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book reviews Emma's Anticipated Treasures Readalong

Madame Burova by Ruth Hogan

Published: April 29th, 2021
Publisher: Two Roads/John Murray Press
Genre: Historical Fiction, Domestic Fiction, Contemporary Fantasy
Format: Hardcover, Kindle, Audio

I read this book as part of a readalong hosted by the publisher. Thank you Two Roads Books for the gifted copy of this book

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SYNOPSIS:

Madame Burova – Tarot Reader, Palmist and Clairvoyant is retiring and leaving her booth on the Brighton seafront after fifty years.

Imelda Burova has spent a lifetime keeping other people’s secrets and her silence has come at a price. She has seen the lovers and the liars, the angels and the devils, the dreamers and the fools. Her cards had unmasked them all and her cards never lied. But Madame Burova is weary of other people’s lives, their ghosts from the past and other people’s secrets, she needs rest and a little piece of life for herself. Before that, however, she has to fulfill a promise made a long time ago. She holds two brown envelopes in her hand, and she has to deliver them.

In London, it is time for another woman to make a fresh start. Billie has lost her university job, her marriage, and her place in the world when she discovers something that leaves her very identity in question. Determined to find answers, she must follow a trail which might just lead right to Madame Burova’s door.

In a story spanning over fifty years, Ruth Hogan conjures a magical world of 1970s holiday camps and seaside entertainers, eccentrics, heroes and villains, the lost and the found. Young people, with their lives before them, make choices which echo down the years. And a wall of death rider is part of a love story which will last through time.

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MY REVIEW:

“Madame Burova was a woman who knew where the bodies were buried.”

With that breathtaking first line I was hooked. What a way to start! I was ready for a book full of intrigue, suspense and spirits. Madame Burova is a story of two women, a lifetime of secrets and identity. The author moves seamlessly between dual timelines and narrators, slowly unveiling decades-old secrets and piecing together the truth of Billie’s mother’s identity.

This is a story filled with an array of authentic, vibrant, quirky and compelling characters. The women are fierce, feisty, independent and flawed, showing strength but also showing their vulnerable side. I enjoyed the banter between Imelda and her mother, Shunty-Mae, and enjoyed following Billie’s journey as she tried to rebuild her sense of self and discover who she really is after having her world torn apart. The author had me completely invested and unable to turn away. But the character who really stole my heart was young Treasure. I had tears in my eyes for that boy many times as he reminded us of the devastating effects of racism and bullying.

“As she read what was written on the pages it contained, her whole world washed away like the chalked hopscotch squares of her childhood in a sudden downpour of rain.”

This is a very character-driven story. And while I enjoyed that, and loved the characters and mystery elements of the book, I wanted to see more of Imelda’s gift. I was expecting a book full of mysticism and was disappointed that there was relatively little of it featured in the story, particularly in the present day. But that aside, the rest of the book was brilliant and I thought the mystery element was particularly well written as the author kept me guessing right up until the big reveal. As someone who reads a lot of books featuring mysteries, I like when one isn’t easy to guess and keeps me on my toes.

The author really brought the 1970s to life with her evocative imagery, making me feel like I had stepped into the pictures in my parents’ old photo albums. I felt like I could see the people in their flares and platform shoes walking down the street and smell the smoke in the cafe alongside the bacon grease. Speaking of the cafe, I loved how it was the local meeting place and at the core of a lot of the action in that era. It felt true to the time and place and some of my favourite scenes took place there. Another thing that added to the authenticity of the era, were the toxic behaviours that were more acceptable in the 70s that the author skillfully wove into the lighthearted, witty and tender prose. While it was hard to read at times, it was sensitively written and served as an important reminder of how such things were deemed acceptable just a few short years ago.

Uplifting, funny, warm and affecting, Madame Burova is an entertaining story that I would recommend. This was my first foray into Ruth’s books and I’m looking forward to reading more.

Rating: ✮✮✮✮✰

MEET THE AUTHOR:

FROM RUTH’S WEBSITE:
I was born in the house where my parents still live in Bedford. My sister was so pleased to have a sibling that she threw a thrupenny bit at me.

As a child, I loved the Brownies but hated the Guides, was obsessed with ponies and read everything I could lay my hands on.  Luckily, my mum worked in a bookshop.  My favourite reads were The MoomintrollsA Hundred Million Francs, The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe, the back of cereal packets, and gravestones.

I passed enough O and A levels to get a place at Goldsmiths College, University of Londonto study English and Drama.  It was brilliant and I loved it.

And then I got a proper job.

I worked for ten years in a senior local government position (Human Resources – Recruitment, Diversity and Training). I was a square peg in round hole, but it paid the bills and mortgage.

In my early thirties I had a car accident which left me unable to work full-time and convinced me to start writing seriously.  I got a part-time job as an osteopath’s receptionist and spent all my spare time writing.  It was all going well, but then in 2012 I got Cancer, which was bloody inconvenient but precipitated an exciting hair journey from bald to a peroxide blonde Annie Lennox crop. When chemo kept me up all night I passed the time writing, and the eventual result was THE KEEPER OF LOST THINGS.

I live in a chaotic Victorian house with an assortment of rescue dogs and my long-suffering husband.  I spend all my free time writing or thinking about it and have notebooks in every room so that I can write down any ideas before I forget them.  I am a magpie; always collecting treasures (or ‘junk’ depending on your point of view) and a huge John Betjeman fan.  My favourite word is antimacassar and I still like reading gravestones.

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Thanks for reading Bibliophiles😊 Emma xxx

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book reviews Readalong

The Dinner Guest by B.P. Walter

Published: April 1st, 2021
Publisher: One More Chapter
Format: Paperback, Kindle, Audio
Genre: Mystery, Thriller, Psychological Thriller, Suspense, Domestic Fiction, Crime Fiction

SYNOPSIS:

Four people walked into the dining room that night. One would never leave.

Matthew: the perfect husband.

Titus: the perfect son.

Charlie: the perfect illusion.

Rachel: the perfect stranger.

Charlie didn’t want her at the book club. Matthew wouldn’t listen.

And that’s how Charlie finds himself slumped beside his husband’s body, their son sitting silently at the dinner table, while Rachel calls 999, the bloody knife still gripped in her hand.

Classic crime meets Donna Tartt in this nerve-shredding domestic noir thriller that weaves a sprawling web of secrets around an opulent West London world and the dinner that ends in death.

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MY REVIEW:

All the stars for this sensational thriller that explores secrets, lies, vengeance, and the masks we wear. 

It opens with a bang on the day of the murder; Matthew lies dead at the table and Rachel has the knife in her hand, confesses, and is taken into police custody, leaving Charlie and his son Titus shocked and bewildered. But there is are unanswered questions, riddles that need to be unravelled; why did Rachel confess to a murder she didn’t commit? And who really killed Matthew?

Charlie, Matthew and Titus are the picture-perfect family; affluent, good-looking and sickeningly happy, they have it all. Until Rachel comes into their lives. Charlie thinks there isn’t something quite right about her from the moment they meet, but Matthew won’t listen and invites her into their lives. A decision that will have devastating consequences and change all of their lives forever. Told in flashbacks leading up to the day of the murder and in the present day as they deal with the aftermath of Matthew’s death, I couldn’t turn the pages fast enough as the author immersed me in this tense and twisty tale. 

This was my first time reading this author and I will definitely be reading more. Skillfully written, fast-paced and brimming with suspense, he kept me on the edge of my seat from start to finish. I had so many questions and very few ideas of what the answers could be. Jaw-dropping twists and revelations had my heart racing as the things built to a shocking climax that left me reeling. 

Atmospheric, addictive and intoxicating, if you like thrillers then you need to read this book!

Rating: ✮✮✮✮✮

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MEET THE AUTHOR:

B P Walter was born and raised in Essex. After spending his childhood and teenage years reading compulsively, he worked in bookshops then went to the University of Southampton to study Film and English followed by an MA in Film & Cultural Management. He is an alumni of the Faber Academy and currently works in social media coordination for Waterstones in London.

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Thank you One More Chapter for hosting the readalong and the gifted ARC.

Thanks for reading Bibliophiles. Until next time, Emma xxx

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book reviews Tandem Readalong

We Are All Birds of Uganda by Hafsa Zayyan

Published: January 21st, 2021
Publisher: Merky Books
Format: Hardcover, Kindle, Audio
Genre: Contemporary Fiction

Thank you to Tandem Collective UK for the invitation to take part in the readalong and to Merky Books for the gifted copy of the book.

SYNOPSIS:

‘You can’t stop birds from flying, can you, Sameer? They go where they will…’

1960s UGANDA. Hasan is struggling to run his family business following the sudden death of his wife. Just as he begins to see a way forward, a new regime seizes power, and a wave of rising prejudice threatens to sweep away everything he has built.

Present-day LONDON. Sameer, a young high-flying lawyer, senses an emptiness in what he thought was the life of his dreams. Called back to his family home by an unexpected tragedy, Sameer begins to find the missing pieces of himself not in his future plans, but in a past he never knew.
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Moving between two continents over a troubled century, We Are All Birds of Uganda is an immensely resonant novel that explores racial tensions, generational divides and what it means to belong.

It is the first work of fiction by Hafsa Zayyan, co-winner of the inaugural #Merky Books New Writers’ Prize, and one of the most exciting young novelists of today.

MY REVIEW:

“In a way, I suppose, we are all birds of Uganda.” 

We Are All Birds of Uganda is a beautifully told story that follows Sameer, a twenty-something British lawyer whose family were amongst those expelled from Uganda under the rule of Idi Amin. The story moves between Sameer’s story in the present day and that of his grandfather, Hasan, who tells his story through a series of letters written to his late wife. 

There is no denying the beauty of this book; from the stunning cover to the exquisite prose and vivid imagery that bring the story to life. But this book is one that also covers issues darker than the dazzling colours on the cover would suggest. The author explores topics such as race, gender, privilege and oppression. Even addressing the rise of open and accepted racism in society today. But what is at the heart of this story is the search for one’s identity; to learn who you are in your heart and soul. I particularly enjoyed following Sameer’s journey of discovery as a young man torn between two cultures. The author has drawn on her own background as British woman with Nigerian and Pakistani roots to explore these subjects which lends it a sense of authenticity and sensitivity. 

The racial tensions of Uganda and expulsion of Asian minorities in the seventies is something I was vaguely aware of but actually knew very little about. I was shocked and appalled as Hasan writes what is happening in his adopted home; my heart breaking for him as he is forced to leave all he loved and in fear for his life. I took no pleasure in his journey from wealthy, privileged Asian who looks down on the black Ugandans to an impoverished immigrant in the UK who is treated with the disdain he himself reserved for others. I felt only shame in how some in my country treated those seeking a place of refuge in their time of need – I shame I still feel in some of those in my country today – and his fall from grace is a stark reminder that our fortune can change in a moment. 

Richly drawn, evocative, powerful and affecting, this is a wonderful debut from an author who is one to watch. 

Rating: ✮✮✮✮

MEET THE AUTHOR:

Hafsa Zayyan is a writer and dispute resolution lawyer based in London. She won the inaugural #Merky Books New Writers’ Prize in 2019. We Are All Birds of Uganda is her debut novel, inspired by the mixed background from which she hails. She studied Law at the University of Cambridge and holds a masters’ degree from the University of Oxford.

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Don’t forget to check out the reviews from other bloggers who took part in the readalong on Instagram.

Thank you for reading. Until next time Bibliophiles, Emma xxx

Categories
book reviews Tandem Readalong

A Court of Wings and Ruin by Sarah J. Maas

Published: May 2nd, 2017
Publisher: Bloomsbury UK
Format: Paperback, Hardcover, Kindle, Audio
Genre: Fantasy Fiction

I read this book as part of a readlong with Tandem Collective UK. Thank you to them for the invitation and Bloomsbury UK for the gifted copy of the book.

SYNOPSIS:

Feyre has returned to the Spring Court, determined to gather information on Tamlin’s manoeuvrings and the invading king threatening to bring her land to its knees. But to do so she must play a deadly game of deceit – and one slip may spell doom not only for Feyre, but for her world as well.

As war bears down upon them all, Feyre must decide who to trust amongst the dazzling and lethal High Lords and hunt for allies in unexpected places. And her heart will face the ultimate test as she and her mate are forced to question whether they can truly trust each other.

Sarah J. Maas is a global #1 bestselling author. Her books have sold more than nine million copies and been translated into 37 languages. Discover the sweeping romantic fantasy for yourself.

Contains mature content. Not suitable for younger readers.

MY REVIEW:

“To the stars who listen—and the dreams that are answered.” 

Fayre is now back in Spring Court. She has returned under the guise of going back to Tamlin but is in fact still Lady of the Night Court and biding her time before taking revenge for how he and others betrayed Prythian in the war with King Hybern. As war looms once more, her relationship with Rhysand is tested and they must decide who among the High Lords they can trust to be on their side. 

I loved how fierce, determined and strong Fayre was in this book. She stands up to Tamlin, refusing to let him twist and rewrite their narrative, even when he shreds her dignity with lewd words and savage lies. Back when I read book one, I could never understand why people loved Rhysand and hated Tamlin; now I’m totally the same. Tamlin is a vile, abusive, controlling snake and I got almost as much pleasure out of Fayre’s revenge as she did. 

I enjoyed seeing more of the other courts and how Fayre’s sisters handled their unexpected and unwanted transition to immortality. I found myself worrying about the fate of the characters and wondered if the author would take a leaf out of George R. R. Martin’s book and kill off a much-loved main character. It is quite a dark book in many ways, addressing abuse, coercive control, trauma, PTSD and consent.

This was my favourite yet in the series. Action-packed, emotional and gripping, it kept me on the edge of my seat and broke my heart. 

Rating: ✮✮✮✮✮

MEET THE AUTHOR:

Sarah J. Maas is the New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of the Throne of Glass series, as well as the A Court of Thorns and Roses series.

Sarah lives in Bucks County, PA, and over the years, she has developed an unhealthy appreciation for Disney movies and bad pop music. She adores fairy tales and ballet, drinks too much tea, and watches an ungodly amount of TV. When she’s not busy writing, she can be found exploring the historic and beautiful Pennsylvania countryside with her husband and canine companion.

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book reviews Emma's Anticipated Treasures Tandem Readalong

The Book of Two Ways by Jodi Picoult

Published: October 20th, 2020
Publisher: Hodder & Stoughton
Format: Hardcover, Kindle, Audio
Genre: Literary Fiction, Saga

Happy Publication Day to my favourite author!

Thank you to the Tandem Collective for the invitation to take part in the readalong and to Hodder & Stoughton for the gifted ARC.

SYNOPSIS:

Jodi Picoult’s stunning new novel about life, death, and missed opportunities.

Who would you be, if you hadn’t turned out to be the person you are now?

Dawn is a death doula, and spends her life helping people make the final transition peacefully.

But when the plane she’s on plummets, she finds herself thinking not of the perfect life she has, but the life she was forced to abandon fifteen years ago – when she left behind a career in Egyptology, and a man she loved.

Against the odds, she survives, and the airline offers her a ticket to wherever she needs to get to – but the answer to that question suddenly seems uncertain.

As the path of her life forks in two very different directions, Dawn must confront questions she’s never truly asked: what does a well-lived life look like? What do we leave behind when we go? And do we make our choices, or do our choices make us?

Two possible futures. One impossible choice.

MY REVIEW:

“My calendar is full of dead people… At one point, they were my clients. Now, they’re my stories to keep.”

Jodi Picoult is my favourite author and any book she releases is one I highly anticipate. So when Tandem announced a readalong of her new book I jumped at the chance to take part. It wasn’t only that it was a JP book that had me excited, it was the inclusion of Egyptology, as I have always been fascinated in ancient Egypt and looked forward to seeing how that was included in the book. 

“Even people who don’t know much about Egyptology have heard of the Book of the Dead… It’s a New Kingdom collection of spells to help the deceased make his or her easy to the afterlife —but it evolved from earlier, lesser known funerary texts… Also part of these Coffin Texts is the Book of Two Ways, the first known map of the afterlife.” 

The story begins when Dawn Edelstein is travelling on a plane that is about to make a planned emergency landing. As she prepares to land, she doesn’t see the face of her husband Brian or their daughter Meret, the person she sees in what could be her final moments is Wyatt, the man she left behind in Egypt fifteen years ago. What follows is a story of the two paths her life could have taken following a heated argument with Brian about their marriage that mirrors the two paths that can be taken to the afterlife in the titular Book of Two Ways.  

For the first time in almost two decades of reading this author, I DNF’d one of her books. This book has been a bit of a marmite book throughout the book community but like my thoughts about the controversial condiment, I’m ambiguous about this one. I didn’t stop reading it because of bad writing or not liking the story, I stopped reading because the book heavily focuses on the subject of death and I found it too traumatic to keep reading after losing one of my best friends suddenly earlier this year. 

“I think what really shocked me is how many people can’t see the shape of the life they’ve lived until they get to the very end of it.”

Overall, I liked the idea for this book and the concept of showing the two different paths Dawn’s life could take. As always with JP’s books, the story is well researched and there were many fascinating facts I learned about Egypt, ancient Egypt and death. But at times I felt like it  got bogged down in academia, which took away from my enjoyment of the story and it felt a bit like reading a textbook. 

This isn’t a lighthearted read and it is definitely one you have to be in the right frame of mind for. I wasn’t. It’s too soon for me. But I will go back and read the remaining third of this book at a later date as I was enjoying the story and characters and liked the format the story took. As with the layout of her last book, A Spark of Light, I don’t think everyone will like this. But I like that she takes these risks in both how and what she writes. It’s why she’s my favourite author. 

*I’m not rating this book at the present time as I feel my judgement would be clouded by my grief. I will rate it at a later date when I finish the final part of the book.

MEET THE AUTHOR:

Jodi Picoult is the #1 bestselling author of twenty-five novels including My Sister’s Keeper, Nineteen Minutes, The Storyteller, Leaving Time, the acclaimed #1 bestseller, Small Great Things, which explored the issues of power, privilege and race, and has sold more than 1.5 million copies. Picoult’s most recent novel, A SPARK OF LIGHT., published on October 2, 2018, was her tenth consecutive instant #1 New York Times bestseller, and was praised as “Picoult at her fearless best” by the Washington Post.

Picoult’s books have been translated into thirty-four languages in thirty-five countries. Four novels – The Pact, Plain Truth, The Tenth Circle, and Salem Falls – have been made into television movies. My Sister’s Keeper was a film released from New Line Cinema, with Nick Cassavetes directing and Cameron Diaz starring. SMALL GREAT THINGS has been optioned for motion picture adaptation by Amblin Entertainment and is set to star Viola Davis and Julia Roberts. Picoult’s two Young Adult novels, Between The Lines and Off The Page, co-written with her daughter Samantha Van Leer, have been adapted and developed by the authors into a musical entitled Between The Lines which had its world premiere in September 2017 at the Kansas City Repertory Theater and is expected to premiere Off-Broadway in Summer 2019.

Picoult is the recipient of many awards, including the New England Bookseller Award for Fiction, the Alex Awards from the YALSA, a lifetime achievement award for mainstream fiction from the Romance Writers of America, the NH Literary Award for Outstanding Literary Merit and the Sarah Josepha Hale Award. She holds honorary doctor of letters degrees from Dartmouth College and the University of New Haven.

Picoult is the recipient of many awards, including the New England Bookseller Award for Fiction, the Alex Awards from the YALSA, a lifetime achievement award for mainstream fiction from the Romance Writers of America, and the NH Literary Award for Outstanding Literary Merit. She holds honorary doctor of letters degrees from Dartmouth College and the University of New Haven. She is also a member of the advisory board for VIDA: Women in Literary Arts.

Picoult lives in New Hampshire with her husband. They have three children.

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book reviews Emma's Anticipated Treasures

Eudora Honeysett is Quite Well, Thank You by Annie Lyons

Published: September 17th, 2020
Publisher: One More Chapter
Format: Paperback, Kindle, Audio
Genre: Domestic Fiction

I read this book as part of a readalong with One More Chapter. Thank you to Claire for the invitation to take part and the gifted eBook ARC.

SYNOPSIS:

Eudora Honeysett is done – with all of it. Having seen first-hand what a prolonged illness can create, the eighty-five-year-old has no intention of leaving things to chance. With one call to a clinic in Switzerland she takes her life into her own hands.

But then ten-year-old Rose arrives in a riot of colour on her doorstep. Now, as precocious Rose takes Eudora on adventures she’d never imagined she reflects on the trying times of her past and soon finds herself wondering – is she ready for death when she’s only just experienced what it’s like to truly live?

A heartfelt story of life, death, friendship and family perfect for fans of Gail Honeyman

MY REVIEW:

“This is her decision. The ending to her story.”

Gloriously uplifting, this was a balm for my soul. It wrapped itself around me like a warm hug and was exactly the read I needed. 

The characters in this book are truly special. I instantly loved Eudora. Fiercely slightly cantankerous, she has a strength that is evident from the start. She prefers her own company and keeps interaction with others to the bare minimum, despairing of the selfishness of modern society. But behind her spiky facade, there’s a warmth to her that she can’t conceal. She was a fabulous character that I fell completely in love with and will stay in my heart forever.

“She isn’t used to having such a force of nature in her life. This little girl is like a grenade full of joie de vive and Eudora has no idea why she has been chosen as a friend.”

The trio of Eudora, Stanley and Rose was sheer perfection. I loved how Stanley and Rose brought out Eudora’s softer side and how they complemented each other, creating a truly special friendship. And I think everyone could use a Rose in their life.

“The older she gets, the more redundant she feels. It’s as if her life is a long corridor lined with different doors leading to activities past and present. In her youth, she could enter through any number of these doors… Now, most of the doors are marked with strict ‘no entry’ signs… It’s not the end of the world but it’s a shrunken world, which makes her feel a lot less useful.”

But this is more than a cosy read. There’s a depth to this book that the author expertly weaves in amongst the tenderness, joy, humour and heartache. She touches on the harsh truths of aging and how our society treats the older generation, highlighting in particular their isolation and pain. But it is her exploration of the subject of death, and in particular if a person should have the right to choose how and when they die, that is the most powerful part of this story.

“If I can have the choice of how I live my own life, why can’t I choose how to die my own death?”

The author tackles this emotive and controversial subject with honesty, sensitivity and humour, helping the reader to see why someone might want to choose to die without being terminally ill or depressed. She also touches on our fear of death as a society, and questions if thinking any life is better than none at all, showing us how it really feels to be isolated, infirm, living with pain or dementia and asks if those people should be part of the conversation rather than just legislators. 

This is one of those books that will take you through every emotion, but I dare you to try and read it without a smile on your face. Joyous, heartwarming, poignant and thought-provoking, this spectacular novel is a contender for my book of the year. I can’t recommend it highly enough. Just have tissue at the ready and be prepared to fall in love. 

Rating: ✮✮✮✮✮

MEET THE AUTHOR:

After a career in bookselling and publishing, Annie Lyons published five books including the best-selling, Not Quite Perfect. When not working on her novels, she teaches creative writing. She lives in south-east London with her husband and two children.

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book reviews

A Court of Mist and Fury by Sarah J. Mass

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Published: June 2nd, 2020
Publisher: Bloomsbury UK
Format: Paperback, Kindle, Audio
Genre: Fantasy Fiction

Thank you to Tandem Collective UK for the invitation to take part in the readalong and Bloomsbury UK for the gifted copy of the book.

SYNOPSIS:

Feyre survived Amarantha’s clutches to return to the Spring Court – but at a steep cost. Though she now possesses the powers of the High Fae, her heart remains human, and it can’t forget the terrible deeds she performed to save Tamlin’s people.

Nor has Feyre forgotten her bargain with Rhysand, the mesmerising High Lord of the feared Night Court. As Feyre navigates his dark web of political games and tantalising promises, a greater evil looms – and she might be key to stopping it. But only if she can step into her growing power, heal her fractured soul and have the courage to shape her own future – and the future of a world cloven in two.

Sarah J. Maas is a global #1 bestselling author. Her books have sold more than nine million copies and been translated into 37 languages. Discover the sweeping romantic fantasy for yourself.

MY REVIEW:

“Amarantha was just the beginning…”

This series has been my surprise reading joy of 2020. It was a series I’d had no plans to read in a genre I rarely pick up, but after reading the first book in this series I was hooked. Book two seems to be a fan favourite, with many who’d read the series telling me it’s their favourite installment, so I had high hopes for this readalong. 

ACOMAF feels darker than book one. I has themes of resentment, rage, imprisonment and freedom, examines PTSD, toxic relationships and is full of revenge, murder, lust and sex; alongside faeries, mythical creatures and magic. I find it hard to remember that this is targeted at a Young Adult audience and don’t think I’d be comfortable letting a young teen read it.

“But I was ensconced in a cocoon of darkness and fire and ice and wind, a cocoon that melted the ring off my finger until the golden ore dripped away into the void, the emerald tumbling after it. I wrapped that raging force around myself as if it could keep the walls from crushing me entirely, and maybe, maybe buy me the tiniest sip of air —
I couldn’t get out; I couldn’t get out ; I couldn’t get out —“

This one started slow for me; throughout part one I thought I was going to be the black sheep who didn’t like this book. This centered around the toxic relationship between Feyre and Tamlin, which was hard to read and at odds with their great love story in the first book. I admit, if this hadn’t been for a readalong I might have given up. But to my relief, it picked up in part two when Feyre arrived at the Night Court with Rhysand. This was also where I finally began to understand the love for Rhys that runs through the fandom. In book one it confused me as he’s a manipulative and abusive character, though we had been offered glimpses of his history towards the end of the book that hint at the reasons for his behaviour. But in this book we are given more of his back story and get to meet his inner circle. I am now Team Rhysand and Team Dream Court.

The storyline centers around a threat from King Hybern, who wants to take over the Faerie Realm and destroy the Mortal Realm. Feyre must find a way to save her home, both old and new, while learning to harness her new powers and navigating the politics of both realms. We are introduced to new characters and more of the magical world that Mass has created. I enjoyed this aspect of the book and seeing how differently characters we’d got to know in book one interacted with the new characters and revealed previously hidden sides to their character; some of them so much so they feel unrecognisable. For example, while Feyre remains the strong, fierce and independent warrior we met in book one, characters such as Tamlin and Rhys change drastically this time around. 

“I want them to hear your story. And know that there is a special strength… to enduring such dark trials and hardships… And still remaining warm, and kind. Still willing to trust —and reach out.”

Overall, I can see why this book is so loved and it was certainly a hit for me, though I do feel unable to rate it five stars because of part one. Mass has once again ended the book on a cliffhanger, setting the scene for more action and conflict, and making me wish I could pick up book three straight away. I highly recommend this series, even if it isn’t your usual kind of thing. You just might find that like me it opens you up to a whole new genre.

Rating: ✮✮✮✮✫

Sarah J. Maas by Beowulf Sheehan
The fantasy writer Sarah J. Maas (USA), January 22, 2020. Photograph © Beowulf Sheehan

MEET THE AUTHOR:

Sarah J. Maas is the New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of the Throne of Glass series, as well as the A Court of Thorns and Roses series.

Sarah lives in Bucks County, PA, and over the years, she has developed an unhealthy appreciation for Disney movies and bad pop music. She adores fairy tales and ballet, drinks too much tea, and watches an ungodly amount of TV. When she’s not busy writing, she can be found exploring the historic and beautiful Pennsylvania countryside with her husband and canine companion.

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All My Lies Are True by Dorothy Koomson (Ice Cream Girls 2)

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Published: July 9th, 2020
Publisher: Headline
Format: Hardcover, Kindle, Audio
Genre: Mystery, Thriller, Crime Fiction

Trigger Warning: Domestic Abuse

Thank you to the Tandem Collective for the invitation to take part in this readalong and Headline for the gifted copy of the book.

SYNOPSIS:

From the bestselling author of Tell Me Your Secret and The Brighton Mermaid comes the breath-taking sequel to the iconic Sunday Times bestseller The Ice Cream Girls.

Verity is telling lies…
And that’s why she’s about to be arrested for attempted murder.

Serena has been lying for years. . .
And that may have driven her daughter, Verity, to do something unthinkable…

Poppy’s lies have come back to haunt her . . .
So will her quest for the truth hurt everyone she loves?

Everyone lies.
But whose lies are going to end in tragedy?

MY REVIEW:

After reading The Ice Cream Girls in May, I was excited to read the highly anticipated follow up, which takes place ten years after the first. This time the story focuses mostly on Verity, the daughter of one of the Ice Cream Girls, and examines the legacy of the Ice Cream Girls and how it has affected those around them. It also tells the story of someone who has been in an abusive relationship and discovers that someone close to them is in one but isn’t sure if they are the victim or abuser. 

I LOVED this book! It was utterly addictive and I couldn’t put it down. At almost 600 pages it isn’t a short book, but I devoured it quickly and wasn’t ready for it to end, wishing I could stay with the characters even longer. I loved getting to know Verity and seeing how different life was for Poppy and Serena ten years later. This was my second time reading a Dorothy Koomson book and she is now an auto-buy author for me. My only regret is waiting so long to read her work. Her writing is exquisite and she manages to cover emotional and thought-provoking topics with sensitivity while having you on the edge of your seat as tension radiates from the pages and I tried in vain to predict what would happen next. 

The Tandem Collective ran this readalong a little differently and it started with a IGTV Live with the author where she read from the beginning of the book and then talked with fans and answered questions. In that chat she said that she had returned to the Ice Cream Girls because she thought it would be easier than creating new characters to tell. The premise of not knowing if your loved one is the victim or abuser in a relationship is one nobody wants to think about. As someone who has been in an abusive relationship I know it would kill me if someone I loved became an abuser. In fact, trying to stop that happening is the very reason I took my four-year-old son and left his father. It was a fascinating journey to follow the characters on and I related to both sides as the heartbreaking truth was revealed. 

One of the things that stood out to me most of all was how authentic the journey of the character who is being abused was. Their initial disbelief, how they rationalised abusive behaviours and their devastation as the truth finally dawns were all reminiscent of my own journey. In fact, some of the things written in this book made me see things that had happened in my past in a new light and realise that the journey is not yet over even many years on. I also appreciated the fact that she shines a light on domestic abuse  towards men as well as women as this is something not talked about enough.

As much as I enjoyed The Ice Cream Girls, I loved this even more. This gripping book is the definition of unputdownable, keeping you guessing until the final page. An intense and jaw-dropping thriller that you don’t want to miss.

Rating: ✮✮✮✮✮

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MEET THE AUTHOR:

Dorothy Koomson is the award-winning author of 15 novels and has been making up stories since she was 13 when she used to share her stories with her convent school friends. Her published titles include: Tell Me Your Secret, The Brighton Mermaid, The Friend, When I Was Invisible, That Girl From Nowhere, The Flavours of Love, The Woman He Loved Before, Goodnight, Beautiful and The Chocolate Run.

Dorothy’s first novel, The Cupid Effect, was published in 2003 (when she was quite a bit older than 13). Her third book, My Best Friend’s Girl, was selected for the Richard & Judy Summer Reads of 2006 and went on to sell over 500,000 copies. While her fourth novel, Marshmallows For Breakfast, has sold in excess of 250,000 copies. Dorothy’s books, The Ice Cream Girls and The Rose Petal Beach were both shortlisted for the popular fiction category of the British Book Awards in 2010 and 2013, respectively.

Dorothy’s novels have been translated into over 30 languages, and a TV adaptation loosely based on The Ice Cream Girls was shown on ITV1 in 2013. After briefly living in Australia, Dorothy now lives in Brighton.

In 2019 Dorothy was awarded the Image Award by The Black British Business Awards to celebrate and honour her achievements.

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Nine Elms by Robert Bryndza

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Published: June 25th, 2020
Publisher: Sphere
Format: Paperback, Kindle, Audio
Genre: Psychological Thriller, Mystery, Police Procedural, Crime Series.

I read this as part of a readalong with Tandem Collective UK. Thank you to Tandem Collective for the invitation to take part and Sphere for the gifted copy of the book.

SYNOPSIS:

From the breakthrough international bestselling author of The Girl in the Ice, a breathtaking, page-turning novel about a disgraced female detective’s fight for redemption. And survival.

Kate Marshall was a promising young police detective when she caught the notorious Nine Elms serial killer. But her greatest victory suddenly became a nightmare.

Fifteen years after those catastrophic, career-ending events, a copycat killer has taken up the Nine Elms mantle, continuing the ghastly work of his idol.

Enlisting her brilliant research assistant, Tristan Harper, Kate draws on her prodigious and long-neglected skills as an investigator to catch a new monster. But there’s much more than her reputation on the line: Kate was the original killer’s intended fifth victim . . . and his successor means to finish the job.

MY REVIEW:

Kate Marshall was at the start of a promising career when she unmasked the identity of the Nine Elms serial killer. But solving the case costs the young detective her career and fifteen years later she is still haunted professionally and personally by the case. Now working as a Criminology lecturer, the case comes back to plague her when a copycat takes up the Nine Elms Cannibal’s mantle and continues his idol’s gruesome killings. With the help of her research assistant Tristan Harper, Kate finds herself once again hunting a monster. But will she catch him before he finishes what the Nine Elms Cannibal didn’t?

Wow! What a ride! Dark, sinister, tense and atmospheric, this is exactly the kind of gripping thriller I love. I had heard great things about Robert Bryndza, and as a fan of crime fiction and investigative thrillers, I always planned to read his books. So, when the opportunity to read the first book in his new crime series with Tandem Collective came along, a book that was on my first ever list of Emma’s Anticipated Treasures when the hardback was released in January, I jumped at the chance and am now an instant fan. Bryndza is a seasoned thriller writer, and it shines through. Filled with well developed, memorable and compelling characters and with foreboding and suspense dripping from every page, I was on the edge of my seat from beginning to end.

Kate is a great protagonist and I really like her as the focus for a crime series. I liked that she is an ex-police officer in a break from the norm and her personal connection to the Nine Elms killer gave her, and the story, a bit of an edge.  The dynamic between her and her assistant was interesting and I liked how they worked together as they investigated the case. I’m looking forward to seeing where the author takes them in book two and hopefully learning a bit more about Tristan’s background. 

The Nine Elms Cannibal and the Fan are both predatory, merciless and ruthless killers. I found their relationship interesting. I am a self-confessed true crime fan, but can not imagine idolising a killer or wanting to copy or continue his or her ‘work’. Getting an insight into someone who does was both fascinating and disturbing. But strangely enough, it wasn’t the killers I loathed most of all. It was Enid, the mother of the Nine Elms cannibal. I don’t want to go into why as it will ruin the book, but I will say she is a vile, sickening woman who was very well written. 

Sharp, succinct, twisty and addictive, Nine Elms is one of my top thrillers this year. Gritty, gruesome and not for the faint hearted, it is a strong start to a new series that I will certainly be following and I am counting down impatiently to book two in November. 

Rating: ✮✮✮✮✮

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MEET THE AUTHOR:

Robert Bryndza began his career training at the Guildford School of Acting. He spent six years as an actor, doing all kinds of strange jobs in between, which was the perfect training for being an author. He began to write during a long period of unemployment, first comedy sketches, a show which he took to the Edinburgh Festival, and then four romantic comedy novels which he self-published, and they became Amazon charts bestsellers selling over 250,000 copies.

His debut crime thriller The Girl in the Ice was the first book in his Detective Erika Foster series. It has sold over 1 million copies in the English language, and won the Dead Good Reader Award for best kick-ass female character at the 2016 Harrogate Crime Festival. Erika Foster has gone on to kick-ass in five further books; The Night Stalker, Dark Water, Last Breath, Cold Blood and Deadly Secrets. The series was twice nominated in Goodreads Choice Awards (Mystery and Thriller category) in 2016 for The Girl in the Ice, and in 2017 for Last Breath. Robert’s books have sold over 3 million copies in the English language, and have been translated into 29 languages.

Nine Elms, the first book| in his new Kate Marshall private detective series was published late in 2019 and was an instant Amazon USA no.1 bestseller, an Amazon UK top 10 bestseller and topped bestselling charts around the world. The second book in the series, Shadow Sands, will be published in November 2020. Robert is British and lives in Slovakia.

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Strangers by C.L. Taylor ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

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Published: April 2nd, 2020
Publisher: Avon Books
Format: Hardback, Kindle
Genre: Mystery, Suspense, Psychological Thriller, Noir Fiction, Urban Fiction

Thank you to Tandem Collective UK for the invitation to take part in the readalong and to Avon Books for the gifted copy.

SYNOPSIS:

Ursula, Gareth and Alice have never met before.

Ursula thinks she killed the love of her life.
Gareth’s been receiving strange postcards.
And Alice is being stalked.

None of them are used to relying on others – but when the three strangers’ lives unexpectedly collide, there’s only one thing for it: they have to stick together. Otherwise, one of them will die.

Three strangers, two secrets, one terrifying evening.

The million-copy bestseller returns with a gripping new novel that will keep you guessing until the end.

MY REVIEW:

I read Strangers as part of a readalong via Tandem Collective UK and was so hooked that I read it in one sitting instead of over six days. This book is the definition of unputdownable.  

The story packs a punch from the first chapter, opening with a dead body and our three narrators – Alice, Ursula and Gareth – all wondering what to do. With a sense of foreboding, we then go back to a week earlier, a time when they had never met and had no idea their lives were about to become entwined in such a dark way. 

Each of the narrators is facing their own challenges: Alice is trying to get back into the dating scene two years after the end of her marriage, Ursula finds herself homeless and then living with a weird man because of the cheap room, and Gareth is trying to keep his mother at home despite her dementia worsening, while also working full-time. All the characters leap from the page, even secondary ones we barely saw. To begin with I wasn’t a fan of Ursula but by the end she was my favourite character; a complex person full of compassion and strength. The secondary characters were sometimes even more interesting than the narrators. Ursula’s landlord, Edward, was an odd duck and had me intrigued from the start. There was something suspicious about him, though I couldn’t quite put my finger on it. I loved the cat and mouse game that developed between them and was full of questions about what it meant and where it would end.

C.L Taylor is one of my auto-buy authors but this is only the second time I’ve actually read one of her books. In Strangers she combines magnificent storytelling, edge-of-your-seat tension, mystery and compelling drama to create the perfect thriller. She expertly weaves the seemingly unconnected threads together using clever twists and turns.

Strangers is a tightly plotted, jaw-dropping and utterly brilliant thriller that should be on everyone’s bookshelf. You need to read it now!

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Cally Taylor was born in Worcester and spent her early years living in various army camps in the UK and Germany. She studied Psychology at the University of Northumbria and went on forge a career in instructional design and e-Learning before leaving to write full time in 2014.

She started writing short stories in 2005 and was published widely in literary and women’s magazines. She also won several short story competitions. In 2009 and 2011 her romantic comedy novels (as Cally Taylor) were published by Orion and translated into fourteen languages. HEAVEN CAN WAIT was a bestseller in Hungary and China and HOME FOR CHRISTMAS was made into a feature film by JumpStart Productions. Whilst on maternity leave with her son Cally had an idea for a psychological thriller and turned to crime.

C.L. Taylor lives in Bristol with her partner and young son.

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