Book Review: Dragon’s Green – Scarlett Thomas

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Release Date: 6th April 2017
Publisher: Canongate
Pages: 354
Find it on: Amazon. Goodreads. 
Source: Canongate kindly gave me a copy of this book to read.

Synopsis:

Effie Truelove believes in magic, as does her grandfather Griffin (although he refuses to do any magic, let alone teach Effie how to use it). After a mysterious incident leaves Griffin close to death, Effie is given an unusual silver ring and told she must look after her grandfather’s library of rare and powerful books. But then the books fall into the hands of shady scholar Leonard Levar, and Effie is propelled into the most dangerous adventure of her life.

Now, Effie and her friends—nerdy Maximilian, rugby-mad Wolf, helpful Lexy, and eccentric Raven—must discover their true powers if they are to get the books back. And Effie alone will have to travel to the Otherworld, where she will uncover the true meaning of the strange old book called Dragon’s Green

Review:

Going into this book I hadn’t read anything by Scarlett Thomas before. I own a couple of her books for adults, but they are on my never ending to be read pile at the moment. I have a few friends who absolutely adore her books, so I was really looking forward to getting stuck into Dragon’s Green, and I definitely wasn’t disappointed.

Dragon’s Green is the first book in the Worldquake Sequence. A series which children and adults alike are just going to adore. The book is packed full of magic and excitement, and I adored it from start to finish. This book reminded me of so many books I’ve read as a child, and I really didn’t want it to end. It’s beautifully written in a smart and witty way, and the characters really leap off the page. Our main protagonist Effie is razor sharp, and a true hero.

The world building is also absolutely superb, there’s magic and monsters (and even a dragon) but all the little details are there too – M Currency and portals to the Otherworld are all richly described to really immerse the reader in this fantastic setting. This is the kind of book I would read again and again, and definitely pass on to my children. I also adored that gorgeous glow in the dark cover, it really gives you a glimpse into the exciting story within. I for one am now very much looking forward to seeing where The WorldQuake Sequence goes next, and am definitely going to be diving into Scarlett Thomas’s adult books too.

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Feature: Interview with Charlie Laidlaw

Check out our interview with author Charlie Laidlaw, all about his book The Things We Learn When We’re Dead, and the inspiration for it.

Tell us about your books:

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I’m the author of two novels, The Herbal Detective (Ringwood Publishing) and The Things We Learn When We’re Dead (Accent Press). Assuming we don’t experience nuclear Armageddon in the immediate future, and I’m not betting against it, a third novel, Darker Matters, is due to be published by Accent Press in January 2018.

A little bit about yourself:

I was born and brought up in central Scotland and am a graduate of the University of Edinburgh. I still have the scroll, but it’s in Latin, so it could say anything.

I then worked briefly as a street actor, baby photographer, puppeteer and restaurant dogsbody before becoming a journalist. I started in Glasgow and ended up in London, covering news, features and politics.

Surprisingly, I was approached by a government agency to work in intelligence, which just shows how shoddy government recruitment was back then but, craving excitement and adventure, I ended up as a PR consultant, which is the fate of all journalists who haven’t won a Pulitzer Prize.

I am married with two grown-up children and live in East Lothian. And that’s about it.

What is The Things We Learn When We’re Dead about:

The Things We Learn When We’re Dead is a modern fairytale of love and loss. It’s about the subtle ways in which we change, and how the small decisions that we make can have profound and unintended consequences.

On one level, the book is a simple story of a young woman’s life. But, for those readers who want to make the connection, The Things We Learn is also a retelling of The Wizard of Oz: how a young woman in ultimately tragic circumstances comes to reassess her life and find a new beginning.

But don’t worry: most readers won’t make the Wizard of Oz allusion, so it’s not as wacky as it sounds!

Why the Wizard of Oz?

The book is about second chances – a young woman looking back at her life, and realising what he really has, and who she really is. That theme has been written a million times before and is universal and timeless.

The simple truism is that every piece of fiction being written now has already been written many times before – mainly by Shakespeare, although he also leaned heavily on much older sources.26790464
It doesn’t matter whether you’re writing about love, war, betrayal, death, marriage, alien invasion or the zombie apocalypse, a lot of other novelists have already been there, done that and got the T-shirt.

In that sense, “no place like home” isn’t just a physical place but a state of mind. In thinking the plot through, I realised I could either do what other authors have done and ignore the Oz link or, in my own way, celebrate it. I chose the latter.

What were some of the things that inspired you?

Somerset Maugham once remarked that “there are three rules for writing a novel. Unfortunately, no one knows what they are.” For me, that pretty much sums up what it’s like to write a novel. I really do struggle for inspiration.

But the idea for The Things We Learn was different. It came to me on a train from Edinburgh to London and so powerful was the initial idea that I hoped that the train would break down, or for spontaneous industrial action by the train crew.

I was therefore disappointed when the train pulled into King’s Cross, regrettably on time, but I did have the outline of a narrative – and, more importantly, a first and last chapter. The first chapter has changed out of all recognition, but the final chapter is still much as I first wrote it.

What was the first book that really inspired you?

The first semi-grown-up book that made a mark on me was Jennie by Paul Gallico. The central character is a small boy who is transformed into a cat. It echoed an Alice in Wonderland madness, but with adult themes. It was the first book I read that dealt with death and loss.

What are some of your favourite books now?CL bandw

I only really read contemporary literary fiction, so I must be a bit dull. But I do like books with a distinctive narrative voice – for example, The Last Family in England by Matt Haig, as narrated by a Labrador called Prince. Or Mark Haddon’s The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time, written by a teenager suffering from Asperger’s.

Or, even more recently, Anatomy of A soldier by Harry Parker, about a British soldier horrifically injured in Afghanistan. The impact of the book comes from a shifting narrative that is recounted by the inanimate objects that surround him – from a battery to a bullet, from a medical swab to a military drone. The overall effect is both distancing and weirdly intimate.

What advice would you give to other writers?

As a writer, I suppose you have to be a reader, and by a strange process of osmosis you do slowly absorb other authors’ wisdom – how to structure a book, how to create good dialogue and narrative, and pace and context.

Also, try to have a support structure around you: p

What’s next?

That’s entitled Darker Matters and is being published by Accent Press in January next year. It’s about love, loss and is, at least partly, a satire on the unexpected consequences of celebrity. It’s a dark comedy, I suppose, but I hope the smiles far outnumber any tears!

www.charlielaidlawauthor.com

Thanks so much for checking out this interview with Charlie. Also take a look at this fab video trailer for The Things We Learn When We’re Dead, available here!


Reading Challenge: The Reading Quest

So I’ve seen lots of people signing up on Twitter to do a month long readathon called The Reading Quest. It’s basically a fun video game style quest to conquer your TBR pile! Now that my dissertation is almost finished and I’m hoping to have lots more time to read, I thought this would be a fantastic way to kick things off. All the information is available on Aentee’s blog Read at Midnight. There is a point system involved, explained in the link there, which I will try and follow, but I’m mainly hoping to make a bit of a dent in my TBR over the next few weeks!

(Also all the beautiful graphics for this were done by CW of Read, Think and Ponder. They’re so stunning!)

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These are the four different character class options, and sticking with the video game theme I’m going to go for the Mage option, because that’s what I usually pick for games.

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So here are the books that I am going to try and tackle during this challenge. I’ve only chosen the books for the mage quests just now, if I manage to get any further I will add the others in later. This is the first reading challenge I’ve ever signed up to, so fingers crossed I don’t fall at the first hurdle!

1. A Book With A One Word Title: Carnivore – Jonathan Lyon
2. A Book That Contains Magic: Roar – Cora McCormack
3. A Book Based On Mythology: Norse Mythology – Neil Gaiman
4. A Book Set In A Different World: Everless – Sara Holland
5. The First Book In A Series: Red Queen – Victoria Aveyard

Some of these are books I’ve wanted to read for ages, and a few are from my current review pile. Will update as time goes on, but here goes!


Book Review: First Love – Gwendoline Riley

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Release Date: 2nd February 2017
Publisher: Granta
Pages: 169
Find it on: Amazon. Goodreads.
Source: Granta kindly sent me a copy of this book to review.

Synopsis:

Neve, the novel’s acutely intelligent narrator, is beset by financial anxiety and isolation, but can’t quite manage to extricate herself from her volatile partner, Edwyn. Told with emotional remove and bracing clarity, First Love is an account of the relationship between two catastrophically ill-suited people walking a precarious line between relative calm and explosive confrontation.

Review:

It took me a very long time to get my thoughts in order about First Love. Despite being not even 200 pages, this was a very heavy read, and took me quite a while to get through. The book is very much a character study, and focuses on the relationship between our main character Neve (the book is told from her perspective) and her marriage to the slightly older Edwyn.

As the book continues on, their relationship becomes more and more volatile, and it becomes clear they are definitely not suited to be with each other. The relationship is portrayed as very claustrophobic and confining, and Riley’s simple narrative style definitely imparts that to the reader. It’s a very fascinating read as we see Edwyn project his anger and self-loathing on to Neve, we see Neve have doubts about their relationship and begin to hate herself for continuing to stay with Edwyn despite how he treats her. There’s quite a lot of dialogue in the book, as there are only a few characters, the majority of the plot takes place in the conversations between the couple. The conversations flow really well, and seems very natural, and they definitely fit with the minimalist writing style.

This is certainly not a happy ending kind of book, and while it might not take you too long to read, it certainly gives you a lot to think about. The book was shortlisted for the Bailey’s Prize and I can completely understand why. It is hard hitting and sharply written. While it was a compelling book, I can’t particularly say that I enjoyed my time reading it. For me this was an interesting read, but did not draw me in the way that my five star reads do. I do definitely think it’s worth reading, and if you find yourself with a few spare hours on a quiet Sunday afternoon, First Love might just be the compelling piece of writing you’re looking for.


Book Review: S.T.A.G.S – M. A. Bennett

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Release Date: 10th August 2017
Publisher: Hot Key Books
Pages: 294
Find It On: Amazon. Goodreads.
Source: I was sent a copy of this book through ReadersFirst

Synopsis:

It is the autumn term and Greer MacDonald is struggling to settle into the sixth form at the exclusive St. Aidan the Great boarding school, known to its privileged pupils as S.T.A.G.S. Just when she despairs of making friends Greer receives a mysterious invitation with three words embossed upon on it: huntin’ shootin’ fishin’. When Greer learns that the invitation is to spend the half term weekend at the country manor of Henry de Warlencourt, the most popular and wealthy boy at S.T.A.G.S., she is as surprised as she is flattered.

But when Greer joins the other chosen few at the ancient and sprawling Longcross Hall, she realises that Henry’s parents are not at home; the only adults present are a cohort of eerily compliant servants. The students are at the mercy of their capricious host, and, over the next three days, as the three bloodsports – hunting, shooting and fishing – become increasingly dark and twisted, Greer comes to the horrifying realisation that those being hunted are not wild game, but the very misfits Henry has brought with him from school…

Review:

This was such a fun and enjoyable read. I read it over the course of two days, and the mystery kept me wanting more the whole way through. S.T.A.G.S is quite unlike anything I’ve ever read, and takes a common theme – being an outsider – and turns it into a whole new ballgame.

I really loved the characters in this book. Greer’s Dad is a nature film maker, so the two watch a lot of movies, and I really liked the way she continually referenced films in order to explain her point. I also really liked Nel and Shafeen, Greer’s only real companions. I also found it really interesting the way the Medievals are like carbon copies of each other, M.A. Bennett did a fantastic job of bringing out everyone’s high school nightmare with this group.

The setting for S.T.A.G.S is a really beautiful one, and one that definitely came alive in the story. It certainly is huntin’ shootin’ fishin’ village, with lots of mountains and lakes. The setting in the heart of the Lake District really is a fantastic backdrop for this story.

S.T.A.G.S is certainly a twisty and turn-y thriller. As Greer and her friends attempt to figure out what on earth is going on, there are several things you’ll totally see coming, but also more than a few that you’ll be completely a taken back by (I know I was). I love a story that can keep me guessing, and this exciting YA mystery, definitely ticks that box. S.T.A.G.S would also make one hell of a movie/television series, so I’m definitely going to be keeping my fingers crossed for that. If you’re looking for a quick and entertaining mystery, S.T.A.G.S is a must read for sure.


Feature: YALC Book Haul

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So as many of you know last weekend saw bloggers and ya fans flocking to London for London Film and Comic Con and the Young Adult Literature Convention. Myself amongst them, I had a fabulous time, and I bought some beautiful new books, as well as winning/was given some gorgeous new arcs. I only posted a little about the books that I bought so I could focus more on the arcs, but will add in goodreads links if you want to know more about them. Here’s we go!

Books I Bought:

1. Gilded Cage – Vic James

This book has been on my wishlist for absolutely ages, so when I saw Vic James was signing, I absolutely knew I had to pick it up. She was absolutely lovely and chatted away about the book. I’m so excited to start it!

 

 

2. Daughter of the Burning City – Amanda Footy

This book caught my eye on the YAHQ stand. It has such a beautiful cover and when I picked it up it sounded so amazing. The book deals were really fab at YALC so I got this for £5 and it was available a little earlier than in bookstores!

 

3. The Loneliest Girl in the Universe – Lauren James

I have heard such fantastic things about this book from the book blogger community. I don’t think I’ve seen anyone give it less than 4 stars. So when I heard this was going to be on sale early at YALC, I knew I had to buy a copy. It was a bit of a mad dash to get one, as they sold out in a few hours, but I’m sure it’s going to be worth it! (Also how stunning is that cover? I could look at it forever.) Lauren James also kindly signed my copy, and it’s pretty much gone straight to the top of by TBR!

 

ARCs:

1. WAR: Wizards and Robots – Will.I.Am and Brian David Johnson

Goodreads

The lovely folks at the Penguin Platform stand gave me a copy of this. It sounds really fantastic and I’m looking forward to reading it.

When a young man breaks into her home claiming her life is in danger,  Ada Luring’s world changes forever. Geller is a wizard, on the run from his father’s hidden clan who want to kill Ada and her mother. Sara Luring is the scientist who will create the first robot, the wizards’ age-old foes.

But a robot has travelled back in time to find Ada, and will lay everything on the line to protect her, as she may just be the key to preventing the earth’s destruction in the future.

2. Otherworld – Jason Segel and Kirsten Miller

Goodreads

This was a very hot proof over the weekend. The lovely folks at Rock the Boat did a blogger giveaway for it and I was lucky enough to be one of the first to be there. This book is the first in a series from Jason Segel (from How I Met Your Mother) and since it’s about gaming I think it will be right up my alley. Very much looking forward to reading this one.

The company says Otherworld is amazing—like nothing you’ve ever seen before. They say it’s addictive—that you’ll want to stay forever. They promise Otherworld will make all your dreams come true.

Simon thought Otherworld was a game. Turns out he knew nothing. Otherworld is the next phase of reality. It’s everything you’ve ever wanted.

3. Everless – Sara Holland

Goodreads

There were two proofs I was really hopeful to get over the weekend, one was Fireblood by Elly Blake (which sadly I didn’t get, but I now have an e-galley so it’s not all bad!) the other was this beauty. I’ve heard some overseas book bloggers talking about how stunning this is, and was so so happy to have got a copy. I’m probably going to dive into this straight after The Loneliest Girl in the Universe.

In the land of Sempera, time is extracted from blood and used as payment. Jules Ember and her father were once servants at Everless, the wealthy Gerling family’s estate, but were cast out after of a fateful accident a decade ago. Now, Jules’s father is reaching his last hour, and she will do anything to save him. Desperate to earn time, she arrives at the palace as it prepares for a royal wedding, ready to begin her search into childhood secrets that she once believed to be no more than myths. As she uncovers lost truths, Jules spirals deeper into a past she hardly recognizes, and faces an ancient and dangerous foe who threatens her future and the future of time itself.

4. Blackbird – N. D. Gomes

Goodreads

This was a surprise giveaway that happened just as I was walking past the YAHQ stand. I hadn’t heard much about it, but now that I’ve read the blurb I’m really excited to read this one!

My name is Alex. I am fifteen years old, and I don’t know where my sister is. Or if she will ever come back.

On New Year’s Eve 5,000 blackbirds dropped dead. The same day Olivia McCarthy went missing from a small coastal village in Orkney.

Now Her younger sister Alex is on a mission to find out just what happened to Olivia. But does she really want to know all the answers?

5. The Fandom – Anna Day

The Fandom is another book that has been getting loads of buzz on Twitter and social media recently. The lovely folks at Chicken House were giving away copies in exchange for signing up to their newsletter, so I was delighted to get a copy. Anna kindly also signed my copy of The Fandom, and I can already see big things for this beautiful book!

Cosplay ready, Violet and her friends are at Comic-Con.

They can’t wait to meet the fandom of mega movie, The Gallows Dance. What they’re not expecting is to be catapulted by freak accident into their favourite world – for real. Fuelled by love, guilt and fear, can the friends put the plot back on track and get out? The fate of the story is in their hands…

6. Zenith – Sasha Alsberg & Lindsay Cummings

Goodreads

I think this was possibly the most sought after book the whole weekend. The queues to get a copy did get a bit on the forceful side, but YAHQ were kind enough to give me one. The book sounds stunning, a sort of YA Star Trek style epic with kick ass leading ladies, and I’m very much looking forward to sinking my teeth into it!

Most know Androma Racella as the Bloody Baroness, a powerful mercenary whose reign of terror stretches across the Mirabel Galaxy. To those aboard her glass starship, Marauder, however, she’s just Andi, their friend and fearless leader.

But when a routine mission goes awry, the Marauder’s all-girl crew is tested as they find themselves in a treacherous situationand at the mercy of a sadistic bounty hunter from Andi’s past.

Meanwhile, across the galaxy, a ruthless ruler waits in the shadows of the planet Xen Ptera, biding her time to exact revenge for the destruction of her people. The pieces of her deadly plan are about to fall into place, unleashing a plot that will tear Mirabel in two.

Andi and her crew embark on a dangerous, soul-testing journey that could restore order to their shipor just as easily start a war that will devour worlds. As the Marauder hurtles toward the unknown, and Mirabel hangs in the balance, the only certainty is that in a galaxy run on lies and illusion, no one can be trusted.

7. Invictus – Ryan Graudin

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This took me completely by surprise because I had no idea that BKMRK were planning to do a giveaway of Invictus proofs. This book was already on my wishlist, so I was so happy to be one of the lucky 100 people that got one. Ryan also did a signing that day so I managed to get my copy signed as well!

Time flies when you’re plundering history.

Farway Gaius McCarthy was born outside of time. The son of a time-traveling Recorder from 2354 AD and a gladiator living in Rome in 95 AD, Far’s birth defies the laws of nature. Exploring history himself is all he’s ever wanted, and after failing his final time-traveling exam, Far takes a position commanding a ship with a crew of his friends as part of a black market operation to steal valuables from the past. 

But during a heist on the sinking Titanic, Far meets a mysterious girl who always seems to be one step ahead of him. Armed with knowledge that will bring Far’s very existence into question, she will lead Far and his team on a race through time to discover a frightening truth: History is not as steady as it seems.

8. The Treatment – C. L. Taylor

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I love a good thriller and this sounds right up my alley. This again was given to me by YAHQ, who were very generous with their proof giveaways over the weekend. (I think there were even more books given out on the Friday as well!) C. L. Taylor also popped by to sign some books at the YAHQ stand, and it was really fantastic to meet her!

“You have to help me. We’re not being reformed. We’re being brainwashed.”

All sixteen year old Drew Finch wants is to be left alone. She’s not interested in spending time with her mum and stepdad and when her disruptive fifteen year old brother Mason is expelled from school for the third time and sent to a residential reform academy she’s almost relieved.

Everything changes when she’s followed home from school by the mysterious Dr Cobey, who claims to have a message from Mason. There is something sinister about the ‘treatment’ he is undergoing. The school is changing people.

Determined to help her brother, Drew must infiltrate the Academy and unearth its deepest, darkest secrets.

Before it’s too late.

9. The Exact Opposite of Okay – Laura Steven

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This was another complete surprise and I’m so happy to have a copy. The Exact Opposite of Okay sounds completely kick ass, and Laura was there to sign copies too!

 Izzy O’Neill is an aspiring comic, an impoverished orphan, and a Slut Extraordinaire. Or at least, that’s what the malicious website flying round the school says. Izzy can try all she wants to laugh it off – after all, her sex life, her terms – but when pictures emerge of her doing the dirty with a politician’s son, her life suddenly becomes the centre of a national scandal. Izzy’s never been ashamed of herself before, and she’s not going to start now. But keeping her head up will take everything she has…

10. The Book of Fire – Michelle Kenney

Goodreads

This was such a cool book to get and I can’t wait to read it. It’s one of those proofs that’s plastic bound, so it did get a little dented on the way home, but given the amount I had to carry, I can live with that. It has also been dubbed ‘The Fire Sermon meets Gladiator’ and if that doesn’t peak your interest I don’t know what will!

Life outside the domes is not possible. At least that’s what Insiders are told. Twins Eli and Talia shouldn’t exist. They’re Outsiders. 

Their home is a secret. Their lives are a secret. Arafel is a secret. 

An unexpected forest raid forces Talia into a desperate mission to rescue her family while protecting the sacred book of Arafel from those who would use it as a weapon. As Talia and her life long friend Max enter the dome, she makes some unexpected discoveries, and allies, in the form of rugged Insider August, that will change the course of her life forever. 

She’ll stop at nothing to save her family but will she sacrifice her heart in the process?

So that’s all the beautiful books I got this weekend. Were you at YALC, did you get any of these? Are there any you’re particularly looking forward to reading? Let me know in the comments below!


Blog Tour: The Companions – Sarah Dunnakey

33548805Release Date: July 27th 2017
Pages: 320
Publisher: Orion
Find it on: Amazon. Goodreads.
Source: Orion kindly sent me a copy to review for this blog tour.

Synopsis:

1932 – Twelve-year-old Billy Shaw lives in a palace. Potter’s Pleasure Palace – the best entertainment venue this side of the Pennines, complete with dancing and swing-boats and picnickers and a roller-skating rink. Billy’s ma runs the tea rooms and Billy himself looks forward to becoming the assistant to Mr Potter when he grows up. Until, that is, Mr Potter arranges for Billy to go to High Hob, the big house at the top of the valley, to be companion to Jasper Harper.

Jasper lives with his mother Edie and his Uncle Charles, brother and sister authors, escaped from London, and some say debt and scandal, in order to write. On his arrival, Billy finds a haphazard household where nothing that’s meant is said, and he runs wild with the untamed Jasper, spending all the time they can on the moors trying to catch The Beast. For four years the boys are inseparable, but when Charles and Edie are found dead, ruled a double suicide, Billy has already left the valley to start a new life in London. His time in the Harper household is written out of history.

2015 – Newly-appointed custodian of Ackerdean Mill, formerly the Palace, Anna Sallis begins to sort through the chaotic archives of the Mill, the Palace and the Harper siblings, and finds documents pointing to inconsistencies in the accepted story of Charles and Edie’s suicide. Anna becomes curious about what happened to her neighbour Frank’s Uncle Billy, absent from the known story. Why did he leave the valley? And what did he know about the events at High Hob?

Review:

Welcome to my stop on The Companion blog tour! I really enjoyed this book, it’s mysterious story, full of suspense with plenty of history thrown in too. The Companion features two alternative points of view. One in current times (2015) and one in 1932 when Charles and Edie were alive. I really love this kind of dual narrative because it really builds the suspense, and you get to see things from all different angles.

One of my favourite things about this book was the beautifully written prose. It flows seamlessly between the two different time frames, and I so easily became absorbed in the lovely writing. The writing is wonderfully descriptive, and it really makes the setting come alive. The book is obviously full of mystery, and I loved that it kept me guessing right until the end. I something think if you figure out what has happened straight away it can ruin your enjoyment a little, and while I did guess one or two things there were plenty things I  kept wondering about right till the very end.

The characters are really well portrayed too. Billy is definitely my favourite, and I loved the strong sense of Yorkshire dialect that came through the book. I also found Anna really interesting too, as she collected all the information and unearthed these long forgotten secrets.

I also absolutely love the gorgeous and atmospheric cover for book, it’s really striking and definitely adds to that overall mysterious appeal. The Companion is a really addictive, enjoyable read and I have since passed it on to my mum who kept asking me what the book was about. If you’re looking for a page turner of a book to read over the summer, The Companion will definitely keep you occupied on your days off!

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Thanks for checking out my stop on The Companion blog tour, be sure to check out the other stops below!

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Blog Tour: The Woman in the Shadows – Carol McGrath

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Release Date: 4th August 2017
Pages: 400
Publisher: Accent Press
Find it on: Amazon. Goodreads.

Synopsis:

The powerful, evocative new novel by the critically acclaimed author of The Handfasted Wife, The Woman in the Shadows presents the rise of Thomas Cromwell, Tudor England’s most powerful statesman, through the eyes of his wife Elizabeth.

When beautiful cloth merchant’s daughter Elizabeth Williams is widowed at the age of twenty-two, she is determined to make herself a success in the business she has learned from her father. But there are those who oppose a woman making her own way in the world, and soon Elizabeth realises she may have some powerful enemies – enemies who also know the truth about her late husband…

Security – and happiness – comes when Elizabeth is introduced to kindly, ambitious merchant turned lawyer, Thomas Cromwell. Their marriage is one based on mutual love and respect…but it isn’t always easy being the wife of an influential, headstrong man in Henry VIII’s London. The city is filled with ruthless people and strange delights – and Elizabeth realises she must adjust to the life she has chosen…or risk losing everything.

Guest Post: My Favourite Historical Novels

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Thank you Nicole for hosting me on this my fourth hop on The Woman in the Shadows Blog Tour. Today I am delighted to write about historical novels I love, many of which I find inspirational for my own writing. 

My all-time favourite historical novel is Katherine by Anya Seton. This novel is about Katherine Swynford and John of Gaunt. It tells the true story of a love affair that lasted for decades. I read it when I was studying Chaucer for A level. Katherine’s sister, Philippa, was married to the poet. I adored this novel and knew after I had read it that one day I wanted to write Historical Fiction. Many years on, I have realised that dream. Katherine also inspired my interest in The Middle Ages which I studied at University. I have never lost my passion for The High Medieval Period. 

 

An epic novel that has influenced my writing is Dr Zhivago by Boris7831611 Pasternak. I studied the novel at University where I read Russian Studies as well as History and English. I have read this book at least four times. It is set during The Russian Revolution which is also on my list of historical events to write about. The Betrothed Sister, my third novel is set in Medieval Russia. Zhivago is beautiful with a wide political scope, personalising these dramatic events through a famous love triangle: Yuri, Lara and Tonya. I love its emotional pulse. It is possibly the most moving Historical novel I have ever read. 

6101138I was, without doubt, influenced by Hilary Mantel’s eloquent Wolf Hall when I decided to write a novel about Elizabeth Cromwell. I wrote about Wolf Hall on my MPhil thesis, analysing the touches of romance that tempered realism in the novel. By this I mean the Gothic touches, the romance structure, many descriptions, rather than a romance between two individuals. The parts in Wolf Hall that I was interested in were those concerning Thomas Cromwell’s family and I wanted to know more. I wanted to imagine more too. My research journey began then and I think that The Woman in the Shadows is very different to Hilary Mantel’s work. It is the portrait of an early Tudor woman who was a cloth merchant and a housewife. Through Elizabeth I examine Cromwell’s early career before the fall of Thomas Wolsey and I examine what I suspect their marriage might have been. I take a further glimpse at their family life. 

I love The Queen of Subtleties by Suzannah Dunn. It is told by and is about two women, 625678Anne Boleyn, and Lucy Cornwallis, the King’s confectioner. Lucy made the centrepieces for all the King’s feasts. Mark Smeaton is another link between Anne and Lucy. It is a wonderful novel with superb characterisation and brilliant witty dialogue. It is a very unusual take on an old story. I thought it unique, though I would have liked to see more praise for this fabulous story. Moreover, I was honoured when Suzannah both read and gave me comment for The Woman in the Shadows. I also love The Confessions of Katherine Howard by Suzannah Dunn. This is an exceptionally poignant and beautiful novel, delicately told. 

18362312The Visitors by Sally Beauman is a recent find. It is an intriguing novel filled with secrets, the tale of intertwined lives, set in Egypt in 1922 and is about one of the twentieth century’s most famous archaeological events, the amazing search for King Tut’s tomb. It looks at these events through a child’s eyes, one as precocious as Masie in Henry James’s excellent What Masie Knew. It is also about growing up through major events during the twentieth century. I loved it for its masterful narrative tension. I learned much about layered characterisation and the building up of narrative that covers large swaths of time from reading this book. I shall re read it. 

Finally a mention for a few other books that I have enjoyed reading and re reading this 35289167year. Jane Johnson’s Court of Lions about the fall of Granada to Isabella and Ferdinand has captivated me as do her previous novels set in Morocco. She is a mistress of the two time narrative in a novel with two interrelated stories, always beautifully told. I love Karen Maitland’s The Vanishing Witch and her book Company of Liars set during the Plague of the fourteenth century. I highly recommend The World is Not Enough by Zoe Oldenbourg, an intricate picture of twelfth century France, at the time of the third Crusade. It is another classic Historical Novel.  

A writer of Historical Fiction can hone her craft by reading other writers widely. I am grateful to all the fine writers I have read this year and in the past for their treasury of great stories. The best of these are always inspiring and illuminating.

About Carol:

Carol McGrath has an MA in Creative Writing from The Seamus Heaney Centre, Queens University Belfast, followed by an MPhil in Creative Writing from University of London. The Handfasted Wife, first in a trilogy about the royal women of 1066 was shortlisted for the RoNAs in 2014. The Swan-Daughter and The Betrothed Sister complete this best-selling trilogy. The Woman in the Shadows, a novel that considers Henry VIII’s statesman, Thomas Cromwell, through the eyes of Elizabeth his wife, will be published on August 4th, 2017. Carol is working on a new medieval Trilogy, The Rose Trilogy, set in the High Middle Ages. It subject matter is three linked medieval queens, sometimes considered ‘She Wolves’.

She speaks at events and conferences on the subject of medieval women, writing Historical Fiction, The Bayeux Tapestry, and Fabrics, Tapestry and Embroidery as incorporated into fiction. Carol was the co-ordinator of the Historical Novels Association Conference, Oxford in September 2016 and reviews for the HNS. Find Carol on her website: www.carolcmcgrath.co.uk.

Many thanks to Carol for this fabulous guest post. I absolutely loved Court of Lions myself and I now have more than a few new books to add to my wishlist. Thanks everyone for checking out my stop on The Woman in the Shadows blog tour, and be sure to check back in a few days for a review of this gorgeous book!

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Book Review: From Syria With Love – Molly Masters

33123079Release Date: 9th February 2017
Pages: 112
Publisher: Apostrophe Books
Find it on: Amazon. Goodreads.
Source: I received a free copy of this book from IndieBooks in exchange for an honest review.

Synopsis:

The Syrian conflict has turned more than a million children into refugees. Here, a group of them tell their stories through their own words and pictures, and by inspiring other creative voices. In this deeply moving yet inspiring book we see their daily lives in a refugee camp in Lebanon and hear their dreams for the future – above all, of returning to the country they love. The result is an honest portrait of the conflict, a challenge to our own priorities and prejudices, and an affirmation of our common humanity.

Review:

This is a really heartbreaking book. This book is published by Apostrophe Books and all money made from the book goes to those in refugee camps. Previous to reading this I knew very little about what life was like in these camps, but within this book contains some stories about life in the camps, as well as horrific stories of where people have escaped from.

From Syria With Love is a charity which showcases artwork and paintings by Syrian children who are currently caught in the refugee crisis.  Again they exhibit this in an effort to provide food clothing and supplies for those featured in the book. The book was very moving, and at some points I found it difficult to read, due to the harrowing nature of the events. The artwork is really interesting to look at, and I think it’s a really fabulous idea to produce a book which helps to raise money for those in need.

Reading From Syria With Love really makes you think about how lucky you are, and how often you take comforts like a roof over your head and food and money for granted. This is a really powerful book and will definitely hit people hard. On more than one occasion it certainly drove me to tears, and the combination of real life stories and visual artwork by the children really does make for a compelling book. It also supports a really amazing cause, so if you have the chance to check it out, head to http://fromsyriawithlove.org/ where you can see some of the artwork, and find out more about the book.


Blog Tour: Dare to Fall – Estelle Markame

34197480
Release Date: 27th July 2017
Pages: 325
Publisher: Ink Road Books
Find it on: Amazon. Goodreads. 
Source: Ink Road kindly sent me a copy of this book to review.

Synopsis:

Death.
She was afraid of it.
He was used to it.

There’s not much that MacKenzie Rivers is afraid of. In the small town of Windsor, Colorado, she is known for her easygoing, strong personality, some would even say she isn’t afraid of anything. But MacKenzie knows that’s not true. She’s afraid of losing those closest to her. Recovering from a family tragedy, Kenzie is fully aware of just how big an impact death can have on those it leaves behind. Seeing its effects on other people is something she just can’t quite handle. From now on, Kenzie is her own priority.

There are not many things that Jaden Hunter can make sense of. He doesn’t understand why it was his parents who lost their lives last year. He doesn’t understand why his friends don’t crack jokes around him any more. He doesn’t understand why his teachers still insist on letting him skip assignments. He doesn’t understand why MacKenzie, the girl he was falling for last year, has suddenly distanced herself from him.

Too afraid to get wrapped up in Jaden’s world as he deals with the tragic death of his parents, Kenzie has stayed away from him as best she can, until one night when they unexpectedly come face-to-face for the first time in months. As old feelings resurface and new memories are made, both MacKenzie and Jaden show each other how to appreciate the little things in life, the moments that are taken for granted. But will MacKenzie dare to fall for the one person she’s so afraid of growing close to?

Review:

This book will tug on your heartstrings like nothing else. Dare to Fall is a beautifully written, profound book that you absolutely have to read. Now I have to say I haven’t read Estelle’s first series the DIMILY books, but I know they’re very popular and have a big following. Dare to Fall caught my eye because of that beautiful cover and as soon as I read the blurb I absolutely knew I had to read it. Since finishing Dare to Fall I’ve ordered the DIMILY series online, because I need more of Estelle Markame’s writing!

The thing that struck me most if the beautiful and realistic writing of this book. The story very much focuses on the idea of grief, and how every person copes differently with it. The characters are all very realistically portrayed, and that’s something that I felt was really important for a book like this.  From the outset I was rooting for Mackenzie and Jaden, wanting their relationship to succeed. The book touches on a number of difficult subjects – not just grief but also alcoholism as well, and it handles them in excellently. Dare to Fall is a fantastic read, that will make you smile and sob in equal measure.

I think the fact that Dare to Fall moved me to physical tears is a sign of how powerful this book is. The book certainly sucked me in right at the beginning, and I found it difficult to put it down. It’s a bittersweet story, but one which I think will appeal to lots of different people. There are a few twists that I didn’t see coming and that made me read the last section of the book in pretty much one sitting. If you’re looking for a powerful story that is bittersweet and moving, look no further than Estelle Markame’s Dare to Fall. I predict great things for this fabulous book.

Thanks for checking out my stop on the Dare to Fall blog tour, be sure to check out the other stops listed below!