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book reviews Emma's Anticipated Treasures Most Anticipated 2022 Squadpod Squadpod Book Club Squadpod Recommends

REVIEW: All About Evie by Matson Taylor

Published: July 21st, 2022
Publisher: Scribner UK
Genre: Domestic Fiction, Historical Fiction, Historical Fantasy, Literary Fiction
Format: Hardcover, Kindle, Audiobook

The year is almost over so I’m finally sharing my long-overdue review for what is one of my favourite books this year. Thank you to Matson Taylor and Scribner UK for the gifted proof copy of this book, which was our Squadpod Book Club pick for July.

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SYNOPSIS:

EVIE EPWORTH IS TEN YEARS OLDER. BUT IS SHE ANY WISER?!

Ten years on from the events of The Miseducation of Evie Epworth, Evie is settled in London and working as a production assistant for the BBC. She has everything she ever dreamed of (a career, a leatherette briefcase, an Ossie Clark poncho) but, following an unfortunate incident involving a Hornsea Pottery mug and Princess Anne, she finds herself having to rethink her future. What can she do? Is she too old to do it? And will it involve cork-soled sandals? 

As if this isn’t complicated enough, her disastrous love life leaves her worrying that she may be destined for eternal spinsterdom, concerned, as she is, that ‘even Paul had married Linda by the time he was 26’. Through it all, Evie is left wondering whether a 60s miseducation really is the best preparation to glide into womanhood and face the new challenges (strikes, power cuts, Edward Heath’s teeth) thrown up by the growing pains of the 70s.

With the help of friends, both old and new, she might just find a way through her messy 20s and finally discover who exactly she is meant to be…

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MY REVIEW:

When the previous book in a series is not only one of your favourite books of that year, but of all time, there is some trepidation about reading the follow up. Would I enjoy this one as much and still love Evie with the same fierceness? The answer is yes! Once again Matson Taylor has knocked it out of the park with this hilarious, heartwarming and addictive novel that feels like a cup of Yorkshire tea and a piece of parkin on a cold day.  

This time, Taylor transports us to the Summer of 1972, 10 years after the events of The Miseducation of Evie Epworth, to reunite us with the eponymous heroine for more entertaining exploits. Evie is working for the BBC and living the life she’s always dreamed of  in London when a mishap involving Princess Anne and a Hornsea mug leads to her dismissal, and Evie is now forced to reassess her life. But what direction will she choose from the overwhelming number of possibilities open to her? And then there is her love life. At the ripe old age of 26 and a half she feels in danger of becoming over-the-hill and wonders why she hasn’t yet met Mr. Right. There is fun, laughter and lots of emotion, as Evie embarks on her greatest journey of self discovery yet.

Oh, Evie. How I love her. She truly feels like an old friend and I never get tired of reading her. She’s an iconic northern heroine who pole-vaults off the pages and straight into your heart. It is a slightly more sophisticated and wise Evie we meet in this book, yet she’s still the same feisty, funny, quirky and unforgettable Yorkshire lass we love. It has been great to watch her grow and I loved her metamorphosis from teenager to young woman in this story. And the snippets of information about her ex boyfriends were hilarious. 

Matson Taylor is a comedy genius and had me laughing out loud within the first few pages. He has a talent for writing witty, offbeat and uproarious characters and storylines that are also heartfelt. He paces the story perfectly, switching seamlessly between the serious and lighter moments to ensure things never feel too heavy. There are so many moments that were pure comedy gold and still make me laugh when they randomly pop into my head many months after reading the book. The evocative imagery and attention to detail brought 1970s London to life so vividly it felt like I’d stepped into a time machine and appeared in 1972. The book is filled with blasts from the past: Old Jamaica bars, Wimpy burgers, cheese and pineapple hedgehogs etc. I was assailed by memories and the nostalgia took over and thoroughly enjoyed the walk down memory lane.

Uplifting, witty and utterly magnificent, All About Evie is another must-read from Mr. Taylor. And that ending! I need book 3 now!

Rating: ✮✮✮✮✮

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MEET THE AUTHOR:

Matson Taylor grew up in Yorkshire (the flat part not the Brontë part). He comes from farming stock and spent an idyllic childhood surrounded by horses, cows, bicycles, and cheap ice-cream. His father, a York City and Halifax Town footballer, has never forgiven him for getting on the school rugby team but not getting anywhere near the school football team.

Matson now lives in London, where he is a design historian and academic writing tutor at the V&A, Imperial College and the Royal College of Art. Previously, he talked his way into various jobs at universities and museums around the world; he has also worked on Camden Market, appeared in an Italian TV commercial and been a pronunciation coach for Catalan opera singers. He gets back to Yorkshire as much as possible, mainly to see family and friends but also to get a reasonably-priced haircut.

He has always loved telling stories and, after writing academically about beaded flapper dresses and World War 2 glow-in-the-dark fascinators, he decided to enrol on the Faber Academy ‘Writing A Novel’ course. The Miseducation of Evie Epworth is his first novel. 

Website

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BUY THE BOOK:

Waterstones | Amazon | Bookshop.org

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Thanks for reading Bibliophiles xxxx

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Audio Books Blog Tours book reviews Cozy Mysteries

THE TWELVIE COSIES OF CHRISTMAS AUDIO TOUR: Murder at the Theatre Royale by Ada Moncrieff

Published: Sepetember 22nd, 2022
Publisher: Ulverscroft/Vintage
Genre: Cosy Mystery, Mystery, Historical Fiction, Historical Mystery, Christmas Story, Holiday Fiction
Format: Audiobook, Kindle, Paperback

Welcome to my belated stop on the Twelve Cosies of Christmas Audio Tour. Thank you to Danielle for the invitation to take part and Ulvercroft for the gifted audiobook.

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SYNOPSIS:

It’s Christmas at London’s Theatre Royale and journalist Daphne King is determined to solve an extraordinary mystery…

December 1935. Director Monty Harrison’s production of A Christmas Carol has had a troubled run on its tour of regional theatres. With tensions amongst the cast running high, the company reach their final stop—London’s Theatre Royale.

Catastrophe, however, strikes on opening night: Scrooge dies on stage, the result (it is presumed) of a heart attack. But the show must go on. Until, that is, a leading theatre critic—and old rival of Monty’s—is killed backstage. Are those associated with the production being picked off one by one? Budding journalist Daphne King takes up the case…

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MY REVIEW:

The 12 Audiobooks of Christmas Audiobook Tour is now firmly a part of my festive reading traditions. This year, I listened to Murder at the Theatre Royale, which is the second book in Ada Moncrieff’s A Christmas Mystery Series. 

We are transported to December 1935 as amateur sleuth Daphne King investigates more mysterious murders. It begins with the actor playing Scrooge in A Christmas Carol who drops dead while on stage on opening night at London’s Theatre Royal. Then, when an old rival of Director Chester Harrison is also found dead, Daphne begins to wonder if someone is slowly picking off those involved with the production. There are few clues to follow, but Daphne pieces them together as she tries to unmask the killer before they can strike again. 

This was an absolute joy to listen to. The snowy landscape and Christmas setting were perfect for festive listening and the author’s evocative descriptions and old fashioned language merged with the delightful narration to completely immerse me in the story. I was hooked and kept guessing right until the big reveal, the murderer’s identity as much of a surprise to me as it was those involved. 

Charming, entertaining and atmospheric, this is cosy festive fun at its best and is the perfect book to listen to this time of year. I’m already looking forward to following Daphne’s escapades again next year. 

Rating: ✮✮✮✮✰

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MEET THE AUTHOR:

Ada Moncrieff was born in London. She studied English at Cambridge University, and has worked in theatre, publishing and as a teacher. Murder Most Festive was her first novel. 

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BUY THE BOOK:

Amazon

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Thanks for reading Bibliophiles xxx

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

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book reviews Emma's Anticipated Treasures Most Anticipated 2023 Support Debuts Tandem Readalong

REVIEW: No Life for a Lady by Hannah Dolby

Published: Mach 2nd, 2023
Publisher: Aria
Genre: Satire, Historical Fiction, Historical Romance, Historical Mystery, Romance Novel
Format: Hardcover, Kindle, Audiobook

Welcome to my review for No Life For A Lady. Thank you to the Tandem Collective for my place on the VIP readalong and Head of Zeus for the gifted proof.

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SYNOPSIS:

The most joyful book of 2023!

Violet Hamilton is a woman who knows her own mind. Which, in 1896, can make things a little complicated…

At 28, Violet’s father is beginning to worry she will never find a husband. But every suitor he presents, Violet finds a new and inventive means of rebuffing.

Because Violet does not want to marry. She wants to work, and make her own way in the world. But more than anything, she wants to find her mother Lily, who disappeared from Hastings Pier 10 years earlier.

Finding the missing is no job for a lady, but when Violet hires a seaside detective to help, she sets off a chain of events that will put more than just her reputation at risk.

Can Violet solve the mystery of Lily Hamilton’s vanishing before it’s too late?

A delightfully quirky and clever book club read, perfect for fans of Dear Mrs BirdThe Maid and Lessons in Chemistry.

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MY REVIEW:

“Detective work is no life for a lady.”

A joyous romp with lashings of humour, No Life For A Lady is an original and uplifting debut. It follows Violet, a delightful new heroine who I absolutely adored. She isn’t your typical Victorian woman, going against social conventions by not wanting to get married and pursuing a career instead. But more than anything else, what Violet wants is to find her mother, Lily, who vanished 10 years ago. But there is no such thing as a lady detective, so Violet hires a professional to help, sparking a chain of events that risk not only Violet’s reputation, but unearths shocking secrets that some people will do anything to keep hidden. 

I’m a big fan of historical fiction, mysteries and uplift, so this was the perfect mix of genres for me. It was an absolute joy to read and I couldn’t get enough of Violet and her antics. The mystery unravels slowly, with some twists and surprises along the way, but what I particularly liked was that this is also the story of Violet’s journey of self-discovery, author Hannah Dolby weaving the two storylines together so they are inextricably linked. I loved how Dolby injected so much heart, humour and joy into the book, making a story that could have been very dark into one that radiates fun and hopefulness. 

Violet is a great protagonist. Inquisitive, tenacious and full of charisma, she was easy to like and root for, though I would sometimes cringe at her naivete that is a product of both her sheltered upbringing and the times they lived in. Violet lives in a time where autonomy for women is still an alien concept and there strict moral and societal codes she is expected to adhere to. But Violet rails against this, wanting to make her own way in life and pursue a career, rather than making marriage her priority and only goal in life. At 28 she is deemed pretty much over the hill and the idea she might not actually want a husband is unthinkable to most. She is a new favourite heroine of mine and I can’t imagine anyone not loving her. 

Funny, quirky and addictive, this marvellous debut is one you all need on your TBR. I’m hoping Ms. Dolby will turn this into a series so I can return to Violet and her antics again and again. 

Rating: ✮✮✮✮✰

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MEET THE AUTHOR:

Hannah’s first job was in the circus and she has aimed to keep life as interesting since. She trained as a journalist in Hastings and has worked in PR for many years, promoting museums, galleries, palaces, gardens and even Dolly the sheep.

She completed the Curtis Brown selective three-month novel writing course, and she won runner-up in the Comedy Women in Print Awards for this novel with the price of a place on an MA in Comedy Writing at the University of Falmouth. She lives in London and her debut novel, No Life for a Lady, will be published in Spring 2023.

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BUY THE BOOK:

Waterstones | Amazon | Bookshop.org

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Thanks for reading Bibliophiles xxx

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book reviews

REVIEW: The Deception of Harriet Fleet by Helen Scarlett

Published: April 1st, 2021
Publisher: Quercus
Genre: Historical Fiction, Gothic Fiction, Thriller, Mystery
Format: Hardcover, Paperback, Kindle, Audiobook

Welcome to my review of The Deception of Harriet Fleet, a book that’s languished on my shelves for too long and I finally read as my first book of November. Thank you to Quercus Books for my copy of the book.

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SYNOPSIS:

Dark and brimming with suspense, an atmospheric Victorian chiller set in brooding County Durham for fans of Stacey Halls and Laura Purcell

1871. An age of discovery and progress. But for the Wainwright family, residents of the gloomy Teesbank Hall in County Durham the secrets of the past continue to overshadow their lives.

Harriet would not have taken the job of governess in such a remote place unless she wanted to hide from something or someone. Her charge is Eleanor, the daughter of the house, a fiercely bright eighteen-year-old, tortured by demons and feared by relations and staff alike. But it soon becomes apparent that Harriet is not there to teach Eleanor, but rather to monitor her erratic and dangerous behaviour – to spy on her.

Worn down by Eleanor’s unpredictable hostility, Harriet soon finds herself embroiled in Eleanor’s obsession – the Wainwright’s dark, tragic history. As family secrets are unearthed, Harriet’s own begin to haunt her and she becomes convinced that ghosts from the past are determined to reveal her shameful story.

For Harriet, like Eleanor, is plagued by deception and untruths.

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MY REVIEW:

Teesbank Hall is an isolated place that hides a dark history and terrible secrets.  Secrets that the Wainwright family have forbidden all who work and live there to speak of.  But they can’t disguise the malevolent and unsettling atmosphere that permeates its walls or the ghosts that wander them. 

Harriet arrives at the house to begin her new job as governess, the remote location the perfect place for her to avoid being found by the secrets and people she’s running from. But her new charge, the Wainwright’s daughter Eleanor, is not what she imagined. The young girl is feared by all those in Teesbank Hall and openly hostile of her new governess, something Harriet understands a little more when she learns she is actually there to report on Eleanor’s bizarre behaviour. Yet over time the two develop an unusual relationship that centres on their mutual fascination with the family’s sinister history and work together to try to unveil the truth of a brutal murder decades earlier.

Deliciously dark, haunting and mysterious, The Deception of Harriet Fleet is a gorgeously gothic read. The story is part historical fiction, part mystery, and part ghost story, but there also are much deeper themes explored in its pages. Helen Scarlett explores the harsh treatment of women in the Victorian era, particularly those who are feisty, strong and intelligent. Women had no autonomy, were owned by men and sexual assault was prevelent. We see this in how Eleanor, who refuses to be silenced by her family, is imprisoned by them, has her every move watched and lives with their threats of the asylum looming over her. It is even shown in those who seem to have what others strive for, such as her mother, Susan, who is trapped in a miserable marriage with a philanderer.  

The story is told to the reader by Harriet, who is finally telling the truth about what happened at Teesbank Hall all those years ago. Chillingly written, and evocative, there is a strong sense of place that makes the house feel like a character in its own right.  Harriet often feels there is someone watching when she’s alone and finds herself checking for ghosts in the shadows. Many who live there feel imprisoned, the claustrophobic air permeating every page. 

Atmospheric, eerie and forbidding, this was the perfect book to read during the dark and cold autumn nights.  

Rating: ✮✮✮✮✰

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MEET THE AUTHOR:

Taken from Amazon:
Thank you for visiting my Amazon author’s page. ‘The Deception of Harriet Fleet’ is my first novel and is set in the north east of England. I’ve always loved the big, classic novels from the nineteenth century, with lots of governesses and intrigue, and I sometimes wonder whether I was born in the wrong era! Although the Victorian period was a time of huge changes, the inhabitants of Teesbank Hall are trapped in the past by the destructive secrets they hold.

Teesbank Hall itself is fictional but most of the other settings in the novel are real and close to where I live with my husband and two daughters. I teach A Level English and write whenever I can grab a spare moment.

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BUY THE BOOK:

Waterstones | Amazon | Bookshop.org

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Thanks for reading Bibliophiles

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Blog Tours book reviews Emma's Anticipated Treasures

BLOG TOUR: The Weather Woman by Sally Gardner

Published: November 10th, 2022
Publisher: Head of Zeus
Genre: Historical Fiction, Fantasty Fiction, Historical Romance, Supernatural Fiction, Regency Romance, Historical Fantasy
Format: Hardcover, Kindle, Audiobook

Welcome to my stop on the blog tour for the enchanting and orignal, The Weather Woman. Thank you to Head of Zeus for the invitation to take part and the gifted ARC.

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SYNOPSIS:

The rich and atmospheric new novel from prize-winning author Sally Gardner, set in the 18th century between the two great Frost Fairs.

Neva Friezland is born into a world of trickery and illusion, where fortunes can be won and lost on the turn of a card.

She is also born with an extraordinary gift. She can predict the weather. In Regency England, where the proper goal for a gentlewoman is marriage and only God knows the weather, this is dangerous. It is also potentially very lucrative.

In order to debate with the men of science and move about freely, Neva adopts a sophisticated male disguise. She foretells the weather from inside an automaton created by her brilliant clockmaker father.

But what will happen when the disguised Neva falls in love with a charismatic young man?

It can be very dangerous to be ahead of your time. Especially as a woman.

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MY REVIEW:

“To see things differently is a gift, Neva. It makes you unique.”

I’m delighted to be opening the tour of The Weather Woman, the story of an extraordinary young woman trying to find her place in a world that has none for those who don’t fit the mould.  

Set in the early 1800s, it centres around a young woman named Neva with an unusual gift. She can predict the weather. But this is Regency England, a place where women are to be seen and not heard.  There is no place for an intelligent and educated woman with a unique talent in the male-dominated world of science. So she adopts a male persona and disguise in order to debate with them, and her father creates an automatron called the Weather Woman as the public face for Neva to make her predictions. But while she is happy to be making predictions and enjoys the freedom her disguises bring, it leaves her feeling even more of an outsider and fearing she will never find her place in the world.  

“I don’t fit the square, I’m too irregular; I’m too angular for the curves. This age is not made for me.” 

The story inside these pages is as lush as its gorgeous cover. Sally Gardner is a skilled storyteller, painting pictures with words as she weaves magical realism into historical fiction and mixes in an irresistible love story. The result is an atmospheric and beautifully descriptive tale that has an almost fairytale quality. The characters are richly drawn and compelling, with Neva being particularly memorable, and there are multiple threads that cleverly tangle together in some unexpected ways. I was captivated from the start, though there was a point I felt the story lost a little momentum and my mind started to wander, but it soon picked up and I lost myself in its pages once again. 

Enchanting, original, and filled with wonder, I’d recommend this book, especially if you enjoy stories with a magical twist.

Rating: ✮✮✮✮✰

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MEET THE AUTHOR:

From Sallly’s website:
I was born in Birmingham, near the Cadbury’s chocolate factory, and I grew up in Gray’s Inn, central London, in Raymond Buildings. My family (my parents, my younger brother and I) lived there because both my parents were lawyers. When I was around age five they separated and later divorced.

I was badly bullied at school because I was different from other children. I had trouble tying my shoes, and coordinating my clothes, and I had no idea what C-A-T spelled once the teacher took away the picture. My brain was said to be a sieve rather than a sponge – I was the child who lost the information rather than retained it.

​I stayed in kindergarten until I was really too old to be there and finally was asked to leave the school. This became a pattern that repeated itself throughout my learning years.

​At eleven I was told I was word-blind. This was before anyone mentioned the un-sayable, un-teachable, un-spellable word dyslexia, which, hey-ho, even to this day I can’t spell!

​I eventually ended up in a school for maladjusted children because there was no other school that would take me. I suppose this was the equivalent of what now would be a school for kids with ASBOs. I had been classified as “unteachable” but at the age of fourteen, when everyone had given up hope, I learned to read.

​The first book I read was “Wuthering Heights” and after that no one could stop me. My mother, bless her cotton socks, said that if I got five O-levels I could go to art school, and much to my teachers’ chagrin, I did just that. At art school I shot from the bottom to the top like a little rocket.

​I left Central St. Martin’s Art School with a First Class Honours degree and then went to Newcastle University Theatre, where I worked as a theatre designer. One of the first shows I worked on was The Good Woman of Szechuan by Bertolt Brecht which transferred to the Royal Court Theatre.

​After that I spent 15 years in the theatre, but gave up working as a set designer because I found my dyslexia to be a problem when drawing up technical plans for the sets. Instead I concentrated on costumes.

​Ironically, when I went into writing, where I assumed my dyslexia would be a true disability, it turned out to be the start of something amazing. I was more than blessed to meet an editor, Judith Elliot, who was to play an important part in my journey to being a writer.

I strongly believe that dyslexia is like a Rubik’s Cube: it takes time to work out how to deal with it but once you do, it can be the most wonderful gift.

​The problem with dyslexia for many young people – and I can identify with this – is that their confidence is so damaged by the negativity of their teachers and their peers that it takes a very strong character to come out of the educational system smiling.

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BUY THE BOOK:

Waterstones | Amazon | Bookshop.org

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Thanks for reading Bibliophiles xxx

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

*All purchase links are affiliate links

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book reviews Emma's Anticipated Treasures

REVIEW: The Toll House by Carly Reagon

Published: October 6th, 2022
Publisher: Sphere
Genre: Ghost Story, Suspense, Thriller, Historical Fiction, Horror Fiction
Format: Hardcover, Kindle, Audiobook

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SYNOPSIS:
The spine-tingling ghost story everyone is raving about.

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The past isn’t always dead and buried.

A house with history. That’s how the estate agent described the old toll house on the edge of the town. For Kelda it’s the perfect rural home for her young son Dylan after a difficult few years.

But when Kelda finds a death mask concealed behind one of the walls, everything changes. Inexplicable things happen in the house, Kelda cannot shake the feeling of being watched and Dylan is plagued by nightmares, convinced he can see figures in his room. As Dylan’s behaviour becomes increasingly challenging, Kelda seeks answers in the house’s mysterious past. But she’s running out of time.

Because something has awoken.

And now it won’t rest . . .

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MY REVIEW:

“There’s something about this house… It feels weird… the house sort of feels alive.”

Kelda moves into the old toll house wth her six-year-old son, Dylan.  The rural home seems like the ideal place for a fresh start after a difficult few years, but when Kelda finds an old death mask hidden in a wall she is no longer so sure.  Then Dylan’s nightmares start, the young boy terrified of the figures he says he sees in his room, Kelda can’t shake the feeling she’s being watched and there are strange smells and a chill that they can’t erase.  Could there be something supernatural in their home?  And if so, what does it want?  Desperate for answers, Kelda begins to look into the mysterious past of the toll house to try and find out before it’s too late…

Unnerving, sinister and mesmerising, The Toll House is an outstanding debut.  I lost myself in its pages, so captivated by the creeping horror that I lost track of time and devoured ¾ of the book in one sitting and then thinking it might not have been the best idea to read such a scary story before heading to bed at 3am.  

“She was drowning in sorrow, in the terror of what had happened here, of whatever was lurking within these four walls.” 

Exquisitely written, the story starts steadily before building to an unbearable tension that sends shivers down your spine.  The characters are richly drawn and compelling, Kelda and Dylan are so easy to like and feel for while Joe is a more mysterious character that I became increasingly unsure of as the story went on.  The narration moves seamlessly between the past and present, its dual timelines adding an extra layer of suspense as the restless spirits of the past slowly reveal themselves, unravelling the truth of what is happening to Kelda and Dylan in the present.  I was on the edge of my seat, reading in breathless anticipation as it headed towards the jaw-dropping finale.  

So if you’re looking for an atmospheric, chilling and unsettling read for the spooky season, this is the book for you.  Nerve-jangling and hypnotic, The Toll House showcases Carly Reagon as a phenomenal new talent and an author to watch.  I’m excited to see what she writes next and will be buying it without hesitation after this magnificent debut.

Rating: ✮✮✮✮✮

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MEET THE AUTHOR:

Carly Reagon is a writer and lecturer in healthcare sciences from Wales. Her work is inspired by her love of history, the rolling Welsh countryside, and all things spooky. In 2017 Carly completed the six month online novel writing course with Curtis Brown Creative and in 2019 she was shortlisted for the Lucy Cavendish Fiction Prize. 

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BUY THE BOOK:

Waterstones | Amazon | Bookshop.org

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Thanks for reading Bibliophiles 😊 Emma xxx

*All purchase links are affiliate links

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Blog Tours book reviews

BLOG TOUR: The Maids of Biddenden by GD Harper

Published: May 2nd, 2022
Publisher: Ginger Cat
Genre: Historical Fiction
Format: Paperback, Kindle

Welcome to my stop on the blog tour for this extraordinary tale, The Maids of Biddenden. Thank you to Anne at Random Things Tours for the invitation to take part and to Ginger Cat for the gifted copy of the book.

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MY REVIEW:

‘There is no me; there is no you.
There is only us.’

The Maids of Biddenden is inspired by the real-life story of conjoined twins Mary and Eliza Chulkhurst, born in 1100 into a wealthy family from a small Kent village.

Joined at the hip, the sisters overcome fear and hostility to grow into gifted and much-loved women – one a talented musician and song-writer, the other a caring healer and grower of medicinal plants. Entangled in the struggles for power and influence of the great Kent nobles of the time, they achieve much in their lifetimes and leave behind a legacy in Biddenden that survives to this day.

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MY REVIEW:

“Bishop Gundulf had told her of the abbey’s dark secret. And, since then, the thought of it has accompanied her ever waking moment. Today she would see it in the flesh. It. She. They? What was best? Soon she would know.”

Two young ladies.  Two minds.  But one body.  Meet Eliza and Mary Chulkhurst, the Maids of Biddenden.  

This fascinating novel is inspired by the real-life story of conjoined twins born in a small Kentish village in 1100.  Born joined at the hip, the sisters were not expected to survive and were taken to the local abbey to live out their short lives.  But these remarkable girls overcame expectations and flourished, living to 34 years of age and leaving behind a legacy that remains to this day.

Until I received the invitation to this blog tour I had never heard of the Maids of Biddenden but I was immediately intrigued.  How would people of the twelfth century react to conjoined twins?  And what kind of life were they able to live?  Author GD Harper answers these questions and more, skillfully and evocatively bringing Eliza and Mary’s story to life.  

“We were observers of each other’s world and it was wonderful these worlds were different. God ordained that our bodies were bound together, but not our minds. Our minds soared off in different ways, giving us a degree of freedom from each other.”

I was enthralled by these extraordinary women and lost myself in their story.  When we first meet them they are just six-years-old and live hidden from view at the abbey, knowing nothing of the outside world.  We follow them as they return to live with their family, discover the world outside the abbey’s walls and the prejudice of people who have never before seen conjoined twins.  They face unique struggles which we watch them overcome to achieve things that nobody ever expected: Eliza becoming a talented musician and song-writer and Mary becoming a great and renowned healer.  Harper provides insight into the Maids’ innermost thoughts and dreams, allowing the reader to really connect with and feel for them.  What struck me most about Eliza and Mary was not only their strength, but their individuality, something many didn’t see, expecting them to be the same person in mind as well as body.  But they couldn’t be more different from one another, something that poses its own set of challenges that they conquer with the same tenacity as every other obstacle in their path.  

Captivating, uplifting and moving, this is a story that will stay with you long after reading.  A book I would highly recommend. 

Rating: ✮✮✮✮✰

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MEET THE AUTHOR:

GD Harper is a past winner of a Wishing Shelf Red Ribbon Book Award, and was shortlisted for the Lightship Prize for first-time authors and longlisted for the Page Turner Book Award and the UK Novel Writing Award.

His first historical novel, ‘The Maids of Biddenden’, has already been shortlisted for the 2021 Impress Award, longlisted for the 2021 Exeter Novel Prize, the 2021 Cheshire Novel Prize and the Flash 500 Novel Award, and was a 2021 Page Turner Writer Award finalist.

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BUY THE BOOK

Waterstones | Amazon | Bookshop.org

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Thanks for reading Bibliophiles 😊 Emma xxx

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

*All purchase links are affiliate links

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Blog Tours book reviews

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.

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Blog Tours book reviews Emma's Anticipated Treasures

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 Tours book reviews

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

*All purchase links are affiliate links