Categories
Year In Review

My 20 Favourites of 2020

I can’t quite believe that 2020 is over! It’s been a strange year and I think we’re all hoping that 2021 brings better things and that we can soon get back to a new normal.

It was my second full year of blogging and once again I read more than I had even hoped to. I had set my Goodreads challenge at 120 and managed to read 177. That’s 27 more than in 2019.

As you can probably imagine, reading so many books made putting together my favourite twenty books of the year a difficult task. That last spot in particular had four other books that I really wanted to include and it was a real struggle to know which should make the final spot.

Here is my list in the order that I read the books:

  1. Firewatching by Russ Thomas
  2. The Foundling by Stacey Halls
  3. Away with the Penguins by Hazel Prior
  4. Hamnet by Maggie O’Farrell
  5. The Switch by Beth O’Leary
  6. What’s Left Of Me Is Yours by Stephanie Scott
  7. What Lies Between Us by John Marrs
  8. Tsarina by Ellen Alpsten
  9. The Waiting Rooms by Eve Smith
  10. The Miseducation of Evie Epworth by Matson Taylor
  11. The Midnight Library by Matt Haig
  12. All The Lonely People by Mike Gayle
  13. A Court of Wings and Ruin by Sarah J. Maas
  14. Eudora Honeysett is Quite Well, Thank You by Annie Lyons
  15. The Meaning of Mariah Carey by Mariah Carey
  16. The Illustrated Child by Polly Crosby
  17. The Burning Girls by C. J. Tudor
  18. The Extraordinary Hope of Dawn Brightside by Jessica Ryn
  19. The Smallest Man by Frances Quinn
  20. The Last House On Needless Street by Catriona Ward

Out of the final twenty, sixteen are by new to me authors, nine of them debuts. I found that 2020 was a strong year in terms of fantastic debuts, with others such as The Phone Box at the Edge of the World, Pine, The Memory Wood, The Wreckage, The Holdout, If I Can’t Have You, Dear Child, The Missing Pieces of Nancy Moon, Shiver, The Push and The Thursday Murder Club standing out in particular.

So what almost made it? Contenders for this list included Three Hours, Pine, The Memory Wood, In Five Years, The Phone Box at the Edge of the World, If I Could Say Goodbye, The Push, Strangers, Dear Child, The Ice Cream Girls, All My Lies Are True and The Thursday Murder Club.

My favourite book of the year was not a difficult choice. Though there were many that were good enough to take the title, What’s Left Of Me Is Yours is the standout book of the year for me. I can honestly say that I’ve thought about this stunning debut every day since I read it in April. Do yourself a favour and read it if you haven’t already. I’m just hoping it’s not too long before I can read another book by the talented Stephanie Scott.

Did we have any of the same favourites? What was your book of the year? Let me know in the comments.

Keep an eye out for a post tomorrow with the top 20 lists of some other bloggers and which 2020 book we recommend most of all.

*Thank you to the tagged publishers for my #gifted ARCs.

Categories
Blog Tours Monthly Wrap Up

Monthly Wrap Up – May 2020

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Another month is done and I’m writing another wrap up. These seem to come around quicker each month. Does anyone else think the same?

May has been my best reading month in quite some time. I finished sixteen books and took part in fourteen blog tours. The quality of books has again been high with all books being four stars or above.

Here’s what I read in May:

  1. He Started It by Samantha Downing ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
  2. Who We Were by B. M. Carroll ⭐⭐⭐⭐
  3. The Happy Couple by Samantha Hayes ⭐⭐⭐⭐
  4. The Secrets of Sunshine by Phaedra Patrick ⭐⭐⭐⭐
  5. One Mistake by Rona Halsall ⭐⭐⭐⭐
  6. Dear Child by Romy Hausmann ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
  7. What Lies Between Us by John Marrs ⭐⭐⭐⭐
  8. Ash Mountain by Helen Fitzgerald ⭐⭐⭐⭐
  9. Her Last Mistake (Detective Gina Harte Book 6) by Carla Kovach ⭐⭐⭐⭐
  10. Tsarina by Ellen Alpsten ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
  11. The Bride by Wendy Clarke ⭐⭐⭐⭐
  12. The Glass House by Eve Chase ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
  13. His & Hers by Alice Feeney ⭐⭐⭐⭐.5
  14. The Ice Cream Girls by Dorothy Koomson⭐⭐⭐⭐
  15. Water’s Edge (Detective Megan Carpenter Book 2) by Gregg Olsen ⭐⭐⭐⭐
  16. The Majesties by Tiffany Tsao ⭐⭐⭐⭐

 You can read the reviews for all the books by clicking on the title except for The Ice Cream Girls and The Majesties. My reviews for those books will be posted in the coming week.

This month there were two books that stood out as favourites for me. They are very different books and I found it impossible to choose one over the over. Therefore, I have two books of the month: What Lies Between Us and Tsarina. What Lies Between Us is an outstanding thriller that was so twisted I can’t stop thinking about it. John Marrs really outdid himself with this book and I’m hoping it is turned into a series or film soon. Tsarina is the epic story of Catherine, Tsarina of All the Russias. Catherine’s story is one so crazy that you couldn’t make it up. The novel is beautifully written and I was utterly immersed in Catherine’s world while reading. I already had a fascination with the fall of the Tsars but this novel brought about a greater interest in the Tsars reign and Catherine and Peter’s stories in particular. I highly recommend both books.

Are any of these in your tbr? What is your favourite book you’ve read this month?

Next month I have a slightly more relaxed schedule of blog tours which I’m looking forward to as maybe I’ll get to do more free reading soon. I’m very excited about my buddy read of The Phone Box at the Edge of the World with Beth as it’s our first buddy read and the book is one of my most anticipated books of the year.

Thank you to all the tagged publishers for my gifted copies of these books.

Hope you are all staying safe and well,
Emma x

Categories
Blog Tours book reviews

Tsarina by Ellen Alpsten ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

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Published: May 14th, 2020
Publisher: Bloomsbury
Format: Hardcover, Kindle, Audio
Genre: Historical Fiction, Biographical Fiction

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

SYNOPSIS:

Lover. Murderer. Mother. Meet TSARINA, the most powerful woman history ever forgot.

Spring 1699: Illegitimate, destitute and strikingly beautiful, Marta has survived the brutal Russian winter in her remote Baltic village. Sold by her family into household labour at the age of fifteen, Marta survives by committing a crime that will force her to go on the run.

A world away, Russia’s young ruler, Tsar Peter I, passionate and iron-willed, has a vision for transforming the traditionalist Tsardom of Russia into a modern, Western empire. Countless lives will be lost in the process.

Falling prey to the Great Northern War, Marta cheats death at every turn, finding work as a washerwoman at a battle camp. One night at a celebration, she encounters Peter the Great. Relying on her wits and her formidable courage, and fuelled by ambition, desire and the sheer will to live, Marta will become Catherine I of Russia. But her rise to the top is ridden with peril; how long will she survive the machinations of Peter’s court, and more importantly, Peter himself?

MY REVIEW:

“He is dead. My beloved husband, the mighty Tsar of all the Russias, has died – and just in time.”

Tsarina is a story of power, lust, sex, murder and betrayal. Of rags-to-riches. Of Catherine, the first Tsarina of all the Russias. 

It begins in February 1725, on the night that Peter the Great, Tsar of All the Russias, dies. Catherine, her children and his advisors try to conceal his death for as long as possible to delay their fate. It is a matter of life and death. The story then moves between that night and flashbacks to Catherine’s life, beginning when she was just thirteen-years-old, still known as Marta and living with her serf family. We then follow her journey from poor peasant girl to Tsarina; a story that would be deemed too far fetched if you tried to sell it to a publisher. But every word of this novel is based in fact, with just a few liberties taken as the details of Catherine’s early life is shrouded in mystery.

I have always had a love for history and ever since studying the fall of the Tsars for my History A Level I have been fascinated with their story. So when I saw this book advertised I knew from just the title that I HAD to read it and after reading the synopsis it became one of my most anticipated books of the year. Thankfully, this magnificent debut surpassed every one of my high expectations. It was an all-encompassing read. A book that I took my time with, taking time to soak in every word, but also one that I couldn’t put down or stop thinking about when I had to do so. 

Ellen Alpsten is a new talent to watch. Exquisitely written and wonderfully crafted, her meticulous research shines through on every page, bringing back to life those who lived and died three hundred years ago and making you feel like they are right there beside you with her powerful storytelling. I was hooked from the start and became totally lost in Catherine’s story, living every word of this book while reading it. Every moment of love and joy, every piercing pain of heartbreak and every gut-wrenching horror she witnessed and experienced, I felt along with her. 

“Together, we have lived and loved, and together, we ruled.”

After reading this novel it seems unimaginable that Catherine’s story has been forgotten. That such a strong, brave and remarkable woman had been consigned to a footnote in history. At that time life for most of Russia’s people was hard, harsh and bleak. Even those in the upper classes lived in fear of falling out the Tsar’s favour and losing not only their wealth but their lives. Peter had a new vision for Russia and was a ruthless leader who was willing to sacrifice anyone and everything to achieve it. Even as his wife Catherine walked a tightrope knowing she could be stripped of everything and either sent to a convent or killed should the fancy take him. The brutality of life at that time and the lack of rights that were held by even the highest-ranking women is starkly illuminated in Catherine’s story in sobering detail. 

Tsarina is a masterpiece of historical fiction. Atmospheric, intoxicating, unsettling, and compelling, this outstanding novel is one that will linger long after you close it’s pages. This gloriously decadent debut is one you don’t want to miss. 

Ellen Alpsten Author Pic

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Ellen Alpsten was born and raised in the Kenyan highlands. Today, Ellen works as an author and as a journalist for international publications such as Vogue, Standpoint, and CN Traveller. She lives in London with her husband, three sons, and a moody fox red Labrador. Tsarina is her debut novel.

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Tsarina BT Poster