Categories
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.

********

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.

********

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: ✮✮✮✮✮

********

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.

********

BUY THE BOOK:

Waterstones* | Amazon* | Bookshop.org*
*These are affiliate links

********

Thanks for reading Bibliophiles 😊 Emma xxxx

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

Categories
Blog Tours book reviews Emma's Anticipated Treasures

BLOG TOUR: The Marsh House by Zoe Somerville

Published: March 3rd 2022
Publisher: Apollo
Genre: Historical Fiction, Suspense, Thriller, Historical Romance, Psychological Fiction, Coming-of-Age Story
Format: Hardcover, Kindle, Audiobook

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

********

SYNOPSIS:

Part ghost story, part novel of suspense The Marsh House is the haunting second novel from the author of The Night of the Flood where two women, separated by decades, are drawn together by one, mysterious house on the North Norfolk coast.

December, 1962. Desperate to create a happy Christmas for her young daughter, Franny, after a disastrous year, Malorie rents a remote house on the Norfolk coast. But once there, the strained silence between them feels louder than ever. As Malorie digs for decorations in the attic, she comes across the notebooks of the teenaged Rosemary, who lived in the house thirty years before. Trapped inside by a blizzard, and with long days and nights ahead of her, Malorie begins to read. Though she knows she needs to focus on the present, she finds herself inexorably drawn into the past…

July, 1931. Rosemary lives in the Marsh House with her austere father, surrounded by unspoken truths and rumours. So when the glamorous Lafferty family moves to the village, she succumbs easily to their charm. Dazzled by the beautiful Hilda and her dashing brother, Franklin, Rosemary fails to see the danger that lurks beneath their bright façades…

As Malorie reads Rosemary’s diary, past and present begin to merge in this moving story of mothers and daughters, family obligation and deeply buried secrets.

********

MY REVIEW:

“No-one had lived in the house for years afore they arrived last winter. Not since all that fuss in thirty-four… I weren’t surprised to see her though.  Oh, no, it was her all right. We’d been waiting for her.”

OMG. This book! I expected it to be good after hearing so much praise for Zoe Somerville’s debut novel, but I was unprepared for the chilling gothic masterpiece that lurked between these pages.  I inhaled this book in one sitting, staying up until 3am in a desperate need for answers.  It was totally worth it and I have no doubt that this will make it into my top books of the year when December rolls around.

December 1962.  Malorie has rented a remote house on the Norfolk coast hoping to create a magical and memorable Christmas for her daughter Franny after a difficult year.  Known as The Marsh House, its eerie atmosphere looms over them from the moment they cross the threshold.  While looking for Christmas decorations in the attic they come across an old suitcase filled with papers and notebooks.  Upon closer inspection, Malorie discovers that the notebooks are the diaries of Rosemary Wright, a teenage girl who lived at the house thirty years earlier.  Curiosity taking over, Malorie begins to read and becomes fixated on the mysterious past of this young girl.  But what secrets are waiting to be uncovered inside Rosemary’s diaries?

“I knew she’d found something and what she’d be looking for.  She wanted evidence.  Proof.  Facts.  As if it would all be there for her and she could lay it all out and it would make sense.  But it’s never as simple as that.  The graves are elsewhere.  The bones are dust.  It’s not graves that tell you a history, a story of a life. That’s much harder to find, but if you know where to look, you can find it.  It will reveal itself.”

The Marsh House is literary gothic fiction at its best.  The perfect combination of lyrical prose, page turning plot, chilling atmosphere and gripping tension, this haunting tale had me on the edge of my seat from beginning to end.  Creepily claustrophobic and almost dreamlike in places, there is a sense of the otherworldly about it.  The snow storm adds to the sense of isolation and increases the fear when strange and inexplicable occurrences begin to make Marlorie question her own sanity.  
Zoe Somerivlle is a gifted storyteller and the style of this book was spot on for me.  I loved the short, cryptic chapters from an unknown narrator who is watching Malorie and Franny and Rosemary’s diary was an inspired choice that brought Rosemary alive and allowed us to connect with her.  Just like Malorie I was enthralled and desperate to know what happened next in her story.   The story moves between the two timelines smoothly, punctuated by the short chapters from the mysterious narrator that sent shivers down my spine each time they appeared.  There was no chance of me putting this book down until I had all the answers. 

Malorie and Rosemary are great narrators who capture the imagination and hold you in the palm of their hand as the story unfolds.  They are fascinating, flawed and real, a whole world of heartbreak, fear, regret and guilt to be found in these women.  And their internal conflict and pain is told so vividly that I could feel it in my own soul.  From the start we know Malorie believes there to be a connection between her father and Marsh House so I spent the book looking for clues and trying to guess how he might be connected.  I had my theories, one of which was correct, but what I loved is how the author creates just enough doubt to make you second guess and not feel sure until the moment just before the big reveal, adding to the mystery and suspense.  

“There was something rotten that had been hiding in front of her and it was revealing itself.”

Mesmerising, chilling and immersive, this is a clear your schedule and read it in one sitting kind of book.  An easy five stars from me, I can’t recommend it highly enough.  I will be reading Zoe’s first book as soon as possible and am excited to watch this talented author’s star undoubtedly rise. 

Rating: ✮✮✮✮✮

********

MEET THE AUTHOR:

Zoë Somerville is originally from Norfolk, but has settled with her husband and children in the West Country. She works as an English teacher. Zoë began her debut novel, The Night of the Flood on the Bath Spa Creative Writing MA in 2016. It was published in September 2020. Her second novel, The Marsh House, a ghost story and mystery is published in March 2022. She is currently writing her third novel.

********

BUY THE BOOK:

Waterstones*| Amazon*| Bookshop.org*
*These are affiliate links

********

Thanks for reading Bibliophiles 😊 Emma xxx

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

Categories
Blog Tours book reviews

BLOG TOUR: A Royal Murder by Verity Bright (Lady Eleanor Swift Mystery Book 9)

Published: February 28th 2022
Publisher: Bookouture
Genre: Cozy Mystery, Historical Mystery, Historical Romance, Historical Comedy
Format: Paperback, Kindle, Audiobook

Welcome to my stop on the blog tour for this lively and entertaining romp. Thank you to Bookouture for the invitation to take part and the eBook ARC.

********

SYNOPSIS:

At the royal boat race there are beautiful barges, plenty of bunting, a handsome prince and… is that a body in the water? Lady Swift is on the case!

Spring, 1923. One-time adventurer and now amateur sleuth Lady Eleanor Swift is attending the annual royal regatta with her new pal Tipsy Fitzroy. Tipsy has Eleanor trussed up like a debutante in a new dress, determined to turn her into a proper society lady. Even Eleanor’s favourite companion, Gladstone the bulldog, has a new outfit for the occasion.

But the sparkling prize-giving ceremony is interrupted when the devilishly handsome host gulps his glass of champagne on stage and collapses to the floor. The victim is none other than the king’s cousin, Lord Xander Taylor-Howard. He was rumoured to be entangled in a rather dubious gambling ring, but did someone kill him instead of collecting his debt? Or was this simply an ill-timed tragic accident? Either way, a right royal scandal is afoot…

Sir Percival, the head of the royal police, asks Eleanor for her help investigating. He’d do anything to keep the story under wraps. She knows it will get her into hot water with a certain dapper Detective Seldon, but she’s determined to see justice done. However, as she digs deeper, she learns Lord Taylor-Howard was hiding more than one murky secret. It isn’t until she takes a closer look at the unfortunate royal’s shattered champagne flute that she stumbles upon just the clue she needs. But can she reel in the killer before her ship is sunk too?

A warm and witty 1920s mystery that cozy fans will just adore. Addictive reading for fans of T E Kinsey, Lee Strauss and Agatha Christie.

********

MY REVIEW:

We’re back for another fun romp with my favourite aristocratic amateur sleuth.  For the ninth instalment in their Lady Eleanor Swift series, Verity Bright transport us back to Spring 1923 and the annual royal regatta, which Eleanor is attending with her new friend, Tipsy Fitzroy.  Tipsy is determined to turn Eleanor into a ‘proper’ Lady and find her a suitable man at the event.  But all thoughts of love and propriety are swiftly forgotten when Lord Xander Taylor-Howard, a minor member of the royal family, collapses at the prize-giving ceremony.  Though initially reluctant, Eleanor soon finds herself drawn into the investigation into Xander’s death, trying to identify the suspect and avoid a royal scandal.  But someone doesn’t appreciate Eleanor’s investigations and once again she finds herself in danger…

I have come to view this series as a real comfort read and it was the beginning of my journey into reading cosy mysteries, which I’d always previously thought would be too tame for my dark crime-loving soul.  The characters are a delight and I love the relationship between Lady Eleanor and her butler Clifford.  This witty crime-solving duo never fails to entertain me while keeping me glued to their latest mystery.  I am also deeply invested in her burgeoning romance with Chief Inspector Hugh Sleddon, which I’m hoping will head towards the happily-ever-after they deserve. 

Once again I was glued to the pages as Eleanor finds herself embroiled in yet another murder investigation.  The poor woman can’t seem to go anywhere without a dead body turning up!  This time she’s doing it for King and country as she tries to help avoid a royal scandal after the poisoning of a maverick minor royal.  Xander was charming but left a trail of potential scandal behind him, leaving a myriad of possible killers and motives.  It’s a tangled web to unravel, but if anyone can do it it’s Eleanor and Clifford.  I loved how much this story twisted and turned, taking me by surprise and revealing truths I never even considered.  

If you’re looking for a murder mystery that is also lively, witty and uplifting then pick up this book.  

Rating: ✮✮✮✮✰

********

MEET THE AUTHOR:

Confident woman at office with laptop computer, mobile phone, and schedule notebook.Gradients, Blending tool, Clipping mask is used.

Verity Bright is the pseudonym for a husband-and-wife writing partnership that has spanned a quarter of a century. Starting out writing high-end travel articles and books, they published everything from self-improvement to humour, before embarking on their first historical mystery. They are the authors of the fabulous Lady Eleanor Swift Mystery series, set in the 1920s.

********

BUY THE BOOK:

Amazon*
*This is an affiliate link

********

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

Thanks for reading Bibliophiles ☺️ Emma xxx

Categories
Blog Tours book reviews

BLOG TOUR: The Language of Food by Annabel Abbs

Published: February 3rd 2022
Publisher: Simon & Schuster UK
Genre: Historical Fiction, Historical Romance
Format: Hardcover, Kindle, Audiobook

Welcome to my stop on the blog tour for this exquisite and beautiful novel. Thank you to Anne at Random Things Tours for the invitation to take part and Simon & Schuster UK for the gorgeous gifted ARC.

********

SYNOPSIS:

Eliza Acton, despite having never before boiled an egg, became one of the world’s most successful cookery writers, revolutionizing cooking and cookbooks around the world. Her story is fascinating, uplifting and truly inspiring.

Told in alternate voices by the award-winning author of The Joyce Girl, and with recipes that leap to life from the page, The Language of Food by Annabel Abbs is the most thought-provoking and page-turning historical novel you’ll read this year, exploring the enduring struggle for female freedom, the power of female friendship, the creativity and quiet joy of cooking and the poetry of food, all while bringing Eliza Action out of the archives and back into the public eye.

********

MY REVIEW:

“Neat and elegant, Miss Acton. Bring me a cookery book as neat and elegant as your poems.”

The Language of Food tells the story of Eliza Acton, the woman who wrote what became known as the greatest British cookbook of all time. It follows her as she and her assistant, Ann Kirby, spend ten years creating the now-famous recipes. But it is so much more than a book about food and poetry.  It is a story of strength, endurance, friendship and self-discovery that you won’t be able to put down.

“I have started to see poetry in the strangest of things: from the roughest nub of nutmeg to the pale parsnip seamed with soil. And this has made me wonder if I can write a cookery book that includes the truth and beauty of poetry.”

I’m not going to lie, a big part of the reason I wanted to read this book was the cover.  I mean, look at it!  It is simply beautiful.  And I was delighted to find that inside the book was something every bit as breathtaking as it’s cover.  

This delicious story is a readers and food lover’s paradise. Annabel Abbs is an exquisite wordsmith and storyteller, writing like a dream with lyrical and poetic prose that is woven together like the delicate folding of ingredients in a cake recipe.  I was completely immersed and lost myself in the story, torn between wanting to savour each word like I would a luxury box of chocolates and needing to read it quickly so it sated my hunger.  I loved how she combined fact with fiction so seamlessly that it was impossible to tell where one ends and another begins.  Her vivid imagery transported me back in time to Victorian England, the tantalising whispers of scandal kept me guessing and the descriptions of food made my mouth water and stomach rumble; I wanted to eat everything! Well, almost everything (I’m not sure about eel or badger ham). 

“There was something else about her too.  A poignancy I can’t explain.  A feeling that we are united in some odd and intricate way.”

Told in alternating chapters, this is a narrative driven by the thoughts, desires, actions and choices of two strong, captivating, complex and memorable female characters. They make unlikely friends, coming from such different backgrounds that they wouldn’t even recognise the life the other lived:  Eliza raised as a lady in a wealthy family with a father that indulged her dreams while Ann lives in poverty trying to juggle survival with caring for a disabled, alcoholic father and a mother with severe mental health issues. But despite their apparent differences, they are also very alike. Both women possess an underlying strength that carries them through the darkest of times, go against societal expectations, and discover a shared talent and passion for cooking.  I loved watching their bond blossom as they figured out their new roles in life side by side and seeing the kindness with which Eliza treats Ann even though she is one of her servants, allowing the girl to feel like she has value for the first time in her life.  I knew nothing about this cookbook or these characters before starting this book but after reading I feel like they could be my closest friends, the author writing them so evocatively that they sprang to life from the pages. Eliza was a woman ahead of her time and I can see why she remains an inspiration for modern cooks to this day.  

Decadent, sensuous, enthralling and heartwarming, The Language of Food is, quite simply, a work of art.  A luscious feast for the imagination that will stir all of your senses, I can’t recommend this highly enough.  Now I’m off to buy the author’s back catalogue!

Rating: ✮✮✮✮✮

********

MEET THE AUTHOR:

Annabel Abbs is the award-winning author of The Joyce Girl, a fictionalised story of Lucia Joyce, daughter of James, and her relationship with Samuel Beckett. It won the Impress Prize for New Writers and the Spotlight Novel Award, and was longlisted for the Bath Novel Award, the Caledonia Novel Award and the Waverton Good Read Award. The Joyce Girl was a Reader Pick in The Guardian 2016 and was one of ten books selected for presentation at the 2017 Berlin Film Festival, where it was given Five Stars by the Hollywood Reporter. It is currently being adapted for stage and screen.

Her second novel, Frieda, is a fictionalised story of Frieda Weekely, the German aristocrat who eloped with DH Lawrence and who was the inspiration for Lady Chatterley. It was a 2018 Times Book of the Year. Her 2019 non-fiction book, The Age-Well Project, explores the latest science of longevity and has been serialised in the Guardian and The Daily Mail.

Her journalism has appeared in The Guardian, The Telegraph, The Irish Times, Tatler, The Author, Sydney Morning Herald, The Weekend Australian Review, Psychologies and Elle Magazine.

She earned a BA in creative writing from the University of East Anglia, where she now sponsors a post-graduate scholarship in creative writing, and an MA from Kingston. She was born in Bristol, and now lives in London and East Sussex.

********

BUY THE BOOK:

Waterstones* | Amazon*| Bookshop.org* | Blackwells (gorgeous indie edition with sprayed edges)
*These are affiliate links

********

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

Thanks for reading Bibliophiles ☺️ Emma xxx

Categories
book reviews Emma's Anticipated Treasures Squadpod Book Club Squadpod Recommends

SquadPod Book Club Review: The Wolf Den by Elodie Harper

Published: May 13th, 2021
Publisher: Head of Zeus
Genre: Historical Fiction, Historical Romance, Greek Mythology
Format: Hardcover, Kindle, Audio

Better late than never. I’m finally sharing my review for The Wolf Den, the magnificent story that was the first Squadpod Book Club read in the summer. Thank you to Head of Zeus for the gifted ARC.

SYNOPSIS:

Sold by her mother. Enslaved in Pompeii’s brothel. Determined to survive. Her name is Amara. Welcome to the Wolf Den…

Amara was once a beloved daughter, until her father’s death plunged her family into penury. Now she is a slave in Pompeii’s infamous brothel, owned by a man she despises. Sharp, clever and resourceful, Amara is forced to hide her talents. For now her only value lies in the desire she can stir in others.

But Amara’s spirit is far from broken. By day, she walks the streets with the Wolf Den’s other women, finding comfort in the laughter and dreams they share. For the streets of Pompeii are alive with opportunity. Out here, even the lowest slave can secure a reversal in fortune. Amara has learnt that everything in this city has its price. But how much is her freedom going to cost her?

Set in Pompeii’s lupanar, The Wolf Den is the first in a trilogy of novels reimagining the lives of women who have long been overlooked. Perfect for fans of Pat Barker’s The Silence of the Girls and Madeline Miller’s Circe.

********

MY REVIEW:

Sold by her mother. Enslaved in Pompeii’s brothel. Determined to survive. Her name is Amara. Welcome to the Wolf Den…

The Wolf Den is an absolute masterpiece. Lush, atmospheric and mesmerising, it gives a voice to the voiceless women lost to the sands of history. Told by Amara, a young woman sold into slavery after her family fell into poverty and now forced to be one of the she-wolves at Pompeii’s infamous brothel, this is a story of friendship, jealousy, betrayal, revenge and survival.

I luxuriated in the exquisite storytelling of this book. This ancient tale is told with a modern voice, bringing the story to life in a way that is relatable and compelling. The evocative scene setting brought the story alive and transported me back to the doomed city of Pompeii as vividly as if I were walking the dusty streets myself. The brutality and precariousness of life at the time is vividly depicted through a broad spectrum of society, from the seedy to the opulent, reminding us your fortunes could change in an instant, taking you from freedom to slavery. Meticulously researched, the author’s vivid descriptions and attention to detail illustrates her passion for the history of Pompeii and to allow those who were silenced for centuries to finally have their voices heard.

“And you would, wouldn’t you? Tear them all apart.”

The characters are richly drawn, vivacious and charismatic. They have that spark that makes you care and root for them. There is a sisterhood shared by the she-wolves, each one ready to defend the other no matter what. This book was our first Squadpod Book Club read and Clare described the she-wolves as the ‘early Squadpod’, which I thought was perfect. Each of them possess strength, tenacity and vulnerability, as well as a sensuality and wiliness that they rely on to survive. As women and slaves they were especially powerless and I liked that we saw the hard choices they had to make and unpaletable things they are forced to do in order to survive.

“She gets better at pretending, but Amara is never satisfied. The desire to escape takes hold, its roots digging under her skin, breaking her apart.”

I loved Amara and thought she was a great choice for the narrator. Though she is now a slave, she is a doctor’s daughter and an educated woman, something that sets her apart from many of the other women. And while Felix may own her body, he doesn’t own her spirit, the embers of rage burning in her alongside an unquenchable determination. I liked her immediately and found her easy to root for, even when she was unlikable.

Sumptuous, enthralling and unflinching, The Wolf Den is a phenomenal start to an exciting new trilogy. The jaw-dropping ending left me desperate for more and counting down to the release of part two next May. A triumph of historical fiction that fans of the genre shouldn’t miss. Go read it now!

Rating: ✮✮✮✮✮

********

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.

********

BUY THE BOOK:

Waterstones* | Bookshop.org* | Amazon* | Google Books | Apple Books |Kobo
*These are affiliate links

********

Thanks for reading Bibliophiles😊 Emma xxx

Categories
Blog Tours Q&A

Blog Tour: Q&A with Fiona Valpy

Happy Monday Bibliophiles! Today I’m delighted to be sharing a Q&A with author Fiona Valpy as part of the blog tour for her latest novel, The Storyteller of Casablanca, which is published tomorrow.

What drew you to writing? Had you always wanted to become a novelist?

From early childhood I’d always been an avid reader and lived in a home filled with books. Often, I would finish a book and think ‘I wish I could have written that’, but all my time was filled with my career and motherhood until we made a move to France. There, I found both inspiration and the time to write my first books. Now I can’t imagine my life without writing.

What made you want to shift from contemporary fiction to historical fiction?

While the countryside and contemporary culture of France were the initial inspiration for my writing, the country’s history – especially the legacy of being occupied during World War 2 – are all-pervasive and soon claimed my attention.

I still wanted to include a contemporary slant to my books, though, and so I began writing dual timeline novels. There’s a challenge in finding the connection between two separate eras and pulling them together in a way that’s convincing. I love the sense of interweaving two storylines which may seemed disconnected at first, but which later converge. And of course, our histories are such a part of who we are today.

What is it about the Second World War that you think readers are so fascinated by?

It’s still just within living memory for some, although of course that generation is slipping away fast and so there’s a sense of urgency in recording their first-hand testimonies and making sure their voices will still be heard as the years go by. We’ve also reached new milestones in terms of documents being de-classified and information released, allowing previously unknown facts to come to light and enabling new interpretations of wartime events.

While subsequent generations have been fortunate to live in a time of peace, life can still be challenging, and I believe we can learn a great deal from understanding how others have suffered and faced up to difficulties. In particular, in some ways the war gave women an opportunity to break free of the limitations society placed on them and prove themselves in new ways, playing their part in the fight against oppression.

I believe women are incredibly resilient and have qualities that are absolutely vital in today’s world – not just strength and endurance, but also kindness and compassion. I hope my books help women to see themselves in this light.

What research did you do for The Storyteller of Casablanca?

I’d organised a research trip to Morocco but the global pandemic stymied those plans. So I had to find other ways to fill in the gaps and ensure I could still transport the reader to that other time and place. I studied travel guides and pored over maps, but also read more widely and around my subject, including novels by Driss ChraÏbi (The Simple Past), Paul Bowles (The Sheltering Sky) and Anthony Doerr’s Africa-based short stories (The Shell Collector). Meredith Hindley’s book Destination Casablanca offered a wealth of insight into the city during the war years and Hal Vaughn’s FDR’s 12 Apostles was a useful source of detail about the establishment of espionage networks in North Africa prior to US invasion in November 1943.

Videos on YouTube helped me visit the sights and souks, and the internet offered up additional information on some of the real-life characters that appear in the book, including the inspirational Josephine Baker and Hélêne Cazês-Bénatar. Other such characters, like Dorothy Ellis, proved to be frustratingly elusive despite all my research efforts though, so I hope I have done her justice.

In The Storyteller of Casablanca there are many different stories told in different ways. Can you tell us a little more about this?

I’ve included storytelling in many different forms in the book – there’s everything from Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre and the murder mysteries of Dorothy L. Sayers, La Fontaine’s Fables, and traditional African and Berber Folk Stories, to the Tales from the Thousand and One Nights.

It’s one of the key themes of the book. I wanted to explore how the stories we tell are an important part of our history and at the same time can inspire and shape our future, as well as illustrating the common ground between different cultures in the past and present. There’s a universality in the human need to tell our stories and make our voices heard that transcends borders, cultures, race, religion, age and gender.

What’s next for you?

I’m working on a novel set in Italy during World War 2 at the moment, as well as revising my first three books (The French for… series of contemporary novels) which are to be re-issued in the coming year, so my writing continues to keep my busy!

********

I don’t know about you, but this interview has made me even more excited to read The Storyteller of Casablanca. Still not sure? Well here’s some more info to whet you’re appetite…

SYNOPSIS:

In this evocative tale from the bestselling author of The Dressmaker’s Gift, a strange new city offers a young girl hope. Can it also offer a lost soul a second chance?

Morocco, 1941. With France having fallen to Nazi occupation, twelve-year-old Josie has fled with her family to Casablanca, where they await safe passage to America. Life here is as intense as the sun, every sight, smell and sound overwhelming to the senses in a city filled with extraordinary characters. It’s a world away from the trouble back home—and Josie loves it.

Seventy years later, another new arrival in the intoxicating port city, Zoe, is struggling—with her marriage, her baby daughter and her new life as an expat in an unfamiliar place. But when she discovers a small wooden box and a diary from the 1940s beneath the floorboards of her daughter’s bedroom, Zoe enters the inner world of young Josie, who once looked out on the same view of the Atlantic Ocean, but who knew a very different Casablanca.

It’s not long before Zoe begins to see her adopted city through Josie’s eyes. But can a new perspective help her turn tragedy into hope, and find the comfort she needs to heal her broken heart?

You can buy the book here

********

MEET THE AUTHOR:

Fiona is an acclaimed number 1 bestselling author, whose books have been translated into more than twenty different languages worldwide.

She draws inspiration from the stories of strong women, especially during the years of World War II. Her meticulous historical research enriches her writing with an evocative sense of time and place.

She spent seven years living in France, having moved there from the UK in 2007, before returning to live in Scotland. Her love for both of these countries, their people and their histories, has found its way into the books she’s written.

********

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

Thank you to FMcM Associates for the invitation to take part in the tour and the gifted copy of the book. And a special thank you to Fiona Valpy for taking the time to answer these questions.

Thanks for reading Bibliophiles ☺️ Emma xxx

Categories
Blog Tours book reviews Emma's Anticipated Treasures

Blog Tour: The Fair Botanists by Sara Sheridan

Published: August 5th, 2021
Publisher: Hodder & Stoughton
Genre: Historical Fiction, Historical Romance, Adventure Fiction
Format: Hardcover, Kindle, Audio

Welcome to my stop on the blog tour for this exquisite novel. Thank you to Steven at Hodder for the invitation to take part and the gifted finished copy.

********

SYNOPSIS:

Could one rare plant hold the key to a thousand riches?

It’s the summer of 1822 and Edinburgh is abuzz with rumours of King George IV’s impending visit. In botanical circles, however, a different kind of excitement has gripped the city. In the newly-installed Botanic Garden, the Agave Americana plant looks set to flower – an event that only occurs once every few decades.

When newly widowed Elizabeth arrives in Edinburgh to live with her late husband’s aunt Clementina, she’s determined to put her unhappy past in London behind her. As she settles into her new home, she becomes fascinated by the beautiful Botanic Garden which borders the grand house and offers her services as an artist to record the rare plant’s impending bloom. In this pursuit, she meets Belle Brodie, a vivacious young woman with a passion for botany and the lucrative, dark art of perfume creation.

Belle is determined to keep both her real identity and the reason for her interest the Garden secret from her new friend. But as Elizabeth and Belle are about to discover, secrets don’t last long in this Enlightenment city . . .

And when they are revealed, they can carry the greatest of consequences.

********

MY REVIEW:

“There is mischief afoot…”

Sumptuous and sensual, The Fair Botanists is an intoxicating blend of secrets, skullduggery, friendship, passion and empowerment. So beautifully crafted that every sentence reads like a work of art, this book is one to savor, and I luxuriated in it as I slowly drank in every luscious word.

The thing I love most about historical fiction is how it transports you back in time, something the author expertly does with this novel. . She has taken historical and reimagined characters and combined them with real history and moments she created to bring 1820s Edinburgh to life and create a world that is evocative, alluring and authentic. I knew nothing about the events of the story, or about botany, but the author writes with such rich detail that her meticulous research, vast knowledge and passion is both evident and infectious. I never imagined I’d care about the blooming of a plant or its seeds, but the author had me so invested that I was excited to see the Agave Americana – also known as the Century Plant – flower and on tenterhooks waiting to see who’s scheme would be successful. 

“Why must it be women who shoulder the shame and not men? Why is it so shocking that she might choose her own path and be perfectly happy along it?”

The story centers around two female characters, Belle and Elizabeth, who become unlikely friends. I adored these fascinating women and how the author explored female empowerment and challenged society’s expectations through them in different ways, giving a voice to those who were silenced in history. Belle is a feisty, strong, independent and determined woman who refuses to conform to society’s expectations. She is a courtesan who also makes money from her secret passion – botany – and dreams of finding financial freedom by concocting a love potion. I loved how she challenges patriarchal society and refuses to apologise for who she is. And the description of her as “an attractive but determined fairy general” is not only utterly brilliant, but one that will stay with me. She’s a bad-ass woman who I would love to be friends with. Elizabeth is much more subdued but through her friendship with Belle she finds strength and a new life that she never dreamed she deserved. I enjoyed watching as she blossomed, just like the famous plant, coming into bloom and finding herself as the story progressed. The author also filled the story with an array of vibrant background characters that I enjoyed, each one inextricably linked with the Botanical Gardens and Century Plant.

Dazzling, evocative, intricate and absorbing, The Fair Botanists is an exquisite piece of historical fiction. I was so completely immersed in the story and lives of these characters that I never wanted to leave and felt bereft when it was finished. I can’t recommend this enough to anyone who enjoys the genre. 

Rating: ✮✮✮✮.5

********

MEET THE AUTHOR:

Sara Sheridan is a writer and activist who is interested particularly in female history. She has written more than 20 books.

Truth or Dare, her first novel received a Scottish Library Award and was shortlisted for the Saltire. Her novel On Starlit Seas, was shortlisted for the Wilbur Smith Prize in 2017. An occasional journalist, Sara has reported for BBC Radio 4’s From Our Own Correspondent and on ‘being a lady’ for Women’s Hour. In 2019 Sara re mapped Scotland according to women’s history for Historic Environment Scotland – the resulting book Where are the Women was listed as one of the David Hume Institute’s Books of the year 2019. In it, she imagined several monuments to the witches.

Sara mentors fledgling writers for the Scottish Book Trust and has sat on the board of several writers’ organisations. In 2015, Sophie McKay Knight’s portrait of Sara garnered media and critical attention at the National Gallery of Scotland.

********

BUY THE BOOK:

Waterstones*| Bookshop.org*| Amazon | Google Books| Apple Books| Kobo
*These are affiliate links

********

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

Thanks for reading Bibliophiles😊 Emma xxx

Categories
Blog Tours book reviews

Blog Tour: Suspects by Lesley Pearse

Published: June 24th, 2021
Publisher: Michael Joseph
Genre: Historical Fiction, Historical Mystery, Saga, Thriller, Mystery, Domestic Fiction, Romance Novel, Historical Romance
Format: Hardcover, Kindle, Audio

Welcome to my stop on the blog tour for this entertaining whodunnit. Thank you to Megan at Midas PR for the invitation to take part and to Michael Joseph for the gifted ARC.

********

SYNOPSIS:

What do you do when your dream home becomes your worst nightmare?
_______

Welcome to Willow Close, where everyone is a suspect . . .

On the day Nina and Conrad Best move into their new home in picture-perfect Willow Close, a body is discovered.

Hurrying inside with their belongings, they see horrified neighbours gather around the police cordon – one of the residents has been attacked and brutally killed in the woods.

When police start to interview the residents of the Close, they soon discover each neighbour harbours their own secrets. Because everyone on the Close is far from what they seem.

Nina and Conrad thought they’d found their dream home.

But have they moved into a nightmare . . . ?

********

MY REVIEW:

Welcome to Willow Close, where everyone is a suspect…

Willow Close is a picture-perfect neighbourhood so idyllic that houses rarely come up for sale. Nina and Conrad feel lucky to have bought their new home on the close that backs onto a lush wooded area. But on the day they move in, the body of a young girl is discovered in the woods.

Thirteen-year-old Chloe Church had lived on Willow Close all her life and the residents are shocked to hear about her brutal murder in the woods that surround their homes. Suspicions quickly flare as neighbour suspects neighbour. And as the police investigate it soon becomes clear that Willow Close is a place full of secrets where many of the residents aren’t what they appear to be and anyone could be the killer…

Suspects is a steadily paced whodunnit with an atmosphere full of suspicion. An ensemble piece told in the third person, it reads like a darker version of Neighbours. The author introduces us to the residents of Willow Close, slowly unveiling the secrets they are hiding behind their picture-perfect facades: dodgy dealings, unhappy lives and crumbling marriages. I genuinely couldn’t pinpoint a suspect, instead being suspicious of everyone.

I admit that I struggled to get into the book at first. Focusing on everyone in the Close felt like it took away the tension and made it hard to connect with any of the characters. But about half way through the tension rises and I felt like I’d got to know the characters enough to care about them. It was at this point I felt like the murder became the focus of the story, rather than the drama of the lives of the residents, which also made it more gripping. 

The residents of Willow Close are a varied cast of characters. We get to know the life and backstory of each one in depth over the course of the book; some of which are wildly entertaining, while others are more mundane and ‘normal’. I loved Conrad and Nina and could have happily read more of the story from their perspective. I also had a soft spot for Janice, who was a warm and genuine character. The author wrote some fantastic villains and I often wanted to slap Trudy, Rose and Dee, with Dee being particularly callous, calculating and vile. 

This was my first foray into this author’s books and I would definitely read more. An entertaining story that explores what makes people tick and what is really going on behind our neighbours’ doors, I would recommend this for those who like their mysteries without the gore. 

Rating: ✮✮✮.5

********

MEET THE AUTHOR:

International bestselling author Lesley Pearse has lived a life as rich with incidents, setbacks and joys as any found in her novels. After her mother died, Lesley spent three years in an orphanage before she was taken home when her father remarried. Resourceful, determined and willing to have a go at almost anything Lesley left home at sixteen. By the mid Sixties she was living in London, sharing flats, partying hard and married a trumpet player in a Jazz rock band. She has also worked as a nanny, a Playboy bunny and designed and made clothes to sell to boutiques. It was only after having three daughters that Lesley began to write. The hardships, traumas, close friends and lovers from those early years were inspiration for her beloved novels. She published her first book at 49 and has not looked back since. Lesley is still a party girl.

********

BUY THE BOOK:

Waterstones* | Bookshop.org* | Amazon* | Google Books | Apple Books | Kobo
*These are affiliate links

********

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

Thanks for reading Bibliophiles😊 Emma xxx

Categories
Blog Tours book reviews

Blog Tour: Shadows Over the Spanish Sun by Caroline Montague

Published: May 27th, 2021
Publisher: Orion
Genre: Historical Fiction, Historical Romance, Romance Novel, Adventure Fiction
Format: Paperback, Kindle, Audio

Welcome to my stop on the tour for this beautiful novel. Thank you to Ellen at Orion for the invitation to take part in the blog tour and the gifted copy of the book.

********

SYNOPSIS:

Escape to the Spanish hills with this spellbinding story of passionate love, family secrets and betrayal

A country in the shadow of war. A love that burns through the decades…

Mia Ferris’s heart has always belonged in Spain. Every childhood summer was spent at her grandfather’s hacienda, riding together amongst the olive trees or listening to his stories of the past. So when she learns that he has fallen from his horse, she knows that she belongs by his bedside – even if it means leaving behind her life in London, and her new fiancé.

But as Leonardo fights for his life, and Mia to save the family home from financial ruin, secrets begin to emerge that tell a different story of the past – a terrible history that begins with a boy running for his life over the Andalusian hills, and ends with a forbidden love that only war can destroy…

As Mia untangles the passions and betrayals of the past, everything she thought she knew is turned upside down. Can she heal the wounds of the past, and face the truth of her own heart?

A sweeping novel of passionate love, betrayal and redemption, set against the turmoil and tragedy of the Spanish Civil War.

********

MY REVIEW:

“Throughout my erratic childhood it had been a haven of tranquility, a golden sanctuary. Papa Leonardo had wrapped me up in his world of horses, orange groves and fireflies.”

One of the things I miss during this pandemic is travelling to new places. Thankfully, we can still travel through books and this beautiful novel transported me to the sunny skies and stunning vistas of Spain. The lush and evocative descriptions made me feel like I was in Andalusia.  It was the perfect book to enjoy in the garden on the day the sun had finally decided to arrive in England.

A sweeping saga laced with secrets, mystery and betrayal, this is a story of family, love, loss and forgiveness. The author immerses you in the world of the Palamera de Santos family. She moves seamlessly between timelines and narrators, taking the reader on a journey alongside Mia as she slowly unfurls the enigmas of her family. 

This book is filled with wonderful characters that are so vibrant and well written that they leap from the page and compel you to keep reading. I adored the relationship between Mia and Leonardo. It is so special and there were parts that felt reminiscent of my own relationship with my grandmother. I love reading about multigenerational relationships, whether they are family or friends, and combining that with my love of historical fiction and mysteries made this story irresistible to me. With that being said, it is probably no surprise to learn that Leonardo’s backstory was one of my favourite parts of this book. My heart went out to him as a scared, heartbroken little boy and I enjoyed seeing what he went through over the years that shaped him  into the man that Mia knows. 

One of the reasons I love historical fiction is because I like broadening my knowledge of history. And as I didn’t know anything about the Spanish civil war, this story offered the perfect chance to educate myself more about it. I found it fascinating and also liked reading about the time leading up to WW2 from a different perspective than I’ve read previously. 

Shadows over the Spanish Sun is a tender, moving and sumptuous story that will take your breath away. Perfect for fans of historical fiction. 

Rating: ✮✮✮✮

********

MEET THE AUTHOR:

From early childhood a poem, executed by my own hand was a compulsory requirement for my father’s birthday. To the reluctant five year old this was considered a trial, but by the age of seven writing poetry had become my passion. At ten I won my first national poetry competition and from that moment I dreamt of being a writer.

This particular dream took rather longer than I had hoped because reading law, marriage at nineteen, children, a career as an interior designer – something always got in the way. When I moved with my second husband, three children and four step children to Burnt Norton twenty years ago, and I happened upon the empty pools made famous by TS Eliot in the first of his Four Quartets, I knew that one day the dream would become a reality.

In 2018 after first writing a historical novel set at Burnt Norton I changed agents to William Morris Endeavour and it was here that I felt truly at home. Within a fairly short time, Matilda Forbes Watson had procured a two book deal with Orion for ‘An Italian Affair’ and ‘A Paris Secret’. She recently procured a further two book deal for a novel set in Spain during the Spanish Civil War and a novel set in Greece.

********

BUY THE BOOK:

Waterstones* | Bookshop.org* | Amazon* | Google Books | Apple Books | Kobo
*These are affiliate links

********

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

Thanks for reading Bibliophiles 😊 Emma xxx

Categories
book reviews Emma's Anticipated Treasures

Book Review: The Asylum by Karen Coles

Published: April 1st, 2021
Publisher: Welbeck Publishing Group
Format: Paperback, Kindle
Genre: Historical Fiction, Gothic Fiction, Suspense, Thriller, Psychological Thriller, Historical Mystery, Romance

SYNOPSIS:

1906: Being a woman is dangerous, being different is deadly.

Maud Lovell has been at Angelton Lunatic Asylum for five years. She is not sure how she came to be there and knows nothing beyond its four walls. She is hysterical, distressed, untrustworthy. Badly unstable and prone to violence. Or so she has been told.

When a new doctor arrives, keen to experiment with the revolutionary practice of medical hypnosis, Maud’s lack of history makes her the perfect case study. But as Doctor Dimmond delves deeper into the past, it becomes clear that confinement and high doses are there to keep her silent.

When Maud finally remembers what has been done to her, and by whom, her mind turns to her past and to revenge.

********

Maud has been locked in the darkness of Angelton Lunatic Asylum for five years. She doesn’t remember how she got here or what caused her madness. The only thing she remembers is the man in the marsh, an eerie and ghoulish figure that haunts her nightmares. But is he real or a figment of her imagination?

When Dr Dimmond says he wants to help her by exploring her unconscious it seems like someone is finally on Maud’s side. But as the hypnosis awakens her memories, Maud begins to wonder if some things were better off buried and forgotten after all…

WHAT. A. BOOK! It’s no secret that I love historical and gothic fiction, so this book had everything I could want and more. Claustrophobic, haunting and addictive, I couldn’t put this one down. It is exquisitely written, a creeping malice seeping from every page as the author transports you to the bleak, shadowy rooms of the asylum and the anguished recesses of Maud’s mind. 

The depth of Coles’ research is clear in her striking imagery, the descriptions of the practices asylum staff use to treat patients, and in her thought-provoking exploration of topics such as the mistreatment of women and mental health, and the effects of psychological and physical imprisonment. The sense of dread, desperation and sheer helplessness are palpable, coming together to create an atmosphere that has you on the edge of your seat and your heart pounding as you wait for the secrets buried in Maud’s memory to be unlocked. 

Maud is an unreliable narrator. While there is a suspicion early on that she might not be as mad as some of the doctors would like her to think she is, even she doesn’t trust what she tells herself. Reality shifts and cracks around her, echoes of memory stir and haunt her nightmares and hallucinations. She is an enigma to the reader, and herself. A woman fighting to be heard in a place where they want her to be silent.. She is an unlikely heroine, but shows herself to be much braver and stronger than anyone could have imagined at the start of the story. 

The Asylum is a menacing, evocative, lingering and intricately woven novel. An example of storytelling and mystery at its finest, it is one fans of historical and gothic fiction won’t want to miss. Go read this book! 

Rating: ✮✮✮✮✮

********

MEET THE AUTHOR:

Karen was born in Taplow, Berkshire UK to rather nomadic parents. Countryside walks with her father instilled in her a lifelong love of nature, particularly wild plants, insects and amphibians. Karen is a painter and sculptor. As a child she was a voracious reader of fairy tales, myths and legends, and this led to a fascination with dark, Gothic literature. She now lives in Wales, not far from a town which once had three Victorian asylums. Their history inspired the writing of her novel, The Asylum.

Instagram | Twitter

The pictures above were part of the author’s inspiration when writing The Asylum. They are taken from the author’s Instagram page where she talks about each one in relation to Maud and the book.

********

BUY THE BOOK:

Waterstones* | Bookshop.org* | Amazon*
*These are affiliate links

********

Thank you to Welbeck Publishing for the gifted ARC.

Thanks for reading Bibliphiles. Until next time, Emma xxx