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Blog Tour: Rescue Me by Sarra Manning

Published: January 21st, 2021
Publisher: Hodder & Stoughton
Format: Hardcover, Kindle, Audio
Genre: Contemporary Romance, Romance Novel, Humorous Fiction

Welcome to my stop on the blog tour for this utterly heartwarming novel. Thank you Niamh at Hodder and Stoughton for the invitation to take part and my gifted ARC.

SYNOPSIS:

Margot doesn’t have time for love.

Will is afraid to love.

And neither of them are expecting to fall in love with Blossom: a gentle Staffy with a tragic past, a belly made for rubbing and a head the size of a football.

After their first meeting at the rescue centre, both Margot and Will want to adopt Blossom so reluctantly agree to share custody. But Will’s obsession for micro-managing and clear-cut boundaries and Margot’s need to smother Blossom with affection, means that soon they have a very confused and badly behaved dog on their hands.

Can they put their differences aside to become successful “co-pawrents” and maybe even friends? And meanwhile, does Blossom have plans of her own?

MY REVIEW:

Heartwarming, uplifting, witty and absorbing, this book wraps its arms around you like a warm hug. It was just what I needed to read when I picked it up. Though I don’t know if  my partner would agree as I’ve been banging on about getting a dog ever since. 

Margot is thirty-six and ready for commitment and babies. Unable to find a man who’s as ready as she is and recently abandoned by her jerk of a cat, Percy, she decides to look for unconditional love at the dog rescue centre. She intends to adopt a cute, handbag-sized dog that will look good on the Gram but doesn’t bank on Blossom, the naughty staffy with bald patches, stealing her heart. The problem is Blossom has also stolen the heart of Will, who is at the rescue centre after being told by his therapist that he needs to open his heart up to others. Faced with the doggy version of the judgment of Solomon, they decide the only sensible solution is to share Blossom. But of course, things don’t run smoothly in this story about  healing and finding love in unexpected places. 

If you need a book that will lift your spirits when you’re down then this is the book for you. I adored this book. Yes, it’s a little cliched and predictable in places, but it is also a well-written, hilarious and tender story that gives you all the feelings. Many times I found myself sat smiling to myself like an idiot while reading and I kept laughing out loud and reading lines to my partner as it was just too funny to keep to myself. 

There is no way I would consider sharing a dog with a stranger as I know I’d find it too painful, but it does make for a great story that is ripe for conflict and hilarity, which the author mines to perfection. Margot and Will are fantastic characters who are both equal parts likeable and frustrating. They are both trying to deal with their own heartaches and see Blossom as a way to do this, even if it is kind of reluctantly in Will’s case. 

But the star of this show is undeniably Blossom. Like Margot and Will, Blossom stole my heart. The author’s love of dogs leaps from the pages and even if you weren’t a dog lover at the start of this book, I guarantee you will be by the end. Not only that, but if you’re anything like me you will be wanting to adopt one for yourself. We lost our old German Shepherd almost three years ago and this really didn’t help my yearning for another dog. I’ve been longingly looking at dog pictures and ads since reading this book and feel the hole left by our old girl more than ever. Don’t say I didn’t warn you!

I do like a good ‘enemies to lovers’ trope and this one was done so well that I couldn’t help but root for them and eat it up like the sappy woman I am. I couldn’t wait for them to finally get together and was going crazy with how long the author kept us waiting for it to happen. Like the secrets and twists in this story, the romance slowly unveils, raising the anticipation for the reader. 

All jokes aside, this is a truly wonderful novel that I highly recommend. It was my first time reading this author and I definitely plan to read more. And don’t miss the author’s notes when you’ve finished. I promise you want to read them. 

Rating: ✮✮✮✮

MEET THE AUTHOR:

Sarra Manning has been a voracious reader for over forty years and a prolific author and journalist for twenty five.

Her novels, which have been translated into fifteen different languages include Unsticky, You Don’t Have To Say You Love Me, After The Last Dance, The Rise And Fall Of Becky Sharp and her latest, Rescue Me, which publishes in 2021. Sarra has also written over fifteen YA novels, and four light-hearted romantic comedies under a pseudonym.

She started her writing career on Melody Maker and Just Seventeen, has been editor of ElleGirl and What To Wear and has also contributed to The Guardian, ELLE, Grazia, Stylist, Fabulous, Stella, You Magazine, Harper’s Bazaar and is currently the Literary Editor of Red magazine.
Sarra has also been a Costa Book Awards judge and has been nominated for various writing awards herself.

She lives in London surrounded by piles and piles of books.

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Please read the reviews from the other bloggers on the tour.

Happy reading Bibliophiles. Until next time, Emma xx

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Blog Tour: The Shape of Darkness by Laura Purcell

Publisher: Raven Books
Published: January 21st, 2021
Format: Hardcover, Kindle, Audio
Genre: Historical Fiction, Mystery, Gothic Fiction, Romance Fiction

Happy Publication Day to one of my favourite authors. I’m thrilled to be taking part in the tour for this novel on release day. Thank you to Raven Books for my gifted ARC and to Anne at Random Things Tours for the invitation to take part in the blog tour.

SYNOPSIS:

Wicked deeds require the cover of darkness…

A struggling silhouette artist in Victorian Bath seeks out a renowned child spirit medium in order to speak to the dead – and to try and identify their killers – in this beguiling new tale from Laura Purcell.

Silhouette artist Agnes is struggling to keep her business afloat. Still recovering from a serious illness herself, making enough money to support her elderly mother and her orphaned nephew Cedric has never been easy, but then one of her clients is murdered shortly after sitting for Agnes, and then another, and another…

Desperately seeking an answer, Agnes approaches Pearl, a child spirit medium lodging in Bath with her older half-sister and her ailing father, hoping that if Pearl can make contact with those who died, they might reveal who killed them. But Agnes and Pearl quickly discover that instead they may have opened the door to something that they can never put back…

What secrets lie hidden in the darkness?

MY REVIEW:

“Wicked deeds require the cover of darkness.” 

A clever mix of whodunnit and ghost story, The Shape of Darkness is told with Purcell’s signature flair of haunting, gothic prose against a chilling and beautiful historic backdrop with richly drawn and memorable characters. 

Agnes is a silhouette artist struggling to make ends meet thanks to advancements in the field that have made her craft almost obsolete. When the few customers she does have start to turn up viciously murdered, she becomes the police’s prime suspect and sets out to find a way to prove her innocence; determined to both clear her name and save her business. 

Eleven-year-old Pearl is a spirit medium who lives with her sister and gravely ill father. She is the main attraction at the seances she and her sister hold, with people coming far and wide to see her in hope of connecting with a loved one they’ve lost. She is the person that Agnes turns to in hope of finding out who has killed her clients. But they soon learn that when you lift the veil to welcome the other side, you might get more than you bargained for. 

“The ghosts are coming. Her arms are glowing, her breath is glowing. She’s being swallowed.” 

Laura Purcell is one of my favourite authors so I was giddy with excitement when I received a stunning proof copy of her latest novel. Atmospheric and chilling, the vivid imagery and descriptions transported me back to 1854, making me feel like I was walking the streets of Bath beside Agnes or cowering in the dark beside Pearl. As always, the book is well researched and includes fascinating historical facts that will both thrill and horrify you (phossy jaw, I’m looking at you). 

Ms. Purcell has a great recipe for the eerie ambience that lingers throughout this book. First, she sets the book in Victorian Bath and its large, gothic houses. Next, she adds a lonely woman mourning a lost love and an albino child whose mother died in childbirth and father hovers on the edge of death. Then, she includes a generous helping of mesmerism, seances, dark shadows, ghostly happenings and murder. Finally, with a sprinkle she includes the mysterious appearance of notes in the handwriting of someone gone from this world that Anges is trying to forget and a pinch of things from beyond the veil that linger when they should have left, you have a deliciously menacing and gothic read. 

Sinister, spooky and mysterious, this book keeps you guessing right until the end. Are Agnes and Pearl really communicating with the dead? Is Agnes really seeing ghosts? Could she be the murderer? 

There were times I found this book a bit slow and, for me, it didn’t quite live up to the glory of her first two books (I am yet to read Bone China), but overall this was a gripping gothic read I would recommend to those who love the genre.

Rating: ✮✮✮✮

MEET THE AUTHOR:

Laura Purcell is a former bookseller living in Colchester, Essex with her husband and pet guinea pigs.

She began her career with two historical novels about the Hanoverian monarchs, Queen of Bedlam and Mistress of the Court.

Her first Gothic novel for Raven Books, The Silent Companions, was a Radio 2 Book Club pick, was selected for the Zoe Ball ITV Book Club and was the winner of the Thumping Good Read Award. Her other Gothic titles include The Corset, Bone China and the upcoming The Shape of Darkness.

In the USA Laura is published by Penguin Books, where The Corset is titled The Poison Thread and Bone China is called The House of Whispers.

Additionally, Laura’s short stories have been published in a number of collections. These include Cameo, featured in Phantoms, Vanitas in the Audible Original Homeless Bodies and Other Stories and Creeping Ivy, coming October 2020 in After Sundown.

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Victoria Park by Gemma Reeves

Published: January 7th, 2021
Publisher: Allen & Unwin
Format: Hardcover, Kindle, Audio
Genre: Contemporary Fiction, Urban Fiction

Welcome to my stop on the blog tour for this wonderful debut. Thank you to Allen & Unwin for the gifted ARC and Anne at Random Things Tours for the invitation to take part.

SYNOPSIS:

Mona and Wolfie have lived on Victoria Park for over fifty years. Now, on the eve of their sixty-fifth wedding anniversary, they must decide how to navigate Mona’s declining health. Bookended by the touching exploration of their love, Victoria Park follows the disparate lives of twelve people over the course of a single year. Told from their multiple perspectives in episodes which capture feelings of alienation and connection, the lingering memory of an acid attack in the park sends ripples of unease through the community. By the end of the novel, their carefully interwoven tales create a rich tapestry of resilience, love and loss.

With sharply observed insight into contemporary urban life, and characters we take to our hearts, Gemma Reeves has written a moving, uplifting debut which reflects those universal experiences that connect us all.

MY REVIEW:

Victoria Park is a difficult book to review as it is just so different to anything I’ve read. It takes place over the course of a year, focusing on a different character each month and is more like a collection of short stories than a novel. Though it took me a little while to get into the flow of the book as I rarely read short stories, I really liked this fresh and unique approach and thought that the author executed it well. 

We are only given a small glimpse into each character’s life as the author tells their stories via individual chapters. But we also see them a little through the eyes of other characters as she has chosen to focus these stories on a group of people whose lives are interwoven. She created a richly drawn community full of a compelling cast of varied characters. I had a soft spot for Wolfie and Mona in particular as they are such wonderful characters. I adored their love story and Wolfie’s devotion to Mona despite the challenges and was thrilled every time they were on the page. 

The author also uses the book to subtly examine many themes such as family, friendship, love, isolation, alienation and adjusting to change. There are some powerful and emotional moments that mostly occur during times the characters are quietly reflecting on their lives. 

Absorbing, funny and delightful, the book has an air of calm that made it a refreshing and relaxing read. I would highly recommend this remarkable debut.

Rating: ✮✮✮✮

MEET THE AUTHOR:

Gemma Reeves is a writer and teacher who lives and works in London. She graduated with distinction from the MA in Creative Writing at Bath Spa University and holds an MA in Twentieth Century Literature from Goldsmiths.

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Love Orange by Natasha Randall

Published: September 3rd, 2020
Publisher: Riverrun
Format: Hardcover, Kindle, Audio
Genre: Humor, Satire, Psychological Fiction, Humorous Fiction

Thank you to Riverrun for my gifted copy of the book and invitation to the readalong.

SYNOPSIS:

A disturbing portrait of a modern American family.

An extraordinary debut novel by Natasha Randall, exposing the seam of secrets within an American family, from beneath the plastic surfaces of their new ‘smart’ home. Love Orange charts the gentle absurdities of their lives, and the devastating consequences of casual choices.

While Hank struggles with his lack of professional success, his wife Jenny, feeling stuck and beset by an urge to do good, becomes ensnared in a dangerous correspondence with a prison inmate called John. Letter by letter, John pinches Jenny awake from the “marshmallow numbness” of her life. The children, meanwhile, unwittingly disturb the foundations of their home life with forays into the dark net and strange geological experiments.

Jenny’s bid for freedom takes a sour turn when she becomes the go-between for John and his wife, and develops an unnatural obsession for the orange glue that seals his letters…

Love Orange throws open the blinds of American life, showing a family facing up to the modern age, from the ascendancy of technology, the predicaments of masculinity, the pathologising of children, the epidemic of opioid addiction and the tyranny of the WhatsApp Gods. The first novel by the acclaimed translator is a comic cocktail, an exuberant skewering of contemporary anxieties and prejudices.

MY REVIEW:

Jenny Tinkley lives with her husband Hank and their two sons, Jessie and Luke, in a quiet suburban town. They’re a picture-perfect family living in the picture-perfect smart home. But behind the glossy, perfect sheen there are cracks: Jenny feels bored and stuck in her life, Hank is frustrated by his lack of professional success and their children are each facing their own worries and challenges.

To try and escape the monotony, Jenny begins a correspondence with a prison inmate named John. She finds excitement in their letters, but things start to unravel when Jenny agrees to become a go-between for John and his wife and develops a strange obsession with the orange glue that seals his letters.

The characters are the driving force of this story. They are compelling, relatable, and instantly familiar as someone who could be your neighbour. Jenny is a typical suburban mum. I found her relatable but did struggle to warm to her, particularly as the story went on and her actions became increasingly selfish as she spiralled into addiction. I hated Hank. He was misogynistic, toxic, controlling, and just generally awful. I thought the author did a great job of writing him and managing to evoke such strong feelings of dislike in not only me, but every other reader I’ve spoken to. For me, it was the kids that drew me to them most of all. My heart broke for them and the things they went through. I think one complaint I have about the book was that I would have liked the children to have featured more.

I also liked how the smart house was like another character. Jenny sees the house as spying on her and controlling their lives. She gets a kick from outwitting it and managing to do things unnoticed. She even tells Hank to ask the house if he has any questions at one point. I would hate to live in a house like theirs and can understand why she felt the way she did. Sometimes you can have too much technology.

I did have two issues with the book that I would like to address. The first one was how the therapist told the family that Luke wasn’t autistic because he showed a high level of empathy. This perpetuates the false narrative that autistic people aren’t empathetic which is completely wrong. While they can struggle with processing and expressing emotion, people with autism are often highly empathetic, my own son included. Second of all was how it portrayed everyone who takes pain pills as addicts. While I liked that the book raised the issue of opiate addiction, I did feel like the portrayal spiraled into harmful stereotypes. My biggest issue was with the following quote:

“The thing about pain pills is that they take away pain. Any kind of pain. It gets so that people can’t even get out of bed for the pain that life becomes… compared to the high.”

As someone who uses opiates for chronic pain, the idea that we all become addicted and care only about the high is harmful, offensive and factually incorrect. I don’t get high. Pain medication is the ONLY reason I can get out of bed and live a life that has a sliver of normality. Dependency to help ease pain is not addiction, and while some people do unfortunately spiral into an addiction, I personally know many more who are languishing in agony with no life because they’ve been tarred with the same brush as an addict and denied any relief from their chronic and debilitating pain. For me the quote above is like saying all people who drink alcohol do so to get drunk and become alcoholics. But these are personal feelings and I don’t think everyone reading will feel the same way. So I encourage you to read for yourself.

But I don’t want this to come across as sounding like I didn’t like the book, because I did. Love Orange is an absorbing and addictive debut novel that explores family, secrets and addiction in modern society. It is beautifully written, immediately draws you into the the Tinkley’s world. I also really liked the quirky humour that runs through the story. There are so many laugh-out-loud moments that made this a joy to read.

I read the book as part of a readalong organised by the publisher and really enjoyed the chats where I got to see the different things others noticed and the varied ways we can interpret the same book.

A beautifully written look at a fractured family and life in suburban America, I would recommend this novel and can’t wait to read more from the author in the future.

Rating: ✮✮✮✮

MEET THE AUTHOR:

Natasha Randall is a writer and translator, living in London. Her writing and critical work has appeared in the Times Literary Supplement, the Los Angeles Times Book Review, The Moscow Times, BookForum, The New York Times, Strad magazine, HALI magazine and on National Public Radio (USA). She is a contributing editor to the New York-based literary magazine A Public Space. Her debut novel Love Orange will be released by riverrun (Quercus, Hachette) in September 2020.

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Body Language by A. K. Turner

I’m delighted to be one of the bloggers opening the blog tour to for Body Language, the first book in an exciting new series. Thank you to Tracy at Compulsive Readers for the invitation to take part and to Zaffre for the gifted eBook ARC.

Published: November 26th, 2020
Publisher: Bonnier Zaffre
Format: Paperback, Kindle
Genre: Mystery, Suspense, Thriller, Crime Fiction, Noir Fiction, Police Procedural, Medical Fiction, Medical Thriller

SYNOPSIS:

For fans of Tess Gerritsen and Kathy Reichs comes a gripping debut thriller introducing Camden’s most exciting new forensic investigator.

Cassie Raven believes the dead can talk. We just need to listen . . .

People think being a mortuary technician is a seriously weird job. They can’t understand why I choose to cut up dead bodies for a living. But they don’t know what I know:

The dead want to tell us what happened to them.

I’ve eviscerated thousands of bodies, but never someone I know before – someone who meant a lot to me; someone I loved.

The pathologist says that her death was an accident.

Her body is telling me differently.

MY REVIEW:

“From her first day in the mortuary five years ago it had felt totally natural to talk to the bodies in her care, to treat them as if they were still alive — still people. Occasionally they would even answer.”

Body Language introduces us to a new and original voice in crime fiction. Cassie Raven is a goth mortuary assistant who secretly believes the dead speak to her, practices taxidermy in her free time and has held a fascination with the dead since childhood. It goes without saying that she’s viewed as strange by some. But I liked this complex, flawed and slightly offbeat protagonist. 

When the body of her former teacher, mentor and friend Geraldine Edwards is brought into the morgue following her sudden death, Cassie is hit by not only a tidal wave of grief, but the feeling that this wasn’t a natural death. When the police and pathologist rule out foul play she decides to listen to what the body is telling her and embarks on her own investigation. 

This was an entertaining read. It took me a while to get into, but asked halfway through the pace picked up and oozed tension. From that point on I was unable to stop reading and stayed up until the early hours finishing the whole thing. 

The novel is full of interesting and memorable characters and storylines that feel both far-fetched and relatable. The author’s examination of grief and trauma stood out to me in particular for the sensitive, moving and realistic way in which it is portrayed. And Cassie isn’t our only protagonist. We are also told the story from the point of view of DS Phyllida Flyte. She and Cassie are poles apart and yet at their core they are very much like. They are both strong women who are seen as outsiders and believe in fighting to get the answers and justice that victims deserve. I liked how the pair paralleled each other while instantly disliking each other and enjoyed watching the slow shift in their dynamic over the course of the book. 

A tense, twists, darkly humorous and sometimes grisly read that keeps you guessing, this is a great start to a new series. I’m especially excited to see where the author takes Cassie next after the jaw-dropping conclusion. 

Rating: ✮✮✮✮✰

MEET THE AUTHOR:

A.K.’s first foray into crime fiction was a detective thriller trilogy, written under the pen name Anya Lipska, following the adventures of Janusz Kiszka, tough guy and fixer to London’s Polish community. The first of the trilogy led Val McDermid to select her for the prestigious New Blood panel at Harrogate Crime Festival. All three books won critical acclaim and are currently under option as a potential TV crime series.

Set in a Camden morgue, A.K.’s new novels feature crime-solving Goth-girl mortuary attendant Cassie Raven. Cassie has already appeared in Cut and Paste, a crime short for BBC Radio 4, who are interested in commissioning further stories featuring the character.

In her other life as a TV producer and writer, A.K. makes documentaries and drama-docs on subjects as diverse as the Mutiny on the Bounty, the sex lives of Neanderthals, and Monty Don’s Italian Gardens.

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How To Belong by Sarah Franklin

Published: November 12th, 2020
Publisher: Zaffre
Format: Hardcover, Kindle
Genre: Contemporary Fiction, Lesbian Literature

Welcome to my stop on the tour for this delightful novel. Thank you to Tracy at Compulsive Readers for the invitation to take part and Zaffre for the gifted copy of the book.

SYNOPSIS:

Jo grew up in the Forest of Dean, but she was always the one destined to leave for a bigger , brighter future. When her parents retire from their butcher’s shop, she returns to her beloved community to save the family legacy, hoping also to save herself. But things are more complex than the rose-tinted version of life which sustained Jo from afar.

Tessa is a farrier, shoeing horses two miles and half a generation away from Jo, further into the forest. Tessa’s experience of the community couldn’t be more different. Now she too has returned, in flight from a life she could have led, nursing a secret and a past filled with guilt and shame.

Compelled through circumstance to live together, these two women will be forced to confront their sense of identity, and reconsider the meaning of home.

MY REVIEW:

“She’s gradually learning to identify the shape and heft of other people’s feelings, not just her own. The toil it always takes to be in the world, whoever you are.”

How To Belong is a beautifully-written and absorbing story about our need to belong and finding a place to call home. 

The story centres around Jo and Tessa, two very different women who end up living together when circumstances force Tessa to take in a lodger. Both are facing life-changing upheavals: Jo in her choice to leave her career as a barrister in London to return to her hometown of New Forest Dene, and Tessa as she tries to recover from a devastating break-up and attempts to grapple with the frightening symptoms afflicting her that seem to be worsening, leaving her unable to function at times. They are compelling characters and I enjoyed their awkward dynamic, finding it much more fun to read than if they’d been instant buddies. 

While Jo is undeniably the warmer and more outgoing of the two, I found myself drawn towards Tessa and her mysterious story. While Jo is like an open book, Tessa is one you have to read in order to figure out; the pieces revealing themselves slowly until you can complete the picture. I also related to her fear about her deteriorating symptoms and being scared to have hope. This expertly written character found a place in my heart that I know will linger.

This was my first time reading anything by this author and it certainly won’t be my last. Her engaging prose immersed me in the world she’d created and I quickly devoured this delightful novel. I would highly recommend this book and think it is one you can enjoy whatever genres you usually prefer to read. 

Rating: ✮✮✮✮✰

MEET THE AUTHOR:

Sarah Franklin grew up in rural Gloucestershire and has lived in Austria, Germany, the USA and Ireland. She lectures in publishing at Oxford Brookes University and has written for the Guardian, Psychologies magazine, The Pool, the Sunday Express and the Seattle Times. Sarah is the founder and host of Short Stories Aloud, and a judge for the Costa Short Story Award. Sarah lives in between London and Oxford with her family.

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Fallen Angels by Gunnar Staalesen

Published: November 12th, 2020
Publisher: Orenda
Format: Paperback, Kindle, Audio
Genre: Nordic Noir, Mystery, Thriller, Book Series

Welcome to my stop on the tour for this gripping piece of Nordic Noir. Thank you to Anne at Random Things Tours for the invitation to take part and Karen at Orenda for the gifted ARC.

SYNOPSIS:

Ever-dogged Bergen PI Varg Veum is forced to dig deep into his own past as he investigates the murder of a former classmate. Vintage, classic Nordic Noir from international bestselling author Gunnar Staalesen.

***Now a major TV series starring Trond Espen Seim***
________________

Exploring his own dark memories may be the only way to find a killer

When Bergen PI Varg Veum finds himself at the funeral of a former classmate on a sleet-grey December afternoon, he’s unexpectedly reunited with his old friend Jakob guitarist of the once-famous 1960s rock band The Harpers and his estranged wife, Rebecca, Veum’s first love.

Their rekindled friendship is thrown into jeopardy by the discovery of a horrific murder, and Veum is forced to dig deep into his own adolescence and his darkest memories, to find a motive and a killer.

Tense, vivid and deeply unsettling, Fallen Angels is the spellbinding, award-winning thriller that secured Gunnar Staalesen’s reputation as one of the world’s foremost crime writers

MY REVIEW:

“On the stairs going down it struck me that actually there was something I had omitted to mention: the fact that of the four men who had constituted The Harpers rock band from 1959 to 1975 only one was still alive…”

After a former classmate is murdered, Private Investigator Varg Veum must delve deep into his past and that of his childhood friends. But he’s unprepared for the dark and murky secrets that will finally be revealed in this classic Nordic Noir. 

As with any book published by Orenda, I went into this one with high hopes. It was my first time reading a book by this author and I hadn’t read any of the previous books in the series, but I didn’t feel like that put me at any kind of disadvantage.

“Opening a photograph album is like being captured by the past.”

 Set in 1986, this was a fun trip down memory lane to a simpler time without mobile phones or social media. I think that setting the story in this time period added to the mystery as people genuinely lost contact and didn’t instantly hear about current events. It allowed for an element of surprise in the investigation that wouldn’t have been there in the present day.  

I liked the author’s writing style, particularly his use of metaphors. This was a steadily-paced novel rather than a quick page-turner, and it wasn’t until almost half-way through that the murder actually occurs. For the first half of the book Varg is investigating the whereabouts of his school friend Jakob’s wife Rebecca, who also happens to be the one that got away. While it is a compelling story overall, there were times I felt like it got bogged down in Varg’s walk down memory lane and daydreams of Rebecca. But once the murder had occurred the tension began to increase, building to a crescendo as we approached finale and its shocking revelations. 

Fallen Angels is a darkly atmospheric, layered and gripping thriller that keeps you guessing right until the last pages. It is particularly perfect for those who like a dark tale without the blood and gore. 

Rating: ✮✮✮✮✰

MEET THE AUTHOR:

One of the fathers of Nordic Noir, Gunnar Staalesen was born in Bergen, Norway, in 1947. He made his debut at the age of twenty-two with Seasons of Innocence and in 1977 he published the first book in the Varg Veum series. He is the author of over twenty titles, which have been published in twenty-four countries and sold over four million copies. Twelve film adaptations of his Varg Veum crime novels have appeared since 2007, starring the popular Norwegian actor Trond Espen Seim. Staalesen has won three Golden Pistols (including the Prize of Honour) and Where Roses Never Die won the 2017 Petrona Award for Nordic Crime Fiction, and Big Sister was shortlisted in 2019. He lives with his wife in Bergen.

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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.

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Categories
book reviews Tandem Readalong

A Court of Frost and Starlight by Sarah J. Maas

Published: June 2nd, 2020
Publisher: Bloomsbury UK
Format: Paperback, Hardcover, Kindle, Audio
Genre: Fantasy Fiction

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

SYNOPSIS:

In this companion tale to the bestselling A Court of Thorns and Roses series, Feyre, Rhys and their friends are working to rebuild the Night Court and the vastly changed world beyond after the events of A Court of Wings and Ruin.
But Winter Solstice is finally near, and with it a hard-earned reprieve. Yet even the festive atmosphere can’t keep the shadows of the past from looming. As Feyre navigates her first Winter Solstice as High Lady, she finds that those dearest to her have more wounds than she anticipated – scars that will have a far-reaching impact on the future of their court.

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

MY REVIEW:

“It had been a long, brutal winter that had brought me so deep into the woods that day nearly two years ago. A long, brutal winter that had made me desperate enough to kill a wolf, that had eventually led me here—to this life, this… happiness.”

A Court of Frost and Starlight is a cosy yet fierce winter novella. This short, lighthearted read with bite was perfect after the much darker and longer ACOWAR. 

While there is tension and drama with Tamlin and the Illaryians, this is overall a book about family, both blood and that you choose for yourself. Fayre is settling into her role as High Lady of Night Court but is struggling with the destruction that was left behind following the war. She feels guilty that she couldn’t do more and protect those who died and we follow her journey of self-acceptance and forgiveness, as she finds a new purpose that she hopes will help her people. 

I really enjoyed this book but felt like it’s purpose was to set up the next installment by addressing things about the faerie way of life that hadn’t yet been examined but needed to be explained before book five. 

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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Categories
Blog Tours book reviews Emma's Anticipated Treasures

The Nesting by C. J. Cooke

Published: October 15th, 2020
Publisher: Harper Collins UK
Format: Hardcover, Kindle, Audio
Genre: Fairy Tale, Mystery, Gothic Fiction, Ghost Story, Suspense, Thriller, Horror Fiction

Welcome to my stop on the tour for this creepy gothic thriller. Thank you to Anne at Random Things Tours for the invitation to take part and Harper Collins for the gifted copy of the book.

SYNOPSIS:

Atmospheric, gothic, spine-chilling… The new thriller from C.J Cooke will haunt you long after you turn the last page…
It was like something out of a fairytale…
The grieving widower.
The motherless daughters.
A beautiful house in the woods.
Deep in a remote Norwegian forest, Lexi has found a new home with architect Tom and his two young daughters. With snow underfoot and the sound of the nearby fjord in her ears, it’s as if Lexi has stepped into a fairy tale

But this family has a history – and this place has a past. Something was destroyed to build their beautiful new house. And those ancient, whispering woods have a long memory.

Lexi begins to hear things, see things that don’t make sense. She used to think this place heavenly, but in the dark, dark woods, a menacing presence lurks.

With darkness creeping in from the outside, Lexi knows she needs to protect the children in her care.

But protect them from what?

MY REVIEW:

All month I’ve been itching to read a creepy, gothic book. The Nesting is both of those things and more. 

Returning to Norway after the recent death of his wife Aurelia, Tom hires Lexi to accompany the family as their Nanny. For him, it’s a chance to honour his wife the house she dreamed of while avoiding his grief, and for Lexi it’s a chance to reinvent herself and start again after a recent suicide attempt. 

But deep in the remote Norwegian forest, there is a threat lurking. But is it human? Are the things Aurelia and Lexi see really hallucinations or are they a real and sinister supernatural force that is out to harm them?

Atmospheric, eerie and haunting, this is the perfect book for this time of year. I’m a big fan of gothic novels, and Cooke executes this one expertly, with just the right amount of spine-tingling terror to keep you hooked and not wanting to turn out the light. 

The writing is simply gorgeous and so vividly descriptive that I felt like I was seeing and feeling everything alongside the characters. I particularly liked how well her description of Lexi’s first month as a Nanny captured the exhaustive nature of children and how she put us inside the mind of a young child so realistically. 

The imagery of Norway made me feel like I was standing in that forest myself and I think that her choice of a remote Norwegian forest in winter was perfect for a Gothic thriller. Beautiful, haunting, dark, chilling and hostile, it sets the scene by simply being itself. The author entwines this with eerie Norwegian folklore and unexplained occurrences,  creating the perfect recipe for this spooky tale.

Dealing with themes of motherhood, mental health and suicide, this isn’t a light-hearted read, but it examines each one with sensitivity and realism. It is clear that mental health and motherhood are subjects that heavily impact and influence the author, as she has woven them into both Lexi and Aurelia’s stories. I loved this, the way the women mirrored each other in so many ways and felt it gave them a deep connection despite the fact that they’d never met. I could personally relate to them both in their mental health struggles and they were definitely the characters I felt closest too. 

All of the characters, even the minor ones, were interesting and well written. I enjoyed the flashbacks as they gave us a chance to get to know Aurelia and gave us possible clues about her death. It also gives the reader the chance to see a clearer picture of Tom, though I found him suspicious and unlikeable all the same. I thought Lexi was a great protagonist who was relatable, flawed and likeable. But the one who really stole my heart was Gaia. How could she not? She broke my heart when she talked about her ‘Mumma’ and definitely creeped me out most of all with all her talk of the Sad Lady. 

An immersive, ethereal and chilling read, The Nesting is the perfect gothic tale for reading while cosy under a blanket this autumn. Just don’t turn out the light! 

Rating: ✮✮✮✮✰

MEET THE AUTHOR:

CJ Cooke wrote her first book aged seven. A few decades later, her work is published in 23 languages, has won numerous awards, and has been optioned for film and television.

CJ’s previous works include the novels The Boy Who Could See Demons (2012), which was critically appraised by The New York Times, The Guardian, Booklist, Publisher’s Weekly, and The New York Review of Books, The Guardian Angel’s Journal (2011), which was an international bestseller, and I Know My Name, which was a No. 1 iBooks bestseller and optioned for TV.

Her latest book, a gothic thriller called The Nesting, was awarded funding from the Arts Council of England to carry out research in Norway and is published by Penguin Random House (US) on 29th Sept 2020 and HarperCollins (UK & Commonwealth) on 15 October 2020.

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