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Blog Tours book reviews Emma's Anticipated Treasures

The Smallest Man by Frances Quinn

Published: January 7th, 2021
Publisher: Simon and Schuster UK
Format: Hardcover, Kindle, Audio
Genre: Historical Fiction, Coming-of-Age Fiction, Humorous Fiction

Welcome to my stop on the tour for the outstanding debut. Thank you to Anne at Random Things Tours for the invitation to take part and Simon & Schuster UK for the gifted ARC of the book.

SYNOPSIS:

‘I want you to remember something, Nat. You’re small on the outside. But inside you’re as big as everyone else. You show people that and you won’t go far wrong in life.’
 
A compelling story perfect for fans of The Doll FactoryThe Illumination of Ursula Flight and The Familiars.
 
My name is Nat Davy. Perhaps you’ve heard of me? There was a time when people up and down the land knew my name, though they only ever knew half the story.
 
The year of 1625, it was, when a single shilling changed my life. That shilling got me taken off to London, where they hid me in a pie, of all things, so I could be given as a gift to the new queen of England.
 
They called me the queen’s dwarf, but I was more than that. I was her friend, when she had no one else, and later on, when the people of England turned against their king, it was me who saved her life. When they turned the world upside down, I was there, right at the heart of it, and this is my story.
 
Inspired by a true story, and spanning two decades that changed England for ever, The Smallest Man is a heartwarming tale about being different, but not letting it hold you back. About being brave enough to take a chance, even if the odds aren’t good. And about how, when everything else is falling apart, true friendship holds people together.

MY REVIEW:

“It’s been quite a life, the one I’ve had; I was there when they turned the world upside down, and I was there, right at the heart of it all, during the turbulent times that led us down the road to that day. So I got to thinking that I should write it all down, because there’s been a lot said about those times, and not all of it’s right.”

This book is a truly magnificent tale. In her outstanding debut, Frances Quinn takes you on an adventure alongside Nat Davey, a fictional character based on Jeffrey Hudson, court dwarf to Queen Henrietta Maria. Seamlessly merging fact with fiction, she weaves together historical events and moments from the lives of real people with those of her fictional characters and imagination. It’s so expertly done that I would have believed the entire book to be biographical is it wasn’t for her author’s note saying otherwise. 

This was a glorious novel. Immersive and absorbing, I was lost in Nat’s world and could see it all happening like it was on a movie screen – which it really does belong on, in my opinion. I loved that it is told like Nat is telling the reader his story, with him addressing us at times. It made it feel personal and added to the authentic feel.

“Because the way I look at it now, if we’d been just like other folks, what kind of lives would we have had?”

For a book to be truly memorable, you need memorable characters. And Nat is one of the most memorable characters I’ve come across. It is impossible not to love and root for this pint-sized man. His size alone in a time where being born different made you a freak makes him someone you can’t help but feel for. He faces judgement, ridicule and rejection from birth; even being sold by his father and given to the queen as a human pet. But what is one of the worst things to happen to him ultimately becomes the thing that leads to happiness in his life as he finds a home and even friendship in the queen’s service. His story is unforgettable and will stay with me.

While Nat is undoubtedly the star of the book, the cast of characters around him are equally as fascinating, richly drawn and memorable. There are some beautiful friendships and great life lessons hidden in this story. 

I could wax lyrical about this for a very long time. Instead, I’m going to say: READ THIS BOOK! You won’t regret it. The Smallest Man will be on my list of top reads of 2020 and I have no doubt it is the start of a fantastic career for the talented Ms Quinn. 

Rating: ✮✮✮✮✮

MEET THE AUTHOR:

Frances Quinn read English at Cambridge, and is a journalist and copy-editor. She completed the Curtis Brown Creative Course in 2015. The Smallest Man is her debut novel.

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Emma's Anticipated Treasures Monthly Wrap Up

Monthly Wrap Up – November 2020

Well that was a fast month!

The last month of 2020 is almost upon us and my mind is full of what to include in my favourite books of the year. But before that, there’s this month’s reading wrap up and a month of reading more books to do.

November has been a slower month for me as this time of year always brings with it the worsening of my chronic health conditions. I didn’t manage to read all the ones I’d started either and am in the middle of 3 others (one paperback, one kindle and one audio).

So, what did I manage to do? I read thirteen books, took part in thirteen blog tours, two readalongs and one watchalong. One of those readalongs was a bit different as we made cocktails using the new Peaky Blinders Cocktail Book. It was also fun taking part in the Shirley watchalong. It’s made me want to finally read Shirley Jackson’s books and more about her fascinating life.

Here is what I read in November:

  1. The Night Away ⭐⭐⭐. 5
  2. The One Before ⭐⭐⭐. 5
  3. The Diabolical Bones ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
  4. One By One ⭐⭐⭐. 5
  5. The Package ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
  6. The Company Daughters ⭐⭐⭐⭐
  7. Fallen Angels ⭐⭐⭐⭐
  8. How To Belong ⭐⭐⭐⭐
  9. Body Language ⭐⭐⭐⭐
  10. The Extraordinary Hope of Dawn Brightside ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
  11. Her Sister’s Child ⭐⭐⭐. 5
  12. Dead Girl Walking ⭐⭐⭐⭐
  13. Bright Lies ⭐⭐⭐⭐

I read some great books this month. The Diabolical Bones and The Package were standout reads that were contenders for BOTM for a while. But when I read The Extraordinary Hope of Dawn Brightside there was no question that this would be my BOTM. EVERYONE needs to read this book! It is one of my favourites this year for sure. You can read the review for it, and the other books I’ve read this month, by clicking the link in their title in the list above.

In December I’m looking forward to a more relaxed month. I’ve only taken on three blog tours and will be doing more mood reading. I can’t wait!

Thank you to the tagged publishers who sent gifted copies.

Did we read any of the same books this month? What was your favourite book in November? Let me know in the comments.

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Blog Tours book reviews

Bright Lies by A. A. Abbott

Published: November 23rd, 2020
Publisher: Perfect City Press
Format: Paperback, Kindle
Genre: Psychological Thriller

Trigger Warning: Sexual and physical abuse

Today is my stop on the tour for Bright Lies. Thank you to Anne at Random Things Tours for the invitation to take part and to A. A. Abbott for the gifted copy of the book.

SYNOPSIS:

She’s learned too much, too young. Can she break free?

Emily’s dreams come true when her mother marries wealthy painter, David. Thanks to him, Emily’s artistic talents shine. Then he starts teaching her things a 14-year-old shouldn’t know. When Emily escapes from David’s luxury mansion, she’s penniless and forced to sleep in a rat-infested alley.

Bad boy Jack has turned his life around. Working as a DJ with ambitions to open a club, he rescues Emily from the streets when he sees a woman in trouble. He doesn’t know she’s still only 15 – and trapped in a dark web of secrets and lies.

David must find Emily and silence her. As he closes in, Jack faces the hardest choice of all. If he saves Emily, he’ll kiss goodbye to his future…

What would you sacrifice for love?

MY REVIEW:

“I’m technically an adult now, but I had to grow up a long time ago.”

Bright Lies is a story of heartache, abuse, survival and hope. It’s a difficult book to read at times – particularly the grooming and abuse Emily suffers at the hands of her stepfather – but beneath the darkness is a sliver of light. We see that there is still kindness to be found even in the bleakest of times and to keep hope of better things to come.

“Who knows if you can stick a girl like Emily together again, after a man like that has broken her?”

At the heart of this book is fantastic characterisation. Emily and Jack were both very real characters that are likable characters and easy to get behind. It broke my heart the things they knew and had suffered that no one should, particularly at such a young age. I liked how protective Jack was of Emily as despite his flaws he’s one of the good ones. Without him her life after running away could have been even bleaker. That being said, I found reading about their life on the streets difficult as I have children of a similar age, and the idea of them being alone in the world, trying to survive, is unimaginable. My heart broke for them, and for Emily’s mum, who is an innocent victim in all of this too. I wanted to tell Emily to just talk to her mum and reassure her it would be ok. 

There are some vile characters in this book that are so well written they made my skin crawl. But none so much as David. The way he grooms and abuses Emily is practiced and all too familiar. I hated him and wanted to hurt him in every way possible for what he was doing. I just hope that books like this are able to serve as a warning and can help potential victims identify such behaviour from predators before it’s too late.  

Bright Lies is a compelling, thought-provoking and moving read.  I wasn’t sure what to make of the ending at first, but after a few days of pondering on it, I like the direction the author took and thought it was the right way to end Emily and Jack’s stories. 

Rating: ✮✮✮✮✰

MEET THE AUTHOR:

From the author’s website: Who doesn’t love a cracking crime story, full of twists?

I’m British crime thriller writer A.A. Abbott – known to friends as Helen – and I believe a good read is one of life’s greatest pleasures.

I write fast-paced suspense thrillers set in the British cities of London, Bristol and Birmingham. As a city girl, I’ve lived and worked in all of them. I also know the beautiful countryside of North Somerset well, and that’s where my latest story begins. By far my darkest book yet, psychological thriller ‘Bright Lies’ follows runaway teenager Emily from a country mansion to a city squat, as she flees the stepfather who’s gotten too close.

In contrast, the 5 book Trail series focuses on a vodka business – and what happens when the two families running it fall out with each other and with a London gangster. The Bride’s Trail leads from London to the secret tunnels below Birmingham’s historic Jewellery Quarter. The trail continues with a kidnap in the former Soviet Union in The Vodka Trail, an ill-starred venture with a marijuana farmer in The Grass Trail and a killer on the loose in The Revenge Trail. At the very end, The Final Trail serves up a heady cocktail of betrayal, revenge and reconciliation.

Like 10% of us, many of my family are dyslexic. While I’m not, I want my books to be enjoyed by readers with dyslexia and visual impairment too. That’s why I publish my thrillers in a LARGE PRINT dyslexia-friendly edition as well as the standard paperback and Kindle versions. Don’t forget, you can also adjust the font on your Kindle to suit your needs.

I like speaking to book groups, business networks and social circles, and reading my thrillers and short stories at live fiction events and on Zoom. If you’re a book blogger, litfest organiser, reviewer or simply adore books, I’d love to hear from you.

I’m a member of the Alliance of Independent Authors, Bristol Fiction Writers’ Group, and Birmingham’s New Street Authors.

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Blog Tours book reviews

Fallen Angels by Gunnar Staalesen

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

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

SYNOPSIS:

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

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

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

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

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

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

MY REVIEW:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rating: ✮✮✮✮✰

MEET THE AUTHOR:

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

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Blog Tours book reviews Emma's Anticipated Treasures

The Nesting by C. J. Cooke

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

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

SYNOPSIS:

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

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

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

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

But protect them from what?

MY REVIEW:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rating: ✮✮✮✮✰

MEET THE AUTHOR:

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

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

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

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Blog Tours Guest Post

Guest Post: Ten Things About Me by Catherine Wallace Hope

My novel Once Again is out this year, and you can find out about it and about me on my website, catherinewallacehope.com — and here are ten other things to know about me.

• If I could host fantasy dinner parties with literary guests, living or dead, I would start with: Leonardo da Vinci, Nora Ephron, William Shakespeare, Octavia Butler, Margaret Atwood, David Foster Wallace, Dorothy Parker, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, David Sedaris, Sappho, Horace, and Agatha Christie. I would set the feast in a grand ballroom and serve ten courses and create a unique artisan alcoholic beverage for each one. Imagine the conversation!
• Autumn is my favorite season.
• I would love to start an artists’ retreat on an huge, rambling estate near the Côte d’Azur where we could spend the day by the shore and then have long, lovely dinners on a candle-lit terrace, followed by poetry and book readings, music and dance performances, and unveilings of new pieces of art.
• My favorite style of art is Art Nouveau, with special fondness for Clara Driscoll, Louis Comfort Tiffany, and Maxfield Parrish.
• My greatest concern is that we might make an unlivable hell of this beautiful paradise we’ve been given.
• I don’t know how to knit, but I can crochet, and I have a collection of carved wooden hooks. Once, I was traveling across the country on a train, and the elderly woman in the seat next to me saw the yarnwork I had with me and taught me how to create stitches that look like waves. Years later, I crocheted baby blankets in that style for each of my three sons during my pregnancies. We still have those blankets, somewhere.
• When I was a kid, I used to run away from home quite often. I created adventures for myself as a forest princess, a midnight thief, a refugee from a royal murder plot. Though I never got into any serious trouble, I scared the living daylights out of my mother. By comparison, when she was four, she tried to run away from home too. She packed her little suitcase with her favorite doll and took off. However, she didn’t get far because she wasn’t allowed to cross the street, so all she could do was go to the end of the block.
• I used to spend summers in Beach Haven, a little seaside town on the East Coast, with my father and stepmother, and I loved nothing more than walking to the beach, diving into the clear water, swimming out to the sandbar, and then body surfing for the rest of the day. One morning, I arrived at the beach earlier than usual. There had been a storm the night before, and the shoreline was sparkling with thousands of tiny silver fish that had been stranded at the edge of the surf — alive, flipping and flopping in the sunlight. The other swimmers and I spent the morning tossing the fish back into the sea where they belonged — with our felicitations to the sea gods.
• I love hiking and photography.
• My favorite soup is tortilla soup, my favorite sandwich is grilled cheese on sourdough, my favorite salad is Waldorf, and my favorite dessert is chocolate ice cream — or German chocolate cake, or chocolate chip cookies, or chocolate brownies with vanilla ice cream, or chocolate pudding with cream — okay, anything chocolate really.

ABOUT THE BOOK:

What if you had the chance to save someone you lost? Isolated in the aftermath of tragedy, Erin Fullarton has felt barely alive since the loss of her young daughter, Korrie. She tries to mark the milestones her therapist suggests – like this day: the five hundredth – but moving through grief is like swimming against a dark current. Her estranged husband, Zac, a brilliant astrophysicist, seems to be coping better. Lost in his work, he’s perfecting his model of a stunning cosmological phenomenon, one he predicts will occur on this same day – an event so rare, it keeps him from being able to acknowledge this milestone alongside Erin. But when Erin receives a phone call from her daughter’s school, the same call she received five hundred days earlier when Korrie was still alive, Erin realises something is happening. Or happening again. Struggling to understand the sudden shifts in time, she pieces together that the phenomenon Zac is tracking may have presented her with the gift of a lifetime: the chance to save her daughter. As Erin is swept through time, she’s unable to reach Zac or convince the authorities of what is happening. Forced to find the answer on her own, Erin must battle to keep the past from repeating – or risk losing her daughter for good.

You can buy the book here.

Thank you Anne at Random Things Tours for the invitation to take part in the blog tour and to Catherine Wallace Hope for this post.

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book reviews

The Exiles by Christina Baker Kline

Published: October 22nd, 2020
Publisher: Allison & Busby
Format: Hardcover, Kindle, Audio
Genre: General Fiction, Historical Fiction

Happy Publication Day to this outstanding novel. Thank you to Anne at Random Things Tours for the invitation to take part and to Allison & Busby for the eBook ARC.

SYNOPSIS:

London, 1840. Evangeline, pregnant and falsely accused of stealing, has languished in Newgate prison for months. Ahead now lies the journey to Australia on a prison ship. On board, Evangeline befriends Hazel, sentenced to seven years’ transport for theft. Soon Hazel’s path will cross with an orphaned indigenous girl. Mathinna is ‘adopted’ by the new governor of Tasmania where the family treat her more like a curiosity than a child. Amid hardships and cruelties, new life will take root in stolen soil, friendships will define lives, and some will find their place in a new society in the land beyond the seas.

MY REVIEW:

“Maybe she would always be alone and apart. Always in transition, on her way to someplace else, never quite belonging. She knew both too much and too little of the world. But what she knew, she carried in her bones.” 

The Exiles is a beautifully written, layered and nuanced piece of historical fiction. Set in London and Australia in the 1840s, it is a story about women, survival and redemption. It is a story about our need to belong, about love, loss and how we carry those we love inside us wherever we go.

The voices of three very different female characters tell their stories, which entwine as the novel progresses. Mathinna is an orphaned eight-year-old Aboriginal girl who is taken from her home by Lady Jane Franklin, an explorer who likes to collect anything to do with native people and wants to see if the child can be educated and ‘tamed’. Evangeline is a naïve young woman from a small village working as a governess who finds herself pregnant and alone on a transport ship to Australia after allowing her rage to get the better of her when she is falsely accused of theft. And, finally, there is Hazel, a seventeen-year-old girl who is on the transport ship with Evangeline after being forced to steal by her mother. 

“Here she was, torn from her family and everyone she knew at the whim of a lady in satin slippers who boiled the skulls of her relatives and displayed them as curiosities.”

Each woman has a character that is rich and compelling, a spark that draws you to them and makes you root for her and care about her story. And while their lives and stories may be different, they also have similarities. Each of them have been exiled from their home and those they love and all face the harsh reality of being female in a time and place where that is hostile and unforgiving towards women. They all navigate these obstacles with strength, resilience and determination. 

This is the first time I’ve read anything by this author, and I was struck by her exquisite storytelling and how she seamlessly wove fact and fiction together to create this lush and atmospheric tale. Her imagery makes you feel like you’re there and I could see so clearly the bleak, grim and squalid conditions of the prisons, slave ship and orphanage and could almost feel the heat of the sun bearing down on me in the Australian bush. She writes every character, however big or small, with authenticity, and the research that has gone into the novel leaps from its pages. I will definitely be buying her back catalogue and devouring it as soon as possible. 

“She’d learnt that she could withstand contempt and humiliation — and that she could find moments of grace in the midst of bedlam. She’d learnt she was strong.”

A powerful, heartbreaking and thought-provoking book, I highly recommend this book to anyone who enjoys historical fiction.

Rating: ✮✮✮✮✮

MEET THE AUTHOR:

Christina Baker Kline is the author of seven novels, including the #1 New York Times bestseller Orphan Train. Her other novels include Bird in Hand, The Way Life Should Be, Desire Lines, and Sweet Water, as well as Orphan Train Girl, a middle-grade adaptation of Orphan Train. Her essays, articles, and reviews have appeared in the New York Times, the San Francisco Chronicle, Money, More, and Psychology Today, among other publications. She lives in New York City and on the coast of Maine.

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Blog Tours book reviews

Betrayal by Lilja Sigurdardottir

Published: October 1st, 2020
Publisher: Orenda
Format: Paperback, Kindle
Genre: Mystery, Thriller, Crime Fiction, Psychological Fiction, Political Fiction, Lesbian Literature, Translated Fiction

Welcome to my stop on the blog tour for this outstanding piece of Icelandic Noir. Thank you to Anne at Random Things Tours for the invitation to take part in and Orenda for the eBook ARC.

SYNOPSIS:

When aid worker Úrsula returns to Iceland for a new job, she’s drawn into the dangerous worlds of politics, corruption and misogyny … a powerful, relevant, fast-paced standalone thriller.
 
Burned out and traumatised by her horrifying experiences around the world, aid worker Úrsula has returned to Iceland. Unable to settle, she accepts a high-profile government role in which she hopes to make a difference again.
 
But on her first day in the post, Úrsula promises to help a mother seeking justice for her daughter, who had been raped by a policeman, and life in high office soon becomes much more harrowing than Úrsula could ever have imagined. A homeless man is stalking her – but is he hounding her, or warning her of some danger? And why has the death of her father in police custody so many years earlier reared its head again?
 
As Úrsula is drawn into dirty politics, facing increasingly deadly threats, the lives of her stalker, her bodyguard and even a witch-like cleaning lady intertwine. Small betrayals become large ones, and the stakes are raised ever higher…

MY REVIEW:

Oops, they did it again. With this exciting new thriller Orenda once again prove they only publish the best and most original fiction. This is why they’re one of my top publishers and I’m always eager to read an Orenda book.

Ursula, a former aid worker, has returned to her native Iceland after being traumatised and burned out by the horrors she has seen. When she starts a new job as a minister, she hopes it will finally help her to find her place at home and that she’ll be able to continue to help others without having to leave her family or experience further trauma.

On her first day she promises to help a mother who begs for her help in getting justice for her daughter, saying the fifteen-year-old was raped by a police officer the year before but the investigation has stalled. But she finds she’s met with resistance at every turn and can’t help but wonder if there is something more going on. Why does no one seem to want to investigate the accusations? And is Ursula’s sense that she’s a pawn in a game that she’s not privy to just her imagination, or really happening?

This gripping thriller was a roller-coaster ride, full of so many twists and turns I got book whiplash. I loved the short, sharply written chapters, multiple points of view and the intricate, tangled web the author wove. I was on the edge of my seat from beginning to end. But every time I thought I’d untangled the clues the story would take another turn and I’d have to try and figure it out all over again.

Though this was an easy and quick read for me, it is far from an easy plot. Complex and richly drawn, our protagonists must navigate the sexist halls of politics while trying to figure out what game they are playing, dealing with threatening messages, and being stalked by a homeless man who says he knows her and claims to be trying to warn her of some danger only he can see. It’s unclear how it all fits together, but I loved how the author slowly unveiled the truth, taking the reader on a journey that examines topics such as the dark side of politics, misogyny, police corruption, mental health and betrayal.

Like the story, the characters are all well written and readable, but it is Ursula who is the star of this story. She’s a strong, determined and fiesty who is also flawed. Over the course of the book we follow her journey to accept and come to terms with some of those flaws, including PTSD from her time doing charity work and the deep, dark trauma from her childhood: her father’s murder. She is a gutsy and fascinating character who I loved reading, even if I didn’t always agree with her actions.

Atmospheric, harrowing and very real, Betrayal is an immersive page-turner. This is Icelandic Noir at its best. I highly recommend this book to any thriller lover and can’t wait to read more by this talented author.

Rating: ✮✮✮✮✰

MEET THE AUTHOR:

Lilja Sigurðardóttir is an Icelandic crime-writer born in 1972. She is the author of novels, stage plays and screenplays.

Her novels have been published in Norwegian, Danish, Czech, Macedonian, Polish, French and English and film rights to the Reykjavík Noir Trilogy (Snare, Trap and Cage) have been sold to Palomar Pictures.

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Blog Tours book reviews Support Debuts

In Black and White by Alexandra Wilson

Published: August 13th, 2020
Publisher: Endeavor
Format: Hardcover, Kindle, Audio
Genre: Biography, Autobiography

Welcome to my stop on the blog tour for this spectacular debut. Thank you to Anne at Random Things Tours for the invitation to take part and Endeavour for the gifted copy of the book.

SYNOPSIS:

Alexandra Wilson was a teenager when her dear family friend Ayo was stabbed on his way home from football. Ayo’s death changed Alexandra. She felt compelled to enter the legal profession in search of answers.

As a junior criminal and family law barrister, Alexandra finds herself navigating a world and a set of rules designed by a privileged few. A world in which fellow barristers sigh with relief when a racist judge retires: ‘I’ve got a black kid today and he would have had no hope’.

In her debut book, In Black and White, Alexandra re-creates the tense courtroom scenes, the heart-breaking meetings with teenage clients, and the moments of frustration and triumph that make up a young barrister’s life.

Alexandra shows us how it feels to defend someone who hates the colour of your skin, or someone you suspect is guilty. We see what it is like for children coerced into county line drug deals and the damage that can be caused when we criminalise teenagers.

Alexandra’s account of what she has witnessed as a young mixed-race barrister is in equal parts shocking, compelling, confounding and powerful.

MY REVIEW:

“It was watching moments like these that made me realise how important diversity is in the legal profession. I wanted to be able to give people a voice and be instrumental in changing the path of their lives.”

In Black and White is a sensational debut that tells the author’s own story; charting her journey to become a barrister.

Bold, intelligent, thorough-provoking, affecting and inspiring, Ms. Wilson draws the reader in quickly, beginning her story with her cousin’s tragic murder when they were both just seventeen. This event was a major turning point in her life and is what set her on her path to a career as a barrister. We then follow each step, from her first interest in the law, her early days in pupillage, to finally qualifying as a fully-fledged barrister. 

As both a woman and person of mixed heritage, she finds herself facing obstacles of multiple kinds of discrimination along the way and examines a range of issues faced not only by her, but by people in all facets of the criminal justice system.  The writing is fantastic, the story as compelling as any courtroom drama. But it’s all real. She holds the reader in her thrall, educating them  without getting overly academic, using her own experiences and observations alongside the facts and figures. 

Ms. Wilson is a remarkable woman who has overcome so much. Her warmth, compassion, strength and tenacity shine from every page. She often talks about not being sure if she’s the right fit for the Bar, but it is clear that she is exactly what it needs. Our justice system needs understanding, empathy, diversity and people who believe in justice and equality for all. Ms. Wilson ticks all of those boxes and is someone who can not only make great changes herself, but inspire others to do the same. 

This powerful story is essential reading for anyone who cares about equality and diversity. It is a reminder of the reality of sexism, classism, racism and misogyny facing those in our legal system every day. And a reminder that through our own actions we can affect change in the places it is needed, one step at a time. 

Rating: ✮✮✮✮✰

MEET THE AUTHOR:

Alexandra Wilson is a junior barrister. She grew up in Essex and is the eldest of four children. Her mother is White British, her father is Black British and her paternal grandparents were born in Jamaica and came to England as part of the Windrush generation.

Alexandra studied at the University of Oxford and was awarded two prestigious scholarships, enabling her to research the impact of police shootings in the US on young people’s attitudes to the police. She went on to study for a Graduate Diploma in Law (GDL) and her Master of Laws at BPP University in London. Alexandra was awarded the first Queen’s scholarship by the Honourable Society of the Middle Temple, a scholarship awarded to students showing exceptional promise in a career at the Bar.

Alongside her paid family and criminal law work, Alexandra helps to facilitate access to justice by providing legal representation for disenfranchised minorities and others on a pro-bono basis.

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Blog Tours book reviews

The Philosopher Queens by Rebecca Buxton and Lisa Whiting

Published: September 17th, 2020
Publisher: Unbound
Format: Paperback, Kindle, Audio
Genre: Biography

Today is my stop on the tour for this fascinating book. Thank you to Anne at Random Things Tours for the invitation to take part and Unbound for the gifted copy.

SYNOPSIS:

Where are the women philosophers? The answer is right here.

The history of philosophy has not done women justice: you ve probably heard the names Plato, Kant, Nietzsche and Locke but what about Hypatia, Arendt, Oluwole and Young?

The Philosopher Queens is a long-awaited book about the lives and works of women in philosophy by women in philosophy. This collection brings to centre stage twenty prominent women whose ideas have had a profound but for the most part uncredited impact on the world.

You ll learn about Ban Zhao, the first woman historian in ancient Chinese history; Angela Davis, perhaps the most iconic symbol of the American Black Power Movement; Azizah Y. al-Hibri, known for examining the intersection of Islamic law and gender equality; and many more.

For anyone who has wondered where the women philosophers are, or anyone curious about the history of ideas it’s time to meet the philosopher queens.

MY REVIEW:

The Philosopher Queens is a beautifully illustrated non-fiction book that introduces the reader to the forgotten female voices of philosophy. A subject long dominated by the works of men, the author’s of this book decided it was time to bring those forgotten voices into the light for all to hear and finally give them the credit for their contributions they deserve.

The book is written as a series of essays that each focus on a different woman. The essay outlines the key points of her ideas and influence on philosophy, as well as personal details such as her upbringing, education, personal life and character. At the end of the book there is information about where you can read more about them should you wish to further explore their ideas. For me, it was the personal details combined with the stunning portrait of each woman that accompanies each essay, that brought each woman to life and made them leap from the pages in vivid technicolour.

I am not a philosopher. I’ve never studied it, and know very little about the subject. But I found this to be a fascinating read that educated me without feeling too heavy or academic. It surprised me to see some familiar names in this book, like George Eliot (Mary Anne Evans, to give her non-pen name), Iris Murdoch and Angela Davis, and I will certainly look at them, and their impact on our society, differently after reading this book.

If you’re looking for something different that you can pick up and read a little of when you have some time here or there, something educational or a book about amazing women and their ideas, then this is a book for you. It is in an important book that I hope will come to be studied in schools and universities for many years to come so that the future generations never forget the Philosopher Queens.

Rating:✮✮✮✮✰

MEET THE AUTHORS:

Rebecca Buxton is a PhD student in International Development at the University of Oxford, specialising in philosophy, ethics and forced migration. Rebecca previously studied Philosophy at King’s College London. When she’s not working on her PhD she writes as a Community Fellow for Refugees Deeply, a news organisation specialising in forced displacement. In her spare time Rebecca likes to visit her one-eyed goldendoodle, Duffy, back at home in Worthing.


Lisa Whiting is currently studying for an MSc in Government, Policy and Politics following her undergraduate degree in philosophy. She studies whilst working as a policy professional focused on the intersection of policy and ethics with a particular interest in data ethics. In her spare time, she listens to podcasts, watches documentaries and tries to keep her house plants alive.

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