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book reviews Emma's Anticipated Treasures

The Lamplighters by Emma Stonex

Published: March 4th, 2021
Publisher: Pan Macmillan
Format: Hardcover, Kindle, Audio
Genre: Mystery, Thriller, Suspense, Psychological Fiction

SYNOPSIS:

They say we’ll never know what happened to those men.
They say the sea keeps its secrets . . .
‘A mystery, a love story and a ghost story, all at once. I didn’t want it to end’ S J Watson

Cornwall, 1972. Three keepers vanish from a remote lighthouse, miles from the shore. The entrance door is locked from the inside. The clocks have stopped. The Principal Keeper’s weather log describes a mighty storm, but the skies have been clear all week.

What happened to those three men, out on the tower? The heavy sea whispers their names. The tide shifts beneath the swell, drowning ghosts. Can their secrets ever be recovered from the waves?

Twenty years later, the women they left behind are still struggling to move on. Helen, Jenny and Michelle should have been united by the tragedy, but instead it drove them apart. And then a writer approaches them. He wants to give them a chance to tell their side of the story. But only in confronting their darkest fears can the truth begin to surface . . .

Inspired by real events, The Lamplighters is an intoxicating and suspenseful mystery, an unforgettable story of love and grief that explores the way our fears blur the line between the real and the imagined.

MY REVIEW:

“This riddle has everything a fiction writer looks for – drama, mystery, peril on the sea. Only it’s real.”

The Lamplighters is the story of the disappearance of three men, their warring widows, ghostly goings-on, and the power and mystery of the sea. Told in dual timelines we follow the men in the days leading up to their disappearance, and their widows twenty years later as they are interviewed by a writer who is hoping to finally find the truth of what happened on that frigid winter day. 

First of all, how is this a debut?! This book is an example of storytelling at its finest. The author shifts seamlessly between the two timelines; holding the reader in the palm of her hand as she weaves her mysterious tale. The imagery is so vivid that I can see, feel and hear the waves, smell the salty sea air, and hear the siren song of the sea as she whispers her secrets.

Based on a true story, the author has changed the time, place and people to craft her own world full of secrets, mystery and intrigue. The characters and community she created are captivating, relatable and richly drawn.  We are given a first person narrative from multiple characters; in 1992 the widows tell their story, and in 1972 the doomed keepers give details of life in the lighthouse and events leading up their disappearance. 

One of my favourite aspects of this book is that it is absolutely drenched in mystery. It seeps from its every pore. There isn’t just the mystery of what happened that day on the Tower, there are other puzzles that we have to piece together so we can get the final, truthful picture of what transpired. But though there were many layers and interwoven storylines, it never felt confusing. It just sent the tension through the roof and made this book impossible to put down. I had to know what happened! In my notes there are many other plot points and aspects of the book that stood out and I would love to talk about, but I won’t because I don’t want to take away from the joy of discovering these engimas for yourself. 

The Lamplighters is a truly accomplished debut. It is one of those books that deserves to be huge and I have no  doubt everyone will be talking about this year. It is also perfect for the big screen and I am hoping I get to see it there one day. 

Atmospheric, haunting, claustrophobic and mesmerising, I found it impossible to put this one down and would have read it in one sitting if not for the pesky need to sleep. If you love an exquisitely written and layered mystery then don’t miss this book.

Rating: ✮✮✮✮✮

Thank you to Camilla at Pan Macmillan for my gifted copy of the book.

MEET THE AUTHOR:

Emma Stonex is a novelist and The Lamplighters is her debut under her own name; she is the author of several books written under a pseudonym. Before becoming a writer, she worked as an editor at a major publishing house. She lives in Bristol with her husband and two young daughters

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book reviews Emma's Anticipated Treasures

The Meaning of Mariah Carey by Mariah Carey

Published: September 29th, 2020
Publisher: Pan Macmillan
Format: Hardcover, Kindle, Audio
Genre: Autobiography, Memoir

*I’ve included some personal photos of Mariah, her backup singers and dancers, and of my friends who are part of the Lambily. Some were taken by me, others by lamb friends. These can’t be viewed in the WordPress app so please go to the Web page to see them.

SYNOPSIS:

The global icon, award-winning singer, songwriter, producer, actress, mother, daughter, sister, storyteller, and artist finally tells the unfiltered story of her life in The Meaning of Mariah Carey.

It took me a lifetime to have the courage and the clarity to write my memoir. I want to tell the story of the moments – the ups and downs, the triumphs and traumas, the debacles and the dreams, that contributed to the person I am today. Though there have been countless stories about me throughout my career and very public personal life, it’s been impossible to communicate the complexities and depths of my experience in any single magazine article or a ten-minute television interview. And even then, my words were filtered through someone else’s lens, largely satisfying someone else’s assignment to define me.

This book is composed of my memories, my mishaps, my struggles, my survival and my songs. Unfiltered. I went deep into my childhood and gave the scared little girl inside of me a big voice. I let the abandoned and ambitious adolescent have her say, and the betrayed and triumphant woman I became tell her side.

Writing this memoir was incredibly hard, humbling and healing. My sincere hope is that you are moved to a new understanding, not only about me, but also about the resilience of the human spirit.

Love,
Mariah

MY REVIEW:

“This memoir is a collection of the moments that matter. The moments that most accurately tell the story of who I am according to me.”

As a lamb for over twenty years, I had been eagerly awaiting this memoir for many years. I couldn’t wait to learn more about the woman I adore, whose music has been the soundtrack to my life since I was 14-years-old, and through whom I’ve made some of my dearest friends. 

I decided to listen to the audio as well as buying the book, knowing that Mariah would no doubt put her signature flare on the narration. She did not disappoint. She vividly brought her story to life, had me in hysterics, pulled on the heartstrings, made me cry and had my ears rejoicing as she treated us to sections of some of her songs.

“If this kid makes it, it will be a miracle.”

This is more than a simple rags to riches tale. It’s a story of pain, neglect, abuse, racism, fear and heartache. But alongside it is a message of hope, resilience, bravery, strength and a woman who didn’t just survive but overcame. A woman who went from being a little girl the police didn’t think would make it to one of the best-selling artists in history and living legend. 

As a fan, many of Mimi’s familiar characteristics and phrases will have their origins revealed while reading this book, though sadly they are often rooted in deep trauma. But, on the positive side, I loved having the stories behind many of her songs finally confirmed. It made me see some in a whole new light and added even more layers to her music for me.

“A complicated love tethers my heart to my mother’s.”

The most shocking part of this book for me was the details of her childhood and the neglect  endured. I knew her childhood wasn’t easy and they were poor, but the depth of their poverty and negligence of her mother surprised me. I could hear the fear of 4-year-old Mariah living in the warzone of the violent relationship between her father and older brother Morgan. A situation sometimes so bad the police had to be called to separate them – bringing with it the extra fear of being black and calling the police. 

I was also surprised by the truth of Mariah’s complicated relationship with her mother, Patricia. I was reduced to tears at how she’s treated her daughter and some of the cruel words she’s spoken to her over the years. I loved how Mariah is using this example to speak good things into her own children and as a lesson in what kind of mother she doesn’t want to be. It’s a powerful reminder of both the long-term impact our words and actions can have, and how we can learn from the past in a positive way.

“I was disappearing in installments.”

Some of the most difficult parts for me were when Mariah discusses her marriage to Tommy Mottola. The chapter ‘Side Effects’ often felt like she was telling my story as well as her own. I know only too well what it’s like to realise you’re in a relationship that isn’t healthy, of feeling yourself disappearing piece by piece, but feeling powerless to change it. 

Listening as she slowly built up her strength and made the plans to leave had me on the edge of my seat. It is hard to leave any abusive relationship and I can only imagine the extra fear it holds when your whole career is also wrapped up in that person.

“It’s been a whole rainbow of emotions.”

This book really will take you through a whole rainbow of emotions. I knew Mariah had been through a lot in her life and that this would be emotional, but I was unprepared for just how harrowing, haunting and shocking her story is and the many tears that fell when reading this book. But it isn’t all bleak, this powerful memoir is also filled with hopeful, happy and triumphant moments that will make you smile. I am left in awe of just how much she has overcome and managed to accomplish in spite of the odds stacked against her. Fan or not, this is a memoir you don’t want to miss. 

Thank you Mimi for trusting us with your truth. LYMA. 

Rating: ✮✮✮✮✮

MEET THE AUTHOR:

Mariah Carey was born on March 27, 1970 in Huntington, Long Island, New York to Patricia Carey (née Hickey), an opera singer and vocal coach & Alfred Roy Carey, an aeronautical engineer. Her mother is of Irish descent & her father was of African & Venezuelan descent. Mariah attended Greenlawn’s Harborfields High School. In June 1990, Mariah made her debut with “Mariah Carey” which entered at #73, but on August 4, 1990, it reached #1. Her 1990 self-titled debut album went multi-platinum and spawned an extraordinary four consecutive #1 singles: “Vision of Love,” “Love Takes Time,” “Someday” and “I Don’t Wanna Cry,” and led to Grammy Awards for Best New Artist and Best Female Vocalist. Her 1993 album titled Music Box went ten-times platinum. On September 30, 1995, she made music history. Her single “Fantasy” from her 1995 Daydream album debuted at #1 on the Billboard Hot 100, making her the first female artist to accomplish a number one debut in the U.S. Her other Daydream’s single “One Sweet Day” remained for 16 weeks at the top of the charts. She is the only artist since The Beatles to have so many #1 singles and albums. With “Heartbreaker”, the first single from her 1999 album Rainbow and also her 14 #1 single, she became the only artist to top the charts in each year of the 1990s, and with “Heartbreaker” at its 60th week atop the Billboard’s charts, she pushed ahead of The Beatles’s 59-week record as the only artist with the most cumulative weeks spent atop Billboard’s Hot 100 Singles chart.

Following “Heartbreaker,” her second single “Thank God I Found You” also from her Rainbow album became her 15th #1. “We Belong Together” from her 2005 album The Emancipation of Mimi became her 16th #1 single and was also her first #1 without any guest artists since her song “My All” (also a #1 single) captured the top spot in May 1998. The single “Don’t Forget About Us” also from her 2005 album Emancipation of Mimi became her 17th #1 single, tying her with Elvis Presley’s 17 #1 singles. Three more Grammy Awards were gained from The Emancipation of Mimi album. She is the most successful selling female artist in music history and is the only female artist to have the most #1 singles and albums and also holds the record for straight #1 singles and albums each year. Along with numerous awards and incredible vocal range, she also composes all of her own material, with the exception of song covers.

In April 2008, the single “Touch My Body” became her 18th #1 single, pushing her ahead of Elvis Presley’s 17 #1 singles. Now she is the only artist since The Beatles to have as many number one singles and the only singer alive likely to succeed them.

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The Smallest Man by Frances Quinn

Published: January 7th, 2021
Publisher: Simon and Schuster UK
Format: Hardcover, Kindle, Audio
Genre: Historical Fiction, Coming-of-Age Fiction, Humorous Fiction

Welcome to my stop on the tour for the outstanding debut. Thank you to Anne at Random Things Tours for the invitation to take part and Simon & Schuster UK for the gifted ARC of the book.

SYNOPSIS:

‘I want you to remember something, Nat. You’re small on the outside. But inside you’re as big as everyone else. You show people that and you won’t go far wrong in life.’
 
A compelling story perfect for fans of The Doll FactoryThe Illumination of Ursula Flight and The Familiars.
 
My name is Nat Davy. Perhaps you’ve heard of me? There was a time when people up and down the land knew my name, though they only ever knew half the story.
 
The year of 1625, it was, when a single shilling changed my life. That shilling got me taken off to London, where they hid me in a pie, of all things, so I could be given as a gift to the new queen of England.
 
They called me the queen’s dwarf, but I was more than that. I was her friend, when she had no one else, and later on, when the people of England turned against their king, it was me who saved her life. When they turned the world upside down, I was there, right at the heart of it, and this is my story.
 
Inspired by a true story, and spanning two decades that changed England for ever, The Smallest Man is a heartwarming tale about being different, but not letting it hold you back. About being brave enough to take a chance, even if the odds aren’t good. And about how, when everything else is falling apart, true friendship holds people together.

MY REVIEW:

“It’s been quite a life, the one I’ve had; I was there when they turned the world upside down, and I was there, right at the heart of it all, during the turbulent times that led us down the road to that day. So I got to thinking that I should write it all down, because there’s been a lot said about those times, and not all of it’s right.”

This book is a truly magnificent tale. In her outstanding debut, Frances Quinn takes you on an adventure alongside Nat Davey, a fictional character based on Jeffrey Hudson, court dwarf to Queen Henrietta Maria. Seamlessly merging fact with fiction, she weaves together historical events and moments from the lives of real people with those of her fictional characters and imagination. It’s so expertly done that I would have believed the entire book to be biographical is it wasn’t for her author’s note saying otherwise. 

This was a glorious novel. Immersive and absorbing, I was lost in Nat’s world and could see it all happening like it was on a movie screen – which it really does belong on, in my opinion. I loved that it is told like Nat is telling the reader his story, with him addressing us at times. It made it feel personal and added to the authentic feel.

“Because the way I look at it now, if we’d been just like other folks, what kind of lives would we have had?”

For a book to be truly memorable, you need memorable characters. And Nat is one of the most memorable characters I’ve come across. It is impossible not to love and root for this pint-sized man. His size alone in a time where being born different made you a freak makes him someone you can’t help but feel for. He faces judgement, ridicule and rejection from birth; even being sold by his father and given to the queen as a human pet. But what is one of the worst things to happen to him ultimately becomes the thing that leads to happiness in his life as he finds a home and even friendship in the queen’s service. His story is unforgettable and will stay with me.

While Nat is undoubtedly the star of the book, the cast of characters around him are equally as fascinating, richly drawn and memorable. There are some beautiful friendships and great life lessons hidden in this story. 

I could wax lyrical about this for a very long time. Instead, I’m going to say: READ THIS BOOK! You won’t regret it. The Smallest Man will be on my list of top reads of 2020 and I have no doubt it is the start of a fantastic career for the talented Ms Quinn. 

Rating: ✮✮✮✮✮

MEET THE AUTHOR:

Frances Quinn read English at Cambridge, and is a journalist and copy-editor. She completed the Curtis Brown Creative Course in 2015. The Smallest Man is her debut novel.

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The Package by Sebastian Fitzek

Published: November 12th, 2020
Publisher: Head of Zeus
Format: Hardcover, Kindle, Audio
Genre: Mystery, Thriller, Suspense, Psychological Fiction, Psychological Thriller

Welcome to my stop on the blog tour for this jaw-dropping thriller. Thank you to Head of Zeus for the invitation to take part and the gifted ARC.

SYNOPSIS:

All you’ve done is taken in a parcel for a neighbour. You have no idea what you’ve let into your home.

Emma’s the one that got away.

The only survivor of a killer known in the tabloids as ‘the hairdresser’ – because of the trophies he takes from his victims.

Or she thinks she was.

The police aren’t convinced. Nor is her husband. She never even saw her tormentor properly, but now she recognises him in every man.

Questioning her sanity, she gives up her job as a doctor in the local hospital and retreats from the world. It is better to stay at home. Quiet. Anonymous. Safe. He won’t find her here.

And all she did was take a parcel for a neighbour.

She has no idea what she’s let into her home.

MY REVIEW:

“And all she did was take a parcel for a neighbour.She has no idea what she’s let into her home.”

Omg! What a book! This one starts as it means to go on, jumping straight into the terrifying action with a prologue so chilling it sent shivers down my spine. The author had me in the palm of his hand from that moment on and I devoured the book in one sitting, both unwilling and unable to put it down.

The story moves between multiple timelines, all told from the point of view of the protagonist, Emma. Much of the story is her first person account of what happened starting on the day she takes in a package for her neighbour and shifts between this and her discussing the events with her friend and lawyer. It is clear early on that Emma is in trouble both legally and mentally, and is in custody for a crime, while also being treated for mental health problems.

“The message on the mirror had awoken the darkest memories from her childhood.”

This is an exquisitely crafted novel. The sinister, foreboding and malevolent atmosphere pervades from beginning to end and as we get deeper into the story we discover that this is a more intricate, layered and twisty novel than it first appears.

One of my favourite tropes is an unreliable narrator. And Emma is the ultimate in unreliability. Even she has no idea what is reality and what is her paranoid imagination a lot of the time. I loved that I spent the whole book trying to decide if what she’s telling us is truth, lies or a figment of her imagination. And, honestly, most of the time I felt as clueless as the narrator herself. She is a great protagonist: layered, flawed, fractured, likeable, unlikeable, and, most of all, compelling. You are pulled in by her and I was soon utterly immersed in her world.

“Those who weren’t afflicted were often suspicious of the mentally ill… But these people knew nothing of the demons that would embed themselves, particularly into sensitive souls, then at the moment of that person’s greatest happiness whisper into their ear and reel off their shortcomings

A big part of Emma, and the story, is mental health struggles and how others perceive those who face them. As someone with anxiety, depression and PTSD, I thought the author did an outstanding job of portraying both aspects without judgement. He made it clear that Emma’s mental illness is unquestioned while also showing us how it makes even Emma doubt what she experiences and sees. He makes her pain and torment leap from the page so the reader can’t help but be moved by what she’s going through while also allowing them to see how it might skew her perception of reality, leaving them to make their own conclusions about what the truth is. It is a powerfully observed look at how those who struggle with their mental health are perceived and treated by the mentally healthy that I hope will bring awareness and understanding while also entertaining the reader.

Addictive, chilling, tense and gruesome, The Package is a jaw-dropping thriller you don’t want to miss. Read it now!

Rating: ✮✮✮✮✮

MEET THE AUTHOR:

Sebastian Fitzek is a German writer and journalist. His first book, Therapy (dt. Die Therapie), was a bestseller in Germany in 2006, toppling The Da Vinci Code from the first position. Fitzek is currently one of the most successful writers of Germany.

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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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Blog Tours book reviews Emma's Anticipated Treasures

Three Hours by Rosamund Lupton

Published: October 29th, 2020
Publisher: Viking
Format: Paperback, Hardcover, Kindle, Audio
Genre: Psychological Thriller, Suspense

Welcome to my stop on the tour for this breathtaking novel. Thank you Ellie at Viking for the invitation to take part and the gifted copy of the book.

SYNOPSIS:

THREE HOURS TO SAVE THE PEOPLE YOU LOVE

In rural Somerset in the middle of a blizzard, the unthinkable happens: a school is under siege.

Pupils and teachers barricade themselves into classrooms, the library, the theatre. The headmaster lies wounded in the library, unable to help his trapped students and staff. Outside, a police psychiatrist must identify the gunmen, while parents gather desperate for news.

In three intense hours, all must find the courage to stand up to evil and save the people they love.

MY REVIEW:

Ms. Lupton, you’ve broken me. This has got to be one of, if not the most, emotionally fraught books I’ve ever read. It has seeped into my soul.

From the first page we jump into the action as headteacher Matthew Marr is shot by a masked gunman stalking the halls of his school. The story then follows the stories of staff, students, parents and police, that play out simultaneously over the 108 minutes that the school is at their mercy. The writing is evocative, alluring, and almost lyrical; barely a word is wasted as you’re drawn into the living nightmare so vividly that I found myself actually holding my breath.

As a mother, this story is one of my worst nightmares; I can not begin to imagine the terror of having one of my children held hostage by gunmen, and pray I never have to. The author pulled me in, immersing me in the story and making me feel the characters’ terror. I saw myself in the frightened mother and the police woman, saw those who’ve taught my children in the teachers, and, most gut-wrenching of all, I saw my children in the students.

While at first glance this is a book about a school shooting, it is actually so much more. It is a multilayered novel that is also a statement on our political landscape and the hate culture being fostered by racists and extremists on both sides. The author also explores what drives them to commit such atrocities, asking how are they driven to violence, destruction and revenge? And how do they mask that hatred so the people around them never see it? She shows the harsh truths of these incidents, such as some people immediately pointing the finger of suspicion at the two refugee Muslim students and how, when the identities of the gunmen are revealed, they are seen as less than human and blame is put upon their parents for not doing their job right. She helps break down these stigmas and shows the beating heart behind those who some can be so quick to dehumanise. She also reminds us it is not only “bad” parents whose children commit evil acts and they are usually as shocked and distraught by what their child has done as everybody else.But this isn’t a maudlin book, it is also incredibly uplifting at times as we are shown examples of astounding bravery, selflessness and sacrifice despite their fear. The very best of humanity versus the very worst. A reminder that there is more good in the world than bad, and what extraordinary things we can do when pushed to our limits and those we love are in danger.

I included Three Hours in #EmmasAnticipatedTreasures back in January and it more than deserves not only it’s place there, but every bit of the hype it’s generating right now. I was left with a major book hangover after finishing this powerful masterpiece and cannot recommend it highly enough. Breathtaking, intense, harrowing, moving and exceptional, this is one not to be missed. YOU NEED TO READ THIS BOOK.

Rating: ✮✮✮✮✮

MEET THE AUTHOR:

Rosamund Lupton is the author of four novels.

Rosamund Lupton graduated from Cambridge University in 1986. After reviewing books for the Literary Review and being invited to join the Royal Court Theatre, she won a television play competition and subsequently worked as a screen writer. Her debut novel Sister, was a BBC Radio 4 Book at Bedtime, a Sunday Times and New York Times bestseller, has been translated into over thirty languages and has international sales of over 1.5 million copies. It was the fastest-selling debut of 2010 by a British author, and was winner of the Richard and Judy Best Debut Novel of 2011 Award and the Strand Magazine Critics First Novel Award. Film rights of Sister are currently under option.

Lupton’s critically acclaimed second novel Afterwards also went straight into the Sunday Times bestseller lists and was the No. 2 Sunday Times fiction bestseller of 2011. The Quality of Silence her third novel was a Sunday Times best seller and a Richard & Judy bookclub pick

Her new novel Three Hours is a Sunday Times top ten best seller and a best book of 2020 in the Sunday Times, the Times, Guardian, Telegraph, Stylist, Red & Good Housekeeping. It’s a Times and Sunday Times thriller of the month.

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The Illustrated Child by Polly Crosby

Published: October 29th, 2020
Publisher: HQ
Format: Hardcover, Kindle, Audio
Genre: Mystery, Psychological Fiction, Domestic Fiction, Coming-of-Age

Today is my stop on the tour for this spectacular debut. Thank you HQ for the invitation to take part and the gifted eBook ARC.

SYNOPSIS:

A picture paints a thousand lies…

Romilly lives in a ramshackle house with her eccentric artist father and her cat, Monty. She knows little about her past – but she knows that she is loved.

When her father finds fame with a series of children’s books starring her as the main character, everything changes: exotic foods appear on the table, her father appears on TV, and strangers appear at their door, convinced the books contain a treasure hunt leading to a glittering prize.

But as time passes, Romilly’s father becomes increasingly suspicious of everything around him, until, before her eyes, he begins to disappear altogether.

In her increasingly isolated world, Romilly turns to the secrets her father has hidden in his illustrated books, realising that there is something far darker and more devastating locked within the pages…

The truth.

The Illustrated Child is the unforgettable, beguiling debut from Polly Crosby.

MY REVIEW:

This book is one of my most anticipated books of 2020. I’ve been green with envy at others receiving the gorgeous proofs and am so glad I’ve finally had the chance to read it. 

From the title and cover I had imagined a lighthearted and uplifting read, but thankfully I’d read a few reviews and been warned that it is a darker book than you expect. That being said, it’s one that’s best read blind so I’m not going to reveal much about the plot. 

I absolutely adored this book. I was immediately captivated by the beautiful prose and lost in Romilly’s strange world. The author has crafted an intricate, layered novel that has so much hidden beneath its surface. She holds the reader captive as she slowly unveils the truths waiting to be discovered, like the rumoured clues to the hidden treasure in Tobias’ stories. 

I loved Romilly. She is a fantastic and fascinating heroine who is a paradox in the way many children are: independent but vulnerable, strong but weak, daring but afraid. She hasn’t had the easiest life and I couldn’t help but feel for her, especially as the story went on. From the start I felt an affinity with her as I also had a part-siamese cat with a kink in its tail when I was younger, though he didn’t have a name nearly as important. 

This story consumed me. I didn’t want to put it down, not even to go to sleep, I was so immersed in its pages. Emotionally resonant, there wasn’t a feeling it didn’t make me feel as I lived every moment with Romilly. I needed to know what her future held, where she ended up, if my predictions were right. 

Evocative, dark, haunting and mesmerising, this is one of my favourite books this year. A sensational debut from an extraordinary new talent that you don’t want to miss. 

READ. THIS. BOOK. 

Rating: ✮✮✮✮✮

MEET THE AUTHOR:

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

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

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

The Illustrated Child is her first novel.

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book reviews Tandem Readalong

A Court of Wings and Ruin by Sarah J. Maas

Published: May 2nd, 2017
Publisher: Bloomsbury UK
Format: Paperback, Hardcover, Kindle, Audio
Genre: Fantasy Fiction

I read this book as part of a readlong with Tandem Collective UK. Thank you to them for the invitation and Bloomsbury UK for the gifted copy of the book.

SYNOPSIS:

Feyre has returned to the Spring Court, determined to gather information on Tamlin’s manoeuvrings and the invading king threatening to bring her land to its knees. But to do so she must play a deadly game of deceit – and one slip may spell doom not only for Feyre, but for her world as well.

As war bears down upon them all, Feyre must decide who to trust amongst the dazzling and lethal High Lords and hunt for allies in unexpected places. And her heart will face the ultimate test as she and her mate are forced to question whether they can truly trust each other.

Sarah J. Maas is a global #1 bestselling author. Her books have sold more than nine million copies and been translated into 37 languages. Discover the sweeping romantic fantasy for yourself.

Contains mature content. Not suitable for younger readers.

MY REVIEW:

“To the stars who listen—and the dreams that are answered.” 

Fayre is now back in Spring Court. She has returned under the guise of going back to Tamlin but is in fact still Lady of the Night Court and biding her time before taking revenge for how he and others betrayed Prythian in the war with King Hybern. As war looms once more, her relationship with Rhysand is tested and they must decide who among the High Lords they can trust to be on their side. 

I loved how fierce, determined and strong Fayre was in this book. She stands up to Tamlin, refusing to let him twist and rewrite their narrative, even when he shreds her dignity with lewd words and savage lies. Back when I read book one, I could never understand why people loved Rhysand and hated Tamlin; now I’m totally the same. Tamlin is a vile, abusive, controlling snake and I got almost as much pleasure out of Fayre’s revenge as she did. 

I enjoyed seeing more of the other courts and how Fayre’s sisters handled their unexpected and unwanted transition to immortality. I found myself worrying about the fate of the characters and wondered if the author would take a leaf out of George R. R. Martin’s book and kill off a much-loved main character. It is quite a dark book in many ways, addressing abuse, coercive control, trauma, PTSD and consent.

This was my favourite yet in the series. Action-packed, emotional and gripping, it kept me on the edge of my seat and broke my heart. 

Rating: ✮✮✮✮✮

MEET THE AUTHOR:

Sarah J. Maas is the New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of the Throne of Glass series, as well as the A Court of Thorns and Roses series.

Sarah lives in Bucks County, PA, and over the years, she has developed an unhealthy appreciation for Disney movies and bad pop music. She adores fairy tales and ballet, drinks too much tea, and watches an ungodly amount of TV. When she’s not busy writing, she can be found exploring the historic and beautiful Pennsylvania countryside with her husband and canine companion.

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book reviews

The Exiles by Christina Baker Kline

Published: October 22nd, 2020
Publisher: Allison & Busby
Format: Hardcover, Kindle, Audio
Genre: General Fiction, Historical Fiction

Happy Publication Day to this outstanding novel. Thank you to Anne at Random Things Tours for the invitation to take part and to Allison & Busby for the eBook ARC.

SYNOPSIS:

London, 1840. Evangeline, pregnant and falsely accused of stealing, has languished in Newgate prison for months. Ahead now lies the journey to Australia on a prison ship. On board, Evangeline befriends Hazel, sentenced to seven years’ transport for theft. Soon Hazel’s path will cross with an orphaned indigenous girl. Mathinna is ‘adopted’ by the new governor of Tasmania where the family treat her more like a curiosity than a child. Amid hardships and cruelties, new life will take root in stolen soil, friendships will define lives, and some will find their place in a new society in the land beyond the seas.

MY REVIEW:

“Maybe she would always be alone and apart. Always in transition, on her way to someplace else, never quite belonging. She knew both too much and too little of the world. But what she knew, she carried in her bones.” 

The Exiles is a beautifully written, layered and nuanced piece of historical fiction. Set in London and Australia in the 1840s, it is a story about women, survival and redemption. It is a story about our need to belong, about love, loss and how we carry those we love inside us wherever we go.

The voices of three very different female characters tell their stories, which entwine as the novel progresses. Mathinna is an orphaned eight-year-old Aboriginal girl who is taken from her home by Lady Jane Franklin, an explorer who likes to collect anything to do with native people and wants to see if the child can be educated and ‘tamed’. Evangeline is a naïve young woman from a small village working as a governess who finds herself pregnant and alone on a transport ship to Australia after allowing her rage to get the better of her when she is falsely accused of theft. And, finally, there is Hazel, a seventeen-year-old girl who is on the transport ship with Evangeline after being forced to steal by her mother. 

“Here she was, torn from her family and everyone she knew at the whim of a lady in satin slippers who boiled the skulls of her relatives and displayed them as curiosities.”

Each woman has a character that is rich and compelling, a spark that draws you to them and makes you root for her and care about her story. And while their lives and stories may be different, they also have similarities. Each of them have been exiled from their home and those they love and all face the harsh reality of being female in a time and place where that is hostile and unforgiving towards women. They all navigate these obstacles with strength, resilience and determination. 

This is the first time I’ve read anything by this author, and I was struck by her exquisite storytelling and how she seamlessly wove fact and fiction together to create this lush and atmospheric tale. Her imagery makes you feel like you’re there and I could see so clearly the bleak, grim and squalid conditions of the prisons, slave ship and orphanage and could almost feel the heat of the sun bearing down on me in the Australian bush. She writes every character, however big or small, with authenticity, and the research that has gone into the novel leaps from its pages. I will definitely be buying her back catalogue and devouring it as soon as possible. 

“She’d learnt that she could withstand contempt and humiliation — and that she could find moments of grace in the midst of bedlam. She’d learnt she was strong.”

A powerful, heartbreaking and thought-provoking book, I highly recommend this book to anyone who enjoys historical fiction.

Rating: ✮✮✮✮✮

MEET THE AUTHOR:

Christina Baker Kline is the author of seven novels, including the #1 New York Times bestseller Orphan Train. Her other novels include Bird in Hand, The Way Life Should Be, Desire Lines, and Sweet Water, as well as Orphan Train Girl, a middle-grade adaptation of Orphan Train. Her essays, articles, and reviews have appeared in the New York Times, the San Francisco Chronicle, Money, More, and Psychology Today, among other publications. She lives in New York City and on the coast of Maine.

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Book Features book reviews Emma's Anticipated Treasures

In Five Years by Rebecca Searle

Published: October 1st, 2020
Publisher: Quercus
Format: Paperback, Kindle, Audio, Hardback
Genre: Romance, Domestic Fiction

Happy paperback publication day to one of my favourite books of 2020. I’m thrilled to have been asked to share my review again to celebrate the paperback release. Thank you Quercus for my gifted copy of the book.

SYNOPSIS:

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 kind-hearted . 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?

Rating: ✮✮✮✮✮

MEET 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

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