will become Catherine I of Russia. But her rise to the top is ridden with peril; how long will she survive the machinations of Peter’s court, and more importantly, Peter himself?

MY REVIEW:

“He is dead. My beloved husband, the mighty Tsar of all the Russias, has died – and just in time.”

Tsarina is a story of power, lust, sex, murder and betrayal. Of rags-to-riches. Of Catherine, the first Tsarina of all the Russias. 

It begins in February 1725, on the night that Peter the Great, Tsar of All the Russias, dies. Catherine, her children and his advisors try to conceal his death for as long as possible to delay their fate. It is a matter of life and death. The story then moves between that night and flashbacks to Catherine’s life, beginning when she was just thirteen-years-old, still known as Marta and living with her serf family. We then follow her journey from poor peasant girl to Tsarina; a story that would be deemed too far fetched if you tried to sell it to a publisher. But every word of this novel is based in fact, with just a few liberties taken as the details of Catherine’s early life is shrouded in mystery.

I have always had a love for history and ever since studying the fall of the Tsars for my History A Level I have been fascinated with their story. So when I saw this book advertised I knew from just the title that I HAD to read it and after reading the synopsis it became one of my most anticipated books of the year. Thankfully, this magnificent debut surpassed every one of my high expectations. It was an all-encompassing read. A book that I took my time with, taking time to soak in every word, but also one that I couldn’t put down or stop thinking about when I had to do so. 

Ellen Alpsten is a new talent to watch. Exquisitely written and wonderfully crafted, her meticulous research shines through on every page, bringing back to life those who lived and died three hundred years ago and making you feel like they are right there beside you with her powerful storytelling. I was hooked from the start and became totally lost in Catherine’s story, living every word of this book while reading it. Every moment of love and joy, every piercing pain of heartbreak and every gut-wrenching horror she witnessed and experienced, I felt along with her. 

“Together, we have lived and loved, and together, we ruled.”

After reading this novel it seems unimaginable that Catherine’s story has been forgotten. That such a strong, brave and remarkable woman had been consigned to a footnote in history. At that time life for most of Russia’s people was hard, harsh and bleak. Even those in the upper classes lived in fear of falling out the Tsar’s favour and losing not only their wealth but their lives. Peter had a new vision for Russia and was a ruthless leader who was willing to sacrifice anyone and everything to achieve it. Even as his wife Catherine walked a tightrope knowing she could be stripped of everything and either sent to a convent or killed should the fancy take him. The brutality of life at that time and the lack of rights that were held by even the highest-ranking women is starkly illuminated in Catherine’s story in sobering detail. 

Tsarina is a masterpiece of historical fiction. Atmospheric, intoxicating, unsettling, and compelling, this outstanding novel is one that will linger long after you close it’s pages. This gloriously decadent debut is one you don’t want to miss. 

Ellen Alpsten Author Pic

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Ellen Alpsten was born and raised in the Kenyan highlands. Today, Ellen works as an author and as a journalist for international publications such as Vogue, Standpoint, and CN Traveller. She lives in London with her husband, three sons, and a moody fox red Labrador. Tsarina is her debut novel.

CONNECT WITH THE AUTHOR:

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BUY THE BOOK:

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Emma’s Anticipated Treasures – May 2020

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Another month, more books I’m excited to read. There are eleven books in this month’s list and, as always, it was hard to narrow it down. Is it just me or are there increasing amounts of great books out there to read?

So, here is what I’m most excited to read in May:

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Little Secrets by Jennifer Hillier
Published: May 7th, 2020
Publisher: Corvus
Genre: Psychological Thriller, Suspense

I became and instant fan of Jennifer Hillier when I read Jar of Hearts last year. Her latest book’s synopsis has me really excited and I’ve been counting down to it for months.

SYNOPSIS:
All it takes to unravel a life… is one home truth.

Marin used to have it all. Married to the love of her life, she owns a chain of upscale hair salons, and Derek runs his own company. They’re admired in their community and are a loving family – until their world falls apart the day their son Sebastian is taken.

A year later, Marin is a shadow of herself. The FBI search has gone cold. The publicity has faded. She and her husband rarely speak. With her sanity ebbing, Marin hires a private investigator to pick up where the police left off.

But instead of finding Sebastian, she learns that Derek is having an affair with a much younger woman. This discovery sparks Marin back to life. She’s lost her son; she’s not about to lose her husband. Derek’s mistress is an enemy with a face, which means this is a problem Marin can fix. Permanently.

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People Like Us by Louise Fein
Published: May 7th, 2020
Publisher: Head of Zeus
Genre: Mystery, General Fiction

This debut novel has been all over bookstagram and book twitter. I’m a big fan of novels set in the WW2 era and this sounds like a beautiful story.

SYNOPSIS:
‘I nearly drowned and Walter rescued me. That changes everything.’

Leipzig, 1930’s Germany.

Hetty Heinrich is a perfect German child. Her father is an SS officer, her brother in the Luftwaffe, herself a member of the BDM. She believes resolutely in her country, and the man who runs it.

Until Walter changes everything. Blond-haired, blue-eyed, perfect in every way Walter. The boy who saved her life. A Jew.

Anti-semitism is growing by the day, and neighbours, friends and family members are turning on one another. As Hetty falls deeper in love with a man who is against all she has been taught, she begins to fight against her country, her family and herself. Hetty will risk have to risk everything to save Walter, even if it means sacrificing herself…

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Her Last Mistake (Detective Gina Harte Book 6) by Carla Kovach 
Published: May 11th, 2020
Publisher: Bookouture
Genre: Mystery, Thriller, Noir Fiction, Crime Fiction, Police Procedural

The Detective Gina Harte series is one of my favourite crime series. The books are always gripping and well written and I would recommend them to anyone looking for a good series to read. So it goes without saying that the latest installment is on my most anticipated list.

SYNOPSIS:
Dressed in a sage green bridesmaid dress, and smiling for pictures, Holly is the happiest she’s ever been. Hours later, Holly is dead.

People love to hate Holly Long. Smart, beautiful and a woman who men find it hard to say no to, she’s the town’s most gossiped about resident.

Now Holly’s body lies in her hotel room, strangled at her best friend’s wedding party. And the gossip has stopped, because nobody wants to look like they did it.

When police search Holly’s immaculate apartment, amongst her stylish furnishings and expensive jewellery, they discover a different side to Holly. Orderly and precise, she wasn’t the chaotic party girl everyone thought her to be. In fact, Holly was a planner, and her next plan was to come out and tell her biggest secret – something she had been hiding for months, something that had the potential to ruin the lives of more than one wedding guest.

There are plenty of people who might have wanted to kill Holly, but only one who has finally made good on their promise.

An unputdownable crime thriller with an ending you will never see coming, this is the latest gripping novel from bestselling author Carla Kovach.

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These Lost & Broken Things by Helen Fields
Published: May 11th, 2020
Publisher: Wailing Banshee
Genre: Historical Ficiton

I am a huge fan of Helen Fields’ DI Callanach crime series and enjoyed her standalone novel, Degrees of Guilt, last year. As I just mentioned, I love historical fiction, so I am very excited to read one of my favourite authors’ first foray into one of my favourite genres.

SYNOPSIS:
Girl. Mother. Assassin.

How dangerous is a woman with nothing left to lose?

The year is 1905. London is a playground for the rich and a death trap for the poor. When Sofia Logan’s husband dies unexpectedly, leaving her penniless with two young children, she knows she will do anything to keep them from the workhouse. But can she bring herself to murder? Even if she has done it before…

Emmet Vinsant, wealthy industrialist, offers Sofia a job in one of his gaming houses. He knows more about Sofia’s past than he has revealed. Brought up as part of a travelling fair, she’s an expert at counting cards and spotting cheats, and Vinsant puts her talents to good use. His demands on her grow until she finds herself with blood on her hands.

Set against the backdrop of the Suffragette protests, with industry changing the face of the city but disease still rampant, and poverty the greatest threat of all, every decision you make is life or death. Either yours or someone else’s.

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Dear Child by Romy Hausmann
Published: May 14th, 2020
Publisher: Quercus
Genre: Psychological Thriller, Suspense, Mystery

I was fortunate enough to read a sampler of this book last summer and have been eagerly waiting to read the full book every since. I do have an ARC on my shelf so I’m hoping to get to it before publication day.

SYNOPSIS:
A windowless shack in the woods. Lena’s life and that of her two children follows the rules set by their captor, the father: meals, bathroom visits, study time are strictly scheduled and meticulously observed. He protects his family from the dangers lurking in the outside world and makes sure that his children will always have a mother to look after them.

One day Lena manages to flee – but the nightmare continues. It seems as if her tormentor wants to get back what belongs to him. And then there is the question whether she really is the woman called ‘Lena’, who disappeared without a trace over thirteen years ago. The police and Lena’s family are all desperately trying to piece together a puzzle that doesn’t quite seem to fit.

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The Glass House by Eve Chase
Published: May 14th, 2020
Publisher: Penguin UK
Genre: Gothic Fiction, Historical Mystery, Suspense, Domestic Fiction

As soon as I saw the gorgeous cover and read the eerie synopsis I knew this was a book that would be on this list. I’m excited to be taking part in the blog tour for book. My review will be posted on May 30th

SYNOPSIS:
Outside a remote manor house in an idyllic wood, a baby girl is found.

The Harrington family takes her in and disbelief quickly turns to joy. They’re grieving a terrible tragedy of their own and the beautiful baby fills them with hope, lighting up the house’s dark, dusty corners.

Desperate not to lose her to the authorities, they keep her secret, suspended in a blissful summer world where normal rules of behaviour – and the law – don’t seem to apply.

But within days a body will lie dead in the grounds.

And their dreams of a perfect family will shatter like glass.

Years later, the truth will need to be put back together again, piece by piece . . .

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Tsarina by Ellen Alpsten
Published: May 14th, 2020
Publisher: Bloomsbury
Genre: Historical Fiction, Biographical Fiction

I’ve been fascinated with the Tsars ever since studying the end of their reign at A Level and I have discovered that I love historical fiction based on real people, so I was immediately drawn to this novel. I’m also taking part in the blog tour fort this one and my review will be posted on May 21st.

SYNOPSIS:
Spring 1699: Illegitimate, destitute and strikingly beautiful, Marta has survived the brutal Russian winter in her remote Baltic village. Sold by her family into household labour at the age of fifteen, Marta survives by committing a crime that will force her to go on the run.

A world away, Russia’s young ruler, Tsar Peter I, passionate and iron-willed, has a vision for transforming the traditionalist Tsardom of Russia into a modern, Western empire. Countless lives will be lost in the process.

Falling prey to the Great Northern War, Marta cheats death at every turn, finding work as a washerwoman at a battle camp. One night at a celebration, she encounters Peter the Great. Relying on her wits and her formidable courage, and fuelled by ambition, desire and the sheer will to live, Marta will become Catherine I of Russia. But her rise to the top is ridden with peril; how long will she survive the machinations of Peter’s court, and more importantly, Peter himself?

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Where We Belong by Anstey Harris
Published: May 14th, 2020
Publisher: Simon & Schuster UK
Genre: General Ficiton

This is another one I keep seeing on book twitter and it’s had me counting down to publication.

SYNOPSIS:
One summer.
One house.
One family learning to love again.

Cate Morris and her son, Leo, are homeless, adrift. They’ve packed up the boxes from their London home, said goodbye to friends and colleagues, and now they are on their way to ‘Hatters Museum of the Wide Wide World – to stay just for the summer. Cate doesn’t want to be there, in Richard’s family home without Richard to guide her any more. And she knows for sure that Araminta, the retainer of the collection of dusty objects and stuffed animals, has taken against them. But they have nowhere else to go. They have to make the best of it.

But Richard hasn’t told Cate the truth about his family’s history. And something about the house starts to work its way under her skin.
Can she really walk away, once she knows the truth?

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What Lies Between Us by John Marrs
Published: May 15th, 2020
Publisher: Thomas & Mercer
Genre: Psychological Thriller, Suspense

John Marrs is one of my favourite male authors and any book of his is eagerly anticipated and an auto buy for me.

SYNOPSIS:
Nina can never forgive Maggie for what she did. And she can never let her leave.

They say every house has its secrets, and the house that Maggie and Nina have shared for so long is no different. Except that these secrets are not buried in the past.

Every other night, Maggie and Nina have dinner together. When they are finished, Nina helps Maggie back to her room in the attic, and into the heavy chain that keeps her there. Because Maggie has done things to Nina that can’t ever be forgiven, and now she is paying the price.

But there are many things about the past that Nina doesn’t know, and Maggie is going to keep it that way—even if it kills her.

Because in this house, the truth is more dangerous than lies.

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His & Hers by Alice Feeney
Published: May 28th, 2020
Publisher: HQ
Genre: Psychological Thriller

I loved I Know Who You Are when it was released last year so I’ve been counting down to this author’s next novel ever since it was announced. I’ll be taking part in the blogger day on publication day for this book.

SYNOPSIS:
If there are two sides to every story, someone is always lying…

Jack: Three words to describe my wife: Beautiful. Ambitious. Unforgiving.
Anna: I only need one word to describe my husband: Liar.

When a woman is murdered in Blackdown village, newsreader Anna Andrews is reluctant to cover the case. Anna’s ex-husband, DCI Jack Harper, is suspicious of her involvement, until he becomes a suspect in his own murder investigation.

Someone is lying, and some secrets are worth killing to keep.

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Heatstroke by Hazel Barkworth
Published: May 28th, 2020
Publisher: Headline
Genre: Psychological Thriller, Suspense, Youth Novel

I’ve been desperate to get my hands on this book ever since seeing people receiving ARCs last year. Everything about it screams ‘read me’ and I’ve heard nothing but great reviews.

SYNOPSIS:
The summer burns with secrets…

It is too hot to sleep. To work. To be questioned time and again by the police.

At the beginning of a stifling, sultry summer, everything shifts irrevocably when Lily doesn’t come home one afternoon.

Rachel is Lily’s teacher. Her daughter Mia is Lily’s best friend. The girls are fifteen – almost women, still children.

As Rachel becomes increasingly fixated on Lily’s absence, she finds herself breaking fragile trusts and confronting impossible choices she never thought she’d face.

It wasn’t supposed to happen like this.

Intoxicating and compulsive, Heatstroke is a darkly gripping, thought-provoking novel of crossed boundaries, power and betrayal, that plays with expectations at every turn.

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Blog Tours book reviews

Hamnet by Maggie O’Farrell ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

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Published: March 31st, 2020
Publisher: Tinder Press
Format: Hardcover, Kindle
Genre: Historical Fiction, Biographical Fiction

Thank you to Anne at Random Things Tours for the invitation to take part in this blog tour and Tinder Press for the eBook ARC.

SYNOPSIS:

TWO EXTRAORDINARY PEOPLE. A LOVE THAT DRAWS THEM TOGETHER. A LOSS THAT THREATENS TO TEAR THEM APART.

On a summer’s day in 1596, a young girl in Stratford-upon-Avon takes to her bed with a fever. Her twin brother, Hamnet, searches everywhere for help. Why is nobody at home?

Their mother, Agnes, is over a mile away, in the garden where she grows medicinal herbs. Their father is working in London. Neither parent knows that one of the children will not survive the week.

Hamnet is a novel inspired by the son of a famous playwright. It is a story of the bond between twins, and of a marriage pushed to the brink by grief. It is also the story of a kestrel and its mistress; flea that boards a ship in Alexandria; and a glovemaker’s son who flouts convention in pursuit of the woman he loves. Above all, it is a tender and unforgettable reimagining of a boy whose life has been all but forgotten, but whose name was given to one of the most celebrated plays ever written.

MY REVIEW:

For months I have been itching to get my hands on this book and was green with envy of those fortunate enough to get an early proof. So when the chance arose to take part in a last minute blog tour for this eagerly anticipated novel I jumped at it. Breathtaking, atmospheric, tender and absorbing, this exquisite story has instantly become my favourite book this year. It feels almost impossible to write this review as I know whatever I write cannot do justice to its sheer brilliance. But I will try.

Hamnet is a fresh perspective on Shakespeare’s greatest tragedy; the heartbreaking events that touched his family in 1596. It seamlessly moves between characters and timelines, using flashbacks to tell the story of the family prior to that fateful year. Before reading this book I knew almost nothing about Shakespeare’s personal life, but I was immediately immersed in their world as the author brought to life sixteenth century England. It is a work of both fact and fiction, the author creating a rich tapestry woven from the little known facts of Hamnet and his family. The writing is lyrical, poetic, and meticulous, telling the story with fluency as I savoured each word. 

Each character is deftly and vividly written, with Agnes, Hament and Judith being the ones I particularly felt a connection with.  Hament’s energy shines from the pages while his twin, Judith, exudes a delicate aura that, like her brother, made me want to protect her. Agnes took me some time to warm to but she was soon the character I related to most of all, probably because we are both mothers and I could recognise my own maternal feelings in hers. The myth of her childhood also made her incredibly fascinating and a bit of an enigma.

The most surprising element for me was how timely this story felt. I’ve read a lot about the plague, particularly Eyam, but until now have never been able to relate to the idea of being quarantined for fear of spreading a deadly illness for which there is no cure. Being able to relate to this made the fear, helplessness and heartache all the more palpable and like something that could actually happen to me and my family, rather than simply a tragic story that only happened to people many years ago.

Hamnet is an outstanding work of literature. Affecting, poignant and lingering, it is also an example of storytelling at its finest. I’m ashamed to say that this is the first time I’ve read the author’s work and I’m now wondering why I waited so long. I can’t recommend this novel highly enough. Read it now!

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Maggie O’Farrell is the author of the Sunday Times no. 1 bestselling memoir I Am, I Am, I Am, and eight novels: After You’d Gone, My Lover’s Lover, The Distance Between Us, which won a Somerset Maugham Award, The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox, The Hand That First Held Mine, which won the 2010 Costa Novel Award, Instructions For A Heatwave, which was shortlisted for the 2013 Costa Novel Award,  This Must Be The Place, which was shortlisted for the 2016 Costa Novel Award, and Hamnet.

She lives in Edinburgh.

CONNECT WITH THE AUTHOR:

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BUY THE BOOK:

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