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First Lines Friday

Festive First Lines Friday – Little Women by Louisa May Alcott

“Christmas won’t be Christmas without any presents,” grumbled Jo, lying on the rug.

“It’s so dreadful to be poor!” sighed Meg, looking at her old dress.

“I don’t think it’s fair for some girls to have pretty things, and other girls nothing at all,” added little Amy, with an injured sniff.

“We’ve got Father and Mother and each other,” said Beth contentedly from her corner.

Today’s first lines are taken from a book that needs little introduction; Little Women. This is one of my favourite classics and always makes me think of two things: Christmas, and the 90s film adaptation. I’ve not read it for a number of years now but really should do a reread soon.

Have you read Little Women? What does the book mean to you?

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Book Features First Lines Friday

First Lines Friday – The Snow Child

“Mabel has known there would be silence. That was the point, after all. No infants cooing or wailing. No neighbor children playfully hollering down the lane. No pad of small feet on wooden stairs worn smooth by generations, or clackety-clack of toys along the kitchen floor. All those sounds of her failure and regret would be left behind, and in there place there would be silence.”

Today’s first lines are taken from The Snow Child, one of my favourite Wintery reads.

I decided that this month I would dedicate each First Lines Friday to Christmassy or Wintery books that I think are perfect to pick up this time of year. I started with The Snow Child as it’s a book I fell in love with when I read it a few years ago.

SYNOPSIS:

A bewitching tale of heartbreak and hope set in 1920s Alaska, Eowyn Ivey’s THE SNOW CHILD was a top ten bestseller in hardback and paperback, and went on to be a Finalist for the Pulitzer Prize.

Alaska, the 1920s. Jack and Mabel have staked everything on a fresh start in a remote homestead, but the wilderness is a stark place, and Mabel is haunted by the baby she lost many years before. When a little girl appears mysteriously on their land, each is filled with wonder, but also foreboding: is she what she seems, and can they find room in their hearts for her?

Written with the clarity and vividness of the Russian fairy tale from which it takes its inspiration, The Snow Child is an instant classic.

You can read my review here. The book is available to purchase here.

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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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Blog Tours book reviews

What Lies Between Us by John Marrs ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

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Published: May 15th, 2020
Publisher: Thomas & Mercer
Format: Paperback, Kindle, Audio
Genre: Suspense, Psychological Fiction

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.

MY REVIEW:

“A lie can travel halfway around the world while the truth is putting on shoes.” Charles Spurgeon

It was clear from the prologue that this was going to be another gorgeously written book by John Marrs and an easy five stars. I was so engrossed in reading this crazy, unpredictable thriller that I didn’t notice the time, read through the night, and the birds were singing as I finished. 

Nina and her mother Maggie live together in the house she grew up in. But no one else knows that. Everybody else believes Maggie moved away after getting ill two years ago, which is when Nina attached a chain to her ankle and imprisoned her in her bedroom to punish her for what she did. But nothing is as it seems and Nina has no clue that there are sinister secrets lurking behind her mother’s actions. Maggie would rather die than allow her to find out the truth; which just might happen as their game of cat and mouse gets out of control…

This book is quite simply a masterpiece. I inhaled and inhabited it; the outside world disappearing away around me. Fast-paced, deftly plotted, intricate and layered, this is storytelling at its best. I’ve been a fan of John Marrs since reading his first book, The One, and, to be honest, I didn’t think he could top that for me. But he knocked me for six with this one. I read a lot of thrillers, many of them dark, warped and twisty. But in all my years of reading I think this has to be one of the most dark, warped and twisty of them all. I’m kind of scared of him after reading this. 

Nina and Maggie are memorable, richly drawn, complex and flawed characters. The both play victim and villain and it is never clear who is who in their crazy, twisted games. It is a testament to the author’s talent and nuanced writing that I found myself still having empathy and understanding even when they did the most despicable things. Neither of them is particularly likeable, but they are compelling and I vacillated between compassion and loathing towards them throughout the book. 

Reading this takes you on one hell of a ride. Each time I thought I had it figured out everything I thought I knew would be turned on its head and there were so many twists and turns that I got book whiplash. 

What Lies Between Us has shot to the top spot of my favourite thriller this year and is now my favourite book by this author.  I just hope this is picked up for adaptation like my previous favourite, The One, which I’m excited to see on Netflix soon. 

READ. THIS. BOOK. 

 

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

John Marrs is the author of #1 Best Sellers The One, The Good Samaritan, When You Disappeared, Welcome to Wherever You Are, Her Last Move, The Passengers and What Lies Between Us. The One has been translated into 30 different languages and is to be turned into an eight-part Netflix series in autumn 2020.
After working as a journalist for 25-years interviewing celebrities from the world of television, film and music for national newspapers and magazines, he is now a full-time writer.

CONNECT WITH THE AUTHOR:

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BUY THE BOOK:

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Blog Tours book reviews

The Switch by Beth O’Leary ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

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Published: April 16th, 2020
Publisher: Quercus
Format: Hardcover, Kindle
Genre:  Fiction, Romance

I’m delighted to share my review for the The Switch, the spectacular new novel by Beth O’Leary, as part of the social media blast. Thank you to Quercus for the invitation to take part and my ARC of the novel.

SYNOPSIS:

Eileen is sick of being 79.
Leena’s tired of life in her twenties.
Maybe it’s time they swapped places…

When overachiever Leena Cotton is ordered to take a two-month sabbatical after blowing a big presentation at work, she escapes to her grandmother Eileen’s house for some overdue rest. Eileen is newly single and about to turn eighty. She’d like a second chance at love, but her tiny Yorkshire village doesn’t offer many eligible gentlemen.

Once Leena learns of Eileen’s romantic predicament, she proposes a solution: a two-month swap. Eileen can live in London and look for love. Meanwhile Leena will look after everything in rural Yorkshire. But with gossiping neighbours and difficult family dynamics to navigate up north, and trendy London flatmates and online dating to contend with in the city, stepping into one another’s shoes proves more difficult than either of them expected.

Leena learns that a long-distance relationship isn’t as romantic as she hoped it would be, and then there is the annoyingly perfect – and distractingly handsome – school teacher, who keeps showing up to outdo her efforts to impress the local villagers. Back in London, Eileen is a huge hit with her new neighbours, but is her perfect match nearer home than she first thought?

MY REVIEW:

Reading this book was like reading Spring; when the world starts to bloom and become brighter after the bleakness of Winter. It makes you feel like there’s hope and light in the world. Something that is desperately needed in these crazy and uncertain times. Witty, uplifting, warm, tender, joyous and utterly consuming, I flew through it in under a day, staying up into the wee hours, unable to stop reading until I got to the end. 

The Switch was one of my most eagerly-anticipated books of 2020, so when I received an ARC from Quercus I was giddy with excitement. It has sat in my pile of ARCs taunting me and calling my name ever since, so I was bursting with excitement when I finally got the chance to pick it up. Thankfully, it more than lived up to the hype. 

It is a story about self-discovery, adventure, family and the search for love. The Cotton family are still trying to heal from a tragedy that has torn them apart and the life swap proves the perfect opportunity to heal old wounds and face their aching loss. The author expertly and sensitively tapped into the intricacies of grief, loss, family and relationships, not shying away from the raw and angry aspects that are part of the process. 

I fell in love with Beth O’Leary’s marvellous storytelling when I read her debut novel, The Flatshare, last year. With The Switch she has solidified her place as one of my favourite authors. Her writing is exquisite, smooth and affecting, the honeyed words making the world around you vanish so all that exists is the world she’s created. 

Leena and Eillen are fantastic characters. I loved them both but I was smitten with Eileen from the moment she appeared in the book.  Feisty, fearless, kind and hilarious, she’s a force to be reckoned with and is now one of my favourite female characters of all time. I loved her sweet and close relationship with Leena, which reminded me of the relationship I have with my Nan, how she made everyone better versions of themselves and is always thinking of others. As well as fantastic narrators, the author created a rich, varied cast of characters that radiated from the page, bringing the communities she created to life and immersing me in their world. 

The Switch is an absolute gem. A delightful, lingering and enthralling read, I can’t recommend it highly enough. When I turned the final page, there was a sadness that it was over and I wished I could go back and experience it for the first time all over again. Eileen is such a loveable and delightful character that I challenge anyone not to adore her and get ‘Eileened’. I know I did. It is the perfect book to brighten your day during these strange times and will be one of my top books this year for sure. BUY IT NOW. 

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Beth studied English at university before going into children’s publishing. She lives as close to the countryside as she can get while still being in reach of London, and wrote her first novel, The Flatshare, on her train journey from work.

She is now writing novels full time, and if she’s not at her desk, you’ll usually find her curled up somewhere with a book, a cup of tea, and several woolly jumpers (whatever the weather).

CONNECT WITH THE AUTHOR:

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BUY THE BOOK:

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Me and my lovely Nan, Esme.

 

You can find more reviews of the book on Instagram and Twitter from the bloggers listed below:

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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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Blog Tours book reviews

In Five Years by Rebecca Searle ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

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Published: March 10th, 2020
Publisher: Quercus
Format: Hardcover, Kindle
Genre: Romance, Domestic Fiction

SYNOPSIS:

Perfect for fans of Me Before You and One Day, this heart-breaking story of love, loss and life will have you questioning everything you thought you knew about destiny…

Where do you see yourself in five years?

Type-A Manhattan lawyer Dannie Kohan has been in possession of her meticulously crafted answer since she understood the question. On the day that she nails the most important job interview of her career and gets engaged to the perfect man, she’s well on her way to fulfilling her life goals.

That night Dannie falls asleep only to wake up in a different apartment with a different ring on her finger, and in the company of a very different man. The TV is on in the background, and she can just make out the date. It’s the same night – December 15th – but 2025, five years in the future.

It was just a dream, she tells herself when she wakes, but it felt so real… Determined to ignore the odd experience, she files it away in the back of her mind.

That is, until four and a half years later, when Dannie turns down a street and there, standing on the corner, is the man from her dream…

In Five Years is a love story, brimming with joy and heartbreak. But it is definitely not the love story you’re expecting.

MY REVIEW:

True love doesn’t always look the way we expect. And that is certainly true in this unexpected and mesmerising love story. 

I am a wreck after finishing this book. I couldn’t put this book down and was utterly, obliviously lost in this beautiful, heartbreaking and lingering novel. I stayed up until the early hours, reading it in pretty much one sitting, as there was no chance of sleep until I knew what happened. 

In Five Years begins like a typical love story but through a number of clever twists it morphs into something I never saw coming; a story that is both devastating and uplifting. The author’s strong sense of place brings New York to life, transporting me into Dannie’s world and making the one around me disappear. With her wonderful characters and powerful and compassionate storytelling she reaches into your heart and soul. I went through a rainbow of emotions and cried many tears while reading. 

Dannie was a great character. She is a type-A personality who believes in living by numbers and has no doubts that her five-year plan will come to fruition. Even though she’s someone who’d drive me crazy in real life I quickly fell for her and my heart went out to her as her meticulously organised life began to spiral out of her control. But the character who really took my heart was Bella, Dannie’s best friend, who is illuminating, wild and kindhearted. I adored their friendship and how their stark differences complemented each other. 

This is one of those books that if you give too much away then you ruin it. So I’m not going to say any more about the plot. What I will say is that the hype is real. This affecting and profound book is one of the best you’ll read. Ever. It is a stunning celebration of love, friendship and life. A story that reminds us we can’t plan and control everything. 

Now I really need someone to turn this into a movie. Reese, are you listening?

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Rebecca Serle is an author and television writer who lives in New York and Los Angeles. She is the author of six novels and codeveloped the hit TV adaptation of her YA series Famous in Love. She received her MFA from the New School in NYC. She loves Nancy Meyers films, bathrobes, and giving unsolicited relationship advice

CONNECT WITH THE AUTHOR:

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BUY THE BOOK:

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Blog Tours book reviews

Away with the Penguins by Hazel Prior ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

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Published: March 19th, 2020
Publisher: Bantam Press
Format: Hardcover, Kindle
Genre: Women’s Fiction, Humorous Fiction, Domestic Fiction, New Adult Fiction

I am thrilled to be opening the blog tour for this delightful novel. Thank you to Anne at Random Things Tours for the invitation to take part and to Bantam Press for my gifted copy of the book.

SYNOPSIS:

Veronica McCreedy is about to have the journey of a lifetime . . .

Veronica McCreedy lives in a mansion by the sea. She loves a nice cup of Darjeeling tea whilst watching a good wildlife documentary. And she’s never seen without her ruby-red lipstick.

Although these days Veronica is rarely seen by anyone because, at 85, her days are spent mostly at home, alone.

She can be found either collecting litter from the beach (‘people who litter the countryside should be shot’), trying to locate her glasses (‘someone must have moved them’) or shouting
instructions to her assistant, Eileen (‘Eileen, door!’).

Veronica doesn’t have family or friends nearby. Not that she knows about, anyway . . . And she has no idea where she’s going to leave her considerable wealth when she dies.

But today . . . today Veronica is going to make a decision that will change all of this.

Away With The Penguins Cover

MY REVIEW:

Oh how I loved this absolute gem of a book. Both heartbreaking and heartwarming, it had me transfixed. I got lost in the pages and totally immersed in Veronica’s story. 

Veronica McCreedy is an eccentric, feisty, cantankerous, witty and unstoppable old lady. I just couldn’t help but love her and she quickly found a place in my heart. Her bad-tempered idiosyncrasies became endearing and I was sure she had a heart of gold hidden behind it all. When a locked wooden box containing her teenage diaries is found, Veronica’s poignant story is slowly unveiled and we finally learn what lies underneath those brusque layers she uses to protect herself. 

Running parallel to Veronica’s story is her daring adventure to Antarctica to see the  Adélie penguins. She became obsessed with them after watching a nature programme and decided she wanted to leave her vast wealth to the research programme. But she needs to make sure they are worthy of it, so she books a trip to see the penguins for herself; refusing to heed to frantic warnings of her assistant Eileen and the trio of scientists that it is too dangerous. I adored this part of the story – the different sides we see to Veronica’s personality, her blossoming friendship with young scientist Terry, and the adorable rescued chick, Pip. I found myself in awe of Eileen’s spriteliness and determination, overcoming her age and the bracing conditions to have the adventure of a lifetime. 

But behind the cuteness of this storyline is a serious commentary on climate change and our responsibility to save the environment and a number of earth’s most beloved species that are facing extinction in the near future.  It is peppered with blog posts by Terry which are informative as well as entertaining. The author has clearly done her research and I know a lot more about climate change and penguins after reading this book. 

The story is narrated by two very distinct voices and is filled with a rich, colourful and fascinating cast of characters. The cutest of these is without a doubt little Pip, and I now blame the author for the fact I really want a pet penguin! The investment, hard work and love that the author has put into this book is evident in the exquisite writing and attention to detail. I savoured every word, devouring this book while also trying to make it last as I dreaded parting with Veronica and the penguins.

Away with the Penguins is without a doubt the most delightful, joyous and uplifting book I’ve read so far this year, if not in a long time, and I have no doubt it will have a place in my top reads of the year. A lush blend of characters and storylines that is immersive and reaches into your soul and serves as a great reminder that it is never too late to have an adventure, try new things or make changes in your life. Whatever your reading preferences, I highly recommend this book. Just make sure to have lots of tissues and be prepared to fall in love.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Hazel Prior lives on Exmoor. . As well as writing, she works as a freelance harpist.

CONNECT WITH THE AUTHOR:

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BUY THE BOOK:

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Blog Tours book reviews

The Beekeeper of Aleppo by Christy Lefteri ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

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Publisher: Bonnier Zaffre
Published: February 20th, 2020
Format: Paperback
Genre: Literary Fiction

I am thrilled to be one of the people opening the blog tour for this breathtaking novel. Thank you to Tracy at Compulsive Readers and to Bonnier Zaffre Books.

SYNOPSIS:

In the midst of war, he found love.
In the midst of darkness, he found courage.
In the midst of tragedy, he found hope.
What will you find from his story?

Nuri is a beekeeper, his wife, Afra, an artist. They live happily in the beautiful Syrian city of Aleppo – until the unthinkable happens and they are forced to flee. But what Afra has seen is so terrible she has gone blind, and they must embark on a perilous journey through Turkey and Greece towards an uncertain future in Britain.

As Nuri and Afra travel through a broken world,  they must confront not only the pain of their own unspeakable loss, but the dangers that would overwhelm the bravest of souls. Above all – and perhaps the hardest thing they face – they must journey to find each other again.

Moving, compassionate and beautifully written, The Beekeeper of Aleppo is a powerful testament to the triumph of the human spirit.

MY REVIEW:

“If I could give her a key that opened a door into another world, then I would wish for her to see again. But it would have to be a world very different from this one.”

I inhaled this mesmerising, poignant and illuminating novel in under a day. It is honestly one of the most beautiful books I’ve read and I was captivated by the exquisite, lyrical prose and stunning imagery that made every word one to savour.

This timely story shines a light on the struggle of those who are forced to flee because of war, from a perspective we rarely hear: the voice of a refugee. At a time where there is so much vitriol against them, where so many people see as the enemy, as someone who shouldn’t be in our country, it is refreshing to read a book that tells their story is such a beautiful and heartbreaking way; helping those of us who’ve never experienced such horror to have a small amount of understanding. 

It is told by Syrian refugee, Nuri, who made the perilous journey from Syria to the UK with his wife Afra, who was blinded by a bomb. In the present day we follow their battle to claim asylum while trying to adjust to the strangeness of the new country they hope to call home. In flashbacks we see their life in Aleppo before the war, how it was torn apart, their heartbreak as they lost their only child, and then follow them as they make the dangerous journey to England. We see the impact of all they’ve gone through on themselves and their marriage, threatening to tear them apart at their core as well as breaking apart the only thing they have left to hold on to – each other.  

“Where was home now? And what was it? I’m my mind it had become like a picture infused with golden light, a paradise never to be reached.”

This was the first time I’ve read a book by this author and I will definitely be reading more. Her writing enveloped me in their world, making me feel like I was right beside Nuri every step of the way both physically and emotionally. The characterisation was spectacular, with the author providing an eclectic mix of people who had very different stories from war-torn places around the world, and different reactions to what they’d gone through. There were wonderful examples of the best of humanity in the darkest of times, but also of the depth of evil that exists in our world and the damage that is done by such people.  The raw devastation and grief that each character exuded was hard, but necessary, to read, and was a humbling reminder of how our problems pale in comparison to being forced from your home and fighting each day to survive and find safety. 

The Beekeeper of Aleppo is a story about the horrors of war, trauma, grief and survival. But most of all for me it is a multifaceted love story.  It is an astonishing book that went straight to my soul. I can’t recommend you read this highly enough. 

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Brought up in London, Christy Lefteri is the child of Cypriot refugees. She is a lecturer in creative writing at Brunel University. The Beekeeper of Aleppo was born out of her time working as a volunteer at a UNICEF-supported refugee center in Athens. She is the author of the novel A Watermelon, a Fish and a Bible.

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Beekeeper

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The Foundling by Stacey Halls ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

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Publisher: Bonnier Zaffre
Published: February 6th, 2020
Format: Hardcover, Kindle
Genre: Gothic Fiction, Historical Fiction 

Today I am thrilled to be taking part in the blog tour for this phenomenal novel. Thank you to Tracy at Compulsive Readers Tours for the invitation to take part and to Bonnier Zaffre for my gifted copy of this book.

SYNOPSIS:

Two women, bound by a child, and a secret that will change everything….

London, 1754. Six years after leaving her illegitimate daughter Clara at London’s Foundling Hospital, Bess Bright returns to reclaim the child she has never known. Dreading the worst, that Clara has died in care, she is astonished when she is told she has already claimed her. Her life is turned upside down as she tries to find out who has taken her little girl – and why.

Less than a mile from Bess’s lodgings in the city, in a quiet, gloomy townhouse on the edge of London, a young widow has not left the house in a decade. When her close friend – an ambitious young doctor at the Foundling Hospital – persuades her to hire a nursemaid for her daughter, she is hesitant to welcome someone new into her home and her life. But her past is threatening to catch up with her and tear her carefully constructed world apart. 

From the bestselling author of The Familiars comes this captivating story of mothers and daughters, class and power, and love against the greatest of odds…

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MY REVIEW:

Ms. Halls has once again created a masterpiece. The Foundling is a lush, enthralling and lingering read that left me speechless. It is very different from her debut novel, The Familiars, but again Halls has infused this story with her exquisite, pitch-perfect prose, luring me in slowly until the world outside this novel no longer existed.

The story is narrated by Bess and Alexandra, two very different women from two very different walks of life, and begins on a cold night in November 1747 when Bess, an impoverished shrimp hawker, arrives at the London Foundling Hospital with her newborn daughter, Clara. Unable to raise her she has come for the monthly raffle to try and give her child a chance of survival. When Clara is accepted, Bess vows to one day return and claim back her little girl, leaving behind a token of half a heart made out of whalebone and carved with their initials so she can be identified. Six years later she finally has enough money saved to return but is told that Clara was claimed the day after being left.  And that she was the one who claimed her… 

I don’t want to say much more about the plot as part of the beauty of this book is discovering it as you go along. We know that Clara/Charlotte was taken, so the mystery is why. When the story shifts to Alexandra’s dark, gloomy townhouse that is more like a prison full of fear than a home, we slowly begin unravelling the complex motivations that led to her being taken and discovering if Bess will be reunited with her daughter. 

The two narrators are very different women at opposite ends of the social spectrum.  Both were richly drawn and felt sympathetic and relatable. It was fascinating to read their diverse views on life and motherhood and how differently they dealt with the problems life has thrown their way. Though I wanted Bess to be reunited with her daughter properly, I also could never fully get behind either woman in their battle for the child as they both loved her, wanted what they thought was best and there would be no winners, only losers in this battle. With Clara/Charlotte facing heartache and loss whatever the outcome was. Ultimately the story became more of an exploration of what it really means to be a mother, to want what’s best for your child and what matters most when raising them. 

Halls is a true storyteller who makes reading this book an immersive experience. Her imagery made me feel like I was in The Foundling Hospital with Bess and the other women, in Alexandra’s gloomy townhouse, that I walked the dank, dirty and filthy streets of Georgian London and could smell the decay. I could feel Bess’s anguish as she’s forced to hand over her child, her determination to get her back, Alexandra’s anxieties and fear and was waiting with bated breath as the tension mounted.  She illuminates the huge inequalities between the have and have nots and examines mental health problems at a time they aren’t recognised or understood. 

Utterly magnificent, heart-rending, compelling and cleverly executed, The Foundling is a superior work of gothic fiction. She has created a tender, restrained masterpiece that I have no doubt will have a place in my top 10 books of 2020. This is one you don’t want to miss. READ IT NOW!

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Stacey Halls grew up in Rossendale, Lancashire, as the daughter of market traders. She studied journalism at the University of Central Lancashire and moved to London aged 21. She was media editor at The Bookseller and books editor at Stylist.co.uk, and has also worked as a journalist for Psychologies, the Independent and Fabulous magazine. TV rights of The Familiars shave been sold to The Bureau production company.

Bought in a nine-way auction, The Familiars was received with much praise and is nominated for an HWA award.

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Stacey Halls 5.12 (1)