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Blog Tours book reviews Emma's Anticipated Treasures

The Extraordinary Hope of Dawn Brightside by Jessica Ryn

Published: November 26th, 2020
Publisher: HQ
Format: Hardcover, Kindle, Audio
Genre: Uplit, Contemporary Romance, Coming-of-Age Fiction

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

SYNOPSIS:

She’s not lost. She’s just waiting to be found…

Dawn Elisabeth Brightside has been running from her past for twenty-two years and two months, precisely.

So when she is offered a bed in St Jude’s Hostel for the Homeless, it means so much more than just a roof over her head.

But with St Jude’s threatened with closure, Dawn worries that everything is about to crumble around her all over again.

Perhaps, with a little help from her new friends, she can find a way to save this light in the darkness?

And maybe, just maybe, Dawn will finally have a place to call home….

The utterly charming feel-good debut novel of 2020 to curl up with.

MY REVIEW:

“And if being at St Jude’s has taught me anything, it’s that you need to find your tribe. The rest of the journey’s not designed to be a solo one. Group tickets always offer the best value.”

The Extraordinary Hope of Dawn Brightside is a truly special book. The definition of ‘uplit’, it is one of those books that feels like a warm hug or a hot chocolate on a cold day. It will make you laugh and cry. It will steal your heart and make a permanent home in your soul.

I adored the colourful cast of compelling and very real characters. I liked that the author showed their humanity and personality rather than making them a cliché. She makes their experiences leap from the page, transports you into their world and makes you live every moment alongside them.

Dawn is quite the character. She is damaged, flawed and unreliable but also hopeful, joyous and endearing. Despite being down on her luck and going through some very traumatic things, she sees the silver lining – the ‘bright side’ you might say – and encourages others to do the same. She cares deeply about others and becomes a real light in the lives of those around her. She is a character I won’t forget and I challenge anyone not to fall in love with her too.

This was a very nostalgic book for me as my father was a manager for the YMCA and we lived on-site for three years when I was twelve to fifteen. The experience made a huge impact and is a big part of who I am today. The residents became like family and we are still in touch with a number of them even now. All the memories of that time came flooding back while reading and it was clear to me that the author knew her stuff. This felt authentic. So I wasn’t surprised to learn she’d worked with the homeless and had even lived on-site too.

But while this is a very uplifting book, it also addresses serious topics such as mental health, addiction and homelessness. She examines these things on a deeper level, commenting on the perception and judgement of the homeless or with mental health or addiction issues, the underfunding of homeless hostels and the degradation of applying for sickness benefits, something I personally related to as someone unable to work because of chronic illness. But she has a talent for doing all of this without bringing the mood down, balancing gritty realism with a humour and optimism that is reminiscent of Dawn.

Addictive, heartbreaking, hopeful, evocative, entertaining, warm and emotionally resonant, this is a remarkable debut. This book has arrived at the perfect time; Dawn’s kindness and positivity is something we all need more of right now. READ THIS BOOK!

Rating: ✮✮✮✮✮

MEET THE AUTHOR:

Jessica Ryn is a former midwife and homeless resettlement worker. She has recently completed her MA in Creative Writing at CCCU, and her stories have been shortlisted for the Kimberly Chambers’ Kickstarter Award, Wordsmag and the Val Wood Prize for Creative Writing. When she’s not scribbling away, Jessica can be found meandering through the woods, reading stories that pull on the feel-strings and eating yoghurt-covered skittles. Jessica lives in Dover with her husband, two children and their high-spirited springer spaniel. The Extraordinary Hope of Dawn Brightside is her debut novel.

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Blog Tours book reviews Emma's Anticipated Treasures

Truth Be Told by Kia Abdullah

Published: September 3rd, 2020
Publisher: HQ
Format: Hardcover, Kindle, Audio
Genre: Crime Fiction, Legal Thriller, Political Thriller, Domestic Fiction, LGBTQ Literature

Happy Publication Kia Abdullah! I’m thrilled to be one of the bloggers sharing their review for this outstanding thriller on publication day as part of the blog tour. Thank you to HQ for the invitation to take part and my copy of this novel.

SYNOPSIS:

ARE YOU READY TO START THIS CONVERSATION?

Kamran Hadid feels invincible. He attends Hampton school, an elite all-boys boarding school in London, he comes from a wealthy family, and he has a place at Oxford next year. The world is at his feet. And then a night of revelry leads to a drunken encounter and he must ask himself a horrific question.

With the help of assault counsellor, Zara Kaleel, Kamran reports the incident in the hopes that will be the end of it. But it’s only the beginning…

Powerful, explosive and important, Truth Be Told is a contemporary courtroom drama that vividly captures today’s society. You will not stop thinking about it for a long time to come.

MY REVIEW: 

I’m still reeling from this phenomenal thriller. It’s one I devoured, foregoing sleep to read it in one sitting as I found it impossible to put down. 

Zara Kaleel is back and finds herself embroiled in another high profile case when Kamran Hadid comes to her for help. Kamram claims he was raped in his room at a prestigious boarding school after passing out drunk after a party. But his alleged attacker claims it was consensual. Why wouldn’t he say no if he didn’t want it? Why just let him carry on? 

When Kamran decides to persue the case, the question of consent is examined in great detail and leaves both boys attempting to grapple with the truth of what their actions, and inactions, that night meant. Full of shocking twists and turns, when the truth is finally revealed it will leave your jaw on the floor. 

He tried to give shape to the weight of his trauma. He thought of it as a thick bar of florescent light that hummed from throat to groin. Real healing with dim that light, snuff out sections until it grew dark – but how could he heal if he couldn’t remember? Instead, he would push down the pain until it was a sun-bright penny lodged in his gut. That’s where he’d let it burn.”

Truth Be Told examines a topic rarely discussed with truth and sensitivity, highlighting the complex layers of emotion and perception that accompany male rape. The author also addresses the intricacies and blurred lines of consent, and the prejudice faced by gay men in the Muslim community. Like her fantastic debut, it is an intelligent, well-written, powerful and thought-provoking novel that will stay with the reader long after reading the final page. 

Zara is a brilliant character to base a series on because she stands out from the saturated crowd of other protagonists. She is a modern, liberal Asian woman, trying to balance her family’s cultural expectations and traditions with her Western life and personal desires. This pressure has led to a misuse of narcotics that she’s seeking treatment for in this novel, adding another layer to her flawed character. 

The other characters are all equally as compelling and richly drawn. Kamran Hadid was the one who took my heart. Maybe it’s because I have two boys of a similar age that I couldn’t help putting in his shoes, but this kid broke me. The rainbow of emotions he’s feeling lept from the page and went straight to my soul. It was heart-rending to read his journey; the effect the trauma had on every facet of his life, changing him forever. It takes immeasurable strength for any victim to stand up against their attacker, and I had such admiration for Kamram in his refusal to be a silent victim. 

But the author doesn’t make it that easy. She also tells the story from the alleged attacker’s perspective. And while at the start he’s clearly sure it was consensual, there soon becomes hints that he’s hiding something. Though we don’t know what. We also witness his devastation as he faces the fact that Kamran views what happened as rape. That what Finn views as a mistake is a traumatic attack in Kamran’s eyes tears him apart, but he also feels sure that without a clear no it was consensual. I found myself feeling sympathy for what Finn was going through, then felt mad at myself for doing so. After all, whether he meant to or not, he raped someone. Didn’t he?

Fast-paced, hard-hitting and intense, this is not your typical legal thriller. Kia Abdullah has just cemented her place on my list of auto-buy authors. Outstanding and addictive, this is one I can’t recommend highly enough. 

Rating: ✮✮✮✮✮

MEET THE AUTHOR:
*From Kia’s Website

Kia Abdullah is an author and travel writer from London. Her novel Take It Back was named one of the best thrillers of th year by The Guardian and Telegraph and was selected for an industry-first audio serialisation by HarperCollins and The Pigeonhole. Her follow-up novel, Truth Be Told, is out in September 2020 (HQ/HarperCollins).

Kia has written for The New York TimesThe GuardianThe Telegraph and The Times, and is the founder of Asian Booklist, a non-profit organisation that advocates for diversity in publishing. 

Born in Tower Hamlets in East London, Kia was raised in a family of eight children. As the most stubborn of six daughters, she constantly found herself in trouble for making choices that clashed with her parents’, a habit they came to accept when she became their first and only child to graduate from university – with a degree in Computer Science.

In 2007, Kia left her job in tech to pursue the one thing she had always wanted: a career as a writer, taking a 50% pay cut in the process. She worked as sub-editor and later features editor at Asian Woman Magazine where she interviewed British-Asian luminaries like Riz Ahmed, Meera Syal, Anoushka Shankar and Nitin Sawnhey. 

Kia went on to join global publisher Penguin Random House where she helped grow digital readership at Rough Guides to over a million users per month. In 2014, she quit her day job to found Atlas & Boots, an outdoor travel blog now read by 250,000 people a month. 

Today, she splits her time between London and the Yorkshire Dales town of Richmond, and spends her time writing, hiking, mentoring pupils from Tower Hamlets and visiting far-flung destinations for Atlas & Boots.

Kia loves to travel, hates to cook and periodically highlights that, in actual fact, she is one of nine children (one passed away), making her Seven of Nine… which is cool but only if you’re a Star Trek fan… which she is. But please don’t hold it against her.

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Blog Tours book reviews

The Wish List by Sophia Money-Coutts

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Published: August 6th, 2020
Publisher: HQ
Format: Hardcover, Kindle, Audio
Genre: Contemporary Romance, Coming-of-Age Story

Today I’m sharing my review of The Wish List as part of Blogger Day. Thank you HQ for the invitation to take part and the gifted eBook ARC.

SYNOPSIS:

‘You want me to write a list? Like a shopping list?’
Gwendolyn nodded. ‘Exactly. But for what you want from a man, not ASDA.’

Florence Fairfax isn’t lonely. She loves her job at the little bookshop in Chelsea and her beloved cat Marmalade keeps her company at night. She might have been single for quite a while – well, forever actually, if anyone’s asking – but she’s perfectly happy, thank you. And then Florence meets eccentric love coach Gwendolyn, and everything changes.

When Gwendolyn makes Florence write a wish list describing her perfect man, Florence refuses to take it seriously. Finding someone who likes cats, has the sexual athleticism of James Bond and can overlook her ‘counting’ habit? Impossible! Until, later that week, a handsome blond man asks for help in the bookshop…

Rory seems to fit the list perfectly. But is he ‘the one’, or simply too good to be true? Florence is about to find out that her criteria for Mr Right aren’t as important as she thought – and that perhaps she’s been looking for love in all the wrong places…

MY REVIEW:

“You want me to write a list? Like a shopping list?’

Gwendolyn nodded. ‘Exactly. But for what you want from a man, not ASDA.”

32-year-old Florence Fairfax has never had a boyfriend or been in love. But she’s sure it will happen one day. After all, even Hitler had a girlfriend. When her stepmother books her an appointment with a love coach Florence is mortified. But after the coach instructs her to write a wish list of what she wants in a man, she meets Rory, a handsome man who ticks everything on her list. But is he the right man for Florence? Is there such a thing as the perfect man? Or is love to be found in the place you didn’t expect, with the one who’s differences balance you out?

This was a funny, lighthearted and entertaining read. I loved the author’s last novel, so I couldn’t wait to read this one. Again the author has crafted a book that has that great mix of wit, romance and sauciness, making it an ideal book for summer.

Our protagonist, Florence, is unlucky-in-love but tells herself she’s fine without a man. But deep down she wants nothing more than to be loved and to be in love. I really liked her. She’s sweet, awkward, self-deprecating and a little weird. She keeps her life unvaried and ordered to avoid anything bad happening and doesn’t do well with change. When she meets Rory she must learn to navigate the nuances of a relationship while trying to find confidence in herself. I enjoyed her journey and was rooting for her to find a happy ending.

The author is great at writing entertaining characters and filled the story with a great cast of secondary characters. I particularly liked Ruby, Mia and Zach, but had mixed feelings about Rory. He was well written and the scenes with his snobby family and friends were perfectly cringey.

The thing that I loved most about this book was the humour. This is definitely a book I’d recommend picking up if you need a good laugh; I laughed out loud so many times and will never be able to hear the word cowabunga again without a smile and thinking of this book!

The Wish List is a quirky, fun, feel-good read with heart. It is predictable in places, but for me that was part of its charm. If you’re looking for a book to brighten a summer day, then this is the book for you. 

Rating: ✮✮✮✮✫

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MEET THE AUTHOR:

Sophia is a British journalist and author who spends most of her time writing at her kitchen table in West London and making 59 cups of tea a day. She has written two novels – The Plus One and What Happens Now? – and hopes to carry on writing books that make people laugh forever. Because we could all do with more of a laugh, these days, couldn’t we? Sometimes, if she’s not drinking lukewarm cups of tea in her leggings at home, she appears on radio and television talking about important topics such as Prince Harry’s wedding and the etiquette of the threesome.

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Blog Tours book reviews

Blog Tour Review: The Widow of Pale Harbour by Hester Fox ⭐⭐⭐⭐

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Welcome to my stop on the blog tour. Thank you to HQ Stories for the invitation to take part and my copy of the book in exchange for an honest review.

SYNOPSIS:

A town gripped by fear. A woman accused of murder. Who can save Pale Harbour from itself?

1846. Desperate to escape the ghosts of his past, Gabriel Stone takes a position as a minister in the remote Pale Harbour, but not all is as it seems in the sleepy town.

As soon as Gabriel sets foot in the town, he can’t escape the rumours about the mysterious Sophy Carver, a young widow who lives in the eerie Carver Castle: whispers that she killed her husband, mutterings that she might even be a witch.

But as strange, unsettling events escalate into murder, Gabriel finds himself falling under Sophy’s spell. As clues start to point to Sophy as the next  victim, Gabriel realises he must find answers before anyone else turns up dead.

MY REVIEW:

Witchcraft, suspicion and secrets abound in this dark, atmospheric thriller that is a perfect autumn read. 

“He wasn’t sure why he was drawn to the house on the hill, but his feet carried him there as if they knew the answer.”

A reclusive, wealthy widow that is the subject of whispered accusations and rumour, and a transcendentalist minister new to town and in search of redemption, are our narrators in this shadowy tale. As soon as Gabriel Stone, a widower himself, hears the rumours about Sophroina ‘Sophy’ Carver he is fascinated by the curious widow who lives a reclusive life on the hill. From the moment they meet there is a spark between them and the pair find themselves dreaming up ways to see each other.

As the pair become increasingly smitten,  the mystery of the dead animals and birds and the effergies left around the town deepens. The townspeople are still convinced it can only be Sophy and think that she has bewitched Gabriel, but he sees how she is being targeted and, as they try to fight their feelings, they begin to work together in secret to search for answers. But, as things escalate, people are found dead and notes reveal Sophy is in their sights, the search for the culprit takes becomes imperative. 

“Now that she had broken through her wall of fear, the freedom was intoxicating.”

I loved the character of Sophy. She has been damaged by what has happened in her life but seems to glide above it all gracefully. She is misunderstood and maltreated but remains kind, quietly doing what she can to help those she cares for. Gabriel took me some time to warm up to. I didn’t dislike him, but I didn’t really care for him either at first. But as he found the voice to stand against the entire town in defense of Sophy, I began to see his strength and decency shine through. There were some great secondary characters in this novel too. One that stood out for me was Helen, Sophy’s maid and companion. She’s a strange character and I was never quite sure if I trusted her or if I was misinterpreting her over-protectiveness to be something sinister. I like that she wasn’t someone I could figure out, just like I couldn’t shake my suspicions of a number of the others.

“It was not a particularly welcoming place, but now a sense of wrongness took hold of him, as if he were not supposed to be here. As if something did not want him here.”

Part romance and part mystery, this historical, Gothic fiction novel has all the right ingredients for spooky read. The author builds vivid imagery of Pale Harbour as ghostly and unwelcoming from the start. It isn’t a place I’d want to wander through alone at night. Despite this the book started started slower than I would have liked, and for a long time it felt like the love story rather than a gothic novel. But as the author turned up the suspense and built up the eerie and foreboding atmosphere I love in Gothic fiction, I found myself turning the pages as fast as possible and unable to put the book down. I was hooked and on the edge of my seat as we reached the heart-stopping conclusion. 

Publication Date: October 17th

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Hester Fox comes to writing from a background in the museum field as a collections maintenance technician.

This job has taken her from historic houses to fine art museums, where she has the privilege of cleaning and caring for collections that range from paintings by old masters, to ancient artefacts, to early American furniture.

She is a keen painter and has a master’s degree in historical archaeology, as well as a background in Medieval studies and art history. Hester lives outside of Boston with her husband and two cats.

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