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BLOG TOUR: An Ocean Apart by Sarah Lee

Published: September 29th, 2022
Publisher: Pan Macmillan
Genre: Historical Fiction, Domestic Fiction, Biographical Fiction
Format: Paperback, Kindle, Audiobook

Welcome to my stop on the blog tour for this marvellous novel. Thank you to Chloe at Pan Macmillan for the invitation to take part and the gifted copy of the book.

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SYNOPSIS:

It’s 1954 and, in Barbados, Ruby Haynes spots an advertisement for young women to train as nurses for the new National Health Service in Great Britain. Her sister, Connie, takes some persuading, but soon the sisters are on their way to a new country – and a whole new world of experiences.

As they start their training in Hertfordshire, they discover England isn’t quite the promised land; for every door that’s opened to them, the sisters find many slammed in their faces. And though the girls find friendships with their fellow nurses, Connie struggles with being so far from home, and keeping secret the daughter she has left behind in search of a better life for the both of them . . .

Inspired by real life stories of the Windrush Generation and her mother’s own experiences as a nurse coming to Britain from the Caribbean, Sarah Lee’s debut novel An Ocean Apart is a must for fans of Call the Midwife.

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MY REVIEW:

February 1954.  Sisters Connie and Ruby Hayes travel to the UK from Barbados to train as nurses for the newly formed National Health Services.  The sisters soon discover that England is not quite the promised land they were expecting and they face challenges they never expected.  

A story of friendship, love, hope and new beginnings, An Ocean Apart is a walk through a notable time in British history.  Inspired by her mother’s life and stories from the Windrush Generation, Sarah Lee tells the story of the women who left everything behind to become the foundation of our NHS.  Beautifully written and well researched, it is so evocative that I could taste the bland food and feel the cold English winter.  Lee doesn’t shy away from the difficult topics either, delivering an unflinching portrayal of intolerance, racism, PTSD and other important issues.

The story is narrated by Connie, Ruby and Billie, three strong, courageous and captivating women who were easy to root for, with Billie quickly becoming like a third Hayes sister.  Their stories really brought home the challenges and sacrifices of those who were the bedrock of our NHS.  I lost myself in their world and lived every emotion alongside them, so immersed in their stories that I could have kept reading about them forever and was bereft when the story ended.  There is also a cast of vivid and compelling background characters that help to tell this story.  The romantic liaisons and joyful friendships were a delight to read and the vile villain who subjected poor Ruby to such disgusting racism and bullying was brilliantly written.

Heartwarming, atmospheric and engaging, An Ocean Apart is a celebration of the NHS and the remarkable people who were part of its creation.  Perfect for fans of Call the Midwife, I would love to see this get its own TV adaptation and I’m hoping that Ms. Lee will turn this marvellous debut into a series so that I can return to these characters again and again.

Rating: ✮✮✮✮✰

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MEET THE AUTHOR:

Sarah Lee is a journalist and editor of 25 years, across news and features, and has written for regional and national newspapers as well as commissioned for women’s true life magazines. More recently, she has focused her attention on the world of travel, creating luxury blog. She also works with destinations and brands worldwide on storytelling marketing campaigns and conferences through her company, Captivate.

Her first book, AN OCEAN APART, is a saga about Windrush nurses, a topic to which she has a personal connection; her mother came to Britain from Barbados to work in the NHS, and many of the women she grew up around were Windrush nurses.

Website

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BUY THE BOOK:

Waterstones | Amazon | Bookshop.org

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Thanks for reading Bibliophiles Emma xxxx

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

*All links are affiliate links

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BLOG TOUR: Shrines of Gaiety by Kate Atkinson

Published: September 27th, 2022
Publisher: Doubleday
Genre: Historical Fiction, Biographical Fiction
Format: Hardcover, Kindle, Audiobook

I’m thrilled to be opening the blog tour for this spectacular novel. A huge thank you to Anne at Random Things Tours for the invitation to take part and to Doubleday books for the gifted ARC.

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SYNOPSIS:

1926, and in a country still recovering from the Great War, London has become the focus for a delirious new nightlife. In the clubs of Soho, peers of the realm rub shoulders with starlets, foreign dignitaries with gangsters, and girls sell dances for a shilling a time.

The notorious queen of this glittering world is Nellie Coker, ruthless but also ambitious to advance her six children, including the enigmatic eldest, Niven whose character has been forged in the crucible of the Somme. But success breeds enemies, and Nellie’s empire faces threats from without and within. For beneath the dazzle of Soho’s gaiety, there is a dark underbelly, a world in which it is all too easy to become lost.

With her unique Dickensian flair, Kate Atkinson brings together a glittering cast of characters in a truly mesmeric novel that captures the uncertainty and mutability of life; of a world in which nothing is quite as it seems.

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MY REVIEW:

“There was a reckoning coming for Nellie.  Could she outrun it?” 

Shrines of Gaiety is a fictional insight into the seedy underbelly hiding beneath the glittering nightlife of 1920s London.  It follows Nellie Coker, the scene’s undisputed queen, who has built an empire for herself and her children.  At her clubs aristocrats, royals, stars and foreighn dignitaries mingle with gangsters and pay a shilling at a time to dance with girls. But success comes at a price and Nellie’s enemies are now plotting her downfall and she must fight to keep what she built. Can Nellie triumph once again or will her enemies finally succeed?

What. A. Book.  Mesmerising and exuberant, it is not only a work of art on the outside but between its pages too.  But this is a book where the beauty lives alongside the darkness.  For behind the dancing, drinking, respectability, sparkle and splendour is a cesspit of morality; an intricate and tangled web of deception, lies, debauchery, drugs, murder and sex trafficing.  A gritty and menacing underworld that is actually behind the glittering nightlife patrons enjoy.

“The delinquent Coker empire was a house of cards that Frobisher aimed to topple. The filthy, glittering underbelly of London was converged in its nightclubs, and particularly the Amethyst, the gaudy jewel at the heart of Soho’s nightlife.” 

An example of historical fiction at its finest, Kate Atkinson has once again shown why she is a must-read for any fan of the genre.  A masterclass in storytelling, this exquisitely crafted novel had me transfixed as the roaring twenties, glamorous nightlife and seedy underworld were brought to life in vivid technicolour.  It was impossible to put down and I devoured in just two sittings as Nellie’s world consumed me and the real world surrounding me fell away.

Nellie Coker is an ambitious, strong, powerful, ruthless and notorious character who demands loyalty and is fiercely protective of her family and what she’s built.  She is someone you can’t help having a soft spot for despite the fact that she is actually quite unlikeable.  She has that spark that draws you to her and makes you want to be in her orbit even if you know she’s someone you should stay away from.  It was easy to see why she was so successful. 

“Girls like Freda are meant for the Nellie Coker’s of this world. She devours them.”

But Nellie is not our only narrator and this is a saga told by an ensemble cast of richly drawn and charismatic characters such as Nellie’s six children, spiky Chief Inspector John Frobisher, former librarian Gwendolen Kelling and young Freda Murgatroyd.  Gwendolen was my favourite character while Freda brought out my maternal side as I worried about the vulnerable young runaway falling victim to the nefarious people waiting to pounce on naive young girls. There was also an array of compelling background characters that were equally as well written. 

Dazzling, evocative and consuming, this glorious romp is one of my favourite books this year.  If you enjoy historical fiction then this is an absolute must-read.  Highly recommended.  

Rating: ✮✮✮✮✮

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MEET THE AUTHOR:

Kate Atkinson is an international bestselling novelist, as well as playwright and short story writer. She is the author of Life After Life; Transcription; Behind the Scenes at the Museum, a Whitbread Book of the Year winner; the story collection Not the End of the World; and five novels in the Jackson Brodie crime series, which was adapted into the BBC TV show Case Histories.

Website

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BUY THE BOOK:

Waterstones | Amazon | Bookshop.org

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Thanks for reading Bibliophiles 😊 Emma xxxx

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

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BLOG TOUR: The Little Wartime Library by Kate Thompson

Published: September 1st, 2022
Publisher: Hodder & Stoughton
Genre: Historical Fiction, War Story, Saga
Format: Paperback, Kindle, Audiobook

Today is my stop on the blog tour for this extraordinary story. Thank you to Anne at Random Things Tours for the invitation to take part and to Hodder & Stoughton for the gifted copy of the book.

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SYNOPSIS:

London, 1944.

Clara Button is no ordinary librarian. While the world remains at war, in East London Clara has created the country’s only underground library, built over the tracks in the disused Bethnal Green tube station. Down here a secret community thrives: with thousands of bunk beds, a nursery, a café and a theatre offering shelter, solace and escape from the bombs that fall above.

Along with her glamorous best friend and library assistant Ruby Munroe, Clara ensures the library is the beating heart of life underground. But as the war drags on, the women’s determination to remain strong in the face of adversity is tested to the limits when it seems it may come at the price of keeping those closest to them alive.

Based on true events, The Little Wartime Library is a gripping and heart-wrenching page-turner that remembers one of the greatest resistance stories of the war.

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MY REVIEW:

“History isn’t about dates and battlefields, leaders and royalty. It’s about ordinary people getting on with the business of living in spite of such unforgiving odds. And somehow in the process always managing to hold hard to hope.” 

London, 1944. In disused tube stations there is now a community of people living in makeshift shelters after being forced from their homes by Nazi bombs. The station at Bethnal Green is also home to something truly remarkable: the country’s only underground library, which was created by Librarian Clara after the one above ground was destroyed. Assisted by her best friend Ruby, Clara offers people an escape from the harsh realities of war through books and has created a thriving place of friendship and sanctuary for the residents. But there are some who don’t like what the library has become and Clara, Ruby and their patrons are forced to come together to battle other enemies close to home.

Based on an astonishing true story, this was an absolute gem of a book.  A moving tale about an unusual library and its patrons, it has heartbreak and joy in equal measure with strands of hope woven into the narrative.  I loved the addition of the quotes from library workers at the beginning of each chapter and the Author’s Note at the end is a must-read. 

“They were a community, albeit a strange one, living along the Central Line but going nowhere.” 

I had heard of people taking refuge in the underground stations during the Blitz, but before reading this book I had no idea that people lived there in communities or that one had a library built in.  How has this extraordinary story gone untold for so long?  Kate Thompson resurrects this unique neighbourhood, transporting the reader back in time so you feel as if you are walking among them.  They are a colourful cast of characters, so full of life and a contrast to the bleakness of their temporary home.  You can feel the bonds that they formed and the importance of the library as an escape for them.  It was a light in the darkest of times, and I felt as passionate as Clara and Ruby as they fought for the little library and its patrons. 

Powerful, poignant and immersive, this heartwarming page-turner is a story everyone should read.  An inspiring story of friendship, resilience and hope, it is a reminder that truth is often stranger and more compelling than fiction.  I would love to see this adapted for the big screen so that more people can discover this extraordinary tale. 

Rating: ✮✮✮✮✰ 

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MEET THE AUTHOR:

Kate Thompson was born in London in 1974, and worked as a journalist for twenty years on women’s magazines and national newspapers. She now lives in Sunbury with her husband, two sons and a Lurcher called Ted. After ghost writing five memoirs, Kate moved into fiction. Kate’s first non-fiction social history documenting the forgotten histories of East End matriarchy, The Stepney Doorstep Society, was published in 2018 by Penguin. Her seventh novel, The Little Wartime Library is to be published by Hodder & Stoughton in the spring of 2022.

Website

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BUY THE BOOK:

Waterstones | Amazon |Bookshop.org

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Thanks for reading Bibliophiles, Emma xxxxx

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REVIEW: Triflers Need Not Apply by Camilla Bruce

Published: August 5th, 2021
Publisher: Michael Joseph
Genre: Historical Fiction, Thriller, Crime Fiction, Biographical Fiction
Format: Paperback, Kindle, Hardcover, Audiobook

Today I’m sharing my review for this brutal and brilliant novel. Thank you Michael Joseph for the gifted copy and Ceri for asking me to buddy read this one with her.

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SYNOPSIS:

You’ve never met a woman as dangerous as Bella Sorensen . . .

THE FASCINATING REIMAGINING OF THE LIFE AND TIMES OF HISTORY’S ORIGINAL FEMALE SERIAL KILLER
________

1900, Chicago.

Bella Sorenson knows that the world is made for men.

They control everything: jobs, property, money. Marriage makes women like her their slaves.

But now Bella is fighting back.


Because she’s angry. She’s bloodthirsty. She’s willing to kill to get what she wants – starting with her husband.

And then her next husband. And the next one . . .

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MY REVIEW:

“They thought that was it, then-that I was safe and would not bite. That I would take my lesson and learn from it, be humble and meek and know my place… They never expected me to hold a grudge…”

Bella Sorenson was the original female serial killer.  As a big true crime junkie I had heard her name but knew little about her or her crimes and knew this was a book for me.  It had been languishing on my shelves ever since I received an ARC last year so I was delighted to finally get around to reading it as part of a buddy read with my lovely blogger friend Ceri. 

Brutal, bold and brilliant, author Camilla Bruce seamlessly blends fact with fiction to reimagine Bella’s story.  It is a dark character study of the life and psyche of the woman behind the sensational headlines while never making excuses for her crimes or shying away from the grim facts.  In the must-read author’s note at the end Bruce explains that the aim of this book was to try to understand what drove Bella to commit her crimes and I think she has achieved that, helping us see the nuances of her character, bond with her and even feel some sympathy for her.  She claimed my attention instantly and kept me hooked until the final page, taking me on a journey that spans multiple decades and two continents.  And while it is well researched and mindful of attention to detail, the author never allows it to become bogged down by them, instead being driven by the story and characters.

“She had been swallowed up by something else,  something dark with terrible jaws – like a wolf.” 

Bella is a terrifying character.  She is a woman fuelled by spite, anger and contempt with an unquenchable thirst for revenge.  I both loved and loathed this ruthless and remorseless killer who fails to understand why she shouldn’t hurt those she feels have wronged her.  And knowing she was a real person, that she existed and committed these crimes rather than being simply a creation of an author’s twisted imagination, made her all the more fearsome.  But despite all of this, Bruce manages to humanise her by exploring the pivotal moments of trauma in her life she can’t escape; the things that haunt her and helped shape her into a merciless killer. And while I never condoned her actions, I did have a lot of sympathy for some of the things she had endured. 

But Bella isn’t our only narrator.  Her older sister, Nellie, also shares her perspective.  She is the voice of empathy and a morally complex character whose dilemmas raise both tension and emotion.  I really enjoyed how Nellie provided another side to everything that happened, moved the story forward, and helped to create nuance in the story that would have otherwise been missing.  There was also a cast of compelling and richly drawn background characters who leapt from the pages and helped bring the whole tragic tale to life in vivid technicolour.

“I would rise, if only to spite.”

Captivating, suspenseful, devilishly dark and dripping with malice, Triflers Need Not Apply is a phenomenal story that thriller lovers and crime junkies will love. 

Rating: ✮✮✮✮.5

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MEET THE AUTHOR:

Camilla Bruce is a Norwegian writer of speculative and historical fiction. She has a master’s degree in comparative literature and has co-run a small press that published dark fairy tales. Camilla currently lives in Trondheim with her son and cat.

https://camillabruce.com/

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BUY THE BOOK:

Waterstones | Amazon | Bookshop.org

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Thanks for reading Bibliophiles 😊 Emma xxx

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REVIEW: The Miniaturist by Jessie Burton

Published: July 3rd, 2014
Publisher: Picador
Genre: Historical Fiction, Literary Fiction
Format: Hardcover, Paperback, Kindle, Audiobook

Welcome to my review for The Miniaturist, the mesmerising debut by Jessie Burton. Thank you to BookBreak UK for organising the rereadalong and Picador for the gifted copy of the book.

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THE HOUSE OF FORTUNE PRE-ORDER COMPETITION

Pan Macmillan is offering three lucky winners the chance to win their own copy of the signed print, a unique piece of jewellery, and access to a book tour event. All entrants need to do is pre-order a copy of The House of Fortune and submit proof of purchase here.

Pre-order the book here*

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SYNOPSIS:

The phenomenal Number One Bestseller

Winner of the Specsavers National Book Award 2014

Waterstones Book of the Year 2014

Selected for the Richard & Judy Book Club 2015

There is nothing hidden that will not be revealed . . .

On an autumn day in 1686, eighteen-year-old Nella Oortman knocks at the door of a grand house in the wealthiest quarter of Amsterdam. She has come from the country to begin a new life as the wife of illustrious merchant trader Johannes Brandt, but instead she is met by his sharp-tongued sister, Marin. Only later does Johannes appear and present her with an extraordinary wedding gift: a cabinet-sized replica of their home. It is to be furnished by an elusive miniaturist, whose tiny creations mirror their real-life counterparts in unexpected ways . . .

Nella is at first mystified by the closed world of the Brandt household, but as she uncovers its secrets she realizes the escalating dangers that await them all. Does the miniaturist hold their fate in her hands? And will she be the key to their salvation or the architect of their downfall?

Beautiful, intoxicating and filled with heart-pounding suspense, Jessie Burton’s magnificent debut novel The Miniaturist is a story of love and obsession, betrayal and retribution, appearance and truth.

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MY REVIEW:

“There is nothing hidden that will not be revealed…”

An absolute masterpiece of historical fiction, The Miniaturist instantly became one of my favourite books when I read it back in 2015.  It’s follow up, The House of Fortune, is my most anticipated book of the year and I have been counting down to its release for many months. So when Bookbreak UK offered me the chance to take part in a re-readalong of this extraordinary story along with other bookstagrammers, I jumped at the chance to step back into Nella’s world. 

18-year-old Nella arrives in Amsterdam to live with her new husband, Johannes.  But the merchant is often away and she finds herself left with his spiky sister, their two staff and her pet parakeet, Peebo, for company.  To cheer her up Johannes presents her with a cabinet-sized replica of their home, an unusual and extravagant wedding gift that she begins to furnish with the help of a local miniaturist.  But Nella soon discovers that her new home is one filled with secrets and finds herself embroiled deeper in Amsterdam’s dark underbelly.  And it seems the mysterious miniaturist knows their secrets.  Will she be their salvation or their undoing?

“There is a story here and it seems like Nella’s, but it isn’t hers to tell.  She spins my life, she thinks.  And I cannot see the consequences.” 

Atmospheric, claustrophobic, eerie and mesmerising, this book is why I fell in love with historical fiction. It instantly became one of my favourite books when I read it back in 2015 and I was just as besotted with it the second time around. Jessie Burton is a masterful storyteller and I am once again in awe that this is a debut novel. The lyrical, elegant prose pulls you in and evocative imagery transports you to 17th century Amsterdam so clearly that you lose yourself in Nella’s world.

The richly drawn characters are all so memorable that even after seven years and hundreds of other books since I’d last read them, I could clearly remember so many small details about them. Nella is an innocent young woman at the start of the book and we see her become increasingly isolated, disillusioned, anxious and unsettled. But she also gets much stronger and finds joy in things such as her friendship with their maid, Cordelia. But as much as I loved Nella, for me it was Marin who was most fascinating. Sharp, cynical and acerbic, she begins the story as a tragic yet hard character, but the layers are slowly peeled away to reveal the unexpected truth beneath her armour, making her a joy to read.

“Nella returns home and rushes upstairs to the cabinet, running her fingers over the miniaturist’s pieces.  They are charged with a different energy, laden with meaning she cannot penetrate, yet even more addictive in their mystery.  She’s chosen me, Nella thinks, glowing with this discovery, yearning to know more.”  

The miniaturist herself is an elusive character who exists in shadows; an almost phantom presence who you can never pin down.  Nella is so intrigued by her and desperately tries to learn more about this mysterious woman who seems to tell their secrets and stories through her tiny creations. But how she does this remains cryptic throughout the story.  Her mysterious and slightly sinister presence helps to provide the gothic elements that add the gothic elements that add darker and more compelling layers to the story.

A spellbinding and stylish modern classic that should be on everybody’s reading list, I can’t recommend The Miniaturist highly enough.  I loved every moment of being back with Nella and the others and am even more excited to dive into The House of Fortune soon to see what happens next.

Rating: ✮✮✮✮✮

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MEET THE AUTHOR:

Jessie Burton is the author of three novels, The MiniaturistThe Muse, and The Confession, all instant Sunday Times bestsellers. 

The Miniaturist and The Muse were Sunday Times no.1 bestsellers in both hardback and paperback, New York Times bestsellers, and Radio 4’s Book at BedtimeThe Miniaturist went on to sell over a million copies in its year of publication, was Christmas no.1 in the UK, National Book Awards Book of the Year, and Waterstones Book of the Year 2014.  In 2017 it was adapted as a two-part miniseries on BBC One, starring Anya Taylor-Joy, Alex Hassell and Romola Garai, screened over Christmas, and now available on DVD and streaming services.

Her novels have been published in 40 languages.

Jessie’s first book for children, The Restless Girls, was published in September 2018, with Medusa​ to follow in 2021. ​Her story ‘Daphne and the Doughnuts’ appeared in The Book of Hopes, a collection of children’s stories published in 2020, from which all profits go to the NHS. 

As a non-fiction writer, she has written essays and reviews for The New York Times, Harpers Bazaar UK, The Wall Street JournalThe IndependentVogueElleRedGraziaLonely Planet Traveller and The SpectatorHarpers Bazaar US and Stylist have published her short stories. 

Website

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BUY THE BOOK:

Waterstones*| Amazon*| Bookshop.org*

*These are affiliate links

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Thanks for reading Bibliophiles 😊Emma xxxx

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REIVEW: Madwoman by Louisa Treger

Published: June 9th 2022
Publisher: Bloomsbury Publishing UK
Genre: Historical Fiction, Biographical Fiction
Format: Hardcover, Kindle, Audiobook

Welcome to my review for this outstanding and remarkable novel. Thank you Louisa Trager and Bloomsbury for the gifted proof.

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SYNOPSIS:

In 1887 young Nellie Bly sets out for New York and a career in journalism, determined to make her way as a serious reporter, whatever that may take.

But life in the city is tougher than she imagined. Down to her last dime and desperate to prove her worth, she comes up with a dangerous plan: to fake insanity and have herself committed to the asylum that looms on Blackwell’s Island. There, she will work undercover to document – and expose – the wretched conditions faced by the patients.

But when the asylum door swings shut behind her, she finds herself in a place of horrors, governed by a harshness and cruelty she could never have imagined. Cold, isolated and starving, her days of terror reawaken the traumatic events of her childhood. She entered the asylum of her own free will – but will she ever get out?

An extraordinary portrait of a woman way ahead of her time, Madwoman is the story of a quest for the truth that changed the world.

‘Madwoman is one of the best, a magnificent portrayal of Nelly Bly in all her journalistic integrity and daring’ New York Journal of Books

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MY REVIEW:

“Welcome to Blackwell’s Island. Once you get in here, you’ll never get out.”

Madwoman is a powerful, haunting and remarkable story about an unforgettable young woman. It’s 1887 and 19-year-old Nelly Bly has come to New York to try and make her name as a journalist, something unheard of for women at the time. In order to secure her dream job she pitches a daring idea: faking insanity to get herself committed to the asylum on Blackwell’s Island to go undercover and unearth the truth behind the rumours of mistreatment and expose them once and for all. But Nelly is unprepared for the horrors that lay in store and begins to wonder if she will ever escape the living hell she put herself in.

I’d heard the name Nelly Bly but knew nothing more about the woman at the heart of this story. But as soon as I read the synopsis and saw the striking cover I knew I needed to read this book. I needed to know what kind of woman would willingly get herself committed to an asylum in the nineteenth century and just what did she experience while there?

“Nellie shivered and gritted her teeth. She was going to sleep with madwomen, eat with them, be considered one of them.  Anything could happen, anything at all.” 

Louisa Trager has crafted a mesmerising novel full of evocative imagery and prose that made me see and feel everything that was on the page as vividly as if I were experiencing it myself. She brings the characters and places to life so clearly that you’d believe they were right in front of you. She tears your heart apart and puts it back together as you laugh, cry, rage, despair and feel absolute terror.

But it isn’t just her prose and imagery that makes you feel all of this, it is the deep connection she forges between the reader and Nelly that makes this story so deeply moving. Nelly is a fascinating and compelling character. As a young girl she gives us glimpses of the trailblazer she will become and little Nelly – or Pinks as she is then known – is a fierce and outspoken tomboy who doesn’t fit in and wants much more than to just be somebody’s wife. It helps us understand her actions as an adult such as why she is so determined to be independent and has her sights set on succeeding in what was then considered a man’s profession. Ms. Trager really gets inside Nelly’s mind, body and soul, allowing the reader to walk in her shoes and making our emotions mirror hers.

“Looking into her eyes, Nellie saw that there was a grief only beheld in lunatic asylums, a grief so deep and black that its victim was submerged beyond reach, far more wretched than a criminal.”

I don’t think it will be a surprise that where this story shines brightest is in the darkest of places. Nelly’s time in the asylum is harrowing, heartbreaking and raw. Blackwells is a bleak, gloomy place. A place of horror, degradation, humiliation and fear. A place where those charged with looking after the patients either give inadequate care or delight in doling out the most cruel and inhumane treatments they can think of. This was a time where women could be deemed insane for simply falling in or out of love or having the wrong opinion, and once you were behind that locked door you were usually left to rot. It was a dangerous and terrifying time to be a woman. Especially if you rebelled against the oppressive patriarchal system. The atmosphere on every page during Nelly’s time in the asylum is harsh and unforgiving. You wonder how anyone can survive such torture. But there is humanity and true strength alongside all of the darkness that is truly moving. The women fighting to survive beside Nelly each day are memorable and compelling and I especially enjoyed her friendship with Sofia. I was completely lost in Nelly’s world during this section of the book, reading most furiously and consumed by all she was going through.

An extraordinary story that is one of my top books of the year, I can’t recommend Madwoman enough.

Rating: ✯✯✯✯✯

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MEET THE AUTHOR:

Louisa Treger has worked as a classical violinist. She studied at the Royal College of Music and the Guildhall School of Music and worked as a freelance orchestral player and teacher. Treger subsequently turned to literature, gaining a First Class degree and a Ph.D. in English at University College London, where she focused on early 20th century women’s writing and was awarded the West Scholarship and the Rosa Morison Scholarship “for distinguished work in the study of English Language and Literature.” The Lodger was published in 2014, The Dragon Lady in 2019 and she is currently working on her third novel.

Website

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BUY THE BOOK:

Waterstones* | Amazon* | Bookshop.org*

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Thanks for reading Bibliophiles 😊 Emma xxxx

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BLOG TOUR: The Midwife of Auschwitz by Anna Stuart

Published: May 31st, 2022
Publisher: Bookouture
Genre: Historical Fiction, Religious Fiction
Format: Paperback, Kindle, Audiobook

Welcome to my stop on the blog tour for this heart-wrenching, poignant and remarkable book. Thank you to Bookouture for the invitation to take part and the eBook ARC.

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SYNOPSIS:

Auschwitz, 1943: As I held the tiny baby in my arms, my fingers traced the black tattoo etched across her little thigh. And I prayed that one day this set of numbers, identical to her mother’s, would have the power to reunite a family torn apart by war…

Inspired by an incredible true story, this poignant novel tells of one woman’s fight for love, life and hope during a time of unimaginable darkness.

Ana Kaminski is pushed through the iron gates of Auschwitz beside her frightened young friend Ester Pasternak. As they reach the front of the line, Ana steps forward and quietly declares herself a midwife – and Ester her assistant. Their arms are tattooed and they’re ordered to the maternity hut. Holding an innocent new-born baby, Ana knows the fate of so many are in her hands, and vows to do everything she can to save them.

When two guards in their chilling SS uniforms march in and snatch a blond-haired baby from its mother it’s almost too much for Ana to bear. Consoling the distraught woman, Ana realises amidst the terrible heartache there is a glimmer of hope. The guards are taking the healthiest babies and placing them with German families, so they will survive. And there are whispers the war is nearly over… Ana and Ester begin to secretly tattoo little ones with their mother’s numbers, praying one day they might be reunited.

Then, early one morning, Ana notices the small bump under Ester’s thin striped clothing…

An absolutely heart-breaking and page-turning WW2 novel of one woman’s bravery and determination to bring life and hope into a broken world. Fans of The Tattooist of Auschwitz, The Alice Network and The Nightingale will be gripped.

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MY REVIEW:

Auschwitz, 1943: As I held the tiny baby in my arms, my fingers traced the black tattoo etched across her little thigh.  And I prayed that one day this set of numbers, identical to her mother’s, would have the power to reunite a family torn apart by war…

Heart-wrenching, harrowing, haunting and hopeful, The Midwife of Auschwitz is a story of love, strength and courage.  Based on an incredible true story, we follow two women as they fight to survive one of the darkest times in our history.  Opening the day Germany invades Poland we follow Ester, a young Jewish girl, and Ana, a Catholic midwife, as their worlds are turned upside down and even Ester’s wedding day isn’t safe from the wrath of the Gestapo. They are uprooted from their homes and later, in a cruel twist of fate, find themselves on the same transport to Auschwitz where they serve as midwives in a place where even the newest lives are far from sacred. 

“The invaders had taken their city and now they were going to divide its people. Some fool man had decided that the baby Ana had brought into the world eighteen years ago, naked and innocent, was in some way less valuable than any other and was out to eliminate her and her kin from the earth. This was surely not just war, but the end of civilisation. “

Anna Stuart is a skilled storyteller.  She takes us inside the hearts and minds of Ana and Ester, their sorrow, pain, terror and rage so palpable I was moved to tears.  Her evocative imagery makes the barbaric inhumanity of Auschwitz and the Ghetto feel so vivid that I could almost feel the lice crawling on my skin.  The Holocaust is a brutal, raw and heartbreaking subject, but Ms. Stuart also writes with compassion, allowing us to also see the characters’ resilience, their acts of kindness, and how they held onto humanity whenever they could.  Ana and Ester are true heroines who are written so evocatively that I could feel everything they did.  Their sorrow, pain, terror and rage leaps from the pages and they teach us about bravery again and again as they stand up against evil, risking their lives in the process. It is impossible not to be moved by the way some were so determined to bring hope to others even when everything around them seemed helpless.

“This is war and it isn’t all fought on battlefields.”

Powerful, poignant and moving, this remarkable story is one I’ll never forget.  While it isn’t an easy read, it is an incredibly important one that I highly recommend. 

Rating: ✮✮✮✮✮

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MEET THE AUTHOR:

Anna Stuart lives in Derbyshire with her campervan-mad husband, two hungry teenagers and a slightly loopy dog. She was hooked on books from the moment she first opened one in her cot so is thrilled to now have several of her own to her name. Having studied English literature at Cambridge university, she took an enjoyable temporary trip into the ‘real world’ as a factory planner, before returning to her first love and becoming an author. History has also always fascinated her. Living in an old house with a stone fireplace, she often wonders who sat around it before her and is intrigued by how actively the past is woven into the present, something she likes to explore in her novels. Anna loves the way that writing lets her ‘try on’ so many different lives, but her favourite part of the job is undoubtedly hearing from readers.

Website

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Thanks for reading Bibliophiles 😊Emma xxx

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BLOG TOUR: The Trial of Lotta Rae by Siobhan MacGowan

Published: May 26th, 2022
Publisher: Welbeck
Genre: Historical Fiction, Historical Mystery, Crime Fiction
Format: Hardcover, Kindle, Audiobook

Welcome to my stop on the blog tour for this riveting piece of historical fiction. Thank you to Welbeck for the invitation to take part and the gifted ARC.

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SYNOPSIS:

If you enjoyed The Familiars and The Binding, you’ll love this sweeping and empowering historical novel, set in Suffragette England.
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On Halloween night, 1906, young working class Lotta Rae is attacked by a wealthy gentleman. She seeks justice at an Old Bailey trial alongside her barrister, William Linden, who she believes to be her ally.

The verdict is devastating and Lotta Rae soon realises the guardians of justice do not support her. But what none could foresee were the shocking consequences.

Twelve years later, as the suffragettes rise and the ghost of WW1 looms large over London, William is joined again by Lotta Rae. Now they will travel to a fateful destination, where truths must be faced and wrongs will be righted.

The day in court is done. But tonight he will hear her testimony.

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MY REVIEW:

“I have seen my name become notorious. Lotta Rae. The talk of London. There was talk, much talk for sure. But was there truth? Was there justice?”

Halloween Night 1906.  Lotta Rae, a working-class girl working in a brewery, is attacked by a gentleman in a dark alley.  She bravely reports the crime and heads to court with her barrister William Linden by her side.  When the devastating verdict is announced it sparks a chain of tragic events that will alter Lotta’s life forever.  Years later Lotta still searches for justice.  Only this time it won’t be the courts that she trusts to deliver it.

The Trial of Lotta Rae is a story of power, privilege and the fight for justice.  I quickly devoured this haunting debut, the air of menace and foreboding that lingers over every page holding me captive. Siobhan MacGowan’s beguiling prose, skilled storytelling and memorable characters are a potent combination that I felt powerless to resist.  Steeped in history, the author has set the story against a backdrop of the suffragettes’ struggle, transporting you back to a time when doctors believed that only with consent could you conceive, and any woman who just walks with a man is seen as leading him on.   It all combines to create an atmosphere of authenticity that is so well done I  actually found myself searching the internet to see if Lotta Rae and her story were real. I am in awe of the fact it is not yet she crafted a character and story so convincing that I believed every word could be true.

“It seems we imagine there will be a harbinger of those days that come to shatter our lives. Will herald their arrival not with duplicitous blue sky, but a clutch of foreboding clouds. That we will be granted a sign. But the day it happened dawned comforting in its simplicity: sunny, fresh and bright. “

The story is narrated by not only Lotta Rae, but also her barrister, William Linden.  I enjoyed these very different perspectives, though it did get a little confusing going back and forth between them in the same chapter at times.  And while both sides are equally well written and both characters compelling, Lotta is without a doubt the star of this book.  Fierce, feisty, strong and resolute, she leaps from the pages.  I could feel her anguish after the attack, her shame during the court case, disbelief at the verdict, and, finally, the desire for revenge that burned in her like fire.  She is someone who manages to be sympathetic even when not likeable and I was rooting for her every step of the way.  William was someone whose character surprised me, though I don’t want to say much more to avoid spoilers.  But I will say he is fantastically written and a very believable character of the time for his class and gender.

An intense and enthralling debut, Lotta and her story is one that will stay with me.  

Rating: ✮✮✮✮✰

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MEET THE AUTHOR:

Siobhan MacGowan is a journalist and musician who lived and worked in London for much of her life before returning to Ireland several years ago. She is from a family of great storytellers, the most prominent of which is her brother, Shane MacGowan, of The Pogues.

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BUY THE BOOK:

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Thanks for reading Bibliophiles 😊Emma

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

BLOG TOUR: The House with the Golden Door by Elodie Harper

Published: May 12th 2022
Publisher: Head of Zeus
Genre: Historical Fiction, Historical Romance, Romance Novel, Book Series
Format: Hardcover, Kindle, Audiobook

Welcome to my stop on the blog tour for this magnificent book. Thank you to Head of Zeus for the invitation to take part and the gifted copy of the book.

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SYNOPSIS:

Freed from Pompeii’s brothel. Owned as a courtesan. Determined to have revenge. Her name is Amara. What will she risk for power?

Amara has escaped her life as a slave in Pompeii’s most notorious brothel. She now has a house, fine clothes, servants – but all of these are gifts from her patron, hers for as long as she keeps her place in his affections.

As she adjusts to this new life, Amara is still haunted by her past. At night she dreams of the wolf den, and the women she left behind. By day, she is pursued by her former slavemaster. In order to be truly free, she will need to be as ruthless as he is.

Amara knows she can draw strength from Venus, the goddess of love. Yet falling in love herself may prove to be her downfall.

The House with the Golden Door is the stunning second novel in Elodie Harper’s celebrated Wolf Den Trilogy, which reimagines the lives of women who have long been overlooked.

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MY REVIEW:

“There is always a price to pay for underestimating a woman.”

Ever since the jaw-dropping ending of The Wolf Den I have been impatiently awaiting book two in the trilogy and the chance to find out what was next for Amara, her fellow she-wolves and the residents of Pompeii.  The story picks up a few months after the shocking events at the end of book one: Amara is no longer a slave working at the brothel but a freedwoman living in the house with the golden door that her patron Rufus rents for her.  While happy to be free, she is haunted by her past, misses her friends and lives in fear of losing Rufus’ favour and her position as his concubine.  Her former master is also out for revenge and she must find a way to keep herself safe against not only him, but the man on whom she now relies.  

Once again I was utterly captivated by the mesmerising world that Elodie Harper brings to life on the pages. So evocative that it was like I was watching it all unfold on a movie screen in vivid technicolour, she transported me back to the ancient streets of Pompeii at a time when they were bustling with life and the fate awaiting this doomed city was unimaginable.  Her research and attention to detail is exquisite, depicting day to day life in a believable and entertaining way as she explores everything from mundane domesticity to the exciting but bloodthirsty sports citizens of Pompeii once enjoyed. 

“Amara wonders how long they will all be together in a household like this, and it is not only the habitual fear of being separated from Philos that makes her chest tighten. She has grown used to this place, to the strange almost-family of women she has collected.”

The Amara of this book is both the same and completely different. I enjoyed watching her learn to navigate the new world she inhabits and how skillfully she plays the game.  She is a strong, intelligent woman who now not only has a thirst for revenge and determination to survive, but more autonomy and power than before, though she does fear she will never completely be free.  But one of my favourite things about these books is the sisterhood the women share.  There are new characters and alliances alongside the old ones, but themes of strength, tenacity, vulnerability and wiliness remain and I enjoyed seeing them gain more power and freedom than they had in the brothel.  A sisterhood I particularly enjoyed was the blossoming friendship between Amara and Britannica.  I loved that Britannica was given such a large role in this story and how we finally got to see the person lurking beneath the silent savage we met in book one.  I adore this fierce Briton and she has become my favourite character.

Enthralling, exhilarating and unflinching, The House with the Golden Door is an accomplished piece of historical fiction.  If you’re a fan of the genre then you need to read this outstanding series.  Sadly I now have the agonising wait for the final instalment…

Rating: ✮✮✮✮✮

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MEET THE AUTHOR:

Elodie Harper is a journalist and prize-winning short story writer. Her story ‘Wild Swimming’ won the 2016 Bazaar of Bad Dreams short story competition, which was judged by Stephen King.

She is currently a reporter at ITV News Anglia, and before that worked as a producer for Channel 4 News. Her job as a journalist has seen her join one of the most secretive wings of the Church of Scientology and cover the far right hip hop scene in Berlin, as well as crime reporting in Norfolk where her first two novels were set – The Binding Song and The Death Knock.

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

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Thanks for reading Bibliophiles 😊 Emma xxxx

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

BLOG TOUR: Take My Hand by Dolen Perkins-Valdez

Published: May 12th 2022
Publisher: Phoenix
Genre: Historical Fiction, Medical Fiction
Format: Hardcover, Kindle, Audiobook

Welcome to my stop on the blog tour for for this astonishing, powerful and unforgettable novel. Thank you to Alex at Phoenix Books for the invitation to take part and the gifted ARC.

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SYNOPSIS:

Montgomery, Alabama. 1973. Fresh out of nursing school, Civil Townsend has big plans to make a difference in her community. At the Montgomery Family Planning Clinic, she intends to help women make their own choices for their lives and bodies.

But when her first week on the job takes her down a dusty country road to a tumbledown cabin, she’s surprised to find that her new patients are just eleven and thirteen years old. Neither of the Williams sisters has even kissed a boy, but they are poor and Black, and for those handling their welfare benefits, that’s reason enough to have the girls on birth control. As Civil grapples with her new responsibilities, she takes India and Erica into her heart and comes to care for their family as though they were her own. But one day she arrives at their door to discover the unthinkable has happened, and nothing will ever be the same.

Inspired by true events and a shocking chapter of American history, Take My Hand is a novel that will open your eyes and break your heart. An unforgettable story about love and courage, sisterhood and solidarity, it is also a timely and hopeful reminder that it only takes one person to change the world.

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MY REVIEW:

“How dare they?  Our bodies belonged to us. Poor, disabled, it didn’t matter.  These were our bodies, and we had the right to decide what to do with them.  It was as if they were just taking our bodies from us, as if we didn’t even belong to ourselves.” 

Of the many profound quotes in Dolen Perkin-Valdez’ astonishingly powerful Take My Hand, it is this one that I feel best sums up its message.   If the erosion of human and female reproductive rights matters to you, then this is probably the most key piece of literature you can read right now.  A story about poverty, race, eugenics and the fight for justice and equality, this mesmerising novel is a reminder that we must heed the mistakes made in our history to avoid repeating them once more.

“We thought we were doing something useful for society, but this is where the so-called good deed had gotten us. Right smack into a nightmare.” 

Set in Montgomery, Alabama in 1973, the story follows Civil Townsend, a newly qualified nurse working at the Montgomery Family Planning Clinic.  Civil is a young woman who believes in the good work she’ll be doing at the clinic serving poor Black women.  She believes in the difference that can be made to their lives through contraception and good care and has a strong moral code that guides her.  But when she’s given her first case she is shocked to discover her patients are sisters aged just eleven and thirteen and that they are on the new Depo-provera shot.  What follows is a shocking tale based in fact that goes beyond these two innocent young girls and even Alabama, shocking the entire United States.  It will leave you outraged, appalled, heartbroken and determined never to allow such a tragedy to happen again. 

“History repeats what we don’t remember…”

I believe there are some books that come at the perfect time.  That you read them when you are meant to in order for them to have the greatest impact on you and change your life in some way.  That is what happened with this book.  It feels like fate that this book, set around the time of Roe vs Wade, is being released just as courts in America threaten to overturn it and take away the rights of women once again.  It feels like a call to arms to protect these rights and prevent the events of this story from ever happening again as they threaten to do if women’s rights are once again stripped away.

“I had never known that good intentions could be just as destructive as bad ones.” 

Though based on a true case, the characters and events are fiction, but Ms. Perkins-Valdez writes so exquisitely that you believe every word is real as she breathes such life into the richly drawn characters that they felt like flesh and blood that stood in front of me.  Her writing is hypnotic yet invigorating, both putting a spell on me so I was lost in its pages and filling me with a passion to ensure such evil never happens again.  It is a memorable masterclass in storytelling that made this book immediately take a place as one of my favourites of all time.

“A year never passes without me thinking of them. India. Erica.  Their names are stitched inside every white coat I have ever worn.  I tell this story to stitch their names inside your clothes too. A reminder to never forget.  Medicine taught me, really taught me, to accept the things I cannot change. A difficult-to-swallow serenity prayer. I’m not trying to change the past. I’m telling it in order to lay those ghosts to rest.” 

Civil is a remarkable heroine and I adored her.  Intelligent, strong, brave and kind, she only wants to do good in the world and is devastated to learn that good intentions don’t always mean a good outcome.  She is also still trying to come to terms with her own trauma that is portrayed in such a real, but sensitive way that really connects you to her pain.  
Erica and India, the sisters at the heart of this tragedy, are two girls that you can’t help but take into your heart just as Civil did.  From the start I was desperate to know what fate had befallen them but was unprepared for the shocking truth that tore my heart in two and made tears fall from my eyes.  I wanted to hold those sweet girls and undo everything that they were forced to endure.  I was thankful that they found a champion in Civil who would fight for them to her last instead of allowing them to remain a silent statistic like so many others before them.  She gave them a voice when no one else was willing to hear them and made an entire country listen to what they had to say.  

“There is no greater right for a woman than having a choice.”

Magnificent, timely, poignant and immersive, this unforgettable novel rocked me to my core and seared itself into my heart, mind and soul. A story that everyone needs to read, I can’t recommend it highly enough and will be putting it into the hands of everyone I possibly can. 

Rating: ✮✮✮✮✮

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MEET THE AUTHOR:

Dolen Perkins-Valdez is the author of the New York Times bestselling novel WENCH. In 2011, she was a finalist for two NAACP Image Awards and the Hurston-Wright Legacy Award for fiction. In 2017, HarperCollins released Wench as one of eight “Olive Titles,” limited edition modern classics that included books by Edward P. Jones, Louise Erdrich, and Zora Neale Hurston.

Dolen received a DC Commission on the Arts Grant for her second novel BALM which was published by HarperCollins in 2015.  In 2013, Dolen wrote the introduction to a special edition of Solomon Northup’s Twelve Years a Slave, published by Simon & Schuster, which became a New York Times bestseller. She followed that with an introduction to Elizabeth Keckly’s Behind the Scenes published in 2016.  Dolen is a 2020 nominee for a United States Artists Fellowship.

Her forthcoming novel TAKE MY HAND will be published April 2022 by Berkley/Penguin Random House.

Dolen is the current Chair of the Board of the PEN/Faulkner Foundation. On behalf of the foundation, she has visited nearly every public high school in the District of Columbia to talk about the importance of reading and writing.   She is currently Associate Professor in the Literature Department at American University and lives in Washington, DC with her family.

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BUY THE BOOK:

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Thanks for reading Bibliophiles ☺️ Emma xxx